On Other People’s Advice

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Being a human being is, like, super difficult. Sometimes there are no seemingly /right/ moves, and lines you learnt from films, which were meant to be winning, lead-drop and conversation stop. Problem pages are retro and all you post-millennial kids won’t even know what that is but, basically, any answer one person gives claiming expertise, is almost certainly wrong, if it’s on something subjective like love or sex or friends or just how to make a decision. (Although I’d really like to learn how to comprehensively make a decision: why don’t they teach that in school?)

And I’ve read self-help books. I’ve clutched that shit like it’s Bible-accurate (erm…) and stuck to it even if my heart wanted the opposite. I felt misguided pride at listening to advice and not being the dumb bitch the book said I’d be if I’d given a second chance that time I kinda, sorta, wanted to give a second chance. Even though on TV they always, always give the second chance (Hello Jordan Catalano).

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And that’s a problem, isn’t it? If advice implies you’re a thick bitch, fucking stupid, to do the opposite of what’s instructed? Even if it’s seriously what you want.

I read a lot of internet articles and forums and threads, to see what’s said, like maybe I could piece together the perfect instructions from various locations. But I usually end up more confused, or with labels I didn’t know existed, and never with the answer I set out to get. Because I’m pretty sure that, even if it’s deeply buried, we know what we want to find when we seek advice. We hope there’s justification for what it is that we’ve done, or that maybe we’re not alone, and that there’s a way forward, and a template to help us navigate it. Y’know, the way we keep giving Ben Affleck chances to be a human again, against our collective better judgement.

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I guess it’s sort of sadly that this year I’ve learnt even people I thought were close, didn’t always have my best interests at heart. They might not want to fuck me over intentionally, but some people’s advice giving is more to do with justifying decisions they’ve made in their own lives than helping you with yours. By convincing you to make the choices they have, it validates their life and decision-making. And I choose to believe that none of the terrible advice I received this year was vindictive, that is was always the best answer the person had at the time, according to the compass they use to navigate the scattered territory of their own life. But the judgement weighed heavy. Especially when all I wanted was a person to listen.

Morality’s also at play, and it’s like some people never saw an episode of an American TV show (read Felicity, Scandal, Nashville, etc.), and still think there’s such thing as a concrete right and concrete wrongs. Like, for reals. But there isn’t, not in the polarising, religious, youth group, patronising commandments sense, anyway. Life is super fucking complicated. And this needs to be taken into account. 

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If someone asks your advice, tells you something that happened, something they did, something they’re thinking, listen to them. And find out the context, because context is bloody important. If someone’s asking at all, they’re probably not after a lecture, but an opinion, someone to take them seriously without judgement, who won’t tell them they’re going to hell or, to a lesser degree, that their actions are bad and they’re not a good person anymore. I mean, maybe they are a shitty person. Especially if they’re friends with you. But stock advice has to stop. We’ve got to be kinder to the people we like and love, and tailor our responses to that.

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At times, other people’s advice bites. I just really want you to rely on your own head and your own heart and your own gut. Which is totally easier said than done. But if you could even 10% not give a shit what other people think, you’d be so much happier. Immeasurably so. You’re probably not a bad person, anyway. Life is just hard. Do what makes you happy. And fuck anyone who makes you feel anything less than Jennifer Aniston: a total fucking goddess, yo!

On Self-Doubt

This isn’t one of those inspirational articles filled with quotes/memes trying to convince you life’s a totally full glass, overflowing with vaguely expensive Chardonnay (though I might subject you to some quotes/memes, as they’re religion at this point).

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Nothing I can say will change your shitty life anymore than hearing Reese Witherspoon complain about how difficult hers is will make you feel human. Maybe that’s unfair. I did really like that video of her getting a DUI, more than her Oscar-winning material, probably.

Trouble is, if someone that petite, smart, witty and talented is capable of creating insurmountable problems, then what chance do regular people have? And I count myself amongst the regular-ist of the regular; some days my problems are top shelf cereal packets, and the tallest of the tall can’t reach them let alone open and pour the contents into a clean bowl.

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I don’t care how kick-ass you are, even Barney Stinson has bad days, and self-doubt’s bubonic plague-like: quick to kill, yo.

But doubt is not your fault. It’s inherent, interlaced, you’re born with it, pre-disposed to being disappointed by everything, even things you shouldn’t feel that way about. For one, The Game of Life fucking lied: I can’t even drive, let alone collect up family members, and I’m in my thirties, so that makes me a loser by game playing standards, by Kirstie Allsopp standards, according to any number of new campaigns telling me my self-worth is inextricably attached to my child-bearing ability and how brilliantly I sustain relationships (clue: not very).

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I’m not saying every day’s bad. It’s not. Or parts of it are, but I try not to spread negativity like Nutella. My closest people will tell the truth, which is that I moan like a motherfucker. I try to complain productively, but for all the million times I don’t, I’m sorry. I’m a bin dweller, but I know life’s got the potential to be sparkly, occasionally, so I’m not going to self-bury just yet.

One of the best pieces of advice I got this year was that feelings are never ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’ or whatever word you attach to your own if, like me, you’ve total lost trust in yourself and no longer have the ability to tell people to go fuck themselves when they disrespect you (and I love to swear, so). If you feel a certain way, it’s actually okay to own that, embrace it, even if it seems irrational or strange, unlikely or questionable. Spend some time with it. Get to know it and test its legitimacy. But don’t outright downplay or label it as crazy, just because it’s not the way you’re ‘meant to’ feel or something. According to other people or some inbuilt sense of duty you’ve acquired or were instilled with.

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Everyone has bad days. And that’s totally fine. It’s normal. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need any day is some fucker telling me to cheer up or smile. Covering up or pretending only does you a disservice, and you don’t need to apologise for making other people uncomfortable. That’s their effing problem. And if you’re a mess, or you make a mess, or you do what you want to do and it doesn’t turn out the perfect way the movies said it would, who cares? All you can do is your best at any one time. So don’t be so hard on yourself, have another Mars bar and block any hater that tells you how to live your life. The only person allowed to fuck with your choices is you. So do it as beautifully and elegantly as possible. We all know what haters gonna do, amirite? (Yeah, hate. In case you missed the memo).

Ending the essay in the only way I know how, like a total cunt, so as Fiona Apple says: “I have only one thing to do and that’s to be the wave that I am and then sink back into the ocean.” Go big or go home. ❤ xoxo

What Exactly Are We Teaching Our Daughters? On Being Lectured About Feminism And Called A Thick Bitch Ditzy Girlie Stupid Twat Simultaneously

If I have girls, and I hope that I do, I’m going to try really hard not to give them a list of things they shouldn’t do because, genuinely, life is better without constraints, a lot of the time. But I’ll need them to know what feminism is, because no-one does now, or knowledge is selective and thin, and celebrities think it’s best to denounce the word like it shouldn’t exist and FB friends, mutual and actual ones, are always ready to educate. Be wary of that, though not wary in general. Sometimes, you have to trust your heart to the person holding it. Remember, even certificates can’t guarantee quality. And a profile picture doesn’t identify trolls, easily. So watch who you take lessons from, who’s giving them.

Firstly, importantly, I’ll tell these girls, my girls, not to call people thick bitches on Twitter, or online anywhere, because that shit spreads. And what does it say about you, that you have to resort to verbal slurs, instantaneously, extremely publicly, when rapport heads south? Secondly, to these insults, don’t label other women in attempts to degrade them, especially if you don’t know them, personally. This is important, because often women are undercut, passive aggressively, like it’s normality, so don’t remind them of the way they’re made to feel anyway by the media and members of the public. Using words like ditzy and girly and twat is just unnecessary, if you’re really trying to establish an academic point about femininity, feminism, the vote or women’s rights. Directing an insult in lieu of a conversation, unless it’s a joke one, destroys the scaffolds we’re building for our daughters so they won’t be oppressed by the moulds this world sets for them: of being ditzy, girly, stupid, twats. Labels are about as useful as Rotten Tomatoes percentage ratings: it’s a small slew of opinions.

Lastly, learn sarcasm. All too often, feminism’s so unpalatably serious, when it shouldn’t be. Sometimes a joke is the only way to make sense of something. Tread lightly online, I’ll tell my children, because you can’t completely tell tone on FB, and you might accidentally patronise somebody’s friend, assume you know most and, even if you do, say you’re the expert on what a feminist is, it’s impolite, surely, to laud this on somebody’s status, in a group conversation, and in no way upholds the feminism tenets of equality and solidarity. Don’t knock a person down if you can avoid it. Have a sense of humour about everything, even the most deplorable of things, because life will fuck you either way. And to laugh isn’t to make light, at all. Actually, it’s the only way, often, to give voice to the unpopular issues. To the subjects famous people offload like sandbags, because it’s bad business to say you care what a feminist is.

But daughters, above all, how many of you there are, be gracious. Learn what grace is. And don’t take shit. Know that there are smarter words than bitch.

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Girls Season 2, Episode 9, ‘On All Fours’: Recasting the Romantic Male Lead

Sunday’s episode of Girls cemented something, which we all should’ve known, guessed, seen, but had somehow ignored: Adam (portrayed by Adam Driver), Hannah’s ex and sometime soulmate, is not Mr.Big. He may steal his lines, calling Hannah ‘kid’ at each opportune moment, but that’s where the comparison stops, since he segwayed into sexual predator territory.

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Perhaps it was obvious that Adam wasn’t rom-com fodder, considering every time Hannah found her way back to his apartment, he bestowed upon her a series of insults/assaults, from paedophilic role play to urolagnia (apologies to parents, but read urban dictionary ‘golden shower’). Dunham’s character, Hannah, consented, mostly, played these for comedy, romance, sexual embarrassment, all painfully relatable. Still, weren’t these signs that Adam wasn’t happy-ever-after material? When he told Hannah at the start of this season that loving someone means you don’t need to be nice to them all the time, wasn’t this also a clue?

When Adam turned up at Hannah’s apartment post-break-up, wanting to talk, it read two ways. It was the classic romantic comedy gesture, in which Prince Charming tries, but fails, to win back the girl he’s wronged. It also made me think of an ex-boyfriend texting to say he was outside my apartment, and where was I? He wanted to see me. The late night phone call, letterbox shout, that makes you check number plates when you walk anywhere at night. It’s a short distance from romantic involvement to borderline stalker. And I don’t use that word lightly. Definition says you ask someone three times to stop calling, texting, arriving at your house. After that, it’s harassment.

When Adam started dating Natalia (played by TV stalwart Shiri Appleby) we were meant to be in awe, I think, because she’s god damn beautiful, and we, afterall, have seen Adam’s apartment, have heard every word he’s treated Hannah to. We’re privy to information about him she’s not, as somebody set up, on a blind date. But the way this season has played, Adam’s shown us emotion. Sure, he hasn’t handled his break-up with Hannah well, but he genuinely loves her, that’s been clear in every screen-time scrap he’s torn. Adam had become likeable, even, as an individual, if momentarily, during his AA meeting, trip to Staten Island, and after. And then, on his dates with Natalia. Because of every Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy I’ve paid money for over the past fifteen years, I’ve learnt the conventions, know that if Adam’s on the same path, he may be an emotional fuckwit, purveyor of promiscuity and drunken sexual encounters, but it only takes one person to change that. Eventually, even he wants to settle down. Except, this being Girls, I know there’s only messiness and probably, he won’t end up happy any more than any of us are in real life.

Watching for the first time, my reaction when, in his apartment, Adam asked Natalia to crawl on all fours to his bedroom, wasn’t of shock. Because I, too, have dated men with apartments this ruined, have felt the compulsion she exerts, to sort, clean and change, to better what’s already there. I, too, once thought you could save somebody. And next, when he grabbed her, her unease evident yet, for the moment, consenting, I saw every rom-com, Sex and the City move we expect, but shouldn’t – that women are waiting to be kissed, stripped, flung, thrown, held. And he does, strip her, and she, silent for the most part, can’t summon the voice she had at the start of the episode, where she very definitely told him what she did and didn’t want. They have sex and Adam ejaculates on Natalia, as she asked him to do earlier, except when he spins her over to finish, she says, “Not on the dress,” pulling her clothing out of the way, noticeably upset with the way this has gone, ended, clearly wanting it to stop.

I don’t know whether this is rape. Several articles have made a case for it being rape, or assault, or something in between, and it certainly is (xojane and slate both have excellent, detailed articles). It’s a long way from where the episode started, purposefully, and it’s not good sex, categorically. The scene is about control, is Adam’s way of exorcising his emotions having bumped into his ex-girlfriend earlier in the night, and it’s self-destructive, perhaps the only action left for him to carry out. But it’s not a surprise, or it shouldn’t be. We were willfully tricked if we thought Adam was capable of normality, was boyfriend-material by any stretch of the imagination, if we hoped that his, too, was a journey we would follow for more than a couple of seasons.

Threat of rape and rape situations are far from exclusive to Girls this season, and The Walking Dead, in particular, is uncomfortable viewing weekly. There’s a constant unease, each female character unsafe, and in this apocalypse scenario, assaults and rape are commonplace, another danger each person is wary, and seemingly capable, of.

This episode of Girls is fearless, which is important. What happens, happens, and that needs to be said. We’re not shown it to be shocked, because it’s ‘ground-breaking’ or whatever, but because sex is like this sometimes, and that’s not something we should be quiet about. The question the scene poses is crucial: during sexual activity with a some time or new partner, where is the line, and what should we do about somebody crossing it? In any new relationship, sex is a difficult navigator and, this early on, it can be impossible to determine what someone might do next, when you’re at your most vulnerable. If you’ve consented to one thing, does that guarantee consent for the next? It can’t possibly, but when do we re-label bad sex and sexual failure as assault or rape? And where is Adam on this scale?

I watched this scene knowing I’d experienced it, at least in part, as I expect many, many people have. Sex is coercion, or can be, and you can’t always place how you feel about an act until it’s already happened, and it’s too late, especially when it’s quick to happen like this is. Sex with the wrong partner can also be completely out of your control, as it is here. I know now the apartment is a warning sign, a get-out-cue if there ever was one. If nails, and trash, and someone else’s heels are on the floor, you shouldn’t be there, it’s time to leave. But knowing when to trust and not trust someone can be a tricky thing, and it’s important we see that, that it’s a TV story line that’s told, and not a shameful detail we tell as a joke, a lesson learned, or regret. When to revoke trust is also key, is no longer a clean-cut case of boyfriend and lover, with respect and consent as revocable attributes at any point of the night, even, and especially, during.

I also wonder if we’ve seen this scenario before, just set in a cleaner, brighter room, played completely for comedy. In numerous Sex and the City episodes, each of the characters encounters bad, grimace-worthy sex, which they’d rather they hadn’t had. Charlotte (played by Kristin Davis) may not have told men to stop mid-way, but she sure looked like she wanted to. She cringed as a man called her a whore (apparently involuntarily) and waited for it to be over. Miranda (played by Cynthia Nixon) is degraded as a partner insists on watching porn during sex, paying little to no attention to her, and when a man says she’ll enjoy an oral sex act she’s never tried, she refuses then changes her mind mid-way. And perhaps most notably, when Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) sees Jack Berger’s apartment for the first time, she tells him she’s seen it all, including dead bodies. “Men left to their own devices,” she says.

And can anyone say, in good conscience, that Joey Tribbiani wasn’t a massive sexual offender/predator/probably on a wanted poster somewhere? But until recently, sex on TV, for the most part, has been played for laughs. So discussion, and a change, is welcome.

This penultimate episode of Girls leaves us precariously wondering what happens next, what resolution, if any, we’ll find before summer break. The set-up suggests that Hannah and Adam will reunite, somehow, following his forced break from this new girlfriend. That Hannah and Adam are both on a disaster course ready to destroy themselves and others in any order.

But if they end up together, I’ll stop watching. If that’s where this is heading, I don’t want in. How Adam’s indiscretion is dealt with in the next episode will tell us everything about Girls and the ground it’s prepared to cover. After this, Adam can’t be love-interest-extraordinaire, but only ex-boyfriend, approach-with-caution. Everyone makes mistakes, sure, but a temporary flailing (such as Marnie’s quarter life crisis, or Hannah’s OCD episode) can only explain so much, it can’t diminish responsibility. And Adam’s beyond reproach now. He’s not Chris Noth by any stretch of the imagination. And Mr. Big was a real dick some times, let’s be honest. He didn’t always act responsibly, didn’t deserve Carrie’s undying attention and advances. But he didn’t do this (that we know of).

In episode 10, the police need to turn up, or there should be a discussion about what just happened. No more bullshit excuses. Adam’s not endearing anymore.  If there’s any sort of promise of a romantic way back from this, I’m finding other shows to watch. Maybe like Nashville. Who knows? But I’m out.