Y’All Need Help #18: You Are Under No Obligation

Q: What is a date?


Hi! I’m a 17 year-old high school junior living in New York City. Recently, I started talking to this girl, got her number, got threatened by her sister, the whole shebang.

She’s a senior, and I’ve never really dated anyone before. Basically, I want to plan a date, but I have no idea where to start, and as an already extremely neurotic person, it has not been great for my mental state to worry about this. I really like her, and I want this to work out, but I’m worried it won’t even be able to get off the ground.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

A:

Hello! I put you right at the top because I wanted everyone reading to get really excited about the dating advice they’re about to share with you in the comments! Very proud of you for getting this girl’s number already. That was a bold move and very take-charge. GOOD, yes. I think that might actually be the hardest part? And you already did it!

For the first date, all you really need is a low-key place with a built-in quiet activity, like eating a food or drinking a drink (or putt-putting a golf ball??! I LOVE MINI GOLF IT’S SO WHIMSICAL.), and some questions you genuinely want to know the answers to. This is a casual situation with very low stakes! You should come at it with that attitude and expectation level: LOW-KEY, friend. You’re not planning your engagement, just grabbing some coffee at this place you’ve been meaning to try, while wearing your favorite outfit and asking some chill Qs.

Parts will be awkward, yes! That happens to everyone. It’s just that some people can glide past awkward a little more gracefully than others, which can totally be learned, or at least replicated to a degree of believability, which is all you really need for the first couple of months of any relationship, to be honest. Lulls in a conversation are fine. Laughing at yourself is fine. She is just a person, much like yourself, who also doesn’t really know what to do or say. Everything will be fine!

YOU ARE DOING GREAT. And now people will give you first date ideas! Please update us on this situation as time permits.


Q: I keep changing my major!


I’m a sophomore in college, and I’m on my third major. I applied as one major, then changed before coming to school, and changed again before my sophomore year. And now I’m at the point where I don’t feel like I can change anymore (plus I would have to stay an extra year). I think I want to be a journalist; I have taken classes in it and did well and love it very much. There is a 4+1 Master of J program I could apply to, but, every time I bring it up, my mother goes on about how hard it is to get a job and why would I want to do that when I could get a 4+1 in my ACTUAL MAJOR. I think I’ve boiled my “major changing” problem down to the fact that I like shiny new things and always think the next thing will be better (even though I never dislike the thing I’m doing), and I’m also very suggestible. Please help!

A:

This is all OK! You don’t really know exactly what you want to do — ostensibly for the rest of your life — and that’s perfectly OK and even good. It’s very rare and bananas that some people know what they want to be or do forever, and it’s cool and fine that you’re not one of those people. I don’t have to tell you that you can do 50 majors in your lifetime if you want to. You already know that. You also know that you could finish one major and end up getting a job or career doing something either mostly or completely unrelated to your field of study! The future! It’s wild!

I spoke with Yvonne about this. Her biggest advice is “just learn a bunch of shit, explore, make friends, be part of organizations and have fun in college. Being an adult is stupid and you’ll never have college again to just fucking explore things.” Being an adult IS stupid. She says her biggest regret is that she didn’t explore more outside her major. Taking varied classes, joining organizations and doing things outside of your major will give you extremely valuable experiences that will come to be of use to you later in life, probably out of nowhere. Learn about the things that interest you and if a rigid, specific major feels too confining, open it up to a more general one.

This is the best time to hand yourself over to your own imagination and try everything you want. You will never have as few outside obligations and responsibilities as you have now. Take advantage of everything!!


Q: Do I need friends?


When I was in university I was a student leader for a Christian church/student organization. As a student leader, I had to sign a code of conduct which included ban against homosexuality. This was the same time that I was figuring out I’m gay. It was a super fun time in my life.

I’ve been out of school for over three years now and just recently I’ve been contacted by three different friends from that church wanting to catch up on life. I haven’t heard from any of these girls in probably two years and just randomly they all want to talk at the same time. I was really good friends with them but my relationships with them are so tied to that church. Even if they never did/said anything homophobic around me, they are part of the institution that kept me in the closet for so long. I don’t know if I want to talk to them or not. They’re all really nice people but I just don’t want anything to do with that church.

A:

I absolutely understand wanting to distance yourself from a church and a time in your life that caused so much disorienting isolation and pain. You reserve the right to look out for yourself here and ignore their attempts to reconnect if that’s what feels right. It’s possible they’ve all recently realized how difficult that time must have been for you, and they’re reaching out with messages of love and support. You get to decide if it’s worth the risk of letting them back into your life to see if that’s the case. It might be that they’re looking for you to forgive them for any hand they had in that pain, which is a courtesy you don’t owe them. You don’t owe them anything, actually. You were a good friend to them at that time, and you’re under no obligation to have any more to do with them for the rest of your life.

Your subject line asked if you need friends. I think the flat answer to that is yes! But you get to decide who gets to be your friend and who isn’t worth it. If you decide to reply and see what they’re up to these days, you can let them know what’s up with YOU from the jump: you’re out, unashamed, and super not into that church they’re still part of! That’s not combative or rude, it’s the truth, which is the foundation of any decent relationship that deserves your time and energy. And if you decide to keep them out of your life, it’ll be because of a necessary and healthy line you’ve drawn for yourself that you wouldn’t let them cross.


Y’All Need Help is a biweekly advice column in which I pluck out a couple of questions from the You Need Help inbox and answer them right here, round-up style, quick and dirty! (Except sometimes it’s not quick, but that’s my prerogative, OK?) You can chime in with your own advice in the comments and submit your own quick and dirty questions any time.


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Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and she thinks you're fucking rad. She's 36, has two kids, two dogs, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox. More at LaneiaJones.com.

Laneia has written 771 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. Hugs to #3! I’ve been in a similar boat trying to maintain relationships with people who are from a closeted, religious time in my life and tried to do the you’re-homophobic-but-dammit-we’re-friends dance. The key thing is that you can’t (or at least I couldn’t) expect to have the same relationship with them that you used to. There’s a new layer between you and them that is incredibly difficult to get through, and possibly more trouble to get through than it is worth to one’s sanity. Personally I’ve gotten by with just keeping nominal contact, seeing them once or year or so when I visit my parents and go back to that church with them (oh, yes. fun fun), but it isn’t possible to bare souls to each other anymore, or go too in-depth about my new life. It may not be possible for you to maintain a relationship with your friends without their expecting you to be as close to them as you were, so whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s the thing that makes you most comfortable being who you are now! If you have to cut them off, that’s okay, and not something to feel guilty about. Hoping for the best for you! <3

    • and here I was thinking [more so feeling] like I was the only one going through this! post # 3 is definitely relatable! Alot of my formerly close friendships were made during my closet bi days and campus ministry leader days. It’s been hard but I’ve had to distance myself from these relationships/accept the distance.

  2. +1 for the college advice to take the pressure off yourself where you can. Effing around with your studies is what college is designed for, and as long as you’re following a plan, changing that plan is expected and normal.

    Especially in the U.S. I just graduated to start my second career, they truly don’t consider age when doing admissions decisions. We’re all playing a longer game to a fulfilling professional life than those high-pressure HS and college brochures would lead us to believe.

    Also, I really wish I had done an internship to get advice from people actually working in the field I was trying to join, instead of just well-meaning teachers and concerned parents.

    Good luck out there; you’ll do great!

  3. I didn’t change my major because by the time I realized I wanted to, I had already taken so many classes and it felt like “wasting” that money since I was paying for college on my own. It’s one of my biggest regrets. Now I’m in my dream job, totally unrelated to my major, but I could have got here sooner if I didn’t waste time trying to find work in the field I studied. I’m 30 now and totally happy, I can’t imagine how it would be if I was still trying to do what I thought I wanted to do when I was 18. Don’t feel bad about changing, and if you don’t end up switching, realize that doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing one thing forever.

  4. Major-Changer: are interdisciplinary degrees or independent study type things something your school offers? They seem purpose filled for us multipotentialites.

    Also there are many ways to do the things you want to do that don’t involve a degree, even while you’re studying! Clubs, volunteering, events – you get to try something new without needing to tie yourself to it if you don’t wanna. I’m very similar to you and I’ve found keeping busy with a variety of things to be super helpful.

  5. To the date-goer: When I first saw the question title, I thought this would be one of those “was it a date or not a date???” anecdotes. But then I read on, and learned that not only did you get that girl’s number, you seem to have established a future totally-unambiguous no-room-for-confusion date-date! That’s awesome! You’re way ahead! We should probably all be taking dating advice from you.

    The only thing I can think to add to what Laneia said is that if you’re not keen on the idea of sitting across from someone new for an hour or two trying to make conversation while you carefully avoid spilling food in your lap, maybe try instead to plan something where you can do an activity together but can still make conversation. Maybe something you already enjoy doing that you can invite her along to? But also keep in mind that to a certain extent, the content of the date doesn’t matter that much, because if you click and have good chemistry, it’s going to be a good date no matter what. 🙂 And if you don’t, well, then at least you know. Good luck!

  6. The least awk first date I’ve been on was bowling — I don’t love bowling, tbh, but it’s so silly!!! You can’t not laugh whilst bowling. Plus, like Amy said, you have a built-in conversation topic. G’luck! You’re a champ!

    • Clearly you have never been bowling with me! I once accidentally hit the person in the lane next to me with the bowling ball – a pretty neat trick since I am right-handed and the person was in the lane to the left of me. Thankfully I was not on a date at the time.

  7. Date option: places with board games! There are some coffee shops and a bar by my house that have whole shelves, and I’ve had some really good dates there. The games give you something to do and say, and you have an easy but flexible exit time if that makes you feel more comfortable–you can tell yourself, “I’ll wrap things up after one game of Scrabble” or “I’ll get going after I finish my coffee,” and you can add another round or drink more slowly if you’re having a good time.

    And you can prepare questions in advance if you’re worried about your brain going blank! I’ll skim those tumblr ask memes or autostraddle and get a few (normal or eclectic, depending on what I know about the person) and write them down on a notecard or in my notes app. If you get truly desperate, you can sneak a peek in the bathroom.

  8. After years of lurking in the comments section, I finally feel like I have to make an account. I get really frustrated when I see people talking about what their major should be, because in my experience it’s the wrong thing to think about.

    I also wanted to be a journalist when I started college many eons ago, in the early years of the first Obama Administration. But I hated college. I had hated high school and hadn’t wanted to go to college, but I had bought into the idea you can do nothing without a degree, so I went. And dropped out.

    Several years later, now an old millennial, I went back. It was awful. All the same problems were still hanging around; the lack of intellectual or academic rigor, the idea that my education could be broken down into how many credits of what I had taken rather than what I had gained from taking in new information. I was working 30 hours a week and going to school, and one was definitely more useful to than the other. I dropped out again. But this time, before I did, I made friends. I made sure professors working on things I wanted to work on knew me and were impressed with me. I got them to write me letters of recommendation I keep on file, and I used my best work that I had done in school to build the basis of my portfolio.

    But anyway, in between my two failed attempts to finish a degree, I dated a girl who had TWO degrees. One was pretty practical and one was run of the mill humanities. She thought her degree was the be-all-end-all of what she had to know about the subject, and it created a huge rift between us that eventually contributed to my breaking up with her. Simply put, she was a less qualified candidate with her degree than I was without mine. Her writing wasn’t as good and she wasn’t very well read, was missing whole essential chunks of knowledge that I had learned not in school but in my own life. She had an English degree but didn’t like to talk literature with me because it made her feel dumb, and I felt bad because she slowly came to the realization that her degree was worthless. It just was. If somebody with very little formal education who stocks shelves for a living is better informed on the subject than you are, you have a worthless degree. And some of that can be where you went to school, but most of it is what you do with it. I had done more with my smaller amount of time in school than she had with the time in which she actually finished a degree. I had also spent time learning outside of school, where she had assumed school would teach her all she needed to know.

    Anyway, fast forward several more years, and I’m still here without a degree, but I’m getting a callback from a lit journal or magazine here and there because I’ve put mountains of time into getting better, producing output, and getting my work out there. The last I heard of my ex she was serving coffee and teaching English on the side.

    Anyway, the point of my novel is this: your degree doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. Unless you’re going into science or law or medicine or something like that, it simply doesn’t matter. That you HAVE a degree may be important because employers use it as a way to arbitrarily weed out applicants from huge pools (joke’s on them of course, they are weeding out some of the best people). Finish your degree, whatever it is, just so you have one. And in the meantime, WORK. If you want to be a journalist, do it. Do it for your college paper, whatever local publications will accept you, for online magazines. Write for Autostraddle! Get an internship and make connections. It’s okay if your degree is in something else. If you’re asked about it, be honest. Say “I’m finishing my degree in X, but I realized that I was more interested in Y and am trying to find work in that area”. I think honesty and tenacity look better than major-hopping without actually producing anything. Remember in college, you’re paying for access and time. Access to people, to information locked behind subscription accounts, to the inner workings of an industry. Time to take advantage of all of it. That is the actual value of your degree. If you want to write, write. Pick something you love, or you’ve always been curious about, and take advantage of those resources you have now to produce the best project you can. Then put it out there.

    Anyway, I felt like that was really important for you to hear. I wish someone had told me all that ten years ago and saved me a lot of money and trouble. There was a time when a degree secured you a job, but it was a numbers game. Most people didn’t have them so they meant more. Even people with masters are a dime a dozen in the current economy. I wasted my 20s on having fun, which was great but didn’t really pay off. A few years ago I became boring. I stopped hanging out after work and started working. It’s paying off. It’s the only thing that ever really will. College is expensive. Don’t pay buttloads of money to find yourself.

    I hope some of that is helpful and wish you the best.

  9. For the first date I recommend something low key like a meal or like coffee and cards (something with a set activity structure). Movies and things where you don’t talk make it hard to get to know someone and if you are anxiety prone like I am, it makes planning a second date so much worse because you essentially are still working with very limited info. I also recommend exploring an area around town you like and suggesting a “random” resturaunt you decided on and also having one or two back ups in the vacinity. It’s less spontaneous, but it’ll let you feel a little more relaxed because it’ll make you feel prepared. Second date do something more active or at least different then just eating a meal of that was the last date. My favorite one I planned was an escape room.

  10. To #1: My best first date was actually to a movie. And we ended up getting a drink before, because the movie time started later than expected and the movie theatre had a bar (obviously not recommended in your experience, but coffee?). And by the end of the movie we’d had so much fun that we decided to go to Starbucks, and then get a slice of pizza, before we stopped. She planned it in a really chill way (I mean, we planned it together I guess, but she asked me? So I say it that way?) and it’s still way more memorable and fondly thought of by me than other, more original first dates.

    What I think you can take from that:
    1) If you’re going to do a movie, which can be awesome (It really can! Awkward physical tension is kind of exciting too, and it brings that up in a way that feels really safe whether or not you decide to make anything of it), do something that allows you guys to talk a little bit first, if possible. Coffee is good here. I know that when I got there I was SO nervous, and talking to her for even half an hour really totally changed the experience for me, I think, from just terrifying anxiety to good-anxiety/anticipation-anxiety/excitement-anxiety.

    2) If you’re going to get food or do something else like that, which is also an awesome date, don’t be afraid to add-on once you get there. Be flexible. The best dates are both casual and cozy and spontaneous, in my opinion. Which no, you can’t plan. But you can consciously decide to do one thing and from there, continue as you feel called to. <3

    Best of luck! Let us know how it goes, if you don't mind!

    • Yes to what this human said. Also, take the pressure of yourself and give the woman of interest some agency. I see you stressing about how YOU must plan this thing. But she’s also going to be there and wants to have a good time. With you! Perhaps just ask her what she’d like to do and you both can come up with a plan that works. I also live in NY and so we both know that there’s always something to do, often low-cost or free. Just walking through Union Sq or checking out the Highline on a less than frigid day could be enough to get a conversation going. Check out some amazing pizza places. Maybe get one of those free copies of Time Out (the online version is wonky sometimes and lists events that have already happened) that are handed out by the subways and the two of you can scope out what’s happening. Breathe, you got this.

      • Yes to all that, and NYC specifically has some great low-cost date options. The Morgan Library & Museum is free Fridays from 7pm-9pm and you can get some great matcha at Ippodo nearby beforehand. The Met is a classic for a reason, and you could stay there for hours if you wanted to, plus the admission fee is suggested donation. El Museo del Barrio is $5 for students and from their website it looks like that may be suggested donation too. The Brooklyn Museum has free admission on the first Saturday evening of every month (except September for some reason).
        Also ice skating in Central Park; Lasker Rink is the cheaper of the two and probably less crowded on any given day.
        If you’re looking to eat and willing to spend a little, I’d recommend a teatime at Alice’s Tea Cup (sometimes you can find a good deal on a coupon/discount site) or a pot of oolong and some pineapple linzers at Te Company.
        Hope this helps!

  11. I am not a fan of movies or like just doing dinner or a food/drink-centric activity because….how do you talk? What do you talk about???? Idk all two of my dates outside of the one relationship I had (which was excellent and low-key and all our dates were: going kayaking and then eating food and that’s basically my idea date even though I am terrible at playboating it’s also more accessible than river-running and a better format for dates) were terribly awkward because there was food and trying to talk to each other that we didn’t know well…it was just less than ideal.

    I think activity dates are the best. I am loving the suggestions in the comments for bowling, mini-golf, and coffee shop with board games because they’re low-key. If you got hit by this snowstorm, going sledding is also a pretty good option because it’s also pretty silly and you can choose to lengthen the date by suggesting getting some hot cocoa or coffee or tea or whatever hot beverage of your choice at a nearby place, or not, if you’re not feeling the date. I don’t really recommend hiking/walking around as a first date (more a second/third date imo?) bc again, WHAT DO YOU TALK ABOUT, but if you have a cute and reasonably well behaved dog, that’s also a potential first date option that is low-cost and the dog’s antics will help prevent a complete stall in conversation topics.

  12. I got the sense that the letter writer having problems deciding on a major might not have the freedom to explore indefinitely – if their mother is involved in paying for college, it might come down to picking something soon or finding a way to pay for college on their own, and if they’re paying on their own, they might not be able to do that indefinitely. It’s not their fault or a result of them doing anything wrong, but it does seem like there’s a repeating pattern where they learn about a new field they’re interested in and decide it should be their new major. They shouldn’t have to stay with their current major just to avoid further change, but whatever they decide, it would probably be better for them to deal with this pattern in some way moving forward (especially if there’s some sort of outside pressure on them to settle on a major more quickly).

    I would definitely recommend that they get career counseling – it’s usually available at colleges for free, it exists precisely for these types of situations, and it might help their family feel like they’re taking this seriously, if that’s a concern. I’d also recommend taking a look at what choosing a major means to you – do you feel like your undergrad years are the main time you’ll ever get to explore your passions, or that whatever you choose now is something you’ll be stuck with for the rest of your life, or that the only way to make a passion a substantial part of your life is to have it as your main career? Because none of those things are true – adult education exists, people change careers all the time, and hobbies/side work can be just as important as your job – and it’s absolutely possible to prioritize flexibility, if you discover that’s what’s important to you.

  13. Other first date ideas, all centered around walking & talking— but with enough external stimuli that you don’t have thinking of clever things to talk about OR even talk at all if you don’t want to.
    • Museum
    • Botanical garden**
    • Beach walk or hike or bike ride
    • Food truck gathering or other “fest”
    • Goodwill (It worked in Saving Face) or Ikea or even a swap meet could work

  14. Laneia, your answers are always so soothing.

    Slight tangent based on “Do I need friends?”:

    I’ve recently been working on honoring and separating what feels most beneficial and natural to me personally from what’s purported to be The Best Thing by others around me and/or society at large. I’d be considered “too isolated” by many people’s standards, and while some of that is absolutely a result of past trauma and general bad shit, I simply tend to do better when left to my own devices. I’m veeery introverted and self-sufficient by nature, which makes interfacing with another person exhausting and depleting (even when I really like the person!). Although I still need/want friends, it isn’t valuable or authentic for me to try to cultivate and maintain platonic relationships that feel “too close” by my (unorthodox but totally valid) standards. I’ve been trying to be more accepting of myself for not being able to comfortably conform to the path I “should be” taking based on others’ expectations, while still establishing safeguards to ensure I don’t become unhealthily isolated by my own standards, e.g. regular therapy, maintaining a baseline level of interpersonal communication. That way, I can catch myself and hold myself accountable if I’m getting “too” isolated, while also giving myself permission to discount others’ off-base concerns/judgments and to acknowledge that the majority of those concerns are rooted in a widespread perception of “normal” that doesn’t work for me.

    So, yeah, maybe you do need a big circle of friends who’ve known you forever! Maybe you need a small chosen family of friends who are totally plugged into who you are right now! Maybe you don’t need many friends or many close friendships! It’s all good, baby baby.

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