Y’All Need Help #20: Is This Too Many Metaphors?

Look what I got in the mail!! Look!

Dear Laneia,

I submitted a question to Autostraddle last year, which you replied to in Y’All Need Help #10 Q1. I just wanted to say thank you so much for your advice, for dispensing your words of wisdom, and just being so kind. It really meant a lot. I took screenshots of your reply and just kept them as a reminder that things will get better during an emotionally trying period and it was just so inspiring. Your framing the issue and getting me to look at the issue from a different perspective I hadn’t thought of previously helped a great deal in me getting over my crush eventually. And you were just so kind! Thank you!

Love,
No longer crushing on a straight girl

I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU !!! Thank you for this update. If y’all ever want to send an update, please do. This is the best thing that happened to me all week! Now on with the show.

Q:


I live with my parents, and my mom and I are very close. She was pretty upset when I first came out and weird about my first girlfriend (understandably tho, my first gf sucked), but she’s come to accept it. Now I’m in a long distance relationship with a woman I really love, and my mom’s met and liked her. She’s told me a couple times how glad she is I have a “friend” like her. My problem is, she sometimes says things that come off as bitter? For example I told her a story about how my partner spilled a drink on herself at work, and my mom responded with “too bad, so sad,” a phrase I have never heard come out of her mouth. My mom is usually very compassionate, so I’m really confused by her behavior. I have approached her about it before and she claims not to know what I’m talking about and reiterates that she likes my partner. Am I being overly sensitive? Or am I right to be hurt by these comments? Should I talk to my mom about it again or just let it go?

A:

I think you should let it go unless she says something out of character again, and then just very plainly ask her if she’s having a stroke. JK BUT NOT REALLY that’s 100% what I would say to my mother.

A few years ago, a very generous and brilliant executive-level businesswoman offered to help Riese and me learn how to be better at this job because we were very bad at it and she could tell that all the way from the other side of her computer. She taught us a lot, so much, but the technique I come back to almost daily is this idea of the Five Positions, and I tell everyone about it all the time and it’s not annoying about me at all. I can’t explain the whole thing to you because of this cold medicine I’m on but basically and in an extremely tight nutshell, position 5ing someone (that’s what we call it for short) is a thought exercise where you acknowledge that your initial take on someone’s upsetting behavior is probably the most drastic take and that it’s likely inaccurate and colored by your own fears and insecurities. Then you force yourself to assume good faith — the best faith, really, like the Megatron of Assuming Good Faith — and come up with a take that’s on the complete opposite side of this spectrum from your initial take (your initial take was position 1, this Megatron Good Faith Assumption take is position 5, imagine a pendulum ok, a Take Pendulum. Is this too many metaphors?). Position 5 is also most likely inaccurate and drastic, but the goal is to get you far away from your first take and out of your own head a little. The ultimate goal is to get to position 3, which is the desired middle ground of your Take Pendulum’s journey across the spectrum and it is the most chill. Position 3 is informed a little by position 1 and a little by position 5 and it’s where your Take Pendulum should come to rest, having seen the most upsetting take and the most generous take.

Ok so your initial take (position 1) is that maybe your mom secretly hates your girlfriend, hates that you’re gay, and is passive-aggressively making these out-of-character comments to blow of steam. If we position 5 your mom, we could imagine that maybe she thought “too bad, so sad” would be a funny thing to say and would lighten your mood? You know your mom better than I do so you’ll have to position 5 her more accurately for yourself. What’s probably happening is that your mom is mostly fine with you being gay and does think this your girlfriend is a great gal, but doesn’t know what to say when you talk about her because she’s tripping on the fact that your significant other is a woman and not a dude. Maybe, since your girlfriend is long-distance, your mom isn’t forced to confront your queerness every day, so she doesn’t, and then when she does, she stumbles because she hasn’t had enough practice.

All of which is to say (!!!), to test our [cold-medicine-informed] position 3 theory, maybe try talking about gay stuff more often for no real reason and without it having anything to do with people you love, so if she reacts weirdly it won’t carry as much weight. Talk about the out Olympians or like, Elton John. Moms love Elton John. Force her to confront the reality of your big gay world. Then, when you do talk about your girlfriend again, if she says something out of character and seemingly a lil’ rude, just stop her right there and say, “I’m sorry wait, why would you say that? That’s a weird thing to say.” or “That’s a weird thing for you to say, I thought you’d say [something better]. What’s going on?”

And that, friends, is the story of how position 5ing people can lower your blood pressure, water your crops, and clear your head so you can come up with reasonable solutions to your interpersonal problems. Amen please tip your waiter.


Q:


I broke up with my ex-girlfriend six months ago, after being unhappy in the relationship for a while and knowing that splitting was the right move. It was initially amicable, but after going back and forth about whether we could get back together over a period of several months, she told me I was manipulative, cruel, and a user, and that I didn’t care about her. I felt blindsided and so hurt by this, and started questioning everything I had done in our relationship. We cut off contact after that, and she immediately started seeing someone. Now, I’m truly obsessive about all the things she said to me in that last conversation, and the fact that she has moved on, and thinking about her feels like opening a wound. I still love her even though I know that I felt breaking up was the right decision. Why can’t I move on? What can I do to help this feel more resolved for myself?

A:

You can’t move on because her words are making you second-guess what you thought you knew about who you are and what the relationship was. A of all, this is a very normal reaction to the situation, so don’t let yourself get caught up in the tangle of hating yourself for having a negative/confused feeling about yourself etc infinity — just don’t. You trusted this woman at some point and now she’s said things about your and her time with you and it makes sense to give it some weight. Do that! Give it weight. Accept that you made her feel manipulated, used, and uncared for. Apologize sincerely — either in a journal entry or to her, but probably just in a journal entry — and vow to be better in the future, then forgive yourself. It’s all you can do now.

Being in an unhappy relationship that needs to end can make even the best people turn into worse versions of themselves. IT HAPPENS. It happens it happens. Sometimes we hurt people without meaning to. Sometimes we even mean to! These aren’t proud moments and we don’t want to repeat them, and the only way to do that is to keep living and moving on and getting further away from them, every single day. Every day you live and breathe and you’re not in a unhappy relationship with someone who feels bad around you (for whatever reason, whether that’s on you or her, or both of you!), you’re doing GREAT.

Put the love you still have for her into yourself. Be proud of yourself for having the capacity to love and see the best in people. You’re not a robot, you have a heart and you can do great things with it! Go do them! Do a great thing with your heart right now and tell yourself you did the best you could with what you had at that time — you both did — and now that time has passed. Find the things you learned from that relationship and be proud of them, take them with you into all your future relationships. You’re a good person, she’s a good person, you weren’t good together.


Q:


My family is big on gifts and surprises, and makes minor events into gift-giving occasions. My style has always been very laid-back—minimal jewelry, jeans, hoodies, sneakers, no make-up, no frills, no lace. I’m in my thirties and have been wearing men’s clothes since middle school.

However, every gift I’ve received since coming out (about 2 years) looks like it was meant for someone else-dresses, make-up, jewelry, lacy tops, and bedazzled nonsense. Maybe I’m over-reacting, but it feels very coincidental that I have dressed a certain way since childhood and everyone was fine with it, and then I came out and suddenly everyone (especially my mother) wants to gift me overly feminine clothes and jewelry. She didn’t do this before I came out.

How do I handle this without being a total bitch? I know I should be excited someone is giving me a present. How do I convey that I’m thankful for gifts, but they are throwing their money away buying me things that I’ll never use? I’ve never attempted to return anything because the process seems so complicated and rude to me (having to ask the gift giver where they bought it/needing a receipt/finding how much they paid/etc).

And how do I even begin to convey (to my mother, especially) that these gifts really hurt my feelings because it feels like she’s buying for the daughter she wants and not the daughter she has?

A:

You know what? I think it might be time to be a bitch. A lowkey bitch who asserts her actuality until everyone else is either on board or they stop buying you gifts altogether, their choice. Also real quick, now’s a good time for all of us to put this in our mini marquee lightboxes: asserting your actuality doesn’t make you a bitch at all! The patriarchy says you’re a bitch because you want to be seen. You’re not. You’re actualized. Also that will not fit in a mini marquee lightbox so maybe use a letter board.

It could be that these people in your family are buying gifts for the someone they wish you were, absolutely. It could also be that, since you’ve come out, they feel like they’ve lost track of the north and south poles of who you are, and how they fit into your life. So their compass is completely haywire and the easiest thing to buy for you, in this gift-giving bonanza they call life, is whatever Kohl’s has decided to put on those tables in the middle of their aisles. Most likely it’s a little bit of both, but either way there’s a real disconnect between you and your family, and it’s worth traipsing it out into the open so everyone has a chance to look directly at it!

Before we get any deeper into this very lengthy reply I’m putting together here, I want to step up onto this soapbox and say that organized/cyclical gift-giving can quickly become an exercise in just performing mindless tasks, where the value of and the connection to the gift itself means very little to the giver and the givee, bless our hearts, because people are more focused on the fact that a gift was given, full stop. It’s gross, I hate it, so do you, so do we all. And yet here we are in this consumerist society and we are MAKING DO, friend. We are making do! The dreamers and the makers and the minimalists and the people just trying to fucking not fill their house with useless garbage, WE ARE MAKING DO. Ugh I love us for it; we’re doing our best.

So! Try all or some of these things, maybe:

  • Make an Amazon wish list and just copy/paste that motherfucker to everyone you know.
  • Have real, no-walls conversations with your mother about some things you really do want and need. Bring her into your actual life and show her the poles. Here’s why you like this kind of shirt, here’s why you could really use a membership to the Lightbulb of the Month club, here’s how you really feel about LACE.

  • In the gift-giving off-season (which is probably now?), be blunt! “If you’re ever going to spend money on me, I hope you know what I really need is [this very specific brand and cut of jeans]!!!”

  • When receiving a useless disconnected gift, respond in kind: a cursory smile, maybe a stiff one-armed hug — the one that’s front-to-front but you have something in one hand and the hugging arm becomes one enormous animatronic elbow + hand. You know what I’m talking about.

Context is everything everything everything, so there will definitely be times when asserting yourself is unnecessary — NOT because the assertion itself is unimportant, but because your energy is a finite precious thing that deserves to be rationed, and some people are beyond helping. That’s fine. Donate the things you can’t return. Return the things you can. Unless someone bedazzled it themselves or like, baked it in a kiln, it probably meant just as much to them as it does to you (very little) and they won’t even notice that you’re not wearing that necklace or carrying that hot pink purse, ever.


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 37, has two kids, two dogs, one cat, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox.

Laneia has written 784 articles for us.

19 Comments

    • HAHA SORRY i feel like that section needs a disclaimer like, “if you don’t understand this, it’s definitely me not you, my apologize.”

      the position 5 good faith assumption is just The Most Good Faith you can muster, the most generous you can be with your interpretation of their actions. you’re forcing yourself to give them a gigantic benefit of the doubt because it helps you see that there are other interpretations that could apply beyond your very first, very personal one. does that make sense?

    • the example I remember we learned it with was in 2011, and we had a writer who wasn’t turning things in on time or responding to emails promptly and it was making us nuts because we loved and depended on their writing so much.

      our position 1 was “[writer] hates autostraddle, thinks the work we do is pointless, wishes they’d never started writing for us, doesn’t actually respect us as people, probably resents us for not being able to pay them and actively talks shit about it to other people and doesn’t believe that we aren’t able to pay and is de-prioritizing us for that reason but won’t admit it to us.

      we were dealing with her like “1” was true, which meant we were dealing with her in a way that was very defensive and also passive-aggressive.

      position 5 was, “she’s genuinely overwhelmed by her many commitments, has to prioritize money-making assignments to make tough ends meet, is embarrassed that she’s fallen behind with AS, feels bad and doesn’t know what to say to us about it so is avoiding it.”

      it’s not like position 5 was any better for us as an employee — regardless of circumstances, we need our writers to communicate with us even if the news is disappointing. but considering that stance greatly informed how we communicated with her and thought about her, which was helpful.

      i think “3” in this case was something like, “she does want to work here and does like the site and us, but is struggling with time management and prioritization. also is just really shitty at email in general.”

  1. My mum does that with gifts too! She doesn’t know I’m queer, but she buys me clothes that she wishes I wore, instead of the ones I like. I normally wear ‘tough girl’ hard femme clothing, or just men’s clothes. The last gift she bought me was a genuinely ugly pastel pink floral top?! I don’t want to look ungrateful either, because I know she doesn’t have much money for clothes.

    The worse part is that she consistently buys clothes 4-6 sizes too big, despite knowing my size. I think this is because she is very overweight and I am skinny, and also I had anorexia as a young adult – which I’m completely recovered from now. Lots to unpack there…

  2. i forgot about the time you told me about position 5 until right now and it is really helping me with my whole life, so thanks laneia (and riese for your comment above), please never stop talking about position 5!

    also fwiw moms do love elton john and my mom in particularly had her first awakening re: patriarchy being real (bless) when she heard a radio interview with barbara streisand so like, the world moves in mysterious ways is all i’m saying!

  3. Ok yes yes yes good advice but FIRST –

    WHERE did you get the phrase “A of all”? My wife and I say this all the time (there is sometimes a “B of all” but not really ever a “C of all”), to the point where our coworkers make (loving) fun of us for it. We got it from a friend in college many moons ago and it’s just been a part of our vocabulary for so long that we forget other people don’t say it.

    BUT YOU SAID IT. WHAT WIZARDRY IS THIS

  4. I’m so happy to read such feedback from Y’all need help no.10. I remember that question and your answer very well. It’s been traveling through me at a steady pace sweeping away a lot of clutter.
    Especially the energy bit : queer loving/dating energy vs pal energy. Mind. Blown.

    In fact… I just looked it up to confirm. Y’all need help no. 10 was the thing that motivated me to become an A+ member. Life changing indeed !

  5. So, how would the position 5 thing work for situations where my initial reaction to something isn’t all that strong, and then later when I actually have a chance to think about what someone did/said, my reaction is more along the lines of “wow, that was a really terrible thing”??

    • i think in that case you wouldn’t need a position 5, bc your initial reaction wasn’t one that clouded your ability to consider other possibilities. if you thought more about it later and had a strong reaction that you couldn’t move beyond, then you could position 5 them and try to get to a 3.

  6. As far as the gift-giving thing, I personally would much rather someone tell me, “O, I’d rather have X”, and then I know, than have them be polite and never tell me how they feel. If I give a gift to someone, I want them to *FLOVE* it, so knowing what others want is a good thing to me.

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