Detaching from Trump

I want to quickly share one simple response to the shock, fear and heartbreak my friends are feeling in the U.S. as a result of the recent election. I should be working on the novel, or the Finishing School book, but this is important to me.

In my personal quest to let go of attachment, that means all attachment.

I must let go of the illusion of power, the lust for control over people and institutions, the pride of hearing my own viewpoints echoed and praised, the pride of being right, the consoling belief that I am a good person in contrast to these others who are not good people, the delight in winning arguments, the pleasure of voicing scorn wittily and denouncing those whose ideas I despise, those whom I consider harmful, hateful, deluded, dangerous, misguided, those whose anger toward me makes me want to retaliate, those whose words, pointed right at what I hold sacred, make me fearful and protective … in my personal quest to let go of attachment, in my personal quest to accept things as they are, I cannot stop just because this one political event seems outside the category. And I must be most aware of that attachment to things I hold most sacred. The problem is not the quality of the object to which I am attached, but the phenomenon of attachment itself.

In my quest for perspective, I have to ask myself: Have I learned nothing from history, from legions of poets in exile, from war, sackings, raids, genocide, burnings, persecution, mass exile and emigration, have I learned nothing from history about fate? Have I learned nothing from the anarchy of disease, of cancer’s insouciant eeny-miney-mo choice of victims, of the random car crash, the random rain, the random earthquake and flood, the random rise and fall of regimes?

For a long time I have lived like an exile watching from outside the palace gates. I have longed for acceptance and belonging but I have not belonged or been accepted in the way I long for because what I long for is not to be found. I long for love and security like a child, all the time, empty and desperate. I have tried to stuff this big emptiness in my chest with everything the world has to offer but have had to conclude that this big emptiness in my chest is a feature of my being.

Likewise, there is no guarantee that I always get to be on the winning side. Yes, it is bad. But America is not unique. America is not immune to catastrophic political mistakes. There have been rulers before in other countries who were mad, narcissistic, paranoid, deranged, and they have wrecked things and made disasters. And such a thing has now begun. In response, what do I do? I am no activist hero. I am not a political actor. I am no match for this.

If acceptance is the key to all things then I must always watch for the imperious re-emergence of my hunger for power, my lust for recognition, my need to be right, my need for praise. I must remember how all these things are symbolic satisfactions of my basic need for love and security, how, when love and security in my daily life are threatened, I turn toward symbols: solidarity, my side winning.

Meanwhile, we have lost big.

What will keep us safe? How will we best survive?  What do I do?

I wait it out like a bad storm. Are there others, left behind, whom we can rescue? We will see.

If you like, if you’re not safe where you are, and you can swing it, come to Italy. Come to Castiglion Fiorentino. Wait out the storm with us.

I’m normal, but …

Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, JUL 7, 2004

I’m a healthy 26-year-old man and I’ve never had sex. Should I tell my girlfriend?


Dear Cary,

I’m a healthy 26-year-old male, normal in most ways physiologically and mentally. As far as I can tell, I’m a funny, bright guy people tend to gravitate toward, and I’m as sociable and interactive as anyone. I’ve never been especially big on the so-called dating scene, but I’ve kept in contact with it enough to not qualify as a complete leper.

I’ve recently begun seeing a beautiful girl (it’s been a couple of years since I dated anyone) who has been very interested in me for some time (which I of course didn’t notice for the longest time), and we’ve had a good time together, equal parts romance and intellect and all those late-night chats where you slowly fill in the gaps. I’m not a very “experienced” romantic, but I gather that she is, yet things have been incredibly fluid and comfortable. We have a good ability to be open and honest around each other, but I have run into a bit of a problem when it comes to telling her something that I assume is pretty unusual for a man of 26: I’ve never had sex. Not even anything remotely close to it. I’ve often joked about my adherence to celibacy, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the time for joking is done.

This springs from various aspects of my life involving a healthy (read: “non-rigid, non-fanatic”) dose of Protestantism (if you believe that can be healthy) and a not-so-good amount of insecurity. For whatever reason, I’ve avoided this like the plague, so I won’t merely blame any dogmatic hindrances. My singularity was brought into stark contrast in my eyes (not really for the first time) when I read a film review by the always interesting and divisive Charles Taylor who mentioned some phrase about “creepy abstinence teens.” Think of how creepy it would be for a girl who finds that she’s really into a “creepy abstinence late-twenty-something,” I find myself thinking.

I naively believe that if she cares for me she would be able to handle such an idea, but I’m guessing it would be unfair of me not to tell her at the outset (and she’d obviously figure it out soon enough anyway, or read it as a complete lack of interest), and since this is a huge part of relationships (I do realize this, believe it or not), I guess it would be even more unfair to expect her to stick with me if I felt I couldn’t bend my rules (which I’m still not sure about). And to be honest, the whole abstinence thing is driving me a bit mad.

OK, I’ve left you a mess. Please offer any thoughts you have.

The Creepy Celibate

Dear Celibate,

I think you should tell her. I don’t see any other honest, reasonable, loving thing to do. That is what you want to be, right — honest, reasonable, loving?

Why is it naive to believe that if she cares for you she can handle it? On the contrary, it seems quite reasonable to believe that if she cares for you she could handle it. In fact, telling her such a thing has much to recommend it. It is far less troubling a revelation than many other things one might feel compelled to reveal to a woman one is interested in. For instance, what if you had slept with her sister, or had beat up her brother in elementary school? What if you had a criminal record, or a bad case of herpes? What if you had told her some lie that you now had to retract? Those would reflect poorly on your character and give her genuine pause. Having chosen not to have sex before marriage, it seems to me, indicates that you are a thoughtful person who will not take the act lightly.

Perhaps there are things you did not mention, however, that are truly troubling you — perhaps you are frightened and feel clumsy; you fear that you will not be a good lover, that you won’t know what to do and feel paralyzed by that fear. If you feel paralyzed, try looking at it this way: If she cares for you, she may take sheer delight in showing you the ropes.

After all, it might be a treat for a woman to make love with a man who is willing to start from scratch and learn what she alone is all about, as if she were the only woman on earth. It might be a pleasure to be with a man who does not insist that he knows everything. It’s a heady prospect when you think about it: She has the opportunity to become your entire sexual world. She need not compete in your mind with past conquests. She need not suffer your insistent moves learned on other bodies, old habits played out on her as though she were simply a stand-in for some other true love. No, if she gets you she’s going to get you completely, and she will be able to mold you into just the lover she wants. Think of that.

There’s a huge upside to this is what I’m getting at. A huge upside. Now, the downside may be that if you don’t manage the way you tell it to her, she may wonder if there isn’t some other more sinister reason for your lack of experience. So your task is to make sure she understands that this was a rational life choice that you are ready to relinquish now. Oh, that’s the other thing: You have to get ready to go for it. So get ready. Buy some condoms. Make your decision. Then find a good moment when you can take some time to talk it through, and lay it out for her.

The only thing you have to lose is your virginity.

It was a detonation wedding: Our friendship exploded

Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, MAR 25, 2009


The groom said my husband is dead to him. The bride refused my package.


Dear Cary,

A good friend of mine invited my husband and me to her destination wedding. We were thrilled to be invited as she was a bridesmaid in our wedding, however, when we saw the price for four days we realized we couldn’t go. At her bridal shower, a mutual friend had mentioned that her boyfriend couldn’t go and asked if I would go with her. My amazing husband was nice enough to agree and I went. While there, I overheard other couples talking about how cheap the trip was and how they couldn’t believe it was “such a steal.” I couldn’t help feeling hurt finding out these couples paid less than half of what I paid to go solo but it was too late. I was here now and that was that. The trip was great and the wedding was beautiful. At the end of the evening when I was saying my goodnights, her new groom said “Goodnight, and by the way, tell J he’s dead to me.” I stood on that dance floor frozen, my body numb as if physically slapped. After leaving my husband home because we couldn’t afford to go together, then finding out I paid $1,600 for myself when all of the other couples paid $1,200 together, then to hear him say my husband is dead to him because he didn’t go … I was appalled. I left the reception hall in tears. I got on the bus to the airport the next morning and completely avoided the receiving line and never said goodbye.

After she returned, I finally got the nerve to tell her how I felt. She told me I was selfish, the world revolved around me, how dare I ruin her day and that my wedding wasn’t perfect.

Needless to say the friendship is over, but I can’t help sitting here, six months later, still in shock. Should I have kept my mouth shut? Was it really not a big deal? Do friends just let this kind of stuff slide?

I recently found out she is pregnant, the holidays have come and gone, I attempted to mail her a letter and she sent it back “package refused.” I am just stunned that a friendship would end over this.

Am I a fool to think she was ever a friend in the first place or am I in the wrong?

Stunned

tuscanad_nov2016a

Dear Stunned,

It is not so important to assign blame. The important thing is to figure out what you want. If you want this person back in your life, it is within your power to begin a campaign to win back her friendship. Your campaign may succeed and it may not, but you can at least take action to get what you want. But first you have to make a decision: Does her friendship matter enough to you that you would devote considerable time to winning her back?

This is the issue. All that other stuff, who was right, who was wrong, whose feelings are hurt worse, who should have done what, that’s all, like, whatever. Do you want her friendship back or not? Do you even like her?

One might assume that you like her because you asked her to be your bridesmaid. But not necessarily. You might have asked her because you thought she’d fit into the dress. Or because she’s popular in your social circle. I’m not sure if you like her or not. You do not make very clear your subjective feelings about her as a person, only that you are terribly upset about what happened, as anyone would be.

It takes some work to find out what your feelings are. But it is worth it. Once you admit what you actually feel, and what is actually important to you, you are free to make decisions based on that. This frees you from the compulsion to do what you think others expect you to do, and it frees you from the compulsion to do things that are, in essence, attempts to redo the past, or color over what happened, or change what is real.

So ask yourself: Is she really important to you? Do you have shared values? During the time you have known here, have you maintained a hope that you and she would remain friends for years to come? Do you enjoy spending time with her, just the two of you? When you think of her, do you say to yourself, “I really like her”? Or is she just a person in your social circle? Does she make you feel good when you are around her? Or have you always felt a little like you were competing with her for the limelight? And what about your husband, does he like her? Does he like her new husband? What about their relationship? Is it totally dead now too?

If you want her to be your friend again, take steps to win her back. Write to her and call her. Do not let her first angry refusal stop you. She may remain angry for a while. You may have to wait significant intervals between entreaties, lest she get the feeling you are some kind of unhinged stalker. But if you keep at it, and she will talk to you, just apologize for what happened; admit that this was a regrettable incident and that you want to be friends again.

Suggest that you and she get together, just the two of you. Go out of your way to be nice to her. If she is a sympathetic person, and you are honest with her about what happened — that you felt humiliated not only because you spent too much money but because of what her husband said — then she may respond in a genuine way.

As to what the groom said, well, guys are weird. Maybe he meant something like this: “Please tell your husband that I really was hurt that he did not come, because I thought he was, like, almost my best friend, and now obviously he doesn’t care about me as much as I thought.” In certain circles, guys can’t really say things like that about other guys. Instead, all they can do is punch each other and say things like, “Tell him he’s dead to me.” That’s supposed to convey this whole nuanced set of meanings, but yes, it does fall a bit short.

So, yeah, I know it sounds really fucked up. I’m not sure if I’d want to be friends with these people. The overarching message to you is that you need to spend some time, now that you are an adult, thinking about each of your “friends,” and trying to determine which ones are actually important to you. Then take steps to salvage the friendships that really matter, and forget the rest.