I ghosted a girl I met on Tinder and now I feel very bad, but honestly I think I’m just too messed up for anything serious.
Dear Fuck-Up: I got too drunk and cheated on my boyfriend, and now I feel bad. How do I forgive myself and move on?
Dear Fuck-Up: I have a friend whose problems are honestly very boring to me, but she keeps wanting to talk about them so I just ignore her. I feel bad about it, but really shouldn’t she just accept that I can’t always be there for her?
Dear Fuck-Up: I’m a fuck-up and I fucked up so I’m hoping that you, a fellow fuck-up, can tell me how to accept fucking up all the time and learn to love myself.
Dear honestly an astonishing number of people,
One important thing to realize about the act of seeking and dispensing advice is that, more often than not, what people actually want is permission. If you find that friends often approach you for counsel it can be a sign that you have your shit together and they would like insight into your responsible approach to life. Or, it can mean they know you have woken up outside and therefore are in no position to judge them for whatever it is they’re doing. I fall in the latter camp of people. So, it’s not particularly surprising that when I started this column I began receiving letters like the ones above. I fully expected people to ask me for permission to do whatever it is they wanted to do, but I’ll admit I was surprised by the apparent need to also still feel like a good person.
That’s why I would like to take a moment to state something clearly: I do not think that the primary mandate of becoming an adult is learning to accept yourself if you are, in fact, behaving unacceptably.
To backtrack briefly, this column gets its name because I was, and in many ways continue to be, someone who makes a lot of mistakes. When I was younger those mistakes caused a great deal of collateral damage. I can’t imagine how much worse that would have been had I been reading memes on Instagram about how I was simply a wild, unruly, messy soul who deserves to be accepted and loved by everyone around me. If anyone had told my 23 year-old self that bailing on people is self-care I would have eaten that shit up. Because here’s the thing: I was not “messy” or “complicated” but something far more pedestrian and less poetic. I was an asshole. I was a bad friend and a bad daughter and a bad partner (although most of the men I chose met me halfway in that regard.)
And, like the people who write to me hoping for validation, I often felt terrible about it. The notion that we are all beholden to one another was terrifying, because I always felt insufficient to the task. But eventually a very simple thing dawned on me: I felt insufficient because I was repeatedly, through my choices and actions, failing to meet the minimum requirements of being a person who cares for others. Being a fuck-up is not a matter of ontology but a matter of ethics, i.e. — it’s not who you are but what you do.
For me, the first things I had to do differently were go to therapy and stop self-medicating. I stopped making promises I knew I had absolutely no intention of keeping. I began to see that responsibility to others is actually metal as hell, and that freedom does not mean escaping all interpersonal constraints but the exercise of volition; it’s freedom to care for others. Never once had it occurred to me that for someone to deserve me at my best they must love me at my worst. At my worst I was simply inflicting myself on other people and nobody should accept that in themselves or anyone else.
And look, I still struggle with responsibility — my credit is in the toilet and my apartment is a mess. The difference is that these days I try to ask myself who precisely will be paying the consequences for my decisions. So no, I’m sorry, I do not have any wise words about how to love yourself despite, you know, the fact of yourself. Hope that helps.
Until next time,
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