Barrelhouse is always here to help. To that end, we're thrilled to present another episode of our regular advice column, FOUNTAINE OF ADVICE, with Jaime Fountaine!
Dear Fountaine of Advice,
I can't motivate myself to put any significant effort into developing intimate relationships. It's just a lot of work, and I don't like work, but I would like more satisfying relationships.
Lonely and Lazy
People are basically trash. I’ve given my heart and received nothing in return. I am broken, disillusioned, and lost. I also have a questionable sore on the back of my tongue. HELP!
On the surface, these are different questions. But I think that after TWO whole advice columns, we can consider my expertise fine-tuned enough to know that you’re both asking the same fundamental question: “How do I make and maintain mutually satisfying friendships? I’m afraid of being rejected.”
It will surprise exactly no one to learn that I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid. I’ve always been like this. I remain an acquired taste, but one who has managed to make a lot of truly wonderful friends in adulthood. This is in no small part because I’ve lived a life that’s so desensitized me to rejection (shout-out to elementary school, my parents, and online submissions managers!), I’m comfortable approaching people and asking them incredibly dumb questions until I’ve either chased them off forever, or made a friend for life.
I try to be a good friend, which means I feel as though I’m probably failing everyone I’ve ever loved almost every waking minute of every day. It’s great! I love it! Most of the people I consider to not only be good friends of mine, but also good at being a friend, seem to feel similarly.
It’s not because being a decent friend is torture. It’s because it’s hard to be a thoughtful person.
What makes it easier? Realizing bad friends aren’t worth the effort to keep them. Bad friends make sure you feel like your friendship is conditional on what you can give them, whether that’s attention or validation or more tangible things. Bad friends let the threat of rejection loom in the corners of interactions, like a shitty emotional Kato.
The same fear of rejection that keeps Letter Writer #1 from putting in the work to make friends is what keeps Letter Writer #2 in relationships with people who are unwilling to reciprocate their efforts.
It’s really dumb that to have fulfilling relationships, you must be willing to be vulnerable. But them’s the breaks, chief. If you want to get it, you’ve got to put it out there.
And look, I hate doing stuff and things. They can fuck right off. But I also feel guilty every time I miss something. I assume everyone has taken my absence deeply personally, because I’ve got layers. (And probably because I was raised nominally Catholic by someone with an unchecked personality disorder. But this isn’t about me, this is about y’all!)
Ideally, you would find something in the middle of monkish solitude and doing Giving Tree-ass shit until there’s nothing left. Figure out how much of yourself you are willing to give to other people, then do it. Figure out how much of yourself you need to hold on to, then fucking treasure it. Do I sound like a mug? BUT FIRST, COFFEE! WINE MOM! A PICTURE OF ZIGGY!
You can’t make people love you. You can’t guarantee that anyone who does is capable of loving you in the way you want or need to be loved. All you can do is love your people the best you’re able to without hurting yourself in the process. Is it easy? Sometimes! But often, it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.
Just try your best to be thoughtful person, and when you recognize that a friendship is unhealthy, step away before it breaks your heart a million more times. You deserve better.
Oh, and please see a medical professional if that sore persists.
Jaime Fountaine writes and tells stories. Her work has appeared in Paper Darts, JMWW, and Knee-Jerk Magzines. She lives in Philadelphia, where she hosts the Tire Fire reading series at Tattooed Mom and, Excuse My Dust, a "weirdo literature variety hour" at the Good Good Comedy Theater.