Bootleg Therapy: An Advice Column, June 2022
the fourth edition
Welcome to Bootleg Therapy: an advice column for wayward hearts. Think of me as your virtual stranger at the bar with a raspy voice and a weird scar on their cheek; the truth is in the worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle. Submit your questions anonymously on brokebutmoisturized.com for a chance to be featured.
Enjoy an audio recording of this piece, or scroll to keep reading. (Sorry for the especially poor quality this time. My dog was being a bad boy and I was moving away from the mic a lot.)
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My boyfriend's cousin is getting married in a couple months and we assumed we were both invited when his aunt asked for our address, have been planning a hotel and other fun things to do in the city that weekend, etc. The invitation arrived to his mother's house for just him and his mom this week. I am disappointed and feel left out. We've been dating for some time and live together, plus the request for our address... I was really looking forward to meeting more of his family and I'm bummed. I assumed he wouldn't go without me, but he is saying he has to because his mom needs a ride and doesn't know much of his dad's side of the family. Am I wrong to be upset that he's going alone? Also, am I wrong to wonder what changed between the request for address and sending the invites? I feel that they had to decide not to invite me for a reason and it's eating me alive. Help!
Are you any good at sad puppy eyes? I don’t ask this because I think you should use them to keep your boyfriend home from this wedding (spoiler alert: he should absolutely attend, and guilt-free at that). I ask this because imagery drives my best advice, and right now, I’m picturing you with these cartoonishly distraught, Cavalier King Charles eyes upon realizing you weren’t invited to the wedding. And picturing you like a cute Spaniel is going to help me soften the tough love.
Let’s start with the invitation. That cursed piece of embellished cardstock. I bet it’s floral, has some metallic element and an inoffensive palette of dusty rose or sage green. It taunts you from the fridge, humbles you while you sip your morning coffee. According to The Knot, the average cost of wedding invitations is $530. Imagine spending half a month’s rent asking people to hang out with you at a really fun event where you’ll feed them Chilean sea bass and endless booze when you could have just sent an email. Now imagine how much the Chilean sea bass and endless booze costs. I don’t know what level of extravagance is to be expected from this particular wedding, but in a general sense, weddings are insanely expensive. People spend hours agonizing over who not to invite to stay within budget. Many folks do not offer plus ones, or only do so for people/couples they know well. That doesn’t mean they actively don’t want you there; it means they had to make a choice, one that may have been stressful. Make no mistake: it’s perfectly fair for you to be bummed, but I’d advise you nip any ill will in the bud. You can only replay the scene of them asking for your shared address so many times before it starts feeding resentment.
As for his solo attendance, you already know what I’m going to say. (I tend to give myself away early. The woes of being a straight shooter.) It’s not wrong for you to be upset that he’s going alone because it’s not wrong for anyone to be upset about anything. We can’t choose our feelings, but we can choose how we process them. You did a smart thing by writing to an anonymous advice column; you’re getting an unbiased opinion from someone who has no reason to protect you from hard truths. But that’s only one piece of the pie (er, wedding cake… too soon?). Now you must find a way to make peace with a shitty situation. Think about why you’re hurt by the thought of him going alone. If it’s truly just because you feel left out, that’s an easy feeling to get past and I’m confident you will soon. It’s ultimately childish and bratty and we can’t occupy that space for more than a few days as adults or we grow sick of ourselves. But if it’s secretly because you’re worried he’ll do something at this wedding, that’s a whole other story. That makes this a matter of trust, which is far graver than a sort-of-revoked wedding invitation from not-even-immediate family… and certainly alters the course of this conversation between you and I. Trust is one thing you can’t be afraid to examine because the more you lie to yourself about whether you trust someone, the more these small incidents compound and obscure each other and before you know it, you’ve wasted five of your hottest years on a snake. But, for the sake of space, time, and optimism, I will take your word at face value and assume you just have well-meaning FOMO.
I know this incident feels like it’s happening to you, but consider that it’s also happening to him. He’s the one who’s bound by blood and goodness to attend these godforsaken nuptials, and now he has to worry about you feeling ostracized. That’s undeserved guilt for someone who’s just doing their familial duty. You’re not going to make a good impression on his relatives by encouraging him to miss something this big. And say you pushed that agenda and he did stay home—if you were to break up in 6 months, you’d always be known as the ex who “wouldn’t even let me go to my cousin’s wedding… my own cousin!” You do not want to be that ex. But you really don’t want to be that girlfriend. So don’t.
The beautiful thing about you, Blacklisted, is that your sincerity is evident. It fills the room like cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven, sticky, sweet, and undeniable. You wanted to meet his family, to cozy up in a hotel, to witness love with your lover (which only begets more love), to spend a fun weekend in the city. That is so pure. Remember that about yourself when you feel bad about feeling bad: that it’s only because you care, and to care is to live.
I met my best friend about 7 years ago through a mutual acquaintance who lived abroad at the time. Recently, the mutual friend moved back to our city. The two of them have been hanging out a ton, but they never invite me, even when I’m available or when I strongly hint I’d like to do something. It seems like they’ll invite me to certain types of events (almost always during the day), but never to major social events or events at night. They also seem to exclude me if they’re hanging out with this one other group of women. The whole thing has kind of made me feel like a kid on the schoolyard. I fully know I don’t need to be invited to everything by everyone, but this can feel deliberate and has been communicated in a way that’s cutting. I’ve put time into making other friends, discovering new and interesting hobbies, and just generally enjoying life. But over the last week, there was a particularly painful and insulting rejection that happened, and I’m considering distancing myself enough to basically end these friendships. I am particularly hurt by the rejection of my “best friend.” Am I reading too much into this? Am I actually being rejected? Should I communicate how I feel, or just move on?
Dear Rejected Redhead,
It’s funny that my original goal in college, and for years after, was to become a therapist. I thought I could actualize an iota of that dream in writing an advice column without the grad school price tag for meh pay—and I have. But it’s moments like this when I curse the limitations of a single response model. Dialogue is what makes people think differently enough to reach real, sturdy conclusions about their problems. I have questions for you, Red. Questions that ultimately determine whether you should emancipate yourself from these “friends,” or give them the benefit of the doubt.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to ask them anyway:
What’s everyone’s relationship status? Let’s hypothetically say you’re in a relationship and these friends are single. When it comes to going out, single people often feel like they’re on a different page than their taken friends. They want to hang out with people whose motives and behaviors mirror their own. I personally think that’s forgivable. They still invite you to day hangs, which says something.
Now, let’s say you’re all single. Do you get a lot of coveted attention? This is your moment to get honest with yourself. Redheads have a unique allure that sometimes makes them more approachable, if for no reason other than the conversation starter that is their mane. Maybe you’re so used to people calling you beautiful and interesting that it didn’t even register that it could make anyone jealous… in which case, they need to grow up. We all get jealous, but if it affects how you treat a friend? Ciao.
Are you a good hang? You may wonder how one gauges something as nebulous as a good hang. Perhaps I can put it in familiar terms, some questions-within-a-question: Are you a down ass bitch (long live Ja Rule)? Do you raise the vibe? Do you make people feel free to be themselves? Are you a strong listener? Orrrrrr… do you suck the air out of the room? If you have any degree of self-awareness, you should know. Do you find yourself breathlessly rambling about your problems, obliterating any opportunity for reciprocal conversation? Is it not totally uncommon for you to pull your phone out at dinner (like, multiple times, for long pauses)? Are you honest in a way that feels innocuous to you, but might come across brutal or tactless (e.g., say your friend wants to have a one night stand, and you just can’t help voicing how meaningless and gross they are)? I hope, by now, you have some idea of how you rate on the Good Hang Scale.
Are you a bit introverted? I ask this question separately from the “good hang” thing because introverts can make great hangs. Introverts ground me with their low-key sensibilities; some of my most meaningful friendships are with introverts. But I must admit that I might not typically invite them out with my main group in fear of overwhelming them, or in fear that they’d find us annoying. This is where communication comes in—expressing interest in being included—which it seems like you’re mostly doing.
This all brings me to how I feel about your situation intuitively, with none of the aforementioned questions taken into account. I think these people care about you. At least one of them cared enough to cosplay as your bestie while the third was abroad. But I think they bring out something in each other that feels relatable and desirable and underscores your lack of whatever that something is. Maybe it’s a certain sense of humor, or a level of adventurousness. Maybe it’s surface level stuff, like the kind of music they enjoy, or how hard they like to drink. Who knows? But every time they leave you out of something, they make a choice to preserve an energy that isn’t yours. This isn’t necessarily malicious. They’re just not going to admit it to you, maybe not even if you ask.
I am of the mentality that different friends serve different purposes in our lives. Not in a transactional, give-and-take way. Just in a “this is my friend I do acid with” and “this is my friend I grab coffee with” way, which allows you to approach your relationships with a closer understanding and respect of individual differences. That could very well be what’s going on here. The one came home from Spain or wherever and they realized, profoundly, that they have more in common with each other than they do with you, and that you are someone they think of inviting on a hike more than a concert. It’s up to you how you feel about that. Personally, it doesn’t sit well with me, mainly because you’ve expressed interest in joining them on these outings, only to still be left out. It’s possible that when they do include you, it’s because they feel bad, which is objectively worse than not being included.
As for actionable stuff, now is your time to be forthright. You’re already on the edge of dropping them for good, finding your spark in new hobbies and people, so you really have nothing to lose. But perhaps there’s still something to gain, to salvage through clear communication that inspires change—change being the operative word. It’s one thing to have a heart-to-heart, but it’s another to find yourself home alone, soaking in the tub on another Saturday night doing the New York Times crossword puzzle while they’re out having fun. Life is already a constant barrage of mediocrity, Red. Don’t let your friendships contribute.