Introductions Suck: Julie Durrell
Five Facts About This Book
Whether we’re a preschooler or a young teen, a graduating college senior or a retired person, we human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.
—Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember Fact #1:
This book contains no magical answers or the keys to self-help, happiness, flawless contouring, etc.
Our experience has taught us that no matter what so many self-help books and well-intentioned therapists, teachers, and counselors tell us, those answers don’t exist. And pushing yourself to find them instead of dealing with what you’ve got will make you more frustrated, miserable, and mad at yourself. So even if this book doesn’t hold the secrets to fixing all your problems, it will show you how to develop your own unique problem-management skills. Fact #2:
This book makes one promise—that life is hard, but never impossible.
The only guarantee we can make is that life is difficult and often painful. And so many of the major factors that influence our lives, from the way other people act to our own emotional responses to things, are completely out of our control. Instead of learning to blindly trust and act on our feelings when it comes to making important decisions, it’s better to look for guidance from facts, experience, and the pride that comes from achieving the least-crappy outcome in an altogether crappy, miserable situation. In other words, we’ve found that your heart is full of blood and your gut is literally full of crap, so it’s best to follow your brain instead. Fact #3:
This book will ask you to give up on wild expectations, but not to give up on yourself and on doing the right thing.
Giving up on false hope doesn’t mean giving up, period. It just means letting go of your unrealistic wishes for what you hoped would happen, figuring out what aspects of the problem you can control, and readjusting your goals accordingly. The only thing you’re actually giving up is endlessly punishing yourself and feeling like a failure for no good reason. Fact #4:
Although this book’s for not-yet-adults, it’s really for everyone.
In theory, this book is aimed at not-yet-adults. We wanted to write a book especially for them, in plain English, about how to deal with life’s biggest issues, if only to try to reach readers early enough in life to save them some misery in the future. In reality, however, solid advice isn’t limited to any one age group. That’s because many of the most painful problems in life—no matter your age—stem from feeling different and alone, and feeling like an isolated weirdo can make anyone see themselves as a failure. Fact #5:
Although this book will not necessarily make you feel better, it will make you better at dealing with life.
In fact, if this book does promise any keys to life’s difficulties, it’s one so simple and obvious that we have no problem sharing it before the book’s even officially started. And that is: When the problem tormenting you is unsolvable, at least for the foreseeable future, the best way to get through it is to stay focused on doing your best to be a good person, despite how crappy you feel and how hard things are.
Our advice will give you methods for managing problems when happiness is not an option. It will also help you rate yourself, not on how much you’ve achieved, but on how hard you tried to do the right thing when good results and happiness just weren’t possible. And at the end of the day, that’s all any of us, at any age, can truly hope for. Even if most people or books won’t admit it, especially in an introduction. How This Book Works Structure:
Each chapter of this book will cover a big thing in your life that can suck: friendship, school, cultural differences, bodies, homes, and sexuality. Feeling like you don’t measure up to others in these areas—like you have too few friends or look too different—can make you feel more isolated, miserable, and generally sucky than any one person should have to put up with.
Then, instead of telling you how to feel better, or offering solutions you’ve already thought of, we challenge you to use your own experience and sense of right and wrong to fight all the undeserved and unfair negative feelings and find a way forward. That’s why each chapter begins with a simple quiz to help you determine what your own values are and whether you’re living up to them—despite what you hear from parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and others or from your own negative feelings—or whether there’s room to improve and change.
The chapters are then broken down into sections. Each one will use examples to illustrate advice for specific problems, separating realistic goals from false hopes. We’ll also help you decide what feedback is worth paying attention to and what’s negative and unimportant, even if it’s coming from those who mean well and really want to help. We’ll then offer realistic suggestions, not to fix or solve, but to manage those issues and the powerful, crappy feelings they cause. The advice will be broken down along these lines:
· Signs You May Be Misinterpreting Things
· . . . And Signs You Aren’t
· What Your Parents Say to Try to Help
· . . . And Why It Isn’t Helpful at All
· What You Think You Need to Figure Out in Order to Fix It
· Why Those Fixes Will Fail
· What You Can Actually Do About IT
· Red Flags to Look For in the Future
· The Un-Sugarcoated Suckiness You Can Expect
· The Untrue Suckiness You Must Reject
Each chapter also has sidebars offering advice that’s both funny and brutally honest. Two sidebars that appear in almost every chapter are: Do My Friends or Parents Have a Point?
Parents get to have a say in all aspects of your life, from where you go to school to where you live to whether or not you might end up with the genes for obesity (thanks a lot, great-grandpa ironically known as “Tiny”). Friends, on the other hand, are expected to provide all manner of advice, on everything, all the time. That’s why, when the people close to you try to control or just weigh in on more personal matters, it can sometimes feel like they’re taking things one step too far.
Unfortunately, as much as it may seem like parental control should be limited, it can’t be, because it’s fueled by unlimited worry. Parents know that their actual ability to preserve your safety, future, and general well-being, despite all their efforts, is fairly weak. And while reliance on friends seems like it should be boundless, your friends’ expertise is often as limited as your parents’ concern is limitless. So before you greet every parental opinion with rolled eyes and every friend’s opinion as gospel, read these breakdowns of what they’re probably trying to say, no matter how unfair or clueless their actual words sound. Then you can decide whether their worries and criticisms are worth paying attention to or whether they’re overreacting and you’re eye-rolling just the right amount. How to Be an Ally
There are a few safe, reliable ways to help those in need, and many ways that trying to help can actually do harm. Your best approach for helping others is to think carefully about what you can do without taking on unnecessary responsibility and risk. That said, if you see someone who’s hurting because of their differences, we list some things you can do, and some things you should avoid, if you want to help out.
So let’s get on with discovering all the ways that life can suck, how you can accept it, and all the good things you can do about it from there. Chapter One Friendship Sucks
For most people, it’s hard to imagine getting through life without friends. They’re the ones we have the most fun with, who make us feel better when we’re down, and who have our backs when bad people or big problems have us feeling cornered. Having friends seems like an important part of being a normal, happy person.
But if you don’t have a lot of friends (or enough friends, or sometimes, any friends), your parents might worry that you’re shy and uncomfortable around people your age, and your peers might think that there’s something wrong with you.
Your peers might think that anyone who doesn’t have lots of friends, or any friends, or has friends they don’t approve of, is weird, or a loser, or a bunch of other negative, hurtful things that can make you feel even more friendless and alone.
If you have trouble making friends or want to be friends with people who don’t want to be friends with you, it’s easy to believe those negative, hurtful things. You might wonder if you’re doing something wrong that makes it impossible for you to be likable. Which then might make you think the solution is to change yourself in order to find friends and get your parents and peers to think you’re “normal.”
The truth is that there are lots of reasons for not having friends, which you—or anyone else—can’t control or change. You may be the sort of person who’s more interested in spending time alone and maybe isn’t worried about having friends right now. Or it could be that you just can’t find anyone you want to be friends with. And you might not feel great about that, but it’s okay.
Of course, you’ve probably watched lots of movies and TV shows where the “nerd” or “weirdo” gets a makeover or a magical best friend who impresses the cool kids and makes our nerdy hero into the king of the school. In real life, a new haircut just invites more teasing, and magical creatures are hard to find outside of fairy tales. Trying to fix the problem of friendlessness by changing yourself usually just makes you feel more helpless and lonely than you did to begin with.
That’s why you shouldn’t ever feel like making friends is what you’re supposed to do, at least not until you’ve asked yourself whether making friends is possible and really better than spending more time alone.
Remember, being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re a loser. You’re just making the best of not having friends for the time being, even if it means feeling lonely sometimes and having to listen to adults asking why you don’t have friends. It means spending your time doing homework or reading or finding a hobby. And while you’re doing that, if your school is truly a friend desert, you can keep an eye out for places outside of school where you might make friends, which can be anywhere from the library to a sports club to the local comic book shop.
And being alone or lonely should never push you to hang out with bad people and do bad things. Settling for the wrong friends, either because you think you need friends or because you want to make your parents happy, is just going to make everyone miserable. The wrong friends can tear down your confidence by not accepting you for who you are, or by dumping you when you need their support the most, or by getting you into trouble, or all of the above.
So when you feel friendless, not-friended-enough, or like a loser who’s doomed to be alone, the answer isn’t making friends by any means necessary or by doing something that makes other people, but not you, happy. The answer is to go slowly, figure out what you really need in a friend, and make friends only when you think they’ll be good for you (while learning to spot bad friendship situations and stay away).
Don’t let loneliness get you down when you can’t help being lonely. Ignore the jerks at school, the doubting voice in your head, and even your worried parents, and be proud of yourself when you have good reasons for being friendless and aren’t letting a bad situation or a load of bad luck get you down.
And when you do have friends around, accept that you might not always get along. Getting through those rough patches is a good sign of how strong and worthwhile your friendship really is. Real friends stick with you, no matter how not-fun either one of you is to be around sometimes. How to Figure Out for Yourself When a Friendship Sucks: The answers to many friendship problems depend on your own ideas of what makes a good friend and what makes a friendship worth having. Teachers, parents, and TV shows from the 1990s all have their own ideas of what kinds of friends you should have. But ultimately, it’s up to you—not your PE teacher, your dad, or Ross and Rachel—to figure out your own standards of friendship. Here’s a quiz to help you think about the things you should expect from a friend and from yourself as a friend. It will help you determine whether those expectations are reasonable or likely to cause trouble. 1 You get so sick with some puketastic virus that you end up having to miss three days of school and have no contact with your friends. You expect your friends to: A) Totally freak out and organize a prayer vigil outside your house until you can hold down solid food. B) Get in touch after the second day to find out what’s going on and offer to come by to drop off homework or just say hi. C) Not forget your name when you get back, but not much else. 2 You catch someone you considered a close friend telling your secrets to a bunch of kids who don’t really like you, and they all share a good laugh. You decide to: A) Fight fire with fire. Wait until everyone hears about that humiliating thing that happened to her last summer! B) Calmly confront her about it later and see what she says—and if she denies it, don’t fight, just give her space and stay guarded when she’s around. C) Laugh it off, because if you show you care then your friend will crank up the secret sharing. 3 A group of cool older kids have been asking you to hang out with them. While you’re pretty sure they really like you, you don’t feel comfortable saying no to them even when they want to do stuff that could get you grounded, arrested, or even dead. You decide to: A) Tell them that the next time they try to pressure you into doing something bad, you’re calling the cops, using a taser on them, or both. B) Get brave, and politely turn down their next invite to join in their crazy adventure. And if they’re not okay with it then it’s time to find friends who aren’t as exciting but are a lot less fake (and dangerous). C) Ride out the adventure as long as you can and hope that if something does go wrong, you can stand the grounding and your parents can afford bail or funeral costs. 4 You and your best friend have known each other forever. You always have fun together and make each other laugh. But you’re starting to get into soccer and the two of you aren’t spending as much time with each other, and you can tell she’s not happy about that. Plus, your new soccer friends think she’s weird. You decide to: A) Force your soccer friends and your old friend to hang out with one another, even though it’s awkward and your best friend never really has anything to say. It’s the only way you can think of to make everybody happy, but it obviously makes everybody miserable. B) Tell your old friend that you still value her friendship, despite your new interests, and make time to hang out with her. And make it clear to your new friends that if they’re not cool with and to her, then you’re not cool with them. C) Tell your soccer friends you’ve ditched your old friend, but still secretly hang out with her, making sure your soccer friends don’t see the two of you together. That way, again, everybody’s happy (except you). Answer Key If your answers were mainly As: Your expectations are too high. You expect a lot from friendship, both from yourself and from others. You feel way too responsible for meeting impossible friendship standards, pushing so hard to “do the right thing” and protect your friends’ feelings that you end up hurting their feelings and screwing up. And because you’re so hard on yourself, you tend to punish others for not achieving your high standards. Unfortunately, friendships can easily be messed up by factors that nobody can control. So having high expectations and reacting impulsively to them is never smart, whether you’re angry at a friend or angry at yourself. Instead of expecting people and friendships to be perfect, learn to think carefully about your right, and your friends’ rights, to feel and do things that disappoint other people, at least in the short run, when there’s no better alternative. If your answers were mainly Bs: Your expectations are just right. You’re getting the hang of being kind to others while also paying attention to your own needs (also known as being a good friend to other people and to yourself). Overall, you know how to be a good friend and good person, even if, like every human being, you don’t always do the best job of it. You accept the fact that feelings change in ways you can’t control and that people aren’t perfect. Some friendships stop working, some people will let you down, and you may disappoint some people. But it usually won’t do you any good to force relationships to be something they are not or to punish other people or yourself. Instead, learn to accept uncontrollable changes in a friendship while becoming more selective about who you spend time with, even if it means going slowly and being lonely sometimes. A good friend is someone you can trust and rely on, and people like that aren’t easy to find. If your answers were mainly Cs: Your expectations are too low. You’re not willing to put in the effort to make potential friendships work if they seem too risky or “uncool.” But you are too willing to forgive and tolerate bad friends without protecting yourself from being hurt or mistreated. Friendship isn’t always fun and often requires work, but that’s how life is in general. The point of friendship isn’t just having people in your life whose support and understanding make it easier to get through life’s ups and downs, but also being that person to others. So, in order to make good friends and avoid bad friends, raise your standards for being a good friend. And expect good friendship from the people you hang out with. It’s not worth it to compromise. Do My Parents Have a Point? When Your Parents Say . . .
“That friend of yours is [insert difference here]—I don’t want them in my house.” It Sounds Dumb Because . . .
They’re being total bigots, and there’s no defending their Jurassic-era attitudes toward people who are different. But It’s Not Dumb to Them Because . . .
They may be scared or ignorant—that’s not to say what they’ve said is okay, but that their worries, as misplaced and wrong as they may be, could come from a place of love and concern for you. So Be Smart And . . .
Remember that some adults have ideas about acceptance that are just plain outdated and wrong. And responding to them with anger, while justified, won’t do much to bring their ideas up to date. Then Respond By . . .
Telling them that you know they’re trying to protect you, but that they shouldn’t let your friend’s race, religion, gender identity, or any other attribute distract them from the true quality of your friend’s character. Section 1 Friendship Sucks . . .
When Your Friendship Isn’t Working
When a friend suddenly doesn’t feel like a friend anymore, it can make you feel confused at best and totally crappy at worst. But sometimes it’s hard to understand why things aren’t right, especially if no one’s done anything wrong. So, when what seemed like a good friendship starts to make either one of you feel bad, as difficult as it may be, you need to figure out what, if anything, went wrong. That way you’ll know whether things can be made right or if you even want them to go back to the way they were. Here’s an example:
I never thought the cool guys would want to hang out with me. But they do now that I’ve gotten good at basketball, and it’s pretty awesome. They’re the ones at school who make everyone laugh and always have the best time. I’m worried, though, because some of the fun stuff they like to do is not cool with me. But if I act shocked or say I don’t want to join in then I’ll be out of the group entirely and they (and everyone else) will make fun of me for being a dork and a loser. And I like being part of their group otherwise, so maybe I am
just being a dork. I need to figure out how to stay in with these guys without getting into trouble or becoming their number one target. Signs You May Be Misinterpreting Things:
They claim that when they give you a hard time for avoiding doing stuff with them that they’re not really mad, just joking around. Which would be easier to believe if their joking was more funny than mean. . . . And Signs You Aren’t:
This new group of friends have been cruel to people in the past who haven’t fallen in line with them and their expectations of what it takes to stay in the group. What Your Parents Say to Try to Help:
“Just be yourself and your friends will like you for you,” or “Maybe if you try harder to involve them in the things you like to do, they won’t always push you to do what they want to do.” . . . And Why It Isn’t Helpful at All:
They’re your parents, so your safety, your future, and your overall happiness are their priority, not your possible status as king or queen. If you follow their advice, you might meet their goals of staying out of jail, avoiding jerks, and focusing on your own interests, but you’ll have to live through a banishment to the kingdom of misery first. What You Think You Need to Figure Out in Order to Fix It:
Find a way to go along with your friends’ risky or annoying behavior while still keeping yourself safe and sane. Or make a plan for becoming so likable and cool that you’ll be able to suggest any activity and they’ll go along with you. Why Those Fixes Will Fail:
Any time you push yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right, you’ll like yourself less for being a wimp. And since it’s really hard to pretend to be someone you aren’t for very long, your friends will like you less because the only thing worse than a wimp is a fake. You can’t stop your friends from liking to do the wrong things, liking you for the wrong reasons, or not liking the person you’re becoming. And you can’t hide the effort you’re making to fit in, or the fact that you’re not actually the kind of person who meets their standards of cool (because, in fact, you think their standards are pretty stupid and annoying anyway). What You Can Actually Do About It:
Ask people whose judgment you trust (who can include your parents) about the situation you’re in. Explain what you think might be a good solution. Once you’ve had that conversation, do what you think is right, which will probably involve staying away from situations that will put you at risk. Yes, taking a stand could put you at risk of being teased or possibly shunned. Someone’s nasty reaction may be upsetting, but when you know you’re doing right by yourself, you don’t have to defend yourself or compromise yourself in order to gain approval. It’s better to accept who you are, even if others don’t think you’re cool or popular, than accept the abuse and compromise that comes with trying to be someone you aren’t. Red Flags to Look For in the future:
Avoid people who only want to be friends on their terms—terms that require you to make big compromises for them that don’t feel right, or may even be dangerous. Especially if they aren’t putting in any effort or making compromises themselves. Also, be wary of people who may be friendly to you but enjoy being mean to others, because if you join in their cruelty in order to keep their friendship, you could be their next target. The Un-Sugarcoated Suckiness You Can Expect:
Everyone makes bad friends sometimes, and if you have to “break up” with them, it sucks, even if it’s the right thing to do. After all, even if they were crappy friends worth losing, you’ll still miss the fun you once had. Especially if you now spend most of your time alone and feel like a sad loser. And sometimes there’s the risk of being bullied for being friendless. The Untrue Suckiness You Must Reject:
It’s hard when the people you once thought of as cool turn out to be the opposite. But don’t believe the voices, whether they come from bullies or your own brain, that tell you that you’re a loser, or a reject, or any label that implies that you deserve to feel this way and always will. You know you tried to be friendly while not bending your own standards to make the cool kids like you, and that takes great strength. If those friendships disappear as people get to know the real you, you’re better off without them. Don’t think you’re suffering because you did something wrong. Boundaries 101: Knowing When to Share Secrets Online and When to Shut Up Instead
Learning what personal information is safe to share with whom—that is, how to develop and maintain “personal boundaries”—is a difficult process that humans have struggled with for ages, even before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.
He’s just lucky he didn’t have to deal with social media. Now, of course, you must assume that every word and image you put online or in an email or text can be seen by anyone, up to and including your crush, the admissions department of your dream college, and/or your local police department.
So before you post something online that you know could cause drama with someone, ask yourself three questions:
(1) Would I say or show this to this person face-to-face? (2) Or to a group of people? (3) Even if that group was made up of strangers who will judge me based only on what I’m about to say or show?
You may feel like self-censoring means being untrue to yourself since you’re hiding your deepest feelings, but if your true self is someone who wants to be a fair, kind, and overall good person, then you can’t do worse than presenting the angriest, meanest, and most emotional version of yourself online as who you really are. Communication may have evolved way beyond the telephone, but that doesn’t mean you should use it to embarrass or hurt others or yourself.
Copyright © 2019 by Michael Bennett, MD, and Sarah Bennett; Illustrated by Bridget Gibson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.