Ask Carrie: Fall 2023

Carrie Brownstein
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Q: A friend of mine is in a long-distance relationship with this guy whom she’s had a crush on forever. I want her to be happy, but the relationship is toxic and she deserves better. I’m one of the few friends she vents to about it. Also, she knows I’m not completely supportive, and it’s slowly driving a wedge between us. I’m afraid to be completely honest with her and possibly lose her as a friend. How do I navigate the thin line of being supportive and honest without pushing her away? Should I just keep my mouth shut?

Introspective Twentysomething,

Springfield, MA

A: This is an important juncture, and I appreciate your reaching out. At some point in life, we get to the stage where we realize we may not approve of the people our friends date or marry or have children with. At first you think their partner might grow on you: be kinder, ask you questions, get a haircut, become smart, ski less, wear socks. But then they don’t. And once you know you can’t change who they are or who your friend loves, there is only one course of action: don’t disparage the partner, and keep on being a good friend. Saying something mean about the partner will definitely erode your friend’s trust in you, and she’ll stop confiding in you out of fear of your judgment. Even if your friend breaks up with this guy, try to refrain from negative comments, as they may get back together. There’s nothing worse than hanging out with your friend and her beau after you’ve called him a “tool” and a “piece of sh*t” while they were on hiatus, a tidbit she likely shared with him. You’ve mentioned that the relationship is toxic, and I don’t take that lightly. I do think there are ways to be honest and supportive while not alienating your friend. If her venting is about needing an audience, and you are up for it emotionally, you could try this: reassure her that you love her and that the situation sounds hard, that you’re here to listen. You could also ask questions: Is there something better he could have said in that moment? Or make observations: That sounds like it made you anxious. Instead of offering a course of action, you’re essentially being present, which might allow your friend to do some self-exploration and reflection. I want to add that there’s a certain amount of chaos adjacent to toxic dynamics, and it’s easy to get sucked into the emotional turmoil and drama. Please know that you are allowed to have boundaries. They’re hard to ask for but absolutely crucial to one’s sanity. It’s OK to say, I love you and I also think you need to find a therapist to talk to. Or, I can go on a walk (or to a movie or shopping) to help you stop thinking about him, but I can’t talk about it right now. I’m really sorry you’re going through this. Sadly, this is probably not the last time a person you care about deserves better. But to have someone rooting for us is why we have friends. 

Q: Whenever I learn someone’s address, even from something as benign as sending a postcard to a college friend, I get this urge to look up their home’s value on Zillow. Why do I do this? Is my craving to know someone’s home value a sign of something bad?

George C.

Joplin, MO

A: Your looking up people’s home values on Zillow is a sign of something bad, and it’s that you’re not using Redfin, which has a much better interface. OK, in all seriousness, you shouldn’t feel bad. Let’s zoom out. Or should I say Zoom out. (I hate myself right now.) Not to make assumptions, but since you’re writing to The Believer for advice as opposed to consulting with your favorite TikTok personality, I assume you’ve lived in a time before social media; my point being—and it’s why I made the dumb Zoom joke—that our digital lives are both confusing and unavoidable. And I think there’s actually greater disorientation for those of us whose lives weren’t always mediated by screens. One tiny speck of the current existential horror, Horror, HORROR (how is this word not big enough anymore?) is occupied by the deluge of social comparison. We’re inundated with how everyone else is living. Even more aggravating is that social media is the Russian nesting doll of language and discourse and thus a black hole of concepts and thoughts: it’s a meta-tautological Gertrude Stein–M. C. Escher college dorm poster good-dog Gatorade funlick. Like, who can figure this out? Basically, only on the internet could you start going down a social comparison wormhole and end up comparing comparisons, until, by comparison, looking up home values on Zillow becomes the least of your worries. All this is to say, George, that you may not have any control over what you’re doing. If I can offer any advice, I would suggest reframing your Zillow habit as curiosity, a trait that should be nurtured, then find a more edifying place for it.

Q: All my oldest friends come from the community of musicians I grew up in, but I recently entered grad school in a different field. The thing is, I think grad school is making me into a boring person. I’ve developed some academic interests that are intensely lame to most people, and I can feel my new pursuits putting distance between me and my musician friends. Whenever I see them, I become painfully aware of how non-conversant I’ve become on the topics that used to unite us. How can I avoid growing apart from my old community?

John W.

Palo Alto, CA

A: I, too, am part of a community of musicians. I formed a band during my junior year of college that I still play in to this very day. So I relate to the camaraderie of which you speak, and to why it might be scary to pivot from a creative network from which you’ve derived comfort and inspiration. Moreover, it’s never easy to feel your path diverge from a group of friends; no one wants to lose touch, particularly when you’ve spent years accumulating an encyclopedic knowledge of bands, songs, tour-bus mishaps, former concert venues in your city that are now ice cream shops, and Gibson SGs that only a handful of people—your people—truly appreciate and understand. Yet while connecting with others over mutual interests is gratifying, constructing a social currency around the niche and esoteric can be limiting. I once played a game of charades with fellow musicians wherein someone put “The bass player from Neu!” as a clue. That same musician was incensed when no one correctly guessed the answer. They also admonished anyone in the room who possessed only a cursory knowledge of Krautrock. My point being, are you sure you’re the boring one? It’s not what we talk about that makes us boring; it’s how. It’s knowing when we need to translate our rarefied knowledge so that we’re engaging in a conversation, not a lecture. A lecture, for instance, about experimental music from Germany. Or perhaps you’re worried that your musician friends are feeling a tad threatened or hurt by the fact that you’re thriving outside their insular world. To be honest, maybe they are. But if they’re really your friends, I think they’ll be supportive of your going to grad school. And I honestly think it might be good for them to branch out. Ultimately, the first step is for you realize that all friendships change as we grow older. If music is what helped you find yourself, your voice, your community, then it will always hold a special place for you. No matter where you end up, you’ll never lose the ability to connect with people over music’s sacredness, how it jolts and lifts you, floors you, wrecks you—how it finds you. So try not to think of yourself as leaving your community but rather expanding it. Last, if you do nothing else, please familiarize yourself with Neu’s bass player.

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