Today in Polly: The French Weasel and the Hot Mailman
Ooo la la! Also: some basic general relativity.
Polly? In my Tabs? It’s more likely than you think! Today in Polly is a semi-hemi-quasi-monthly newsletter-within-a-newsletter for Today in Tabs subscribers guest starring the queen of consultation, the number one philosopher on Substack, Ask Polly’s Heather Havrilesky.
The way it works is: you ask us for advice, and we answer (separately) and then make fun of each other’s answers. More specifically, Polly makes fun of my answers and I try to emerge with some tattered remnant of my pride intact. We only do this once a month so I have time to heal up from the burns.
My partner and I hooked up just in time for (because of?) the pandemic. We met in January 2020, bubbled up in March, and have been together ever since. I feel like we would have ended up here anyway, pandemic or not, but my question is this: How do you know if you're unhappy in your relationship or if it's really just that your job sucks and/or the fact that it's a pandemic/the end-times? How do you suss out the true source of the misery? I mean, like most everyone else, I distinctly remember being happy. In 2019. What if we're really not compatible after all, it just seemed like it at the time? Or is this just how it is for grownup people once the honeymoon is over? I mean, we used to say things like, "This is the Best. Pandemic. Ever." But now I am kinda wanting to get a job that requires me to go back into the office. Preferably in another state…
Rusty: How do you suss out the source of your misery? The Scientific Method! Construct a hypothesis. Test the hypothesis. Draw conclusions and refine your hypothesis.
For example, I don’t think anyone should commit to a long-term relationship without at least trying to break up first. If you don’t, I guarantee the day will come when you’ll wonder “what would it be like to… not be with this person?” You should go in knowing that you tried that already and didn’t like it. So that would be an experiment you could do.
Hypothesis: This smelly heap of laundry I am trapped in the house with is the source of my misery.
Experimental Design: We’ll break up, experimentally, and see if I am happier or less happy.
I do see a lot of people break up and then treat it like a job they have to win Employee of the Year at, no matter how soul-crushing. I don’t recommend that. Just, you know, go away for a bit and see if you want to come back.
If that’s too much of a hassle (given cohabitation etc.) then just going for a trip by yourself might help.
Hypothesis: I am going stir crazy from two solid years of isolation and a constant deluge of psychotically bad news.
Experimental Design: I’ll rent an AirBnb in some other city for maybe two weeks? Just by myself. I won’t have any huge plans, I’ll mostly be working during the day, but I’ll make note of a few touristy things to do on the weekends.
Will it feel great to leave? It definitely will. Will it feel great to come back? That’s the question. I’ve been married for 20 years and just this month was the first time I have insisted that my wife go away by herself because we were getting sick of each other. Even just a weekend apart made a difference.
You could test other hypotheses (quit your job and see what happens! You can always quit!) but your partner seems like the independent variable you’re most interested in, so that’s a reasonable place to start. Basically, the point is the answer probably isn’t hidden somewhere inside you, in some grownup-knowledge compartment I can give you the key to. If it was in you, you’d know it already. So change something and find out.
Polly: Great stuff, Rusty. Try on a divorce for size, see if it feels nice! A timeless classic. Let’s call it The Don Draper. I hope you like weeping into a stinky hot springs pool at Esalen.
Now let’s put on our big boy pants and try thinking this through like a mature adult: You're in an escapist state of mind, but that doesn’t mean your partner is the cause. The first tires to kick are your emotions: Can you feel them? Have you landed in this MEH place before, and if so, was it around the time you dropped the fantasy of a person? Did you get to know the real person at that point, or did you just gtfo?
The fact that you’re asking “How can you pinpoint the source of your unhappiness?” suggests that you might not know how you feel, what you want, what you value, what your priorities are, or how to articulate all of the above to your partner. What I’d suggest is talking honestly and vulnerably to your partner about all of these things instead of asking everyone’s favorite red-headed stepchild and his adorably grandiose Disney sidekick (I’m a French weasel with a flair for the dramatic!) to figure it out for you.