Every so often, I go through and read the collective archives of someone's advice column. I do it for more or less the same reason Holmes used to read the agony columns in the London newspapers: You get to be privy to someone's hopes, dreams, and screaming terrors, while at the same time having the comfort of knowing that A. you never, ever have to deal with it in person, and B. someone else has taken the trouble of editing their question down to the important part, so you're spared the digressions about how he was a nurse at the local ER blah blah she was on her way to a postmodernist culinary poetry slam blah blah phone battery died blah pet goat blah blah Illuminati space lasers blah and they never would have ended up married if it weren't for Aunt Gladys' infected pilonidal cyst, isn't that so funny?

There are some things that come up over and over and over again. Nobody asked me for any answers, but I did call this thing "Unsolicited Advice" for a reason.

Q: Is it okay to break up with someone because of...?

A: Yes. I don't even care how you finish that question. It is okay to break up with someone because they took up smoking. It is okay to break up with someone because you want to move across the country and they don't. It is okay to break up with someone because their CD collection is crap, and they have too many cats. It is okay to break up with someone because they dress like your grandpa. It is okay to break up with someone because they watch the Kardashians on TV, or because they buy things with "Kardashian" on the label, or because they are upset that you don't look like a Kardashian. It is okay to break up with someone because eww, because meh, because fuck you, and just because.

The thing I am trying to get across here is that the reason you break up with someone is because you want to break up with them. This is the only valid reason to do it, but on the up side, this is always a valid reason to do it. Any other thing your brain comes up with to explain to itself why you're not feeling it anymore is window dressing. If you're asking if it's okay to break up with someone because reasons, then somewhere deep in your lizard mind, in a clump of cells that has never heard of reasons and would probably beat them to death with primitive clubs made of fallen ganglia if the rest of your brain tried to explain what they were, the observation has been made that you do not want to be in a relationship with this other human anymore. It is totally okay, and even encouraged, to listen to the lizard mind when it says this. It will probably save you a lot of agony later.

Q. I have this friend and I've confessed my love for her seven or eight times now, but I can't tell if she likes me back or not. She keeps scheduling visits and then flaking on me. How do I get her to give us a chance?

A: You don't. This seems to be a shy straight dude thing -- I don't think I've ever seen it phrased in quite the same plaintive way by a woman, or by a man asking about another man, although I'm sure it's happened somewhere at some point in history. The fact is, as Captain Awkward puts it, people who like you act like they like you. If she liked you the same way you liked her, she would move heaven and earth to come visit you. She doesn't. You cannot convince her to. At most, you can potentially convince her to do a lot of things she really doesn't want to do by making it more trouble to get you to go away than it is to suck it up and suffer. Doing this, and I am not going to mince words here, makes you a bad person. So don't do it.

Moreover, most of the people asking this eventually come up with some variation of "I know I'm not creeping her out, because she still talks to me every day". Take it from me: You are creeping her out. You have just managed to activate the self-protective instinct that says it would make you get nine million times creepier for her to just not respond to your constant prodding. If she suppresses the wincing and makes stupid small talk with you on GChat, she can get you to stay on the other end of the IM box. If she quits answering, you will get "worried" (read: terrified that your self-built fantasy will come crashing down on you) and start doing shit like emailing her a dozen times a day, sending her a bajillion text messages and leaving voicemails, or, God forbid, showing up at her door/calling mutual friends to show up at her door/calling the local cops to do a "welfare check".

Have you ever read Johnny The Homicidal Maniac? Nny, the title character, slaughters people at semi-random, and paints a wall of his basement with their blood in order to keep some sort of tentacled Lovecraftian monstrosity at bay. This is what she is doing when she types words into the IM box that you keep popping up on her screen over. and over. and over. and over again. Like Nny, she isn't sure whether the thing she's trying to keep from exploding all over her life in a shower of clingy suckers and maybe death is real or some kind of bizarre hallucination, but she really doesn't want to find out.

Look, I'm not everyone and I can't guarantee that this is true of all women, but my personal policy is that you are allowed to confess these huge awkward FANTASY LOVE FEELS and ask if I feel the same once. A lot of women are even uncomfortable with that, feeling that they are putting up huge yet tastefully polite NO signs all over the place and you should know that, but I get that nonverbals are sometimes difficult to get a grip on, especially if you've got other stuff going on in your head. So, as a civilized human being, I accept that you might really want some kind of solid confirmation, and being sympathetic I choose to to listen to your one shot at catharsis. If I don't respond with oh god yes I was hoping you felt that way, then you are done.

Further confessions are not flattering. They are an attempt to make me obligated, and pressure me to give you something in return for this thing that I don't need and didn't want you to hand me in the first place. This is the longer, more detailed definition of fucking creepy. Do not do this.

Q: My family is horrible to me, they make me feel like dirt whenever I talk to them, and tell me I'm a drama queen when I try to tell them why I'm always crying when they visit. How do I make them understand that we would get along just fine if they'd just stop the offensive behavior?

A: You don't. Or, rather, you probably already have, you just don't know it because nothing happened. When they tell you that they "don't understand" they're not telling you that, unbeknownst to you, you accidentally slipped into Lower Middle Martian while laying out the reasons what they did made you feel hurt. They're telling you that they don't comprehend why you think your needs are important enough to stop them from behaving however they damn well please. They are telling the truth. Normal people will sometimes run into situations where they genuinely understand why the other person is upset, but upon consideration, they really do feel that in this particular case, their own needs must take priority. People who make you cry all the time and then demand to know why you're crying only to tell you that you're not making any sense are broken in the head, somewhere in an important part of the brain lobe that tells most of us that we are not the most important person on Earth, and that other humans have feelings too.

Having accepted that they are handicapped in some way that literally will not allow them to make the connection between "I did a thing" and "another person became upset", you can try skipping over the why part and just training them to behave the same way you train dogs. The dog does not need to comprehend why you need him to learn to stay in one spot when you say so, or even why the particular noise "stay!" means "plant your little doggie rump here and don't move." He just knows that when his human emits a "stay!" sound and he stays, he is rewarded with happy interactions when he's done. It takes a long time and a lot of energy to do it to people. My parents behaved somewhat better, at least for a while, when I made it very clear that if they picked a fight on the phone I would hang up on them and would not be answering their messages for whatever length of time it took me to cool down, and if they picked a fight when I came to visit I would arrange to be on the next bus home and they would not see me again until the next holiday break. It doesn't always work, and depending on how much the person you're training is aware of being trained and resentful of having to modify their behavior, the effort may be worth more than the relationship.

You can stop talking to your family. That really is an option. I know a lot of people think that sharing DNA with someone makes you obligated to interact with them, but you also share about 98% of your genetic code with chimpanzees, and you don't see people wringing their hands in despair and writing to Dear Prudence and begging their psychiatrists for a handful of sweet, sweet Valium before going on a mandatory miserable death march to the zoo every year at Christmas.

Q: There's this server at a place wh

A:  Don't even finish. Don't hit on the service personnel. In fact, just as a general rule, don't make a pass at anyone who can't opt to get away from you if they don't appreciate it. If we're talking waitstaff specifically, I will allow you the option to write your name and phone number/email on the bottom of the check ONE TIME ONLY, and if you get no response then you must purge the thought from your mind entirely and never mention it again, ever. No answer is your answer. You 'fessed up discreetly, now go home and say five Hail Marys, two Hello Dollys, and apply beer while listening to the Beatles song "No Reply" on repeat until it sinks in.

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