#124: Vaping as metaphor
Dear Baby time
Today’s Dear Baby covers the psychological nuisance of an old crush (or really any thought we’d rather not entertain), what to do when you hate your partner’s habit (in this case, vaping), and what to do when the path you set out for yourself is all wrong and now you feel deficient (featuring, of all things, birth order theory). Dear Danny is very much happening but on a week delay since I currently have covid and had to cancel our recording. Will publish that next Tuesday, 12/6! Which means there’s still time to submit a question in writing here or by voicemail at 802-404-BABY.
Also, wanted to say thanks so much for joining the extremely fascinating discussion thread on “getting work done” this past Tuesday, a little followup to my Sunday essay on cosmetic procedures (including some additional thoughts on, sorry in advance, Emrata). I’m always getting texts from friends when I do these threads about how eloquent and smart everyone who comments is, and I want to say thank you for making me look good, lol. Really though, there were so many great ideas and anecdotes I’m still thinking about! Feeling grateful and, actually in this case, humbled (but in the real way, not the fake award-speech way).
On old crushes
“I’m having trouble cleansing my subconscious of a girl that I was friends with growing up. I was always infatuated with her but it never amounted to anything serious between us, though we both showed interest from time to time. This continued from about age 13 until college. Both of us are married to other people now and have kids. I love my wife and everything about my life, and never run into this youthful crush anymore IRL. Still, every couple of months, I’ll have a dream about this girl, and in the dream, those feelings I used to have reappear. I always feel guilty when I wake up. Why is it taking so long to shake this attraction and what can I do to move on?”
Dreaming about a former crush is one of the best kinds of dreams, in my opinion. I had a dream about my ex just the other day. In it, he had ridiculously long hair that I inexplicably found beautiful and we were reuniting and making out and I was thrilled. When I woke up, the details already fading, I wasn’t bothered by the dream at all. I’m happy where I am now. No random sequence of old synapses is up to the task of convincing me otherwise. From the sounds of it, you’re happy where you are, too. It’s not your fault this girl, with whom you experienced a formative connection over many years, exists in the recesses of your mind. It’d be strange if she didn’t. The real problem, then, isn’t the dream, but the guilt.
I know I’m always circling this point—care of Alan Watts’s “backwards law”—but so often the root of our problems isn’t the way we feel, but the fact that we’re afraid or ashamed to feel the way we do, and so we spend a bunch of energy avoiding it and accidentally emphasizing it in the process. You’re doing the same thing: emphasizing these dreams by fearing their implications. But what if they don’t imply anything? What if it’s totally fine to dream about this girl? Or even to miss her sometimes, or feel a gentle tug of longing for the life you used to share with her, or the version of yourself that knew her better? Those feelings all sound perfectly normal to me. No matter how happy any of us are with our lives or choices, we’re complicated beings, full of memories and roads not taken. It’d be absurd if we never pondered them. Longing is, I think, a natural human state. It also makes for great art.
If I were to guess, your guilt around these dreams is, ironically, making them occur more frequently. I get a lot of questions from people in relationships concerned over having crushes on other people, and I think they’re in a similar bind. A crush, in my opinion, is merely a prism for projection. If we don’t waste all our energy policing them, they can offer insight: into what we want, miss, need, like. They don’t actually have to mean much more than that. Fearing them only makes them loom larger. It’s like trying not to think of the number seven because someone told you it would ruin your relationship. Avoidance is a bad strategy. Maybe try writing about the dreams when they happen and exploring how they make you feel. I doubt they’ll reveal some unacknowledged desire you have to abandon your life, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have something interesting to tell you about yourself and your past. Don’t be afraid to find out what that is.
On his vaping habit
“Please help me! I can't stop feeling mad about my partner taking up vaping and it's driving me crazy (both his new habit and my reaction to it).
My partner has always been vehemently anti-tobacco, a stance I always assumed extended to vaping as well, but earlier this year I noticed he started borrowing our friends' vapes on nights out with more and more frequency. After a few months it transpired that he had bought his own, something which he had kind of hidden-by-omission from me. For his birthday last month, several friends even bought him vapes as a present. We've had a pretty big argument about the fact that he hid it from me, which was very uncharacteristic of him and our relationship, which has always been very open, honest, and comfortable (we have been together over 5 years). He acknowledged that hiding it was weird, but said he did because he knew I'd be judgy about it. The truth is, I am judgy about it! To me it feels very juvenile for a near-30-year-old to take up vaping without any prior nicotine addiction (like, we're not in Euphoria!), I hate that sickly sweet smell of it, and I'm concerned about him getting addicted to something that we don't really know the long-term consequences of. I honestly would rather he took up socially smoking cigarettes, which I know defies logic.
All of that being said, at the minute, he's only a 'social vaper' (read: on weekends, on nights out) so I suppose it's relatively harmless, and crucially I don't want to be the type of person that dictates what their partner does. I have been on the receiving end of that and it's horrible. And I am worried that I've slightly done this already here by being so vocal about how much I hate it.
I guess my question is: How can I get over the fact that my partner has picked up a habit I find honestly repulsive (I know that's dramatic! But it's how I feel)? How do I stop subconsciously monitoring whether he's going to vape or not when we're out together? It makes me feel psychotic and I don't like it. I don't care about my friends vaping (and loads of them do), so how do I reach this point of neutrality with regards to my partner? (And, in a quieter voice...do I even have to, or am I at all justified in feeling this way?)
If you choose to answer this, thank you endlessly. I'm genuinely driving myself insane.