Pop Advice is a new column by author/comedian Sara Benincasa in which she doles out inspirational life lessons gleaned from years of pop cultural immersion. To submit a question for this column, please email PopAdviceObserver@gmail.com.
I’m a recently divorced dad of twin girls and I’m just starting to date again. My divorce was tough at first but my ex-wife and I get along pretty well now. I think it scares women when I share that I was married for six years. They think I’m looking for a new wife and a stepmother to my daughters. How do I keep someone from thinking that I immediately want to jump back into a serious relationship?
Congratulations on your divorce! You took the most important leap to save your sanity and your heart. I appreciate that you didn’t present this as some dramatic Kramer vs. Kramer misogynist douchebaggery either. “She’s so broken! He’s so great! Look at a dad being a dad, isn’t that awesome?” Okay, bros. Sure. He’s a saint for parenting his child. “But it won Oscars!” Yeah, so did Crash. Who do you think gives out Oscars, Infallible Movie Jesus? Get away from me.
If you weren’t already into the dating scene, I’d tell you it is much better to be lonely on your own than lonely inside a sour relationship. Leaving can be painful and scary for all parties, but in the long run it is awesome. Eventually, most refugees from unhappy monogamy get beyond the depression and hit a point where they’re thrilled by the freedom. You’re almost there. But before you go any further, let’s lay down a few truths.
If you’re at the restaurant, noshing on red velvet French fries, and the lady acts surprised when you mention your family, that tells me you haven’t given her enough advance information. Spend some time getting to know a gal before you take her to Cheesecake. This can be a simple phone call, or an exchange of a few emails. This early investment may pay great dividends. You’ll both waste less time.
And one more thing—when you do start seeing somebody, please don’t introduce her to your girls for awhile. The impetuous nature of new love must be tempered by respect for childhood development. Children don’t need perfection from their parents but they do require consistency. This is especially important when a father introduces a new partner into his young girls’ lives. If you rotate chicks in and out of family pizza night each week, your girls get the message that women are disposable and that it’s perfectly acceptable to love a man who treats ladies like paper napkins at a BBQ. You are their primary example of what it means to be a man. So be a good one, Pops.
I’m in my career of choice, making great money, but I feel unhappy all the time. On the surface, everything looks great. I own my own company, and we get good press and we even turned a profit last year (a miracle in my industry.) But I don’t feel great. I work 80 hour weeks. I barely see the sun. At work, I shut the door to my office and cry. When I hint at wanting to do something else, my family tells me to buck up, to deal with it, that they’ve got it harder than me, and that I should be grateful. I feel selfish and guilty for not being happy with what I’ve got. What do I do?
Allow me to get personal with you, my stressed-out successful friend. I’m an actress and a comedian, but first and foremost I’m a writer. As a younger person, my idea of the average writer’s glamorous life was borne of an in-depth, hard-hitting HBO documentary series called Sex and the City, itself based on a series of columns written for this very newspaper. (Look, rich white people needed something salmon-colored to read on the Jitney back then and they still do today.)
I loved the TV show Sex and the City. It broke boundaries and it had a stellar cast and a hell of a vulnerable heart beneath the fabulous Pat Fields glitz. But it was never intended to be an accurate depiction of the financial realities of being a 35-year-old writer in a single-income household. Which is exactly what I am.
And I ain’t no Carrie Bradshaw.
I’m saddled with debt of my own creation, living in a studio apartment, spending most of each day hunched over a laptop in an attempt to keep my head above water. Some of my friends think it must be very glamorous.
I know I’m lucky. You know you’re lucky. We’re not complaining. And we are still allowed to want something different.
For me, that means looking for higher-paying work rather than the piecemeal garbage that is the freelance writing life. I’ll write books and scripts for as long as anyone will let me. But I’m done begging rich media companies to pay me $25 for a listicle I wrote six months ago about the Top 10 Buttholes on Makeup YouTube.
And as for you, Ms. CEO? Well, with your impressive business background, you’ve got loads of options. After careful deliberation and thoughtful consideration, you can take a different role at your company. You can sell your company. You can start a new company. You can take a more traditional job. You can also stay in something that makes you miserable, simply because you’re too afraid of what your family will say.
Don’t abide folks who condescendingly tell you that you ought to be grateful, as if you aren’t grateful already. You’re not happy. Your happiness matters more than your bank account balance. Better to have a smaller, quieter, more frugal yet joyful existence than a high-profile faux-cheerful nightmare life.
First, invest in a good therapist who can listen to you without the bias of a family member. Next, repeat after me, “I am not entitled. I am ambitious. I am not selfish. I am strategic. And I am willing to work, but I am not willing to stay miserable.” Now paint it on your inner thigh. Or write it down in crayon on a Post-It. Or completely forget it and come up with a different aphorism that works for you.
Yes, what you’ve got right now is pretty damn good.
You still deserve better.