You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.
Image via Paramount Pictures.
This week we have some kids who don't like sandwiches for some reason, a teen who isn't sure how to ask girls on dates, and a young professional who wants to write and isn't happy with her current circumstances.
You've got problems, I've got advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.
Keep in mind, I'm not a therapist or any other kind of health professional -- just a guy who's willing to tell it like it is. I simply want to give you the tools you need to enrich your damn lives. If for whatever reason you don't like my advice, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now then, let's get on with it.
This Father's Picky Kids Are Bored with Their Sandwich Lunches
My kids are getting sick of sandwiches for lunch. The school lunches are terrible, so they won't eat most of those. I'm trying to figure out some alternative options that give them nutrition and fulfilment. Any and all ideas are welcome, as a lot of my ideas are turning out too time-consuming or too expensive.
Your biggest fan, by volume,
I'm not a parent, but the fact you're even taking the time to bother with this is a serious display of patience in my book. I mean, if I were you, I'd tell my kids exactly what I was told: "You can either eat what we give you, or you can not eat."
I didn't even get the option for cold lunches and happily ate the school's weird, rectangular, plastic pizza almost every day. I drank the nearly expired, lukewarm milk, chewed through unnaturally sweetened gelatin desserts that had developed that weird tough outer skin, and relished beef and cheddar days because the processed nacho cheese overpowered the flavour of old roast beef just enough to make it a passable meal. And to top it all off, I worked in the school cafeteria kitchen to cover the cost of my own questionable lunch.
Besides, there are so many wonderful types of sandwich, I don't understand how you can get sick of them. They're cheap, easy, fairly nutritious most of the time, and I think your kids should just eat the damn things. Frankly, if they're old enough to complain, they're old enough to make their own lunches! Not every meal is a smorgasbord of your greatest mouthwatering desires. Sometimes food is just fuel so you can go learn crap.
This Inexperienced Teenager Doesn't Know Where to Start With Dating
I am 19 years old and am getting frustrated with the lack of intimacy I have experienced with girls. I have had some physical experience, but nothing consistent. I am currently at university, I am in pretty good shape, and I have an OK social life. I have also been told I am good-looking by someone who isn't my mother, so I think I look OK and do make some sort of effort. I meet new girls on a regular basis now because of university, and I don't have an issue talking to any of them, but I am really struggling to connect with them. It just doesn't feel like they are ever all that into me or are interested in sticking around.
I do have a theory as to why I'm struggling, of course. I am originally from Israel. I have been moving back and forth for a while now and spent half my life there, but right now I live in Australia. I always found Israeli girls a lot more straightforward and easier to engage with. I found that when an Israeli liked me, she would always make the effort and made it really obvious. Are Australians just more timid? Or are they just not attracted to me?
Beyond that, I feel like, because of my lack of experience, I don't know how to make things happen. I have zero dating experience and I only really know how to make things happen in a party environment. I never asked someone on a date before. I don't know what the socially acceptable way is. And I find it impossible to know when a girl likes me or if any of them do. I have no idea how to get from the dating phase to the physical stuff. What sort of stuff do you do on a date anyhow?
Desperate Down Under
So you're 19 and frustrated because you're not getting any action? Join the club, they have jackets. I'm only kidding -- they're not jackets, they're pretty pink sashes that read, "Please love me." I think I have mine buried somewhere in my closet.
It sounds like you have a good chunk of the important basics down: You take care of yourself, you're socially adept, you don't look like a hairless dog, and you put yourself in social positions that allow you to meet new people. All good things!
But here's the problem: You're waiting for girls to walk up to you and tell you that they like you. That's ridiculous! I can't speak for Aussie girls specifically, but if they're anything like American girls, they aren't going to do that. It happens sometimes, sure, but they're more apt to send signals and drop hints, which, for a clueless dude like you, is like tossing a coded message into the ocean only to be found by a blind dude hundreds of years later.
Israeli girls may have been easier to approach and engage with, but now you have to make the effort -- and make it obvious. Girls may very well be attracted to you but think you don't like them because you're not pursuing them, or totally ignoring them in hopes they will magically figure it out. I just picture you standing in the corner at a party, sipping your drink, muttering to yourself, "None of these girls like me," and it makes me want to scream. In fact, I just did, but you can't hear it because this is text. Here, this helps get my point across:
Now, before we go on, I hope by "make things happen" you mean start a positive, loving relationship that may or may not lead to intimacy. Because if you mean something else by it, or if you're looking for tips on how to become one of those sleazy, pickup-artist garbage people, you're approaching this all wrong. But I'll go ahead and assume you're just a nice timid guy who's looking for a way to get a handle on dating. Moving on.
Asking someone on a date is actually the easy part, my man. You simply ask if they'd like to grab coffee/get a drink/go to an event/hang out with you sometime. That's totally socially acceptable. It's actually the lead up to the asking that's the real hard part. You need to learn how to read people: The things they say and the way they move. There are a ton of guides out there on how to tell when someone is flirting with you, but honestly, the best way to get a feel for that is through trial and error. Strike up a conversation with a nice girl at one of these parties or university events and see where things go. If she's smiling, laughing, touching your arm lightly, and clearly enjoying your conversation, ask for her number, or see if she'd be interested in meeting up sometime. She might not be down, but rejection is a reality you'll have to face. It's not personal (even if it feels like it is), so don't take it that way, and move on. If she says yes, plan a date that gives you a chance to talk and interact so you can get to know each other better.
First dates are tough. You're trying to make a good impression on someone, but you're also trying to work out if the person is worth your time. Dating may not be an exact science, but that doesn't mean we can't use a little science to our advantage during that first interaction. Here's what you need to know.
If going through this process face-to-face seems like too much for you, try dating apps! The people you find on those are actively looking for dates -- well, most of them -- and it gives you a dedicated space to practise talking to women and feeling out whether they're interested in you or not. It isn't quite the same as talking in person, but every little bit of practise helps.
In regard to "getting to the physical stuff", I feel the need to clarify things for you again. There's no "dating phase" and then a "physical phase". You make it sound like there are levels you have beat on your way to the sexy boss fight in a video game, or that you have to do hard time being around someone before they let you run free in their garden of unlimited pleasure.
Physical stuff is part of dating, and it will usually happen organically. I get that you're frustrated, dude, but don't make getting physical your main goal. You'll set yourself up for disappointment, more frustration, and you'll be missing out on the exhilarating bliss of truly getting to know someone. Also, it's sad, gross and desperate -- and women can smell desperation from a mile away. Let feelings and trust build up as you spend time together -- then, when the time is right for you both, you won't have to "make things happen", they just will.
This Young Professional Is Buried in Debt But Wants to Write
I am miserable. I'm 26, I have six-figures of student debt, and I'm currently working in a strong industry making a decent salary, but it's an industry I don't give one fig for. I've been working here three years. My misery is getting to the point where I come to work and stare at my screen for about 30 minutes because I just can't bring myself to work.
My student debt is an important part of the problem because it's what's keeping me stuck: Without it I wouldn't have an issue pursuing my dreams of working as an entertainment writer, but as things currently stand, I need to be making the amount I'm making now to keep my life functional. (Note: I already cut back on extraneous things in life; I live with my parents and don't do too much to save as much money as I can.)
I've gotten to the point where I feel that life isn't worth living because what use is a life where you can't do anything because spending money is off the table, you hate your work life, and you hate your home life because you're stuck with your parents to save money?
I don't want to feel like this any more: I want to be happy, or at least content, so I'm thinking the place to start is with getting a new job. The problem is, I came into my current industry basically out of university and now I feel I'm not qualified to do anything other than what I do now.
I've been scouring job boards and LinkedIn for opportunities to no avail. Even assistant jobs require previous experience, and again, I need to ensure a job will pay at least as much as I'm currently making...
What should I do to change my fortunes? I'm open to almost any career in entertainment, not just writing, but it's damn near impossible to get a foot in the door (I live in LA). Should I, given the circumstances, shoulder my misery for the sake of my paycheck and stay put? Should I take a pay-nothing/pay-little job with hopes the paycheck will increase over time as an investment in my own happiness (but at the risk of my credit and overall financial standing)?
Miserable TV Junkie
Life is worth living. In truth, that's all it's really good for. That said, if you are actually having suicidal thoughts and not just being hyperbolic, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (Australians, call Lifeline on 13 11 14). Do it for me, do it for your family, do it for your friends, do it for yourself. I'm not asking, I'm telling.
Now then: You have a ton of debt and you're stuck at home, but you also have a decent job that pays well. You're already better off than a lot of people I know! You may not like the work you do, but a good salary at your age is hard to find, and it's the fastest way to pay off those miserable student loans. Besides, the sooner you pay those off, the sooner you'll be free to explore other careers and lifestyles. It sucks now, but it won't always suck if you stay vigilant. Don't go chasing happiness -- it will backfire. And don't go changing jobs on a whim thinking it will solve all of your problems! I've researched this quite a bit and psychologists warn against taking plunges like that and "ripping off the band-aid", so to speak. You're better off trying to make the best of where you're at for now and enriching your life in other ways. It sucks, but you can endure, trust me. Lots of people have done it.
If you're somewhere between your mid-20s and 30s, you might be experiencing a serious low point in your life. A trial of confused identity, misguided purpose and hopeless transition. And, if you're anything like me, you feel lost, anxious and panicked. But you're not alone, even if it feels that way, and there are plenty of ways to make riding it out a little easier.
Also, living with your parents might kill your vibe a bit, but it's also an opportunity to spend more time with them while you have them. Later on you'll probably be grateful for every extra second you got, even if it meant having less of a social life. You might want to thank your lucky stars they're willing to let you stay with them too. Adjust your perspective a little bit, Junkie, and you'll realise things aren't all that miserable.
And you don't have to just sit around, crying into your blankets, mouldering in your room at home. There's plenty you can do during this time -- like writing! You want to be a screenwriter (I'm assuming)? Then start writing! You don't become a screenwriter by wanting to be one. Get a free screenwriting program like Celtx or WriterDuet, find a good book on screenwriting rules and formatting, and focus all these emotions into some top-notch drama! By the time you've paid off your student loans, you could have a nice portfolio of feature screenplays, TV pilots and spec scripts that just might get you into a writer's room.
If you're wondering why this is your best course of action, here's some hard, fast truth. First, you need to know you still have plenty of time to get into the entertainment industry, especially as a writer. I have several friends who work in television and film (no, I won't put you in touch with them), and I've also spoken with or heard from a lot of screenwriters at panels about how they got to where they are. You'd be happy to hear that very few of them started off as a writer or PA or anything like that right out of school. In fact, most of the people in "the biz" I know moved into it laterally and didn't even study film in university. So, regardless of what you're doing now, it's totally possible down the line. That's the good news.
The bad news is there are really only two ways to move into entertainment. Laterally, as I mentioned, which, in your case, would probably require you to know someone. IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT WHO YOU KNOW. Or starting from the bottom and crawling your way up, which would definitely not provide the pay you need to tackle those loans. Like, not even close. DO NOT DO IT, at least not until those loans are paid off.
So how do you meet people in the business who can help? Look for writing groups, events or festivals focused on screenwriting. Join, show up, talk to people, share your writing, ask for notes, offer to give notes, network with cool people, and develop rapport with those who are willing to take you under their wing. Be prepared to have your writing torn apart and lit on fire in front of everybody, and expect a lot of resistance when you're new and inexperienced. Don't give in. Buckle down, Miserable TV Junkie, work on your craft, funnel your emotions into words, and make the most of your job until you can dig yourself out of this temporary rut.
Because I just don't have the time or patience for all of you...
Hard Truther asks:
I want to dole out no-nonsense advice to people because I'm a thousand times better at fixing other people's problems than my own. I also get right to the crux. I want to call it Hard Truth. However, I don't have a platform in which anyone will write me for advice and someone already has this Lifehacker column called Tough Love that sounds similar.
Should I even bother? If I should, how do I get an audience and submissions?
Nah, don't bother. Next!
I'm struggling with a quarter-to-mid-career crisis. I want to move from IT to perhaps data science, and I have a crappy Physics degree at least, but my academic life was a blur of depression and anxiety.
Please kick my arse and tell me I can do whatever I want once I put my shrivelled little brain to it...
Mare, you can do whatever you want once you put your shrivelled little brain to it. Expect a kick in the arse in the mail. I'm on fire! Order up!
You gain 100 experience points. Level up! asks:
I live in LA. Dating is horrible and I am over it. Seriously, I was on a TV show for dating and nothing panned out. Also, I am never going to be able to afford a house here. I want to try a new place with new experiences where I can buy property and live a good life, hopefully meeting a special someone and exploring my hobbies. I am not running from anything, [I'm] happy with life. I simply want to live somewhere other than LA. I work in tech, what would you suggest?
Wait... You DIDN'T find true love on a reality TV show?! Gasp.
I live in LA as well, and dating can be pretty horrible here (Oh you're an actor slash model? Do go on!), but it can also be pretty awesome. I'm not sure how much worse it is here compared to other cities. So I don't know if dating is a great reason to leave, but you definitely should if you want to buy property and not pay and arm and a leg for it.
You work in tech? I hear Raleigh, North Carolina isn't too shabby. Neither is Austin or Dallas, Texas. Maybe even check out Colorado Springs.
If you're looking for a career in technology and you're contemplating moving to the US for it, where you live matters, but you don't have to try to survive in Silicon Valley to find a great gig. U.S. News put together this report that highlights ten cities around the USA that are great for tech workers, if you're thinking about a change.
That's it for Tough Love this week! 'Til next time, figure things out for yourself.