Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.
I️ have no good excuse, but I’m busy and overextended (my own fault) and I’m not very good at planning. I’m probably the only millennial in the world who doesn’t like to be spontaneous. I plot out my day in the morning and don’t like to deviate from my schedule.
At the same time, I’m not someone who has a clear image of what Thursday the 12th looks like.
Can I go to a dinner party that night?
The relevant factors include: How busy will my work week be? Will my kids be home sick from school? Do I have other big plans during the week that I can’t remember now? Or will anything unexpected be sprung on me? I️ just don’t have the wherewithal to say whether I’ll be able to attend this hypothetical dinner party. And when I️ can’t think of a good reason to say no, I️ say yes. (Actually, I almost always say yes. It’s a sickness. Female conditioning.)
And once I️ say yes, I’m absolutely locked in. I️ can’t bear to be rude and back out of something.
The night before an event I️’ve said yes to, I’ll often lie awake for hours knowing I️ don’t want to go, yet I must.
The week will not have turned out as planned—it never does. I’ll have been home from work with a sick kid, and I’ll have a sibling suddenly visiting from out of town, and I’ll have had insomnia, and a million unexpected deadlines. This sounds like a rare moment of crisis, but it’s my everyday life. Meanwhile, I️ value my social network and like to put effort into maintaining it. So I️ don’t want to just not go to everything.
You’ll want to know whether I️ enjoy the things I️ go to. The answer is: maybe two-thirds of the time? My lying awake agonizing over something doesn’t make me enjoy it any more or any less.
And often I’ll have a good time at a party but still pay the heavy price of not meeting a deadline or missing my kids’ bedtime. I️ rarely know if the good time was worth it.
I’m not sure what my question is. Can you help?
An Extroverted Introvert
Hello, Dear (do you ever get addressed this way in spam e-mails?),
I️ have a very wise friend whom I️ see now and then at the dog park.
Once I️ confided in her and told her a long story about how, whenever someone knocks on my door, I️ desperately want to bark, to guard my family, but I also know that I️ shouldn’t, that there’s no need for me to bark. I’m a pet, not a guard dog, after all, and my barking does not protect us—on the contrary.
I️ asked my friend whether she thought I️ should follow my (somewhat pathological) instincts and bark, or listen to my judgment and not bark, and if she thought I’d ever find a way out of the hackles-raising adrenaline rush of confusion and shame and urgency that I feel whenever anyone passes by my house.
Since it’s what I tell myself, I️ expected her to say, “Don’t bark! And, if you can’t help barking, try harder!”
Instead, she asked me, “What does self-respect look like to you?”
I️ am not sure you will ever learn to say yes to only the exact right number of things each month. And I’m not sure you will ever learn how to back out of something gracefully. But you can teach yourself not to seize up in terror about what to say yes to and whether to back out of things. And, if you are less worried, you will make better decisions in the moment.
Oh no, there’s someone at the door!!!
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF,