You Asked It

Just Wondering

A humble attempt to give you totally genius advice.

Something really bad happened to me when I was eight or nine. I’m 17 today, and I don’t know what to do. Nobody around me knows that this thing happened. I know it would destroy my parents if I told them. A doctor told me I have PTSD, but I’m not officially diagnosed with anything. I hate everything about myself. I hurt myself so I can cope a little better. I know talking to someone would be the answer to my pain, but I just can’t tell my parents that I need to see a therapist again. Please, what can I do to feel good again? —A.

Hey, A. First of all, thanks so much for sending this. I’m so, so sorry for what you’re going through right now. But I’m also really glad to be talking to you, and—is it weird for a stranger to say this?—I’m proud of you. Because just by putting this information together and asking somebody what to do, you’re proving that you’re really brave.

Here is the thing: I also think that it would be a really good idea for you to talk to a therapist. You’ve already got a doctor saying that you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and from your letter, it seems to me that the doctor was probably right—or close enough. It’s clear that you are in tremendous pain right now, and believe it or not, this kind of pain tends to get much worse when you keep it a secret. Right now, you’re hurting yourself in two ways: physically, when the stress and pain get to be too much, which is the first thing we need to stop, by the way. I’m not judging, but it causes so many more problems and solves none, and it could eventually ramp up to hurting yourself in a major, permanent, very bad way. There is absolutely no need to punish yourself for being sad or scared, and a therapist will be able to help you find much better ways to relieve this stress.

You’re also hurting yourself by making yourself handle all this pain alone. Again, not judging: this is something lots of people do. Isolating yourself feels very natural and like a good form of self-protection. But actually, it tends to make your pain and stress much worse, because you can’t get any support. I would bet that, no matter how huge your secret feels, there are people in your life who would respond to it with love and care.

But I would recommend starting with a therapist. They hear painful secrets for a living, and their job is to help you figure out new, safe ways to deal with and relieve that pain. You absolutely do not need to tell your parents everything about why you need to see a therapist! Just tell them you need one. Lots of people do, for lots of reasons. If necessary, tell them what feels like a safe part of the truth: say that you’re feeling really bad about yourself, and you want professional help. Say that you’re extremely stressed out and depressed. Say whatever conveys (a) you need to get to a therapist’s office, and (b) you have good reasons. Most therapists who work with young people do want to help their patients share their lives with their parents, aside from being required to notify people if their patients are in ongoing danger, and maybe yours will eventually encourage you to talk about what happened. But a good therapist will work with you to figure out exactly what is comfortable to share, and how to share it, and when. And they’re likely to be especially sensitive about that with you given that trust is a huge part of your problems. That can be the first thing you discuss.

The fact that you’re reaching out, right now, shows that your instincts are good. There is a huge part of you that really, really wants to get better. So right now, you need to follow that part of you to safety. Telling your parents that you need therapy is that first, small step toward getting better. —Sady

My boyfriend is doing terribly in school. He puts things off until the last minute and ends up getting so stressed out that he often skips class. I try to help him get work done, but really, that’s not fair—it’s his work! I really want to help him out, though, because it sucks seeing him so behind! What can I do? —Emily, Boston

Hi Emily! Lifelong procrastinator here to answer your question! So committed am I to procrastinating that I’ve done nothing but procrastinate all weekend on answering your question. I actually woke up in the middle of the night thinking, CRAP, why am I STILL procrastinating on that? So everything I’m about to say comes with a caveat. That said, it is possible to change! I can change, I can change, I can change, I can change is the procrastinator’s mantra, and we have to say it and mean it.

On to your boyfriend. First, it might be useful to gain some insight into the psychological profile of a hardcore procrastinator. Some psychologists believe that people who have a tendency to procrastinate aren’t lazy at all, but are, in fact, perfectionists. The higher the expectations we put on ourselves, the more we’ll want to run away from them. The more we put things off until the last minute, the more paralyzed we become. The more paralyzed we become, the more discouraged we are from trying to do anything at all. The less we try to do anything at all, the more we have to do to catch up, which leads to more procrastination, which brings on more feelings of guilt and stress and anxiety. The cycle is vicious, and unfortunately, your boyfriend is clearly in it. But the cycle can be broken.

So, for example, let’s say your boyfriend is several weeks behind in Spanish class. Well, if he can commit 20 minutes every single day to doing his homework, eventually he will start to catch up, and it’s OK if he’s still somewhat lost in class for the next couple of weeks. But if he skips class because he can’t learn a whole semester’s worth of Spanish in one night, it’ll only make the next night even more of a nightmare. This is no way to live. He knows this, you know this, we all know this.

Another thing that might be helpful is, instead of helping him study, you could set aside some “getting shit done” time with him where you are both quietly working on your own stuff. You could invite him over, decide that from four to six PM you are going to unplug the internet, television, whatever, and just FOCUS. I’ma get REAL and tell you, Le Tigre-style, to GET OFF THE INTERNET. Download the program Freedom, which will block your internet connection for up to eight hours, or Self-Control, which allows you to select which sites you can and cannot access.

This ain’t gonna be easy, but I gotta tell you that having a cool girlfriend who isn’t afraid to be ON HIS ASS, metaphorically speaking, is really gonna help him. Maybe he needs to talk with his teachers about his chronic procrastination, promise to change his ways, and see if he can get an extension to catch up (this will probably come with some penalties). He might need a tutor. Hell, he might need to repeat a class. But the cool thing about getting shit done is how amazingly you sleep at night.

One last classic procrastination story from yours truly: on the day before I was supposed to graduate from college, I basically lost my mind trying to finish THREE 15-page research papers, and my boyfriend at the time was like, “Listen, I’m going to sit here quietly while you work on your papers, and when you start complaining or getting distracted, you have to grant me full authority to say, GET A GRIP AND JUST KEEP GOING, and you aren’t allowed to do any more research. JUST GET STARTED.” So the poor dude sat there while I tore my hair out and powered through, which I did. He was and is an amazing human being for sticking with me through my procrastinating madness, and so are you, Emily. Good luck to you and your boyfriend. —Jenny

I’ve found myself falling out with my old friends, and I’ve realized it’s for the best. Now I need some new ones. There are some girls I’d really like to be friends with, but I’m so shy. Any good friend-making tips? —Cleo

OK, so first: are you sure about renovating your entire friend list? You don’t have any keepers in the bunch? I just ask because sometimes it’s tempting to wipe the slate clean and meet new people, even when the old ones are still worthwhile. But maybe your friends are suddenly getting into hard drugs or kicking puppies. I don’t know.

So what do these new girls like to do? Is it stuff that you like to do? Maybe they like to go to coffee shops and hang out, or maybe they like to go to concerts? If you guys are interested in the same things, and you’re pretty sure you could be friends, it should be pretty easy to find some common ground.

A good way to start making friends without coming off as overeager is just to smile—in the general direction of the girls you want to be friends with. I know, DUH, but I’m not kidding. If you want to let them know that you’re approachable, your default expression should not be bitchface. Look like the friendly person that I’m sure you are.

Next, separate one from the herd. Which girl in the group do you have the most contact with? Does one of them happen to be in a lot of your classes? Who seems the nicest or the most at ease with everyone? She is probably your target: she’s good at making friends, and is probably open to talking to new people.

It’s OK to be shy. You can work up to talking. Start by saying, “Hi!” in the hallway to the girl in the group you see most. Does she, um, know who you are? If she doesn’t, and she looks surprised, just say, “I’m Cleo, we have [FILL IN CLASS OR ACTIVITY] together.” One of these days, work in a “How was your weekend?” And then LISTEN to the answer, so that you get a sense of what you two might have in common. She might ask you what you did in return. If not, you can always offer it: “I went and saw/did this AH-MAY-ZING band/play/sports thing/whatever. Do you like poetry/hip-hop/theater/modern dance/horror movies?” People who love to do a particular thing also looooove to find someone else who feels the same way. BOOM! Something in common.

Eventually, you’ll probably have to be brave. Tight-knit friends often stick together, figuring they already have their dynamic sorted out. But that’s only before they get to know you. Keep up the friendliness. Talk to your favorite prospective friend when you see her in class, or when you pass her. Maybe in a few weeks, tell her you’re going to go hiking/to the beach/to walk your neighbor’s Great Dane/to a cute cafe on Saturday, and does she want to come? If she does, great! If she doesn’t, or is busy, it’s fine—you just put the idea in her head that you like to do things, and maybe she will ask you out the next time she does something.

Remember: new friends don’t happen overnight. It takes a while to build up a core group of good friends. Keep doing the cool shit that makes you happy, keep being friendly, and people will be drawn to you, I promise. —Krista

I’ve recently started seeing this guy who already has a girlfriend. I like him a lot, and as far as I can tell, he feels the same way. He says that they’re only staying together because they made a “promise” to finish out the school year before he goes to college. From what I gather, he expects me to keep sneaking around with him until June. I want to be with him, but I also respect myself more than this. I don’t know if I should give him an ultimatum—me or her—and call it off if he can’t make a decision, or if I should just continue until it works itself out?

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way: complicated situations do not magically smooth themselves out. Also, when you deliver an ultimatum, you’re placing the power in the hands of one person, and it’s not you.

But you know that already, so let’s suppose we give this guy the benefit of the doubt and accept the premise that he didn’t plan any of this and is in over his head. Feelings are messy and overwhelming and sometimes spring up out of nowhere to muck everything up. But he’s sort of beside the point. The point here is you.

Feelings swimming around in your head and your guts and your quivering knees can make it hard to see straight, but it’s essential for you to recognize that remaining in a situation that (rightfully) makes you uncomfortable will take a toll on your self-respect. And the relationship you have with your self-respect is a lot more profound than what you might have with this guy.

When faced with confusing situations, we often feel tempted to impose an ultimatum—me or her or else—or we waffle, thinking, This is better than nothing. Let me lobby for option C: you decide what you want and/or are willing to put up with and communicate it clearly to him. Find your boundaries and enforce them. You could say: “I really like you. I think you like me. I understand that the situation with your girlfriend is complicated, and I respect that. However, until you’ve resolved things with her, I’m not comfortable kissing you/holding hands/sleeping together/buying you ice cream/hanging out/whatever.”

Maybe you guys keep getting to know each other as friends. Keep in mind: it’s May, the school year is over in June, and even though this timeline seems arbitrary, it might be best to have some patience. Or maybe he’s lying about everything and two-timing both of you. The only way you will know any of this is to clearly articulate what you need and ask him to respond in kind. If his response is insufficient, move on. This way, no matter what the outcome, your self-respect will remain intact, and that’s worth so much more than any guy. And if he’s worthwhile, it’ll make him respect you more, too. —Emily C.

I have been reading this website for quite some time, and I am starting to feel comfortable with being myself, a woman. I was wondering what books you recommend about feminism. —Mallory, Louisiana

Well, Mallory, now that you ask! Our staffers are happy to share some of their favorites:

  • Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier
    Angier is an award-winning science writer for the New York Times. For months after I read this, it was all I could talk about: why we are how we are, why dudes don’t have boobs that can feed babies, why women hear better than men. Just fascinating (scientific) proof about the awesome abilities of women’s bodies. —Jessica

  • Bitchfest edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
    This is 10 years’ worth of essays culled from the excellent Bitch magazine, and it’s good practice for employing feminist theory on the media and pop culture we consume daily. —Anna

  • Woman Hating by Andrea Dworkin
    The first book from our greatest militant feminist (RIP). This book gets the pain of living in a patriarchal culture so right that it’s almost hard to read. It is written from a place of rage, but it’s a kind of liberating realness about culture and history. Dworkin was brave and misunderstood, scholarly and passionate. Calling her a man-hater is pretty apt, but she was ferocious because she loved women and wanted them to be free to live. —Jessica

  • A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter
    I have been reading this book in spurts for two years—I keep getting derailed to dive into another book I read about in its pages. It’s a history of female authors, from the first books published by women in America until now. It’s incredibly inspiring to see what so many women went through to get their work published. A must read! Exclamation points! —Jessica

  • Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement by Jennifer Nelson
    This taught me a lot about the history of abortion and sterilization and the feminist activism that surrounds the issue on both sides of the debate—and how it is really as much of a class and race struggle as it is a gendered one. This books makes me feel really passionately about activism and feminist politics, and it taught me SO MUCH. —Arabelle

  • The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
    Of all bell hooks’s books, this is the one that changed the way I thought rather than re-enforced my beliefs. My frequent complaint about feminism is that we can be un-empathetic to a fault, making bad assumptions about the fundamental nature of men rather than seeing how our brothers are impacted by patriarchy, too. This book softened my heart and opened my eyes, and reminded me that feminism is the struggle for liberation for all people, and it is rooted in love. —Jessica

  • Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks
    bell hooks is pretty much essential reading if you want to learn more about race, gender, class, and how they intersect. She’s a wonderful and prolific writer, and this book is a great introduction to both her work and the feminist movement because it’s easy to understand. I really recommend this and every one of hooks’s work to, well…everybody. —Arabelle

  • This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa
    There ain’t nothing that hurts more than feeling like your own people don’t understand you, and I have to admit that I went through long stretches of time as a self-identified feminist who felt very alienated and hurt by a feminist community that I saw as largely comprised of privileged white women. These two amazing feminist scholars/artists/activists put together an anthology of feminist essays written by women of color to address the stuff that doesn’t always get addressed in feminist discourse, like how women who are not white and who were not born in America experience oppression. For many feminists, this book is very much a “finally, something that does not completely ignore my experience!” kind of moment. —Jenny

  • My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein and Diane DiMasa
    I LOVE KATE! This book is so fun and helpful when discussing the difference between gender and sex. This is in a workbook format, and Kate guides you through discovering the gender spectrum. It is a wonderful exploration of what makes you you. —Arabelle

  • The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order by Marcelle Karp and Debbie Stoller
    This was essential reading for me—it’s not overtly political and overwhelming, just plain grrrl power. Read it over and over in the bathtub and you will feel 75% more badass within the week. —Emma S.

If you have a question for Just Wondering, please send it to


  • resonance May 15th, 2012 11:32 PM

    I’m happy to see that you included This Bridge Called My Back on your list of feminist reading! I ordered it on Amazon last month and it’s one of the best things I ever did. As a Chinese American feminist, it really spoke to me not only about other Asian American women’s struggles regarding feminism, but other women of color’s struggles as well. Everyone should definitely read it.

    I’m going to add Woman: An Intimate Geography, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, and The Gender Workbook to my list of books to read. Thank you to everyone who helped compile this list!

  • lalalalauryn May 15th, 2012 11:46 PM

    Thank you so much for the book suggestions! I’ve recently decided to become interested in the world around me, and feminism seems really interesting and just, fun! Haha. Once again, I look forward to reading these books, thanks so much.

  • Susann May 16th, 2012 12:57 AM

    As per usual, I’m so impressed with the answers! I’ve been thinking about that “making new friends” thing for a while now and this is really helpful.

  • mayaautumn May 16th, 2012 1:41 AM

    helpful as always! i dunno why but i always find it really interesting to see little parts of what other people’s lives are like….meh, maybe that’s just me being sad.
    anyway, i will look out for those book recommendations :)

  • Lynvine May 16th, 2012 1:45 AM

    While the first question, from A, was answered with some good advice, I couldn’t help getting a bit upset reading it.
    Don’t assume someone is cutting herself as a punishment for feeling sad. Its usually not considered a form of punishment by the self-cutter. More like release. When you are so full of hurt and anger, but there is nobody you can tell, nothing you can do, you have to let it out SOMEHOW. You want to rage and scream and smash things, but you can’t, or people will know how messed up you are. So the only safe thing to take it out on is yourself. Its like you’re a balloon, and the air inflating you is all your negative emotions. When you cut a hole in the balloon (you) all the air (emotion) leaks out, and leaves you empty and deflated. Which is better than mental anguish. But whatever. Everyones different.

    • peanutbutter May 16th, 2012 3:33 AM

      I agree with this, and I’m glad you brought up the fact that self-harm does not equal self-punishment.
      I think that self harm is a very complicated issue, and is experienced in so many different ways, that there cannot be one single way of handling it. Insisting that it must be stopped isn’t the answer for everyone. Despite the permanent scars my own self-injury left behind, I feel like I made the best choice I could at the time. I stopped when I was ready to stop, and trying to force myself to stop before that would have been counterproductive.

      That said, it is true that self-injury can escalate and/or become highly addictive, so it’s important to try and be aware of yourself and how much at risk you are of that happening. Which is hard when your judgement may be affected by mental illness, but that goes back what I said before: there is no clear-cut way of dealing with self-injury, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. Some people need it to be monitored by a professional or a person they trust to make sure it’s not getting out of hand. Other people can self-monitor/quit on their own.

    • anonymouse May 16th, 2012 10:36 AM

      Yeah, it was like that for me. Only I described it as a dam, and all the negative feeling was the water that was overflowing, eroding the dam; I was afraid that if I didn’t release some of that emotion when I was stressed(angry, frustrated, sad, etc) then I would burst and everything would come out all at once and hurt the people I cared about.

  • Josephiiine May 16th, 2012 2:03 AM

    Yay! I was waiting for there to be a mention of Kate Bornstein! (Sorry if someone has already mentioned her haha) I read ‘Hello Cruel World’ when I was quite young (11 I think) and didn’t really ‘get it’ but I read it again a while later when I was really confused about a lot of stuff and I think it really helped me become comfortable with myself, and kind of changed my life. That sounds super corny, but I don’t know how else to put it :)

  • gill May 16th, 2012 2:03 AM

    i was wondering – do you have any feminism book recommendations to give to guys? ones that aren’t anti-man and don’t insult them too much, but rather explain the issues? i’m trying to prove many points and i’m not nearly articulate enough.

    • Johann7 May 16th, 2012 2:05 PM

      Feminism is not misandry (hatred of men, in case you’re not familiar with the word). That said, for many men who have never recognized or thought about their own male privilege, challenges to that privilege can feel very threatening, especially when people call out BEHAVIORS in which you, personally, might engage as being harmful or otherwise problematic. Bear in mind that criticizing a behavior is not the same thing as criticizing a person. If one is doing something that is harmful to others without being aware of that harm, or without being aware that there are other options, that person is not a Bad Person, that person is simply ignorant of how hir behavior impacts others.

      For example, consider the difference between the statements, “Unwelcome touching makes many women feel uncomfortable and unsafe; guys, don’t touch women uninvited at bars, clubs, restaurants, work, public transit, or anywhere, really,” and, “Men are bad people because a lot of men touch women uninvited.” The first statement is an assertion of women’s bodily agency, a feminist principle. The second statement is misandrist.

      Any of the books mentioned might be equally useful for men as women, though they might not *appeal* to men as much. With that in mind, here are a few places to start with respect to books about feminism written specifically for a (straight) male audience:

    • Jenny May 16th, 2012 3:49 PM

      Hey Gill, I gotta agree with Johann and say that ALL of these books are pretty appropriate and pretty rad books to put on your reading list if you are interested in feminism. They ain’t about hatin’ or insultin’ men for being awful human beings, because, well, that’s just not what smart, articulate, thoughtful, deeply felt feminism is–AT ALL. There’s a good mix of theory and personal narratives in the round-up of books here, and many of my male friends have read and LOVED these books and none them came away feeling like their feelings got hurt. And why would you–wanting to gain insight into how girls and women live their lives and the ways in which we’ve struggled to have the same privileges, rights, and dignity as men is not about putting down men, but about standing up as girls and women and not having anyone put us down for it. If you wanna learn more about feminism, then your primary concern can’t be about finding a book that will be gentle to you and spare your feelings about being a dude, but it’s gotta be about finding books that are honest and unafraid to tell it like it is about what it’s like to be a girl. You know? And I think you will love the books we’ve recommended because they do just that.

      • gill May 16th, 2012 8:52 PM

        I totally know that that’s not what feminism is about, and I want to read all these books – like, now.
        I guess my question was stupid anyway, but I more meant that I have this guy friend who I want to recommend a book about the issue to. However, he’s easily offended by the idea of patriarchy and I apparently lack the language skills to explain that it’s not about hating men – exactly what you guys are saying!

        I feel really bad now. Can I just take my first comment back?

        • gill May 16th, 2012 9:06 PM

          p.s. I’m a feminist girl, so I actually mean for a friend – not for myself. if my gender was not clear.

        • Jenny May 18th, 2012 12:07 AM

          Please don’t feel bad! I should not have assumed you were a dude, and I TOTALLY get what you mean about wanting to find a book that a guy friend will find palatable. Honestly, the best thing you can do is keep reading stuff and educating yourself and encourage him to read stuff and listen to what you have to say! It ain’t easy, and I’ve been in your position before, where I’m trying to explain feminism to a guy friend but he’s too hung up on the “man-hatin” aspect to listen to anything I have to say. But please, please don’t feel bad about your comment! If anything, I should apologize for jumping to conclusions and making quick assumptions! I’m sorry about that.
          Lots of love,

  • FossilisedUnicorn May 16th, 2012 2:43 AM

    I would suggest to the first person, A., to look for a EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) or EFT (Emotional freedom technique) therapy. PTSD is a brain disorder that cannot be cured by talking alone, but are much easier treated with EMDR or EFT, because they really tackle your brain connectivity. Because that’s what it is, your brain generates an overwhelming emotional response to a certain memory, and that IS treatable.

  • Rhianna May 16th, 2012 3:06 AM

    You missed out “How to be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran. I have read many feminist books but this by far is one one of my favourites. It deals with all the aspects of feminist womanhood through comparisons with her own life and is so funny and true to life.
    And no mention of Germaine Greer books?

    • Libby May 16th, 2012 11:44 AM

      I love Caitlin Moran. Not only is she hilarious, but she makes feminism accessible to us all. It’s not a scary, man-hating, radical thing.
      It can go hand-in-hand with having an awesome husband and a successful newspaper column and a huge twitter following.
      She’s amazing, basically.

    • Arabelle May 16th, 2012 11:48 AM

      Germaine Greer has made a lot of transphobic comments and I wasn’t a big fan of The Female Eunuch. Just because she’s a classic feminist example doesn’t mean she’s a very good one imo!

  • Krista May 16th, 2012 9:15 AM

    It’s 8 in the morning and I just ordered half these books, someone come take my credit card away plz

    • Anna F. May 16th, 2012 11:59 AM

      Only if you promise to lend me the ones I haven’t read yet.

  • anonymouse May 16th, 2012 10:41 AM

    LW4-the lady with the boyfriend with the girlfriend- He is cheating on her with you. Why won’t he cheat on you?

  • christinachristina May 16th, 2012 10:59 AM

    Enlightened Sexism by Susan Douglas is a really great book about the concept of being inundated with conflicting messages from the mass media. She talks A LOT about pop culture, especially Buffy (what she and many others claim to be the BEST tv show in a long time for women) and she’s a really amazing writer.

  • stellar May 16th, 2012 1:15 PM

    if having more “humanist” relationships is the goal, i’d recommend assertiveness books to communicate more clearly what your rights are. it gets the point across that you deserve an *equally human* relationship without gender labeling.

  • Johann7 May 16th, 2012 2:12 PM

    I’m having some trouble coming up with any additions to the good-introductory-feminist-book list off-hand, though for anyone interested in trans issues/activism, I recommend Kate Bornstein’s (Kate is one of my favorites) “Gender Outlaw”, which was the first articulation of trans identity and identity politics that actually made any sense to me. I know there are some really great collections of shorter articles and book chapters that I’ve read for Women’s Studies courses; I’ll try to remember to look through that section of my bookshelves when I go home and post any recommendations I have.

    • Johann7 May 16th, 2012 2:15 PM

      Oh, and Cherríe Moraga and bell hooks are another two of my favorites, though I haven’t read any of the books listed (only excerpts and articles so far).

  • Scarahfina May 16th, 2012 4:22 PM

    The Female Brain is a great book for men to read. It’s not per se a feminist book but it gave me a lot of insight into how women think and act and what the organic reasons for those things might be. I gave it to my now-husband to read and it helped us communicate better. In all fairness, I have to recommend The Male Brain by the same author.

  • cleobea May 17th, 2012 12:24 AM

    Cleo!! We have to same name, and scarier still the same problem. what is this??

  • dustyrose June 2nd, 2012 6:29 PM

    To submit a question, do we just leave it in the comments or email you guys? Thanks!