You Asked It

Just Wondering

Advice about tattoos, switching schools, and depression.

I recently got a tattoo of something really meaningful to me. It was a gift for my 18th birthday, and I waited for a long time before getting it to make sure it was what I really wanted. I love it, but people are constantly giving me their crappy, unasked-for opinions about it, telling me it’s “unattractive” or that I’ll never find a boyfriend who likes it. I can’t understand why someone would say negative things about something that is PERMANENTLY on my body, or why they would think I gave a damn about what guys think of it. How do I politely tell them I don’t want to hear their comments? —S.D., 18, Los Angeles

Congrats on your new tattoo! There’s nothing like celebrating a milestone in your life with a tattoo that has great personal significance to you. As a person with 14 or so of my own, depending on how I count, I’ve learned that, unfortunately, many people—even complete strangers—seem to think that you got tattooed for (or in spite of) them, and that a mere glimpse of your body art is an open invitation for commentary on it. I’ve also noticed that my tattoos garner a lot more unwelcome attention than my husband’s, because, as you noted, an alarming number of folks still seem to think that it’s unladylike or unattractive for a woman to have tattoos, which for some reason is something we should really care a lot about. So, let’s just take a second to scream about how stupid that is, which is step one in getting your frustration about other people’s nosiness out of your system. Ready? ARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Feel free to repeat this step as needed!

Now let’s move on to responding to people with actual words. I base my responses on who’s asking me about my ink. If it’s a stranger or a distant acquaintance, I just shut them down, quickly and politely: “It has personal significance.” Leave it at that. Sometimes, super-nosy people then try to ask about the personal significance, to which I respond, “Oh, it’s a long story,” or, if I’m in a situation where it’s possible to tell a long story, I simply reiterate that it’s personal, i.e., for me, not for them.

Sometimes, though, I do want to share that long story with people I love, like my parents and friends who just don’t “get” tattoos. My mother has always been iffy about my tattoos, and when I’d tell her I was getting another one, she’d make some remark like “the only women who have multiple tattoos are carnies,” or something like that. Now, I always sit down with her, show her the fresh ink, and explain the story behind it. I think this, plus the fact that I don’t intentionally cover my tattoos (unless I need to look super profesh for some reason), has helped her come to terms. This, and my desire for you to love and be proud of your tat, is why I’m not advocating wearing a sweater to family gatherings, unless you really just can’t handle the unwanted attention. The more often people see your ink, the less foreign it looks to them, and the less likely they are to comment. Unfortunately, that can take a very long time with some people—I find that the most irritating of my tattoo commentators are loved ones to whom I’ve already explained my ink too many times. After being patient with them the first few goes-around, I just use an updated version of the line I whip out to strangers: “As you know, I really like my tattoo. It has personal significance to me, and I wish that you’d respect that.”

I also bring up respect whenever someone makes a “boys won’t like that” comment about my ink—and since my first tattoo was a ring of Venus symbols, believe me, I’ve gotten that a lot. My response to that one is “I think any person I would be interested in dating would respect the choices I’ve made about my body.” Above all, don’t let any of these comments detract from your love for your tattoo. I’m sure it’s gorgeous! —Stephanie

I have depression. It’s severe enough that I never really know how I feel—about anything—other than depressed. I didn’t think this was fair to my boyfriend, so I broke up with him. I know I love him platonically, but I can’t count on any other feelings. Meanwhile, he’s very affectionate and puts 100 percent of himself into relationships, and that made me feel even worse than I already did. We tried just being friends, but it didn’t work, so now it seems like we might be getting back together, and I don’t know if I can do this. How can I be fair to him without feeling like an awful person? Is it worse to date someone that you know deserves better treatment, or to leave them no choice? —Katie, 18, Scotland/strong>

This guy sounds wonderful, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong things here. Although your depression may seem sad and pitiful, it’s actually a very tough beast that will try to distract you from tackling it by any means necessary while it has its claws in you, and you have to learn to put it in its place. At the moment, it seems like you’re more invested in your relationship than you are in building your coping skills, and that needs to change before you (and, by extension, the people you’re romantically involved with) can be happy.

Your instincts seem to be telling you that this is not a good time for you to date, and I think you should respect those feelings, but rather than end your romantic relationship because you want to protect other people from you, do it because you need to prioritize your own mental health. Do you see the difference there? You’re not selfish, and you’re not a monster who hurts people indiscriminately—you’re a girl fighting depression, which is a very real and destructive psychological disorder, and right now you need to devote all of your energy to doing that, because you deserve to be well.

You also deserve understanding from the people who care about you. My suggestion is that you sit this gentleman down and tell him clearly that you have to dedicate yourself to caring for your own brain right now, and that it’s too hard for you to do that while also trying to be someone’s girlfriend. Let him know what you need from him as a friend, be it a shoulder to cry on, an occasional afternoon at the pizza place when you’re feeling lonely, or respect for your boundaries while you take steps to manage your depression. Or all of the above! Then ask if he’s willing to provide you with that kind of support, without the romantic elements of your relationship, at least for the time being. If he’s not, let him know you’ll be in touch when you’re feeling a bit stronger.

When you have severe depression, you can be so flooded with sad and bad feelings that you become numb to them after a while. It takes effort to drain the flood and return to the regular tides of emotion. Right now, you need to concentrate on that battle without beating yourself up about a relationship. This is not just OK—it is necessary for your happiness. I know you have that fight inside you, or else you wouldn’t have written. You seem to have an enormous heart, and I think it’ll serve you greatly on your path to wellbeing. —Emily ♦

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  • MR February 12th, 2014 12:14 AM

    To the person with the friends at another school: I always thought the people at my high school who had friends-from-another-school were SO cosmopolitan and cool!! One girl in particular had a boyfriend from another school! How exotic! I grew up in a really small, rural area though, so maybe that is part of why I thought it was so interesting, haha!

    Also, your situation happened to my husband when he was in school. All of his friends ditched him and were mean to him, so he basically practiced drumming all day every day and now he’s an awesome drummer! So that advice about woodshedding really worked for him too!

  • TessAnnesley February 12th, 2014 1:17 AM

    That last answer about severe depression flooding you and making you numb = my life

  • Raissomat February 12th, 2014 2:20 AM

    I have phases where I feel really numb, like I know I should feel something -anything- but I don’t. Then there are my fears. I know they are not reasonable or logic, but I’m afraid of phone calls, and meeting people that intimidate me for some reason. Also, when trying to make something important I get very anxious. I always felt all I really needed was a kick in the pants, but reading about depression and anxiety on here makes me doubt.

  • litchick February 12th, 2014 5:54 AM

    Amy Rose, that is Literally the Best Answer Ever. Thank you.

  • umi February 12th, 2014 9:05 AM

    such wonderful and thoughtful answers. rookie is so great!!

    also, let’s give Anaheed a huge mental hug. Thanks for all your hard work,Anaheed~~

  • soretudaaa February 12th, 2014 9:17 AM

    I loved Amy Rose’s response to the second question. I was in a very similar situation all through high school (my two best friends from middle school changed schools and so I very rarely saw them). I mean, having no friends (or very distant ones with whom you don’t get to spend much time with) is a total bummer, and I did get down sometimes, but I think something really important about that was that it made me appreciate my family a lot more. Every time the friends who had ditched me did something horrible, I knew I could always turn to them. I used to feel sad about not having had the typical high school experience with parties and talking to friends about boys but I now know that I will never regret it because I got to spend so much time with my family and I’m so close to them because of that. I mean, after high school you grow up and move on with your life so I feel like those last years of family-living are so important. I have the best family memories from that time.

  • the_smartorialist February 12th, 2014 11:32 AM

    Reminder-type emails make me feel like a bitch, but that ‘top of your inbox’ message is genius, thank you.

    Anaheed, you are a boss. Please don’t punish yourself with guilt. And please don’t become a hermit, because apart from anything else I don’t think they’re allowed wi-fi.

  • giov February 12th, 2014 12:14 PM

    I actually got a reply from Anaheed once, saying that maybe one thing I wrote could potentially be published. I never heard back again (and now I see why!), but it still made me very happy (and now even more!).

    • Anaheed February 12th, 2014 1:06 PM

      Oh man, I’m so sorry. Let me circle back on that one now. And thank you for the reminder!

  • Margo February 12th, 2014 2:52 PM

    I freaking love Anaheed, she works so damn hard for all of this to be possible. It’s truly amazing and admirable the amount of work she does for Rookie…I would be soooo overwhelmed if I had her job!!!

  • LuxOrBust February 12th, 2014 4:14 PM

    Has Rookie considered getting a second Anaheed? Not that she’s replaceable. I see her kicking butt all over this all the time, but feeling that guilty isn’t so great…just a thought.

    • Anaheed February 12th, 2014 4:51 PM

      We actually have a second AND a third story editor, but it’s still a lot of work for not a lot of people!

      • LuxOrBust February 16th, 2014 5:10 PM

        I feel ya girl, keep up the good work!

  • Marykate February 12th, 2014 8:06 PM

    Loved the advice about being dumped by friends. I went through a similar experience in middle school, and weirdly,being shunned by my old friends actually helped me become a lot more outgoing, as I had to try and find new people to hang out with.

  • SWIZZLEFAIRY22 February 12th, 2014 9:12 PM

    I know this is a completely different type of advice column but as a hardcore rookie reader can I please formally nominate Hayley Williams for ask a grown woman? I have feels man!

  • rhymeswithorange February 12th, 2014 11:00 PM

    What a great response Amy Rose! I had the same thing happen to me in middle school, and it taught me to really look at everyone as valuable, because you never know what they’re going through. Making others know they’re not alone why I write also <3

  • jenaimarley February 13th, 2014 4:45 AM

    So much love and respect for Anaheed!!!

  • Moxx February 13th, 2014 3:49 PM

    The response about friends and learning things yourself and woodshedding- yes
    Amy Rose you are the coolest.

  • nug February 13th, 2014 5:00 PM

    Love the tattoo response! I just got the Venus symbol tattooed on my neck and I keep getting negative comments!!
    Rookie, you are always so relevant to life.

  • julalondon February 14th, 2014 7:31 AM

    Oh man, tattoo-girl, I feel you. I recently got a tattoo on my wrist; 2 Chinese Characters. I am European, a blonde girl and Chinese Characters are considered as “not cool anymore” to have as a tattoo. The thing is that my major at college is Chinese Studies; I can speak and write Chinese and this tattoo has an important meaning to me (which people obviously don’t know anything about). I get so many stupid comments on my tattoo and sometimes I just wanna get angry about those shitty comments…but I decided to stop caring at all. The people I care about know that I speak the language and about the meaning of my tattoo and about the rest of the world…well, I stopped giving a shit…=)

  • ungrula February 16th, 2014 10:41 PM

    Hey Katie,
    I was you last year
    I don’t have any advice since I dealt with the situation really badly but yeah I just wanted you to know that you aren’t the only one experiencing this and that if other people can get through it, so will you
    I do suggest talking to a professional (therapist, psychiatrist, hell even a school counselor) if you aren’t already; that made the difference for me
    The only way out is through
    Ok that’s all bye I love you

  • I am not telling February 24th, 2014 4:46 AM

    Hey Lily,
    If you decide that its best to stay at the current school (actuality this would work if your new as well) and need an ice breaker try joining some of the school clubs – you might discover a new talent and even if you don’t instantly bond with someone, after a while you might have some people who at least acknowledge you; if they have seen you be cool away from narky ‘friends’ then they can make up their own opinion. Its small but it helps.
    Your friend,
    The Grumpy Bear