How do I deal with older people who try and invalidate my work and my achievements because I’m young and a girl? I’m an artist, and pretty much every exhibition I’ve been in has ended in tears because a middle-aged man (always a middle-aged man!) has told me I have no right to be there because of my age and gender. —Bethany

Congratulations on all the awesome stuff you’re doing, and I’m sorry some turds are getting in the way of you feeling proud of yourself. Unfortunately, sometimes older people seem to feel like something is being taken away from them when somebody younger than them is successful. Sometimes guys feel threatened when a girl is successful. These feelings inevitably interfere with how they go about judging a successful/young/female person and her work. Maybe invalidating her work and achievements makes it easier for them to deal with how unsatisfied they are with their own success, career, art, etc. So, first know that their reactions have very little to do with you or the quality or meaning or effort behind your work. These dudes are just plain projecting, because that’s always easier and less scary than looking in a mirror.

When you are RIGHT THERE DEALING WITH THEM IN PERSON, you could kill ’em with kindness, smile and nod and not let them see that you’re bothered by what they’re saying. Or you can roll your eyes, or bitchface, or engage in a conversation and seriously force them to think about the ridiculousness of what they’re saying—that gender and age are reason to exclude someone from a community they’ve earned their place in. In all honesty, I don’t think they deserve your time or energy or the little buzz they might get from getting you caught in a conversation. But I also think that if they make you angry, and you want to express it, you have every right to. Do what feels right in the moment (unless you’re, like, compelled to start punching them). Whatever makes it easier for you to avoid letting their sexist, sad remarks get to you, so you can continue being creative and happy—that is the right thing to do.

If their words creep into your mind later, they might start to get you down. Don’t feel defeated if this happens; you are a person with feelings, and anyone would be bugged by such immaturity disguised as “constructive criticism.” But don’t feel guilty once you’re able to not give a shit about them, either, because you are not responsible for their happiness or success. You are just responsible for making art you love to make, if that is indeed what you plan on doing right now. And you can’t do that if you feel suffocated by insecure naysayers. You have to ignore them. You’re already aware, it sounds like, that these guys’ reasons as to why you shouldn’t have an exhibition are stupid as hell and have nothing to do with your art, yeah? Remind yourself of this! As often as you need to in order to keep creating!

Normally when something won’t stop bugging me, I force myself to think about it and figure out why I’m upset and, if it’s something I did wrong, how to fix it. But there’s a difference between getting to the bottom of an issue that needs to be worked out, and letting yourself go down the wormhole of negative thought that opens up when you start to wonder if these jerks are right. BLOCK THAT SHIT OUT. KEEP MOVIN’. Keep creating. That’s the point of all this anyway, isn’t it? Your work is not for them, so what do they care? And if it’s not for them, what do you care what they think? Just block their voices out the next time you think about it, and the time after that, and the time after that, and eventually it’ll be such a long time since it’s had a big presence in your brain that it might even be too tiny for you to ever think about at all.

And the next time you’re working, you will be doing so in spite of someone who tried to hold you back, and that is awesome. —Tavi

In sixth grade, I had a thing with this guy. He liked me, and I liked the feeling that I was wanted, so I liked him back. When he moved away at the end of the year, I moved on and got on with my life, but he never got on with his. He became obsessive and annoying. He would say that he missed me and loved me so much that he felt like he would die if he didn’t see me. Once he even Facebook messaged me, “I will find you and stalk you until I die.” Naturally, I blocked him on everything that linked me to him, and I eventually forgot about him. Four years have passed since then; a few months ago, an acquaintance told me that my ex wanted to talk to me. I reluctantly talked to him through Skype, thinking he would’ve gotten over me by now, and hoping to find closure. No luck; he now constantly tries to talk to me on Skype, even though I’ve been ignoring him. Why is he so clingy, and what should I do to get him to stop? —Creeped Out

First of all, you are so, so, SO right to be creeped out, Creeped Out. This guy is beyond clingy—he has some serious issues with boundaries. While I can’t say exactly why he is this way—maybe he’s got depression or some other psychological disorder, maybe he has been through something in the past that is causing him to become unhealthily attached; only the therapist he definitely needs could say for sure—I can say that you definitely need to shut him out of your life completely. Block him on Skype; here are instructions for doing that. Tell the acquaintance that put him in touch with you—and anyone else that he might try to use—that you want nothing further to do with this guy, and not to give him ANY of your contact info. If you still have a copy of that Facebook message, print it out, so that if he actually does start stalking you (hopefully he is in a town far away and can’t), you can use it to get a restraining order if necessary. I’m not saying you will have to go that far, and I really hope you don’t, but I think you should talk to a trusted adult about this—a parent or guardian or a teacher or guidance counselor at school. It’s a good measure to take to keep yourself safe, but also I’m guessing this is stressful and upsetting and you could probably use a person to vent to about it. From the way you already went about blocking him, you sound pretty level-headed about it, but I want to reinforce that this is NOT your fault. Liking someone because they like you is totally normal and fine; breaking up with someone is also a totally OK thing to do—you will probably do it (and have it done to you) many more times in your lifetime, and then you and your various paramours will move on. That is how healthy breakups work. This guy’s obsession with you is unhealthy, but that’s because HE is unhealthy. So definitely block him, report him as needed, and do not let him manipulate you into feeling like you owe him anything. Having been manipulated by a troubled guy in the past, I know it can wear on you, so please take care of yourself and talk to some trusted folks in your life about your feelings! —Stephanie

Sometimes things are really great and fabby and life seems pretty good. But sometimes I feel like I have a big cloud of sadness hanging over me, and I have to be careful about everything I do so that I don’t get really sad. If I do something wrong, then I’m screwed for days and just feel so, so, so sad and alone and like I’m wasting my time with everything I do. I also tend to get really irritable and sensitive—I can’t be near anyone eating or breathing loudly; sometimes I can’t watch people talking; noise frustrates me. I want to shout at everything, and the whole world seems to be out to get me ANGRY. So my question is: am I just a normal teenage girl with mood swings? Or might I have some sort of mental illness? Is there anything I can do to help the situation? I want to avoid going to my doctor as much as possible, and I don’t feel like I can talk to my parents. —Amelia, 14, UK

On one hand, you’re right: mood swings are a normal part of life, especially when you’re a teenager, because there are lots of magical hormones going in and reconfiguring your body and/or brain. But what you’re describing sounds like it’s really hard on you, and like it affects your personality so much that you have cause to worry about it. I am obviously not a medical doctor, or a therapist, so I’m not going to act like I’m qualified to tell you what’s going on in your personal brain. I don’t know your reasons for not wanting to go to a doctor, so I can’t address them specifically (though if you have reason not to open up about this to your parents, maybe talk to a counselor at school, being careful to ask them what they might have to disclose to your folks), but I have to tell you, going to a medical doctor and/or a therapist is actually a GREAT idea for you. Therapy is really one of life’s luxuries: I think everyone who can afford it should try it, just because it feels great to have an outside observer that you can actually work constructively with on life’s problems. And even just going to a doctor, and describing all this, might point to some new answers! Be sure you go in and describe exactly what you’re feeling—don’t just say “I think I’m depressed.” A good doctor will talk your situation over with you carefully, see what the possible causes might be, and then prescribe some course of action that they think might help your particular set of bummers. Getting help for what’s going on in your head is no different from going to a doctor because you have diabetes or anemia or any other health problem that requires care. I obviously talk all the time about how great I think therapy is, and have done so already in this answer. But I’m also a big fan of medication, which I have seen work genuine wonders when people figure out the right one(s) to take. It has done so for me, and I don’t mind saying that. So, yes: whether this is an organic thing, like clinical depression or bipolar, or whether it’s just something you can work out by talking about it, getting medical help is always an awesome step. Don’t be afraid to do it; those of us who delay going to a professional for this kind of help always, always end up wondering what took us so damn long. —Sady

I don’t want to have sex before I’m married, partly for religious reasons, but mostly because I just think it’s the right thing for me. I was recently seeing a guy for four months, and I told him two weeks into the relationship that I wasn’t going to have sex with him. But he just broke up with me over my refusal to have sex. Now I’m scared that I’ll never find someone who will wait for me, or who will be OK not having sex. If this boy, who said he loved me more than he thought he could ever love anyone, can break up with me over this, how am I going to find someone who will accept me? I know sex is important, but I don’t think it’s everything. Am I going to be alone forever if I don’t have casual sex? —Anonymous

First, I want to commend you for sticking to your values. I waited to have sex until I got married, and I know that it’s not easy. It’s also not always a popular decision, particularly with people you’re dating or want to date. Second, I want to tell you that I definitely don’t think you’re going to be alone forever because you don’t want to have premarital sex. I’m sorry that this guys disappointed you, but it’s great that you know what’s right for you and that you’re drawing boundaries based on that knowledge.

My personal reasons for waiting were primarily based on my faith, but I also think having sex adds depth and complexity to a relationship, and I wasn’t looking for that level of intimacy with every single guy I was interested in.

In high school, I didn’t date a ton—only a couple of guys, and both of them shared my feelings about waiting to have sex. Dating got harder in college, when the expectations and convictions of my peers were changing. I tried to keep myself a little guarded and cautious with guys and, like you, I tried to be upfront about my stance on premarital sex, because I didn’t want to find myself in an uncomfortable game-time situation. I had some very supportive friends. I also had friends who told me I’d “never” find a guy who’d be OK waiting to have sex. Those people were discouraging, but ultimately I was the one who had to deal with my decision, not them.

After a while, all the people I hung out with knew where I stood, and it even started to become something kind of cool, especially as virgins in my peer group got rarer the older we got. Once in college I was even a scavenger-hunt item during a fraternity/sorority pledge week, ha! (College-age virgins being relatively hard to come by, I was a very hot commodity that night.)

I definitely don’t regret my decision to wait, and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything because I’ve only had sex with one person. My husband wasn’t a virgin when I married him (or when we were dating), but waiting was something we both wanted for our relationship. The key to making your premarital relationships work is finding partners who share your stance, or who at least support your holding it. Not every person you try to go out with is going to support you, but the ones who don’t just aren’t right for you. That’s OK. You will meet people who feel the same way as you, and some of them will be cute and exciting and you will get to date them. One of them might end up being the person you marry, and when you have sex with them, if you’re like me, you’ll be glad you waited. —Becki

If you have a question for next month’s Just Wondering, please send it to [email protected].