I’m More Fucked Up Than You Are
I asked 100 people what my worst quality was. Here is what they told me. (A research project.)
I got wasted last night for the first time in Austin in a while. I was all up in my feelings because I’ve been undergoing some kind of visceral, guttural transformation in the way I see myself. That never arrives without an unhealthy dose of raging against the dying of the light, or trying to calculate infinity with an abacus.
And, since so many bad ideas are precipitated by copious amounts of booze (I was roughly eight beers deep, alone, because that’s just how your boy rolls on Friday nights), I decided to take a straw poll. I asked 100 people via copy/paste from varying walks of life:
“What, in your mind, is the trait that I possess that you find *most* objectionable?”
Why would I ask this question? Well … I ask this question because, although I have a lot of readers and casual friends, what I do not have are close, loving relationships with local people. And, if I do have them, they don’t last particularly long. I am often showered with praise about my wit, vulnerability, big heart and deep thoughts. I am showered, however, from a very healthy distance away. And that always struck me as odd. That has been the crux of the vast majority of my self-inquiry since September, trying to find an answer to: “If people think I’m so great, how come people don’t want to be close to me?” That’s the question that needed an answer. (I probably, in retrospect, should’ve asked that question but I wanted it to be more personal and visceral, as well as more open-ended.)
Now, I’ve tried solving this mystery before, but generally in therapy or in the echo-chamber of my own thoughts. We’ll get to that answer in a moment. For now, let’s dig into the results: All responses were received without a judgment or a defense, and all responses will remain anonymous.
Of the 100 people polled, 37 did not respond. That’s fair. It’s a shitty question to be asked, especially around 11 p.m. on a Friday night when you’re out with your friends, or enjoying a quiet evening at home now that the kids are asleep. 35 additional people said some variant of “I don’t know” or “I don’t know you well enough to intelligently say.” (I imagine some of these 35 were thinking, in their heads, “there’s just so many to choose from! How could I pick just one?”)
So that left 28 responses — hardly enough to draw a meaningful conclusion, surely, but maybe there’s a pattern? Maybe they could … agree?
Bwahahahahahaha hellllllllllll no.
I’ve edited the responses for clarity and brevity. I’ve bucketed different themes together, but let’s just say no one bucket received more than two entries. People just can’t seem to agree on what my most unsavory character flaw is. Here’s the list.
- You undermine yourself by constantly pointing out your own flaws and insecurities.
- You have a questionable lack of self-worth
- When you cum your voice gets super-high and it makes me paranoid that you could sing Whitney Houston songs better than I do. (ahem. moving along.)
- You do not lean into, nor know, nor talk about, the things about yourself that you love.
- You suffer silently, and then write about it. You should reach out to real people more, and sooner.
- As a prospective romantic partner, I feel uneasy being seen in a corral with like 8 other women.
- You’re more fucked up than I am.
- You seem to find women interchangeable.
- The emptiness you feel.
- Your ego refuses to acknowledge that there is one source creator that you come from and are also a part of.
- Your ping-ponging between pessimism and passion … you overthink things and get suspended in nihilism/existentialism
- You’re self-obsessed. You don’t care only about yourself, but you focus on yourself a lot.
- Your suicidal ideation.
- Your vulnerability is uneasy to read and accompanied by a high amount of self-flagellation. (Hopefully they’re not reading this essay.)
- Your posts are overly considered, like you’re hiding the worst of it, which would allow people to really connect. When you’re joyous, you’ve edited out your own enthusiasm. Be authentic OR well-edited … not both.
- Definitely your defensiveness.
- That you’re the type of person who would ask 100 people a question like this.
Well, shit. And these are responses from friends. Imagine what my enemies think. Is there a common thread? Not at first blush. But what if, instead of a bullet list, we came back with a narrative. Maybe something like this:
You feel worthless and empty. Hell, you even feel like killing yourself sometimes. And so you overthink to yourself about how to not feel worthless and empty. You’ve become self-obsessed. So much so that you’re wrapped up in your own existential angst. You suffer silently, and then write about it, and then in your writing (which is very good!), you undermine yourself by focusing on your flaws and insecurities … and that’s jarring to read. And yet despite how raw you are, your posts still feel overly considered, like you’ve edited out your own joy and pain. And, since your ego won’t allow you to love yourself, you seek comfort in multiple women who are interchangeable to you. Despite that, you still feel worthless and empty. And so you’ve become the type of person who asks people questions like this.
That’s it. That’s all my observable darkness in one paragraph. Except … I forgot one. Or, not forgot, but omitted. On purpose. And now I’ll tell you why.
The answer to the question: “If people think I’m so great, how come people don’t want to be close to me?” Which I then attempted to answer using a straw-poll consisting of another, more innocuous question, is right smack-dab in the center of the bullet list above.
“You’re more fucked up than I am.”
You know who said that? One of the “interchangeable” women who fell out of — not love, not lust, not … I don’t know — something with me. That gave me pause. That’s when I knew: she gave the most correct answer. Not that other people’s answers weren’t right. People are entitled to their own observations, and I’m not in a position to argue. But if you really think about it, all people are looking for in a friend, a spouse, a life partner, a coworker, a close relationship of any kind is someone who they think is less fucked up than they are. That’s it.
The vanilla, unexceptional men I rage against because in spite of all that, they’ve found domestic bliss? They’re less fucked up than I am.
The trite, inconsequential self-help gurus who give pithy and tautological advice to their legions of adoring fans? They’re less fucked up than I am.
The President of the United States who compassionately stewards this great nation of ours toward peace and prosperity? LOL … he left office two years ago. He was less fucked up than I am. (The new guy is DEFINITELY more fucked up than I am.)
People don’t demand much out of people they desire to get close to. Just, “be less fucked up than me.” But why, of all things, do they demand that?
“Less fucked up” is safe. It’s reliable. It’s dependable. It’s adorable. It’s admirable. I’m going to do the stereotypical masculine thing now and compare people to cars. People fucking love Ferraris. The roar of the engine. The smell of the gasoline. The ornate detailing. The 200 MPH. Hell, just thinking about a Ferrari gets me off. And you know what kind of car I’m never going to buy? A fucking Ferrari. Why? Oh, you know … it sucks in the snow, it gets like 17 gallons to the mile, the parts are hard to find, there’s no reason to own a car that goes that fast when most of our driving is commuting to work, and — oh, yeah — Ferraris are fucking expensive. Ferraris may be amazing, sure, but they’re way more fucked up than a Toyota Camry. And, look, I’m not saying I’m a Ferrari. I’m just saying despite all my bells and whistles, quirks and superpowers, I don’t come cheap, or easy, and there’s no guarantee I’m gonna work out or be a good fit for you.
“But, wait, John … how do people know you’re more fucked up than they are? Like, surely these people have their own baggage, and their own demons.” Of course they do. And, since I have a pretty good handle on most of the people I polled, I can unequivocally say … yeah, there’s some screwballs in the cast. And, I imagine, some of you are fucking insane, too.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know just how fucked up you are. You have, through my writing, a ticket into the Freak Show. And my friends, family, lovers and colleagues? They have a front-row motherfucking seat. They’re sitting in the splash zone. Would you be so bold? I mean … if you had a choice? I wouldn’t. I just bought these clothes yesterday.
And it’s not like I’m hiding my darkness from anyone: I am constantly sharing things on social media, and writing things on Medium, about things like (deep breath here): self-loathing, alcoholism, hypochondria, depression, anxiety, negative self-worth, negative self-talk, intergenerational trauma, grief, dystopia, near-future dystopia, attachment disorders, therapy, anti-depressants, recreational drug use, heartbreak, loss, bad dates, lack of dates, loneliness, sickness, destitution and revenge fantasies. I don’t care how eloquent the prose is. No stirring twist of phrase is ever going to compensate for the fact that the subject matter is dark, solipsistic, nihilist, tragic, messy, peculiar, self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-flagellating and pathetic. It shouldn’t shock you that I’m not only like this on the Internet … but also in real fucking life. I’m more fucked up than you are, and that makes me radioactive. I don’t say that to ridicule either myself or my readers, my friends or lovers. I say that because it just is. Requiem for a Dream is an impressive work of art …. and there’s a zero-percent chance I’m going to watch it again. It’s pretty fucked up.
Hell, I think about all the partners I’ve had and friends I’ve had and the ones I truly miss were the ones who were (say-it-with-me-now) “less fucked up” than I am. Maybe you’re in love. I bet a lot of you have said something like, “well … he/she puts up with my crazy.” Or, “we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but they’re always there.” Maybe you like spending wild Friday nights re-potting houseplants. I bet there’s a home-cooked meal involved. Not a great one, no, but edible. And, of course, you always ask for seconds. We want someone who will put up with our crazy, not someone who you need to tell “sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.” That’s true love. And, you know what? That person who’s in love with you? They probably feel the same way about you. You put up with their crazy. You’re always there. I imagine that feels really nice. I hope I get to feel it someday.
So if the answer to the question is “you’re more fucked up than I am,” and the reasons people can tell that are the feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, suicidal ideation, overthinking, existential angst, nihilism, silent suffering, undermining of my own gifts and strengths, self-deprecation, radical transparency, over-editing, defensiveness and ego, then exactly how do I — at the very least — become less fucked up to the point of becoming palatable to mere mortals? Have I not always told you that within every question lies the answer? Let’s just go ahead and invert the bullets.
- Stop constantly pointing out your own flaws and insecurities.
- Have unquestioned self-worth
- Lean into, know, and talk about the things about yourself that you love.
- Reach out to real people more, sooner, when you’re suffering.
- Don’t keep prospective romantic partners in a corral with like 8 other women.
- Let go of the emptiness you feel.
- Acknowledge that there is one source creator that you come from and are also a part of.
- Stop overthinking things and getting suspended in nihilism/existentialism
- Don’t be so self-obsessed. Don’t care only about yourself, or focus on yourself a lot.
- Get help for your suicidal ideation.
- Make your vulnerability is easy to read and accompany it with a lower amount of self-flagellation.
- Be authentic OR well-edited … not both.
- Drop your defensiveness.
- Maybe, in the future, don’t be that you’re the type of person who would ask 100 people a question like this.
Or, in paragraph form:
I feel full and worthy. Even when I feel like killing myself sometimes, I think about things that make me feel full and worthy. I’m obsessed with those things. So much so that I feel no existential angst. I suffer proudly, and then write about it, and then in my writing (which is very good!), I empower myself by focusing on my strengths and security … and that’s an amazing thing to read. And yet despite how raw I am, my posts still feel carefully considered, and you’ll feel my own joy and pain. And, since my ego allows me to love myself, I seek comfort in one woman who is irreplaceable to me. In light of all that, how could I not feel full and worthy?
That guy sounds boring as fuck. But I’d sure like to get to know him better. No further questions.