What To Do When You Don’t Care
Especially when you don’t care that you don’t care
I recently wrote about “knowing what you want” — the struggle most of us have to discern how we even feel or what we actually enjoy, and the importance of identifying and understanding true interests to pursue.
And the ugly side of this is not when we pursue things without interest, but rather when we pursue things without interest but don’t care.
What are you supposed to do with that? How alarmed should we be at the fact that we do tons of things in our daily lives that we feel moderately interested in but don’t care that we don’t care?
Should we care?
In the 1999 film Runaway Bride, we come to find out that Julia Roberts character, serial monogamist Maggie Carpenter, has spent so much time buying into her partners’ breakfasts that she doesn’t even know how she prefers eggs.
At the time, I didn’t really understand how that could happen. Now I do. Things like that slip through the cracks.
But what if Maggie Carpenter truly didn’t care how her eggs were prepared? Should it matter?
I think it depends.
Whenever I’m confused about any of the other big things in life — work, or areas of passion (if the two are different, and they almost always are) — I come back to romantic relationships.
Partly because I’ve done a shit ton of research in that area, but mostly because things work out for me there — even when relationships have ended, I’ve come away with new learnings, new insights.
Something about partners is easier; more contained. I don’t hang too much on other people; I let them exist as their own separate beings, this single, imperfect entity who happens to be at my side — and I see them for the finite thing that they are. Things like “work” and “passion” and “interests” have no parameters; no boundaries. (That, and for me it’s the work, not the partner, where I tie my identity up. That’s the reason most of us flail at either one.) And that makes them harder — for me.
So, let’s take it back to relationships
1.) I dated people I didn’t want to marry — and I didn’t care.
Now, there are a couple of important caveats here: first of all, I was young. We are all permitted a few silly flings when we’re young. Two, they still offered me whatever I was looking for at the time (hint: they always do, whether it’s healthy or not), and in that sense still had value. And three: I’m still not sure on the whole marriage thing, so “finding a husband” still isn’t a big deal.
So, all things considered, I would never advocate that anyone “waste their time” with someone they didn’t enjoy if they truly weren’t getting any enjoyment from it. Sure, your 20s are for trial and error, but it should mindful and deliberate, not negligent or wasting your time.
But as I look back on these relationships, especially within the context of where I am now, I have zero regrets.
So, +1 for “not caring about not caring.”
2.) There’s a lot I don’t care about in relationships.
I don’t care whether my partner texts every day. I don’t care if they never buy me flowers or Christmas gifts. I don’t care how they leave the toilet seat up, or the toothpaste. I don’t care what car he drives. We could go our whole lives not saying “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”
Because the thing is: You can tell the size of a man based on the size of the things that bother him.
We all have the same amount of finite amount of “fucks” to give, and too many of us waste them on petty things. I’m not willing to sacrifice any “fucks” on stupid shit.
I’ve written about this before and a few people were quick to accuse me of being a pushover, or spineless, or not caring enough in general. But in reality, people who respond defensively to these care too much about the wrong things, and not nearly enough about the things that matter.
I demand of a partner the same things I demand of myself: emotional health, intelligence, and friendship. When I say I don’t care about the rest, it’s not because I’m not in the game, but rather because I am simply unwilling to spare any chips on stupid bets. And I am super happy (and focused, and deliberate) with my relationship as a result.
+1 more for “not caring about not caring.” With the added caveat: so long as you care about something.
What do you do if you STOP caring — at a high level?
Especially if it does matter?
Like, what if we stop caring about our partner or relationship at all?
It does a huge disservice to both ourselves and our partners when we bite the bullet and pretend or force ourselves or “try harder” to care when we don’t. The emotional energy required of this upkeep is just obscene.
I’m not suggesting anyone should bow out of a relationship just because they “no longer care.” I’m just also not suggesting they “force it.”
On the contrary, the solution is to ask why they no longer do — and what they need.
Why don’t we care when it matters?
I don’t know. The answer varies. It can feel like fear, anxiety, uncertainty, “lack of motivation” (which isn’t real), lack of knowledge, broken morale, sadness, etc. but these are all pretty much different words for lowered self esteem, and self esteem is almost always the root issue — first causing a lack of engagement when we know it matters, and then causing us to accept a life lacking engagement (when we know it matters) as the norm.
What do we need?
Again, I don’t know. Self esteem is part of the answer, but the other part of the answer is a better understanding of ourselves. We don’t need to be interested in everything, but we should have an idea of what we’re interested in — or, in the least, an understanding of how to identify the feeling of “interest.” That, and then an honest understanding of our own values, and what actually matters to each of us as individual human beings in a vacuum.
So, applying these back to work and passion
What should we care about? When does it matter if we don’t care? And what should we do if we don’t, but it does?
The main takeaways here are as follows:
- What matters is what you value — both long-term, and at that time. Hopefully these two are in alignment, otherwise you’re going to be doing some damage (like binging at the risk of our health), but for the most part, doing the work of understanding these upfront — and being honest and healthy about them (and understanding cause and effect) — will go a long way in discerning what matters and what doesn’t; where to care, or not.
- It’s fine to not care about what doesn’t matter — as long as you do care about what does. Dude, maybe Maggie Carpenter could go her whole life not preferring any one egg and maybe that could be totally okay. Maybe it’s okay not to have an opinion on everything, if one does have an opinion where it counts.
- When you stop caring — and it does matter —don’t just force it; ask yourself why. If you don’t love your work, why? What do you need? If you are overweight, why? What’s the core problem? If you are lonely, why? The point is that these problems aren’t what they look like, so blindly throwing ourselves at them aren’t the solution. Very often, they’re bundled and burdened with tons of emotional reasons, and it’s our job — our obligation to ourselves — to do the dirty work of unpacking it.
The solution is to fix the core problem: the broken spirit
And the good news is that a broken spirit can almost always be fixed by pursuing things that we love (just as a spirit can be hurt by dumping energy into things we don’t — and hurt even more when we withhold our spirit from things we do.)
So what to do when you don’t care — and you don’t care that you don’t care? Sometimes professional therapy is best. But short of that: find at least one (healthy) thing you do care about, dump energy into it, and build from there. The rest, for most of us, will work itself out.