There's this heart piercing quote from Mad Men that has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it while binge watching the entire series a few months ago: Nobody knows what's wrong with them — yet everyone else can see it right away.
Why is that? Why is it that we always have the right thing to say when our friends call us up at 11 p.m. with uncontrollable tears or Gchats us with these seemingly insurmountable problems that we're sure can be fixed in five minutes or less. "Calm down," we'll start off saying, "just do x,y, and z." And in that exact moment, the most perfect, spot-on advice will effortlessly roll off our tongues.
But when the tables are literally turned, and we're on the other end of the phone or sitting on the other side of the table with tears streaming down our puffy red cheeks, the same advice we once hustled out will seem inapplicable and dangerously unsatisfying when we try to apply them to our own problems.
A recent study by the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan asked participants to reflect on one of their personal relationships problems and think about that problem in the third person — as if it was someone else's problems. The results of the study found that people make more rational decisions if they are detached from a problem or when tackling the problem as an observer. That's probably because the outcome won't directly impact their lives and therefore taking a more safe and logical route doesn't seem like the best option — it seems like the only option.
But when that safe and logical route is applied to a problem of their own, people are often inundated with the "what-if's" that tag along. The study found that when people think of problems of their own they are totally inclined to make rash judgments and quick decisions.
I've been there before many, many times. Staring blankly at my phone, composing some lyrical text message with my finger lingering over the send button. If I send this text message to my ex-boyfriend, or a guy I went on a few date with but never heard back from, I'm probably making the wrong move. This guy doesn't deserve my attention or my time and erasing it is what any friend would tell me — or exactly what I would tell any friend. But my heart is racing and my mind is circling around the possibility that this text message could change something that still has the ability to be changed (so I think!).
So what do I do usually? Do I follow my third person advice and do what I would say to any other person in this situation? No, hardly ever. The study is right. Usually, I put my phone down for a few minutes, follow the advice I'd tell someone else, but then a few minutes later run back and send the text message.
But so what?
Sometimes when we make the wrong decision we are making an obvious mistake. But those mistakes turn into something we learn from, even if we make them again and again. Those mistakes are a part of us, and no one else.
So give this a shot next time you want to forget about what's-his-name. Try imagining this problem as if it belonged to someone else. But when it comes back to tug on your heart strings and you're tempted to ignore your advice, just know you're not alone in doing so. Know that often love makes you a little bit crazy and maybe that's just a little bit okay.
Jen Glantz is the author of All My Friends Are Engaged, a book of dating disaster stories. She's the heart behind the website The Things I Learned From. She'd love you to say hello: @tthingsilearned or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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