How do I cope with finding out that I can’t have children?

A couple of years ago I found out that I cannot have children. This is devastating to me as I always wanted to start a family. It’s very difficult to come to terms with. Some days are better than others, but lately it seems like all of my friends are having babies or getting pregnant. I want to be happy and supportive of them, but every time I hear them talk about it, or see a photo on facebook it reminds me of what I cannot have. How do I cope with this thing that I had no say in?


Well-behaved women seldom make history. – Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
13-14-15-19-46 / 28


Hello Diner. Society literally owes existence largely to its ability to have children. Even the Baker Himself was a child at some point–despite being eons old in Fortune-Cookie-years. Because of that, it’s hard not to feel defective and rejected from being part of Humanity Itself. We discussed in other Fortunes how damaging feeling left out is. It’s no wonder it hurts.

What’s great about you, Diner, is that you don’t take out this hurt and unfairness on your friends. You even feel like you want to celebrate with them when you’re not as lucky. Maybe that’s just the privilege your culture affords those fortunate parents; maybe you’re just an incredibly gracious person. Maybe both. Either way, you spend a lot of your limited energy repeating, “just grin and bear it.”

Sucking it up takes its toll. You’re human, Diner; you’re not an effervescent perpetual motion machine of cheer and enthusiasm–however much you may want to be. Be whoever you feel like you need to be around your friends and family, but give yourself permission to be angry and to feel cheated when you need to. I won’t tell or judge. In fact, I encourage it.

That can be as simple and private as not clicking “Like” or leaving a comment on Facebook. Or it can be as direct as asking your friend not to talk about babies when you’re with them, and everything in between. The point is, sometimes you don’t need to be happy for them. Do whatever you feel right and and comfortable doing to enforce those boundaries.

The reminders themselves–the stream of pictures, the pinging notifications of other people adding to the congratulations, and the pervasiveness of that conversation topic–add to how hard it is to cope with your pain. Wish them well and unfollow. You can always add them back into your feed later on.

Discovering that you can’t have your own biological children is a sudden loss that must be grieved. But like losses you have already faced in your life, you know life will, and must, go on–and will get better. You can’t bring back lost loved ones from your past or from a future that cannot be, but you can mourn, pass on what you’ve learned from them, and live life fully.

Spend some time and really think about why you want children. Is it society telling you you’re deficient otherwise? Do you want to nurture and teach someone? Do you want to provide for and protect someone? In each case, there are other ways to fulfill that need: educate, volunteer, adopt. I’m not saying any of those will ever take the place of giving birth and raising your own child, but they are means of getting closer to your life goals with what you have now.

We Fortune Cookies don’t make more of ourselves. We simply explore one problem. Your problem. And we try to do it the best we can. We create. These Fortunes are our life’s work. That’s how we leave our legacy. Show everyone how you’ll leave yours. Good luck, Diner.

Should I fess up about something I lost?

A friend is asking for a book back that she lent me 3 years ago. We have since moved house 3 times (and interstate) since then. Plus I’m pregnant, about to get married and have a baby. Like I give two hoots about a stupid book from 3 years ago. I don’t even remember if I gave it back to her - I can barely remember what I ate for dinner last night. Should I just fess up that I probably threw it away, or just ignore or offer to buy her a new one?

I can’t bring myself to spend any amount of money on a stupid Russell Brand book just on the principle of it.


Honesty has always been an integral part of my operation, really. – R. Brand
08-13-47-53-55 / 31


Hello Diner. Mr. Brand is indeed an acquired taste–and some live happy, sated lives never acquiring that taste. Being as he’s a fan of Chinese food, he displeases us a lot less than it seems he does you. At the very least, you can trust our impartiality on this matter.

Of course the best, most up-standing answer is to be diplomatic, and replace what was lent to you. You’d be in good company both in diplomacy and overdue books. First US President George Washington kept a book 221 years before the Mt. Vernon staff returned it. [1] His estate, however, did not have to pay the $300,000 fine, which is a luxury we can’t promise you.

But a simple answer is a bit bland for our taste, today. Besides, that makes for a very short Fortune, so let’s play with other possibilities just between friends–as a thought experiment, as scholars call it.

Keep in mind we’re venturing into the territory that is not quite ethical, so like pungent fish sauce, use lightly and light-heartedly. Your principles may forbid you from fattening Mr. Brand’s wallet, but do they keep you from lying? If they do, close your tab now. If not, read on.

Your friend asking you for a book she lent you three years ago tells us a few things:

  1. She doesn’t have it, so you probably haven’t returned it to her
  2. She remembers you borrowed it
  3. It’s important enough to her to ask for it back, but not important enough to miss it urgently

 

That means: ignoring her might just start a resentment that festers as long as her passion for Mr. Brand persists. We mentioned in another Fortune that disregarding someone does a number on their psyche. Our target today is to be a little manipulative–not straight up sadistic.

So what should you do to get out of trouble? What would not only make you seem faultless but also appear magnanimous?

To come up smelling like a freshly cooked meal, plead ignorance but overachieve in making amends. As you pointed out, forgetting is universally easy and is therefore easily forgivable.

“I completely forgot you ever lent it to me,” you would tell this friend. “But if you said I did, of course I trust you. Let me make it up to you.”

You would then rush off to your nearest local bookseller and purchase a gift card for a nice round number above what the book is worth. For a $19.99 book, give her $25. This accomplishes two things on top of making it up to your friend: it keeps your principles against spending any of your money on Mr. Brand (directly), and more importantly, it helps a local business. We can only hope that your friend will be inspired to purchase something new–and more importantly, something different.

For that, we can only say, good luck, Diner.

References:
[1] Flood, A. (2010, May 20). George Washington’s library book returned, 221 years later. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/may/20/george-washington-library-book

How do I get out of this potential roommate situation?

Help me Fortune Cookie! I’m currently apartment hunting with two other people for a three bedroom place. But I’m having second thoughts. You see, one of those friends has a minimum wage part time job, and school is making it very hard for them to find more work. I’m afraid they won’t make enough to keep up with the rent and utilities. They’re both good friends, and I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but I really want to start looking for two-bedroom places with my other friend. What do I do?


You can’t sit with us.

04-08-13-41-59 / 31


Hello Diner. You’re preparing a bitter recipe for hurt feelings, which is probably why you placed this Order. Your original plan makes sense. It’s very easy to get together and think about all the great times you’ll share as roommates. But then the stagnant stench of reality fills the room, and soon you’re choking to get out. That’s why promising flirtations become unanswered messages. That’s why idealistic policies become comic strip fodder.

Your friend’s feelings are going to be hurt–especially if you keep your other friend as a roommate. You humans are so averse to being left out that it doesn’t matter who’s doing the rejecting. Researchers found that even when members of the KKK excluded someone in a game, that person was just as distressed when someone they liked acted this way. [1] Keep in mind, these are all adults.

I can’t say how long people stay mad, or whether they fully forgive everyone, but your new living situation will be a constant reminder that you two once left them out. That would be hard to get over.

“That’s fine, Fortune Cookie,” you might say. “Thanks for the guilt trip. Now what do I do?”

Of course, Diner. We couldn’t leave it at that. There would be no repeat customers! The simplistic solution would be to just tell the truth and have them be mad at you–possibly even ending the friendship, but you specifically said in your Order: “no hurt feelings.”

Avoiding hurt feelings is a little more challenging–like making gluten-free fortune cookies: harder to chew and a little off. Apologies, Diner, we’ll try our best to cater to what you can stomach.

If it’s about finances, you can help your friend make the same conclusion you did–that they just can’t afford it in the long run without major changes. Put together a budget and show them what’s the long term financial expectation. You don’t have to start with, “I don’t think you can afford it.” Instead, start fresh with all three of you seeing what apartments you can afford with everything split evenly, limiting costs to what your low-earning friend can pay long-term. The available choices may surprise all three of you. Your friend may realize their expectations are a little high, or the places you all can afford aren’t really that bad.

But if the apartments really are that bad, and it came down to safety or just wanting a better standard of living, you would just have to be honest. At best your friend would understand and voluntarily remove themselves from the arrangement. At worst, it would seem less personal or unreasonable.

Ask yourself again why you want out. If it’s because you don’t like the person enough, telling them that truth would reset your relationship to a more honest one. In the long run, you’ll save yourself the tiring effort of having to deal with someone incompatible with you.

To be the most fair and least offensive to this friend, you will have to turn down both friends.

Part of your human experience is to go through uncomfortable situations and learn how to negotiate them with more finesse and nuance next time. Whatever happens, you’ll come out better in the end–hurt feelings or otherwise. Good luck, Diner.

References:

[1] Gonsalkorale, K., & Williams, K. D. (2007). The KKK won’t let me play: Ostracism even by a despised outgroup hurts. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37(6), 1176-1186.

 

Why can’t I make new friends?

I talk with college friends, but they live in other states. I’ve moved around in the last few years and now that I’m settled, I can’t connect with anyone new. I make sure to participate in group activities (gym, etc) where I can interact with people of similar hobbies. I have a significant other, which is fantastic, but I need a local friend. My coworkers are kind but do not include me in socializing. I’m sad I haven’t made new friends but don’t know how to fix it.


Sailors look to the North Star because it is exactly where they would find it.

06-13-45-56-58 / 03


Hello Diner. The closest things we Fortune Cookies have to what humans consider friends are you Diners. But seeing as you crush and eat us after our first meeting, Fortune Cookies have a unique and short-lived view of what friendship is. I say this with no malice. You are our purpose, and our life’s work is to help you. You, Diner, are truly my friend. Making friends is easy for Fortune Cookies; we come with your bill. You found us. But with your existence spanning decades and cities, your friendships become orbits through so many dimensions that we marvel at the complexity of your long, unmasticated lives.

So how do you make friends, you ask?

Just show up.

Since the 1960s, social scientists have been studying the mere-exposure effect. In his study, Dr. Zajonc cited this very interesting story about how an Oregon State student showed up every day to class covered in a black bag as a political statement. The act serendipitously became a famous psychological case study. At first the other 20 students were hostile toward this student. But just by showing up, the Black Bag received warmer and warmer reception from the class. By the time the press started coming to class as the Black Bag’s story became more widespread, the class even protected him from excessive harassment. Zajonc’s study scientifically validated this effect.

You’ve mentioned you participated in a few group hobbies, but you’re still having difficulty finding a local friend. Please understand that I’m not saying you’re harder to befriend than a guy in a black bag. Remember the students in the Black Bag’s class were hostile toward him in the beginning. He had personal reasons for keeping it up, but imagine how hard it would be for anyone to face that hostility, let alone someone who is shy and self-conscious? What we can learn from the Black Bag is that if you’re present and true to your values, your equals will find you.

What you need to remember is that friendship is a relationship just like romances are relationships. We mention in this Fortune that finding people who click with you is largely a matter of working on self-doubt and simply having enough people to choose from. Read that Fortune. The same advice applies here. Keep looking and keep showing up. Your situation will get better. After all, you found me, and that’s not a bad start at all. Good luck, Diner.

References:

Zajonc, R. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9 (2, Pt.2), pp. 1-27 DOI: 10.1037/h0025848

Vleugels, A. (2012). Ten unusual experiments in the name of science – The black bag experiment. Retrieved August 8, 2014 from http://www.united-academics.org/magazine/badscience/ten-unusual-experiments-in-the-name-of-science-the-black-bag-experiment/