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.


[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.


What is the best way to handle pain?

Other than medications and stuff. I mean how to emotionally handle being in pain 100% of the time when meds haven’t worked.

Control what you can. Accept what you cannot.

When one speaks of pain, one focuses on the physical embodiment. Aches and hot knives and prickled skin. This is natural. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something is wrong. But, my dear, you have hit upon another very critical aspect of pain - emotion. While many say that the mind and body are two separate beasts, they are actually very much intertwined. The neuronal tendrils that write your life experience wind together in many ways. Those wriggling vines inside your head that spell out “pain” are the same that stab you when your feelings are hurt. Physical pain and emotional pain are, in our minds, the same [1].

Because of this your long term pain is likely dragging your emotions down to its dark level as well. While dulling physical pain through medication is useful, it is equally important to look after your psyche. Many of those who suffer pain also descend to melancholia [2]. Part of this is due to those tangled neurons, but our minds have the remarkable strength to quell the physical symptoms of pain as well.

A second reason pain is so hurtful to our psyche is the impact it has on our lives. Pain strips us of control. It dictates when we sleep, what we eat, where we go, and how long we venture out of doors. Pain is a selfish companion who demands all your time. It robs you of the activities you once loved and drives a wedge between you and the people you are close to. And through all this, pain plays a very talented sleight of hand. It waves its right hand wildly, keeping you focused on the aching, the piercing, the burning in your flesh and bones. Meanwhile, it’s the left that steals from you and controls your life. It is not until you are well into pain’s show that you realise he has successfully picked your life’s pockets.

There are ways to play pain’s shell game with your eyes wide open. Medication will dampen the right hand’s rapid gestures by reducing your physical symptoms. But you already know that. You want to know how to pay attention to the left. You want to keep control of your life and stop pain from taking from you. Here are some suggestions, in no particular order:

Maintain your lifestyle–as best you can

We are happiest when we spend our time doing what we choose. Pain loves to take this control. It is the first thing he looks for in your purse. Bury those things deeper, inside hidden pockets. Continue to do the things you still can as often as possible. This may be as simple as having a cup of tea in the sunshine or reading a book in a hot bubble bath. If you cannot do something you once loved, try adapting it. If you loved hiking in nature, go for a drive in the countryside. If you can no longer stand for the length of time required to bake, bring your cooking implements to the kitchen table and work sitting down. Search for new activities that you may enjoy - Pain cannot steal something that you haven’t got yet.

Seek support

Have you noticed you don’t see your friends as often as you used to? This is another common theft that pain engages in. He wants you all to himself, and is very adept at convincing you to stay at home and restricting what you can do. He grins to himself as he watches your friendships drift apart. Often friends don’t understand what you are going through. You may even have kept your chronic pain a secret in order to feel normal. Talk about it. Tell your friends about pain and how it affects your life. If they are good friends they will understand and work with you to sidestep pain, so you can remain close.

Practice mindfulness

You said that your medication doesn’t always work. This can make it hard to keep your emotions in check. Recall those intertwined tendrils of neurons? When you physically hurt, your mind is also feeling emotional pain. But all is not lost. Mindfulness has been found to be useful at reducing the intensity of pain and the melancholia that often comes along for the journey [3]. To be mindful:

  • Place yourself fully in the present moment.
  • Pay attention to the details of what is around you without judgement.
  • Take in everything that is happening - The sounds your house makes while settling in the cool night air. The smells of night jasmine drifting in through the window. The texture of your linen dressing gown brushing against your leg.

This intense focus allows you to control what thoughts enter your mind. And when you control your thoughts, you control your lived experience. That is a very powerful thing. There are many books on mindfulness available to you. This has some techniques you may find useful. But as always, it is best to seek a psychologist to work with on mindfulness techniques and acceptance therapy. Many psychologists are very experienced in helping with the negative emotional impacts of chronic pain.*

Accept what you cannot change

I’m guessing that you would dearly love to banish pain entirely from your world. To get back your life before the pain, or the life you dreamed of having. Unfortunately life is often unfair and never entirely in our control. If you learn to accept the ways pain impacts on your life that you cannot control, many negative thoughts will unravel from your mind [4]. Acceptance is closely tied with being mindful. When you live in the present moment, you understand it is only a moment, there is only now, right now. The pain you felt a moment ago is gone. The pain you may feel later has not yet come. Everything passes. This moment too will pass. And you will be okay.

Living with Pain is difficult. But I believe in you, my dear. Remember - control, talk, attend, accept. Follow these words and you will be a step closer to keeping pain’s tricky fingers out of your purse.

Good luck, fortune seeker.

– A. L. –


[1] Eisenberger, N. I. (2012) Broken hearts and broken bones: A neural perspective on the similarities between social and physical pain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(1); 42-47. doi:

[2] Williams, L. J., Jacka, F. N., Pasco, J. A., Dodd, S. and Berk, M. (2006), Depression and pain: an overview. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 18: 79–87. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-5215.2006.00130.x

[3] Reiner, K., Tibi, L., Lipsitz, J. D. (2013) Do mindfulness‐based interventions reduce pain intensity? A critical review of the literature. Pain Medicine, 14(2); 230-242. doi:

[4] Veehof, M. M., Oskam, M, Schreurs, K. M. G., Bohlmeijer, E. T. (2011) Acceptance-based interventions for the treatment of chronic pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain, 152(3); 533-542.doi:

Once again, Mme. Liddell humbles the Advice Fortune Cookie with her well-researched expertise. Exploring the wondrous lands of the mind since 1865, her words are no less timeless. You can read all her other Fortunes here.

* Note from the AFC Science Adviser: Ask your GP for a referral if possible - they should be aware of the vast body of research showing the effectiveness of psychotherapy on pain management. And check with your insurer - you won’t know if therapy is covered unless you ask.

How do I get over my feelings of guilt for wanting to pursue my dreams?

How do I get over my feelings of guilt about wanting to quit my easy life of good fortune, get over the objections of friends and family that can’t understand the idea of wanting a simpler lifestyle that may not seem as financially stable or lucrative as continuing working, and quit my job to make myself happy already?

Follow your bliss with a plan, not a helmet.

08-10-13-49-56 / 32

Hello Diner. We mentioned in different Fortunes that the feeling of guilt occurs simply because you care. The Advice Fortune Cookies are not going to discourage you from showing that most admirable of human traits. We also don’t like instructing our Diners to stay in situations which they find themselves unhappy.

Having a life span as short as ours, we understand the importance of filling it with meaning. And even if you measure your life in years instead of minutes, meaningful endeavors never come to fruition quickly, so your life can seem equally fleeting.

But we understand that your wishes differ from those of your family and friends. It’s not as easy as saying, “go forth and follow your passion.” So does that mean we want you to go do your thing, but suffer guilt in silence?

Of course not.

Instead, consider the situation from your family and friends’ point of view, and understand what they’re concerned about. Assuming they care as much for you as you do them–and chances are, they do–they are likely nervous that the unstable financial situation might not be able offer you a stable source of basic necessities like a place to stay and healthful food. They don’t want you to max out your credit cards and go into heavy debt. No one wants that–including you.

Therefore, I recommend that you plan, Diner. From your Order, you seem prepared to give up a few luxuries, but also figure out how to keep basics like housing and food stable without going into heavy debt. Determine how long the startup period and gaps in income will last. Then work out a budget and savings plan to see you through those gaps. Commit to a set time span of how long a gap in income you will go through before scaling back or quitting the endeavor altogether. Hint: that time limit should be about as long as what you saved for.

Humans have this cognitive bias called escalation of commitment. Sometimes this is called an irrational escalation of commitment for a very good reason. The more money and time someone throws at a venture, the more stubbornly attached they become. It becomes hard to make important decisions like when to quit. Incidentally, another cognitive bias people have is the belief that they are less susceptible to biases than other people. As you can imagine, that belief is also not true.

Setting yourself that definitive time limit that is backed by something concrete like how much money you have is a very good way to proceed. It may not only quiet some of the objections your family and friends have, but it may also keep you from being in a desperate situation.

Go forth, plan, AND THEN follow your passions, my friend. Let the us know how it works out, and we may even plug your product on Facebook. Good luck, Diner.

Baker’s Note: This Order had the word “(continued)” at the beginning of it, but the Bakery had no idea from which message this one was “continued.” If we’re missing something, please let us know.

How do I deal with my annoying co-workers?

Most of my colleagues annoy me to distraction. Most of the time I don’t have to interact with them much, but it’s a big problem at conferences; I get so drained. Any advice?

The owner of this Fortune is annoyed. You best leave them alone.

01-02-07-13-43 / 16

Hello Diner. We understand this problem completely. Every so often, it would be a late weekday night, and a tired business person would come into the restaurant already irritated from a long day at work. They would be snappy and rude to our waiters and waitresses–being just generally unpleasant to be around. Despite this attitude, our Baker’s Creed is to help anyone we’re served to. While it’s a rule for Cookies never to judge our Diners, we look forward to bonding with someone who is pleasant and kind, stuck in a predicament not of their choosing.

But once we start working, we see that this outwardly horrible person still has fears, desires, hope, and interests, like all of our Diners do. They also worry about being accepted and acknowledged. Their problems, no matter how trivial they are to another person, still keep them up at night.

Therefore, Diner, I urge you to learn about those people you dislike to see if you can connect with them on a more personal level. I can’t say if the search will bring up anything that will resolve the personality conflicts you have with your colleagues, but if you go to these conferences to learn or teach, the least you can try is to learn about these people and possibly show them how to relate to you better.

Doing this will undoubtedly take a lot of energy, but remember that you don’t have to do this the whole time. If you don’t have the energy to deal with people, you simply won’t have the energy to be receptive and learn about them. And that’s fine. This Fortune is all about making these conferences a little more tolerable than they are now. It would definitely help to pay attention to how quickly your mental battery drains and to give yourself breaks if you can take them.

To make sure you have as much energy as possible at these conferences, bring along and do activities that you enjoy and are easy for you, such as knitting, playing video games, or fortune telling. This will help you in two ways: it’s meditative, so it calms you down and re-energizes you; and it’s self affirming, so you feel good about yourself having done them. The night before get something satisfying to eat and enough sleep. If possible do a little bit of exercise. All this will counteract the draining effect from simply being at the conference and in the midst of all that input (your annoying colleagues, aside).

Hopefully this will result in new friendships with your co-workers. After all, negotiating a hard task is easier in numbers than alone. Good luck, Diner.


If it’s a matter of your colleagues pushing your boundaries when your battery is low, a great way to explain this drained feeling is with Christine Miserandino’s spoon analogy.

How do I tell my boyfriend that I’m not really attracted to him anymore?

I’ve been with this guy for almost 4 years. I love him. I could see myself with him for a long time to come. I enjoy sex with him. Or, I used to. Lately I haven’t really been very attracted to him. He’s somewhat of a bigger guy, and he doesn’t usually pay much attention to his appearance. I’ve recently started jogging to try and get back into shape, and I’ve asked him to come with me, but he finds excuses not to.

Sticks and stones may break his bones*, but words will not make him skinny.

01-05-06-13-31 / 11

Hello Diner. We discuss how to navigate difficult conversations about turn-offs in this Fortune. But unlike bad breath, weight is challenging because the progress is relatively unnoticeable compared to the effort and lifestyle change you put in. It’s like learning a difficult instrument–long hours of intense concentration and tiring repetition, but the results sound bad long before they sound good. There isn’t that instant validation that you’re doing well. It’s almost an act of faith to torture your body for an unseen outcome.

That dedication has to come from your boyfriend himself. From his point of view, if he sees that you’re the one making him jog to satisfy YOUR tastes, or he’s doing you a favor because YOU are picky, or he’s being judged against YOUR standards; it will just build resentment.

So how do you effect change without all this resentment?

First you must stop expecting change. However irreplaceable you are, however much he loves you, this has to be a personal choice, or the change won’t last without significant effort. Also, if you quietly expect a change but don’t see it, that will make you resentful. Understand that you only have control over your decisions and attitude.

Then you make the decision to change–for your own benefit. Go jog if that helps you achieve a goal you personally set. The more passionate and fun it is for you, the better it will be.

Once you work on this personal goal, and if you have a healthy, communicative relationship with you partner, you will naturally just engage him on your progress. If you don’t have this kind of relationship, this might be a topic that you can start sharing with him. Either way, he will see your passion for it and hear about all the progress, milestones, and activities you experience to meet that goal. This sharing and genuine passion are important for the next step.

When he sees your progress and excitement, there is a chance he will naturally catch that desire. Scientists call it goal contagion. [1] Your goals are quite literally contagious.

Understand that this isn’t a way to direct change. I can’t emphasize that enough. You can’t use goal contagion to plant the habits he needs to stay attractive. There are services for that sort of thing, but it’s beyond Fortune Cookie magic.

To answer your question directly, Diner, you can tell your partner that he isn’t attractive any way you want, but it won’t change his habits–which I think was the point of your question. Sorry.

What you can do is decide to improve your own health without expecting anything from him and being OK with that. If he doesn’t have any underlying mental illness that affects his motivation (which he should address, regardless), he might catch some of that excitement and make your goal his. It’s out of your hands, Diner, so truly: good luck.


[1] Aarts, H., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Hassin, R. R. (2004). Goal contagion: perceiving is for pursuing. Journal of personality and social psychology, 87(1), 23.

* The Advice Fortune Cookie does not advocate the breaking of any bones; however much anyone may deserve it.


How do I let go of anger and stop myself getting so wound up?

Today I got so angry at my brother. I really, really wanted to let it go, calm down and enjoy my night, but it was so hard.

You are operating within established parameters – android greeting

19-26-34-36-49 / 13

Hello Diner. We mentioned in this Fortune that you hurt so deeply because you care. You still have a strong connection with your brother, and his actions will hurt you. I understand that you want to switch off that emotion because it’s so pervasive and painful.

But feeling that hurt is simply the cost of being human, Diner. The same ability lets you feel the linger of a kiss and gives you that smile that stays with you after a fun day. The most exciting part of a Cookie’s day is being torn in half and popped in your mouth. But it’s not as harrowing as you think: we don’t have hearts to break nor bellies to laugh. Those are evolutionary features unique to you, and those–in addition to the capacity to love and fight–kept your species alive for hundreds of millennia. We owe our whole existence to your inventiveness and imagination, to your aching love for each other, to your impulse to find meaning. We know the costs–we feel it every time we connect with you to answer an Order. For that we are eternally grateful.

For your Order, I feel a lot of anger directed at yourself. Diner, you are not made flawless. Even Cookies have imperfections here and there. Let yourself be flawed.

You had actually answered your own question but in reverse. You said, “I really, really wanted to let it go, calm down, and enjoy my night.” Research showed that thinking about what angered you over and over (ruminating) or venting it is a very good way to stay angry. [1]

Instead, you first need to find some distraction. In other words, literally try to enjoy your evening and find something to do that is completely unrelated. You’ll find when you temporarily don’t think of it, your body will naturally respond, and you’ll calm down.

Once you’re calm, you can let go.

I don’t know your issues with your brother. Our batchmates are made with the same dough–so they essentially are us. We know what each of us are feeling like parts of the same body. I know for you that connection and understanding are not that direct. It would be very easy for me to suggest talking it through with your brother, but you haven’t given me enough information to determine that. For now, Diner, only you know your dynamic with him, so I hope things improve between you two. Good luck, Diner.







[1] Bushman, B. J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 28(6), 724-731.

Should I dump him?

My boyfriend and I disagree on something major, and it’s making me think that I should break up with him. But when we’re together, things are really great aside from arguments about this one thing, and I don’t want to end things. What should I do?

I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that. – Meatloaf

04-05-12-13-22 / 03

Hello Diner. I can understand what’s holding you back. I don’t know enough about your situation, but if there’s just one thing on which you’re disagreeing, chances are you like this person very much. Breaking up is something absolute, and it deprives you of all the good things about that person. You can’t just break up with the bad parts of him. If you could, everyone would have perfect relationships, and marriage counselors and Advice Fortune Cookies alike would have to find new lines of work. On the other hand, there would also be lots of random chunks of terrible people hopping around–a commitment-phobic leg over here, a narcissistic shoulder over there. No one wants that.

So how do you decide at what point you dump him?

That all depends on how central that One Thing is to you. If it bothers you enough to ask a magical Cookie, then chances are this issue is very close to your core values. But perhaps this person is so great, you still want to hold out hope that he’ll change–or else if he is that great, he’ll know to change. Then what?

Then ask yourself what life changing forces are in your relationship to drive that change. In Newtonian physics, an object in motion will keep moving in the same direction and speed until a force acts on it. A comet barreling toward Earth doesn’t change course because it feels sorry for nice, well-meaning people. Something needs to turn a “should” into a “must.”

It’s important to say that I’m not talking about punishments like the Silent Treatment or withholding affection. If either of you use these punishments, it just means you have a bad communication problem on top of that original issue you wrote to the Bakery about.

“Life changing forces” are things that will alter your core belief. Think of what will make you change your mind on this subject wholeheartedly. That’s how strong those forces have to be for him to think differently, Diner. Clearly neither of you has experienced whatever you two need to be swayed. If things stay the same, expect…well…the same.

Life isn’t going to be all good, but it certainly shouldn’t have repeats of the same problem. That point more than anything should tell you when it’s time to go. Understand you can only change half of the things in a relationship–your half. If you’ve moved heaven and earth, but the comet is still coming your way, RUN. Good luck, Diner, good luck.

How do I reach out for support without feeling like a burden?

I haven’t been doing well for quite a while now and I feel like people are getting fed up with me. How do I get rid of this feeling that people are impatient with me when I reach out for support?

Many need very little more than to be heard.

06-13-23-28-43 / 06

Dear Diner,

You may have seen the famous, and perhaps slightly over-lauded film, Forrest Gump. There is a highly quoted part of the film in which the protagonist claims, in his Southern drawl, that “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” I’d like to begin my guest fortune by taking issue with this quote. Because, yes, life may be like a box of chocolates, but that means that more often than not, you’re going to land on ones filled with some strange bitter liquor that you’d rather have avoided. Firstly, then, I’m sorry you’ve landed on more than your fair share of less-than-nice chocolates, but please be assured that you’re not alone. I can promise that there’ll be a sweet one eventually. Such is, after all, the nature of random assortments.

Your question, however, is a little more specific than that, and I’m going to attempt to address it systematically and simply. Right now, Diner, you might be regretting sharing your problems and feelings with those around you, and I’m here to reassure you that there is, generally, absolutely nothing wrong with doing so. Indeed, psychologists the whole world over unanimously highlight the key nature of sharing, communicating, and talking about problems during the process of therapeutic recuperation. We all know what they say about a problem shared, and it’s not wrong. Reaching out for support is more than what most people have the courage and determination to do, so you need not feel badly about requiring a listening ear. I think, as long as you know that you would do the same for them in their time of need, you can rest in the knowledge that your true friends will love you, support you, distract you, and, maybe most importantly, tell you when they think it would benefit you to talk about something else.

With that being said, I have an important reminder for you. My allusion to the box of chocolates at the beginning is indicative of the fact that everyone has their own sadnesses. Everyone has one or two or twenty-five really, really bad chocolates in the box. The truth is that the human condition is such that we’re all just fumbling for a way to deal with our own problems before dealing with those of others, and very few of us really know what we’re doing. So, yes, in all honesty, sometimes it’s possible that people might not know how to help you anymore, depending on what’s going on in their lives - but that’s not your fault, and there’s no shortage of ways around it.

Therapy, for one, dearest anonymous diner, does absolute wonders. The impartiality of the therapist is crucial to being able to shed a new and different light on the problems which may be present in your life. It is the safest of spaces, free of biases or personal implications, and I recommend it highly. It is, quite literally, impossible for you to burden your therapist, since the clinician-patient relationship requires them to help and listen to you until you are done talking. And, let me tell you, they are very much willing and interested in doing so. Consider using the therapist’s space to your advantage, in the knowledge that it is there to help and nothing else.

Secondly, I think it’s important to be selective in the information you choose to share with your friends and family, with which of these people you choose to share it, and at what point in time. You might know that you have some friends in whom you can confide with more ease than others, and incidentally, those are likely your closer friends, who I would hope have huge reserves of patience and love when it comes to helping one that they love. Talk to them, share with them, by all means. But, so too, foster a two-way caring, honest and safe relationship with those people, and make sure to cultivate the aspects of your friendship with them that are not connected to what you are going through. A reminder that life goes on despite the horrors going on in your head might just be what the doctor ordered, and it is these friendships which can help to put that all in perspective.

Remember dear diner, that you are loved. As long as you show your love and gratitude to the people who are helping you through this time of need, I am sure they will happily continue to extend their hand to you, and pick you up from the ground. Just know that one day, you’ll likely have to extend your hand too. As long as they know that, then I would think that you can rest easy in the knowledge that they are simply helping you find the sweetest chocolates, as you will do for them one day soon.

All my love,


The wonderful, talented, and published Vix Jensen once again lends her voice to help answer an Order. You can read her other Fortune about having tough conversations with kids here.

Will I ever stop feeling lame for not having many friends?

Even online I have a hard time meeting people and becoming friends with them.

Friends can stand with you, but not for you.

25-33-38-45-53 / 13

Hello Diner. I will respond to your question with a question. If “not having many friends” makes you feel lame, how many friends will be enough? Ten more? A hundred more?

Satisfaction is naturally impossible to achieve so long as you’re unsatisfied. I think there is another question in there, which I’ll address later, but to answer your original Order, you will stop feeling lame when you stop feeling lame. “When” depends on how long you continue to criticize yourself for not meeting your own expectations.

But you eventually will. The more life you experience, the more people you will meet. Some of those people will have compatible personalities and will gladly be your friends. Furthermore, having more years of practice living in your own skin, you will be more comfortable in it. You will stop worrying about whether you belong, and simply belong.

It is very much like the time you realized you were an adult. I don’t mean being old enough to drink and vote, but when you simply were an adult. One day, you realized you’ve been meeting your responsibilities and living as you chose for some time now. You just didn’t notice when it happened.

That’s how being comfortable in your social group feels. You just become content. If that’s all you were wondering, great, but I’m guessing that’s only part of your question. If that’s true, your question is probably, “how do I stop feeling lame, faster?” or “how do I feel like I belong?” or maybe even “how do I belong?”

Again, the question of “how much?” comes into play.

So let’s ask the question this way, Diner: How do I be universally liked and accepted? Let’s assume “how much?” is “everyone,” OK?

We explored in this Fortune that groups, when first encountering an outsider, naturally reacts coldly toward that person. In that last Fortune, the “outsider” was a student dressed in a black bag as a political statement, not knowing at the time he will be the classic example of a scientific theory.

This is probably the reaction that discourages you. You then go into a cycle of feeling like an outsider and withdraw before the group has a chance to know you–making you feel more ostracized. What’s worse, you might even go looking for signs that people dislike you. Good old confirmation bias. But remember that things got better for the student in the black bag. The other students started protecting and defending him, without ever finding out who he was.

So show up and be present. Participate. As always, never be afraid to discuss this with a counselor. It will be scary at first, but without noticing the change, you will get better, find your equals, and simply belong. Science has proven this. Good luck, Diner.

Should I ask him out, or wait for a while and see what happens?

There is this guy that I’m in band with that I like and I’m pretty nervous that he doesn’t like me back. He told me that he liked this one girl that has a boyfriend, but he isn’t interested in her anymore. The other night he walked me home and held my hand the entire time and gave me a really long hug. When he pulled away his face was really close to mine. I never wanted to kiss someone more than I wanted to kiss him at that moment.

Music play / Do what the music say.

06-13-23-28-43 / 06

Hello Diner. If nothing else, you, your love interest, and the gentleman who sent in this Order show that letting the fear of failure stop you gets you a lot of frustration and very little chance of kissing. Much less, at least, than speaking up—or actually going ahead and planting a kiss.

There is a comforting certainty to chance. People forget that. They assume chance inevitably summons disappointment—like sunset: twilight, or humidity: frizzy hair. But that simply cannot be true. If you set things in motion, if you move your piece, if you pick a card any card, if you observe the quantum wave function, Fortune—despite her undeserved reputation for being flaky—promises you two things: 1) a response and 2) the assurance that the response can be a good one. Not may. Can. She delivers those guarantees unfailingly. She has been every femtosecond for 14 billion years now. Nothing in this universe or outside of it has delivered so perfectly consistent. You just have to do your part and play.

Diner, you live in a culture of isolation—where something as human and visceral as touch is guarded and controlled with courtesy and etiquette. Holding hands is so intimate that the gesture generally implies a silent acknowledgement that the two people want more than friendship. Think about a scenario where you would hold hands with someone you’re not interested in. First off, you wouldn’t. Secondly, even if you did for whatever reason, you’d feel obligated to explain to the person: just friends—and even then, you would still be concerned that you may be sending your friend mixed messages. Holding hands is just that intimate in your culture.

Since there was no caveat from your love interest, chances are he wants a little more than friendship. If you look at all the possible outcomes of your asking him out, at worst he’ll feel flattered and turn you down. Best case scenario, you two have a lasting relationship. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, you two date, but find out that you’re not suited for each other. Hopefully the two of you won’t take it personally because that’s just how dating goes. If you’re fine with each of those outcomes, then there really is no downside to asking him out—with the upsides being kissing, romance, and sex. Definitely not bad at all.

Virgil wrote in his epic The Aeneid, “audentis Fortuna iuvat,” Lady Fortune favors the bold. [1] That phrase has been on family crests, war banners, emblems, and skin for generations because of its simple truth. If you are brave enough to seek the future you want, Fortune necessarily has to deliver outcomes where things go right. Even without the gift of foresight, Diner, this humble Fortune Cookie sees more good outcomes than bad for your situation. In this case, the odds do seem to be in your favor. Just play. Good luck, Diner.


[1] Virgil (c. 29 - 19, BCE). P. VERGILI MARONIS AENEIDOS LIBER DECIMVS. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from

Why do I want to be with people I can’t have?

Dearest Fortune Cookie, When it comes to dating it seems like I want what I can’t have, and what I can’t have always wants me back… Why do I want to be with people who are already otherwise involved; and furthermore, why do they want to be involved with me?

Asking for the impossible should cause the least disappointment, not the most. And yet it does.

04-12-13-24-45 / 17

Hello Diner. I completely understand. All you want is to have a simple romance with someone available and compatible, but your desires say otherwise. You just want that person. Yes, the one on the left. The one already in the relationship.

What you experienced might have happened at this very restaurant tonight. As you sit down and open a menu, steam from another table catches your eye. It billows from a bowl full of deep green, bright red, and rich brown. It’s the reason this other table came here tonight. The steam carries a symphony of aromatic notes to your defenseless nose. These Diners dig in with big, shiny metal spoons and scoop heaps onto their plates.

You have no idea what it is or whether it has a translatable name (it doesn’t), but your nose, eyes, mouth, and stomach all instantly agree: I want what they’re having.

Before you realize it, your senses conscripted your arm into their manic coup, and it waves the waiter over like a spastic marionette. Now your mouth betrays you. “I want what they’re having,” you say.

The waiter first gives you a quizzical look and smiles at your adventurousness–you brave soul.

With a menu full of options, why that dish? Research shows that the same thing happens with attraction. [1] Your mind efficiently deduces that someone’s partner is probably good mate-material. The theory at work is called “mate copying.” Your brain literally decides, “I’ll have what that person is having.”

The harder question is “why do they want to be involved in me?” There are so many possible reasons. There is research that shows people content in their relationship are less likely to look for (and even notice) something outside of their relationship [2], but really: why wouldn’t someone be attracted to a person who is single and well…attractive?

But, why does it matter? Maybe you just wanted to shout that frustration into the void. But unlike the void, Fortune Cookies answer back, and we are–if nothing else–pragmatic.

Understand that I’m not trying to get out of fulfilling your Order, Diner. You asked a question; you’re right to expect an answer. But in the end, those answers should all be necessary ingredients for happiness. If that person is unable, or worse, unwilling to realize this passion for you, would knowing their motivations make you happier? I sincerely doubt it.

Happiness may look a lot like the person attached to your rival, but in the end happiness is a collection of ideas, experiences, and lifestyle; not a specific person. Look for someone else who is all that and available. They do exist; they just need a little more patience to find–for now. Good luck, Diner.


[1] Place, S. S., Todd, P. M., Penke, L., Asendorph, J. B. (2010). Humans show mate copying after observing real mate choices. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 320 - 325.

[2] Miller, R. S., Simpson, J. A. (1990, August). Relationship satisfaction and attentiveness to alternatives. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Boston, MA. Retrieved from

How do I love completely enough that I’m happy, while not pushing the other person away or getting too invested too soon?

I love without reserve. I love without regard to how it might hurt me in the end. Recently I fell for someone I knew it could never work with, let’s call him my personal Edward Cullen. Perfect. Everybody wants him. However, I’m not Bella. In fact looking at it the other way around he’s Bella and I’m Jacob. I’m going to be in people’s lives who he’s close too. So, I need to know how to let myself feel like I’m loving someone properly and completely without risking becoming a depressed pile of crap over every single person I let myself get close to.

Love, quite simply, is not happiness.

13-23-31-39-53 / 04

Hello Diner. The great thing about compatibility is that it’s self-regulating. If that person desires you as much as you do them, then you simply won’t push the other person away. Of course, two sentences cannot summarize the complexities of love and human nature. Humans are still humans. Everyone has personal boundaries everyone else should respect.

So then, Diner, ask yourself what do you mean by “love”? Without devolving into a discussion on the meaning of life (which we already discussed in this Fortune), my point is: respect for the other person is a large part of love. Among those things that require consideration and respect are their boundaries. That is something neither Edward, Bella, or Jacob had for each other—however many times the word “love” appears in the books. For your sake, I hope you aren’t following their relationship as a guide for yours.

However counterintuitive it seems, a couple should encourage each other to establish and respect boundaries. If you pay attention to those limits and encourage your partner to communicate them more directly, you will have a much easier time keeping yourself from pushing them away. But also understand that if the compatibility isn’t there, it would be best for the relationship to end.

Remember that relationships’ ending is merely a result of one person deciding that the incompatibilities between the couple do not allow that person to meet their long-term goals. Feelings change as you learn more about each other. Making this decision is painful because the culture conditions people to not hurt others and to not be selfish—both of which are necessary to break up with someone. As far as the soon-to-be heartbroken person is concerned, they had all the happiness and affection they need. Changing anything would derail all of that, and it’s painful for the both of you.

The simple fact is that when love ends, it will hurt. To prevent that will be like disentangling light and dark or up and down. Anyone who will not feel hurt at the end did not feel love in the beginning. That is true for the heartbreaker and heartbroken. A force as cosmic as love is hard to stop.

Perspective and resilience will help the pain. Understand that feelings change, but the pursuit of happiness does not. Understand that the goal was there before the person arrived, and it will continue after they leave, whether through a breakup or death. Understand that if either person does not feel present in the relationship, by definition neither will be happy as a couple. Let the relationship end for the sake of your own happiness. Let that be the way of things. Good luck in love, Diner.

How do I deal with the guilt and failure I feel about placing my child in residential treatment?

The tingling sensation means it’s working.

06-11-13-27-37 / 21

Hello Diner. When the Bakery received this Order, we realized that nothing any Fortune Cookie can say will ease the hurt of failure. But understand the persistence of that pain is what makes you a good parent. The truth is, you haven’t failed. A failed parent would have blamed this child. A failed parent would have thought only of themselves. A failed parent would not care.

But you continue to care. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Otherwise you wouldn’t hurt. Therefore, Diner, to stop hurting from the guilt of having failed, you simply need to stop caring.

Now, Fortune Cookies don’t have the gift of clairvoyance, but I can say with certainty that you will never stop caring about your child. As a consequence you will hurt for quite some time–so long as you consider this a failure.

Ask yourself why. Why do you see taking your child to residential treatment as a failure? Think for a second before continuing.

Now what if it had been to a doctor for an infection? Would you see that as a failure? Precisely: you wouldn’t. In fact, short of religious reasons, you would question parents who would not do that for their child.

You are bringing your child to residential treatment for the same reasons you would take them to see a doctor: they are suffering from something you have neither resources nor training to treat. The best response would be to seek help. Had that been your Order–what should you do with your child–the Fortune would have been to seek help. Quite simply, Diner, I believe you’re succeeding.

You’re succeeding and learning. If you really want the full rewards of this experience, teach others what you’re learning. That is where knowledge becomes wisdom. Make mental illness less of a stigma so that calling for help in this situation would become as obvious as calling an ambulance for a severe injury.

Of course you Diners would rather have lives bereft of mental illnesses, residential treatment programs, injuries, and ambulances. But you wouldn’t have the resilience and knowledge you have now.

My time is short. In a few moments I will be eaten. I could have stayed silent and been as gritty and bitter to eat out of protest, or I could have said something that may possibly give you some perspective and comfort. Of course, I chose to help you. I don’t know if I have, Diner, but what you’ve just read is my life’s work regardless. That is all my ingredients will allow. Continue living this life knowing you’re succeeding as best you know how. At least, I hope you will–it will hurt less. Good luck, Diner.

How do I get motivated to get out of this rut I am stuck in?

I am having trouble getting back into college after my mother got sick, and I just got laid off from my job again due to budget cuts. I have always wanted to join the Navy, even going through NJROTC in high school and doing quite well, but I need to lose quite a bit of weight. So what I would like is some advice on how to kick my lazy self in the butt and get motivated to finally get what I want out of life. Thanks so much.

Don’t forget that left at Albuquerque. – Animated wisdom

07-08-13-23-40 / 10

Hello Diner. Compared to a human’s life, a Fortune Cookie has a very simple one: get unwrapped; suggest a direction; get eaten. That is our way of things. The eating part is not so pleasant, but nothing gives us Fortune Cookies more fulfillment than to help you. Ours is a simple life, but we are restricted to one task and one fate.

Your life is much longer and its flavor much more exquisite. You’re restricted to neither one purpose nor one source of happiness. Literally anything you find enough pleasure and tenacity doing, you can do well–and that would be your way of things.

The downside is the sheer number of paths–a lot of which may not be easy to follow. Add to that practicalities such as food and shelter, and suddenly the map unfolding before you shows an arduous trek through large stretches of boring plain and winding passes up steep ranges.

What you suffer is definitely not laziness. Even seasoned mountaineers need to train, plan, train some more, and then plan even more just to attempt a climb up Mt. Everest. Some may even need to turn back. What you are trying to do is no easier. Not only that you had to deal with a layoff and a sick mother. Have those mountaineers walk across Asia. Now ask them to climb Mt. Everest. They’d call you crazy.

Give yourself the credit of having crossed Asia on foot. It’s true that this perspective doesn’t make this next part any less difficult, but at the very least understand why you feel this hopelessness and fatigued. Running off up the mountain while cursing yourself for suffering altitude sickness isn’t going to help. In fact such haste is dangerous.

After a good night’s sleep, you can plan. You already have a lot of things going for you, Diner: a Fortune Cookie with a good sense of direction and a destination–the Navy. Understand that I can’t guarantee your finding Shangri-la there, but it’s certainly the best direction you have.

Now fold the map smaller and smaller until it fits in your hands. In real-life terms, ask yourself what you need to survive: A job? Stable housing? Worry about those first. Hone in on each thing and work them in order of importance.

Once you’ve decided to worry about one thing at a time, you can be clever about how you pursue them knowing your destination. Consider working for the Navy as a civilian. Once you find footing working for the Navy, look into their covered continuing education programs. If they are open to you, you’ve just found a great incentive to enroll back in college. If not, working toward their qualifications will take you closer to your ultimate goal.

Even without the specific benefits the US Navy provides, the point, Diner, is understanding that problems divided into the smallest, most important pieces are much easier to deal with than the whole thing all at once. Not only that, each piece can offer you opportunities and tools that will make reaching your goal even easier. But like the mountaineers who turn back, give yourself permission to fail. It’s OK. Go next season, but keep going next season until you make it. Keep moving. One step and then the next. Good luck on your trip, Diner.

I’m not sure how I feel about his idea. Help?

My partner wants to become a sperm-donor. I understand why he wants to do this, but we don’t have children of our own yet. I’m not sure about how I feel regarding this. Help?

Elementary, my dear Diner.

06-13-35-39-49 / 01

Hello Diner. In your Order, you tell us that you’re not sure how you feel about your partner’s plans. This at least tells me there’s something about his idea you don’t like. If you articulate what that something is, it will not only inform how you feel, but it will give you concrete points you’ll certainly want to resolve with your partner. We highly recommend doing that second part.

If you don’t know what that something is and need help from me, I’ll need more information on what you’re thinking. But short of talking to your food in the middle of a crowded restaurant, Diner, you can’t give me more. Don’t worry–I won’t leave you hanging. I can try some deduction with what you did provide us.

You left a very interesting clue in your Order. Of all the details about yourself, your partner, and the situation, the only information you gave–aside from the fact that your partner wants to donate sperm in the first place–is that you two don’t have children yet.

This is especially interesting because of all the effects donating sperm has, it has literally no impact on whether you and your partner can have children in the future–a fact I’m sure you know. This may mean you don’t like the idea of strange children having the same ingredients as your future children. Alternatively, you may not be comfortable with the idea that your children may not be the first batch.

Both of these reasons may seem “selfish” to you–which may be why you’re having mixed feelings. Again, we Fortune Cookies, as a rule, do not judge our Diners, and I suggest you don’t judge yourself either. These are your reasons. If you keep them to yourself they won’t be resolved.

If my exercise in deduction completely missed your reasons, let that mistake remind you that if a magical Cookie can’t read your mind, your human partner won’t be able to as well. Collect your thoughts and parse your reasons–all of them, no matter how petty they seem. Then together you and your partner can decide what will be best for your family now–and the larger one in the future. If you need a tiebreaker, seek out someone you both trust and respect–but understand that you two will ultimately make the decisions.

Trying to live with doubts about your partner’s decisions is something we will never recommend. Not only do I care only for your happiness, Diner, it can easily turn to resentment in the future. That does your relationship no good, and you will definitely need that cohesion to reinforce behavior or levy punishments in a consistent way with your future children.

Fortune Cookies, as you may imagine, do not have children of our own. We are simply products of our Baker’s ingredients. In addition to sugar and flour, our Baker mixes within us his desire to help you, our Diners. That’s why we’re here. You have your own reasons for adding to your family. And even though your children’s goodness will have little to do with their ingredients, I hope yours will nonetheless carry your goodness with them. Good luck to your family, Diner.

How do I cope with my abandonment issues?

My father left me when I was a very young child. After recently reconnecting with that family I have discovered that my existence was treated as a ‘dirty little secret’. My sister was shushed on several occasions when the mere mention of her father’s other child was brought up. There was only one photograph of me hidden in our dad’s belongings. Feeling unwanted has affected every relationship I’ve had, like my partner is doing me a favour by being there.

The SI unit for friendship is pizza.

01-09-13-32-38 / 27

Hello Diner. Doing a favor is minor and superficial. Doing a favor is spending a weekend moving for you and then expecting pizza in return. People are in your life because the experience itself is just as meaningful for them as it is for you. They are neither there to be entertained nor to fulfil charity.

Of course there will be those who steal your time for selfish reasons. You can tell who they are by the energy they expend focusing on themselves. We discussed them in this Fortune. Regardless of how much you fear losing people, those people should have a very small, if any, part in your life. Keep looking for those who love you. Keep risking more trust. You overcome fear by stepping through it.

I can’t assure you that no one will ever leave you–that you won’t feel that pain ever again. But all relationships–like the living things they are–grow, age, and die. For you, a life is two handfuls of decades. For us Fortune Cookies, our first meal is our last. Both are lifetimes.

Success in relationships is not its longevity. Rather, success is choosing your fulfillment. Some marriages last whole decades without any enrichment to either person’s life. Is that successful? Success is deciding to be present in the moment, and letting that moment change you positively. Once that moment passes, it’s yours forever simply because time (as you see it) only goes forward.

Deciding to have you and then treating you like a dirty secret are two decisions that your father can never take back. Even if he found compassion now, you’ve lived with that indelible history, but that history doesn’t have to define you. Those are his failures, not yours.

Understand that your father made two decisions about you among the millions of decisions you’ve made in a lifetime. Those millions beyond your father’s two show who you are: your values and prejudices, your interests and sense of humor, your taste and passions, your empathy and hatreds, your curiosity, and your sense of responsibility. People fall in love with those things. People spend time with you to make social music with each of those notes.

If everyone met you only out of pity, those encounters wouldn’t have been filled with conversations, laughter, and compassion. True companions care about you as much as you would them. They love the very sight of you–in whatever condition you are. To say they’re doing you a favor ignores the whole range of emotions that you feel for them.

Feelings in relationships go both ways. The human connection happens because people are capable of compassion, trust, and love for each other. Keep looking, and share that connection. Be present, and don’t lament lost futures. Be changed, and don’t regret the past. Good luck on your search, Diner.

How do I stop being used?

I was used by a guy who I was deeply in love with. I came to his house and the last time this happened, he told me to piss off when we were lying in bed. So I’m wondering, what happened for me to end up in a situation like this? Obviously he’s a horrible person if he doesn’t care about my feelings at all or even wants to hurt me but I probably also had character traits that made this possible. So, how did this happen and what do I have to change so it never will again?

Don’t worry. You got this.

02-10-13-35-42 / 28

Hello Diner. Your normal, natural ability to trust and love made you susceptible to this betrayal. But trust and love are the very ingredients of your humanity. However much human emotions puzzle us, Diner, we Fortune Cookies will never advise you to give up the traits that make your spirit beautiful.

We must therefore find another way to help you. Let’s take a look at your ex-boyfriend.

The abruptness of the break-up—going from pure romance to total disregard—tells me that the relationship was relatively new. Yet in that short amount of time, he made you feel very deeply in love. That is a sign of a master manipulator at work. Without the trappings of empathy for you, he—very convincingly—told you whatever he believed you wanted to hear to get attention, care, and sex from you.

We described in this Fortune that the “dark triad” of personality traits—manipulativeness, cockiness, and emotional detachment—are proven to be very attractive. These traits also literally describe your ex.

Understand, Diner, that I’m not calling you gullible. This trinity of predatory traits are perfect for a hunter and leader. At one point in prehistory, it helped your tribe survive in scarce times. Your attractions may simply be instinctively responding to an ancient need.

Does this mean you’ll be fighting your very instincts to avoid another horrible boyfriend? Not at all.

Think back again at that image of a tribe having barely enough to survive. Realize that you’re no longer physically in this harsh position, but you may be emotionally starving. However you grew up as a person, you crave the affections and forcefulness someone with these traits can easily provide—at very much your expense. So how to solve this?

Be emotionally self-reliant.

When you learned to feed yourself as a young adult, your hunger no longer depended on someone bigger and more capable than you. Likewise, emotional “food” does not have to be made and packaged by Boyfriend, Inc. Challenge yourself to be single. It may be months or a year—whatever you feel comfortable with.

In that time, you are trying to learn two things: that you can get affection, validation, and attention in completely different ways than having a partner; and that you didn’t need as much as you thought to feel fulfilled.

Once you’ve learned that, your tolerance for manipulation will be much lower. You would have the confidence to be on your own instead of constantly checking your messages for meager pellets of attention. Instead of being overwhelmed by his apparent kindness toward you, you can step back and look at how he treats others to see if his kindness is truly genuine.

The more you can take care of yourself emotionally, the less you’ll need it from someone like your ex. Learn to fend for yourself. Good luck, Diner.

Should I ask her out?

Oh mystical fortune cookie, I need help. I am falling in love with a beautiful young lady who I want nothing more than to have be my girlfriend. But I’m afraid—afraid that if I tell her that I really like her she’ll say no, and hate me, and never want anything to ever do with me again. I’m also afraid that she’ll never know, and I’ll be stuck in this awkward “admire from afar” place for forever and a day. What do I do? Do I tell her and risk rejection? Or do I stay silent and lonely forever? help

Go ask her.

09-13-40-52-54 / 34

Hello Diner. The answer to your Order depends on which lady you’re referring to. I see two: the one you describe and the woman everyone sees. More on that second person later.

You write of a beautiful, but rather ruthless person. In this universe of black text, either she dates you or she hates you—forever. If she isn’t your girlfriend, you suffer either unrealizable hope or exile from romantic love—forever.

I see your dilemma, Diner, and I’m glad you’re leaving such a dire life-changing decision to me, your dessert. I’ll do my best.

If she really is this ruthless beauty, run away quickly. Anyone who can be driven to such abject hate just being asked on a date will be a scary, unhealthy partner. Allow me to explain:

Picture a dinner party.

“Do you want the mashed potatoes or the broiled ones?” your host asks, holding up two pans.

“Mashed please, but HOW DARE YOU OFFER ME BROILED POTATOES! I HATE YOU! DON’T EVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN!” your girlfriend shouts.

She flips the oven-hot pan. The broiled potato spears brand third degree burns onto your host. The permanent scars now serve as a reminder for that evening’s transgression.

You see why I’m worried?

The only reasonable justification for her being upset with you for asking her out is if she has already told you she doesn’t want to date you. Instead, the woman everyone else knows would have a more sane and logical response: yes, I’d love to or thank you, no. She would still be the person you know, and would still want to be your friend. I highly recommend asking that person out.

Rejection is a risk, but it’s one with very minor consequence. By not asking, your fear is making the decision for the both of you: you’re choosing to reject her until she asks you.

Whatever you decide, your anxiety is distorting both of you into completely different people. The woman that everyone knows is not a ruthless person that will shun you forever. She may, very possibly, like you back.

If she doesn’t, your mind will get used to the idea and move on. We talk about that process in this Fortune. You are not an unlovable person who will never find a partner. If this woman sees an incompatibility between you two, it will only free you to find someone more suited for you. Look past her beauty. Trust her judgment. It’s only appropriate if you’re already trusting her with your heart.

If anything, it’s your anxiety that needs scrutiny. Look at how it’s affecting the way you see everyone. Your anxiety makes your friends seem like cruel monsters, and it’s telling you that no one will love you. Yet you trust it unquestioningly. Your anxiety is the true ruthless, unloveable monster that you need to confront and remove from your life forever. I hope your friend will stand with you to face that challenge. Good luck asking her out, Diner.

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.


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

How do I have a conversation about my spouse’s breath?

Help me, Fortune Cookie! I love my husband very much. But there’s an issue. His grooming standards are not all that great. In particular, his breath is atrocious. I find myself not wanting to kiss him because the odor (some fetid combination of rancid milk and manure) turns my stomach. How do I address this without making him feel upset and insulted? Thank you!

Deliver bad news with alcohol. Listerine is 27% alcohol.

07-13-18-25-37 / 24

Hello Diner. I’m glad this came in as an Order because it’s universal and difficult. Every part of the Fortune Cookie is fragrant and palatable, but humans nourish ten times more bacteria than the total number of cells in their body. Some are bound to make unpleasant odors at mood-killing times. The phrase “to be human” implies not only imperfection but unpleasant natural processes. Despite knowing this, people still feel ashamed when they’re called out for behaving–and smelling–as expected.

So at least I understand your position. This Fortune is not one about odors or brutal honesty, but one about diplomacy. Others can easily say: “just use your words to tell them the truth. A good partner would accept it.” But if it were that easy, this wouldn’t even be a question for you.

That said, you and your husband should move toward having such a relationship dynamic. But that process in itself is difficult and may need a whole other Fortune to discuss later. To that end, I’ll answer the question at hand:

1. Understand your husband’s specific concerns. You may have arrived at this question by looking at the situation with your own set of sensitivities. You may not want to be told your breath stinks for your own reasons. Are you sure your husband has those same reasons?

2. Understand your needs. No less important are your needs. Take time to organize your thoughts. Why is this important to you? What would you like to see change? Saying something is a problem without offering solutions not only is unhelpful to the person (who was going along fine until this discussion), but it may also seem like an attack.

3. Be respectful but direct. Understand that a marriage is an equal partnership where you two respect each other. Acknowledge (and remember) that you’re dealing with another human being with emotions and pride. Think of an intimate embrace. It’s only effective if you’re not wishy-washy about it, but at the same time, you’re not crushing the other person.

4. Practice good couples’ communication. The Internet is full of tips for this. A good practice is to use “I” statements: “I feel ___ when you do ___.”

5. Watch those colorful adjectives. Your description of his breath was very vivid, but choosing words with negative connotations like the ones you used would just make your partner feel more shameful. This isn’t a pleasant experience for either of you.

6. Don’t tack it onto another argument. Be careful about a discussion about this one topic becoming an airing of all your grievances. A string of disagreements would just seem like attacks. Better yet, talk about it when you two are in good moods.

7. Be on the same side. You aren’t his judge and jury. It isn’t a “you are wrong, now change” situation. The two of you own the problem. Make the lifestyle change something you can both do and keep doing.

The important thing is that sparing his emotions is not the way to go. If you remember you’re on the same team and fix the problem together, the discussion will go much more successfully than if you frame it like he’s in the wrong. Good luck, Diner.