Dear Uncle Dysfunctional

The late A.A. Gill was, among many other things, advice columnist for Esquire magazine. Gill’s answers are simultaneously outrageous, hilarious and insightful. I’m convinced that he wrote both the questions and the answers. Surely no-one would send in questions like this:

*Am I normal?
*Why can’t everyone just be happy?
*My otherwise level-headed girlfriend adamantly believes in fairies. How can I convince her the goblins have eaten them all? My future depends on it.

‘Tim, South Yorkshire’ wrote in about his girlfriend’s constant demands for sex.

“It’s not sexy,” he complains. “It’s boring. It’s like constantly being told to take out the rubbish or go and fill the car with petrol – it’s become a chore. I’ve just told her I’ve got a headache. It’s so humiliating.”

For people who struggle to lose and keep off weight there’s something weirdly familiar about this dynamic, it seems to me. Except, instead, of the tension being being between two people, the conflict is inside one person.

One part of the self is trying hard to encourage the other, but it’s efforts are counter-productive. The more enticing or provoking or nagging it becomes, the more recalcitrant becomes the other part. And of course the more recalcitrant, the more the ‘encourager’ redoubles it’s efforts.

The dictionary definition of recalcitrant perfectly captures the inner opposition I mean, and also points to the source of ‘Tim’s’ problem and that of the person struggling to lose weight as well as a solution:

Recalcitrance = an obstinately uncooperative attitude to authority or discipline.

The key bit here is attitude to authority or discipline. Tim’s problem, and the problem of the weight-loss struggler, is that they’ve taken on the position of ones who are subordinate to another’s wishes and discipline. No wonder they rebel and “don’t feel like it”!

Here’s part of Gill’s response to ‘Tim’ – I think there is something useful for us in it too.

It’s not her demands of you that’s the problem, it’s your low expectations of yourself. It’s not having too much sex, it’s having too much mediocre sex. Mediocre, grudging sex.

The way you get good at sex is the way you get good at everything: practice. Doing more, not less. But only doing the stuff that you really, really like. And tell your girlfriend to do the same.

There’s a key here. Only when we embrace the thing we say we’re determined to do, only when we love it and get enjoyment out of it will we have inner harmony. and unity of purpose. Then the head and the heart work together as a formidable couple rather than a dysfunctional one.

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