Why Your Friends Are Probably Lying To Themselves About What They’re Good At, And How To Work Around It

I had a friend who was extremely loyal. They didn’t abandon their friends when their buddies in trouble – they buckled down, and found a way to help.

This was, of course, a trait they were extremely proud of.

It was, of course, also not entirely true.

It turns out they were very loyal to the people they could help. If there was someone who needed some cash, they’d scrape up some cash. If there was someone going through a short-term illness, they’d show up with hot dishes and pillows. If they had a wheelchair-enabled friend who needed help getting around, their car was at their service.

They weren’t so good with problems that didn’t have easy fixes.

People who relied on them to help with their chronic depression? Well, all the happy talks in the world couldn’t help what was, fundamentally, an issue of miswired brain chemistry. Folks with chronic illnesses of no clear fix, where one day they’d be walking fine and the next they’d be laid up in bed? That was frustrating for my friend, because they couldn’t do anything.

Slowly but surely, they distanced themselves from anyone who had problems they couldn’t fix. Which is not a bad thing! We all have limited energy, and it’s not wrong to say “Hey, I’m sorry you’re constantly seized by social anxiety, but I don’t have the strength to reassure you through every freakout.”

But here’s the problem:

They didn’t update their self-definition to say, “I’m extremely loyal to people who have problems I can solve.”

So while they were, on the whole, really good people, they quietly left behind a sad trail of folks who’d been sold a bill of goods that didn’t quite work out. Because they defined themselves as “loyal,” they told everyone they were new friends with, “Don’t worry – I’m loyal as fuck. I’ll stick with you through thick and thin.”

These folks trusted that definition.

And were hurt to realize that this definition of loyalty wasn’t true for them.

And because my friend’s self-definition was “I’m loyal!”, a strange alchemy happened in their mind:

The people they weren’t loyal to quietly evaporated from their memory.

They’d either engineer good reasons why these people weren’t worthy of their loyalty – “Eh, they don’t want to change” – or they’d quietly ghost out and pretend they’d never been close with the unfixable people in the first place.

They thought of themselves as loyal. They’d stress that undying loyalty as one of the main benefits of being friends with them, yet whenever something conflicted with that definition, they’d rationalize that exception away.

Which is not at all unusual.

Most people have one or two core positive things they’ve built their ego around. “I’m not good at everything, but I’m good at this!” And when they’re confronted with proof that they’re not good at that, they’ll sweep it under the rug because honestly, sometimes untrammeled positivity is the only way you get through a hard day.

But it does mean you have to watch out for the things that people promise you they’ll do for you, because while those are often genuine strengths you can still get crushed beneath someone’s weak spot.

If someone tells you, “I’m empathic, I’m always aware of other people’s pain,” they might be so caught up in trying to fix someone else’s drama that they completely ignore the pain they’re inadvertently inflicting by taking their attention away from the people they love.

If someone tells you, “I’ll always listen to what you have to say,” they may be completely oblivious to all the times they quote-unquote “listened” but then shrugged someone’s complaints off as ridiculous.

If someone tells you, “I’m good at negotiating BDSM scenes,” they may have found ways to blame the other person for all the scenes gone wrong.

And when I told my poor girlfriends “I am really open and honest, so you’ll never have to worry” back when I was 25, I was blatantly ignoring all the evidence that being effectively open and honest required a self-awareness that I was not at all capable of. Years later, I can see that but holy God did I not fathom that “telling them everything I understand about me” was not even close to giving them “everything they needed to know.”

Point is: recognizing when someone’s trying to sell you on a belief that they require to stay functional is a part of creating healthy relationships.

Because I did not wind up hurt by my friend. As a depressive, I’ve learned all too often that people self-define as “I’m compassionate,” and they get upset whenever you imply they might not want to hear about your never-ending, reason-free trauma.

Years of experience has taught me that until I get better evidence, someone saying “I want to know everything about my friends” actually means “I’ll listen to you bitch if you’ve got a good reason for it, but mostly I just wanna hang out and make bad puns.”

Which is totally doable! Most of the time, the problem comes from a bad self-definition – if my friend had said, “I’m really loyal, but I’m not good at handling chronic depression, so talk to me only when it’s like emergency-level stuff,” then my other friends would have been fine. If my 25 year old self had been able to say, “I’m really open and honest, but I’m still learning a lot about myself, so the information I give you may be of limited use,” I suspect far fewer hearts – including mine! – would have been broken.

But that’s the lesson: when someone builds their ego around a portion of their personality, they’re often really bad at spotting their own weak spots. And because these traits are the few constants in their life, the handful of things they can unequivocally point to as the reasons people love them, they’ll just forget those problems existed.

Alas, it’s your job to spot them. And if you can get better at homing in on, “This person values this about themselves a lot, so perhaps I should check around to see whether they’re as good at this as they claim,” then you’ll build friendships that are actually designed to bear the weight they need to.

Because when you play to someone’s actual strengths, you get a strong friendship. Who knew?

Parents, You Probably Don’t Know How Good (Or Bad) Your Kids Are

Over on FetLife, there was a brief essay-scuffle on “How to raise well-behaved boys who won’t do bad things to women,” which is always a good topic as far as I’m concerned.

The problem is, there were a bunch of early forties moms going at each other, each convinced their kids’ beautiful behavior was proof – proof! – that their parenting style created compassionate, loving boys, and that all the other women were probably raising, I dunno, the next Harvey Weinstein.

Here’s my unpopular take:

You don’t know how your kids have actually turned out until they’re thirty.

And even then you probably don’t know for sure.

See, for me, I’ve watched too many parents of toddlers going, “Look! They’re well-behaved! That’s proof that my parenting techniques are wonderful!” And then these kids go to school and become screaming monsters, and it turns out that all this goodness was just a phase they were going through.

Or the parents of high school kids preen, “My child gets good grades and has no behavioral issues, so clearly I’m doing parenting right!” – and then the kid goes to college and bombs out hard, because it turns out that they’re incapable of functioning without a guardian eternally breathing down their neck.

Or the parents of college grads brag, “My kid’s on a great career path! I’ve taught them right!” and then they wind up with a disastrous divorce at 27 and it turns out they’re kiiiind of a deadbeat parent.

For me, I say that thirtyish is when you finally get to say whether your parenting techniques worked out well, for whatever version of “well” you’re aiming for. Thirtyish is when they’ve been bobbling along on their own for long enough that all their mistakes have had time to catch up to them.

Thirtyish is when you see whether they’ve learned from their mistakes.

And every time I see a parent going, “Well, my kid is fourteen and their current behavior is proof that I’ve raised them right,” I cringe and think, You realize that most people evolve from fourteen, right? That kid’s a moving target. I hope their trajectory’s putting them on the line to “good people,” and I’m not saying not to be proud of them now – but being so certain that they’ve turned out well that you’re telling the world, “MY PARENTING STYLE SHOULD BE APED BECAUSE OF HOW THIS CHILD WHO HAS YET TO DRIVE A CAR ACTS”?*

That’s a little premature, isn’t it?

Plus, you know, kids usually have an incentive or two to hide their bad behavior from their parents. They clean up the apartment before you come over, tend not to mention the unsafe sex they had the other day with that stranger at the bar.

To be honest, how boys act when they’re trying to get a girl to bed them is not how they act in front of you, the parent. They certainly know how you want them to act, may even understand that you want honesty, but there’s certain aspects of a kid’s life that they often won’t share with you even though you’re totally open about it.

(Fun fact: My mom once trusted me enough to ask me to come home stoned, so she could see how a stoned person looked, because she wanted to be able to tell if my sibling was smoking. I did not take her up on this, because I could do many things for my sainted Mom, but that was a LIMIT.)

If you’ve spent your days telling them to respect women, chances are good they’re not going to mention the times when they went against your long lectures because their friends told them this would work.

Which is not a ding on your parenting style personally. I just know a lot of fundamentalist parents who are convinced their kids are straight-laced conservatives like them, and they’re actually cheerful poly freaks – and I know a lot of liberals who are all like, “My daughter tells me everything,” when in fact their daughter tells them like 80% of it.

You don’t know that 20%. You probably don’t even know what the percentage they’re hiding from you is.

My point is, yeah, as an older guy who was raised in a pretty toxic stew of bad consent messages that I’m still trying to untangle some days, we should absolutely have a healthy discussion of how to raise men who treat women respectfully. And pointing to your adult kids as examples of what you did right is a useful addition, so long as you recognize that almost no parent knows their kids as well as they think they do.

And if you’re talking about your fifteen-year-old kid, well, as I said, that kid’s in flux. I hope that trajectory works out for you. I want that kid to be as good as you think they are.

I’m just saying, they’ve still got the training wheels on. And you’ve gotta give ’em time to ride through the streets on their own before you know whether they’re a good bike rider.

Why Prey Is The Best Game I’ve Played In A Year

So here’s the moment when I knew I loved Prey:

I had just retrieved a plot-specific piece of data from deep within a gravity-free core, fighting my way out of a computerized library overtaken by alien horrors.  I emerged from the library into an open space, then braced myself for the inevitable boss fight that had been triggered when I got the plot-specific piece of data –

– and there was nothing.

And that’s when I realized: This game did not give a shit about my existence.  It was not here to provide me with a roller-coaster thrill ride of canned events driven by my magnificent activity – if I’d wanted to, I could have broken sequence to slip into this data core at any time and grab the information before the plot asked me to.  There were no artificial walls stopping me from coming here, no implacable monsters placed to block me from coming here – this library was merely one of many locations on the ship for me to explore, to survive, to investigate.

The monsters were there, sure, but they didn’t really care about me.

The ship clearly had had its own existence before I arrived, judging from the crew logs and the named dead and the very specific agendas each ship section was designed to carry out – and if I didn’t propel the plot forward, it would deteriorate without me.

I was not central here.  I was, literally, dropped into the middle of a living breathing environment, where I could affect it, but the ship was not revolving around my presence.

There would be no boss fights because that wasn’t the point of this. Boss fights only exist when the narrative agrees that the player is important that they need a challenge here.  And Prey was indifferent to me.

Which was so goddamned satisfying.

I can see why Prey struggled in terms of sales, because most games these days are power fantasies – even if you’re skulking about as a thief, you’re a legendary thief.  The whole point is to make you the center of everyone’s existence, and as you progress through the competency curve you become increasingly renowned.

Prey, however, has a vast and well-designed ship that feels like it was designed for a crew of scientists – the cafeterias, the air filtration systems, the gyms, the cargo bays.  And unlike most games, which covertly design their levels to suit your powers, Prey’s levels support a genuine variety of approaches – if you’ve put your points into being super-strong you can lift that fridge and enter the room, or you if you’ve chosen electronics then you can hack the door on the opposite side, or if you’ve chosen alien powers you can turn into a coffee cup and roll under the door, or you can use the GLOO gun to make a walkway up to the top…

Prey is one of those games where it’s almost impossible to write a walkthrough, because it’s been out for a year and players are still finding new ways to access areas.   There’s not a way to get to a place, there’s usually at least ten ways – because the game is genuinely open-ended.

It’s also really, really fatal.

In the beginning, you’ll die and die a lot, because again, the game is indifferent to your existence.  There are monsters, and if you try to take them on without strategies, they will kill you.  As you gain more powers and skill you learn to handle them better, but that’s entirely up to you – the monsters stay pretty much the same.  (Though the one nod is that as you progress the plot, worse monsters do arrive.)

Prey is, if anything, the opposite of a power trip.  The plot tells you that you’re important, but the game itself informs you repeatedly that nothing you do is that special – if you feel the flush of triumph of getting somewhere, well, there was another way to get there.  Beat a monster?  Well, it wasn’t there for you to beat.  Accidentally nabbed a plot-specific piece of data before the game asked you to get it?  Well, the plot isn’t going to collapse if you sequence break.

Which, if you’re of my mindset, makes Prey awesome.

Because when you win, it wasn’t because you figured out what the game wanted you to do.  There’s so many boss battles where the solution is “align yourself with the designers’ way of thinking” – which can get frustrating if you don’t think like them, leading to eventually looking the solution up on the Internet because there’s one way to do it and you don’t know.

Prey is nigh-infinite flexibility.  When you discover a solution, maybe that’s not the only way to do it but it’s the way you thought of it, and it’s equally valid.  Your triumph is solely due to you.

And Prey is also a game that rewards paying attention to its environment – mandates it, in fact, because one of the mainstay enemies is The Mimic, a small creature which sneaks away when you’re not looking and morphs into a copy of something nearby.  Hey, that’s a single-person table, there are two chairs there, that’s odd and WHOOMP a mimic is eating your face.

The more you go through Prey, the more you start to realize that everything fits together.  Yes, the security office certainly should have a few spare rounds cached somewhere, and in fact it does.  The lab center where they store precious materials should have a few loose materials that rolled underneath the platform, and it does.  The safe’s combination has been erased from the whiteboard, but if you look at the old security tapes you should see it, and you do.

The point is not to beat the monsters, but to understand how people lived here.

Which, in turn, makes it feel like people lived here.

Which, in turn, makes it feel like increasingly more of a tragedy as you come across the corpses, each named, each destroyed by this alien infestation.

So for me, Prey felt like I was creeping through two great clashing forces, genuinely trying to survive.  There wasn’t hand-holding, there wasn’t a significant difficulty curve – a monster is a monster is a monster – there weren’t boss fights to test my mettle.  There was merely scavenging and being wise and feeling genuinely smart because I could think “Hey, what if I try this?” and generally if it was reasonable there was a way to do it.

I loved Prey.  I wish it had done better.  But that’s the tragedy of fandoms, sometimes: you find something that feels custom-made for you, and it turns out there’s not enough of you out there to make it a profitable franchise.

Still.  If Prey sounded good to you, maybe it’s made for you too.  Check it out.



I Can’t Remember If I’ve Told You About Flaming Dave, But If Not, Here We Go Again

Let me make this clear: Flaming Dave was very straight, insofar as I knew, and not called “Flaming Dave” when I first met him. He was a refrigerator-sized wall of meat, as befitted his position as a college quarterback.

Now, if you’re asking, “How the hell did Ferrett know a quarterback?”, you’re on the right track. I was a weedly nerd in college as you’d expect, but for some reason they put me on the football team dorm room. So at night, I’d continually be walking past behemoth frat pledges doing shots and wrestling and discussing sports.

It was a pretty lonely year.

But Dave – soon to be known as Flaming Dave – was nice to me. He had hidden depths, occasionally asking about the books I was reading, making small talk on the elevator. He seemed a kind fellow, and I thought well of him.

Then one day, after returning from a long weekend away, I saw Dave in the elevator.

His cheeks and lips were covered in blisters.

And not fresh blisters, either. Stubble had sprouted like weeds in between the bulbous outgrowths. He clenched his fists, trying not to itch his wounds.

“Dude, what happened?” I asked, appropriately distraught.

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“It looks serious! How did you injure yourself so grievously?” I cried.

“I. Don’t. Wanna. Talk. About It.”

So of course, the moment I disengaged from Dave, I asked his friends – who were thrilled to be able to tell this story again.

And apparently, the tale was this: Last week, Dave and his buddies had stayed up late doing flaming shots. You might think this unwise, but they’d already done enough non-flaming shots that frankly, almost anything seemed like a good idea at this point.

And Dave… missed.

He splashed flaming Bacardi 151 all down his cheek.

And was drunk enough that he did not notice.

No, Dave – then a very flaming Dave – sat there contentedly as the flames consumed his flesh, savoring the taste of his beverage with a cryptic smile.

“Dude!” One of his friends cried. “Your face is on fire!”

“Mmm-hmm,” Dave said, astoundingly mellow for a man currently ablaze.

“No! Dave! Your face! It is on fire!”

“Yup,” Dave agreed merrily, the sizzle and pop beginning to permeate the room.

His friend, even as inebriated as he was, realized this was the time for action. He leapt from his seat, slapping the flames on Dave’s face –

And Flaming Dave decked him. One roundhouse punch knocked his rescuer out in one mighty blow – for, as previously noted, Dave was a muscular wall of meat.

Dave, furious that someone had dared attack him while he was lounging so happily, glared around the room, face engulfed in burning rum. “WHO ELSE WANTS SOME?” he thundered, as the blisters rose and rose.

They tackled him to the floor to put him out, of course, but by then he was – and would forever be – Flaming Dave.

So Why Not Share A Picture Of My New, More-Muscled Body?

“When I get to a year in the gym, I’m gonna take a picture of me shirtless and post it for the world,” I said.

That thought kept me going some days. Because if you’re a fat kid, particularly a guy, you understand the shame of going shirtless – days at the pool where you wore a shirt “because you didn’t want to get sunburned,” summer nights out where you sweated your pits through because revealing those man-tits could expose you to ridicule.

Some day, I thought when I was bulling my way through just one more set of weights, I’ll post a picture of me and my abs.

Yet as the day got closer, the urge faded.

Part of it was because, as I described yesterday, all the photos I was taking of myself felt like vanity. If I compared the shirtless photo I took today to the one I took a month ago, was there really a difference? Was I just endlessly focusing on a body that was mostly the same, requiring my lovers to stroke my ego?

(Judging from the way some of my flirtations stopped responding to the photos, I’m pretty sure I was. Or maybe they just got busy. We read our own stories into the gaps, and not all of them are accurate.)

Then there was the impact, man. I only got to reveal my New Shirtless Self once, after which it became, you know, just who Ferrett is. (Kind of like a debut novel gets all the PR, after which it’s a struggle to get the same heat on for, say, a follow-up novel.)

And when I took pictures of me, I didn’t really feel my bathroom selfies reflected the changes. The strong ripples of my lats looked like smudges; the framing of my abdomen could have been a stray shadow. And as usual, the man-tits consumed all.

The improvements were there, but I wasn’t capturing them, and while I love my wife you don’t want her to take pictures.

Maybe I should hire a professional to take shots of me?

Wait, isn’t that more ego?

And if I was going to hire a pro, shouldn’t I wait until I had, you know, the body I was aiming for instead of chronicling this soft waypoint?

Which was weird, because I’ll tell women, “Hey, you’re attractive, just own it.” And I know damn well there’s plenty of women who actually want dudes with a bit of belly to them, that the dad-bod fetish is very real. It’s not like who I am is entirely unattractive, and if someone finds my meat-sack repulsive, well, fuck ’em, I worked hard to get here.

Yet the more I thought about it, the more I spiraled into this weird cycle where it felt too egotistic to get the photo I wanted, yet if I was going to be that egotistic then I should represent more fitness than I was, and what the hell was I doing?

But the truth is, if I’m gonna eventually show some skin, I do want it to be more than “Ferrett snapping shots in the bathroom.” I want someone good with photos to take a picture that kind of shows who I am, as opposed to me dorking around. Because if I’m going to expose myself to ridicule – because I know dragging my mild audience around, I’ll get a few folks sneering that yeah, this isn’t anything to brag about – then I at least want it to be for the proper reasons.

And it’s weird, because honestly, I promote body positivity. But I think one of the things that confuses the Internet is that everyone falls short of the ideals they promote from time to time. You have good intentions, but that assumption that good intentions invariably get spun into good outcomes is, well, a little simplistic.

If I was as good as I claimed, I’d probably have posted a shot already, wouldn’t need the rigamarole to get this party started. But I do. And if that’s what I need, well, eventually I’ll find someone I trust to take the kinds of photos that showcase me in the way I want to be showcased.

So I’m skinnier. I’m healthier. I have baby abs, and baby lats. And eventually I’ll show you, but I wanna show it to you in a way that feels like it looks normally, not the imperfect chemistry of squirming around trying to selfie a torso.

The process is imperfect. Like me, physically and mentally. But that’s okay. Like everything else, I’ll get there. Eventually.