Ah, Reddit — the site that is dually capable of hosting one of the most absurdly irresponsible responses from a video game company and irresponsibly hosting collections of seething, angry, slouching misogynists, racists and fascists. For years, I tiptoed around it as best as I could as its reputation for supporting the latter tainted my fascination with exploring the former. However, being bored and nesting in place for the last 10 months, a compulsion to browse r/all for election coverage, cute animals, and, finally, nihilistic pandemic-themed memes, I decided to pull out my binoculars and explore from a distance. After all, the whole was a lot greater than the sum of its parts, right?
The breadth of r/all got tedious after a few weeks of doom scrolling. Not only does the content grow stale (how many anime forums exist on Reddit anyway?), but eventually I ran into content that was just gross (the misogynists still make it to r/all) or not my interests (conservative or libertarian). Though I didn’t want to create an account, I found a few subreddits worthy of a place in my bookmarks folder: subreddits for the cute animals, the feminist stuff, and the occasional absurd internet humor that I wanted to look at to break me out of my doom scroll spiral. There were also the NSFW subreddits that I follow for *ahem* research purposes.
My two favorite subreddits are r/AmITheAsshole and r/relationship_advice, which I will shorten to AITA and RA.
AITA consists of OPs (original posters) writing in with a conundrum and then asking if, in this conundrum, they came off as the asshole. Commenters weigh in with their responses and sign off with YTA (you’re the asshole), NTA (not the asshole), ESA (everyone sucks here), or NAH (no assholes here).
I am addicted to this forum. Every Friday I have Asshole Friday, which is my time to scroll through the Asshole Archives from the last week just to look at what ridiculous submissions came in. They range from the completely petty and clueless, to the combative and angry, to the regretful and accepting. It’s the only time reading through the comments feels good.
Most of the OPs are writing in as one-half of a relationship and want to know if they were an asshole to their partner:
I did this bad thing to my spouse. Should I not have done that?
No, you shouldn’t have. YTA
But, I really wanted to do this bad thing to my spouse because of reasons that sounded good at the time.
None of those reasons sound justifiable for your actions. YTA, still.
This is ridiculous. You don’t understand the nuances of my relationship. I LOVE my spouse, but this bad thing was necessary and really not that big of a deal. You guys suck. I am NOT an asshole.
Yes you are! You wrote in and based on your comments you’re an even bigger YTA than ever.
Other OPs are parents looking for justification for treating their kids like shit. These are OPs who want to know their asshole status for:
- Taking something away from their child or forcing something onto a child
- Promising their child something then reneging on a promise
- Forcing their child to get along with a (step)parent or (step)sibling or refusing contact with a child’s (step)parent or (step)sibling
- Showing favoritism for one child over another, or
- Not wanting to be a parent or wanting to smother as a parent
In these cases, my feelers are up about who is writing the submission: is it the parent or is it the child writing on behalf of the parent? This is all assuming (pun intended) that the OPs are legitimate writers and not one of the many Creative Writing 101 students that forgot to use a throwaway account.
For AITA, I have blanket advice: you’re an asshole. My determination of this fact is based on one thing: if you have to write into Reddit for advice on your status as an asshole, you are an asshole. Even for OPs who have been deemed NTA, you’re an asshole. Your post is one-sided and lacks nuance. Who’s to say you’re not making the whole thing up to make yourself look less like the asshole than you really are? As for the OPs who have been labeled YTA (and aren’t trolls or novelists), either they’re dimwitted enough to believe they won’t be called an asshole or they’re too narcissistic to consider it.
When I’m done rolling my eyes at AITA, I flip over to RA.
RA has its share of assholes who aren’t necessarily wanting to be called assholes, but are still looking for A. justification that they’re in the right about their relationship or B. permission to leave their failing partnership. I get less pleasure from this subreddit but just as much fascination (again, assuming most OPs that write in are genuine) because it makes me wonder, is this an accurate representation of what relationships are like today? Are most romantic relationships just two people hatefully resenting each other until one of them has the spinal fluid to break it off with the other? Are people so willing to put up with another’s deceit, disrespect, and disillusionment just because it beats being alone? Does this say something more about the state of our existential lot in life, or of end-stage capitalism in the United States?
Well, comrades, the good news about RA is that it’s all the same recycled advice day in and day out, just in different packaging. In fact, if the mods were smart, they’d make a general advice column for the following kind of questions and anytime “new” questions popped up, they could point the OP in the general advice direction and close the thread. RA would probably die out after a week, but that’s the point. No more long, rambling posts with the same, boring stories over and over again. There would be a chance for new advice from new OPs.
Not that the commenters on RA ever have great advice, though. I would say 90% of what shows up on RA is advice for romantic heterosexual relationships. With that figure, 95% of the advice from the commenters comes down to–
1. Get therapy, or
2. Leave your partner
–as if all situations can be solved by either answer. Sure, these are good suggestions in a lot of cases. Therapy helps a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but it isn’t going to solve everything and it certainly isn’t going to help if one or both partners doesn’t want to try it. And leaving your partner is not just as simple as picking up and going — especially if abuse is involved. The constant flood of comments to “Just leave her, bro” or “Honey, get yourself some THERAPY!” make me long for the nuanced days of Dear Abby or Anne Landers.
Again, I don’t have a Reddit account so I never post comments on this subreddit. But I do find myself reading the most infuriating posts aloud to M and telling them what advice I would give to the OP if I did have an account. “I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice,” I always say. What works for my marriage may not work for anyone else’s. I’m not a therapist, I’m not a relationship expert, and I’m certainly not a life coach here to help you through your rough patches. My own marriage has had its ups and downs, too. Why would I give anyone advice about love and partnership?
But something dawned on me. I might actually be totally qualified! I’ve been married to one person for almost 17 years now. That is my first marriage. My parents were married to other people before marrying each other and my marriage has lasted longer than both of their first marriages combined. My marriage has lasted longer than several friends’ first marriages. While the mechanics (*ahem*) of what keeps my marriage functional remains private, I’ll say that it boils down to mutual respect. We’re aware that it takes constant work to keep a marriage going, and we’re both willing to contribute. Yes, I am aware that something could happen one day and it could be over; but we work like that isn’t an option.
Therefore, my qualifications and seniority in the relationship department should be sound.
As I said for RA, there aren’t too many variations of advice seekers. You have the following:
- One partner did [bad thing] to other partner and now OP wants advice
- One family member did [bad thing] to another family member and now OP wants advice
- OP wants advice that is beyond Reddit’s paygrade with [bad thing]
For the time being, I want to focus on the first of these scenarios critically and examine the bad thing. Scenario 2 is something on which I’m definitely not qualified to espouse advice and would tip my hand to the inner machinations of my own screwy childhood. Finally, scenario 3 deals with suicide, self-harm, abuse, depression, and rape — all of which I have experience in but am far from qualified to advise other than to say do not go to Reddit for mental health issues, seek mental health professionals. But I can talk about being in a relationship with confidence.
So, what is the bad thing in relationships?
Q: “I think my partner is cheating on me.” OR “My partner is paranoid that I’m cheating and doesn’t trust me.”
A: Technology has changed relationships for the better and for the worst. While you can meet your next partner with a simple tap of an app, your sneaking around habits are harder to accomplish. Today, “cheating” has grown to encompass more than just getting some strange at the pub after work. Cheating can also be:
- I caught them liking pictures of an Instagram influencer
- I caught them sliding into the DMs of an Instagram influencer
- They sent nudes/dick pics to someone else
- They deleted texts from someone else
- They won’t let me go through their phone
Cheating is also “My spouse is talking a lot to their coworker and lying about it,” or “I’m worried about my spouse’s friend of the opposite sex.” These are posts that make me wonder if the OP didn’t have an epiphany while they were writing. Like, did you not just read your whole post? Did nothing clue you in?
Things get dicier when children are involved, as in OP is pregnant with baby number (rolls a D6) 4 or has just had their (rolls a D3) first child and is in the middle of nasty postpartum depression. This, of course, is horrible. No one deserves to be deceived in their relationship, especially while they’re vulnerable and uncomfortable.
With that known, I offer the following:
- Your partner is allowed to have friends of all genders, and you don’t have the right to be suspicious about every one of them
- You only reserve the right to be suspicious if they start lying, hemming, or hawing about one of them
- Liking a stupid picture on a stupid social media account is not cheating; it’s stupid
- Unless your partner is getting money for those nudes or dick pics (a la OnlyFans), then yeah that’s cheating1
- The scale of infidelity forgiveness is up to you; personally, I’m privileged enough to say I’d forgive infidelity over other things (though I’d guess it depends on who it was with)
- If you have kids, it is my opinion that their happiness comes first and either parent putting their own happiness before their children’s is a miserable selfish fuck
Q: “My partner wants to do their hobby rather than spend time with me.”
A: Their hobby is almost always “play video games with his boys” and the OP is almost always female. I’ve encountered this problem with other people in real life because it tells me that this couple has nothing in common. What does the OP do for hobbies? She draws, plays instruments, sculpts, and sews. What does the OP’s boyfriend do? He plays Call of Duty on the XBox. Does she play video games? Well, she plays Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley (no shade, those are awesome), but she doesn’t play CoD. Then what do they do together?
They hangout. No, goddamn it — hanging out is not a hobby you do together. Both of you are probably looking at your phones and wanting to do something else. If OP’s boyfriend doesn’t do her hobbies with her, and she doesn’t do her hobbies, then why are they together? They like each other. Again, doing what? Having sex? What are you going to do with the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of your day?
There comes a time in every relationship where you will not want to do everything with your partner. You will still love them and appreciate their closeness, but depending upon them for everything is emotionally taxing and unfair to both of you. Both of you deserve privacy and separate interests as well as having hobbies you do together. M likes to watch high concept SF movies and I don’t. I like to watch true crime shows and documentaries; they don’t. But we both like hiking and playing certain video games together. I hated cooking but I like to cook with them. They didn’t care for musicals, but they came around after watching Chicago with me years ago. Separately, I write; they code. It works out pretty well.
My advice: if your partner plays video games, have you tried playing with them? If you’re not into it, do you have something to do while they’re playing? Do you have a mutual hobby you both like — and I stress the importance of this — to do together? I don’t mean a hobby you like that you want them to begrudgingly go along with; I mean a hobby that you both like and get excited about doing? Cooking? Hiking? Putting together a jigsaw puzzle? Watching a movie? Home improvement? Or did you just assume “hanging out” was a hobby?
I don’t like to throw this in the camp of either break up or get therapy but if either of you can’t figure out what it is you like to do together, then you’re better off apart. Find a boyfriend who wants to do a mutual hobby with you and your boyfriend can find a girl that will let him play his goddamn video games.
Q: “My partner wants me to do a sexual activity with which I am uncomfortable.” OR “My partner does NOT do a sexual activity that I like doing.”
A: In both cases, remember that “no” is a complete sentence. At any time during sexual congress one partner can say “I’m not feeling this right now” and all activity can and should stop. OP has the right to terminate their end of the sexual agreement just as OP’s partner has the right to terminate theirs. Sex can be messy and ridiculous, but it should never be uncomfortable or painful2.
The OPs are more often than not asking for advice because they are sexually incompatible with their partner or they are being pressured into a kink. Sexual incompatibility, as in different sex drives3, are the cause of a lot of relationship woes, but shouldn’t be the cause of relationship failings. Lack of sexual desire is rarely the only symptom of a troubled relationship, either. “I have a very high sex drive (ed. Cool flex, bro) and I don’t understand why my girlfriend won’t fuck me all the time. I totally cleaned the sink last week! What do I do?” Yeah, if it hasn’t dawned on you yet, you don’t deserve to be fucked.
Kink pressure is another story. I read posts about OPs being uncomfortable with their partner approaching them with their desires and it reads less like kink-shaming and more like genuine boundary-pushing. A common ask is for polyamory when the OP wants to stay monogamous. To me, there’s polyamory and there’s telling your partner “I want to fuck other people but I don’t want you to get mad at me for it.” The difference being polyamory is a system of clear rules (and has the word “amor” in it, meaning “love”) and the other is just fucking around in plain site. Again, I reiterate my original advice: No is a complete sentence. You do not have to agree to any kink you don’t want to and no one has the right to force you into any sexual activity. If you’re worried that someone might accuse you of kink-shaming because you don’t want to try a kink you can always claim that you just haven’t found your kink. Or, rely on a tried and true favorite saying: Kink-shaming is my kink!
However, a lot of OPs write in about the lack of oral sex from their partners. This is where my advice deviates. Everyone benefits from some head (and please chisel that into my gravestone). Regardless of one’s genital construction, oral sex is an intimate and pleasurable act within a relationship and, if you’re not willing to do it…eh, reevaluate. You don’t have to drop everything and eat pussy at your partner’s whim (there’s a time and a place for everything) and oral sex won’t fix your core relationship problems. But 20% of these sad posts with “my partner won’t go down on me” would disappear if people in relationships prioritized a little brain4.
Q: “I am pregnant / my partner is pregnant and we don’t know what to do.”
A: No one seems to like my advice which is “get an abortion.” Thus begins the pearl-clutching, the monocle-popping, and the hand-fanning because not everyone is as nonchalant about the procedure as I am. Admittedly, I’m also very privileged in that I have all the resources available to me to have an abortion if that ever happens. Furthermore, I’m not surrounded by close family or friends who would care if I did have one. So yes, my “get an abortion” advice is glib and I understand it’s not always the best advice.
I believe that heterosexual intercourse without understanding the full consequences of the action is a failure of the American healthcare system. But it’s not just American teenagers writing into RA looking for advice. Most OPs are 20- and 30-somethings already in a relationship looking for help navigating their second or third child conceived when birth control failed or didn’t happen at all.
All that out of the way, how does a relationship fail so spectacularly in communicating that both parties don’t know what to do in case of an accidental pregnancy after previous conception? There’s accidental first pregnancies but at some point you and your partner say “we’re done after baby number 2,” right? Or am I being silly in assuming you hashed this out before you partnered up?
If abortion and adopting out are off the table, then the answer is obvious of course: both you and your partner have the baby and take care of it.
If you write to internet strangers seeking relationship advice or a buy-in on whether your action made you look like an asshole or not, then you should probably get more real-life friends, acquaintances, or instructors. Validation from the nether shouldn’t soothe your ego. But since we’re here already, know that you can avoid being a bigger asshole if you 1. Stop seeking internet advice and 2. Assume everyone hiding behind an anonymous internet handle is about as qualified to give advice as, say, your average Facebook meme is to give out anti-vaccination information.
So no, you don’t have to leave your spouse or get therapy. But you might want to look into both anyway.
1Note: Send money to my OnlyFans account @MidThirtiesLifeCrisisPleaseNoticeMe and I’ll send you nudes. They might not be my nudes but they’ll be nudes nonetheless. Aside: is that how OnlyFans account handles display? I clearly don’t have an OnlyFans yet.
2In BDSM, the pain spectrum has a threshold and participants can tap out. My point is about sex in general, not about specific pain kinks.
3Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of the book Come as You Are disagrees that there is a “sex drive” in human beings and instead talks of sex incentive systems along with accelerators and brakes. I agree with her assessment as she’s far more knowledgeable than I am about this, but for sake of the narrative here I’m going to use “sex drive.”
4This was just a challenge to see how many times I could squeeze in oral sex euphemisms. I’d say I licked it.