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"Am I overreacting?" Excerpts from Dear Prudence

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
"Am I overreacting?" Excerpts from Dear Prudence

I read Daniel Mallory Ortberg's advice column, and there's a theme that comes up a lot in his answers:

'You are not overreacting, you are reacting.' [letter]

'I’ve been getting the “Am I overreacting?” question a lot lately, usually by someone who hasn’t in fact reacted at all, and could therefore hardly be said to have overreacted.' [letter]

'You are not wrong to be upset. It is very difficult for a person to be wrong to be upset, although it is possible to act badly as a result of feeling upset. You feel upset and want to talk to your partner about your feelings—that’s a perfectly legitimate position. It’s not a sign that you need to care less simply because your husband does not agree with you. That’s what respectful fighting is for, when two people who love one another feel differently about a fraught, mutually significant decision.' [letter]

Obviously it is possible to overreact, but just having a feeling or preference is probably not an overreaction. I dunno, it's okay not to be chill about things.

Potentially useful question: Am I reacting to what has actually happened, or to what I have wildly extrapolated it means?

That is, if you care about birthdays, and you're upset that your partner forgot yours and it makes you feel unloved, that's valid and addressable. If you're upset because your partner doesn't love you, which you know because they forgot your birthday, this is going a bit far and is hard for your partner to action. (It's not totally useful because red flags are a thing - if someone ignores your stated boundaries in a trivial situation, you should take that as evidence that they are likely to ignore your stated boundaries when it matters.)

99% of advice is inherently great for some people and toxic for others. You don't need to tell an overconfident dude to "be more assertive" for example, but others really need to hear that. Some of you maybe react disproportionately and would be happier in your lives if you worked on that. Since I don't know who will read this, I can't say if this advice is healthy for you.

But in a way it doesn't matter because the solution is always the same, it's basically a relationship cheat code: be really clear and honest with the other person about why you're upset, and what you would like to happen differently in the future. Then they can say "No, I can't do that" or "I can't do that but I can do this" and then you have the information to decide if you want to continue a relationship with them, knowing they don't intend to change their behaviour in the way that you requested. And at no point did it matter whether or not you were "overreacting" - all that mattered was whether two people could meet each others' needs.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #48 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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