Craigslist Confessional: “I regret that she got an abortion but I’m also relieved. We wouldn’t have been very good parents to this child.”

Henry, 60s

Ellen and I immediately hit it off. We were working together on a three-month stint in a rural community, and we were each other’s oases. She was beautiful, fun, happy, and outgoing. We had incredible chemistry, and our shared faith deepened our bond. She had several children from a previous marriage, but things between us were casual and I never asked about the father.

We went out for pizza one night and ended up back at my place. I told her I didn’t have protection, but she said something along the lines of “that’s okay; I’m alright.” We saw each other at work the next day and it was really good for a while. About a month later, she showed me a positive pregnancy test.

I asked her what she wanted to do, and she said she wasn’t sure. Deep down inside, I knew that I’d be gone in a month. I didn’t know where work would take me — where I’d be a year later, or even a month later. I knew I’d be working crazy hours and not making very much money, certainly not enough to afford a kid. But if she’d said she wanted to keep the baby, I would have figured out a way to make it happen.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

Why Do We Laugh at Sad Things?

The sadness was palpable. My uncle lay in his coffin, pale and strangely lifelike. Suddenly, from the front of the room where his closest family sat, I heard a muffled giggle. I looked over to see my oldest aunt, red in the face and clearly trying to suppress laughter. Her sisters watched, mortified, but it wasn’t long before they joined in — and then the people around them, too, as seismic waves of laughter spread through the room.

“I felt his spirit,” my aunt later explained. “He wanted to lighten the pain we were feeling.” (My uncle was known for his sense of humor.)

Laughter is a great emotional equalizer. We’re often told it’s the best medicine. Deeply stressful or emotional episodes overload our emotional engine and send the needle into overdrive. To release stress, we often respond through inappropriate laughter. It’s not ideal, but it is effective. On top of reducing the stress hormone cortisol and improving short-term memory, laughter has even been found to ameliorate physical pain.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: I don’t regret my decision to get an abortion. I regret that it was such a lonely one.

Veronica, 40s

I sat in a wicker chair on our front porch and rested my hand on my belly. The dishes clattered in the distance and I felt a compulsion to yell in and ask if Mom needed help with cleaning up, but I wanted to be alone and so I stayed outside. We’d spent the day at the creek, taking photos, fishing, and enjoying the weather together. As always, my mother had brought the camera.

“Do something silly!” she demanded, holding the camera up to her eyes.

And in that moment, all I had thought to do was twirl my hair with one hand and stick my thumb in my mouth. As I looked at the Polaroid, I thought that I looked like a child myself—way younger than 18. Way younger than someone’s mom should look.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

Why it Pays to Be Vulnerable

Two years ago, during a particularly isolating and low point in my life, I started a project called Craigslist Confessional. Through an ad on Craigslist, I meet with and anonymously speak to strangers about things that they can’t tell anyone else. What I want more than anything is to connect with people on a deeper level, to allow them to be vulnerable and open without fear. I do this because I felt then, and still do now, that there are so many things that we can’t talk about in polite society, so many important things that are shunned, kept quiet or muffled because vulnerability is often met with judgment.

By meeting with over 200 people (even a few from the Man Repeller community!) and listening to their stories, I’ve learned that vulnerability, unfettered communication and fearless oversharing about things usually relegated to the “personal” realm are positive additions to an often emotionally apathetic society. By fearless oversharing, however, I don’t mean the online facelessness that further dehumanizes us and makes easy victims, but rather the in-person connection we make when we allow someone to bear witness to our lives. The stories I’ve heard over the years, and the fact that anonymity is often the deciding factor on whether someone shares her story, only prove how uncomfortable we tend to get with emotional vulnerability.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

The Truth About Phobias and How I Overcame Mine

I have a dental phobia. When I think about the prospect of going to the dentist, my knees get weak, trickles of cold sweat accumulate on the back of my neck and I feel lightheaded.

There’s good reason for this. I grew up in a post-Communist country where empathy wasn’t exactly a dentist’s strong suit. For much of my childhood, I had dental work done without anesthesia. I remember once passing out in the chair during a procedure. When I came to, the dentist was still drilling away.

This year, my resolution was to address my dental phobia. In preparation, I decided to read up on phobias. Why do we have them? Can they be conquered? How?

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: “Had he made the first move, I probably would have started an affair with him.”

Rita, 30s

I woke up that morning with the conviction that the day would be different—better. I packed lunch for my children and helped my husband steam his shirt. After he left for work, I drove the kids to school, already dreading the emptiness I would feel once at home again, alone.

I hadn’t always been this way. I could remember the days when I’d been my own person, not someone’s wife or someone’s mom, but myself. I hadn’t worried about making lunch on time, or getting the laundry folded, or making sure the kids got their homework done. I’d had my job, my disposable income, and my group of friends, and life had seemed impossibly simple and happy.

Now I found myself wondering who I was once my family was stripped away. I hadn’t worked in years, and the last time I saw my closest friend, we’d spent hours talking about our children and husbands. It seemed like I’d lost myself, and could only define my existence through the people who consumed my time. I’d inadvertently become the woman I used to make fun of — the bored housewife who drank before noon and took anxiety medication to alleviate her existential crisis.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

I drafted an email yesterday and, before clicking the ‘send’ button, I read, re-read and re-re-read what I had written, scouring the letters for errors that would somehow impart to the destined reader the impression that perhaps I don’t have a basic grasp of grammar. I have a Chrome extension that tells me when I’m using “weak” words and phrases, like I think or I’m sorry or just, words that, according to the app’s creator, “diminish our voice.”

I’m like this — highly self-conscious and sensitive to details — when it comes to basically everything in my life. When I enter a conversation, I immediately pick up on subtle, almost imperceptible behavioral cues. I overthink everything, absolutely everything, often to my very serious detriment. Until pretty recently, I thought that I was just neurotic.

Then a friend who is very similar recommended a book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Dr. Elaine Aron. A self test in the book’s introduction prompts: I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation. True.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

This is your brain on social media

Three years ago, I logged into Facebook for the very last time. I clicked the “permanently delete” button, without uploading any of the memories stored therein to my computer. Right now, the only form of social media on my phone is Snapchat, on which I have a whopping fifteen friends.

I’m not going to tell you that you should do the same and delete most (or all) of your social media accounts. And I’m not going to preach to you about the merits of a temporary social media detox, although Kendall and Gigi did it, so draw your own conclusions. (Tongue, meet cheek). But for the sake of conversation, I will tell you how my social media abstention was received by others, and the clever arguments I’ve heard in favor of staying addicted. Because make no mistake, we’re addicted.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: I'm in my 40s, never married, and a virgin--but I'm happy

I come from what’s considered a pretty small family in my community. My parents are both Holocaust survivors, but growing up, our neighborhood wasn’t just Orthodox Jewish families like mine. A lot of my friends were Italian, so it was really easy to see the difference between how other kids were raised, and how we were being raised. I went to an all-girls school that had a double curriculum: morning classes were religious, and the afternoon classes were secular.

By the time I was 19, three quarters of my high school class was engaged. The typical age for marriage was in the early twenties, so I didn’t really feel too much pressure at the time. But in our community, you don’t have “boyfriends.” You look for husbands.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

American millennials aren't that into God. Are you?

Millennials are officially, at around 80 million, the biggest age group in the United States. We are also consistently maligned. Millennials have been called narcissist, selfish, lazy, materialistic, entitled and individualistic by parents, grandparents, researchers, anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists alike.

Depending on whom you talk to, millennials are also heralded as risk-takers, tech-savvy rule breakers, dare-to-be-different trailblazers. We are the future. And the future, as far as millennials are concerned, is increasingly godless.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

What your parents' relationship means for yours

On September of 1986, my mother’s aunt set her up on a blind date with my dad. Once divorced, he was almost eleven years her senior. My mom, who was 29 at the time, took one look at him and started running — literally running — away. Had her aunt not lassoed her back and gotten her to go on the date, I wouldn’t be here today. And my parents wouldn’t have an almost 30-year marriage.

By all accounts, this sounds like a success story. In fact, considering that the divorce rate hovers at around 50% (and is higher for second and third marriages), people assume that if your parents are still together, you must have the secret to a good relationship embedded in your DNA.

But just like any relationship spanning 30 years, my parents have had conflicts to which, inevitably, I’ve been witness. The success of their marriage doesn’t hinge solely on their continued partnership, but rather the constant conversations and compromises that keep them on the same page.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: "I was 25 years old when I went to prison, and 40 when I was released."

I was 25 years old when I went to prison, and 40 when I was released.

I am one of five children. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and lived in the projects. My mother was college educated, but her husband got her hooked on drugs. Ever since fourth grade, I’ve been trying to make money, go to school, and feed everyone. I always knew how to fend for myself.

When I got arrested, I was working and going to school full time. I had a four-year-old son. I was a first time, nonviolent offender accused of interfering with a federal investigation. The verdict came back in a heartbeat: a 240-month sentence in a federal prison. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a lifetime.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.

Craigslist Confessional: "She sat down with her husband and told him she was in love with another man."

Three years after my divorce and during a particularly bad bout of loneliness, I found myself looking through the personals ads on Craigslist. The subject line—“seeking attention”—caught my eye.

She was in her late twenties, and married. This gave me pause because I didn’t want to get involved in anything messy, but I figured it’d be a one-time deal. So I agreed to meet at her house and within minutes, we became physical. Afterwards, we just talked. We had amazing chemistry. She’s smarter than I am, attractive, passionate, and just…well, better than anyone I’ve ever met before.

We saw each other a few more times after that. It didn’t feel like what we were doing was wrong, but it wasn’t long before mutual romantic feelings started developing. I enjoyed being able to lavish attention and gifts on her, and although I tried to resist being pulled into another relationship, it was clear that we were having an emotional as well as physical affair.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

On living with parents as an adult...

If you’d have told me years ago that after graduating from college, I’d have to move back in with my parents, one word would have jumped to mind: regressive. This, of course, followed by a brief-but-vibrant mental montage from Step Brothers of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell — who play 40-somethings still living with their parents — fashioning a DIY bunk bed in their childhood bedroom to make room for activities. I equated living with my parents post-grad with a permanent, self-imposed failure to launch. Turns out, I couldn’t have been more mistaken.

A 2016 Pew Study found that 32.1% of adults between 18 and 34 live at home with their parents. The most preferred alternative was cohabiting with a romantic partner, trailed by people who had “other living arrangement(s)” — those living with a family member other than their parents, or with roommates or in group quarters. 

N.B.: Although I have friends who've done so, I lived in a huge group house with friends after college--thereby narrowly avoiding the death by overfeeding that would have been living with the Bala's. 

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on the magical website known as Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

 

Craigslist Confessional: "It felt so shameful to tell anyone that my sister had died of an overdose"

My mom called me at 7:30 that morning. I was still in bed and dragging my feet after a long night. She asked me what I was doing and I didn’t tell her the truth because I didn’t want to feel guilty about not having started my day yet. And then she told me. It was very point blank, really. There wasn’t very much emotion in her voice. And I kept telling her: “shut up, just shut up.”

The last year of my sister’s life was very painful. She’d always had trouble with addiction—mostly alcohol—but then she started dating this guy who got her into heroin. He was the one who called 911. The police called my mother. And I called my other sister. That’s how everyone came to know that she’d died, except my niece—her daughter—who was only three at the time. She says things like “mommy’s an angel” but I don’t think she really understands. I think she’s still waiting for her mommy to come back.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published. 

Craigslist Confessional makes Quartz's list of most powerful personal essays of 2016

Craigslist confessional: "One look at me, and people think I'm privileged

By Helena Bala

“I let people see what they want—the picture of me that’s easiest to digest. It’s neater than the truth. There’s so much criticism directed at millennials nowadays that any whisper of a complaint draws out mass accusations of entitlement—even where it doesn’t exist. It’s all about the bootstraps stories and the easy narratives of people who struggled but then they just pulled themselves together and made it.”

This is an amazing list of essays. Please read the rest here.  

What's behind our fear of change?

I quit my job two years ago. It became official on the day after my 26th birthday. When I went to pick up my office belongings with my friend Emily, I found that my key fob had been deactivated. It was a rude awakening to the reality of my decision. Emily will tell you about the look on my face then, the pallor and sheer panic that overtook me. I kept repeating, over and over: What if I’ve made a mistake?

This wasn’t a decision I had taken lightly or in response to a potent quarter life crisis. No, I’d really thought this through. So why was I freaking out? Well, it had suddenly become clear that everything was about to change in a major way. Because despite having evolved in many ways, humanity still has trouble embracing change.

There are three reasons that we fear change. The first, and in my opinion, most important, is that humans fear the unknown. The second is that, at our very cores, we’re creatures of habit. Sure, you may enjoy finding yourself in a different city every weekend, maybe at a different job every other year. But that’s a pattern in itself. We take solace in the predictable.And third, we fear failure and loss. What if, by making a change, we’re starting down on the long road towards failure?

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Man Repeller.  Also, subscribe if you want to get these articles, as well as the stories from my column on Quartz, in your mailbox when they come out. 

Craigslist Confessional: "I gave myself to my children completely--but I never thought they would hate me."

I’ve seen my son, Alex, twice since the divorce five years ago. Once, for his high school graduation; the other, when I pulled up to my ex husband’s house to drop off Anna, our younger daughter. Alex was mowing the lawn. He saw my Volvo round the corner, and he ran into the house. His reaction was visceral.

I was a good wife right until the very end. We were fighting a lot, my ex and I. The kids knew it, too. Alex was old enough to understand; Anna was on the cusp. We were getting ready to sit down to dinner that night. I think I was at the sink, washing lettuce for the salad. My phone kept ringing and ringing, but my hands were wet so I didn’t go to pick it up.

That’s when it all fell apart. My ex wanted to work on our marriage. At the time, I didn’t. I’d been seeing Brad for a couple of months and things were going well. When everything blew up, I felt—weirdly—special. I was getting a lot of attention. I felt wanted, worth fighting for. But I didn’t have the strength to fight anymore. I wanted out of the marriage. I was excited by how new and good things were with Brad.

Unfortunately, I can't post the whole story on here, but you can read the rest of it on Quartz.  Also, subscribe if you want to get little reminders in your mailbox when one of these stories is published.