Man Up, Already

Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for...

To err is human, but you should try not to err. If you suck at your instrument, practice. If your underwear is dirty, launder it. If everyone you’ve dated thinks you’re an asshole, stop behaving like an asshole. Only an asshole would joke about being an asshole instead of trying not to be an asshole. If you try and fail, that’s OK, though not optimal, since failure is by definition the opposite of the hoped-for thing. But if you don’t try, you are not a failure: you are a loser, and people should laugh at, not with you.

Chances are there are things you hope for and could reasonably succeed at. Maybe not big things like ruling a country, but definitely little things like cleaning your toilet, if having a clean toilet is important to you. If you want a clean toilet, and you are physically and psychologically capable of cleaning your toilet, and your toilet is still dirty, you have no one to blame but yourself and no joke you can tell will change the fact that you didn’t do something you could reasonably have done.

Say you are an adult who wants to have sex with other adults. There are things you can do to make that a reality. For starters, you can learn how to talk to people. Then you can develop some rudimentary knowledge of anatomy and hygiene, as well as some facility with oral sex and the basic motions of whatever carnal act you prefer. If you are capable of all of the above, and even one of the above does not apply to you, you have no right to expect sex from anybody and should refrain from bothering them.

Suppose you would like a career. The first thing you should do is figure out whether that career is possible for you. If you are 5’1’, you cannot become a runway model. If you are 6’8’, you cannot become an elf at a Christmas theme park. If your career ambitions are feasible, you should make a plan that will help you realize those ambitions. If they are not feasible, but possible, you should make a plan allowing for the extra work required to realize those ambitions. Things that should not be part of your plan include sitting around hoping your ambitions will realize themselves; hating people who have realized your ambitions; pretending you have already realized ambitions that you have done no work toward realizing; and cracking jokes about all the ambitions you haven’t realized when you never even tried in the first place.

If a relationship is something you want, it helps to be capable of empathy. Empathy allows you to consider what other people want from their relationships. For example, most people want their partners to acknowledge their sentience and human dignity. Most people do not want their partners to use them as sounding boards, emotional pillows, or meat sockets. To test your empathy, imagine how you would feel if your partner lay around all day whining about their failures and then expected you to fuck them.

Failure has its charms, which can be reconstituted, through trying, into funny jokes and catchy songs and good insights that may help you succeed. These charms are consolation prizes for when you try and don’t get the thing you want. You have to earn them.

Trying and failing develops character. Not trying is the opposite of character. There is nothing charming about floating through life like a log of shit.

Minutiae is a weekly column that appears every Thursday

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Alexandra Molotkow is an editor at Real Life magazine. She was a founding editor of Hazlitt, an associate editor of the Hairpin and arts columnist for the Globe and Mail. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, The Believer, The New Republic, and The New York Times Magazine.