2890: Relationship Advice

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Relationship Advice
Good to be a little wary of advice that sounds too much like a self pep talk.
Title text: Good to be a little wary of advice that sounds too much like a self pep talk.


In this comic, White Hat, Cueball, and Ponytail can be seen having a conversation about relationships. White Hat expresses the opinion that "relationships aren't easy". The others accept this advice, which is generally accepted as a reasonable view: two people are always going to have at least some difference in opinions, desires and needs that need to be communicated, negotiated and worked out. This requires mutual effort and some level of compromise in any healthy and successful relationship.

In the subsequent frames, however, White Hat continues to push the matter, describing relationships in increasingly unpleasant terms, starting with calling them "constant work" and ultimately calling it a "grueling ordeal". Cueball and Ponytail correspondingly agree with him less, and instead begin to worry about him.

White Hat's views on what is necessary and appropriate in relationships appear to go to unhealthy extremes. While his initial comments about relationships requiring efforts are reasonable, the notion that relationships consist of endless, overwhelming effort is not, for most people, though for some people who experience significant asociality this can be how most relationships feel. However, Cueball and Ponytail appear to suspect that White Hat may be describing a relationship that he's currently in or that has severed, and trying to rationalize an unhealthy situation by telling himself that "this is normal".

When someone is in an abusive relationship, they may struggle to see that the relationship is abusive, often confusing genuinely destructive behavior with normal relationship troubles. There are various reasons this may occur. Some people experience traumatic bonding, some have spent so much time in or around unhealthy relationships that they've come to seem 'normal', and some experience various forms of codependence. For people in such situations, help from friends and/or professional counselors is often necessary to allow them to even identify the situation they're in, and particularly to separate themselves from the situation.

Seeing Randall’s often negative thoughts on Valentine’s Day and the problems it produces, it may not be a coincidence that this comic was released only nine days before the event.

The title text explains that advice which focuses on remaining upbeat in a bad situation (like a "pep talk"), should give others pause. There's a good chance that the person giving such advice is trying to convince themselves that their situation is alright, rather than providing useful guidance for others. In this comic, this sentiment is seemingly applied to White Hat, whose "relationship advice" may be much more personal than such advice should reasonably be, and the reader is thus warned to take advice like this with a grain of salt. This is similar to 449: Things Fall Apart where Cueball tells Megan "I love you" repeatedly and Megan points out he's only saying it to reassure himself rather than express it to her.

This comic's title is reminiscent of Randall's Tips comics. Here, though, there turns out to be no actual advice or tip, and thus not part of the tip category.


[White Hat, Cueball and Ponytail are walking. White Hat has his palm out.]
White Hat: What you have to remember is, relationships aren't easy.
Ponytail: Yeah, fair.
[Close-up of White Hat with his finger raised.]
White Hat: They're hard. They require constant work.
White Hat: A relationship is a job.
Off-panel voice: I guess...
[White Hat has stopped walking and is facing Cueball and Ponytail standing a bit further away.]
White Hat: It's a challenge that feels overwhelming. It's a crushing burden.
Cueball: Umm.
[White Hat has his arms raised while still facing Cueball and Ponytail.]
White Hat: A relationship is a grueling ordeal.
Cueball: ...Who are you trying to convince, exactly?
Ponytail: Yeah, are you okay?
White Hat: I'm fine! This is normal!

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Anybody else think that White Hat might be aromantic? 42.book.addict (talk) 18:47, 5 February 2024 (UTC)

I see no reason to assume he is talking about romance at all. All relationships can be difficult, whether romantic, sexual, platonic, familiar or professional. Tharkon (talk) 19:07, 5 February 2024 (UTC)
Yeah, I don't think the explanation (as of this reply) is really relevant, he just struggles to form any kind of meaningful relationship. 19:18, 5 February 2024 (UTC)
I would agree if he expressed disinterest or something, but I don't think negativity = aromantic.
I’m on the original user’s side. The language expressed in the comic is negative and disinterested, as White Hat thinks that relationships are gruelling and require a lot of resolve to engage in. 00:07, 6 February 2024 (UTC)
I thought White Hat's sentiments (at least in the first half) were common in alloromantic culture. "Relationships require work to maintain" is widespread advice.
My own interpretation is that it's parodying the attachment of a competitive and hopeless attitude to relationships, where allo people often seem to highly resent their partners. (Maybe some of them are aroace in denial, but that's another conversation…) Because of this attitude, White Hat has gotten so frustrated that he's told himself that relationships should literally feel like "work", and are all hopeless and joyless, to rationalize his own relationship troubles (implied by "are you okay?"). The punchline, "This is normal!", is lampooning how these unhealthy sentiments have become cultural norms, with White Hat standing in for them.
I'm not confident that my exact reading here is correct, but I do think the comic paints White Hat as hurting, misguided, possibly trying to tear down others' relationships, and an allegory for some wider theme in society. So it seems off to say that Randall would be allegorizing about aromantic people as such.
Also, I've heard that committed relationships, such as queerplatonic relationships, are important to at least some aromantic people. If White Hat were (knowingly) aro, he'd likely include these under his use of the word "relationships", right? ~AgentMuffin 16:02, 6 February 2024 (UTC)
He doesn't express any kind of a 'should' here - merely that, in his opinion/experience, this is the way things are - interacting with other people just is a gruelling ordeal. 09:48, 7 February 2024 (UTC)

Jeez. I can relate.... 19:15, 5 February 2024 (UTC)

I think it's pretty clear that the "offscreen voice" is one of Cueball or Ponytail, the frame is just close up on White Hat so we can't see which of his companions is responding. And "wary and unsure news"? I think a better expression would be "unsure agreement". Barmar (talk) 22:22, 5 February 2024 (UTC)

It looked like an ESL contribution to me, too. My choice of change (not seeing this until just now) was "...expresses a wary agreement". Covers all the various things from "I don't know where you're going with this, but I'll let you continue until I do" through "I know it's just the drink talking, but anything you say as I get you out of this bar and safely home" to "you're too handy with your fists, and ready to use them, I'm not gonna argue while you're in this mood".
If I were to classify WH's scenario, though, he's just had a sudden setback in some relationship, and it's the shock that's making him ramble. His companions know that something's happened, but are perhaps not fully aware of what it is that has hit him hard. - But I was never that good with social cues. If I'm anywhere close to general opinion then it's only because everyone else is equally lacking in the non-stick-figure body language and audible cues. ;) 00:31, 6 February 2024 (UTC)

I want to thank Randal Monroe for telling me in advance how not to talk to my kids about relationships. (talk) 16:44, 7 February 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

my intepretation was not based on the discussed issue (relationship), but based on the structure of the discussion - it felt like Randall also wanted to point out, how you can start with a widely accepted opinion to one most people won't angree by doing baby steps. Changing "not easy" to "hard" is understandable and in context of logic the same. If something is hard, it requires work - that makes sense. If zou have to work, it's a job, that makes sense, too. And now, in the second part, Randall jumps the shark (like most of the time) and changes job to overwhelming, implicating that a job is the same as being overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed is a crushing burden (language wise it is really similar: "over"helmed and something crushing down). And lastly, it's an Ordeal. 14:09, 8 February 2024 (UTC)

It's not 'tag misuse'[edit]

@ You are being a disruptive editor. 12:34, 8 February 2024 (UTC)

looks complete enough to me[edit]

remove tag? -- 13:16, 9 February 2024 (UTC)