At The Atlantic, Julie Beck talks to Heather Havrilesky about her new book How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life, a collection of her “Ask Polly” advice columns on New York Magazine‘s The Cut blog (originally at The Awl) plus some that haven’t been published before.

In a voice that’s simultaneously compassionate, confessional and no-nonsense, Havrilesky regularly decodes the most frustrating human tendencies and the motivations behind them, leaving you to wonder how you never saw them so clearly before. Like this video game/manipulation analogy:

More and more, the longer I do this, I notice how much there’s this illusion that people have, especially with love, that they can control what happens next. It’s like they’re playing a video game, and if they play everything the right way, they can affect the outcome. It’s like, you meet someone, you decide this person is the person who is going to make everything right, who’s going to be your partner forever and ever, and you’re never going to have to solve this problem again. And then once you’re locked into that idea, it’s like you’re playing a video game.

It’s hard not to develop that idea that you can control the people around you. When you’re young, you suddenly realize that when you’re not interested, other people like you. I was literally just speaking to my 7-year-old, and she said when she wants to play, her big sister doesn’t want to play, but when she doesn’t want to play, that’s when her big sister wants to play with her. It makes her crazy. It’s like when you’re dating someone and you suddenly realize they’re losing interest, if you start acting like you’re losing interest—Ding! They’re back in the ring with you. So it’s hard not to believe you can manipulate your circumstances in various ways, because you can. It’s just, you’re not going to get what you want doing that, you know?

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