Is a trial separation actually a thing that works? I’ve been in a relationship for eight years now, and I feel like we’re sleepwalking towards being together for life. I don’t know if this is what I want, but I don’t know that I don’t want it either.
Oh, dear. This sounds horribly confusing just reading your letter. "You don’t know if this is what you want, but you don’t know that you don’t want it either" – and even if you did want it, maybe you wouldn’t know that you wanted it? Or maybe do you want to want it, but you don’t actually want it?
I think what you are really asking is not shall we have a trial separation after our eight-year relationship – and by the way, I can’t answer this question; only you and your partner can, and I would stress that it’s a decision that has to be taken jointly – the question you are really asking is how can I know my own mind in a complicated situation. And that is something we could all do with knowing the answer to.
Let me look at trial separation first. I will be honest and clear. In my experience, trial separation is usually a euphemism closely related to what Gwyneth Paltrow called conscious uncoupling. In normal-person speak, it’s basically an amicable divorce. And if the relationship is going to end, who wouldn’t want the ending to be amicable? So, when people do this, what they are often aiming for is this: I want this to end, but as unmessily as possible. But at least they know that they want an ending. You’re not even sure that you want an ending. As discussed, you want to know what you want.
You give one clue: the “sleepwalking”. This is very evocative. What do you mean by this? Maybe this is the key to understanding your own feelings a bit better. Usually when people talk about sleepwalking towards a future it implies a level of denial, or things that aren’t being talked about, or ignoring things, or a sort of wilful blindness. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of all of those things and a small healthy dose of them can keep a relationship together. God knows my husband is wilfully blind to what a nutter I can be at times and I thank him for that.
Have you talked to your partner about this feeling of “sleepwalking towards the future”? What do you feel is being ignored or not talked about? If you can't break through that and get an answer, I think it’s too frustrating to stay. But if you can break through that, then your answer will also come quickly enough – one of you might say something that surprises you both in a good way or a bad way.
Remove the words “trial separation”; it’s a solution – and not a very good one, in my view – which you might not even need. Talk about the sleepwalking instead. Eight years is a long time to throw away. But one hour is too much time to stay in a relationship that isn’t working anymore. How do you know what you want? Talk, listen, talk some more, listen some more. Then go somewhere very quiet and listen to what your heart is telling you. Yes, I know this sounds like hippy bullshit, but it’s all we have I’m afraid.
Can I have a post-break-up makeover, or is that a massive cliché?
Hello, why are you even asking this question? What is wrong with you? Just go and have the makeover, for goodness sake! In the time it has taken for you to think about this question, write this question on social media (which is how I think it came in – I’m just guessing; all the questions come to me anonymously and I don’t get to know what form they came in) and for me to actually answer this question and picture you – I am sure you are very attractive and don’t need a makeover at all, but who DOESN’T NEED A MAKEOVER?! Really! Anyway… In the time it has taken for all these things to happen you could have had 10 MAKEOVERS. I am cross you have asked, but I will get over it. What makes me so angry is how many people value themselves so little that they think that a) doing something nice for themselves like a makeover is a big deal – it isn’t – it’s just a nice thing to do for yourself, so just do it already, and b) they are worried that, by doing something nice for themselves, they will have bought into some kind of cliché.
Who says you have to live your life with total originality and never do anything no one else has ever done before? Who says indulging in a bit of clichéd behaviour now and again is wrong? All it is is human. Clichés are clichés for a reason – same with stereotypes. They exist because they reveal fundamental truths that never change. When you break up with someone, you feel a bit shit about yourself and you want to try and feel better. How is that a cliché? How have we become so jaded and so post-modern and so detached from our essential human idiot selves that we think it might be somehow self-indulgent and embarrassing to do something nice for ourselves?
Please, everyone – not just the questioner but everyone – stop this silliness and do whatever you want and need to do now to feel better about yourself. Properly better. Not just "stick your head in the sand and drink four bottles of wine" better, but "hold your head up high" better. Go and do that thing now.
A quick note about money, in case that is what this is really about – ie you are stopping yourself from spending money on a makeover by saying, “I don’t deserve this and anyway it’s a cliché.” You do not have to spend money on a makeover. This is why department stores were invented. Book in with a department-store beauty counter for a half-hour makeover. While you are having your amazing makeover (which you should be able to book for free, otherwise don’t bother, I say), make notes and take pictures on your phone of all the products. Say, “Thank you so much – I need a couple of days to go away and think about which products I really want to invest in.” You are allowed to do this. Now go. I don’t want to hear from you again. If you did write in via social media and you are prepared to waive your anonymity, do send us a post-makeover selfie.
I need a pay rise! How do I make it happen? I hate asking for things.
This is my favourite question ever. This is the only question in the whole world really worth asking, so thanks for giving me the opportunity to answer it. The only other question worth talking about is, “What do I want?” but this is the next step: “How do I ask for what I want?” And I’m going to take this in a general sense, because we all want a pay rise – who doesn’t? – but we also want lots of other things. So this is a really important question.
The good thing about you, dear aspiring payrise recipient, is that you already know what you want and that is more than most people know. I want you to get specific though. Are you sure you want a pay rise? Why do you want a pay rise? Do you want money? Or do you want more recognition at work? What will you do if your boss says, “I can’t give you a pay rise, but I can give you a promotion and a very large business card that says Senior Executive Superintendent Great One." Will that do instead? You would be surprised how many people would take that title and that business card instead of £1,000. Personally I would happily have my title changed to Chief Idiot and take the £1,000. But it’s all about what kind of person you are. There’s no right answer. Some people want recognition and praise. Others want freedom and the opportunity to create (spoiler alert: this is what the Chief Idiot wants more than £1,000). Others measure their worth by money. Others just want to be earning precisely five per cent more than the person sitting next to them.
You see now why this is such a good question. Because it’s more complicated than it seems. But once you have worked out – in very precise, specific terms – what it is that you want, then you can find a way to ask for it. If you want money, then you need to go to the person who makes that decision (who may not be the same person as the person who would make the business-card decision) and you need to say, “I have made some calculations.” You need to make a business case for a pay rise. You’ve found out a rival company pays someone in a similar role £10,000 more. Your old company has invited you back and will pay you £10,000 more. You brought X hundred thousands pounds worth of business to the company last year, or you increased productivity by X per cent. In short, you need some evidence for the pay rise. Do not think about asking for something; think about presenting evidence and let the person make up their own minds. It’s easy to say, "No" to the question, “Can I have more money?” It is not easy to say, "No" to evidence.
More importantly, though, look at the last bit of your question: "I hate asking for things." Why? Why do you hate asking for things? I personally hate people who don’t ask for things. Because if they don’t let me know what they want by asking for it, then I have no idea what they want and I don’t know where I stand with them. Knowing what you want and being able to let other people know about that is the greatest gift in the world. If we were all able to do that, there would be no more business meetings where people spend hours being too embarrassed or shifty to ask for what they want, and other people spend hours scrutinising other people’s words and faces trying to work out what they want.
There is nothing wrong with asking for what you want. Expecting to get it is another thing. In order to get it, present evidence, make a case, think of alternative solutions, bargain, negotiate. Warning: once you discover these things you may discover, to your extreme shock, that they are actually fun. Final important piece of information for pay rises and for all things in life: sometimes, when people say, "No", they don’t actually mean “no” – they mean “not now”. "No" hardly ever means "no". Ask and ye shall receive. At some point.
Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@. The Dear Viv podcast airs on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally.