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Dear Chronically in a Situationship (With Nukes)

This installment of the Mixed-Up of Files of Inkstick Media is dedicated to the decades of anonymous writers providing ideological guidance.

Words: Molly Hurley
Pictures: Julian Myles

Dear Mixed-up Files,

I’m unmarried with no kids and no certainty about my career trajectory and have persistent thoughts about global nuclear arsenals. What do you think this means and what should I do about it?

To be more specific, I grew up assuming I wanted a future that all young children socialized as “girls” are “meant” to want: marriage and children. About halfway through college, I reneged it all and became vehement about abhorring children, detesting cooking, and scoffing at marriage as an institutional extension of political or religious control. Since finishing graduate school, however, my womanly phantasms seem to be shifting once more to what some may consider my genetic predisposition. Musings of a loving marriage, a partner who comes home to appreciate my home-cooked meals, and maybe two though no more than three little tykes running around now feel charming and idyllic instead of overwhelming and revolting. For the first couple of months, I thought maybe this change was because I had attained a level of emotional stability and financial independence formerly unknown which thus expanded my universe of conceivable possibilities into this new territory, which I had previously regarded as barren and uninhabitable. But now, I find myself second-guessing these notions after being laid off and agreeing to move in with a partner / situationship. The allure of the Nuclear Family Dream™ has by no means faded out entirely, but instead of feeling like a genuine potentiality, it feels more like escapism, a perhaps fictional vision for a world in which the stability and security I enjoyed just six months ago bears less dependence on the whims of the economy and other people’s inflated egos. What do you think?


Chronically in a Situationship (with nukes)

Dear Chronically in a Situationship (with nukes),

It’s funny, in a good way, for you to write in to a national security and foreign policy focused outlet about your woes vis-à-vis womanhood and gender roles. Though some may think your choice for advice-seeking doesn’t make sense, the advent of public advice sections in media do in fact have deep historical and ideological ties to public concepts of “security.”

The precise origin of the advice column depends on how precisely we define “advice column.” Typically, sources will refer to the 1690s London-based newspaper The Athenian Mercury as the first to publish pieces close to the format of how we envision advice columns today. Editor John Dunton convened a “panel of experts” referred to as The Athenian Society who would advise on questions sent in by readers. Such topics ranged from the deeply philosophical: “What is the soul of man and whether eternal?” to the mundane: “Is it good for women to be learned?” Another popular and early example is a 1774 book of letters written to the son of one Lord Chesterfield but published by the son’s widow who was in need of money given her status as, well… a widow in 1774. Benjamin Franklin’s widely known “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” published between 1732 and 1758, also included sections on “vice and virtues” which one may consider advice column-adjacent if nothing else.

Research abounds on the sociocultural impacts of the opinions expressed in advice columns with the ultimate results giving a mixed bag of progressivism and conservatism. Many columns, no doubt, upheld status quo ideas for women and their roles in society and relationships (see: 18th century conduct literature, “Ladies Home Journal,” or “Housekeeping Monthly”) while others promoted more open-minded takes on sex, gay rights, marriage and divorce, childcare, and finances (see: “Dear Abby,” “Ask Ann Landers,” or “Princess Mysteria”).

Around the mid-1900s, however, a shift occurred in the taste for advice givers with the preference for “expert advice” switching over to a preference for “peer advice” from fellow everyday people. While I personally, in my frivolity of soon-to-expire youth, utilize TikTok as a source for the latest news and answers to questions I would otherwise just Google (alongside 64% of Gen Z and 49% of Millennials), I’ve also found undeniable enjoyment and satisfaction in advice-oriented accounts. I know I’m not alone in seeking verdicts from the public court of opinion given the massive virality of posts from subreddits like r/AmITheAsshole (AITA for short). TikTok account @HelloHayes is entirely dedicated to giving out advice via shortform TikTok videos but formatted like an old-school newspaper column where users private message Hayes their quandaries and then she responds via video. Less frequent but ever more enjoyable have been the occasional videos from K-pop fan account @Bert in which he delivers sound advice while performing K-pop dance routines.

Requesting advice specifically from a “non-expert,” however, alongside the inherent democratization of information and platforming by way of widespread social media use means literally anyone could give out advice which is both the point and the benefit but also sometimes the problem. Another TikTok account that became popular because of her advice on child safety is “Lauren the Mortician” who has over the last several months come under heavy fire for allegedly giving out bad or entirely false information including some dangerous recommendations.

Also of note, is a significant though (for liability reasons) purely anecdotal (by me and many other women or femme-socialized persons in particular) observation of a disparity in the nature of the prompts put forth by male and female users on the AITA subreddit. The format of the subreddit is users posting about a social conundrum they’re in for which they seek anonymous online advice as to who is “the asshole” and therefore who is more responsible for accountability, reconciliation, and how to achieve such. The “joke” is that whenever male users post, they tend to share scenarios in which they are undoubtedly the asshole (exhibit A and B) whereas when women post, they tend to share scenarios that leave other users deeply concerned for their well-being (exhibit C and D). These posts often go viral for how sensational the stories are and are often cross-posted on multiple platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and X. Taking my observations further, I also notice a tendency for male-user posts to result in relatively clear verdicts while female-user posts might find disagreement in the comments as to who is the eponymous “asshole.” Hello Hayes’ content is especially telling, as I’ve noticed the vast majority of people writing in seem to identify as female and very often submit stories entirely void of easy and clear-cut answers.

I ramble on and on about these online advice or judgment-giving spaces because 1. I can assure you that the ever-younger eyes glued to screens see this stuff too; 2. The scenarios and advice given in these spaces hold extremely high normative power for those young eyes consuming this content and thereby; 3. Knowing some of the tendencies of what social mores are being encouraged or discouraged by the various platforms or accounts is indicative of how social concepts are changing and will change as the internet becomes more and more inseparable from our daily functions. It’s no secret that birth rates are falling around the world, and governments have scrambled, at times, to persuade modern youth to start popping out the world’s Gen Alpha and (God forbid we move forward with this naming convention for their own sake) Gen Beta. US conservatives have long mourned the supposed death of the “nuclear family.” And the age-old sentiment further popularized by James Cameron goes “women and children first” onto the literal or metaphorical lifeboats. In daily updated death counts of Palestinians, the number of women and children caught within the 33,000+ number of verified deaths are most commonly at the center of Instagram infographics and the sharpest of widespread criticism for Israel’s handling of the conflict. Men’s rights activists might argue that that’s an embodiment of the privileges afforded to women over men (or maybe it’s just that the math of 33,000 – 8,400 is too difficult to compute on the calculators eternally sitting in our hands and pockets). Regardless, women and child victims in conflicts often find themselves at the centers of narratives about how egregious the horrors are because women and children must represent something separate and something meaningful. What, pray tell, could that be? Well, survey says… the family! And the ability for a family and its genetic legacy — if we really want to go there — to carry on the continued existence of the human species as a whole!!

My Dearest Chronically in a Situationship (with nukes), you mention the fantasy of your own Nuclear Family™ as a possible escape to a world where you feel stable and secure. I can only assume what stability and security you mean, emotional or financial or social, but can confidently say your government is pining for that same fantasy Nuclear Family™ as well. A “stable” and “secure” family in a “stable” and “secure” country need not fret over the whims of an economy or tenuous global infrastructure because the economy lacks whimsy, and the global infrastructure remains robust and rigid.

In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) put out a report on the “Protection of the family: contribution of the family to the realization of the right to an adequate standard of living for its members, particularly through its role in poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development.” TLDR: How is family impacted by and relevant to national security policies? Spoiler: families provide large contributions to “the well-being and development of their members and of society as a whole.” But what of it? Just Security denotes the nuance required when discussing the concept of the “family” given the ease with which we may fall into an assumed heterosexual and patriarchal interpretation of “family.” Yet, neither the OHCHR nor Just Security denies the historical disregard for the importance of family in national and international security concerns. What Just Security points out is that despite rhetoric that focuses on the role of the family, many counterterrorism policies taken on by states severely and negatively impact the stability and welfare of families by tying bureaucratic norms and rights to legalized family structures.  

As for you and your womanly phantasms, the escapist fantasy of a spouse and two, though no more than three, children may indeed be just that. The allure may be the social conditioning of women at its finest to quell us into the roles best suited for producing progeny, capital, and the secondary illusion of national security. “Happy wife, happy life, happy nation.”

I can only assume what stability and security you mean, emotional or financial or social, but can confidently say your government is pining for that same fantasy Nuclear Family™ as well.

But ok, in the name of capital production, such a bleak end to an advice column entry is unlikely to bode well for our nonexistent advertisers. And who’s to say marriage or children won’t bring you happiness? Only you can make that call for yourself. So, here’s the real deal about both marriage and national security. The answer isn’t easy or straightforward, but it’s also neither fatalistic nor in vain. Marriage and relationships are hard. Diplomacy is hard. None of it has to be that hard though. TikTok user @livroniandcheese posited the question probably swimming in your mind right now, “What do you mean by marriage is hard?” How hard is an okay amount of hard and how hard is too hard!? 

Her video became flooded with stitches of others speaking on their experiences of how marriage or at least long-term romantic relationships are “hard.” Among my many favorites (@alyssanicolefernandez, @haileyyatros, and @cullinmcgree) is a video from the user @pagemelt (aka Mel) who brings up the book “Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber, about the spread of soul-crushing and meaningless jobs where employees have no control over their daily job functions and see little if any impact of their job on the bettering of the world. Mel remarks on the frequency of stitches which describe marriage as “work” rather than “hard” and what “meaningful work” means. It means seeing the results and impact of your work on your immediate environment, and seeing that your work “paid off” if not for you then for someone. Additionally, in meaningful dynamics, you have a level of control over the tasks performed, unlike in the BS jobs Graeber describes. In the relationship sphere, you choose, in coordination with your partner, what the relationship will ultimately look like, and which chores in building the relationship are more your responsibility or your partner’s. “I love my spouse, but I don’t just love him. I love us,” Mel says.

On a national security level, I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination to say that diplomacy efforts in the last decade (minimum) or so have produced largely underwhelming results because choices aren’t being made in coordination between States, mutual and equal participation in the relationship is lacking, and control is not shared; it’s being demanded (usually by the US or another Western-aligned power). Take, for example, the “maximum pressure” campaigns against North Korea and Iran which have produced no progress on curbing the nuclear programs in these countries. The trilogy of summits between former President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un and former President Barack Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka the Iran Deal) presented opportunities for diplomatic relations that were participatory and mutual for all stakeholders, but all were ultimately scrapped in lieu of the “maximum pressure” strategy. 

Inkstick Media’s newest season of their podcast “Things That Go Boom” (not a shameless plug because I’m not involved with the podcast production!) is about feminist foreign policy and the different manifestations it has in various countries as well as each manifestation’s shortcomings internally and externally to each region. The definition of “feminist” may share broad overtones across country borders, but the precise structures and policies a country needs will always look different according to cultural and historical contexts. 

In Sweden, parents receive some of the most generous parental leave in the world, and its government was the first to adopt a “feminist foreign policy” in 2014. But the country is rife with anti-immigrant sentiments and upon election of a more conservative government in 2022, the policy was promptly and seemingly easily dropped. In Mexico, politicians announced the adoption of a feminist foreign policy in 2019 and the country currently ranks third after Sweden and Norway for their execution of feminist ideals, but domestically femicide rates remain high at around 10 to 11 women killed each day. And in Korea, the “4B movement” centered on saying “no” to sex, dating, marriage, and childrearing with men has been trending widely on TikTok in the US but is hardly spoken of in Korea due to the severe risk of (likely violent) retaliation if a woman is even suspected of being “a feminist.” What we see is a patchwork of good, bad, reactionary, and everything in between for what it means to care for women on the same level as for men. This finally brings me to my point for the answer to your woes: stability, security, and love are probably real but they are not easy to come by and cannot be achieved alone. The pathway to understanding and attaining each is also not a one-size-fits-all. Each country, each person, each relationship must determine for themselves where their values lie to construct a methodology for consistently upholding those values.

Was it a cop-out for me to quote other people’s advice to provide you advice? I’d argue in this specific instance, “no,” because I am you, my dear Chronically. So, I know what I’m talking about when I tell you that to seek out advice is an act of seeking connection and reassurance that you’re not alone. I know with confidence that your longing for stability is not an indicator of something wrong with you but a natural plight of the human condition in a society built off economic policies that couldn’t care less. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only effective response to a universe that seems not to care is to keep on caring. Maybe God can’t be bargained with, but other humans can be. So I’ll wager making it all the way to the end of this article is itself an act of love for Inkstick Media, this column, and our world.


The Mixed-Up Files of Inkstick Media

Molly Hurley


Molly Hurley is a recent MFA in Community Arts graduate from Maryland Institute College of Art. She has previously spent time as a Wagoner Fellow from Rice University, Nuclear Fellow with The Prospect Hill Foundation, FutureFirst Fellow with Beyond the Bomb, and Communications Associate with Women Cross DMZ. In between her ever-growing anime watchlist and full-time work with WombWork Productions, she arguably spends too much time consuming social media but justifies it through her contributions to Inkstick’s culture column The Mixed Up Files of Inkstick Media. She has also published multiple articles with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and serves as a youth advisor for The Prospect Hill Foundation’s nuclear committee.


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