Hey, it’s Anna. We’ve been hearing from a lot of you recently, about what this show has meant to you during the past year…and during our show’s seven year history.
DANIEL: This past seven years, one constant has been, you know, your podcast.
This listener, Daniel, from Colorado, has been listening since we launched in 2014. He’s written into our inbox along the way to talk about grief, therapy, a breakup, and masculinity.
DANIEL: I just wanted to say thank you again for pushing hard conversations. Discovering Death, Sex & Money helped me a lot.
Death, Sex & Money is not just a podcast. It’s a community of listeners who share and learn from each other.
We hope that this show has helped you make choices, understand people better, and have those important conversations in your life. And if Death, Sex & Money has been helpful to you, and you have the resources available, I’m asking you to please make a financial contribution to Death, Sex & Money today. We can’t make this show without our listeners pitching in and supporting us, and as we come to the end of our fiscal year, we’re asking you all to please donate now.
The very best way to give is to become a Death, Sex & Money sustaining member. It helps us plan, and it allows you to just give a little at a time. If you sign up at the $10/month level, we’ll send you a copy of my new book, Let’s Talk About Hard Things. You can also give $120 all at once to get a copy of the book. Either way, you’ll get an invite to a virtual gathering later this summer to talk about the book, after we’ve all read it. Now, I realize that’s more than the book costs at a bookstore, but if you get your copy this way, you’ll also be supporting the work of our entire team and the future of this show. And if you became a member this spring and already have your copy of the book, look out for an invite coming your way soon.
And speaking of talking about hard things, that’s what today’s episode is all about. Your stories about the conversations that you’ve had…or need to have…about some of the most difficult topics in your life. So a heads up, this episode discusses sexual assault and suicide.
LISTENER: I had spent my whole middle school, high school years, college years, like lying to avoid hard conversations and - so just in that moment, I decided like, the lying stops today.
This is Death, Sex & Money.
The show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more.
I’m Anna Sale.
A few weeks ago, we asked you to tell us about the hardest conversations you’ve ever had.
LISTENER: I heard your request for submissions about hard conversations and instantly this memory came to mind and my heart started pounding and I’ve been staring at my phone now for like the last 30 minutes.
This is Death, Sex & Money, the show from WNYC about the things we think about a lot and talk about more. I'm Anna Sale. A few weeks ago, we asked you to tell us about the hardest conversations you've ever had.
LISTENER: I heard your request for submissions about hard conversations and instantly this memory came to mind and my heart started pounding, and I've been staring at my phone now for the last 30 minutes.
LISTENER: The difficult conversation that I had last year was with a client of mine, just before he was executed.
LISTENER: As a man, especially in his early 20s, one of the toughest conversations I had to have was admitting that I was raped in college.
LISTENER: Explaining to her why mommy and daddy are not going to live together anymore.
LISTENER: Telling dentists about my bulimia and why my teeth are so jacked up.
LISTENER: The hardest conversation I've ever had was the conversation where I came out to my parents.
LISTENER: She cried, I cried.
LISTENER: I called it G-Day. It was like the D-Day invasion, but a lot gayer, I guess.
LISTENER: Quite honestly, it made me feel so relieved.
LISTENER: I broke her heart, I felt really bad.
LISTENER: The conversation was way more difficult than I had even expected it would be.
LISTENER: And is one that stays with me and has been with me in my heart and head every day since.
Our interviews on Death, Sex & Money are about big, complicated personal things. But talking about them with me, a stranger, and an audience of mostly anonymous listeners, is really different than talking about hard things with people in your own lives. That can be way scarier. I just wrote a book about having tough conversations in your personal life called Let's Talk About Hard Things. And when I was writing it, and talking with people about the hard conversations they've had, what I heard over and over was that they feel high stakes because these conversations often spark a change.
A hard conversation might change your relationship, or the situation. It might just shift something within you. But there's a definite before the conversation and after the conversation. And that's probably why talking about hard things in your own life can be really hard to psych yourself up for.
PALMER: The thought of talking about it and having that discussion that will eventually come soon one day, still gives me a lot of anxiety.
This is a listener who's asked that we call her Palmer. She hasn't yet had the hard conversation that she knows she needs to have.
PALMER: I have a very, very, very close-knit, high-performing immigrant family, and so certain things just would never be expected. Basically, the difficult conversation that I will have at some point soon is that the person that I love, and madly in love with is currently incarcerated.
Palmer's family comes from Jamaica and England. She met her boyfriend through her best friend who is also dating a man who is in prison. He and her boyfriend are both set to be released later this year.
PALMER: I'm very well aware of his crime. I have no issues with his crime except for it was literally just a dumb choice that he made. He was the driver of, I guess you could call it a getaway car and the person he was with had robbed the bank. The loss was only $3,000. That money has been paid back. I think he's more than paid his debt to society. Literally just made a dumb mistake, and as a Black male in America, you have very little space to make a dumb mistake. I've always been really pro-prison reform, even before I ever met him, and so that's why I'm mad at myself for still feeling so nervous about having this conversation with my family, eventually, one day. He is a wonderful person, and he's made me happier than I've ever been. I don't know, I need to get myself together, though. I need to stop being so worried about what other people think, and if they think that I've lost my marbles.
Our listener Mike sent in a voice memo about a series of hard conversations he had with his family, starting 12 years ago.
MIKE: I was sexually abused for a long time by my brother. I had talked to my brother about it. We had had a conversation about closure, I forgave him and he apologized. We went into the depths of it. It was a very challenging conversation. I saw it as a reason why my mom, my brother, and I were just not jelling as a nuclear family unit.
Mike was in therapy, and he resolved to talk to his mom about the abuse he'd experienced as a kid, but that same year, his brother died by suicide.
MIKE: The people around me who were my support system, who were going to be there for me when I had this conversation with my mom, pressuring me in saying, "You should not tell her now, it's too late. You missed your opportunity, he's dead now. What is it going to do for her?" Obviously, my mom was devastated by the loss of my brother, and I kind of packed it away. About five or six years later, I did finally have that conversation with my mom. It was a long conversation, but in the end, I feel like it has brought us closer together. When a person dies, in our culture, we tend to absolve them of the mistakes they made when they were alive. Suddenly, he was this poor angel. It was unfathomable to say anything negative because we don't speak ill of the dead. I think it normalized that angelic innocence for my mom, I think it brought her off of that pedestal. I think she started to, or I know she started to move away from this perfectionistic view of my brother's spirit.
Hard conversations often reveal hard truths, ones that can be really difficult to incorporate into your reality, especially when those hard truths are about you.
LISTENER: One of my best friends from college lost her dad, junior year. Her dad died, and I was abroad at the time, and she was on campus. It was in the fall semester and then I came back in the spring and didn't acknowledge the death of her dad, at least not in the way that she needed at all. I was oblivious and just tried to make her happy, and didn't at all acknowledge that she was grieving constantly. Anyway, I didn't realize that I was doing anything wrong until she sat me down and initiated a conversation that was along the lines of, you're not being here for me in the way that I need you to be. I would much rather you talk to me about the death of my dad and ask me what I'm going through. That is the more caring route than just not asking. That was one of the hardest conversations I've ever had because I just felt such intense guilt, but also she was able to frame it in a way that was very blunt and very direct. And it was cool to see her be able to do that and just say so clearly and directly, "This is what I need, and you're not giving it to me."
Of course, sometimes very direct and clear conversations with friends don't go so well. Like for this listener, Kandace.
KANDACE: I've been very lucky to have a set of female friends that I met in high school. There were a total of six girlfriends that we have stayed friends from 15 until now we're in our mid-40s.
In recent years, Kandace noticed that her friendship with one of these women seemed to be waning. She just didn't feel as close with her anymore so she decided to talk with her about it.
KANDACE: Just to acknowledge that our relationship had changed and that was okay, so I could feel comfortable leaving her off with a group text messages of things that were a little more personal. We ended the conversation quite well, it was loving, but then the next day she sent a video message to the group saying how fake I was and how she was happy that she didn't have to deal with me anymore. It was very hurtful because I was attempting to be very intentional in the way that we discuss things but it's a difficult conversation that still bothers me two to three years later because we have models to break up with romantic relationships. We even have some models on how to have some space in between maybe some toxic family members, but I don't feel like I really have a model on how to break up with a long-time friend.
After the break, more hard conversations with friends, kids, and a woman one listener's ex-husband cheated with.
NADIA: We met at a bar and I remember very calmly—I'm still proud of how I handled it—but stated, first and foremost, it was my ex-husband's responsibility not to have an affair, obviously, but after that, the blame really rested also at her feet.
If you missed my conversation with musician and writer Michelle Zauner last week, about finding joy in the aftermath of taking care of her mom as she died from cancer, I’d really recommend giving it a listen. After we put out the episode, we heard from our listener Christy, in Milwaukee.
CHRISTY: Something that really spoke to me in that episode is when she was talking about not wanting to learn anything from death.
Christy’s son died 14 years ago, from cancer.
CHRISTY: I felt really guilty and still feel guilty that I didn't learn anything from his death. I didn't become a better person, a more patient mother, uh, seize the moment kind of person. Those are things I'm working towards, but his death didn't spur me into being a better person, which I was felt a little shameful about. So I really appreciated Michelle talking about that. Like, no, this is terrible. This is horrible. I don't need to learn anything from this.
Thanks to Christy for writing in—and if you’ve got any reactions, or story ideas that you’d like to share with us—you can reach us any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the next episode, we meet an 18-year-old high school senior who’s about to graduate and leave home, and manage his physical disability on his own, for the first time.
MIGUEL: I will have to figure this out for myself and either if I hurt myself, I don't hurt myself. It's up to me to really figure out. 'Cause I'm at, I feel like I'm at the age where I just, I want to explore things, you know, just check out how far I can really go, you know?
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC, I'm Anna Sale. Hard conversations, even those that happened decades ago, really stay with you. This listener, Mary Beth, told us about her hardest conversation which happened almost 30 years ago in 1993.
MARY BETH: The hardest conversation I've ever had took place with a four-year-old and a one-year-old. My husband passed away from cancer at 9:30 at night on a Saturday, and in the morning, I was awake with the kids, I'm alone and told them and it was tough. It was very hard. My one-year-old daughter, she didn't know what was going on and didn't know why I was crying and my son definitely did. That was just a tough day. It's been 28 years since that time and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
SAM: I feel like maybe it's assumed with being young that you haven't had many hard conversations.
This listener, Sam, wrote in from Seattle. He's 20 now and his hardest conversation happened when he was 13.
SAM: My mom and dad sat my brother and I down. I thought maybe they were going to get divorced just because there had been a lot of tension with their marriage. My mom, she was just crying more than I have ever seen her cry. She's a big crier. Most movies I would say I try to, discretely look at her and see if she's tearing up, but she was crying more than I'd ever seen her. still to this day, I've never seen her cry that much. It became pretty clear that, probably, it wasn't divorce, but something really, really serious was going on. That's when I found out that my dad was diagnosed with Huntington's disease which is a disease that affects your movements, your cognitive ability. It's essentially the cells in your brain are deteriorating and you basically change into an entirely different person. I don't think I really thought it was that hard of a conversation at the time, but now six or seven years later, it's-- My dad is now in an adult family home, I don't really recognize him at all. He's entirely different. I don't even always feel like I have a father, which has been interesting, also, because I transitioned in high school. At this time I was dealing with lots of issues with my gender and sexuality, and then when actually physically transitioning and beginning to live in the world as a man and not having my father to guide me, I feel like I never got to have the experience of your dad teaching you to shave for the first time which I feel like I still mourn sometimes.
NADIA: Hi, Death, Sex & Money, I'm calling to chime in on challenging conversations. My ex-husband had an affair with someone he was in a master's degree program with. It was devastating and really hard for me to let the relationship go, et cetera, et cetera, but we divorced and I moved out of state. About a year after I moved, he contacted me saying that he and the woman he had had the affair with were also moving to the same state, the same city that I was living in, and it really threw me for a loop. I started having tons of anxiety and nightmares about running into them. Especially the woman he had had the affair with seemed to have outsized power over my thoughts and just really upsetting. Once they moved to town, I called her up and said, "I'd like to talk to you. Let's meet." To her credit, she was willing to meet me. I was never mean, I never rose my voice, very, very clear, and just went on to outline how heartbroken I was and betrayed and devastated. I remember she was actually way more nervous. She was chain-smoking the whole time, this was back when you can chain-smoke in bars. When we left, I gave her a hug outside of the bar and said, "I forgive you." It was amazing. It was like a switch had flipped and I really felt absolved of so much angst and anxiety surrounding the power that she had once held in my emotional state. I really think it's a testament to having that super hard conversation, both of us being willing to sit down, talk about the hard stuff and truly being able to move on and not have it be such a dramatic pressure cooker then for decades and decades after.
We started today's episode with a hard conversation that hasn't happened yet, and that's where we're going to end things too. A decade ago, a listener we are calling Jen was in her early 20s and could not afford her share of the rent.
JEN: I don't know what I was thinking, but I had some checks for my bank account, and I just thought, "I will write my roommate a check for my half of the rent and give it to her, and it would give me a little bit of time before she went to cash it and for it to clear that I could get some money to have in my account." I think that worked once or twice, and then I started giving her bad checks. I don't know, it's not like I had this thought in my mind where I was like, "I'm just going to give her these bad checks to fuck her over or whatever." It wasn't like that. It was just I didn't have the money. I panicked. I didn't want to have the conversation with her at that point about not being able to pay my rent properly. I just kept giving her checks. She had student loans, so she had a lot of money sitting in her bank account, thousands of dollars. It took a few months for her to notice that I had been giving her bad checks and she was getting these bounce-backs.
Jen's roommate kicked her out. They got into a big fight, and Jen eventually paid her back after borrowing money from a boyfriend. Jen didn't talk with her extra mate for you.
JEN: Randomly, I would say about five to eight years later, her and I started talking again. We became friends again. It was very surface-level at first where we would just message each other back and forth on Instagram, send each other different memes, and things like that. Our relationship has now progressed since then to a point where we talk weekly with each other over texts, sometimes now. We even saw each other in person recently for the first time.
It's still a fairly surface-level relationship. We live in different cities, so we don't hang out a lot, but we do talk quite a bit at this point. I have never had a conversation with her about what happened between us this long time ago. She hasn't brought it up either. I think partly because of that, and partly because I'm still too afraid to have a conversation with her about it, I just use the fact that she hasn't brought it up either as an out for me to be able to just continue to sweep it under the rug.
I probably think about bringing it up to her and think about the fact that I owe her an apology almost every day, probably. It feels nice to actually just talking about it out loud right now, even though I'm not actually telling anyone else about it. There's a little bit of a weight lifted there, so maybe one step closer to finally having the actual hard conversation.
Thank you to all of you, who sent in your stories about having hard conversations. For those of you out there who know you need to have a hard conversation, but have not done it yet for whatever reason, we want to hear from even more of you. We're working on an upcoming series about people who need a push to have a hard conversation and then actually do it and then report back about how it went. If that's you tell us about it. Send in an email or a voice memo to email@example.com.
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. This episode was produced by Katie Bishop. The rest of our team includes Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, Yasmeen Kahn, and Andrew Dunn. Our interns are Marty Harding and Kristie Song. The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
I'm on Instagram @Annasalepics, P-I-C-S, and the show is @deathsexmoney, on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Please, if you value this show and our community, please make a financial contribution to help us keep making it. Go to deathsexmoney.org/donate to become a sustaining member, or you can just text "DSM" to the number 70101.
MIKE: Thank you for giving us the space to share these difficult conversations with you. Thank you for the work that you do to elevate these stories because they do make a difference. I know that for all of my network of folks who listen to Death, Sex & Money, it does create almost a prompt or probe for us to talk about those topics within our own circles.
I'm Anna Sale, and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.
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