How to stop having transactional friends

I’m going to stop being so transactional. This means that I’m not going to be as pissy as usual when your comments don’t come as frequently as they used to.

Well. Hold on. Right now I spend half my time reading science journals and I can’t help pausing when I see a paper about social media (you’d be surprised how many people get tenure looking at Instagram nonstop to conclude we shouldn’t look at Instagram nonstop). I read a paper that says that you can tell how good an influencer is, not by how many followers they have, but by how many comments they have.

Melissa says I didn’t need to read a research paper to know that. She said anybody who uses social media knows that.

What the hell. I should be the queen of comments. I have the only remaining blog readers in the universe. WHERE ARE MY COMMENTS?

Wait. No. Fine. It doesn’t matter because I’m not thinking transactionally anymore. I’m thinking that friends are just friends because it’s nice to have friends. Or commenters.

In the writing group I run, I am usually busy being struck by the genius of my own feedback, but then Jaclyn joined and she kept having comments that were better than mine. Especially on topics of poetic line breaks and endings. So I did what all good workshop leaders do: I paid her to be my editor.

But then Tatiana told me that my blog posts didn’t have the same snappy endings they used to have. I was surprised she told me that. Only real friends tell friends their blog posts are failing, and I thought Tatiana was a transactional friend, because I charged her when she asked me to talk to her daughter. Fuck. I love her daughter. She uses they for everyone and dressed for Mardi Gras during all of March.

Tatiana said, “Where’s Melissa?”

Fuck. I look back and think things really started going downhill with Melissa when she wouldn’t let me pay her anymore. I started sending her gifts, but it became clear that I cared more about gift-wrapping than gift-giving.

You know how we have love languages for relationships? Well, I have a friendship language, and it’s money. If I can’t pay you then I can’t be your friend.

Tatiana is not the only person who asked about Melissa. Becca asked if Melissa is sick. I guess like, as in the bubonic plague, because Melissa hasn’t edited for a while.

Maybe I just wanted to have Jaclyn’s poetic rhythms in my life. Part of her pink-haired, soft-voiced quirkiness is that she always says, “What I really loved about this piece is…”

Melissa doesn’t tell me what she loves.

I sent her a post this morning and this is what she said: “You’re using your kids as a crutch. You’re not being vulnerable.”

I sent her another, and she said: “It’s not very relatable that you’re mad you can’t edit your own Wikipedia page. It sounds like a tantrum. And the more it sounds like a tantrum the more the reader thinks Wikipedia is just doing its job. If you want to rant about Wikipedia editors being all guys, then go write about ChatGPT instead.”

Melissa is talking about how she sent me a tweet about an experiment Daniel Munro did where he asked ChatGPT for a list of philosophers and ChatGPT sent a list of male philosophers. So the person asked why the list did not include women. ChatGPT apologized and sent a list of women philosophers. Then the person asked why there are only Western women on the list. ChatGPT added non-Westerners. Then the person went back to the original question, and ChatGPT learned nothing, and sent a list of Western men.

I want to hate ChatGPT, but I don’t. Because I am doing research at Harvard and I skipped a bunch of steps to get here, so I’m doing all sorts of things I’ve never done before, and ChatGPT has been my teacher.

For example, I asked ChatGPT how to write a grant proposal for research about autistic mothers. I took parts of the proposal I liked and asked more specific questions to fix the parts of the proposal I didn’t like. Then I put all those answers to specific questions together, and that’s how I learned to write a grant proposal.

I asked ChatGPT to write a letter to me, telling me I’m a great friend and I don’t need to pay people to be my friends. Just so I could see what it would sound like. It was a nice letter.

But the email I got from Melissa was much nicer. She said she doesn’t need me to do anything except write and send to her. She reminded me we’re both so happy when she is editing my blog.

I think I understand. Because I do not want anything from my kids except to let me be in their lives and love them. I think this might be what Melissa means. I think she might have been telling me this for a long time.

I don’t think I have felt this from someone as strongly, ever, as I have felt it from Melissa. My brothers love me, but they feel obligated to love me. That’s what family is. That, and the constant nagging fear that one day they’ll find me living in a dumpster.

The thing is, I don’t know if I could stand the pain of feeling this kind of love from Melissa if I didn’t need her to edit my blog posts.

I just checked to see if ChatGPT has anything to say about love and of course it told me to go find someone real to love, which made me love ChatGPT even more, because I want to be friends with someone who will never love me back. And I hate myself for that.

I am so grateful that Jaclyn gives her heart to critiques in the writing workshop, even though no one is paying her. And I’m so grateful that Tatiana cares so much about my blog posts, even though I just remembered I also made her pay me to talk to her. And I’m so grateful Melissa threw out the blog post where I scream about not being able to write my own Wikipedia page.

Because also, there’s someone on Wikipedia who has gone to bat for me. Over and over again, for the last decade.

It’s Agent 86. I don’t know who this person is, but I spend a lot of time on the Talk page since I got banned from the real page. So I see all the times Agent 86 used their authority to prevent people from deleting my page. If I could have paid Agent 86, believe me, I would have. But I didn’t. They are just a person doing what feels right.

I think that’s what I am seeing now about friendship. Money is what we add when the experience of things just feeling right is not quite enough.

87 replies
  1. Juliana Mann
    Juliana Mann says:

    None of us want to find you living in a dumpster! Lots of love to you and your editors/friends.

      • Paul Hassing
        Paul Hassing says:

        Please forgive if I’m flooding. Say all these nice comments turn out to be an AI hack by OtherMelissa, who hates you. Do they still make you happy? Or is it the thumping heart behind each comment that brings joy? If it’s words alone, I suppose you’d buy a back scratcher. But if it’s the folks, nothing replaces human touch. Maybe my horror of ChatGPT is that we can barely tell fact from fiction now. Soon it’ll be impossible. And it may take just one lie to demolish a world. I deem your other comments precious, as I believe them to be real. Yet they, and every other word we all write, is future bot fodder. Does it matter? Do we care? Am I the only one who thinks smart phones aren’t?! :|

  2. Blackbeard
    Blackbeard says:

    I’ve been following you since you “married” the Farmer but I don’t comment much. But I still like your writing.

  3. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. I believe about 1 in 100 readers comment. I miss Melissa. You don’t pay me for decades of irritating, unwanted, & irrelevant antics. You once cost me a plum project, & made me so mad I wrote a blog post about it, & didn’t email you for years. Yet here we both still are. I think ChatGPT is the devil. Yet I’m agnostic. Having never used it, I finally empathise with those who burn books they’ve not read. A terrifying development in my head. I’m fortunate to have the Fonnie app. I downloaded it from my wife’s brain 30 years ago. It tells me what a neurotypical would do. Over the years, (automatic) updates have refined my ability to be kind, gracious, tolerant, present etc. It can’t be uninstalled. If you could have only Melissa, or the Melissa app., which would it be? With empathy, & [SEARCHING … ] kind regards, P. :)

    • Paul Hassing
      Paul Hassing says:

      … What I failed to mention was the amazingly supportive comments you gave years ago to my Aspie blog. On paper, our ‘relationship’ seems purely transactional. But surely I wouldn’t still be here, if I didn’t feel something more. As we say in Australia, buggered if I know! :)

      • Penelope
        Penelope says:

        That’s really nice, Paul. I read so many blogs during that time in my life. And yours was one of my favorite. I’m always happy when you pop up here.


        • Paul Hassing
          Paul Hassing says:

          Thank you, P! The feeling’s mutual (which, I’m relieved to see, isn’t a synonym of transactional). Just like a real person, you continue to inspire. :)

  4. Amy
    Amy says:

    I feel so much more comfortable with people’s friendship when I am paying them becuase I understand their motivation.

  5. Ann O Connell
    Ann O Connell says:

    My friendships are situational or transactional. I contact people to tell them something or ask something. I can send a message to a few family members along the lines of ‘Weather is bad here,some bit of personal info and any news by you?I sabotage and distance myself.
    Particially because I’ve internalised I talk to much or am not interesting ,I chose the
    wrong friends .I think I could be on the spectrum.
    I preferred your original opinion of buying friends .Seems alot more straightforward

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Ann, you just wrote a poem about how much it takes for someone to actually believe they’re actually autistic:

      I choose the wrong friends.
      I could be on the spectrum.
      I prefer to buy friends.

      • Ann
        Ann says:

        Ha,Ha.If I was trying wrote a poem,I couldn’t.It’s not quite a Haiku.
        Thanks for responding. I have a toddler after a 16 year gap .The anxiety of having to having to navitage social engagement with other parents I’d kicking in.
        He’s very sociable, my daughter was too but much more reserved now.
        Maybe I will get an official diagnosis for my 40th

        • Ann
          Ann says:

          When I found your blog I inhaled it .I do whenever I find something/ someone that interests me.Then I get bored because they aren’t posting new things quick enough.

          • Ann
            Ann says:

            Hi Rachel,I can’t reply to you but you might see.I love the toddler and my eldest so much.I need to pysch myself up to interact with parents/ children again.And explain to his Dad that you have to make an effort even if you would never speak to these parents normally. He thinks if you don’t like people you ignore them and their kids.This doesn’t work if your kid really wants engage

  6. Dobrila
    Dobrila says:

    I pay to talk to you, and you pissed me off so much that I stopped attending the weekly groups… But I’m still reading.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I offended you? At first I was thinking of not replying. I told myself I can’t worry about each person I offend. But I’m sorry. I know it seems like I don’t care when I offend people. I do care. It’s just that I care more about saying what I think is right. It’s a problem.

      I’m glad you’re still reading. Thank you.


      • Dajana
        Dajana says:

        I’ve had this strong desire to talk to anyone you’ve offended and help them walk through it. Especially from the reading group.

        I think it would create a massive shift in their lives if they got to the other side.
        Re the post :
        Why do we need labels? Isn’t it pretty autistic to want rules about relationships to follow?

        In the end, the people who are in our life or have been in our life have and are affecting it.

        You’re not friends first and then start playing it out. You have a bunch of interactions and one day you look up and you see a friend.

        Maybe your real issue is trouble asking for help.

        I’ve just played with ChatGPT and it’s literally a summary of likeminded thinking.

        You and Melissa have proven that writing is in editing. So it you’re bad at starting, it’s a starting point.
        I give it merit for the advanced googling especially when you need just enough info to get through something you don’t want deep knowledge about.

        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          Wouldn’t that be a great service? If I put a link at the top of this site and it said, are you offended? And then when you click it’s an offer to have a conversation with Dajana. I would love to listen to that phone call. Or maybe there could be a once-a-month feature for people who are offended, like a party.


  7. Heather
    Heather says:

    Fear. Fear makes me pay someone to listen to me because if I just try to be friends and it fails, then I’ve failed again. And trust me, I’m not one of the Autties that can make anything successful. So fear is a motivating factor.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      That’s such a fun comment! It’s like a Jeopardy game with my own life. Also, you make me think that the odd feeling I have that you are my friends is not so odd, we have been doing this blog thing long enough to have inside jokes.


  8. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I didn’t know you still kept up with Melissa…I thought you had a falling out years ago that ended your relationship? I must have missed if you made up in some way. Is Melissa autistic, too? Just curious, as you both seem fairly mean (forthright that merges into uncomfortable levels) to each other at times.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been here since you married the Farmer, too. I’ve always loved the zippy and clever endings, but I like the meat in the middle, too.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Melissa is very loyal. So it’s mostly me being a friendship grouch. I am grouchy about her autism. I think she’s obviously autistic, and it annoys me that she is not interested in the discussion. Remarkably, she is still good at editing the discussion, which, if I’m being honest, also annoys me.

      The range of things I can get annoyed by is incredible, really. It is infinite. Actually, I think everyone’s range of annoyances is infinite, but I seem to have ready access to mine.


  9. christy
    christy says:

    I don’t comment often. When a post is particularly moving, I send you an email directly. I read every post, patiently waiting for the ones that take my breath away. This is one of those. I’m making the comment here so that you can count it, which I hope helps you. Thank you.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      It does help me. Thank you. I love comments so much. It’s like a conversation then. I write, you read. You write, I read.

      And I talk way more than you. Which is how all my conversations are.


  10. Jeannie
    Jeannie says:

    I’ve been reading your blog since before the farmer. So much of what you write resonates with me. What first drew me in was your thoughts on career subjects. I’m sorry I haven’t given you more feedback. My 84 year old Mother lives across the street from me and I have to make myself go see her. We are not at odds, but I love being at home and do not like talking. I do not have any friends because I am happy with just my daughter living at home with me. Yep, I am strange and so is she – according to normal society. If I was a different personality, I would have commented on almost every one of your blog posts. In my small world, you are very important!

  11. Kim
    Kim says:

    Vulnerable. Well written. Keep at it! There’s too much content in the world but not enough poetic, lived in to wisdom. This is wisdom:)

  12. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    From your blog above: “For example, I asked ChatGPT how to write a grant proposal for research about autistic mothers. I took parts of the proposal I liked and asked more specific questions to fix the parts of the proposal I didn’t like. Then I put all those answers to specific questions together, and that’s how I learned to write a grant proposal.”

    Wow, I love your positive example of how to use ChatGPT.
    After reading so many negative reactions to it, it’s nice to see your example.
    (Any technology can be used for good or evil; I guess I reply most on a person or organization’s reputation for integrity and honesty.)

    Sidenote: I found your column in the now-defunct Business 2.0 website and some years later, was thrilled to find your blog here!

  13. Denise
    Denise says:

    I miss your posts and I miss all the comments too! I hope people will abandon stupid social media and come back to comment on blogs again. Write more posts again and maybe it will happen…You and Melissa are a great team!

  14. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “I read a paper that says that you can tell how good an influencer is, not by how many followers they have, but by how many comments they have.” Maybe. In addition to the number of comments, what about the quality of the comments? It’s not unlike the number of followers or connections on LinkedIn where you’ve said it’s not about the quantity but the quality. I know you’d like to see more comments but there’s so much more in terms of metrics (seen and unseen) in the social media sphere.
    I like how you’re using ChatGPT to write a grant proposal for research about autistic mothers – taking parts of the proposal you liked and asking more specific questions to fix the parts of the proposal you didn’t like. Then combining all those answers to specific questions together to learn to write a grant proposal. I found an interesting email in my inbox from TechRepublic this morning pointing to an article ( on GPTZero. The function of the tool is given in the tagline of the article – ‘GPTZero can tell you whether a document, report or other item was possibly written by a human or by AI. Here’s a step-by-step guide on using GPTZero for this purpose.’ The article notes some of the downsides of using ChatGPT – “AI-generated text may not be accurate, the text could sound stiff or stilted and lack the personality and style a human being can bring to the table, and at the very least, you want to make sure that people who send you documents aren’t plagiarizing from an AI tool.” It goes on to say – “If you’re in a position of receiving and reviewing documents and other reports from people and are concerned about them being generated by AI, one tool that can help is GPTZero. This web-based tool will analyze uploaded or pasted text to help you determine if it was written by a person or by AI.” There are three types of accounts available – free, educator, and pro. As for GPTZero’s capability, the article goes on to say GPTZero may be able to determine if the text is wholly or partly written by AI. The article describes how to use this tool. I find all of this fascinating. It’s like Spy vs. Spy (Mad magazine). All of this newly evolving technology is not easy to keep up with but it’s here and it’s necessary for all of us to become aware of and adapt to.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Hey, Mark. There’s a word for quality of comments! Valence. I read it in one of the journal articles I should not have been reading about social media.

      On another note, I have a lot to say about using AI to see if someone has used chagGPT. Everyone should use chatGPT. If a teacher is assigning kids something that chatGPT can do then why is there an assignment for that? The kids will never have to write that. And getting wrong info is no problem – the great thing about digital publishing is that when you find out you have bad info, you can fix it.


      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        I agree that ChatGPT should be experimented with to learn how it may fit into a person’s learning or workflow. As for getting wrong information, that’s where the human that created the inquiry and set the parameters has to be very mindful. And it wouldn’t hurt to get a second opinion especially if the output doesn’t quite ring true. Human feedback is good whether it’s from an editor, peer review, or someone you know has a different perspective. I noticed that your friend Lisa Nielsen generated a good post on her blog using ChatGPT back in December. The future of ChatGPT will be interesting.
        One of the things I love about this blog is your love of words. It’s made me more conscious of them and has helped with my vocabulary so thanks for that. I’m looking forward to your post on AI, ChatGPT, etc.

        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          So funny you say that because you are one of the people who is most likely to tell me when I need to correct a mistake in a blog post. Sometimes you’ve even sent links!


  15. Jenn Sutherland
    Jenn Sutherland says:

    Women suck at asking for what they need. I’m glad to see you asking for more comments. Because as good as your comments section has been for the last 15+ years…gosh, is it almost 20 years now??? As good as the commenters are in your community, it’s the care that you take to answer questions, or build on thoughts that make the comments worth reading through.

    And we DID miss hearing about Melissa here, too. I’m so glad to hear that she’s still in your life, that you’re softening the edges around what friendship means to you, and that new friends like Tatiana and Jaclyn are expanding your circle too. We miss you when you don’t write.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      That’s good encouragement for me, Jenn. You remind me how much I wrote in the comments other times. You know what’s funny? When there aren’t a lot of comments then I get shy. Like if no one is commenting then maybe I’m stupid for doing a lot in the comments. I didn’t realize that I was getting shy until just now, when you wrote that.

      It’s amazing to me how often I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and I worry “is this okay?”. I mean, it’s MY comments section, and I set the topic, and I set the rules, and still I’m worried about doing something dumb. I don’t even know what to say, except thank you for making me see it.


      • Jenn Sutherland
        Jenn Sutherland says:

        Your space – your rules! Do what you want here. Look at this lovely conversation we’re all having, just because you asked for it. <3

  16. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    Someone above mistakenly thought only one in a hundred readers commented. In contrast, I believe it is one in a thousand, based partly on a popular blogger having 20,000 on his RSS feed (notifications sent out to fans) and getting about 20 comments. Plus, I think I read that somewhere.

    Today blogs compete with podcasts, social media and videos. In fact, a computer nerd at the Apple Store told me he prefers videos because his attention doesn’t wander as he listens. I would have thought nerds were print oriented. I said I am the opposite: I often have to roll back the video to hear something again because I had daydreamed.

    Penelope, I really enjoyed the business thought process of today’s piece… Blogs forever!

  17. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    I got a lot out of reading this book:

    The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over Audible Logo Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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    4.5 out of 5 stars 1,419 ratings

    From a former FBI Special Agent specializing in behavior analysis and recruiting spies comes a handbook filled with his proven strategies on how to instantly read people and influence how they perceive you, so you can easily turn on the like switch.

    The Like Switch is packed with all the tools you need for turning strangers into friends, whether you are on a sales call, a first date, or a job interview. As a Special Agent for the FBI’s National Security Division’s Behavioral Analysis Program, Dr. Jack Schafer developed dynamic and breakthrough strategies for profiling terrorists and detecting deception. Now, Dr. Schafer has evolved his proven-on-the-battlefield tactics for the day-to-day, but no less critical battle of getting people to like you.

    In The Like Switch, he presents these techniques for how you can influence, attract, and win people over. Learn how to think and react like your favorite TV investigators from Criminal Minds or CSI as Dr. Schafer shows you how to improve your LQ (Likeability Quotient), “spot the lie” both in person and online, master nonverbal cues that influence how people perceive you, and turn up or turn down the intensity of a relationship.

    Dr. Schafer cracks the code on making great first impressions, building lasting relationships, and understanding others’ behavior to learn what they really think about you. With tips and techniques that hold the key to taking control of your communications, interactions, and relationships, The Like Switch shows you how to read others and get people to like you for a moment or a lifetime.

  18. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Just love yourself enough to let people love you. That takes vulnerability.
    While you make a good show of being transparent, you do not allow yourself to be vulnerable to those in your life who would lift you up. I guess it is hard for everyone… it means they get to see our soft underbelly.


  19. TQP
    TQP says:

    My best friend and I like reading about Melissa, and especially about the interaction between you and Melissa.

    Because she’s an ENFJ and I’m INTJ, and you describe your friendship so vividly that often we see elements of our friendship too.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Really? You like that? Because Melissa won’t let me write about her. I’m on such a tight leash that it pisses me off. So I only write about our interaction with her editing me. Is that still interesting?

      I miss the times when Melissa would let me write anything. That was such a treat. Actually, I miss when I had anyone in my life who would let me write anything. Speaking of that, I love my boss at Harvard so much. She is such a good manager. She is so good at being encouraging and also she jettisons someone if they’re not producing. She is a real, functioning, relatable, down-to-earth person. I have never had so many people so close to me who I am not writing about.


      • TQP
        TQP says:

        Yes, it’s still interesting.

        I was trying to understand why. I think it’s because a significant part of our friendship is just me helping her to edit things: opinions, emotions, choices… in a similar « no-bullshit way » (her words, not mine)

  20. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I Googled “jim grey” and got 211 hits. I’ve left a lot of comments!

    But I’ve commented less on your blog over the last 4 years or so. A big reason for that is that my sons are out of college and independent. I commented a lot on your homeschooling blog while they were growing up, as the things you said there triggered a lot of thoughts related to my in-progress raising of my sons.

    I think as readers’ lives naturally change they will come and go, and will comment more and less.

    “But then Tatiana told me that my blog posts didn’t have the same snappy endings they used to have. I was surprised she told me that. Only real friends tell friends their blog posts are failing,”

    Why do you think that because someone gave you critical feedback on one aspect of your posts that it means your posts are failing?

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I want to answer your question. But literally, all I can think about is, stop everything. I HAVE to figure out what to write about so Jim will comment. Because you have left great comments. But I just realized that I have had the best conversations with you lately in email, not in the comments. That’s so frustrating to me. It’s because I have a huge list of topics I’m too scared to write about.

      I’m putting the topics here. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I can talk about things with Jim, or other people like him, but I can’t write about them in a post. Okay. List.
      1. I am so so so sick of having to earn money. I thought my kids would be both in college on full scholarships by now. I am so delusional. I seriously have an urge to cut myself like I’m a fucking teenager when I write this.
      2. My kid is trans. The older one. I can’t write their name because if they find this they’ll fucking kill me. But it might kill me to not be able to write about it. I am using they though. That’s nice of me. I am very supportive. I just could be more supportive if I could write about it. More urge to cut self.
      3. I want my dog to get run over. Don’t put your PETA shit here, okay? I take care of the dog. But I don’t really have a problem with putting a gun to the dog’s head except that it would be bad for my kids. I mean, I guess it’s the same reason I don’t put a gun to my own head. So really, I guess this makes me the best dog owner in the world because I treat the dog exactly like I treat myself.

      There. I was thinking that the topics I’m not writing about are the topics that everyone wants to talk about in the comments. But now that I’m writing them. Sneaky. Down here. It is apparent to me that cutting oneself, or killing one’s dog is not exactly a conversation starter.

      Anyway, about your question. Usually if one person tells me the post doesn’t work, it means a lot of people thought that. Or, I don’t know, maybe it means that I have such an insane fear of writing a boring post that I can’t handle even one person telling me there is even one boring ending. I don’t know.

      So. This is all to say that I love your comments, Jim. And when you read my posts going forward, I hope you’ll recognize that I’m thinking: will Jim want to comment on this topic?


      • Jim Grey
        Jim Grey says:

        1. I’m right there with you on earning money. I think you and I are the same age. At this point in my life I want to spend my time writing and making photographs (and writing about making photographs). Nobody’s going to pay me for that, though.

        2. My oldest was trans, and as you know, she ended her life at the end of 2021. Thank you for being a friend as I went through that. I’d like to write about that too. I didn’t while she was alive because she was intensely private and it would have damaged our relationship. I guess that doesn’t matter now and I should write about it.

        3. Is it that you want your dog dead, or that you just don’t want a dog, or that dog? It’s perfectly okay to not want a dog, or even a particular dog. But thinking about it doesn’t have to go to the extreme of taking its life. If nothing else you can turn it in at a shelter or a rescue. If your kids wouldn’t be infuriated with you over it.

        I used to write blog posts in your comments about things I wouldn’t dare write about on my own blog. It was a cowardly thing to not write them on my blog, yet it was good for me to write those things out somewhere. Thank you for providing the space.

        My blog is 16 years old. A couple years ago I looked back and figured out who my top commenter was each year. As I did that I saw names of people who used to comment who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Good heavens, but did that make me miss a lot of people.

        I don’t understand bloggers who don’t ever reply to comments, or worse, don’t even take comments. The main benefit of blogging is the comments and the people you get to connect with through them.

        I’m moved that you miss me, too, when I don’t show up here.

        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          I liked looking at the page with the most-frequent commenters. I want to change as you all change and we all change together. I want to be able to connect on other things. I would never write five tips for doing a phone interview now (literally, still one of my most popular posts) but you would never want that advice now. I like that three topics. I like that you replied. And I like my dog. I don’t like that she takes energy. And that I feel like I can’t always make her happy.


        • A
          A says:

          I write stuff here I would never right anywhere else.I would be too scared to be seen and judged.I’m sorry about your daughter.It’s a terrible thing to lose a child

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        I figured there had to be a reason you hadn’t yet written about the surprising frequency of trans identification in autistic children. I mean, besides the pile-on it would lead to.

        So many things you say are really just autistic. Women in math are really just autistic. Men who do X are really just autistic. And it was right there: the pokemonization of gender/sexuality categories is really just autistic.

        There are plenty of good reasons not to talk about it.

        • Penelope
          Penelope says:

          Yeah, I’m getting there. I’m close. I just used they instead of he on a homeschool post today. For me, that’s a big step. Of course, if I had adjusted pronouns two months ago it would have been she. It’s a moving target.


      • A
        A says:

        Massive difference between having the thought and doing the thing.Sometimes my brain says on a loop I wish I died.Suicide would be bad for my kids but if I just died they would have people’s empathy.But I don’t really want to die I’m just sick of my dysfunction and the daily grind of life.And my life isn’t even that hard.pets do take energy especially if you are doing most of the caring.Could you get a dog walker sometimes?You seem to love it but it’s too much at times.I feel we will never have to stop making some money/ finding ways of getting grants/ scholarships for our kids.It’s bad but if I was a middle earner it would cost me so much more from school bus tickets to college fees.

  21. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    I think have commented once in the decade plus that I have enjoyed reading this blog. Maybe a neurotypical would have felt compelled to reciprocate. Maybe the problem here is most of your readers are on the spectrum and a lot of us don’t feel the need to engage in dialogue more often than not.

    Could you perhaps include polls or some other call to action that us autists will cue into more readily?

  22. MG
    MG says:

    I have been reading (and loving) your writing since ~2008, which is as long as Microsoft has not been supporting VB6. I wish I could justify paying you to talk to me. You seem like a hoot and a half. Keep fighting the good fight. I hope you are healing all the parts of yourself that were hurt in the past. 💖

  23. DougB
    DougB says:

    I have been reading your blog for 20 years plus. Bought your awesome book. I faithfully check in every week, even during the lean years, hoping to find some thought-provoking blog post. Or boring post, who cares! Not me, nor anyone else.

    You by FAR one of the most interesting people on the Internet. When my career was an infant, you helped me push it on to adulthood with your straight talk. You help keep an old gen x’er remotely in touch with current events. You make me think about things I would never consider. Uncover challenges I didn’t know people were having. You call BS when it needs to be called. Point out the pros and cons of personality tests. Live out your own theories. Etc…

    You are authentic in a scripted world. Don’t pack it in now when you have done all the legwork. We are here. We need you on that wall. At least a couple of times a month anyway!

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      I like how you say “the lean years”. I’m going to say that, too. Because then I can feel like I’m not in them. Thank you.


  24. Louise Higgins
    Louise Higgins says:

    Maybe there were not so many comments on your last post because it’s an uncomfortable topic. I was going to pipe in and mention MuTu system which is good for non-surgical pelvic floor rehabilitation after babies. I have been reading your blog for a few years (“inhaled it” as someone said) and think about things you have written all the time. My kids are 8 and under so I like reading what you did for homeschooling and what your life is like in this next chapter of grown kids.

  25. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    I’ve been reading you since before the Farmer. I don’t comment often but I always appreciate your boldness of thought and the quality of writing. If your quality were to drop, you’d still be better written than almost anything else – maybe think of that when you’re having an insecure blogging moment? It’s great to see you posting more often. I am always wishing you and your loved ones well.

  26. J. Ohene
    J. Ohene says:

    I read you since 2008 and always go through your comments; it is like a conversation of minds: I do not need to know or be friends with people to get a change of perspective on the most diverse topics. And that is the most delightful expansive feeling you and your commenters create in me – in a world of screech-voiced, narrow, self-righteous bubbles. Which is also why I do not read comments on SM.
    So thank you very much for your blog which I have not found boring ir irrelevant even once.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      From 2008! This is amazing to me. You remind me that it only makes sense for me to let me topics change as I change because everyone reading is changing with me. Also, I don’t use social media – except for cross-posting when I remember to — so it’s good for me to hear you compare commenting on SM vs blog. I don’t think I was really considering the difference that carefully.


  27. Nia
    Nia says:

    I feel shy about commenting here and other spaces. ‘Me’ factor – not a ‘you’ factor. I notice that you often post from what I would think of as the edge of human experience- the extreme emotions, the uncomfortable truths, extremely difficult situations etc. People comment in a way that feels like they can’t just walk past you when you’re in that space. That says something about your commenters, maybe something about the lurkers (like me), but it’s not necessarily that we’re happy being bystanders. Funny, I was going to say something completely different, but this is what came out. Please take care of your special self.

  28. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I thought about having chatgbt write a comment for me to post here but that sounded too exhausting and I changed my mind :-)

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      First, I’m so happy to see you commenting. Also, I think that’s the thing about Chatgpt: people underestimate how much work it is to get it to write something fresh. It’s easy to use Chatgpt for homework because teachers never give original, interesting assignments. But it’s hard to use it for comments because we only want to hear someone from the heart. Chatgpt can’t find our heart, only our mind.


  29. Alisa
    Alisa says:

    I’ve been reading your blog since before the Farmer. I find you fascinating. I don’t think I am autistic, but maybe/probably I am a bit, so probably a tiny bit. I’ve never commented. I’m a very silent reader/watcher and don’t usually comment. I love your writing, I love your blog. You stand out and have always done so, since the first time I read your blog, I just love your perspective xx

  30. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    I had the same experience with ChatGPT trying to learn about world religions/mythologies. I wrote several questions phrased several different ways to get away from Judeo-Christian male savior tropes. ChatGPT says recorded information has a western-centric Judeo-Christian. You mean his-story? You don’t say.

    Friends are hard. Between moving, personal growth and its resulting divergences, and the dying skill of conversation, we are all left wondering “Does this person still ‘spark joy?'” I read that 20% one’s network causes 80% of one’s stress and anxiety. Only one set of my friends are transactional, but I see that they are transactional with everyone and everything so I don’t take it personally.

    I paid you for coaching on writing as well. I ended the transactions because I didn’t think the feedback was constructive. I found it curt, cruel, and angry.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Of course I had to go back and look through all my editing to see what I said to Brooke. And, ironically, Brooke had one of the highest keep vs toss ratios of anyone I have edited.

      I am person who publishes only about 40% of what I write, and I throw out the rest. When I edit, I try to instill in people the idea that we have unlimited material to write so it’s not worth holding on to boring writing – just throw it out an write more. I edited almost ten pieces before I suggested to Brooke that she should not bother editing one and just throw it out. That was the last time I ever received something to edit from Brooke.

      What’s interesting about this exchange is that other people I can tell them to that the first ten pieces they write for me are not good and they should just keep trying, and I’ve been editing them for years. Some of those people are published now. It’s very hard to tell what will come from editing someone. I have been surprised over and over again.

      I remember my first writing teacher saying the same thing about me, and I didn’t believe him.

      For example, sometimes someone sends me something amazing. But then they don’t ever send me anything else. And it turns out they had worked for years on that one piece and they don’t have the guts to send something that isn’t perfectly polished. So I don’t even know what an editing relationship will be like until there have been maybe 20 pieces.

      And now… just thinking…I realize that no one knows what it’s like to have me as an editor until I say, “Just throw this out.” Because it’s so normal for me to throw something out, and the worst thing in the world for me is to risk being boring. So I edit thinking writers benefit from those values like I have benefitted.

      I should copy this onto a landing page and make it my writing course philosophy or something like that. This is a great example of why I’m bad at sales: I’m writing my editing philosophy in the comments section instead.


        • A
          A says:

          I would find this hard even when I asked for/ paid for editing.I would like to write so much that that I don’t care even about.Then it’s easier to do the clichéd thing of ‘killing your darlings’

  31. Angie
    Angie says:

    Yours is the only blog that I consistently check back in on and have been doing so since about 2012. Being too regular on the check ins is sometimes disappointing because there won’t be any new posts. Sometimes I get busy or go on holidays or something and then remember “ah I haven’t checked PT blog lately” and get so excited to see multiple ‘new’ posts to read. I always enjoy your perspectives. I never visit any of your other social media either which I find curious, given I’m always on social media for other reasons. The blog feels like a warm comfy place to sit back and think. Social media is just too loud.

    As for chat gpt, I used it recently and realised that it would definitely make jobs like mine (internal government policy type work) redundant – there really isn’t a lot of ‘heart’ in policy writing regardless of what policy people will tell you. It’s just summarising other ideas, often through lengthy time wasting processes. Chatgpt does it with lightning speed (although now I’m curious about the bias you and one of the other commentors mentioned). I am sick of my job anyway, so i’ve been playing with chat gpt to help me get moving on bits of work that i am procrastinating way too much on or just don’t want to invest my time in.

    Anyway – just to say, I hope you keep blogging, for at least as long as I need something interesting to distract me during the day when I’m bored/sick of my job :)

  32. Erika
    Erika says:

    From Google’s Bard when I asked for help:
    “Hi Penelope,

    I really enjoyed your post on transactional friendships. I think it’s a really important topic to talk about, and you did a great job of breaking it down in a way that was both informative and relatable.

    I especially resonated with your point about how transactional friendships can be so draining. I’ve definitely been in situations where I’ve felt like I was putting in all the effort, and it’s not a great feeling. It’s important to remember that friendships should be mutually beneficial, and if they’re not, it’s okay to walk away.

    Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and helpful post!

    [Your name]”

    Yep, it’s got a long way to go. That second paragraph is way off. I think Bard is neurotypical, ha!

    Here’s the tweaked version.

    Hi Penelope! I really enjoyed your post on transactional friendships. I’ve been on both sides. When my kids were little I had a friend who would babysit them sometimes. I kept insisting on paying her even though she didn’t want it. And then later, I was helping another mom with giving her kid a ride each week. She tried to give me gifts, but it made me uncomfortable. She gave me some Starbucks gift cards, but I don’t like Starbucks. Thanks for writing such an interesting post. My heart (brain?) always does a little leap when you show up in my feed because I know I’ll get something good to chew on.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      What I think is interesting about these two replies side by side is that online writing has always placed a premium on genuine, relatable personal stories. But with AI writing stories the only way a writer creates value is by adding something personal. Next to AI, Erika’s writing looks so vibrant and detailed.


  33. Brook McCarthy
    Brook McCarthy says:

    This was a great post, well worthy of a comment. There were more ‘fucks’ than normal in the beginning – was that intentional? I don’t know how anyone can make great snappy endings consistently.

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Interesting about the fucks. I naturally write a lot of them when I am uppity about a topic, and I’m usually uppity on a first draft. I remove the fucks on subsequent drafts. Or Melissa does. Actually, I am more likely to remove them than Melissa because I have 2004 rules stuck in my head that my posts will go to spam if I have swear words.

      Just as I was training myself to think swear words are okay I’ve noticed all the little things people are doing in YouTube videos so they don’t get zapped. And I can’t tell if this means I should be more careful because swearing is old fashioned, or it means I should not give a fuck about fuck because no one cares about blogs enough to monitor them.


    • A
      A says:

      I didn’t notice the ‘fucks’ too much.Penelope has explained but my first thought was The Farmer’ has pages with ‘ fuck’ on them filtered out.

  34. minami
    minami says:

    This is how I know you’re really my friend: you keep looking for ways to have me work for you (even though we have learned that I am terrible at everything). :)

    Also, I think INTJs show their love by trying to fix things for you. Like Melissa fixing your blog posts. My best friend is also an INTJ and she always tells me what’s wrong with my art every time I show it to her. Which I appreciate, but for the sake of my fragile INFJ ego I also have to shake her down for nice things to say about my art, haha.

    I love INTJs because unlike a lot of types, they care very deeply about their people – it just doesn’t look like caring in the way most of us understand it.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to get pissy when people don’t comment a lot on your posts, because that’s what lets you know you’re connecting to people. And to state the obvious, I think that’s the point of the blog for you.

  35. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Stumbled across your blog in 2015 when I was doing alot of soul searching. Your courses and responses to my emails really helped me navigate much of the uncertainty of my mid 20s.

    It’s nice to see you’re still trucking along and keeping that sarcastic, self deprecation in your posts!

    I vote for a Penelope trunk youtube podcast!

    • Penelope
      Penelope says:

      Thanks, Kevin.
      I vote for that too. Every weekend I say to myself, I’m going to spend the whole weekend getting started. I tell myself I’ll be so relieved when I start. I tell myself I can’t eat until I do it. Or I can shop after I do it. But still… here we are.

      Anyway, thank you for sticking with me so long that you know what I should be doing next.


  36. Sister Wolf
    Sister Wolf says:

    My website broke last year and I lost all 42,000 comments. Can you imagine? I was beside myself. I’d rather lose my writing than the comments. Luckily I found someone who fixed things and restored the comments.

    Also I could never let anyone edit me! I can’t take criticism in this area because I’M ALWSYS RIGHT! I’ve lost several jobs because of always being right.

  37. Martin
    Martin says:

    Melissa says I didn’t need to read a research paper to know that.
    – yeah, Bob Dylan knew that in 1964 already :)
    “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”

  38. A
    A says:

    Theses gifts are so beautifuly wrapped.My eldest would live to wrap likes.She would spend ages at it,possibly getting worn out before finishing ( if she had to do them all in the one go).

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