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Ask Catherine Cohen: Help! I’m in Love with a Clown!


Photograph by Valerie Chiang

Comedian and actress Catherine Cohen has built a cult following for her chronicles of the bizarre, often humiliating experience of being a 20-something woman. In her original show tunes and on her popular podcast Seek Treatment (co-hosted with fellow comedian Pat Regan) she skewers the clichés of millennial aspiration, deadpans about sex on antidepressants, and earnestly celebrates such triumphs as finding love or drinking seven beers. Her first book, God I Feel Modern Tonight: Poems From a Gal About Town is out now.

Have a question for Catherine? Send it to askcatherine@wmagazine.com

How can I tell the difference between my anxiety and my intuition? (Especially in relationships.)

Ooook I literally just got my Ph.D. in psychology from reading your question. I think even asking about this distinction implies that you’re more in tune with your emotional reality than 99% of the population on this planet.

Anyways, not to brag, but anxiety is an old friend of mine. In college, I went to the hospital not once, but twice because I mistook acid reflux from eating pad thai “medically too fast” for a heart attack. Anxiety does an amazing job of alienating you from reality—intuition connects you to it. (Cut to me singing that Jewel song from women’s razor commercials as I rollerblade across the petal of a tulip.)

In my experience, when it comes to relationships, anxieties stem from fears that I’m not worthy of being loved or am somehow undeserving of my partner’s attention thanks to past trauma or rejection, like when I didn’t get fingered at a screening of Freaky Friday in 2003 because my crush had a girlfriend from another school. I wish them both the best.

Intuition on the other hand, comes from a place of empowerment and self-love, like when I finally dumped an ex-boyfriend who said he didn’t think people should “lie down during the day.”

If a worry or concern feels like it’s coming from an old hurt or steering you towards negative self-talk, that’s probably anxiety. If it feels more like a distraction that’s holding you back from living your most fab life, that might be intuition. Get a kombucha and listen to your gut.

I’m moving in with my boyfriend this month. Any advice you can offer on successful cohabitation with a significant other? My biggest concern is that there is No! Fan! In! The! Bathroom!

Babe, it’s time to get a 23andMe kit because I think we might be sisters. I too am in a relationship (against all odds) and spent most of quarantine worrying that my lover would hear air come out of my (tiny) butthole. I lied and said I couldn’t pee without hearing running water and refused to go to the restroom unless the sink was running. Eventually, he heard me fart (deeply hate that word I’m sorry) after I laughed too hard at my own impression of a Love Island contestant. I was buzzin’ mate!

Once we got the first one out of the way, I wasn’t embarrassed. Now I just say “I’m sorry for directing a breeze towards you” and we go on being in love. Get over it and get a chic candle for the bathroom. I like expensive ones that smell like dirt and Christmas.

Beyond the bathroom stuff, make sure you have a little space in the apartment that’s only for you—maybe a desk or even just a shelf. My boyf knows he’s not allowed near my tall, sad stack of journals—they’re too full of juicy details like “I can’t stop eating when I’m not hungry” and “omgomgomg I hope I don’t have herpes.” Turns out I do have herpes, but it’s not even dramatic.

Lastly, be flexible, and understand that cohabitating always means making some sacrifices. I know doing dishes is literally the dullest thing ever, but sometimes you have to do them so your lover feels guilted into doing them the next time. When I do dishes, I like to pretend I’m in a play where my son is off at war and I just found lipstick on the collar of my husband’s shirt. Have fun with it!

How do I ask the guy I’m sleeping with if he’s sleeping with other people without explicitly saying those words or having a conversation in general? I’m trying to be the coolest girl without a care in the world (I care about everything).

If having a conversation is off the table, I can connect you with an energy healer upstate who might be able to read his mind. She once told me to tap into my divine feminine energy by putting my nipple in sparkling water, but otherwise seemed super legit.

That being said, if you can muster up the strength for a convo, talking about safe sex is always a good entry point to discussing monogamy. Just tell him you want to make sure you’re both using protection and see where that leads. Unfortunately, it’s almost always worth it to just say what you’re thinking—being vulnerable is life’s greatest pain and pleasure. Kinky!

As a creative person, how do you stop worrying about being successful and stable in your chosen career path?

Hahhahahha please definitely write to me (in cursive) when you find an answer to this question. I’ve discovered that ultimately no external achievement ever feels like enough. All we can do is focus on creating opportunities for ourselves that bring us joy. That’s when I feel most successful. Or when someone on Twitter calls me an entitled, vapid celebrity. I’m like…okay all I heard was celebrity.

Courtesy of Knopf.

My ex and I were together for two years in an adorable, sexy, sometimes chaotic relationship. We were each other’s first girlfriends and lived together almost the entire time (fulfilling major lesbian stereotypes), but we were young and stupid so ultimately we broke up. Since then we’ve been great friends for 3 years, and we’ve both grown up a lot. Last spring I told her in a letter that I think we have a beautiful relationship and I want to get back together, but she said she needs time to think because she has a lot going on in her life right now. How long should I wait to bring it up again? Should I even do so, or just wait it out?

Wait I’m like…rooting for y’all. But also, if she didn’t respond to your letter with an emphatic “yes,” it might be time to reconsider. If it’s on your mind, which it obviously is because you’re asking a cabaret comedian who spends too much money having Italian subs delivered to her doorstep for advice, it might be worth bringing it up in person. Letters are romantic but they don’t always get the job done. Famously bills don’t count if they come in the mail, right?

Let her know you were serious about what you wrote IRL and if she doesn’t reciprocate, move on. Moving on might mean continuing the friendship you’ve built, or it might mean taking some time apart. Time apart is obviously annoying and dramatic, but it works. I once had a falling out with one of my best friends because we mistakenly chose to become roommates and he didn’t love hearing me get choked during sex at 4am when he had to be up for work two hours later, but after 6 months of not talking, our relationship is better than ever.

Enough about me and my exciting lifestyle. Go ask for what you want!

Which is more chic: going to grad school or moving to Europe? Asking for a friend, who is about to turn 20, who is also me.

Addicted to this luxurious question. Obviously, both are chic.

Grad school is about restraint, about moaning into the mouth of a fellow scholar as you’re quietly slammed against a built-in mahogany bookshelf. It’s about walking through corridors with your hair tucked into your turtleneck. It’s about holding a decaying tome and shivering while saying “today will be history tomorrow” out loud over and over again until a librarian tells you to shut up and take a shower.

But grad school is also expensive, long, and a kind of nonsense layover to adulthood where no matter what degree you have, your job will probably just entail emailing for 12 hours a day.

Europe on the other hand is unpredictable, gently haunted, and the place where I got bronchitis from a Spanish DJ during a booze cruise on the Thames.

Learning how to make your own path abroad might give you more skills than writing another essay about the role of the fool in Shakespearian tragedy. Can you tell I was an English major? What I’m saying is I should have gone to Europe sooner!

I haven’t been fucked since I was 18, and I’m almost 21. I’m absolutely terrified and exhausted at the thought of meeting new people, especially in this crazy Covid world. I’ve never had a casual hookup before, but it’s something I want to pursue once it’s safe. Until then, how do I become more confident in my sexuality? How do I get some dick without overthinking it?

Beep beep my phone alarm just went off because it is TIME to tap into your sexuality gurlie!!! This is exciting. Not to fully be a 3000-year-old sex columnist with an AOL email address, but toys really are so fun. Order a new vibrator online or treat yourself to some lingerie. Take nude photos of yourself just for you. And take comfort in the fact that everyone feels so rusty and crazy right now. Once The Pandemic ends, everyone is going to feel a bit awkward when it comes to hugging or fucking strangers, and we’ll all have to figure it out together. Oh my god, I really need the pandemic to end. I’m unique in that way.

I have a big crush on a literal clown (not in the fake meme way, I mean like a comedia dell’arte type clown). Our couple weeks of hanging out was cut short by a Covid scare, he moved home for an indefinite amount of time, and we don’t really text. How do I survive this obsessive limbo until I find out if we’re gonna see each other again? Yes, I am bored and unemployed and no, I do not want to be mature and just ask if he’s still into me. Should I start a business or something?

Noooo I’m not feeling this for you. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like this guy is the type to look deep into your eyes and say “it’s actually more intimate to talk than to fuck.”

If he reaches out, great, I’ll literally be your flower girl at the wedding (having a 29 yr old flower girl is fresh, progressive, essentially a political act).

But if you’re not hearing from him, focus your obsessive energies elsewhere. Find a new crush or even (gasp!) a hobby. I recently took up tennis after my therapist told me that walking to the bodega to buy more Bud Lite seltzer doesn’t count “as an activity.” Rude!

Related: Ask Catherine Cohen: How Do I Stop Stalking My Boyfriend’s Exes on Social Media?