Home World Meet R. Eric Thomas, the new syndicated columnist

Meet R. Eric Thomas, the new syndicated columnist

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Dear Asking Eric: You’ll be giving out advice in this new syndicated column. What’s your story?

I’m sometimes asked what advice I would give my younger self; say, myself at 14.

I usually answer by joking that I’d definitely advise my younger self not to lie to my friends about seeing the movie “Se7en” in 1995.

But I did lie.

Then one of my friend’s parents mentioned it to my parents. That’s when my parents, not wanting to be seen as the kind of people who would let their child see a gory R-rated film, ordered me to come clean.

In the carpool line at school.

I remember sliding open the door of our minivan and shouting to my friends, “I didn’t see ‘Se7en’! I don’t know what happens! I got confused!”

Oh, the horror.

Any more advice for young Eric? Plenty. That “Se7en” thing is just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m now a writer in his 40s living on the East Coast and I’m married to a Presbyterian pastor and therapist. I’ve written a dozen plays, many hours of television, and four books, including a YA novel and two best-selling comedic memoirs, “Congratulations, the Best Is Over!” and “Here For It.”

I’ve lived a life. I’m still living it.

In all my work, empathy is the foundational element. Why? Because the stories of our lives are empathy engines. When I talk about what happened to me in my life — what I want, what I’ve lost — pathways open to the listener or reader, pathways that invite them to think about their own lives differently.

Even though I’m separated from the advice-seekers, I see this space as a conversation. When you write in and share your story, you’re not asking for a decree from on high, you’re asking to be heard, understood, to feel that you’re not alone. And when you read the stories of others, you’re asking to be included in something mysterious, confounding, funny and very human.

Like a group of people at a dinner party, we’re all leaning in, forming our own opinions and figuring out what to do.

Here’s what’s happening on my side of the dinner party table: I consider marriage and family units as an ever-developing and changing ecosystem. I think a lot about work culture and the large and petty squabbles that bubble up. I have strong feelings about people caring for their pets. I love a wedding or party where food is abundant. I’ll absolutely give you my honest take on the kitchen backsplash you picked out, and I’m of the opinion that wallpaper is back in vogue. I wish everyone felt empowered to give voice to the big emotion, and to listen with intention and, when possible, love.

Now, let’s get to a question not from my 14-year-old self:

Dear Eric: My friend (25) moved to a new state and started a job in a male-dominated field. She has a crush on her new coworker who is 40, getting divorced, and a parent.

A few months ago, they kissed and have since “hooked up.” They are very flirty with each other, but it’s all very secretive. She’s super stressed about anyone finding out about this because it wouldn’t look great professionally and the relationship couldn’t really work long term.

She knows she should set a boundary with him because it’s the healthiest thing to do, but she also wants to continue a physical relationship with him. What should I tell her to do?

– Co-Work and Play

Dear Co-Work and Play: If your friend were the lead character in a Hallmark rom-com starring Vanessa Hudgens, I’d say, “Go for it! Life is full of sliding doors, et cetera.” But what those movies never seem to linger on are all those messy consequences that pop up in work relationships, secret relationships, and extramarital relationships, like the negative impact they ultimately have on children and soon-to-be exes. And, honestly, that’s for the best. No one wants to watch Vanessa Hudgens having a mediation meeting with human resources.

But your friend is not Vanessa Hudgens, and she’s not in a rom-com. This is real life. And it’s possible that this will result in her getting a calendar invite from HR, especially if romance is against company policy. Your friend is in the building stage of her career and this fling poses a threat to her advancement, even if all goes well.

Tell her to knock it off before all the sneaky kisses and stolen glances become more solid, grounded feelings that are harder to shake.

If it’s meant to be, they can revisit it down the road when she’s got a more solid footing at work, his divorce is finalized, and there’s another Vanessa Hudgens movie out. There’s no need to rush head-long into career and emotional bedlam for a workplace crush.

(Send questions to R. Eric Thomas at [email protected] or P.O. Box 22474, Philadelphia, PA 19110. Follow him on Instagram and sign up for his weekly newsletter at rericthomas.com.)





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