What happens when your partner wants to flee this planet, and you want to stay? Is wanting to go to Mars basically saying you want to break up? Can you have a long, long, long distance relationship? Is a five-year date a terrible idea?
Advice For And From The Future is written, edited and performed by Rose Eveleth. The theme music is by Also, Also, Also. The logo is by Frank Okay. Additional music this episode provided by Blue Dot Sessions.
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Rose: Hi there, and welcome to Advice for and from the Future, a brand new podcast where we tackle the most pressing questions you have about, and from, tomorrow. I’m your resident futurologist Rose Eveleth. Who am I to be giving advice? Well, like most advice columnists, I have very little business telling anybody what to do. But what I do have is many years of reporting on the future. I make another podcast, called Flash Forward, and I’ve written about possible and not so possible futures for The Atlantic, WIRED, Scientific American, Popular Science, blah blah blah, lots of fancy places. And on this show, I’m here to help you with your questions. Should you let your boss implant a chip in your hand? Can you ask your friends to turn off their Alexa devices when you come over? Is it okay to have kids amidst… all of… this?
To help answer these questions, I’ll bring in experts, time travelers, musicians, and even a few inanimate objects. By the end, you’ll be ever so slightly better prepared for what’s to come.
On today’s episode, we’re tackling a really big, cosmic, relationship question. And to do that, I called up my friend, and podcaster, Andrea Silenzi, creator of the award winning dating podcast Why Oh Why.
OK, Andrea, you are dating expert. Is that correct?
Andrea Silenzi: Eehhhhh, sure… I just…
Rose: Is there a difference, do you think, between a dating expert and a relationship expert?
Andrea: I just think anyone who claims to be an expert at this is someone who wants to sell you a book or, you know, be your professional life coach. I just, I have no interest in any of that. But, I have developed a specialty in this area, unfortunately. And also, people send me stories about their dating lives because I’ve been telling stories about dating, quasi professionally, for a long time. So, I feel like I have a sense of what it’s like for me, but also for other people.
Rose: Excellent. That’s good, because I have a dating question for you, via a listener who wants to know how to handle a very unique situation, I guess I would say. So, I’m going to… I’m actually going to send this question to you. I’m just gonna text it to you.
Rose: So you can hear it.
Questioner: Hello. Thank you so much for answering my question. So, a while ago, my partner told me they wanted to go to Mars and I just kind of laughed it off because, you know, it’s really far away. But apparently they’re serious. They’ve applied and been accepted, and now they’re going to Mars, and they want me to go with them. And, I really don’t know what to say, because I don’t want to go to Mars.
Andrea: Well, at least, you know, this listener got invited.
Rose: Yeah, yeah, right. They could go. if they wanted to.
I mean, I think it’s a… In relationships, you often have to make decisions together. You know, what should we order for delivery tonight? What new television show should we start streaming together? And, in those decisions, there should be an element of compromise. I feel like Thai. I feel like Chinese. Oh, how about we order pizza? You know. I don’t think there is a middle ground between I want to go to Mars and I don’t want to go to Mars.
Rose: Yeah, do they go to the moon instead?
Andrea: Yeah., that’s the first thing. Like, I understand you have an interest in, you know, exploring faraway places. Could we book a trip to Antarctica? Let’s start saving up now. You know, I wonder if there is a middle ground that they could explore together, that can create a feeling of going to Mars. But, to me, saying you want to go to Mars is like saying I want to leave everything behind. And that’s such an extreme emotion, that I don’t know if there’s anything in between that. Like, saying you want to go to Mars, to me, is like saying you want to die.
Rose: But this person could die with them. “I want to die and I want you to come with me.” .
Andrea: It’s so far away. It’s so, so far away. It’s also, like, I make decisions every day about investing in life on this planet. You know, decisions about composting, or decisions about how you treat your neighbors. And you have to kind of… you’re either on the team that believes that we’re trying to improve life here, or you’re on the team that’s like, “I’m out of here.” So there’s such a fundamental difference. If you want to go to Mars, how do I talk to you about how we can be better neighbors?
Rose: Do you feel like this changes the way that you might consider a person’s…. other elements of this person’s personality. in a relationship. Like, does this make you reconsider dating them, in general?
Andrea: Yeah, because, in a partnership, you have a shared vision of a shared future. That’s the reason why you are in this, as you say. “Oh, I can picture us planning trips. I can picture what it’s like to stay at home late, getting work done with you.” You have this shared vision of an ideal future. I guess neither of those things were that ideal. I don’t know what …
Rose: They could be, right? They could be the small moments.
Andrea: I think when you really care about someone; when you’re in a relationship with them; you like to close your eyes and picture a future together. And those details are just such precious things sometimes. And now their future plans are so divergent, I don’t know how you continue. I feel like saying you… telling your partner you want to go to Mars is as close to “I want to break up with you” as possible.
Rose: It’s saying, “that vision of our future is not for me. I don’t want to buy a house. I don’t want to get a dog. I don’t want to plant a garden. I will never be there to watch television with you, because I want to upend everything and go to another planet.” That’s not a person for you
Rose: That person just needs to find someone who also wants to just leave it all behind.
Andrea: Right. And I get nihilism. I go to dark places. But that’s such an extreme that I don’t… I don’t know if there’s a middle ground. I get wanting to be an adventurer. I guess my question to this person would be, is your partner an adventurous person in the day to day reality?
Is this a person who is always dragging you to new restaurants, and exploring new cities with you, and suggesting you try new foods? And that I guess I’m thinking about food a lot. Oh, my gosh, the quarantine.
Is this a person who has an adventurous spirit? And so, in that case, this is in line with their personality. But if this is a person who isn’t already creating a sense of adventure and exploration in your relationship, that you guys can embark on together, then this person just wants to cut and run and quit everything. And I do not agree with that impulse.
Rose: I do want to give you just a little bit of info, just for help, that maybe would be helpful about how long a trip to Mars might take. Because there’s also a potential for this person to be like, “cool, go to Mars, come back, we’ll reconnect, reassess when you’re back.” Which is another potential option for this person, maybe. I’m not sure. So, a trip to Mars takes anywhere between 210 and 300 days. Mars and Earth are not always the same distance apart because of the way that they orbit the Sun. And so, usually you try to time it when they’re closest, because you want to get there fastest. That’ll be about two hundred and ten days. And then, obviously, if you’re gonna take it that long to go to Mars, you probably want to stay there for more than the amount of time that’s going to take you to get there and back. So you’re probably staying there for, like, a year, or two, or something like that. So this trip to Mars, assuming it is not a one way trip to Mars, which is sort of the way that a lot of people talk about it; if you are coming back, that will probably be at least five years, I would say. Four or five years of time, to either be with your partner, who you are, maybe like, what if you break up when you go to Mars? And you’re just there with them for five extra years? Or you have to wait five years for your partner to come back.
Andrea: I guess maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong.
You know, maybe it’s the most romantic thing ever that they think that their relationship could survive this journey.
Rose: So, I guess one question I have for you is how you would approach the conversation. So, we can, if you’re willing, to do a little bit of roleplaying. Like, let’s say that I’m the partner and you are the question asker, and I come home and I’m like, “hey, babe, I’ve got great news. We have this golden ticket. We can go to Mars.”
Andrea: So many questions. The first thing I would do is I would suggest that we sit down facing each other.
I think it’s really nice to have serious conversations, not while you’re trying to do other things, but to actually make the conversation an event. And I also think belly to belly communication, with you fully seeing each other face to face is great. So I wouldn’t sit on a couch. I would say, let’s sit at the table, let’s face each other. Maybe get a drink. you know? I don’t know, I just think, always on The Bachelor, there’s a drink nearby, and it just makes people feel more relaxed. Any drink, you know. Warm, cold, whatever. Sit down with a drink, face each other, and say, I’d like to take an hour to talk about this really seriously with you.
Rose: Okay, so we’re sitting down. We’re facing each other. I have a Negroni. You have what? What are you going to drink?
Andrea: I don’t know, whatever’s left. I accidently ordered some aloe vera juice, hoping it would help me make hand sanitizer. So I guess I’m drinking what’s left of my aloe vera juice.
Rose: Okay, great.
Andrea: Good for ulcers.
Rose: And I’m like, “all right, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. How many people get selected? Not very many. Probably like, a hundred people got this option. Like, we can’t say no.”
Andrea: Right. But, but, Rose, don’t you like the life we’ve created together here?
Rose: But we could take it with us.
Andrea: Really? The sunshine? The walks we take our dog on.
Rose: But all I need is you. I don’t need any of that other stuff.
Andrea: And what about our intimacy? You know, it might be prohibited for us to be intimate for a very long time, in space. Right now, sex is not allowed in space. What are we going to…
Rose: That’s true.
Rose: I mean, how are they going to enforce that? Is my question.
Andrea: Fair. But, do you think we’re really up to the test? You know, this is…
Rose: Yeah, we passed, we got our ticket.
Andrea: But what about our families, and our friends? You know, we take a lot of risks every day. It’s pretty dangerous even just getting in a car, touching your face, but this seems pretty risky to me.
And, you know, I love the life we’ve created. Are you sure you’re ready to give all that up? You know, there could be an explosion on takeoff. I don’t know if I trust these, like, VC funded Mars exploration companies. I don’t want to leave everything behind. I’m not ready to die, Rose, is what I’m saying.
Rose: It is true there is a not insignificant risk that we would die on impact and/or on the way. That’s true. To me, I am willing to take the risk to be one of the first people, potentially, to live on another planet, which is an unprecedented…
Andrea: I guess what I really want to ask you… what I’d really want to ask you in this situation is: do you want to die? Because that’s what I hear every time you tell me you want to go to Mars. Is that you want to leave everything that we know and love behind, and you’re willing to risk not having a future together.
Rose: Right. And I think my answer, as the person who wants to go to Mars, is that I recognize that there is the risk of death. But, it seems worth it, to me, to have an experience that is completely unparalleled. That no one else in the history of the world has ever set foot on Mars, and to be the first group of people to do that, and to see what that’s like, and to see the mountains of Mars, and to see the Earth from so far away, and to have that experience is worth the risk of death.
Andrea: And that is where I would fundamentally disagree with you. I just think that there are so many things to do here on Earth that don’t involve being in a cramped space ship for the next five years. Like, I just don’t know if that sacrifice lines up for me. I guess, you’re gonna have to go without me.
Rose: Fair enough. Fair enough. I don’t think we can be together.
Andrea: I feel capable of breaking up with someone over the impulse to leave, if that makes sense.
Rose: Is it that you worry that if it gets hard, you’ll just bail?
Andrea: Yes. And bail on all of us on this planet.
And also, it’s such a weird idea of how you want to make history. I just feel like there are ways to save the world that don’t involve leaving it. The decision to go to Mars is a decision to not care about any future plans other than going to Mars.
Rose: It’s like an every man for themselves kind of situation.
Andrea: That’s kind of what’s happening in that situation.
And also, you know, it just reminded me that basically anything you agree to do, just because your partner wants to do… like, it’s always the worst experience.
Rose: And I feel like I can speak from experience. Not a good idea.
Andrea: Yeah. It’s very rarely that the partners like, “come on, you’re gonna love Ford and Ferrari.” And then. you go and it’s like, “oh my gosh, I’m so glad. I never knew I loved car movies. But now I know.” Like, at a certain age, you know yourself well enough to know if you want to go to Mars or not. And a partner shouldn’t have to talk you into that.
Rose: That’s definitely true. So my last question for you is, is it cheating if your partner is literally on Mars and you are on Earth?
Andrea: No, I think it’s OK. I mean, if you’re out of, like, Earth’s radius, I just feel like anything goes. And I would definitely give you a hall pass if you’re heading to Mars. Yeah, anything goes in space. Please have sex in space, and report back as soon as possible. I want you to be one of the first people to tell me what that’s like.
Rose: Yeah. I am reminded of the classic 2001 song Area Codes, by Ludicrus. And I was — before we got on this phone call — I was playing the song, because I wanted to remember what it was like. And my partner, Robert, came in. It was like, “Oh, I love this song.” And he knows all the words to it, still.
So he should go to Mars, is what I’m saying..
Andrea: So this is the… so hoes in different area codes. Like, how does that apply? What’s the version of this that we could write from Mars?
Rose: I have hoes in different planetary codes…
Andrea: In different gravitational materials…. nodes.
Rose: Okay, I feel like now I need to commission someone to remake the song for this episode. But for planets.
Andrea: Oh, my God.
Rose: Thank you for sharing this advice to our lovely advice question asker, from the future.
Andrea: I mean, I’m not saying breakup, but I’m kind of saying break up.
Rose: You should definitely break up.
Do you have questions about the future, some conundrum you’re facing now, or one that you think we might face in the future? Send it to me so we can answer it. You can send a voice memo to advice@FFWDpresents.com, or call 347-927-1425, and leave a message. No question is too small, or too strange. And now a quick break and when we come back, two surprises for you. One musical. and one not.
Here’s a song!
I’ve got hoes
(I’ve got hoes)
In different alien homes
In different alien homes
Now you thought it was just earth?
And the moon next door
I’m universal, act like y’all don’t know
It’s the galactic hoe man
Space dick dope man
From Red Mars and Deimos
All the small planets and moons in the cosmos
Ganymede, matter of fact Sinope
I’ll jump off of the spaceship
We can meet on Thebe
So control your hormones and keep your suit on
Til I close the hatch and I’m jumping your bones
Terra Temp’, Alba Mons (oh)
I’ll read your horoscope, the stars are right there
No gravity, these hoes just don’t care
Mars southern highlands, to little Io
My intercom just overloads
I’ve got hoes
(I’ve got hoes)
In different alien homes
In different alien homes
Rose: Oh yes, I was not kidding when I said I was going to commission a remake of Area Codes but about planets. That cover, by the way, was by the very, very funny Shannon and Scott, who make a podcast called Song Salad, which I definitely recommend, I’ll link to it in the show notes.
So, in planning for, and working on this podcast, I started reading a lot of advice columns. And advice columns are kind of weird thing, right? They are obviously meant to give advice — to the specific question asker, and also to anybody reading the column who might have a similar conundrum. But they’re also more than that… right? The best advice columns, in my opinion, take questions and not only answer them, but also pull out to the 10,000 foot view and say something about people, or culture, or what we’re doing on this planet. And I want to try to do that on this show too… so at the end of each episode I’m going to include a segment I’m calling The Crystal Ball. Not because it’s going to predict the future, but because it’s a swirly mysterious object that will change between episodes.
So, here we go.
Have you ever stood at the edge of something, and looked down and felt that weird urge to jump? I’m not talking about actual suicidal ideation — and if you do feel that, please reach out for help, the 24 hour suicide hotline in the US is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
What I’m talking about is that weird urge to just… see what would happen if you jumped. What would it be like? What if you just did it….
If you know this feeling, you understand what I’m saying. If you’ve never felt it, and you’re like, “what the fuck are you talking about?”, ask your friends, about 50% of people say they’ve experienced this urge. And there’s even a name for this phenomenon, the French call it The Call of the Void, and in English it has the much less cool name. “The high-place phenomenon.” There’s very little research on why this happens, and I won’t bore you with the thin psychological guessing that I’ve read about it. But most people I know have had this feeling. And I think it relates to this question, this desire to go to Mars, this urge to just jump, and leave everything else behind. No more laundry, or hard conversations about family, or fights about who picks up the dog’s poop, or dirty dishes in the sink. No more of the little stupid things that clog up your days. What if you just… jumped.
Lots of people, famously, blow up their lives in ways that seem mystifying from the outside. “She had it so good,” people say. “What happened? Why didn’t she just change the one thing that wasn’t working?”
It’s weird that sometimes the big thing feels easier. To just pack up, and leave. When I was a kid, I “ran away,” a couple of times. I’m using air quotes, because really I packed a backpack, and I ran several blocks, and I climbed a tree, because I didn’t really know where else to go. I didn’t have a museum to flee too, like the kids in one of my favorite books From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. A very unwieldy name. A tree seemed reasonable, and tall, and I liked climbing trees anyway, so it was kinda fun, for at least a little while. Until it started getting cold, and dark, and I really didn’t have much of a plan.
I ran away because I didn’t know how to ask for, or articulate, the problems I was having, because I was a child. I didn’t feel like I could actually change the problems I could articulate. Again, because I was a child. And it just seemed easier to totally bail, and run away, and start again, than to try and change what was going on at home. And even if I couldn’t live in that tree for the rest of my life, which I sort of knew I couldn’t, I thought that maybe it would send a message — that I was willing to at least try, in order for something to be different.
This, to me, is what deciding to leave your partner and go to Mars is like. It’s running away to go live in a tree. You sort of know that it’s… probably not a good long term strategy. But doing it would shake things up enough that you could maybe make the other changes that you want to in your life. Like when you fuck up an Etch-A-Sketch, and shake it, to make all the lines go away.
You can live your life by hitting the ejector seat button every time things get hard, if you want to, and many of you probably know people who do that. But those people are also probably very lonely, because this is an ultimately selfish, and alienating, strategy. Part of being a caring adult, a person in this world full of other people, is stepping away from the edge, and even when you’re tempted to just see what might happen if you set everything on fire…. not doing that.
And this is true of the future as well. Making our world better, which is what I hope most of you want, isn’t easy. That is an absurd understatement. The planet is burning, extractive capitalism is killing us, the air is getting harder to breathe, the oceans are dying, there is a global pandemic — it is not great out there.. And amidst all of this, it can seem way simpler to just say “welp, fuck it, let’s try again on Mars”. It’s easier to climb a tree and say “no! I don’t want to come home!” than to figure out how you can actually get involved and work really, really hard to make changes that you’re not even sure will make a difference. But you can’t actually live in that tree, and the future is worth working for.
And besides, Mars will always be there for you, if you do decide to give up.
Advice for and from the Future is written, edited, and performed by me,te Rose Eveleth. The intro music is by Also Also Also, who has a new album out called The Good Grief, which you can get on Bandcamp right now. Thanks to Jess Driscoll for recording the question for this episode, and to Andrea Silenzi for joining me to talk about dating, and Mars, and whether you should break up with your partner. Hoes in Different Planetary Codes was written and performed by Shannon and Scott of the Song Salad podcast, which you should definitely check out.
If you want to ask a question from, or about the future, send a voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to get behind the scenes stuff about this show, and the other shows in the Flash Forward presents network, you can do that by becoming a member of the Time Traveler program. Just go to ffwdpresents.com for more on that.
Until next time…