Glennon Doyle on Control, Coping, and Joy

Content courtesy of Random House 

Untamed by Glennon DoyleGlennon Doyle’s newest memoir, Untamed is a Reese’s Book Club pick and a #1 New York Times Bestseller. It traces Doyle’s childhood, marriage, early motherhood, and the life-changing meeting of her future wife, Abby Wambach. The book digs into modern womanhood, why we get lost, and how to find ourselves again.

Amy Brinker: First things first. You put up a funny Instagram post of you talking to Abby. She was like, “Please, I love you. Can we talk about anything else besides Untamed? Like anything.” So, I’m wondering: what do you feel like talking about? Is there anything that you’re newly interested in or anything that you’ve been learning recently?

Glennon Doyle: What’s filling my brain right now is that we’re turning the book into a TV show! So, now I’m trying to figure out how to write a pilot. It’s fun and exciting, but it’s also just a whole other shebang. It’s weird how since you already wrote the book, and already lived it, you’d think this part would be simple, but it just feels like starting over. So, it’s fun to have a new creative thing going on. Poor Abby: we just made it through the book hubbub and now, it’s more Untamed!

AB: I was leafing through Untamed again, and something that struck me was your chapter about control: controlling yourself and controlling people you love. For all of us during quarantine, control has gone out the window entirely. Do you have any new thoughts about letting go and release now that it’s literally all you can do?

GD: Wow. The control and love thing are just what I’m trying to figure out in my life. In terms of relationships, this came up pretty early with Abby. It actually just happened last night – we disagreed about a parenting decision. We had this long conversation where, at one point, Abby said, “Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not right.” Now, Amy, I should understand that concept. The thing is that I can be an overpowering person. When I have ideas about what is right, the people in my life have tended to just believe that. If I have an idea about something, most people are like, “Okay. That sounds right.” But Abby has ideas that are different than mine and she doesn’t say, “Oh, okay. I see what you’re saying and let’s go on.” So Abby explained to me “this is not, like, an off parenting strategy just because it’s different than what you would do.” So it was just this whole conversation that comes back to, “Oh, just because I have an idea about the way something should be doesn’t mean that it’s correct.”

When we’re talking about control, that’s the conversation. Everyone says they want an equal partner, but when you actually get an equal partner and you are someone who has been a control freak your whole life, it is fascinating. Because it’s in every area, right? How do we deal with money? How do we deal with co-parenting? With my ex, how do we deal with parenting? How do we deal with our careers? I have all these ideas about the way things should go and her ideas are so different, which is why I fell in love with her and it is also why it’s challenging in the way that a relationship should be, I guess.

AB: It’s so hard to parse that out though, because you want to choose someone who shares your core values. And then you have to figure out how different those two sets of values are allowed to be and that’s very complicated.

GD: It’s so complicated. Because we choose people who match who we are and then we expect no one to change. Which is a setup, because human beings are supposed to change and evolve, right? And I know so many people who are frustrated because they are just married to the person they married, but then they change. So, I guess what it comes down to is you have to choose someone to partner with who you just deeply trust. Even in all the changes, you deeply trust that they are always committed to your relationship and to their own growth. If you’re doing life the way life should happen, then both of you are going to be constantly changing. It’s this constant renegotiation. I think quarantine is putting everybody in a little petri dish because we just don’t have any of the other distractions and we’re spending so much time together. All of the little quirks are magnified. In some ways, it’s so good because we’re being forced to deal with things that maybe we never would have. But in other ways, it’s just exhausting.

AB: That touches on something I was thinking about from the book. So much of the it is about learning to trust your own instincts and being true to your own deepest values. Then, you talk about analyzing which root beliefs of yours you no longer want to keep. That can be tough to tease out – which true parts of you are ones you want to maintain? Could you explore that idea?

GD: I mean one of the beautiful things about being in your 40s. You get to this point where you do learn to trust yourself. To have this self that you won’t abandon. I mean that’s so much of what Untamed is about – I will no longer be gaslit by the world, right? And also, I won’t analyze myself to death either in some ways. I’ll never forget one of my friends saying to me when I was trying to decide what to do with Abby and just spinning and spinning and the pro list and the con list. And her saying, “Okay. So, what feels warm?” And I was like, “What???? “What feels warm?” And now, seven years later, I will be on conference calls making very important decisions and I will look at someone and say, “What feels warm?” I have learned to trust that body feeling and instinct more than even all of the analytics. But I think all of life, as soon as you figure something out, the next stage challenges that thing. So, here I am finally learning to trust myself and my instincts. And this relationship where, sometimes, my instincts are not her instincts. So maybe my root belief that I know what’s right is not right.

I guess it’s the difference between being an individual and being in a collective or being in a partnership. Abby’s always been a team person. She’s about the pack, right, and I’m about the individual wolf. The challenge is not how do I get you to my Knowing. It’s how do I respect your Knowing? And I guess come up with something new. This idea of love has something to do with trust. And we only control things we don’t trust.

AB: Let’s talk about parenting during the quarantine. Women are disproportionately shouldering the burden of parenthood even more than usual, so I’m guessing that martyrdom and self-denial are in full swing right now. What do you wish you could say to somebody who feels like they are just doing a bad job at everything right now?

GD: Well, I think that we’re at rock bottom. Now, we have gotten to the point where a lot of us are ready to admit that our lives have become unmanageable. We are not at a point where we can say, “I’m doing a bad job.” We’ve been given a situation that is literally impossible. “Do this full-time job.” “Homeschool this three-year-old while you’re doing this full-time job.” It’s not hard. It’s impossible, it cannot be done. I hope that we will get to the point where women will stop trying, instead of just trying harder which is what we have always done. I kind of hope there’s more and more just writing to schools, writing to whoever and just being like, “no.” I’m hoping for more of a strike situation. Where women will just say, “no,” and then the economy will stop further. The whole system will crumble and then we’ll have to begin again. I hope women just don’t try harder through this time.

AB: Yeah. I mean that’s another corner of control, right? I can control myself by working harder. I can control myself by meeting unreasonable expectations better.

GD I think maybe one of the things to do is throw out all old ideas about success. I have always thought that my job is not perfect parenting. My main job inside of parenting, marriage, activism, writing. It’s literally every day, “What do I have to do today not to lose my shit?” I think there’s a level of lowering expectations, trying to stay mentally stable by any means necessary. Because we don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. So, we are in triage in our family. We are in one day at a time. How do we love each other and care for each other as well as possible in this day to make it to the next one? We’re not doing long term goals anymore.

AB: I wanted to ask you about a big chunk of Untamed about reckoning with your whiteness and privilege and starting to see America’s racism more clearly. Do you have things that you know now that you would add to the book?

GD: I don’t, because it was the best I could do at the time. I wrote those chapters on racism three years ago. And because a lot of activism I’ve been involved with over the last few years, I have become friends with black women who are honest enough to point to what white supremacy has done to me as a white woman. And the deal with the devil that white women make along the way is that we will accept our proximity to power and in exchange for that, we will ignore. We will not ask questions. We will not ask why the police protect me and not them. Why does my school look like this? Why am I fighting for nine iPads for each kid in this school when the school down the street doesn’t have running water? Why? The complicity that we have been a part of has made us less human. So, I think there would have been a lot more about how whiteness functions.

Then, I also think of one of the most quoted parts of the book. There’s a line that says, “The braver I am, the luckier I get.” My friend Dr. Yaba Blay does a lot of anti-racism work. I watch her work a lot and she talks about white supremacy openly and she’s often punished for that. Because she’s so outspoken, she will not get invited to things. She makes white people uncomfortable. And I realized, oh, but the braver she is, the less lucky she gets. In retrospect now, when I look at that sentence, I think that’s a really privileged way of looking at things. The more marginalized a group is, the less they are rewarded for courage. When I think how I’m thinking differently, it’s less specifically about the racism chapter and more how my privilege throughout the unfolding of Untamed served me in ways that it wouldn’t have been the same story had a black woman or any woman of color gone through what I went through.

AB: Let’s see, before I let you go, is anything in quarantine bringing you joy and relief?

GD: What’s bringing me relief? I mean I have a cheesy-ass situation where I am literally married to my best girlfriend. It’s just one long sleepover in quarantine in Abby which is so freaking fun. Also, reading, of course. Having so many excuses to just sit and read and never feel guilty about is a dream come true for me. One thing that I’m good at is just having a beginner’s mind about everything. That approach, I think, is helpful in a time like this.


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