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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Dear Captain Awkward:

I appreciated your advice regarding being open to the possibility that two siblings can grow up in the same home but have completely different experiences and interpretations of the environment.

As I was reading I found myself identifying with the sister, whom the question-asker describes as still being stuck in the abusive situation but not seeing it as so.  Last year our small and close-knit church community went through a very painful split, with a handful of people leaving with claims that the head pastor was spiritually abusing them.  It’s a very (VERY) long and complicated ordeal, but I found myself wondering what sort of advice you might give to the “sister” who is still connected to the parents (or in my case, authority figure/pastor) whom other people have experienced as abusive.  In my personal interactions with this pastor I’ve actually felt very well cared for and respected.  He did our premarital counseling and has provided a great deal of encouragement, mentoring and advice to my husband and I in the first 4 years of our marriage.

Because my experience of him has been so different than theirs, I find myself really struggling to know how to connect with them in a healthy and productive way.  The feeling I get from these friends who’ve left is that the only version of reality they accept is their own, and any other possible explanation is just a symptom of the abuse.  In their eyes I am a naive automaton, enabling an abusive and evil man.  It’s really quite insulting and saddening.

Any advice for the other side of this question?

The Other Sister

Dear Other Sister,

Intern Paul and I have been Googling spiritual abuse, and it’s taken us to a dark and scary part of the Internet.  Can you help us define the concept and be a little more detailed about what your friends say happened?

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Friday is my birthday.  In lieu of presents, there is something I would like (many of) you to do for me.  Given that A Shy Guy Caught My Eye is the most-viewed post on this blog so far, I’m guessing that more than one of you can relate to this comic:

If you read and thought “Oh man, that’s me.  I like ___ so much, but I don’t want to ruin our friendship,” do something for Captain Awkward.

Just ask ____ out already. On a date.  A real, live date.  A DATE-date, where you make it clear that a date is happening between two people who are on a date.  With each other.

Listen:  Chances are very high that _____ already knows how you feel or at least has picked up on your Firthing.

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PROMOTE! PROMOTE! PROMOTE!

I like this post about how to promote yourself without being a jerk.  I’ve been linking CaptainAwkward.com hardcore on the Book of the Face and the Twitter. This is a good reminder that you have to self-promote your work (no one else will), so don’t feel ashamed, but also don’t be such a Dalek about it.

Penelope Trunk is brilliant about “thinking outside the box”, as in, it is a phrase that generally means “I don’t like any of your ideas” and the people who are great at innovating are the ones who spend a lot of time thinking about the box itself.

Sady Doyle has a baseline of being a pretty great writer, but sometimes she even transcends herself.   I recently read a critique of feminism right now “a bunch of bloggers writing about the pop culture that’s oppressing them,” can’t remember where, except…it was posted on a blog.  Sady writes about how stories shape us and warp us and sometimes save our lives.  Here are three great recent things:

1. Running Towards Gunshots:  A Few Words About Joan of Arc:  “And I don’t know if I believe in Jesus, but I believe in Joan of Arc… I ended up finding the trial transcripts online. Because I’d never read them before, and I was over the whole religion thing, but I ended up finding out that she was a real person. This real,  live, bitchy, funny, charming, smart, obstinate/contumacious/disobedient, gender-inappropriate, charismatic, determined person, who somehow managed to happen, a really long time ago. I don’t know what I believe about the God thing. But I believe that we’re human beings, and that the range of human possibility includes Joan of Arc.”

2. Ellen Ripley Saved My Life:

At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why certain stories are so important to you. Why they become, not just entertainment, but myth: Something you use to explain yourself to yourself, or to explain the world. A thousand times, on Dr. Who, the lady Companion insists that the Doctor will save them, and every time, the people are all “BUT PERHAPS THIS TIME HE WON’T AND WE ARE SCREWED THOUGH,” and every time, the music swells and the Doctor comes and he saves as many people as he can. And you love it, every time it happens. Because that’s the story you need: There is someone out there, someone good and wise and kind, and he will always come to save you. I mean, I get it. Some people go to church for less.

But for me, it’s always been about the girls. Specifically, the Strong Woman Action Heroines: Scully and Buffy, Starbuck in the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot, Ripley and Vasquez and, hell, even Tasha Yar. I love this; I need this; I eat it up. And yet, my relationship with the Strong Woman Action Heroine is… complicated? Let’s say complicated. And let me take a minute, or several, to explain how.

3. No One’s Ever On Your Side:  Betty Draper Francis Still Needs Your Love.

“We wanted Betty to read The Feminine Mystique and get her mind blown and rise above; or, we wanted her to stay a victim, so we could relate to her better, or at least keep feeling sorry for her. But sometimes, people just get damaged until they start damaging. Sometimes, people are lost. We hate Betty now because she’s not going to stay a victim, but the truth is, she’s also not going to be saved.

It was the scenes with the child psychiatrist that did it for me. Some will argue that January Jones is a terrible actress, and to them I submit: The scenes in the child psychiatrist’s office. She became an entirely different person for those few minutes of film; you could see her getting softer, and sweeter, and more human, every second. All because someone — a woman, older than her, an authority figure — talked to her gently, and quietly, and responded to her worst, yikesiest statements only with, “that must be a terrible feeling.” You know: It really must be. All of Betty’s feelings must be so, so terrible. But it was clear, even then, that this woman was scared of her, and scared for her daughter. You could see the potential for Betty to heal, in those few scenes. But that wasn’t the message of the scenes themselves. The message was that her chance was gone; she wasn’t a child any more, and she had to be judged by adult standards. She still needs love, so badly, but she just doesn’t deserve it any more, and giving it to her is just too risky. Help came too late. And how many stories is that, really?”

And finally my good friend Manboobz has been making milk come out of my nose with his descriptions (with examples!) of what happens when men who really hate women try to date them.

Space Invader Training Session

"First we will make suggestive comments. Then we will escalate to hugging. We will be greeted as liberators."

Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I have been friends with this one person for almost 10 years. She’s my oldest friend. We’ve had our ups and our downs, like anyone does, right?

Recently (well.. in the past few of years) I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that she was attracted to me (and was attempting to flirt with me.) I was only vaguely uncomfortable with the state of affairs, especially since she was all “Nope, I don’t want girls, I want boys. ALL THE TIME!” I know, I missed a red flag here.

Then, strange comments that couldn’t be missed started being said. “I slept with this one girl and I didn’t like it so clearly I don’t like girls.” Turned into “You don’t have a crush on me because I’m not a boy.”

…Which wasn’t true. I didn’t have a crush on her because I didn’t have a crush on her. I’m bi.

It’s getting to the point where I dread any interaction with her. I can’t canoodle with my girlfriend because she’s hugging up on me all the time.

Another problem I’m sensing is some friend envy? For the longest time, she’s said she’s wanted to get married, and have kids. So much so that she had a PLAN FOR SUCCESS where she planned out the time frame for meeting someone, dating them, marrying them etc., all the while I’m sitting here and being ‘eh, whatever happens…’

Now fast foward to present day, I’m happily married, have a daughter AND I have a girlfriend. (No fussing, I’m in an open relationship. Which maybe is also another point of friend envy).

I’m not sure how to proceed. Is this friendship salvageable? Or is it time for the African Violet of Broken Friendship?

Sincerely,
Personal Space Invaded

Dear Personal Space Invaded:

Your letter made me feel like I’d just had a very special visit from the TSA, and you didn’t say one thing that you actually like about this woman besides “length of time known.”  If you’re not quite ready to visit your local florist, and you just want to enforce some boundaries while keeping her in your life, here’s a couple of things you can do.

Next time she drops one of her hints, say “You’ve brought up sex with women and whether or not I have a crush on you a few times now.  Is there something you are trying to tell me?

My prediction is that she will freeze like a deer and then backtrack, but if she goes all Mr. Darcy, you can say “Okay, I was wondering.  That must have been very hard for you to admit. I don’t have those feelings for you, but thank you for putting it out on the table in a way that we can just deal with it honestly.”

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The Decemberists, looking adorable.

This is just to say that I am enjoying the new Decemberists album quite a bit, even though I’m used to more songs about stabbing and murder from them. Did they go on antidepressants?  The Crane Wife is one of my “desert island” albums, but this is pretty good.  “January Hymn” is sad in just the right way, and “Rox in the Box” is pleasantly earwormy.  I need to listen a few more times before everything gels.

This is also an experiment with an open thread.  I’ve got a bunch of questions in my mailbox about Facebook and the whole process of “friending” and “unfriending” that I’m not quite ready to answer yet.  I feel a rant coming on about how despite appearances not everyone in your life is allowed to play in your sandbox all the time, but I need to sleep on it.

Questions? Thoughts?  Harrowing tales of Facebook drama? Favorite Decemberists song or album? Read any good books lately?  This blog is your blog.

Sometimes Darth Vader is a girl.

Dear Captain Awkward:

So, it’s like this. I met a great guy, and get this, it’s one of THOSE love stories where the girl winds up with the guy she went to school with, it was him all along! Hurrah for fairy stories!!!

So, all well and good and life is great with us, but the snag is he has an ex-girlfriend with whom he shared 20 odd  (druggy) years. After they split they stayed friends (without the benefits) and were very close. She’s got some fucked up Bonnie and Clyde fantasy going on, romanticizing the good old days when they robbed book stores to feed their habits (yuck!) and, while she says she wants him to be happy with someone else blah blah, in reality is making all kinds of noises (via Facebook comments and sending cards in the post) to let me know that she and he were the golden couple and will be forever.

I can’t help but get jealous about their obvious ‘history’ but as we are in a (new) relationship I feel weird that she sends him cards saying how much she loves him, and sends them addressed from the love nest they once shared.  She posts that she loves him all over his FB page, KNOWING that I’m going to read it. (Hello, we are over 40 btw not school kids!)

Is she trying to send a message to me? and how do I deal with it? We aren’t in the same country for a start, which helps, but I feel as if there are three of us in the relationship as he messages her and texts her EVERY day.. I am getting pissed off but don’t want to act like a needy jealous whinge-bag..

Thank you Captain.

Signed,
Not Needy or Jealous (well ok, a bit)

Dear Not Needy, Definitely Jealous:

I feel comfortable saying that this woman is trying to send a message.

People don’t go to the Post Office on purpose and stand in line to get the special stamps that will send letters to other countries without taking a little extra effort to work that into their day.  If you and your boyfriend lived in the same area as this woman, she would send you both a lot of messages, like sneaking into your house and peeing in all the corners and dressing up in your favorite clothes and rubbing her crazy all over your pillow so that you will go nuts trying to figure out why everything in your life suddenly smells like crotch.

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Mad Men Ladies

"Whenever I go into my boss's office, he sucks me further into his gross emotional problems. Should I be concerned?"

Intern Paul challenged me to write some shorter pieces. I agree that it was getting a bit Cary Tennis up in here, but with 100% fewer references to Burning Man so I’m still feeling ok about it.  Let’s dance.

Dear Captain Awkward:

Why African Violets?

-Just Curious

Dear Just Curious:

African Violets are lovely, but I keep killing them. So for me they symbolize something high maintenance that will soon die despite my best intentions. 

Feel free to give people you don’t like the plant of your choice.

Dear Captain Awkward:

Should I call off my wedding? I am having panic attacks. It’s in two weeks.

Runaway (Maybe) Bride

Probably?  No, it’s just cold feet? Here’s what I know about getting married:  I’ve been to some weddings?  Here’s what I know about being married: Jack shit.

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Footloose

Even this autographed photo of Kevin Bacon is embarrassed for you.

Dear Captain Awkward:

A friend asked me to forward her resume to Human Resources for an opening at my company.  I know her socially, but not her work, so when I passed her resume to HR I said “I only know her hang out with, so can’t speak for her as a worker, but she’s a cool, smart person and would fit in well here if she turns out to be right for the job.”

She ended up not getting the job, and got a nice, basic, polite email from the hiring manager.  “Impressive background, not a good fit, good luck,” etc.

Then…crazyness.

First, a hostile Facebook wall post about how she hates my company.  A public posting.  That people at my company can read.

Second, she sent this reply to the hiring manager.  This is her email word-for-word (including the heart in the sign-off). At the bottom she says “Feel free to share it,” so here you go.

> From: [REDACTED]
>> Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:53 AM
>> To: [REDACTED]
>> Subject: Re: Thank you
>>
>> Dearest [NAME OF  RECRUITER]:
>>
>> I’m quite unclear how I am not a “good fit” for the position. I know that this is a cookie-cutter mandated “Human Resources” response and you are probably well aware of how demeaning it truly is. You should really spice it up a little; take a little artistic license. Tell people they would be better off with the circus or a management position at McDonald’s.
>>
>> I am going to disagree with you that I am not a “good fit” for the position because let’s face it, anyone with a community college level of education can handle the list of tasks that you listed on your website. This is an entry level position. It does not take experience, it just takes someone who can understand directions and have the drive to carry them out. Perhaps an uncanny ability to speak eloquently or write masterfully? Either way, it requires minimal amounts of experience.
>>
>> Let’s just be honest here: Someone knows somebody who is friends with so-and-so who has a cousin that just graduated from DePaul with a English teaching degree so she would be perfect for the position. And so it goes.
>>
>> Feel free to forward this on to your department for a good laugh. Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you.
>>
>> Best Regards.
>>
>> <3

He told me not to worry, it didn’t reflect on me, and he is mostly amused. “Before we only assumed we didn’t want to hire her, but now we know!  It’s so rare that one finds true certainty in this life.”

I feel like I want to say something to my friend, since this is not the way to go about handling rejection, and she really shot herself in the foot here. If you could help me help her with a response, that would be super. Keep in mind I am fond of this girl, and I’m not exactly angry, even though I know I should be. I feel like she’s this adorable (yet crazy!) puppy who just peed inside the house.

Sincerely,

Tried To Help

Dear Tried to Help:

Good to know she’s not mad!

First, a little quiz.  What part of your friend’s letter made you cringe the most?  Was it the part where she addressed the hiring manager as “Dearest” and signed it with an insouciant little heart?  Was it her enormous sense of entitlement?   Was it the delight at her own wit?  Because I’m pretty sure that when she writes “Perhaps an uncanny ability to speak eloquently or write masterfully?” she’s talking about herself. As we all  know, rhetorical question + sentence fragment  = MASTERFUL.

The answer is:  It is all very bad.  You know who people don’t like to hire?  Condescending angry people with no sense of how to respond appropriately to business communications. Read More

The Emperor

"So....you have a twin sister..."

Dear Captain Awkward,

I currently have a kind of weird situation going on with my sister that I really don’t know how to deal with. My parents and I are estranged, and after many years of denial and telling myself that it was always my fault (when in fact, it never was, it was just abuse that I was chalking up to my “parents loving me”) and countless hours of very expensive therapy to get me to the mental Promised Land, I have realized the danger my sister is in.

She lives very close to my parents, both of which are very controlling and constantly manipulative and emotionally and mentally abusive. My father, especially, feels the need to meddle in everyone’s life, and always try to “one up” people with his resume of great accomplishments and how much money he makes. He recently decided that I wasn’t good enough to talk to anymore (almost verbatim said this) and the only thing I can deduce is he hates that he is not in control.

Additionally, this means that I have to have an issue with my sister. She’s constantly thrown in the middle, or feels the need to place herself in the middle and whenever there is an “issue” with my parents, there is seemingly a problem with her. I kind of want to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to get the hell away from them and try to find her own place in life with her husband, but it’s seemingly impossible. I know I can’t tell her what to do, or offer her advice when she’s not seeking it, but things are getting very strained, and we were doing so well at starting an adult relationship.

I’ve noticed also that when she is not surrounded by our parents, that she behaves much differently. At my wedding last month, she kind of made a “joke” in front of everyone when I mentioned that one of my best friends is going to be the usher for a bigger ceremony my husband and I are doing this year, and she practically yelled in the restaurant, “Oh really? I didn’t know that. I just thought Usher was an R&B singer!” To which there was nothing but awkward silence and me really trying not to stab her in the face with a fork.

Could you by any chance offer some advice in how to handle the situation without stepping on her toes? She’s very protective of our parents and feels that a life without a close relationship with your parents isn’t a life at all. I’ve realized that this is just something that has been beaten into us since we were little, and I really don’t want to tell her that I *don’t* want a relationship with her.

Sincerely,
Desperately Seeking Sister

Dear Desperately Seeking,

Oh man, your letter kept me up last night.

Let me address the small , easy stuff first:   Here at Captain Awkward Dot Com we can’t get behind getting all Stabby McForkInEye at your sister because she once blurted out something that sounded much funnier in her head.  When people are nervous or uncomfortable, they blurt.  They laugh at inappropriate times, and then they try to stifle that laughter, so it turns into more of a strangled bleat, and the strain of suppressing the laughter makes them fart. They pull a pen out of their purse to hand it to you, except it’s not a pen, it’s a tampon.  This is a safe space for blurts, farts, giggling in church, and inadvertent tampons.

When this happened, were you embarrassed FOR her (Oh man, my poor sister, she doesn’t know anyone here and was just too hip for the room) or BY her (Oh man, now all my friends will see what a n00b my sister is)?  Be honest with yourself about this, and then cut your sister some slack.  Of course in my family, “cutting slack” might involve staged retellings of the joke for the next 20 years and also calling into the local radio station to dedicate Usher songs to each other on birthdays and anniversaries, but do what feels right to you.

Now, the hard stuff.  It’s below the cut because it is full of stuff like photos of Bret Michaels and descriptions of abuse.  This has been your trigger warning. Read More

Dear Captain Awkward:

Dr. Who and the TARDIS

Let's go back to when I was awesome compared to you.

When I was younger I was a really wild up until college, where I was able to funnel all my rage and delinquency into my studies.

I have a friend who still sees me the same way I was when I was bad.   I grew up in a rotten situation (abuse, people in my family constantly trying to commit suicide, drug abuse), but I tried to stay on track and ended up keeping on track and graduating graduate school with honours.

I’m happy with my life now, my career is starting to pick up and I’m trying to start a new business but my friend keeps trying to make me feel rotten about myself. Not intentionally, but yeah.   Not only does she try to fix me but she berates me about how I live my life (no boyfriend, no kids and no interest in marriage). She’s really pissed off because I still enjoy (anime, comic, geek) conventions and wants me to “grow up” despite having both a regular and graduate school diploma.

I know she’s never been had to go through hardship and I’ve never told her about how bad my family was (but she had an idea), but this is driving me nuts.   I have no intention of changing who I am, we barely spend time together but she acts like she’s my best friend and that we hang out every day.

Our friendship has been on the rocks even since she took the side of another friend who destroyed a lot of my life’s work, set me back two years and took all of my friends in our “divorce.”   I’m extra mad that she spent my birthday with this person because she knows how I feel about it, but she acts like I shouldn’t be mad.

She’s the type of person who tries to genuinely fix people and is tooth-achingly sweet, but at the time oblivious, ignorant and I’m tired of feeling horrible because I’ve worked really hard to come up from where I was.

I’ve been trying everything from talking to her straight out about how horrible she makes me feel to telling her to leave me alone her to trying to let us drift apart. Right now she is in another country and life is great but I dread the day when she comes back and she starts trying to fix my life.

Signed,

Not Perfect, But Happy

Hello, Not Perfect But Happy, this is a great, GREAT letter.  It immediately made me think of the film Me Without You, which is about how friendships that sustain us during one part of our lives become toxic when the people inside them get stuck in their roles and don’t know how to get out of the past

Back when you and your friend first met, you were The Fucked Up One and she was The Good, Helpful One.  You describe her so beautifully:  “She’s the type of person who tries to genuinely fix people and is tooth-achingly sweet” that it tells me that part of her identity is still based on the dynamic of your friendship.  “I’m the good one, I fix people!” To keep seeing herself that way she needs you to keep filling your old role in her life.  This friend compares herself to you constantly.  You are the barometer she uses to measure herself.  It’s possible that she’s jealous of your accomplishments – graduate school, successful career, ability to pursue your own artistic and intellectual interests – so it’s convenient for her to ignore your achievements and focus on the things (she thinks) you lack. She is probably unhappy with some of her own choices and drowns that unhappiness by overly investing in, or, uh, “fixing” other people’s lives.

You say that you dread interacting with her and that you’ve straight up told her to stop contacting you.  I’m curious to know how she reacted to that conversation, as in, she’s obviously still contacting you and you’re still invested enough to be angry about her dinner with your enemy. I can think of two possible things would make the friendship worth keeping: Read More

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