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Hello, lovely commenters!  I have a lot of actual (paid!) work to do, so I’m turning this question over to you since as a bunch you all seem GREAT at standing up for yourselves.

Like the questioner, I had to learn to have boundaries from scratch as an adult and I was afraid for a long time that if I said what I needed or got pissed off at people that they would leave/hate me and that I would be a big meanpants who is ruining everything. Then I got a lot of therapy and probably 50% of writing this blog my own personal daily reminder that boundaries are great and everyone should have them!  And people actually like and respect you more when you can articulate them, and if they don’t, well, you don’t have to hang out with crappy people, and it actually doesn’t matter whether or not crappy people like you.

So, take it away, readers.  Tell us how you learned how to stand up for yourself.

Dear Captain Awkward, 

I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m hoping that your grown-up, no-nonsense woman powers work on me. 

I’ve always been a shy woman trying to fight her social awkwardness and I’m proud to say I’ve been progressing very positively, except for one BIG thing: I find it really hard to stand up for myself. I try to avoid conflict at all costs to the point that it took 3 months to break up with my boyfriend because he would take advantge of my guilt for breaking it up. Something similar happens when someone’s mean to me, I’ve taught myself to shrugg it off, but I know that what I should do is send those meanies packing. Something similar happens at work, I keep making excuses for others to be mean, lazy or underachieving. I put myself in their places and think, well, I’m sure the have a good reason for it, when deep down I know it’s not true.

The weird thing is that whenever someone close to me is in trouble, either being bullied or abused in any way I react like a freaking Mama Bear. Some older kids bullying my little cousin at school, no worries, let’s have a chat. I’ll give them a lesson on manners. Some punks throwing stones at my dog, I’ll walk to those guys sitting on their bikes and give them a piece of my mind. The same goes for anyone I feel is in a powerless position, I break fights between kids on the street and remind unkind people to be polite to old ladies. Still when someone is rude to me I freeze and turn into a wimpy kid, tearing up and second guessing myself.

I’ve never met anyone with a similar problem and I’m starting to think that I’m a freak. I wonder whether there are more people with the same issues and I would love to hear your advice on the matter. What can I do to learn to stand up for myself Captain Awkward?

Thanks a lot for your help, 

A Wimpy Mama Bear

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Matt Paxton from Hoarders

"Honey, don't make me call Matt Paxton, World's Sexiest Cleaning Guy!"

Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend (late 30s) and I (early 30s) have been dating for about 2 years and pretty much everything is great. He’s kind, generous, supportive, and smart; he understands “privilege” and “the kyriarchy”; we have similar goals in life; and the sex is awesome. We’re talking about getting married and having kids. However, I have a problem: his personal hygeine and housekeeping skills are disgusting. 

He doesn’t shower daily, only brushes his teeth 3-4 times per week, and wears the same clothes for days on end. We live in an area notorious for being super-casual and laid back, and even here his employer has had to have a talk with him about his grooming habits. Yesterday I jokingly brought up the tooth-brushing thing, and he protested that he brushes “almost daily” and that his oral health is fine. He thinks his gums are healthy and is convinced he’s cavity-free, but he hasn’t been to the dentist in years, and his gums are visibly receding and discolored. It’s revolting.

His apartment is gross – it stinks of ammonia since he rarely cleans his cats’ litterbox. When they vomit or drag in dead rodents, he picks up the chunks off the carpet but doesn’t treat the stain. His toilet bowl is brown on the inside. There is a layer of dirt, hair and scum on practically every surface in the kitchen and bathroom. When he washes dishes, they don’t get clean – they just come out greasy from the filthy water he washes them in. 

I don’t know how to broach this topic with him. I love him and want to make a lifetime commitment to him, but I also want him to take care of his body and of the house we’re eventually going to share. When we live together, I don’t want to be solely responsible for keeping the house in habitable condition. I also don’t want his teeth to fall out before he’s 50. Am I a nagging harpy for wanting to change his habits regarding grooming and housekeeping? How can I discuss this with him in a way that won’t make him feel attacked? He sometimes tends to regard criticism as an attack on Who He Is as a Person, if you know what I mean. Help!

- Fastidious Girlfriend

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Skywriting spells out "You Didn't Fail!"Captain Awkward!

My question is sadly not about fun sexy things or friendships but about my parents! Sort of. It’s: How do I tell my parents I got laid off?

The story is this. Today, my company “reorganized” and lopped off a bunch of positions, including mine. This was my first job out of college. I moved to a new city, and basically my whole identity was what I do, and now I am completely devastated and humiliated and it is awful. I spent about two hours staring at, like, my carpet fibers, then four hours just walking around the city trying to get tired enough to sleep. Which I may never! Because I got fired. Not a state you want to call your parents halfway across the country in. 

But the thing is. The thing is, my parents were so proud, Captain Awkward! Like I don’t think my dad has ever said that he was proud of me until I got this job, moved out here, and then he was like “I am so proud of you!” In light of this I don’t know if I am actually able to get on the phone and be like, “Hi Dad, guess what happened?” Because, although all I want right now is to get my ass on a plane and run home for a hug, I don’t want to make my parents as sad as I know they’ll be. Or disappointed that they raised a tragic failure kid who gets fired. 

Is there like, a script for this?

Okay I have some staring at carpet fibers to do!

Thanks,
A Now Full-Time Reader

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve got a thing for this guy who I met through a mutual friend. He lives in another city so I don’t see him all that often [it’s close enough that a lot of people date (and non-romantically commute) between the two cities, but far enough that casual hanging out with friends can be difficult]. We’re fairly friendly on Facebook and the like though, which has kept the infatuation going.

Mutual Friend thinks we’d be perfect together, but she refuses to find out if he might be interested in me [because she is also awkward?]. I’ve reached the point where the fun of having a crush has worn off and normally at this stage I’d just go ‘fuck it’ and get a good friendship out of the deal – but that is probably why I am perpetually single with a lot of really amazing friends. I feel like I should be proactive about this and actually do something, but my issues with that are as follows: Read More

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve had a problem for a while that has always been an issue with me, but is now beginning to affect my work and professional standing: I have a hard time understanding people strong foreign accents, and I don’t know how to address the issue without making it super awkward.

So here I am!

About me: I’m a 26-year-old software developer, US citizen living in the US, male and white. I feel blessed that I get to speak my native language at work and out in the city, but having lived in a foreign country, learning the language as I went, I understand how frustrating not being a native speaker can be (and not really, since I was an exchange student, and most people would assume at worst that I was a dumb tourist rather than “xenophobic enemy of the moment”).

But I can’t help that I have trouble understanding thick foreign accents speaking English, and recently, it’s been a problem for me at work.

My boss is Indian. She’s very intelligent and knowledgeable, but sometimes I have a hard time understanding her English due to her thick accent and sometimes quirky sentence structure. The reason this is becoming an issue is that I sometimes don’t understand my work assignments. Asking over and over for clarification clearly frustrates her, and makes me look stupid. “I don’t understand what the problem is, this isn’t hard to understand!”. Only it is!

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Which friend would have your back if you pooped your pants in a fancy bridal salon?

Dear Captain,

So, I have a best friend, who is very awesome and very important to me. But as of about a month ago, I can’t help feeling like my best friend is cheating on me.

Someone new joined our friendship group. She is nice and fun to do things with on occasion, but I also find her trying because she’s very young for her age, she talks a /lot/, and she’s quite dependent. She has also really hit it off with my best friend, with the result that when we’re hanging out as a group she’s talking heaps to her, so I can’t get a word in, and instead of going somewhere alone (to get drinks, to go dance on the dance floor, to go to the shop for something or even be left alone in the house while others go to the shop) will generally get my friend to go with her. Whenever the group splits, the new girl joins us when it used to be just us two. In response to her chattiness and dependency, I find that I get quieter and quieter, and more likely to go into self-sufficient mode where I just go off and do my own thing. Which is fine for a short time, but it’s not exactly quality socialising and I’m getting lonely – especially as I feel like no one’s noticing me slipping away.

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Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark knows 17,309 ways to kick your ass but only needs one.

Dear Captain,

Though I do not consider myself a prude, I sometimes have to question the validity of how sensitive I become when exposed to certain materials, which is why I am writing you.

I have a wonderful partner who is sweet and kind and makes me feel all kinds of wonderful when we are together. He is also very smart and loves reading and history. He takes a particular interest in historical television shows like Deadwood, Rome and currently, Game of Thrones.

I love my partner very much and I make a strong attempt to like the things that he likes. But these shows really get to me sometimes. I know that in the past women have been regarded as property but watching these shows with all the prostitution and rape is so distracting I don’t even care about the story. I see chicks in the backgrounds of scenes with the exposed bodies and it’s just there as part of the set decoration.

I don’t THINK I’m a prude. I don’t mind sex or nudity, but this isn’t even sex. It just feels like someone is trying to make me feel shocked and/or to hate men. And it bothers me that my partner doesn’t get why I’m bothered by it. We had a small fight about it the other day after viewing the first episode of GoT and he started explaining how he “understood there were elements of sex” in there which REALLY made me mad because rape is not sex. And it feels like he is so desensitized that it does not faze him a bit to see such things.

Gloriana Regina: Queen Elizabeth

Promised to half of Europe, married none of them, ruled her own damn country. Are we post-sexist yet?

The style of these shows are not going to go away and he’s not going to stop watching them, or at least wanting to. He asked if I’d prefer he didn’t watch but I don’t like asking people I’m dating (or not dating) to stop doing things they enjoy. I really don’t mind nudity, I watch bad sexploitation films all the time. But those stories are silly and the characters consenting.

I’m sure that GoT is only going to get awesome (I enjoy fantasy stories) but I just can’t see past certain things anymore. Am I being too sensitive?

Signed,
Sick of Thrones

Dear Sick of Thrones,

I watch a lot of HBO dramas, and along with the amazing storytelling comes boobs. Lots of boobs, to the point that when we see some naked lady gyrating in the back of a scene my friends all roll our eyes and say “We’re on HBO, you guys!” and “Look, it’s HBO!” (you can’t hear the sarcasm, but trust me) to the point where I think that HBO must have someone on staff, say, a Vice President of Tits, who sits in on pitch and story development meetings figuring out how new shows will work tits in. Can any readers with inside knowledge confirm this story (and get me a directing job?)

While I’ve read the books, I haven’t watched a single second of Game of Thrones (yet), so I’m turning this one over to the great Commander Logic. But before I do, let me leave you with 1) It’s totally okay to just not watch things that you you don’t like 2) there’s a lot of shitty sexist media out there boy howdy and I can’t watch shows that start off with images of nameless dead, raped, and dismembered ladies and then watch detectives find out, in detail, how they got that way 3) your boyfriend isn’t watching those things AT you, and the more you disengage from it where he is concerned the happier you will probably be.

Here’s Commander Logic.
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For those of you who live in Chicago and enjoy storytelling, I’ll be reading at an event called Women on Fire,  “an evening of true tales of women on the verge of freedom, destruction, and salvation,”  featuring stories by Kelly Anchors, Caryn Berman, Joan Lipschutz, Dana Norris (founder and host of Story Club), Anne Purkey, and me.  It starts at 7:30, in the upstairs room at Schubas, suggested donation $5.  My story is about secrets, lies, and sandwiches.

 

What's semaphore for "Let's break up?"

Dear Captain Awkward,

I started dating a woman late last year, but shortly afterward economic circumstances forced me to move to a town a couple hours away. We’ve been doing the long distance thing ever since, and it’s been going quite splendidly, actually. She tells me that she loves me and misses me and all that, but when the rare opportunity comes up for me to travel to my former city and visit her, she usually says she’s too busy. Which is fine, I respect that. But on a recent Saturday I had an opportunity to see her for a couple hours in the late morning, and she said she’d love to but would have to see about it. When I asked again a couple days later, she said she’d be busy the whole day. I accepted this and moved on.

The problem was that when that Saturday rolled around, she showed up on Twitter at about noon saying she’d just woken up. Again, I don’t care about that on its own. I understand that it’s none of my business if she wants to sleep till noon. But should it at least bother me that a) she’d rather sleep than see me, and b) she felt the need to lie about that? I’m just not certain how personally I should be taking this. Thanks for any advice you have to give.

This must be the week to talk about long distance relationships that aren’t actually relationships.

Taking the most generous possible view of your girlfriend’s behavior, like a view from space with the earth looking remote and blue and peaceful below us:  She has a very busy life (is she a filmmaker, by any chance?) and needs a lot of notice to schedule time to hang out with you when you visit, and is sort of setting a boundary about that by not making herself immediately available. Has she said this before in those words, like, “I want to see you but my schedule is very packed and inflexible and when you come at the last minute it stresses me out, so I need a ton of notice? ” Or, “I’m working nights all week, and while Sunday morning is *technically* free, that’s my one chance to catch up on sleep”?

No?  Even if she has fully articulated her needs about scheduling, how is that working for you?  You use words like “fine” and “splendidly!” but…um…really?  It’s going well and all your needs are being met?  All of them?  The ones you have “down there”?  When was the last time she visited you where you live?  What’s your plan for living in the same place eventually?

Moving down to the surface of the earth, I’d say, yeah, you can take this one pretty personally.  Despite her protestations of love, you are penpals who are never in the same place at the same time, and when you make the time to visit, she finds a way to not be in the same room with you.  This is what we call a red flag.

Time to ask your girlfriend penpal what’s up, and be prepared to let go of this one.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been growing apart from a close friend of mine for several months, as some changes in my life made it clear to me how little we have in common. Although my friend and I are very different, we’d bonded when our sons were babies. For the past four or so years, our boys have been very good friends, and we’ve watched them grow and change together. They attended the same pre-school for two years and they love one another like brothers.

Recently, my friend’s son’s behavior has changed quite a bit. He used to be very shy and quiet; now he’s become aggressive, bossy and a braggart. He tends to disrupt any play date he attends. Other children, my son included, get riled up by his boisterous behavior and act out much more than usual — and when you’re talking about four year old boys, that’s saying something. Other, mutual friends have noticed this too, as my friend’s son has the same effect on their kids. There’s been a lot of gossip about both mother and son on the playground, and I (and maybe others?) have started to seek out play dates that they aren’t attending.

My question for you is: should I say something to my friend? Our friendship is already waning, and our sons will be going to different kindergartens in the fall. I’m tempted to just let this lie, because a) it’s easier and I’m lazy and b) I don’t think she’d handle criticism, however gentle, of her precious angel very well. But if I were the subject of the gossip, and my kid were the one that people were starting to avoid, I think I’d want to know. What are your thoughts?

Thanks,
Squeamish

I definitely want to throw this one out to the commenters, because I am not a parent, but my instincts are to get together with your friend for a playdate and bring it up with her directly in the form of a question.

Leave out the gossip and the judgment of other people and how he may or may not be affecting your kid’s behavior, and just say “Your kid has been really acting out lately, is there something going on with him?  Is everything okay?”  There is always this temptation in dealing with an uncomfortable conversation to rely on the consensus of the crowd, like, “We’ve all talked and we agree that there is something wrong with you,” but that is NEVER well-received because it becomes about who said what and when and people automatically get really defensive (with reason).  It’s a lot harder to ignore someone who says “I’m concerned about you, I’ve noticed x, y, and z, are you ok?” based on their own observations and experiences.

Because really, the behavior of your kid is not *really* the fault of this woman or her kid. This other kid just unlocked the little monster inside of himself and also the little monster that is inside your kid (despite all of your awesome efforts as a parent, that monster lives in there and wants to come out and plaaaaaaaaaay).  And because in uncomfortable situations, it’s always better to just ask a question and see what the other person thinks than to serve up your theories and judgment.  The other mom might be really sad and frustrated by what’s going on and not know how to deal. The kid might be taking some medication for a medical condition that affects his mood and aggression (For example, a former boss’s kid was on a lot of steroids for a respiratory condition, and it made her super-aggressive and hard to deal with).

If she’s a snippy person who takes concern for her and her child as criticism, she might get snippy and leave in a huff, and then she’ll be out of your life sooner rather than later.  But I don’t think you’ll hurt anything by asking the question, and you can also put that question to the gossipers – “Yeah, I’ve noticed that, too – have you asked her directly what’s going on?  Is everything okay with him?”

I’d be grateful for any parents reading this to chime in with how they would like to be approached if their kid is acting out.

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