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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Dear Captain Awkward,

Hello! I hope all is well with you and things. I have a long rambling question that is either summed up as “money: how do I get it” or “life: how do I fix it,” so, yeah.

Relevant life history: Recovering alcoholic dry drunk unintentionally emotionally abusive father, unintentionally emotionally abuse mother, batshit crazy running in both sides of the family no matter how hard my mum tries to deny it, income wildly varying between working poor and lower middle class. I’m the middle kid and either “the scapegoat” or the only good one. I mean, the story my parents had about me was that I was their success because I was wicked wicked smart, well-behaved (unlike my younger sister), wasn’t going to drop out of college when I got there (unlike my much older brother), was going to make lots of money etc etc etc.

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O Captain,

My parents recently made a very bad life decision that’s really straining my relationship with them: a week before Christmas, they left their home in Tennessee, quit their jobs, and moved 700 miles to live with and care for my aging grandmother in Florida. There are an awful lot of reasons why this is a bad decision, too many to list – but my therapist, four out of five of my siblings, and some of my friends with very sound judgment all agree that it’s a terrible idea. In addition to all the reasons why this is not a good plan for them or for my grandmother, it’s a decision that is personally hurtful to me because it doubles their distance from their four grandchildren – my three sons, and my niece, who lives near me – and brings our ability to travel to visit them from difficult to pretty much impossible (due to finances, insanity of traveling 1400 miles with three little ones, and lack of room at my grandmother’s tiny house – even if we did manage to get there, we’d have to shell out more cash to stay in a hotel). I’m hurt and angry that they’re choosing this crazy, irresponsible situation over their ability to be more involved in my kids’ lives, and I’m pretty much resenting the hell out of my parents right now.

But I haven’t expressed any of this to my parents, because honestly, they’re so set in their thinking about this move that they would find a way to spin my dissent as being somehow indicative of MY poor judgment or selfishness or something. I’ve pulled way back on my relationship with them, but if they’ve noticed, they haven’t said anything, and I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize how negatively my siblings and I feel about this decision. None of us feel particularly inclined to talk to them about it, though.

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First, links!

Dear Sugar knows all about the jerkbrain, calling it “your invisible terrible someone.” Such a good description!

I’m reading Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really, Really Want and will post a review here soon.

I finally watched Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture (it is streaming on the Netflix, as is the brilliant Meek’s Cutoff if you like independent cinema by women and I think you do) and kind of loved it. So real and awkward and reminds me of a million questions here. I wanted to punch both of those dudes so hard. Can there be a punching sequel? Or a videogame tie-in?

I’ve talked about my love for Yo, Is This Racist? before, yes?  Ok, good.

Via Amanda Marcotte, a Friend or Foe question that makes my head hurt. Lady, your spouse is not invited to the hen party. The hosts specifically asked you to leave him out of it. If he can’t fend for himself for one night, and you can’t leave him to himself for one night, then he is either a giant wet blanket or a control freak. I suspect it’s “can’t hang/wet blanket” given the tone of your letter, but if you can’t go anywhere without each other it is not cute and romantic. If he tries to pressure you into not going because of “fairness,” something is seriously off. Send him to the movies or off with a good book and have a good time with your friends.

And now, a fluffy dating question!

Dear Captain Awkward -

There’s this guy. (Of course there is.) We have sung together in our awesome little church choir for three years and he has a voice that would melt butter, but beyond that and the occasional pre-rehearsal chitchat, I don’t know him that well. Today I very suddenly became aware — via a Darcy-esque Grand Romantic Gesture on his part (albeit on a more modest scale) — that he’s Really Into Me. Looking back at our interactions with knowledge of the Into-Me-ness, I think he’s been pining after me for the better part of a year.

Here’s the rub: I’m 32; he’s 54. And not in a “54-is-the-new-44-goes-rock-climbing-and-looks-like-Captain-Picard” way; dude is solidly middle-aged.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I realize that the following is a little out of your purview, and wanted to thank you beforehand for looking at it, even if you don’t respond.

I find it very difficult to care about the course that my life takes. I definitely feel emotions like a normal person (I laughed a lot when reading through your blog), but I have trouble feeling personally connected or concerned about people, myself included, though I am altruistic to people in general regardless of whether I know them or not. I also consider life and death to be equally value-neutral–as in, dying isn’t a horrible tragedy to me, though having your choice of whether to live or die taken away against your will is certainly very sad–and the world to be more bad than good. Because of this, I have always considered it a possibility that I might kill myself if my life gets too unpleasant, painful, unlivable, or just too boring. 

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Bathroom graffiti says "Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver."

And it's temporary, unlike burying them under the floorboards of your home.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I wrote to you a while ago because I wanted to move and felt like my boyfriend, who I was then living with, was holding me back. Well, the good news is I moved. I’m living with my parents now and I’ll start a education here in January. My boyfriend and I are trying to make our relationship work long distance, with no promises for the future made, which is exactly what I want right now. I’m also trying to find a place of my own.

The problem is, my sister, also living at home, and my dad fights a lot. I have a hard time dealing with noise in general and it’s really hard for me to relax when people are yelling at each other in the other room. I’ve tried several times asking them to be less loud, but that doesn’t really work. My dad tends to overreact to any criticism and my sister has a problem with accepting that confronting him about behavior she finds hurtful or annoying will never lead to him actually changing or even apologizing. My dad also has some problems with alcohol, and while he’s never violent and manages to function anyway, I suspect it might be a reason for his behavior. However, the combination of this leads to them spending hours fighting, several times a week. It’s making me resent them both a little. I really need some advice for coping with that situation. I get along great with my sister. We have fun together and she’s a big emotional support for me. I also get along fairly well with both of my parents, although less so with my dad.  But it’s hard for me to deal with the fact that whenever the two of them are home at the same time, there’s a big possibility that I’ll have to listen to them fight.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Background: I’m losing my home to gentrification. I’m disabled and receive rent assistance from the housing authority. After what I’d planned as a fun day out (I’ve been severely agoraphobic lately and trying to force myself to get out more) became an unpleasant evening waiting for buses in the cold, damp, dark, I came home to a notice on my door that my apartment complex will no longer be participating in the Housing Assistance Program”. My lease is up January 31st. I don’t have the emotional, practical, or financial resources to move. I recently had a bout of bronchitis that put me in the hospital for a few days, I’m having one of the worst depressive episodes I’ve ever had that wasn’t directly triggered by a crisis (and I’d been taking some very difficult steps to try and get help beyond the inadequate care I’m currently receiving but not making much progress), and now I have a major crisis.

Don’t worry, that’s not what I’m asking your advice on.

Some needed background: My relationship with my mom got very strained after I hit puberty. I moved out when I was 16, and only stayed with her briefly (as in, a few weeks) when I was 19 and ending a relationship with an extremely abusive boyfriend. She wouldn’t take any money for rent, even though I was working full-time then, and she’d turned my bedroom into a sewing room. I was allowed to sleep in the corner and hang some clothes on a rack at the foot of it, and I wasn’t given keys; I had to have all my comings and goings at her convenience. When a guy who was interested in me called, she made a derisive remark about how they were sniffing around already. She tried to put me in a group home. I moved in to the first cheap rented room I could find. About a year later I moved to Texas. I’ve only seen her once since, and that was less than two years after the move; eighteen years ago. She’s sort of a cross between Joyce Summers and Sylvia Noble, to use a little shorthand. Over the past few months we’ve been tentatively planning for her to visit in March, which was a Seriously Big Deal for me.

I was going to email her to let her know about the crisis and suggest holding off on plans until I’d somehow worked something out. But my mother doesn’t like email; she’s told me that computers are what she uses at work and she doesn’t like using them when she doesn’t have to. I’m fairly telephone-phobic at the best of times, but since I was hoping to catch her before she bought plane tickets I called her.

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Gandalf the White has leveled up.

Gandalf the Grey levels up in his own sweet motherfucking time, as will you.

Dear Captain Awkward,

As a fellow academic/nerd, I hope you can help me out with this one.

My relationship with my in-laws has never been very good, partly because my husband’s relationship with them isn’t either. They really would have preferred it if he’d married someone with an MBA, but instead they got a historian. And all they ever ask is every grad student’s least favorite question: when am I going to finish my dissertation?

They also hounded my husband about it during his program, even though he tried to explain that physics experiments are unpredictable and that his crazy adviser was the one who decided these things, not him (and she ended up driving him out of his program entirely!)

I’m a year behind as it is due to some struggles with the patriarchy and having to change advisers, so I’m only finishing the research phase up by this August. I admit this makes me a little more sensitive to questions of progress/completion than I might otherwise be.

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Omar scared all the other Christmas ornaments away.

My small Christmas tree, with the Omar Little finger puppet of holiday ambivalence.

It’s Chrismukkah (insert your “We’re halfway out of the dark” holiday of choice here), the time of year where some of us take a few days off, eat and drink things with people we love, light sparkly lights, maybe exchange gifts. If this is a relaxing, special time of year for you that you love, I hope you enjoy it.

For some of us this time of year is one long slow-motion anxiety attack.  I must have “arrived” as an advice columnist in some way, as the letters about family holiday worry, financial stress, grief for dying relatives, the fear of facing abusers over Roast Beast started coming over a month ago. There are too many of them (and some of them cut too close to home) for me to answer in the way they deserve.

Here are some things I know, mostly on the subject of “don’t should all over yourself.”

1. Travel: You don’t have to go home (if you can’t afford it, if you dread it, if people will be mean to you). Perhaps you will “ruin” someone’s holiday if you don’t go. Perhaps you will “ruin” your own holiday if you do. If you choose to go, it gives you a little bit of armor for you to choose to enjoy what there is to be enjoyed and let the rest go. If you go because you “have to,” you’re sunk.

2. Presents: If you can afford to give presents and you want to give them, presents are delightful! If you can’t, don’t put yourself in a bad financial situation because you think you are “have to” give them. At this point some commenter is going to tell us about the awesome inexpensive Blah blah homemade blah blah crafty! blah blah thing they made, to which I say “Great! Please go share that on one of the 8 million sites about cool crafty stuff that is not here.” For some people making crafty stuff is fun and relaxing and exciting. For someone with limited resources (be it time, emotional energy, or money), the prospect of bedazzling a bunch of whatchamajiggits is filled with pressure and dread.

For the record, if someone gives you a present and you don’t have anything for them (because you can’t or because you didn’t know that y’all were gift-exchange-type-people), the correct answer is “Thank you! I love it!” and not a 15 minute Socially Awkward Penguin dance where you apologize for not having anything for them. Send them a nice thank you note. If they are the kind of person who keeps score and gets offended, this experience will teach them not to get you anything next time. Every kiss does NOT begin a diamond pendant shaped like buttocks.

3. Manners & boundaries.  Some families think that “We’re close, we don’t need to have manners! We can just say whatever pops into our heads! I’m not criticizing you, I’m just being honest! We don’t stand on formality around here! Wait, why are you crying?  God, why do you always have to be so sensitive?” The Venn Diagram of these families and those of the letter writers filling up my inbox are a series of concentric circles. Manners count. Kindness counts.

Simone at The Hairpin says the rest. I owe her some kind of nog or amateur craft project for knocking so many letters off of my to-answer list with one blow.

wide-brimmed black hat with veil

Nature has ways of staying "don't touch." We have fancy hats and words we learned in therapy.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have some pretty intense reactions to being physically touched. Basically, I can’t stand being physically touched by most people – and I especially don’t like being hugged. It makes me feel trapped and physically sick. I’ve learnt to deal with it on occasions where it would be awkward or rude not to, so it doesn’t impact my interpersonal relationships too much, but I still don’t like it.

However, I really cannot deal with being hugged if the person hugging me is very emotional – like if they’re crying. On the few occasions where this has happened to me, I’ve been very shaky afterwards and I felt like I’d been physically violated. Now usually I just avoid situations where this might occur, I go about my life with minimal physical contact and I’m fine. However…

My grandfather’s funeral is coming up (he’s got at the most a couple of weeks left and funereal preparations are under way). I know it might seem self-involved to be concerned for myself when my grandfather is going to die, but this is a huge issue for me.  

First of all, it’s very important to my mum that I attend the funeral, so not attending isn’t really an option.

Now: My mum has never been very respectful of my desire to not be hugged, even though I’ve talked to her about it, and it’s not something any of my extended family members are aware of.

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