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Ahoy Captain,

I’m writing this after reading about the LW who kept getting stuck with the check.  I’m in the inverse of a similar situation, and I’m not sure of the best approach.  I’ve just started a job in an awesome place with a bunch of wonderful, appropriately friendly co-workers.  Apart from loving what I do there, this job will (slowly) get me out of a pretty grim financial situation created by student loans and intermittent work over the past two years.  For now, though, I’m on a skeleton budget and can’t afford much by way of unnecessary stuff, which is where the problem starts.  My co-workers have all worked together for a while, and they do this cool thing were they go out to lunch together a lot and take turns either paying for lunch, or collecting money from the office to run out and get food.  They invite me frequently, and once or twice have covered me for lunch on the rare occasion I forgot to pack one. I’d love to participate, but I can’t at the moment due to being behind on a lot of crucial bills.

The trouble is that it’s getting to the point were it feels really weird to be constantly opting out of these lunches, especially since we’re a small office, and the fact that I don’t volunteer to pitch in for food runs is creating some very awkward situations were I’m constantly removing myself from the rest of the group.  I know I’m coming across as either stingy or unfriendly, which concerns me because I really want to make this job a pleasant environment.  But it’s realistically going to be a few months before I can afford to do this, and I don’t want to explain my financial situation to my colleagues.  Are there any scripts or tips you and the awkward army know of to navigate this embarrassing situation?

Sincerely,

Economic Casualty

Dear Economic Casualty:

The first ever Captain Awkward reader question was about a similar topic, with friends and money and eating out. So, hey! We’ve come a long way.

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Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall with text "Professor McBadass"

There is more to teaching and life than having a good small-talk game.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This question is not so much about a single major situation or a crisis as it is about a recurring, if minor, situation that I encounter again and again. I am a graduate student at a medium-sized research university where graduate students do a lot of teaching. As a result, I encounter former students on campus on a very regular basis. I hope very much to keep teaching college students long-term, though who knows what my future holds.

The problem I have is this. My classes are often fairly popular with students, in part because my teaching persona is very warm and approachable, and in the classroom, I am good at not taking myself too seriously and putting other people (i.e. students) at ease. In real life I am none of those things: I am awkward, introverted, and ill-at-ease with social acquaintances, and I overread Every. Damn. Detail. of routine social interactions. I often feel that students who run into me in public social settings (at coffee shops, libraries, etc.) are surprised by what they perceive as a change in my affect, and that–put bluntly–I make them feel uncomfortable when they greet me after our class is over. I hate that. I feel I talk too long, or not long enough, or that I greet them when they’d rather avoid me, or that I avoid them when they’d rather greet me.

I should say that, while many college instructors resist or resent outside encounters with students, I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy keeping up with former students. Even more importantly, I think that students at my large, cold, competitive institution need as many one-on-one adult contacts as they can get, and that it’s important for them to feel like they are part of a supportive social network made up of people of many different ages. I think that having good, positive, low-key, supportive encounters–not with every single student, but with students who actually want to say “hi” or catch up briefly in passing–is an important part of my job. But I’m not good at it.

I’m asking you because I know you are a college professor, and I imagine that–like me–you have a lot of students who would like to keep in touch, or who check in when you pass them in the hallway. Any advice on how to make these encounters productive, or at least comfortable?

Wants to Be That Supportive Former Teacher

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Oh Captain My Captain;

I rent a room in a house with a pretty nice family, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. They’re very friendly and open, their eldest son and I share a lot of interests, and they aren’t really judgmental, though they are very vocal about their political views and beliefs, they know I don’t get involved in that sort of stuff and seem to respect my space as far as that’s concerned.

The problem is respecting space as far as everything else – I do my part around the house, cleaning bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, laundry, helping care for their 19 year old cat and doing pretty much anything I can to make myself useful. My landlords, a married couple, also have two of their adult children living with them because finances suck for everyone except the elderly rich, which we are not among. Their kids, even though they are adults, are still very close to their parents and depend on them for a lot, and basically come off as young teens in a lot of ways. The main problem seems to stem from the fact that, although I am not one of their kids, because I’m younger than their kids they seem to feel the need to parent me.

Whenever I get anything in the mail, they want to know what it is, who it’s from, if it’s a package they want to hover over me and see what it is, who I ordered it from, how much did it cost, was it made in the USA? They have come in my room without permission several times, always ask me when I will be at work, how many hours I’m getting, what I’m paid, if I go out somewhere that isn’t work related where did I go, did I buy anything there? I can’t bring home so much as a single shopping bag without being interrogated or having it pawed through and my purchases commented on, along with how I dress, where I work, basically everything I do. They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!

I’m a very private person, and I hate discussing money with anyone, particularly when it’s really none of their business, and I really don’t want my every purchase judged and pawed through. I am one of those people that doesn’t want to talk about my day, I don’t want to talk about what happened at work or if I got a raise or if I bought lunch or something. I don’t like talking to people in general, but I try my best to at least be nice. It’s started creeping me out a lot that I can’t walk anywhere near the door with my keys without getting an interrogation on where I’m going, who I’m going with if anyone, what I’m buying, et cetera. If they had to drive me places, yeah, fine, I could understand them needing to know my work schedule or if I needed to go buy stuff or something, but I have my own car and drive myself everywhere so there is no reason they need to know any of this stuff. They also try to include me in their family events, even big holiday stuff like Christmas or Thanksgiving, even when they’re super loud and generally not the kind of thing I’d go within a hundred miles of if I didn’t live here, but when I live in the same house it’s kind of hard to avoid without it being painfully obvious that I’m avoiding it, particularly since I’m not social and generally don’t go anywhere other than work.

They seem to have semi-adopted me as one of their own kids, which is kind of problematic on it’s own, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Do you have a way for me to politely tell them to back off and stop questioning me about everything I do? I intend to move out soon, so I’ll have my privacy again eventually, but until then I’d like to get back at least a bit of privacy while I live here, without making things tense or possibly making them angry. They are a very close-knit, openly affectionate, rather loud kind of family, so I’m not sure they can even understand that no, I don’t really want to take part in all the loud, boisterous family stuff they do because I’m just not that kind of person. I like my quiet and privacy, and I would like to get some of that back.

Any ideas?

Thanks!

Not Their Kid

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Grumpycat saying "no."

This word makes “yes” possible.

Dear Captain, my Captain,

Lately I have been very grumpy and I would like to stop. 

While I am in a very happy place right now mentally, best I’ve been in a long time, I have found that certain things irritate me more than they reasonably should. Prime examples are my flatmate coming home every day and complaining about her drive and an incompetent colleague. I love her and I know she has a right to whine, but it’s become very repetitive.(Someone in front of her was slow, someone behind her was pushy, and her colleague is useless because ‘something to do with Chemistry that I know nothing about’.) She will usually follow me to my room, lean against the doorframe, and just stay there watching me on my computer and complaining about stuff every once and again. And it irritates me.

I also have a friend who likes to talk about food. I have a history of eating disorders in my family and my circle of friends and I find the most random comments triggering – e.g. “wow I ate so much I feel sick ” after dinner, “I should really eat less/ lose weight” (while simultaneously eating a lot), and “my stomach is so full and fat *pat pat*” after food. But these are not really things I can ask her to stop doing, it’s just small comments!

I don’t know if it’s because of stress at uni lately, or because of some other thing, but I hate being so irritated all the time and I never know how to react to them both without being impolite.

So I guess my question is: do you have any scripts for me to opt out of those kinds of one-sided conversations?

Best wishes,
Grumpycat

Dear Grumpycat:

I’m glad you asked, because I DO have scripts.

First, let’s talk about the idea that these events are annoying you “more than they should.” When you are feeling less overall stress from school, you might in fact be able to better put up with the constant doorlurking from your roommate and the constant diet-talk from your friend. But that doesn’t mean something has to be wrong with you, or overwhelming in other parts of your life, for you to want to set and enforce boundaries in your living space and your relationships. Somehow, many of us have inherited the fallacy that listening to someone endlessly, way past our own comfort level, or listening to talk that is actively harmful to us, without interruption or protest, is the only polite thing to do. I suspect a lot of it is socialization (esp. if one is a female-raised person) and another big bunch of it is mistranslation or misunderstanding of Emily Post’s adage that it is bad manners to point out someone else’s bad manners.

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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter movies

I’m sure she put smiley-faces on all of her o-mails.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My younger sister, let’s call her Bee, works as an executive assistant in a large, urban, corporate environment. Bee’s manager has recently mentioned, twice, that she is “coaching” my sister on developing better professional communication skills. In particular, she has expressed concerns that Bee is not “nice” enough in her emails to co-workers. She has mentioned that my sister does not use “smileys” and doesn’t start emails out with praising statements before doing something like asking for information. There has been no actual professional coaching, only these hints that my sister should be “sweeter” in her emails.

Here’s where I come in. When I say my sister is “nice,” that doesn’t quite get at the root of the matter. She is really, really nice. Doormat sweet. Works like a dog. Seriously. Rave performance reviews. Hours of overtime. Her superiors notice this–she is often singled out for extra projects, work, trips, etc. For example, she recently has been given some account management tasks and was also recently asked to attend a conference in Europe (where she literally worked so many hours a day she didn’t even go outside, but hey). I am 99.999999% sure there is no professionalism issue with my sister’s email communications.

Can you give us some scripts or ideas on how to talk about this with her manager?

My sister is not comfortable with direct confrontation and doesn’t always have a lot of self-confidence when talking about herself, but she is an amazing and hard-working woman. The thing is, I feel like this is a feminist issue. Strike that. This is a humanist issue. I believe that my sister is being penalized because she appears to be striving “above” her “place.” The suggestions her manager has made are not ones that will make my sister appear more professional–they are items that will make her seem more subservient, sweet/cute, passive, etc. I do not believe that these “suggestions” are being made in earnest, or with the intent to actually help my sister move forward in her career.

My sister doesn’t know much about Captain Awkward, but I’m a faithful reader. We would love some advice!

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From Pitch Perfect: "Sometimes I have a feeling we should kiss." "Sometimes I have a feeling I can do crystal meth but I think, 'hmmm...better not."Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m in need of some thoughtful advice. How do I deal when friends express insecurities that feel directly hurtful to me?

I have a great group of friends who are generally loving and supportive. I am the only fat person in this group (I don’t use fat in a derogatory manner). On occasion a thin friend will make a comment about fear of weight gain or having a “muffin top” or correlate weight and health or say “I shouldn’t eat this because…”. I find these comments really hard to hear 1) because they mirror a lot of my own negative self talk and 2) because it starts to sound as if their worst body nightmare is just my body reality.

I’m doing my own work on loving my body and taking ownership of my feelings about my weight. But I too talk about when I’m feeling less than great about my physical appearance. Maybe I’m creating some kind of social cue that complaining about weight and body size is okay in general? I wouldn’t assume that a friend who discusses an ongoing frustration with acne is giving an invitation for me to complain about a zit I get once a month.

I understand that beauty culture sucks and makes many of us of feel like we’re majorly flawed no matter how we look. I’m not interested in shaming my friends about their very real insecurities, and I realize that it is likely not their intent to make me feel bad. I just wish their comments didn’t make me feel like they look at me as some kind of cautionary tale.

Is there a way to address the hurt I feel while still honoring that we all feel insecure sometimes? Or is this just something I need to work on internally?

Help!

Feeling Fat and Flustered!

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Dear Captain,

I was wondering if you could spare some advice on how to go dutch (AKA ‘make-people-pay-their-share) with people who are ‘sensitive’ (where ‘sensitive’ is in the ”easily-offended’ way, not the ‘sensitive-they’ll-figure-it-out-with-only-a-little-prompting’ way.) And these ‘people’ are all members of my in-law family which I would described as a relationships which are ‘generally-pretty-friendly’ but coated with a thick layer of ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’.

I don’t mind being generous (and I come from a family of similar) but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with my in’s who are all financially well-off but when a bill comes around for a shared service are always suddenly stuck by the need to ‘go to the bathroom’ or ‘get something from the car’, have forgotten wallets, don’t have cash on them right now, will ‘get the next round’ or ‘are really short this week’.

I’ve tried some techniques in the past -

  • Pre-arranging payment methods beforehand (these get ‘forgotten’, wrong payment is brought, or guilt is brought out ‘I didn’t know it was so expensive here’)
  • Only bring a set amount of cash or trying to remind them that I had the last round (the ‘bring only a set amount’ has been a disaster – its resulted in long moments standing awkwardly round the till in silence with everyone looking at me while I muttered pathetically “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or worse, they have all walked out/vanished leaving the bill unpaid. A member went back and paid it once we realized it hadn’t been covered but the experience was very unpleasant. The ‘I had the last round’ is met with excuses similar to if payment is pre-arranged).
  • Ask my husband to speak with HIS family about this. This had been met with either apathy and sympathy but no results. (“Yeah, they are like that and it is annoying. But that’s just how they are.”) (“Just don’t go out with them then.”)

I like spending time with my in-law family and we do a lot of other free fun things together but I’d also love to occasionally go out for a meal, see a movie or get my nails done in their company without having the pay for the pleasure.

Advice?

Not-Made-of-Money

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Movie Poster Art from The Wise KidsDear Captain,

Last Fall, I began dating an awesome guy. He’s nerdy, a real feminist, and is just as much in love with me as I am with him. Things have been great and we both know how to use our words to make things even better. As it stands, we’re both in this for the long haul and have discussed plans of moving in together when I graduate from college and eventually of getting married. I am so excited about life with this guy.

My problem is that I come from a super conservative Christian sub-culture and my boyfriend is an atheist. While I’m super cool with his personal views on religion (and he is of mine as well, yay!) most of my friends, family, and people I interact with at church have made it their business to go out of their way to tell me to end things with him. Everyone sees my relationship as something wrong and offensive to God. In their eyes, they’re just helping me “do what’s right” but it’s emotionally exhausting and always makes me upset with the people.

As it stands, there’s literally nothing these people could say to me that would actually make me break up with him. But I’m tired of having to act nice when people tell me off for dating someone who isn’t a Christian. Since you are the master of awesome shut-down scripts, I was wondering if you might have anything up your sleeve for people trying to get me “out of my sinful relationship” when this (super hurtful) behavior is considered acceptable (and encouraged) within the sub-culture I am in.

(On a side note, I’m planning on joining a much more awesome denomination/church when I graduate from college, but as I am going to a college funded by this denomination, I’m stuck in place for a year.)

Thanks for your help,

Happily Dating

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Dear Captain Awkward

I have been with my partner for over 5 years now, and I love him to pieces, I can’t imagine my life without him, but I am scared that if I propose to him he’s going to say no, from what I know we are very happy, and I know that he loves lots of ‘girly’ things as well as ‘male’ things, wearing dresses, cosplay, ribbons, romantic comedies, video games, and shoujo manga.

I thought it would be a great Idea to propose to him later this year by taking him to the largest convention we have in the UK for a romantic weekend away, wine-ing and dining him, I’ve booked the hotel room, saved up nearly all the money I need and bought a ring and a Tardis ring box to put it in.

But I keep second guessing myself now, thinking what if he wouldn’t want me to propose to him, or at the least having no idea what I would say, would he feel weird about his girlfriend proposing to him, I mean I’ve asked him in the past and he always said he hasn’t had a problem with it, but since I’ve started researching how to propose as a woman, I’ve found so many posts saying just not to do it, that it takes something away that is solely for the man to do, that I’d be robbing him basically of him being able to do it and that I would emasculate him by proposing to him, that he would become a laughing stock amongst other men. Despite reassurances from his and my male friends that if their own girlfriends proposed to them they’d be ecstatic, and they think he would be too, since he is not a traditional male.

I want to propose to him so much, but in doing so would I just humiliate him?

Yours sincerely

Dearly befuddled

Dear Befuddled,

How exciting for both of you! Two thoughts:

1) After happy five years with someone, surely a discussion of “do you want to keep doing this”/”should we formalize this thing we’ve got going on in one of the ways open to us under the law” is not a completely foreign one. The saying of the question in so many words, the presentation of symbolic gifts, etc. might have an element of surprise involved, but the prospect of the decision is surely not a surprise, right? If it is, then maybe a “Hey do you ever think about wanting to get married someday? How do you want us to go about making that decision” conversation before the whirlwind weekend is probably in order. If he has strong feelings about where and how and when this should all go down you’ll find out about them.

2) Someone who would not want to marry you or who would be humiliated because you were the one who asked the question, someone who would poop all over the awesome thing you’ve planned because: Traditional gender roles! is probably not right for you on a number of levels.

It sounds like the worst thing that could happen here is that he is like “Yes of course, let’s get married. Though I had this awesome surprise planned for you” and you say “we’ve got the rest of our lives to surprise and delight each other, you silly gorgeous man” and then you kiss a lot and get married some day.

Go live your awesome love story without fear or apology!

Edited To Add:

While we’re on the subject of lasting commitment, an Awkwardeer is seeking help with their wedding vows.

Hi Captain!

I love your blog, and the direct approach you have with words and creating good space for oneself in a relationship. My question is of the happy problem variety … I’m getting married at the end of May to a fantastic guy, and am looking for advice on building a strong marriage (and some inspiration as I start to write my vows).

We’re in our late thirties and have pretty similar romantic histories (very few relationships, none of which lasted very long), which means that we don’t have a lot of personal experience with the ins and outs of long term relationships. Our approach has been to “use our words” as much as possible, and while we don’t always agree, I can’t think of anything that has turned into an actual fight. (We’ve both wondered if this will create a problem at some point, but haven’t been able to imagine it.)

So. We’re getting married (hooray!). And I’m really interested in your (and the awkwardeers) thoughts on maintaining and keeping a strong partnership over the next (hopefully) 50+ years.

Thanks!

What makes love stay? Got any favorite poems or quotes or readings? LET’S CYRANO THE DE BERGERAC OUT OF THIS.

 

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