Dear Captain Awkward:

I’ve been reading your blog and I really like your answers. Hopefully you can help me with a problem I’m having. I have no perspective.

I recently remarried (about 5 years ago), and my (second) husband’s parents treat me, and most especially my kids, as though we aren’t family. They don’t even really treat us as guests. It’s more that we’re accompaniments to my husband. He has two brothers, one remarried (but both wives provided ‘actual’ grandchildren), and one married for like 25 years; they, and all of their kids, are obviously all ‘family.’

But my kids and I aren’t. My husband’s mom, when my husband brought this up with her (that I was sad visiting because we weren’t talked to, and because I hoped we’d be part of the family), consisted of: “I’m not going to lose any sleep over (my sadness / my children’s isolation at their house)” and “blood is thicker than water.”

For the first few years, my kids would come with us when we visited, and were basically ignored (they might be asked a question, but then their answers were ignored). Their cousins were talked with, asked about school, etc, conversations ensued. My kids, on the other hand, weren’t treated overtly meanly, they were just ignored. My husband said to me, when I’d say it made me upset: “they don’t care about your kids, they just met them” and “it will take time” (yeah, forever, since nobody talks to us).

So, eventually, I told my kids they didn’t have to go when we go up (they are now 15 and 18, and my mom lives with us, so they can stay here). But honestly, I don’t want to visit either, since I also get ignored; I don’t want to leave my kids behind to be with people who don’t want anything to do with us. (I think this is because my husband is very close to my kids, they see my kids as a threat to the place of his daughter, since she’s ‘really’ family.) Pennsylvania is very different from Virginia in the concept of hospitality and family welcomes, I’m finding.

My husband will say “why do you NEED to belong?” like it’s selfish to want to be a part of the conversation. He says I want it to be “all about me”, but that’s not true, I only want it to be as much about me as it is about everyone. (Normally, he’s wonderful and supportive, but when we get around his family, suddenly he sees the sense in everything they do, and I’m crazy, and I should just be there to support him, and not care if anyone talks to me. He once told me to get out a “puzzle or something interesting” and hope somebody asked me about it as I sat and worked on it alone. He says me bringing up my kids is “pushing them onto people who don’t care.”).

Every Thanksgiving we’ve pretty much always gone to his parents, because my kids are with their dad, and I want my husband to be happy. But it’s harder and harder, after being married almost 5 years, to just sit and be ignored, and then have people be mad at me for not just sitting there contentedly. They’re happy to talk with me as long as I ask questions about them, but they won’t talk about me or my kids with me at all. Not true – they will ask one question about my kids, and when I answer, they change the subject. Like their duty was done, time to move on. So I don’t want to go.

To make matters worse, my husband’s 20 year old daughter, who essentially stopped seeing him once she became 18 (though happily kept taking his money) is going, and I’ll get to watch everyone be so happy to see her, even though she treats her dad so terribly, but then watch nobody ask about my kids, who treat my husband like a dad. I keep going hoping each time will be different, but it never will. I don’t miss my ex, but I sure miss feeling like a part of the family I married into.

So my options are:
a) stay home alone and let my husband and his daughter go be with ‘their’ family (this is the one I’m leaning towards) … sucks because I’d like a nice Thanksgiving with my family too, to begin to create our own traditions;
b) go, and feel isolated (we’ve tried the talking about it, it doesn’t work, this isn’t a family that talks about issues, or I’d want to just talk about it; my first in-laws, I’d talk about problems with them, we’d resolve them) – this is a “put up with it or don’t, but nobody’s changing”; or,
c) ask him not to go (but not really an option; they’re in their 80s, and I’m not going to keep my husband from seeing his parents when they don’t have too much time left).

Can you please help? Just give me a point of view other than mine or theirs? Thank you!

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Dear Capt. and Company,

This is a post-party wedding question, at least on the surface. The outline: asked friend M to be a bridesmaid in late 2013, wedding was this June. Friend M withdrew as bridesmaid January 2015, as funds were tight and she is 16 hours away. I offered to cover her dress and half the estimated ticket, but she declined. I was really, really sad, but didnt say anything. She texted me 4 weeks ago, wanting to know how the wedding went. That was the only thing I heard from her since ~March. She didnt respond to bachelorette invite or formal wedding invite, and didnt text, call, send a card, a Facebook message—radio silence until “hey love you miss you can’t wait to hear about the wedding” text. 2 months after the wedding. And I am just speechless. My sister (also v good friends with M) says M would never intend to hurt me, and weddings are “not the only thing people have to think about.” Which leads to the submerged bits of my question…

I really wanted to be a laid back, no stress bride, & probably failed to indicate how important some of the wedding stuff was to me. I’m fat, and not pretty, and non-traditional, and thought I had accepted myself as I am, Achievement Unlocked. But bride stuff fucked with my head–I really wanted to feel pretty and special and celebrated, and lots of stuff combined to make the whole planning process painful. No one offered to throw a shower. I didnt want one! But I am crying now, writing this, because no one wanted to. My mom didn’t have any opinions, didn’t want to go dress shopping with me….didn’t really care about much. I know this is a problem lots of people would like to have. But without writing a novel, wedding planning felt really lonely for me, and Friend M going AWOL still twists my guts in knots.

The actual wedding was very nice, and I did feel like I had semblance of community show up to celebrate. And yes, I did get to marry the partner I love, which everyone says is the definition of a successful wedding. But I am sad and hurting.

If you have insights, advice, etc., I really could use some ideas.

From reading the Offbeat Empire off and on, I can tell you that the post-wedding blues and unexpected post-wedding feels, including loneliness, are A Thing. Forgive me for the John Updikeness of this, it’s an apt description of that “meh” feeling after you do something that was much anticipated:

“Back from vacation”, the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, “Not so!”

-John Updike

Your sister has forgotten that “intentions are not magic.” M. would never intentionally hurt you, but hurt you she did. My read on M’s behavior is that she felt guilty about dropping out as bridesmaid and subsequently detached, whether due to guilt or being overwhelmed with life stuff. I think it was crappy of her not to RSVP to anything, or at least call or text you and say “Can you stop sending me pretty invitations for right now, I already told you I can’t afford to come and it bums me out to get them when I know I can’t be there and I hate disappointing you.” It must have been very hurtful and anxiety-making for you to keep sending overtures and hear nothing from her. If you love her, clear the air with her, and say what’s on your mind, “I’m so happy to be back in touch with you. Not being able to talk to you these last few months was really sad and lonely for me. Can you tell me ‘why the radio silence’? Are you ok?” 

My read on the general post-wedding slump is that you can’t go back and re-do it, and people (like your mom) won’t really get it if you bring awkward things up now. It’s unfair, because there is so much pressure for this one event to be healing and performative and perfect and meaningful, and then so many mixed messages, like, “Which is it, Zeitgeist? Is my wedding day the most important and special day of my life where I must be a perfect pretty pretty princess or am I a complete self-absorbed trivial asshole for caring so much about something so petty (and girly)?” Having looked at a Pinterest board or seventeen, I am fascinated with the current aesthetic in a certain kind of wedding right now, which mixes “EVERY DETAIL IS HANDCRAFTED THOUGHTFUL PERFECTION AND ORIGINAL” and “Oh, this old thing? You don’t think we put actual effort into that, do you? We just wanted to throw a good party and focus on what’s really important, like love. It just happens that our kind of love means handcrafting the paper for our special favors out of recycled driftwood over a period of three years using an antique stamp from my spouse’s ancestral crest and (shrug) and ink made from things we found in dumpsters.”? You were caught in the Cool Girl (also known as Chill Girl) paradox, where you are supposed to both be perfect while doing something stressful and act like you are not trying at all. Who wouldn’t be drained after walking that tightrope of decision fatigue and cultural pressure?

Your project now is to:

a) Forgive yourself for caring a lot about certain parts of your wedding and forgive yourself for having uncomfortable feelings even though the result was happy. Some feelings demand to be talked over and some are just vague uncomfortable longings that can’t necessarily be solved. If you have to ritually expiate those feelings by dressing in blue glitter and singing Let It Go three times in a row at karaoke one night, I will not judge.

b) Figure out what kind of relationships and people you want in your life now and going forward, and how to build and nurture them. How can you keep old friends like M. in your life, but hold them a little more loosely during an off-cycle? How can you meet new people, and invite the warm, funny, caring ones in? What weekly or monthly rituals can you put in place to find that community you crave? What do you have in common with your mom that might form the backbone of an adult relationship? In my opinion almost everybody needs a social space and friendships that don’t center a romantic partner, so make sure you cultivate and hold onto yours.

c) You planned the giant party and survived. You did it! What other projects do you want to do that aren’t giant parties but maybe involve a lot of anticipation and cooperation? Do you need to go on a trip every year with your best friends and maybe your sister? Do you need to learn something new? Do you need to make a movie or a giant collaborative art project? What dreams and projects of yours sat dormant while you planned your wedding? Pull them out. It’s time.

d) How’s work/school? How is your sleep? How are you eating? When was the last time you got a physical/got your eyes checked/went to the dentist? Have you told your doctor about feeling run down or blue? When was the last time you got a few hours alone in your house to just do as you please? Institute self-care protocols, please.

Much love and congratulations to you upon the occasion of your marriage. These particular blues will pass. You’re not weird for having them.

Organizer Kate has sent the news:

February London meetup as follows:

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 21st February, 11am onwards.

Time for another colouring in meetup. Please bring stuff to colour in, or colouring pens and pencils, if you can. Or come anyway, we’re not fussy!

This venue is working out really well.

They sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Blue Bar (go up in the JCB lift, lift 7, which is bright yellow and quite musical).

Here is the internal map of the Royal Festival Hall:

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: One time I forgot it but I will do my best this time, however if I forget again I will put up a sign. I have long brown hair and glasses.

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(March meetup will be on the 21st.)


Have fun, London! If you are interested in planning a meeting of Awkward Army folks where you are, there’s guidance here.

Dear Captain Awkward, 

Not wanting everyone all up in your business: a cultural history.

Seven weeks ago my husband of six years told me he wants a divorce.  There is no room for negotiation on his side.  We’ve been to a marriage counselor a few times since he told me, and have spent most of the sessions talking about how we’ll divide the assets, deal with the house, ect.  He’s not changing his mind ever.  I don’t want the divorce and don’t think our issues are anything that counseling could solve, but I obviously can’t make him stay married to me so we’re getting divorced.

I don’t know how to tell people.  
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.

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.



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