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Dear Captain Obvious,

My mom has always been on about how I look, but since I’ve turned 16 it seems to have gotten worse. She got me a fitbit that she makes me use (which I hate because it tells me I eat too many calories a day, even though it’s the recommended amount), made me diet with her, and constantly makes comments on how “I should go to the gym more,” even though I’m a perfectly healthy weight for my height. If i’m about to leave the house with no makeup on, she says “Oh why don’t you put a little foundation and mascara on before you go?” and is visibly embarrassed if she sees m in public wit none on. She also hates me wearing my glasses, as they “cover up my beautiful face” and will make more comments on them if I wear them outside the house instead of my contacts. My boobs aren’t very big, but my thighs are, so she’s always pushing me to wear push up bras and slimming clothes. It’s gotten to the point where I’m embarrassed to not be made up, am starting to obsess over my weight, and am just downright lacking in self-esteem. I’ve tried bringing it up before, but she either plays the victim or pretends like she never did any of that. Any advice on what I can do?

Sincerely,
I’m only 16. I’m not a model.

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Dear Captain,

My husband is serially unemployed. Over the 8 or so years we’ve been together, it’s been a cycle: 12 months employed, six months unemployed, 18 months employed, 1 year unemployed, six months underemployed freelance, on and on.

I have been fortunate to find well-paid work in my field and have no trouble staying employed full-time. In the past decade, I’ve never been away from work for more than 10 days straight.

Now, on the one hand, I am so glad I can cover the bills every time he gets laid off or fired. I think we have an above-average marriage. He’s my best friend. Of course I’m going to support him through the hard times.

On the other hand, what about me?

There are days during his unemployed periods when I really resent that he can sleep in, work on his side-dream of being a writer, play his xbox, collect unemployment and apply for jobs. He’s basically having a six-month vacation, except for an hour a day of job applications.

Even as I type that, I know it is unfair to him. He isn’t choosing to be unemployed. But my jerkbrain keeps reminding me that he has had more free time in the past two months than I have had in the past 15 years.

But I can also acknowledge that it is probably depressing as hell to keep being let go by companies.

I tell myself that I don’t want him to feel like I am punishing him for getting laid off, nor do I want him to feel like he needs to “pay” for his unemployed periods by being my personal slave when it comes to household chores. But, OK, on some level, that kind of is what I want.

I just… Would it be wrong to ask that since I do at least 8 hours of paid work a day and he does 0, maybe he could put in some extra hours of unpaid work around the house during this time to take a little stress off me? Or something else to balance the load? I feel like he owes me. He has said he feels like he owes me too. But it feels wrong on some level to want to collect on that debt.

Can you suggest some self-talk to help me stop feeling like a victim of my own success? And is there a way to bring up couples counseling to talk this through that won’t feel like I’m attacking/judging his work history?

Conflictedly,
Someone else’s safety net

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a woman who is a graduate student. One of my fellow students, a man who I’ll call Nigel, takes up a lot of space in seminar. He speaks over people, interrupts, makes noises while other people speak, and doesn’t wait his turn. If unchecked, he will dominate seminar and prevent nearly anyone else from speaking. Nigel doesn’t seem to interrupt other men, but only other women of all ages, including our instructors. Multiple female professors in our department have noticed this behavior and taken steps to correct Nigel. Multiple women and men in our department notice and have commented on this behavior. I know of at least one occasion where one of our peers has said something to Nigel about this behavior. None of this has had an effect on Nigel, and he continues to run roughshod over his peers whenever he is able. The only professor who doesn’t seem to mind Nigel’s constant interruptions is his adviser, Dr. John Smith.

What I am struggling with is a recent turn in my relationship with Nigel. While in the past I’ve managed to hop over this missing stair, things have come to a head and I’m not sure what to do.

Nigel made a point in seminar last week that was incorrect (not to mention offensive). I spoke up, noting the factual error only. He told me that I was wrong, and something in me just couldn’t let it go, so I didn’t. This point applied broadly to my research, and was entirely unrelated to his. In the two classes we have had since this time, he has interrupted me each time I have attempted to participate. Every. Time. This has made it difficult for me to participate, and other people are noticing, which is embarrassing me. I really despise conflict, and I hate to think that this is becoming a ‘thing’–being professional is important to me. At the same time though, I refuse to let a rude dude prevent me from participating.

Today, in seminar, we came to a head–he said something, I disagreed, he told me I was wrong, I disagreed, he attempted to explain something to me, I told him that the issue wasn’t with my knowledge and that I didn’t appreciate it, and Dr. John Smith (his adviser) asked us to ‘agree to disagree’. I feel like instead of seeing the issue with Nigel, Dr. Smith thinks I’m the problem. I was harsh–my exact words were “I don’t need a lesson on this, I have google”. That wasn’t ok for me to say, so maybe I am? He also told me I didn’t know what I was talking about–how do you respond to that?

Captain Awkward, I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of having to learn around Nigel. I’m not sure there is much doing if the professor of this class doesn’t mind or notice that the missing stair is missing at all. I’m frustrated that I am being antagonized, and I’m frustrated with myself for taking the bait. I’m frustrated that I seem shrill or antagonistic. It feels to me that this is much more an issue with Nigel’s professionalism than mine, BUT it has affected mine as well and I’m upset with myself about that. I’m not afraid of letting it be awkward, but I do not want to develop a reputation of being ‘difficult’ in my department.

I am too close to this issue to see straight, so I’m reaching out to you. Any scripts, advice, or suggestions for living with Nigel and managing my own responses to him would be very much appreciated.

Thanks so much,

Grad Student, Interrupted

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Hi Captain,

I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3 years. We are both in our early thirties. When I first met him, I thought he was very attractive, and I still do. I like skinny dudes and he was skinny when I met him. About seven months into our relationship he put on about 15-20 pounds, which I found less attractive. His stomach was no longer flat and he carried weight around his middle in general. I expected him to lose it quickly, but he didn’t. Eventually I brought it up and he said I should have just said so and that he hadn’t really noticed, and that he would start a diet and exercise more.

It didn’t stick for long and since then every few months I ask him if he is still on his diet (which is all I do, I don’t bother him about it otherwise) and he gets upset and says yes (and sometimes no) and we had a fight about it recently where he said he wants me to stop asking.

I have stayed the same size, and I know he would not be super happy if I put on weight, since his preference is strongly skewed toward very thin women. I feel that while I do maintain my weight for my own sake, I also do it because I know he likes the way I look and I want him to be maximum attracted to me. That it’s been over 2 years makes me feel that it doesn’t matter to him if I am maximum attracted to him.

I am having a hard time distancing myself from this and figuring out what is right. I am a very goal-oriented person and also a “pusher,” one of those best/worst qualities — on the one hand, I always try my hardest at everything and I’ve accomplished some good things because of that, but on the other hand I also find it difficult to just let other people go at a slower pace and not micromanage. I try to rein this in, but I can’t tell if it applies in this situation. I want my boyfriend to stay in (reasonable) shape as we get older, but when I looked in the archives, particularly at #284, I saw people calling this mentality terrible and controlling (although I don’t think I’m like that guy, who sounds like he wants a different girlfriend. I don’t want a different boyfriend, I just want him to look a little more like he did when we met). Should I just deal with it, or is there a better way to approach this issue?

Thank you.

– sad, possibly a jerk

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Ahoy Captain,

Several years ago my fiance and I started hanging out with a guy named Devon*. At the time we started hanging out with Devon he was having a lot of personal problems. He was living in a hotel that he could barely pay for, slept all day and stayed up all night, and seems to have had a minor drug problem. Fiance and I, seeing that he was in a difficult situation, invited him to come live with us for a few months.

It’s been two years.

I like Devon, a lot, and I enjoy hanging out with him. He’s a sweet guy and being around him is simple and fun. I don’t necessarily want him to move out, which I guess is good for me because it doesn’t look like he’s going to any time soon.

Devon is now has a job, doesn’t do drugs, and kinda sorta pays rent *sometimes*.

My real problem, though, is housework.

I think it’s only fair that Devon take some responsibility for the house work. I’ve tried to talk to him about this so many times I’ve lost count. He always brushes me off, says he’ll do it ‘later’, he’s tired from work, or that the dishes in the sink aren’t ‘his’.

These excuses are childish the point of hilarity. I don’t argue about whose shit stain is whose on the toilet when I clean it, why does it matter whose dishes they are??. I brought it up again last night and he said “well I keep my room clean”. Well yeah, that’s all fine and dandy, I don’t expect him to clean my bedroom. I DO expect him to help with the kitchen and bathroom, which everyone uses every bloody day.

I’ve tried multiple tactics:

I’ve tried telling him what is expected of his as a member of our household

I’ve tried gentle encouragement

I’ve tried reasoning with him

I’ve tried yelling at him

I’ve tried explaining that it’s not fair for all the housework to fall on my shoulders since I’m not a damn maid

I have even tried boycotting all chores in the hopes that the revolting state of the house would encourage Devon to pitch it. The only outcome of that is, after a few weeks, the house (especially the bathroom) became so disgusting I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cleaned it myself.

What am I supposed to do about the cleaning short of kicking him out? I feel like I have tried everything. It’s driving me completely batty. In the past few months I don’t even bother doing more then a perfunctory clean because everything is always messed up 5 minutes later anyway. Sort of like in that episode of The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” where the kitchen door opens on a clean kitchen, swings closed, and opens messy (sorry couldn’t find the gif) [Ed note: FOUND IT]!

Kitchen from Bart Gets An Elephant

Evocative.

I can hear him cooking in the kitchen now and just dread the stupid mess of discarded vegetable parts that will be everywhere in about 20 minutes.

I have been very explicit about my expectations but he just doesn’t hear it. I’ve even asked my fiance to speak to him about it in the hopes that maybe he would be more inclined to listen to an older man. Nothing. Same brush off.

Help!

Molly Maid

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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.

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC Shared by Thermos, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am currently having issues with a roommate, who is also a friend of many years. We had lived together once before for a short period, and while I had noticed his intense reactions to stressful situations then, I was given the impression he had developed strategies to cope with his anxiety since we first lived together. But now he is in a bit of a tailspin, and has been since our third roommate broke up with him and moved out four months ago. He is also incredibly stressed about work, and is worried about getting fired, and comes home every night with a new bout of anxiety to work out. Unfortunately, this takes the form of his unloading all his anger, disappointment and anxiety onto me as a listener. I understand expression of one’s feeling is super important, and his feelings are one hundred percent valid (work does sound awful and getting dumped blows), but I am feeling incapable of knowing how to help, or perhaps more importantly, how to get time to myself in the apartment. I am a teacher and feel “on” most of the day, so I do not know how to listen and get time to myself at the end of the day.

I feel like we have gotten trapped in a ritual where he will come through the door and tell me every terrible thing about his day for forty-five minutes, and I try to listen, but all I seem to be doing is reinforcing a cycle of negative thoughts. My roommate is feeling very unstable with his life right now, and I don’t want to shut him out, but at some point, it’s probably not good to allow him to fixate so much, yeah? At times, I feel like I am his only outlet for his feelings, and that I have let him take advantage of my listening ear. Often, he will seek me out if I am not in common spaces, not to check in on how my day was, but to unload. He did it just now when he ostensibly knocked on my door to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store, and then ranted at me for thirty minutes, despite knowing it was my writing time. I absolutely should have said, “Yes, it is my writing time, you are correct. I don’t need anything, I will talk to you later,” rather than hand-waving my scheduled time away and listening; I give him permission to do this. But what would be a good script to start a larger conversation?

I don’t know how to talk to him about this issue, given his stress level. I don’t want to give him more anxiety, but I feel this routine we’ve gotten into is creating bad habits. For me, I am not asserting my need for my own space and time. For him … well, it’s almost like he’s treating me as a girlfriend, like giving me all his emotional turmoil as if I am required on a partner level to help him carry it, which isn’t helping him move on or cope on his own? Even in one of my own crises (a cancer scare in my family), he spent all day with me, only to unload an intense amount of anxiety on me at the end of the day (which he had set up as a distracting, “let’s do fun things to get your mind off this cancer scenario” sort of day). This summer, I began dating someone, and my roommate started saying kind of mean jokes in my direction while the new boyfriend was around (though his humor runs more sarcastic generally), and I can’t help but wonder if this happened because I let him lean on me too much in the early days of the break-up and now he’s gotten our relationship parameters confused? He’ll invite me to events these days, and I will say no if I don’t feel like it, or that I have to check my schedule, but then he’ll repeat the invite three times after I have responded. I don’t know. It’s just a lot.

How can I be a good friend and understanding roommate while reinforcing boundaries? Do you have scripts for this, Captain?

Sincerely,
Tongue-Tied In A Two-Flat

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