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How Not To Be

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 a wonderful fiancée.  She’s compatible with me in every single way and we’re looking forward to starting our lives together.  Save one little thing.  She’s possibly the worst driver in the world and I can’t get my license until awhile after the wedding for reasons I prefer not to get into.  

She’s had multiple accidents.  She regularly swerves into other lanes then can’t figure out how she got there.  She follows far too closely–she’s under the impression that, at highway speeds, safe following distance is ‘you can see their wheels.’  She texts, Tumblrs, checks her email, all while driving.  

I tried suggesting that we get her a dash mount for her phone so she can still use the GPS without having the distraction of phone-in-hand.  She says she likes having it in her hand and won’t put it down.

She loves to drive, loves road trips and wants me to go road tripping with her.  She’s absolutely convinced she’s an amazing driver and no amount of me trying to gently offer suggestions to correct her driving has managed to convince her she might have a problem.  I’m absolutely terrified when she’s behind the wheel.  I’m an excellent driver who took defensive driving courses before getting my full license as a proactive step, but, as stated, I cannot drive right now.

How do I get her to understand that I’m terrified she’s going to die in a fiery crash, without offending her?

Ruining the interior with my fingernails

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Hello Captain!

I have a question about racist strangers who think I am their friend.

Occasionally, I’ll be out in public waiting in line, reading at the
library or just waiting for the bus and a stranger will approach me
and feel compelled to make a racist observation about someone else who
is present. I am a white person, and I think these strangers assume
that because of that, I will totally agree with whatever racist slur
comes out of their mouth.

Usually I just give them a look of disgust and horror and try to move
away as quickly as humanly possible, but I would love some clever
scripts to have on hand to let them know that:

1. I do not agree. At all.
2. That they are horrible and racist.
3. To get away from me.

This doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, it often takes me by
complete surprise. I realize this is a problem of privilege, but I am
concerned that my silence (even with the face of disgusted horror)
could be interpreted as agreement, and I never want to give that

Not Your Friend, Racist Stranger

Keep it simple! “Wow, that’s really racist.”

Maybe throw in a “Not cool” or “Do you seriously believe that?” or “I beg your pardon?” depending on how much you want to engage.

The person will likely insist that they aren’t being racist, to which you say “Sure, whatever. Howabout: Don’t talk to me anymore.Chatty Racist, like Rape Joke Telling Bro, is looking for people who will be a willing audience for their crap, and if they can’t find that, they’ll settle for a silent-but-unwilling one and get off on making you uncomfortable but too scared or polite to speak up.

If you feel safe and able to do so, defeat them with total bluntness. It won’t change hearts and minds, but it will remove the sheen of plausible deniability or silent assent from what they do, and it will show the people the comments are meant to intimidate and marginalize that you have their backs.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Things have started getting *awkward* with a good friend of mine, and I need advice on how to handle it. He’s this really quirky guy – I met him through my boyfriend – and since we all have a silly sense of humour we enjoy having a laugh (usually with a good dose of toilet humour). 

In the past couple of months, though, he’s being getting more extreme in what he finds funny and getting into some really gross stuff. I think this is partly because he hooked up with a girl who is the same way, and they spend a lot of their time together visiting the kinds of websites that are deliberately designed to make you gag (disclaimer: it gets a bit more specific further down, you’ve been warned!). He doesn’t get off on this stuff sexually, he just finds something really hilarious about it and I think he takes pride in locating the most disgusting things ever created by man.

The thing is, now every time we go out, and there’s a computer around, he’ll take the opportunity to pull this stuff up and make everyone watch it. I can handle a fart joke here and there, but this is way beyond that. He’s made us watch an explicit anal sex video, shown us fetish-y photos of women who are “on the rag”, and played a video of people putting eels in places that eels should *not* go. He does this even though the rest of us (there are usually others around, including my b/f) are clearly not into it. But whenever we tell him to cut it out, he gets really pissy and goes into a “why are you guys so lame” rant. I know that he keeps trying it with us because he really wants us to share in his grotesque new interest, and when we don’t he perceives that as us rejecting him. I have no problem with his new “hobby”, but he pushes it on others and doesn’t get the hints to stop. Last time, it got to the point w here I had to tell him very sternly to cut it out and his feelings got hurt. (He’s a real oddball so he’s very sensitive to not fitting in.)

I need a way to shut him down when he tries to pull this bizarro business, while also not being too harsh or making him feel like there’s something wrong with HIM. A script or some ideas would really help. 


-Grossed Out

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m woman in my late 30s who uses a power wheelchair due to a medical condition that causes severe physical fatigue.

Often, strangers – retail staff, waitstaff, members of the general public – assume that because I use a power wheelchair, I have an intellectual disability. I don’t. I have a university degree and I read widely.

How should I respond to people:

- talking loudly to me;
- talking to me in a sing-song voice;
- being condescending/patronizing;
- calling me love/sweetie;
- telling me that I remind them of their 12 year old daughter with Down syndrome;
- praising me for putting rubbish in a rubbish bin as though I’ve won a gold medal at the Olympics;
- telling me that you eat cupcakes?


Smart Crip Girl

Dear Smarty,

Ugh. Even if you had intellectual disabilities, the behaviors you describe would be creepy and condescending.

For people who talk loudly, try:

“Why are you talking so loud? It’s weird.”

“Holy shit, that’s loud.”

“You’re talking really loud.”

For people who use the sing-song voice:

“Why are you using that sing-song voice? It’s weird.”

“Did you mean to sing me your answer like a little song? Because that just totally happened.”

For people who call you love/sweetie:

“My name is ______ for people who know me, and ma’am for people who don’t. Let’s go with ma’am for now.”

For people who tell you you remind them of their 12-year-old daughter with Downs syndrome:

“Cool, is she also into (a thing you’re into)?”

I realize they are doing it to insult you and don’t mean it nicely, which is such an extra layer of gross that I highly suggest that you turn it around on them.

For people who praise you for doing basic stuff like throwing trash away and also for people who are generally condescending:

“Wow, that’s pretty condescending.”

For people who tell you about how they eat cupcakes:

“There are cupcakes?” (If you like cupcakes)

What you’re going for:

  • Tone: Flat, on a scale between coolly reasonable and Fuck You.
  • Response: Short.
  • Apologies & explanations given: Zero.
  • Fucks given: Zero.

To keep in your back pocket:

  • “Wow.”
  • “Did you really just say that?”
  • “Awkward.”
  • “Fuck you.” Especially if they ask you how your junk works. Which is a thing that happens.

Sometimes if you do this, you will get the dubious joy of having people apologize at length, explain and overexplain what they meant, and if you’re really lucky, have a complete shamesplanation spiral in front of you. I suggest waiting it out and then coolly making your point as if none of that matters. “Sure. Can you bring me a grande iced two-pump soy vanilla latte please? Thanks.” You don’t have to engage with their shame or comfort them for their fuck-up, that’s their own work to do.

I’m sure the commenters will be happy to join us for today’s performance of Snappy Comeback Theater.

Comments are now closed on this discussion.


<b>Edited To Add</b>: By request, there is a GIANT CONTENT WARNING on this post and the comments. It is not recommended that anyone suffering from anxiety read this post or the comments. Or, really anyone at all. It represents a major, major mistake and unkindness and able-ism on my part. Don’t read it.

I am leaving this answer (& discussion) here – don’t believe in erasing mistakes or pretending they didn’t happen. But putting it behind a cut-tag for sure.  For a better answer to this question, and follow-up from the Letter Writer, go here. For a thread where people with anxiety discuss anxiety, go here. We as a community are trying very hard to come back from this and rectify this mistake, but the scars still exist.


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Jolly’s great comment to Monday’s post is going to be very relevant to these seemingly very different questions:

“You also don’t necessarily have to bring some of these things up in one big confrontation about The Whole Pattern Of Her Sucking. You could just make a point of standing up for yourself when she does the trampling behavior in the future. Next time she interrupts you, interrupt her back with a big, assertive, “EXCUSE ME, N, YOU ACCIDENTALLY INTERRUPTED ME WHEN I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORY. ANYWAY, BOYFRIEND AND I…” She physically nudges you out of a circle? Cut her off with a tap on the shoulder and a big, “EXCUSE ME, N, BUT YOU JUST PUSHED ME COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION. I AM MOVING HERE, HOW ABOUT YOU SIT HERE.” Don’t sound angry, just be very direct and assertive. You see what she is doing, everyone else sees what she is doing, good chance she also sees what she is doing, and just thinks she is being sneaky. Or maybe she has no idea. But either way, there is nothing wrong with a strong verbal reminder every time she attempts to trample completely over you, to let her know that she is “accidentally” being completely obnoxious. 50/50 whether she will embarrass herself in a huffy rage, or quietly correct her behavior. Either way, it will probably go some way to keeping her from continuing this kind of garbage.”

Yes. It is hard for more reserved people to get into the habit of speaking up in the moment – we’d mostly prefer to observe quietly, analyze later, and plan our next social interaction as if it’s a military campaign. But learning to speak up in the moment is a great, great habit to develop, and it is above all a habit – developed over time, requires practice, doesn’t have to be perfectly executed to be effective. Let’s dive in.

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Hi Captain Awkward,

A few months ago, I met a guy who works in my field through a professional networking event. Since then, I have noticed that he has such a brutal case of White Knight Syndrome that he will actually create Drama just to “save” the women who happen to be in his presence, including myself.

I only see him at business events (barely once a month), but it’s becoming more and more of a problem for me since 1) it is a small scene professionally, 2) he believes our passing acquaintance means we are BFF and thus FEELINGSDUMP and DRAMA in public from him every time I see him, 3) I’m just starting off in this field, and 4) because of 2), other networking attendees believe he and I are friends, thus making any attempts at networking that much harder for me. (Did I add that I am an introvert?) They see his unprofessional conduct, believe we are friends, and believe I am just like him. I don’t want him in my life at all! When I met him I was polite, but I didn’t know he would repeatedly try to violate my boundaries and neither do most of the organizers of these events. These events are also happening in public spaces such as bars and restaurants.

Any tips on what I could do next time he shows up?

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I am heading to Texas for the first time ever tomorrow morning, to hang out with my sweetheart’s family & friends. January is a good time to get the hell out of Chicago for a few days, yes? So I won’t be posting regularly for about the next week.

In the meantime, per someone’s request in one of the many recent threads, this is an open thread about crushes and the concept of Limerence. Have you ever had a crush that just felt unshakeable and like it was making you stupid? What cured you?

True story: Over a decade ago I had a longstanding crush on a very close friend. We were one of those inseparable pairs. We worked together, did everything together, people constantly mistook us for a couple. Despite ZERO sexual chemistry, I drank the “What a good couple we would make! We already do everything together!” Kool Aid and decided we should be soul mates. In my defense, it was Washington D.C. in the 1990s. If you’ve ever watched the West Wing, you’ll have an idea of what the dating pool was like: Deeply unsexy workaholics who never stop talking. I know those characters have an avid fannish following, which, okay, cool if that’s your thing, I guess? The whole “I am convinced everything I say is vitally, deeply important and you should listen while I speak in paragraphs” thing really doesn’t wear well on 25-year-olds fresh out of the intern pool. I found one chill, not-ugly dude who had interesting things to say in his paragraphs and seemed interested in my paragraphs to the point of eating lunch with me every day and hanging out with me both days of every weekend (and eventually living 2 doors down in the same building); I was going to hold onto him for dear fucking life.

My strategy for making this shit happen was vast and complex. It included:

  • Dramatic sighs.
  • Dropping hints and badly timed sexual jokes that were not answered in kind or received with anything but patient forbearance or kindly pretending that whatever I had just said hadn’t really just happened.
  • Long meaningful glances….that seriously made him ask one time if I had something wrong with my eyes because I was not blinking sufficiently to lubricate them.
  • Having long, involved discussions with all mutual friends about the depth of my feelings and how this person and I should obviously be together over the course of years, plural. How my friends did not euthanize me and feed me to the animals in the Woodley Park Zoo, I will never know.
  • Getting interested in things I had no actual interest in for the sake of spending EVEN MORE TIME together. Like, going to mass with him every week. In Spanish. A faith that I had long ago abandoned and language I do not understand or speak.
  • Trying to turn our hangouts into stealth dates by taking him to dimly lit romantic places, where you recline on cushions and eat while watching belly dancers and then watching him like a hawk to see if he had reactions to the sexy belly dancers that might possibly be transferred to me. NOT AWKWARD AT ALL.
  • Totally ignoring the prospect or possibility that anyone existed, because this was obviously the person I was meant to be with and I was going to prove that I was the most loyal and patient person in the world and will this into being!

One day, after years, plural, I could not handle my feelings in silence (by which I mean painfully obvious “conveying” and hinting and also talking about them at length to everyone but him), so I wrote all of them down in a very long letter on good stationery. Then I recopied the entire thing so the handwriting would be nicer and there would be fewer ellipses.

You’ve read my blog posts, right? Imagine the FEELINGSMAILS I am capable of generating. Comprehensive, funny, heartfelt, sexy, and above all supremely logical cases for why you and I should be together, In My Pants, Love Always, Me.

Instead of sensibly setting this letter on fire, I put it in an envelope, walked to his house, hung out with his roommate for a bit, excused myself to go to the bathroom, snuck into his bedroom, and left the note on his pillow.

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Hi Captain Awkward,

At a party over the weekend, I met a woman who was so verbally agressive to me, so insulting and so poisonous, that I still feel a little nauseous today. She’s the girlfriend of someone who I’ll be seeing again and again (he, my boyfriend and I share the same small-world past time), so simply not dealing with her ever again is probably not an option.

Background: We are in our 30s. I met her boyfriend, who’s in his 50s, on a trip that my BF and I went on over the summer. I had precious cigarettes, and when I found out John was a smoker, shared with him the rest of the trip. This was a multi-day wilderness trip, and people get very close, but I wasn’t attracted to him nor flirtatious with him. He got drunk one night and confessed an attraction to me. I don’t drink anymore, and I was kind to him about it and never mentioned it again.

We saw each other again at this party, and he brought his girlfriend, who wasn’t along on the trip. She was drinking a lot, and I soon noticed that she was being pretending to be friendly but being viciously sarcastic with me — mocking my word choice, saying “oh, here she is AGAIN” every time I showed up, accusing me of being a flirt, calling me “Miss Thing” and saying that I was one of those women who thought I was just so special and deserved all the male attention. I was floored, but I was sober, it was a friend’s big birthday and I didn’t want to cause a scene. I had never met the woman, and have no idea why she laid into me like that. It was so extreme and so aggressive. I wasn’t upset at the time, just…floored. My BF told me that when we left, she said “Oh, is she upset?” as he walked out.

I just found out that this friend called my BF today to invite us over for dinner. I’m sure he feels terrible about it — it was so OUT THERE — and I know we’ll see each other again. I just can’t imagine sitting at her table for dinner. My BF thinks I’m overreacting and might pressure me to go, but I really feel icky about it. Still, I’d like John to know that I don’t hold her against him, and possibly even mend fences with her if it’s possible.

Never been up against anything like this — what should I do?

I think your friend came home from that hiking trip and either confessed his attraction to you or had a whole lot of mentionitis. STILL, that is no excuse for that lady’s behavior.

What would be the worst thing that would happen if you just didn’t go to dinner with them? What if you made the decision, right now, that you will run into this guy at Shared Pastime and be friendly and glad to see him, but that you have no obligation to get closer or “mend fences” with his girlfriend?

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