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How Not To Be

Oh, Captain, my Captain,

I’m a lawyer, working at a small-ish firm in the Midwest. As a bit of background, my last job was at a non-profit, where I believed in the work, and loved my co-workers, but it was a bad fit. My old boss shredded my self-esteem, and my leave-taking was not entirely voluntary. I was also hella depressed, and having constant panic attacks, and I was completely burned out. I feel very lucky to have found this job, where I’m able to help people, work decent hours, and make a good living, with folks who think I’m awesome.

So, on to the question. There’s been some drama at work among the support staff, and my boss restructured to help reduce friction, putting me in charge of a law clerk and an admin that I’ll call S. S is young and pretty. She’s also a hard worker and a lot of fun. We get along great, and as a team, we’re doing really well.

The problem is that my boss (who is the head of the firm, and so has no one in authority over him) has a Thing for S, and when S started hanging out with one of the other attorneys, he took it badly. I know this because he confronted S about it, asked if she was fucking the other attorney, and asked if she preferred him. That would have been bad enough, but a lot of the other staff people have been complaining about S’s breaks being too long, or her visiting this other attorney during working hours. The boss ignored the complaints for the most part, I think until he realized how much time S had been spending with the other attorney, and until he had a rather disastrous anniversary date with his wife. (I wish I didn’t know this, but holy inappropriate comments, Batman!)

At the end of last week, the boss calls me and S into his office, along with the other attorney, the office manager, and the staff person who had been complaining the most about S. He yelled at just about everybody except me (and really, nothing he said was out of bounds or inappropriate because it was all about being late to work or screwing around). And then he pulls out a machete. A real machete. And then he says that while we’re all very important to the firm, if he has to have this conversation again, not everybody is going to leave an employee, and then he brought the machete down on his desk, leaving a gouge in the wood. I still can’t quite believe it happened.

The next day, I expected him to at least acknowledge how nuts/over the top/whatever his behavior was, but instead he said, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” I was speechless.

The thing is, I love the work. I’m good at it. I want to stick with it. While we could deal without my income, we want to adopt in the near future, which will be impossible without a second income. But I also have no idea what to do with a boss who thinks swinging a machete around is an appropriate response to ANYTHING in the workplace. I have no idea what to say to him since he is clearly not operating with Earth Logic. There’s no one else at work I can take my concerns to, because he’s in charge. For now, I’ve told my people to keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain. If the boss carries through with his promise to put me in charge, I’m hopeful that he’ll focus on the other side of the business and leave us to do our thing. And maybe once he pulls his head out of his ass and gets over his bruised ego, he’ll start seeing sense.

But is there a script for this? I know he respects me, and I’m pretty sure he has no idea that at least four of his best (female) employees are ready to walk. How do I even approach him? I’m not afraid for my own person, and I don’t view him as dangerous (machete-weilding notwithstanding), but DUDE. I got nothing. Honestly, ideally, I would stay there for at least a couple of years, and then investigate the possibility of moving to a different firm that practices the same kind of law once I’ve gotten more experience. I love this area of the law, and there’s no other firm in my area doing it right now, but moving might be a possibility in a few years.

Thoughts? Scripts? Anything?

Yours truly,

Stunned Speechless

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Captain,

I was wondering if you could help me sort something out with my friend S. My life has gone through the wringer the past 2 years, in terms of friendship dynamics turning scary and unhealthy, being assaulted/ stalked, my emotionally abusive/ homophobic parents, and the basic drama of becoming an adult. My friends have been an incredible support for me, and balance the acts of being there for me and still just hanging out and having fun.

I’ve been in therapy for these issues, and am working really hard on my anxiety and depression. I am working hard to ensure that my stalker (who has a history of violence and threatens harm to himself and others) does not threaten my physical or mental safety. I am proud of how assured I am in how to do self-care and how I am able to doubt myself less. My biggest issue has been trust issues and worrying that the people closest to me don’t believe me.

S. has been there for me, even when we were in different countries this past couple months. Now that we are back in the same place things have gotten… weird. Her new attitude is “question everything”, because she wants to be a teacher and apply that philosophy everywhere. Yet to me, her questions don’t seem to be coming from a place of wanting to know or understand, but to get me to self reflect. She has also said it is important for her to question me so I can “have a better understanding of the larger situation”, especially because I tend to “overreact”. It may sound dramatic, but I feel like I’m being interrogated a lot of the time. I don’t want a life coach that inadvertently victim blames me (which is why I go to my super lovely therapist), I want nerd out with my friend.

I told S. that I love her ability to ask good questions, because it means we have really excellent dialogues, but that sometimes just jumping into questions about my personal issues without starting with validation or support is too much for me, and she responded with “I can’t change who I am.” She also brought up my previous request for verbal affirmation, and told me it was annoying to tell me she loves me all the time.

I love her to pieces. She has been an incredible friend. But this new shift in how she communicates/ treats me is bringing up major trust issues, yet I feel like I am asking for way too much. She has also been talking a lot to my friend G. about me (something she told me, not something I am “overreacting” to), and all of a sudden G. isn’t talking to me. My immediate move has been to step back and let them initiate contact, because managing this group dynamic feels really hard on top of taking care of myself.

I don’t want to change her, but I also want to feel safe hanging out with her. Is this my anxiety/ just my problem? Or do you have any suggestions for scripts that I should use? Are there any paths of action to get my relationships with S. and G. back to mutually healthy places? I really love them and our histories together, regardless of the tensions now.

– Questioning the Questioner

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Hi Captain,

For the past year or so, I’ve been doing what I think most people do when they’re young and newly liberated from their ultra-conservative family – learning about the world. Before this, I was very sheltered and of the belief that the world is mostly okay save for a few small things like the price of gas and there being too many polyester shirts.

Since learning about a lot of other stuff that’s going on, I’ve become very political, and, well, very angry. I’m angry about drone strikes. I’m angry about Islamophobia. I’m angry about the mainstream media. I’m angry about the wage gap. I’m angry about rape culture. I’m angry about gentrification. I’m angry about climate change. I’m angry about factory farming.

I’m angry about a lot of stuff.

That last one is the biggest problem for me right now, though. I was raised to believe that there is a happy cow out there somewhere who generally enjoys life up until its last days and then dies quickly and painlessly and makes its way onto my plate. Turns out that isn’t the case, and factory farming is a source of enormous animal suffering, not to mention violations of worker and human rights, as well as the leading cause of global warming. As soon as I found this out, I did what I’ve been trying to do whenever I learn yet another thing about the world that’s out of whack – I tried to make whatever difference I could. I’ve been vegan for a few months now.

I haven’t told anyone about these new eating habits. I want people to know – I think there are a lot of people who, like me, didn’t know this stuff existed. I know there are also a lot of people who know but choose not to think about it, and that upsets me. I went out for one lunch with a friend of mine and ordered a bean burger, and before I said anything other than “Can I have a bean burger?” she was jumping on me about vegetarianism and preachy vegans and I haven’t eaten food in front of anyone else since. I don’t want to be a preachy vegan. I don’t want to police or shame people. I do want to have important conversations about our society’s eating habits and what they mean for our planet. Is there a middle ground there, or is telling someone that you’re eating vegan (not buying leather, not buying Nike or Sodastream or sharing anything by FCKH8, the list is so long I’m starting to realize I can’t avoid being immoral) inherently judgemental of their choices?

Any advice?
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Let’s play the game where we answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place. Punctuation added. Wording unchanged. 

1. “My bf won’t choose me over his brothers that are rude to me.

I don’t know what the nature of this choice is, like, probably your boyfriend won’t ever cut off or stop talking to his brothers on your behalf, but your boyfriend should definitely stick up for you when and if people in his family are rude to you. 

2. “When he says he doesn’t have time or focus for a relationship.”

Time and focus may in fact be factors, but also, “he” doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. I’m sorry, that sucks to hear. Move on from this prospect, is my advice. 

3. “How to turn down a friend down politely convincing her you love but can’t engage in a relationship right now.”

This is the wrong way to go about it. If you don’t want to be in a relationship, just tell her “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, I’m so sorry, but I value you very much as a friend.” Let her heal for a bit and then you can most likely be friends again. If you use the “not right now” excuse you leave her hanging and hoping, and it’s going to be so much worse.

4. “What it means when a girl say she does not think it will work out.” /”What did she mean by saying we can’t cope with each other?”

Most likely translations: “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, but I’m using neutral language like ‘it won’t’ work’ to try to spare your feelings.”

5. “How to respond to a compliment on your looks.”

From an acquaintance, not delivered with a leer, like, “You look really nice today?” a good answer is “Thank you.” It’s what people expect to hear and will complete the conversational circuit with maximum efficiency. 

Yelled at you from a moving car? It’s not a compliment at that point. 

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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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