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How Not To Be

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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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?

Sincerely,
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
impression.

Sincerely,
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.

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