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how to say no

Oh Captain,

I left my mom alone in my apartment for five minutes during a visit so I could carry some heavy stuff for her and she managed to find both my vibrator and my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves while “testing the smoothness of the drawers” of my new nightstand. While I am willing to accept she might not have initially meant to snoop, as a rule of thumb opening the drawers of another adult’s furniture without permission is icky and the outcome is the same.

What do I do? I feel so violated and angry and she just laughed it off and thinks if I I don’t want her to know I have something, I shouldn’t own it. I’m not ashamed to own those things, I’m 21 for pity’s sake, but I also never want her to come to my home again.

Sincerely,

Masturbation Helps Menstrual Cramps

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Stinkor from He-Man, a humanoid skunk in an orange costume.

This is Stinkor, from He-Man. What would the action figure for Clingor look like?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner has told me that he is afraid that he’s boring and that he has an irrational fear that my ‘self-improvement’ means I will leave him for somebody “more exciting”.

A few years ago I was feeling really down, and during that period I decided to really work on myself by changing my lifestyle. I took up a sport, started eating better and got involved in my community. Now I can hardly imagine life before – the improvement in my life and moods has been significant.

It is now to the point where he’s jealous if I have too engaging a conversation with one of his friends, and has insisted that he comes along to anything I do that runs the risk of me so much as talking to men who aren’t related to me. I find this behaviour anywhere from irritating to suffocating.

I am not sure where this fear of his has come from, I don’t think I’m just ignoring my boyfriend and getting annoyed when he wants to spend time with me. I think the problem is that he has low self-esteem and that this feeling of low self-worth has turned into a fear that I’ll leave. In the past he has said he likes me because I ‘make [his] boring life interesting’, which I find extremely concerning. To me it sounds a lot like ‘I am making you responsible for making my life interesting’. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but I am frustrated that he has enough free time to latch on to my plans, but apparently not enough to go find something to do by himself.

He is a great guy when he’s not being gnawed on by the hounds of insecurity, but I cannot carry on like this – I don’t have a problem with telling him where I’m going or who I’m with, but sometimes I just want to do things without having to justify why I want to be alone. I am at a loss – what can I do? I’ve suggested therapy and a hobby, but he doesn’t seem to understand that his attempts at keeping me close are pushing me away.

Thanks,
Pushed not pulled

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I are newlyweds. He is currently unemployed and job searching. We are living on my income and it isn’t much. However, I place my health at a high priority because I’ve had high healthcare costs in the past. We eat well, but we make up for it by almost never dining out. We budget carefully for when we do dine out and for our discretionary funds and we’re financially responsible.

We’re not exactly poor, but we do watch our budget. However, many of our friends don’t seem to understand this. When we arrange hangouts, we try actively to schedule something that doesn’t cost money or costs little. We even prefer having a single person over to going out to dinner with that person, because it is literally cheaper to cook for 3 than to pay for 2 at a sit down place in our area.

Our friends don’t seem to understand that we’re not poor, and that we don’t want to be treated to dinner. Everyone wants to go out, and when we ask about how much the place they want to go is, they offer to pay. This is not what we want. We just want to pay for our food or ask to hang out somewhere a little more affordable. We are hoping to have a family in the next 5 years so I’m saving very carefully.

We would say something like:

“I’d love to hang out, but we’re on a tight budget and we’re trying to eat home more. Would you like to come over for brunch instead of going out? I can make an amazing gingerbread waffle and some bacon and eggs, and Husband makes amazing pour-over coffee.”

And get this:

“No don’t worry, my treat!”

I know some of these friends are in financial difficulty too and their money is tight. I can’t tell if it’s cultural, because many of them are from my culture (Chinese) and we really love to treat others to food. That’s how we show love! I think it’s great, but how can I tell them that we can’t keep going out on their treat and enforce it lovingly but firmly?

Regards,
Trying to Adult

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Elsa from Frozen making a "stay back" gesture

Some people deserve to meet the Ice Witch inside you.

Dear Captain,

I am an intense person! I have grown to accept this. It’s the way I am, it’s not going to change, and I’m in the process of working this reality into something like self-love.

Some people don’t like my intensity as much. One such person is a close friend of my boyfriend’s. This would be fine — I firmly believe that there are people in the world who are not meant to be friends, and that’s more than okay with me — except that he believes so firmly that we should be friends (on HIS terms) that it’s a conversation he has with me whenever we are in the same room. We have things in common like tangentially related careers, fierce intelligence, and, notably, my boyfriend; ergo, to this guy, we should be friends.

I don’t believe we make good friends. One critical reason for this is that I believe he is a manipulative person. This is evidenced, in my opinion, by the very fact that he claims the only reason we are not friends is because I am not friendly enough with him (“Well. You’re *my* friend”). When I am not being friendly enough with him, he grows sad and uncomfortable! (This argument held more weight with me when he lived with my boyfriend; it kind of sucks when your friend’s girlfriend is neutral to you in your own living room, I was told.) The heavy implication is that if I was a more emotionally generous person, I would already be his friend and then everything would be fine.

My not trusting him is not enough reason, to him, to discontinue the conversation, because again if only I were to change my mind about him everything would be fine (if only I would see him as a PERSON). I would prefer to reach a state of mutual understanding with this dude such that we civilly exchange hellos when we must share the same space and then go back to our respective lives without further ado. My endeavors to do so have so far been categorized as “unfriendly” and yield the same conversation. I am afraid of any attempt to freeze him out (e.g., repeating “I’m not interested in this conversation” over and over, as has been tempting) may result in all of my boyfriend’s friends disliking me, ice witch that I am. Community is important to him and it would mean the end of us if there was a schism between me and the rest of his crew. Do you have a good script for this?

Thanks,
Intensely Ineffective

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Hi Captain Awkward and Army,

I am currently teaching English at a public school in South Korea. I also identify as culturally Jewish, religiously agnostic/humanist/spiritual/existentialist/questioning/whothehellknows and believe that people can and should believe in whatever they want or have to believe in, whatever makes them comfortable and happy, as long as that belief doesn’t negatively impact others, so live and let live, to each their own, etc etc etc. Now, for many Koreans, I have been told, I am their “first Jew.” So there are a lot of questions. And, for personal reasons, I keep “kosher style” – no pig products, no milk/meat mixes in the same meal, no shellfish. This is because it makes me feel connected to my family, history, and ancestors, not because I am afraid of being smited or smoten. I have always eaten this way, and am not looking to change. So, I have asked the staff to please let me know if the school lunch for each day contains any pig (just to keep it simple – I can sort out the rest of this stuff on my own), and when they ask why, I simplified by saying it was for religious reasons. Despite the language barrier, this worked just fine at my old school (…just had a flashback to The Magic School Bus there, sorry), and led to some nice conversations about Judaism, and sharing of religious customs and ideas.

It’s gone a bit differently at my new school. Most teachers are Christian, and (at least) one of them is deeply religious. I have also discovered that the English teacher before me was a religious Christian too, so I think there was some bonding between them on that subject. Last week, this teacher gave me a beautiful calligraphy painting he had made from a quote from the bible. At first, I thought he was just being friendly and welcoming (I have had an amazing time here because of how open and generous colleagues and students have been), but during the last few days, he has also taken to quoting scriptures at me in between classes, and giving me his bible to read, and asking questions about how Christianity and Judaism compare.

So I have a few questions.
1. Is he just being friendly, or is this a divine mission to convert me?
2. If it’s the latter, how can I politely put a stop to it without being rude, especially given the cultural and language barriers? (There are also a lot of random people in my city who approach me on the street to try to get me to convert to Christianity or Mormonism, so a handy script for this surprisingly common situation would be amazing…)
3. What can I do when he asks about how the religions compare? I am not particularly knowledgeable about the ins and outs of orthodox Judaism, and am certainly ignorant about many details of Christianity, so I have no clue what to say. Which he doesn’t understand, because to his mind, if I’m religious enough to adjust my diet accordingly, how on earth do I not have the Torah memorized?

I tend to be completely disorganized in my thoughts, so I hope this is clear enough. Thank you for your time, patience, and amazing work you do. This is one of my favourite places to hang out on the web, and I can’t imagine how busy you are, so I understand if you can’t answer, but I do want to nip this in the bud, in case it starts getting out of hand, so any help would be hugely appreciated.

Signed,
Emphasis on the -ish.

P.S. (An email immediately following)

Update: I can get rid of the “think”! Work ended about an hour and a half ago, and on my way out of the office, I was given a lovely watercolour with this written on it:

“25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

…and then endured a 15-20 minute conversation about how he became Christian, how he was saved, and how he has watched many youtube videos of Jews who have realised that Christ is the saviour and Easter is coming and oh my god, how am I going to deal with this for another 6 months?

I do not want to insult or belittle this man’s religion, but I have to work with him for the next 6 months, and I have come to my religious affiliation after years of questioning and thinking and raging and being depressed and more than I want to go into here. I am not going to change. So how how how can I put a stop to these conversion conversations without making every future interaction awkward? Please help!

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Once a month I try to answer the things that people typed into search engines to find my blog as if they are questions. It’s an exercise in mixed results.

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Hi Captain,

I was re-reading post #247 about highly difficult people (they will not change!) which I have found very helpful and I have a question. I have a highly difficult person in my life (my Mother-In-Law) who blessedly lives very far away (yay!). So most of the time I live my life like she doesn’t exist. Until…there is a visit. It seems like a lot of your advice is try to be nice, and when shitty people get shitty, leave. You also advise for the offspring of the highly difficult person to do around 50% of the visits alone. But what do you do when visiting involves an airplane flight. I feel like “Suzie couldn’t come because she had to wash her hair” won’t fly.

Also what do you do when you are staying in their house or they are in yours, for like multiple days? I think you are probably going to say hotels, but hotels are like a huge deal for my husband’s family. They don’t do them (I know crazy right). They would rather sleep on the world’s most uncomfortable sofa bed than pay for a hotel. Do I lay down the law and say we are staying in a hotel when we visit? What about when she comes to us? I am all about boundaries and keep setting them in relation to her as time/need arise and my husband is mostly on-board with these. He still suffers from a bit of the ‘don’t rock the boat’ syndrome. And staying in a hotel would like capsize it.

The other piece that I’m not sure is relevant is my parents happen to be Amazingly Wonderful People and we love when they come visit and they do stay with us and it is all rainbows and unicorns. So I am asking then to treat our Moms in very different fashions (I know they are different people duh, but I feel a need for evenness – get over it right?).

I guess I’m looking for either a magical solution to multi-day visits of awfulness or permission/encouragement to rock the boat and let it sink??

The Ship is Going Down Anyway

Hello!

The ship IS going down anyway, so talk to your husband so he’s not blindsided and you both have some scripts ready to go, and go ahead and rock that boat! PERMISSION GRANTED.

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