how to say no

Ahoy, Captain!

My mother died suddenly earlier this year. She and my father lived in a kinda remote area, 600 miles from my current residence. Pops is now getting ready to maybe think about moving to a zip code that has more humans than cows.
Here’s the problem: Mama and Pops spent most of their 45 years together collecting. We’re talking decorative spoons, commemorative display plates, a pewter powder horn engraved with scenes from the Battle of Valley Forge… Most of it was admired when it arrived and then put away for safekeeping. I have probably laid eyes on only 10% of the tchotchkie iceberg in my lifetime. The majority of the collection is currently tightly packed (Pops loves Tetris) in a 40 foot shipping container parked out back of Pop’s house, the kind more commonly seen on trucks or trains.

Whenever we talk lately he reels off a list of dozens of items, and he starts getting overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Mama. He then demands my siblings and I come and take what we want as soon as possible. I’ve told him the first step is that he has to choose what he wants to hold on to, but he is adamant my siblings and I get first pick because this stuff is ‘valuable’ and they bought it for us to have ‘eventually’. This evening I went on eBay looking for comparable items to the ones I knew were in the shipping container– they have not appreciated in value.

I try to keep collectibles in my own home to functional and useful items since I have a distinct lack of storage, and I have original and commissioned comic art covering most of the walls. Even if I picked out a huge pile of things I wanted, even if I somehow got them 600 miles to my home, I have nowhere to put them.
How do I tell my Pops that I don’t want any of his treasures? Are there scripts? And do you have any suggestions on the best way to support him as he starts downsizing, particularly as I’m so far away?


What Do You Do With An Engraved Pewter Powder Horn

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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


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.


Molly Maid

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Dear Captain,

My parents keep visiting me over the summer and living in my apartment on my couch. One of my parents is looking for a job both in my current state and in the state of my hometown (where she actually officially lives when she is not visiting me). She sometimes has interviews out here and I am her host.

My dad, meanwhile, stayed three weeks at my place over the summer. I repeat: three fucking weeks. I did not need his “help” (his reason for visiting), but I felt bad telling him because I know he is going through a difficult time in his life (unwanted retirement) and wants to feel useful. I know I don’t *have* to satisfy those feelings for him, and I’m in therapy to try to get over this thinking.

I feel like crying. I was (and still am) a “parentified child” (chaotic home, traumatized parents told me about their adult sexual and financial struggles as though I were a healthy confidant) and having to host my parents now in my early 20’s is really triggering the sad feelings of powerlessness and numbness I used to feel. The feeling that I have to care for and baby my parents rather than enjoy being young, being a kid and having a fun place to live *on my own*.

I was saying to my therapist yesterday that I need to balance what my parents want from me as a daughter, to what society thinks a daughter should reasonably do to help her struggling parents. I burst into tears because she said, “Well, and you also have to balance those things with what YOU want.” I hadn’t even considered my own desires in terms of my apartment and my boundaries with them.

Do you have any scripts on re-setting (or rather, setting for the first time) boundaries with my parents? I know that part of the process will probably involve my knowing what I actually WANT for boundaries–but frankly yesterday is the first time I have ever thought about it with such precision.

My mom still doesn’t have a job yet, and I know she is probably going to come back out for more interviews. I have suffered enough of my parents’ rage and regret over finances and lost jobs. I am so tired and fragile right now. I also am terrified of setting boundaries–I don’t know that I believe they can get on without my help. Plus, you know, I love them.

Any help or advice or scripts would be amazing.

–Healing from parentification

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I have a great stepdad, and a pretty not good dad. My dad has been in my life the entirety of it, so he’s not an absentee dad- but he’s controlling, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative (he’s a millionaire, and uses that to try to exact control over you) and just pretty cruel in general. He is married to a woman who hates me and my siblings, and they have both been honest with us about this since we were kids and they got married. They both think we haven’t tried hard enough to get her to like her or to “earn” our way into being part of their family, which we currently don’t deserve (his words.) I have tried to keep him in my life as much as possible and do what I can to prove to him I’m a good person, and always have.But he’s been pretty consistent in his vocal belief I’m not a good person, and never will be.

Now I’m an adult and I take nothing from him, and pay my own way 100% of the time. I wanted him to see what I wanted was the relationship, not the money. When I got engaged, he offered to help with the wedding, which I should have just said no to. But I was seduced by the idea we could all be a family and do this big day together, and as dumb as it is, I love my dad. Of course, by two weeks after our engagement, things had devolved. My dad, and then his wife had called to insult me and my mother (whom my dad still hates, almost two decades later) and call me names etc. My dad was apparently in the room and let her do it. We haven’t spoken since. That was 3 months ago.

I don’t want his money. I just wanted him to be a good dad. The shitty part is, I LOVE my dad! I wanted him to be a part of it and walk me down the aisle and be my dad. But I don’t think he can be. My stepdad is a good dad and always has been. I want him to walk me down the aisle, but I know this will break my dad’s heart. And frankly, now that my dad can’t show off his money, which he loves to do, and the event won’t be about him, I don’t even know that he’ll come.

My fiancĂ© hates him and doesn’t want to invite him. I don’t want to invite my dad’s wife, but know I will have to if I even want a chance to have my dad there. Which I’m not sure if I want, either, to be honest.

How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once? And most of all, to keep our wedding the happy day it’s meant to be, and not the Divorced Family Dysfunction Hour?!


PS- Yes, I do have a therapist. Specializing in family conflict. And a great support network.

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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.


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.

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?

Trying to Adult

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