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“But I was reading.” Photo by Ash Hernandez, via Cathy De La Cruz (@SadDiego)

Hello Captain!

I have an situation that I don’t think has been discussed: how do you deal with Stranger Mansplainers when you are a lady doing things normally associated with manliness & they can’t fathom how a lady could figure out how to do such things?

For me: I am a lady & I participate in an activity that involves pulling trailers behind trucks. Backing the trailer into a parking space so you can go participate in the actual event is a frequent occurrence. I’m usually at these events by myself & can back up my own trailer, thank you very much. But I frequently encounter dudes who refuse to believe this is the case. I have had them bang on the windows of my truck, yell at me to stop, & block me from backing up my rig, all when I have a completely clear path & am not in danger of hitting anything. I’ve tried the “thank you, but I’m fine” approach but they refuse to move until I follow their directions. Sometimes they tell me to do exactly what I was already doing, other times they want me to follow a completely convoluted path that makes no sense. Even better, they usually follow it up with something along the lines of “if you don’t get hysterical, it’s easy!”

Other than going to the event management, how can I deal with this? It makes even more fun when the Mansplainers have their own rig that they parked like a Picasso painting, but it still sours the event for me. I don’t have any history with these dudes, they’re just total strangers who see a lady driving a truck & trailer and assume incompetence. Please help.

I’ve Been Backing My Own Trailers For A Long Time, Eff Off.

Dear Eff Off,

I think it’s worth reaching out to the organizers with this to see if they can’t send out some kind of safety reminder, like, “Hey, if you offer to help someone back up, and they say they’ve got it, it means they’ve got it. Get out of the way!” Treating it like a safety issue (which it is), rather than a sexism issue (which it also is) is going to have the cleanest chance of getting through.

You could also try a not-moving standoff. Dude won’t move until you take his directions? You won’t move until he gets out of the way.

But the truth of it is: You’re doing everything right already and there is no way to preemptively get these guys to stop acting like jackasses. You can’t control their behavior at all by phrasing things differently. So what remains is to deliver the message very clearly in a way that (hopefully) amuses you.

To do this, first, decline the offers verbally just as you have been. “Thank you, I got this!

If the interrupter persists in standing behind your truck and waving his arms at you, beckon him over, roll down your window, and hand him this flyer from the stack you keep in your glove box.

A photo of Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road that says

Prepare for lots of sadface and “I was just TRYING to HELP YOU you are SO RUDE, JEEZ” pouting. Feel no need to smooth it over. No condescending insistence on “helping” complete with condescending “don’t get hysterical” comments? No condescending flyer!

P.S. This comment rules. Consider it.

It’s time for the monthly-ish post where we answer the things that people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

1. “Captain Awkward help my boyfriend keeps trying to optimise me.

Eff that dude. He’s not your Pygmalion and you are not a project.

2. “How should you act when you see your former affair and his wife in public?”

Give him a “hey, ‘sup bro?” nod and keep on walking/don’t stop to talk to them. You’re not going to be successful at pretending you don’t know him (hence the nod), but let him be the one to scramble for explanations about how y’all know each other. If you don’t engage at all it makes it less likely that you’ll have to lie to some poor woman’s face.

Clint Eastwood nodding like a bro.

3. “How do I tell my husband I’m sick of him playing games on his phone?”

Text him?

In all seriousness, I think it’s a good idea to make mealtimes and certain other times gadget/screen free, and I think you can ask him outright. to do that.

4. “What to do when your boyfriend’s ex wants him back.”

Ignore the ex to the extent that you can and don’t engage with them if you can help it. In my experience, this is almost always a partner problem more than it is an ex problem, as in, the ex can want all they want, but how your partner treats you is everything.

5. “What to do when every time I go out side my neighbour tells me all her troubles.” 

Awkward. Give it like, 2 minutes, and then deploy some scripts:

1) “Hey, good to see you, but I actually don’t have time to talk today.”

2) “Hey, nice to see you, but I came out here to get a bit of quiet. We can catch up another time, maybe.

3) If you’re like me, and you always carry a book, “Hi! I’m in a really exciting part of my book and I’ve been waiting all day to read it. I’ll have to catch up with you another time, thanks.” Pull out book.

Your neighbor will likely never get the hint, so you’ll have to ask. Prepare for sighing and harrumphing. If she makes a big show of avoiding you, be magnanimous – you’ve won! If she gives you some space, once a week, maybe just hang out with her for 10 minutes and ask about her day to show her that boundaries don’t mean y’all are enemies. If she doesn’t give you space, get more terse. “When I said I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I really meant it. Good night!”

6. “All our neighbors don’t talk to us.”

Maybe your neighbors just aren’t your people*? Try finding friends and a social life elsewhere?

My other question is, do you talk to them? Could you find the friendliest-seeming person and bake them a cake or something to break the ice? Give it some time and see if it gets better.

*”Aren’t your people” *could* mean “you have unwittingly moved to a racist, homophobic, and sexist hellscape.” Sorry, that’s a real thing, and it sucks.

7. “Just because he’s my boss should he not act on his feelings about me?”

Pretty much, bosses should not try to date or seduce or romance their employees and should look to, I dunno, literally anyone else.

8. “4 dates means he must like me.”

Sadly, that’s not a guarantee, though the possibility is there. In a new dating relationship, look to the present tense. What are things like between you now? Does he demonstrate that he likes you? Do you like him? Is it easy to make plans?

9. “He’s ignoring my Facebook messages.”

Stop sending Facebook messages and see if he contacts you.

10. “How to know if a girl loves you secretly from long distance?”

Ask her? She has the universe’s sole monopoly on the information you want.

11. “iamabeautifulperson.”

Fuck yeah!

12. “What does it mean when a boy suddenly message me saying sorry to be blunt but do you like me yes or no.”

Most likely explanation: 1) The boy likes you and is trying to make it known 2) Y’all are in middle school.

You don’t have to answer right away if you need time to make up your mind. “I’m thinking about it. Why do you want to know?” is a perfectly good answer.

13. “Having trouble accepting that my adult married daughter is gay.”

The best thing you can do is to realize that she was always gay. It’s a fact, not something that needs your acceptance in order to be true, but if you want to keep having a relationship with her you need to do the work. Please be a good person about this, educate yourself, tell your daughter you love her, and don’t make her sexuality an issue between the two of you.

14. “A guy told me my messages creep him out what does that mean.”

Bluntly: Stop sending that guy messages. He doesn’t like them.

15. “Comebacks for people gaslighting you.”

In my estimation, no one is topping this lady who figured out her boyfriend was gaslighting her and then made him watch Gaslight. My heroine.

The key with gaslighters is not comebacks, it’s to get yourself out of proximity to them and in proximity to good people who treat you well.

16. “My boyfriend wants to move in together but I don’t.”

Listen to and believe that voice that is telling you that you don’t want to live with him. Maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him yet, maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him ever, maybe there is a fixable problem that you can work on together, and maybe it’s not fixable. Whatever it is, sit with it quietly, write about it, talk to trusted people about it, talk to your boyfriend about it, but don’t discount it.

17. “He’s mean to me, rude to me and doesn’t care about my feelings. What does it mean?”

A sign that says

It means: Get this dude out of your life forever.

Monty Python & the Holy Grail: Run away! Run away!

Oh my Captain!

I’m working at a temp data entry job, where I scan and index files prepared by another team. When I started this project, the supervisor told me to go to her if I had any questions, or noticed anything unusual. I’ve been doing that, and I’ve been catching a fair few errors. After about a month of this, the supervisor decided to point a couple of the more common errors out to the prep team, so they can avoid them.

When this was pointed out to them, they seemed wounded, said they were shocked to find out there had been mistakes, and said I should bring questions to them first, so they can correct them.

I’ve been trying that for the past few days, but it’s been going… weirdly…  Here’s an example.

I have three files, one each for Alice, Bob, and Carol. They put all three under Bob’s name. When I point this out, the prep team said that all three shared Bob’s ID number. This is incorrect. I know they know it’s incorrect, because they use the correct ID numbers elsewhere in the file.
I’m inclined to go back to just asking my supervisor, but I’m worried that the prep team will take offense again. If they wanted to, they could make my job really difficult. I feel like they don’t take anything I catch seriously, possibly because I’m considerably younger, female, and a temp.

Thanks for looking this over,

Not Trying to Make Trouble

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Hi, Captain and company,

Recently I was reading through your archives and I found a great discussion on how to deal with a parent’s significant other who co-ops all conversations into another round of ‘Who’s right-er?’ with the answer always being “me.” (of course I cannot find that question now to give you context)

You gave some great advice about how to disengage from the conversation, how to change the subject, and how to set boundaries with that person, and I’m wondering if you have any advice on how to take this a step further, with a group discussion where you are not being addressed personally, in which you are one of say, six or so, who does not agree with one person.

Because this all feels very vague and theoretical, let me give you an example:

I am a very liberal person in all aspects of life: political, social, and religious. I am part of an extended family who cares very deeply about these things in a much more conservative way. Most of my family is super cool and can accept that I disagree (while still thinking I’m wrong) and I’ve had good discussions with them about these issues before.

My uncle, however, is mean and loud about it. He says awful, hateful things about our president and social issues and most of the rest of my family lets him talk until he’s done, even though I suspect (and in some cases, know, like with my mother) they do not agree with him or the way he expresses himself. No matter what the group is talking about, he’ll turn it into a discussion of politics, religion, or social issues. As I am writing this I realize that he’s a bit of a missing stair.

I am usually the youngest family member in these conversations, and also a lady person. Leaving the room would mean that I don’t get to spend time with the other family who is there, like my grandparents.

How do I co-opt a conversation from the man who has co-op’ed it in the first place? I’m not as loud as him, nor as pushy, nor as heard in the family, due to my age.

Signed,
There Will Be No Third Term

Dear There Will Be No Third Term,

Hi! Your sign-off made me literally LOL, so, good work there.

I think the old response you are looking for is this one. Or maybe this one.

You’re not the hostess of these gatherings, so you have less standing to say, loudly, “How interesting, Uncle. Cousin, how is your landscaping project going?” and redirect the conversation of the whole table like Ye Dowager Countess of Olde. But one thing you can do is tune him the fuck out on the micro level, by turning to the people sitting close to you and saying, quietly, “Cousin, however did you grow this pumpkin?” or “Grandma, I loved reading about the new church choir in that last letter you sent, how is that going?” and starting up a murmur of side conversations. Do it quietly, so you aren’t challenging your uncle directly , but also rebel by visibly tuning out and physically turning your body away from him while he talks and focusing your attention solely on the person you’re asking.

No lie: It will feel incredibly rude and weird the first time you do it, but no more rude than making the entire group listen to his rants. Think of it as throwing a conversational lifeline to your neighbor. If they pick it up, you two can have a little side conversation. Others may see this and gratefully flock to it. Suddenly the overall subject will be changed, and Uncle will flail, as he will not quite know what happened. If they don’t pick it up, try it again with someone else. You can start small and sort of work your way up to it.

Uncle may attempt to turn the conversation back to himself, and he may pick on you in the process, like “How rude, didn’t you hear that I was talking?” If he just talks louder, or whatever, without picking on you, keep doing what you’re doing without comment. If he makes it about you, this is where the advice to Have The Argument, Already kicks in.

  • “Sorry, Uncle, you seemed to show know sign of stopping, and I really wanted to catch up with Grandma since I’m here for such a short time.”
  • “Wow, Uncle, I wasn’t aware that we’d hired you to lecture us for this gathering. I thought this was a family dinner, and that everyone is allowed to talk.” 
  • “Uncle, I really didn’t feel like arguing with you about politics, so I asked other people at the table to talk quietly about other things.” 
  • “Uncle, I kept waiting for you to come to the end of your point, but then 30 minutes passed, and I wanted to talk to Grandpa while he’s still with us.”

This is one you could deploy in the moment, or one you can ask your parents & grandparents about ahead of time:

  • “I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but maybe it’s time for a No Politics At The Dinner Table rule. I know I get really fatigued by discussions like that, especially when I get so little time to see you all.” 

Others may be willing to adapt a “no, really, this rule is for everyone!” stance rather than take on your uncle directly. You may get some friction from your family around this, like, you’re the one making it weird. Stay strong and keep trying, little by little! There is *someone* else in that room who is grateful to you and who will pick up your conversational lifelines and throw you lifelines in return.

Finally, when you’re not all at the dinner table together, consider pulling favorite relatives aside and hanging out with them in twos and threes and volunteering for tasks away from the main action. “Let’s go on a nice after-dinner walk.” “We need more milk from the store. Grandma, want to come with me to get some?” “Cousin, want to stay out here with me while I clean the grill?” That way you get some quality time in without anyone having to make a scene.

Readers, what strategies do you have for rescuing a gathering from That Guy or That Lady?

Dear Captain & Crew,

I’m a grad student and I want to write thank-you cards to a couple of my undergrad professors whose classes and mentorship were really important to my academic and personal growth. There two profs are my former advisor/PI and another prof who basically inspired what I’m doing for my graduate work – similar topic coming from another field. The problem for me is that when I was graduating and for a while after (aka prime thank-you time) my anxiety was out of control, but as that has become more manageable my feelings of awkwardness about the amount of time that has passed are increasing. I feel like I would be taking advantage of their time and professionalism if I just reestablished contact because it might be useful to me.

I want to avoid turning these thank-yous into a FEELINGSDUMP. One of the things I appreciated was my advisor being supportive and calm about my (at the time undiagnosed) panic attacks and general graduating/life stress, but I don’t think that’s the kind of long-winded screed they really need, ya know? I also ideally would like these notes to maybe be the start of a friendly-professional correspondence. I think they’re cool people, and we’re facebook friends so though we don’t actually talk there I think they are open to being in that sort of contact with their graduated students.

Scripts? General tips on how I should approach the situation from a professor’s point of view?

Signed,
Grateful Also Awkward
PS I use she/her pronouns.

Dear Grateful:

Keep it short and sweet, but please don’t fear that saying “thank you” to a teacher is an imposition even if some time has gone by. Your teachers all did their work without ever knowing what would take root or how students would receive it, and getting the confirmation that something stuck with you is a gift that you’re giving them, not an imposition on their time. Script:

“Dear Professor, as you may know, I’ve been doing graduate work in (field of study), and I wanted to tell you how wonderfully your class set me up to succeed here, especially the way you covered (specific topic). Thank you again for your class and for the mentorship and advising you gave me. I hope all is well with you. Best wishes, Grateful.”

Since you’re casually in touch on social media, that will do the rest to keep the doors open.

P.S. Thanks for telling us what pronouns to use. It didn’t come into play here, but it’s so helpful to know.

—————

Since we’re in that time in the semester, I want to make a public service announcement to college students whose academic success is being derailed by stress and mental health issues:

Universities aren’t magical places where stigma about mental illness doesn’t exist, but you (yes, you! and you!) are not the first students having genuine difficulty that your professor has seen. Unfortunately, “not giving a fuck” and “having a major crisis” can look exactly the same to your professors, so if you can, communicate. They can often steer you toward advising and on-campus health services to help you pull through. With some notice, they can maybe set up alternate structures for you to complete your work. The sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get back on track in some way. The very last week of the semester, “But I need a good grade in this class I never come to or do work for to graduate/keep my scholarship” isn’t really gonna work.

If you’re behind on your work, and you’re overwhelmed about how you’re ever going to catch up, let me help you prioritize that shitpile:

  1. What’s the assignment that’s due next? Ignore the old stuff for now. Focus on the next thing and hand it in by the deadline.
  2. Hand in all future things by the deadline, i.e., show that you can respect deadlines and respect the professors’s time and get caught up.
  3. Once you’ve made a plan for future work, what’s the outstanding assignment that’s worth the most points toward your grade? Try negotiating an extension for that one thing.
  4. When asking for an extension, your profs don’t need all the details of why. Look at what the syllabus says about late work and/or extensions, and if you have to ask, just do it. “I am having some personal issues and I need an extra week to finish my assignment. Can I turn it in on x date? I understand that this might affect my grade.” Your profs don’t spend all their time thinking about you or your missing work. Tell them what they need to know, ask them for what you need, and do it with the least amount of friction for them.
  5. Show that you are aware of what you need to do and suggest a realistic plan for getting the additional work in. Asking a professor, “What assignments am I missing?” is kind of insulting (see also: “Did I miss anything in class today?“). If you haven’t been reading the syllabus or the class website, now’s the time to read it or fake that you have. Grading late work is a pain in the ass, so make it easy for busy people to help you.
  6.  Is the missing work from the very beginning of the semester? Maybe let that stuff go. You don’t want to do it and your prof probably doesn’t want to read/grade it.
  7. Attend all classes, even if you aren’t quite caught up. Students who shame-hide because they haven’t finished their work: We see you! Or, we don’t, because you are skipping a class you paid a lot of money for because you’re worried about what we’ll think of you for missing an assignment, but we’d like to see you! Come back! Show that you’re interested and committed to catching up.

I have had students fail a class or withdraw from a class because they were going through a really bad time and then come back at it a semester later and do beautifully. It makes me so happy when that happens. It’s not embarrassing, it’s awesome!

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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Hey there Captain-

My roommate-BFF has heard me have sex. Multiple times (to clarify: we have separate bedrooms in an apartment). I enjoy sex that sometimes involves some/copious spanking, slapping, or flogging, so I’m especially sensitive to the fact that some people just Don’t Want To Hear It. My two previous girlfriends were super aware of her disinterest in overhearing us, and the dudes I currently sleep with have been informed, and everybody kind of agrees, “well, yeah”. We (the sex havers) basically do one of three things: we have super quiet, no spanking/slapping/flogging sex; we wait till roommate goes to sleep; we do not have sex and/or go somewhere else (if an option, I’m usually at a partner’s place 50% of the sextime).

I could handle doing all three of these things in combo, but- the quiet sex sometimes doesn’t work, apparently, because my roommate will come tell me as I’m headed to the bathroom after a super quiet whispery sex session that she heard us. Which has resulted in me crying to my partner, who assures me I was very quiet indeed, and it feels silly writing it, but I’m crying because it’s just frustrating, to think you’re trying your best but you’re clearly not, cause sex noises. It’s also frustrating because we usually tend to try some quiet sex after waiting around for a bit to see if my roommate will go to bed.

Which is the other issue- I don’t think she sleeps? She has a very weird schedule of waking up/sleeping, and just finished school and doesn’t work, so is free to nap during the day. She finally saw a doctor and therapist in the past year, and is now on anxiety meds. Yay for her! I am really happy she is taking control of that stuff and doing good work towards getting better (having been hospitalized multiple times for depression/suicide and BPD, I empathize deeply). But her sleep schedule is still fucked. And as a result, I’m not getting fucked. It’s exhausting waiting around to see if she’ll fall asleep, deciding not to do the sex, and waking up to pee at 4am and seeing her sitting at her desk wide awake.

To be honest, writing it out makes me feel like this is such a silly problem. But it’s impacting a part of my intimate relations with people, which is a part I enjoy very much. The inverse of this problem has never happened in two years cohabiting – I go to bed between 11-11:30, take sleep meds that conk me out good, and use a sound machine. I’m tired (literally) of waiting up past my bedtime to see if my roommate maybe will fall asleep soonish and my partner and I can get down to business.

My question: am I way out of bounds to sit her down and say, “listen, I love you, but after 12am, any sex noises you hear from my room are not be reported on. After 12am is sex time. You can sex up your awesome boyfriend, I can sex up my partner du jour, whatever, but if you overhear something, you don’t gotta say something. Also please talk to your doctor about your wonky sleep schedule if it is not working for you.”? Or is this the worst idea?

-Sex (Not) Having Lady

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