So I know church is maybe not your milieu, but I hope this question has some broader applications and maybe deserves a broader answer.

I’m a lady in my early 30s who has been dating my wonderful boyfriend (late 20s) for a few years. We’ve been attending our church for 3 years, which we chose together. I was raised small town Protestant and my bf did the recovering Catholic/atheist thing for a number of years. We chose our church because, although it’s very formal (incense, fancy vestments, the whole bit) it’s a denomination that’s known for being really open-minded and liberal. We also liked the individual church we chose because it’s really beautiful and historic, and located downtown–so really, right in the thick of things. I wouldn’t call it a bad neighborhood per se (mostly because the idea of a neighborhood being “bad” is pretty racist) but during the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, there were a few scary incidents and membership took a nosedive.

Fast forward to today. Our church’s membership is growing, and about 2 years ago my boyfriend decided he was interested in pursing a career in the church. To that end, he created a ministry that focuses on homelessness and food insecurity, which is an issue that’s very close to his heart, as both of his parents were homeless at different points. The bulk of the work is that, once a week, he hosts a lunch for anyone who wants to attend, free of charge. The demand is great, and seeing 100 people come through in 90 min is not unusual. Most of the people who come through are either homeless or food insecure, and many of them are people of color.

This is a ministry that a lot of people are really excited about–our priest has been a total treasure throughout the whole process, and Boyfriend is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the diocese. But there are others in the congregation who are…less enthused.

Having grown up in a really small town, I’m used to the petty politics of church life. Boyfriend is really, really not. I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how many people we consider close friends, despite the age and income gaps (lots of older, upper middle class white people), have said some really nasty shit just out of earshot. Just this last week, I found out that at our summer kickoff street festival (which was attended by a number of Boyfriend’s lunch regulars) a woman who I considered a friend apparently said, “This isn’t the [local homeless shelter]. This is disgusting.” I ended up making the decision to not tell Boyfriend about this, as it happened several months ago, and there didn’t seem to be any point in tainting his image of this particular woman. But suffice to say, this was not a one-off comment; there are A LOT of people who overtly or covertly agree, one or two of whom have been openly hostile.

I’m just flabbergasted. I think Boyfriend’s work is really important, and I’m super-proud of him. I’m just really disgusted because I feel like he’s really trying to walk the walk, as far as the Christian message goes, and he’s supported by the administration, but markedly less so by other people (some of whom I thought were our friends and/or are very influential in the community.) I mean, Jesus KINDA TALKS A LOT about the poor and the destitute…

How should I handle this sort of malarkey when it comes up? Chalk it up to an age/income/culture divide and let it lie? Quickly slap it down and put them in their place? I worry that not saying anything at all enforces the status quo, but equally I worry that going on the warpath against a bunch of old ladies isn’t a good look, either.



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Hello Captain and friends!

This problem has been sitting in my mind, waiting to pounce, for months. Recently it came to the forefront and shocked me a bit.

I’m a 24-year-old graduate student pursuing a career that I’ve wanted since I was a preteen. Grad school has been good overall, especially for my confidence. I have wonderful friends, good family relationships (I live with my parents), and artistic hobbies that I enjoy (although I don’t put much effort into them). I was diagnosed with severe anxiety in 2014, did therapy for a year, and went on medication this summer. Therapy reduced OCD symptoms and negative self-talk, and meds have reduced daily nervousness. I’ve had four part-time jobs in food service, reception, and retail respectively. I always put my best face forward at work, and I make up for school-related procrastination with anxiety-fuelled planning and get really good grades.

But the other day I realized that I’ve never been good at anything, and I’m probably not good enough for my career path. My first boss called me “inefficient”. I made more mistakes at my second job than the newbies, even after four semesters. (Same goes for the campus kung fu club.) I was frequently reprimanded at my third job and got a few serious talking-tos. At my fourth job I often felt overwhelmed and scattered, and they didn’t call me back to work the holiday rush. I’ve never been fired, but I had to quit all of my jobs due to going to/leaving school. I wasn’t very good at my volunteer positions or hobbies, either.

Two days ago I got a performance review at my school internship. My supervisors are excited to ramp things up with me next term. Although my technical skills are at par, I’ve made social blunders due to my habit of acting without thinking when I’m anxious. In general, I don’t have the professional conduct skills to “fit in” at the agency or truly connect with clients. With some wheedling I got one supervisor to indirectly admit that if this had been a job, I’d have been fired by now.

Realizing that I’m bad at the work I value and have wanted to do for so long was awful. And I don’t know why I make so many mistakes. I realize that anxiety sabotages concentration and motivation, but now that I feel less anxious the problems have not gone away. I’m nearly certain that these mistakes were/are due to unchangeable cognitive or personality flaws. I started self-harming this summer to make my self-hatred more concrete.

I just don’t want to be incompetent anymore. I don’t want to let people down.


Tomato in the Mirror

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dear captain awkward,

> winter break starts soon
> staying in dorm costs too much
> can’t fly home, too far
> v warm v nice family offered home (3 hrs away) to stay for winter
> BUT it was during summer visit
> not sure if offer still stands
> not sure how to ask – awkward
> (have backup plan but entails staying w virtual stranger – awkward)
> help w the email? scripts?
> rules/etiquette of couchsurfing?

thanks a ton,

surfing nothing but a wave of anxiety

Hello Surfing!

Email the people who made you the offer today and ask them if it still stands. “Hi, hope you are well! My winter break starts on (date), and I am writing to see if your offer of a place to stay is still open. Happy holidays, You.” Winter break is coming up soon, so don’t leave it for another second!

As for couch-surfing etiquette, five things come to mind:

  • Make your physical footprint as small as possible, especially during the day. Don’t spread your stuff out all over the place, take a second to tidy up the area where you’re staying each day and make sure that the room is usable for other purposes by the people who live there.
  • A self-amusing houseguest is a good houseguest. If your hosts include you and invite you to things like mealtime and weekly game night, participate and enjoy, but also make plans to take walks, work down at the coffee shop or library, read quietly, go to the movies, etc. by yourself sometimes so you give your hosts some privacy.
  • Pitch in where you can – do the dishes, do laundry, babysit, read to kids, ask for ways to help out. The first couple of days they will say “Nonsense! You’re a guest!” but by the end of the week it will be nice for your hosts to have some of those chores done and not feel like they are waiting on you.
  • Let your hosts know if you are not going to be around for an evening or if you’ll be home late for some reason, so they can plan their lives.
  • Bring a small gift with you and send a thank you note afterwards.

Readers, what am I forgetting?


Hey Captain Awkward!

First off, I hope you’ve had a lovely holiday season so far! Hopefully it’s been less stressful than mine.

I wasn’t able to quite find an answer to my situation (and I admit, it’s sorta weird). Basically, shopping for the holidays has become quite an event. Maybe it’s because my family’s Asian, but I feel like often times the value of the gifts is measured by how much or how little is spent.

I’ll give you an example. My mom’s birthday is on the 19th, so having a birthday and Christmas close to one another means double-trouble for gifts. My mom says she doesn’t care about “expensive” things, just so long as there is “effort” put into the gift. Last year I had purchased her a bunch of succulents and a terrarium set for her birthday and a fair trade sculpture of a church building for Christmas. She loved them both, but demanded the price for each. The birthday gift was around $40 and the sculpture was $15. Hearing the price, she was immensely pleased with the sculpture and loved it more but said that the succulents/terrarium lost “value” because they cost “way more than she was willing to pay for them.” What? She appears to be the worst at this, followed by my brother (who seems to have picked up her habit). My dad seems to be the complete opposite and in the same boat as me (aka: stressed out about buying gifts because the price is scrutinized).

So this year – thanks to the fact that I have a job and am making a decent amount of money – I got her a custom wooden bowl thanks to a close woodworking friend of mine (it’s super fancy with carvings and copper inlay) for her birthday (a $120 value, but my friend only charged me $60 despite my insistence that I pay him more for it) and an iPad Mini 4 split between my brother and I.

The iPad Mini has its own separate issue – I had purchased it from the Apple Store for $400 (adding in the case it totaled to $440). When I had messaged my brother the cost, he flipped out. Said it was way too much money for an iPad Mini and chastised me for not going online and buying it from Best Buy (where it said it would cost $300). He told me that the value of the gift had been lost because I was “wasteful with money,” “was giving away $100 for free,” and that “Mom won’t like it because you spent way too much.” Kept going on about how he’s right and I’m wrong, and even threw in a weird analogy (I quote, verbatim): “Say it’s your friend’s birthday. You wanna get him or her a pencil. You find two pencils exactly the same. One is 1 dollar. The other is 101 dollars. Which one do you buy?” Um, what?

I ended up returning the iPad Mini and purchasing it and a case online (for $340, and yes, we saved $100). But I didn’t expect to get shat on for the $100 difference. Sure, I’m wrong in that I should’ve bought it for less, but I didn’t expect to be berated by my younger brother about how I’m being reckless with money when I really only spend money on friends/family the holiday season!

I feel like I put a lot of thought and effort into finding something that my mom wants/likes/needs. The same goes for my brother (he’s getting a shirt, a phone holder for his car, and a pair of Nike running shoes). Yet I feel like worrying about the “value” of things has almost ruined the spirit of Christmas (though my brother said I have ruined the holiday spirit and am using this as an excuse to recklessly spend).

I’m getting incredibly anxious for when Christmas happens, and I guess my question is: how do I handle the potential “tsk tsk” when Christmas gifts are exchanged and opened? I feel like if this Christmas turns out to be a dud, I’m just going to stop investing in giving them certain things, but then I know I’ll be chastised for not caring enough in giving them something of value. How do I handle the awkward situations when they arise? My dad will probably keep quiet and agree with whatever my mom says, but this whole thing is driving me crazy!

Gift$ or $hit

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a great, strong, smart female friend who has fallen head over heels for her boyfriend. They’ve been dating for under a year but already live together.

This friend has been attending a weekly trivia night with us now for over a year. When the new guy came on the scene he said how much he loved trivia and asked to join. We are a very inclusive team with friends from all over so of course we let him.

While he isn’t the favourite at trivia (he is very competitive and we are very bad at trivia but we have fun) things had been mostly fine, until he lost his job. He has been unemployed now for about 4 months, which I get is tough. However, he went from having a few beers at a casual Monday trivia to having 6+ over the course of 2 hours.

It’s awkward when he gets drunk for sure, but again I could have put up with this. I get it being sad about not having a job is hard. However, in the last month there has been a pattern of him not paying for said drinks. The bar we go to refuses to do separate tabs, so what often happens is people put their cash down and go. Consistently it seems he doesn’t put enough in or any at all, and by the time we realize those of us who are left are stuck with the bill. It’s one thing to forget once or twice, but it seems to be a pattern.

I’m not really sure what to do. I don’t want to embarrass him, and I don’t feel we are good enough friends for me to confront him about it. But I also know my best friend wants to spend the rest of her life with this man, and I’m worried that if I bring it up she’ll get angry with me. Money is such an awkward subject, what do I do?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents and I have a very strained relationship. There is obviously a lot involved, but since I left home 12 years ago I’ve slowly been setting boundaries with them and trying to have the kind of relationship we can manage (which is a superficial though mostly friendly one as long as I’m not in the same state as them). While a lot of the things my parents do bother me, I’ve been coping with them. However, I have a pet peeve that I just can’t get over, and I need help!

My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk and in the third person. I am 30 years old, a successful attorney, married, and 100% an adult. He tells me all that time that I’ll “always be a widdle girl to Daddy” and other similar nonsense, and I want to reach through the phone and show him what’s what. I have far exceeded what he thought I would become in life (no thanks to him) and I feel like he’s infantalizing me to ‘keep me in my place.’ I hate it.

But how do I make it stop? This has been going on my whole adult life, and I feel like I’m in deep to just say “actually that bothers me a lot, please stop.” Ultimately I know this is indicative of his whole attitude toward me, which will never really change, but if I could just carry on a conversation were he says “I changed the oil today” instead of “Daddy changed the oil” (in a cutesy voice) I would take it.

Not Widdle and Not Buying It

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Hello! This is a question that is hopefully less fraught than a few of the other Holiday Questions and I hope will be an easy question for you all to answer.

My partner and I have been living together for over a year and together for much longer than that; it is a thoughtful, committed relationship and I’m very happy. My parents took some time to warm up to him but now like him very much (him wading in (yes, literally) to help at last Thanksgiving’s Sewer Explosion in the Parents’ basement went a long way towards them recognizing how good of a man he really is).

The problem: my family is deeply Catholic (not me) (and in the liberation theology, Nuns on the Bus, Vatican 2 kind of way, which helps). Until my partner and I marry, my parents will not allow us to stay in the same bed. We have no plans of getting married unless there is some extenuating circumstance, and then certainly not in the church.

I haven’t brought it up in the last year or so because 1) I want to respect their beliefs and 2) most of the times we’ve been home, I’ve been sleeping on a couch or with my sister anyway since it’s been for other family events where there’s a full house. But now it’s gone on for a long time, and aforementioned sister yesterday got in a fight with my parents about creating a “boys dorm” and a “girls dorm” for our next family vacation (this also will impact my brother and his girlfriend, who have been together since they were sixteen but also are unmarried). They told her that it’s clearly not an issue since I haven’t brought it up and she’s overreacting. She is not.

Look, I’m not trying to have wild kinky sex under my parents’ roof. I would like for my partner to not have to sleep on the floor (or as happened on other vacations, in a tent outside), and I would like to feel like my parents respect our relationship. How do I broach this topic and make it clear that this does, in fact, bother me, but I’ve thus far respected their wishes — but it is a problem that they don’t seem to respect me or my relationship as responsible, adult, or mature without the parameters of Catholic marriage? Do I even bother? Is this a passive aggressive nightmare waiting to blow up ten years down the road if I don’t say something now?

Help me, Captain Awkward! You’re my only hope!

Grandma’s sleeping in my bed this year anyway so it doesn’t even matter right now

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