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Hi Captain!

I’m going to be going on a vacation with my family soon. We are visiting multiple countries in Europe. I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does. No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them.

The problem is my mom. My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused- but I also feel very attacked and unhappy when she starts to criticize the things that I spent so much time researching so that everyone would enjoy them. When we went to Vegas she pitched a fit because she wanted to see ‘a show’ but didn’t want to go to any of the shows we offered to take her to. She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all. I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path. Now that we’re going to Europe, I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all. I put a lot of effort into planning these trips and I really want people to enjoy them. Do you have any advice on getting her to complain less or for helping me feel less anxious and attacked when she does complain? I know on a surface level that these complaints aren’t always directed at me, but I still feel very unhappy when I hear them.

Best,

Harried Planner

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Dear Captain Awkward,

One year ago my father passed away. It was a several year battle against cancer that he eventually lost, and I still miss him deeply.

My mother has struggled in the aftermath. She has been overwhelmed with loneliness and sank into a depression. She loved my father deeply and he was her rock, both emotionally and in a more practical sense (bills, caretaking, house upkeep).

Lately she has struggled more deeply because a chronic pain issue flared up. She has been to numerous doctor appointments, tried multiple medications and treatments, with no improvements. The medications make her groggy and confused, and she has been having trouble sleeping on top of everything. It seems like her life is a waking nightmare.

I love my mom very much, but I am struggling with how to help her. I am an only child, and we have few extended family members – none she feels she can rely on. She has friendships, but does not trust her friends easily/well and has withdrawn lately because she is too exhausted to reach out. She usually rejects the idea of outside/paid help and feels very vulnerable.

My relationship with her has always had some tension. She is a wonderful mom and a caring person, but our personalities have always clashed. She has always needed more from me than I felt capable of giving, but that need has grown immense and my ability to help her has, if anything, decreased. My own life has been challenging – a stressful new job, a wonderful-but-complicated marriage, and grieving for my father.

I try to visit as often as I feel can, have offered help in various forms, but visits are filled with her lamenting that she doesn’t have anyone to help, and my offers of help are turned down more often than not because they aren’t the right ‘kind’ of help (she has rigid parameters and a deep need for control). Her control issues are also triggering for me, because control issues are something that I struggle with as well.

I have always found visits with my mom draining, and even more so now in this acute time. Every interaction with my mother has the ability to send me into my own tailspin, but setting boundaries makes me feel incredibly guilty in the face of her deep need – and the fact that she is a good person and mother.

How can I navigate this tricky balance? How can I help my mom without losing myself in her bottomless pit of need? How can I maintain my own mental health without feeling like the worst daughter ever?

Sincerely,
A

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Dear Captain and Crew,

Ten weeks ago I asked my husband why sex and some other things hadn’t happened on a long weekend at home. He out-of-the-blue responded, “I’ve been thinking I don’t want to be married to you anymore.” It took several days to sink in, by which point we were out of town on vacation. On the seventh day after his announcement, I couldn’t stop crying and texted my sisters, one of whom called back immediately and saved my sanity.

After we returned home and visited our couples counselor, I put an aggressive self-care plan into effect of daily exercise, masturbation, journaling, and eating well plus weekly time with friends, my personal therapist, massage, etc. The self-care is working. Most days I keep myself balanced on the two positive long-term possibilities: 1) we end up with a stronger happier marriage or 2) we head off to separate new adventures, reconnecting as friends after a break.

After an exercise break due to illness, I’ve been teetering, sometimes to optimism that he’ll stay based on his “I love yous,” warm hugs, and clear attraction to me and sometimes tripping into the short term “14 years, he doesn’t want to be with me; I can’t share this incredible pain” mud.

So far the only friends and family who know of our limbo are my sisters, his mom, his sibling, and one of his friends. I’ve waited to tell my parents, afraid mom will say “I told you to get a handle on your mood swings years ago,” or “Where’s your faith that he’ll stay?” instead of comforting me. Yesterday husband announced he bought a plane ticket to spend Mother’s Day with his mom, so my mom will want to know why I’m coming alone to visit her that weekend.

And I don’t want to be “the woman who cried divorce” asking for friend help she didn’t really need or to bias my friends against husband if he does stay. In a month – he says he’ll decide by then – a good chunk of far-flung Team Me has our annual gathering. I am really looking forward to it, but also wonder whether I should tell my friends about our marriage-limbo.

1. Do you have any script suggestions for when/what to tell my parents?

2. Do I wait till/if we separate to tell my closest friends? Is it self-centered to want to tell them before the annual fun times, even before I know for certain, just so they can support me? Is it fair to my recently widowed friend to feel sad in her presence about my Schrödinger’s husband?

Thank you.

(P.S. I have read 250 and 16, several times, which helped me to draft the letter to Team Me for if we separate of please this/not that.)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m in my late 20s and have achieved a considerable amount of success in my creative field. I earn a sizable living and have a good reputation in my field both nationally and internationally.  My father and I do not have a very good relationship (short backstory: he is a professor who left my mom for his T.A. when I was young, attempted to gain custody of my brother and not my sister or I, refused to acknowledge my sister’s depression was real despite her suicide attempt, other bad parent things).  At this point in my life, I prefer to keep things cordial but distant- get lunch one day if we are in the same city, phone calls on holidays.

The problem is that he undermines my achievements at any opportunity that presents itself. When I graduated from art school he flew to New York and showed up at my thesis exhibition unannounced, making my mother (who had been planning and saving to be able to fly up for the day) hugely uncomfortable and making comments like “So is this all you had to do to graduate?  I would have thought you’d at least have had to write a paper or something” and “I mean I’m just glad you’re graduating, it took you long enough.”

Now I am having my first solo art exhibition in London in the fall, and I got a call out of the blue from my dad telling me to let him know the dates because he’d like to attend.  He even had the audacity to say “maybe we’ll just drop in on you like we did for your thesis show!” I know that if he comes it will ruin what should be a major milestone in my art career.  He will make passive-aggressive and rude comments to my coworkers and friends and undermine my accomplishments by speaking negatively about me (“Oh you’ve met her mother?  Now you see why she’s so fucked up”

I’m worried that if I ask him not to come he will show up just to spite me.
How can I keep him from attending without turning it into a major dramatic argument?

Sincerely,
Stop Asking Me if I Make A Good Living From My “Etsy Store or Whatever it is You Do”

Dear Stop Asking:

Bad news: You probably won’t be able to prevent him from attending, and it will turn into a major dramatic argument no matter what you do, because that’s how your dad rolls. Whatever will cause the most turmoil and get the most attention is what he will do. So I think you should risk the drama and the argument, but do it on your terms.

The exhibition will be up for a while, yes? It’s not a One Night Only thing? I suggest you pick a date or set of dates that starts after the opening festivities. That way you can have the opening events and enjoy your success without his shadow.

“Dear Dad,

Sometime between X date and Y date would be the best for me.”

Keep it really terse. If he asks specifically about opening parties and events, etc. just repeat yourself: “Between X and Y is the best window for me.”

Do not elaborate or give reasons. He doesn’t think he behaved badly at your thesis event, he thinks it was awesome that he came. He doesn’t think he said horrible and insulting things to you and about you, he thinks y’all were bonding. He has a selective memory, he’ll never be convinced otherwise, so don’t waste your energy. Ignore follow-ups. You’ve said what you needed to say.

You could also say, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t come, but if you insist, sometime between X & Y is best.” This response would rock the illusion of cordial relations you have now though I would argue that if you are filled with dread at seeing the dude, things ain’t that cordial. I think he would still come if you said that (because you are issuing a direct challenge to him), but it strips away the illusion that he is somehow doing this for you and returns some of the awkwardness to sender.

He might well look up the event online and crash the opening to spite you (and torment your mom). Against this contingency, you could recruit some of your most thick-skinned and gregarious friends to be your Dad-buffers. If your dad shows, you can give your dad a brief (& confused) hello, like “Oh hi, Dad, I didn’t realize you’d be here” before excusing yourself to the rest room for a good 10 minutes, while Dad-buffer Friend #1 swoops in to give your dad a personal tour of the gallery and keeps him far away from you for the rest of the evening. Buffer Friend #2 is there should you get cornered by your dad, to swoop in and call you away for something urgent, like, a buyer (fictional or real), i.e. “Letter Writer, so sorry to interrupt you and your Dad, but Sting is here and wants to ask you about your work.” Your script is “Sorry, can’t talk now!” as you walk away from him to somewhere else. If/when he releases the word-kraken of undermining nonsense and backhanded compliments, your friends will know that it doesn’t reflect on you, at all. He is only embarrassing himself.

Depending on what kind of venue it is, you could also deploy the guest list or “invitation only” qualities of the opening to your benefit. It would involve telling your agent or the venue manager (or other person in charge): “My dad and I are estranged, but he likes to crash my openings and make a big weird scene. Can we make sure he does not acquire tickets or guest list privileges?” Savvy people who are invested in your career (literally, they are literally invested in you) will realize that a shaky, seething, distracted You is a You Who Sells Less Art and do what they can to buffer you. There will be drama if your dad is escorted out by security, but security people are totally capable of saying “Sorry sir, it’s invitation only, and you’re not on the list. The show runs through (date), please come back another time.” They don’t have the same emotional engagement as you do, and they give zero fucks that he’s your dad.

If he doesn’t crash the opening, and shows up later, you can decide whether you want to meet up with him at all. You could reward him for at least respecting the time window boundary with a brief lunch and collect a few more inappropriate Dad sayings, or you could be all “Sorry, didn’t realize you were actually coming (since you insist on surprising me at these things). I’m actually in France for the weekend. Enjoy the show!

Congratulations on your show, I hope it is a great success and that it is relatively asshole-free.

Moderation note: Readers, if you have kind, normal parents, flying across the ocean to see your child’s art show would be a tremendous show of support and love. If you don’t relate to a scenario where this all fills you with dread, that’s okay – it means you’re lucky, and it also means that this question and response isn’t really about you. Please no “but he’s faaaaaaaamily” hijacks.

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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natalie dormer looking fly as hell with an undercut

Your mom is incorrect, obviously, and The Toast, once again, is on it.

Hi Awkward team,

Last fall, I decided to get an undercut — long hair with a side shave — and I love it! It looks super cute on me and it feels really good to be able to signal my queerness in an additional way. When I went home for Christmas, my mother was aghast. I said that it was my hair, I liked it, and she was welcome to cut her hair in whatever way she chose. She pouted and mumbled something about how at least it wasn’t a tattoo. (To which I responded, I reserve the right to do that if I want to, too.) I thought this would be the end of it, but almost every time I’ve talked to her since, we have this “conversation”:
Mom: [out of nowhere] I just want you to know your hair will grow back.
Me: …. I’m aware? But I like it this way, and I’m going to keep it like this for a while.
And then she spends a while trying to convince me that I am going to get tired of the maintenance or I’m going to find that’s it’s not professional enough.

I don’t know exactly what her deal is, but it doesn’t matter, because I am super tired of talking about it. I’m 30! It’s my hair!

What’s a good script to squash this conversation the next time it comes up?

Sincerely,
At Least She’s Not Bugging Me About Grandkids This Week

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Time for (mostly) monthly feature where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions.

1. “How to tell my parents I’m moving out.”

You have found the place, yes?

You have a way to pay for the place and a way to move your stuff to the place? If you are expecting resistance from your folks around the topic of moving out, having your financial and logistical house in order is a wonderful rebuttal.

Make your plan, and then tell them when the pieces of the plan are in place. “Mom/Dad, Mom/Mom, Dad/Dad, Mom/Dad/Moppa, I found a new place and I’m going to move there on x date. Thanks for putting me up, I really appreciate it.”

If these aren’t the sort of parents who will be happy about this news, don’t bother trying to sell them on the features of this or convince them that it’s a good idea or give reasons or get too far into the details. “I’ve got that handled, thanks for asking!” is a good non-answer for the intrusive.

2. “How to say that you want her but just can’t be together.”

What are you trying to communicate here, and what do you want to happen after you say this? If you can own the decision as a decision (and not throw your hands up to vague “circumstances”) you will put “her” in the best possible position to move on. “I really like you and care about you, but I’ve decided that we shouldn’t be together.” “I am so attracted to you, but I’m sorry, I know that I don’t want to be with you in that kind of relationship.”

3. “My cousin will not speak to me on the phone but will only text am I being avoided.”

Does your cousin text you back promptly, and initiate texting sometimes? Then it’s likely you are not being avoided, but phone conversations are being avoided. Does your cousin not really respond to communications? Then maybe they are avoiding you.

One way to find out/get what you want done: “Cousin, I know you prefer texts, but can we talk on the phone for a few minutes later today? I have some stuff to hash out and it will be quicker that way. Thanks.”

4. “What to say on a suicide hotline.”

“I’m having a rough time and some suicidal thoughts, can I talk to someone about that?” 

Those hotline operators have heard it all, my friend. You aren’t going to weird them out or somehow “do it wrong.” They are waiting for you to call and take a step toward feeling better.

5. “How to quit in a awkward workplace.”

Do it in writing. “Dear Boss, I am leaving my position as of (date). Best wishes,

Two weeks’ notice is usual in the USA. You don’t have to tell them where you are going or why, especially not in the resignation letter.

6. “My ex fiance made it very clear he doesn’t want to hear from me.”

Whatever brought about those circumstances clearly SUCKS, but I hope you’ll take him at his word and let it be a truly clean break for both of you.

7. “My ex wants to talk but I don’t.”

Tell them once: “I want to make this a clean break. Please stop contacting me.”

If you’ve already done so, good. Your next step in both cases is to not respond to any contact from them, no matter what form it takes. Set them to perma-ignore.

8. “What to say to an ex-boyfriend when he still emails you.”

Total silence is good. You can set up a filter so that these messages bypass your inbox completely if you like.

9. “How to deal with guy who says he doesn’t want a relationship with you but with another girl.”

Step 1: Believe his words.

Step 2: Ignore his existence.

Step 3: Go live your awesome life.

10. “What are the reasons for wife to be angry with me while we are in bed.”

This could be so many things. “Wife, I feel like you are angry at me, but I don’t know why. What’s the deal?

11. “My mom hates me and my boyfriend porn.” 

I’m sure it’s out there, because every kind of porn is out there. Seek and ye shall find!

12. “Don’t bother sending kisses to people who ignore someone when they have other things to do and people to see to.”

Solid call.

13. “A girl shows interest in public but ignores my fb msgs.”

She may never check her Facebook messages. Do you have another way to contact her?

What happens if you translate this as “A girl shows kindness/attention when we’re in public, but when I try to contact her more directly she ignores/rebuffs it”?

You’d probably stop sending her messages, is my guess, which is the correct path here. If she wants to message you, she can and she will.

14. “Movie set in New Orleans with African Americans.”

It’s a TV show and not a movie, but I’m partial to HBO’s Treme and the masterful performances by Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, and others. Try to keep not dancing while listening to thisTrouble The Water is a powerhouse documentary, told real time during Hurricane Katrina by survivors. Kasi Lemmon’s Eve’s Bayou is set in rural Louisiana and is a freaking masterpiece of acting and directing.

15. “Hot sexy drunk texts.”

“The temperature is very high in here, I am drunk, and you are sexy,” covers most of these bases.

16. “Shit boyfriend and an asshole brother in law.”

The Toast, one of my favorite websites, has many readings that will appeal to you in this time of personal misandry.

17. “My boyfriend said I can’t visit because he is hosting his cousin.”

Don’t…visit?

18. “Had dinner with friends and wanted to let them know we enjoyed their company.”

An email or a text or a handwritten note that says: “It was so nice to see you, let’s do this again soon!” would not go amiss.

19. “How do you get rid of your son’s girlfriend.”

CONTACT THE SPELLCASTER

WIRE $1000 US TO ME BELOVED

Or, realize that who your son dates is not your decision, so chill out and wait. If she’s really as bad as you think, he’ll wake up to it a lot sooner if he doesn’t have to cleave unto her to prove a point to you.

20. “My partner ignores me for days on end to my face. Is this emotional abuse.”

Yes.

21. “Behold the field in which I grow my fucks.”

BEHOLD!

An old timey-sampler that says "Behold the field in which I grow my fuck. Lay thine eyes upon it and see that it is barren."

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