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Personal Safety

Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?

Sincerely,

The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

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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.

My friend told me a creepy story this weekend. A clean cut man with a clip board knocked on her door and asked her questions about one of her neighbors. He asked my friend if she knew the neighbor, and when my friend demurred because something about it felt off – “I just moved here, don’t know anyone that well” – he pulled out a picture of the neighbor from a manila envelope and was like “are you sure?” My friend held fast and eventually he went away.

She asked the neighbor (who she does know) about it later, and the guy is a stalker. Fun!

So, safety reminder time:

  • Just because someone knocks on your door it doesn’t mean you have to open it or engage with whoever it is. If you’re not expecting anyone, and they sort of catch you out as being home, “It isn’t a good time!” + ignore.
  • People who have some legitimate reason to be there will show you an ID, and (esp. for utility company) if you say “Mind if I verify that?” will be okay with you looking at their ID, writing down numbers, and hang out without protest while you call the company. Someone who gets squirrely about this is bad news.
  • Stalkers like to glean information anyway they can. Don’t give out information about your neighbors and/or coworkers to strangers. We are socialized to tell the truth and to be nice, and that’s hard training to overcome especially when someone catches you off guard, but “I don’t know” and “Why don’t you leave your information” are good stock phrases.
  • If you live in a multi-family housing situation, be a mensch about security. Lock doors and gates. Don’t randomly buzz people in. Walk downstairs and greet the pizza delivery person, don’t prop the gate or door open or let strangers into the building.
  • Creeps will often manufacture very good reasons they need to get into the building. “Your downstairs neighbor knows me, I’m early, can you let me in to wait for her?” or “I’m friends with your neighbor, and she said she was leaving a key out, but I can’t find it, and my cell phone battery is dead, can you help me find it” = NOPE. You don’t have to let anyone in. “Sorry dude, there’s a diner down the street where you can wait. What did you say your name was?

Signed,

A woman who used to be plagued by a dude who would drive to her house in order to look into her windows and jack off (true story!)

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m newly single, and getting back into dating. I went on a date last night with a guy I met on OKC. We met up at a bar, and he seemed cute and smart, and as we talked it seemed like we had lots in common! But about twenty minutes in, it seemed clear he wanted to do the touching-kissing thing. I had just met this person, and I wanted to get comfortable around him before I let him put his hands on my body (even though he was cute and promising!). So I was sitting kinda sideways and he was sitting facing me, legs apart, physically accessible, etc.

He said something like, “You’re very guarded. I’m in the restaurant business and we read people quickly and I can tell that you’re very guarded.”

I felt weird, but there was this voice in my head saying, “You never let yourself just flirt and have fun!” So I sat facing him and let him touch my leg, and we kissed and had drinks, and the conversation was good! And we had a lot in common! And he was a good kisser!

Then he told me about a male friend of his in the military who got falsely accused of rape. Apparently the guy was going down on the woman, and she told him to stop, and he didn’t. She made a rape accusation and then later said she was lying.

So this guy (my date) said, my friend didn’t penetrate her—it was just oral sex! She didn’t physically resist! She made that accusation about three other people! She said she was lying!

I was thinking, 1. That was rape. 2. Wouldn’t be surprised if three other guys also didn’t listen when she said to stop, because that isn’t uncommon. 3. Women retract these accusations under pressure all the time. Warning lights are going off in my head. But I didn’t want to get into a fight about rape with a stranger. So I redirected the conversation.

Then after a while he said “I would really like to kiss you in a place other than here.” I took this as “I am ready for you to invite me to your place now.” I was caught off guard. So I said, “I don’t think I’m ready to sleep with you yet.”

So he said saying, 1. I just want to make out! I never said anything about having sex! 2. We should do this soon because the attraction is here now and if we wait it will fizzle out. 3. Are you worried about being a slut? I feel pressured and uncomfortable. He asks what’s wrong. I say, 1. You told me about how you think things that are rape are not rape. 2. Now you are pressuring me to take you home with me.

He was immediately horrified. He started saying “Calm down! Relax! You shouldn’t be so anxious!” I felt more and more uncomfortable. Finally we parted ways. I went home and sobbed. I have no idea why. I think I missed how easy it was between me and my ex, and now it’s like, ahhh, weird dating is my new reality!! Plus I just felt sooo uncomfortable.

My questions are, 1. Is it weird that I really don’t like being touched or kissed within 20 minutes of meeting someone? I Is that what’s expected these days? It happens to me a lot. I think everyone is reading Neil Strauss and think they have to “kino escalate” immediately.

2. Is there a script I can use when someone tries to touch me before I’m ready? One that is friendly?

3. I’m looking for my next meaningful relationship, ideally, but I wouldn’t be against having a fling. But I feel my idea of “casual sex” and most guys’ is different. Mine = we go out! We flirt! We go to art galleries and museums! We have sex sometimes, once we’re ready! But not very often / we date other people. Theirs = I expect sex immediately when we meet, and thereafter whenever I text you even if it’s 2AM, I expect you to come over and service my needs.

Does anyone have experience expressing what their idea of casual sex is and guiding the other person’s expectations toward that, provided casual sex is something they want too? I feel like what happens is I run into this “We must have sex right now!!” expectation and then I flee.

And finally, 5. Should I have calmed down? Was I overreacting about this guy’s creepy rape story? Intellectually I don’t think so, but there is a loud voice in my head saying “You ruin everything by overreacting all the time!!”

Thanks for your thoughts!

Awkward Dater

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A big guy touches a little guy who shrinks away and says "No Touchy!"

Captain Awkward,

I just found your blog an hour ago, and haven’t really found anything fitting my situation.

I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date. I don’t see him often, only every few weeks at work. But he touches me – every time, the whole time. Too-long hugs, rubbing my back, touching my arm, sitting next to me instead of across from me in the cafeteria, and the most uncomfortable of all – saying I love you every time I say something slightly witty or funny. When I used to go after work for food with him and others, he would always pay for my meal. First time I literally did not have enough money for a meal. Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way (What?).

Yesterday he crossed some line in my head. I said goodbye, I need to clock in, and you should go home since you’re off. He followed me outside to the clock in area and just kept hanging out there even though I was technically working. I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue, and I do not want him to follow me around, touch me, or pay for my food. Ever.

Unlike similar situations I saw you answer, I’m not making excuses for him, I don’t care to keep his friendship if he doesn’t stop acting like this, and while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me. He seems very nice, we’ve worked for the same company over two years, but I wouldn’t say I know him well enough to keep making excuses. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop.

I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop. He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. I don’t care one way or another about losing this “friendship” but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

I am sick of worrying that he will be working the same shift as me, and need help on how to say something without being my normal blunt-edging-into-mean-self.

Desperate for advice,

Stop Touching Me

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Oh, Captain, my Captain,

I’m a lawyer, working at a small-ish firm in the Midwest. As a bit of background, my last job was at a non-profit, where I believed in the work, and loved my co-workers, but it was a bad fit. My old boss shredded my self-esteem, and my leave-taking was not entirely voluntary. I was also hella depressed, and having constant panic attacks, and I was completely burned out. I feel very lucky to have found this job, where I’m able to help people, work decent hours, and make a good living, with folks who think I’m awesome.

So, on to the question. There’s been some drama at work among the support staff, and my boss restructured to help reduce friction, putting me in charge of a law clerk and an admin that I’ll call S. S is young and pretty. She’s also a hard worker and a lot of fun. We get along great, and as a team, we’re doing really well.

The problem is that my boss (who is the head of the firm, and so has no one in authority over him) has a Thing for S, and when S started hanging out with one of the other attorneys, he took it badly. I know this because he confronted S about it, asked if she was fucking the other attorney, and asked if she preferred him. That would have been bad enough, but a lot of the other staff people have been complaining about S’s breaks being too long, or her visiting this other attorney during working hours. The boss ignored the complaints for the most part, I think until he realized how much time S had been spending with the other attorney, and until he had a rather disastrous anniversary date with his wife. (I wish I didn’t know this, but holy inappropriate comments, Batman!)

At the end of last week, the boss calls me and S into his office, along with the other attorney, the office manager, and the staff person who had been complaining the most about S. He yelled at just about everybody except me (and really, nothing he said was out of bounds or inappropriate because it was all about being late to work or screwing around). And then he pulls out a machete. A real machete. And then he says that while we’re all very important to the firm, if he has to have this conversation again, not everybody is going to leave an employee, and then he brought the machete down on his desk, leaving a gouge in the wood. I still can’t quite believe it happened.

The next day, I expected him to at least acknowledge how nuts/over the top/whatever his behavior was, but instead he said, “I think machete cuts in desks will be a great way to enforce order and discipline!” I was speechless.

The thing is, I love the work. I’m good at it. I want to stick with it. While we could deal without my income, we want to adopt in the near future, which will be impossible without a second income. But I also have no idea what to do with a boss who thinks swinging a machete around is an appropriate response to ANYTHING in the workplace. I have no idea what to say to him since he is clearly not operating with Earth Logic. There’s no one else at work I can take my concerns to, because he’s in charge. For now, I’ve told my people to keep their heads down and their noses clean so that no one can complain. If the boss carries through with his promise to put me in charge, I’m hopeful that he’ll focus on the other side of the business and leave us to do our thing. And maybe once he pulls his head out of his ass and gets over his bruised ego, he’ll start seeing sense.

But is there a script for this? I know he respects me, and I’m pretty sure he has no idea that at least four of his best (female) employees are ready to walk. How do I even approach him? I’m not afraid for my own person, and I don’t view him as dangerous (machete-weilding notwithstanding), but DUDE. I got nothing. Honestly, ideally, I would stay there for at least a couple of years, and then investigate the possibility of moving to a different firm that practices the same kind of law once I’ve gotten more experience. I love this area of the law, and there’s no other firm in my area doing it right now, but moving might be a possibility in a few years.

Thoughts? Scripts? Anything?

Yours truly,

Stunned Speechless

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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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