Reader Questions

Can I say how much I love this LW’s original email subject line: “A Soap Opera Problem–families torn apart over money, demanding parents, undutiful daughters who are me, sons trying to bear the whole burden.” Yeah!!!!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’d really appreciate your advice on a family problem. Dad grew up
privileged, then was mostly-disinherited and lost his job when I was a
kid. Instead of retrenching, he incurred debt. Mom demands luxuries,
cheats, and is an alcoholic prone to rages. Now Dad asks me and my
brother A for money constantly, always at crisis moments.

Dad always believes that his financial issues will be over soon.
Unfortunately there’s a company he has a part in being sold, meaning
he might get some money one day—there’s some basis in reality but not
enough. He refuses to sell his house, because he wouldn’t get enough
money, and claims to be always economising because he doesn’t go on
holidays though Mom does and he belongs to an elite gentlemen’s club.

A and I have precarious jobs in which we are paid in irregular lump
sums, so we have the money to give him. We both consider ourselves
lucky. The emotional toll of these emergency requests is huge. We also
cannot afford them. Over 5 years, between us we’ve given Dad over

I wrote to Dad saying his behaviour is disordered and deeply hurting
us. He refused to go to his bank with us, blamed A for not giving him
enough, and hardly seemed to have read my message. He’s past hearing.
Saying he’s a good father otherwise is asking Mrs Lincoln how she
enjoyed the play otherwise.

I tried cutting him off altogether years ago: it ended when my
siblings exerted pressure on me to do a family Christmas. I’m proud of
my siblings (A, B & C, all younger) for getting through our childhood,
but I’m the one who rocks the boat. A gives money to Dad without me
knowing, so as not to risk alienating me. A has a more optimistic view
of the situation. My sister B agrees with me mostly, but B and C are
more sheltered (by me and A). C is college age, still living with my
parents. He’s begun suffering from panic attacks. He plans to get out
of the house next year: I’ll help him.

I’m considering not going home this Christmas, but I know it’ll upset
my siblings and I want to see C as neither of us is great at
long-distance. If I do go I’d like a script for talking to A, and my
other siblings, about this, and to make a plan for us going forward,
in how we’re going to react to my parents and stick together. I’ve
asked A to promise me not to give money to my father without telling
me: so far he hasn’t promised. It would make me happy if I could get A
to agree on no more money given directly to my father.

Thank you so much.

–Saving Only Siblings

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The post title was the subject of the email exactly as it came to my inbox. That will be important later.

Hey there Captain,

I recently moved to a job that not only frees up more time to focus on schooling, but pays better. On the last day at my previous job, a girl I’d occasionally worked with and spoken with in the breakroom, asked for my number.

If her interest wasn’t obvious enough, as I walked out the door for the final time, her question was whether I had a girlfriend. I told her no, and to my amusement, her reply was that she’d text me. Needless to say, I got a text bright and early the next morning and we’ve been texting a bit.

She’s nice and I get along well with her, but I’m unsure about making the choice to date her. There are a few things I see as obstacles, but can be worked through.

She’s the daughter of my previous manager. Introductions as a boyfriend would be awkward because my manager didn’t want me to leave. I worked hard, kept a positive outlook, and somehow managed to get along with even the prickly people there. I lit up many people in that glum environment.

While texting, she obviously wanted to get to know me better, so I took the lead, organized a meetup, and we had fun, went for coffee, and wandered around the mall.

It was a great chance to get a feel for her personality, lifestyle, relationships, and maturity. When I asked her what she enjoys doing, she said that she didn’t really have any hobbies, but that she enjoys hanging out.

During the meetup, she spoke mostly about how she doesn’t like work, her parents are always mad at her, her exes (about two or three by how she spoke about them), and her life in general. After the meetup, she told me she had fun and wants to meetup again next week (the next free day she has).

Clearly she enjoyed my company if she already wants to hang out again. I asked what she wanted to do, and she said “I don’t know, I’m good with anything”. This bothered me somewhat, but I’m a big boy, not everyone knows how to be assertive.

When I asked whether she’s doing post-secondary, her answer was the generic “I hated school, so maybe I’ll become a cosmetician”. She agrees with whatever I say and doesn’t have a lot to say about her day, goals, or hobbies. That bothered me more deeply. I’m easygoing, so I spent time reflecting on why this information bothered me.

I have my life together. I’ve got a great part-time job to cover costs, university and my budget balances at the end of the day. I pursue hobbies such as photography, programming, hiking, and cooking. I’m on great terms with my family. I know myself well and what I want in a companion. This girl is wonderful, but it seems she dates as a form of entertainment; escape from her life. I date for a strong equal to share my interesting life with, and I’m not seeing a lot of that in her.

I’m not interested in being a crutch and I can’t save her from a boring life. If there’s a way for her to grow up and not rely on me to fill up her open schedule, I’m open to sharing a life with her. Although she’s my age (19), I don’t think she’s at the point where I can tell her this without grievously wounding her undeveloped ego, especially given how she admires me.

My first relationship (a different girl), about a year ago, ended because both of us had been insecure. Since then, I worked at self-improvement, and I’ve honestly been impressed with my progress. I’m a much more confident and relaxed person than I was.

I know myself well enough to know conversation is important to me. I’d feel lonelier in a relationship than alone if the other person had nothing interesting to talk about, AKA, their own life. I’m looking for a healthy relationship where our worlds don’t revolve around each other, but where we know there’s respite in each other’s company.

How can I kindly tell her that she’s wonderful and brave, but not ready to be the female lead in my story?

Casting a Female Lead

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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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You’re worried about someone or something. You want to help. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years and I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother will ignore my existence entirely. If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is. I spend every holiday with them now because if bf goes go with my family they explain how controlling and evil I am. So now my family had just been doing holiday stuff a little bit later or earlier so that both bf and I can attend. They keep trying to convince bf I am controlling him. It started when he became vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people eat meat; I didn’t care if he ate meat). I don’t make a big deal about eating I just take the things I can eat when we eat with them. They however endless “tease” (it can get mean) over it. I don’t want to just not go because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some. I just wish I knew what I could do to help make it better?

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Hi Captain and Army,

I have a problem with my dad’s girlfriend, namely that she tries to guilt-trip me. My dad had a party recently and at the end of it, as I was leaving, she started talking about Thanksgiving. Dad’s girlfriend said she would like to host this year’s Thanksgiving at her place. The guilt-trip was that since I spend every Thanksgiving at my mom’s I could spend the actual day of the holiday once with my dad. She also said that my sister and mother would be welcome to come too. I told her I’d think about it and get back to her.

My parents are divorced and have been separated for over a decade. My mom has custody of both me and my sister and we see our dad on our terms. We both live with her. My sister is estranged from our father and my parents had an awful divorce and make it a point to never be in the same room as each other. I have tried to see my dad on holidays, usually at a day not of the specific holiday, like a day before or after. My dad has a habit of making himself seem like a victim. I like spending the holidays with my mom, because it is more fun and way less full of awkward things and nobody has any bad history shoved under various rugs.

The problem is that I am sick of her guilt-tripping us. Apparently it is a part of traditional Chinese parenting and she is super traditional about everything including family and respecting parents. Both of them want to have picture perfect holidays at all times even if everybody hates each other. I wouldn’t mind seeing them on a day before or after, but when I hear the gross inaccuracies that she obviously got from my dad I don’t want to go at all. I also don’t want to have to smack down either one further guilt-tripping me for not going. If I don’t go, then I stay at my mom’s but if I go then I have to listen to dad’s girlfriend and dad being happy at ‘family’ while seething. I can’t see other family because they live back east and I refuse to be anything more than politely civil to my dad’s brother.

Is there any way I can call her out on her guilt-tripping that will make it stick? She’s tried to do this before. I don’t think my dad will back me up because he used to do it to me too. Should I tell her I can come for Christmas but not Thanksgiving?

Another year of holiday problems

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a woman who is a graduate student. One of my fellow students, a man who I’ll call Nigel, takes up a lot of space in seminar. He speaks over people, interrupts, makes noises while other people speak, and doesn’t wait his turn. If unchecked, he will dominate seminar and prevent nearly anyone else from speaking. Nigel doesn’t seem to interrupt other men, but only other women of all ages, including our instructors. Multiple female professors in our department have noticed this behavior and taken steps to correct Nigel. Multiple women and men in our department notice and have commented on this behavior. I know of at least one occasion where one of our peers has said something to Nigel about this behavior. None of this has had an effect on Nigel, and he continues to run roughshod over his peers whenever he is able. The only professor who doesn’t seem to mind Nigel’s constant interruptions is his adviser, Dr. John Smith.

What I am struggling with is a recent turn in my relationship with Nigel. While in the past I’ve managed to hop over this missing stair, things have come to a head and I’m not sure what to do.

Nigel made a point in seminar last week that was incorrect (not to mention offensive). I spoke up, noting the factual error only. He told me that I was wrong, and something in me just couldn’t let it go, so I didn’t. This point applied broadly to my research, and was entirely unrelated to his. In the two classes we have had since this time, he has interrupted me each time I have attempted to participate. Every. Time. This has made it difficult for me to participate, and other people are noticing, which is embarrassing me. I really despise conflict, and I hate to think that this is becoming a ‘thing’–being professional is important to me. At the same time though, I refuse to let a rude dude prevent me from participating.

Today, in seminar, we came to a head–he said something, I disagreed, he told me I was wrong, I disagreed, he attempted to explain something to me, I told him that the issue wasn’t with my knowledge and that I didn’t appreciate it, and Dr. John Smith (his adviser) asked us to ‘agree to disagree’. I feel like instead of seeing the issue with Nigel, Dr. Smith thinks I’m the problem. I was harsh–my exact words were “I don’t need a lesson on this, I have google”. That wasn’t ok for me to say, so maybe I am? He also told me I didn’t know what I was talking about–how do you respond to that?

Captain Awkward, I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of having to learn around Nigel. I’m not sure there is much doing if the professor of this class doesn’t mind or notice that the missing stair is missing at all. I’m frustrated that I am being antagonized, and I’m frustrated with myself for taking the bait. I’m frustrated that I seem shrill or antagonistic. It feels to me that this is much more an issue with Nigel’s professionalism than mine, BUT it has affected mine as well and I’m upset with myself about that. I’m not afraid of letting it be awkward, but I do not want to develop a reputation of being ‘difficult’ in my department.

I am too close to this issue to see straight, so I’m reaching out to you. Any scripts, advice, or suggestions for living with Nigel and managing my own responses to him would be very much appreciated.

Thanks so much,

Grad Student, Interrupted

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I think my partner has a big Geek Social Fallacy problem.

We live together in a small house in an expensive area where lots of people live with parents or roommates. So, ever since before we met, he’s hosted huge blowout theme parties for his entire geeky friendgroup. He always encourages them to bring new people and expand his social circle. Partner enjoys being The Cool Fun Host.

Partner was a late bloomer socially, had terrible ostracizing experiences and some related depression issues, so now he’s trying to make up for lost time. He wants to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible. Which sounds great in theory! He’s big-hearted and just wants everyone to be his friend.

When I first moved in with Partner, I enjoyed these parties — organizing them, coming up with themes. But the more comfortable I became thinking of it as “our house” instead of “partner’s house”, the more protective I’m becoming of my living space. The more I dread the thought of prepping the house for a destructive messy horde of nerds and cleaning up after them and yielding my space for a night. I’m finding I’m enjoying hosting smaller, more controlled gatherings.

On top of this, our good friend recently pointed out a Missing Stair in this friendgroup. Missing Stair has made a few people uncomfortable, and, who knows, may be driving away others. But we just know a couple of anecdotes, and while Partner admits Missing Stair is a jerk, he doesn’t know where he should draw the line. Because inclusivity. And Missing Stair hasn’t done anything egregious and maybe a few people just don’t like him. Partner isn’t comfortable disinviting _anyone_, much less this specific Missing Stair, because he knows how it feels to be uninvited and it’s evil and horrible.

So how wrong and awful does Missing Stair have to be for Partner to disinvite him? And how do we balance how much control over the parties I get to have? Obviously I think Missing Stair should be uninvited right now. But these are still mostly Partner’s parties, even though I help host and I live here too. I hate feeling like I’m trampling all over Partner’s fun and trying control everything now that we live together.

Normally Partner and I are great at communicating, but he has a terrible blind spot here.

— Killjoy

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