saying no



I’m in some troubled and rapidly freezing waters. I live with two roommates and it’s been a peaceful arrangement so far. I lived with one roommate, A, in my last place, and my other roommate, B, is one of my best friends and it’s our first time living together.

We’re responsible for filling an empty fuel tank for the winter, but didn’t realize this until recently.  The financial stress of filling this tank is being felt mostly by B and me (I’m a full-time grad student and part-time server, B needs to save for a car because of Family Stuff), and A is having trouble relating to us since she is relatively sound financially with her off-the-books job and reduced rent (which we agreed to since she had a smaller room).

Because we meet preliminary qualifications, I applied for state heating assistance, but to complete the application I need a social security card from A. Unfortunately, it has somehow been misplaced. A is incredibly lax about trying to remedy problems that might be much higher up on other people’s lists of Stuff To Get Done (ie, paying bills on time, cancelling missing credit cards, replacing a lost driver’s license). I’ve already told her about needing her to apply for a new card, so the ball is entirely in her court.  B is freaking out though, and it feels like there is literally nothing I can do beyond offering to drive A to the office and sit with her while she applies for a new card to ensure it gets done.

Confronting A, or when she gets stressed about out things, also causes her to shut down and lash out and procrastinate even more. B and I are stressed for many reasons, and A also doesn’t seem to understand why we are so pressed financially. Her proposed solution is to ask her boss for the money (and that’s a Hard No from me). B has been venting to me exclusively and it’s harder to handle and try to be the middleperson when I’m also angry and hurt. Long-term solution here is to not live with A again, but for the short-term what can I do to effectively encourage A and express the importance of how much this Needs To Get Done, as well as smooth things over between all three of us?


It’s getting a little heated, but not the kind of heating we need

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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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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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Ahoy, Captain!

My mother died suddenly earlier this year. She and my father lived in a kinda remote area, 600 miles from my current residence. Pops is now getting ready to maybe think about moving to a zip code that has more humans than cows.
Here’s the problem: Mama and Pops spent most of their 45 years together collecting. We’re talking decorative spoons, commemorative display plates, a pewter powder horn engraved with scenes from the Battle of Valley Forge… Most of it was admired when it arrived and then put away for safekeeping. I have probably laid eyes on only 10% of the tchotchkie iceberg in my lifetime. The majority of the collection is currently tightly packed (Pops loves Tetris) in a 40 foot shipping container parked out back of Pop’s house, the kind more commonly seen on trucks or trains.

Whenever we talk lately he reels off a list of dozens of items, and he starts getting overwhelmed with emotion and memories of Mama. He then demands my siblings and I come and take what we want as soon as possible. I’ve told him the first step is that he has to choose what he wants to hold on to, but he is adamant my siblings and I get first pick because this stuff is ‘valuable’ and they bought it for us to have ‘eventually’. This evening I went on eBay looking for comparable items to the ones I knew were in the shipping container– they have not appreciated in value.

I try to keep collectibles in my own home to functional and useful items since I have a distinct lack of storage, and I have original and commissioned comic art covering most of the walls. Even if I picked out a huge pile of things I wanted, even if I somehow got them 600 miles to my home, I have nowhere to put them.
How do I tell my Pops that I don’t want any of his treasures? Are there scripts? And do you have any suggestions on the best way to support him as he starts downsizing, particularly as I’m so far away?


What Do You Do With An Engraved Pewter Powder Horn

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From the “this can’t really be solved” files and the “I had a few free hours let’s knock some blog posts OUT” files. Hi!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am having an issue with my boyfriend because he is having trouble deciding who he wants to work on a relationship with, me or his daughters mother.

My boyfriend has a 7 year old daughter her mother is coming back into the picture. She claims she wants to clean up her life from drugs and be back in their life. He told me she was degrading, flakey, cheating, and manipulative towards him. She would make plans to see her daughter and rarely sticks to them because she had been high. She had left my boyfriend and got pregnant, that man went to jail. She went back to my boyfriend and she did this up and back a couple times. Now she doesn’t talk to her sons father and wants to work things out with my boyfriend. He feels loyalty to her because it’s his daughters mother. With us in the begining he moved fast, i met his daughter the first few days of after I met him. He talked futures together and making plans for us, wanting to take our relationship as far as it could go. We have only been together 3 months but we spent much time together, got along great, I grew very fond of his daughter and she likes me. Recent weeks he has become distant from me, less talking, etc. Especially now his daughters mother is becoming more involved recently. He tells me he thinks what he and I have is a good thing. And he really likes me but now he is confused about whether working things out with her and being a “family” for their daughter is the right thing to do. Or if he wants to stay with me and move forward. It’s like he did a complete 180.

I honestly have no clue how to react or respond, I need help on what I should do or think.

Thank you from Baby Momma Drama

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Ahoy Captain,

Several years ago my fiance and I started hanging out with a guy named Devon*. At the time we started hanging out with Devon he was having a lot of personal problems. He was living in a hotel that he could barely pay for, slept all day and stayed up all night, and seems to have had a minor drug problem. Fiance and I, seeing that he was in a difficult situation, invited him to come live with us for a few months.

It’s been two years.

I like Devon, a lot, and I enjoy hanging out with him. He’s a sweet guy and being around him is simple and fun. I don’t necessarily want him to move out, which I guess is good for me because it doesn’t look like he’s going to any time soon.

Devon is now has a job, doesn’t do drugs, and kinda sorta pays rent *sometimes*.

My real problem, though, is housework.

I think it’s only fair that Devon take some responsibility for the house work. I’ve tried to talk to him about this so many times I’ve lost count. He always brushes me off, says he’ll do it ‘later’, he’s tired from work, or that the dishes in the sink aren’t ‘his’.

These excuses are childish the point of hilarity. I don’t argue about whose shit stain is whose on the toilet when I clean it, why does it matter whose dishes they are??. I brought it up again last night and he said “well I keep my room clean”. Well yeah, that’s all fine and dandy, I don’t expect him to clean my bedroom. I DO expect him to help with the kitchen and bathroom, which everyone uses every bloody day.

I’ve tried multiple tactics:

I’ve tried telling him what is expected of his as a member of our household

I’ve tried gentle encouragement

I’ve tried reasoning with him

I’ve tried yelling at him

I’ve tried explaining that it’s not fair for all the housework to fall on my shoulders since I’m not a damn maid

I have even tried boycotting all chores in the hopes that the revolting state of the house would encourage Devon to pitch it. The only outcome of that is, after a few weeks, the house (especially the bathroom) became so disgusting I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cleaned it myself.

What am I supposed to do about the cleaning short of kicking him out? I feel like I have tried everything. It’s driving me completely batty. In the past few months I don’t even bother doing more then a perfunctory clean because everything is always messed up 5 minutes later anyway. Sort of like in that episode of The Simpsons, “Bart Gets an Elephant” where the kitchen door opens on a clean kitchen, swings closed, and opens messy (sorry couldn’t find the gif) [Ed note: FOUND IT]!

Kitchen from Bart Gets An Elephant


I can hear him cooking in the kitchen now and just dread the stupid mess of discarded vegetable parts that will be everywhere in about 20 minutes.

I have been very explicit about my expectations but he just doesn’t hear it. I’ve even asked my fiance to speak to him about it in the hopes that maybe he would be more inclined to listen to an older man. Nothing. Same brush off.


Molly Maid

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The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC Shared by Thermos, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am currently having issues with a roommate, who is also a friend of many years. We had lived together once before for a short period, and while I had noticed his intense reactions to stressful situations then, I was given the impression he had developed strategies to cope with his anxiety since we first lived together. But now he is in a bit of a tailspin, and has been since our third roommate broke up with him and moved out four months ago. He is also incredibly stressed about work, and is worried about getting fired, and comes home every night with a new bout of anxiety to work out. Unfortunately, this takes the form of his unloading all his anger, disappointment and anxiety onto me as a listener. I understand expression of one’s feeling is super important, and his feelings are one hundred percent valid (work does sound awful and getting dumped blows), but I am feeling incapable of knowing how to help, or perhaps more importantly, how to get time to myself in the apartment. I am a teacher and feel “on” most of the day, so I do not know how to listen and get time to myself at the end of the day.

I feel like we have gotten trapped in a ritual where he will come through the door and tell me every terrible thing about his day for forty-five minutes, and I try to listen, but all I seem to be doing is reinforcing a cycle of negative thoughts. My roommate is feeling very unstable with his life right now, and I don’t want to shut him out, but at some point, it’s probably not good to allow him to fixate so much, yeah? At times, I feel like I am his only outlet for his feelings, and that I have let him take advantage of my listening ear. Often, he will seek me out if I am not in common spaces, not to check in on how my day was, but to unload. He did it just now when he ostensibly knocked on my door to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store, and then ranted at me for thirty minutes, despite knowing it was my writing time. I absolutely should have said, “Yes, it is my writing time, you are correct. I don’t need anything, I will talk to you later,” rather than hand-waving my scheduled time away and listening; I give him permission to do this. But what would be a good script to start a larger conversation?

I don’t know how to talk to him about this issue, given his stress level. I don’t want to give him more anxiety, but I feel this routine we’ve gotten into is creating bad habits. For me, I am not asserting my need for my own space and time. For him … well, it’s almost like he’s treating me as a girlfriend, like giving me all his emotional turmoil as if I am required on a partner level to help him carry it, which isn’t helping him move on or cope on his own? Even in one of my own crises (a cancer scare in my family), he spent all day with me, only to unload an intense amount of anxiety on me at the end of the day (which he had set up as a distracting, “let’s do fun things to get your mind off this cancer scenario” sort of day). This summer, I began dating someone, and my roommate started saying kind of mean jokes in my direction while the new boyfriend was around (though his humor runs more sarcastic generally), and I can’t help but wonder if this happened because I let him lean on me too much in the early days of the break-up and now he’s gotten our relationship parameters confused? He’ll invite me to events these days, and I will say no if I don’t feel like it, or that I have to check my schedule, but then he’ll repeat the invite three times after I have responded. I don’t know. It’s just a lot.

How can I be a good friend and understanding roommate while reinforcing boundaries? Do you have scripts for this, Captain?

Tongue-Tied In A Two-Flat

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