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Social Interactions

Once a month I try to answer the things that people typed into search engines to find my blog as if they are questions. It’s an exercise in mixed results.

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Hi Cap’n,

A very close friend of mine is starting to drive a bunch of us crazy, and we’re not sure we’re being irrational and bitchy about it. Our friend, J____, is a single mom with a job and does not have a ton of money for babysitters. Nevertheless, for the past 8 years, (since she became a mom) she always seems to find a babysitter to go on dates (usually about once a week) — but never to hang out with us gals. Now, we know it’s normal for gals to blow of gal friends for romance. And we know it’s super important to her to find a beaux. And she’s operating under some constraints that none of us can imagine. Still, it’s always on us to come visit her in her home if we want to see her. Not a problem 8 years ago when we were all in the same neighborhood. But it grows more inconvenient as we grow up and move out the suburbs and away from each other. Meanwhile, she feels lonely and sad when we can’t find the time – and will tell us so.

So – when might it be reasonable, if ever, to call J out on this? When/how can we ask her to get a babysitter just for us? Note – all of us have, fairly regularly, served as (free) babysitters for her so that she can go on dates.

Or is this just too bitchy and insensitive to even bring up?

Thanks,

Worth a Babysitter?

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The Goat Lady, who sorts my inbox, kindly created a tag called “low intensity” for questions such as these.

Dear Captain,

I am in a fairly recent relationship with a wonderful man I’ve been infatuated with for years (…on and off – we weren’t Firthing!). When we first started dating, I was nervous about a whole host of potential pitfalls (long distance, exes, contracting Oneitis) that delightfully turned out to be illusory, and at this point, we’re comfortable with each other, communicate regularly and openly, and have a lot of fun together.

So, my question is this:

While we’ve been friends for years, this isn’t a BEST Friends Fall in Love Story, and I’m sometimes surprised by how different it is to talk with him than with most of my close friends. Other than the boyfriend, the kinds of friends I stay up all night with are huge readers and unabashed lovers of pop culture, and we love nothing more than to conduct elaborate feminist critiques of Game of Thrones or debate the literary merits of fanfiction. I don’t expect (or want!) my boyfriend and I to like all the same things, and I know we’re still in the process of figuring out what we like to talk about when the “how was your day”s are done. And to be fair, he’s offered some pretty interesting feminist critique of Game of Thrones himself, but such discussions don’t seem to fascinate him in the way that I’m used to, with each of us tumbling out thoughts faster than we can speak and getting caught up in the joy of endless critical analysis. So even when we DO like the same things, I don’t know that we like to talk about them in the same way.

Since there’s the whole “I’ve been infatuated with him for years” thing going on, I can’t tell if this is something we’ll probably get past as we recognize not just the WHATs but the WAYs we like to talk about things, or if it’s a bigger problem of mismatched perspectives and ways of engaging that I’m choosing to ignore because LOVE.

How important is a similar conversational dynamic to happy, healthy relationships? I am currently very happy and in love, and I love that we have comfortable silences as well as witty repartee, but I’m constantly taken aback when conversations I expect to last ages seem over quite suddenly and would love to hear your thoughts on the role this plays in life/love/etc.

Thank you,
Not Awkward, Still Silence

Dear Not Awkward,

I don’t know what to tell you. Some possible explanations for what you are experiencing:

1) Your Jerkbrain, unused to contentment, is looking for something to worry about and has decided that this is it.

2) The years-long fantasy of this dude was better/more interesting than the reality of life with this dude, who is kind of boring when you get right down to it.

3) In long-distance relationships you can’t really coast on proximity, so the quality/quantity of conversation is looming larger as a factor as you try to find an equilibrium.

Since things are good, why not keep enjoying yourself and let time sort it out?

Hi, Captain!

Not a huge crisis, but I wonder about your perspective on an etiquette issue.

I have a lovely set of in-laws who are chronically, perpetually, and often extremely late. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, as I see arriving promptly to be a matter of respect, and I function exponentially better when my life is carefully scheduled. This is annoying enough when they are late on me. But my question is when we have a plan as a group and there is a danger of them making me late.

We have a family event coming up soon, where my husband and I will be staying with them for a period and attending a series of events in their company. I dread the idea of arriving continually ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour late to the people who are expecting us, and to events I am looking forward to. I worry that being too insistent on timetables and getting after them too much to keep moving will make them think I’m a nag, or too controlling. Do you think it would be okay if, when the appointed time to leave has past, I cheerfully tell them that Husband and I are heading out and will meet them there when they arrive? Or do you have a better idea to keep to a respectable time table without coming off as rude or inflexible?

Thanks!

- Early bird

Dear Early Bird,

You nailed it when you suggested that you and your husband should make your own way to these events. Treat that like it’s Plan A, not a sacrifice you are making because of their lateness. Only mention your plans when you have your coats on, your keys in your hand, and are heading out the door – you’re informing them of the plan, not discussing or negotiating it. If you need some handy excuses, try: “We want to get there early/make a stop on the way/we might want to stay longer/leave sooner than you/we’d just rather take separate cars, thanks” and keep your tone friendly and light as you glide out the door.

Everyone in their extended family knows exactly how they are, you know how they are, your husband knows how they are, and I’m pretty sure they know how they are. They are of an age to have raised an adult child and are not suddenly going to change their habits. This is one of those times where you have the chance to just do what you need to do with the least amount of friction possible, so take the easy way!

Moderation Note: Thread closed. Turns out that my budget of fucks for reading contentious, self-righteous discussions about lateness and rudeness = zero fucks. 

Dear Captain,

I’m a recent college graduate and was interviewed yesterday on national TV about the field I’ve started working in. The other people on the panel were way more experienced than I, and some of them are are moderately famous. The program wanted a young voice/perspective, and I was so honored to be asked to do the kind of TV appearance a more senior colleague would normally do. I was also a little terrified and worked really hard to prepare.

The interview went great, and I left the studio walking on air. I felt I came across as confident and informed and that I had represented my employer, my field, and my generation (corny as it sounds) extremely well. I’ve never been so proud.

Then the interview aired and I stared horrified at my screen as my eyes narrowed in on the noticeable sweat marks under my arms. I can’t help but feel that what should have been such a professional joy is ruined by… armpit sweat. I feel so stupid for wearing a color that really showed it. Rookie wardrobe mistake. Rookie, sweat-inducing nerves.

The interview aired at a time most people I know were at work, but it can be streamed online starting today. Now I have a long list of proud friends, family, and former professors/mentors who are expecting a link to the online clip. My grad school program wants to share it on their social media account. I’m so embarrassed at the idea of all these people seeing it. I didn’t tell my parents I would be interviewed, because I wanted to surprise them with a link to the clip in clever email (note to self: not everything has to be clever). Now I’m just dreading my mother’s comments about what a shame it is I didn’t wear a darker color. Surely I’m not the first person this has happened to, but I also can’t recall having ever seen armpit sweat on TV, so part of me is also convinced that this was a uniquely stupid thing to let happen.

I’m also beating myself up for being so obsessed with my appearance and not able to get past it to be proud of my ideas and composure. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? How can I convince myself that my professional awesomeness trumps my sweatiness? How can I get past the feeling that the interview is ruined or somehow embarrassing and send it to friends and with pride?

Smart and Sweaty

Dear Smart & Sweaty,

The interview is done, and the clip is out on the internet now, and it can’t be undone or taken back. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t make reassuring “it’s not that bad!” noises your way, but I suggest that you show it to a trusted friend or mentor without mentioning the stains and see what they say. We all search our own appearances for flaws in a way that most other people do not.

I think you should share it and encourage others to share it without commenting on the stains at all and focus only on the content of the work. If anyone brings up the stains, a) that’s a pretty weird, rude thing for them to do, and b) I think you will feel much better if you find a way to play it off if it happens. “Wow, thanks for noticing! I was worried no one had.” “Would you call it a stain, or more of a river?” “Next time I’m going to wear that old bridesmaid’s dress, so that the stains really pop against the seafoam organza!’ “Yeah, thanks for pointing that out, Mom.” 

You have nothing to apologize for. You didn’t know it would happen. Your words were still your words. TV lights are hot. Sweat happens, you are a human being with glands. People who go on camera for a living have teams of paid professionals helping them look perfect. I feel gross for linking to this listicle on Celebrity Sweat Incidents especially since the tone is “they should take better care of this issue,” but I want you to have some visual aids that show that even people with tons of camera experience and teams of staff devoted to how they look are human and have glands. I also found this media training PDF for how to prepare yourself for a TV appearance from the University of New Haven that has, literally 100 separate tips for how to look and behave during a TV interview. I don’t want to panic you further by making you memorize 100 new things you should have done, but the takeaway is: Being comfortable on camera is complex and there is a learning curve to doing it.

Please stop beating yourself up! I suggest that you do some more TV appearances as soon as humanly possible. The more you appear on camera, the better you will get at it, the more variety of clips there will be, and the more you will become recognized as an authority who can handle themselves on camera. Please do not let this one quirk of biology shame you out of the excellent career you just beginning.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So yes, this is a happy problem. You’ve written well on work matters in the past, so I’m hoping you can help with this.

I have spent a few years in a frustrating job/environment, but started an excellent new job about three months ago. I am now a senior manager, with only two people above me in my specialism – the Exec Director, and the Deputy Director who is my line manager.

The job has been full on from the start, but I’m really enjoying the new opportunities and the trust, and as far as I can tell I’ve done well so far.

However, I just found something out which has thrown me slightly.

I thought I was one of four equal senior managers, with the others having more time in post. But this turns out not to be the case. Both of the Directors have told me that I am third in command, and that they appointed me with the intention of grooming me for the Deputy Director job in a few years. I can have (nearly) any training I want.

Woohoo, yes? And part of me really wants it, but part of me is petrified with the fear of failure. I am a nerdy/dorky/socially awkward woman – (still with substantial privilege, cis and white, and I read as upper middle class despite having grown up very poor). I have worked hard on the social awkwardness but it is still A Thing, and I have low confidence in my ability to be socially smooth. And the previous frustrating job has knocked my work confidence.

Social smoothness, and leadership skills, negotiation and influencing, and change management and all that stuff, are more and more important in the senior jobs. That’s what I need to learn in the next few years.

But how? I can do the technical part of my job, and standard line management, but….?

I am pleased they see potential in me, but I don’t see it myself. How do I avoid holding myself back?

How do I learn something so nebulous? How do I know if I’m getting better at them? How do I learn to get over my awkwardness and my assumptions that I am crap at these things? How do I develop a model of myself as a (nerdy, female) leader?

I don’t even have the tools to start to learn, or know what to look for in myself.

Please help!

Signed,
Not A Leader

Dear Not A Leader,

You’re familiar with Impostor Syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger Effect? Good.

Your mentors have offered you training, which is wonderful, because it demonstrates that:

1) They don’t expect you to already be an expert in leadership/communications/management, etc.

2) They recognize that these are important skills unto themselves in addition to the technical competencies you possess.

3) They are building in time and a budget for you to level up these skills so that you will be ready when the time comes.

In other good news, there is training out there to be had. Since I don’t know exactly where you are, I did a Google search on “professional communications management training” to give you an idea of what kinds of things might be available.

You could study online (though I think you might find this very basic).

Harvard University has a ton of continuing education-type courses and seminars in the very subjects you want to learn, with titles like “Advanced Executive Communication Skills,” “Communicating With Influence: The Art of Persuasion,” “Cultural Competence for the Global Workplace,” etc. What’s the fanciest pantsiest business school closest to you, and do they offer such things? There’s no reason not to make this both a learning and a professional networking experience and get something shiny for your resume. There are tons of non-university affiliated training organizations that do this sort of thing, too, at every intensity and budget level. In addition, you could ask your mentors if they’ve ever taken courses that they think were particularly helpful in developing their management skills.

Conclusion: You’ve got this and you’re going to do great. This also seems like a good idea to watch & read a lot of epic sci-fi and fantasy stories where humble people who are convinced that they are not leaders become leaders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In which we look at the things people type into search engines to find this blog, and answer them like questions.

1. “My parents are swingers and want me to join them.”

Nope. As in, I suspect this is a fake question/problem.

As in, here is your script: “Nope.”

As in, “Want to come to this swingers party with us?” “Nope!” “You should try swinging with us, I think you’d love it.” “Nope.” Come on, how can you even know you don’t like it  if you haven’t tried it? Once you see how much fun Mom is having, I know you’ll change your mind.” “Nope.”

Or, I think it was RoseFox who mentioned once upon a time in a comment thread here that kink, etc. tends to run in families, so if you are also a swinger, maybe you and your folks have to hash out who has priority in which parts of your scene or work out what to do if you have an awkward “…Dad?” moment.

2. “After our first date he said although I was definitely his type he felt we had more of a friend vibe.” 

“He” may want you to be a friend or an ummfriend (the thing about being his ‘type’), but not a boyfriend or girlfriend. Have fun, if you are having fun in his company, but do not wait by the phone or get super-invested in a romance with this man.

3. “Boyfriend won’t go in public with me.” 4. “Boyfriend won’t tell people about me.”

I’m trying to think of a non-sketchy reason for this. Okay. Hrm. Maybe he’s a Capulet and you’re a Montague and your families are locked in a battle to the death. Or maybe it’s a same-sex relationship in a really conservative place, and homophobia from family, coworkers, church, and the surrounding culture is making your boyfriend afraid to talk about you. Is it a cultural thing (which doesn’t make it less crappy for you, but it’s at least a reason that you can empathize with and talk through to a good solution) or a “you are his secret thing on the side” thing? Trust your instincts, and trust that you’re not selfish for wanting recognition. If something feels sketchy, it probably is.

5. “How to tell somebody politely to be quiet while watching a show.”

There are two methods that come to mind. One is to pause the show (if you can) and give the person your full attention for a few minutes.”What were you asking me?” Have a conversation with them, and then turn back to the show when you’re ready.

The other, more direct and active way is to say, “I really want to focus on this, can we talk later?”

I’ve been the jackass who thought it was a “we’re all going to make fun of this movie together” party when really it was a “we are quietly watching this movie together” party, and I super-appreciated being told directly.

6. “Should I say sorry for creepy behaviour.” 

Maybe. Is the person still talking to you (like, they initiate conversations with you that aren’t “what size would you like for that latte?” when trapped at work) or are they avoiding you? Once someone is avoiding you, and it’s most likely because you did something creepy, the best way to make amends is to show them that you get it and leave them alone. Go forth, and creep no more.

7. “What to be when you grow up and want to do something that involves English and science.”

Write about science, or edit scientific publications/textbooks/journals, or be a scientist who writes wonderful grants and papers are some things that come to mind. Readers, I feel like lots of you have cool jobs that combine these things. Take us to Career Day!

8. “I’m living with my girlfriend, and feel she’s taking financial advantage of me.”

If you think the person is taking advantage deliberately, that sounds like a good reason to end things.

If you think they are just being oblivious or not stepping up as you want them to, the big question I have is, have you ever had a talk about how you will handle finances, or did it just kind of happen along the way that you would do most of the paying? Sometimes people get into a role or a habit of how they spend without really examining it, and it can be hard to switch from Romance! mode to practical mode. It’s also hard to initiate conversations when you’ve been operating under the weight of so many assumptions. It’s so tempting to think that it will all work itself out without anyone having to spell things out, but this is a mistake. If things are unbalanced, or unworkable for you, and you want to stay in the relationship, then it’s time to work things out very explicitly and transparently. Before opening discussions, I suggest that you do some math. What are your expenses like? What do you each contribute? How do you want to handle money in the future?

A good way to start this conversation is: “Girlfriend, let’s talk about how we pay and split the bills. What we are doing right now is not workable for me, and I’d like us to figure out some changes in how we handle our finances together.” :show spreadsheet: “This is how our monthly rent, bills, and expenses look to me – is there anything on here that I missed?” If you invite her to be a partner in figuring this out together rather than starting off by berating and blaming her, you can make her an active player in finding a solution. If she won’t engage honestly with you, that tells you a lot about her (and whether you should stay).

Finding an equitable solution doesn’t necessarily mean splitting everything 50/50. There are lots of successful romantic partnerships where money is pooled, where one person earns all the money and pays for everything and the other partner contributes in other ways, or where people keep their money entirely separate. My parents, married for 47 years, operate by pooling everything, paying out all of the necessities, savings, and things they’ve budgeted for together, and then each taking an allowance for themselves that can be spent without running anything by the other person. After cohabiting for a year and change, for now I pay the rent and the bills up front and my dude reimburses me for his share because that works better around how and when we each get paid. We keep separate bank accounts and alternate paying for groceries and other stuff. I’m sure that will evolve with time, and that’s the biggest piece of advice I’d give to anyone who is figuring out finances with another person: Lay everything out transparently and make sure you build in the opportunity to renegotiate how you do things as your circumstances change. Ooh, one other thing I’ve learned: If you’re the partner who earns more, one challenge is realizing that if you want the other person to pay half of everything y’all do, you need to scale down how you live and what you do to be within what they can afford OR you need to treat them when you want to treat yourself without putting that on their account, so to speak. And you both have to be able to say “Sorry, I can’t afford that right now!” without shame or blame from the other.

9. “How to be a good Facebook stalker.”

In three! easy! steps!

1. Close your computer.

2. Go learn to paint or some shit.

3. In summary: Don’t.

10. “Is meeting her kids a big deal.” 

Short answer: “Signs point to yes.”

Slightly longer answer: “Take your lead and cues from her.”

11. “What is the best thing to do for a loved one who just got out a psych ward.”

I asked people who are in a position to know, and some answers were:

  • “Take them to Uncle Julio’s.” (Substitute the comforting, favorite casual dining venue of your choice here).
  • “Food in the hospital tends to be very bland, so if they like spicy food at all, take them somewhere with spicy food.” 
  • “Let them know you’re there for them without making a big fucking deal about it.” 
  • “If the place they stayed was a good place, they likely came out with some kind of aftercare plan. If you can, offer to help them with the implementation of that – stuff like getting to appointments, filling prescriptions, etc.”

My other suggestions are 1) Seek them out for the pleasure of their company, not solely to help 2) Ask if they want to talk about it and listen without judgment if they do. Respect their choice if they don’t. And remember, they are not there to prove or disprove your impressions of what mental hospitals are like from seeing Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest 3) Offer hugs if they are hugging sorts and you have a hugging kind of relationship. People get very touch-deprived among strangers. 4) Find a regular way of keeping in touch. People getting out of any kind of hospital get a big surge of “what can I do to help?” at the beginning, but it peters out quickly. Be there consistently.

12. “My husband leaves a brown film on the toilet seat.” 

Is he eating the Bro’det every night?

Is this a new behavior? Is his overall hygiene getting worse? Is this related to illness or aging? Because my first thought is that maybe something is deteriorating about his ability to notice things like this, and a medical checkup might be due.

Alternately, I suggest putting some Clorox wipes (or similar, we’re not brand-loyal) within easy reach and saying, “Can you please wipe down the toilet seat after you use it?” If he’s a person who walks away from toilets without checking to make sure everything is cool, it’s unlikely he will notice on his own or do something without this level of directness, so rip the bandaid off.

13. “How to tell your ex u don’t want to be friends.”

“Ex, I know I said that I’d like to stay friends, but now that some time has passed, I think I need a truly clean break in order to heal and get over things/put the relationship behind me. I’m so sorry, but I don’t think we should stay in touch anymore.” 

If they’ve been contacting you a lot and making you uncomfortable, sometimes you have to be more literal “I need a clean break, which means that I’d like you to stop contacting me.” It’s okay to send all that in an email. End with wishing them well. If they send something back, don’t reply. Hopefully time will do the rest and you’ll both heal and move on.

14. “BF wants me to Skype at 9 pm every day.”

I am guessing that you do not want to Skype at 9pm every day, or you wouldn’t be searching for this.

Is it that every day is too much for you? Is it that having a set time, or having it be that time is inconvenient?

I suggest sitting down and figuring out when it would be good for you to talk, so you can offer something more realistic.

“Boyfriend, I love that you are so attentive to keeping in touch, but 9pm every day isn’t working for me. Can we do [schedule that works for you]?”

15. “It’s only been a few days but i want to break up.”

Do it. Don’t drag this out. “[Name], I am so sorry, but I do not want to be in our relationship anymore and am ending it.”

You could try “I really liked you, so I wanted to give things a chance, but I know now that it isn’t right for me.

Own everything about ending the relationship. Don’t list the other person’s faults, or try for objective reasons. “I don’t feel that way, I’m so sorry.”

It’s gonna suck but you will feel so relieved a few days from now.

16. “Rejected someone but changed my mind.” 

Have a good think first. There was a reason you rejected them. You sure about this?

Okay, try this: “Ever since we talked, I’ve been kicking myself for missing out on my chance with you. Is that offer still open/Would you be willing to give it another try?”

If they say no, be graceful and cool. “Well, you are nifty/keen/cool/super, I had to ask.

Here endeth the lessons. Stay warm out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Awkwardeers,

I recently got back in touch online with an old friend who I am genuinely excited to be reconnecting with after more than a decade. I knew him when we were both in our late teens. He was fun to be around, but a mutual (male) friend described him as “needy.” I was glad to hear that this characteristic of his was not just in my head, and that he made this impression on men too. He had this way of making you feel really bad when you said no to him; it’s not that he would pressure you, exactly, but his disappointment would become this entity that lived in the air between you and him. I don’t know how else to describe it. Despite this quirk we were good friends; he obviously had a thing for me, but he was one of those dudes who obviously had a thing for all of his female friends. (I should mention that he never used the Disappointment Monster to try to get sex; he was more of a generic attention vacuum.)

Through Facebook I know that he is now openly poly and involved in kink and tantric sex communities and that sex is very important to him. And that is great! I don’t think people should feel bad about being open about their sexuality! But.

As we’ve been reconnecting, we’ve done a bunch of discussing what is going on in our lives, and he brings up sex, briefly, all the time. Like, the list of what he’s been up to lately is sex and work and hobby X. I tend to just ignore it (“hobby X? I love hobby X! Let’s talk so much about hobby X!”), but it still makes me vaguely uncomfortable; I’m significantly more private about my sexuality. I can’t tell whether it would make me uncomfortable if anyone were to work sex into every conversation, or if it specifically has to do with the Disappointment Monster and his history of wanting more from me, or both. I think to him, sex is not only something that he likes to do / talk about, but a big part of his identity in a way that it isn’t for me. I’d feel bad telling a friend not to talk to me about their (non-sexual) interests, and of course I wouldn’t ask a friend who was a sexual minority to “stop shoving their sexuality in my face.” (I realize that the situations are not exactly analogous, but I worry that essentially that’s the kind of bigoted request I’d be making if I tried to set some sort of boundary in this area.) He isn’t pressuring me for anything– we don’t even live in the same city. The thought of asking him to stop makes me feel hypocritical and sex-negative, but I can’t deny that I’d prefer he stop. Should I try to get over this, or ask him to change?

Sex Neutron

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I’m turning 30, and I don’t know how to interact with people. I think it’s because I’ve had OCD from at least the age of 9—real OCD, with repugnant obsessions about incest and such, not “I color coordinate my sock drawer”—and like a lot of people I kept it a secret. And I had panic disorder, which made me agoraphobic. Also, starting around 12 I felt like I was constantly stuck behind a pane of glass, which according to Wiki might mean I was dissociating, but whatever you call it, it was unpleasant. So to sum up, all the important things in my life were a horrible dark secret, other people didn’t seem real, and I basically couldn’t leave the house without fearing I’d have a panic attack, and frequently having one. It was not conducive to making friends.

In college I was lucky enough to make one super good friend—entirely through her initiative—and several good-ish friends. And then senior year I had a nervous breakdown and scraped through graduation and had more nervous breakdown and went on drugs and into CBT. That was six years ago and I’m much better now. But I don’t know how to deal with people. I didn’t realize this before, because I never wanted to deal with people—I thought I was just introverted and misanthropic, and I liked being that way. Now I don’t know what I am. I don’t think I’m shy. In a crowd I’m not nervous; I’m just nonplussed, like if you walked up and randomly gave me a lathe: I’m like, “Wtf is this for?” I still automatically say no to all social invitations, because even though, so far, I haven’t had real panic attacks on the drugs—and hopefully never will again, knock on wood—my instinct is still to stay home all the time. To my mind you have to have a really, really good reason before you leave the house. And people make me tired. When I have to associate with people, e.g. at work, they apparently like me, and I generally like them; but when getting together is optional, I just… don’t. But I’m lonely.

Romance is particularly a problem; or at least, it’s the problem I mind most acutely. I’d ruled out ever having sex till a few years ago, because repugnant obsessions. (Use your imagination.) Now that I’m better it seems like a possibility, but I feel… well, warped, I guess, like I missed some formative experience and it’s too late for me to be fixed. But dammit, I’d like to have sex, and not just sex, but a relationship. I get filled with hopeless romantic longing on a predictable monthly basis and also any time I see Robert Downey Jr. All my friends are married. I want that shit. But again, I’m almost 30; I don’t have time to replicate all the socializing experiences I should have had when I was 8. What the hell do I do with this lathe?

More Awkward Than You Are

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Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football from Peanuts, by Charles Schultz

Seems legit

Dear Captain,

I am currently estranged from my sister. Growing up, we were home-schooled together and were extremely close. She was usually awesome, but once we became adults, she would sometimes become obsessively jealous of my time. As examples: she demanded that I apologize for calling my significant other on the phone without including her in a conference call because “it is incredibly hurtful to talk with a mutual friend without including me.” Or, she would not call me for weeks and then, when I wrote to say “hi”, she would lambast me for not contacting her earlier and demand an apology. Or she would demand an apology if I planned a social gathering and then invited her because, if I had REALLY wanted her there, I would have let her choose the activity. She always seemed to be keeping a secret tally of what she expected from me, and she’d either get nasty with me or give me the cold shoulder when I inevitably failed to meet her un-communicated expectations.

For many years, I basically just apologized to her every time she would bully me because I was pretty socially clueless and assumed that I just really sucked at friendships. However, I’ve since decided that this is Not Normal. I’ve tried communicating my problems to her, but she always says I am being too sensitive or unreasonable. After I came out as transgender, it all got much worse until I was definitely keeping her at arm’s length. Then, about this time last year, I invited her to my wedding. She responded with a nasty email telling me that she couldn’t come “this time” (this is my first marriage) because she had a long list of unspecified grievances against me that she had never shared with me before that I should have addressed before I invited her if I had REALLY intended her to feel welcome. When I told her she was being disrespectful, she replied that I was too easily offended and my wedding invitation was obviously just an “excuse to attack” her. I was pissed off and gave up, my wedding came and went without acknowledgment from her, and we haven’t really talked since.

A couple of months ago, after radio silence for almost a year, she sent a postcard with a normal, friendly message in it., apparently pretending that everything is fine. At this point, I’m done. I haven’t responded. Her birthday is coming up next month and I’m not planning on contacting her at all. I’m still angry and I’m absolutely not ready to deal with her. However, I can’t shake this nagging fear that I’m stooping to her level of giving the “cold shoulder” and harboring resentment and grievances that I’m not trying to work out with her. I don’t want to emulate her passive-aggressive behavior by punishing her with my silence. Is it fair for me to just leave the door firmly shut unless she’s willing to approach me with an apology and a real effort to change her behavior?

-Not passive-aggressive

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