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Dear Captain,

I recently became the very happy owner of a large, visually striking tattoo on a visible part of my body. This has been a hugely positive experience for me and I am happy to display my art to other people, the occasional attention and questions don’t bother me at all — except for one response that I didn’t anticipate.

About once or twice a month, someone will ask me “but what does it mean” or a variation on this, and keep digging at me until I offer up something suitably personal. My problem is that a) these otherwise well-meaning people really pressure me for a detailed answer, asking and re-asking their question repeatedly even though I am visibly uncomfortable with their interrogation and give them multiple non-answers, and b) there is indeed a personal meaning behind my tattoo, but I have less than zero interest in sharing it with random strangers or new acquaintances.

I’ve been trying to come up with a simple deflection that is not also a total fabrication but nothing has worked so far. When I say “I don’t really talk about that stuff with strangers” or “that’s a pretty personal question” people seem to just get more intrigued and pressure me even harder. I suspect some of this is because people having been conditioned by reality TV shows like “LA Ink” to think that ‘tattoo!’ = “deeply intimate personal story the tattooed person is delighted to share with an audience” but I am not interested in sharing details of my internal emotional life with strangers. At this point I don’t really care what the ‘audience’ motivations are, I just want a simple way to shut them down that doesn’t sound like an invitation to keep asking the same damn question in fourteen different ways until I snap at them.

I don’t think these people are hitting on me or being deliberately invasive, but I do think they’re not respecting my attempts to not answer. It’s like their brain short-circuits when they see a tattoo (I really believe these are otherwise polite, boundary-respecting people). Also I’m still taken aback every time this happens and not so great at thinking on my feet in the moment — it’s only been six months and it’s not like this problem is going to go away anytime soon.

Is there something I can say or do to shut this down and move on to more appropriate, less intimately-personal questions? I have no problem with the fact that my body art is going to draw attention, I knew that going in and it’s fine, but it seems like there’s 5% of people who lose all sense of appropriateness when they see my newly-decorated arm. Maybe I should just start lying???

Thank you!

– Not Cut Out For Reality Television

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I don’t want to get too into backstory here, but my mother was a Darth Vader parent. The abuse was never physical, but emotional/verbal abuse and gaslighting were common. Darth Mom died last year. My sister and brother-in-law—let’s call them Leia and Han—are now expecting a baby girl. I don’t think anyone has said anything to *them* yet, but multiple people have told *me* that they’re disappointed that the baby won’t be named after Darth Mom or that they’re “so very sad” that the baby will never get the chance to meet her “wonderful grandmother.” And I just. No. A world of no. All of the NO.

Han is taking most of the blame for the name thing because he was named after a deceased family member and he wants the baby to have a name of her own. So that’s a script I’ve been using when people bring up the idea of naming the baby for Darth Mom. But I have no idea what to do when people tell me how sad it is that the baby will never meet Darth Mom. I understand that they mean well and they don’t know that Darth Mom was secretly a Sith Lord, but I am so relieved that the baby will never have to meet her grandmother that I kind of want to throttle these people. I have no idea what to say here and I’m afraid I’m going to snap and start airing dirty laundry, and nobody wants that.

Any kind of script or even a mantra for this situation would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Luke

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Ahoy there Captain!

So, there’s this super awkward couple that my gentleman and I are both acquainted with through a Meetup group I used to run. We used to be closer, but we’ve started distancing ourselves, because the closer we got, the more we saw that we didn’t really care to be around. For example, the she-half of the couple (Greta?) is extraordinarily passive aggressive… Greta’s catchphrase when addressing the he-half (Irving?) is, “IRVING!!! CAN YOU WASH THE DISHES *PLEEEEASE*????” Of course, in the snottiest tone she can muster. Irving, of course, is no prize himself… he’s a secret asshole, presenting as super-chill and totally laid back but having a sneaky side to him that is hella lazy and dismissive of anyone who may hold a different opinion.

So we moved them from Always Friends to Sometimes Friends, and made our excuses so that my gentleman could stop running a tabletop game that included them as participants (Greta had a bit of a habit of actively pouting (at age 30!) whenever things in the game didn’t go the way she wanted for her character, and Irving would always make excuses about ending the game early whenever she’d get in a funk, which started happening with exponential frequency). Following the end of the game, Greta blew up at me directly when I announced my exit from the Meetup group, demanding ownership and making a huge production about why we didn’t talk anymore. I snapped back at her that I didn’t appreciate her making something that was painful for me (the possible dissolution of my Meetup group) into a referendum on our friendship, and if she wanted to talk to me about the fact that we weren’t very close anymore, she could have chosen literally any other time.

We haven’t spoken much since then, and Greta hasn’t brought up our last real conversation at all. We’ve seen one another at other events and while everyone’s been polite, we haven’t had much contact. They recently sent us a Save The Date for their wedding, but when it came time for the bridal shower invites, I was snubbed (I had another event that day anyway, and I actively dislike bridal showers in general, so that was no hair off my backside). Now our mutual friends have received their wedding invites, and my gentleman and I have not.

On the one hand, my gentleman and I are not that into weddings. On the other hand, I think it’s rude as hell to send out a Save The Date and not follow up with an invitation. Part of me wants to contact Greta and Irving and let them know that they’re continuing to behave unacceptably, and if they miss us as much as they’ve made reference to towards our mutual friends, this is not the way to mend fences. Part of me is glad I don’t have to buy them a Himalayan Pink Salt Block and Shaver for their wedding. Part of me, though, knows that the mail is not the most reliable vehicle for sending messages and maybe it got lost, and I don’t want to be half of that Awful Couple that didn’t even RSVP to a wedding invite (and thus lose the Moral High Ground).

My question is thus… we’ve been plopped into an Awkward Spot by having to pick a discreet follow-up versus a discreet Total Fadeout. How to best mitigate it? Which to pick?

Your humble servant,

Uninvited?

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Dear CA,

I’m a partner dancer, namely blues. There’s a guy in the group who gets too close when he dances. I mean the blues can be very close, but it just feels different with this guy, icky, and other female follows have backed me up that he gets close in a kind of creepy way. He’s also just over-friendly, and does hugs with kisses on both cheeks. I’m not the type of person who likes to talk when there’s dancing but he tries to make awkward conversations happen. There’s social dance not just practice, (you change partners, blues is never set couples,) if I’m looking round for a lead and someone whose resting notices that he is free they often say “oh why don’t you dance with him?” And I’m left looking for anything less awkward to say than “I just don’t want to…” or “he gives me the skeevs…” These are not options, as they would make people ask what/if anything had happened. Well no, nothing concrete, it’s just vibes, we just don’t click. And also apart from a few trusted people, I’ve not told anyone in case it gets back to him. He’d be either hurt or angry, because he hasn’t done anything, he just is creepy. More often than not, because I have made clear that I do actually wish to dance with someone, I have to accept. There’s still a bit of the outdated notion that you have to accept dances when asked unless you have a concrete reason not to (the scene is trying to change that.)

I’m not sure he means it, he seems like he’s trying to be nice. Over a recent blues workshop weekend he let me borrow his flat when I put out a plea to dancers on Facebook that I had no accommodation where I usually live for that period. I accepted, 1) I couldn’t afford a hotel, 2) he wasn’t actually there that weekend and 3) I couldn’t turn down a perfectly good offer of accommodation for seemingly no reason. His offer was first and visible on Facebook, everyone saw so no one else offered. I will end up giving him a bottle of wine for that, to show some gratitude. It was an unexpected offer, this guy and I don’t know each other well. He thinks we’re friends I think, but I just don’t want to be! My main questions are, how do you politely give someone signals that they’re making you uncomfortable? And how do you avoid spending much time with someone you just don’t like when they mix in the same places as you regularly? And should I trust my gut?

Yours Sincerely

Awkward Dancer

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Hello Captain Awkward!

I love your blog. I love it so much that I’ve read through your archives and found a few questions that are cousins to, but not quite the same as mine, so here goes:

I am in my mid twenties and work at a nonprofit in a large, diverse (racially/ethnically, economically, politically) city. My organization trains and places volunteers to tutor children in Title I elementary schools. All of our volunteers are hardworking people who are very generous with their time and resources. Most of our volunteers are kind and thoughtful about the challenges many of our students face, and about the differences that may exist between their backgrounds and their students’ backgrounds. Some are not.

Some people say terrible things, usually privately to staff (if volunteers say racist things to students, we ALWAYS step in. It also doesn’t happen too frequently, thank goodness. The questions is more about one-on-one interactions with staff members.)

“I like working with Joe. At least he has a brain in his head, unlike Rose.” [not their real names]

“When I went to Ethiopia I expected to feel sorry for them, but I just felt like ‘get up off ground, stop pissing in the street, and clean up your city!'” [many of our students are Ethiopian]

“So are these poor kids?”

“It’s just too bad his parents don’t really care about his education.” [not true]

“I just don’t feel comfortable in this neighborhood. You know, since I’m a white lady.” [yes, someone said this]

There are semi-frequently comments from volunteers assuming that of course our students don’t have fathers in their lives, how their parents probably don’t care about how they’re doing in school, and how their students must have a terrible home life. Of course, some of our students may be in these circumstances – the problem is jumping to these conclusions after having spent 0-5 minutes with a student.

The comments range from foot-in-mouth to super racist, and those of us on staff struggle to know how to handle them. Some complicating factors:

1. In a perfect world, we’d have so many volunteers that we could dismiss the racist ones and replace them. Unfortunately, we need every volunteer we’ve got, and usually these volunteers are at least capable of not spewing this stuff in front of students, which is really the only way to get rid of a volunteer.

2. Part of the organization’s mission is to help educate people who don’t know much about urban education so they can become better advocates for our students and their schools. Therefore, though our first priority is our students, our second priority is providing excellent “customer service” to our volunteers.

3. Most of the offending volunteers are white, wealthy, and middle-aged/seniors who have raised children. The staff is in their 20-30s, mostly not white, definitely not wealthy, mostly childless.

Most of your scripts for dealing with racist behavior tends toward the more confrontational side. Though often wish I could employ them, I’m not in a position where I can straight up tell people that they are being racist. Do you have some scripts to help us make it clear to volunteers that certain comments are not acceptable, while still maintaining a good working relationship? Or do we have to pick between standing up to racist comments and making sure volunteers stick around?

Thank you for your help! I know this is a little long, so feel free to edit as needed.

Please Don’t Volunteer Like That

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It’s time for the monthly-ish post where we answer the things that people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

1. “Captain Awkward help my boyfriend keeps trying to optimise me.

Eff that dude. He’s not your Pygmalion and you are not a project.

2. “How should you act when you see your former affair and his wife in public?”

Give him a “hey, ‘sup bro?” nod and keep on walking/don’t stop to talk to them. You’re not going to be successful at pretending you don’t know him (hence the nod), but let him be the one to scramble for explanations about how y’all know each other. If you don’t engage at all it makes it less likely that you’ll have to lie to some poor woman’s face.

Clint Eastwood nodding like a bro.

3. “How do I tell my husband I’m sick of him playing games on his phone?”

Text him?

In all seriousness, I think it’s a good idea to make mealtimes and certain other times gadget/screen free, and I think you can ask him outright. to do that.

4. “What to do when your boyfriend’s ex wants him back.”

Ignore the ex to the extent that you can and don’t engage with them if you can help it. In my experience, this is almost always a partner problem more than it is an ex problem, as in, the ex can want all they want, but how your partner treats you is everything.

5. “What to do when every time I go out side my neighbour tells me all her troubles.” 

Awkward. Give it like, 2 minutes, and then deploy some scripts:

1) “Hey, good to see you, but I actually don’t have time to talk today.”

2) “Hey, nice to see you, but I came out here to get a bit of quiet. We can catch up another time, maybe.

3) If you’re like me, and you always carry a book, “Hi! I’m in a really exciting part of my book and I’ve been waiting all day to read it. I’ll have to catch up with you another time, thanks.” Pull out book.

Your neighbor will likely never get the hint, so you’ll have to ask. Prepare for sighing and harrumphing. If she makes a big show of avoiding you, be magnanimous – you’ve won! If she gives you some space, once a week, maybe just hang out with her for 10 minutes and ask about her day to show her that boundaries don’t mean y’all are enemies. If she doesn’t give you space, get more terse. “When I said I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I really meant it. Good night!”

6. “All our neighbors don’t talk to us.”

Maybe your neighbors just aren’t your people*? Try finding friends and a social life elsewhere?

My other question is, do you talk to them? Could you find the friendliest-seeming person and bake them a cake or something to break the ice? Give it some time and see if it gets better.

*”Aren’t your people” *could* mean “you have unwittingly moved to a racist, homophobic, and sexist hellscape.” Sorry, that’s a real thing, and it sucks.

7. “Just because he’s my boss should he not act on his feelings about me?”

Pretty much, bosses should not try to date or seduce or romance their employees and should look to, I dunno, literally anyone else.

8. “4 dates means he must like me.”

Sadly, that’s not a guarantee, though the possibility is there. In a new dating relationship, look to the present tense. What are things like between you now? Does he demonstrate that he likes you? Do you like him? Is it easy to make plans?

9. “He’s ignoring my Facebook messages.”

Stop sending Facebook messages and see if he contacts you.

10. “How to know if a girl loves you secretly from long distance?”

Ask her? She has the universe’s sole monopoly on the information you want.

11. “iamabeautifulperson.”

Fuck yeah!

12. “What does it mean when a boy suddenly message me saying sorry to be blunt but do you like me yes or no.”

Most likely explanation: 1) The boy likes you and is trying to make it known 2) Y’all are in middle school.

You don’t have to answer right away if you need time to make up your mind. “I’m thinking about it. Why do you want to know?” is a perfectly good answer.

13. “Having trouble accepting that my adult married daughter is gay.”

The best thing you can do is to realize that she was always gay there was always the possibility that she would be gay. It’s a fact, not something that needs your acceptance in order to be true, but if you want to keep having a relationship with her you need to do the work. Please be a good person about this, educate yourself, tell your daughter you love her, and don’t make her sexuality an issue between the two of you.

14. “A guy told me my messages creep him out what does that mean.”

Bluntly: Stop sending that guy messages. He doesn’t like them.

15. “Comebacks for people gaslighting you.”

In my estimation, no one is topping this lady who figured out her boyfriend was gaslighting her and then made him watch Gaslight. My heroine.

The key with gaslighters is not comebacks, it’s to get yourself out of proximity to them and in proximity to good people who treat you well.

16. “My boyfriend wants to move in together but I don’t.”

Listen to and believe that voice that is telling you that you don’t want to live with him. Maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him yet, maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him ever, maybe there is a fixable problem that you can work on together, and maybe it’s not fixable. Whatever it is, sit with it quietly, write about it, talk to trusted people about it, talk to your boyfriend about it, but don’t discount it.

17. “He’s mean to me, rude to me and doesn’t care about my feelings. What does it mean?”

A sign that says

It means: Get this dude out of your life forever.

Monty Python & the Holy Grail: Run away! Run away!

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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