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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have a really great job; creatively fulfilling, changing and full of new challenges and people. I’ve been in this job for a lot of my 20’s, and devoted a lot of time and emotional energy to it.

A lot of the greatness of the job is down to my boss. So far, I’d say our relationship has been warm, informal and rather protective, but professional. However the other week (after an work event we were attending together) it became so warm and informal we drunkenly made-out.

He kissed me, not that I’m looking to assign blame, but I was definitely into it. And it was a mess, and kind of innocent, and he’s my boss, and married.

Backstory; while I don’t really identify as asexual all signs so far point to me being somewhere down that end of the ballroom. I’ve had crushes on one or two men (maybe even been in love) but have had very little romantic or sexual experience. I’m basically okay with this, as I experience attraction so rarely (and it’s my body and I’ll do what I like with it, even if that’s nothing) .

However since that night I’ve been left feeling lonely, and touch deprived. I wouldn’t truly say I have a crush, but I want his attention and affection. I feel very safe with him and if he was any of my other friends I’d be asking if he wanted to do it again and working out whether it could be a thing. As it is, we very quickly went back to normal, which is right but has left me so at odds with myself.

How the hell do I behave, now I’ve finally noticed I’ve been having this weirdly intimate working relationship? I feel like such a loser for being so affected by a drunk kiss but really my problem is that I feel like I don’t know myself at all. How can I try to be happy romantically in the future, when my sexuality is such a small, hidden thing?

Thank you, I’d really love to have the chance to think about this anonymously. As it’s pretty professionally compromising I feel I can’t talk about it to my usual Team Me!

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Greetings Captain!

I’m having a hell of a time trying to decide what to do with my life. I would like a career that suits me, but the problem is I have no real skills.

Some backstory: I graduated with my BA in 2011 from a small school that no one has ever heard of. My degree is basically useless and no one takes it seriously. After attaining my BA, my passion for the subject is virtually non-existent. I tried everything I could think of to get started in my career at that time: internships, networking, attending conferences, etc. Nothing worked. I would like to go back to school, but after having such a negative experience with my current degree, I’m terrified that it will happen to me all over again. This is going to sound pretty weird but, if I went back for a second degree, I’d probably go for a law or film degree. I am very passionate about both subjects.

Unfortunately, I’ve had many people tell me that going back to school is a horrible idea. They are probably right because I would have to pay for everything out of pocket again (I’ve never been eligible for any grants or scholarships despite graduating on time with honors.) Something keeps pushing me to try though. I’ve visited numerous colleges over the past few years, I even got close to going back for my master’s. But every time I am about to pull the trigger, I freeze up and the doubt creeps back in. I fear that maybe I just don’t have what it takes anymore.

My only bankable skill is my ability to communicate with just about anyone. This led me to take on retail/sales jobs for eight years which I hated immensely. My current job is very demanding and I work 50-60 hours a week, but I am NOT going back to retail. I would love to just start over somewhere new and have no issue with relocating. However, my fiancé’s career here has really taken off and we can’t leave just yet. Besides, where would we go?  I live paycheck to paycheck now because I don’t have the qualifications for a better paying job. I doubt I could attain a better job elsewhere until I have more education/experience.

So I guess my ultimate question is this: what skills have helped you the most in your life? What would you recommend to someone who is super lost and doesn’t know how to continue? What steps should I take to build up my qualifications? How did you decide which steps to take in your life that have led you to a successful career?

Sincerely,

Mad (that I have no) Skills

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My siblings and I were all home-schooled, and we all turned out all right, finished school, have decent jobs…until tale-end Charlie was born twelve years after the rest of us. My parents decided to home-school Charlie (PUBLIC SCHOOL EVIL! DRUGS! GANGS! ROCK MUSIC!) except by then they were both tired of the time commitment and just…didn’t.

They kept Charlie home and didn’t teach him anything. Since they live in a state with zero government oversight (BECAUSE FREEDOM!) they got away with it. One of my other brothers taught Charlie to read when he was ten. I’m the oldest and I moved to another state when Charlie was seven, and moved out the house when he was four. I knew on one level things were slacking, but I was wrapped up in my life, finishing college, and getting the hell out of my hometown. I never spent very much time at home for various reasons I won’t get into, but my cousin would tell me Charlie doesn’t know this, or Charlie doesn’t know that so I’d talk to my parents and they always had a reason.

“We haven’t started the unit on that yet, that’s the next grade, we’re taking break for Nov/Dec because of all the holidays and we’ll start again in Jan, I just ordered this great new curriculum…”

I should have called the police on them years ago. But I didn’t. I still believed my parents could turn this around and teach Charlie like they taught the rest of us. I didn’t want to call the police on my own parents. But I should’ve. If I could go back in time I would.

Last fall, I had a heart-to-heart with Charlie via skype and his desires to join the military and Do Exciting Things do not at all jib with what he knows. Every time I asked him about school he’d say he was really studying hard, then (over skype) I got him to show me his ‘Math reviewing’. It was a third-grade adding-columns-of-numbers book like the dollar store sells. Which he couldn’t do because he didn’t know/had forgotten how carrying works. I flipped out on my parents, who promptly blamed everything on Charlie (who was deeply addicted to WoW and ‘wouldn’t study’, therefore it’s Charlies fault).

I live in another state so I started tutoring Charlie over Skype every second we were both home. We covered third and fourth grade math in three months. Charlie’s smart, he’s just *NEVER* had to study/take tests/learn how to push through frustration to comprehend information before. Right after he turned eighteen, he moved in with me and my wife. Using a hodge-podge of elementary school/middle school resources, we covered the basics up to sixth grade, and now he’s doing seventh grade work at a REAL, ACCREDITED, online middle school.

The problem: Charlie WILL NOT study/do school unless I sit at his elbow. My wife and I both work full-time. Charlie has a job with erratic hours at a cleaning service to pay for his car and insurance, so there’s no regular time we’re all home, and he’s got to cover five years of school. I want to send him to school, but since he’s eighteen he’d have to go to the alternative school in town and each grade takes a year to cover…and he couldn’t go past the age of twenty anyway. This is bullshit. I can’t hire a tutor, we don’t have the money. I would like to do other things besides stick to Charlie like a tick on my few hours off. (I work 4 12s and a 6).

I am so angry at my parents for allowing this to happen, and I’m so angry at Charlie for screwing off and ‘catching up on Netflix/assorted bullshit’ instead of studying and working through his classes. I can log onto the website and *see* he only spent twenty minutes on a lesson, when I know (because I rolled him out of bed at seven before I left) he doesn’t go in until noon). If he’d bust ass and do it, he could finish school in about two and a half years but I don’t know how to make him understand working at the cleaner is not a successful life-choice. He’s really good at faking knowledge to get by. He says he doesn’t like learning all this because it makes him ‘feel dumb’. His solution is to ignore all the things he doesn’t know instead of learn them. He has no interest in a trade (probably because my parents have always sneered at trade-schools). When asked, he claims he wants to join the military and be an infantry commander. I have explained the military does not want him with his lack of education, he says he understands, but he’s NOT TAKING THE STEPS TO FIX IT.

What do I do? How do I motivate an adult? I want my brother to have a shot at a decent life. But he won’t do school without me right there and that’s not going to work for the *years* this process is going to take.

Please help me.

This is slightly edited – I missed the detail where Charlie lives with the LW the first time and thought he was still living with the parents.

I am going to start with a moderation note because I’ve seen the shitshow of amateur debate shenanigans that happens when you mention the word “homeschooling” on the internet:

Successful homeschooling exists. The Letter Writer had it. It in no way looks like the above model of how “Charlie” was educated. If you are here to talk about why homeschooling is the best idea ever, how it worked for you, and soapbox in favor of it, I will delete your comment. If you are here to talk about why homeschooling is stupid and useless and shouldn’t be allowed, I will delete your comment. It can be right for certain kids. It can be abusive and neglectful for other kids. This is not Debate Club, and I don’t want to read your arguments or collect anecdata for an unwinnable argument (since we don’t have a time machine and can’t go back and get Charlie what he needed as a kid). Please keep your comments to the above  specific situation and focused on constructively, actively helping the LW and their brother. If your experiences apply to that end, like, you were neglectfully homeschooled and then got an education later, by all means, share them. But if you want to write extensively about the merits or evils of homeschooling, may I suggest your own blog.

Thank you. We now return to your regularly-scheduled programming.

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Ahoy Captain,

I’m writing this after reading about the LW who kept getting stuck with the check.  I’m in the inverse of a similar situation, and I’m not sure of the best approach.  I’ve just started a job in an awesome place with a bunch of wonderful, appropriately friendly co-workers.  Apart from loving what I do there, this job will (slowly) get me out of a pretty grim financial situation created by student loans and intermittent work over the past two years.  For now, though, I’m on a skeleton budget and can’t afford much by way of unnecessary stuff, which is where the problem starts.  My co-workers have all worked together for a while, and they do this cool thing were they go out to lunch together a lot and take turns either paying for lunch, or collecting money from the office to run out and get food.  They invite me frequently, and once or twice have covered me for lunch on the rare occasion I forgot to pack one. I’d love to participate, but I can’t at the moment due to being behind on a lot of crucial bills.

The trouble is that it’s getting to the point were it feels really weird to be constantly opting out of these lunches, especially since we’re a small office, and the fact that I don’t volunteer to pitch in for food runs is creating some very awkward situations were I’m constantly removing myself from the rest of the group.  I know I’m coming across as either stingy or unfriendly, which concerns me because I really want to make this job a pleasant environment.  But it’s realistically going to be a few months before I can afford to do this, and I don’t want to explain my financial situation to my colleagues.  Are there any scripts or tips you and the awkward army know of to navigate this embarrassing situation?

Sincerely,

Economic Casualty

Dear Economic Casualty:

The first ever Captain Awkward reader question was about a similar topic, with friends and money and eating out. So, hey! We’ve come a long way.

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Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall with text "Professor McBadass"

There is more to teaching and life than having a good small-talk game.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This question is not so much about a single major situation or a crisis as it is about a recurring, if minor, situation that I encounter again and again. I am a graduate student at a medium-sized research university where graduate students do a lot of teaching. As a result, I encounter former students on campus on a very regular basis. I hope very much to keep teaching college students long-term, though who knows what my future holds.

The problem I have is this. My classes are often fairly popular with students, in part because my teaching persona is very warm and approachable, and in the classroom, I am good at not taking myself too seriously and putting other people (i.e. students) at ease. In real life I am none of those things: I am awkward, introverted, and ill-at-ease with social acquaintances, and I overread Every. Damn. Detail. of routine social interactions. I often feel that students who run into me in public social settings (at coffee shops, libraries, etc.) are surprised by what they perceive as a change in my affect, and that–put bluntly–I make them feel uncomfortable when they greet me after our class is over. I hate that. I feel I talk too long, or not long enough, or that I greet them when they’d rather avoid me, or that I avoid them when they’d rather greet me.

I should say that, while many college instructors resist or resent outside encounters with students, I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy keeping up with former students. Even more importantly, I think that students at my large, cold, competitive institution need as many one-on-one adult contacts as they can get, and that it’s important for them to feel like they are part of a supportive social network made up of people of many different ages. I think that having good, positive, low-key, supportive encounters–not with every single student, but with students who actually want to say “hi” or catch up briefly in passing–is an important part of my job. But I’m not good at it.

I’m asking you because I know you are a college professor, and I imagine that–like me–you have a lot of students who would like to keep in touch, or who check in when you pass them in the hallway. Any advice on how to make these encounters productive, or at least comfortable?

Wants to Be That Supportive Former Teacher

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Illustration of Godzilla and another lizard battle over the Golden Gate bridge.

Jerkbrain and Rageasaurus battle for control of the emotional landscape. Godzilla movie concept art by Frank Hong.

Dear Captain,

I have always been way too sensitive to criticism. In high school we had an assignment where we had to ask our loved ones what they thought our best and worst personality traits were, and EVERYONE told me that I take things too personally. I terrified of looking dumb in front of anyone, even strangers, so I hate anyone calling attention to the fact that I’m less than perfect.

This is true for criticism of a personal nature, an artistic nature, and a professional nature. Blunt or tactless questions are awful, of course, but even much-need criticism framed in a very constructive way can put me on the edge of tears.

This has been a problem lately at my work, because I’ve gone from part-time to full-time, which means (a) more time at work, so more time to mess up/get blamed for something, and (b) getting called upon to do tasks I’ve never done before or tasks that I’m TERRIBLE at (like covering phones, which is a nightmare to an introvert, especially one so bad with names she routinely forgets the caller’s name mid-transfer). I have a tendency to get defensive when I’m corrected on something, especially if it’s something I usually get right or that I wasn’t responsible for, even though absolutely no one is putting me on trial. They just want it fixed. Or I get so flustered that I just make more mistakes, get more criticisms, etc ad nauseam. Today at work I screwed up something I didn’t know I was supposed to do, and getting called out made me too upset to talk (one of my coworkers walked by and marveled at how red my face got), when a more rational response would probably have been “now I know I need to do that next time”.

How can I take criticism better? I NEVER want to become “the girl who cried in the office”, and when it comes to things that I really want to get better at, I know that hearing and responding to criticism is an important step. I’m just so bad at it. Help!

-Paper-Thin Skin

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It’s July, so time for the monthly “let’s answer the stuff people typed into search engines” post. It is, as always, a very mixed bag of topics.

1. “Is my partner’s family using my family for money? Help!”

I feel like there is a lot of backstory and context here that would be valuable to know, but one suggestion is to revisit and renegotiate current arrangements around money, and see what happens. It sounds like that you (or your family) are already uncomfortable with something about the financial arrangements that are taking place or requests that are being made, and that’s a good enough reason to pull on one of the threads and see where it goes. Do you feel like you are allowed to say “no, we can’t help with that, sorry?” Does it change how your partner’s family treats you?

2. “Should I be upset with a coworker who didn’t donate to a fundraiser in my name?”

Feel however you want, but I don’t think addressing it with the coworker, complaining to other people, or changing the way you interact with them at work is a good idea at all. Be grateful to the people who did donate, and assume the coworker who didn’t had completely understandable reasons that aren’t really your business. Let this one go.

I don’t feel shame about asking for donations here periodically, or for boosting charity stuff or crowd-funding campaigns for friends or causes I’m close to, and I don’t mind at all when people in my life ask me for help with their stuff, but that only works as long as everyone understands that a request is not an order and that gifts are voluntary. For real, the quickest way to make everyone you know go “fuck you and your cause” is to act like they are obligated to give. I also think, personally, that bosses should never ask their employees for charitable donations. Get some friends, boss. Get some friends.

3. “If someone with depression apologises for something they did, do u tell them its not their fault?”

Well, maybe it is their fault. Depression dulls and blunts a person’s ability to function within relationships sometimes, but it’s not an excuse for mean behavior, and we are still ultimately responsible for how we treat other people. If you want to say something comforting in response to the apology, howabout “Apology accepted, thank you.

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