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Hello Captain and Company!

About a year and a half ago I had my primary outbreak of genital herpes. It was excruciating, both physically and emotionally, but I’m finally starting to pick up the pieces and feel like myself again. I’m starting to feel like I maybe want to date again, finally (yay), but I’d like to be prepared for the inevitable awkwardness of telling a hypothetical partner about the herpes. It’s an awkward enough conversation to have when you don’t have anything communicable. Herpes isn’t the biggest deal as far as STIs go, but it isn’t kittens and rainbows, either. Being honest has always been important to me, but it’s even more important to me now since the person I got it from wasn’t– between telling me he’d been tested, that he’d tested negative over six months after my outbreak, and that he’d show me his test results, there was certainly a lie. Herpes doesn’t happen spontaneously, and his test results never materialized. So I really, REALLY want to be open and honest about it.

I’m not really super into PIV sex, but I really like to cuddle, and sloppy, sexy makeouts are fun! And low-risk, if pants stay on, which I kind of want them to until I’m sure that the person I’m making out with is someone I can really trust and connect with. I’d really like to be able to bring up the conversation waaaay ahead of time, and to maybe talk about the kinds of things I do and don’t want to do, and how to manage the herpes and be safe and really, to give the other person a chance to really decide about whether they want to have fun sexy times with me. I know this sort of thing probably just takes practice and will always probably be awkward, but do you have any ideas about how to have that conversation? Any advice for minimizing stammering and embarrassment during it?

In herpitude,
Dental Dams Are Your Friends

Hi Dental Dams. This is Elodie Under Glass here. I am so sorry that this happened to you, and so happy that you are getting better.

I am really glad that you wrote in. You sound like you’ve already got your feelings well in order, which I admire. And you’ve opened up a great new topic to tackle: STDs.

When the good Captain offered me the chance to answer your question, I was initially super-excited because it’s a really, really good question – but also pretty nervous, because immediately I was like “I am unqualified to answer this question, for I have rarely negotiated sexytimes/STDs with strange men!”  followed by realizing that this question, like all questions, runs far deeper than that.

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Dear Captain,

I’m in a very happy long term relationship. The biggest problem we face is we’re both introverts, and have some social anxiety along with it. It’s hard to make friends, but we’re trying. We’re very geeky, so we’re trying to get involved in geek spaces.

Next comes the big hurdle, we have diet issues. He has really bad food allergies, and I’m vegetarian. At home we’re fine, we can work around our issues, but…

Social gatherings almost always involve food. We barely eat out anymore because it’s not worth the risk of being so sick afterwards. The local cosplay group meets inside a pizza place, the local crafting group meets at a BBQ place. Going to someone’s house means feeling like entitled jerks for having to grill them on labels and cross contamination, or hoping they’re cool with us packing our own food.

There’s a cosplay meet-and-greet at a con coming up, at a restaurant where we can tell ahead of time nothing’s going to be safe. Is it rude to request it be held on the patio if that’s an option?

What are some scripts for turning down food invitations? Is there a polite way to suggest social gatherings that don’t take place somewhere that could kill him? Right now we’re both so worried about coming across as Entitled Jerks that we tend to just avoid all the gatherings that involve food, which means we don’t get out much at all. We want to make friends, but we also don’t want to get Frequent Flier points at the ER. How can we compromise?

We’re already learned that saying the specifics of the allergy means people will generally lecture us that there’s no way whatever food could contain that allergen, even if we already know it does, so it’s best to stay vague when declining invitations.

Healthy Hermit

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have had a very complex life in the last couple of years. I have gone from having a fairly normal life in regards to health and then I went on dialysis. Since that point I now have a kidney transplant.

My girlfriend currently has a really hard time wrapping her mind around the changes in lifestyle that I have to live. She almost finds my precautions somewhat unbearable.

What should I do? She also makes fun of my situation or lightheartedly jokes about it.

Unfortunately they don’t offer empathy transplants.

Was your girlfriend with you since before the changes? Because I would imagine that watching a partner go through dialysis and a kidney transplant would make it sink in that 1) Hey, you could have DIED 2) Following your doctors’ recommendations carefully is  serious business. If she met you after the changes, maybe the seriousness of it hasn’t really sunk in. Which isn’t an excuse, but it gives you a place to start in deepening her perspective.

If you want to try to make things work with this person, I think there is both a Big Serious Talk to be had and some day-to-day scripts.

The daily script is, when she makes a joke, to say something like “Whoa, that really hurts my feelings.”

After you say that, be quiet, and listen to what happens next. There is going to be a very awkward moment, and it is not your job to smooth it over – the awkwardness is the way that you get to the resolution. If she stops, apologizes, and changes her behavior, that’s a good sign. If you’ve been putting up with the jokes for a while, it may take a few tries for it to sink in – you are subtly changing the “rules” of how the relationship works and some people don’t get it right away. You can openly acknowledge the rule change with “I know I usually let it go, but….” or “I know you mean that as a joke, but….” when you say things like that, it really hurts my feelings. Can we find another way to talk about x issue?

If after saying that her jokes hurt your feelings, she doubles down on the joking, or starts justifying why it’s okay for her to make jokes that hurt your feelings, she is pressuring you to ignore your healthy routines, she calls you “too sensitive” and tells you to “toughen up,” or for whatever reason the conversation ends with you apologizing to her for bringing it up and being upset, here there be Evil Bees.

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I’m in grad school for creative writing. It’s hard. Right now, I’m taking three classes, which means that I’m reading 500-plus pages a week, in addition to commenting on my classmates’ writing and producing a poem every week. Plus, I’m teaching a basic composition course for struggling writers, and a literature course (for the first time ever), so I’m writing lesson plans and grading essays for nearly 60 students. AND I work ten hours a week to supplement my stipend enough to buy things like toiletries, books and the occasional beer on a Friday night. Also, I need to clean my apartment and do laundry and run errands sometimes. And in addition to all of THAT, I’m expected to participate in meetings, go to outside lectures, and attend all the readings by my classmates and visiting writers. And I WANT to, because oh my god I love school. School is the best thing ever. I work my ass off and I LOVE IT. This is not really about grad school.

Millay

What people think an MFA is like.

Except it kind of is. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes, among other things, crushing migraines and extreme fatigue. And there’s no cure for it, because ovaries, ew. Mostly, I manage. But there are days when I can barely drag myself around, and did I mention all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing? Sometimes I can’t do it all. Sometimes my whole body feels like a bag of wet sand that I’m not strong enough to lift. Sometimes I have to lie down and rest before I die. So I miss the reading, or the lecture, or the lunch meeting.

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Back when we changed the format for submitting questions, I strongly encouraged people who were currently experiencing a crisis to call a hotline or helpline and talk to a friendly person rather than wait for me to sort through the bulging email box and get to their question. The questioners who wanted help  composing their suicide notes, the questioners who had possibly just been sexually assaulted and wanted me to tell them if they really had been, the questioners who were literally holding ice packs to their faces in the aftermath of partner violence were definitely 100% Above My Pay Grade. It was unhelpful and dangerous for them to wait; it was overwhelming for me to try to run a crisis hotline out of my email.

The excellent PFC Marie pointed out that the prospect of calling a hotline was daunting and wouldn’t have necessarily occurred to her when she was in crisis mode, and suggested that we find someone who had worked on one to demystify the process. Thankfully, one of our community members stepped forward. Their experience is obviously not universal to every kind of hotline/helpline, but hopefully it will help people feel less nervous about picking up the phone. Hopefully other volunteers will weigh in and give a diversity of experiences and what to expect. The poster has asked to remain anonymous for this post, which is kind of the point of hotlines when you think about it.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I need some advice on being a decent human being.

My wife and I have been together for 8 years, married for 5. She has severe depression and anxiety. She’s been in therapy since before I met her, but her illnesses still hit her pretty hard. I do as much as I can for her — earning an income, taking care of the chores and cooking, always giving upbeat feedback.

She hasn’t had a full time job in a few years, but she takes on a smattering of freelance projects because she says her career is the only thing that makes her life meaningful. Unfortunately, it’s a huge struggle for her to complete these projects — generally she’ll start them the day they’re due, and I’ll have to sit with her for moral support and try to take care of as many aspects of it (printing, mailing, etc) as I can without any professional training.

Most days she sleeps in late, spends the day messing around on the internet, and then tells me about how stupid and worthless she thinks she is. I can usually get her to a point of resolving that tomorrow she’ll wake up on time and I’ll help her make a plan to get some work done, but that generally doesn’t happen. Getting out of the house helps, but the process of getting her to get up the nerve to go can be exhausting.

She is also convinced that none of her friends care about her — though she has more and better friends than I do. She’s very intelligent, so she has an exceptional ability to rationalize and explain away any evidence I present to counter her thesis that “I am a horrible stupid person who nobody likes and who is probably just faking my problems because I’m stupid.”

The reason I’m writing is that this should not be a big deal for me — she’s not hurting me, I’m not the one who’s depressed, I do get out of the house for work and to see friends. But I find that as much as I love her, and as much as I love spending time with her, there are times I start to feel frustrated, start to wish her depression wasn’t a shadow hanging over everything I do. I know that’s not OK, and most of the time I can keep my focus on her rather than on me. But it seeps through sometimes, and I worry that it will affect her or that I’ll slip and say something like “let’s not make plans — tomorrow you’ll probably just sleep all day anyway.” 

Do I just need a kick in the pants?

Overwhelmed Husband (#429)

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Hey Capt., 

Cliff notes. My sister got pregnant three years in a row, giving birth to three healthy babies by c-section. With baby 1 she was put into bed rest almost immediately and I was assigned to make sure she didn’t jeopardize her or the baby’s health. This was a difficult task only made worse after the birth because it meant an additional 4 weeks at the least. Around 2 weeks into that time I broke down sobbing. My sister threw me out and my parents let me have the morning off before insisting that I return to make sure my sister hadn’t hurt herself. 

Continuing into the next two pregnancies I was told I had to stay with my sister because my parents were afraid for both her mental and physical health. This involved me sometimes driving 3 hours daily back and forth to my sister and her husband’s apartment. Where I was welcome by my sister but resented by her husband for being there and also for not doing enough while I was there. 

I am realizing that I was depressed. Slowly over the last few years I’ve been trying to recover. And I’ve felt like I have been. (In part thanks to this blog.) 

Now my sister is pregnant again. It’s been the easiest pregnancy yet. When I told my mom I was not going to do what I did before she said that yes I would. I felt like I had been slapped. I tried to tell her no but she told me it’s family. I told her a little desperately that if she didn’t want me to resent that baby and my sister even more than I already did she wouldn’t make me. She just repeated the family bit. 

That was a little over a month ago. I am depressed. My sister, who had already spent christmas at my house, wanted to spend the week following new years here as well. I told her no, and I told my mother I can’t do it. I am depressed and I just can’t face it. My mom offered to pay for me to take off for a few days so that my sister can come and spend the time here.(My Mom and I live together.) She says that she understands that I am depressed but she thinks my sister is too and she might need to come up to get some relief. 

Captain Awkward, I am being asked to leave my own house. I am being hounded by my mother to find a quick fix for my depression. And I am sincerely at a loss. Can you help me? 

-Just empty.

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