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Tag Archives: saying no


I have a dog. I estimate the number of strangers who come up to me in public and give me unsolicited advice about my dog at about 25%. Yes, seriously, 1 in 4 strangers. An informal unscientific poll of my friends shows that not even parents of small children get that much advice! I guess people are (slightly) more respectful when humans are involved?

Anyway, I’m really committed to building a positive community, but I also so much want to shut these people up. I’m sick of being told what herbs my dog should eat or whether or not I should let him lean against my legs or if he should be allowed to put his head outside the car window or which training methods I should use. My dog isn’t bugging anybody. People just want to tell me what’s what.

What’s the script for being polite and shutting down the advice at the same time? Actually, that script would be useful for all aspects of my life. People constantly want to tell other people (especially women) what to do. Creating antagonism feels like a non-solution to me. Just a waste of time and effort that only results in arguments and doesn’t make me feel better.

I’d like to be polite, positive, and clear — no snark, no sarcasm, no hostility. But I can’t think of any statement that meets all those criteria. So instead I just end up silently wandering away first chance I get. Then I feel invisible.

Wants advice on unwanted advice

I don’t know that I have a magic way for you to tell intrusive people to step off but everyone feels great afterward. I have some ways that might work to actually end the interactions, where you can feel like you did your best and at least did not increase the rudeness at play. Will that work?

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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.


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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People are always telling me I could be attractive if I wanted to, and I acknowledge the truth of this – thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t care about my appearance beyond being clean and presentable. I’m not interested in putting more effort in just to please other people, and I’m perfectly comfortable looking like the slightly androgynous weirdo I am.

But it seems like I’m the only person comfortable with it. Friends and family friends and stepfamily I have to tolerate are constantly threatening me with makeovers and wheedling me to wear makeup or dress more feminine or switch to contact lenses. It makes me dread being around them. I tried doing the “pretty girl” thing once, felt like a fake the entire time, and got weirded out by the extra attention. I don’t WANT random dudes hitting on me – NO, EVEN IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS. MAYBE ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS – but these, er, “friends” never accept this, and seem to take my stance as a personal attack. It gets extremely tiresome. Can we please just play Apples to Apples and not debate about my wardrobe? Just once?

So, some of these people I could feasibly break contact with. Am I justified in doing so (or is there some magic explanation that will get them off my case)? And as for the ones I still have to deal with for the foreseeable future, is there any way I can get them to drop the subject without giving them room to launch into their usual bullshit tirades about how society would implode without rigid gender roles and women looking nice for their man?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve recently been going to social events where I don’t know anyone (such as MeetUp groups – thankyou for the suggestion BTW – I didn’t know about them until you mentioned them) in order to meet new people and perhaps rebuild some kind of social life, since the one I had kind of disappeared in bits and pieces for all the usual predictable reasons (moved cities, broke up with partner of more than a decade, got busy with work, cut back on a hobby most of my friends were in, never that sociable to begin with etc. etc.).

Anyway, I seem to have a real problem with meeting and then being cornered by conversation hogs. I have no idea if I particularly attract this kind of person, or if everyone else has some secret way of escaping them that I lack, but I often seem to find myself stuck in a one way conversation with someone, while I nod and smile and be polite, unable to get a word in edgewise.

For example, I recently went to a group bike ride with all new people I’d never met before, and when we were stopped for rest breaks, there was a man who would talk non-stop over everyone, to the point of asking me questions and then talking over my answer. When someone else tried to strike up a conversation with me, he talked over both their question and my answer. He stood between other people and me with his back to them, no matter how I moved around, and stood way too close (again no matter how much I moved away – he was a spitter too… ugh). Despite all this conversational overkill, he was really focused on me – he spent the whole time we weren’t actually riding blocking anyone else from speaking to me, or sometimes he was so loud no one could speak at all. Thankfully when we were riding he liked to go as fast as possible, so I could hang back a bit with various other people.

Saddly, this is a pretty common experience for me. At social events I often find myself stuck all night talking to someone like this, or more accurately listening and trying to get away politely.

My question is this – how does one extract oneself from conversations like this politely? I’m trying to meet new people, so I want to escape this type of guy without coming off like a rude bitch to everyone else who might be a potential friend. Actually I don’t want to be rude or nasty at all, since I’m guessing most of the time these people don’t realise what they’re doing, and are probably overcompensating for shyness. I used to talk too much myself, lecturing on some weird topic of interest to me oblivious to the interest level of my victims, so I do sympathise. I just don’t want to feel like I’m responsible for making their social experience a good one at the expense of my own.

Or, perhaps you or your commenters could suggest some things I might be doing wrong that attracts these people and makes me a target for their attentions in the first place? Can they smell my sympathy? It seriously happens a lot. And I’m thinking that social settings where people are all trying to make new friends and anyone can attend are going to have more than their fair share of the conversationally clueless. Doubly so because due to my generally more blokey hobbies I’m often one of the only women.


The woman trapped in the corner nodding and smiling

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African Violet, photo by e_cathedra on Flickr.

Photo by e_cathedra on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Should there ever be a Captain Awkward Dot Com Meetup, I will acquire a bunch of these coloring books and the big boxes of crayons (and some silver and gold gel pens) and have a table where people can hang out and color. Right? Right. Thanks, Cleolinda!

Today’s letters are on the less happy topics of broken, abusive friendships.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been friends with this woman for about 10 years, since 7th grade. We’ve been through a lot together, and I care about her a lot. However I believe this relationship has come to an end. About two months ago, we had an argument that was entirely my fault. I derailed a conversation that she was having with me, (I had been awake 72 hours, and told her several times I couldn’t really talk, because I was trying to write final papers) and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize what I had said, and apologize, and she understandably became extremely frustrated with me. As a result of this, she decided it would be best to cut off contact with me for a month or so. We were supposed to re-establish contact on one of two dates (I don’t remember exactly because sleep deprivation). I tried to contact her in on the earlier of the two. The later is now passed, and I’ve received no response.

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The Phantom of the Opera behind Christine.

I JUST want to HELP you to reach your FULL POTENTIAL.

Dear Captain,

I am having a hard time finding my words, or finding words that will get through.  Here’s the situation:

I am a thirty-something female who has, after several years of struggle, come to terms with her complete lack of sexuality.  I have dated men, and I have dated a woman, and all in all the response that makes me happiest is “please keep your pants feelings to yourself, I want none of that nonsense”.  I am also in a position where even if I did have pants feelings, this is the Wrong Time to be looking for a Special Person.  Long story short, I’m currently considered disabled due to the sheer amount of terrible-horrible things going on inside my head and Team Me is all about therapy and learning to be able to take care of ordinary tasks like “paying the rent” and “not loathing myself”.

Team Me is great!  It includes wicked-awesome roommates, a handful of bio-familiy, some choice-family, and a helping of friends as well.  They’ve got the right blend of accepting that I have Serious Problems, helping out with things beyond me right now, and administering ass-kickings when I get into self-pity.

The word problem I am having is this One Guy.  This One Guy, in his words, “really, really likes” me.  He has pants feelings and he wants to date me.  I have told him no, I am not in a dating place and I am not in any way interested in sex; I have no pants feelings for anyone and actually find the whole sex thing to be painful, awkward, gross, and oh yes painful.
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Hulk looking mean and mad.


Aw fuck, people. More stalking. Emergency kittens standing by thanks to Twitter friend and hilarious DVD-reviewer @jearl8000.

Dear Captain Awkward,

For a few months now, I have what would be defined as a “Facebook stalker” – he likes all of my pictures, all of my statuses, all of my photos, all of my comments on other people’s statuses… you get the idea, and it increases with each day.  Also, he mails me at least four times a week (usually after I’ve posted a status or something of the like, so he knows that I’m online) saying the same thing – “Hey”, “Hi :)” “Helloooooo”. I never respond, yet he doesn’t seem to be getting the message that I don’t want to talk to him.

Not only is it infuriating, it’s also creeping me out – it’s reached the point where he likes or comments on something within seconds of my posting it.

He’s not a particularly close friend, – in  fact, I don’t really know him that well at all – but he’s someone I’ve spent time with in group outings, and all in all, he’s kind of fun to be around – however, in the viral world, he’s not so much fun. Many of my friends have questioned me about it too, and I have been informed that he’s nigh on infatuated with me (which is weird, because I don’t talk to him that much and we’ve only really hung out a handful of times.) It’s safe to assume that I have no romantic interests for him in return.

This is a follow-up to this post: http://captainawkward.com/2012/02/15/191-annual-reminder-time-get-your-teeth-cleaned-get-your-eyesnaughty-bits-checked-and-stop-hanging-out-with-crappy-people/

Velociraptor coming through a curtain or tent.

Velociraptor bride: Still v. bitey

Dear Captain Awkward:

First of all, I want to thank you and your commenters SO MUCH for being such kick-ass human beings and providing so much support and insight into the situation when I was so blind to what was going on. If I could, I’d invite you all to a rad internet BBQ and not make you bring your own booze.

The advice you and your commenters gave was wonderful, but I unfortunately can’t follow it now because:

1) Marla and her boyfriend got engaged right after I sent you the first letter, and she had asked me to be her maid of honor a very long time ago.

2) I’ve been trying to have a conversation with Marla about how she’s been treating me because the slow-fade tactic just isn’t cutting it, what with the wedding taking place this summer. Part of me wants to repair our friendship, but a large part of me never wants to see these terrible people again.

3) Every time I try and talk to Marla alone, she either flakes out on plans or brings her boyfriend. I don’t want to have this conversation with him there! It’s getting really infuriating because I’ll show up the restaurant/coffee shop we’ve agreed to meet at, call her to see why she’s late, and she’ll say “Oh, yeah, I’ve just been cuddling and watching TV with boyfriend, I don’t really feel like going out. But soon, ok? Bye!”

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Today’s perfect image provided by CA reader Red Sonja! (Definitely read the mouse-over text).

Dear Captain Awkward:

I got a message from a former friend with whom I don’t want any further individual contact, and I wish they hadn’t sent it to me. It should be a hint to somebody if their opening paragraph is “Please don’t worry that this email represents any attempt to re-establish a contact that you clearly do not want, or recreate a relationship that you have ended.  I simply want to clear a few things up, hopefully to park things in a somewhat less painful place for you,” that hitting “send” is doing exactly what they’re saying not to worry about. Telling me they’re doing this for my benefit just creeps me out more.

I’ve taken the step of making a message filter so that I won’t see anything else they send me.  I just still feel very creeped out and besieged. It’s hard enough navigating an on-line social circle where this person is, and trying to do it gracefully and courteously, without this. (The content of the message is about like you’d figure, after an opening like that. And no, it didn’t “park things in a less painful place for me.” It parked more things right on top of me, and I am not willing to be a parking lot any more.)

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