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 Captain,

I have a friend that I’ve known since high school (we’re both in our thirties now) and I consider her a good friend. Over the years we’ve gone through phases where we’re more apart and distant (mostly from living in other states or distant parts of the country from each other and only seeing each other a few times a year) and phases where we’re closer. I like talking to her and I like having her in my life, and very soon she’s moving to the town I live in now and we’re both planning on and looking forward to getting together and being closer again.

The thing is, she’s spent the last two years becoming a minister and sometimes when we talk about how our lives are going, it feels like she’s not listening and talking to me as a friend, but as a minister to a congregant or a counselor to someone seeking help; so I find myself not wanting to talk about difficult things in my life, or talking about them in minimizing ways because I don’t want advice, well-meaning and well-trained as it might be. I’m not seeking counseling or guidance or theological insight from her, I just want to talk to my friend and share some of our lives as friends do.

Do you have any scripts for gently asserting the boundary that I want to just talk as friends, that I love her dearly, but that unless I explicitly ask for advice or guidance, I don’t want her to act as my minister or counselor?

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

Thank YOU for a good question that can be answered quickly. And your last line is a great script if you want to just go with that.

Light-hearted script: “Thanks for the suggestion, most Reverend Friendname, but I want to talk to Just Plain Old Friendname now please.

Additional scripts:

  • “It must be really easy to slip into counseling or advising-mode, given what you do all day, but you’re slipping into it with me a little too readily just now. You know I value your insights, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me if I even want advice before offering it.” 
  • “Reminder: Me sharing a situation is not an automatic request for advice/Engage Counselor Mode!”

I think she’ll hear you and will be ultimately glad that you set a boundary and reminded her to relax and be a person when she’s around you. This seems like a good time to say, “Eep, maybe I do this sometimes, if so, Real Life Friends, please tell me to knock it off and I will be very grateful.”

Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?

Sincerely,

The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

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Dear Captain Awkward:

My father and his lovely new partner – she’s really nice – recently visited my area. They planned to spend a day or two with her relatives first, but wanted to know if I wanted to meet up with the two of them after that, for a meal at my brother’s new restaurant.

I agreed. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending cab-fare to the city for a sub-standard meal (my brother hasn’t changed things yet), but wanted to see them, so sucked it up, gathered up my introvert spoons and headed out into the wilds.

I got a text about an hour before the meal – my father asked me to change the booking from 3 to 5 people.

Wait, what?

Apparently they wanted to bring along NewPartner’s granddaughter (teenager) and one of her teenage friends.

I didn’t handle that very well.

The next hour was a tangled blur of considering “calling in sick” to the meal, changing the booking at the restaurant, frantically checking the number of social-interaction spoons I had remaining (not enough for sudden dinner plans with strange teenagers), and resigning myself to my fate.

The reality was even more awkward than I’d feared. I sat there for a good 30 minutes of tense, stilted conversation.

I made my apologies and fled before the mains arrived (I hadn’t ordered anything).

Dad called after I got home, worried that I might not have been feeling well.

I ended up admitting that I just hadn’t wanted to stay. That I didn’t want to spend time with his partner’s family. He said he was disappointed in my behaviour.

I’m honestly not sure what to do.

I love my father, and want to be supportive of his relationship. I also really like his partner, I’d hate for her to feel bad in any way.

But I don’t want to spend time with her family. It feels weird and creepy when they’re around. I feel like my father is thinking of us as one big, happy family – when I barely know their names, and don’t actually want to get to know them better. I end up feeling stressed and resentful.

Part of me thinks that the best thing to do would be to talk to my father about it – to come to a new shared understanding of what our expectations are of each other going forwards.

But another part of me worries that, if I do that, I might end up with no relationship with my father at all. That I might have irreparably damaged it anyway. So I’m currently a little bit paralyzed with fear.

Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?

– Possibly unreasonable person.

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Ahoy, Captain Awkward!

Looking for some relationship advice and hoping you can help.

Background: Boyfriend and I met through a mutual friend, I’m in my mid 20s(first serious relationship) he’s in his late 30s(and been around the block a few times, though never married). It’s been an awesome two years and we’re looking into moving in together(though for the record, I haven’t slept in my own bed since March and it’s now July). I’m excited about the whole situation save for one major issue; his ex, M.

M and boyfriend basically grew up together and have always been very close. They dated for a couple years but broke it off because (according to him) it was too much like siblings dating.

She has a history of serious panic attacks and boyfriend seems to be the only one who can calm her. She was suffering so badly at one point that her baby daddy got boyfriend a job in their state(2 states away from where boyfriend was living) to help calm M down. While this was all before my time, it always struck me as odd that they were all so close.

M has always had constant contact with boyfriend the entire 2 years we’ve been together, whether it be emails, FB posts, texts, calls, kissy emoticons, etc. And now with another wave of serious panic attacks brewing, the phone calls are getting more frequent and the visits more lengthy. I’ve talked to boyfriend about maybe suggesting professional help for her as M’s constant contact is taking its toll on him(to the point where he says he’s exhausted and he’s starting to freak out a bit just listening to her freak outs). But he brushes it off with “People who’ve never suffered don’t understand” and “She’s family. I can’t just ignore it”.

Don’t get me wrong, M is super sweet but it also feels like she’s co-dependent on boyfriend and he either doesn’t see it or just chalks it up to being “family”. M, baby daddy and co have since moved back to their home state (5minutes away from boyfriend). And having been here for 3 or so years, M has yet to make any friends of her own, hence the tight hold she appears to have on boyfriend to help her deal with things.

All that to say, what do I do? I love boyfriend and I’ve always heard you marry the man, you marry the family, but am I wrong in thinking this is too much family? I want to build a future with this man but I don’t know if I’m ready to build a future with him AND M. Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have. So am I not being mature enough? Do I try and make some sort of ultimatum? Break it off til he gets his priorities back on the relationship?

-Sidelined In California

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