Dear Captain Awkward,

I am torn and hoping you may have some options that could help me make a decision. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, but I want to do my best to give you as much to go on as possible.

Around 10 years ago, I met my future wife, we’ll call her “E.” Things started out pretty fast, she is very introverted and I am pretty extroverted, so I think we were both intrigued in learning each other’s ways and trying the other’s interests. Within about 3 months, things became pretty physical, pretty fast, if you know what I mean. This lasted for a little over a year, where we spent most of our time together, and most of it was alone. We tried going out with my friends, but she didn’t like them or going out, and I was okay at the time to split time between her and what I like to do, probably a 70:30 split.

After around 1.5 years of being together, I moved away to grad school, something I had been planning since we first met, so it was no surprise to her, but I was not ready to move in together and she was not ready to move and find new work, so we became a long distance relationship. We talked each night, but quickly ran out of topics, sticking to a 45 minute limit on conversations because we seemed to run out of things to say and I hated just sitting on the phone listening to each other breath.

We saw each other about 2 times a month, just for a weekend, which was typically spent mostly in the bedroom. She would become very upset about not moving the relationship forward when she heard of friends getting engaged, and often brought up marriage. When it came time for me to graduate (around 4 years into the relationship) I knew I either had to commit or break it off. I should’ve realized that having that thought was probably not a good sign, but I thought maybe it was cold feet and normal. I felt committed to her and didn’t want to hurt her, as well as this was as good as I had felt in other relationships, so what would be different if I ended it and tried starting new. I never felt that “falling in love” feeling I’ve see on TV/movies, or heard about from friends, and I have never been openly emotional or enjoyed PDA or even the DA part when 1 on 1 with a girlfriend. I have just never been super excited or felt thrill with the people I have been with.

Once we got married, she moved in, we got a puppy, she got a new job, and by the time a year almost rolled around, we were house hunting. Everything was just moving so fast, there was never much time to think. A month later, we found a home, moved in, and found out we were pregnant. Things were crazy for a year, but we both expected it, especially since the closest family is several hours away. She stayed home with the baby for 2 years before starting to look back into work. She also stayed in the guest bedroom every night for that whole period, insisting she would wake me accidentally when listening for or getting up with the baby, even though I encouraged her to come back to our room on day one. It was around the two year mark that I realized how bored I was with our life.

Sex had become a routine, once a week on Fri or Sat night, only after she had showered. It was even to the point she made jokes about how routine it was, I would try to spice things up or change it up, but she said she liked our routine. Our talks consisted of the baby and work, I would try to come up with things to do but she enjoyed just staying home and cleaning. I feel so anxious when I don’t get out, that I would take our daughter and do things with just the two of us, or on the rare occasion, just get out for an hour or two by myself.

This went on for another 2 years, slowly feeling like we were becoming more and more distant, barely talking, the only physical contact was our routine sex once a week. Sometimes I would pretend to not feel well to skip it because I just couldn’t get in the mood. I was afraid this was what my life would be like for the next 14 years and then what would happen when it was just the two of us again? But what else could I do? I considered divorce for at least a year, but I felt I had no good reason other than being unhappy, but I was growing used to the idea of divorcing and just doing life alone and with my daughter on the days I would have her. But also, would there even be a point in getting myself into the same situation with someone else if I never really felt that strongly for anyone before, I am in my mid-30’s by the way.

Then in June 2019, a female at work began to grow close, we’ll call her “L,” occasionally texting, chatting more than normal when at work (she only worked part-time, 0-3 days a week). But I noticed I would miss her on the days she was gone or when I didn’t hear from her. In July, the texting picked up to daily and throughout the night, to the point I would get notifications that I had burned through my data limit, and have stayed up past midnight, when normally I would’ve been in bed at 7:30 and asleep by 9. She was going through a divorce and dating, but I began getting jealous of her going out with these guys. Texts and talks seemed to get flirtier, until the point where she sent a topless photo, unprovoked, to see my reaction. I felt wanted for the first time in many years, and actually felt excited for the first time I could ever remember and I could not stop thinking about L. We had so much in common, it was like we could read each other’s minds. I had never felt a connection like this before, not even at the best moments with my wife or any other girlfriend. I felt happy around her, elated, like a whole new person, even just when texting her, it was an odd feeling for me but it was intoxicating to feel this way, I couldn’t stop, it was addicting. I wanted to be my best person for her, to improve myself, and spend every moment with her. My efficiency at work even declined because I was with her so much when she was working.

In August, L began to make statements about ending our talks, since she knew I would never be able to give her my all and vice versa, as well as become physical with her, and I felt my heart break. She helped arrange an after work party to give me an excuse to hang out in person, outside of work, and as a “last hoorah”. She came dressed in what might as well have been lingerie, and I felt like we were the only two in the bar. When we moved to another bar, she reached for my hand and I felt like I was floating, how could I have realized I that I was missing out on a feeling that was so incredible, why have I never felt this before, and why has my wife never made me feel this way before.

After a few drinks at the next bar, we both headed towards the bathroom and she told me she would not make a first move because I was married, but when I came out and saw her waiting for me, I couldn’t help it, I had to experience a kiss with her, and I had never felt anything like it. We fooled around under the table the rest of the night, and more in the car after. I ignored texts and a call from my wife and eventually took L back to her friends home. They invited me in, but I knew I had to go. After that, we began fooling around at work.

By September, she ended things because she knew it couldn’t go anywhere, and I spent that night sleepless and physically sick, I knew she was working the next day and avoided her area for hours longer than usual. Once I did go down there, I felt worse seeing her. It was extremely awkward and painful. By the end of the work day, she texted and asked to meet up, I did, and we talked about how horrible we both felt, and fooled around again. Not long after, she arranged another “work party” and we made love after, twice, something I had also never felt an urge to do before. I say “made love” because this was how it felt, this amazing connection, a type of sexual connection I have also never felt before. Usually after sex, I just want to clean off, and have some space, with her, I wanted to cuddle, go again, and never let her go.

I began “going out” more and started just going to her home when her kids were with their father. We would make love multiple times in only a few hours, something I had never been able to do before, nor felt the desire to do, I knew I had fallen hard for L but I was afraid to tell her because I thought it would scare her off. I would take days off work in secret from my wife, and spend them with L. I would have PDA with her everywhere we went, also something I never enjoyed before, but it was tunnel vision with this woman and I didn’t care about getting caught or not. I even hoped to get caught, to give me a reason to end things with E, I never hid my texting habits from E, and L and I both wondered why E never seemed to notice how much more distant I was becoming or how much I was communicating with someone else.

During all of this, I had been making excuses with E as to why I was not having sex with her, claiming migraines, stomach pains, etc., but one night in early Oct, I ran out of excuses, and it came a fight about why I hadn’t in months, so we tried to have sex, but I could not even keep it up, all I could think was I was betraying the person I really love. I discussed it with my new love later, only after L had asked about it, and she was of course hurt, but understanding that it would’ve had to have happened at some point since I was still married. I tried to explain that I couldn’t even finish, much less really perform due to how strongly I felt about L as well as how poorly I felt about my wife, and she seemed to understand and told me it was okay.

However, a few days later, she called and said it was over, I was distraught and felt sick again. I apologized for hurting her and said how much I didn’t want to lose her but knew that I had no say in any of this as I was the cheating husband and not her boyfriend like I wished I could be. A few minutes after ending our talk, she texted how she felt horrible because she was in love with me, this was the first time either of us had said it, I told her that I was in love with her as well and had been for months, as well as everything I loved about her. After a long talk, things seemed to be okay.

We made love one or two more times after that, then she became more and more distant, and eventually ended it mid October. The next day was similar to the first time, where we ended up catching each other by the end of the day and kissing but then she told me she could not keep doing this and was starting to date again. The following day, I thought things may have been okay and tried to kiss her when we were alone, but she pulled away, I never felt so hurt and like such an ass at the same time, I knew it was time to try to figure out my life or lose the person I love. L also told me the same thing, that I needed to figure out my marriage, if not for me, then for my daughter, to try to save it for her, because L wished she could have saved hers for her kids.

It was not long before I told my wife that I did not like how things were and wanted to go to couples counseling. She disagreed and said everything had been perfect for her, that this is the best her life had ever been, and did not understand why I was saying these things. All I could really say was almost the entire truth, that I had fallen out of love with her, it had been getting worse over the last 2 years, and I’m at a point where I’m depressed and don’t know what to do. This went over horribly and started many fights, but as I told her more and more about how I felt like we grew apart and were just roommates, giving her many examples such as; she hadn’t sat in the front seat with me but 3 times that year (because she always chose to sit in back with our daughter), and those were the 3 times my parents were in town and we went on a “date.” Dates consisted of groceries once, a movie and back once, and then shopping once, I pointed out how she showered every other night or sometimes went longer, she had not gotten any new clothes in over a year and only wore the same two outfits to bed which were falling apart, she never tried to dress up for me or show that she cared about how she looked with me, that we had not held hands in ages, etc. After many fights, she seemed to finally get it, and agreed to counseling a month later.

Counseling has been difficult as I really want to say that I cheated and am in love with someone else, that I haven’t ever felt so loved and so happy, even at the best times with my wife. But even as much as I want to end things, I don’t want it to be because I cheated as I know that would be held over me for the rest of my life (as it probably should). When asked if I want to make things work, I just agree, but wish that I had the courage to say I just want to be with someone else, and if that’s not possible, I’d rather be alone.

As Nov passes into Jan, at work I hear about L’s new partner, he calls during work and texts all the time, it kills me to see the smile and laugh he gets from her, I loved being the one to get that and still do, it’s torture, but I can’t stop being near her. I tried my best to avoid her, but then she seemed sad and asked me if things were awkward, that she missed me and us but that it couldn’t have worked because of me being married and she didn’t want to be the reason I ended my marriage, to be the “other woman,” to have my daughter know it was L’s fault that her parents split, etc. I told her I was trying, but she knew the problems I had with my wife prior to getting together. She told me it was not fun to be divorced, and to just make it work.

L started to text me more towards the end of Dec, something which confused me, but made me so happy at the same time. I was in almost daily fights with my wife, to the point E told me she knew I wanted a divorce and to just do it, I was excited when she said this, but scared of the reality as well. But I didn’t know how to respond and said that we should discuss it in counseling. By the time we did, E had already changed her mind 15 times.

During Jan, I met with L several times outside of work, but only as friends and never tried anything more than a hug. We talked about missing each other, her boyfriend, my wife and issues, our kids. I even told her how at one point during all of this, E had talked about killing herself because she was so upset with me and our life. L and I had become so close, she was my best friend while we were lovers and I was just so happy I had a piece of her back, I didn’t want to lose it.

Since Feb, my wife and I have gotten back into the “safe” routine of only talking about our kid and work, counseling has become more fluff than real topics, and we tried a weekend trip in which the best 4 hours of the trip was our drunkest in which we discussed what we would do if we divorced, killed each other, or something happened to the other. This was the most talking we had done in years, and the happiest I think either of us had been together in years. However, it still felt to me like talking with a friend, no romantic feelings, no desire, no real want to even continue the night after that talk.

Once we had gotten back to the room, we discussed how neither of us wanted sex still (we have not been together physically since I was unable to perform in Oct.) since she knew I didn’t love her and wasn’t attracted to her, and that was how I felt too. That ended the night and made for an awkward morning and quiet trip back.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a chance with L anymore as things have been going steady with her new boyfriend for several months now, as well as I don’t think she would trust me even if I was divorced and poured my heart out to her, as now I have the label of cheater, even though she is the only person I ever thought of cheating with. Before her, my sexual dreams only involved my wife, but after her, I have not had a dream about my wife since, and had nightly dreams about L for months, and even now I have them every couple of nights, but they aren’t even sexual, they’re dreams of laughing together, hanging out in public places, eating dinner, and I always wake up in such a great mood from them, until I remember it was just a dream but I do my best to hang onto that memory as long as I can.

I don’t think I have a chance at happiness with my wife either, as I cannot get L out of my head, nor all the horrible things my wife has said to me and the horrible things I have said back, as well as how horrible I know she feels every day, knowing that she is with someone who is no longer in love with her nor attracted to her. She is a good person and does not deserve this, and my daughter deserves to see us both happy, for hers and our sake.

I’m at a point where I think being alone may be the best decision for my daughter and I, giving her mother a chance to find happiness with someone else sooner. Then maybe I would be able to reflect more on myself and what I need, if someone could make me feel so amazing before, I need to find that high again or just settle for being alone to be happy. I’ve also recently come to the realization that I have always had very close female best friends (none of them were ever anything physical nor anything I wanted to become physical, except when L came into my life) and I believe now this has been because I have never felt like any woman I have been with was my best friend and I sought that out in others. I would also like to add that I’m still surprised I have never felt guilty about the affair with L, only guilty about the one time being sexual with E and that was guilt for betraying L.

I apologize for the length of this, and thank you for reading through it, although I know it’s as clear as mud. Please, any thoughts/opinions on what to do are greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Torn

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Hi there,

I’m hoping to find some scripts/strategies to employ when I run into someone I’m happy to chat with, like a friend or one of the super friendly baristas at a coffee shop I’m always in, and they ask “so what’s new with you?” or “what have you been up to this week?” when the honest answer is often something like “I managed to leave the house every day” or “Well my house is still messy but I did write 70 thousand words of erotic fanfiction in the past few months” or “I’m sorry but my depression seems to be leaning hard on my memory lately and I have no idea what I did yesterday, let alone last week.”

Sometimes I even have done something I could talk about; there might be a knitting or art project I picked up, I try to take small trips to see friends when I can, and of course plenty of my friends would be happy to talk about the weird fanfic I’ve been writing. But in the moment I rarely remember any of this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been at a bar and forgotten the name of every cocktail you have ever enjoyed or even heard of the moment you get the bartender’s attention, but that’s what this feels like. I’m a deer in the headlights and can’t think of something that’s even vaguely interesting and not some form of “I’m super depressed so I can’t remember, sorry.” That’s fine to say sometimes, I know, but I don’t want that to be my response every time someone talks to me in person.

I am getting as much mental health support as I can; I have a good therapist and meds that seem to work as well as anything else could (I tried some new ones last year and it was a disaster), but I’m still struggling a bit; I don’t mind being honest about that, in many circumstances, but I feel so dull and boring when these questions come up and at times it impacts my confidence around other people. I’m trying hard right now to get out more and connect with people because I know that’s good for me but I keep hitting this awkward roadblock. Any thoughts?

Thanks,
I Promise I’m Not This Boring, For Real (he/him)

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Dear Captain,

I looked through the archives and I couldn’t see anything on this particular topic, but apologies if I missed something. It does seem connected to the Geek Social Fallacies though.

My question is about how to deal with awkwardness and anxieties over the dreaded Group Chat.

I have a group of friends who are not particularly close but they are friends I see a few times a year. I am pleased that they want to be my friend. We live in the same city. Over the past year, however, there have been some issues around differing expectations over the Group WhatsApp Chat.

Basically–there is a Group Chat. Actually now there are FOUR Group Chats. There are seven of us in it, all from this friendship group. The other six people use the chats constantly throughout the day to update each other on their movements and what they are doing. There used to be one chat but because of the high volume of chat traffic they split it into four: General Chat, TV (what people are watching), Logistics (about them meeting up), and Rants and Raves (where you can complain about stuff that happened to you). There is now a high volume of chat on all four groups.

The issue is that I can’t keep up with the chats. I am a remote worker and so I am in Slack groups for my work. Apart from that I don’t like chatting online in group chats, especially not with people who live in the same city as me, as I prefer to catch up in person and have an offline chat with them even if it is not frequent. I find that more social. The expectations of this group around the chats are very high. They literally update it with their movements, like “I’m having a coffee now” or “Just popped out for some milk”, or “omg I sat next to a smelly person on the bus just now, eww” and “just cooked some sausages”, this goes on all day. They post photos of these activities too and if they go on vacation, the chat gets filled with many, many vacation photos and videos that they get upset if I don’t look at or watch and then comment on. The TV and Rants chats are also very busy where they say “Just put on the TV, surfing the channels now” or go into more details ranting about the smelly person on the bus and so on. Basically they are narrating their lives in the chats, I don’t enjoy doing that and I don’t like reading it either…does that make me antisocial?

However the other six Chatters are upset that I do not participate in the chats. One guy literally told me that he did not understand what I did all day (I’m working..also why does he care??). We recently all met up in person and when they complained that I do not talk on the chats I tried to explain that I prefer to catch up in person with people rather than say everything online since then when we meet we have nothing to say because we already typed it… online… And they were offended by this, they seemed to take it as a personal rejection. It isn’t! I like catching up with them over a coffee or beer and finding out what’s new, it’s nicer in person. During the meetup they literally all sat on their phones chatting about the meetup on the group chat even though they were all there, apart from one person. They took photos of each other and posted them to the chat… When I asked them what they had been up to recently, they said that “if I had read the chat, I would know…”

I don’t get it.

I have muted the chats because otherwise my phone was pinging every couple of minutes. At the end of the day when I look at the chats there are a few hundred messages that I didn’t read. I feel overwhelmed just looking at it so I don’t read them usually and if I do all I learn is that someone went out for milk and there was no semi skimmed in the store. After the MeetUp where they suggested that they were offended and hurt that I didn’t talk on the chat I tried to join in by saying hi in the chat and asking what people were up to, but they were upset with me there, saying “wow nice of you to drop in”. So I gave up. I’m not ignoring them or shunning them, I just don’t want to type on my phone all day about what I am doing…

What can I tell them? I don’t want to offend anyone, and if I quit the chats they will not tell me when they are meeting up, so I will not see them again. I am an introvert who however enjoys group interactions (as long as I can be alone afterwards to decompress) so it’s not that. I just don’t get this group chat thing. Any ideas for how to tell them nicely without losing friends?

Whats Up With WhatsApp

Hello there!

Friend groups can become cultures unto themselves, and the culture of this one is to be constantly connected in a low-intensity way with social media. It’s not right or wrong – your “Ugh, too much!” is their “This is my little daily anchor for feeling less lonely in the world” and both reactions are just as honest and just as true. I think the less we make value judgments or appeal to “Manners!” and the more we cast this as a difference in style and/or compatibility, the more helpful I can be. One form of communication isn’t necessarily more genuine or deeper than any other, so what we’re dealing with is 1) their strong preference vs. yours 2) whether there’s a way to make these preferences more compatible 3) whether the affection between you is strong enough to make it worth the effort to try.

Example time! Imagine you’re out in a restaurant at breakfast time, and you see a family on vacation, and everyone is on their screens during the meal. It’s easy to think “Such disconnection, why can’t they just talk to each other like people used to do?” but I look at it and think, hey, look, they are all reading and nobody is yelling at anybody, how relaxing, I wish I’d been able to read at the table sometimes when I was a kid. We’re only seeing one snapshot, not the whole of this family’s communications with each other, maybe mealtime screen-time is a vacation-only treat, maybe their family’s first language is “judgmental screaming” and “quiet disconnection” is a serious upgrade, not all faaaaaaamily mealtime conversation is good or desirable or automatically more polite.

A second example: Recently I got to hang out with a friend I’d seen in person maybe once in probably 20 years. We went to school together in the 1990s, worked at two of the same places, lived a few doors down from each other in the same apartment building, had “Family Dinner” every Sunday night, met each other’s families, and it’s not an exaggeration to say we we talked close to every day between 1997 and 2000. Then I moved away and I didn’t see him again until last week. If you need proof of true friendship, he once moved most of my belongings into an un-air-conditioned 4th floor walkup on a 100 degree day. But what made our friendship work was hugely, hugely based on proximity: “You are a person I like to do a lot of nothing with, and hey look, you’re right here, let’s hang out!” When it was easy to hang out, we did, all the time. When it was hard due to geography, we didn’t. It doesn’t mean we’re not friends, it just means that friendship fits into a particular shape, and “pen pal” isn’t that shape. That dynamic might not work for everyone (or even anyone) else, and that’s okay. The WhatsApp dynamic might be a way these folks maintain that feeling of proximity, whereas the LW prefers physical proximity, and they live in the same town so why not go with that? How does proximity affect our friendships is a useful question, I think, for lots of Geek Social Fallacies-adjacent and “Why am I friends with this person again?” questions in addition to today’s post.

Another possibly more relevant example: My experience with this “how can you not know when we share everything with each other online?” dynamic dates back to the days of LiveJournal, where I had a post go ridiculously viral and I ended up putting something in my profile to the tune of “‘I like ______’ and ‘I want to read ______’s every waking thought (and show them all of mine)’ are not the same thing at all” and then I pruned my friends’ list to people I was actually actively reading and engaging with and unfriended/refused literally everyone else. Some people I knew locally found this really confusing and painful to parse, like, “If you like me, why don’t you like me all the time, in every possible medium, as much as possible?” and the answer was (and still is) “I don’t knowwwwwwwwwwwwww, but I know that it’s true of me. I read as way more extroverted than I actually am, I have a bigger ‘friendliness’ footprint than I have attention units and that’s just how it is.” 

Previously I’d tried using filters for both what I posted and what I read, since there were people I liked in meatspace but didn’t want to interact with much online (and you better believe there was both a vice and a versa with that one), and there were people all over the world I made forever-kindred-spirit-friendships with just ’cause we read each other’s internet diaries, and lots and lots and lots of in-between.

Sadly, the thing your friends identify as a problem was actually a problem when it came to people I knew both online and locally in Chicago: By using filters and limiting my reading, I wasn’t keeping up with people’s lives in the way they assumed I was, and that definitely had repercussions in my local social scene. It really only takes saying “You must be so excited about the baaaaaaaaaaaby!” (because that was a detail I sort of remembered about a nice-but-not-necessarily-close-person in the brunch circle) once and hearing Don’t you fucking read?” hissed by someone else into the horrified, echoing silence after the sadly-not-pregnant-anymore person fled the restaurant weeping, to learn some important lessons:

  1. Pregnant people will tell you if there is anything new to tell, if they don’t mention it, STFU, nope, shut up, always be shutting up.
  2. I, Jennifer, should not try to half-ass stuff out of social obligation that I cannot keep up with from the heart, it will only end in tears and 17+ years of shame-echoes.
  3. If this online-offline hybrid social life we’ve made has any hope of working, I need to know my limits and stay inside them.

Now we have the excuse of both privacy filters and the algorithms* straight-up not showing us certain people’s stuff when we do want to follow their lives, but the problem remains the same: With so many apps and points of contact to share and absorb a constant stream of everybody’s thoughts and doings, how do we keep up with what’s actually important? And where/how do we set the expectations? And how do we account for the fact that what goes on social media is necessarily an edited & curated version of people’s life events, so the most important stuff might not be visible? Everybody is navigating this a little bit differently and there is no one right way.

(*I’ve lost count of what example we’re on but in the last year I’ve completely missed at least one friend’s divorce and another’s life-threatening accident – and these are people I avidly follow on social media but don’t see face to face often or talk on the phone with. If not for in-person catch-ups and asking questions, I would literally never have known what was going on. Information does not equal knowledge part the millionth.)

As a person who does a lot of her living inside the internet, it’s helped me to assume that possibly nobody knows anything about me until I actually tell specifically them what’s going on. I might Tweet or blog here about a thing, but that doesn’t mean my friends who aren’t Extremely Online saw it or know about it or care about it, so if I want them to know I tell them. If that means repeating myself, oh well, they’ll interrupt me and it will be fine. If I haven’t seen you in a while, I will ask you questions in that vein, like, “You’ve probably told Facebook or Twitter all about what’s new lately but I miss a lot of things, would you mind giving me the friend-recap, I’d love to hear all about everything!?!”

Again, not everyone is me or thinks like me or needs what I need, so I’m not saying that this should be the standard for others, it’s not “what you should do” it’s “what I am actually doing, maybe that will help somebody?” For me, social media interactions are real interactions, internet friends are real friends, but not everyone switches between modes of communication with the same speed and enthusiasm as me, so I am happier in face-to-face interactions when I assume nothing and default to asking (and telling). So that might be a script for you – “I’m sure you’ve posted all this in the group chat, but please tell me again! I want to know! Thank you!” 

All this to say, I can see why your friends are like “But I put literally everything about me in the chats, if you really wanted to know what’s going on with me you would know and you are like “Ok but there were 12,000 updates about breakfast cereal and which episode of Inspector Lewis you’re watching, so forgive me if your life-changing promotion was a blip, if you really wanted me to know you’d tell me when I asked you what’s new and not lecture me about keeping up with the chats when I’ve already told you that I can’t.”

[To harken back to Ye Olden Times On The Internets and show you how little has changed: I have been u! “Hello Granddaughter, I forward jokes, un-fact-checked stories, MP3s of songs it takes four hours to download, and crackpot racism from the Rancid Old Man Internet to everyone I know and all our members of Congress to keep in touch Fwd: fwd: FWD: fwd:” vs. “Okay Grampa, but look, unless you’re emailing specifically me to tell me something that you wrote, I might not write back.” vs. “Well then I guess I just won’t BOTHER you anymore.” vs. “I mean, you can always call me but actually if you don’t forward random emails anymore that would be great, thanks!” vs. “Fwd:Fwd:FWD:Fwd: How DEMOCRATS are like VioLEnt TerrORist ABortioN GANGS the REAl story The MEDIA won’t TELL you FWD:FWD:FWD:fwd:>>>>>>>>>>fwd…. Love, Grampa Oscar”].

It’s okay to have different preferences. And I make fun, but being mutually dismissive of each other’s preferred communication styles will not help people who like each other actually hang out and remain friends. We can all say WTF? at the guy saying ‘he doesn’t understand what you do all day’ (WORKING AND NOT DOCUMENTING THE OL’ MORNING POTTY BREAK ON THE OL’ WHATSAPP, THAT’S WHAT, KEVIN, MAYBE TRY IT?), but you saying “Ugh, I don’t really get it” or calling their affectionate way of being with each other “from hell” won’t fix it either. Trading “If you really wanted to ______, you would DO _______” never goes anywhere good. So how do we break this impasse?

I don’t think you are going to be able to change the overall culture of the group, so let’s talk about what you can do to preserve these friendships.

One option is to continue as you are. Pop into the chats only when you feel like it, focus on the “Logistics” channel to see if there are any hangouts coming up, before you hang out in person maybe do a quick skim of the past day or two’s updates so you can ask topical questions. You will miss some things that are going on with these people and it’s okay to be honest about that – “I like you so much but I will never, ever be able to stay on top of the chats, so can I get a quick recap?” This is a way to recognize that you are dealing with a culture that isn’t your natural medium and you are doing your best to meet them where they are. If they can’t accept that? Then maybe they are incompatible with you and that’s sad but it’s good information to have. As you meet and befriend new people, you can prioritize closer ties with people who share the kind of communication style that makes you most happy and comfortable. For best results, cast it as your own preference, like “I know it makes me an outlier, but the group chat is just really not my thing, however, YOU are my thing, so, hang out on Friday?” 

I think you’ve been very clear that you find the chats overwhelming and prefer to catch up in person, and there’s nothing stopping you from periodically calling or meeting up with these folks one on one or arranging your own outings, right? So another option is to uninstall WhatsApp from your phone, call or email or text or use whatever other form of communication you have to get in touch with one person in the group – your favorite person, the friendliest person – and say, “Hey friend, I’ve tried but I can’t keep up with the Group Chats and I don’t want to argue about them ever again. I like you so much, I like everyone in the group so much, and I hope you’ll let me know when you all get together next so we can catch up face to face, but if there’s something you want me to know about or come to for sure, here’s my #.” 

If you do this will there be shock, surprise, hurt feelings? Will they talk about you behind your back? Will the friendships drift? Yes. 100%. But nothing will drift that isn’t already drifting. What you are doing is removing the fiction that you are ever going to participate in these chats again or keep up with every coffee break or bus ride with these people.

Which brings me to Part 2:

Whether you stay casually engaged with the chats or decide to go cold turkey, if you want to maintain these friendships, you’ll need to get in touch with folks – individually and as a group – and invite them to do things with you. You’re opting out of the way they do things and you’re the one who wants a change, therefore the initial work falls to you.

Whenever there is a group dynamic that’s iffy, I really encourage people to stop engaging with The Whole Group as a monolith and start engaging with people in ones and twos.  Sometimes we outgrow friendships, sometimes we outgrow friend groups, but sometimes there are relationships worth preserving even if the idea of the group fades, and sometimes there is necessary pruning to be done.

Inviting people out means taking on some work that The Group used to handle for you on its own, but it also means letting your own pleasure and enjoyment guide you and learning more about how you like to do friendship. If you host events like, “dinner and movies at my place, and hey, this is just my quirk, but let’s put our phones away for a couple of hours,” who shows up, who makes you feel good, who gives you what you need, who is willing to try it your way some of the time? Once you start initiating plans suit you, you can see who likes you enough to meet you halfway, and from there you can see what can be saved and what can be built.

Before people comment I want to reiterate: If a social media platform or way of staying in touch with people makes you feel dread, don’t do it. DON’T USE IT. Delete it. Nobody is making you, so…don’t? Use the tools that you enjoy using, and make case-by-case exceptions when affection and connection truly compel you, like, “okay, the only way to interact with this person I REALLY want to interact with is phone talking so for that one person I am a grudging phone talker, everyone else is text only.” Our preferences are just that, preferences, and we’re all making compromises all the time. “I prefer in-person hangouts, texts are just impersonal!” vs. “Well I’m disabled so good fucking luck with that” IS A THING, it might be an insurmountable thing for two particular people, but it is a real thing and pretending that there is only one best way to interact is doomed. The Letter Writer’s friend group is doing a thing they enjoy that works for them. It doesn’t work for the Letter Writer. That’s okay, good news is we can find that we are incompatible with other people without anyone being a jerk, this ain’t Reddit, this site doesn’t exist to archive rants or tabulate votes that apportion blame correctly. Cool? Cool.

What I do want to hear from readers about: When you & somebody you care about have vastly different preferences about how to communicate, what works to keep you connected? And how did you figure it out?

 

 

 

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 15th February, 1pm onwards.

(Please note change of meeting time, 1pm rather than 12.  Also we will be on level 5 if it’s open, or otherwise level 2)

Crafting meetup!  Please bring anything you’re making which won’t damage the venue, and if applicable stash so that others can try.  I can teach knitting to intermediate if anyone wants to learn.  Or just come and chat with us.

The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff, and in particular the food market outside has a lot of variety, or you can also bring a packed lunch.

Meet on the fifth floor, facing the river, hopefully towards the left hand side (go up in lift 2 or 3)

Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map

I have chin length pink hair and glasses, and I will bring my plush Cthuhlu, which looks like this:

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets with options for all genders. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

March meetup will be on the 21st.

Here is the second post in this week’s collaboration between Jennifer P. from CaptainAwkward.com and Alison Green from Ask A Manager.

Previously On: “Is it disloyal to leave a company who cut my pay and postponed my promotion?” (Nope! Cutting everyone’s pay is like the part in the horror movie where the house says “get ouuuuuut” and none of the cabinet doors will stay closed and suddenly there is a ghost boy with no irises (only pupils) staring at you while you shower, maybe the time to leave is right now?) and “Can I talk about my boyfriend’s other girlfriend at work?” (Sure, but maybe check with her first?)

Additionally, there was a question about ADHD and applying for jobs that we didn’t get to and that needed more space than this short format, I’ve answered it over on Patreon: (Part 1)(Part 2)

Now for today’s question batch:

1. Everyone in the office is hanging out without me and it feels like high school.

I work in a very clique-y office where I am just not in the main clique. I have a coworker who is sort of in the same boat and we have bonded over it, but she’s still more in than I. These people tend to organize outings outside of work to which I am not invited, but where as far as I can tell they include everyone I work with. I’ve sort of just been ignoring it, but now they keep talking about their plans, how much fun they have, etc while I’m in the room. Look, I understand if you don’t want to invite everyone (though it’s still quite hurtful frankly) but can’t they at least keep it a secret if they don’t want me involved instead of rubbing it in my face? I feel like I’m in high school again. (For the record I am in my mid-thirties). And I feel like crap. Look, I’m on the spectrum, and I know that means I will often have to deal with being the outsider, but this just seems unnecessarily cruel. Am I overreacting?

Jennifer (Captain Awkward): When social interactions among adults ping the old “OH NO, NOT HIGH SCHOOL, NOT AGAIN” radar, a good question is: Are people being mean or are they being lazy? Mean happens, certainly, but when in doubt, start with lazy. As in, maybe people are purposely excluding you (not everyone has to become free-time friends with coworkers) but it’s also incredibly likely that people assume that someone else already invited you and that if you don’t come to a particular thing it’s because you didn’t want to. 

And I’m talking about the merest blip of a thought, a second or two of wondering “Should I invite Fergusella?” “Eh, but they never come to stuff” and then moving on with their day. The longer this goes on, the easier it is to mirror these bad assumptions, and perversely this applies to people feeling comfortable talking about events in front of you. “Everyone’s invited, the more the merrier, I don’t have to make it explicit” or “Well, Fergusella would say something if they really wanted to come, right?” feel easier than changing anything. Your coworkers aren’t thinking about ableism, your history of being left out, or the very real worry that speaking up could expose and codify a probable afterthought (lazy) into an explicit (mean) choice probably because they aren’t thinking about you all that much in the first place. “They just forgot me” probably doesn’t feel less awkward than “They just don’t like me,” but it leaves more to work with in changing the situation.

Speaking of implicit vs. explicit: If literally every single person in your office is going across the street for after-work drinks and talking about it in front of you on the regular, there’s a 99.99% chance that you are and have always been invited and people assume you already know that. If you’d feel better knowing for sure, you won’t make it weird by asking, “Hey, is this invite only or can I join you?” If people are mean in response, it’s because they are mean people, not because you did anything wrong by trying to clarify it. (Now, if it’s a weekend and people are gathering at somebody’s house, that’s different: Like vampires, coworkers need to be invited in.) 

Before you do anything, an important question for yourself is: Do you want to get to know these specific people better and become friends with them? Do you want to not only be invited but to actually go to more of these things? If so, one strategy might be to choose one or two the kindest, friendliest people in the group and invite them to a very occasional solo lunch or coffee. Not from a “Why does nobody ever invite me?” angle but from a “I’m trying to be more social in 2020 and you always seem so nice and fun” angle. “I’m trying to be more social in 2020” is a useful script because it communicates that you want to hang out with them in a way that doesn’t blame them for leaving you out in the past. Once you know people better and have a one-on-one relationship, it’s less risky to have conversations like “Do you do bowling karaoke every weekend? It always sounds so fun, is it ok if I tag along once in a while?” Or even, “Hey I’m autistic, and have kind of a terror of poking myself in where I’m not wanted, so it really helps me when people turn ‘Anyone up for lunch?’ into ‘Would you like to get lunch?’ That way I know for sure I’m invited.” 

Is it less about these specific people and more about generally feeling left out and lonely? Then that’s probably a sign to work on your friendships and social life in general, inside and outside work. You’ll be able to let the chit-chat about what the office is up to go by much more easily if you’re having great weekends doing exactly what you like.

One thing I always want to tell fellow adults who may have a history of being bullied and left out: Hosting and event planning is a lot of work, and it’s not generally something the Popular Kids(™) we remember from school do as adults specifically to torment each other. Those dynamics certainly exist, I definitely believe any horror stories any of you might tell me about people in your office who think recreating school cafeteria seating hierarchies is the social pinnacle of achievement, but I think it’s good to remind ourselves that most extroverts/outgoing/social folks are doing what they do because they *want* to include and enjoy people.

Additionally, extroverts get social anxiety too.(Will people actually show up? Will they have fun? Will there be enough chairs? If I didn’t invite people, would anybody think to invite me?) They also get burnt out and feel unappreciated. If you’re trying to break into a social hub at work or outside it, it might help everybody leave high school behind to stop looking at the organizers as powerful gatekeepers who have it all figured out, and stop assuming that you have nothing to offer them. When you are invited to things, assume people want you there, enjoy yourself, offer to help if you can, and most of all, notice and appreciate people’s work in planning and hosting. It’s easy to dunk on Mandatory Office Fun, but going out of your way to say “Thank you for putting this together, that was the best sheet cake yet, need a hand cleaning up?” can win you allies on the Party Planning Committee for life.

Alison (Ask A Manager): And thus a perfect answer was written, and will be one I link people to for years to come.

I’m not trying to be lazy, I promise, but this is so comprehensive and wise and I feel I can do no better than joining in presenting it to the world.

Jennifer: Well, thank you. I obviously have a lot of feelings about this. 🙂 

2. People tell me how my name is pronounced (wrong).

I have a name that’s pretty common, but has multiple pronunciations. I pronounce my name the less common way, and usually when I meet new people they pronounce it the more common way. When I try to kindly correct them (“Oh, I actually pronounce it like Cahr-a, not Cair-a”), more often than not people push back. Everything from “Well, all the Caras I know pronounce it the other way” to “That’s weird” and “I wouldn’t spell it that way if I pronounced it like that.”

I try to be patient, but this annoys me to no end. Partly because I am 100% sure I am spelling and pronouncing my own name correctly, partly because I have had this conversation no less than once a month for 20+ years. I know people don’t love being corrected, but I do my best to clarify kindly with a smile, and struggle to keep that smile when the umpteenth person in my life tells me that my name is weird.

I don’t want coworkers’ first impression of me to be “Woman who has no sense of humor about her name,” so more often than not these days I just don’t correct it and skip the discussion. But then if a coworker I’ve worked with for a while does notice that I introduce myself differently than how they’re saying my name, they’re annoyed I didn’t correct them sooner. I feel like I can’t win!

Any advice for language I can use to correct mispronunciations and shut down pushback without getting defensive? It’s especially challenging when it’s someone like my grandboss or senior executives telling me how I should pronounce my name.

Jennifer: I’m a Jennifer who everybody wants to call Jen or Jenny the second they meet me, so, solidarity! I know that tension between “I do not want to ruin this friendly moment” and “But that’s not my naaaaaaaaaaaaaame arglebargle.” 

There has to be a path between the pompous guy I went on an extremely doomed date with who introduced himself by pre-correcting everyone (“Hi, I’m David, DaVID) and the time I was 22 and my 55-year-old boss kept calling me “Jenny” because his last assistant was Jenny and I asked him not to about 100 times and then I finally snapped in a meeting and called him “Tommy” instead of Tom in front of our grandboss and a client (“Oh Jenny will get that right over to you” “Sure thing, Tommy!”*), right? 

You are already doing the right thing by smiling and gently correcting people when they mess up and your best bet when they make it weird in a professional setting is to keep smiling but also keep insisting. “Oh, I get that all the time, but really, it’s Cah-ra, thank you so much” and then skip as quickly as possible to the work topic at hand. The vibe to aim for is “No worries, it’s an easy mistake to make, and I am going to do you the magnanimous kindness of forgetting all about it and pre-thanking you for doing the right thing.” Most good people will want to get it right from now on and people who don’t take the face-saving out you gave them are showing you something about who they are, ergo you won’t be the one making it weird if they keep doubling down on awkwardness and you get real humorless for a minute. The social contract insists that we call people what they want to be called no matter what our assumptions are, and if it means getting corrected sometimes, then it means accepting correction with kindness and grace. 

*You know what? I can’t recommend this strategy as the most professionally diplomatic one, but it only took being called “Tommy” once for a middle-aged cisgender guy to be reminded that names are important and it matters how we use them especially in professional settings. He could feel how disrespected I’d felt for himself, and he did take it to heart. After a very awkward moment in the meeting and a wee lecture on professionalism, he sincerely apologized, and my new work/Jellicle Cat name JennyohcrapI’msorry-iFER! became a running joke between us. 

Alison: Yep, matter-of-fact and breezy and moving on is what you want here. As if now that you have clarified that you do indeed know the correct pronunciation of your own name and it is not the one they want it to be, of course they will accept that and not make it into a whole big thing, because of course  they would not be so odd or boorish as to do that.

That’ll work with most people. Anyone who continues dwelling on it after that point is being rude and weird and you are allowed to say react accordingly, with a reaction that conveys half “how strange” and half “how embarrassing for you that are responding this way.” Like a puzzled look and/or a very dry “okay then” followed by an immediate pivot to a work-related topic. 

I think some of the frustration here is probably just having to go through this so many times with so many different people, even if most people aren’t all that rude about it. It’s just exhausting to have go through “wait, is it X?” / “no, it’s Y” every time you introduce yourself. 

3. Coworker won’t stop talking about her diet.

My small-ish office has monthly meetings that start with a personal check-in. It’s a time for people to share news about vacations, babies, etc. For the last few months, one of my coworkers has shared news about her diet. What she’s eating, whether she’s lost weight and, just today, how many pounds she’s lost! She talks about all this in other settings around the office as well.

Like many people, I struggle with disordered eating, and hearing her talk about losing weight constantly is unpleasant. Even if that wasn’t true, I think this is still really unprofessional. She hasn’t responded to me pointedly ignoring her or even (jokingly) saying that I didn’t want to hear about whatever she was eating. Can I address this with our supervisor? How should I phrase this? I’ve tried to let it roll off my back but it has been really difficult to cope with.

Jennifer: I wish more workplaces agreed that diet talk and obsession with weight is unprofessional, unfortunately the trend toward making employees wear fitness trackers and participate in humiliating (and discriminatory!) weight loss competitions makes me despair of getting a consensus around that any time soon. 

You’ve tried ignoring your coworker and jokingly saying you didn’t want to hear about her eating, which are good strategies to start with. Since it hasn’t stopped, before you make it a supervisor issue, what if you stopped joking? Could you pull her aside for a private direct conversation before the next scheduled meeting? A script could be “I can tell you are so excited about this diet and you had no way of knowing this, but hearing about weight and diets can be triggering and very distracting for people recovering from eating disorders. Can you update us about something else fun that’s going on with you at the next meeting? I would appreciate it so much.” 

If you focus on that specific meeting (vs. trying to monitor all her conversations in the office) and keep it personal (vs. “this is generally unprofessional”) it will help you figure out a few things before you take it to a supervisor level. Is she willing to listen to you? Does she try to curb herself at all? Or does she double down in the meetings and escalate in the office? National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is coming up February 24-March 1, and maybe your human resources team needs a timely reminder to spread the word about the importance of showing sensitivity by not talking about diets and weight loss in professional situations because we never know who is struggling. 

Alison: I love this advice. I co-sign it heartily.

So often people try delivering a message via joke, it doesn’t work, and then they feel stuck. There’s nothing wrong with starting that way — sometimes the other person does successfully receive the message that way, and framing it as a joke lets them save a little face and lets you both avoid a potentially awkward (or at least more serious) conversation. But if the joke doesn’t work, that’s a sign that you’ve got to move on to a more direct conversation if you want to solve the problem.

I can see why you’re unsure of how to do that here though! It feels weird to ask someone at work not to talk about a topic of personal interest to them, especially in a culture that seemingly loves talking about that topic. And you might worry she’ll feel you’re shooting down something that is a source of real pride/joy/satisfaction to her. That’s why I love Jennifer’s wording — it acknowledges that the topic is legitimately exciting and positive for the coworker, explains why it’s landing in a different and harmful way for you, and asks to enlist her help. It doesn’t tell her she’s doing anything wrong, which is really key. It’s just “this is affecting me differently than you realized.”

And yes, if that doesn’t solve it, at that point it’s reasonable to raise it with your manager (or, if your manager isn’t especially skilled at this kind of thing, then with HR). 

Jennifer/The Captain again:Thank you again, Alison, for letting me into your mailbox and your Secrets Of Being A Creative Sole Proprietor advice, let’s please do this again sometime. ❤

P.S. Bonus cat photo content.

 

 

February is upon us! But also, a meetup, to help us through a difficult month!

When: Sunday, February 16th, 2020, 10 am

NOTE: During the last meetup, I believe I said this meetup would be at 1 pm. Unfortunately, I have a conflict, so the meetup has reverted to the morning. However, I am still hoping to plan several afternoon meetups in the next couple of months!

Where: Harvard Art Museum Cafe

32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

The closest T stop is Harvard, on the red line. The museum is about a ten-minute walk across the Harvard yard from the station.

Venue: The cafe is located in the atrium of the art museum. You do not have to pay the entrance fee to sit in the cafe area. The cafe has a small selection of pastries and other snacks. If you have specific dietary restrictions, please call the cafe to inquire if they have food that’s safe for you to eat. The building is accessible via a ramp on Prescott Street.

How to find us: I will claim a table and set up a paper sign. I will have my knitting (the sweater grows apace!) and/or a painting project. I have coloring sheets, but you can also bring puzzles, fiber projects, or sketchbooks!

What to bring: Crayons, colored pencils, coloring books, a puzzle, links to your favorite experimental archaeology videos.

If you need more information, you can inquire on the “Boston” thread at FOCA.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!