A Birthday Request

Hello there! It’s been a whole year since I told all of you to just ask people out already as a birthday present to me.

This year I’d like to expand the request. If you have a good story about using your words (doesn’t have to be related to the blog or dating; any story about saying the awkward, true thing out loud  will do) – I’d like to read it and I bet the other commenters would too.

85 thoughts on “A Birthday Request

  1. All of these stories relate to a bad time in my life in graduate school (not exactly shocking, since graduate school is what I first wrote to the Captain about!). I’m not sure if e-mail or IM counts as “out-loud” but here goes.

    While I was in the middle of trying to get back into my graduate program while my advisor wanted me out, he asked for a meeting with me to try to apologize/explain his behavior. He did it over email, and I took a day or so to gather my thoughts about what to say. Because I was his teaching assistant, he had the chance to corner me about the delayed reply; I managed to tell him I got his letter but I needed some time, even though he cornered me in a lecture hall surrounded by our undergrads. And, with some help from friends, I managed to write an email telling him I wasn’t going to discuss the situation with him until I was no longer his TA and had had some time to process everything.

    A friend of mine in grad school suffers from major geek social fallacy about how everyone should get along. After a year of suffering through it because I was feeling avoidant, I managed to tell her (online), exactly what the person she kept wanting me to get to know better had done to make me not like him. It didn’t solve the problem, but it did make me feel better about myself. And, as bonus, she did have enough sense to agree that his questioning my competency and that of my new adviser for agreeing to take me on was a dick move.

    1. “…his questioning my competency and that of my new adviser for agreeing to take me on was a dick move.”

      Soooo much sympathy! I’m struggling through a similar situation, myself — my advisor is great, but there’s at least one member of the faculty who I really don’t want to have any more contact with than I have to, to say nothing of the student who reacted to me getting a teaching award with “hey, at least you’re good at something” and then expected me to be pleased.

      1. “the student who reacted to me getting a teaching award with “hey, at least you’re good at something” and then expected me to be pleased.”

        He sounds threatened. In fact, that comment seems almost painfully transparent. Congrats on your award!

      2. Graduate students are sometimes the worst. There are a few people in my department who would react similarly if something good happened to me. That, and that comment just smacks so much of the worst of academics believing that being good at teaching is some kind of secret flaw. Congratulations on your award!

    2. Asking for the time you need to process is brilliant. I hope things worked out.

      And not everyone has to be friends with everyone! It’s amazing what happens once you realize that.

      1. They did work out–I ended up deciding I didn’t need or want to hear him explain himself. I’m moving back to campus in the fall, hopefully, but now I’m newly armed with setting boundaries if he does want to talk to me again.

  2. This is a story directly inspired by you, my captain!

    I work in the dining hall at the university I attend, so by necessity I see a whole lot of people on a regular basis. As you can imagine, this makes for fantastic boy watching. One particular boy was a regular visitor of this dining hall and had captured my attention, as well as the attention of every other employee who was interested in men. He was the star of many discussions of good looking people who frequented this particular building.

    This went on for quite some time until a few months ago when I, single and inspired by the words of your newly-discovered blog, decided to walk right up to him and ask him out in the middle of the dining hall. When I announced my attention to do this, no one thought I would have the gonads to go through with it, so I had witnesses. He said he had a girlfriend, which was either true or him letting me down easy but it honestly doesn’t matter which it was. The most important thing in my mind was that I didn’t allow myself to fear or be much bothered by rejection, and I broke the social norm surrounding women pursuing guys. I was flush with success the rest of the day and now I have a great story to tell whenever the fancy strikes me.

    It was this mentality of pursuing someone I’m interested in without worrying about rejection that led me to my current, fantastic relationship. So I guess what I am saying is Thank You, Captain Awkward, and Happy Birthday!!!!!!

  3. i run an afterschool program out of an elementary school in a not-great neighborhood. there’s one other program held in the school; it’s pretty similar to ours with the addition of bible study and a no-tolerance violence policy. as a result, my program is now home to MANY students who have been removed from their program.

    recently, one of my (formerly their) students was jumped by one of their students on the playground. the “aggressor” (an eight-year-old boy) was immediately expelled. his irate mother brought him to our program and proceeded to shout at me, in the middle of the hallway and in front of children, that my student must have provoked her son, that children don’t just “attack each other for no reason,” and that she had worked with children for a decade and knew something was wrong with the situation*. she was berating me at the top of her lungs as if i had expelled her son.

    i interrupted to send away the children in the hall, then listened as long as i could stand. finally, i just said, “i am so sorry this is happening to you; it sounds extremely frustrating. i wish i could help you, but i can’t–i don’t work for [other program] and have no control over their rules. i hope you’re able to find a good solution to your problem.”

    i have, in a life full of adults who regularly lose their tempers, NEVER seen someone come down from hulk-mode as fast as this woman. all her rage seemed to evaporate at once; she THANKED me and walked quietly out of the building.

    hooray for words!

    *i agree–“no-tolerance” policies for elementary-aged children are developmentally inappropriate nonsense.

    1. I agree! I am pretty sure I would have been expelled from my kindergarden if there was one, since I defended myself and other girls from the boy who would try and pull our pants down, etc by pulling HIS pants down (I was caught of course) and one time, I bit him. Of course, I am read by most people as being white, so I think they would have maybe let me slide on that.

      1. I used to pet the boy who wore soft, pretty velour shirts to kindergarten until he ran away and cried. It took time to develop boundaries.

    2. No tolerance programs are total crap. I especially love when they tell kids it doesn’t matter who hit first, they’ll expel them both. It’s ridiculous to hold children to higher standards than we impose in criminal law.

    3. I think it’s so important to say *something* back when something like that happens, and not carry around the rage and frustration someone spews all over you like it’s yours now.

      I think zero tolerance policies are mostly a crock? Especially with bullying situations.

  4. I have been flirting with a guy I know for three years. When we met, I thought we had chemistry, but he had a girlfriend. Then we lived at opposite ends of the country. Then I had a boyfriend. So for three years I have been feeling chemistry and flirting with this guy, and every time we spoke it was somehow harder to tell him how I felt.

    Then, 2012 happened and I decided not to wait for stuff to happen to me any more. I told him “I feel like a massive dork, but I really like you. And not just in a sexual way, but in a want-to-eat-brunch-and-go-to-ikea-way.”

    And as it turns out, he too wants us to be dorky hipsters together. So coffee happened. And then dinner. And this weekend we’re doing a full blown Dream Date ™ which will hopefully culminate in us making explicitly consensual, dorky, elbowy love.

  5. Does texting count as ‘out loud’?

    In university I did the dance of plausible deniability for so long with one guy, that it ended up with this text message:

    “What if I told you that I’m inviting you for coffee because I want to ASK YOU OUT but there’s a general consensus that it should be done in person?”

    “P.S. don’t laugh”

    This resulted in a very unsurprising ‘I’m up for being friends but that’s all really’, but taught me a valuable lesson in the way plausible deniability is a double-edged sword. Any romantic advances vague enough to be denied later are also vague enough that a refusal won’t tell you anything about whether they’re interested or not. Actually asking in words for what I wanted got me the information I’d been trying to intuit for years in less than 5 minutes. Also learned the hard way about asking sooner rather than later, as I’d been mooning over this guy for 2 YEARS beforehand, so was naturally CRUSHED by the rejection (although, as I said, entirely unsurprised). Recently I did some maths and worked out I got over him in only 12.5% of the time I spent with a crush on him though, so I thought that was pretty good for my first experience of romance.

      1. Haha, I don’t even like maths, normally! I was just gripped with a terrible need to apply a totally inappropriate reasoning method to my emotional distress. My GCSE maths teacher would be proud, he was very much in favour of applying maths in the silliest possible way.

        1. HA! I actually keep a ludicrously detailed daily journal, so I really do have the working!

          This was my process:

          – I fancied him basically as soon as we met, so I can just use the course dates.
          – It’s a 3 year course, but I started 1 month late, so the crush began in October of 1st year.
          – I asked him out on the 2nd of November at the start of 3rd year, so that’s 23 months.
          – Bollocks, 23 is a prime number. I’ll round up to 24.
          – I was over it enough to ask out a different guy on the 5th of February in 3rd year, so that’s conveniently almost exactly 3 months.
          – 3 is 1/8 of 24
          – percentages go out of 100
          – 1/8 of 100 is 12.5
          – THEREFORE I got over him in approximately 12.5% of the time I liked him.

          That was literally the first time I’d done anything more than addition and subtraction in about 5 years, so I might have made a horrible mistake somewhere.

          1. It was closer to 13% if you count it as 23 months, but taking into account your decision to round 23 up to 24 everything else is correct. A+

  6. There’s this girl. A lovely, sweet, pretty girl who I was already good friends with. After a period of could-have-been-flirting/could-have-been-just-friendliness, I took my courage in both hands and told her how much I liked her. We agreed to spend the evening kissing but not take it further yet. After a few more occasions of mutually enjoyable kissing (focussed on the kissing, instead of wondering if the other person was signalling “Come back to my room” by wiggling their tongue) we moved onto other enjoyable pursuits, all much improved by the fact that we knew that we were moving at a pace we both enjoyed.

    1. I like these “kissing only” rules. If there is some kind of CaptainAwkwardDotCom event down the road, perhaps there will need to be a kissing booth or games of spin the bottle. MOAR KISSING.

  7. At about the time I first met my husband, I had a crush. Being utterly accustomed to rejection and unsure that I even wanted to move forward with my crush, I kept it under wraps. My crush-object deduced my crush and asked me out. Instead of going to see a movie, we ended up leaving because we couldn’t find seats to his liking and going to his house, where he made it clear in bizarre and humiliating ways he wasn’t interested in a second date, though he liked me as a friend.

    I told him no. I didn’t want to be his friend. Then I left.

    It was so liberating. I didn’t have to take care of his feelings. I didn’t have to put on a smiley face. I didn’t have to pine. I got to just walk away and not deal with him when I didn’t want to. Yay!

    And because I wasn’t wasting time mooning around after him torturing myself, it was easy to say yes when the quirky, friendly, astonishingly easy to talk to guy from the bus stop asked me out to the second-run theater the week after. His words, “I guarantee we’ll find seats we like.”

    And we did. Because we like every seat as long as we’re together. I never would have learned this if it weren’t for the power of no.

    1. This is a great story. I love how that thing about the seats was so telling of his character as a whole – he is not looking to be pleased or satisfied, he’s looking to be displeased and superior. Who needs that guy?

      As for the art of no, I learned it by watching Madonna.

      1. It was totally indicative of their characters. The guy I said no to ended up with a girl very much like him and then they broke up hating each other, having learned nothing. My true love and I watched the movie I was supposed to see on the other date about six months later on his couch and it was terrible but who cares, because makeouts.

  8. Last weekend my beloved husband was groping me and I wanted him to stop, so I said so and he did. Yeah!
    Later he said that me walking around braless made him horny and he couldn’t control his feelings. I calmly told him that of course his feelings were valid, but he could control his actions. He immediately backed down. No fight, no hard feelings!

      1. He really is! I was unwashed and wearing sweatpants and a grubby sweater. On the other hand, I can never doubt his physical attraction to me.
        Learning to negotiate sex was one of the major topics for us in couples counseling.

  9. This is not dating-related but directly inspired by you, El Capitan ❤

    I had my first bona fide, soul destroying, gut wrenching Hairdressing Disaster a couple of weeks ago. I had short, spiky hair for almost a decade, and over the past 18 months I have been growing it out – it was the longest it had been since I was in high school. I was SO HAPPY! I decided to treat myself by saving up and getting an expensive permanent-straightening treatment for my pretty long hairs.

    Within 5 minutes of being applied, the chemical treatment had destroyed the bottom half of the length of my hair. Literally just turned to mush. We don't know how or why. But the result was I lost literally half of the length of my hair, with the bottom 3 – 4 inches of THAT still damaged and frizzy.

    They charged me the full price of the treatment. It was $400.

    I paid it, in a complete daze and somewhat in shock, also concerned about Being Reasonable and Not Making A Fuss (sound familiar?). After all – I had still *had* the full 4 hour treatment, hadn't I? I *was* there for 4 hours. I just didn't get the result I was planning for, but that's no one's fault really, I mean they couldn't have known, right? I was advised by my husband that this was Completely Bollocks, and I should march right back to the hairdresser but my Confrontation Meter exploded and so instead I spent the rest of the weekend moping with a feeling of panicky upset in my chest.

    It really hit me on the Monday I went back to work. No "oh wow, dramatic haircut change!" – instead it was "OMG WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HEAD?". I spent Monday night in tears with Husband very confused and unhelpful (but that's another story). I let the salon know what products I used in my hair (as I was told it may have been a reaction to something in the products) and got an email back from the salon Manager, and then a voicemail from the owner asking me to call her. I started to realise hang on – this is NOT A USUAL OUTCOME of ANY hairdresser, and hey you're damn right, I WILL call you and tell you that, yeah!

    So Tuesday I got up and WROTE A LIST of assertive statements that I could use to call the hairdresser and say I wans't happy. No emotive hysterics, no blamey finger pointing, just facts as to the state of my hair and the service that I expected provided but did not get.

    I had the list in front of me and dialled the salon. I asked for the owner of the business, and started my assertive statements;

    "Hello, I was in on Saturday and my hair had an extremely adverse reaction to the straightening procedure. My hair is still extremely damaged and I'm feeling very upset. I understand it was an accident, but it is very different to the result that I was paying for. I am interested in working with you to find a solution we can both be happy with, is there anything you can suggest?"

    "Absolutely. Please come in to the salon and Saturday and we'll give you a full refund, and we will do a deep repair treatment and blow wave at no charge. Obviously there is nothing we can do about the length, except offer you our deepest apologies. We are so, so sorry."

    "I…The thing is…My…..Oh. Well yes that would be very much appreciated. I will take you up on that, thankyou."

    I fully expected them to argue, to resist, to somehow explain that it was MY FAULT (some product I used, some dye I used, I swim in chlorine pools and my hair was too damaged…something?) and to make it a terrible experience. They were absolutely lovely and were just as mortified about it as I was.

    I honestly would never have called them back had I not been reading this blog for the few weeks previous. I am very much a "bad service, don't say anything, just don't go back" customer, and I had convinced myself so much that this hairdresser probably felt just as bad as I did and it would just be kind of MEAN to go back and tell her how badly she f*cked up.

    So I went back on the weekend, and was completely ready for it. I felt GOOD. I didn't have to make excuses as to why it was "OK" – I didn't have to look after the hairdressers feelings and comfort her and tell her how much it "wasn't her fault" – I didn't have to apologise for having bizzaro-buring-hair. I could absolutely own that I had a terrible hairdressing experience, and that while I understood it was a terrible accident and not their *fault* – I absolutely would accept all my money back and whatever treatment they could offer me.

    TL;DR – My hair is gone, but my newfound ASSERTIVE AWESOMENESS is something I intend to practice on and make stay. Thankyou Captain 🙂

    1. What you did was conquer your own jerkbrain that tells you you that you don’t deserve nice things because you probably won’t get them anyway. Good work. (Sorry about the hair, ugh).

    2. Oh, wow, that is an inspiring style of complaint. I’m going to try to remember this story next time I want to complain and feel like there’s no good way to do it. 🙂

  10. I have a history of having a hard time talking to my in-laws. They don’t talk, at all, generally (very repressed, WASPish sorts), and can be very passive-aggressive, and, well, I wanted to get along with them, so in the past my modus operandi has been to keep quiet and then vent about them later.

    This Xmas was our first home with the baby. My MIL’s head practically melted when she became a grandmother, and she pretty much wants to be holding the boy-o every second she’s with him. Which is great. But they were driving us back home from the city, and every time I needed to take the boy to check his diaper or what have you, she’d look at him and say “Do you want to go to mommy? No, you don’t want to go with mommy, do you? You want to stay here.” Which… I mean, jesus christ, if she wants to check his diaper herself, great. I’m more than happy to hand off that task. But don’t make it this weird competition where you’re using my baby like a puppet to win a “Who does the baby like best?” competition.

    At one point, I needed to change him in the back seat of a car at a parking lot of a Wendy’s while the guys got food. And MIL kept reaching in while I was trying to get him dressed. In a “you’re doing it wrong let me do this” sort of way. So I left her with the baby.

    When we got settled and were driving again, I decided to tell her that I wanted her to be able to have as much time with the baby as she wanted while we were visiting, and if she wanted to be the one changing him or what have you, that she should just go ahead and tell me, but that I didn’t care for the competitiveness and the comments.

    It went well, surprisingly. She even complimented J and me on our parenting. It was a Xmas miracle!

    1. Good work! That was a ninja move to leave her with poopy baby and say “Ok, thanks for handling it!” and to speak up later.

  11. This past year by using my words I:

    got my parents to stop doing something that had made me uncomfortable for about 25 years. Nothing horrible, just really annoying and I got an ‘I’m sorry’ hug from my mom when she realized I was serious as well.

    got my boss to send me on a training course to make the first steps towards becoming management instead of moping around saying they’d never let someone like me do a course like that.

    had reasonable discussions with my husband about difficult things instead of being all passive-agressive and hoping he’ll figure out what I want.

    Taking some time and asking myself ‘What would the Captian say?’ has helped me out a lot this year. I’m not perfect, but life is getting easier now.

    1. Good work!

      And thanks for realizing it’s better to ask “What would the Captain say” than “What would the Captain do.” The Captain is still working on this shit herself.

  12. I’m an expat teacher living in a non-English speaking country. Being as I’m in one of the smaller cities with comparatively few foreigners, I turned to OkCupid in an effort to get out there, as it were.

    Long story short, I went through a period full of awful first dates, an absolutely poisonous relationship and general not-coolness. And I put up with the lot of it because, dammit, after this guy, no one could ever possibly love me and oh mercy I’ll be alone forever and ever and ever and oh nooooo.

    Eventually, I came to the stunning conclusion that relationships aren’t solely based around finding someone who will “let” me be with them, but finding someone who is as awesome as I am so that we can be twice as awesome together. Double stuf awesome! Yay! And I decided that I was no longer interested in entertaining the “when I said she said she didn’t like me, I was trying to say that she and I are now seeing each other and having terrifying amounts of sweaty monkey sex and I decided not to say anything because you should be able to read my mind so really this is all your fault don’t get mad at me” sort of bull I’d been running into up to that point.

    Pretty soon after I made this decision, I ended up being messaged by a guy. He was creative, geeky, music-and-photography-obsessed and made noises about maybe wanting to learn how to knit from me, if that was okay. And lo, The Feelings flared up again but good. Multiple messages later, we were chatting on Skype for literally hours a night. I liked him a lot and I assumed he liked me, but I wasn’t sure. Oh god, what if he doesn’t like me Like That? Or he’s being polite? Or he’s not looking for the same general sort of thing I’m looking for? But I can’t just ask, right? Right?

    Eff that, I’m asking. And I did, saying something along the lines of:

    “I’m not trying to be rude or pressure-y or anything, but fuck coyness. I like you. D’you like me back?”

    Lucky for me, he said he did. It’s been about a year and a half now and we’re still double stuf awesome together. Yay!

  13. Last year, with the help of therapy, I managed to tell my parents that I wanted us to discuss an “incident” that they have known about for over 10 years and we had never discussed as a family: the fact that 16 years ago my father’s brother-in-law molested me. I told them I felt there had been a veil of silence about this since I’d told my mother all those years ago, and that I wanted it to be lifted: I wanted for us to be allowed to discuss the situation.
    A few weeks later I managed to have a discussion with my father about it (we had never discussed it, although I had given my mother permission to tell him about it, way back when), and he owned up to not realising at all what impact that event might have had on me, and that he felt bad that he hadn’t realised.
    I think that was a major point in my healing process.

  14. I have been doing a lot of casual dating lately. Unfortunately this has meant going on a lot of bad or uninspired dates. A few times, one of the people from a bad date has asked me for a second date! Instead of going along with it to “give them a chance,” I have been politely saying “no” out loud with words!

    Also, I have only been giving the “let’s be friends” line to people I actually want to be friends with. For the people with whom I didn’t feel a “friend” connection, I’ve said variations of “Thank-you so much for asking. I had a lovely evening, but I’m not feeling a second date. I wish you the best in your search.”

    Altogether it’s been a lot less awkward, and weird than my usual approach of avoiding rejection and doing the slow fade; or else trying to date/befriend someone who really doesn’t interest me at all.

    Also, one of the guys whom I gave the “let’s be friends” line told me that he was disappointed, but that he actually would like to be friends. We are going out for platonic beers this week, and I am very excited. ^_^

    1. Thank you for joining me on my campaign to make “being friends” a thing you actively want to do and not a description of some lesser, rejected state. Good work.

  15. Two things in the past week:

    First, I’m a sysadmin working with two other persons on some really important systems. The servers have for a long time been stable enough that we haven’t needed to have an actual on-call rotation; if something happens outside of office hours the operations staff try to reach me or my two colleagues and we get an extra $150 just for answering. That worked for a long time – except a) the systems are getting older and are now causing calls to be made about once every two weeks instead of once every two or three months, and b) none of my two colleagues ever answer the phone. This has led to me being de-facto on call for the last year, with the calls coming more and more frequently.

    This week, as I yet again was woken in the middle of the night, got up and fixed the urgent stuff, got back to three hours sleep before getting up to do planned maintenance, having to cancel my riding lesson because I was too tired to make it, I snapped. I told my boss that this is no longer workable – a best-effort phone list only works if there’s more than one person actually making an effort. He will now either have to get the money to put the three of us on an actual on-call rotation, or he will have to face the yelling when our system fails and nobody picks up the phone.

    Second, today I was out riding with a friend of mine. She’s having some issues with a person in her life who is consistently trying to guilt-trip her. I listened, and thought, and after a while I said “Is it OK if I make a suggestion, or do you need me to just shut up and let you have a chance to vent?” She looked stunned and said that I was pretty much the only person she knew who thought to ask that question, everybody else just jumps in and tells her how she should be handling stuff. Which, yes, can be helpful, but maybe isn’t what one always needs.

    So, one point where I had the gonads to step up and be assertive (and in the process gave my boss the information he needed to make an appropriate decision, both about the on-call duties and about the non-reliability of my cow-orkers), and one point where I didn’t run roughshod over a person’s need just because I’m a tech type who always wants to fix things. I

    I feel very good about this.

  16. So, I just decided I am dropping a class this semester. Thought I could do a full load of credits and work 20-hour weeks, well, NOPE. Grad school will only destroy my life if I let it, right? :/

    1. That sounds like a good decision. It’s hard for people like us to quit anything, sometimes? But sometimes the learning experience you receive is “quit this thing, it’s not working out” vs. “you have to stick it out and be perfect all the time.”

    2. Hear, hear! Too often, the mentality is that grad students should be working 24/7, and that school should be the only possible thing in anyone’s life, ever. Having an extreme family crisis early in my PhD program weirdly had one upside, which is that it became totally clear to me that my identity was more than Grad Student and that it is totally fine to have other priorities. Good luck to you!

  17. This year, my mother visited. This would have been an extremely difficult and emotionally scarring experience that would take lots of talking to get through (poor husband!) if not for this blog. But! I read Captain Awkward!

    When she rewrote history to make herself the good guy, and told me a new and untrue story of something that happened:

    My version: During the fall of 2010, I learned about my tiny liberal-arts women’s college all on my own, applied, went through hell to find, and replenish, the funds to cover what I didn’t get in financial aid, transferred my credits from my community college, and during this whole process, my mother’s role was to 1)tell me I should go to [better known school] or [small Jesuit college that someone she met at a conference told her about] to the point where she ACTUALLY SENT ME MULTIPLE EMAILS SAYING things like “this is Joe. He’s a professor of blahblah at [school you told me you weren’t interested in]. Here’s his email. I told him you would contact him tomorrow to set up an informational interview.”

    Her version: She learned about my tiny liberal-arts college months ago and thought it was wonderful. She knows and knew several names of people who went there. She always wanted me to go there since I moved to [area]. She thought I couldn’t get into the school (I have, and had, a 3.8 GPA). She never set up any unwanted informational interviews. She never encouraged me to go to [small Jesuit College] and she certainly would not give anyone she just met an hour ago not one but both of my emails.

    Instead of not saying anything because It’s Not A Big Deal Why Are You So Emotional Just Let It Go, or questioning my version of events and/or considering myself incapable of telling the truth as I have my whole FREAKING life, I said, “Mom, I think we should talk about this.” And calmly and rationally, I used my words to tell her that actually, no, THIS is what happened and not that, and I would like her to please try not to rewrite things that happen, especially when it invisibilizes my hard-won accomplishments, because it hurts my feelings when that happens.

    And the weirdest thing that happened was that she LISTENED. And then she told me that maybe it was possible that her story was lacking in certain respects. And honestly, it doesn’t matter if she switched back to her own mental version after our conversation, because the point of that exercise was not to change her, but to change myself and become an assertive person who speaks up when someone tries to gaslight her. Thank you, Captain and commentariat! And to my husband, who has listened to me talk about all of this tl;dr approximately one million times as I processed it.

    1. I have to have some similar conversations in the next few months, I think? I am bookmarking this comment to remind me it can be done.

      1. It feels so good! And not in the “I managed to change another person” way, because that is something we cannot really do and maybe shouldn’t, but in the, “It turns out I’m actually the person I wish I was after all!” kind of way. Which is pretty damned awesome.

        Warning: Side effects may include speaking up for yourself in all kinds of seemingly trivial ways.

  18. My partner, her husband, and I are moving in together, and while we’ve all been pretty terrific through it all, there have been moments of stress, no sweat… except my brain eats itself alive.  So there I was, feeling useless because it’s not my stuff that needs packing and I don’t want to do it wrong, and then my partner said something wrong (not like terrible, just mis-worded), and then I said something wrong (same deal, different direction), and so she was vaguely annoyed and I was full of doom.

    Worst is that a lot of this has been talked about before, so I had “I should know better than to feel bad” going through, too.  Christ.

    So I went off to be upset, I tried to work through it and calm down; when I couldn’t, I took a half of one of my anti-anx pills, actually calmed down, then talked with her.  I told her that this is really dumb, but I feel useless, I feel like I’m not being seen, and I’m sorry that I said things wrong, and augh why cannot I be perfect, didn’t we already do this, I’m sorry, I suck.

    Instead of it all turning into a big blow-up (which does not happen with her, but has happened with exes), she said it’s all fine, emotions are not subject to reason and that’s okay, she’s sorry she said things wrong, and here’s some reassurances that I can in fact pack things just fine, and I’m not useless at all, as a matter of fact, so there.  And as an aside, good job taking that half anti-anx pill, that was really good self-care there.

    Another brick in the pathway to being a healthy human being, which involves speaking up before it becomes the hugest issue in the world.

    Also, I have like a million draft emails to your column.  I write emails to you to try to get assistance, and then in the writing, I can hear more or less what you’d say, and then I’m better.  I’m so glad this column exists.  ❤

  19. I saved my career and my marriage by speaking up. My husband and I are both academics, trying to solve the famous “two-body problem”. I moved to a new country with him about five years ago while I was finishing my PhD, and this set up a precedent where everybody acted like my career was less important than his–including me. I turned down a couple of good jobs for postdocs so that I could be in the same city as him, and started to get really resentful. Then I got offered my dream job, at a university about an hour’s plane ride away. My husband wanted me to turn it down and stay at my postdoc. I told him that I was going to accept it, and he needed to start acting like my career was important or I was going to leave. And he suddenly started treating me much better! We worked out a compromise: I took the job, and am taking some leave during the first four years to spend time with him; in return, he is aggressively working to get a job in my city. It is much better than feeling small and resentful!

    Also happy birthday Captain; you rule!

    1. That’s heavy stuff, but I’m glad you took the job and spoke up and glad it worked out. You are no one’s sidekick!

    2. As a fellow academic, I salute you! I chose the grad program 400 miles away from my husband even though I got into his, so we did the hour’s plane ride thing for three years. It has its costs, but we are much better off without the resentment I would have felt (even though my program turned out to be full of assholes). Best of luck to you both.

  20. Happy birthday!

    I joined a new church a few months ago, and have been endeavouring to be more socially pro-active in getting to know people there than my usual introverted custom would be. So when I recognized a guy from church at the grocery store one day, I smiled, said hello, we chatted a bit, and I introduced myself. I felt really good about having done that instead of just smiling awkwardly or even-more-awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact so I wouldn’t have to figure out what to do.

    Over the next couple weeks when we saw each other at church, I eventually figured out he was asking me out. The first time, I used my words to say “no, I don’t think so, not any time soon”, while using my non-verbals to signal “no, really, I’m sorry, not interested”. When he brought it up again a few weeks later, though, I took a deep breath, and used my words to say “Look, if you’re asking me out on a date?” (he nodded and said “Yes”) “then no, I’m just not interested.” The subsequent conversation was a little awkward and a little weird, but hey, it didn’t last that long. And it was a relief to have it clear and settled, and not turn into a cloud of PerpetualAwkwardness every time I went to church.

    1. Go him for asking you out and go you for directly putting the kibosh on it and saving yourself from Weekly Church Awkwardness. No losers here!

  21. Not long ago I read a letter on this blog that was not written by me but so much could have been: the letter about the seething mass of resentment. THAT IS ME. SEETHING MASS OF RESENTMENT. The writer of poison pen e-mails about stuff that happened months or years ago! The lady who went out of her way to be super friendly during a chance run-in with a guy she’d been on a couple of dates with a year ago, who’d been a total jerk to her afterward, because she didn’t want him to think he mattered enough to her that she had ever actually been mad about the lame thing he did! (IT MADE SENSE IN MY HEAD AT THE TIME.) The lady who never said “no” at work, then had to cancel scheduled work at the last minute or drop assignments due to being totally overtasked!

    OK, I still am all of those things sometimes. But:
    – The time elapsed between Weird Thing I Didn’t Like happening and speaking to or e-mailing the other person about it is usually shorter, which of course makes the interactions way easier and less bilious.
    – I put more energy into relationships that are working, with people I really like, who really like me — and try not to burn cycles on ones that don’t.
    – I tell the people I work for “I’m really not trained on that yet and will need help while I figure it out” or “This will take longer than we thought it would, because [reason].”

    This has all been really, really hard and scary. I grew up in a household where only one person was allowed to have or express negative feelings, in a community where I was ostracized and sometimes bullied by my peers and criticized by adults for not trying harder to fit in, and have held several jobs where workers were routinely blamed for things that were really beyond their control and management was deaf to “no.” (At one of these, I was criticized daily for not doing enough; after I left, I was replaced by three people.) So all of this, “I have to be happy all the time and totally unfazed by everything! And friends with everybody ever! And always be good at everything anyone offers to pay me to do, and never need to ask for help or more time or training!” stuff has been stupidly hard to shed. Also, there is still stuff that is super hard to talk about, like money and using the words “I’m sorry, but I really can’t afford that right now.” But I’m working on it. (Warning my boyfriend at the outset of our relationship that I don’t always speak my mind when I should, and sometimes have emotional outbursts long after they are due, has probably helped our relationship a lot. Yes! I used my words to admit that I don’t always use my words. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.)

    The funny thing? Owning my crankiness, thin-skinnedness, neediness, lack of organization, etc. has actually made me more easygoing, independent and organized. Telling the truth about where I am — instead of just pretending I’m where I want to be already — has made it easier to get to where I want to go.

    1. “The funny thing? Owning my crankiness, thin-skinnedness, neediness, lack of organization, etc. has actually made me more easygoing, independent and organized. Telling the truth about where I am — instead of just pretending I’m where I want to be already — has made it easier to get to where I want to go.”

      This times 1,000. We trick ourselves into thinking we need to be perfect, when really what people respond to is truth and vulnerability.

  22. I grew up being criticized constantly by my mother, usually focused on my weight and appearance. I’d always respond with defensiveness and anger, well into adulthood. She was visiting me and my 1 yo daughter one day and commented on my daughter’s appearance. Some background: she was born prematurely and skinny, has always been in a low percentile for weight, and all babies in general have pot bellies because of their spinal curvature that keeps them from standing straight. My mom suggested she was overweight and I needed to monitor her diet better. Very CALMLY I responded “You seem concerned about DD’s weight. Would you like to come to the pediatrician with me next week to address your concerns?” She became very apologetic and denied having any concerns, and assured me she was sure I was doing a good job taking care of my daughter. This was years ago, and now my gorgeous daughter is about to enter adolescence. She is still skinny (not that I care) and I’m nervously waiting for my mother’s comments about how she is filling out. I’m hoping to react as calmly as the first time.

    1. Aaaaaahhhh, why do parents do this? You did exactly the right thing to make it all come out in the open and make it impossible for her to keep concern trolling you.

  23. Using my words for the win!
    I met this guy through one of my friends and we started flirting back and forth. Well, instead of my usual MO of building this guy up in my brain totally developing the super crush of Doom, I actually asked him if he wanted to kiss me, and he did! We started out just having consentual fun times, but I realized that I liked him a lot more than just for sex so I asked him if he wanted to be in a real grownup relationship, and he said yes! 🙂
    He later told me that he would have never made the first move because he wasn’t looking to have a relationship so if I hadn’t spoken up then I wouldn’t have a fantastic BF who is great!
    I have also learned to speak up when something is bothering me so I don’t end up with an exploding FeelingsBomb!! that goes off at the worst possible moment.
    Literally none of this would have happened without Captain Awkward’s advice!
    So thank you! and happy birthday!

    1. Because of this comment, I will now set one copy of The Rules on fire in the alley behind my house in your honor!

  24. I used my words for two very important things in my life these past few months. In the first, I asked my boyfriend of 8 years to marry me. I had wasted many years waiting for him to bring up marriage or ask me when it obviously never occurred to him. I didn’t issue an ultimatum or anything, I just simply said that I wanted to be married and what did he think about that. He thought it was a good idea and after a short engagement we got married last month. The second issue was my pay at work. I am paid very poorly for what I do, so I presented an argument on why I should get a raise to my boss before my review and even brought some research on what I could make doing the same thing at other firms. I ended up getting a 15% raise this year! I was amazed to discover the power of just asking for what I want instead of feeling like a victim of my circumstances. I could get what I want myself without playing mind games or waiting for someone else to decide that I was special enough to give me those things. Life changing stuff! I told my husband this past weekend that I want a baby so now we are getting busy on the baby-making.

    1. Two things:

      1) Look at you, who busts up toxic gender norms and gets what she wants!
      2) Look at you who speaks up and gets raises1

      Good luck making a small person.

  25. I just want to tell EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU that it’s making my day every time I read one of these posts. What a lovely birthday present for the Captain!

    And Cap, look at what a wonderful world you’re helping make happen. My heart is, like, five quabillion times bigger for this thread, this blog, and meeting you in the first place.

  26. Last night I was reading when my dear partner started talking to me. I reacted with grunts and nods and “uh-huhs,” because I was reading. My partner finally said, “Am I bothering you?” This is partner-speak for “You’re obviously not paying attention, so I’ll give up on the conversation now.”

    I looked up from the screen I was reading, and I finally realized that Partner and I had a long-running misunderstanding, which I could clear up at once if I only explained, out loud, what was going on in my head. So I did, and it went like this:

    Partner, when people start talking to her, automatically switches her attention to the people talking, because people talking, in her head, take priority over people reading. So she assumes, when she starts talking to me, that I will immediately turn my full attention to listening to her, even if I was reading a moment ago. In her head, my continued reading was rude to her.

    When I am reading, I explained to the partner, reading takes priority. If she wants my full attention, she has to explicitly ask for it, instead of assuming that the conversation she wants to have takes precedence over the activity I was in the middle of. Assuming, without asking, that the conversation is more important than the reading I was doing, is rude to me!

    When I explained this out loud, the Partner got it — and hopefully we will have fewer instances of unintentional mutual rudeness in the future.

  27. So, about a year and a half ago I moved away from a town I’d lived in for ten years. I’d had a friend there who I had known since 2001 or so; I’d sort-of liked him for several years when I moved, and I thought maybe there was mutual interest, but it never seemed to be the right moment to talk about it so I never did.
    As an aside: this person is married and I am in a long-term domestic partnership, but both relationships are open/poly so that wasn’t the issue. But I do think the fact that I was in a good relationship made it less of a BURNING NEED to talk about my feelings with this guy.

    Well, then my first visit back home happened in the fall. I saw him several times (my partner and I crashed at his house a few nights) and while before my trip I think I’d convinced myself that I was over this long-standing attraction, seeing him in person pretty much shattered that. My NC friends group was always pretty hands-on and snuggly, but we were being a lot cuddlier than normal (other friends mentioned later that they’d noticed it) that weekend and I certainly felt like something was different. Still, though, I repeated to myself and my partner “I’m kind of sad nothing will ever come of this” like I always had.

    The night I got back to San Francisco I was talking about this with my partner and realized it was pretty ridiculous to keep saying “nothing will happen” when I’d never actually talked to the object of my affections about said affections. I wrote him an email that week, acknowledging that maybe it was awkward but I wanted to be clear about how I felt, and that I didn’t have a clear expectation for what would ideally happen next but just wanted him to know. He told me he felt much the same way and long story short (too late, I know) – he’s coming into town for a long weekend THIS WEEK! and we’re going to take it from there.
    I’m really excited, plus it’s a chance to do some of the great specific talking about sexual wants and boundaries that you’ve linked to/discussed here lately.

    I don’t think I would have taken that step if I hadn’t been reading this site since early last year. Thanks.

  28. Many happy returns (a few days late), Captain! De-lurking to say that the Captain and her amazing commentariat bring great happiness to my life, not to mention stellar pointers on Being the Best Me With More Words and Fewer Assumptions.

    This past Christmas, I had a (short, awkward, not totally resolved) conversation with my dad about a hurtful comment he’d made a couple weeks prior that had really upset me and seemed indicative of a larger communication issue we were having. Since he’s a loving and thoughtful person, he was upset to have hurt me and did his darnedest to understand and make amends. We also set up a tentative plan to head off such miscommunications in the future, which I feel pretty good about.

    One of my favorite lessons learned here is that Using Your Words isn’t a last-ditch effort, or something reserved for less established relationships that I could stand if they collapsed under the awkwardness of the conversation–it’s a crucial way to improve the relationships in my life that I already consider strong.

  29. Okay, I think I may be glowing at the moment. But story! about someone else using their words to help me say the ones I wasn’t saying:

    I was until recently in a situation very very similar to LW #170, down to the having feelings for a friend, who we will named T. And I’ve ended it (although I think I probably didn’t do it very well, but that’s another story).

    Anyway, since the break up my time with T has become increasingly cuddly to the point where there is no ambiguity as to how I feel or he does (notice: no words here! because apparently I have problems with words). However, seeing how recent the break up was, while all the hormones in my body are going YAAAAAAAAAAY, there is a rational part of my brain going “Hold on a minute, maybe you should back up a minute and make sure you are all sorted out” except it’s having difficulty being heard over all the yelling from my sex drive. So T and I are busy being cuddly and Having A Moment, and he stops and says “You know, I don’t want to push you if you’re not ready” and then I kinda relax because I am not sure exactly what I need at the moment and I know I need to work that out first. And I tell him this. And then we just having a deep personal conversation instead.

    So while this is a total fail on my part for not speaking up and figuring out/explaining my boundaries, but he was awarded like 50 million awesomeness stars in my head for being conscious and keeping his rational head about him.

  30. Happy (belated) birthday!

    A couple of weeks ago I my first date in a long while – with a very nice, very geeky guy who I have a lot in common with. I’m in a very busy and hectic time of my life, so while I had had fun and wanted to see him again, every time I thought about scheduling another date I freaked out because I had so little free time already. So after several days of thinking about this and angsting about this and worrying and just generally being in a funk, it finally dawned on me that he is a grown up too and can understand words. So I emailed him and said, “Hey, I had fun with you and want to go out with you again, but my schedule is insane!” And he said, “I want to go out with you too, but my schedule’s also insane! Let’s go out when we both have time.” And I said, “Yes!” And now I feel much better and neither of us have to worry about who is and isn’t interested and neither us have to feel like we’re making excuses when we’re SO TIRED and just want to stay at home and sit on the sofa (or maybe that’s just me?). My need to manage my own time and not stress myself out is totally legitimate, but I know that in a lot of relationships that kind of thing is read as either not being interested or as “playing hard to get” or wanting to be pursued.

  31. I met the perfect woman, made a complete mess of things, and never thought I’d see her again. Spent the next year or so thinking that and imagining how perfect our lives would have been had I been a better person. After getting my shit together I found her on facebook and wrote her a heartfelt letter asking for another chance (referencing pirates, that horrible movie “Fool’s Gold,” and drawing parallels between sunken treasure and the possibility we could work). Sat on the letter for about a week to make sure it was what I wanted it to be and said what I meant it to say before I sent it.

    Within a few hours of seeing each other again for the first time in more than a year there were kisses on the floor of a cafe.

    Six months later we’re engaged to be married.

    Words ftw!

    And we should probably watch that horrible movie together sometime.

    Y’know . . . just cuz.

    1. As an addendum, me reaching out and writing to her in such a way was kind of a big deal for me, because I’m usually taciturn to the point of being beyond ridiculous. Not to mention I said all I said with the complete and utter belief that she would say no. So yeah. I used my words when I totally wouldn’t have, normally. And my words brought me and my wife-to-be back together. This time for good.

  32. I have been on OK Cupid for almost a year now, and mostly leave the IM function off, because the IMs I get are rarely welcome. A few weeks after I started reading your blog, I foolishly turned the IM on, and was immediately messaged. The guy messaging me immediately started hinting about us going on a date. Since I had never looked at his profile or spoken to him before, I demurred. He told me to look at his profile, so I did him the courtesey, and then demurred again, politely but firmly. He then went on a whiny bender wherein he proceeded to tell me about how girls won’t give him a chance and geeky girls don’t like the sports stuff in his profile and sporty girls don’t like the geeky stuff in his profile. I started to “buck him up” with that tired old “someone out there will like you the way you are, but it’s not me” stuff. He then began to tell me what a bitch I was, how I made him feel lousy, ruined his night, was a judgemental cunt, etc. I was shocked and started to apologize, when I remembered my Captain Awkward training course. Instead of an apology, I typed in “I am not responsible for maintaining your emotional equilibrium. Goodbye.” And I blocked that em-effer! I was still feeling like somehow I was the one at fault, so to get rid of my sick feeling, I came back to this site to re-read some posts about Nice Guys (TM). Thank you for having my back, even if you didn’t know it. “You” being Captain Awkward and the amazing commenting community here. Thank you!

  33. I found this blog a while ago and have been reading the whole thing from the beginning. Somewhere around letter 25 I was like, damn, this is exactly the blog I have been wanting to write! I love advice blogs and want to have one but haven’t pulled it together. (my new blog is somewhat ill-defined and I want to write a general about me blog, but I don’t want to start on a negative note, but most of what’s going on is negative… So no posts. I should just write one. Anyway)

    This blog, this is the awesome sauce, and I am loving it greatly. I keep almost commenting and then it’s been like eight months so yeah, later. And because I think Important Thing OMG… And someone usually has said it.

    Now is later. This post right here, will all the comments of I done goods and all that? Amazing and wonderful and heart filling and DUDE.

    You rule, and this space rules, and I will be commenting a lot more as I catch up with the NOW. Thank you, and also be reminded of these eighty posts of awesome that were your birthday present.

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