Hello! I have a backlog of something like 300 unanswered questions in my inbox. I also have some travel, work deadlines, and life stuff that mean I will not be posting here or checking blog-related email until early November. I will try to clean out the spam filter every other day or so, but I’m not even planning to read comments all that closely. Be nice.
Someone requested an open thread to talk about the next 6 months of holidays, from Halloween roughly through Valentine’s Day, and the collection of family stuff, travel, stress, and anxiety that crops up around this time of year. Let this be that open thread. The question below is extremely related.
Hello Captain Awkward!
My question is relatively simple, I suppose. Can you (or the CA Community) help me come up with some scripts for well-meaning friends & family who are guilt-tripping me about my Chosen Profession?
Every one always speaks very highly of Nurses as a group, but it turns out when you are one, your (or at least, my) friends and loved ones can be easily divided into two camps. Those who Understand that This is What Being in the Medical Field Entails, and Those That Do Not. Specifically as it pertains to my work schedule. My job is not a 9-5 Monday to Friday position. I do not get weekends or holidays off, because people still need medical care on those days. I have an amazing bio family that I adore spending the holidays with, but every year I catch flak because if I’m assigned to work one of those shifts (we are REQUIRED to work AT LEAST one, in the interest of fairness to my fellow nurses) I don’t try to get someone else to cover my assigned holiday shift. Even my close friends will make comments like “I hate your schedule, I never get to see you!” if it’s my month to work weekends. I love my job and yes, there are parts of it that are annoying, just like every other job I’ve ever had. But I’ve stopped venting those little annoyances to my non-nursing friends because I’m sick of hearing “You could always look for a normal job, with normal hours. Then we’d get to see you more and you wouldn’t have to do such gross things!”
I don’t WANT another job, I love being a nurse! I just want them to stop trying to make me feel guilty about my non-traditional schedule, and the differences in work culture that dictate if I’m scheduled to work Christmas Day, it is TACKY AS HELL to try and get someone else to work it for me.
They told me nursing was a difficult profession in school. They just didn’t mention that Team Me might need some kind of Rosetta Stone for Nursing afterwards.
In feminist spaces we talk a lot about sexual coercion, but we don’t talk about the kind of smaller, social coercion that goes on all the time.
“Come to my party this Saturday!”
“Sorry, won’t make it.”
Earlier this year I had someone badger me for several weeks about coming to an event that I did not want to go to, up to and including asking my boyfriend if we were free that night and then coming and telling me it was okay, I could come now because s/he’d checked with him and he’d said he didn’t know of any other plans we had that night. (Boyfriend, being no fool and also not my owner, agreed to exactly nothing without consulting me).
It’s nice to be wanted! It’s nice to be invited! Even an “Aw man, I was really looking forward to seeing you. Next time?” would not go awry. But it’s not nice to be badgered and coerced and then told that your explanations, if you offer them, are not good enough explanations and have your attendance (or non-attendance) treated as a referendum on the entire relationship and a reason to blame you for not caring enough.
This especially drives me crazy when I need to leave an event. “Where are you going? You caaaaaaaaaan’t leave! Stay!” Since moving to the South Side I live an extra hour away from everywhere, and my train line doesn’t run all night, so unless you want to drive or pay my $30 cab fare to Little Village at three in the morning, let my people go, ok?
I’m lucky to have friends who are super-chill and understanding and non-coercive about this stuff. The exceptions are few and far between, and the people involved are awesome and much loved by me and I recognize these are, overall, Good Problems. Still, “no” is a complete sentence. Even with people you really like and generally want to spend time with!
The reason for “no” could be:
- Have to work.
- Don’t feel like doing whatever it is.
- Introvert + Depression spike. Used up all my spoons for the week.
- Blocked that night out to catch up on other stuff.
- Have a prior commitment.
- Feel like there’s a prior commitment that I forgot to put on the calendar, need to double-check before committing to anything.
- Can’t afford whatever it is so politely declining. (Sorry, recent family wedding! And Christmas! And the Christmas before that!)
- Need to be up early the next day.
- Friends in town.
- Ate something weird, need to stay close to home toilet.
- ____________________. (Choose your own!)
We’ve got to knock this off, you guys. If you like the person and you trust the person, then trust their reasons and don’t push them or punish them.
Now, reciprocity is important in relationships. I believe that people who like you will act like they like you. So if someone declines many invitations in a row without making a move toward inviting you somewhere or without explaining, and this bothers you and makes you wonder about the health of your relationship, there are a couple of things you can do:
1) For someone you just met, a passing acquaintance, or someone you’re trying to date/bone, just accept no answer as the answer and back off until they initiate something. A good rule for someone you are just getting to know is contact/invite twice, and if you don’t get any effort from the other person, back off until they contact you.
2) For someone you’re close to but feel like you might be drifting away from, reach out via email or phone or online chat or text and just talk to them for a bit. Not necessarily about “OMG, where are you lately?” (aka “guilt trip”) but just, “Hey, what’s up, how are you? Here’s what’s up with me.” Reconnect.
3) If that goes well, bring up scheduling something. “Good talking to you the other day. What’s your schedule like next week? Want to have lunch or coffee on (specific time) or (specific time)?
Sometimes it’s easier for people – especially people who are busy, introverted, easily overwhelmed – to react to specific suggestions (even if they aren’t free during those times) than the question “When can we hang out?” or “Want to get together sometime?” which can feel too open-ended.
Someone who wants to see you will get back to you pretty quickly – within a day or three – and pick one of your options or suggest something else and you’ll work it out. There is rarely a need to go into “I NEVER SEE YOU WHY IS THAT” mode unless something else isn’t working about the friendship and you have some issues to hash out.
If this all feels like too much work and you feel resentful and annoyed because you deserve the other person to meet you halfway and why can’t they just see that and do their part? Maybe you’re right. Maybe you do deserve more. Maybe it is too much work. Only you can decide if the connection is ultimately worth it and if there’s hope of achieving reciprocity and equilibrium in the relationship.
4) I realize that some of this has to do with expectations – setting expectations, differing expectations: “A friend or family member will always come to my gatherings because it shows that they care about me” vs. “A close friend or family member will understand that I will show up when I can and that our bond is fundamentally strong.”
Obviously I’m way more biased toward the second camp. (Sorry, Mom!). I cherish my friendships deeply but hold them pretty loosely. Friendships ebb and flow and change. Because we’re all scattered, I can go years without seeing people in person and then see them and feel like no time has passed because the love and the bond is so strong. I’m glad the internet is here to help us stay connected to each other over time and distance. And I think we’re probably all better off if we don’t treat fun celebrations as Relationship Tests.
Whichever camp you fall into, if something really isn’t working and you need to have a tough conversation with someone you care about about what you need in order to feel loved the way you deserve, as always, I suggest asking the other person for the best case scenario. “How would you like this to work in a perfect world where you get everything you want?” Ask them to lay out a vision for how things could work. You may find that you can’t or don’t want to give them what they are asking for, but at least you’re negotiating from the most positive possible place.
So, LW, sorry for the long tangent, but I think everyone could stand to be a little more aware of the ways we exert pressure on each other around this stuff. “Can’t make it, I have to work” is not the opening salvo in a negotiation about whether you really can make it after all or, dear sweet baby Jesus, an opportunity to try to talk you out of or dump on your chosen career.
Even if your chosen career weren’t necessary for people staying and being alive, this stuff would be out of line.
So. Here are some strategies that may work for you. I’m sure commenters will have more.
First, have a serious talk with the worst offenders among the people you are closest to.
“________, I want to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me. I need you to listen all the way through without interrupting me and then I’ll ask for your thoughts. Can you do that for me?”
Get them to agree. Then continue.
“I don’t make my own work schedule. And sometimes that means that I take my turn working holidays so that my coworkers can be with their families. They do the same for me. There is no way to shut hospitals down over the holidays – sick people need care all the time – so this is how we handle it. I love spending the holidays with you, but if I tell you that I’m scheduled to work on a particular day, that’s it – that’s final. I am working that day. I know you would rather have me at home, but I need you stop pressuring me about asking for the time off and trust that I’ll join you for the parts of the celebrations that I can. Can you do that?”
And then listen to what they have to say. Hopefully they’ll be cool. Maybe they won’t be. Get ready for the derails:
“If you really wanted to then you would….”
Response: “What I want is to see you when I can see you, and to be fair to my coworkers and take turns when it is my turn. And I want you to accept my reasons and not badger me about it, okay?”
“Can’t you change this one time for event X?”
Response: “Not without giving up another holiday in its place, so I’d rather just take my turn when it’s scheduled.”
“But X will be ruined if you don’t come!”
Response: “Wow, that’s too much pressure! I don’t want the power to RUIN holidays for people. I’m still going to go ahead and work my scheduled shift, so I hope you can find a way to have fun without me.”
“You could always look for a normal job with normal hours….”
Response: “...or I could keep doing what I love, even if it means working the occasional holiday, and you could stop pressuring me about this and being disrespectful to what I do.”
Bonus Script: “Of course I love celebrating with you when it’s possible for me to do so, but it means a lot to me to be able to take my turn so that my colleagues can also have time with their families and my patients can be cared for. I wish you could see it as part of being good at what I do, rather than something that competes with how much I love and value you.”
I’m grateful to every nurse, subway & bus driver, airport ticket agent, bartender, grocery store employee, and especially movie theater employee who works on major holidays so that the city keeps going and people can be with the ones they love. Don’t let people talk you out of important work (and time & a half holiday pay) and disrespect what you do.
Maybe pay attention this week to how many small moments of social coercion you run into. How many times do people fail to take you at your word? How many times do you find yourself pushing people? It would be interesting to compare data.