Hiatus, Holiday Open Thread, & #389: Friendly Social Coercion is Still Coercion

A pug dressed in a pug costume.
Photo courtesy of DaPuglet on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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.

Thank you!

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.

527 thoughts on “Hiatus, Holiday Open Thread, & #389: Friendly Social Coercion is Still Coercion

  1. This is all true and good advice! As another person with a non-traditional schedule, I feel you, LW. I am big on repeating, “My work schedule is not very flexible, sorry!” as many times as needed, sounding less and less sorry the more times I have to repeat it. If someone insists that their work schedule could accommodate whatever, I go, “Wow, that’s really lucky that your job is like that!”

    1. Well, my work schedule can accommodate pretty much whatever. However I have friends who have very tight work schedules. This just means that if I want to host a party, I’ll do so regardless of if they can come, on the date when I want to party. And if I want to see them, I let them pick the date of our meeting knowing full well that it might change at the last minute. So sometimes I go for a few months without seeing a particular friend. We do meet eventually. And it’s brilliant. And it’s brilliant when they can come to the party. But the party is awesome without them too. Until we meet there are e-mails to keep in touch. (:

      1. Having had an atypical work schedule for most of my adult life, having a party (or whatever) when you want to and having whoever can come do so with the knowledge that there will be other parties is I think one of the kindest things you can do for your friends and for yourself. I hate being the one whose schedule makes planning something difficult, but if someone just gives me a time and if it doesn’t work for me I can beg off without pressure, that’s not a big deal at all, and I know trying to do the planning around four other people’s schedules or whatever is a headache and a half.

  2. This is good. I don’t have to work holidays as a rule, but I do have to work as close to Christmas as possible (when Christmas eve falls on a weekday, I work christmas eve). My family are fairly understanding but my extended family Disapprove. They also Disapprove because I moved away from my home town (I am British so my moving two hours away is *gasp* MILES AWAY WTF ETC ETC). This script will be very useful for when I need to not travel late Christmas eve.

    I recently suffered some weird social coercion by proxy. A work colleague/friend had a birthday party for their fortieth – hired a room and had a buffet and disco etc. I was invited as was my partner. Now, my partner has met my co-worker maybe twice? And generally does not know people who would be there, so he decided not to go.

    So he didn’t, and I passed the message on when asked, and apparently I should’ve made him come? (The birthday lady was not fussed at all by his absence) Like, people looked at me oddly when I told them he would no be attending and I was respecting that decision? Some people even looked vaguely amused in a condescending way, like, ‘look at the odd lady who does not do these things that society says we should do, clearly she is a fool!’

    1. Ugh, I hate that. My boyfriend and I both have non-9 to 5 schedules, are both introverts and both have health/mobility issues and creative projects we have to plan around. Especially in the early stages of our relationship — like right after we had decided to fer real be a Couple but before any of my friends knew him well — there was some, “Where’s Boyfriend tonight? Didn’t you invite him?” And I was like, “BOYFRIEND WAS INVITED! BOYFRIEND HAS OWN LIFE AND PRIORITIES! HULK NOT BELIEVE PARTNERS IN A RELATIONSHIP OWN EACH OTHER OR OWE EACH OTHER ALL THEIR RECREATIONAL TIME! SMASH!”

      (Of course I have also realized that sometimes when people ask about the whereabouts of my gentleman friend, they are just making conversation, which helps with the smash urge. Sometimes.)

      1. My husband is into social dancing and I’m not (I have a physical disability that makes it basically impossible, but even if I didn’t I don’t have the temperament for it), and it drives him nuts when people ask him why his wife doesn’t come to dances. The hulk smash, we know it well.

        1. I’m a social dancer and my partners aren’t (one enjoys it but is an introvert, one doesn’t enjoy it) and what really gets me is the pitying look when I say it’s not their thing. There are worse things in the world than dancing with people I’m not partnered with! Fortunately my dance group includes a number of people in the same boat, plus couples where one does English and the other does contra or what have you, so eventually people get over it.

          1. Oh my gosh yes! My main partner and I both do some partner dancing, and my other partner does not at all. Funny thing is, I prefer dancing with almost anyone OTHER than my main squeeze, because we are both beginners and it’s a lot easier on me to be a follow when there is a strong lead. Right now, he is learning how to be that so I do dance with him a few times and it’s sweet because, you know, LOVE and all. BUT! We both will go dancing without the other as much as we go out together, and yes, that pitying look is simply terrible.

      2. Dear Lord – heaven forbid that you’re not constantly attached at the hip! Ugh. Smash indeed.

      3. Haha, I do this sort of thing constantly (although usually it is just making conversation) I try always to ask a question like ‘What is your other-half doing this evening?’ instead of something that sounds passive aggressive like ‘Why didn’t you bring so-and-so?’

    2. Oh goodness yes. For many years, Beloved suffered depression and anxiety, and hanging out with my work people, who he did not know, was just a step too far for him. And OMG people’s unwillingness to just leave “oh he was busy tonight” ALONE. No, I really don’t want to discuss his health problems with you, GAHHHHH.

    3. The flip side of this, for me, is *having* to invite a bunch of people who you don’t know every time you have a party. And not in a “oh, my boyfriend is in town, would you mind if he came?” kind of way, but in a passive-aggressive, tell-everyone-else-but-not-me kind of way OR just-bring-him-along-anyway.

      This especially applies to our wedding; we’re being pressured to invite girlfriends who don’t exist yet of cousins I’ve never met. Argh!

      1. If it helps, when my cousin (also in Scotland) was planning his wedding, a bunch of us asked if we could bring partners and his response was ‘Really sorry but venue is small and funds are tight so we’re having a strict policy on not inviting boyfriends and girlfriends’. No one minded in the least. Good luck!

  3. “This especially drives me crazy when I need to leave an event. “Where are you going? You caaaaaaaaaan’t leave! Stay!”

    Urgh, I LOATHE that particular brand of pressure. I married into a family where every get-together carries the expectation that you’ll stay all day and well into the night, and if you try to bow out after a couple of hours, people will accost you and demand to know why you’re leaving so soon. Most of the time, the reason is that I’m an introvert and I’m ready to go home for some peace and quiet, but since I know that no reason is deemed good enough (when my now-teenage daughter was a toddler, I got a reputation for being a control freak because I insisted on taking her home “early” from family gatherings and putting her to bed, rather than keeping her there until she had a meltdown and screamed herself to sleep on the sofa), I’ve taken to just smiling and repeating “Sorry, got to go!” until I’m out the door.

    1. Vanessa, I feel you. I’ve gotten to the point sometimes where, instead of arguing with people I just thank the host and leave without telling anyone. It’s rude, I know, but I feel like social coercion and alcohol consumption have a very closely correlated relationship!

      1. Oh my god the office Christmas party last year. I was supposed to meet someone afterwards to pick up a new bunny rabbit and I kept texting her and going “yeah it’ll be a bit later….” because both my bosses were getting smashed and emotional on long island iced teas and making lengthy speeches about how amazing the year had been instead of handing out the gifts despite being told I needed to leave. As it was I still missed out on the pavlova but I did eventually get my bonus and secret santa present ahead of everyone else so I could slip out. (And my little baby bunny was so wee and darling. He’s grown so much since then.)

        1. OMG how could they not understand BABY BUNNEH????

          But yeah, this “you can’t leave” pressure is so awful and weird. The worst is when I get it from my Big City Sister when I visit, and it’s like 2 am and I’m exhausted and ready to GO TO BED and she’s like “oh I know this after hours place” and I just want to CRY. We have had so many fights about this, and I’ve gotten better about just speaking up when I’m ready to go and holding that boundary, but it’s SO stressful. We aren’t that similar, we are not obligated to be similar, and we don’t like doing the same things, please just let it go!

          1. I have definitely had to make a conscious effort to say no when I really don’t want to do something. Usually I don’t want to seem like the party pooper or the grandma who goes to bed early and go anyway, but I don’t really enjoy late night venues and I end up just fantasizing about my warm, cozy bed. Same for brewery tours; I do not actually like beer and I have come to accept that that is okay, despite the growing microbrewery trend. So I have been practicing saying, “I appreciate the offer, but I have to decline. Let’s do lunch tomorrow!”

        2. My late spouse was in sales, and I really hated company Christmas parties, because no one could leave until it was over(small office. No anonymity even for spouses). Also, the parties would segregate into employees(men) and spouses/girlfriends(women), and most of the women were very invested in status and moving up, even if only incrementally. I hated these parties. I did a lot of nod and smile.
          Two parties stand out in my mind.
          One was held at a house that was actually close to our house. I was tired, and so much wanting to go home, so I asked my husband if we….or just I….could go. It was close enough that i could walk! The answer was no, not yet. Then later, I get told by my husband that the wives thought that I was rude for asking.
          The second was after a managerial changeover. New branch manager who chose a restaurant to have the party at, and all the men were supposed to make toasts; buy a round and toast, that is. The women were assumed to be the designated drivers, or otherwise not expected to play. My husband received a bunch of pressure to continue, but after two drinks switched to iced tea anyway. One of the junior sales guys got a DUI that night, even after his girlfriend drove then to her place and he slept in his car for a bit before continuing home. I am still steamed that the branch manager pressured all the guys into proving how MANLY they were by drinking every toast. I’m happy my guy stood up to it, but he was in a secure position, as the top salesman in the branch.
          One of the happiest changes in my life is that I don’t have to see ANYONE from that group ever again.

          1. Daaaaaaamn. I seriously lucked into my job – it’s incredibly friendly, we’re in disaster relief so we really like to de-stress by having dessert-laden morning teas at the drop of a hat, and the only people I don’t really particularly get on with (but not really having a dislike enough that I can’t be perfectly pleasant to them) I don’t overlap with much anyway. And while there was quite a bit of alcohol at the Christmas party, and a fair amount of offering things to people, for the most part saying no was enough. Which is good, because I have major beef with drinking culture, which is rife here, and drink driving especially is something I do not tolerate. Apparently one of the guys who worked there last year got paid less than everyone else because of a previous DUI conviction; I had to remain very quiet during the whole conversation because my reaction was basically “YDI!”

      2. This is one of my preferred methods, and I don’t actually think it’s rude. It’s simply not giving other people the opportunity to be rude to you by demanding you stay when you can’t/don’t want to/whatever.

        1. Yes, yes YES.

          I have a not-very-social spouse. He sometimes rallies to attend social functions with me, and I appreciate that, so I try to be respectful of him when he has had enough and would like to go. It is just torture for him if I/we have to make the rounds to each little conversation group, wait for the appropriate break, announce our departure, accept the coos and protests with convincing excuses as to why yes, we really ARE going, then say goodbye/exchange hugs/engage in conversation about when we’ll get together next…. Honestly, that all can take a long time. Too long I have become very fond of the “Let Host Know and BOLT with a wave to the room” method.

          I am sure we have hurt some feelings, but it’s that, or have my husband auto-defenestrate.

    2. Oh man, my inlaws are like this. Just about all but two of them are super-social loudish extrovert night-owl types, and I’m a quiet, fairly shy introvert early bird, so. But the oldest of my sister-in-laws is like me, only assertive, and she’s been really great about showing me polite ways to express the “I must leave this gathering now or I will have a meltdown in front of everyone, no you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just difficult for me to be around 20 loud family members for 9 hours straight” sentiment. SO MUCH LOVE to her for that.

  4. This this this! El Capitan gets it exactly right, per the norm. My Spousal Unit is a cop; you would not believe the amount of grief we’ve had to wade through concerning his schedule. Especially because he’s new to this office and therefore low man on the totem pole; can’t schedule vacation over the holidays. It is so difficult. Our strategy is a firm, united, “Sorry about that. This is just the way it goes sometimes. We’ll catch the next one!”

    His family’s better about it than mine, which is often all about wanting me to come without him. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I’d rather stay home and be there for him when he gets off a difficult shift on a holiday. But then his family gets all WHYYYYYYYY don’t we get to see you as often as her family gets to see her?????? Gah.

    1. I also have a cop relative–dear lord, the sheer amount of bitching I have overheard about that one. Look, some jobs are so important that they CAN’T shut down even if it’s a holiday, and cops and nurses are those people. You want someone to die so your relative can have time off to drink eggnog? You want someone to not be protected when there’s an emergency call on Christmas Day? Those are some good arguments there.

      My relatives at least would do a Christmas Eve Eve party for him and his family. Maybe the LW’s family should start doing something like that.

      1. Cross-stitch alert!

        “You want someone to die so your relative can have time off to drink eggnog?”

  5. Hi LW, I live in your world. I’m a pastry chef and one of my sisters is an ER nurse. We *totally* get you. Once they tried to throw me a surprise bridal shower but just asked me to take off a Saturday for a brunch with family. My mother *almost called my job* when it was initially turned down. This is after like, 10 years of unreliable schedules from me. My sister almost didn’t get time off for her own surprise bridal shower as well, even after I spent quality time trying to talk everyone else out of the surprise bit because didn’t they remember what happened with me. (seriously, what is it with people and surprise parties like that. They’re only fun for the people throwing them.)

    Anyway, I heartily recommend the Captain’s script. If people don’t understand that basic part of your job, you really have to question the friendship. I’ve had similar conversations with family, friends, my husband (pre-marriage) and my in-laws and it always takes a while for them to really get it. However, they do usually get it and pipe down. Their guilt-fu may be strong, but you’re saving motherfucking lives. That’s gotta count for something, you know? The ones that don’t get it come up with the most amazing excuses (I’m sure you’ve heard them) of why being fair to coworkers and you know, doing your damn job shouldn’t count for you because you (they mean they themselves) are sooooo special.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should have these chats, hunker down, and see who turns a new leaf and who might need an African Violet. Oh, if you’re the kind of nurse that gets a very regular (if rotating) schedule, give it to as many people as possible and then (aside from holidays) turn it back on them. If they really wanted you to come, they’d schedule it for when they’d know you’d be able to go.

    1. Oh, if you’re the kind of nurse that gets a very regular (if rotating) schedule, give it to as many people as possible and then (aside from holidays) turn it back on them. If they really wanted you to come, they’d schedule it for when they’d know you’d be able to go.

      This This THIS.

      When I worked in food service I did exactly this. We got scheduled in two week blocks, and the first thing I did was make photocopies for family and friends. It works wonders, especially on the last-minute spur-of-the-moment type invites. When someone starts whining “but WHYYYYY can’t you come to the party tomorrow?????!” you can just come back with “Why would you even ask? You already know I’m not free that evening, so asking just rubs my face in it.”

    2. Wow, that seems to be the height of insensitive to try and have a ‘surprise’ party for someone with a random work schedule, especially if that person works in an ER. I mean, what if they came home after a really ugly day (I’ve heard stories from nurse friends/cousin who is a paramedic – can be very gruesome) and “SURPRISE -AREN’T YOU EXCITED?!? WHHEEE – CAKE!!! WHY AREN’T YOU SMILING?!?” I’ll agree with you totally that the “surprise” part is 99% of the time more for the people organizing it than for who the party is being held for. Really, they should just be put to rest and never to be resurrected…. but that’s just me.

      1. She had just started a new job and gotten her rotation aaaand that day off wasn’t on it. No one had wanted to wait to plan something until her rotation came out and the begging she had to do to switch things around after they invented some event for her to get off work for was embarrassing. Because of these situations I’ve got a quiet deal with our other sister to slip me a quiet word if someone else tries to ‘surprise’ me again, and husband has strict orders to never try and do that to me if he actually wants me to show up.

      2. The ugly day thing is so true. I don’t do the visceral in person stuff thank god, but my sister knows if I come home with Subway just don’t even bother because I instituted a personal rule last year that I’m allowed to buy it if I’ve had to deal with death – talking over the phone (calling someone to follow up on a grant and being told they’ve died tends to shake people more than even we expect it to), reading death certificates or letters from family or notes on bereavement grants, etc. I have friends who work with youth and family services and similar too handling abuse reports and such and we’ve shared a lot of sympathy together. I can just imagine how horrible it would be to come home after possibly failing to save someone and then being expected to act all happy and pleased. And it’s really hard to explain to people why you feel so crappy, whether for privacy reasons, or you don’t want to burden them, or you don’t want to talk about the hard parts of your job to someone who really doesn’t understand what it’s like.

  6. This is perfect. I think everyone has this problem to some extent. It’s sort of the flip side of the letter a couple posts back about the woman who was upset that her sister was missing thanksgiving.

    My SO and I both moved from British Columbia to Southern Ontario, years ago. Since then, every phone call home contains an inquiry about when we will be home again. It doesn’t even matter if one or both of us has just visited. When are we coming again? Meanwhile, no one from my side has *ever* come to visit me in Toronto: Not even my own mother when she moved to her hometown in Northern Ontario. In fact, the only person who makes regular visits to see us is SO’s sister, who has rapidly progressing MS.

    My job is also a large factor. I work purely on commission with no benefits or holiday pay or overtime (Tattooist) so even if I have the money to travel, it doesn’t mean I have the money to travel and take week without pay. I could get something more stable, but I would hate it.

    1. Oh, and I forgot to mention that even though both sets of immediate family are in the same province, they are in towns that are about a 10 hour drive apart. If we both go home together, we either have to rent/borrow a car and make a quest of it or we face making people sad and jealous.

      1. Oh, this sooo reminds me of all my friends from growing up who still lived in/close to my home town when I was living in Toronto for school then later for work. I’d usually go home to visit around once a month or so and it was great. But anytime I suggested that “hey, why don’t you guys come down to the city for the weekend?” I almost always got “well why don’t you just come up here?” When I pressed/suggested there were fun things we could be doing around the city the response always was “well it’s just easier for you to come up here”. WTF??? How was it easier for me to get in my car and drive by myself for 2 hours than for the bunch of them to get in a car and come down to see me (even on economics them visiting made more sense – and this was when gas was still $0.80/L)? Even my mom would complain that I didn’t visit enough back then but over the last few years I’ve moved progressively closer to everyone and now even though I’m only 30 min. away the only times any of them call to visit is because they happen to be doing something else near-by anyway and figure they’d kill two birds with one stone as it were. I appreciate the call and it is always nice to see them if I can (I work from home so usually I get notice of said possible visit as they are leaving to come out my way…). I’ve learned to put up with it but every once in awhile I’ll suggest coming down to do something and still get the old refrain “it’d just be easier if you came here”. I wish I could apply this ease I apparently have to going everywhere to many other aspects of my life…. hahahaha

        1. It’s easier for them, they mean! Unless you have a car and they don’t, or you are only accessible by helicopter and they don’t have a license…. Srsly. People get weird about what is Too Far based on where they normally go, and its not even about time. It’s just, that place? That is totally out of my way, really, so going there is like going to the moon. But since you are not an alien, you have somehow mastered this art of interplanetary travel, and can ride the crosstown bus without whining.

          People are squirrelly about what is in or out of their territory, but it is no excuse.

        2. Arrrgh yes, this. And is it just me, or is there something about downtown T.O. that makes people go “oohhhhhhhh no, not going in THERE”, like there’s some kind of magical force field at the edges of the subway line that only works on suburbanites?

          My parents live an hour away, and my mom is home alone a lot. But whenever I suggest she come spend the day with me, there’s all this hemming and hawing and “oh, but I don’t like to drive downtown.” Ok. Fair enough. I wouldn’t drive down here either. Drive to the end of the subway (40 minutes) and spend three dollars? Hmmm, well, I dunnooooo……

          And yet it’s totally reasonable that I regularly pay $30 to get my broke student ass on a subway + bus and go out to visit for the weekend. It’s like I have magical transit powers, yo.

          1. We have a similar problem with family that live in the countryside and expect us to visit, despite the fact that we can’t drive and it’s really awkward for us to even get there, let alone get around the place. I especially love my relative who thinks that when my elderly relatives in the countryside are ill, I should go care for them. Not my relatives actually in the area who drive, nope, it has to be me. What can I do, drag them out of bed to pick me up and then sit there with them all day, not being able to make trips to the major shops? I fail to see how it would do anything other than inconvenience both myself and them without any benefits to it.

          2. I should add that if I drove, I would see the matter differently, and might enjoy visiting and going about the place doing errands for people, but I hate being stranded and feeling useless.

        3. Admittedly I used to live outside a much much smaller city, but I always got the opposite. All of us who lived out in fields were expected to constantly meet people in the city by default. For a while it made sense, all three of the friends I was going to see lived in the same house. But after a while I got so very tired of the constant one hour round trip. Luckily, when I started inviting them out to my place for movie nights and get togethers, they came.

  7. Oy vey, is this a thing people do? Maybe it’s because my mom works in a hospital laboratory and has to deal with the same scheduling stuff, but I can’t imagine getting on someone’s case for missing a weekend or holiday– like they’re not already a little bit bummed that they are not going to be able to participate in whatever fun thing their loved ones are doing. Plus, I look at it like “my personal small unhappiness at missing someone” versus SOMEONE COULD LITERALLY DIE. Like Lane Meyer said, “Wait…this is DEATH we’re talking about here.” I think the Captain did a great job of finding scripts to handle this stuff, and I’m so sorry people give you grief about your calling.

    1. As the daughter of a nurse, I don’t understand it either. My mother worked 12 hour night shifts through much of my adolescence, and there were Thanksgivings that she’d show up to, only to leave to get to work on time that evening. There were Christmases that we’d spend at my grandparents’ house where my mom would be running on zero hours of sleep because we’d head over there shortly after she got home from her shift.

      Looking back on it, I don’t understand how that woman not only got through major holidays, but just the usual day-to-day grind of raising a family and living in a world that operates on a M-F 8-5 basis. LW, I am so sorry you even needed to write this letter. Keep on loving your job, and there are many of us who will love you for doing it!

      1. Oh yes! This comment reminds me of holidays with my mum so much.
        It’s just how the world works for some people
        I’m sorry friends and family aren’t being more supportive LW. Please keep on doing the awesome job that you do

      2. Me too. My Mom has been a nurse for her entire career; when my siblings and I were kids it was a given that Mom would have to work every other holiday, which was her hospital’s rule. That meant that every other year, my Grandma and I cooked thanksgiving dinner (or I spent it on the phone with her, the times she couldn’t be there). Every other year, we opened Christmas presents and had Christmas dinner AFTER Mom got home from work late in the afternoon/evening. She chose that job, is good at it, and likes her work. She’s saved people with CPR. I think she’s totally badass. But working every other holiday is part and parcel of that, and we all get that.

      3. Not just nurses, either–my Dad is a dairy farmer, and never once in my entire childhood did I have a “Christmas Morning.” Dad always milked the cows on Christmas morning so that his employees could be home with their own families. So, the night before we would get to choose one present to open in the morning before Dad got home, and Mom made orange rolls, and we watched Christmas movies, and then we had our “Christmas Morning” right after lunch. It was never weird to us, it worked out just fine, and I don’t think any of us were scarred by it. But you should have heard the grief Dad got from his sisters about how selfish he was by denying his kids Christmas Morning (My aunts are kind of nasty people sometimes, unfortunately).

        1. Damn, we didn’t get Christmas morning even though no one works that day just because it takes forever for my father to get out of bed. Maybe this is the source of all my psychological problems? If only he’d not been so lazy I’d have been the most successful healthy person EVER!

        2. My family never got Christmas Morning either – but that’s because we’re none of us morning people, and Christmas stockings are distractions to keep the kids from waking up the adults. The first meal of Christmas Day was always lunch, by which time my parents were ready to face the day.

          Now that a large number of my friends are parents, they envy my family, because my parents got to sleep late on a holiday instead of being woken up three hours after going to bed…

    2. it must be a family culture thing.

      I worked at a newspaper for years. I hate Christmas, so I always worked on Christmas. Work was the one reason my family NEVER questioned, and it made my coworkers love me.

      No other excuse works, though. Not ill health. Not advanced pregnancy. Not “You said I ruined Christmas last year why do you want me there this year?”. Not “There is a blizzard.” NOTHING. Only work.

      My partner’s family is all nurses, and another friend comes from a family that ran a small family pharmacy. So all their holiday customs are based on the idea that some people can’t be there and you probably can’t do really elaborate cooking. It’s kind of nice.

      1. Yes on this. Holiday celebrations were always really important in my family but since the family business was running a restaurant, and the busiest days of the year were holidays, people understood when others had to work.

      2. When my father was a reporter, he was one of the few Jews (if not the only one) in a largely Irish-American newsroom, and he worked Christmas and Easter so he could get Jewish holidays off.

        1. My first newspaper gig was in metro NYC, so the newsroom was probably closer to an even split between those who celebrated Christian vs. Jewish holidays, and these kinds of tradeoff arrangements worked pretty well (I get the first night of Passover, you get Easter Sunday, etc). But we all had a chuckle one day when we realized that one of the photo editors, a Jewish guy, had thanks to his seniority managed to establish a long run of taking Christmas Day off every year … so he could go to the movies and out for Chinese food with his wife. Hey, it was tradition!

    3. My dad’s side of the family had two nurse anesthetists and one RN who worked in a hospital, so we always scheduled “DADSIDE Chrismtas” for a week afterwards, allowing everyone to work as needed. Now, my sister and brother-in-law are in hospitality (never a regular schedule!), and my cousins have moved and married and had kids, so most people alternate (except for the ones who stayed relatively local and can do both sides of the family in the same day). There’s no pressure, everyone assumed it would be like this when we all got older. I mean, it’s still difficult when you miss your family and your in-laws just don’t cook the turkey right, but it’s not the end of the world, thankfully.

  8. My dad is law enforcement and my mother is a nurse. I am now married to a pilot. To be able to afford to go anywhere that isn’t in the immediate tri-state area, we have to fly stand-by. This means that plans ALWAYS have to be flexible, and may not firm up until an hour before the event in question. And for the most part, people get that. I’m honestly shocked by this letter, because in my entire life “Sorry, I have to work” is the ultimate trump card in any sort of conversation about attending an event- to the point that before I felt comfortable going “No, I don’t want to go. Thanks for the invite” I used to throw out “Oh, sorry, I have to work”. This is some sort of weird class place that people could even SAY “Oh, just get out of work”.

    Yet, I completely understand this idea that my acquaintances must not care that much about me because they don’t ever seem to care to do any type of hanging out with me or make any time for me. The last time I tried to do a birthday party, the only person who showed up was my husband (who took the day off). That hurts- a lot. Thinking people were your friends and realizing, nah, they’re just facebook friends is a bitch. But, such is life sometimes.

    1. This is a very interesting reply, because I think it gets at familial priorities. In my family, family is the trump card. My parents are OK with some flakiness in travel plans/frequency of visits, but my extended family–grandparents–LIVE for the grandchildren’s visits. I don’t really have to suffer that much, because I adore them and try to see them as often as possible AND I work standard hours with a flexible schedule, but if I were a nurse or cop, I can imagine the guilt-tripping would be intense. School is also a trump card, but schools tend to be on breaks when the major holidays come around, so little conflict there. Then come health: if you have kidney stones you don’t have to show up. Last is work. Most of us are involved in creative or caring fields (clergy-adjacent or mental health care) where hours are set by the worker. I realize this is a luxury and one less source of stress!

      So, thank you, to all of you pulling the graveyard shift on New Year’s Eve. I appreciate it.

    2. I’m with you. Work is an automatic get out of jail free card in my circles. “Can you take the day off?” “No. ” “Okay, that kinda stinks. Next. time, then” (Actually, what people usually say is, “Work? Bah, who needs money? We’ll just use magic unicorns for everything we need!” or something silly along those lines.”) Work and family are pretty equal excuses though.

  9. I’m an introvert with mostly extroverted friends. I like going out with them, I really do, but if they want to do things on two days in a row, I’m probably going to say no to the second day, and a few of them do get pushy about it. My brother, who I’m closest to, knows how to back off after I’ve gone ‘no, I can’t do it, I’ll be worn out’.

    I’ve stopped making excuses other than that- because it’s the truth and even if they can’t understand how socializing for an evening can take up so much energy it doesn’t matter. I don’t need anything more legitimate. They still keep asking, though and it gets annoying but I just remind myself that I see them regularly anyways. They’re not pining!

    1. I have some super extroverted friends also. I can usually handle two days in a row of social activities. But three?
      They have learned not to doubt me when I say that I just need some ‘alone time’ tonight. Sometimes I use the excuse ‘I don’t feel well.’ also, which is the truth, and generally a ‘good enough’ excuse that they will leave me alone for the evening.

  10. Half my extended family are in health, we always do Christmas on the 26th or 27th because everyone can swap those days if they get rostered, and probably make someone who gets the 25th off instead very happy. Reasonable people can work around life saving work.

  11. I think this problem likely stems from people just not understanding, and even a little bit of jealousy.

    One of my first jobs involved working weekends and holidays, and I hated it. So when it came time to choose future jobs, and eventually a career, a M-F 9-5 was very important, and I chose accordingly. For me, what I did wasn’t as important as when I did it.

    For nurses, cops, etc. it’s the opposite. They care much more about what they do than when they do it, which is fantastic because of the nature of those jobs.

    I think the people giving you a hard time fall into the former camp and may have ended up with a job they don’t like because they chose their career based on factors other than work they enjoy. They can’t understand liking a job enough that you’d be willing to put in inconvenient hours. I bet some of these people are jealous about the fact that you like your job so much.

    So, no advice, really. Though my snarky, mean side does have a script that you probably shouldn’t use:
    Them: “You could always get a job with normal hours!”
    You: “Gee, it never occurred to me to quit a career that I love so that I wouldn’t inconvenience you on the holidays/weekends. Great suggestion!”

    1. Or “you could get a job with abnormal unpredictable hours, so we could each other when my schedule permits.”

    2. I’m pretty lucky in that I’m aiming for a career based on what I want to do, I honestly couldn’t care less if I had to work holidays etc, but as it turns out I’ll probably be a M-F 9-5 person with holidays off by default anyway. However, I don’t drive, and my job at the moment the office is on the other side of town, so I get up at 6.30 in order to have time to have a shower and breakfast before I go to catch the bus. So that does mean that I’m going to be passing on any sort of late night get together if I have work the next morning. Normally in that sort of situation my first response will be, “I’m sorry, I have work tomorrow and I need to get some sleep.” If that doesn’t work I’ll reiterate, “Look, I really need to keep a fairly consistent sleep schedule for my health.” Anything past that I just block with, “Maybe next time.”

      “But JUST THIS ONCE!”

      “Sorry, maybe next time.”

      1. “Can’t, it’s a school night!”

        Getting to bed on time so you can get to work the next day is such a boring adult thing, might as speak on their level….

      2. I have perceived a difference between “I can’t go because I will literally be at work or in transit to or from work during a significant portion of the event in question*” and “I can’t go because I have to go to bed in time to be well-rested for when I do have to go to work.” Both are adequate (though I’m in the camp that says no reason is needed at all) but the latter seems like something people are expected to be flexible on.

        *And some events are all significant portions, e.g., “we’re going to the movies tonight”

        1. I’ve perceived the same thing.

          Part of it is, too, that usually (not always) it really would be okay to stay up that one night/get a little less sleep/skip the whatever just this once… if it really WAS just this once. If it really WAS the one time this month I didn’t get much sleep, or skipped the whatever, it would be okay.

          But it never is! Even if that individual was smart enough not to ask for another ‘just this once’ right away (and not everyone is–sometimes you get two ‘just this once’-es from the same person in a week!), there are inevitably a bunch of people who want that concession or exception. And if you’re getting asked by your friends, then your other friends, then your mom, then your friend who is in town just this weekend, then your cousin, then your co-workers, then your brother, etc., all ‘just this once, you can manage it, surely!’, then suddenly you’re not getting enough sleep (or whatever) twice a week, not ‘just this once.’

        2. Yes, many people simply do not believe in sleep as an important thing. I’m lucky (?) enough to get migraines if I don’t sleep enough, so I have a real, imminent threat to pull out. It’s hard for people to argue that they want me to be incapacitated and in pain when presumably they want my company because thye like me, but before I tried that tactic I got a whole lot of crap from people who just wanted me to drink a bunch of caffeine constantly instead of accomodating my body’s needs. Never mind that I prefer to spend some down time before going to sleep.

          1. I’m a lifetime insomniac (one of the reasons for the medication! I take a sedative every night) who literally cannot remember a time when I could sleep easily – in fact just the opposite, I remember as a small child having all kinds of trouble. “Sleep is for the weak” and associated lines drive me up the wall and only moreso as I’ve read more into the actual science of how sleep deprivation can do damage long term. A few years ago I used to play a text-based multiplayer online game where one of the operator/moderator/immortal guys was also an insomniac and we had an understanding where I would not get in trouble for blasting the (usually) teenage boys bragging about how little sleep they got, and it was awesome. Unfortunately that was about the only time I’ve had where a consistent stance of “deliberately denying yourself sleep is fucking stupid”, without my further explanations about medication etc and often even then, was not considered granny-ish. Most people who aren’t disordered recognise that denying yourself food is bad (though there’s a lot of diet-related shit in there for women as well), but other things don’t rate as highly, like sleep or warmth or a method of de-stressing, all things that even in the short term help you fight off illness.

          2. I agree! I (unfortunately) need ten hours of sleep if I’m going to be functional/happy the next day. I can skimp on it every now and then, but very few things are worth the grumpiness of the next day. People who can get by on 6 hours of sleep don’t seem to understand how important it is for me to get my rest!

            I often run into the whole “Just have an extra cup of coffee!” Sure, I could do that, if caffeine didn’t make me ill *sigh*

          3. Caffeine doesn’t make me ill. It just makes me unable to sleep for the next 5 nights. So for a short-term pick-me-up, I get a week of dragging exhaustion. Yee-hah!

            Actually, it also takes the muscles between my shoulder blades and knots them all up. So I am sleep deprived and in pain. Boy, do I hate it when people tell me something’s decaf and it isn’t.

          4. Or saying it’s soy when it isn’t. I’m lactose intolerant, snobby barista douche, and in about an hour I’ll be painfully aware that you were lying.

            There are several coffee shops I refuse to patronize anymore for that very reason.

          5. My friend and I once ran into a place that told us the soda was diet when it wasn’t. Friend is a Type 1 diabetic. That was a super fun trip back to her house in a hurry to get extra insulin, lazy Burger King guy. Thanks for that.

          6. You’re lucky that tactic works for you – not everybody ‘believes’ in migraines!
            “Why can’t you come out?”
            “Because I have a migraine.”
            “But you had a migraine yesterday!”
            “Yes, I know, they’re chronic, and you’re not helping.”
            Very frustrating… It makes for less hanging out with otherwise wonderful people. Both the need for sleep and migraines are invisible and can be hard for people to really *get* if they don’t have the same.

          7. Or the people who think they’re just really bad headaches. *sigh* I’ve never experienced them but from the descriptions I’ve heard from people who do, if someone says they have a migraine I’ll back the hell off them. I’ve had “really bad headaches”, they don’t feel anything like those descriptions.

          8. I have suffered from migraines since I was a toddler (am now 26) and on three occasions they have been so severe that I needed a shot of pethidine because I was at level 10 on the pain scale and literally couldn’t do anything but scream and cry and whimper in a little ball in the dark. Even a ‘normal’ migraine can leave me mentally and physically exhausted for several days afterwards, so when people say “Oh, it’s just a headache, come and have a drink, you’ll feel better” I get really frustrated (and no, a drink will actually make me feel a hundred times worse).

            I am also very introverted; even with my closest friends (and I have very few of those, since most of my so-called friends either just stopped talking to me or started treating me like shit and saying it was a joke, but then telling me to get over it and stop overreacting when I asked them to stop and stood up for myself), I can really only tolerate social interaction in small doses. A few people know that when I say, “I need to be left alone for a while”, that means they need to back off, but for some reason a lot of people interpret that as “I WILL GET IN YOUR FACE AND TALK AT YOU CONSTANTLY, AND THEN CALL YOU A BITCH WHEN YOU GET ANNOYED WITH ME AND ASK ME TO GO AWAY!” Plus, for most people I know, ‘going out and having fun’ consists of either going to a pub/nightclub and getting drunk or doing karaoke and getting drunk, all of which are things I have no interest in whatsoever. They complain when I never want to go out, but since they never want to do anything *I* am interested in, I guess they don’t want to spend time with me that much.

            I agree on the work front, too; I don’t have a 9-5 job but my hours are regular. But for financial reasons, I just can’t afford to take time off to go to someone’s barbecue, not unless they’re willing to pay for my public transport or my meals for that week.

          9. No further nesting allowed, so responding to Rebecca above to say that I so totally, absolutely get all of that and am sending you Jedi hugs if you want them (because if you have a migraine, the last thing you want is an actual hug *shudder*)

          10. I suddenly feel very, very grateful for my small group of friends. I didn’t realise my chronic migraines would be anything BUT accepted and respected as a good reason not to do something. Hell, bad allergy/hay fever days are accepted as a good reason not to do something. Balls.

          11. Well, it’s partly luck and partly not being at all nice to people when they make my life incredibly frustrating. People who hassle me about my health or the ways I choose to deal with it? Too annoying, goodbye. It’s a trade-off; as you say, some of those people can be pretty cool in other ways.

  12. The problem might be less in the US, but here in the UK, I get a lot of social coercion for not drinking. I eventually twigged that people who themselves felt uncomfortable if they didn’t have a drink in a specific situation were the most pushy in insisting that I drink in that situation.

    So I wonder if the people pushing the LW to come to family events at all costs might be those who feel most insecure about whether people love them if they don’t get to go to those events.

    You certainly can’t use it in a script, but it may help you make sense of some of those pushing you


    1. I know it’s weird, but I got a lot less social coercion once I started drinking soda in a beer mug, without ice. Even though everyone knew what it was, they really backed off the pressure and seemed a lot more comfortable drinking around me.

      1. I do that too! I also like club soda with a splash of bitters and lime in a low or highball glass.

    2. Yeah there’s a huge drinking culture in New Zealand. Especially when I used to go to house parties, the times when I wasn’t drinking there’d always be someone trying to push something on me. I usually went with telling them I couldn’t drink on my medication (which in theory is true but if I want to drink I do know the limit, and I don’t like getting more than slightly tipsy anyway) but that only works because, you know, I’m on medication.

      1. Yeah, we really need to sort that shit. Fortunately in my particular group of friends we range from two people who are *literally* allergic to alcohol to someone who *literally* cannot get drunk no matter how much he drinks, so there’s a lot less pressure because people get that drinking might not always be wanted.

        I keep trying to think how we can fix it. The ‘Bloody Legend’ billboards/ads seem to be helping a bit (LOL ‘ghost chips’). I kinda default to making sure that if someone is pressuring people to drink, they get the “Dude, that is uncool, stop it.” Mostly they back off, and if they don’t, people are willing to reinforce (forcibly was once necessary, hasn’t ever been since). Spread that culture, I guess?

        1. Legislation sure as shit isn’t going to do it, at least not alone. Especially because the government hates regulation – seriously, these are the guys that backed down on stricter life jacket regulation for small vessels. So anything they pass is probably going to be a token gesture designed more to look like they’re doing something than to be effective, much like their tough on crime/welfare dependency bills. Ad campaigns and attitude change are far more likely to work imo, especially if they keep working with ad creators who can deliver that sort of viral messaging, but it’s still going to be a hard slog to get through to people. One of the other problems is that the most successful campaigns have been aimed mostly at young drinkers, who aren’t the only ones who need to be targeted, and I’m not sure whether that’s because of biases on the part of the people designing them or because there are fairly split numbers of ads but the ones for youth have been better received (either because they’re just plain better ads or because younger people are more open to receiving messages from media as opposed to older people who are possibly more entrenched in the culture and resistant to change).

    3. It’s true! People who are insecure about drinking always try to get non-drinkers to drink. To borrow language from other threads, it’s like you’re not-drinking AT them.

    4. Funny, the most obnoxious person I ever met with the drinking pressure was British :-). He died young, not surprisingly. I’ve learned to quickly order something that looks like a drink discreetly so I have something in hand. Grapefruit juice works well for me, usually better taste than orange, usually stocked in bars, people assume it’s laden with vodka. Servers usually cooperate with the discreet part, but if they don’t it’s not really my problem. In a pinch, you can always hold the offending drink all night and just not drink it, that avoids the refill problem. And drink from the bathroom tap when you need to.

      I’ve also learned to come early to events that are likely to degenerate into drinking bouts, and leave on the sly as soon as I think it’s starting to degenerate. This way everyone remembers my presence, and assumes they just were too smashed to see me leave. Needless to say those are generally work events, as it’s easy to avoid the others entirely. But my advice would be to never, ever go on a cruise :-). Impossible to jump overboard when it looks like your only alternative to avoid the creepy ones.

    5. Are you me? We even have the same name.

      I’m admittedly a student, so there is the chance this is skewed towards student culture, but every acquaintance social event I’ve ever been invited to as a legal adult here is in a pub or is a pub crawl or is accompanied by possibly going to the pub before/after. My non-drinking friends always get the odd looks or the “come on just try it” or “just this once” or “but what do you do for fun?” if they say they don’t drink.

      1. Meh, it’s easy to make out the difference between a teetotaller and a teetotalitarian: the latter believes drinking responsibly is impossible, that peeps who consume alcohol do it due to lack of social skills/only because of beer pressure/(other reasons to look down on them) and has concluded alcohol is disgusting only because s/he doesn’t like beer. It’s the mirror version of the obnoxious asshat who keeps shoving drinks into people’s faces and interrogates them on why they’re not getting wasted(especially to meekish geekettes).

        1. Haha, that’s true. I also love teetotalitarian ❤ I think any kind of drinking-related coercion and judging is Bad Stuff, I've just seem more of it from the side of drinkers in my circles.

    6. urgh, so true. My husband doesn’t drink – he’s violently allergic to alcohol – and so many people persist in acting really uncomfortable around him, or pressuring him to drink. (Really? One beer won’t hurt? Do you WANT to be around for the projectile vomiting and ER visit that will result from your little experiment?)

      1. That’s really something I never understood (like, really. My brain doesn’t get it.). I really don’t care what other people drink – except maybe in a more general sense of “okay, they drank alcohol, that explains why they’re starting to look around oddly” or whatever – so I don’t understand why anyone could possibly be interested in what I drink and then even think to have a say in it.
        (Like that one woman in the gym I work at – whenever she’d see me work she’d ask my why I’m not also working out at the moment. Huh? How was that her business? Would my working out change anything about her life? Weeeeird!)

      2. Oh my god, YES. Two of my friends are allergic too, I’ve had to get quite up-in-people’s-faces about ‘No, she doesn’t want a drink, she will *literally* puke up her stomach lining, you asshat!’ I wish more people would understand/listen!

    7. It’s bad the U.S. too. I’ve gone to work-related happy hours, figuring I can just order some bar food, hang out and be sociable, and ended up subjected to endless comments and pressure and jokes about not drinking. I don’t have anything against drinking, and in fact when I was in college I did drink at parties like everyone else, but it’s just not my thing any more. (Plus, odds of me having even one drink and then getting in the car to go pick up my kid? Zero.) I totally agree with your theory and think that people assume that since they can’t have fun unless they’re drinking, anyone who’s not drinking must not be having fun. The odd thing to me is that it seems really risky to press someone on this particular topic – there are so many reasons someone might not be drinking other than being a prudish stick in the mud, e.g. being a recovering alcoholic, being on medication for an issue they don’t want to discuss, and on and on and on.

      1. Or drinking is just really uncomfortable–I don’t “loosen up” or “get tipsy” or whatever, I just get really dizzy and my skin starts to feel like it’s floating a few millimeters above my muscles, and there very possibly might be fizzy water in the between space. This makes me go WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS I DON’T EVEN and hide in a corner until it goes away. Sometimes I cry. And this is two glasses of wine, mind you. DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DO THIS TO ME? DO YOU?

        Explaining this usually makes people stop pushing.

        1. If I go past the first stage of pleasantly tipsy, then when I go to bed and close my eyes to sleep, the room starts spinning faster and faster until it feels like I’m about to be lurched off my bed and I have to open them again, a few seconds later. And alcohol also makes me get sleepy. It’s really unpleasant. :-/

          1. I’ve actually found the “Alcohol = sleep” correlation helps people back the fuck off. As in “If I drink tonight, I’m gonna fall the fuck asleep for the rest of the party/happy hour/insert social gathering. I think you’d rather have me awake for this.”

            Of course, I’ve also backed that up by having a drink and ACTUALLY falling the fuck asleep at social events, so there’s that. :p

      2. I once had a guest who was a friend of my SO’s over to my house for dinner, and asked him if he wanted a beer. He said “No, I don’t drink,” I said, “Okay,” and went back to rummaging in the fridge for whatever I was looking for. He later told me that he was slightly taken aback because this was the first time someone had neither immediately started castigating him for not drinking, demanded that he provide a reason for his refusal, or informed him in tones of constipated seriousness that that was COOL, man, and they TOTALLY respected his principles. His not drinking is Not A Thing to him, and the fact that I saw it the same way was to him an indication that we could be friends. (And now we are. Life is nice sometimes.) For my part, I think pressuring people to drink is dumb and that people’s reasons for why they don’t are usually either fairly mundane, deeply personal or to do with religion (and I’m not interested in hearing any of that unless I know you very well).

      3. Yep, the number of times I’ve said ‘oh, I can’t drink with my meds’ and then had people ask me what they’re for like that’s an appropriate question. My dad did actually flip once and tell someone pressuring him to drink that he was an alcoholic (not true, but it hopefully made them think twice about doing that again). I just don’t understand it! They don’t want a drink, why do you need to know why or pressure them?

    8. there is a lot of social pressure to drink in australia. i have recently stopped drinking & just become aware of how pervasive & power-trippy the whole thing is. some of the time i suspect that by not drinking, people assume i’m casting judgment on them having a drink themselves. lately i’ve noticed that some people try to shame me into drinking with them, like literally going on the verbal attack when i say no: “what, do you reckon you’re too good to have a drink with me?” or “we’re all trying to [celebrate x/relax after work/have a good time etc] & you’re ruining the mood.” there’s really not much that i’ve found is successful in these situations, at times i’ve said stuff like: “why do you care so much what i’m drinking? i don’t care what you’re drinking.” sometimes people will push me to give detailed explanations to justify why i don’t want to drink & explaining why in general [basically because of bad experiences & general health concerns, which is really no one’s business] will be interpreted to mean “she doesn’t want to drink with ME!” people can get quite aggressive, there was one woman that i barely know who, after questioning me for a few minutes [because that’s how this social group works, i guess, it’s acceptable to interrogate individuals who aren’t conforming] got really angry & said “i didn’t ask for your life story, just have a beer!”

      maybe it’s a case of exerting social pressure just to prove they can make someone do something they don’t want to do, or to prove to themselves that their lifestyle choices are so good & universal that eventually everyone will come round to their way of thinking & join in. not much to do other than walk away at that point, because really, life is too damn short to be around people who are that invested in whether other people drink or not.

      but there are other times when i’m sure people are not trying to be pushy or power-trip, they are maybe just thinking i don’t have any money or i haven’t got round to buying a drink yet & trying to be social, at those times i’ve found having a glass of anything, even water, in my hand, will make people less likely to pressure me to drink with them.

  13. Argh yes. If you work non-traditional hours/schedules you will get all sorts of passive-aggressive “but can’t you reschedule?” bullshit. No, I probably can’t, and since I’m self-employed cancelling costs me money, so unless you want to pay me $250 to attend your picnic I’m not doing it.

    Don’t even get me started about the people who tell you to just bring your baby to everything. Not that I’m against babies in public – quite the opposite! – it’s just that some of them really need to stick to their routines, and will not thank you for dragging them to an event that starts an hour after their bedtime and involves a bunch of strangers poking and making faces at them. But still some people will get all offended that you won’t bring your 7-month-old to their barbecue that starts at 8 PM. People.

    1. and since I’m self-employed cancelling costs me money

      Oooh, sympathy, because that touches on something that really bugs me, which is the assumption that a flexible schedule is infinitely flexible. I have a flexible schedule. That doesn’t mean that I want to work all day Saturday so I can come to your Friday afternoon picnic. It’s better for productivity for me to work largely regular hours, so the assumption that I can always shut work earlier/later/to the weekend for any given thing is bothersome. (And kinda presumptuous.)

      1. which is the assumption that a flexible schedule is infinitely flexible

        THANK YOU. As a just-finished grad student, I had to deal with that assumption soooo much. Yes, I would love to fly 1000 miles to visit you and spend the entire trip ignoring you so I can read.

        1. For the summer school semester and onwards I’m actually planning on scheduling my study times anyway, both for that reason and my own benefit so I’ll hopefully stop putting it off and getting behind. Probably I’ll have to explain to people why I have to study at that particular time when I’m an extramural student instead of doing whatever it is they want, but I’ll deal with that when it happens.

          1. I find that saying ‘I have to work’ instead of ‘I have to study’ helps. Study IS work (hell, if you’re a grad student it’s effectively a paying job) but other people don’t always see it like that. It also gets YOU in the right frame of mind to defend that time further if need be (I’m a grad student and seem to always be apologizing for that fact.)

          2. Yup, this. Especially as a post-grad in science. If I say I’m a student, everyone assumes I have like two lectures a week and can just ditch uni whenever. Even if I say ‘post-grad student’, all they hear is the student bit. Being a post-grad IS a paying job! At the very least my hours are 9-5 and I get the legal bare minimum in holidays. 28 days/year, *including* the 8 bank holidays! People ask what I’m doing for my summer holidays and my response is always some variation of ‘what holidays?!’ I was in work on New Year’s Eve last year and I worked through the Easter bank hols too. I did take some time off either side of those events but gone are the undergrad days of three weeks off at Christmas, two weeks off at Easter and three months of “summer holiday” – which I was worked through to pay my own way/get experience in the lab.


            My own Christmas dilemma this year is telling Mum that I’ll be spending Christmas Day with Dad and Boxing Day with her (and Gran, who I cannot stand! I have ranted here before about her, so I’ll refrain). In theory, it’s easy because I’m just doing the opposite of what I did last year (which was the first Christmas after my parents separated), but I’m still apprehensive. Anyone else got stories about setting new patterns for family holidays after parents have separated/divorced most un-amicably?

          3. Oh, hugs and best wishes to you. My parents divorced non-amicably when I was two, and it was always really hard and still is. I’ve pretty much given up on getting either one to see things from the other’s point of view, but I did come up with one thing that gave my dad pause one year. He was going off on the usual “we just love you so much and Christmas isn’t WHOLE without having ALL your loved ones there why can’t you understand that etc. etc.” and I interrupted him with “Yeah, you’re right, Dad, I DON’T understand that. Because I’ve never HAD a ‘whole’ Christmas.” That didn’t change the way he felt about my mom, but it did seem to get him thinking about how all that tension/pressure affected me.

          4. I don’t have un-amicable parents; they separated early in my life and were fairly good about holidays – for example, my grandparents always came in to town ON Christmas and stayed for a week or two, so my (real) Christmas is the 24th, and then on the 25th I had Christmas with my father and his family. These days, they don’t live near each other, so I have real Christmas with my mother and call on the 25th to say hi and happy Christmas to my father.

            My advice is: stick to your guns. Expect (out loud if necessary) that each of your parents will respect your relationship with the other one. Remind your mother that she had you last year, that splitting up holidays like this is still a new thing and there may be kinks to work out.

            It may turn out to work better if you can arrange it so things are the same every year – maybe one gets Christmas and the other gets time the week after/before or gets time around your birthday or Other Major Holiday, and that’s the same every year. It can be really hard to be on a flippy every-other kind of schedule, because then you don’t get to build up new traditions around the thing that is JUST YOURS. Even if it looks from outside like second place, if the event is about being together and family, it doesn’t matter what the date is. As I said above – my Christmas is on the 24th of December. Could we ‘go back’ to the 25th? Sure, but why would we?

            Now, to stray a bit from the holidays – if you actually prefer one of them over the other? That’s ok. And you can act on that. You are not a commodity, you do not have to be split evenly in the divorce. I don’t expect at this point that I will ever spend Christmas with my father again. And you know what? That’s my decision to make. I see him… for a few hours every couple of years, if he happens to be in my area or if I am in his for a completely unrelated reason. I call him a few times a year, usually when he calls me, and I always have a reason to be off the phone after a little while. On the other hand, I’m down to see my mother (who moved much closer to me about two years ago) once every month or two, and we talk on the phone every week.

            Your relationship with your mother is not the same as your relationship with your father, and anyone who expects otherwise is being unreasonable.

            Er. So that reply morphed a bit. I hope some of it is useful to you. Good luck! If everything gets really shitty, spend Christmas with your chosen family and give everyone a solid jolt of reality.

          5. Thanks Acmac and Nathan. It’s good to get other perspectives. It’s not been too bad working out hols and stuff so far, and I’ve made it very clear to both of them that I love them equally and will do my best to spend the same amount of time with both of them. It does seem to be working, and they do seem to be aware of how its affecting me. When they’ve not been aware, it’s only been because I’ve been hiding it for both their sakes (that ended up taking some talking over with a counsellor!)

            Nathan, good point about flippy-flop potentially being difficult in the long term. I’m still under 25 and am not yet in the position of wanting to spend big holidays with my SO, so I’m fully expecting that to change in the next few years anyhow. I figure if I give Mum the chance to get used to the idea that I won’t spend every Christmas with her it’ll be easier in the long run. It was only after my parents split that Dad and I had the conversation about how we spent absolutely every single Christmas with Mum’s parents since before I was born, even though Dad gets on well with his Mum and siblings! I want to avoid that at all costs!

            The push-back I’m really expecting is from Gran, via Mum. I’m in enough trouble as it is about being in touch (or not, as the case may be) with her. Quote: Gran doesn’t think she even HAS a grandaughter any more. Well. I’ve made vague promises of visiting Gran sometime around Christmas so i probably should… Mum knows I can’t stand Gran, and I’ve used my words more than once to ask Mum to stop carrying messages but she hasn’t. She’s acknowledged the dynamics and she knows it’s not helpful but she won’t change the patterns because Gran emotionally manipulates her. Mum even admitted she didn’t like Gran’s mother so she knows what I’m going through and still!!!! Argh, frustrated and pissed off!

          6. Re: working over the summer holidays, I usually answer that with a puzzled look and the question “Holidays, what’s that?” If it requires more, I will explain that the last time I had a proper holiday was 6 years ago and that I work on Christmas Day.

          7. I’m unemployed, and at a (mandatory) meeting about unemployment benefits and job hunting, one of the things we were told was to have a schedule. The sample schedule was something like “[block of morning for specific job-hunting activity] 12:00 Lunch 1:00 Go for a walk 2:00 Return phone calls.”

            I had been thinking of that as them pushing the value of a regular schedule and of exercise, but it also would make it easier to say “sorry, I can’t, I’m busy then” rather than being pushed into “can’t you look at those job listings later?”

          8. not to sidetrack too much, but as someone who was unemployed for two years (!) I can’t tell you how (just even psychologically) important having a “schedule” was, and, specifically, waking up on time every morning, taking a shower, and leaving my apartment EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I had all sorts of email subscriptions/rss feeds/etc. for jobs in my industry, so I would wake up and spend my first hour in the morning going through all the new listings and flagging ones that looked appropriate. I would then get dressed, go get coffee at my neighborhood shop (where there was a sort of kaffee klatch of similarly situated folks I became friends with), read the paper, and then come home and do all of the actual job applications. I also re-introduced myself to my favorite hobby (photography) and I participated in various groups and classes to give myself both structure and “tasks” each day.

          9. Sidetracking even further. I have the same with my research. The more I structure my day, the more I get done. Unfortunately, actually doing that structuring and sticking to the structure is really, really hard. How *do* you do it?…

          10. Yeah I am going to have to do things like bearing in mind that reading my Social Policy texts tends to make me sleepy. (I don’t know why; it’s fascinating to me and this doesn’t happen when I read strictly for pleasure.) So scheduling, like, a two hour block to do my readings is probably going to set myself up for failure. Suspect success will involve figuring out my best periods of study-time and taking advantage of them, plus a system of rewards for complying. Gold stars, maybe. 🙂 I could put the schedule up on the wall and put a gold star in the study blocks I complete and if I get enough of them I can have an ice cream or something. I fail to care how childish it is if it works! And you should never be too old for gold stars.

          11. No more room for further embedding, so I hope this ends up under Chris’ gold star comment, which is where it should go! Gold stars work for me! I get gold stars for everything. In fact, I get pretty stickers for everything. And then I get to play a game or read a book if I have been very good 🙂


          I mean. I am a first-year graduate student and dealing with parents and holidays for the first time post undergrad. I’m trying to figure out how to communicate to my family that actually this is a full-time job without a lot of time off, and also trying to figure out exactly what level of output is being expected from my end so I don’t swing to the other side of the pendulum and go “no holidays ever, I am always working” which is an actual thing I have a tendency to do. And flying 1000 miles is made doubly difficult for me by the fact that I have a dog to take care of, so I can’t exactly up and leave whenever without making plans for her. And I can’t even use the excuse of money being an issue (which it is, but maybe not as big as the issue of trying to figure out where the work balance lies and the emotional stress of holidays when I have so much else going on) because my parents cheerfully went “Oh, okay, we’ll pay for you to get home!” when I brought that up. They also went “Oh, so you have summers off, awesome! :D” when I showed them my TA letter and I suspect they are not very clear about how grad school is different from undergrad, especially since I worked in a lab in undergrad and treated my research there as a serious work commitment also.

          I really fucking wish more professional organizations talked about this aspect of work-life balance in academia instead of “work-life balance” always being code for “how to have babies and keep your job!” Not to knock babies, but balancing the expectations on you as a graduate student with the ability to have some kind of personal life and more general familial expectations is hard, and it would be nice to be able to find people talking realistically about how to do that even outside the context of being a mom.

          I am sorry to threadjack but I am freaking out a lot about this right now. D:

          1. Oh, sympathies, my family has been learning this one too, and as the oldest kid I’ve been breaking ground. I’m a fifth-year student in a lab science; my sister is just starting a PhD program (after a masters) in a field science. She’s got the straightforward explanation that summers are field season, and she needs to be out collecting data n times a week when her plants-of-interest are growing.

            Some stuff that has helped, in both the “figuring out the expectations” and “talking to family” departments:

            -Talk to other people in your lab. A sane PI will encourage you to take a week off here and there, because family is important, and having (some) life outside of lab is important, and most of us don’t actually do better science if we’re working 80 hours a week. (First-year is a bit more work, because you have classes to stay on top of, but after that it settles down.) Older grad students, and post-docs, will have thoughts on how much time off is reasonable, and of course this all varies with the kind of work you’re doing. If your experiment needs to be poked at every day, you don’t get to go on vacation while that’s running, etc.

            -I remind my family that PhD programs are an apprenticeship in Being A Grown-Up Scientist. This isn’t school, this is training. Thus, most of the things that are true of Grown-Up Scientists are also true of grad students.

            -The publicly-visible part of being a prof is teaching, of course, but in fact science profs are expected to be doing kind of a lot of research. Teaching takes up a lot of time, so summers are your chance to actually get research done. The lack of summer TA responsibilities is an opportunity for you to be getting your own work done.

            -And it has totally helped to have two of us in the academic world. I think hearing the same things in stereo has helped my mom really internalize that no, we’re not avoiding her, this job really does require this.

            -Can your family Skype you into a gathering if you’re not home? My sister was in London last year, did not get Thanksgiving off, and was not up for missing class to come home. So she was vid-chatting with the rest of us, laptop getting passed around, for about an hour of the pre-dinner Thanksgiving socialization. If you’d love to get to see people’s faces (and then turn them off and go sleep in your own nice quiet bed), this might help your parents feel like you’re still honoring the family.

            (If your parents are willing to pay for the plane ticket, totally take them up on it, when you figure out how to do it. Ask if they’ll pay for the dog to be boarded, or for a pet-sitter, too! Parents who are willing to pay for stuff in order to see you are an awesome resource.)

            Good luck!

          2. Stickyrice’s comment: -I remind my family that PhD programs are an apprenticeship in Being A Grown-Up Scientist. This isn’t school, this is training. Thus, most of the things that are true of Grown-Up Scientists are also true of grad students.

            is pretty much spot-on. I’d bring this up in conversation with your parents/other key relatives, and frame your ‘study’ as ‘actual scientific research’ (which it is! How much of the work in many papers is actually down to PhDs doing the grunt work? – at least 70% usually!). I guess just keeping bashing them over the head (subtly) that this is a real job? If you think they’re not really clear on the differences between PG and UG, it might be up to you? It sucks, I know. 😦

            As for how much work you should be doing? This is something I really struggle with because my inner perfectionist is of the opinion that no amount of work is ever enough; I could always be doing more, even when, realistically, I can’t. My Supervisor expects 8 hour working days, with core hours of 10-4 pm, on average/minimum. In the UK we’re mostly forbidden 50+ hour weeks thanks to the EU. The hours I actually do depends on my experiments and other commitments like report writing, and specific deadlines. The UK research councils allow PhDs to take as much as 8 weeks holidays per year but my Supervisor permits markedly less (4 weeks, including Bank Holidays). I.e. it’s different for each lab, each supervisor, each university and each funding body. So, as StickyRice said – ask about in your lab/department!

            If you know you have a tendency to throw all your time into work, maybe its an idea to block out at least a week’s holiday every three months or so? Frame it as allowing yourself a break so you can be more productive the rest of the time, if that helps.

            Finally, with regards to going home for Christmas, try and figure out how much time *you* want to spend with family. If you want to go home and they’re offering to pay for flights but your dog needs looking after, see if they’ll pay for the kennels? The other thing I’d consider, given that I know Christmas will be stressful for me, is how much time I’ll need off to recover from the festivities afterwards! That time is important! And if I know I’ll have to be in work whether I want to be or not, I’ll plan for that week to be a quiet one of planning, data analysis, marking etc. where I don’t expect too much of myself. Or that’s the theory!

          3. Wow — 50-hour weeks are sort of considered bare minimum for grad students where I work. 60 is more normal, and I’ve known a PI or two who expected 80.

            More general advice for Sciatrix: find out what’s expected as far as number of hours, amount of vacation time, etc. Write all of that down. Send it to your parents in some kind of written form (letter, email, whatever). Preface it with “grad school is really different from undergrad; I’m an apprentice more than a student [there have actually been some judicial rulings on that in the US]; here’s what they expect from me, so let’s figure out together how we can make this work; here are my ideas so far.” If what they expect from you would actually leave you with more holiday time at Christmas than you want to spend with your family, feel free to lie just a little to make sure you get in enough time for yourself.

          4. That’s a really good idea about how to phrase it, Becky.

            As for the UK and working hours, I’m expecting to have to work much harder this year! :s

      2. also that if you’re not working, you of course can do their thing. There are no other possible priorities in your life, right?

        1. Haha, this one is always a bit of a problem for me. I’m pretty literal-minded and accurate in how I use language, so if asked a question along the lines of “Are you available to do X at Y date/time?” I have to stop myself and think before I answer, to insert “and also, do you want to?” because hey, that’s the question I *should* be answering, usually.

          1. I always feel edgy when people start an invitation with something like, “Are you free on Saturday at 6pm?” Because honestly, I kind of want to know why they’re asking before I answer. I’d much rather someone say, “I am having a gigantic party/would like to get a cup of coffee with you/need someone to feed my cat at 6pm on Saturday, are you free?” because my free-ness is going to depend a lot based on which of those it is.

            (Yeah, I can say, “Sure, I’m free,” and then still say “no” when they say, “Great, I’m having a party!” But it’s a lot harder, because the fig leaf of ‘I’m doing something’ is taken away, and I have to just say, “No, I just don’t want to go to a party.” And then feelings get hurt, a lot of the time.)

          2. This can be somewhat mitigated by always, always answering with, “I’m not sure; I’ll check the calender when I get home. What’s the occasion?”

            Advanced avoiders can also try, “That sounds like so much fun, but I’ll need to think about it. I’ve been over-committing myself a lot lately and getting run down.”

          3. I like “advanced avoiders”, it makes it sound like I could get a diploma in avoiding! Next year I’m going to sign up for Avoiding 110: The Gentle Mislead.

          4. Ye gods, yes! My mother-in-law used to do a step beyond that, even – it was “What days are you free next week?”

            Talk about taking away the fig leaf. (Fabulous turn of phrase, btw.) It essentially forced us to agree to whatever she wanted, sight-unseen, because we *just* told her we had no plans that day. We got really good at the “Uh, I don’t remember my schedule – I’ll have to check it. What did you have in mind?” excuse.

            Of course, moving several states away has helped, too. But I don’t recommend that as a usual course of action. :p

    2. Yes! My Dad works for himself and if he doesn’t work, money doesn’t come in, THE END. So yes, in theory he can take a couple of weeks off to visit me, but only if he wants to miss half the month’s work so stop asking why my parents never visit me as if they don’t care. UGH.

      1. We live in the same house that we did when my father worked at a big job for a big company with a big salary; now he’s past the age of retirement and self-employed. If we want something done, we let him know and then wait for him to get to it and don’t complain if it takes longer than we expected. My mother works part time now and the three remaining siblings pay board, but even so our income is less than it used to be. He’s got shit to do.

  14. My unfavourite flavour of social coercion is related to food.

    There are many dessert foods that I dislike. I was brought up to believe that if you want to decline an offer of food you should just say “no, thank you” without elaborating, because saying “ewww, I hate that, it’s gross” is rude and hurts the feelings of the person trying to be nice by offering it to you. This has always made sense to me.

    Unfortunately, some people are apparently socialised to believe that if a woman declines an offer of dessert, it’s because she’s ON A DIET and secretly wants to be jollied into breaking it (which is insulting on so many different levels I could write a blog post about it). You can see where this is going — the land of increasingly strained and forceful refusals stretching into awkwardness until I finally snap and explain that I just don’t like [whatever it is].

    I have also had people assume that if I’m eating or drinking something they think is unusual (which includes such exotic and unheard-of foodstuffs as green tea) it must be because I’m following some kind of health fad. I can’t possibly have a broad range of tastes, or likes and dislikes like a normal person.

    1. Seconded, this and Heather’s comment about drinking above. I’ve witnessed SO MANY weird power game conversations like these. I just, I don’t, why on earth is that considered appropriate at all?

    2. I’m not sure if this is a particularly good response, but I often give a mildly stated reason for not eating whatever food, followed by a positive statement to sort of insta-defuse and lead the conversation in a positive direction. For example, something like “No thanks, I’m not a huge fan of X main ingredient (or, I’m not super hungry right now, or I’m allergic to X, or I’m not really in the mood for something sweet), but it does look/smell delicious.” You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I personally like to know reasons for things. If you explain that you just ate, I won’t keep offering you different food until I find something you like, because I know the reason you don’t want my bread pudding isn’t bread-pudding-specific. And as an added bonus, sometimes your friends remember what you say, and make food without X the next time (or make sure to have green tea on hand), because they know you will appreciate it!

      1. Please avoid blaming allergies if you are not allergic! It teaches people that food allergies are not real things when they slip you some of it later, I hope on accident, and nothing happens. That is already a huge problem, because people can be food assholes…

        1. Sorry, Carbonatedwit, I meant to encourage people to give mildly stated but honest explanations! Thanks for catching that, I’m sorry for not being clear.

        2. I would like to point out that not all allergies manifest the same way. People tend to think of the hives and facial swelling and life-threatening stuff – which I’ve seen on a friend, and it was super-scary, so don’t think I’m discrediting that at all… but, as I mentioned upthread, i’m allergic to dairy. I don’t swell or turn purple – but I do get to spend the next few hours in the bathroom, with what can only be accurately described as the mad screaming shits.

          Either way, I think someone who doesn’t take your food preferences seriously (especially in a potential allergy situation) is kind of a douche. It’s not up to them to determine *how* allergic you are, or if you’re *actually* allergic or not. If they’re slipping you some food you’re “supposedly” allergic to, there are other issues going on.

    3. Thirded! People should realize that it’s ok if everyone doesn’t eat something. It’s not always a referendum on your cake, some people just don’t like oranges. (or whatever)

    4. I also hate that! If it helps (it might not…) I got taught to say ‘it’s not to my taste’ if asked about a food I didn’t want to eat, or if I’d been made to JUST TRY IT and still didn’t like it – sounds more formal in english.. but there are ways of expressing ‘thanks, but I don’t like (that food, most desserts including that food’ which aren’t ‘eww gross’ and still express that you actually don’t want to eat it, and it’s not a ‘guilty pleasure’ you’re denying yourself. I sometimes say ‘I don’t really have a sweet tooth’.

      1. Agreed! I don’t like cinnamon and people absolutely cannot believe that, and I have a few other weird ones as well. So I often say something like “That sounds like it’d be great to someone with different tastebuds, but it’s not for me.”

        1. Ooh – yes, this reminds me of a friend who simply does not like condiments. He just continues to refuse politely – “Sorry, I don’t like them” “I just don’t like them” and after a while anyone who’s pushing too hard will have to let it go – I mean, who wants to be the jackass who makes someone do something they don’t like to do? Its not like he’s yanking off salad dressing and mustard off everyone’s tables going “DIE DIE!!!”

        2. Oh, yes — I do that one too, as a vegetarian. “That sounds delicious! I mean, I don’t eat meat, but it sounds like if I did it would be good.”

          1. I’m a vegetarian too but I use it less – or at least only around trusted people – about meaty stuff, because then sometimes I get asked to just try it anyway. “If it sounds good…”

            I eventually figured out I tend to experience flavors more intensely than other people I know, which I think leads to some of my likes and dislikes, so I’ll often start talking about that to deflect conversation – sensory relativity and super-tasters are way more interesting than the fact that I won’t eat cilantro or mushrooms or peppers, I’m pretty sure.

          2. Gah, being vegetarian is a whole other world of weird pressuring. I have friends who literally wave forkfuls of meat under my nose when we’re eating together, like I’m suddenly going to go “OMG WHY DID I EVER STOP EATING MEAT, OH THOSE EMPTY WASTED YEARS” and start devouring hamburgers and bacon. It seems to be related to the “all women are on a diet” idea, except it’s “all vegetarians are denying themselves meat for ethical reasons and one taste will show them what they’re missing.” (I never liked meat, even as a child – I used to get in trouble for not eating my steak or chicken at dinner, the way other kids get in trouble for hiding their peas under their mashed potatoes.)

          3. WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT ARGH. Have they never seen a long-term vegetarian eat meat? It’s nothing but hours of stomachaches, people. Even if they wanted to stop being vegetarian, they couldn’t just eat a steak! They have to build up a tolerance! That fork thing is so invasive and gross. It’s ridiculous what control freaks people can be.

          4. OMG YES! I have NEVER eaten meat – raised veggie – and if I ever took people up on their ‘just trrrrry it once!’ waved forkfuls I would be violently ill, okay. It is SO ANNOYING.

    5. Ha, yes! I have some very specific and (to many people) peculiar dislikes that unfortunately coincide with things you might avoid were you on a diet — the most prominent offenders being chocolate and melted cheese. If I’m honest about why I’m not eating whatever it is (“don’t like it, sorry”), people often demand to know WHY or HOW I could POSSIBLY not like these things. (I get the weirdest reactions when I peel the cheese off my pizza. Like I have, I don’t know, murdered a small animal or something.) I mean, I know I’m kind of weird, but it’s also kind of weird that people are SUPER INVESTED in everyone liking chocolate. (I mean, I get that sharing food is a very common way of showing affection, and having your gift of food rejected can feel like YOU are being rejected, and I do try to try new and different forms* of these items to be a good sport. But. Still. It’s weird.)

      * Context here being that I was raised in the U.S. Midwest, where melted cheese often = nacho cheese which is in my personal opinion the grossest substance on the planet after cat shit, but am currently studying in la Suisse, where melted cheese generally = fondue, which, you know, not my favorite, but okay.

      1. Oh hey, I actually don’t like more than a bit of cheese either! This was partly tied up to my relationship with my abusive ex too, where at that point I just didn’t really like thick slices of cheese in a sandwich, but I wasn’t allowed to use the kitchen and he would insist on putting them in anyway, so now I’ll eat, like, cheese on pizza etc, and a little bit of cheese can sometimes be nice in a salad instead of dressing, but more than that is too much, and people trying to push it on me makes me incredibly uncomfortable and upset because it’s something my abusive ex used to do! Which, you know, is even a reason that seems like it would be more solid and hard to argue with than “I don’t like it” to people who for some reason think “I don’t like it” isn’t a good reason, but who wants to bring up their history of abuse at a social food gathering with friends?

    6. I’ve gotten that sometimes, when either I don’t like a given dessert or I just don’t feel like sugar. (I like sugary foods in the right mood, but I get tired of them fast.)

      This is how I tend to handle it:

      Person: “Brownie?”
      Me: “Oh — thanks, but no thanks!”
      Person: “Oh, come on, just one! They’re really good…”
      Me: “No, I’m not really a brownie person, but thanks anyway!” or “Nah, they look good, but I’m really not in the mood for sugar right now. Maybe I’ll have one later.” Either way, I try to frame it as related to my tastes and mood, not the item’s deliciousness/nutritional value/inherent worth.

      And then a topic change, ideally right on the heels of my refusal. (Either to the person who was pushing the dessert, or to someone else I or we are talking to, depending on the situation.) It takes a lot more dogged investment for somebody to circle back to “No, really, HAVE THIS BROWNIE, I MUST INTERRUPT TO TELL YOU WHAT JOY IT WILL BRING” if you’re asking about their dog or the weather or that necklace they’re wearing or even where they bought the brownies or how they made it. (The trick is, if you’re going to ask further about the brownies, seize upon every change to segue further away from eating brownies and into supermarket –> shopping –> neighborhood/schedules/work/etc, or cooking –> recipes –> this great blog you like –> time to cook –> schedules/work/other hobbies, or whatever.) The goal is a combination of “look, we have way more interesting things to talk about than my eating habits!” and “DISTRACT DISTRACT DEFLECT.”

      1. One of my bosses is VERY INVESTED in bringing in “bad” (his judgment) food like brownies and bringing them over to each person’s cube and saying “Have one! No, really, have one, I *can’t* bring these home, I’ll eat them all, have one.” And usually they are things I do not like, and he gets really pushy when I refuse.

        Thank you. I think your strategy of deflect-deflect-deflect is a great one, and I’m totally trying it next time. 🙂

        1. I would be hard-pressed not to react to this sort of pressuring by eventually taking one of whatever was offered and, before the giver can even turn away, dropping said offending item directly into the trash.

    7. yep! this is especially fun when you keep kosher. yes, i’m sure your pork is delicious. no, i’m not going to eat it. no, this isn’t a judgment on you. yes, i genuinely hope you enjoy it. no, i’m not going to try just a little bit. no, this doesn’t mean i want to explain either (pick one: why i don’t believe in jesus when obvs i believe in all the other stuff/why i continue to be religious despite how ~irrational~ it is). i just want to eat lunch.

      i eventually started telling people i was vegetarian.

    8. Drives me up the wall, food coercion does. I’m lactose, sucrose, glucose and protein intolerant, amongst other interesting medical things, so the food I choose to eat is based on how much I can eat before the effects will occur, and what I have to do in the time frame those effects will occur.

      So, for example, if I’m spending the next day around people, I don’t eat anything much with sugar in, because I will fart smelly, smelly farts all that next day if I eat more than a very small amount (more and the effects are worse and other digestive effects start coming in).

      And all my friends are used to me handing over the excess of steak when I’ve had enough, and will happily pass back their chips and salad, if they happen to not like it or have had enough.

      People who push me to eat things I don’t want to with an attitude of desperation for me to validate their choices are fortunately becoming rarer as I weed the attitude out of my presence.

  15. Yes yes yes! I’d like to add that you don’t have to be an awesome life-saving medic for your set of things you can and can’t do to be different from other people’s. My friends have all had to learn this about me, if you want me to come install Linux on your new laptop at short notice I’ll be genuinely thrilled, but if you want me to go to a pub? A pub with people in it? People I don’t know? That’s just not going to happen.

    1. Oh my god, that could have come straight out of my/my partner’s mouths. Fantastic to see that we’re not alone…

      (I do IT too, so yeah, priorities. Linux must be spread to all.)

  16. I’m going to be following the comments on this with interest, because I actually have a very flexible work schedule… but I’m a pretty thorough-going introvert. I can only do X social get-togethers every week, where X is a slightly flexible but really quite low number–and if I push myself and go over, I have to take that out of the next week. (And if I get into debt over several weeks in a row, I become exhausted, crabby, and, eventually, outright depressed.)

    My friends are understanding of this in general, but in specific cases it’s sometimes hard to get across to people that, even if I really, really like them, they are not exempt. Even if I haven’t seen them in a while, even if I really want to see them… if I’m overextended this week, and next week is already booked up, I can’t get together with them until two weeks from now. Or maybe I have enough energy for coffee, but they want me to come to their huge party, which requires me to have set aside way more social energy.

    It isn’t a referendum on how much I like them. It is limited resources. The resources are energy, not time or money, but they’re still finite. But I realize that even people who are really trying to understand won’t get it that, yes, I only had two other social engagements this week, and yes, I’m spending the next two days at home with a book, but that’s not because I don’t like them–I’ve just hit my limit. And it’s hard to acknowledge to myself, yes, I am going to hurt this person’s feelings a little by saying a polite ‘no,’ even though all I’m doing is staying home, because if I say ‘yes’ I will crash like a crashy thing.

    (It’s especially bad with people who can’t/won’t plan ahead. I can make sure to reserve some social energy for someone… but only if they will schedule things. And some of my friends are of the type to send a “hey, want to do something this weekend?” e-mail on Friday morning, and usually by then I have already allocated all my energy for the week/end.)

    So… yeah. tl;dr. I wish I had solutions. It’s really hard to get people to respect your social abilities/needs/boundaries, especially when their feelings get hurt.

    1. If you haven’t already seen it, read “The Spoon Theory”: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/

      It was written for someone with physical limitations because of illness, but it sounds like the analogy applies equally well to your situation, you only have a certain number of “spoons” per week.

      (Actually, the captain already referenced this when she included “Introvert. Used up all my spoons for the week” in her list of valid reasons for “no”.)

      1. (Note: I am able-bodied.)

        I have seen disabled people ask able-bodied people to avoiding using spoon deficits to refer to their lack of energy for tasks or duties they lack energy for or dislike or similar, the idea being that disabled people have to deal with those issues and lack of spoons due to disability on top of that. Using it for difficulty able-bodied people face takes it back to a situation where disabled people hear variants on “wait, you’re just tired? well so I am! [implication: that’s not a disability!]”

        I don’t know the ability status of anyone else in this conversation (and I know where introversion blends with social anxiety, some people with it may ID as disabled too), but thought I would raise that for people who might be interested to consider whether they find the term useful to describe themselves.

        1. Thank you. As a person with an invisible disability, I find it really appropriative when people without disabilities use “spoons” as a shorthand for energy. I mean, I also find it sort of cutesy in a way that is grating anyway (see also: narratives of disabled people as perpetual children), and it’s not something I really use as a metaphor for myself much, but it does not sit well with me. Hoyden About Town does a good breakdown: http://hoydenabouttown.com/20091010.6859/telegram-to-tabs-on-spoon-theory/

          1. That’s interesting to me, because I find it a powerful metaphor for everyone, and disability is just fewer spoons more carefully allocated. I do not consider myself disabled, but I am also not entirely normally abled; it varies over time. Sometimes I do all kinds of stuff in a day, and sometimes I barely manage to eat. How disabled does a body have to be to find the metaphor powerful and useful?

            The introvert problem of a meltdown from too much social pressure is a pretty significant thing that noticeably affects a persons function. I have used metaphors like bucket of cope, but at heart it’s the spoon metaphor, which has a better shorthand.

            I dunno. I also get why disabled people may be like “look that is our thing, do you have to take that too? It is not the same when I cannot get out of bed because my pain is at a 9 and you are late for work because of a hangover, if for no other reason than your hangover goes away tomorrow, and I will be happy to get down to a 6 on the pain scale….”

            It’s a story someone put on the Internet a decade ago. When does it become appropriation?

          2. The thing about the spoon metaphor is that it’s exactly designed to show how unavoidable everyday tasks are different when you have a disability, so it doesn’t matter how long it’s been on the internet, it’s still an inherent part of the metaphor that it’s about explaining what is unknowable about disability to the non-disabled, and introversion isn’t a disability. I’m deeply introverted, and I also have fairly intense seasonal affective disorder, so I’m able-bodied most of the time but I run the yearly risk of being (cyclically) disabled for four months. I manage it with morning walks and lightboxes and vitamin D and living in a south-facing house and working by a window and if I’m conscientious about all that it works well enough, so I really am mostly able-bodied and I absolutely have able-bodied privilege, but some years, you know, I have been not so much with the managing and then things get very ugly in my limbic system.

            So that’s also where I’m speaking from when I say that spoons are simply not social juice. Social juice here is *not* like a glass of oj but like a cellphone battery has juice (but “social charge” just sounds wrong). So, okay, you use up social juice by actively socializing, but also just like a cellphone will draw down its juice by looking for signal in a low-signal area, simply being physically present in certain social situations draws down your social juice. But running out of juice is not the same thing as when I’m out of depression spoons, and it doesn’t get drawn down the same way–I can stay out of socially draining situations relatively easily, and just getting out of bed in the morning and doing normal-day things won’t tax my social juice, so I can much more easily conserve my social juice by planning the things that I do. When I’m out of social juice I can make it home and crash, and I can recharge my social battery with enough down time. But depression spoons are about budgeting my coping ability for showering and showing up at work on time, picking my kid up from school, sometimes even doing dishes, and I do all those things–morning walks, etc.–so I don’t fall into depression and have to count spoons.

          3. Thank you, this is exactly what I wanted to say and couldn’t get formulated right in my head.

            The thing about spoons, to me, is that you need to budget them for tasks that are unavoidable, that are really basic everyday parts of everyday life, that most people do not ever have to think about because they’re pretty much effortless. Things like being able to get out of bed in the morning, being able to get out of the house, managing to get enough to eat, managing to shower on a regular basis, keeping your living space reasonably tidy… all of these examples are things that are serious considerations for my everyday life, and some of them I’ve had to out-source because I actually *do not* have the spoons to manage all of the above on a regular basis. Forex, I always have running at the back of my head “how will I manage to eat today?” because this is a nontrivial consideration: if I get too low on spoons the energy needed to prepare food will be too much for me and I go to bed hungry. The result is a lot of planning and strategising and juggling of activities and working out fall-back plans and fall-back plans for *those* to make sure I don’t starve.

            So, you know, I can sympathise with introverts who are low on social juice, who might only be able to manage one social event every two weeks despite the fact that their surroundings want more – I get finding social activities exhausting, I very much get being pressured into them by “well-meaning friends”. But that’s not why I talk about things in terms of spoons, you know? I talk about things in terms of spoons because the energy that I might lose at a party is the same energy I need in order to put my shoes to leave my flat tomorrow, and that energy is *limited*.

          4. Shit, crossposted. Sorry, didn’t mean to continue the discussion after the Captain said it was closed.

          5. Appreciated. I don’t think you guys are wrong, at all, or that the discussion is not worthwhile in itself, but I need to not be paying attention to this thread right now and this discussion has to end in a space that I moderate.

          6. Hey. Hello awful depression + a monthlong flu! This pretty much sums up my life right now:

            “The thing about spoons, to me, is that you need to budget them for tasks that are unavoidable, that are really basic everyday parts of everyday life… Things like being able to get out of bed in the morning, being able to get out of the house, managing to get enough to eat, managing to shower on a regular basis, keeping your living space reasonably tidy… all of these examples are things that are serious considerations for my everyday life, and some of them I’ve had to out-source because I actually *do not* have the spoons to manage all of the above on a regular basis.”

            I’m sorry I didn’t disclose all of that when I used the word spoons in an admittedly confusing way. It was not meant to take anything away from anyone and I apologize if I appropriated something. You are entirely correct. However, yours will be the seriously the last comment on who gets to use that word in this thread. Please take this discussion to another space that I don’t moderate.

        2. Thank you. I’m also disabled and use “spoons” to refer to specific disability issues and am pretty thoroughly uncomfortable with how it’s been coopted by nondisabled folk. When I use “spoons”, I am to my mind a) outing myself as disabled and b) underlining how this is really not the same thing as nondisabled people getting exhausted, how this is a fundamental limitation of energy that I have to juggle every single damn day of my life and that is absolutely pervasive throughout the most basic things.

          I get that it’s a useful metaphor for lots of things, but there are other utensils out there.

          1. I am reading several of these comments (not just this one) in a way I am pretty much 100% positive wasn’t intended: that people with social anxiety, people with depression, people on the autism spectrum, and similarly neuro-atypical people are appropriating when using “spoons” as a metaphor for their limited capacity for social interaction.

            Am I correct in assuming that’s not what people are trying to say?

          2. Ok, this came off way more passive-aggressive than I intended it too.

            Well, slightly more. But youse really do sound like that, like you’re conflating “I don’t have the emotional energy to hang because I’m fucking wiped” with “I don’t have the emotional energy to hang because limited emotional energy is the nature of my spectrum disorder.”

            I realize no one said anything about neuro-atypicality, and I’m not trying to diagnose by Internet.

          3. No, no, that’s not at all what I mean, and I’m sorry it came off that way. In fact, I’m neuroatypical myself – Asperger’s – and my spoon issues stem from that: executive dysfunction to the nth power and trying to pass as NT being an involuntary energy sink and the like. I consider neuroatypicalities to fall under “disability” (which is also why I use “nondisabled” instead of “able-bodied”, because that has too much of a connotation of “no physical disabilities” for my liking), I forget not everyone reads it that way.

            What I object to is people who don’t have any sort of disability using the spoon metaphor as a shorthand for general tiredness/exhaustion. I run into this all over, and it’s really frustrating because I use spoons to try and *distinguish* my brand of exhaustion + effects from CND (currently nondisabled) people’s. I’m sure that some people commenting do have issues with social anxiety, other mental illnesses, are on the autistic spectrum and the like, where their limited energy for social situations has a severe impact on their life – my comment really isn’t aimed at them!

          4. Hey. I am pretty severely depressed and sometimes I think of my ability to do stuff in terms of spoons. I don’t necessarily disclose that in the same sentence I use it or all the time, nor do I think that people have to disclose their specific problems in order to use that in that way. I will think carefully about how I use it in the future, because I don’t want to appropriate stuff or cheapen it and your concerns are definitely noted. I realize that my OP put “introversion” out there as potentially being the same as a disability when I really mean “introversion combined with depression where the thought of going to something where there will be others actually makes me cry” so it’s my fault we went down this road and I apologize. I will edit the OP accordingly.

            Here endeth the discussion on both sides of who gets to use “spoons” on Captain Awkward Dot Com. Please feel free to continue it on your own site(s), Twitter, etc.

          5. One of the reasons I don’t use the “spoons” metaphor is that I don’t want to have to disclose the details of my mental health to prove whether or not I am appropriating. It’s easier to just say “out of energy” than to get into that argument and have to reveal more than I might want to on the Internet.

          6. Whoops, sorry, crossposted with the Captain. Did not mean to continue a closed discussion.

        3. I’m mildly physically disabled and more seriously psychologically disabled – actually I have a specific diagnosis of social phobia, which was an upgrade from social anxiety, plus endemic depression that I’ll probably never be off medication for – as well as being a major introvert, so, yeah, I get the temptation for introverts to use spoons, but being an introvert and being disabled are two different things even when they would seem to overlap like in my case.

    2. I’m with you on this one. (And I am in the middle of a depression at the moment.)

      If I do something on Saturday and Sunday, then it’s like I haven’t had a weekend, and I’ll want to take a sick day off from work to get that down time. Except I get paid by the hour and don’t have sick leave, so I can’t do that. So I just suffer until the next weekend.

      And I know my friends don’t really get it. They’re the kind of people who can see meet up for lunch at noon and just go on to dinner and movies and not get home til midnight. And that just breaks me these days.

      I had plans to have brunch with a friend on Sunday last week, and that morning I got a text saying she couldn’t do brunch but I could come over to hers. Except, I have no transport at the moment, so what seems like no big deal to her is, to me, walking to the first form of transport (either bus or train), getting that to an unfamiliar place, hoping the second form of transport (bus) is on time, arriving in her suburb, and walking 15-20 minutes to her place, or getting yet another bus. All up, I’d’ve spent 2-3 hours getting to and from her place for a 2-3 hour visit.

      Since I’d only been budgeting 2 hours for our brunch, the idea of switching that out for 4-6 hours out of the day, made me want to weep. So I told her I couldn’t do it because I had something on in the afternoon and couldn’t make it with public transport. Yes, a lie, but this friend would hear me say, “I don’t have the energy for what this visit would require.” and turn it into “You aren’t worth the effort to see you.”

      As the holidays approach, I’m actually making appointments in my calendar with myself – like, Saturday, all day appointment to do sweet fuck-all. And if anyone asks me to do something those days, I’ll be like, “Sorry, I have plans!”

      1. If I do something on Saturday and Sunday, then it’s like I haven’t had a weekend, and I’ll want to take a sick day off from work to get that down time. Except I get paid by the hour and don’t have sick leave, so I can’t do that. So I just suffer until the next weekend.

        Oh my god, yes. And that’s just general introversion and without having had a depressive episode or anxiety issues in over a year.

        1. Oh wow, do I hear this. We’re on an every-other-weekend schedule at work now, so hearing, “Well, you have that weekend off, let’s do something!” just makes me want to crawl into a hole. Work is very public-intensive, and I desperately NEED a day of no social demands.

          Most of my friends are good about this (and busy themselves). My mom isn’t so much. And my roommate’s SO, who I consider a new friend (who therefore isn’t used to the weird mood swings of the Hat), is a VERY social person who will come and hang out with me right when I get home from work until I awkwardly stare at the computer screen for a few minutes and shoot them apologetic glances until they say something like, “So…I guess I’ll…go then?” and slowly back out, which makes me feel guilty as hell. I think extroverts really just don’t get the idea of Needing Solo Time. Or maybe they just think people only need that when there’s Something Wrong? I dunno.

          1. We really don’t! We honestly don’t get it! People are so fuuuuuuun! Don’t you wanna have fuuuuuun ALL THE TIME!!? But I’m reading this thread and… yeah, I’m really listening hard.

          2. Don’t you wanna have fuuuuuun ALL THE TIME!!?

            Think of it this way: Yes, and we would also like to eat filet mignon every night. But we don’t, because it is expensive.

          3. It’s not even that we don’t want to have fun all the time, it’s that the thing being described as fun just isn’t universally fun for everyone. I think that’s the fundamental difference that’s difficult to understand.

          4. For me, I actually do find being alone “fun” too. Because when I’m alone, I can do whatever I want, at whatever time I want, for as long as I want, without having to negotiate with anyone. If I want to read a book for three hours, eat ice cream for dinner at 5pm, take a bubble bath, and watch reruns of Murder, She Wrote, I can–I don’t have to negotiate with someone who maybe wants to go out, isn’t going to be hungry until 7pm (and probably doesn’t want nothing but ice cream for dinner….), and/or prefers Law and Order to Murder, She Wrote. (To make up a stupid example.)

            So that’s fun. Is it also fun to spend time with people? Sure, of course. But being alone isn’t just an I-need-it-because-social-time-is-expensive thing. I also just straight-up love being all alone with nobody but myself to please.

          5. Well, try to think of it this way: for us introverts, spending time on our own is often what’s “fun”* to us. So imagine someone saying to you, “Being alone is so fuuuuun! Don’t you want to have fuuuuun [be alone] ALL THE TIME?!” Of course you don’t want to be alone all the time! That would really suck for you, because being alone is a thing that you (I’m generalizing here) only like doing some of the time – not all the time. As an extrovert, if you had to be alone all of the time, or even most of the time, it might drive you batty!

            *I’m putting “fun” in quotes, because it’s not necessarily “fun” so much as vitally important to our emotional well-being. “Energizing” might be a better word here.

          6. Yeah, that. It’s a situation that’s understandably confusing, because do-unto-others doesn’t work: if an extrovert wants to cheer me up and get me to relax and have fun by taking me to a party–or even to a low-key social hangout–it has a very high chance of backfiring, because that’s not the primary way I have fun, and even if I am having fun, it is the opposite of relaxing. (I do find it fun to hang with my friends, but it’s not my only or even my primary type of fun–and it’s often working-fun, in the sense that I find it tiring, so if I’m already tired, it stops being fun at all.)

            And on the flip side, it would probably not work for me to tell an extrovert, “You’ve had a hard couple of weeks. Why not go someplace over the weekend where you can read and sleep for a couple of days without saying more than two words to another soul all weekend?”–even though that is something that I love to do and find delightful, refreshing and–yes–fun.

          7. Yes to this.

            To me, interacting with other people is a bit like running: it feels good to be active, I feel alive, and I guess in its own way it’s energizing, but it’s also exhausting and I can’t do it for too long without stopping and resting. Being alone, on the other hand, is more like lying or sitting still: absolutely necessary for survival/not going bonkers, and feels nice and relaxing, but if I do it for too long I start feeling depressed and, indeed, like I’m going nowhere.

            So yes, being around other people can be fun, but it’s fun the way dancing is fun. At some point you have to take a break – sit down and breathe. That break is what alone time is for me.

          8. I’m an introvert too, and I have a couple of very extroverted friends who don’t seem to understand this aspect of our differing social needs, and most of them don’t care to TRY. It’s kind of maddening, but at least one of the extroverts in our circle’s come to understand what’s going on a lot better, and learned not to take it personally when I’m simply wiped out, or the other introverts in our circle of friends are. He’s consequently been seeing more and more of us more often; a few of us’ll get together and have a quiet night of watching TV and eating pizza, or something else somewhat relaxing like that, and just… chill. The other extrovert friends just get on us for not joining their parties more often and try to keep pushing their idea of “a fun time” which usually entails much loudness with way too many people at once, and lasts hours beyond the point where I just want to curl up and block out the world for a while.

            I’ve since learned that “I already promised to meet up with someone else about that time” usually gets me out of being pressured to be social with the pushy extrovert friends. It’s not a lie, either — Mister/Miss Internet/Book/Puppydog/IceCream/Etc and I have a lot of good quality time together! And to be honest, I’d much rather be working on another watercolor, or sewing, or whatever, than nursing a stress headache while listening to them sing Nirvana songs for an hours-long Guitar Hero jam session. I don’t mind dinner; it’s the hours and hours that surround it that drive me up the wall.

            So for the introverted friends in your life, THANK YOU, dear extrovert, for listening! I wish more of mine would…. 🙂

            I found it really enlightening about the extroverted side of things, to read material on Jungian psychological types — the whole INFP/ESTJ stuff. Maybe that would be good to look into as well, if you’re interested?

          9. I am not an introvert, I think, but I had a very fast-paced and emotionally demanding job working one on one with clients selling them things. And I lived with 3 people; 2 computer programmers who sat in cubes alone all day, and one depressed out of work person who sat at home on the internet all day.

            The boys followed me around like puppies talking nonstop, as soon as i got home. It was horrifying. Finally I just started saying “I know you’ve been alone all day but I really need half an hour of silence right now” or, more often “I know you want to chat but what I need is for someone to listen to ME for 20 minutes straight without arguing or interrupting.”

      2. I’m one of those people who seems like an extrovert but actually requires a lot of alone time, and I totally tell people I have plans when I know that I am overextended and will not enjoy whatever event they want me to attend. I just don’t mention that my plans involve my ass and the couch.

        And every few weeks I have a personal holiday I like to call “Pajama Day”, where I do not leave the house or get dressed, except to change out of my pajamas into new pajamas. My friends are aware of this and sometimes the invitations they issue go like this: “we’re going to a movie on Sunday. Do you want to come or is that Pajama Day?”

        In other words, go you!

          1. Hi from me too! I’m definitely an introvert and I always assumed that I was also shy, until one day I took an online shyness test from Stanford. What a surprise – I’m way less shy than the average person. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a shy extravert, but he appreciates downtime too, fortunately.

        1. Oh that’s brilliant. I had a Pajama Day on Monday! I just didn’t know what it was called! I shall henceforth refer to it by its proper name. Thank you!

        2. Just wanted to say WORD to the non-shy introvert. We did one of those personality profiles at work, DISC, and I was clearly an introvert, which I knew before I started. Only one person in the room believed the profile, and she’s kind of amazingly gifted in understanding people.

          Just because I have a job where I control meetings of hundreds of angry people, and just because my job entails talking to people on a regular basis, and just because I will strike up conversations with strangers at a party, does not mean that these are not learned behaviors that make my guts shrink and that I won’t need some alone time afterwards. Isn’t it kind of weird to be good at something that’s not a natural behavior for you?

        3. Right? I’m an introvert. Let me say that again: I. Am. An. Introvert. My mother is an introvert, as was my grandmother, but they both found things like courtesy and hospitality very important (more important that one’s own comfort, but that’s its own problem), and they taught me how to fake it. I’m also a college professor, so I basically make my living through public speaking, and I am certainly not shy. But I am an introvert, and as much fun as it might look like I’m having, my favorite part of any party is when I finally get to leave. I actually had a big fight with my BFF over this: she is more introverted–or at least, more obviously introverted–than I am, and she insists that I’m an extrovert. It is so incredibly frustrating. I actually asked her, “Okay, so when I say I’m an introvert, am I lying or am I wrong?” She thought about it carefully and said that I was wrong. Much yelling and cursing ensued.

          I am subject to tension headaches, and on Thanksgiving several years ago, I realized that terrible, nauseating tension headaches always struck on holidays when I was getting ready to go to my mom’s house, which led to an amazing revelation: a terrible, nauseating headache is more than enough reason to just not go. I could *not go*. So I didn’t go. I called and explained that I had a terrible headache and that they would have to make do without me, and they did, and it was fine. The realization that I can just not go has really done wonders for my tension headaches, and I have learned that I can manage them by lying down in a dark room for a little while. Fortunately, as I said above, my mom is an introvert, too, so she gets it. ymmv.

          1. Personally, I’d be curious as to what her definition of “extrovert” and “introvert” are. It could be that there’s some fundamental misunderstanding about the terms at play here, which is why she didn’t believe you.

            Were it my friend, I’d probably have followed up the discussion with “so, who knows what my energy and stress levels are, most accurately, at any given moment — myself, or someone else who ~isn’t~ me? Am I, or is someone else, the best judge of when I’ve hit my comfort limit, and of what will make me feel best?” Because if she can grasp the implication that yes, you do know what’s best for yourself, then you’re going to have an easier time pointing out that you fit the introvert definition better than the extrovert one, and appearing otherwise is called “grinning and bearing it” and “faking it.”

            I had to do similar with another friend before, though it was over religion and what I ~actually believed~. (Why do people think that’s an acceptable thing to badger another over? Ugh.) Pretty frustrating. My sympathies. 😦

          2. I had a friend who vehemently insisted I was not an introvert — which would have been ok; she’s not the only person who has misread me that way, and I figure it means I manage not to be conspicuously miserable in social gatherings, which is, after all, what I try to do so I can’t really get pissed off when people take it at face value. What did piss me off was that when I said I was very much an introvert, (no really!!!!) she acted as if I was running myself down and she was defending me … like it was a given that being an introvert is pitiful.

            Being an introvert is only pitiful if you buy internalize ghe world’s bullshit about introversion being pitiful and hate yourself for it, which I do not. I like myself just fine!

            One of the factors leading to the African Violet, which I have not regretted at all.

          3. Word to the “fake it ’till you make it” camp of introversion! “Fake it ’till you make it” is pretty much how I get through any social situation.

      3. THIS! my work schedule can go like this: 8:30am to 6pm, or 8:30am to 1am and everything in the middle so weekends are mostly time to rest and do stuff around my house. Mister VD and myself live south/center of the city and my family lives north and going to visit them can take one hour or four because Mexico City is fun like that, they want me there all the time but I really don’t have the energy and is always a problem.

      4. If I do something on Saturday and Sunday, then it’s like I haven’t had a weekend, and I’ll want to take a sick day off from work to get that down time. Except I get paid by the hour and don’t have sick leave, so I can’t do that. So I just suffer until the next weekend.

        Yes, EXACTLY.

    3. I’ve only recently gotten to where I can straight out tell people that I can’t do something because my introvert batteries are too low. I actually cancelled my birthday because it was all too much. Everyone was concerned, but backed off when I told them that I really am ok but just needed to recharge. It felt good to own the introversion and not push myself to be a faux-extrovert.

      1. I’ve also found it gets easier with time. My friends know that sometimeswhy will plan a maximum of two non-work, non-class things per week. If the week in question is full, it is non-negotiable but I will provide my availability for the next week or so. New people only take a couple of times before it sticks. Those I’ve known for a while have actually volunteered to trade X event with them for Y event with them+others, always privately so I don’t get cornered into it if it is ALSO something I don’t want to do for other reasons.

        I’m also established as always being part of the early guard. I will come and help you set up and fix food and clean last minute things and keep you company and stay out of the way, all as-necessary, but the instant the population density spikes, I. am. gone.

        It’s been a good long while since there was any push back. Long enough and with an established enough group that a blank stare (oft accompanied by a chorus of blank stares and that uncomfortable sudden silence) and a “I’m sorry I must not have heard you properly. What was that?” is enough to get people to stop.

        I have pretty awesome friends.

    4. I think there’s a failure to recognize that sitting at home with a book is an activity in its own right (I suppose because for extroverts, it isn’t). So people view the days you plan to spend that way as an empty space on your calendar.

  17. I was wondering how much this was a class/gender thing, like women’s work is supposed to be supplemental and secondary to family stuff, sort of a stop-gap measure or an elevated hobby, rather than essential to keeping the family afloat.

    But I am also just *puzzled* by people who wouldn’t understand that plenty of jobs are not 9-5 and have seasonal demands. My spouse teaches English: she’s never done with work when she comes home, she has four grading deadlines a year and she works like hell to meet them and that’s just the job. For my part, I own a bookstore, so while I do set my own hours, I work into the early evening and have to put in a LOT of hours between mid-September and December 24th just to stay on top of ordering and restocking, let alone the register between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There isn’t another person I can get to cover for me: instead, because I pay myself last, I’m the first choice to cover other folks’ shifts. Plus I’m an introvert, so if I do a lot of hours behind the register I have to put a lot of hours into recovery. So I skip a LOT of stuff in the holiday season and I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone cross the line from regret into coercion because they get it. Work is like this.

    1. Perhaps sometimes a class thing? Some people might feel uncomfortable when someone else’s work is enjoyable and they’re happy to prioritise it over friends and family. But the main thing seems to be that panicky feeling that no one will come to my party waah!! It seems like the absent person is saying, ‘I like my work (or other reason) more than I like you.’

      I’ve had times when all that’s got me through some difficult months has been looking forward to seeing my nearest and dearest at Christmas, and recreating the traditions of my childhood. When people have had to disrupt the hoped-for routine for whatever reason, or not be there at all, it felt like I had nothing to survive on. It’s very hard not to act out when you feel like that.

      Maturity and being a good human being dictates that you get over yourself, of course, but when you don’t have the rewarding job and the stressful-yet-fulfilling life, that’s not always very easy.

      1. I can assure you, though people may like you, they do indeed like their work (or other reason) more than suffering through another m.f. holiday/birthday/picnic/full dress parade down main street. Even if it’s with you.

        1. Wow, that was uncalled for. Speaking as someone who sometimes doesn’t make it to things, it is not because I like my anxiety, child’s unexpected illness, work to get caught up on, etc., more than I like my friend’s gathering. Sometimes shit just happens.

          1. I agree, not called for.

            I also appreciate that misspiggy was willing to talk about her sadness on the other side of the work vs. social gathering choice when the weight of the conversation was on the “gotta go to work side,” though I think the word “prioritize” is a word that gets used in both self-flagellating and guilt-inducing ways. It’s just true that time is finite so when two things are happening at the same time people have to pick one of them, but it’s not true that people make that decision based solely on the fun-ness of the two activities. But misspiggy acknowledged that being a grownup means that even if you feel like people are deciding to have more fun without you (which, btw, it is not at all clear they are deciding that, misspiggy!) you *still* don’t pester people about not coming to your party!

            Being a grownup also means we pass up fun things with our friends and family to honor our commitments to work for the sake of our co-workers/patients/clients/customers/bosses and not-so-incidentally, also for the sake of keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table, our kids clothed, our insurance paid. Being a grownup sucks sometimes, but we do it because not being a grownup sucks more.

      2. I definitely relate to your panicky feeling. I could never understand the attitude of our Captain here with flowing friendships. My friends and family are the most important thing in the world to me- as groups and as individuals too. I miss every friend that has moved away intensely. So when I don’t hear from them for awhile (especially if I’m contacting them) I get really depressed about losing my friends. I don’t tell them about it, cause I don’t want to pressure them/guilt trip them. But I find myself feeling sad a lot of the time just from missing people. And then it’s made worse when I feel unloved because they don’t seem to be missing me. Basically, caring about people sucks a lot. Even more so because I’m not in a good place personally where I have new friends and fulfilling job to distract me.

        1. Argh I get this too. And the jerkbrain makes it easy to sink into a slump where I list ALLLLL the friends that have moved awayyy/abandoned me! The uncertainty implicit in the question – why haven’t they contacted me? – is just too much sometimes. I get that people have lives but my feelings aren’t always on board with the rationalbrain. :-s

          On the other hand, sometimes I don’t make the effort to stay in touch with people either. It’s easier to let some friendships go than others but the awkward drawn-out fade is painful, and it’s one of those bittersweet things where you fondly remember all the people you drifted away from.

    2. Yes, thank you for bringing up the class issue. I know I have witnessed a form of pearl-clutching: “What? You have to work? Why? How very…dedicated of you.” Because work is a choice you make, you know. You can pick and chose when you go in. Your assistant should be able to handle that for you, right? Networking is ALSO important. A lot of business gets done in those informal settings. The big boss is going to notice if you (and partner) aren’t there.

      Not my thoughts. Not my family’s thoughts. But definitely thoughts that are thunk.

      1. Seconding the thanks for bringing up the class issue, for all the reasons you state.

        And this is probably pretty cynical of me, but I have also noticed a fair amount of overlap between people who say “But that’s Saturday night! Why are you working then? Can’t you just skip that shift?” and people who get annoyed when a store or other business is not open Saturday night/Sunday/at midnight/whenever is convenient for them. I think it comes from a belief that People Like Us don’t work that kind of job, so of course you can want your friends to be available in the prime hours for your party and also want all the businesses to be open in case you need [whatever] at 10pm on Friday.

        1. I used to have a regular customer who would call me up at 7 pm and complain that I hadn’t been in at 8am when he was thinking about calling before (on his way to his 9-5).

          Finally, I said to him “You were at work at 8 and now you’re home calling me. I wasn’t at work at 8 because I have to be here now.” And he was offended! “Well I don’t think it’s unreasonable to…” Yeah, dude. YOU work 13 hour days. Not unreasonable my ass.

        2. YES! Everything you say here! How many times have I heard ‘what do you mean you got out late? those people are mean and you should quit!’ from the same people that think nothing of walking into a restaurant 10 minutes before closing for a full meal?


            Having been in food service for about a decade, I have to say this is probably one of my top five pet peeves. Possibly even top three.

            I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten a “Getting out of work late, huh?” at 9:30 when the restaurant closes at 9. And I go “Nooo… that’s what getting out early looks like. Late would be 11.”

            Because, you know, it’s not like we have to clean things up and put things away once you’re done eating off them. Hell, it’s not like it even takes time to eat, right? So if they’re open till 9, that means they’re serving till 9, yeah? >_<

            (Also: I really wish the people who make the schedule would account for that. A closing shift is not Start Time – Closing Time. It is Start Time – Closing Time Plus Reasonable Amount Of Time To finish After-Hours Duties.)

  18. Some people don’t even grok work schedules when you work normal business hours. Certain members of my family make a habit of asking me to do things during the week, without notice, and going into the “But whyyyyyyy!” spiral when I point out that I have to work at that time.

    And yes, it’s especially bad around the holidays. Almost every year, I get a call from my mother, who tries really hard to persuade me to fly across country to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving with her, with less than a week’s notice.

    Look, everyone in the office wants the days right before and right after the holiday, as vacation. But only so many people can be out at once. Not to mention, plane tickets cost a fortune without an advance purchase. If you want to fly cross country for Christmas, you gotta make that plan in July, not on December 10.

    And frankly, I don’t WANT to fly cross country for a holiday. I’d rather visit them at some time when the pressure to perform the happy family dance is weighing less heavily on everyone, and they don’t have so many people vying for their attention. I’m happy to let my coworkers with small children have first crack at those holiday vacation dates.

    But there are small things as well. I cannot ditch work to take my parents to the airport in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, with less than 24 hours notice. I only get an hour for lunch; I can’t meet them in that restaurant on the other side of town. And no, I cannot go shopping this afternoon.

    I think part of what’s going on here, is that some parents have never gotten used to the idea of their kids as grown up people who have real jobs. They prefer to think of us as children, and admitting that we have adult responsibilities makes them feel sad and old, so they avoid thinking like that. Also, when you don’t live with them they don’t see you, so they are free to think of you the way they always have – as a child.

    The other part, with my parents, is that they were schoolteachers, so they had exactly the same work schedule as my school schedule, for all the years I was growing up. They would never have approved of me ditching school for these things, but it never came up because they had to work too. But they got used to thinking that if they are free, I too am free. It’s been a hard habit for them to break, and I have had to remind them that I have a real job with a firm schedule, many times since I grew up and left home.

    1. My dad and I were both teachers at the same school. He was the head of the math AND science departments with three rooms at his disposal. I was a supply teacher (filling in for someone on sick leave) with a cart I hauled from room to room. Even though we were in the same profession, at the same location, the expectations for us were very different. I was at the beginning of my career and he was nearing the end of his. And, really, after 30 years in his job, if he wanted some flexibility in his schedule, he deserved it. So I think not only are our parents thinking of us as children, they are at different points in their lives and may forget what it was like to be the intern or the new girl or the temp.

  19. This is definitely something I’ve been working on for the past few years — both in not doing it myself, and also being aware of it when it is happening to me.

    This doesn’t really apply to the LW’s problem, but one thing I’ve noticed, is situations where someone has declined and invitation, and the other person reacts by offering help with whatever the excuse is, and are then pushy about it. I have been guilty of this! For instance:

    FRIEND A: “We can keep hanging out, but I don’t want to keep drinking at the bar because I’m broke right now.”
    FRIEND B: “Awwww, c’mon, let’s get another round! I’ll cover you!”
    FRIEND A: “I don’t really want to impose on you.”
    FRIEND B: “No, no, I just got paid and it’s so not a big deal.”
    FRIEND A: “I appreciate that, but I’m just not comfortable with it.”
    FRIEND B: “But it’s fine! You just pick up the tab next time.”
    FRIEND A: “Well, that’s the thing, I just lost my job and I don’t know when I’ll be able to return the favor.”
    FRIEND B: “I’m not really worried about that, though — just let me treat you tonight!”
    (The situations I am thinking of involved platonic friends and no sexual intent, though obviously situations involving alcohol and money can pretty pretty sexual coercion-y.) It is all good and well UNTIL Friend A is annoyed they always end up staying out later than they want to and that Friend B never wants to go to cheaper bars or hang out and drink at home and feels guilty about the debt to Friend B. And Friend B is annoyed that sie always ends up picking up the tab for Friend A.

    I have a few times offered to give rides (in my car when I had one, and in a Zipcar now that I don’t) to friends who said they couldn’t make it to events because they were too broke to even make bus fare or had some other reason they couldn’t swing it. Sometimes people really appreciate this and sometimes people are just like, Ummmmmm no. Because, you know, if your finances are so tight that you can’t make bus fare, you are probably pretty stressed out in general and therefore not a lot of fun at parties. (I have been there! I am not a lot of fun at parties when I am too broke for a bus ride.) Or, again, the other person might feel weird because they don’t know if or when they will be able to help you out in a comparable way.

    Especially where the issue is financial, offers like this can also ignore that the person might just be using saving money as an easy, prudent-sounding excuse that is more polite than, “I don’t feel comfortable around you anymore,” or, “I just kind of feel like staying in and doing something else tonight,” “I have a really bad kidney infection and the antibiotics are making me feel like shit,” etc. Also, sometimes the pesterer’s solution only addresses part of the obstacle, which has the (often intended, but sometimes not) effect of making the pesteree feel REALLY guilty, and sometimes caving: “Well, my mom paid for the plane ticket, so now I HAVE to take the extra time off work, even though I don’t want to or can’t afford to” or “I guess if you’re willing to give me a ride to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, I am not allowed to ask you to listen to something other than right-wing talk radio while I am in the car.” Even when that isn’t the case, people have a right to tell white lies or preserve their pride or have priorities you don’t relate to.

    TL;DR – if someone declines an invite and you are in a position to help remove the obstacle they’ve pointed out, and you want to, feel free to offer to help, but if they refuse, BACK THE FUCK OFF.

    1. Can I also suggest the phrasing, “I can [do theoretically helpful thing], if that would help” for this kind of offer? That way you have a built-in out (No, it really wouldn’t help! Still can’t swing it! Maybe next time!).

      1. Yeah I was going to suggest that too – the “if it would help/would it help if” thing can be really key to offers, I think. Sometimes when I’m suggesting things I’ll also end with something like “or would you rather….?” and trail off so it can encompass anything from “no let’s do something else together” to “I’d rather just stay at home.”

  20. This is so timely for me. My husband has to work Thanksgiving Friday, and because we are a couple hours from his mom’s apartment, we won’t be able to be there on Thanksgiving. We were planning to spend all day Saturday there (as we have the past several years) instead. His mother had assumed we were showing up for thanksgiving this year (he left his previous retail job, so I guess she assumed?) and told everyone we would be there. Well, now that she’s been set straight she’s pissed and has moved the whole event three hours further away to the town where the rest of the family lives, ensuring that we won’t see her at all. She was super immature about the whole thing and I feel so bad for my husband. 😦

    1. Ok. I’m still pissed about this. Since this is the open thread, I hope no one cares if I rant a bit. Hopefully someone might have some insight (or commiseration!)

      Ok. So the mother-in-law (henceforth, “MIL”) has been to our house once. For maybe two hours. We have been living in the area for four years. We used to run ourselves ragged traveling all over multiple states in a couple of days to see everyone and that was just met with complaints that we weren’t there MOAR. Not to us, but to every other family member.

      The fact that we spend much more time with my family might be a contributing factor, but they’re super flexible. Can’t make it Thursday? No problem! We’ll do it on Friday! I also have a lot more time off (government job!) so if he has to work the majority of a holiday weekend, I go chill with my family and he comes and goes as needed. ALSO his step-dad is fond of racist/sexist jokes and it’s just generally an uncomfortable environmnent.

      I’m torn between feeling guilty for monopolizing the family time and my desire to spend as little time as possible with these people. That, and wanting to call MIL and yell at her for being such a jerk to her (frankly, too patient) son. Bah.

      1. I think there can be an assumption that adult children travel “back to the family home” and that the “family home” is your real home no matter if you live 500miles away with your own partner, children, dog and cat.

        So parents can sometimes not understand why you’re not there at Christmas or other holidays. Their “parent brain” is saying “I want all my chickens in my nest” and not listening to “independent adult rational talk” about how that’s not always practical.

        One thing I learned from Xinran (the Chinese writer and broadcaster) is that sometimes you can’t win this on rational arguments. Instead you speak to the emotional side of the argument eg “Mom, I’m really looking forward to seeing you, we will see you on Saturday, that’s going to be so great, I can’t wait to taste your good cooking, it’s going to be super fun.” And sidestep questions about why can’t you come earlier, why don’t you spend more time, with reiterated love and appreciation. Because often the issue is that mother or MIL is feeling unloved and not prioritised and you can’t argue someone out of that feeling.

        So Ldubs, I guess my best advice to you is that ins future situations like this it might help to agree that it’s a bummer that your partner has to work the holiday and then sidestep to “so when can we meet because we’re looking forward to seeing you”. (Even if actually seeing them is kind of a pain.) Chilled out rational people like your folks don’t need this kind of handling but it can work well on the emotionally immature.

        1. So yelling “making it even harder for us to see you because you’re made we don’t see you enough doesn’t make any damb sense!!!!” is probably not the right way to handle things, then.

    2. My mom has hosted Christmas Eve, the Big Family Thing, for a while. My SIL can’t make that date- she’s a doctor and has to work. My cousin has little kids and wants to travel after the 25th. So mater says “of course, whenever works, let’s have Christmas on the 28th.”

      Huge sigh of relief, this gives the married couples time to go see the zillions of other relatives on Christmas Eve, people can be home if they want, everyone who wants to be at Christmas Eve on the 28th can make it. Great.

      … … … … my mater’s sister says “oh, my kids always want to know why we don’t have Christmas Eve! I’ll host then, as well.” Thus proposing to add another holiday celebration into the mix of many holiday celebrations. When the whole point of moving the date was so people who are double booked can be there, others don’t have to make two events on the 24th and can just go to one, and the rest of us can put up our feet and drink brandy.

      Hopefully, there will be some quiet words about “no effing way, are you completely unaware of how this works?” soon.

      1. Yeah, logistical talks need to be had there. Last year my MIL hosted Christmas on a totally different day (because my husband’s brother and sister-in-law were going on vacation over Christmas. Which was apparently completely fine with MIL for reasons I will never understand.) and it was great. Everyone was there, we got to spend real time with people rather than having to put in an appearance and then leave to make the next thing, the stress level was low…

        Something about the holidays makes people misunderstand the laws of physics, or something. No, I actually cannot be two places at once. Not even on Christmas. Adding more events in a 48 hour window makes everyone busier, due to the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and time is linear, etc.

        1. But Santa delivers presents to children all over the world in one night! All we’re asking is that you come to our party even though you have to be at work during that time! Surely that’s not so hard!

      2. I think the solution is aunt has the Christmas Eve thing *just for her kids who want her to host it,* yes? Then the extended-extended family doesn’t have yet another thing to do. My

        I actually this kind of flexibility as coercion when my MIL used to do Thanksgiving on Friday–no one could say they couldn’t make it, because everyone else’s Thanksgiving was the day before, and when everyone involved lived mostly in the greater metro area of my spouse’s childhood home, I guess no one minded the two-Thanksgiving-dinners-back-to-back thing enough to put their foot down, I guess? I did it once when I was dating spouse and it involved insane amounts of time on Our Nation’s Most Crowded Highways, and so much food you just felt ill. Once we were married, we just announced we were alternating Thanksgiving and that has worked out fine, though it helps that our families have different religions: we never have to swap Christmas or Passover, so that keeps grandparents happy.

  21. I think this is why a lot of people end up become friends with mostly people in their own (or similar) professions. I’m a lawyer, so when I was younger I didn’t just work weird hours, I worked ALL the hours. I missed my own birthday for several years in a row because it happens to fall right smack in the middle of annual financial reporting season (mid-Feb), and that’s my specialty. For friendship, you end up gravitating towards other people who work similar schedules, because everyone’s been in the same boat as far as limited time. Even if you don’t see each other that often, they are empathetic rather than antagonistic about the situation (I will always appreciate my best friend from law school actually hanging out at her own office across the street from me until midnight on my 30th birthday just to take me out for a drink after I got done with my work – she used the time to get a jump start on all of *her* weekend work!).

    1. This really makes sense – and it probably helps that a lot of people in the same field have similar interests (not the same, mind, just similar). I had a similar issue with my birthday when I was a student; it’s smack in the middle of the exam period, so I always had exams to go to/study for/stress about.

  22. LW, I hear you on the social coercion. I don’t have this issue so much with regard to my work schedule, but it became a frustrating force in my life several years ago, when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. I have to be really careful about what I eat and drink, in addition to the fact that I tire easily these days and can get run down very, very quickly, which ends up turning into a downward spiral that really fucks up my health.

    Prior to developing the illness, I was a pretty robust partier, though I did dial it back when I had kids. Anyway, it’s been several years now and I am STILL getting flak from certain friends because I can’t stay out all night / won’t drink if I’m not feeling well / have to decline invitations sometimes because I need to be near the bathroom / can’t go out clubbing in the middle of the week. It’s so fucking irritating. I have explained to these people, in excruciating detail, what happens to me when I get run down, but I’m pretty sure they just hear “lalala! lalala!” when I’m talking about it because illness = unpleasant. The Captain has some great scripts, though – I will definitely be using them too.

    1. You really shouldn’t have to discuss this because “I don’t want to.” is THE reason and “Hey, I have this illness that fucks me up.” should well … be the end of any discussion?
      Under these circumstances (where people are still badgering you) I can only think of really direct approaches, like: “When you don’t respect that I’ve got to leave you are showing me that you having fun is more important to you than me feeling well. Wow.”
      The disrespectfulness, it buuuuuurns.

    2. Ouch, this is awfull. Truly truly awfull. Are you sure you need friends who don’t respect you basic need not to feel like s***t

      1. Yeah to both of you on that. I realized somewhat recently that both of the friends who are giving me grief about this struggle with self-control and setting boundaries in their own lives, and I have wondered if my simply saying “no thanks, I can’t because health” triggers some sort of shame-spiral in them. Still, it’s really frustrating to sit people down in quiet moments and have an honest conversation with them about something, only to have really tactless and hurtful comments fly out of their mouths the moment they start drinking.

        1. Obviously you can’t do anything about it, but that really shouldn’t be your problem. I’m also wondering if they use alcohol as an excuse to say that stuff.
          I hope it gets better. If not with learning, maybe with distance…

    3. Oh goodness! My good friend A recently wrote about this exact thing. I’m copying her words exactly (since they are on a member-only site) since I feel you might relate. [Note: I am also removing identifying information]

      “Most of my friends know that I have a sleep disorder similar to Narcolepsy. It makes me overwhelmingly tired all the time and affects my nighttime sleep in a variety of ways. I have to take a lot of stimulants just to stay awake every day and I have made a lot of changes to my lifestyle to help manage my sleepiness. One of the ways I do that is by going to bed and getting up at the same times every time. It’s incredibly difficult for me to sleep outside of those times. Staying up just an hour or two later than normal can have profound effects on me the next day. Staying up until 3 or 4 a.m. can take me up to a week to recover from.

      So I make my decisions about parties and late nights carefully. I only go to events I am truly excited about because participation is costly for me.

      I explained all this to several people … after they asked if I would be going to [ a party]. The thing is I shouldn’t have had to defend my decision. This is all very personal information that I’ve chosen to share to make a point. It isn’t information that I should have to disclose in order to justify not going to a party. Of course, I could have chosen not to share. I could just say I’m not going and leave it at that. That’s my big issue though, in our community it’s not so easy to just say no.

      In every conversation I had people insisted that I should go, it was going to be a great time, it was worth staying up for, etc. I know that they were not being malicious. They are my friends and they wanted me to be at a party to have fun with them. Why make a big deal then? Why write a long post explaining all this when my friends were just trying to get me to go to a party with them? There are a few reasons, and I think it’s important for people to understand what they’re doing when they pressure someone to do something even as innocent as go to a party.

      1) It questions their ability to know what is best for them.

      When you tell me that the party isn’t that far away, that I won’t be out that late, that it will be worth it, etc., you are questioning my ability to care for myself and make good decisions. You are presuming that you know better than I do what is good for me. I know myself and I know what my body needs, what I find taxing, and in what situations I will have fun. A party that is 30 miles away might be completely reasonable for you. For me it could be too far. We are all adults and we should respect that each person is an expert on their own needs.

      2) It puts them in a position to disclose more than they want to.

      Sure, we’re adults and should be able to decide what information to share or not. But when a friend is pushing and asking lots of questions it is hard to just say no without an explanation. Then you have to choose between potentially being perceived as rude or disclosing more information than you’re comfortable with. We should all be able to enforce our personal boundaries and disclose only what we are comfortable with. But as friends, and people who respect each other, we should avoid putting each other in that position.

      3) It creates pressure to use resources people may not have.

      Attending parties and events is expensive. Not everyone has the same financial resources and pressuring people to attend events creates an expectation that people may not be able to live up to.

      4) It strains relationships.

      It’s awkward to stand there and defend your choices to someone who is supposed to be your friend. If it happens often enough it can become a deterrent from talking to specific people or even attending social functions at all. Why strain friendships by pressuring someone to do something they’re not excited about?

      5) It creates a culture of pressure.

      This is the big one.

      This Pervocracy post talks about consent culture:

      11. Bring consent out of the bedroom. I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

      Beyond what’s necessary for their health and education (and even that touches iffy territory), I don’t believe in doing this to kids, either. The size and social-authority advantages an adult has over kids shouldn’t be used to force them to play games or accept hugs or go down the big slide. That sets a bad, scary precedent about the sort of thing it’s okay to use your advantages over someone for.

      If it’s ok to pressure someone to go to a party, what else is it okay to pressure them to do? Where is the line?”

      1. Seriously! Thank you for posting this. #2 and #3 really hit the nail on the head for me. Colitis flare symptoms are not something that you want to have to explain to someone in detail. And I live thousands of miles away from family, so “just call someone to help take care of your kid the next day” is not an option!

        Re: the whole idea of pressuring people to be at social engagements. I also think that some people are programmed to believe that this is how you show someone you care about them – by endlessly haranguing them about spending time together. The mom-guilt-trip trope had to come from somewhere. But at some point, the most loving thing (to me) is just to say: “Hey, I really understand that you’d be there if you could. Let’s get together some other time.”

        I recently ended a friendship with someone specifically because she never took “no” for an answer. I had laid out my boundaries pretty clearly about what I could and could not do early on in the friendship, but she constantly tried to schedule me into the ground. And then pushed and pushed and pushed when I said no. That’s become a giant, neon red flag for me.

      2. On point 1): sometimes people are undecided or misconceptions about why event X won’t suit them: be it cost/the ride home/the crowd/etc., but it is bizarrely easy to dispel those without asinine guilt-tripping or pressuring. Ending the chat with a ‘in the end, it’s your decision, ring me up if you wanna come’ and an alternate plan to do something at a later date so they won’t feel disappointed about missing a chance to have fun give an easy way out for the person in question.

  23. For the Holiday Open Thread:

    Several years ago, I attended a Stress at the Holidays talk, which introduced me to a brilliant idea that I think can be easily genericized to most holidays including Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

    1) Make a list of all of the aspects and activities that help you feel connected to people, help you relax, or that you enjoy related to that holiday. Prioritize those and do the ones that are top priority to you as time and budget allow.

    2) Make a second list that includes things that you enjoy or feel are necessary but don’t want to do. Trade off with friends, who surely have some complementary interests. For example, if you love baking, hook up with your friend who loves eating cookies but not baking. Maybe that friend would love to wrap your presents, which is something you dislike.(Really, I love gift-wrapping.) Divide up work (if you didn’t cook, you help clean up), do holiday meals potluck style if you want, etc. If being together is more important than a fancy feast, just be together and have whatever you want that’s fun and easy and tasty. Hang up colored strands of lights and do no other decorating.

    3) Leave anything that would not enrich your life undone. Feel peace, not guilt. See Captain Awkward’s scripts above for assistance.

    4) Negotiate to celebrate whichever holiday on whichever day works out. Most places have trick-or-treat the Sunday afternoon before October 31, not the night of. Follow that lead for the other big days. Last year Christmas with my parents didn’t happen until mid-January. Maybe this is easier for my family because my mom has also always been a nurse.

    Steps 1-3 seemed like obvious commonsense in retrospect, but those cultural, familial, and peer pressures can be hard to overcome.

    1. This is the first year my fiancé and I would celebrate holidays with each other’s families, and is my first year working as a nurse. And I haven’t worked there long enough to have vacation time, even if I took it (we’re a health clinic, not a hospital, so it could be possible). Besides that I totally feel the “wanting to be fair to my coworkers” part of this letter as well. And my family lives 6 hours from us in one direction and my fiancé’s family lives 6 hours away in the other direction, so we can’t just drive there for the day of. So my family is doing a Thanksgiving/Christmas celebration in January, and my nephew is young enough he won’t notice what day it is when he opens more presents. I’m hoping my fiancé’s family will do the same. I’m really glad my parents are understanding and it will make things easier on my brother and sister-in-law, since they can spend calendar-Christmas with her family. I’m anxious about how my fiancé’s family is going to take it but heartened by the fact that so far they didn’t ask him to come alone for Thanksgiving. (I did say we shouldn’t tell them about the holiday scheduling until we announced our engagement since I worried about that.) I don’t want to seem like trouble my first year in their family so fingers crossed. Happily my fiancé is 100% supportive which helps.

  24. LW I hear you! I have no excuse like, you know, saving lives. But I do teach skiing part-time at the local mountain. Basically, to do this you have to agree to work over the Christmas weeks, ie before and after the day. Most of the resort’s money is made then, especially the week between Xmas and NY. So, so many people bitch at me about this.

    My mom is pretty good about it, but most people just don’t understand. I get some variation of, “it’s a part-time job, surely they would give you the night off for my party” every year. In reality, for a hectic Christmas week I get to ski free the rest of the year, working only maybe a half day every 2nd weekend. I get all the training I want, plus a bunch of other perks. It’s sooooo worth it! Your party, my friend? Not so important.

    Anyway, the point is, you don’t owe them an explanation or excuse. Just shrug your shoulders and say, “sorry, I’m not available, maybe next time”, and leave it at that.

    1. haha those job perks are awesome, huh? In addition to tremendous job satisfaction, my work has just scheduled my first aid training for next month, since the organisation is also the major FA trainer in this area. So they offered it for free. It’s normally fairly expensive so I’m pretty stoked about it because that looks great on a CV.

  25. I get this like crazy. I was a nurse for over ten years, in psych. In locked wards. My mother never ever got it during the holidays. She was a piece of work to begin with, but it was still shocking when she threw a fit that I couldn’t do Xmas, and demanded that the locked unit I worked in just close. As if we could just put our patients out in the snow for a day, and come back tomorrow.

    I also lost a friendship over nursing hours. She wanted time with me, and we were short handed, so I’d had literally only 1 day off the entire month. When I said I wanted that day to spend with my husband, she got very angry. To the point of calling up my husband, and freaking out at him for stealing “her time” with me.

    My strategies were to stop arguing. I just said no. I have to work. End of story. I found just being to the point, and not using the normal feminine “maybe” “probably” etc helped a lot. If they argued, I just shut them down. Work is work. Besides, I LOVED working on the holidays. I usually brought in food for the patients, and my hubby would bring a plate from his family for dinner for me. (Usually shared out with whoever was there.)

    I guess I always felt my patients needed me the most during the holidays, when they couldn’t go home. I can spend all sorts of time with my family, but my patients were often not the kind that get visitors. For me, it was more important to be with them.

    1. “I guess I always felt my patients needed me the most during the holidays, when they couldn’t go home. I can spend all sorts of time with my family, but my patients were often not the kind that get visitors. For me, it was more important to be with them.”

      i really love this way of looking at it. i can imagine how much the patients appreciated it. SO MANY JEDI HUGS TO YOU.

    2. You sound like a wonderful person, and you literally brought a tear to my eye. Thank goodness for people like you.

  26. Lots of nurses and a couple of firefighters in my husband’s extended family. Everybody has always kind of taken for granted that these folks would *rather* spend holidays with the family (though I’m not always sure why), but that sometimes it’s going to be their turn to work and that’s just the way it is. We’ll try to accommodate — having Thanksgiving dinner early or late based on a shift change if it will help, and maybe taking a plate to the person who has to work if that’s feasible, for example — but overall it’s just taken in stride.

    Anyone who takes it personally that you are working on the holidays is making a foolish, manipulative CHOICE to do so.

    I was thinking, for those whose relatives don’t get it, that perhaps you could type up a petition? Like, “WHEREAS family togetherness on holidays is vitally important to national cohesion, and WHEREAS such family togetherness is impaired when some family members have to work on holidays, NOW THEREFORE we the undersigned hereby demand that the government shut down all hospitals, police departments, rescue squads and fire stations on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, effective immediately. We recognize that this policy will mean that patients will suffer and die, houses (possibly even whole neighborhoods) will burn to the ground (possibly with people inside), and victims of car accidents, robberies, assaults and other crimes will go without aid or succour. However, we believe that the value to the collective of people in these fields being able to eat dinner with their relatives outweighs those stupid people’s needs because what kind of selfish idiot lands themselves in the hospital, gets themselves mugged, or lets their house catch fire during the holiday season anyway?” And when people start to whine about your having to work, you could say “Oh, I’m so glad you agree! It’s a disgrace, isn’t it? Would you be willing to sign my petition?” and hand it over with a pen.

    1. My mom was a volunteer EMT in a small town for most of my childhood. Because we were home for Christmas, she almost always offered to be on call for Christmas day, especially once we kids were a bit older. It always just made sense to us.

      People who don’t understand that not everything can stop for holidays are somewhere between gobsmackingly dumb and deliberately naive.

  27. I work in retail, which, you know, no lives depend on, but the way the shop works means that the roster is almost always tentative. I could be – and often am – called in last minute to work a shift. Most of my friends are absolutely fine with this. I, on the other hand, feel oh so guilty when I have to cancel *again*…

    1. I know it’s easy to say “don’t feel guilty” but… don’t feel guilty. Sure you’re not saving lives, but your job is still important if only for the fact that your paycheque depends on it. You have responsibilities and commitments and there’s nothing wrong with going to your job.

      Your friends sound like rad non-coercy people and that’s cool. Don’t forget that you should be nice to yourself too. 🙂

    2. Also, maybe no lives depend on retail, but I have been exceedingly grateful and/or relieved to find that one store open when I needed menstrual supplies, over-the-counter medications, or even a quart of milk. It’s easy to talk about the consumer culture and how many sweaters (or ballpoint pens) a person needs, but we really do need some stuff.

      1. That is actually such a good point. I am ever so grateful to find shops that open late! I shall keep this in mind the next time I feel bad 🙂

  28. So I’m dealing with some social coercion with a friend, and could use some guidance. He just wants to hang out with me way more than I want to hang out with him, and guilt-trips me about it. My situation has been going on for over a year, and every time I try to bring it up (maybe 3 times this has happened), Friend freaks out that I’m giving him the African Violet (because I don’t want to spend ALL of my time with him *gasp*) and then I say “no no no I really want to be friends with you” and then end up guilty and resentful and crappy. My question is… how do you know when to give the African Violet?

    1. Next time don’t reassure him. Let him freak out and then say, “okay, that’s upsetting, but I still don’t want to get together on x day. Howabout I call you when I’m free?” Try as much as possible to keep to specifics about time/place and don’t acknowledge the overall freakout. See if it gets better.

      If a month or two goes by and you don’t feel like calling him/don’t miss him, African Violet time.

    2. The Cap has awesome advice as always!

      Your situation perfectly describes an almost-friend of mine. I say “almost-friend”, because I really enjoyed their company… at about half the frequency at which they wished to enjoy mine. And for a while that was okay! In part because I’m immune to guilt-trips, which they deployed each time I politely declined an offer to hang out. (Their text: “:c :c :c nooooo” Me, verbally, where they can’t hear me: “Get out of my butt, you are not my boyfriend.” My text response: “Sry, will txt later this week when I’m free!”)

      My situation ended up resolving itself when I did something that really triggered their fear of rejection – I asked for an item back which I’d lent to them a while ago – and the guilt trip blew up into an epic guilt journey, which culminated in the announcement that this was the last straw, they just cannot be friends with someone who takes them for granted like this! *They* ended up defriending *me*.

      I had a blissful – SERIOUSLY. BLISSFUL. – two guilt-trip-free weeks before they realized that I wasn’t putting effort into pursuing them. Then some weirdness happened where they basically tried to bait me? Idk, by that point I was out of fucks to give, and I told them straight-out to CHILL. We haven’t really talked since.

      The moral of this story: Manipulative people are sometimes going to freak out when they don’t get their way; you cannot change their behavior, but you can give fewer fucks about it.

      1. Heh, I have wonderfull friends I talk to with ferq about once in a month. The usuall godbye after spending a couple of hours talking and drinking coffie, is “see you next year, muahaa”. The point is people will understand if they want to, if they don’t it all comes to “win/loose ratio, if you are geting too much loose from the realationship, why bother.

    3. Good advice from the CA, but really, do you want to be friends with this person at all?? You can’t help relatives much, especially at this season, but friends?

  29. Due to family circumstances (that is, they all suck with their various personality disorders and dysfunctions), holidays have been agonizing for me for many years. The happiest times of many holidays was when I could truthfully say, “can’t make it. Gotta work”. Getting out of that crazy hellhole in spite of the fact that it was baby Jesus’ birthday, Big Fat Stinking Turkey Day, or whatever was such a huge relief. I suffered only a tiny twinge of guilt. Bye now, gotta go, sorry, have yourselves a swell time! (whew!)

  30. There’s this really annoying cultural thing (at least where I live) that seems to equate ‘pressuring someone to do things’ with ‘really liking them’. I’ve had this argument with friends before because *I take people at their word*. If I invite someone to do something and they give an answer like ‘sorry, I don’t really like clubs’ or ‘I have to work’ or ANYTHING really, I’m going to say ‘ok, we’ll miss you!’ and move on. I want to see people who are just as enthusiastic about seeing me–not people I have to cajole into it.

    But there’s a group of friends I have who have the idea that not trying to get someone to change their mind is insulting–like you didn’t ‘really’ want them there. I have seen the flipside where people *do* want their friends to basically convince them to do something. And I think that this friends-talking-friends-into-things can be positive…getting people to do something they are nervous about but really do want to do for instance. But there’s ways to do this that *aren’t* guilt trippy, and respect the person’s final decision.

    It’s extremely frustrating when people say ‘no’ but mean ‘I actually want to do this but want my friends to reassure me’. Because I don’t really hear the second level of that. I just hear ‘no’ and move on. It even happens in weirdly minor situations. “Oh, can I get you a glass of water or something?” “No thank you!” I’m going to think ‘they aren’t thirsty!’ not ‘they want me to say ‘are you suuure’ and then will say they actually do want something’.

    1. Cultural expectations definitely play a role. When I studied in Japan many years ago, I was warned that expressions like “help yourself!” and “make yourself at home!” that folks from the U.S. intend as welcoming come across to the Japanese as “serve yourself because I have no intention of serving you,” and “sorry, can’t be bothered treating you like a guest!” Instead, hosts offer refreshments humbly, as if they could not possibly be up to the guest’s standard (no matter how exquisite they are) guests humbly demur as if they could not possibly be worthy of such beautifully presented and no doubt delicious foods; there’s a whole back-and-forth before you get to the guest partaking of anything.

      Perhaps because the U.S. is such a melting pot of cultures (and social ritual is definitely not just a Japanese thing), I occasionally see people here doing something similar: reflexively denying hunger or thirst, but looking with such ill-disguised longing at refreshments that it is obvious they want to be pressured until they can yield with a “well, if you insist!” (Though mostly that’s women, who have often been socialized to think having appetites of any kind is unseemly, while men (not unreasonably) tend to be more like “they put this stuff out for us to eat, right?”)

      1. Definitely! I am from the kind of background where women deny they want things and then other women pressure them into having what they want; and then I spent some formative time in China, where it is also as you describe, only with more shouting and physically pressing food or gifts on people. So I now have slightly frightening hostess tendencies, and have to be gently restrained when I appear to be intimidating my guests into eating their own body weight in dessert.

        1. Oh, man, I’m so guilty of this. I’m Mexican and spent a few years in the Middle East, so I feel like I’ve failed as a hostess and shamed my ancestors if someone comes to my home and doesn’t eat something. The other night a friend came over and I asked if he was hungry and he said no, he just had a little something. So I offered him a big something, and he said no again, and I offered a little something like we were bartering or something. He looked exasperated and settled on a glass of water. Poor guy.

      2. Well THAT explains why I kept getting food and tea thrown at me when I was at an elderly couple house (wife was Korean). I was sitting an exam, husband was a JP and supervising- I really needed to concentrate.

        Wife: would you like a Pepsi?
        Me: no thanks, I’m fine.
        Wife: here’s a Pepsi!

        I had spring rolls, Pepsi. Tea, biscuits and more Pepsi (because the first glass had gone warm. Because I didn’t drink it).

        She was very nice and it was very funny but my goodness, I never went back 🙂

      3. As a woman who goes ‘this food is out here to eat, right?’ I have so much trouble with this. I’ve learned that in some cases people expect me to wait for it to be offered or for someone else to start and to take small portions but all I’m thinking is ‘I’m hungry, and that looks fucking fantastic’.

        1. Me too! I’m always first in line at a buffet, but there’s also a bit of me that feels bad for not hanging back. the other downside of being first is that I’m often not sure how much to take, especially if it doesn’t look like there is enough food for the number of people there (food at academic events). :-s

          1. Yes, but think how grateful you are making all the other people who were desperate to have at the buffet but felt they ought to wait for someone else to start! You should take an extra big slice of everything as your reward.

          2. At academic events I’m always first AND last at the buffet. I’m that grad student stuffing all the leftover fruit and sandwiches in my bag, and because I always say to the rest of the room, ‘hey, does anyone else want to get in on this?’ then it’s totally NOT RUDE. 😀

          3. Love it! 😀 The last department I was in would send around an email when there was left-over food in the common room. It was genius!

          4. I had an amazing piece of bacon and egg quiche for lunch the other day because when there’s food left over after meetings or training sessions they bring the plate around to everyone else to get rid of it. I was sitting there on the phone and suddenly a magical pile of sandwiches and quiche appeared right in front of my face!

      4. Actually this is super-useful for me, I’ve always been 100% baffled when people behave that way. It makes sense now!

    2. I’m much like you, though if it’s a situation where we’re out and talking about having to buy food I’ll often add an extra layer of “I’m buying if that helps” – but if they still say no, I just accept that money is not the sole reason and move on.

      And oh god DAMN I had a huge paragraph here about the issue I DO have when people ask if I want something (which still doesn’t involve me saying no when I mean maybe, instead I give variations on “I don’t know” or “I don’t mind” because I never learned how to make certain decisions and yes this is something I have to work on esp around my uncle, who I’m going to be staying with twice a year until I’m done with school) but my computer’s been getting phantom trackpad input and it selected the whole thing and overwrote it with the end of my sentence. ARGH. I’ve now found out how to disable the trackpad at least, so it shouldn’t happen again, but still. Annoying.

  31. Me, I’m a priest. My work schedule is almost the opposite of most other people. Christmas is my second most heavily-scheduled time. I work most evenings, because most people have day jobs and are only free to meet in the evenings. Weekends are *always* work time (this seems especially hard for friends to understand). I cannot go to parties on Saturday nights because I have to be up at 5:30 the next morning. When I do carve out some social time, there is an extremely high chance that my phone will ring, and someone will be dying or in crisis, and I will simply have to go.

    My partner is, if not enthusiastic about my schedule, at least understanding, and more or less resigned to me getting home hours later than anticipated because someone needed to talk. My parents understand that Christmas visits are not something they can expect — and I am very lucky in having parents who were never terribly attached to “occasions” anyway. But it makes it really hard to maintain friendships. My circle of friends has become very small, and is mostly made up of other priests, because they get it, because their schedules are similar to mine, and they know that if I have to call at the last minute and say, “Something’s come up,” it’s not because I don’t want to see them. I really regret losing contact with my other friends, whom I do still care about, but the practical difficulties seem almost insuperable.

    1. I was a cop on the night shift in $MajorAmericanCity for eleven years, and it was a very similar dynamic, albeit replacing priests with police officers (with probably a lot more cussing as a result). A lot of my former colleagues ended up marrying nurses, because the scheduling issues are so similar, not to mention the, er, overlap in clientele and work conditions.

      I was so lucky that my immediate family and my sweetie (whose mother was a cop) and some of my friends understood that I worked strange hours (of which I was fond because there was a not inconsiderable pay differential for working them) and was not likely to ever have a major holiday off. They weren’t insulted when I’d have to call and say “Sorry I’m going to be late/cancel our plans at the last minute, but $Emergency happened and I can’t even guess when I’ll be done processing this arrest/guarding this crime scene/chasing Mothra, Godzilla, Rodan, and those two screechy little singers-in-a-box back to Monster Island after they decided to rampage down Broadway at the end of my shift.” We generally planned celebrations around when I did have off, since they all had much more regular hours than I did, and I made it clear that I was absolutely okay with them making plans without me, or that I’d show up when/if I could.

      OTOH, I lost a lot of friends who, no matter how many times I explained the realities of my job, just couldn’t/wouldn’t understand that my hours and assignments were unpredictable and beyond my control, that I often wouldn’t know until the literal very last minute whether I was able to go home on time or whether I’d have my days off–ordered overtime on very little notice was a big thing at my former agency. My “Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m stuck at work” was too often read as making excuses for not seeing them, or as a snub. Occasionally communication helped and friendships were salvaged, and others…involved flats and flats of African violets. We’re talking actual acreage here. I stopped feeling guilty about it after a while; after all, I wasn’t the one who decided to get all stabby at 11pm.

      Now I’m a law student; weirdly, even non-law school people are much more understanding when I say “Sorry, I’d love to, but I’m swamped.” Maybe law students have such dreadful reputations as know-it-all pedants and The Very Last Thing That Fun Ever Saw that people are relieved when we can’t make it out. For all I know, they send fruit baskets of gratitude to law profs who routinely assign eleventy-gajillion pages of reading per night.

      Come to think of it, at my advanced stage of curmudgeonliness, I might start sending Fruit Baskets of Gratitude to the social-pressuring fragile egos who think other people’s work or school schedules are a personal affront. Nobody is nursing/priest-ing/policing/doctoring/studying/firefighting/lawyering/food-servicing/retailing/bus-driving/deadlining AT them for the purpose of ruining their social events, but if they must pitch a Cat 5 hissy because others must work for a living at the expense of being at their personal beck and call, well, it’s nice of them to save us the trouble of investing much emotional energy in the so-called friendship.

      1. Save the Fruit Baskets of Gratitude for the understanding friends who accept and understand your schedule! There should be something like Velociraptor Eggs for the Cat 5 Hissy Folk.

        1. Those are not kiwis in the Fruit Baskets of Gratitude for the Cat 5 Hissy Folk. They might look something like kiwis, but they hatch into velociraptors.

          Also, kumquats and crabapples and unripe persimmons. Mouth-puckering fruits that leave a bad taste.

          1. The whole office is staring at me because of that sentence:
            “They might look something like kiwis, but they hatch into velociraptors.” (Luckily I have understanding workspace.) Thank you! That lit up my afternoon!

          2. This is one of those occasions where the fact that kiwi is not a fruit in kiwi-land is extra hilarious. I’ve seen kiwi eggs, they’re definitely big enough to hatch a velociraptor.

  32. holiday open thread comment AHOY!

    i’ve been feeling some creeping dread and sadness about the holidays. my mom died earlier this summer. even when she was alive we didn’t do much for the holidays – she had a lot of crazy that crept up over the past ten years and there were extended family schisms and it all got to be too much. but at the least we would try to get together for a meal. last year her crazy was too much and no family stuff happened at all and i was surprised by how sad it made me.

    this year i see everyone getting ready for traditions and time with friends and family and it’s bumming me out. i have a lot of close friends but most of them don’t live in my city. i’ll probably be able to spend some family-type time with the guy i’m seeing, along with his mom and kid, but we’re trying to keep our relationship more on the casual side right now and i’m not comfortable with latching on to their family stuff to the extent that i might like to. my dad is around and i’m sure we’ll see each other but it feels like something’s missing.

    i guess i’m just saying that i feel like i’m missing something i’ve never even really had. i’m going to try my best to make it awesome for myself regardless. hopefully i’ll be able to travel to see a dear friend for new year’s but that depends on whether or not i get a full time job between then and now. this has been a year of unemployment, relationship upheaval, death, loss, general crap, and nonsense. i just wish i could fold myself into someone’s big loud loving extended family for a week or so. read books out loud to little kids, be taken care of and taught new knitting tricks by awesome grandmas, listen to stories about great uncle so-and-so’s wacky adventures or whatever, and be sent home with a plate of christmas cookies.

    i’ve spent most of my life being glad i didn’t have much extended family to have drama with. it weirds me out a little to find myself wanting it so badly this year. not sure if there’s any advice to be given but it does feel good to have admitted this somewhere. 🙂

    1. Ahn, so sorry you’ve had such a hard time. Your extended internet family are all hoping you have the nicest holiday season. You describe such a lovely holiday picture I’m sure it’ll be just like that for you at some point.

      Is there any equivalent to Crisis at Christmas (UK; volunteers dish up fabulous Christmas dinner and fun activities for homeless people) where you are, that you might feel like volunteering at for part of the season?

      1. thanks very much, miss p!

        i should truly look into the volunteer idea. i keep intending to but it gets lost under stress and other stuff going on. i think it would be excellent for me.

        i also realize, upon looking at my comment, that the picture i paint is *so* lovely and idyllic, it probably doesn’t actually exist. *grin* but that’s what fantasies are for, i guess. and if nothing else it shows me that i could do with seeking out some comfort and care instead of just trying to cold shoulder it and pretend nothing’s wrong.

        1. I really like the volunteering idea, because yes, my extended family holidays are not really anything like the perfect idea of them anyway. Making something nice for other people is supposed to be the entire point, so I bet a volunteer gig would feel great.

          I should probably take my own advice — I’m in Japan for the quarter, and though I’ll be home for Christmas I’m missing American Thanksgiving, which feels weird. Plus, if I find a volunteer/social group doing something, they might have an actual oven, which is kind of necessary for TG and yet not a common piece of equipment in kitchens here.

          1. i always wonder if volunteering around the holiday times is going to be like that episode of “how i met your mother” where everyone tries to volunteer on thanksgiving or whatever in order to feel virtuous about it and the people who volunteer regularly are just frustrated and don’t want to deal with all of the extra bodies. 😛 i should really start doing something sooner. 🙂

            good luck with thanksgiving in japan, jinian! i hope you can make it work for you. 🙂

          2. I wonder that too about the volunteering.

            Do you have any friends who have no family/awful families but also are sad they aren’t having a big Christmas? You could start your own family of misfit toys.

          3. most people who live in my city already have obligations. i wish i could magically bring together all of my far-flung friends, as many of them fit this description perfectly.

          4. Ahn, could you guys have a skype get together? Everyone make their favourite food and sit and hang out online?

          5. One of my girlfriend throws a party she calls “Waifmas” which is exactly that. I have rarely gone, because I have my own family Christmas hell to get through and I’m usually dying to just be alone when I finally can. But it brings me cheer to see the invitations, I can feel the goodwill just oozing through. 🙂

      2. Here, a tip from Virtual Knitting Grandma: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abBhe-JYmgI Will keep the edges of your stuff from doing that weird tight thing when you don’t mean it. My favorite New Thing of the Year. I send you a virtual cake smell too :-). Along with my best wishes for the holidays, of course.
        Don’t flog yourself for “missing something you never really had”, when you know the very possibility is gone for sure you can definitely miss it. Just try to remember it doesn’t have to be your real grandma giving you knitting tips.

    2. volunteering sounds lovely, but you might also want to put some feelers out about an “orphans holiday” among your friends – often one of my friends wants to show off their awesome hosting abilities and feels the turkey is wasted if there are less than 15 people at the table, but they don’t actually invite until like the week before, but if they know you’re feeling lonely the similar friend you probably have will invite you ahead of time.

      My memory of stray friend Christmases is probably rose-colored because it belongs to my Before Baby self, but it always seemed to have all the good stuff of a family holiday – food, drink, presents, more food – without all the bad stuff – long drives, emotional blackmail, overspending, fake gratitude.

      1. i’m really hoping to be able to pull something like that together. unfortunately there isn’t a really obvious scenario for it. but i’ve already started talking to some friends about my HOLIDAY FEELS and i think i’ll be able to keep nice and busy. but yeah, i love the idea of getting some of the good stuff without the familial obligations. thanks for commenting. 🙂

        1. One of my friends is a wonderful woman who sadly has very little extended family; she has an event every Christmas called the ‘Waifs and Strays Christmas’ – where you can come and chill and make/eat food if you want to and just generally hang out without stress/presents/screaming kids/annoying relatives and so on. It’s pretty popular, so I’m sure you could do something similar quite easily. 🙂

    3. You could look into whether your local children’s home, old people’s home, hospital, hospice, sheltered housing, women’s refuge or similar needs some extra people to come and be nice and friendly for people who might not have family members or visitors over the “holiday season”.

    4. Several years back a friend of mine found herself in that situation (in a city far from the family she didn’t want to see anyway, bummed out at having nothing to do to mark the season), so she put together a thing called (Name’s) Christmas Orphans, advertised on social networking sites to find others in the same situation, and organized a bunch of feelgood helping stuff to do on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They made food, delivered it to homeless shelters (we live in a city with a huge homeless population), went and volunteered to entertain the kids at the shelter so that the moms could have some time to themselves and the staff could have a bit of a break, and just generally tried to find ways to spend time together and help others at the same time. I actually had family commitments and wasn’t able to go along, but everyone involved loved it and was really glad they’d done it. If you have the kind of personality that would allow you to organize that kind of thing, or know people who do, it can be a great way to deal with that feeling of being adrift when a lot of other people are doing cozy family stuff. She was initially just going to offer to host a big party at her place, and that might work too. In any hub-type city there are always going to be tons of people who’re on their own for the holidays and wishing they weren’t.

  33. I’m a middle school teacher and I’ve faced some of the same things. (Incidentally, automatically getting Christmas off is no good if you’re say, Muslim or Jewish. Try getting your holidays off then. And don’t say “just get a sub;” sub plans are annoying to write, the kids don’t do anything, and you have to put in extra hours to clean your room, grade the sub work, and call all the parents for the kids who misbehaved. Not worth it. Christians don’t have to do that. Separation of church and state much?)

    “Why can’t you do lunch with me?” used to be a big one – somehow they don’t understand that when the bell rings, I HAVE to be in my classroom. I can’t chance being late EVER. I’ve had a lot of parents want to come talk to me on my lunch break, reasoning that my lunch break must be just like theirs. I have to explain that my lunch break is literally my only break in a 10 hour (average) day and I can’t eat at my desk or wander away to the bathroom whenever I feel like it the way people at an ordinary job can. (You don’t eat in front of hungry kids and you never, ever leave them alone.) I have to eat and pee, and I’m lucky to have half an hour to do it in.

    I also have friends who don’t understand about the constant work – they ask me why I can’t just decide not to grade or lesson plan and go hang out with them and I have to explain that it just doesn’t work that way. I have eight report card grades due per year, which means I work 10-12 hour days 5 days a week and about 6 hours on the weekends and that’s just how it is. Guilting me by saying “you never spend time with me! Grade later!” is awful. I have a responsibility to my students that I can’t ditch just to go watch a movie.

    I really wish that if my friends wanted to spend more time with me, they’d be ok with hanging out while I grade or even helping me grade (some of it is pure grunt work, like sorting papers or grading multiple-choice tests). And I really wish they’d understand that if I want to be organized and on-time to work in the mornings, I can’t stay out past 9:30 at night.

    And while I’m venting, I wish people understood that we don’t get paid for summer. I get paid for 10 months of work. That’s it. Summer is unpaid. Most of us get a second job over the summer months because there’s no paycheck between June 30 and September 30. I ask the people who say “you’re so lucky! You get summers off!” if *they* want a forced, unpaid, 10 week “vacation” every year AND be expected to work during it putting together lesson plans on their own time.

    OK vent done. Time to go grade.

    1. OK maybe a little hyperbole there. I suppose I have time to pee after 3:30 if I’m not in a meeting or at a training.

    2. I have helped a friend grade, and it was totally fun! We had four people total, and we could hang out and talk while marking papers, and have snacks, and take breaks together. I don’t know if you’ve tried pitching “grading as social event” to them at all, but it might be worth a try. (It’s possible that they are no-fun meanie heads, but you describe them as friends, so maybe they can come around.)

    3. I taught music part-time in an elementary school for a while, and got to observe how things worked, and it always blew my mind how much work the classroom teachers did. Piles and piles. Thanks for the work you are doing!

    4. My sister started teaching full time this school year (after subbing last year) and I miss spending more time with her. But I have to remember to keep myself in check when talking about missing her because I don’t want her to hear a guilt trip or a demand for time she can’t spare.

      Also, I think most people would be shocked if they really knew how many hours and how much work teachers put in. The first month of school she was doing something like 80 hours a week. And the dedication and mental energy outside of school! If teachers were paid properly, they’d start at 60k a year easy and go up from that.

    5. I completely understand. I was a teacher for a while–I’m still in the field of education–and we had 25 minutes for lunch. We had to walk the kids to the lunchroom and then go fetch them, which means my lunch was actually 15 minutes long. And yes to the issue of getting a sub is more trouble than it is worth. One reason that I left teaching is because I realized that it would never get easier. In most jobs, there’s a learning curve, a time when you pay your dues, gain some experience, and then move up to more responsibility and less grunt work. In teaching–you can be the best teacher in the world and the level of drudgery will never decrease. If you assign those essays, you have to grade them, And all the extra crap–bus duty, hall duty, the club or sport you are supposed to sponsor/coach, the endless faculty meetings.

      I was trying to commiserate and I think I ended up venting about a job I no longer have! I LOVE to teach. It’s who I am. But remaining in the school system where I was would have endangered my health.

    6. Some of my favorite times spent with a teacher-friend where I used to live were at our favorite coffee shop, where I’d read/crochet while she graded papers. We’d split a piece of fruit tart and chat a bit off and on for a few hours, but most of her time was spent grading. It was nice to keep her company and get some stuff done myself.
      I am not a teacher but I know several (mom, sister-in-law, the aforementioned good friend) and I have INFINITE RESPECT for how much work it is.

    7. Big, giant second to your complaint about getting non-Christian religious holidays off. I’m Jewish and this has been a life-long hassle for me throughout school, college and now my working life. Also, I’m currently a freelancer, so any holiday I do get off I don’t get paid for. Add to that the fact that the High Holidays usually fall during cold and flu season and that becomes a really rough time for me.

    8. Huh. In my state, the teachers can opt for a bigger paycheck over the school year or a smaller paycheck over the entire year, so they can continue to get paychecks over the summer. It’s the same salary, though. And all our teachers had at least one “off” period where they didn’t have a class as well as a lunch break. (To grade papers and go to meetings or call parents or whatever.) (I’m also not sure if that’s state-mandated or depends on the school system or what).

    9. I actually helped a couple of my favourite teachers grade (not my year’s work obviously) when I was in high school. It was fun! That was also the year that the teacher’s union was doing a lot of strike action because they were trying to negotiate more non-class-time hours and the government were being shits about it, so I think a lot of my teachers were pretty stressed. I have no idea if any of them secretly thought I was a bit of a suck up or annoyance but if they did they hid it well!

      1. I did this too! Part of it was being in the Honor Society and needing service hours, and part of it was that we had a really cute student teacher in the History department (so much Firthing!), but I actually really enjoyed doing some of the grading/developing prototype assignments for the students to look at.

  34. I just sent this to my mom, who’s a nurse on the night-shift. Even some of my siblings try to guilt-trip her about her schedule even though she’s reiterated that:
    1. Dad may be the “main breadwinner” but it’s her job that pays the mortgage (and sometimes, the car loan) so no, she can’t just up and quit
    2. She LIKES the night shift, as opposed to day shift. Just doing a week of new-job orientation from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. made her absolutely miserable (more so than any horrendous 11pm-7am shift)
    and so on.
    I mean, my brother’s chemistry lab frequently catches fire but I don’t berate him about why he insisted on becoming a chemist and therefore, working in labs that sometimes catch fire (although it’s possibly his company is just crappy about employee safety. But that’s a separate issue).

    1. From another person who likes/lives Night Shift, I have to say a huge ‘Thanks!’ for understanding that some people just operate better that way! We really do appreciate it.

  35. When I was wee (ie, in high school) and somewhat less able to dump friends just because I didn’t like them very much, I had some friends who were super high-energy high-coercion high-teasing high-up-in-your-business superduperextraverts who really liked the sort of hanging out that was like “everyone piles into their car and they drive us somewhere many hours away that takes an entire day and sometime a night to do this outing/event/thing and there is no way to leave because we are all dependent on them for rides and also are four hours from home and also already paid for the whole day” type things. And if they planned a trip there was NO FUCKING WAY you were going to say no when they asked you if you wanted to come, because it was going to be FUN, and everybody is always up for twenty-four straight hours of high-energy expensive FUN with friends who get all up in every fucking aspect of your shit and tease you mercilessly about everything, right?

    I quickly learned to promise I was coming and then get ~dreadfully~ sick the morning of and then text them that I was dreadfully sick and then turn off my phone because I had to sleep the dreadful sickness better.

    Was I a lying liar who lies? Yes.

    Do I regret it? Hell no. If they didn’t want me to lie to them, they could have given me a way to decline in advance.

      1. Word. Especially the “you are trapped and don’t get to leave until everyone wants to leave! YAY!!!”

        Welcome to hell!

        1. Indeed, the not being able to leave is the worst. >.>

          Sometimes I do like taking big day trips, like to an amusement park or a Renaissance Faire or going somewhere for the weekend, but… not always. And the list of “friends I will do these things with” is much much shorter than my list of “people who are my friends” generally because it absolutely MUST be with my MOST chill friends (the ones who are okay with leaving early or with taking a break in the middle of the day to just sit somewhere and look at the trees), but it was always the LEAST chill friends who wanted to do these sorts of things the most!

          This winter I am going to spend a week in Disney with two of my college friends and I am looking forward to it because of the two specific friends I am going with, because the list of people in the world that I could possibly spend a week in Disney with without going utterly mad is like… four people long. And I am going with two of them! And when we were planning they asked if we wanted to maybe invite more people along and I was like “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IF WE DO THAT I AM STAYING HOME.”

          1. Four, that’s actually a lot. 🙂 I mean spending a non-stop “weak-of-time” with other people is hard.

          2. I did that with 2 of the people on my own very short list a couple of years ago. The afternoon nap was an essential part of each day. 🙂 I hope you have as much fun as I did!

        2. Heh, that made me into “NO, I am not going, no matter what you say” person. Long trips and wondering what the hell am I doing here. No thanks 🙂

        3. I don’t even like going shopping if I don’t have an easy way to leave. eg busing out with my sister is fine; being driven by a parent isn’t, even if we’re going to the same place, because leaving to bus home when they swear they’ll be done “soon” is really difficult to convince them to “allow”.

    1. In my industry in my region we have an annual conference that’s either near the urban area I live in, or 3-4 hours away. A few years ago I finally wised up and started driving my own car all by myself to the farther-away conferences, and staying at the hotel where the conference is being held, instead of car-pooling with cow-irkers and staying in a cheap motel.

      Now I don’t have to have long car-ride conversations of inanity, I can duck out of the “FUN” social-drinking hour, and I can set my own schedule (like staying an extra night at the hotel instead of getting up in the wee small hours to make the drive to remote-city). It may cost a few more dollars, but the savings in my happiness are sooooo worth it.

      Which reminds me, I need to make my hotel reservation for the next conference before the hotel fills up!

    2. Oh yes, I had an experience like that in the summer after my first year of college – some high school friends wanted me to “go out clubbing” with them and even though I wasn’t that into it I said yes because I figured I could bail early if I needed to.
      Well, it turns out that my friends decided to pick me up from work when I got off around 9:30 at night, so I didn’t have my car. I realized about an hour into the night that I was DONE but I didn’t get home until almost 4 am because folks wanted to dance for a long time, get waffle house afterwards, etc. etc. and I was the only person who wasn’t having a great time and couldn’t convince anyone else with a car to take me back to work so I could go home. So I learned to NEVER AGAIN get sucked into a night of FUNNN!! without an escape plan in place.

      1. Any time I go to a bar, I always offer to be designated driver. I don’t drink anyway, and that means I generally decide when we leave. Or at worst, I leave and they catch a cab or crash at a friend’s place. Instant escape plan! Of course, I’m also a night owl with a car and a lot of pretty chill friends, so it might not work for everyone.

    3. Situations just like this taught me my personal fundamental rule of socializing: Control Your Exit. Like some of the others in this thread, much of the time I will take my own car and make my own arrangements even if that might be more trouble or more expensive just so I can control when (and if) I leave.

      1. Totally. I once rode my scooter 1.5 hours to and from a baby shower in the high stinking heat of summer, avoiding highways, because my license only let me drive 80kph (and because I was a new driver and scared of highways), because I didn’t want to be stuck at the party on someone else’s schedule.

        It was a giant pain in the ass to doit and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

      2. Control Your Exit is very important!

        Even unrelated to issues of being generally tired and wanting to leave before other people, I swear, all of the strangest and creepiest shit that has ever happened to me socially has been when I have failed to control my exit. It is like people save up their radically inappropriate and insulting behaviors until I cannot escape them. This is how I learned to see isolating me/attempting to control my exit as a threatening and predatory behavior.

      3. This is great, and if you take your car then it also allows you to Control Your Drinking if there is social coercion in that regard.

  36. To offer one piece of potential advice: the uncertainty may be disappointing to your family, to be turned down so many times.

    Maybe talk to your family and ask them which holiday is the most important to them that you are available for. Make it clear you can only agree to come to one holiday a year, but let your family feel heard and set expectations early by agreeing which it will be.

    Then before the next year’s assignments are made, ask if you can not be assigned that holiday, offering to take another popular holiday in its place (I’m picturing offering to take Christmas as long as you can have Easter off). Since your are making your preference known early and offering to make up for it elsewhere, will that work for you job?

    Another route is if you are friends with another nurse you know has a special fondness for X holiday, offer to make a trade pact. (e.g. You will trade her Christmas for something when she has it, she will trade Thanksgiving for something when you have it).

    Would either of those work?

    1. The only issues I can see with the trade pact are a) management may not allow it and b) other co-workers would get mad/jealous at how you always had x-holiday off and friend-worker always had y-holiday off (which goes into why management won’t allow it because whiny people who can’t/won’t find a person to swap with thus complain to them because “UNFAIR”). Same for people who work shift – there are some who would love to just work straight nights but can’t swap with someone who wants to work just straight days because then everyone would want to do that but there will never be enough people who want to stay on straight nights thus cries of “UNFAIR”.

      1. THIS! The woman who hosts our Thanksgiving is a nurse who only cares about Thanksgiving. She asks for Thanksgiving off every year and expects it every year, but only because she works Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and pretty much any other holiday to make up for it. She still gets flack from people as to why she always gets Thanksgiving off.

        Still, she does it anyway because she knows that she’s picking up the slack elsewhere. If people complain, she points out that for her one holiday off each year, she’s expected to work all the other holidays, whereas people who rotate holidays can get more off each year. When other nurses complain, she points out that fact and that seems to shut up the others.

        However, perhaps the LW doesn’t want to have to work ALL the other holidays just to make up for the one that is most important to her family. Perhaps the family could have an alternate day, like Dec 15th or something, that they celebrate their Christmas if it really is that important to them. If they’re not willing to compromise like that, then it’s not really about spending time with loved ones, it’s about control.

  37. I don’t have a lot to contribute to this thread, as I’m still sorting out social pressures and holiday stuff for myself, and I don’t want to derail, but I can’t resist taking a second to thank you, LW, for being a nurse because you love it, and to thank all of the other medical folks reading and commenting. My sister’s disabilities have meant that too many of her/our special days have been spent in a hospital.Having professional, warm staff (nurses, techs, doctors, med students) just working because it was time to work – I can’t find words to tell you what it has meant. I hope that the Captain’s scripts are helpful, and that you get time to unwind that doesn’t bring you more drama!

  38. LW, this would totally not be helpful, but the “You could get another job!” business had me thinking of saying, “Have you forgotten how long I studied and how much I paid for my training to become a nurse? Or do you really think going to a social occasion outweighs the entire course of my life?”

    Told you it wouldn’t be helpful, it’d be more of the “I don’t care if I never speak to this person again” variety, but really – the ARRRRGH level of those priorities!

    1. This totally! Maybe it would be worth really exploring what the coercing family members mean when they say “Oh just switch shifts/blow off work/whatever.” Are they just being flippant maybe?

  39. It took me a horribly long time to realize that someone’s not being able or willing to make it for XYZ occasion or event wasn’t, indeed, a referendum on our relationship as a whole. I am a recovering Score Keeper (“They didn’t say ‘I miss you too’ when I told them I missed them! They forgot to say good night with a heart emoticon! OH NOOOO”) who used to – and still has to beat back the impulse to – scan every interaction and declined invitation for Terrible Omens of Impending Doom. A lot of my former relationships have been fraught with so much anxiety on that account, and as one could probably predict… they tended to end miserably. So I can KIND OF see what the view /might/ be from the other side of such an equation… BUT the way I was behaving in said relationships wasn’t fair or rational at all, and it’s no wonder that those former relationships are exactly that – /former/. It isn’t nice, and reeks of insecurity and distrust, to ‘test’ people for their ‘loyalty’ to the relationship, covertly or overtly. It’s mean-spirited and manipulative to pit them against their body or needs/interests or career or school or anything else in order to prove that yes, of course they will ~always~ choose you over those things, and if they don’t, well, they must not care about you! Bluh. (That’s general ‘you’ in that last sentence, just to be clear; I don’t intend to address anybody specific there. :))

    My (very lovely and wonderful) girlfriend is fairly shy and introverted; not only that, but she currently works ridiculous exhausting hours throughout the week, getting up very early in the morning and putting in a long commute to get to and from her workplace. It doesn’t ~mean~ anything – at least, not anything Big And Serious And Scary – when she says she isn’t up to doing Whatever Thing… besides that she’s tired physically and/or mentally, or can’t quite work up the enthusiasm at the moment, or can’t stay up very late on account of having to get a good sleep and wake up in time for work, or her family’s doing something and she needs to go do that thing with them, or she is just plain busy with something else… etc. We both know that chances are, she’d love to do Thing with me! …but it just isn’t feasible, and we can always make plans for another time. Both of us have our own awesome lives and jobs and hobbies (many of which we share, but some we do not) and other friends; my world won’t shatter or stop spinning if it turns out that from time to time, we can’t talk or do something together.

    1. Hot damn, this is a great comment, and really relevant to me right at this moment. I’m trying really hard not to turn any given event or reaction into a “test” for people I love, but I still have the underlying anxiety /around/ the events that sort of makes me self-sabotage.

    2. Thanks for the view from the other side. I was always surprised when people reacted too much when I missed a “ritual” thingy, not initiated any conversations on FB or geting vocaly sad over me not coming to parties. I would never have thought it to be a care issue.
      I like listening to people, and am a pretty agressive conversationalist (I do tend to ask people to shut me up if I am bothering them,”no hard feeling, I really understand if you don’t want to talk about something or talk at all”, though), but I don’t really NEED to talk, as in I am perfectly ok with not talking with even the most wonderful and great friends for a month or two. I tend not to initiate any contact by myself.
      Now, I wonder If I am doing something wrong.

    3. I have a broken friendship I’m still recovering from, someone I love very much, who sounds similar in some ways to how you were, and I did everything i could to reassure them it was never ever a referendum on the relationship, never to any avail – those things all remained as proofs that I, or my love, or something fundamental to me, was so not good enough that I was not even worth counting as a friend. There are days I still spend crying, racking my brain for what else I could have done. I’m trying to rebuild.

      Thank you for sharing this. While maybe I was just fundamentally not good enough, it helps me see that it’s possible the distrust itself was not what was real. (This is what everyone else tells me. But on bad days, it doesn’t feel that way, because for me the default is trust, and so distrust feels like a referendum on me and my worth as a person. It’s helpful to remember that maybe the distrust had to do in part with them, not entirely with me.)

      1. Distrust creates its own warped and unhappy alternate reality–I’ve done it and had it done to me, both–so please don’t feel that this was in any way about your own worth. I promise you it was not, and I’m so sorry you’re hurting.

        1. Thank you. I think it’s up there with: If pretty much only one person in my life has ever thought me awful & mean & heartless – maybe it’s not entirely me. Today’s a better day; all this bears remembering.

    4. That bit about choosing makes me think of Elliot (Eliott? I always forget which one is doubled) in Scrubs telling a guy that she can’t promise he’ll come first, because it’s a lie, the hospital comes first, but when she has the choice she’ll choose him.

  40. This is a great thread! LW, as somebody who (like everyone else) might someday become desperately sick or injured at an inconvenient time, *I* appreciate your lack of resentment over working holidays.

    The social coercion I used to experience was more subtle than what other Awkardeers have described. I used to hang out with a group of people twice a week, always on the same days. Part of me loved the certainty of social activity, since I’d spent lots of periods without many friends, and these guys were great fun to hang out with. And yet …

    One of the friends who wasn’t in the core group — call him “Edward” — often declined, opting instead to hang out with somebody else. One or two of the core-group friends would express disdain over his choice, obviously feeling slighted. Granted, they didn’t like the person Edward was spending time with instead of us, and the one who felt most slighted had a crush on him … but it sent a message. “If you ever decline plans with us and it’s not because you’re ill, it will be ALL ABOUT US.”

    Which was annoying, because I’m fairly introverted, and every once in a while I just wanted to crash on the couch and watch _Buffy the Vampire Slayer_ with my roommate. I never did, because I knew they wouldn’t understand choosing television over them.

    We had a falling out later about unrelated things. I was sad. I missed them. But part of me was happy to regain control over my schedule.

    I’d use my words better if I ever found myself in a similar situation. Happily, though, my current friends are much less inclined to take these things personally.

    1. Saturday was for the role playing game that my husband ran. He was the Game Master, and felt that he could not cancel. We occasionally had a game cancelled by a player, and therefore could do something else, spur of the moment, on that Saturday, but we(he and I) could NEVER CANCEL.
      I could also not bow out of playing and just watch or cook, or maybe(GASP!) go elsewhere and do something else.
      I occasionally feel a bit guilty enjoying my Saturdays doing exactly what I please now that he is gone.

      1. In fairness on that one…I’m in an RPG group and players who cancel last second (or just don’t show up at all) make everybody rip their hair out. The GM in particular is forced to either find a way to conveniently stick their character in a coma for the night or give up on the whole shooting match. It depends on the group and the nature of the game, of course, and usually if you give advance notice it’s fine. But it’s not like a party, where if you’re not there everyone can just go on exactly the same; it’s more like if you said you’d go on a camping trip and bring some equipment, but, well, you’re just not feeling it this weekend and you hope they can find another tent on short notice.

        1. I was the GM’s wife for nearly ten years, and dated him for 6years before. Really, I do understand that not showing up to the game is horribly inconvenient for the rest of the party.
          When I was interested in sitting out, I meant for that campaign. Room for another player, yes? And sometimes we had more people interested than there really was room! But, I was not permitted to sit out a campaign. I was always argued into rolling up a character and playing.
          Obviously there were many reasons that I stayed in the relationship, but, this is probably something that I would not put up with at this point in my life.

          1. Ah, I misunderstood. Basically, I’ve encountered one or two too many people who are like, “I wanna play! What’s the deal with all those books, I don’t have to read any of them, do I? Ugh, making a character is hard. I wanna be [a magic-user in a sci-fi setting, a hacker in a medieval campaign, a hack’n’slash barbarian in Victorian London…]. How about you tell me what nights game is and I’ll swing by if I can make it?” (followed by complaints about “not being allowed to play” and “everyone is so serious about all this!”). So I was doing a bit of a facepalm thinking you were one of them. My apologies.

          2. I feel you. I sometimes find myself reminding my RPG friends that roleplaying should be *fun* and it will be more fun if you are free to sit out sometimes and take a pass on games you don’t want to play to conserve your energy for other games (and other activities even) that right now are more fun for you. Forcing people to roleplay is Not Fun.

  41. This has made me see things from my policeman Brother-in-Law’s perspective.
    He was once talking to me about how stressful his job can be and I just blurted out “Have you considered a career change?”
    My partner told me later that it had actually really offended him (Bro in law) and I didn’t get why until just now.

    LW, do you mention to your family that this job makes you extremely happy and satisfied?
    I asked my brother-in-law that question not only because of the stress I see it causes him, but because I’ve never seen any indication from him that policing is something he actually loves/feels passionately about. If he had mentioned that he had felt he’d found his calling or something to that effect, I wouldn’t questioned his career choice because doing work you love is, of course, the most important thing.

    1. I think people should probably assume that the person complaining either loves their job or doesn’t have the option of changing it. The number of people who hate what they do but could totally do something better without any real downside is… probably not very big.

      1. Yes, but, if an Annotated List of How Much This Job Sucks is all I’ve ever heard someone say about their job? That’s all I know about their job.

        If that’s all they’ve ever said, I figure that’s all they’ve got to say, and they’re not getting anything but grief and a paycheck from their work. If I care about them, I don’t want to see them so miserable. I see nothing wrong with asking if they’ve considered a change in direction.

        And if this is someone I’m not close to, well, I’ve spent enough years listening to people whine about stuff they have no intention of fixing. Tell me about something you enjoy, please. (If what you enjoy most is complaining, more power to you, but I’ll need to go freshen my drink now.)

        1. Yes! Please go freshen your drink! I love complaining, but people who don’t like to hear other people complain always seem to boil it down to “So how are you going to fix this?” when they finally get sick of me, which comes across as “I don’t care about you and I think you’re boring and stupid” which hurts a lot. If they would have just walked away earlier, or told me they’re done listening to me complain can we talk about something nice now, it could have been avoided. Yes, I have no intention of fixing the thing I’m complaining about! It’s not actually that big of a deal, I’m employing hyperbole because it’s fun and it makes me feel better! It’s not even usually a thing that can be fixed, it’s Best Friend’s Boyfriend is a Douchecanoe or That Movie Was So Bad Let Us Go Into Painful Detail About Why or something! For God’s sake, just tell me you’re not into it and I’ll shut up.

          tl;dr, if you don’t like commiserating, don’t. I promise it’s okay.

          1. It seems to be a personality difference I think – some people will hear an annoyance and commiserate while others hear an annoyance and try to fix it, and both think they’re doing it to show they care. I’m a commiserator, but at work when I’m commiserating I’m also trying to fix because if someone calls us up about a problem they presumably want us to help them fix it. 😛 I only get annoyed if someone is complaining about something that really doesn’t affect them in any way and just comes across as judgmental.

  42. I’ve been trying some new time management things, and I put up a blog post saying, “When we chat and I say ‘I need to go’, please say ‘Okay, catch you later!’ and then stop chatting at me. You are all awesome and wonderful and I love chatting with you too much. Please make yourselves less attractive so I can stick with my schedule, which I really need to do for a great many reasons.” It’s been working really well and my friends have been completely great about it. Often people don’t realize what they’re doing is a form of social coercion until it’s pointed out, but they’re generally happy to respect boundaries once some are stated.

    1. Oh man, this is a form of social coercion that I fall into a lot. I think the corollary to this (for people like me) is realizing that someone who says, “Hey, i have to go now, work to do,” is not secretly saying, “I HATE YOU AND I NEVER WANT TO TALK TO YOU AGAIN.” They are in fact defining good boundaries for themselves so the friendship can prosper without underlying resentment.

      I think so, anyway.

    2. Yes!

      If I have absolutely no time for social diversion, it’s easy enough to say g’bye and not respond to anything else, close the browser window if necessary. Sometimes, though, I have enough time for the occasional glance-at-Facebook break, but not enough to stay engaged in a conversation. If the person asks, “How are you doing,” and I reply, “OK, but working,” that’s my friend’s cue to disengage after a friendly farewell.

      I know, I know, use my words. It’s just more awkward in this case. 🙂

  43. Oh wow, this was such a good post for me to read! I work freelance in two fields, both of which entail a “do it because you love it” mentality. One of these jobs means I don’t get to aknowledge public holidays.
    The awkward I usually get is “but your mental health issues would be so much better if you’d just stop working so much….” which makes me feel like I’m choosing to have issues rather than make the obvious, grown up choice of giving up what I love to do. You have just opened my eyes that maybe that’s not really a fair position to put me in!
    Thanks Captain!!

    1. That’s what we call concern trolling in my circles (I think it’s a fairly universal term? but sometimes I think that and get surprised when I find that no, people have no idea what I’m talking about). “This upsets me but I know I will sound selfish and arrogant and basically like an enormous fuckstick if I say that everything is all about me so I’m going to pretend I’m just worried for you!”

  44. I am super busy and exhaustede and don’t have much of a social life because of it. Not that I have a lot of froedns, I don’t have time! It for me, I a) really don’t get why Christmas can’t be celebrated a day or two early/late (my mum in law will do Christmas on Chrissy Eve or Boxing day depending on custody arrangements for my daughter on any given year) if a much needed person can’t make the usually day and b) why friends of busy or introverted or disabled people never think to bring something different to the table. Ie ‘you never come clubbing with me.. But maybe it’s clubbing or late nights or boozy drunken parties that’s the problem, not our relationship. Would you like to do a Sunday brunch instead? Or how about staying home and watching a Movie while I help you fold your laundry’?

    1. Seconding this! Before I moved long distance my friends group included a woman who is super into clubbing. I don’t like clubbing AT ALL, plus I lived in a place that was hard and also DANGEROUS to travel home to late at night unless I took a taxi that would be way too expensive.

      So anyway, Club Girl would arrange her birthday celebrations so that they took place in a club. She then got very angry and huffy when I said I could only come to the dinner (in the club) and could not stay on to party in the club.

      She made it into a “Lilly doesn’t like/ respect me” issue, and said that if I really cared about her I would spend money on a taxi even though I could not afford it.

      I stopped being friends with her after that.

  45. I think the relatives are pushy because they aren’t convinced that the LW is doing everything in their power to reschedule. Maybe they have problem imagining themselves in the LW’s shoes – after all, empathy is rare nowadays. Maybe they think they would try to make things work if they were him/her. I think trying to convince them that it is difficult to reschedule is not gonna work, if it hasn’t already. Is it possible they’re badgering because they think pushiness is going to work? Maybe it works on other relatives so they see no reason to change their strategy. If the LW gives the cold shoulder to this badgering, surely they would eventually back off?

  46. While we’re on the subject of holidays, I’d like to make a plug for the Less is More theory of holiday decorating, food-serving, gift-giving, and party-throwing.

    My mom’s childhood was a little materially deprived, and to compensate for that she has tended to go overboard on the holidays. It’s Not Christmas unless we have the 14 or so traditional Christmas Cookies every year; it’s Not Christmas if we don’t spend hours unwrapping; it’s Not Christmas if we don’t have every single one of the Traditional Christmas Decorations up; it’s Not Christmas if we don’t serve every one of the mandatory menu items that comprise Traditional Christmas Dinner (even though my siblings and I have never seen anyone EAT the creamed onions).

    To be fair, in the last couple of years she’s lightened up a lot (and has even come to accept that it can be Christmas even if some family members are off with their spouses’ families) — but I still remember one year when my parents had sold their house and were living in a rental with a small kitchen while they used the proceeds to build their new house. My mom was absurdly strung out and snappish the whole “vacation,” largely because it was a real struggle to make all the Mandatory Christmas Cookies in the tiny rental kitchen and the house could not be decorated properly because all the stuff was in storage.

    The weird thing is that it was all intended for us, her kids. Yet we weren’t nearly as invested in the mandatories as she was, and we tried to tell her it was ok if we just had 2 or 3 kinds of cookies, which we would be happy to make if she would just sit down a sec. Which was received as all her efforts over the years not mattering to us. When really, what we were trying to say was good: we are all here, we are all well, we all love each other, and that’s what matters, isn’t it? Yet in a lesser version, this thing where she feels like she has to Do it All to make us happy still permeates the holidays.

    We also have this totally insane thing where she hounds us all for Christmas lists and gets pissed off when all 4 of us in my household are mostly like “I’m all set, thanks.” For a few years, we went through the insanity of me making my kids look at catalogs and browse online to generate desires for material possessions they were, at the outset, quite content without, so my mother could fulfill their artificially generated wishes. (Perhaps this is in part because we don’t have TV, so they don’t see product ads like most people do to whet their material appetites). But I quit, and now every year we have a little tussle about it. But seriously, why should I take kids and husband (and self) who know how lucky they are and force them to be more materialistic than they are? (Yes, we do buy the kids some stuff, and do give to Heifer International in the kids’ names, and the thing my mother dreads (and has to a lesser extent infected me with fear of): the children being disappointed on Christmas morning never seems to happen. They’re just happy to see their cousins).

    One of the things that has helped improve things a lot in my household and the larger family is ahead-of-time conversations about what parts of Christmas are really important to people, and what can go. Did you know you can stop decorating the Christmas tree when everyone’s favorite ornaments are on and nobody feels like doing it any more? It’s TRUE! Did you know people can still feel festive with no “greenery” over the windows, as long as they have their favorite Christmas songs? That, too, is true (at least in my family)! I don’t mean to sound Scrooge-ish, but have some conversations with your family members about which of your family’s Supposedly Mandatory Components of Christmas anyone actually cares about. Do those! Add something that has meaning to this generation, if you want! But DITCH all the crap that you’re only doing because it’s Sacred Tradition. The most important tradition is for Christmas to be enjoyable. Abandon anything that doesn’t contribute to that.

    And don’t even get me started on holiday parties. Like combined with Christmas shopping and baking and travel and wrapping and Children’s holiday concerts and Christmas cards, we need a whole year’s worth of parties crammed into the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Please, some people do your friends a favor and have a Winter Doldrums party in late January instead, or perhaps a Mud Season party in March? (OK, not everyone lives in Vermont, but you get the idea: spread this stuff out, and people will be happier about your party!!!)

    1. Mud Season party sounds great! Not enough holidays, in this particular timeframe, that’s for sure.

    2. Wow, this is a great post to read for me. Because I am your mother. I grew up without Christmas because….cult… and I now tend to go a little crazy. Not materially, but with Traditions that I feel are Big and Important and make me feel connected to my family. But, I also can get really mopey if the White Christmas in my head doesn’t play out in reality. I try hard to take a step back, but sometimes it’s difficult, because I want a fairy tale Louisa May Alcott Christmas EVERY DAY OF DECEMBER, damnit. I will totally admit that it is not something I do “for the kids”. I do it completely and utterly for me, although my kid is at an age where the magic is kinda fun for her still.

      Then I’m all burnt out and sad and can’t find the energy to put the Christmas tree away until February.

      It’s gotten better for me because I read this article: http://sillypoorgospel.blogspot.com/2009/11/seaonal-repeat-3.html (only I ignore the Christian stuff, cause I’m more into the FSM than Baby Jesus, but YMMV).

      1. If you’re having fun with it, have at it! Just remember that (1) there is nothing magical about a stressed out basket case of a mother, and (2) it is ALL optional.

      2. I do all that for myself, too, Claire. I love the gift-giving, carol-singing, reading under the Christmas tree, old holiday movies, blah blah blah. I love it! This may be related to my birthday being 21 December and being not *entirely* clear on the concept as a young child that everyone else was in fact not as excited about my birthday as I was.

        Regardless, I’m with mskayo: embrace it! Day to day life can be so stultifying; we have to get our enjoyment wherever we can. I’m glad you found that advice to help you.

          1. I have a 14-year old and a 16-year old, both delightfully irreverent; I read them and my husband excerpts from the Wikipedia description over dinner, and we were all practically wiping our eyes we were laughing so hard. So much great stuff! Truly does put the Holiday in the holidays.

    3. Your mom is my mom! She always makes herself miserable during the holidays, worrying that everything’s not “perfect,” no matter that all of us (seriously, ALL of us; my family in general is a laid-back bunch) have told her, over and over again, that as much as we appreciate her effort, we don’t NEED all that stuff and what would really make us happy is seeing HER happy and relaxed and enjoying our visit…but it just Does Not Compute.

      1. I should also add that growing up seeing her like this every year has totally destroyed any desire I might have had to host holidays myself, and this baffles her for some reason (well, I’m the only girl; I’m sure that’s a big part of it). So, on some level I think she does get a real sense of satisfaction from it and doesn’t understand that martyr complexes are not for everyone.

        1. Then there’s when I have hosted and my mother came ahead to “help me get ready” armed with all kinds of “helpful” suggestions of things I could do to make my house extra specially “festive” for everyone and all I could think about was how I’d have to take it all down when everyone went home!

          Like I said, she’s gotten better in recent years, thank goodness. And she *did* help take the stuff down and pack it away. I would just never have put it up in the first place, left to my own devices.

    4. OH MY GOD we do Christmas and birthday lists too and it sucks for the same reasons! It worked when I was a kid but the last several years I’ve struggled badly trying to identify something that I would like and that isn’t outrageously ridiculous. One year I asked for my parents to buy me a rabbit which I would source and pick – meanwhile I bought all the necessary housing and equipment and pay the food and litter and vet treatment, so that $40? That was pure symbolism. (Sadly that rabbit has passed away – he was disabled and probably cost me about $2500 over two and a half years but so worth it because he was the sweetest floppy ever.) I’ve started saying I’ll do it “soon” and just never getting around to it, and honestly I don’t even care whether I get presents or not anymore. I kind of just like having dinner and a cake for my birthday, and Christmas I could actually do without, though watching people open their presents is nice.

      1. ugh, I agree with you here. Racking my brain for a list of ‘things’ I “want” for my birthday or for Christmas is a complete pain. Really, just buy me something nice and decorative and small. Or chocolate.

        I used to use present-buying opportunities to ask for stuff I wanted but couldn’t afford. Now that I have my own income I buy what I need/want when I need/want it. It means my presents-list now consists entirely of books, CDs and DVDs. There’s no point in people buying me jewelery/clothes because my tastes are not mainstream at all and if I don’t like it I won’t wear it. Me and my siblings just give each other money now, which seems less thoughtful than buying something but it works.

        1. It might seem less thoughtful, but if you know someone well enough to know that it’s what they’d appreciate than in reality it actually becomes more thoughtful, in my mind. I’m with you on clothes, too – a good tie would be a nice present for me, but while there’s a few people in my family who could probably pick out one I’d like, there’s probably only one who’d think of it in the first place. And since I’m trans most people buying me clothes etc would probably give me more feminine things which is a whole further kind of awkwardness. Book vouchers are always a good present in my house, though these days I would prefer ebook vouchers simply because I’ve already filled up my floor-to-ceiling bookcase that takes up an entire wall in my room and have had to find other places to store books and filling a micro sd card? Much preferable to needing to encroach on other rooms to stash my library.

        2. Seriously, my strategy for this problem is I stop buying things that are in the category of “want” not “need” about now and put it on a list instead. And I do an Amazon list where I note the difference between “this specific electric kettle” and “this general kind of thing.” If nobody buys the thing I listed and I still want it in January, I get it then.

  47. My family, except probably sometimes my dad in regards to his birthday, does not really celebrate anything, basic assumtion’s being we can have a holliday when we want it, not when the calendar tells us we should. Birthday presents are not mandatory, because if I see something I want to buy for any of them, I will, no matter the day, and there is no point in frantic search for “something” just for the sake of birthday. The last Christmas with a full christmas tree and stuff happened when I was 11-12 (I am in my middle 20s). And the funny thing I don’t miss it, not a little bit.
    The most important thing is for all of the family to be comfortable with the celebration, if you are not, no matter the reason, it stops being fun and turns into hell.

  48. This is not a post about social coercion or the holidays, but like other commenters above, I just wanted to thank the LW for what she does. Also the many other folks commenting here who are in the medical profession or do other night-shift or unpredictable work, but I have a special gratitude to nurses. I’ve not been in the hospital too many times, but every time that I have, it’s the nurses that made me feel comfortable and cared for and secure that I’d get assistance any time I need it. It was the nurses who gave me the emotional care I needed as well as the physical. I have had many good doctors too, but the nurses as group have always gone above and beyond. Thank you, so very much.

  49. I’d like to get others input on this:

    I noticed my best friend wasn’t able to come to parties as often as she used to when she became a nurse, so now I ask her which weekend she has off and schedule the party then. On one hand, I feel good because I’m making it possible for her to come, but on the other I worry that I’m pressuring her into coming because she’ll feel obligated if I’m scheduling around her like that.

    So for everyone who has weird shifts: do you appreciate when people do this?

    1. I should think the answer would depend, among other things, on whether she’s an introvert or an extrovert and how heavy the demands on her time are. If she’s an extrovert who’s bummed a lot of social stuff happens when she can’t attend, she’s probably grateful. If she’s an introvert who craves that down time as down time, or regardless of her intro/extro-version if she has lots of other friend/family demands on her off weekends that make her feel pulled in too many directions, she may like it sometimes, feel trapped other times.

      Best bet would be to say “I’m thinking of having a shindig; I can easily schedule it for your weekend off if you’d like to come, but if you’re hungry for a weekend of down time or if I need to back off and share you with your other people, that’s cool too. Let me know.”

      1. This. Thisthisthis so much this. I want to give you a real Fruit Basket of Gratitude–the one where the giver really is grateful and the kiwis do not ever hatch into velociraptors or anything other than tangy green deliciousness.

        Caitlin–It’s super thoughtful to make sure your weirdly-scheduled friends can make your social events should they want to (another velociraptor-free fruit basket for you!) and I’d have totally appreciated it, with the caveat that sometimes I had other things I had to take care of/also needed to catch up with other people/needed to catch up on sleep/work had an extreme case of the Our Personnel Are Robots With No Needs Of Their Own and all the best-laid personal plans by caring friends were for naught.

    2. As long as you make it clear that while you’d like her to come, you would totally understand if she needed the time for whatever else, it seems like it would be okay. Framing it as “I want you to have the option of coming if you’d like to” instead of “I’m scheduling the party for next weekend so you can come” and stuff like that, so there’s less pressure.

  50. Ugh. My worst has always been when you agree to attend an event, and it turns out you somehow also secretly agreed to a further, very different, event that same evening. I am something of an introvert and very uncomfortable in crowds.

    I can very rarely tolerate nightclubs, and when I can it needs to be one where the music is going to be MY sort of music, so I can spend as much time as possible dancing and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist. I do enjoy socialising with friends though, and particularly enjoy small group dinners and Xbox sessions and the like. If I am going to a big, crowded thing I need to know in advance so I can psych myself up for it.

    And yet if I had a shot of rum for the number of times I’ve agreed to hang out with a group of friends at one of their houses for dinner, or a movie, or a few drinks, and 2 hours later it turns out everyone was also going to go to a nightclub and “WHYYYYY can’t I come?!” and “But it’ll be less fun without me!” and “Just come for an hour or two!” and, my favourite “But I didn’t want to go to a club that much either but I’m going anyway so you should too!”

    No, guys. Just no. The club isn’t playing my kind of music, I won’t be able to hear a word any of you say because I don’t have great hearing to start with, I don’t feel up to crowds right now and can barely afford the ticket cost let alone the drinks inside. Ugh.

    Sorry to say I’ve started declining even nice, small-gathering event invitations from certain friends because I simply cannot trust them not to surprise me with a club visit or a pub crawl or something equally unpleasant.

      1. Yup! What’s that? The comfortable little gathering of 4 girls from work is suddenly 25 people I don’t know? Including some drunk, handsy overly friendly types? Then surely with so many people… you won’t miss me if I go home because I’m feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared?

        Also, if I decline the nightclub because I can’t afford the ticket price, that is NOT me fishing for you to pay for my ticket and/or drinks. And if I do go to the club and drink cola, that is again, not a hint that I can’t afford booze but really want some – it’s probably a hint that my current meds do not go well with alcohol. The worst thing is, it’s generally very kindly intended, but ye GODS do I wish people would take me at my word sometimes.

        1. That’s why I really try to train myself into taking people at their word. First: it makes communication with everyone more logical and therefore easier. Second: it’s just the respectful thing to do.

          And if people cannot tell me in advance what an event will be like and I find out that I feel really uncomfortable there, they have to accept that I may want to leave.

      2. And “Oh, the ex you said you never wanted to see again is here! Oh, we didn’t tell you he was coming? Why have you locked yourself in the bathroom? Why can I hear crying through the door? Is that silence a bitten-back scream as you try not to draw attention to yourself during your first-ever anxiety attack? No, come back to the party! It’ll be ruined without you!”

        Come on, you guys. This is not hard to avoid.

      3. Aaaaaaah, this drives me crazy. “Hey, why don’t you come over and Saturday and hang out” does NOT equal “we’re having a get-together and lots of people will come by!”

        It’s a serious introvert – extrovert miscommunication. I now avoid those friends unless they are specifically saying it’s a party, because then I can’t be surprised by extras.

  51. I mentioned this in the Thanksgiving-sister thread, but I’m actually really happy to visit my parents for Thanksgiving this year after not being able to travel for eight or nine years (due to my job as a retail manager and then moving across the country), because when I explained my situation to them, they NEVER made a fuss about it and in fact offered to visit me for Thanksgiving, which worked out fine – I had Thanksgiving off but no days around it, so I couldn’t travel but could host on my day off. They may have been super-sad about not seeing me then or over Christmas, but at least they didn’t leak guilt all over me. I really appreciate that and it means I’m excited to see them this year, since I made the choice to fly all the way from SF to Tennessee because I want to see them and not because I felt guilted into it.

    I do have my own holiday issue – my partner, who I’ve been with for just about ten years now, *really* doesn’t enjoy holidays, especially Christmas. Their parents made a HUGE FUSS over every holiday throughout the years, and even now they insist on sending us a LOT of gifts around Christmas even though we don’t really need or want much (and I don’t know that they can afford to send us much either, but that’s another mess of an issue). My partner doesn’t have a great relationship with their parents, so it’s weird to get boxes and boxes of stuff from them. I’ve kind of picked up some of this awkwardness-by-proxy since it’s not like I have much of a relationship with them either despite how long we’ve been together.

    Neither of us are religious but I do enjoy Secular Christmas – I have a scrawny fake tree I like to put vintage ornaments on, there are a bunch of candy recipes from my great-grandmother that I like to make every year to give to friends, and while gift-shopping is kind of stressful for me I do enjoy sending things to my immediate family. But my partner really doesn’t like it, and even though we don’t travel and just have a nice day to ourselves, sometimes I feel bad when I want to enjoy the day a little and they get really upset even opening gifts. I’ve opened their gifts before to make things less stressful! But I feel sad that what could be a chill day on our own where we eat Chinese food or rent movies and relax is this minefield of family guilt and stress, and we aren’t even visiting anyone!
    I know my partner’s feelings aren’t mine to manage, but I wish I knew a way to help the day be better for both of us. =/

    1. Is there maybe some sort of way to do your little Christmas celebration with a friend or the like, while the partner runs off and has a quiet Totally No Celebration Day by themself? Like, finding a friend who’ll come over on Christmas afternoon to do a little “Look! A tree! Presents! Isn’t this awesome? Have a cookie!” song and dance with you (after whatever their family thing is, if any), while the partner heads out to a movie or with a book to a park.

      I mean, it could turn into a “being exiled from my own house!” thing, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to do a little celebratory thing for the holiday, and to work it out so that you can do it without your partner. Like if once in a while you just wanted to run a Halo tournament at home and your partner isn’t into FPS games, except with Christmas.

      1. You could also make a combination of two days: one where you spent time with someone who likes to celebrate Christmas. And the next day you spent an evening just with your partner where you celebrate being together or something. This way, hopefully no one feels pressured or left out.

        1. I actually do have some friends now who are also moderately festive; this year I might try to do more things with them around the holidays to hit that button.
          If only I could figure out some way to handle all the gifts; I think that’s the worst part and my partner doesn’t quite want to deal with the fallout of saying “please don’t send us gifts anymore.” And I’m certainly not going to talk to their family about it! (I am not really close to them and rarely talk to them) I… guess I’m ok opening their gifts and trying to manage that? But it does mean that something that should be lighthearted and fun becomes a super-sad event and I’m not sure how to handle that. Maybe just leave things wrapped up for months?

          1. Maybe separate it from the holidays. Leave them in a pile in a corner, if you can. Treat it as a Chore that you handle sometime when it won’t affect your happiness. You could also have friends over and make a party of it. I know I love unwrapping presents, and you might be able to pass along some of the less-wanted items that way too.

          2. Call it Hogsmas and Make a tradition where ALL the gifts go to charity 🙂 or, tell people you want them to donate to charity instead of giving you a gift. Most charities have that option and the ‘gift recipient’ gets a little postcard to say what was donated.

          3. I think you need to work together to work out a way to handle the gifts in the future. You shouldn’t have to find a solution on your own, especially because they aren’t your parents. And I think there should be solutions where your partner doesn’t necessarily have to confront their parents (even though it would probably help in the long run). Good luck!

      2. Well happily we don’t travel or see family for Christmas; it’s just us. Which is MUCH better on them than travelling would be for sure! It’s opening presents from their family and a phonecall during the day that’s really stressful, I think.
        But you raise a good point; I want some small level of YAY DECORATIONS YAY EGGNOG and that’s about it, and I can probably find someone around who wants to be festive in a low-key way with me.
        After thinking about this for a while I think I’m going to ask what their best-case scenario for a low stress day would be and see how we can make that happen.

  52. On the matter of friends pressuring you to stay at a party, or remarking how much they hate your (whomever ‘you’ are, LW or otherwise!) non-traditional work schedule… Yes, I have experienced both of those things, too! I completely sympathize. I used to work at a zoo, and whether or not it is Christmas or a snow day, the animals have to eat, too.

    I suspect that some of the tooth-grinding strain of resisting these well-meaning but agonizing pressures arises from an adherence to social convention. Many of us are taught that insisting someone should stay at a party when they come to say goodbye is akin to refusing the first time a friend offers to pick up your bill: You know they’re willing to pay, you know you’ll pick it up the next time, but DECORUM DEMANDS that you demur the first time, lest the payer think you are too eager to skip out on the bill. Likewise, you know your friend is ready to leave the party, but if you don’t plead with them to stay, they might think you don’t like them enough to want them to stay, ZOMG! (“Thank goodness Katie finally excused herself, we’ve been waiting for her to leave all night! Why did we invite her, again…? This is patently silly in groups of confirmed close friends.”)

    Perhaps a better response, if you’re a product of The Culture Of Sometimes Absurd Social Niceties like I am, would be something along the lines of, “Well, we’re sorry to see you go – thanks so much for coming. Have a great evening and we hope to see you again soon!”

    Similarly, “I hate your job, we never get to see you,” is probably meant to be supportive and sympathetic of your situation, which prevents you from attending social functions at the time other people attend social functions. I can understand where the well-meaning speakers are coming from and what they mean — but even knowing that, it drives me batty!

    I love this thread and everybody’s observations; I’m definitely going to try to be more conscious and make sure I’m not part of the problem. A well-meaning word that seems perfectly reasonable from one side could easily become emotional arm-twisting! I think it’s fair to suggest that those of us in the Awkward Army also remember that the arm-twisting IS sometimes (sometimes!) unintentional, and keep that in mind when we speak up to explain that it’s not being taken well.

    The first time, anyway. 😉

    1. If I can’t stifle my ingrained “Awwww, do you have to leave so soon?” response (either because it’s automatic or because I barely got to see the friend because we were hanging out on opposite ends of the room, or whatever) I try to follow it immediately with “Well, it was great seeing you anyway! Maybe next time we’ll manage longer. Safe trip home!” or whatever, so they know that I might be protesting but I am also genuinely accepting that they want or need to leave.

    2. Aw man if someone I knew couldn’t attend because they worked in a zoo I would be like “THAT’S AWESOME NEXT TIME I SEE YOU TELL ME STORIES.”

      Which would probably be annoying for them if they got sick of telling me stories, I guess. But but animals.

      1. Ha! I confess, I miss that part of the job. I had some great animal stories. (And some sad ones, but we try not to think about those.) But telling them never, ever gets old. They are our four-footed or feathered family, even years after retiring from the trade!

      2. When I worked at a zoo I tried to get people to come see me on the holidays I worked–say, swing by with the children I never get to see after you’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes it worked, sometimes folks couldn’t make it or couldn’t be bothered, but when it DID work it was magical and I got to be ZOO AUNT WHO HAS KEYS TO THE ZOO, and that was pretty great. (I am still coasting on the cool-aunt cachet from working at the zoo three years ago.)

  53. I am so thankful that I grew up in a military family. From a very young age the answer to “when will Daddy be home?” was “we’ll know when he walks in the door.” It wasn’t to be ugly but, rather, realistic. Nothing more devastating for a parent then a child disappointed because someone they missed didn’t make it home at a particular time. Even after my dad retired the family is still used to holidays being fluid. He’s now a commercial airline pilot who chooses to work holidays to “let those with small kids” work a schedule that lets them keep traditions for those formative years. For us, Christmas is Christmas when most of us can make it not because it happens to be December 25th.

    1. My mom is a nurse and from the time my brother and I were little, we got used to the idea of holidays being pretty fluid. Presents are still fun whether you open them on Christmas Eve or after dinner on Christmas Day instead of the crack of dawn. Turkey tastes just as good whether you’re eating it on Thanksgiving Day or the following Saturday.

      Now that her own kids are grown and there aren’t any grandkids in the picture yet, my mom frequently volunteers for the Christmas morning shift so that the young moms at the hospital can spend that time playing Santa with their kiddos. That kind of generous gesture, and your dad’s, really speak to their holiday spirit 🙂

  54. I’m finally delurking (hi, everyone!) to say how much this topic resonates with me. I work in academia helping PIs submit their research grants, and here in Canada there is a major annual collision of multiple very important grant deadlines, from late August to early November.

    I seem to have found myself in a group of close friends where I’m virtually the only one with a non-flexible job (as opposed to freelancing, running your own business, or being able to trade shifts with colleagues who have the same job title).

    And it SUCKS.

    Way back in 2008, some of our closest friends started planning a trip to Munich’s Oktoberfest in 2013. Their reasoning was that with five years warning, there’d be no excuse for anyone not to be able to go.

    “Yeah, I won’t be able to go”, I said in 2008, and again every time the trip’s been mentioned since.

    But they just WILL NOT LISTEN! Saying that it’s completely impossible because it’s my busiest time of year and there’s no-one to cover for me never seems to get me anywhere, even when I’m saying it when right in the middle of it (and very obviously stressed out about it and losing sleep over it and going to work even when I’m sick because I can’t miss days at this time of year unless I’m dead or at least in the hospital).

    Last time it came up (and it comes up a lot), people were telling me things like “but you have another year to sort it out!” (I’m sure it won’t take long to get all the funding agencies to change their deadlines so as not to clash with Oktoberfest!), “just go! What’ll they do, fire you?!” (yes, quite possibly, and I live in a place where there are literally two or three jobs posted each year to which I’d be willing and able to apply), “quit and go freelance!” (so I can work on a bunch of other people’s grants for the exact same deadlines, but risk defaulting on my mortgage at the same time! What fun!), “I’ll write a letter to your boss saying that you just HAVE TO come” (I’m sure all the funding agencies will understand 100% and grant us an extension if we miss a deadline).

    It just does. not. stop.

    Thank you for the scripts – I am soooo using those!

    1. (yes, quite possibly, and I live in a place where there are literally two or three jobs posted each year to which I’d be willing and able to apply)

      And from knowledge of my sister’s field (she works in academic libraries – not a thriving field in a recession, unfortunately), the fact that you “just went” and were fired would probably become common knowledge to anyone who might consider hiring you.

      1. Indeed. No-one wants to be “that woman who left during grant season to go and drink beer in Germany”.

    2. “It’s like working in a tax office – nobody in accounting gets off in February or March, and nobody in grants administration gets off in September or October.”

      (Err, on re-reading, I see you’re in Canada, and so the taxes deadline is presumably different (and maybe the phenomenon is US-only? But I’d be startle if that is true), os adapt as appropriate.)

      1. I think our deadline’s a few weeks later than the US one, but that’s a great idea! A friend also suggested on Twitter saying that it’s like asking Santa to go on vacation on December 23rd 😀

  55. My biggest frustration at the moment is that I’m working multiple jobs to help support myself, and I study, so I have very little time off and one member of my family is always giving me hell for not spending time with them. And when I do make time for them, I get sneered at because I didn’t before. It feels like a neverending battle and I often feel that if they wanted more time with me, they’d give me some financial support so I didn’t have to feel like I was hanging on by a thread half the time. Instead I get criticised as if trying to build a career is hurting them. I think a variation on the captain’s scripts are in order here…

    1. Reminds me of my grandma. She wanted to meet me desperately during the last time I had exams. She didn’t stop asking even when she knew I had to write exams. Then I needed time to relax and now she doesn’t answer my e-mail. Okaaay. Family pressure, so much fun.

      1. Isn’t the worst when they ‘punish’ you for not having been available when they wanted you to be? It’s almost like being told that you’re only wanted a certain amount of the time, and the rest of the time, no, you’re not welcome. And then of course you get busy again and you’re a terrible person once more. It would be nice if people could just drop this crap and enjoy their time with us.

  56. I had the great good fortune to come down with Bell’s Palsy on Thanksgiving this past year, and a nurse friend of mine told me I really needed to get treatment for it as quickly as possible. It being Thanksgiving weekend, to the ER I go, with the distant fear that it was something neurological. The fact that there were people stuck working that weekend was the reason I could get meds right away, and so the paralysis only lasted a month, rather than two or three.

  57. Granted, I am cranky, but over the years I have painfully learned that these are life’s little signals to trim down your circle of friends.

    It is normal for people to be sad they can’t see you, or to ask why your job is the way it is, or whether it’s possible for you to get time away to see them, or to say they miss you. (Also, it is normal for people to wonder what’s up if you always seem to have time for leisure things other than spending time with them; but that’s a separate issue.)

    But when that crosses over into “but whyyyyyy?!”, or disrespecting your stated boundaries about where you like to go, how much you care to drink, whether you prefer to stay employed and pay the bills – that’s not friends, anymore. That’s somebody who doesn’t care about you. They care about what it is you add to their social life, period, full stop, and outside of adding to their social life, you as a person don’t matter.

    Friends are people who listen to you, and understand when you say “really, I don’t want another drink” or “Thursdays are horrible for me, but how about next Monday?” People who don’t listen to you and try to pressure you into doing what they want because they want it regardless of what you said? Not friends.

    1. Spot on. I’ve started cutting people out for this reason. I’m not interested in being treated like an accessory, and it is in no way flattering. Neither am I interested in being subjected to secret friendship tests especially when it’s obvious that I’m being set up to fail (‘What? You can’t drop everything to come and hang out in a different city when I’ve given you 4 hours notice and know you’re flat broke? But I thought you were my fweeeeeend! Why are you being so meeeeeaaaaan!’)

      Not friends.

  58. this is tongue-in-cheek a bit, but I have to say – the best way to never get guilted about showing up for holidays is to have a sibling who lives overseas much of the time and is almost never able to come home. My brother has spent most of the last decade living in various foreign places (first peace corps, then foreign grad school, now training teachers in Africa for the state department), so we just treat it as a happy event when he does make it home.

    this was our last passover seder.

  59. My boyfriend actually requests working Christmas day, after I pointed out we wouldn’t have to worry about splitting Christmas between his family and mine if we couldn’t go because he was working. After doing it last year, he loves it – he works as a remote IT person, and since all the companies his company services have Christmas holidays, he barely has to do anything at all. Since we’re both introverts, it’s a nice break from the flurry of activity for both of us.

  60. The big social drama I’m expecting this year revolves around the fact both my guy and I have Dietary Issues. He’s deathly allergic to peppers (But that’s not a Real Allergy(tm) so food products don’t have to warn for it) and I’m meat intolerant. “Sure I’ll try some of your chicken salad! Then I’ll try out your bathroom! I hope you got the extra plush TP this year 🙂 ” So unless we cook it ourselves, he can’t eat it. He nearly ended up in the hospital because I grabbed the Spiced Yams in Syrup instead of Yams in Syrup by mistake one time. So I’m expecting all the fun of having to tell people “No, we don’t hate you, but We Can’t Eat Your Food.”

    1. Wow, is that just peppers or a full nightshade allergy? Everyone I know who’s got the one has the other. It’s amazing what is in the nightshade family.

      1. So far just peppers. I hope it’s not all nightshade, because he loves tomatoes and potatoes. Paprika seems to cause the worst reaction, and it’s in everything!

        1. This won’t fix everything, but a friend of mine also has a bad pepper allergy, and along with reading menus and asking waiters questions, she had a laminated card made, with a picture of a pepper inside the international “NO” symbol of red circle and slash. That seems to reduce the number of people who misunderstand the question and say “no, it’s not spicy” when, say, someone thought it would be a good idea to tuck bits of bell pepper into sushi.

          1. Oh, wow! I have found my people! I am allergic to bell peppers and eggplant. I can eat other nightshade fruits, though. Weirdly, green bell peppers are worse than red and yellow peppers. Eggplant is just nasty all-round.

      2. I know two people who can’t eat peppers, but everything else is fine. I can’t have tomatoes or peppers, but potatoes and eggplant are fine. Mystery!

      3. I can’t eat peppers, but it’s not an allergy. Peppers just cause a flare of IBS. Peppers and very crunch lettuces. I guess they irritate my intestines, but I’m not allergic.

  61. “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.”

    I usually did three invites, and called it the Baseball Rule. Three invites per inning, and if they contact me after that, it’s a new inning.

  62. Longtime lurker, first time commenter here. I finally decided to comment because this post hit me really hard. While I was reading I had the dawning revelation “I’m frequently incredibly guilty of social coercion. And that sucks.”

    I’m the designated Planner in my social circle. I’ve lived in this city longer than most of my friends, have the space to host parties, and have some professional connections that get friends and family swag/drink tickets/cool perks, so I am a natural choice for the position. However, my friends seem to have interpreted this to mean “I don’t need to make any effort to maintain this friendship…Faith_in_Poison will plan everything!”

    The only time I ever see or hear from them is when I go out of my way to invite them to something. So when I do plan something (dinner party, girl’s night out, or even just a coffee date) and the response is a dismissive “Yeah, I don’t really feel like it….” I tend to get pushy. Often I’ll respond with “It would really mean a lot to me to see you.” And then everything spirals downhill. They feel pressured, I feel guilty and we end up abandoning the get-together entirely… until next time I feel lonely and socially isolated enough to plan something again.

    I certainly don’t expect anyone to rearrange their schedule for me. But sometimes I wish “Yeah, I don’t really feel like it…” sounded more like “Yeah I don’t really feel like it. Can we do Fun Thing on xx/xx day instead?” I love being the Planner and introducing the people I love to cool stuff, but I’d prefer some Minimal Effort to indicate that the folks I call my friends like me for something more than my ability to throw a good party. Nothing trashes your self-esteem faster than feeling like you must bully your friends into hanging out with you.

    1. Maybe it is time to expand your social circle. You sound like a fun person, but you are also doing an awful lot of the work of friendship. Don’t ditch the old friends, just, find some new ones?

      1. And/or just ask your friends “is there something you’d rather do?” Maybe your get-togethers are a little too energetic, and it’s not you people are taking a pass on so much as another night out on the town (especially as they get older/tireder, settle down…?). I get that you feel like that is part of what’s great about you, that you can offer all these opportunities, but think about what all the introverts on this site have said on this thread and others — maybe that’s actually a minus sometimes, and having them over for backyard barbecue or something similarly low key would appeal more. Find out what they want to do, and plan around the people not the perks.

        Also, as for why people don’t reciprocate your invitations, perhaps you’ve set the bar too high? A friend of mine once lived the corporate wife lifestyle (ick) and used to throw caterer-quality parties even though she did the cooking, decorating, etc. Over the years she discovered that people felt like they couldn’t possibly invite her and her husband over for pizza and a football game on TV, because they were comparing the hospitality they felt they could offer with the hospitality she offered (and made look so easy) and feeling all insecure and inadequate. She’s cut way back on her parties, both because of that and some health issues, but to some extent the damage has been done: people are intimidated about inviting her over. You need to get it out there, again, that you just want to spend time with your friends, you’re up for takeout and a movie and you don’t care if the house is messy.

    2. Answer from the other side coming through 🙂
      First of all, thanks for admiting you might be pushing them, it’s a hard thing to say, and I truly admire you effort to understand what’s going on.

      However, my friends seem to have interpreted this to mean “I don’t need to make any effort to maintain this friendship…Faith_in_Poison will plan everything!”

      The only time I ever see or hear from them is when I go out of my way to invite them to something.

      Why should they, really ? Maybe they just don’t need as much talking and socializing as you do. As in they really don’t feel like it, and not sure that they will like to do it on xx/xx day. But they feel awfull, because they ARE you friends, and feel like they ought to go to your tiring parties because they do care about you. As in, your ability to throw paties is actually a flaw, as far as they concerned. And they like you for being you, and that’s why they go to the parties.

      Have you tried to talk with them one-on-one, some people prefer more quite personal talks to dinner parties. Me, I have an old childhood friend (my more recent friends are more like me in this respect) who loves this party-stuff. I manage to force myself to go to her parties once per mounth or two, and it feels like hard work, as In “I would prefer working till 23:00 to going”.

      I love her, she is a great caring person, actively helping people around her.
      But, God, I wish I could not to go EVER, without upseting her.

    3. Oversaturation, perhaps? When folks don’t even bother responding in a clear way, cut back on how often you organize stuff, how many folks you invite(“but I assumed other people would show up”), and let friendships fade if there’s not anything in it anymore. Not everyone has to be on the same level of BFF.

    4. Maybe you could also talk to a few of your friends and have them plan something as well? Not in a “here is friendship-homework” way, but in an “I get a wee bit burnt out doing this all the time” way. It might also be worthwhile to join some sort of regularly scheduled activity, (like a book club or a secret society of party throwers or something) if you can, so that way you get to be social with people without feeling like you’re putting all the work in.

  63. Oh man, open thread is the perfect reason for me to delurk. Here’s the thing, Awkward Army: my dad’s side of the family is hugely invested in Huge Family Gatherings Are Important Because FAMILY and could make guilt trips into an Olympic sport. Mom and I are both quiet introverts who are annoyed by this, hate the gatherings, and don’t really get along great with most of them anyway (but are expected to pretend to be super duper close BECAUSE FAMILY). I’m planning to blow off the traditional Christmas Eve shindig now that I’m out of college and therefore certifiably a grown-ass adult, and have been doing this to all their other gatherings for about two years.

    The problem is this: while I don’t give a damn what they think, it’s going to put my dad under pressure from them (in the form of invasive questions and outright accusals that I’m horrible/he or mom did a terrible job raising me and BUT FAAAAMILY) that are going to make him upset and moody and terrible to live with and full of sudden attempts to make me go. Any ideas for ways to cope with this/scripts to make it stop? I live with my parents still, so I can’t just hang up the phone or whatever, and it always stresses me out. Help!

    1. Hm, it probably says something about /me/ that my first thought to suggest is that you find something else to say that you’re doing, haha, or bargaining (I’ll agree to do $This and then you’ll agree that I don’t have to do $ThatOtherThing) – because personal autonomy and self-determination just ~wouldn’t be enough.
      Thank gods for Captain Awkward, to remind us that we actually matter, that’s all I can say.

      1. Historically bargaining has not worked anyway, I tried that before I grew into the whole Personal Autonomy thing XD

    2. I think the Captain’s advice about having some sort of mantra to repeat (sorry, i’m not going?) would apply very well here. Also, assuming that the BECAUSE FAMILY Christmas party is a single night with a set date, you could organize some reason why you can’t go- get tickets to that thing you’ve always wanted to see, or have a “we are adults, dammit, and we get to make our own decisions” party with some friends having similar issues (or just a party with friends), or something along those lines.

      I also think it’s a good idea, if your dad/someone else brings up the “so, christmas party” thing to something very definite but also casual about not going, so that there is not an obvious opening for “I must convince tinytop to go to party”. Also if you treat it like it’s no big deal, they might feel awkward about trying to make it a BIG DEAL.

      1. These… are good ideas if that side of the family had any idea how to behave like sensible adults. The base state of all things with them is Big Deal, unfortunately. I don’t really have contact with them personally; I’m more concerned with coping with the pressuring stressball my dad will become… I suppose attempting to be relentlessly casual is worth a shot.

    3. I have an evil idea of you and your mum finding something to do that you both like and that doesn’t involve The Family at all … planning an escape, as it were.

      Yeah, I know, not practical and long-term consequences and all, but it’s an appealing idea … 😉

      1. We actually did that last year- her mom came to visit and dad went to the part alone. He was a sulky bitch for WEEKS though, and I would like to avoid that bit if possible.

        1. Looks like you might not have a way to avoid it, if other CA events/advice-giving is anything to go by. As with the discussion previously about how to break up with someone without hurting their feelings – there is no way to say the thing they don’t want to hear without hurting their feelings because their feelings are their feelings… 😦

          Yay, sulking for weeks as punishment! That’s been covered before too, though I can’t remember where.

    4. Well, the pressure on your father is his to manage and since you are a grown-ass adult pressure on your father to make you do something will a complete waste of time on their part. Find some version of “Sorry but I’m not going” that you like and repeat that ad absurdum. I assume you’ve already explained why you will not attend the gathering to your father, so there is no need to explain any further. If every-time the conversation comes up you just repeat the same short phrase hopefully that will make your father understand that the conversation will go nowhere and he is just wasting his time trying. This is kind of the “if you ignore them they’ll get bored and go away” logic. I don’t know how effective it will be on your father, but it’s what I would do.

      1. I assume you’ve already explained why you will not attend the gathering to your father
        Sort of? Trying to have a conversation along the lines of, “your family are assholes and I never want to see any of them ever,” did not exactly go great, by which I mean I tried to put it delicately and he flipped out because they are his family and he loves them and is apparently willing to forgive infinite shittiness on the basis of genetics.

        1. Well, you tried. Explaining is only to be polite anyway. I think NessieMonster has a point, the impression I get from this is that you most likely won’t be able to prevent your dad from being a pain about this, so coping with it is probably all you can do. Accept that he will act that way and try not to be fazed by it and repeat a mantra or ignore him if he starts whining. I don’t know how bothersome he gets so it might not be that easy to just tune him out, but still, if he wants to sulk and cause drama, that’s his problem and not yours. Don’t explain any further or bargain, I would think that just invites more bothering. That part of the family sound like very annoying people who won’t take no for an answer, so it sounds like a good idea to not socialize with them. Just stand your ground and may the Force be with you. I fear that is as useful as I can be.

    5. You’re not related to me, are you? We also have a super huge FAMILY Christmas Eve thing, that’s a giant PITA for me because I have to haul two small kids 300 miles round-trip on Christmas Eve and not get them home until midnight, then I have to set up the Santa presents after that, so husband and I don’t get to bed until 2am, and then the kids are up at the crack of 6:30am. But we go in order to not disappoint my Dad, who would be really sad not to see us. And the kids would miss the party.

      I don’t see a good way out of this one, other than having a really good excuse. My cousins get out of the party some years because: highway patrolman and nurse. Can you have another party to attend? Charitable work to do? A terrible case of the 24 hour flu? Sick friend to visit?

      Here’s a suggested script, and maybe the Awkward Army can help refine. I’m not always very good at standing my own ground.
      “Dad, I won’t be able to make it to FAMILYTHING this year. I have another commitment that night. Please tell everyone that I said “Hi and Merry Christmas” and let them know that I’ll catch up with them some other time.” And then when Dad pressures you, say “Dad, we’ve already talked about this and I won’t be able to make it this year.” Then have a reason to leave the room/house.

  64. Okay, so I have a scenario which isn’t hugely related. Stress levels ramping for the holidays and also because we are starting to want to get the house organised for when we suddenly get like a week’s notice that we’ll probably have to move out for repairs and put everything in storage, and there’s this behaviour of my sister’s that really bugs me, which I want to talk to her about before my jerkbrain turns it into a huge enormous deal. For context, my sister and I are basically best friends. We both live at home, we work together, we have similar mental illnesses (though her depression is less manageable and my social phobia is worse, which means most of my other friends I largely talk to via twitter etc), we spend heaps of time together.

    But one of her things is that for some reason she pays a lot of attention to people in groups she doesn’t like and often relates to me anecdotes about stupid things they’ve done and said. The groups range from things I just plain don’t care about at all to things that are kind of awkward – for a while it was asexuals on tumblr, and while I don’t think about it enough to label myself I do have a very low sex drive so even though it was a specific group of asexuals it did get uncomfortable sometimes. I mentioned at the time that it bothered me and she tried to back off, but the behaviour itself has been ongoing. It might be because I get enough second-hand rage over things I disagree with from studying policy but I really do not get the appeal of this – like occasionally I’ll read articles or blogs about especially things politicians have said that are just appalling, but it’s not something I make a habit of.

    I guess partly I’m hoping someone might have some insight into, like, what she might get out of this, or something? I have a vague idea of what I’d like to say – basically “please don’t do this around me” – but of course because we spend so much time together that’s a lot of time for her to be censoring herself and I feel like if I understood things better the conversation might be easier and I’ll be less likely to snap into a “YOUR THING IS WRONG AND BAD AND STOP BEING LIKE THAT!” out of annoyance. Or maybe more generally even if other people have dealt with something like this and could tell me how they addressed it and whether or not it worked.

    1. It might be a kind of freak show fascination (not that asexuals or anyone are freaks!) where she thinks people are Just That Weird And Strange and gets a mix of disgust and thrill out of reading about them. Or a feeling a superiority, like a form of schadenfreude.

      I have done this off and on in my life, and it’s right up there with things like paying close attention to what political people do when I’m not active in any organization that’s trying to do anything about it; watching a lot of stupid human reality shows; etc.

      It is possible that with her depression, she’s not feeling many feelings, and the feelings she gets from doing this are different because she feels! It might be disgust or revulsion or fascination or contempt, but it’s still a kind of feeling! It might also be an externalized version of how she’s feeling about herself.

      Anyway, the way to deal, I think, is to make a persistent effort to humanize the targets. When humans mark someone or something as an Other, then it is much easier to attack and deflect and do all that stuff. But when humans start seeing the Other as One Of Them, empathy starts to kick in a little more.

      I will say that I learned a lot about all kinds of strange people when I was reading stuff for schadenfreude purposes, and later when I felt better about myself and was more able to see those people as people, I had a much broader view of What People Do. Now I’m more likely to find an obscure subgroup of strange folks on the internet to be fascinating and wonder how it works and consider if I want to try it and yay for them, or to feel compassion instead of contempt.

      So all that to give you two tools:
      1. Humanize the people to your sister, and at the very least she’s less likely to go off about those freaks to you, because you’ll ask questions like “wow, the medical bills must be crazy” or “it is awesome they know how to be happy!” or “hey, whatever floats their boat”. She might think of them differently too.

      2. The hope, for you, that in the future when her depression is better managed, her exposure to these different kinds of folks might change from “the world is full of freaks” to “the world is full of awesome variety!”

      1. I thought the same thing about the schadenfreude/superiority thing. I know some folks who do this about people like the Kardasians or other celebrities-behaving-badly. Drive me nuts, because I can’t stand giving those people air time, even if it’s just air-in-a-room, not airwaves. I think people are (unconsciously) thinking “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as fucked up as those folks over there!”

        If it’s celebrities behaving badly, I generally say something along the lines of “I cannot tell you how profoundly I don’t care. Can we talk about something else?” If there’s a component of ugly judginess about regular people’s lifestyle choices, I go with “It takes all kinds. Think what a boring (and viciously competitive) world it would be if we all liked the same things! As long as it’s all consensual, I don’t see that it’s anybody else’s business.”

    2. I agree with the schadenfreude/superiority/general-enjoyment-of-drama theory as a possibility, but I wonder if there’s also a hatereading component — if she’s looking up people saying things she finds offensive or people disagreeing with her politically or that sort of thing, and then coming to tell you all about how mad it made her. I’ve gotten into that habit in the past, for a couple of reasons:

      1. The “How can anyone not agree with me?!” impulse, which drives one to, say, read political blogs one thinks are totally and obviously wrong out of a desire to figure out what the hell people see in them. Not exclusive to political issues — I’ve also caught myself doing this with TV shows I hate, or books I think are stupid, especially if they’re “inexplicably” popular. Can shade gradually into the “What (totally wrong and stupid thing) will they think of next?” impulse, so that I keep reading/watching well past the point where my initial curiosity was settled.

      2. Especially for political issues, a desire to be “well-informed.” Sometimes this is pushed by general cultural memes: How can you claim to understand [political issue] if you don’t know the arguments [for/against] it? You need to be an expert on the other side’s arguments to present a strong counter-argument! If you avoid viewpoints you disagree with, you’re just isolating yourself and living in a groupthink bubble! And sometimes it’s spread by people trying to make you well-informed — as an example, in the last couple days I’ve been linked to roughly a million different articles about an awful comment made by a politician, and every one of those links came with a line like “The one article you MUST read about…” or “The most insightful post on…”, which makes them hard to resist (“No thanks, I hate insight”).

      1. “No thanks, I hate insight” made me laugh. 😛 In this case it’s largely subgroups in fandom and that sort of thing – I actually read a lot more politics than she does because I study Social Policy and sort of have to keep up with it. Heck, my entire second assignment for the second year concepts and theories paper I’m studying for the final exam for (on Saturday, eek) was analysis of media clippings on policy development in a specific area. But the superiority thing may apply, if it’s a sort of “ha, look how silly and obsessed these people are!”

    3. That’s an interesting one, Chris. I think I get it. I am a well-educated, thoughtful, sensitive, respectful communicator (and modest too! 😉 but I read communities like fandom_wank and sf_drama and customers_suck and I watch *terrible* carcrash television like Toddlers and Tiaras and America’s Next Top Model and I will sometimes (probably too often) subject my friends to diatribes about crazy things people do on the internet or weird shit that goes down on TV.

      I think it bothers some of my friends that I can consume really bad media with really awful (often mixed) messages and that I appear to care about People Being Wrong on the Internet.

      It’s hard to explain why these things interest me but I think with any interests it’s fair for a friend or in your case sibling to say “meh, I don’t have anything to say to that” or “I don’t really get why you’re interested” or “this topic makes me uncomfortable”.

      That said I don’t like being told “you seem so angry” or “why are you worked up about this?” as though my there’s something wrong with me for getting interested in ‘wank’ or ‘drama’ (and I know those are problematic terms).

      I guess with your sib, you need to work out how much you’re willing to engage in these discussions and when you don’t want to engage try to nudge the conversation into what you do find interesting and see if she’ll travel with you into either unpacking the topic or extending the range or just plain changing the subject into one of the interests you do share.

      I wonder, is it possible that you’re living a bit in each other’s pockets (as siblings, housemates, work colleagues and best friends) and as a result you feel a pressure to be into all her stuff? Because even couples need alone time. Maybe the two of you need to make a little more space for you just simply not to be into each other’s interests so you can say “sis, why don’t you get some Tumblr rage on with your other (online?) pals and I’m going to read my book/go jogging/Tweet up a storm with my buddies.” Without guilt; that’s key.

    4. Ask her if the name “Nona” means anything to her. There’s an online community that really encourages this sort of thing, the name will ring a bell if she goes there.

  65. I’ve got a friend who is good at organizing events (gives plenty of notice and information, and keeps the pressure low) and it’s really telling which refusals he does and doesn’t mind. People who simply turn down the invitation (for whatever reason, or no reason at all) are fine. People who accept the invitation and then bail out at the last minute suck, particularly if they do this repeatedly. I get the feeling that there are some people who think it’s rude to say no to an invitation, as if saying yes but not showing up at least registers your theoretical support of their event! In my experience these are also often the people who take it really personally if you say no to their invitations.

    1. Repeatedly bailing is definitely something that gets noticed… I have a couple of friends who do it almost every time. Everyone understands a genuine emergency, but when all your friends start saying things like “[name] says she’s coming tomorrow, but you know what that means” then you might be taking it too far…

      The phenomenon seems particularly prevalent with Facebook invitations. I take it for granted now that “yes” means “probably”, “maybe” means “no, but I want to be polite”, and “no” means “I’m actually out of town that day”.

      1. I think you’re spot on about facebook invitations. A lot of the etiquette around social networking seems to still be in flux. I’ve actually had people accuse me of being hostile or mean because I said ‘no’ to something on facebook because I couldn’t make it. I thought I was being polite by letting them know in advance what their attendance numbers would be!

    2. Sometimes it’s hard to say no, or at least, I used to find it so. I’ve bailed a few times with that sort of thing, like going out to lunch with workmates. Now I’m more likely to say “I’m sorry, but I just don’t enjoy that sort of thing,” but I have some sympathy with the bailers, rude though repeat bailing is. I’ve also had that initial enthusiasm which turns into “I really, really don’t feel like going to this party/whatever” as the time nears … it’s tricky saying something polite but truthful in that situation!

      1. I agree. I don’t want to be hard on the people who bail, and am definitely sympathetic to how hard it can be to say no, but maybe re-framing it in this way will help people who do that to realize that owning their decisions and time and not bowing to social coercion to attend event is actually better for most people concerned, including any decent host. Maybe that will allow them to also be decent to themselves.

        The only people it doesn’t benefit are manipulative coercive types and frankly they’re the ones who don’t deserve our consideration in this!

    3. I do that :/ I have 2 kids, a lot on and stuff likely to come up at the last minute (sick kids, hubby working, late for assignments etc). I actually just say no to stuff now because I hate bei the last minute bailout! With people I know don’t mind, I tell them not to cater for me but I might pop in if I can (and then I DON’T eat all the food!)

      1. Which actually means you totally don’t do that. Your way of handling it sounds incredibly considerate to your host as well as responsible to your family/work priorities. 🙂

        1. I realise my first post wasn’t very clear. Of course there is nothing wrong with bailing when a real emergency comes up at the last minute. What I was more getting at was people who say yes to things even though they know they are likely not to come because they feel the social pressure to say yes, as all it does is build resentment on both sides and add to the pressure for future events.

          I wanted to point out that even though it might feel rude to say ‘thanks, but no’ (or some contingency variation such as AB’s great ‘don’t cook for me, but I might pop in if I can’) it is actually usually better for the host to hear that no than to get some half baked excuse a few hours before hand. I thought maybe knowing this would help people give themselves permission to say no. It’s certainly helped me get over that feeling of having to say yes to everything.

  66. I just told my family that due to my new work schedule, I will only be home for a 5 days this Christmas. Now, I know to a lot of people that sounds like a lot, but this is the first year out of uni and so the first time I won’t have 2-3 weeks, the first time I will miss family new year etc.

    As an example of Doing It Right with regards to people with less-than-ideal schedules, I submit the conversation I just had with my grandmother.

    “Various talking about new job”
    “So what happens with time off at Christmas?”
    “I get 5 days off, which is something at least.”
    “Oh, good, we get to see you for 5 days! Is that including Christmas day?”
    “Yeah, luckily I got to choose whether to work Christmas or New Year, I figured it would be nicer to be home for Christmas.”
    “Definitely. So how far is your commute to work going to be?”

    And then we talked more about my job.

    So. Sometimes these things can definitely go well. I was really nervous about it so I’m very, very relieved.

  67. Dear LW,

    I don’t know if having children is part of your life plan, but if so, and if this issue persists with your family, I wanted to offer this perspective.

    My mother was a NICU nurse for most of my childhood. As such, she worked every other holiday, some weekends, etc., i.e., the drill you know. In case your family decide that your work in nursing will somehow damage any children you may choose to have, please know that this affected my childhood and my relationship not at all, beyond the obvious logistical considerations. I was, and am, proud of my mom and her work, and was fine with the fact that she was off taking care of other kids who were sick, even on Christmas. Best of luck to you; as a doctor now myself I say with all heartfelt thanks that the work you do is perhaps the most important in the hospital food chain.

  68. Since this is an open thread, here’s my question for the Awkward Army (especially those who’ve been in abusive relationships):

    Last summer, my workplace BFF left her job. During the spring, she’d been acting weird and pushing me away for no discernable reason, and a few days before the end of her contract, I figured out (with the help of my therapist) that she was being abused by her long-term, live-in, civil-union girlfriend. I’m pretty sure she was pressured by her abuser to leave her job, and that I’m an object of jealousy.

    I did the “you don’t deserve this, please please please let me help you” thing, which did not go over well (I got the impression that she’s aware that the situation is abusive, but that she’s too embarassed about it to really reach out – she may or may not have been preparing her exit from the relationship, but it’s hard to tell). We parted on shaky, but mostly okay terms. I heard through the grapevine that she found a new job, and I think she’s supposed to start soon.

    Another former coworker of ours is back in town and next Tuesday a bunch of us is going for lunch to a restaurant. My BFF is supposed to be of the party. I’m thinking I should just be happy to see her, let her know that we’re cool and that I love her, and to avoid difficult subjects.

    If you were in her shoes, is that what you’d be hoping for?

    1. Note: I have never been in an abusive relationship.

      If you see your therapist first, you might ask her what a good way to proceed might be.

      I just recently saw some blog posts about helping abused friends. Those were predicated on still being friends, or still being family, which is a little different, but the message was all: validate the abused person’s competence. Trust the abused person’s skills. Believe the abused person’s version of events. Basically, do everything their abuser is *not*, about respecting the person’s strength, skills, and general all-around awesomeness.

      The other thing, for helping people out, is that you can do two things: make a promise to be there (and keep that promise should the day come, which it may not), and keep the lines of communication as open and pressure-free in the meantime.

      Now I remind you of my caveat: I have never been in an abusive relationship. I am also not a therapist trained in this stuff; I have just read a bunch of things on the internet.

      Bearing all that in mind, I would say, you should be happy to see her, let her know you’re cool and you love her, and maybe remind her she can call you anytime (since you’re not going to see her again for a while, probably). Then back off with open body language and let her come to you if she wants to hang. She might be skittish if you are an object of jealousy, you know?

      1. Having been in a few abusive relationships I would say that this advice is spot on. What really helped me was when I started occasionally hanging out with my friends again and felt what it was like to be treated normally. The difference helped me identify my relationship as abusive (not something that really sinks in until you work it out for yourself), and being treated like an actual person gave me back a little bit of my self esteem which eventually gave me the strength to leave.

        I would also add that you should remember that this particular meet up is happening in front of a wider group of people so it would be really inappropriate and probably cause your friend a fair bit of anxiety if you were to raise any difficult subjects (ie her relationship or the status of your friendship) at the lunch, even if other people are out of ear shot.

        I hope it goes well and that you and your BFF have a good time together.

        1. I would also add that you should remember that this particular meet up is happening in front of a wider group of people so it would be really inappropriate and probably cause your friend a fair bit of anxiety if you were to raise any difficult subjects (ie her relationship or the status of your friendship) at the lunch, even if other people are out of ear shot.

          Don’t worry, I’m definitely not going to do that. I’ve unwittingly stumbled on difficult subjects before, and I don’t ever want to do that on purpose.

          Thanks for confirming what I thought. It’s good to know my instinct was right.

          1. And thanks to you for caring about your friend in her difficult and abusive situation. I know it’s not an easy thing to watch.

          2. No, it’s not. But she’s been there for me in the past, and she’s an all-around wonderful person. Besides, what kind of person would I be if I walked away from her because of it? It’s a question of my own self-respect as much as anything else.

    2. I don’t have any personal experiences with this or similar situations but you might want to read what The Goldfish wrote about this only recently and from first hand experience (sounds like corbonatedwit read those, too, but I wanted to provide the links regardless because I think reading the whole thing might help you): Part 1, Part 2.

      1. Seconding the thanks Myrin. I’ve a mate who I KNOW is being abused, she told me he hits her on occasion and it’s being going on for nearly a year, yet I was at a loss as to what to do. Seems what I was doing already is the best I can do! Which is comforting, sort of. :-S

  69. So, umm… I have something which is really unrelated, but I could really use the seal of Awkward Army approval. (Or, lacking said approval, the patented Awkward Army Scripts).

    A few weeks ago, a guy came up to me as I was waiting for a dance class. We’d attended a workshop together; I vaguely remembered him, he remembered me surprisingly well. Since I thought he was new to social dancing, I mentioned a few places where you can go to practice or have fun at different days of the week. He asked me to send him a text about when these were, and gave me his number. Without really thinking about it, I just sent a text then and there saying “every Thursday at *place*”, and didn’t think any more of it.
    I honestly never viewed it as a “giving him my number”-situation. I guess I should have?

    This week he sent me a text asking if I was going to be there that evening.
    I don’t know this person. Right now, I don’t want to get to know him (or at least: I don’t want my presence or absence at these events to have ANY bearing on whether or not he shows up). And I’m quite uncomfortable that he has my number, but I’m even more uncomfortable with being asked about my future whereabouts by someone I don’t know.
    This time around, I just texted a “no”. But I need a clear script if he should ever send me another text. I’m having difficulties with it, partly because I keep thinking that he hasn’t really *done* anything. And so I feel slightly guilty about how strongly I want this person out of my life.

    What I Want To Say In A World With No Consequences Or Guilt About Hurting People’s Feelings:
    “I didn’t intend to give you my number. Never contact me again.”

    What my actual suggestion is at the moment:
    “Hi! I’m sorry, but I hardly know you and these texts are making me uncomfortable.”

    Is this clear enough? Is it too rude?

    (Hope this isn’t too hijacky.)

    1. No, he hasn’t really done anything overt. However, it seems entirely possible to me that his request that you text him the info was a deliberate strategy to get your phone number without asking for it straight out precisely because he thought the ruse might get him something that you would not otherwise consent to give. I can soooo see this being a tactic guys have come up with… Which, if it is true, would be creepy. (ANY disregard for a woman’s consent and/or for her absolute right to take whatever precautions she feels are necessary to keep herself safe in this world is really worrisome).

      On the other hand, he could also just have thought it was a good way to get the class info, and realized afterwords “hey, I actually have the phone number of that cool woman I met! Maybe I’ll ask in a relatively non-intrusive way like texting if she’s going to that class, and I could see her again!” Maybe asking if you were going was his way of sounding out whether you were into him, figuring if you were you’d say “yes, you?” or “no, hope to see you another time!” Sure, a better course would have been to just take a chance on going to the class and seeing if you happened to be there and acting all casual. But it wouldn’t necessarily qualify as creepy.

      I get the impression that you’re inclined toward interpreting his actions as the first — perhaps because he remembered you noticeably better than you remembered him. Again, that’s not in itself a bad sign (I have no recollection of the first time my husband gathered his gumption to talk to me).

      But the bottom line is that you DO have an absolute right to do whatever you need to do to feel safe, and you SHOULD trust your instincts. AND, if you tell a good, consent-respecting man who understands that this world is not a safe place for women that his texts are making you uncomfortable, he’ll apologize and back off. If you tell a guy that his texts are making you uncomfortable and he gets pissy about it, well, he’s just validated your instincts.

      So, I say go for it. Maybe soften it by saying “I’m sure you’re a lovely person, but you’re also a relative stranger, and your texts are making me uncomfortable.” And if you do go that class, I’d have an exit strategy in case he’s there and acts like there’s something between you — maybe a friend you go with? A place you need to be? — just in case he’s the kind of guy who feels entitled to your attention just because you were friendly-ish to him once and he’s interested.

      1. The get the number thing is a tactic that guys are employing.

        A work friend made friends with another girl Erin at work. In Erin’s department was Man B. When Erin left the company, work friend stayed in touch and was talking about maybe meeting up with Erin one weekend in front of Man B. Man B was like, “I’d love to see Erin too. Here’s my number, give me a text if you end up making plans.”

        They didn’t, so work friend sent Man B a text saying it wasn’t happening and Man B admitted he hadn’t been that interested in seeing Erin anyway, he j use wanted to get work friends number.

        When work friend told me and another work friend, we all thought it was gross. But work friend and Man B are seriously dating now. :/

    2. Oh, and if he does creep you out after that first text, either in person or by text, I think it’s fine to say “listen, I sent you that text in an act of generic friendliness to a stranger. For you to treat that info like you asked for my number and I gave it, and it meant something, is like telling me I shouldn’t have been friendly to a guy I barely know. If you don’t want to send that message, please back off.

      1. A simple strategy might be:

        1. Say, “I won’t be there, but have fun. Also, I prefer not to exchange text messages, thank you.” I had this happen with someone I went on one date with once. I gave him my number as a “in case you’re running late to the bar” thing, not as a “Become my shiny new texting buddy!” thing. Boundaries.

        2. Block his number.

        He got his information about the dance classes (which was nice of you), and you don’t have to interact with him by phone. If you ran into him in person, you could just repeat “Nothing personal, I just prefer to text only with my friends.”

        I don’t think he’s necessarily doing anything wrong – he just might be excited about meeting someone cool who’s into the same scene and trying to be friendly, but trust your gut. If he’s well-intentioned, he’ll back off politely and you won’t have to worry. If he’s not, then you just get confirmation you’re doing the right thing.

        1. I agree that this guy is not necessarily doing anything wrong and might just be after a nice new dancing friend.

          The reason I like this advice is because by making it clear you don’t want to text with him, it removes the ambiguity that just ignoring him could give. If he thinks you didn’t get his messages, he might keep sending them and (unintentionally) bugging you. This way you are politely telling him to back off.

          I’m learning the joy of clearly expressed boundaries rather than the “but my behavior should have shown you that I didn’t want that” approach.

          1. Thank you so much to everyone who commented! It really helped articulate some of the stuff I was feeling, and reminded me that no matter what his intentions are, I don’t need to deal with someone that I don’t want to deal with.

            I’ve also realized that chances are he won’t try again. However, I now have a pre-written text on hand. (Useful! I don’t like thinking about the contents of a text at the best of times.) If he contacts me, I’ll simply send that text and immediately block his number.

            Any in-person interaction will actually be easier. I’m quite good at saying a polite “sorry, but no” face to face, just bad at doing it in writing. For those who were concerned about safety issues at the event – it shouldn’t be a problem. I have many friends and acquaintances there, and it’s early in the evening. I also have no problem saying “sorry, I have to go” without giving any more information.

            Thanks again!

    3. You can just ignore the texts, and hopefully he’ll get the picture. If you were amenable to a possible friendship (and right now, he might not be hitting on you, although your gut is your best metric) you could just wait a long time to answer, or answer with vague things like “Not sure, but hope you have fun!”

      If pressed you can just have missed his texts, huh how about that.

      If he sends you a lot of texts you could ask him to stop texting you. “Please stop texting me. Thanks.” If you feel you need an excuse, and he’s only texting and not calling or otherwise escalating, it’s because you have a limited text plan and you’re running out. But you don’t really need an excuse. Hopefully you don’t have to figure out how to block his number on your phone/network, but that is also an option.

      But the first line of defense is to just not answer. It’s a text, not a summons, and you get to ignore it.

      1. I’d be wary of excuse-type responses. I know it can be a matter of comfort levels; we’re socialised so heavily never to give men an outright no or go away. But for exactly that reason, they give wriggle room to a man who’s being pushy. Plus they set up lies for the person trying to “let him down gently” (ugh), which can get complicated, apart from any other considerations! :/

    4. I think answering “depends if my boyfriend can make it” next time should take care of your problem. He doesn’t seem too dangerous: he gave you his number that you were free to use or not.
      It’s your call, in the end, but maybe it’s worth giving him one chance to take a hint before using your script. That way, if he doesn’t take the hint, you won’t have to feel guilty about his feelings: after all, you will have given him one out the gentle way, and if he chooses not to take that exit, any hurt feelings are on him.

      1. I agree that ignoring his texts can be a great way to deescalate the situation, but I disagree with the rest of your comment. The ‘boyfriend’ line just reinforces the doucheview that women are property.

        In the social dance world, the proper response to hearing there’s a regular thing at Dani’s Dance Den on Thursdays is to say, “Cool, maybe I’ll see you there,” and look up the details online, not, “please text me.” It’s pretty clear to me that he wanted to get her/his number, not her/his local dance knowledge.

    5. Your script sounds good to me. If Mr. Pushy Phone Phakeout badgers you about it in person you can follow up with, “I don’t generally give my cell number to people I don’t already know very well.”

    6. I’m having difficulties with it, partly because I keep thinking that he hasn’t really *done* anything. And so I feel slightly guilty about how strongly I want this person out of my life.

      Nope, you are totally right: this is sketchy: As Seph pointed out: he doesn’t want your knowledge about the local scene, he wants your number (and maybe presence). If you feel pressured, it’s because he puts pressure on you by texting you to find out when you will be where.
      I’m not saying he’s got anything bad in mind. Maybe he was looking for a new BFF, maybe he thought you were really cute and wants to find out if this is a Thing. But you don’t want any of that and that’s totally fine. It’s even nice of you to draw your boundaries now than after some chatting that you don’t really enjoy and that he interprets as Getting To Know You – there is a spark, right???

      (Re: sketchy: not directly asking for your number, but tricking you into giving it to him. Not cool.)

    7. Yeah, I think a gentle blow-off is probably your best course: don’t answer, or not until hours or a day have passed, and if he gets demanding you can block him and know you were right to feel weird about him. If he does get pushy, I think your actual suggestion is fine.

    8. There is absolutely no world in which that is not clear enough. (Assuming a lack of cognitive disability significant enough that you most likely would have noticed it already.) The thing is, people are actually really good at deciphering a soft no most of the time. We are expected to give a soft no in almost every situation in order to “be polite”. The only exception is potentially sexual relationships. There, suddenly, people would have us believe that nothing short of absolute explicitness is understood, and no one wants to give that (especially women!) because in every other situation that would be considered very rude.

      Soft nos in sexually charged situations are understood. They’re just ignored way too often. Your suggested response is perfectly fine – it’s on the harder side in being a very clear no, but gives him the benefit of the doubt in assuming his intentions are basically good and even apologises even though technically you have nothing to apologise for. If he thinks it’s rude, that’s his issue, and any offense he takes is probably more related to being told no at all than to how you said it.

  70. Hi everyone! I have some semi-related thoughts. There are some people commenting talking about how much it hurts when they reach out or make plans and people don’t respond with any kind of enthusiasm. I don’t hold events a lot, but I do reach out to people more, and get a bit scared when they don’t reply back. However, it is usually people who are busy and long distance. This was emphasized to a degree I didn’t realize would happen when I moved away from almost all my friends and family for grad school. Eventually, I learned which friends keep in contact with long distance friends and which don’t, and whether it is a big deal or not. Because sometimes friends would not be easily contactable when I wasn’t around, and I would mope over it and make drunken sad overtures (to which they would reply with “I’m terrible at communication! I’m sorry!” which would bring me back to reality). It also helped when I made friends where I was as well.

    But when I would come back to visit, I realized that it was also really important to see who could make time with me when they knew I was going to be around. (The most telling were people who didn’t even respond to hanging out. I plan to try again when I am living there again, but I’m less worried about it than I was a year ago.)

    Obviously temporary long distance is different from work-related time. But I think it’s important to let people know when you’re free to do something, if you do want to hang out with them. You could be proactive about it rather than waiting for an invitation. Like, “I’m super busy, but I want to make time to see you. Are you free on the 9th for coffee? Sounds good? Great, see you then!”

    Also, I love Skype. If you’re tired after work most days, maybe you can hang out with some people via Skype? Just a suggestion as a way to keep friends and keep them informed on your busy life without necessarily cutting into your busy life.

    1. lol it’s true, I’m terrible at communication – if you’re not on Twitter, sorry, we’ll barely talk – but if someone’s in town, I’ll definitely want to hang out. A couple months back I had dinner with someone I hadn’t seen and had rarely talked to in a few years, and it was super.

    1. I have read the whole thing (bless you, advanced reading copies) and it’s really good. Ivan snuck up on me during the series to become a favorite character.

  71. So this! I’m a research scientist and I can’t tell you how many times I have to go take care of cells or use busy equipment on the weekend or late in the evening, and how little understanding I have gotten from some quarters about how this is necessary and important. One of the major issues of my early married life (to a non-scientist) was that quite often, because I was an inexperienced PhD student, I totally meant to be home by 7, but then at 5:45 I “sucked up the pellet” or had to thaw a new bottle of something and that if I didn’t finish whatever it was *that day* it would mean a week of work and thousands of dollars of taxpayer funding down the toilet.
    Oh, and, my work is important to me – so while it is certainly a hassle to go to lab on Sunday, it’s not like I’m doing it at gunpoint. I’m doing it because it’s *my* project which I am committed to, which is part of what makes me the interesting person you want to spend time with.
    Sometimes I have felt like if I were a man and/or “*that* kind if doctor” (but not nurse, apparently), people would be more respectful of my work and time.

    1. Oh man, that’s rough. It’s funny how “I have to study–no seriously, I HAVE to study” works pretty okay, but “I have to do research–no really, I HAVE to do research” apparently doesn’t work so well. So when you’re learning things everybody already knows, it’s important, but when you’re discovering new things or double-checking that Important Thing really works the way people think it does, it’s not…? Hmm…

      Also, what does “sucked up the pellet” mean?

      1. If you centrifuge something, you often get a liquid above a solid that has gone to the bottom. The stuff at the bottom is the pellet. So if you’re trying to remove the liquid because the solid is what you want, but you accidentally pull the pellet with it, you’ll have to at least centrifuge it again. If you didn’t notice immediately that the pellet was gone, or you’re using a vacuum instead of a pipettor, well, who knows how much you’ll have to do again.

  72. I am panicking! (Backstory: I have been in a very unhealthy relationship for the past four years–every time I thought I was out, I got pulled back in. I just got out for real 3 months ago. Even before that I have always been a serial monogamist, and that was in college and earlier, when the pickins were easy–point being, I am completely out of my element when I think about “dating”. I have been wanting to see someone, go on a date, but am very shy & skittish if anyone shows interest—I just don’t know what to do and get nervous and run away!)

    There is this guy I have hung out with a few times (four, to be exact), two of which were on outdoor excursions with family & friends & we didn’t talk to eachother much because I think we are both kind of quiet and nervous, and the other two were drunken times in which we were VERY flirty with eachother. The most recent time was a couple of nights ago, I was very drunk and excited because I was wearing a Halloween costume which is the most fun thing ever. He was drinking too but my friend (the only sober person present) said he seemed to be less drunk than the rest of us. ANYWAY….

    I was hitting on him and he liked it, and I liked that he liked it, and I was just chatty chatting all night long about this and that–curiosities about stars and random facts, and I know that despite being a drunk girl who will NOT shut up, I can also be very charming and funny and because I knew this guy dug me, I think I was definitely flying high on that level. So this went on through the evening,and then he and his friend came back to my friend’s house with us, and I ended up making out with him a bit. He said he had kind of had a crush on me since our last drunken night of chattering, which was last year, and that was sweet. And then when the time came to go to bed, it seemed that the boys did not want to drive anywhere, so he was staying over, and he tried briefly to get things to go further and I said that is not happening tonight, and then he was very good and nice and just cuddly all night. Then the next morning I was terribly hungover, because I am not a very big drinker (though you wouldn’t know it from this tale!), and he was very sweet and nice to me even though I was moaning and groaning and whining and trying not to puke. Man, this all makes me sound pretty terrible, but I’m not!–I don’t think.. I am just trying to say that he was nice.

    So, he and I have been texting eachother a bit and he wants to go out this weekend, and here is the actual point of this whole thing: Since I made out with him drunkenly, and cuddled with him on the couch before that, and things like that, is he going to expect that kind of physical intimacy now? Because I feel weird about it here in my sober mind–like, you don’t snuggle up with someone right away on your first date! So, what do I do about that? And what if he doesn’t like me when I’m not drunk? Drunk I’m just very bouncy and enthusiastic, but I am kind of a neurotic nerd the rest of the time–with childlike enthusiasm and curiosity, for sure, but I get nervous and awkward and…BLARGH! I am kind of freaking out and I am afraid that is going to show. Or what if I don’t like HIM when I’m not drunk?

    I’m feeling some pressure because my friend (the sober one) was telling me last night that this guy seems similar to many guy friends I have had over the years who were kind of in love with me but I never returned the feelings, and that instead I go for these ones who end up treating me badly, so I should try a different method and give him a chance. Not that she even KNOWS him really, but she is pretty intuitive and that is her impression (“He’s a nice boy, that one.”). ALSO I am a lot older than him (29 vs. 23), which makes me feel weird and also like I should be very confident and take-charge in this situation while really I am being a crazy neurotic baby! Secretly! Here on the internet! Am I too old for him? What do I do to not be awkward and weird on this date? How do I retroactively reset a physical boundary? Not that I am OPPOSED to kissing later–but I would like to get to know him soberly before it happens again!

    Please help me, someone! I am flailing around like a leaf in a drain.

    1. Hey, whatever he expects or doesn’t expect, move at your OWN pace. Only do things you enthusiastically want to do. If you want to say “The other night was really fun, but I don’t want to mess around until we’re sure we like each other sober” that is 100% OKAY.

      You’re not too old for him.
      You can listen to your friend but also listen to what YOU want.
      Boys have emotions and get nervous, too. They also have “OMG, what if she expects x, y, and z?” freakouts.

      1. Also, it totally feels weird to say that script, but I’ve never had ANYONE EVER* react badly to something like it. I’ve told an established boyfriend I had been sleeping with for a month that I wanted to backpedal for a little while, and he was confused and a little disappointed, but he went along with it fine. And it was SO MUCH BETTER than the week before I actually said the words, when I was just avoiding him and he didn’t even understand why.

        Point being, backpedaling is totally okay, happens all the time, and isn’t nearly as awkward as it feels like it should be.

        *except that one guy who went on to punch his girlfriend (in public! Across the street from school! 0% plausible deniability! WTF?!). Just sayin’.

    2. HusbandLogic was 24 when we met and I was 28, yet he’d had many more relationships than I. And with these credentials, I heartily support the Cap’s advice.

      Do you want to hang out with him sober? Great. Do that.
      Do you want to make out with him again? Unclear? Fine. Don’t make out until/unless you want to.
      Do you want to kind of wallow in the bubbly “I DON’T EVEN KNOW” feelings for a while? Cool. We’ve all been there. Wallow and giggle and such.
      Embrace the awkward on the date. It will be okay!

    3. I just want to add that although snuggling up with someone on the first date may not be ideal, in my opinion that’s a “best practices” sort of rule of thumb to protect yourself from the risk of emotional harm and/or physical harm inherent in making yourself vulnerable to strangers — and it is probably broken as often as it is followed. It sure as heck is not any sort of law-all-decent-people-everywhere-recognize-and-adhere-to. If the Awkward Army all chimed in to self-identify as occasional violators of that rule of thumb — even unrepentant ones! — WordPress would be swamped.

      So do NOT fall into slut-shaming yourself over it. While it makes perfect sense to want to back up to a lesser level of intimacy, given that you don’t know that much about this guy and how compatible you two are, don’t waste another ounce of energy on feeling bad that you went a little fast that night. Celebrate that you had some lovely making-out that lets you check the box next to “mutually lust-inducing,” and even gained the immensely valuable ability to check boxes next to “stopped on a dime at a ‘no'” and “still likes me after a ‘no.'”

      Also, screw the pressure from your friend. While it’s nice to get a friend’s take on someone, especially if she’s generally a good judge of character, what matters is how YOU feel about the guy.

      1. Word to this.

        I suspect A LOT of us mess around at least somewhat on the first or second date. I’m definitely guilty (but don’t FEEL guilty). IT hasn’t stopped things that turn into serious relationships from turning serious or casual relationships from staying casual.

        1. Seriously, Captain – word to this. My whole social group formed all their early relationships by getting drunk and making passes at each other. We got into our thirties and then people started branching out, moving to new cities, and suddenly had to learn how Ask Someone Out. I had several conversations with friends (guys and girls) saying effectively “I don’t know how to make a pass except by snuggling up to them and hoping kind of obviously that kissing happens.” Dating (and the “rules” that appear to exist for it) is still really alien to a lot of us especially those who got into a long term relationship via the Snuggling and Hoping method.

          To the OP of this thread: What alphakitty said about safety is good advice. It applies to all types of dating though. It’s not as though Classic/Traditional/Reactionary Dating with Rules is working out so great for people that they can really recommend that as The One True Way.
          Work out your own boundaries and keep to them. Be true to yourself and communicate your thoughts even when they’re still wooly questions and then at least if you get it wrong it’s because you did what you wanted, rather than what anyone else thought you should do.

    4. Even if he expects something further, if he really is a nice boy he will understand if you aren’t comfortable doing it on a first sober date, and if he’s really a nice boy he probably won’t actively expect it at all! As for the age difference, if it were the other way around people wouldn’t even blink, and while there is that whole “girls mature faster than boys!” thing, there is still a lot of individual variation so that even if that is the general trend it’s not always actually true, so social reaction might actually be a bigger problem than the age gap itself!

      If the physical stuff comes up you could just give him a bit of a smile and say “Sorry, I’m not quite as cuddly when I’m sober. It was really fun but I want to get to know you more before we do it again.”

    5. I’m feeling some pressure because my friend (the sober one) was telling me last night that this guy seems similar to many guy friends I have had over the years who were kind of in love with me but I never returned the feelings, and that instead I go for these ones who end up treating me badly, so I should try a different method and give him a chance.

      This is possibly too late to help, but maybe try reframing the date from a commentary on your entire future dating life (it’s not!) and more about a chance to spend a bit of time with a guy you have previously enjoyed flirting with? Focus on the one date and not your entire potential future relationship(s). And you don’t have to be as flirty this time! This is a chance to you to show more of your multi-dimensioned self.

      If he does get more physical than you’re comfortable with, just say you’d like to take things a bit slower as you get to know each other. You’ll be right! 🙂

      Good luck with it!

      1. Right, this is just one dude. He may be a great new dude. He may be one more “dude it’s fun to make out with a time or two but not really for you.” That’s okay either way.

    6. If he’s worthwhile, he wants you to do exactly and only what you’re comfortable with. The Captain’s script is perfect.

      Being cautious and evaluating his maturity level and relationship style is a good idea, but so would it be if he were 40, or 70.

  73. Oh social coercion, yup, my parents are the king and queen of this. I’m definitely going to take this script and modify it to suit my needs as yup, definitely need it especially after a long weekend for my sister’s wedding. Wedding was wonderful, my parents social coercion surrounding certain things about it were not!

    And I am very mindful of NOT doing this to other people. When someone says they can’t or aren’t going to do X, I take them at their word and at most say something like “Hope we can meet up next week then!” or whatever is appropriate. When I make invitations, I probably annoy people with how clear I am that I would of course love them to accept but also understand if they can’t make it for any reason because I don’t want to put pressure on people as I despise it!

  74. I’d like to throw out a question for the Awkward Army, if I may…
    I love my mom and she is in most ways a wonderful lady. However, her “I know best” attitude is beginning to grate on me. An especially striking example of this is her tendency to criticize my appearance.
    I’m not into fashion – never have been, never will be. It’s not that I have anything against looking good, but I loathe shopping for clothing and generally prefer to spend my money on other things. I’m also 26, much too old to be dressed by my mom.
    She, however, doesn’t see it that way. Recently on a visit home, I was halfway out the door to meet an old friend at the pub when she insisted that I couldn’t leave the house until I got changed – and since I hadn’t brought any “acceptable” clothes with me for a weekend visit, she pushed me to wear some of hers. (I capitulated because it was faster than an argument and my ride was on the verge of leaving.) She’s attempted to forbid me to wear my favourite shirt, which isn’t ragged, stained or in any way unfit to be worn in public, because it’s “so old, you’ve had it for years!”. Every time she sees me in my winter coat – a military jacket that various people have complimented me on and which was a gift from my boyfriend – she sighs loudly. On one occasion when I said “Can I borrow a hair elastic, I forgot to wash my hair this morning so I’m going to put it up,” she took the opportunity to remind me, “You need to shower every day, sweetie.” That one was too much for me and I snapped at her that I am perfectly aware of that, that I am not a child or even a teenager any more, and that it was extremely patronizing and condescending of her to lecture me. To her credit, she did apologize for that and admit that it slipped out.
    It could be worse – she constantly goes after my brother for his weight, pushing him to “be more active” and not-so-subtly insinuating that he doesn’t have a girlfriend because he’s fat. I have chosen to avoid getting involved in that particular discussion, but I am still subject to the shrapnel that litters the scene when she gets going.
    She also periodically drops hints that she thinks my atheism is just a phase and we have repeated discussions about “when I am going to get my Master’s”, but oddly, I feel more equipped to deal with that since we can actually have a rational discussion about those things. My clothing choices boil down a matter of personal taste and her insisting that her not liking the way I dress puts the onus on me to change it.
    Awkwardeers, what can I do? I’m a natural contrarian and the more she pushes me to “look presentable”, the more it makes me want to show up for Christmas in full punk attire or a gorilla suit. How can I get her to stop going after me?

    1. I had to have several conversations about this with my Mom as an adult.

      “When you criticize my clothes, what are you trying to accomplish? I’m not going to change them – I didn’t pack anything else. So all I’m going to do is feel hurt and upset and then I’m going to avoid you for the rest of the day. Is that what you were going for?”

      :something about just wanting me to dress better and look my best:

      “Well, I like how I dress. Other people like how I dress. And if you don’t, that’s fine. Please keep it to yourself, unless you are actively trying to hurt my feelings and make me avoid you.”

      I see my folks so seldom that there is NO reason for us to be crappy at each other. This last trip the subject of my orange glasses came up – she HATES them – and then the entire rest of the family, my boyfriend, my tiny cousins, etc. said “I like the orange ones so much better.” It was awesome.

    2. Hmmm… this is a tough one, if only because it’s such a subjective thing that – while drawing a boundary around it should be the same as drawing boundaries around anything else – I can see how it might be hard to get your mum to see it that way.

      I agree with JenniferP’s advice (seriously, is your advice ever anything other than brilliant? You rock!) and I think this one might be a case of setting a clear boundary, and reinforcing it every time she tries to cross it, until your mum gets the hint.

  75. While we’re on the subject of awkward holiday issues…

    I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family. I get along well with them all individually, but put them together, and it’s a sea of red flags. It’s just plain uncomfortable for me to be around, but since it’s not my family, I feel like I can’t intervene.

    Most of the issues surround his mother, who has BPD and has only recently started receiving treatment. The kids have a lot of very legitimate anger from her behavior before she acknowledged her mental illness, and she can still be difficult to talk to or be around. She has the best of intentions but appears slightly manic at all times and has an extremely short attention span and poor short term memory. I’m trying to be sympathetic to what sounds like a tumultuous childhood, and I know from experience how hard it is to grow up with a mentally ill mother. However, they take out their anger on her in really passive aggressive ways, often being verbally abusive.

    One of the adult children does not speak to her or come to family events unless absolutely necessary. He has made clear that he does not want a relationship with her until she takes steps to make amends. I have the utmost respect for his decision to set boundaries. However, the other children (unfortunately, my boyfriend included) go to family events and then immediately hide in the basement, get high, and complain about their mother. Ironically, they spend all day avoiding her but she’s all they talk about. When she does act in a way that makes people uncomfortable, they don’t say anything, but then they and their father use any other excuse to yell at her, and she very submissively takes it, even if she didn’t do anything wrong.

    For example, on Easter she gave her granddaughter a basket with a can of olives, a car ad from the newspaper, and shoes. When asked why, she couldn’t really explain and mostly giggled and paced from room to room. Everyone was upset, but didn’t say anything. However, when she asked her husband what he would like to drink, he yelled, “Why are you always bothering me? Can’t you see I’m busy?” When she asked him, “Oh, when you have a chance, could you guys move that chair into the basement?” he said, “Why the hell are you always making more work for me?” The kids yell at her too, and never once has it occurred to any of them that it’s not okay to yell at your mother on Mother’s Day because she sat in the wrong chair. They’ll show truly terrible table manners like leaving the table without a word to go watch a basketball game in the same damn room and she’s too meek to scold them for it. Sometimes they yell at her if she’s not being submissive enough. One time she was driving and her husband pointed out an obstacle on the road and she said, “Yeah, okay, I see it,” and he yelled at her for allegedly yelling at him. She said she didn’t mean to yell and then both he and my boyfriend yelled at her some more.

    There are so many ways they could use their words in a healthier way to express that anger. I’ve never seen, or heard of, any instance where they engaged with her and told her something like, “Mom, that thing with the Easter basket was confusing and a little scary. It made us very uncomfortable. Did you mention it to your doctor?” At the other extreme, I would totally understand if they set boundaries similar to their brother and cut off contact. I would totally understand if they told her, “Mom, you did a lot of hurtful things in the past and I’m still upset. I’m not ready to talk about them, and I don’t think you’re ready either, but I needed you to know that.”

    I feel awful watching this happen and I know it’s not my job to fix their dynamic, but I want to find a way to make these events bearable. Watching one-sided verbal abuse is not my idea of a holiday. Knowing their history, I still don’t think it’s okay to treat someone like that. If they can’t be civil or at least say something angry but constructive, they shouldn’t show up on holidays. Honestly, if they can’t/won’t confront their issues, I wish they would just embrace that all-American tradition of repressing your feelings and pretending to like each other a couple times a year so you can have a pleasant time together, instead of bitching and moaning all day. I want to confront my boyfriend about it and ask him to get counseling, because there is no way in hell I’m marrying into a family where this is considered normal, or marrying a man who thinks it’s okay to treat his mother like that.

    Any Awkwardeers have any suggestions about how to have that conversation, and what to do on holidays when they start acting like angry children?

    1. Ugh, that sounds terrible.

      When you’re with her, model good behavior by treating her well.

      And the conversation with your boyfriend goes like this:

      “I cannot imagine what you must have gone through growing up with a mom with untreated BPD, but I am also really uncomfortable with the way your family speaks to her. Can you find a way to be more kind and polite to her? Can you look into some counseling for yourself to deal with your angry feelings so that you can deal with her better in person?”

      And then see what he says.

      You don’t have to go to any family holidays there, you know.

  76. I think I’ve been socially pressurising a friend.

    Though only 26 to my 32, he’s one of the most interesting people I’ve met in recent years. He’s passionate, intelligent and eloquent. He initiates sharing on a level that I find hard to reach within my average friendships (I’m dealing with my secretive nature, but that’s another matter).
    He’s also less experienced, so I sometimes feel his certainties are theoretical rather than lived-through (if that makes sense).
    He lives with his parents, having studied an artistic creative profession which is hard to break into.

    He’s got health issues. We never outright discuss those, due to a combination of my awkwardness and his not wanting to delve into bad topics during a good time.
    I’ve inferred he views them as body-based (mainly an immunity affliction), whereas personally I think there’s a current of bi-polar tendencies in it too (he mentioned throwing up after every meal during ‘bad periods’ + the variation in his energy levels and emotional responses seems, to me, excessive).

    I used to mail him long mails, but when his responses dwindled, I stopped. We shifted to communication through texts (apart from real life meetings, of course).
    After reading these posts, I’ve come to realise that I may be pressuring him through those texts.

    Some texts are in the vein of “I’ve discovered this [great new park to sketch autumnal trees] and I know [you like drawing too] ! What are you up to ? [hopefully drawing, since I think that would be a healthy habit]”
    Other texts are an escalation of “you never replied to my suggestion to meet at an expo yesterday, how about we try again on wednesday”.

    I reckon he replies to about 30% of my messages.

    Once a month he’ll come to my city (40 mins by train from his home village), to party the night away at a gay event, with his night time friends, pounding techno music, random strangers and party drugs. It’s not my scene and drugs terrify me.
    Facebook shows me he’s investing lots of time in boozy nights out with pretty party people, full on vampire costumes for a series of hallowe’en parties, etc.
    Whenever we meet, he keeps telling me about his grind’r connections (grind’r is a gay dating app that relies on gps) : he can go online, surf profile pictures and just talk to whoever’s responding, whenever he’s feeling energised.

    My motivations to send those 60% of messages he doesn’t acknowledge are :
    1. his health : I’d like to keep in personal touch (as opposed to indirect facebook contact), so I worry less. I also feel that hanging out with me, though low-key, would be healthier for him.
    2. selfish : his point of view, his opinions and his world view are interesting & enriching.
    3. uncertain : I think I’m hurt he prefers xtc and hallowe’en to my drawings & an exhibition, so I suggest something new, as a clean slate to move on.

    After reading this thread, I think I must face the fact that he can put his own boundaries and I ‘just’ have to accept those.
    I’m trying to figure out a script as I’ve seen mentioned here :
    1. stop contact for a few days
    2. ease of the pressure, by allowing him to take the initiative. I figure I’ll send something like : “I’d like to see you again, because I like the time we spend together, and because seeing you would put me at ease. I do understand your time isn’t easily managed, and you want to focus on other people and other activities. I’ll hear you when you’re interested and free”.
    3. prepare for the fact that I might be his african violet (if I understood that concept correctly)
    4. If he does want to maintain contact : prepare to have a more open discussion of the uncomfortable subject of his health choices, and my worries, and his boundaries on that level.

    I’m new to this blog, so I hope I did it correctly.
    English isn’t my first language, so apologies for any mistakes.

    Thank you !

    1. You may be right that hanging with you is “healthier” than some of his other activities, but you don’t get to decide that and your fairly obvious crush on him are definitely clouding the picture. It seems like you are trying too hard to make “healthy” activity plans for him, and yes, thinking about him way more than he is thinking about you.

      I think your proposed actions are good ideas, but the message you are planning to send is too long and if I got that I would be like, ugh, exhausting. May I rescript that as “Next time you are in town, I would love to to take you to lunch. Text me if you have time.” And then don’t think about it unless he texts you. Don’t wait for him to text you, make your own plans for the day that don’t include him, wait for him to actually initiate contact.

      Are you guys close enough friends to have “a more open discussion of the uncomfortable subject of his health choices, and my worries, and his boundaries on that level.” Maybe he is bipolar, or struggling with stuff. Are you the right one to have these discussions with him, or should you think about having an enjoyable time? I would not want to show up to lunch with someone who was spending their time thinking about how to help me.

      You are gaining self awareness about the situation and getting ready to disengage, that’s good!

    2. Yeah, I think you need to lighten up a bit. I had a friend who was always expressing concern about me, and it felt creepy and patronizing since I was well and happy even if I was making choices she couldn’t relate to. Maybe it’s just me, but I HATE having other people pay too much attention to the choices I’m making in day-to-day life when it really isn’t any of their business — it makes me claustrophobic. I’d rather ditch the “friend” than feel watched and analyzed and judged. (In fact, I did.)

      Make plans that will be fun for both of you, that give you opportunities to share the things you have in common and/or that you especially like about him. Stop building in opportunities to Talk. If he says something that makes you think he’s upset/struggling, you can ask “do you want to talk about it?” but if he says “no,” respect that choice. Shush about the things he does that you don’t approve of and how they make you worry about him. He’s allowed to have friends you don’t like, do things you think sound dreadful and even unhealthy. Because he’s a person in his own right, and his friendship with you doesn’t give you the right to decide how he spends his time when you’re apart. If you can’t be friends with him without trying to change him, then cut him loose.

      Once your e-mails are about enjoying him, rather than trying to save/change him, I bet a higher percentage of them will get answered.

  77. Thank you for your reply !

    I feel oddly defensive… I reckon that’s a signal that your analysis (‘obvious crush’ included) is correct.
    Augh, painful, this blush is burning my ears and my face ! Also : complicated, since I don’t want to date anyone at this moment.

    In my opinion, we’re close enough that I can at least ask about his boundaries. When he had an infected dogbite while he was home alone, I talked him into going to hospital, and then visited him the next day. He seemed okay with that.
    Is ‘what are your boundaries’ an appropriate discussion to have ? Or should I wait for his initiative in that respect ?

    I think I am healthy, in most respects : I do hang out with other friends, I do live my life at my own tempo, I do visit shows, openings and expositions when I want.
    Disengaging will still be better for both of us.

    Thank you for your reply and encouragement !
    I’ll keep browsing posts & threads here – it’s helping me to articulate perceptions I already had, and in this case, it’s stimulating my self-awareness. Thanks !

    1. “Is ‘what are your boundaries’ an appropriate discussion to have ? Or should I wait for his initiative in that respect ?”

      I would not initiate any “discussions” with this guy. “Let’s discuss your boundaries about me coming over and helping you” is the opposite of disengaging.

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