Monthly Archives: November 2012

Quick reminder, there’s a meetup in Seattle tonight! It was planned a while ago, so might have fallen off people’s radar. 

Hello Captain,

Would you mind boosting the Seattle meet-up announcement?

Today, November 27 at 6:30 pm, Foxipher Jones and myself will be
hosting a Seattle meet-up, this time at Wayward Coffeehouse (6417
Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115). We will be at the large table
with the stuffed Beholder on it (a funky blue eye-monster) and I hope
to bring copies of a drawing of a Komodo dragon in a chemistry lab for people to color (bring your own pencils). Bring crafts, bring
yourselves, bring board games if you’d like! Wayward has pastries
(including gluten-free ones usually), vegetarian sandwiches, and the
drinks you’d expect at a coffee shop. Hope to see you all there.

Thanks very much!



Also, the Women, Action, and the Media! auction went live today, and one of the things you can bid on is an awkward Skype or phone session with me. Go check out the slate of very, very cool things and raise money for a worthy cause.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 20-something who’s had a hell of a year. I was in an accident earlier this year and am still recuperating: I’ve had three major surgeries and have one more coming up. I just restarted therapy for childhood trauma, and I have moved several times this year due to bad roommate situations. I also have a full-time job as a social worker, specializing in personality disorders and trauma care for homeless adults. I feel like I am handling my life well, but my plate is very full!

One of the things that’s helped me get through this year is my amazing group of friends. I’m very social, and I really lucked out when I found this group of folks. They make me soup after surgery, they help me move, and they are generally really supportive. We frequently go out to bars for board games or casual drinking, host barbecues at our houses, and cook giant brunches.

Often, at these large gatherings, somebody will quietly say to me that they’re having a very hard time, or drop a hint that they’re struggling, or pull me aside in the bathroom and tell me about current problems they’re having. I clearly like being a support to people and have no problem having intense conversations one-on-one, but these occasions seem really inappropriately timed.

I’ve tried the obvious line of “Hey, I really do want to hear about Problem X, but I’m not able to give you my best advice right now. Can we talk about this on Friday over dinner?” While some folks have responded well, a few people have taken this to mean that I never want to talk about anything serious. Some have voiced that, as they have supported me after my accident, the “give and take” of our friendship is out of balance. Also, sometimes somebody will just corner me in the kitchen and start crying, and it seems inappropriate to defer talking to them then.

This problem has been going on for years. My friends sometimes joke that instead of sexy-time pheromones, I emit “TELL ME YOUR FEELINGS” pheromones. I really appreciate that I’m a person that people trust in crisis situations, but I need some time off! How can I better explain to my friends that, while I’m happy to have serious conversations at times, parties should be parties?

Thank you!
Girl, Overworked, Avoids Weird, Awkward Yakking


Do you even realize how awesome you are? You have indeed had a hell of a year! You are recovering from childhood trauma, a major accident, and ensuing surgeries; you are working full time in a job that (while I’m sure it’s rewarding, too) has to be emotionally exhausting; home has not been a sanctuary for you for much of that time, yet you are fully prepared to lend a compassionate ear to your friends’ troubles (without playing the one-upmanship, my-troubles-are-bigger-than-your-troubles game)… All you ask is to be able to relax and enjoy yourself at social gatherings, and to save your counseling sessions for other times. You rock! And to answer your unasked question: no, that should not be too much to ask.

The problem isn’t that you aren’t expressing yourself effectively, either. Not only are you setting a very reasonable boundary, you are articulating it pretty much perfectly: “I’d love to help, but I’m not really in the right frame of mind right now, so how about [specified time in the very near future], when I can give you the quality of attention you deserve?” That cannot reasonably be interpreted as a brush off – which is why your more reasonable friends are not giving you guff about it, they’re pulling out their calendars to set up that date and counting themselves lucky to have such a great friend.

No, the problem is that some of your friends’ brains are infected with Entitlement, so that when you say anything other than “Oh dear, you are feeling down? Nevermind how badly I needed to recharge my batteries, let’s find somewhere quiet so you can coopt my social occasion and turn it into a free therapy session!” what they hear is “I am a selfish jerk!”

It’s like the Nice Guy phenomenon: the way a Nice Guy tells the story, there you are, exuding sexy hotness, making him want you. He does nice stuff for you. He brings you soup when you’re recovering from surgery! He helps you move! He has earned some serious Tokens! Yet when he tries to cash them in for some of that sexy hotness, you tell him “Sorry, Tokens aren’t redeemable for sex!” which is totally unfair, means you are a selfish bitch, a user, blah blah blah.

The only difference is that in this case what you’re exuding is kindness, compassion, and professionally trained listening skills, rather than (or perhaps in addition to!) sexy hotness, and that’s what your friends are demanding a piece of. But you are not a Compassion vending machine any more than you are a sex vending machine. You need to be in the mood for that kind of thing, and to feel the connection. And you have a right to say “not right now” for no better reason than that you aren’t feeling it, or that you came to have fun. Going out in public while Kind is no more an invitation to be cornered in the hall for free therapy than going out in public while Female is an invitation to be groped.

(Note: I say “for free therapy” instead of just “to listen to their troubles” because I think part of what’s happening here is something doctors, nurses, lawyers, computer-professionals (and probably others) get all the time: people wanting them to provide professional services for free on personal time. Which is ok if it’s a VERY brief description of a problem requiring only an off-the-top-of-the-head answer, not so ok if it goes on and on.)

Which means the real question is not “what do I say?’ but “How can I enforce this boundary better against the ones who are giving me guff without them getting hurt or mad?” and as always, since that’s about trying to manage their emotions, trying to make them be satisfied with what you are willing to offer when it’s less than what they want, the answer may be that you can’t. You have to know that.

Then again, because there’s at least a chance your friends are not doing the Nice Guy thing on purpose (though yeah, some friends do “kindnesses” to create indebtedness, too), here are a few things worth trying:

(1) Go with the repetition thing. Perfect your preferred wording for the “this is not a good time” mantra, and repeat it pretty much verbatim. It will highlight your willingness to help, and that they are being boorish by insisting you do it this very instant. Feel ok with being increasingly curt about it; people don’t deserve the same level of courtesy when they make you say the same thing over and over.

(2) Try toning down your awesome (especially with the friends who burst into tears and fling themselves at you, or who drop hints about how they’re struggling). Just because you are capable of being the World’s Best Listener doesn’t mean you have to do it every time. It’s all right to “not notice” every plea for attention, or to listen a little, say some “wow, that sucks,” offer to go to the bathroom with them while they splash water on their face, then offer to find their ride (or public-transit buddy)/call a cab, or fob them off on someone who’s closer to them than you are. You are not the only nice person in your circle of friends; someone else can carry the ball sometimes.

(3) With those who explicitly invoke the “I have been there for you, you oooooowe me!” try a little consciousness-raising. “I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me, and I want to be as good a friend to you as you’ve been to me, but I don’t think you realize what you’re asking of me. My job is about listening compassionately to people in very difficult situations, trying to help them find solutions; that’s what I do all day. As rewarding as that is, it is also really emotionally draining. One of the reasons I socialize as much as I do is that I need to recharge my batteries doing stuff that’s just plain fun! That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to listen to your problems – but it does mean that I need that not to be at the expense of the social occasions. That’s like unplugging my phone when it’s at 2% and plugging yours in, when this is my only time to charge it!”

(4) If they keep pushing, hold up a mirror: “Are you saying that if I’m not willing to stop in the middle of a party to give you my undivided attention it makes you wish you had not brought me soup?” “Are you saying that if I won’t give you what you want the second you want it I’m a jerk? Because I’ve been pretty clear I’m willing to listen, just not this instant!”

(5) Work on not feeling guilty. If you try all this stuff and they’re still disgruntled, the problem really is 100% theirs. Don’t let them try to shove it off on you, like the bill for stuff you didn’t order. Their bad feelings are not your responsibility.

Good luck with that,


A Pi Pie: A pie with the pi symbol baked into the crust on top.

Fantastic Pi Pie photo by Paul Adam Smith on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. P.S. The Letter Writer is allowed to eat this if s/he wants to.

As of 11/29/2012, comments on this entry are closed.

Hi Captain!

I’ve had type 1 diabetes for nearly my whole life (18 years), and I’ve graduated college and moved away from home. As I’m very open about having T1D, I’m often asked about what diabetes is, what the difference is between type 1 and 2 (PSA: they are not the same at all, T1D is autoimmune, Type 2 is much more common and is not), and whether or not I can eat that.

As I have recently moved away from all my usual support, I’ve been dealing with some major Diabetes Burnout. I’ve found a few things that help me cope, but am always open for suggestions (yes I’m looking into therapy and support groups). But my real issue lies in how to deal with the very well-intentioned people who ask invasive questions (normally I enjoy answering them and educating people about diabetes), make assumptions about what I can and cannot eat (anything I please, thankyouverymuch!), compare me to their 80 year old grandpa with type 2/their friend’s college roommate who had it (which OBVIOUSLY means they know everything there is to know about T1D), or freak out if I’m having an issue. At this point in my life, I don’t feel up to patiently explaining things the way I usually do, and the way people freak out if something happens makes it hard/impossible to tell people I’m having an issue and need a minute/a snack/to wear my glasses /pee every 20 minutes/etc, which, in turn, fuels the burnout.

Any advice on how to get people to not freak out and stop attempting to be so very helpful without me first asking for help? I really don’t want to be rude to them, they just don’t know much about T1D, as it is very rare and the treatments have radically changed in the last 15 years.


I’m so sorry that I didn’t get around to this before the U.S.A.’s National Day of Eating, and I apologize if you had to do another round of Yes-I-Can-So-Have-Some-Pie with Auntie Helpful last week.

I think the world would be a better place if we stuck to one acceptable way of commenting on what is on a fellow adult’s plate. That way is “That looks delicious” + some variation of “Where did you get it/how did you make it/does it taste as good as it looks/smells/Is it like this other thing that is also delicious?

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People are always telling me I could be attractive if I wanted to, and I acknowledge the truth of this – thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t care about my appearance beyond being clean and presentable. I’m not interested in putting more effort in just to please other people, and I’m perfectly comfortable looking like the slightly androgynous weirdo I am.

But it seems like I’m the only person comfortable with it. Friends and family friends and stepfamily I have to tolerate are constantly threatening me with makeovers and wheedling me to wear makeup or dress more feminine or switch to contact lenses. It makes me dread being around them. I tried doing the “pretty girl” thing once, felt like a fake the entire time, and got weirded out by the extra attention. I don’t WANT random dudes hitting on me – NO, EVEN IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS. MAYBE ESPECIALLY IF THEY ARE BUYING ME THINGS – but these, er, “friends” never accept this, and seem to take my stance as a personal attack. It gets extremely tiresome. Can we please just play Apples to Apples and not debate about my wardrobe? Just once?

So, some of these people I could feasibly break contact with. Am I justified in doing so (or is there some magic explanation that will get them off my case)? And as for the ones I still have to deal with for the foreseeable future, is there any way I can get them to drop the subject without giving them room to launch into their usual bullshit tirades about how society would implode without rigid gender roles and women looking nice for their man?

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Darth Vader pointing at Princess Leia with text "MY FINGER. Pull it."

Darth Vader: Not really that fun at parties.

Ahoy Captain!

My boyfriend grew up around people whom he describes as ‘hateful and angry,’ who would call you [insert slur] if you pointed out their racism and misogyny. Later, he fell in with some really scary addicts. When I met him, the hard drugs and more violent people were gone, but he’s still friends with the non-violent ones.

My problem: Boyfriend’s BFF, ‘Jerkface.’ In no particular order:

1) He’s racist.

2) He’s fat-phobic.

3) He hates anyone who’s not an atheist.

4) He’s sexist. When I call him out for telling rape jokes, he says I’m overreacting. 

5) He mansplains. A friend once told him “Don’t be so condescending,” and pushed him through a window. Bystanders shrugged and said, “To be fair, he is really condescending.”

6) He used to hit on me constantly, in front of Boyfriend. He’d angrily mention how he called dibs on me, tell obscene jokes about me, ask me out, and lie about hooking up with me.

7) He encourages Boyfriend to drink WAY too much.

Much of this happens when Boyfriend is drunk, and he (a) does nothing and (b) doesn’t remember anything afterwards. Many people avoid Jerkface whenever possible; one even asked, “How does he get invited places if no one likes him?” I’m afraid people will assume Boyfriend is also a horrible person and avoid us too.

I confronted Boyfriend, and he acknowledges that Jerkface is a bigot, but says he’s just a product of their environment. If they were to meet for the first time today, he wouldn’t become friends with Jerkface, but they’ve been friends for 15 years and he’s like family.

However, Boyfriend also said he wants to be an ally. He’s been very receptive to the reading material I’ve given him. I told him I don’t want to be around Jerkface, and if Boyfriend wants to be with me, he needs to go to counseling and learn to confront Jerkface and his ilk.

Consequently, I haven’t seen Jerkface in months, Boyfriend spends much less time with him, and drinks much less. However, Boyfriend has admitted that he still can’t find the words to confront Jerkface because he’s worried about derails, like “You didn’t mind before” or “Girlfriend is just like Yoko Ono.”

Our relationship depends on Boyfriend’s either African Violet-ing the asshole or learning how to tell him off. So,

1) Can you suggest a script my boyfriend can use to talk to Jerkface?

2) Jerkface is engaged, and Boyfriend will be their Best Man. I don’t know if I’ll go to the wedding. I don’t want to cause stress on their big day, or put Boyfriend in the middle. What do you think?

Thanks so much!

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a dilemma that I suspect is quite common, but I’m still running into mental roadblocks as to how to properly approach it. Background: I’m a lesbian and a big-eff Feminist working in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated company. I’ve worked marketing, event planning and PR for rape crisis centres, and volunteer on rape crisis support lines. I know a lot about anti-oppression and actively work on acknowledging my privilege and on calling people out when they’re being oppressive asshats. Except that’s not what I want to do at work. At work, I wanna focus on my interesting tech stuff and not feel I have to educate my boss and coworkers on racism and why and how they’re being fucking offensive.

My boss is a young-ish, laid-back, former hippy who’s travelled all over the world and loves to talk and thinks he knows everything about everything. A nice enough guy, but these topics he brings up at work are raising my blood pressure. And it doesn’t help I have 3 male coworkers who fall easily into the conservative end of the spectrum, so I’ve got no backup there. The lot of them could talk until they run out of breath, not really caring if they have a lick of knowledge about the subject. I mostly keep my mouth shut when he brings up touchy subjects, because I cannot be bothered to try to get into convos with people who won’t change their minds, have no investment in the topic, and will keep talking until I give up bc I’ve got other shit to do and my face is red and I just want them to STFU.

So, the question in all this, is how do I draft a nice, calm email to my boss about work-appropriate conversations and how his oft-racist verbal meanderings are contributing to a hostile workplace for me? I don’t wanna quit my job, I don’t want to go over his head to HR if I don’t have to, and I don’t want to be “the one who caused a scene” b.c., oh yeah, he’s also a huge gossip. Help?


Damsel in de tech

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