Monthly Archives: November 2012

Like Swimming After Eating A Burrito: Dating Advice From The Wrong Side from In Our Words. There’s a lot of great, insightful stuff in here, but this is my favorite part of the piece:

“Are they a jerk to other people? They’re probably also a jerk to you.

I used to be one of those people who got off on having a boyfriend/girlfriend/ziefriend who was too cool to be nice to other people, like my friends, family members or pet. He had a leather jacket, perfectly tussled hair and was in a band. Who cared if they showed up to my family’s Friday night dinner or knocked on the door before he walked in. They were like Jess from Gilmore Girls or Sam from Clarissa Explains It All. They were too cool to bother with knocking or polite things like that. Did Sid Vicious knock? No, because knocking affirms capitalistic patriarchy. When you knock, the man can hear you.

But it turns out those little things like knowing your mother’s first name or not being an asshole to every single person you too interact with is helpful, because you don’t want everyone you know to vehemently disapprove of your relationship. It feels like you’re dating Charlie Sheen or the Unabomber. And most likely, if they’re not that nice to everyone else around you, they’re not that nice to you. It’s not that you’re special or different from everyone else. It’s that they hate the world, and that someday will include you.”

We often point out here that men’s emotions get treated as logic and truth, but women’s emotions get treated as proof that they are stupid and wrong. Please enjoy this piece by Jen Dziura at The Gloss, When Men Are Too Emotional To Have A Rational Argument, which separates this very bad and sexist cultural trope from the herd and wrestles it down like the weak gazelle of bullshit that it is. It’s very US-politics-media centered, but it’s using the recent election cycle as a case study in this:

“What I want to talk about is how emotional outbursts typically more associated with men (shouting, expressing anger openly) are given a pass in public discourse in a way that emotional outbursts typically more associated with women (crying, “getting upset”) are stigmatized.

I wish to dispel the notion that women are “more emotional.” I don’t think we are. I think that the emotions women stereotypically express are what men call “emotions,” and the emotions that men typically express are somehow considered by men to be something else.

This is incorrect. Anger? EMOTION. Hate? EMOTION. Resorting to violence? EMOTIONAL OUTBURST. An irrational need to be correct when all the evidence is against you? Pretty sure that’s an emotion. Resorting to shouting really loudly when you don’t like the other person’s point of view? That’s called “being too emotional to engage in a rational discussion.”

Not only do I think men are at least as emotional as women, I think that these stereotypically male emotions are more damaging to rational dialogue than are stereotypically female emotions. A hurt, crying person can still listen, think, and speak. A shouting, angry person? That person is crapping all over meaningful discourse.

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Happy weekend, world! I’ve got friends in town and am making the most of time with awesome people and Chicago food tourism. Hope you are all doing awesome stuff.

How great is this tip for dealing with people who invade your personal space? Since there’s no transcript at the link, I’ll tell you:

When someone comes up behind you and is too close, get visibly and audibly startled ( “Aaaah! Yikes!”) and move back. You want people to turn around and look at what’s happening. Then say “Wow, didn’t realize you were so close” or “Whoa, too close!” And let it be super awkward. Don’t apologize or smooth it over. Do it every single time until they get it. I would add: If it’s happening at work, document each time it happens and then report it to HR if they don’t get it. I would also add: Dear Tech Support Guy at My First Job After College, the way you always came up behind us and put your hands on our shoulders for unwanted backrubs when you had to fix our computers made us all hate you and I should have a) screamed and jumped out of my skin and b) reported you to HR for being fucking creepy and awful.

I’m putting today’s question behind a cut because of mentions of past abuse & sexual assault.

Dear Captain Awkward,

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Darth Vader beckoning to Luke in Empire Strikes Back.

“Everything’s more dramatic and exciting on the Dark Side of the Force!”

Before we dig into today’s letter, I really like this “Ask Polly” piece at The Awl, I Miss My Maniac Ex. The Maniac Ex is what we around these parts would call a Darth Vader boyfriend.

So you focus on that one magical night, in the middle of a sea of terrible nights, where he held your hand and treated you like a person and you drank too much and that awesome song was playing and you imagined, in that moment, that you two were destined to be together forever, and your whole life might be this good. Lucky for you, your whole life turned out even better than that, it just doesn’t feel like it because you’ve become acclimated to love the way you used to be acclimated to suffering. Those highs you miss are the sorts of highs that occur in a life mostly made up of lows.

There are plenty of different kinds of bad partners. A Darth Vader, to me, is one who strings you along with tiny bits of your heart’s desire at carefully controlled intervals. Not enough to actually sustain you, but enough to keep you hooked. Enough to make you abdicate everything you know about what’s good for you.

Her advice about how to refocus these pangs and get past it is quite good.

Today’s letter, the first to come into the new inbox, is also about exes and regretting the past.

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Kate has organized another meetup. Here are the details from her:

London meetup #1 was excellent, with about 15 people, and we nearly got thrown out of a library for being awesome too loudly.

So here’s London meetup #2.  This time on a weekend & in central London, by popular demand!

17th November, 11:00 am onwards, Leon restaurant, 36/38 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TT.


Leon have a variety of good food at very reasonable prices (soup, stew, meze, salads, cake, breakfasty stuff, etc.)  Menu here:

This branch has an accessible toilet, and I’ve made sure that the table I’ve reserved is on the ground floor.  (We’re in the back, apparently.)

I have long brown hair and glasses.  I will bring my plush Cthulhu to use as a table marker.  It looks like this:

My email address is kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com



Have the best time! And if you’d like to organize your own meetup, here are some suggestions for how to go about it.

Howdy Cap’n~

My mother had an affair and left my father for my former best friend and coworker, whom she met thru me and my job. This happened over a year ago, and I’m past the initial shock.. I came to realize I cannot change what happened, and that I can either stay angry about it forever or accept and try to help my self and the rest of my family by incorporating this new unwelcome person into my life.

My parents marriage had been unhappy for over a decade (not an excuse for her behavior), so them finally breaking up was a relief. I had been raised/trained to be the one that kept the arguments diffused, that kept us all laughing, that would try and keep a semblance of a happy family. I know now that was really unhealthy, but I did it since I was a pre-teen.

So it wasn’t the splitting up that hurt- It was the way it happened and the fact my mother asked me to cover it up when I found out (I did not). With the support of my wonderful husband, friends, and family, I became less angry. I have put up firm boundaries with mom. I’ve become a stronger person for it.

So I’m ok with it…For the most part.

But sometimes, when I’m out with her, and she starts to talk about wonderful X is to her, or he calls and gets all stupid sappy over him, I have this…massive two part rage towards them and her.

1) She hurt my family and he hurt his and they hurt each others so deeply, How can I just idly hang out with these people who hurt us all so much, never mind go to their house and eat dinner at their table?

2) I was my moms best friend (in an unhealthy way, I know that). If I suggest a girls day, she will suggest he comes along. She only invites me to lunch if he is out of town. Sometimes I just want time with my mom, and I can’t seem to make her understand that.

But then the rage simmers back down (Or i beat it with big stick, whichever) because I’m so tired of being angry. I’m so tired of feeling hurt over the whole fucking mess.

Am I a weak coward for this?


Retired Family Ref

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Dear Captain Awkward:

My dad’s health is declining- in the past three years he’s had a quadruple bypass, and is now on dialysis. My mom, who doesn’t have a big support network and who isn’t talkative about her feelings at the best of times, is running herself ragged keeping up with his doctors appointments, sorting out contradicting information regarding his medicines, researching what the doctors are telling him, and generally taking care of my dad and the house that they live in. I would like to give my mom as much support during this time as I can (I live 8 hours away, unfortunately, so giving physical support will be few and far between).

However, I find it really emotionally draining to talk to my mom these days because it’s a continuous conversation about what’s wrong with Dad, how the doctors are doing everything wrong, how Dad is in horrible health, and underlying all of it is the fact that I know my mom doesn’t really have anyone to help her mentally or physically throughout all of this. I’d like to be there for her as much as possible, but how can I do that when I find it takes me a day to get back to normal (as in, not bursting into tears every five minutes because I’m so worried about her and my dad) after I talk to her on the phone?

Alphakitty here.

First of all, let me say I’m so sorry you and your family are going through this. It happens to most of us sooner or later that someone in the circle of people we love develops severe health problems, and we watch someone else we love shoulder the crushing burden of being their primary caregiver. It hurts so much, and distance makes you feel helpless. If you’re like most of us, you honestly can’t up and move to take on some of the on-site caregiving, but you feel as guilty as if you had that option and were choosing not to use it.

And in your case, even if you manage to forgive yourself for not being able to be there more, you have a collision between what your mom is (implicitly) demanding of you even from afar and what you need to get through this yourself.

(Before I move on to the specifics of your situation, let me say that my mom is like your mom. She is horrible about asking for help; she’s much more comfortable with the role of help-er than help-ee. She doesn’t have much of a local support network, either. And together, we’ve been through my Dad’s sudden death about 14 years ago, and her best-friend-for-70-years’s death of cancer a couple of months ago. So yeah – I feel your vicarious pain.)

Anyway, the first thing I suggest is to figure out if there is any way you can lighten her load even from afar. If one of her burdens is researching drug compatibilities, can you take that on? Maybe ask her to e-mail you a list of his medications and let you know anytime one is added or changed, and you will talk to a pharmacist and/or do some research (like so many things, I think there are apps for this!) if there are issues. If she doesn’t have one and you/she can afford it, maybe get her a smartphone or small tablet with a calendar app that will make it easier for her to keep track of appointments? Maybe (again depending on the finances) see if you can pay for someone to come in and clean every couple of weeks, or do a once a month deep clean? Doing any of these things has both actual value and symbolic value (making her feel less alone).

Also, is there anything you can do to increase her local support network, like a friend or neighbor you could talk to about checking in on her periodically – in a deliberate way, rather than a casual catch-as-catch-can way? If your mom is now or ever has been active in a church*, and you think she’d be ok with it, can you talk to someone about them doing some outreach, giving her the support of their community? I’m not a church person myself, but one of the things churches are usually good at is being there for members of the congregation in times of trouble – and they generally don’t even care if you only became a member of the congregation because of that trouble. Even if she’s already going to services, if she’s doing the stiff upper lip thing, people might not know what she and your dad are going through. Call her local hospital or senior center and find out if there are support groups for caregivers. Or, if there’s a hope in hell she’d do it (mine wouldn’t), suggest that she get a therapist to talk to about what’s going on – both for her, and so she feels less desperate to unload by the time she gets to you.

Remember, too, the community where geography doesn’t matter: the Internet. Guide her to an online support group or blog for folks in her shoes (her own Captain Awkward!), or help her start her own. Her situation is so common, in the unlikely event it doesn’t exist there is surely demand for it.

When you do go visit, help her with household stuff without being asked. Leave some meals in the freezer. Do some of the tasks that used to be your Dad’s job but he can’t do anymore – if she’s like my mom, those tasks will particularly weigh on her.

And now (at last!) for you. First, you need to make sure she knows how distressed you are by what they’re going through. Sometimes, because you hold it together on the phone, the person who’s in the trenches imagines you going blithely along emotionally unscathed – like as soon as you hang up the phone they and their troubles wink out of your mind. My mom used to say “well, I should let you get back to [some relatively pleasant thing she imagined I’d be doing when I hung up].” And I’d be like, “Really? You figure I can just go la la la la la back to that after this phone call??” Without laying a guilt trip on her for making you sad, make sure she knows it bums you out to hear what they’re going through and it takes you a while to recover. Tell her, “I know you’re scared. I’m scared, too.”

Explain that for you to keep functioning in your day-to-day world (succeed as a student, keep/prosper in your job, be a decent spouse/parent, not suffer a mental health crisis…. whatever applies), you can’t have the full-scale everything-horrible-that’s-happening type phone calls all the time. That you absolutely do want to know how she and your dad are doing, but that you need her to tell you most of that stuff by e-mail, so you can read it at a time when you’re in a position to process it, and so that on your once a week (or whatever) phone call you can have room to talk about less emotionally charged (and exhausting) things.

Unfortunately, that’s all I’ve got. This is one of those times when what you need and what someone else needs directly conflict – and since the other person is your mother (with whom I gather you have a decent relationship) one of the things you need is to not feel like you’re letting her down. When that happens, all you can really do is (1) try to reduce the conflict (by addressing their needs or yours in ways that don’t conflict), (2) figure out what you can offer without doing violence to your own mental health, and (3) be as articulate as possible about what you can offer and what you need. The good thing is that because this is a mom with whom you have a decent relationship, you should assume that she does not want you to do violence to your mental health for her sake… so treat it like a partnership to get you both through this as whole and hale as possible.

And, of course, good luck with that.

* church/synagogue/mosque…