It Came From The Search Terms: The Lusty Month of May

It’s time for the monthly-ish post where we answer the things that people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

1. “Captain Awkward help my boyfriend keeps trying to optimise me.

Eff that dude. He’s not your Pygmalion and you are not a project.

2. “How should you act when you see your former affair and his wife in public?”

Give him a “hey, ‘sup bro?” nod and keep on walking/don’t stop to talk to them. You’re not going to be successful at pretending you don’t know him (hence the nod), but let him be the one to scramble for explanations about how y’all know each other. If you don’t engage at all it makes it less likely that you’ll have to lie to some poor woman’s face.

Clint Eastwood nodding like a bro.

3. “How do I tell my husband I’m sick of him playing games on his phone?”

Text him?

In all seriousness, I think it’s a good idea to make mealtimes and certain other times gadget/screen free, and I think you can ask him outright. to do that.

4. “What to do when your boyfriend’s ex wants him back.”

Ignore the ex to the extent that you can and don’t engage with them if you can help it. In my experience, this is almost always a partner problem more than it is an ex problem, as in, the ex can want all they want, but how your partner treats you is everything.

5. “What to do when every time I go out side my neighbour tells me all her troubles.” 

Awkward. Give it like, 2 minutes, and then deploy some scripts:

1) “Hey, good to see you, but I actually don’t have time to talk today.”

2) “Hey, nice to see you, but I came out here to get a bit of quiet. We can catch up another time, maybe.

3) If you’re like me, and you always carry a book, “Hi! I’m in a really exciting part of my book and I’ve been waiting all day to read it. I’ll have to catch up with you another time, thanks.” Pull out book.

Your neighbor will likely never get the hint, so you’ll have to ask. Prepare for sighing and harrumphing. If she makes a big show of avoiding you, be magnanimous – you’ve won! If she gives you some space, once a week, maybe just hang out with her for 10 minutes and ask about her day to show her that boundaries don’t mean y’all are enemies. If she doesn’t give you space, get more terse. “When I said I wasn’t in the mood to talk, I really meant it. Good night!”

6. “All our neighbors don’t talk to us.”

Maybe your neighbors just aren’t your people*? Try finding friends and a social life elsewhere?

My other question is, do you talk to them? Could you find the friendliest-seeming person and bake them a cake or something to break the ice? Give it some time and see if it gets better.

*”Aren’t your people” *could* mean “you have unwittingly moved to a racist, homophobic, and sexist hellscape.” Sorry, that’s a real thing, and it sucks.

7. “Just because he’s my boss should he not act on his feelings about me?”

Pretty much, bosses should not try to date or seduce or romance their employees and should look to, I dunno, literally anyone else.

8. “4 dates means he must like me.”

Sadly, that’s not a guarantee, though the possibility is there. In a new dating relationship, look to the present tense. What are things like between you now? Does he demonstrate that he likes you? Do you like him? Is it easy to make plans?

9. “He’s ignoring my Facebook messages.”

Stop sending Facebook messages and see if he contacts you.

10. “How to know if a girl loves you secretly from long distance?”

Ask her? She has the universe’s sole monopoly on the information you want.

11. “iamabeautifulperson.”

Fuck yeah!

12. “What does it mean when a boy suddenly message me saying sorry to be blunt but do you like me yes or no.”

Most likely explanation: 1) The boy likes you and is trying to make it known 2) Y’all are in middle school.

You don’t have to answer right away if you need time to make up your mind. “I’m thinking about it. Why do you want to know?” is a perfectly good answer.

13. “Having trouble accepting that my adult married daughter is gay.”

The best thing you can do is to realize that she was always gay there was always the possibility that she would be gay. It’s a fact, not something that needs your acceptance in order to be true, but if you want to keep having a relationship with her you need to do the work. Please be a good person about this, educate yourself, tell your daughter you love her, and don’t make her sexuality an issue between the two of you.

14. “A guy told me my messages creep him out what does that mean.”

Bluntly: Stop sending that guy messages. He doesn’t like them.

15. “Comebacks for people gaslighting you.”

In my estimation, no one is topping this lady who figured out her boyfriend was gaslighting her and then made him watch Gaslight. My heroine.

The key with gaslighters is not comebacks, it’s to get yourself out of proximity to them and in proximity to good people who treat you well.

16. “My boyfriend wants to move in together but I don’t.”

Listen to and believe that voice that is telling you that you don’t want to live with him. Maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him yet, maybe it’s that you don’t want to live with him ever, maybe there is a fixable problem that you can work on together, and maybe it’s not fixable. Whatever it is, sit with it quietly, write about it, talk to trusted people about it, talk to your boyfriend about it, but don’t discount it.

17. “He’s mean to me, rude to me and doesn’t care about my feelings. What does it mean?”

A sign that says

It means: Get this dude out of your life forever.

Monty Python & the Holy Grail: Run away! Run away!

196 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: The Lusty Month of May

  1. For #5, I would sometimes give it 2 minutes before deploying the scripts, but other times I would give it way less. I find that I have a much harder time getting out of a conversation that has already started than stopping a conversation before it starts. Which is not to say that it’s easy to stop a conversation before it starts, but in my experience, with some people, a 2 minute conversation is automatically a half-hour conversation.

  2. In reference to #5: Yep. I have one of those. It’s not her troubles, exactly, it’s her racist, classist, hate filled opinions. She finds one house on the block, fixates on its residents, and goes to social war on their habits, clothing, guests, anything she can dredge up. She believes it’s her job to publicly shame anyone who has sex or uses drugs. It’s her way of dominating the environment.
    I hide inside a lot. I also wear headphones and listen to music when I go outside to pull weeds or dry laundry, but I don’t feel like I can sit outside and read or relax.
    I’ll definitely use the scripts you mentioned. Thanks for posting this!

    1. Oooof, that’s toxic. I feel for you. I feel like we all have one of those neighbors/uncles/coworkers, etc., but when you’re in a situation where you have to hide inside, it’s waaaaay past the point of being okay.

      It is a truth universally acknowledged that people who position themselves as bastions of morality and truth have no qualms about violating the social contract while being VERY nitpicky about your own behavior if you engage with them. Being outright rude to their face = giving them ammunition. That only feeds them.

      Is there any way you could be strategically rude to her while staying within social norms and aggressively maintaining your “I’m a decent person” face?

      Maybe give her the southern “bless your heart”, or tell her “you have absolutely nothing better to do at this very minute, don’t you?” with your brightest smile and politest head tilt. That might a) shock her speechless, and b) show her you’re not a passive victim.

  3. With regards to #13, you can not accept that your daughter is gay, but that’s gonna cause problems and you’ll see her a lot less. I know it can get tangly because there are past relationships and actions and events that don’t seem gay, and maybe they’re tripping you up. (So many people around me will forever see me as straight, because my last relationship was hetero and I was in it for six years. I’m able to be ‘whatever’ about it, but if they’re not taking my current relationship seriously then they get slow faded.) Just accept that this is what’s going on with her now, and probably always was, and probably always will. Try to go with the flow on this one. You don’t have to understand it, but accepting it is probably going to be pretty key to your daughter.

  4. Re #9: Have you tried contacting him on a medium other than Facebook? Some people don’t really use Facebook, some people have notifications turned off, and sometimes Facebook just shuffles messages off into their spam folder for unknowable reasons.

    If he’s unresponsive on other mediums, then stop contacting the dude until he reciprocates your interest.

    1. I was casually seeing a guy and slowly but surely he stopped initiating conversations with me. I noticed and decided i wouldn’t contact him in any way whatsoever until he contacted me first. An entire year later he sends me a Happy Birthday message. Nothing else. Sometimes you just have to walk away.

      1. Thank you! There’s this guy I was talking to and he hasn’t reacted to my last WhatsApp message from two weeks ago and a Facebook message from a week later. I’ve failed at the “not texting until he texts me first” a few times, but this time I’m really trying to stick to it.

        1. I made a point of finding lots of things to do to distract myself which helped, that and reminding myself that I deserved better than I was getting.

          1. I’m about to move and work full-time, so keeping busy isn’t difficult at the moment. It’s the “I deserve better” part that keeps slipping my mind on occasion =/

    2. Yeah fb sends a lot of spam notifs that make you ignore notifs, deprioritize them or turn them off. I’d try one time by another medium and then quit if there’s no response

    3. Only if HE has given you another medium to contact him via. Do not snoop him out elsewhere if he hasn’t given you that information, do not ask mutual friends to do the contacting for you.

      1. Very true! I assumed this was a situation where the writer knew the person they were trying to contact pretty well, but that might not be correct.

        I’m just usually skeptical of using Facebook as a means of communication because I almost never get the messages people try to send me on there.

        1. And you have to be careful of the FB Messenger app because using it allows FB access to a lot of data on your phone, like your photos. I am just not comfortable with that kind of unnecessary access, so I can only check my messages on my computer.

          That being said, I am one of those people who you should really not contact via FB if you want a prompt response – but if you do not get one within a week, it is because I am not planning to respond. (And the reason I don’t respond is likely the reason I did not give you any other way to contact me either.) So my vote is like Jennifer to just leave him alone and let him contact you, LW!

  5. No 6 – I don’t talk to people I don’t know. That means I don’t talk to my neighbours. Sometimes I don’t even talk to people I do know. Perhaps you have moved in to a street of introverts? In my mind proximity =/= reason to talk to somebody. I agree with Cap’s suggestion of find a social life elsewhere.

    The thought of somebody turning up on my doorstep all smiles and “Hiiiiiiiiiiii!” with cake… Creepy! I would be seriously concerned they were evangelists for something. Also lots of food issues in my house so food = bad present.

    No 15 – that reddit is *awesome*. I love it! And so proud of the OP for her awesome kicking-out-creepy-manipulator skills.

    1. Yeah, the showing up with food is cultural shorthand for “Can I politely meet you and learn a bit about you so we could maybe try being friends!?” in a lot of parts of North America, but your mileage may definitely vary so tread lightly. I get the desire to have a relationship with people you life in close proximity too (a lot of people buy houses with dreams of borrowing cups of sugar and the kids all being playmates and neighbourhood barbecues etc.) and a few attempts to engage are brave! Go you! But it’s important to respect that friendship is not a single player game, and sometimes player two puts the controller down to go read/paint/be in a room by themselves that you are not in.

    2. No 6, I only talk to one neighbor, and that’s because we bum cigarettes from each other and bond over our time in the Army. And the other neighbor with the dog who our dogs play with. The rest of them? I don’t even know who they are. I met those two neighbors because I go outside to smoke and/or read, and then I just struck up conversations. (Although I live in a cul-de-sac of townhouses, so we’re super close together.) You could always have dinner parties, if you want to meet neighbors. Maybe make little notes inviting them over for snacks, then put them in the neighbor’s mailbox, or hand them to them if you ever see them in person? I’ve heard that’s a good idea. “Hey, we wanted to get to know our neighbors, so would you like to come over for cake and coffee?”

    3. Could another option be ‘hi Neighbor! We are going to [community event]! Are you planning to go?” Lots of leeway there for a soft no, and no uncomfortable “oh what a lovely cake but we’re lactose intolerant” awkwardness.

  6. Ugh number 5…the book won’t work, although, you can try. 🙂 The neighbour will be all “what are you reading? Is it good? Explain science fiction to me, a person who thinks that genre is ridiculous! I’m also reading some books, they changed my life let me loan you everything ever written by Ayn Rand and then ask you about it every time I see you! That book you’re reading reminds me of this unrelated thing let me talk about it for half an hour!” Heh. You may have to be direct. :-/

    1. Honestly, I’m a big fan of just saying, “Sorry, but I can’t talk right now.” No explanation, nothing they can weasel out of. Just, nope, not talking. It does help if you have something obviously distracting–trowel + ipod, book, book + sunscreen + you in a bikini/swimsuit, on your way to tan on your deck chair. If you think the neighbor will get huffy, you can carve out time to talk to them occasionally but then avoid/ignore them the rest of the time.

  7. #15!

    I only wish I could be half that clever and savvy under those circumstances. Making him watch Gaslight was awesome, but pretending she didn’t have any idea what he was talking about with the book was also amazing. It’s like he set a trap, and instead of taking the bait, she constructed her own trap around his, using the same bait.

    1. Right? What an awesome story! (Although obviously not awesome that she went through this but she handled this fantastically. A true hero indeed.)

    2. Right?? The real brilliance was the book trap, Gaslight was the icing on the cake. It was “revenge is a dish best served cold” at its finest.

      That being said, though, holy hell did that dude make my skin crawl. The more details she added about the shit he pulled during their relationship, the creepier it got. Sneaking onto her Facebook and changing her relationship status? Hiding things that specifically related to her going out to see family and friends?? Stealing a key to her parents’ house?!?! KLAXONS. SO MANY DEAFENING KLAXONS.

  8. That link in your answer to #15 about the lady who trounced her gaslighting boyfriend is great! I kind of wonder if it’s a true story, but I hope it is.

    1. That was fantastic! I never read redit, but I went and read that post, as well as the original. The best way to deal with gaslighting ever–making him watch the movie and then kicking him to the curb. Take that, Darth!

    2. There’s a subreddit called nosleep with supposedly true scary stories. The rule is “Everything is true, even if it isn’t.” So if someone posts a story about how their child is possessed by a demon, all responses are supposed to treat the story as fact even if the situation clearly isn’t true. I approach most of reddit like that. Even if it’s unbelievable. I treat it as true. But I do think this one has a good chance of being true.

  9. Re number 15 and the gaslighting. I’m pretty much convinced that the only person who can be around a serial, persistent gaslighter is a super confident psychopath who is immune to other people’s opinions and 100% sure of their own reality. Because that stuff seeps into your brain even if you know what they’re doing. Because reasonable people are aware that they make mistakes sometimes, and are willing to entertain the idea that they’re wrong, and since gaslighters lie about what happened in the past you’ll still be wondering if sometimes it’s you and you’re just remembering wrong. Even the act of arguing against a gaslighter all the time makes you doubt yourself – having to constantly defend your own sanity and reasonableness plants doubts in your mind. And telling you you’re unreasonable and deluded is a good way to yank your chain and start an argument. And also it’s just really wearing. Basically it’s just not worth it and it still works to some extent even if you know what they’re doing.

    From what I’ve read, someone who *physically* gaslights you, like actually hides stuff or literally changes the lights or moves the furniture around in order to make you doubt your perceptions of reality, is probably actually genuinely really dangerous. It’s a red flag for really serious abuse, and is something you should flee immediately. Because the verbal stuff, while insidious and bad and toxic, is something people can do without really consciously deciding to do it, and it something most people have done once or twice in a bad moment (it’s persistent gaslighting that’s the really toxic problem) – the physical stuff is a plan. A deliberate, calculated plan to drive you nuts (literally). That person has specifically decided to mess you up – they’re not just flailing around using maladaptive conflict resolution techniques, they’re trying to hurt you.

    1. I read those comments on reddit clenching my teeth in frustration at all the people using crazy and psychopathic to mean abusive, but I cheered myself up thinking no one on Captain Awkward would imply mentally ill people are the sole perpetrators/magically immune to abuse rather than frequent victims. Yet here we are. Really?

      1. I would like to avoid using ableist language – can you point out where you think I’ve done so? I’ve reread my comment a couple times and I can’t see where I’ve used psychopath or crazy as shorthand for abusive, or to refer to abusers at all.

        To clarify, I use the word psychopath in my comment in the literal sense, of someone who lacks empathy and concern for the opinions of others, because I do believe you would need to have a pretty extreme set of character traits, probably amounting to a personality disorder, to be immune to gaslighting. I was referring to a hypothetical *victim* of gaslighting who could shrug off that kind of abuse.

        Or rereading my comment maybe you’re referring to my use of “nuts” where again I’m referring to the consequences for the victim of gaslighting, who has someone in their life trying to make them doubt their own sanity and perception of reality. I can see how that term might be considered offensive in and of itself – I apologise if that’s the case.

        1. Reading the history of the words psychopath and sociopath, they have both historically been used for a variety of disorders, from general descriptors of all persons with mental illness, to people who “inexplicably” make choices that are not socially approved, to people with personality disorders and autism. Which is to say: these are not words with specific or uncontested meanings, and they carry a lot of cultural baggage.

          While I feel in more socially progressive circles these two words have often been used to indicate the typology of a specific kind of evil and manipulative personality, I don’t think it’s a safe to assume that the average audience is going to hear either word and not conflate it more generally with “people who have mental illness” (which is, to my understanding, the issue with using “crazy” or “insane” as negative modifiers.)

          I am probably a little oversensitive, as one of the diagnoses that has been suggested for me is BPD, which is one of the disorders that is often conflated with psychopathy or sociopathy.

          It’s clunky, but I think it’s much safer and clearer to use “person without empathy” if that’s what you mean.

          1. Thinking about this more there is absolutely a lot of confusion about what the word psychopath means and it is conflated with mental illness in general in popular understanding. You are correct and I will avoid using it in future, especially when I could easily rephrase. Honestly I do have a lot of empathy for this particular social cause, as a sufferer of depression myself and having a close friend with a pretty extreme anxiety disorder I should know better. And yeah, BPD gets lumped in with NPD and heavily stigmatised in popular media. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. 😦

      2. Oh also, I do not think mental illness makes anyone magically immune to abuse. You are absolutely correct that the mentally ill are more frequently the victims of abuse. I can see how I have implied that, with my comment that you would have to have a clinical lack of empathy and concern with social consequences to shrug off gaslighting – for that I apologise. While I’m using psychopath in a fairly specific way, it’s not necessary to convey my meaning and I can see that it could be easily misread as a reference to general mental illness.

        1. “Crazy” as used in everyday speech is mostly not meant to mean people who actually have a mental illness, but people who do something very, very socially inacceptable. I don’t think anyone actually thinks that guy was not fully aware of what he was doing. The origin of “crazy” as insult is problematic to say the least, but I think most people are aware that the boyfriend was just an asshole. Though yes, there IS a problem with the perception of evil people as “insane” when they are just … evil.

          Regarding the dangerousness of a gaslighter … I admit, I would not confront him. I would get him out of the flat – or myself out of his flat – and break up only after I changed the locks. Or possibly moved elsewhere.
          I am in favour of treating abusive people like police treats a lonely suitcase on the platform: As if they were a ticking bomb. Maybe they aren’t, and most of the suitcases who are forgotten by their owners only have dirty laundry in them, but the risk is too high.

          Still, I do admire what she did by intentionally ignoring his gaslighting.

          1. sellmaeth, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you — I don’t believe most people realize at all that evil behavior is not a direct result of mental illness. After nearly any act of violence perpetrated by a certain kind of “sympathetic” character (the killings by Elliot Rodger come to mind — not sympathetic at all to my mind, but judging by the number of apologists that spontaneously appeared, there must have been SOMETHING) there are hundreds if not thousands of people who pop up to explain how the violence was CAUSED by that person’s mental condition or illness — because that’s really what you’re saying when you say that “so-and-so had [a mental illness or atypical neurology], they COULD NOT HELP THEMSELVES.”

            That’s an exaggerated case, but I literally cannot count the number of times when I have heard “she’s bipolar” or “he’s messed up” as explanations for someone’s bad behavior. I expect the majority of my acquaintance (thought not the majority of the friends, thank goodness) really do believe that mental illness causes people to be bad people, and therefore “socially unexceptable behavior –> mentally ill” is a safe assumption to make.

          2. I agree with Jane, below. I was a longtime casual user of “crazy” (and I have a mental illness, so, if *I* was okay with it and understood the difference, then it must be okay, right?). Many people do NOT understand this difference. Take a gander here, and remember, Reddit communities have a different commenting policy than we do and a lot of stuff that flies there doesn’t here.

          3. To me it looks like Anisoptera’s comment avoided the evil=crazy conflation, but I’m with Jane and the Captain in calling that conflation a big problem when it happens. In addition to stigmatizing mental illness, it can backfire in the other direction–causing mentally healthy people to be diagnosed with mental illness just because they’re weird and/or behaving badly.

            I went through a long period of being paranoid, obnoxious, and emotionally volatile. In retrospect, I realize that this was in large measure because I’d been psychologically abused…by the same person who recommended I enter therapy…with a therapist who used to work for them…long story, complete with gaslighting, and I’m so jealous of that awe-inspiring reddit poster right now. Anyway, since no one realized what was really happening, I stayed stressed out and eventually ended up on lithium. Then later I did the thing of being all, “Hey, people I was mean to–guess what? I’m just bipolar! Sorry about that!” Hugely mortifying to remember, but I sincerely believed at the time that that explained my situation.

            Now I know better. I also discovered that I’m not bipolar, that those health care professionals (especially the one who had worked for my abuser) were way out of line, and that I took a high dose of a toxic drug I didn’t need for almost five years. It also meant that the abusive situation continued LONG past the time when I should have left it because everything was “explained” by my mental illness. Which was probably just what my abuser wanted to happen.

            I also learned that just being viewed as if I were mentally ill caused symptoms of mental illness. It made me more likely to act in stereotypically “crazy” ways because of the expectation bias: I myself believed I was chemically prone to it, and that combined with the abuse was more than enough to make me situationally depressed.

            So yeah, evil doesn’t imply crazy; crazy doesn’t imply evil; and conflating the two, well-intendedly or otherwise, can feed right into the hands of gaslighters and even create mental illness where it didn’t exist before. So verbal caution in these situations is very well-advised.

          4. > I am in favour of treating abusive people like police treats a lonely suitcase on the platform:

            By destroying them in a controlled explosion?

            Joking, but I agree with you. Abusive people are dangerous because they start small and gradually escalate. If, one the first date, someone verbally abused you, hit you for talking to the waiter “too much,” destroyed your possessions, and refused to let you leave their car until they were ready, very, very few people would go on a second date. Instead, the abusive partner starts small and things gradually get worse and if someone is being abusive in even relatively minor way (like the Reddit poster’s boyfriend), you really have no idea of exactly how far they’ll go. So I think that getting out of the relationship safely trumps getting revenge or understanding the behavior.

        2. Hi! I’m one of those people with a personality disorder and no capacity for empathy that you’re talking about. I also have an abusive mother who engages in a lot of gas lighting.

          While I understand where you’re coming from, I regret to inform you that lack of empathy is not a very effective shield against abuse. I certainly was on to her bullshit at a very young age (I don’t recall, for example, ever thinking my mother was infallible or that she loved me) but creating a support network for myself who could back up my understanding of events.

          1. P.S. I ‘oopsed’ a few words at the end there. Meant to say that creating a support network for myself was much more effective in handling gas lighting than having a personality disorder.

          2. I apologise for my comment and lack of understanding on that issue. I don’t actually think that having a disorder is the way out of gaslighting, I suppose I was using ill chosen hyperbole to say that I find it hard to imagine many people could easily deal with being exposed to gaslighting even if they could see it for what it is. In future I will avoid unnecessarily bringing mental illness into discussions where it has no place. 😦

          3. I’ve never before encountered someone who openly admitted to being incapable of empathy. What’s that like? Are you able to feel for yourself but not others? Did / do you feel empathy for the people who comprised the support network you described? Are you able to discern when people are emotionally hurt? I apologise for the stupid questions, but I am truly fascinated. I am dealing with family members who are not as self-aware as you seem to be, and I wonder about their emotional lives.

          4. Comments won’t nest any further, so I’ll reply to myself…

            Anisoptera: No worries. I appreciate that you’ve reflected on it.

            kitchenchantress: Well, it’s not usually something I’m open about in public, but I’m mostly anonymous here. I’ll try to answer your questions, but the answers are not very simple unfortunately and I can’t vouch that your family members experience things the same way I do.

            I think it’s important to separate the concepts of empathy and sympathy. I do recognize when another person is in pain (physical or emotional) but I don’t care on an emotional level; it doesn’t make me feel anything. Depending on the person, it can make me very annoyed to see them in pain or to see them express other emotions. I expect other people to feel the same, and get extremely annoyed and tend to snap at people (something I’m working on) if they ask me if I’m alright, especially after I injure myself.
            I care a lot about the few people I’m close to, but that doesn’t involve empathy. It involves enjoying their company and trusting them. I am often concerned about the fact that I can’t offer my sister any typical support when she is upset and I worry that she doesn’t feel appreciated because thankfulness is also beyond the range of emotions I have so I need to find ways to deliberately express my appreciation for her, but I worry about these things because I am afraid of the consequences (I.e. Her not wanting to be around me or provide me support).

            My emotional involvement with myself is very, I think the word is, underdeveloped. I have a general disregard for my emotional state up until some key emotional needs are not being met, and then I basically throw a fit and lash out at people until they are met again. (This doesn’t happen often any more since I have worked on identifying my needs and fulfilling them myself rather than relying on other people to anticipate and fulfill them for me)
            People who are just casual acquaintances tend to think of me as a nice, kind, and giving person because I engage in kind and generous behaviors because it makes me happy for others to see me that way. I don’t think of myself as nice or kind and I imagine I am probably a rough spot in the lives of the people I’m very close to although they’ve expressed otherwise.

          5. Eergh, sorry if my comment above is not very coherent. I’m still learning to type on my new phone and the screen is smaller than I’m used to. I hope it answers your questions, anyway.

          6. Thank you for replying, Anonymous. I really appreciate your insights. And you’re right, it was silly of me to think I could extrapolate your experiences onto those of my relatives. I usually am not so jerk-brained, but I was just feeling so utterly baffled by their behaviour that desperation overcame my normal logic. I think this means I need to go and bake something. 😉

          7. On that note, in DSM-V, psychopathy and sociopathy (idk if they’re actually different) got folded into Antisocial Personality Disorder. Now, to get a diagnosis of APD, you also had to have had a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder before age 18……. which is linked extremely heavily to severe child abuse. So I try not to use those terms because it become de facto “I’m going to make fun of you for traits you developed as a result of someone severely and persistently abusing you when you were too young to defend yourself! What fun we’re having together!”

            (This isn’t to say that some can’t possibly have APD without being diagnosed with ODD, what with access to services being hard to get, but that’s how official diagnoses can go.)

            As far as I can tell, there’s no effective way to defend yourself from gaslighting, short of getting the fuck out of dodge. When someone consistently makes you doubt your reality, lack of empathy is not going to protect you. Those function separately.

        3. I can’t reply to your more recent comments because nesting, but thank you for your apology and really getting what everyone means. 🙂

      3. I think you misread this comment. Anisoptera doesn’t claim anywhere that abusive= crazy, nor does zie imply that people with mental illness can’t be abused. What zie did say was that only a psychopath (that is, someone immune to caring about other people’s opinions) could be around a chronic gaslighter without starting to question their own reality. You can dispute that idea, but I don’t think insults were either spoken or intended.

        1. Given that psychopath was and sometimes is a diagnosis given by psychiatrists, and antisocial personality disorder is the latest incarnation of this, and people diagnosed with personality disorders are especially vulnerable to both mistreatment by the medical establishment and being ostracised by friends and family, I feel like it’s a word that should just be avoided.

          It’s way too common from people who are genuinely trying not to be arseholes but it basically just means bad-crazy-people and feeds the same ableism saying all abusers are “insane” does.

          1. Thank you, hrovitnir and Anonymous, for expressing what I was too angry to. Psychopath is not an acceptable term imo because it is vaguely defined and usually used for attacking people, and someone without empathy is not immune to gaslighting.

          2. I’ll also add that there’s a long and unfortunate association between autism and “lack of empathy”. As a result I basically start twitching whenever I see someone talk about “lack of empathy” in this sort of context, since I can never be sure if it’s being used as – or whether some of the audience is reading it as – code for “autism”.

          3. You are correct and I will avoid this word in future.

            Kaz – I am *definitely* not referring to autism. The fact that what I said could be taken as referring to is a very good reason to entirely rephrase it to avoid any mention of mental illness where it’s not 100% required.

          4. In response to Kaz — I’m sorry for using “person without empathy” above. I thought that was what Anisoptera was trying to get at, but I definitely don’t want to use a coded insult for people with autism.

  10. I feel like #5 and #6 should just switch streets, and then everyone would be happy. 🙂

    Re: #6, I think it depends where you live to some extent. My experience has been that in the kind of giant apartment complexes that have a lot of turnover, people never talk to each other, ever. When I lived in one several years ago, if I was letting myself into my apartment and the guy next door was letting himself into his at the same time, we wouldn’t even make eye contact if we could help it, much less stop to chat. It was this weird unspoken rule that pretty much everyone seemed to follow, at least in the buildings immediately around mine.

    If you live in an actual neighborhood of houses and people are straight-up snubbing you, that’s a little odd and I would imagine the problem is with them, not you. If they’re just neutral and you’re looking for a way to break the ice, I’d try getting a dog – I don’t own a dog myself, but every time I dogsit for one of my friends, people fall all over themselves wanting to stop and tell me how tiny and cute he is (the dog, not my friend, lol). Of course this is only an option if you’re willing and able to commit to taking care of a dog, but I bet it would work.

    1. +1 to a furfriend.

      I had unspeakably bad social anxiety as a kid. I was bullied really badly and was an intelligent, naturally talkative kid which, where I’m from, was social leprosy if you dared to not be gorgeous, middle class*, and already popular. I ended up fearing people, especially after one particularly horrific incident.

      Two things saved me, and helped me learn how to interact with almost anyone. Working in retail from 19+ made me feel like a “real” person, but my dog got me that far to begin with. We got our fabulous rescue dog when I was twelve, and our parents insisted on a set schedule of walks. We lived near some fantastic doggy fun space, and the 7pm walk brought me into contact with dozens of other dog walkers.

      My silly dog loved to introduce herself to dog owners (and their pockets full of treats!) and I couldn’t very well hide There were: married couples with spoiled little lapdogs, women walking their dogs as part of their exercise routine, local dads stuck walking the family yorkie, puppy foster “parents” who raised and socialised future guide dogs, little old men and ladies out with their canine companions. Lots of people would stop me and say “Oh look it’s [dog]. You must be [mother’s] kid!” or “Is that [dog]? This is Patch, my wife meets up with your mam on her morning walk!”

      . I learned how to talk to virtually anyone, and made some great friends, all thanks to my pupster. Virtually anyone will talk to you if there’s a fur-covered smile at your side. People who otherwise wouldn’t have given me the time of day, could not help being charmed by my wonderful dof. Here in the UK there’s a site/service called ‘Borrow My Doggy’ that let’s you… well, it’s self explanatory! A quick shot of fuzzface into your life, whether it’s through a similar website, or by walking or dog sitting somebody else’s pet, really will open social doors for you

      Best of luck. I know how awful social exclusion feels.

      *In the British sense. In my case they were vicious, nasty hellspawn who seemed to delight in the suffering of others. Unfortunately the teachers were mostly cut from the same cloth.

      1. Dogs definitely encourage more social interaction. I remember reading a study about it. Even people without dogs will talk to you if you’re out with furrbaby. Especially if said furrbaby is a greyhound!

        1. I want a greyhound when I have a place where I’m allowed one. atm I’m flatting with someone who owns the house and has two dogs already so I get my furfriend fix from them.

      2. Ooh, I keep seeing adds for Borrow My Doggy around here. It’s very difficult to keep pets in this city because so many people are student renters, and so most landlord just don’t allow animals at all, and I am sorely tempted by the idea of more furry animals in my life.

        1. You could also true the cinnamon trust – i volunteer through them to walk a dog for an older lady who can’t walk her dog due to ill health but wants to keep her companion.

        2. I read a Buzzfeed article about it. I think it was called something funny like “I f*doing borrowed a dog for the day, and so can you!” and almost pissed myself with glee!

          It’s been eleven years since my childhood friend died at the ripe old age of 14. I’m severely physically disabled so a dog isn’t an option for us right now (although we plan to get one in the future) and the idea of borrowing one is fab! I’m housebound at the mo’, but hopefully I’ll soon be in a position to get out there and spoil some dog rotten!

          I actually signed straight up because it’s free to register and see what’s in your area, and full membership, with all the fluffy action you can handle, is only £9.99 a year. You dont pay anything until you’re ready to start meeting people. I think it’s such a brilliant idea, sharing round all the canine cuddles!

      3. OMG I had never heard of Borrow My Doggie. I’m not in the UK, but this is SUCH GOOD INFORMATION FOR FUTURE REFERENCE. (Currently I volunteer at the humane society to get my puppy quotient, which could be another method for #6 to socialize/meet people.)

      4. Love this. I used to dogsit for a couple of friends who lived in the same, very neighborly neighborhood, and their dogs would be recognized everywhere we went on walks. It was like escorting local celebrities. 🙂

      5. There are definitely dogs in the neighbourhood here that I recognise from seeing on walks but wouldn’t have a clue who their owners are! I think most of my conversations with strangers on the street are “does your dog like pats???” (There’s this one guy who has a mastiff and a boxer who seems continually surprised that tiny me is gleefully eager for enormous dog hugs…)

    2. In a weird twist, I have managed to live in places where I’ve had both problems at once: Keep to yourself neighbors except for one talkative old man.

      Also, the dog thing can backfire. At my apartment, I knew the names of all my neighbors’ dogs, but not my neighbors. When trying to explain who someone was to my girlfriend, I would describe them as “Grover’s owners.” But it does give a great icebreaker and people with dogs do see, more approachable, I think.

      1. I don’t know the names of any humans that live in my building, but I know the names of most of the dogs. Their owners are referred to as “Fido’s person”.

        I have also given arbitrary names to the dogs whose names I don’t know, like Mr. Stub (who has a stub for a tail) and Fatty One Sock (who had an injured foot and had to wear a bootie, and is confusingly no longer fat).

    3. I learned how to interact with my neighbors by gardening.

      I live in a small college town. The families who have lived on my street for decades tend to look down on/ get annoyed by the constant stream of students who flow in and out of the rented houses. I’m a student, and I live in a rented house. My landlord is technically responsible for yard work, but he is a laid-back and sometimes forgetful fellow who doesn’t maintain things as often as some people would like, so I spent the first year here feeling bad that my neighbors never spoke to me besides mentioning that our lawn needed to be mowed.

      Then I got the crazy idea to dig up part of the front lawn and start a garden. The landlord was fine with it (less grass for him to forget to mow!) And the unexpected happened — my neighbors started talking to me! Suddenly, we had something to talk about, and they had a reason to believe that I wasn’t the kind of student who would just live here for a year, have loud parties, trash the place, and leave beer cans on the sidewalk.

      And as VG said: having a dog is also a great idea — at least half the people who start up a conversation with me while I am gardening are out walking their dog. They tell me that they love those little purple flowers I have all over the place, and I tell them that their dog has the prettiest, shiniest fur I’ve ever seen. Then we smile at each other, they keep on walking, and I go back to weeding the garden. Then a week later, we see each other again, their dog is so happy to see me that she jumps right in the flower bed with me, they apologize, they explain that she’s still a puppy even though she is big for her age, and they say they just enrolled her in obedience classes. And a week after that, I praise the dog for greeting me in a more appropriate way, and I tell them the obedience classes must really be paying off, which makes them smile. And after a few more encounters like that, we know at least a little bit about each other. Sometimes we only say a sentence or two to each other, then get back to what we were doing, but it adds up. And for a very introverted person like me (even online interactions can be “too social” for me sometimes!), those regular doses of small friendly interactions with my neighbors are a big deal for me.

      When I put in lilacs, one neighbor came over to say that she was so happy to see lilacs here again, because this house was surrounded by lilacs decades ago, but after the house was abandoned in the 1970s, everything fell into disrepair, and the new owners had to gut everything, including taking out the overgrown landscaping. When I put in roses, another neighbor invited me over to his yard to see the literally hundreds of different varieties of roses that he has carefully cultivated over the years. When my digging unearthed a section of walkway that had been covered up by a layer of dirt and grass, I asked a neighbor if she recognized the name carved into the concrete, and she practically fell over from delight because it was one of her close friends who had lived in my house in the 1950s, and she had lived on that street her whole life, but never saw his name there until I pointed it out.

      I spend only a few hours per week gardening in the front yard, but in that time, I’ve dug up coins from more than 100 years ago, I’ve learned the history of who has lived in this house before me, and I’ve befriended the neighborhood dogs, cats, and people.

      1. Yes! Showing public visible signs of investment in your home lets people know you are going to be around long enough to invest energy into.
        Being in your front yard regularly is a low level invitation to sociability. It lets you see your neighbors and their routines, which gives you something to talk about while making the jump from ‘smile and wave’ neighbors to ‘polite conversation’ neighbors.

  11. “Having trouble accepting that my adult married daughter is gay.”

    The best thing you can do is to realize that she was always gay.

    Or maybe she wasn’t. People can and do change. I’m comfortable saying that I was always queer, since I remember having both girl and boy crushes from early childhood. I definitely was not always trans–I was a super girly girl well into my teens, and only slowly started to feel like I also sometimes wanted to be a boy–but I am now.

    That said, it matters not a whit whether she’s been a lesbian since forever or since last night, because this:

    It’s a fact, not something that needs your acceptance in order to be true, but if you want to keep having a relationship with her you need to do the work.

    is true regardless. I note this not just for the person who asked that question but for anyone reading who suddenly worries that having become queer/trans later in life means your parents don’t have to accept you. Your parents absolutely need to accept you for who you are now, just like they need to accept that you used to want to be a doctor but now you want to be a folk musician (or vice versa), and you deserve that acceptance and love.

    I don’t often directly contradict the Captain, but in my experience, as someone who’s come out to two parents and a mother-in-law, the best thing you can do is call your daughter and say, “I want you to know I love you no matter what. I don’t totally understand what’s going on in your life right now, but I support you completely. Please let me know what I can do to help you out. If you want to share information with me, I’d love that, but I’m also going to go do research on my own so you don’t have to educate me.” And then also go and join PFLAG and read queer memoirs (a lot of them are about queer people’s absolutely shitty relationships with their unaccepting parents, so take them as a list of “what not to do”) and do your homework.

    If your married daughter–who’s presumably married to a man–has kids, now is also a great time to reach out to those kids in an age-appropriate way, regardless of whether your daughter’s come out to them. If she has come out to them and they’re confused or anxious, point out to them that people change all the time and it’s natural and normal and okay. If she’s come out to them and they think it’s fine, bolster and support them in that reaction. Remind them that you love their mom no matter what, you love them no matter what, and their mom loves them no matter what.

    As for the marriage itself, this announcement may cause problems or it may not. When I told my MIL I was trans, her first question was “Are you and J okay?”, which is a perfectly natural question. And when I reassured her that we are totally okay and that she could check with him about that if she was still worried, she believed us, which was totally crucial to us feeling that she loved and trusted us. Your daughter’s husband may be surprised, or may have known all along, or may have gone to her one day and said “Honey, I’m starting to wonder–are you gay?”, or may be a trans woman and thrilled by this coincidence (this actually happened to a couple I know–one coming out as trans was the catalyst for the other realizing she was bi, and now they’re a delightfully happy pair of women in love), or any number of other possibilities. So it’s fine to ask your daughter “Are you and [husband] okay?” as long as you believe what she tells you. If everything is great, then great! If not, make sure to offer her support, and to do the same with her kids if any.

    Don’t assume that she must have lied, cheated, or hidden things. She may have, but it’s quite possible that she didn’t. And if she did, think long and hard before judging her for that. If you wake up one day and realize you’re no longer compatible with your spouse, you are almost certainly not going to say something right away–you’re going to go through a long period of soul-searching and trying to fix things. Same if you’re raised by people who struggle to accept gayness and then realize you’re gay. Put the two together and you get lots of reasons to lie (to yourself as well as others) and hide things. And quiet adultery is almost condoned in this culture, especially for people with picture-perfect marriages, kids, etc. who don’t want to hurt their spouses or tarnish their images but who also desperately need love and know they won’t find it at home. So even if your daughter did those things–and again, it’s very possible she did not–recognize that she was trying to do the best possible things for herself and her husband and her family and her life even when those goals could not all be met at once.

    Good luck with everything.

    1. <3!!! Thank you so much for this. The 'if you're gay/bi/trans/whatever you must always have been so' idea was really damaging for me around my various coming outs. It allowed my mother to fuel her denial: 'but this doesn't fit with what I know of you from when you were a child'/'what do you mean you didn't know before?', and her outrage: 'well if you're this now and we didn't know about it you've been lying to us all this time'. It also makes me feel like I have to rewrite my own history in order to validate my queerness/transness (even to people within the LGBTQ community) and that on days when I feel less queer/trans that that means I'm obviously not queer or trans and I've just made the whole thing up.

      For trans stuff it also meant I felt I had to lie to medical practitioners/psychs in order to get treatment, which ended up with me getting treatment I wasn't ready for and without any of the counselling support I really needed.

      For some people these things are fixed, for others they are more fluid. In either case the daughter is deserving of love and support.

      1. I appreciate your comment and Rose Fox’s correction. Perhaps a better way to say it is “This was always a potential thing, for your daughter, or any child. The baby you loved and the adult in front of you are the same person.”

          1. The other thing for the mother to remember is that her daughter isn’t being lesbian AT her. Her sexual orientation is her own; the relevant choice here is that she trusts her mother enough to tell her this.

    2. “this actually happened to a couple I know–one coming out as trans was the catalyst for the other realizing she was bi, and now they’re a delightfully happy pair of women in love”

      This has just happened to a couple I know, as well, only in reverse. One came out as bi about a year ago, which led to them exploring lots of aspects of their relationships, culminating in her partner coming out as trans. So they are now a wonderful and happy pair of women in love, too.

      1. This has happened to friends of mine, too! The girl doesn’t ID as bi, precisely, but she’s said that her sexuality is certainly more fluid than she thought.

        1. Ack. Posting too quickly when tired. By ‘girl’ I meant ‘the cis woman in that relationship’.

    3. I’m going to offer one slight correction. You’re saying

      —– the best thing you can do is call your daughter and say, “I want you to know I love you no matter what. I don’t totally understand what’s going on in your life right now, but I support you completely. Please let me know what I can do to help you out. If you want to share information with me, I’d love that, but I’m also going to go do research on my own so you don’t have to educate me.”

      This is good advice, but ONLY IF IT IS TRUE. When I came out to one set of family members that I no longer speak to, they quoted me this line, said all the right words, and then proceeded to treat me terribly, threaten to throw me out, generally ladle all sorts of steaming homophobia stew over my head. Their starting out with the “we love you no matter what” line made everything that followed a lot more traumatic, because I got just enough space to start trusting that things would be okay, right before things were suddenly, aggressively Not At All Okay.

      I would say it is more important for the parent in question to be honest about their feelings. If they’re having trouble accepting it, then say so; don’t fake acceptance only to take it back later on.

      1. “If they’re having trouble accepting it, then say so”

        This is a good point. When I came out, maybe 15 years ago, my parents wanted to be supportive, but they are also very Catholic, so they had a lot of questions and concerns.

        My parents told me that they loved me and they wanted what was best for me, which was true. But they didn’t tell me that they accepted or were proud of me for being queer, and now that I look back on it, I am honestly kind of glad that they didn’t jump right into full-blown gay-acceptance mode, because I know they weren’t ready for that.

        It took time (and some difficult conversations), but now they have come a long way. When my mom found me bawling my eyes out because I’d just had a conversation with my dad about marriage equality (he was voting to restrict marriage between one man and one woman), she went right up to my dad and gave him a stern talking-to for making their only daughter cry. I think that my mom’s desire to stand up for me at least momentarily over-rode her own opinions about same-sex marriage, and that was one of the signs that her views about me were slowly starting to change towards acceptance.

        And just this past year, my mother told me about a conversation she’d had with her coworker. She was saying something about me being a lesbian, her coworker said “Well, you never know, she might happen to find the right man someday.” And my mom snapped back, “If I love my daughter, then I love who my daughter is TODAY. I’m not going to hold my breath and hope that she’ll be different someday.”

        I nearly started crying when she told me that, because I know how long it took her to get to that point. My mom has done a lot of work to get to this point, but the whole time, she had been open about her love for me, while also being open about the challenges she was having.

        (My dad is much further behind on his path towards accepting/ embracing that I’m queer, but he’s working on it, and that’s another story.)

        1. I second this, with the caveat of what “then say so” means. Luminous, I totally respect that your parents didn’t pretend to be at a place of understanding that they weren’t. That is super honest, and frankly one of the reasons I’m not totally out to my family is because they’re the kind of liberal NPR listeners who would say they are 100% accepting of me without thinking at all what kinds of realities of my life they’re agreeing to accept. Don’t let your mouth write checks your heart can’t cash.

          But for other people reading this thread, being honest doesn’t mean that you have to share every weird, confused, angry feeling you have about the situation. Don’t make all of your struggles to understand be the coming-out person’s problem. It kind of goes back to that concentric circles diagram that has been referenced in many posts here before, where you dish outward. Talk about it at PFLAG! Talk about it with a therapist! But as a queer and trans person, I personally 100% do not want to hear how difficult it is for you to accept that I exist, or how hard I’m making your life by making you reconsider your heteronormative and cissexist assumptions about the world.

          1. Thank you for sharing this. I think that your final point is a particularly important one, and I don’t think that it’s OK for straight/het/cis people to force trans or queer people to listen to how their *very existence* is some big fucking struggle for them. Like, it’s just not OK, and I am super not OK with that.

            I don’t know how you and/or other commenters here feel about his thoughts on coming out, but I know that Dan Savage has in the past been a proponent for a 1-year period (or some finite length of time) for parents to ask questions and get OK with it, but after that, the policy is “you treat me with respect and care or you don’t see me. Period.”

          2. Thank you for clarifying that. Part of what my mom did right was, after we would have an uncomfortable conversation, she would take a step back, learn about things, think about it, talk about it with people other than me, and not bring it up again with me (except sometimes to say “I’m sorry, I was wrong about that.”)

            She managed to communicate honestly about her own struggles, while also balancing that with good boundaries and a good understanding of how much of that was her job to fix, not mine. I had intended to write about that in my earlier comment, but I guess I left out that part. As you mentioned, it is a very important part, so thanks for pointing it out.

            Also, I think that my mom worked so hard to accept my queerness because she was nearly disowned when she decided to marry my dad — my mom converted to Catholicism in order to be with my dad, and her family was NOT pleased about that — so she knows on a very personal level what it feels like to be judged for having the “wrong” kind of relationship, and she was trying not to repeat her parent’s mistakes.

            This feels a bit like I am bragging for having an awesome mom — and she is great — but that isn’t what I mean. I am writing all this mainly to give people hope/ an example of things working out in the long term between a queer kid and their well-meaning but still slightly prejudiced parents. (Obviously, this wouldn’t work for all families, but it worked for mine).

            Now, if only I could convince my dad to stop treating conversations with me as opportunities for vigorous philosophical debates about the meaning of “family” and “marriage” and stuff like that. It just doesn’t sink in with him that for me, this is my LIFE, not an abstract debate topic.

  12. On the last search. It might not be a current relationship. It may also be someone who is trying to push themselves (back) into someone’s lives. And the googler might be the issue. (Why, yes, I do watch too many drama/soap operas ). If that’s the case, googler needs to step back and respect the other person’s boundaries.

    1. I think that keeping away and getting the dude out of the googler’s life forever would probably fit this possibility quite well, too. 🙂

  13. Head up for 15, the reddit thread continually claims that the boyfriend *must* be crazy or insane to be gaslighting and that only crazy people could do such a thing. This….isn’t true and many victims of gaslighting are mentally ill, not the other way around. It’s a good thread and a great ploy, but the ableism is astounding and caught me off guard.

    1. Yeah. This is pretty common knowledge on Captain Awkward, but having a mental illness often means you already doubt your perceptions and memories. Needing to rely on others to double check your perceptions makes you a lot more vulnerable to people lying about them.

    2. I hope this question isn’t derailing, but what is it that makes “crazy” an ableist term? I’ve read this a few times and I don’t really follow the logic even after searching for explanations (I’m not an English native speaker, though, so I might be missing some context or association with words native speakers have automatically). I understand “insane” as that is clearly referring to someone’s mental state, but isn’t “crazy” just a term for “weird” or “not what I consider normal” without being linked to mental illness?

        1. We need a non-ableist insult for ‘holy crap that person was totally socially inappropriate and boundary-violate-y in a way that makes me concerned that they are actually dangerous and probably everybody should run away from them, DANGER WILL ROBINSON!’

          Because that is kind of a mouthful and does not really work to say ‘Oh my god Jill that person was so ______!’

          1. @Godless Heathen I guess the thing is sometimes they’re not actually creepy. I mean, they ARE creepy, but the thing with gaslighting is if they’re doing anything like a “good job”, as it were, they seem totally reasonable at the time and then in retrospect you’re like, WAIT, SHIT. You know those interactions you have with people that seem fine at the time and then an hour later you’re thinking about it and you’re like, dude, wait, that was totally inappropriate? Yeah.

            It is… crypto-creepy.

            Maybe I’ll just go with that.

          2. Well, ‘inappropriate’ works. ‘Ridiculous’, ‘abusive’, ‘dangerous’, ‘alarming’. There really is no true equivalent, which I find to be a good thing because then it makes us think exactly /why/ we’re unnerved by such behaviour instead of slapping the easiest adjective to it and moving on.

          3. I know when I was trying to phase crazy out of my vocab I replaced it with ridiculous in most situations. It doesn’t quite cover the complete WTF??? that people sometimes cause when their logic just completely does not resemble Earth logic at all but descriptive extra adjectives sometimes help.

      1. It’s frequently used that way, too, in casual conversation, but literally and historically it’s a synonym for insane or mentally ill. It’s been used that way since the middle ages and pretty much all of the dictionaries I look in still have some variation of mentally ill as the first definition.

  14. Oh man, what that woman from Reddit did from #15 is amazing. So much kudos to her for getting out of there in a safe and smart way.

    I was wondering if anybody else had advice for gaslighters? I live with my family due to financial reasons, and both of my parents have told me I was “overreacting” or “being too sensitive,” or said that “[stupid thing] totally is/isn’t normal.” While this is nowhere near as bad as what others have experienced, it’s still used to silence me in really frustrating ways, and I’ve only recently started to realize that how problematic that is. Even if I manage to move out soon, I still have two younger siblings. (For reference, I’m also a woman and the oldest sibling.)

    Does anyone have any ideas for ways to respond to this when it happens?

    1. In a nutshell – you will probably never be able to reason them into reasonableness. Keep a journal if it helps. I’ve found taking pictures with my phone to be really valuable in helping me trust my own memories. Keep focused on the future and make concrete steps to get there – saving X amount per week, checking out apartments on your day off work, etc. And then, when you move out, try to reset your relationship with your parents to “Adults who are Cordial but Distant.” Bonus points if you can occasionally take the sibs out for a reality-check and fun break away from your parents.

    2. My method to deal with this is usually to say “Yes, I am very sensitive, maybe you should take that into consideration when talking to me.” I just reject the expectation that I be “normal”. (That doesn’t work often, some people just whine “But I WANT to act rude and inconsiderate around you and not deal with your “overreaction”! I want!”, but I think it’s a good way to validate your own feelings to yourself.)

      In my opinion, everyone is entitled to some degree of considerateness. There is a point at which someone who is very sensitive should start psychotherapy to work the issue out, but from my experience, most people who accuse someone of “overreacting” did insult/hurt them, and just want to avoid the consequences.

      1. I really agree with this, and I second the advice to say “Yup, I’m very sensitive, AND I need you to stop doing X.” Ananda, I think you’re right that this is a silencing tactic, so the best thing is to keep asserting your need. If they respond with, “But that need is unreasonable!” you can double down with, “Maybe so! I need you to stop doing X.” (or Do X, or whatever it is.) I predict the instances of them saying this will diminish when it loses its power to silence you.

    3. A thing I have found helpful is to put “you’re so sensitive” or “can’t you just be normal?” or, my family’s personal favorite, “Just lighten up!” through a translator in my head and imagine my folks saying, “I want you to change your entire self and deny your negative emotions to make my life slightly easier.” It’s much easier for me to reject their statement if I realize *that* is what they are saying.

      It’s a purely internal mechanism because I didn’t realize I was being gaslit until I’d moved out of my parents’ house and had a safe space. (High five to you for realizing it even though you’re still living within it!) I just repeat the translator app in my head until I can leave. I don’t know if it will help you without a retreat and I’m sorry you have to go through this. I like Sellmaeth’s response, though.

    4. I’ve had some luck with my mom by responding to “oh you’re being oversensitive” with “no, I’m not, but thanks. What’s up with ::insert entirely different topic of conversation here::” in a neutral-tipping-towards-friendly tone. The tone and the “thanks” totally confuse her, and before she can formulate some horrible gaslighty response to that, I hit her with the purposeful subject change (to a topic I know she *loves* to talk about that I either also enjoy – books! we’re good at talking about books peacefully! – or that I’m neutral on and can stand to listen to – her gym routine, the ladies at work who annoy her, etc.). Occasionally I’ve gotten the “you’re just trying to change the subject!” response as a follow up, to which I go with “you’re right, I am, I’d rather talk about X right now, how about you?” again in a calm, friendly tone.

      Basically, my formula is mild-to-no-reaction + immediate subject change to a more enticing topic.

      1. Now THAT sounds good. The problem I have with appearing in any way to agree with the “over sensitive” or “not normal” is that abusers will use things against their victims, and things that come out of one’s own mouth can provide ammunition.
        I once said to my ex “Could you please consider being polite to me?” I didn’t tell him not to be rude, I just suggested that he consider something. He said “All right then” in an equally reasonable tone — a bit like your mother getting confused by your strategies!

        1. I was reading it more like “it can’t be used as ammunition if it doesn’t hurt the target” than “give them hurtful words to use on yourself.” They’re already using those words. If they say you’re sensitive and you basically respond with “Yep!” without observable discomfort, it can defuse the little wordbombs and puts the jerk on their back foot a bit because you’re not responding according to the script.

    5. Except for the number of younger siblings, I could have been you a few years ago. (My mother went to Asshole College and got a double major in gaslightng and guilt trips, with a minor in verbal abuse.) I cannot give you *good* advice for how to deal with your gaslighting parents. I can give you, from personal experience, a warning about dealing with them in an *unhealthy* way.

      I responded to my parents’ gaslighting by gaslighting them right back. With a vengeance.

      They moved my things and lied about it and then accused me of overreacting? I moved their things just a little bit: switched the positions of the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower; moved the toothbrush-holder two inches to the left, then two inches to the right, then back to the starting position; found a pair of shoes left in the middle of the living room and pushed one shoe under the couch and moved the other near the door. They went nuts looking for things they had misplaced and I parroted back phrases they liked to use against me: “You’re always losing your stuff,” “You’re always forgetting things,” “Well, where did you put it last?”

      They lied about social obligations (i.e., “You told us last week you would visit Cousin A with us. Did you forget about our plans *again*?” when I actually had not agreed to any such thing and had no idea they were planning to visit Cousin Y at all)? I lied about my plans. “Just a reminder, I’m going to the movies tonight after work so you’ll have to work out dinner on your own. Of course, I told you I was going to the movies! It’s all I’ve been talking about all week because I’m really looking forward to seeing Marvel Movie #687. Do you even listen to me when I talk?”

      They expected me to do all of the cleaning and errand-running, but God forbid they should do even a small favor for me despite promising me they’d do it? For one, I didn’t ever ask for favors again. For revenge, I chose one or two items of clothing they adored and left them in the bottom of the laundry hamper for a month at a time so they thought they’d lost the items because they never even considered I might not be washing *all* of the clothes. Then the items would mysteriously reappear, sometimes right after they’d bought a replacement.

      They took cash out of my sock drawer or money out of my savings account I didn’t realize they still had access to and then lied about it? I moved their stuff: took a twenty dollar bill from their mad money stash and put it in their emergency fund, put her earrings in the pocket of his coat, put his sunglasses in her purse. They turned on one another.

      I am not proud. This was inexcusable behavior from then AND from me. It was not a healthy coping method. It was satisfying in the short term, but now I feel hollow and icky just thinking about it. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.

      1. This made me laugh so hard. My SO takes the approach that “the best defense is a good offense” and will get really defensive when called to the carpet, and instead of just apologizing, will blow up, derail, deflect and minimize. It has taken me years to get him to understand that this behavior creates an environment where minor disagreements escalate into major fights, and big things never get resolved. He’s working on it, but wow…it is SO frustrating.

        A couple of years ago, we were on vacation with his sister’s family. SIL had borrowed a pair of SO’s brand new flip-flops without asking, and had then left them on the beach overnight, so that one was taken out by the tide. When SIL realized that she had done this, she immediately laid into my SO, telling him that he was irresponsible for leaving his flip-flops out “where anyone could borrow them” and finishing with “this is what happens when you don’t take good care of your stuff.”

        I am ashamed to admit how funny I found it, to watch SO struggle to react to what was clearly a nonsensical accusation. And…yeah…now I know where he learned that behavior.

      2. Just wanted to add that I didn’t find your parents’ treatment of you funny at all, but I appreciate your efforts to take some of the power back.

      3. I know you’re not proud of the things you’ve done in regards to moving their things, but I can see the merit in not telling them about plans, or telling them about your plans at the last minute, as you’re heading out the door. Perhaps telling them “no no, I totally told you about this, remember??” might not be the best thing, but I can see making a quick exit being a good strategy for when abusers are making you feel like crap and you want to leave the house for awhile.

        And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re a bad person for doing the things you did. Honestly, the only reason it’s probably not a good strategy is because then you run the risk of the abuser finding out and using that as ammunition against you.

      4. I think you should give yourself a break. The things a person does in order to survive a dysfunctional home while they are stuck there are just that–survival skills. Survival mechanisms are rarely pretty or things one is proud of later. The fact that you recognize that those actions are not a kind or good way to treat people speaks more to your character and your resilence that your survival mechanisms do.

        1. I quite agree. You did the best you can with what you knew at that time. You know more now and can make better choices. But a dysfunctional response to a dysfunctional situation? You were fighting back with the only tools you had.

          And sorry about your parents. That’s awful.

    6. Find someone to vent to about this. I have nothing helpful to suggest for the situation itself, but having someone where you can just check in and get a quick reassurance that whatever-it-was-this-time is indeed not ok and not you being wrong helps defuse so much of it by keeping your world view unpoisoned.

  15. First of all, I always love these quick and snappy monthly run-downs, and I also love the title of this post (the song from ‘Camelot’ is now running through my head)!

    About #3: I was recently sharing a living space with someone who would play games on his phone all the time WITH THE SOUND ON. As someone who can’t stand the sound on most cell phone games even when I’m alone, this absolutely drove me up the wall. I guess if he really gets that much pleasure out of the noises that Words with Friends and Candy Crush make, he could go into an empty room to play them, but he’d do it right in the main area of the house where other people were hanging out, and sadly even telling him directly to please stop didn’t seem to help much. Good luck, hope you can get your husband to cut back on the games.

    #6: I’ve never really been super talky with any of my neighbors. Especially now, living in an apartment, I don’t even know the name of a single other person living in my building, although we generally nod or say good evening on the rare occasions that we pass in the hallway. But even living in a suburban house on a cul-de-sac with neighbors nearby, I never talked a ton to them. If they’re outright snubbing you, refusing to return a friendly ‘hello’, that’s awfully cold, but if they’re just not actively starting or engaging in conversation, I’d guess it’s because it just hasn’t occurred to them, as they don’t already know you. If you’re not comfortable showing up at a neighbor’s house with food, maybe throw a little party? I don’t know if this is practical in your living space or something you’d enjoy doing, but I love to hold house parties, and it seems like a nice low-pressure way to let people know that they are welcome to come if they like, but they can also turn down the invitation if they’re not interested. Obviously YMMV.

    #8: Actually four dates is exactly the number it took me to decide that I wasn’t interested in a fellow I started seeing last year. He was the type I thought I might warm up to and like a lot, but I wasn’t sure, and decided to keep seeing him to see where things went – which was nowhere. I think he was confused when I told him I wasn’t interested after all, but I also don’t think I should have cut things off earlier in that case, because until then I genuinely wasn’t sure how I felt about him and thought I might like him a lot.

    #15: Agreed that the gaslighting story is fantastic. Love it when something works out that well, and with such satisfying poetic justice. I doubt myself plenty without anyone else encouraging it, so I absolutely HATE purposeful gaslighting, and I especially loved hearing the part about the victim just plain refusing to take the bait.

    1. My girlfriend always plays games with the sound on and when I’m on my 3DS, she’s like “Why don’t you have the sound on?” In her defense, the games are games with real scores and a lot of effort has been put into it. She loves video game music so much that she’ll get soundtracks. The good news is that since she hangs out in Google hangouts a lot, she uses headphones and everything goes through that. When it’s not, I just try to remember I love her and just tolerate her idiosyncracies, even when they bug me.

      If it were It were Candy Crush or related games, though, I’d be a lot more annoyed.

      1. My apologies if this is too much of a derail, but as a woman who is both a casual gamer and a software engineer working in the games industry, I just had to say:

        “In her defense, the games are games with real scores and a lot of effort has been put into it. [snip] If it were It were Candy Crush or related games, though, I’d be a lot more annoyed.”

        This is, frankly, the root of the problems around gender and misogyny the games industry is currently experiencing. If I met you in real life and heard you say this, I would note you down as someone to never disclose that I play games to, because I now know that you will think less of me for playing ‘girly’ games.

        It’s totally fine if Candy Crush is Not Your Thing – war themed first person shooters are Not My Thing. But the idea that Candy Crush (and other games of its type) is INTRINSICALLY ‘annoying’ is exactly parallel to the idea that movies and stories about relationships are intrinsically inferior to stories about war heroes and cool tech that explodes. Candy Crush has a scoring mechanism, so I’m not sure why you say it doesn’t have ‘real scores’ (wtf does that even mean, and who gets to define what a ‘real score’ is). There are a lot of women who spend a lot of time playing that game, so I’m not sure why you seem to imply it takes little effort. Perhaps you mean to say that its game mechanisms are very simple and have no learning curve, but then I have to point out that almost all of the classic arcade games had simple game mechanisms, as do many popular games today (Speed Runner, arguably the two Portal games, etc).

        About the only non-sexist interpretation I can think of here for finding Candy Crush sounds annoying is ‘I just cannot with the random tinkly dings’, but I cannot help but feel that what you’re really saying here is: “The only games I can respect are those that require WORK* to get good at” and “I find everything about Candy Crush insipid and being reminded of its stupid existence is irritating”.

        *and some people play games to relax, not to do MORE work

        1. I think by “real scores” the poster means “real SOUND scores”, not “real points scoring systems”. That said, I am a rabid and devoted Crusher of Candy (level 377 on original and 186 on Soda, and I’ve never paid a dime to win a level), and I had to turn the sounds off.

          The sounds on Candy Crush are really well designed to make gameplay more addictive, so in that sense, they are just as orchestrated and carefully written as any game with a musical score.

          But the rest of your response: ALL THE YESSES. I am so sick of the horrid insults. I like Candy Crush, so fucking sue me.

          (Candy Crush is actually a lot of work if you don’t buy your way to winning levels. I’ve spent weeks stuck on a single level, learning exactly how to capitalize on whatever assortment of candies I get as I play through a level. I’m not sure how that’s distinguishable from figuring out exactly how to kill a boss with your current assortment of weaponry, spells, and/or companions.)

          1. I understand why you interpreted score as you did. I often get the reaction you are talking about when I tell people I play clash of clans a lot. Like games played on phones or tablets aren’t as “worthy” as games played on a console or a computer. So I realy agree with your comment!

            On another note I really hate listening to the sound of candy crush, or other game with repetitive music, during my one hour bus commute. Fallout have a lot better musical score and I wouldn’t mind that as much.

          2. lol I was stuck on one level of Candy Crush until they actually changed it because it was too hard. It was this one with a really funny shape and you had to get two specific matches of rare candies, so it was a “you fail completely”, “you got halfway” (if you’re doing really well) or “you win”, which took a lot of the “SO CLOSE I’LL GET IT NEXT TIME I SWEAR” out of it and made me not want to play anymore. I’m happy with hard levels, but if it’s not hooking you with the impression of progress it’s just not going to work.

            (Incidentally, I’m a chronic volume muter on my tablet and 3DS. On the computer I have sound on but the games I have on the other devices all have really repetitive music and I get paranoid it’s annoying people.)

        2. I think that’s “scores” as in “musical scores,” for what it’s worth. I haven’t played Candy Crush enough to know about its soundtrack, but I find a lot of games in the “casual games” category have repetitive background music with a fairly short repeat cycle, so you’re hearing the same short tune over and over rather than hearing a series of different tracks from a more complex, movie-style soundtrack that you might get with a more story-based game.

          1. You’re also likely to get a more repetitive set of gameplay sounds with a casual game. I play both casual games and traditional console games and prefer the sound on for both. If I wasn’t playing myself though, the casual games would be more annoying to listen to.

        3. I had to read brookiki’s comment twice about an hour apart but I think “real scores” refers to real scores of music.

        4. I think brookiki was referring to musical scores. I only play casual games, but I do recognise that games like Candy Crush tend to have a lot simpler and very repetitive soundtrack than the often fully scored and sometimes very beautiful soundtracks of modern hard-core games. I listen to BBC Radio 3 and the classical music programs often play game soundtracks these days, which is the only way I hear them.

          1. Exactly. I meant “real scores” in the musical sense where someone who makes their living out lf composing music is paid to compose an actual soundtrack for the game and is given the resources to create a soundtrack that is designed to actually add to the game experience and can not only be enjoyed outside the game, but can actually be played alongside other classical music without anyone realizing that it was composed for a game.

        5. I have no problems with “casual games” and, to be honest, casual games are what I mostly play. All I was saying was that, in general, games like Candy Crush tend to have more monotonous background music that tends to loop over and over again. I would be more annoyed at hearing the Candy Crush background music for an hour than, say, a Final Fantasty or Zelda soundtrack. Music in casual games tends to be an afterthought, while music in games with a higher production value tends to actually be treated as something that needs to stand alone. So I can understand why someone would want to hear and enjoy tat kind of music. Although apparently the London Symphony Orchestra recorded the music for Candy Crush Saga, so there’s clearly and overlap there.

          But, no, by all means assume that I’ve never played Candy Crush, have no understanding that casual games can have just as much merit as other games. It can’t be because I find a certain type of music used in certain types of games distracting or annoying. And it certainly can’t be that I play those types of games with the sound off because it bothers me.

          And I just found myself resisting the temptation to list the games I play to somehow try to convince you of my “casual gamer cred” or something, which just proves how ridiculous this discussion is.

        1. Yup, I understand both sides here, and think you two probably actually agree with each other on multiple points, but just got the wires crossed. I personally find the repetitive sounds and music of most casual games incredibly annoying and have to turn them off even when I’m playing them myself (which is often), whereas I quite like the sounds on many other types of games and leave them on… *when I’m alone or wearing headphones.* The part that bothered me about the person in my house was the fact that I had already explicitly said that I found the sounds annoying and asked him to turn the sound off in a shared room, and while he always turned it off right then, he’d do it again and again later. In many cases people were having a conversation, or reading books, or any number of things, and suddenly there was game music playing over it. I would never dream of having the sound turned on for one of my games while on public transportation; why would I inflict it on my housemates in the safety of their own home when I KNOW they don’t like it? I could easily take the phone to my own room, wear headphones, OR just turn the sound off. So to me it was just a question of simple manners, rather than anything to do with what sort of game he was playing.

          When I see things like #3 in the OP, since my reactions are colored by my own experience, I tend to assume that the person is complaining about something like this – not that the person is complaining about their husband spending his free time in a way they disapprove of, but that he is being rude while doing so. I could definitely be wrong, but I can certainly see how it can be a valid complaint. (Playing at all during shared mealtimes, during conversations, etc. can also be really rude depending on the family culture, etc.)

        2. No problem. I was really confused and defensive about your comment, so I apologize for being defensive. I see now that we just got our wires crossed on the whole “real scores” thing. But I do admit that I may have been overly dismissive in assuming that games like Candy Crush can’t have quality music. Peggle Blast springs to mind, since the sounds the blocks make when you hit them is kind of like a xylophone.

          I play a lot of more casual games and they can definitely be well-designed, creative, and worth playing. And I’m all about “to each their own” with gaming. I got really into a game called the “Grading Game” where you just go through and correct errors in papers. It’s strangely addictive.

          1. *Runs to internet to find grading game.*

            We have a very old game (Racko) which I describe as competitive (numerical) filing, and it makes me so happy.

          2. This is a derail, but as someone who is both a freelance proofreader and a professional writing pedagogy nerd, I am torn between really, really wanting to play the “Grading Game” and finding it extremely depressing that correcting mechanical errors is considered “grading.”

  16. A few years ago, my mom had a stroke and not only wasn’t able to do much around the house, but she also needed a lot of help. I was in undergrad when it happened and then went to law school a couple of hours away. I stay in my arpartment during classes and commuted back to my parents on weekends to take care of mom. The last year or so, I managed to get classes three days a week. I also have health problems and I didn’t have the energy to keep up with caregiving, doctor’s visits, classes, and housework, so somwhere along the way, my uncle and his wife wound up cleaning once a week, which sounds nice on the surface.

    The problem was that, outside of my bedroom, I used the sunroom the most. I read, studied, and watched TV there. That meant that it wasn’t uncommon for me to leave stuff like books, study guides, or other papers out there. Stuff that I needed and actively used. The rest of the house, the parts my parents used, were as cluttered or worse. Yet my uncle didn’t touch their stuff but he routinely “cleaned” the sunroom, which at best meant stacking my stuff up out of the way and, at worst, meant actually boxing up my stuff and putting it in the garage or storage building. If asked about it, like the time when he boxed up a study guide for a class the week before finals, his response would always be, “Well, I don’t remember seeing that, but I can tell you that I wouldn’t have thrown it away, so it’s probably somewhere.” This also happened with a library book that. Had to pay for and then ended up returning (but too late to get the refund). I also boxed up some clothes that didn’t currently fit and, because I wasn’t sure what to do with them, put them in the storage building. My aunt very helpfully told me later that she took the stuff to Goodwill for me. They finally stopped coming when my mom was like “I can’t pay you any more.” I figure that, over a period of several years, they were paid thousands of dollars for their “help.” It wasn’t a financial abuse situation and we still use him to mow the yard because we pay him less than we’d pay a service.

    To this day, I don’t know if it was intentional or not. In other words, I don’t know if they didn’t approve of me living at home and taking care of my mother or if they just believed my stuff had no value and I had no right to expect a book to be where I left it the night before. Or they may have just chosen the sunroom because they wanted to look like they were doing something, but didn’t want to bother my parents’ possessions.

    Either way, it’s part of a long list of little digs and slights from my mother’s side of the family. The result is that I don’t trust them and, quite frankly, don’t want them around any more than absolutely required. So the new criticism? I won’t let anyone help me. I’m avoiding contact as much as possible now and it’s for the best.

    It’s just such a ridiculously messed up situation.

    1. My mom used to do that kind of thing to me too. Her excuse was that she was “just cleaning up all of the messes around the house.” The problem was that she would put things away in places that made sense to her at the time (she could never actually remember where), then when I would ask where she had put it, she’d say, “it’s wherever you left it.” I would remind her that I left it [wherever], but that it was no longer there, then she’d say, “well, I must have put it away for you then” as if that would help me find it.

      I cannot tell you how many things I found years later in random places, if I ever found it at all. The worst one was when she put away my papers for an at-home college-credit art course that cost $2,000 (back in the 90s!). She put together a filing cabinet for me to store everything in, which would have been good if she put things away it in! Instead, when I was working on things and had a stack of papers on the table (in the basement, not somewhere she usually goes), she put it all away. A week later, I asked where she put everything, and she said her usual “it’s wherever you left it.” I searched everywhere I could possibly think of, including that cabinet. I never found any of it, which included my current work and the next set of work. Because I was only a teenager, I never thought to call the place and have them send me a replacement copy, so I just let it drop and never finished the course. TO THIS DAY my mom still occasionally laments about how I “wasted all that money on a course I never finished.”

      So the phrase “it’s wherever you left it” still ignites a burning fury whenever I hear it.

    2. You know, I had to talk to my mom about a similar situation with my sister. My adult sister was renting a room and bathroom from Mom at the time, and the house always had a lot of clutter. But Mom would routinely “clean” only my sister’s bathroom, including moving her things around. Her argument was that, left to her own devices, my sister would “never” throw away the empty shampoo bottles and other clutter that offended Mom’s sensibilities. I actually had to take my mother aside and say, “You wonder why you don’t have a good relationship with Sister, and this is why. If you were her landlord (which you are), this would be a gross violation of privacy. Just because my sister leaves the door open for her cats does not give you the right to go through her things. Just don’t go in there unless something’s on fire or you hear screaming.” I’m not saying it fixed everything, but I think she finally started leaving those shampoo bottles alone.

      The funny thing is, my mom collects rolls of toilet paper with ten or fifteen squares remaining. Keeps them in a drawer instead of recycling them (after using the remaining squares, of course). But shampoo bottles? Heaven forbid.

  17. In 1996, we rented a house on a six month lease when we moved to a new area. Four months later, we were out house hunting and we came home to find a notice of foreclosure nailed to the front door. Long story short, we assumed the mortgage, paid the back interest and had an instant $30,000 in equity. To this day, most of our neighbors on this street, almost all of whom moved here long after we did, shun us because scuttlebutt on the street is that we are “just renters”. Interestingly enough, we were quite friendly with several neighbors when we first moved in, but none of them live here anymore. I have no idea who started the rumor or why it has resulted in shunning.

    So, #6: the Captain is right that these just may not be your people. And even if they are perfectly nice people, they may be bonding with each other by othering you. I don’t get what would be so wrong with us if we were renters, but hey, I just find friends elsewhere.

    1. So weird. Maybe they assume that renters aren’t likely to be around long term and don’t want to put the effort into establishing a relationship? The house next door is apparently a kind of starter house (or maybe haunted, I don’t know) because the people that move in there don’t seem to stay for more than a year or so, so I’ll admit to not going out of my way to get to know them. But I do talk to them when we’re both out and I can’t imagine shunning someone for being a renter.

      1. We’re renting a house, and the neighbors were delighted when we moved in. The previous tenants were a bunch of 20-something guys, so there were a lot of loud parties and cars parked everywhere and maintenance not getting done (not because they were lazy or cheap – they were all in tech and just didn’t have TIME for it.)

    2. In my area, those who rent are not invested in the area; they tend to throw fag butts in the street, they have no interest in keeping the front garden free of junk, litter and anything else that might attract rats, nor the back garden free of weeds that climb into neighbours’ gardens. In addition the landlords don’t live here so don’t care if they chuck mattresses into the street when refurbing, and so on. This is backed up by local police, council, etc – it’s not just hypothetical.

      Now, obviously there are some lovely families in my street who rent. But the properties that cause problems are almost invariably renters, who aren’t invested in the area and perhaps don’t realise that they’re trashing it (when they do) or just don’t care. So it’s easy for neighbours to gossip and generalise.

      I am not for one moment suggesting you’re like that! But you asked why renters might be perceived badly – and in this area, that’s the reason.

      1. Wow. So anti-tenant bias has nothing at all to do with the fact that renters tend to be of a lower socioeconomic status then? The classism in this country has grown like some toxic weed since the Nasty Party were(n’t) elected. That, combined with- economic policies that disproportionately affect people on low incomes, staggering rent rises, and people needing multiple jobs just to bloody survive, mean that it’s practically impossible to get on the housing ladder.

        But dont blame absentee landlords who, before buggering off to their palatial South East homes, bought all available housing stock at rock bottom prices, then charge grossly inflated rents to people stripped of choice. Dont blame the system working people half to death, or the huge numbers of disabled/ill people forced to work* after having their income removed. Don’t blame local councils for getting rid of waste collections/street cleaners/landscape maintenance/pest control.

        Nah! Blame those nasty, dirty renters for everything! How dare those horrid creatures try and live amongst decent, hardworking homeowners. How dare those pov loafers spend their free time in ways you approve of, like mowing somebody else’s lawns, or maintains someone else’s property. It’s not that they’re overworked, or exhausted or ill/disabled, is it? No, couldn’t be…

        *in many cases to their deaths.

        1. THANK YOU.

          Until almost exactly one year ago, I’d been a renter my entire adult life. Those attitudes are so toxic. Makes it hard to feel worthy of so much as basic housing when people treat you as if you’re not worthy of so much as basic housing. I’m from the US, but have encountered similar “only (generally white) people who own their homes* really care about their community” mindsets. So classist. Often racist, often ableist.

          *Unless that home happens to be a trailer.

          1. Ugh yes. We just moved to a new state (and obvi new city) and even though we are “professionals” we live in an apartment complex because we didn’t want to purchase our first house in a brand-new state without first deciding A. that we actually wanted to stay at all and B. where the best location would be. And the look on people’s faces when they find out our address….

            Dude, we’re being financially responsible taking our time and not buying a house in the 3 week time-frame we had to look. And our neighbors are a lot of families with children, so don’t tell me other renters aren’t invested in the community!

          2. Along those lines, sometimes my boyfriend and I lament that we are not “real” adults yet because we still rent. Despite us both being professionals! Living on our own since we were 18! (Him without any financial support since then, me since I was 21!)

            We simply cannot afford to buy right now because we do not have a down payment (although everyone keeps telling me that we /need/ to buy because mortgage payments are cheaper than rent in our area). Even if we did have the money, we can’t because I have been self-employed for less than 2 years (it’ll be 2 this year!) at my own professional practice so I cannot be on the application for a mortgage (in our state). So we are taking our time, saving up, and really trying to figure out where we want to be before we make that kind of investment.

            But like I said, it makes us sad sometimes and we feel inadequate because we don’t own. I didn’t really realize that it is likely due to that toxic attitude you are pointing out (so thank you!). But we are fantastic tenants (even if we don’t talk to our neighbors) and I am definitely invested in the area – otherwise I would not have opened my own practice!

          3. This is a response to rhythla:

            You may already know this, and I don’t know where you live, but in the US there are some government programs that are intended to help people with their down payment. It’s most common for a first home purchase, which would apply to y’all, but there are also some that aren’t designated that way. The most common federal ones are through the FHA, but there are also loans from the Veterans’ Administration and, in rural areas, the US Department of Agriculture, as well as state and local ones.

            Apologies if you knew this stuff already.

            Someone whose mortgage payment is lower than the rent some friends are paying for an apartment smaller than our house.

          4. I’m 42 and I still rent. I’m not overly interested in buying a home. My father, who bought his first home at 24, often said that if he had it to do over again he might not ever buy a home. He just didn’t feel the benefits were worth the costs (but then he also lived most of his life in Southern California, where homes are ludicrously expensive.)

            Once the kids are out we might buy a condo, but most likely we’ll just get a nice apartment in a walkable area.

          5. Buying a house that you cannot pay for entirely (or almost entirely) in cash is not necessarily a good idea, even if it looks like the minimum monthly mortgage payment will be lower than rent. For starters, unless it’s making you more money within some guaranteed term or it’s literally necessary for survival, buying money now for a larger sum of money later/over time is generally a bad idea – it’s inevitably a loss (unless you can somehow lock in an interest rate that is rapidly outpaced by inflation), so the psychological or social benefits you’re getting from owning should be worth the difference. Additionally, when you “own” a house but a bank/broker still has a lien on it, you assume ALL of the responsibility for upkeep, all of the liability, and all of the taxes, while the bank gets to keep a hook in the property to take it back if you default. You’re not ONLY paying the additional interest on your loan, you’re also paying the expenses for the bank/broker to hold the property for the term of the loan, which they would otherwise need to pay. If you’re negotiating a mortgage, BRING THIS UP; you can potentially use it as leverage to negotiate a lower rate, as the bank loses money if it can’t offload a particular property, while you don’t necessarily lose anything by not buying that particular house, which puts you in a relative position of power (since you presumably have other places you can live, like the place you’re living right now, you should always be more willing to walk away than is the bank). Remember, THEY’RE TRYING TO SELL YOU MONEY NOW FOR A LARGER SUM OF MONEY OVER TIME in order to offload property that is costing them money – it’s a double win for them. You or people like you are the only way the bank can turn a liability into an asset, which is why they were/are so keen on getting everyone to “own” via mortgages, even people who really can’t afford it (hence the sub-prime mortgage scheme/crash). With renting, the costs (usually – some shady landlords will try the same BS as banks with stacking up fees) aren’t hidden at all – the quoted rent is what you pay. Additionally, a lot of rental units come with appliances (in my area of the USA, usually refrigerator, water heater, and central/baseboard heating appliances; sometimes washer/dryer), the upkeep of which is the landlord’s responsibility, which is another cost one saves over owning.

            TL;DR: Straight rent-to-minimum-mortgage-payment comparisons elide a significant portion of the cost of owning. Property comes with additional, hidden, and sometimes-unpredictable costs and depreciates without investment in upkeep. If you’re looking at a home as a way to protect savings from depreciation due to inflation, you’re likely better off with a low-overhead indexed mutual fund, since making sure the stock market performs well is clearly a national priority; if you’re looking at long-term savings for use after you retire, an IRA invested in an indexed mutual fund might be your best bet (make sure to look at traditional IRAs versus Roth IRAs if you’re considering this route).

          6. Thanks but…

            A) The house is already bought
            B) I wasn’t asking for financial advice
            C) I didn’t actually tell you anything about our mortgage decisions or investments

   all of that was pretty assumptive and patronizing.

          7. rhythla, I’ve run out of nesting so I can’t comment to you directly, but I would gently advise that most talk about being “adult” is extremely, extremely classist.

            People talk about needing to be “adult” by buying a house, talk about needing “adult” furniture because theirs is from Ikea, talk about wanting an “adult” job as if service work and other undervalued labor doesn’t count, but huge numbers of adults do not and will never be able to have access to these things because they are unable to afford them. That does not mean that these people are not adults. Literally, all you have to do to be an adult is be over a certain age. (Here I acknowledge what I’m sure are many social, cultural, and legal technicalities that surround that definition). Considering middle-to-upper-class things “adult” totally undermines the people who can’t access them for reasons completely unrelated to their “maturity”—whatever that means anyway.

            Not meaning to pile on you, just something to keep in mind since you mentioned it. If you are never able to afford a house, for whatever reason, you are not a failure in any way, shape, or form, and neither are the other people who will never have that huge financial privilege. Best wishes to you and your partner.

          8. Yuuuup. I’m 30, still renting, and honestly I doubt I’ll ever own a home unless I get lucky with inheritance. (My family background is middle class and my parents own their home, but I’m one of five so whatever is left when they die I presumably only get 20% of. And they’re both still working and fully independent.) I’ve actually had the complete flip side of the stereotype. I’ve wanted to grow vegetables and have pets and things, but I’ve been stuck in rentals shared with other people which break up after a year and it just hasn’t been realistic. Luckily this one’s a lot more stable since I live with the homeowner.

        2. Bingo. I was a renter for over ten years in my old neighbourhood when I previously lived in the States. My garden was the best looking on the block, my pets were the best looked-after, I drove a nice car, I was earning a masters degree.

          But yeah, to most of my neighbours, I was trash because I was a renter.

          1. How do people even know this about their neighbours?? Other than the people in my own building, who I know also rent because we share a landlady, how would I know whose name is on my neighbours’ mortgage? Unless they just mean ‘people with a high turnover rate?’

          2. There’s a festering asshole in every community who keeps an eye on things like that and tells everyone else in the neighbourhood. It took superhuman effort not to bleach his lawn when I moved, I hated him so much. He tried for a decade to get us thrown out–to the point where the local codes inspector actually told me once “I’m really sorry, ma’am. There’s nothing wrong with how you folks are keeping up the place, I just have to keep coming out because some guy in your neighbourhood keeps reporting you.”

          3. This reply is to TO_Ont:

            There are a variety of ways to know who probably rents and who probably owns: some people pay attention to for sale/ for rent listings, and it is easy to assume that the house which had a “for rent” sign in front is probably now occupied by renters; and neighbors sometimes talk to one another about local “gossip”; and (especially in a small town like mine) the landlord might be well known in the area, so long-term residents sometimes walk up to me and say things like, “Have you called [landlord’s name] about fixing the gutter pipe that came off in the storm? Because if you haven’t, I’ll mention it when I see them on Tuesday.”

            I don’t actually try to learn who rents and who owns the houses near me, but even without actively paying attention to that information, I could easily tell you that about most of the houses on my block right now.

            And for the record: I’m a renter. I’m in my mid-30s and I’ve never even owned a car, much less owned a house. I’m perfectly fine with that, and I really wish there wasn’t such a classist stigma against renters.

        3. Thanks! I’ve also always rented and yyyeeaah. And honestly, after getting kicked out of my flat for the second time in less than a year (dear letting agency: it is a seriously dick move to rent to me “long-term” and then decide that oops, no, we’re selling this property seven months down the line) I have neither much energy nor much interest when it comes to looking after someone else’s property when there’s a not-insignificant chance I’ll never see the fruits of the labour, even *if* there was a garden allotted to the flat and not a communal area where I have no idea how much I’m allowed to do.

          Although I do dream of the day I’ll have the space to grow cherry tomatoes.

        4. THANK YOU. I remember my most memorable interaction with a former neighbor was getting screamed at for not mowing the lawn… when the landlord was responsible for non-payment of his yard service bills. Could I borrow that neighbors lawnmower to mow it? No, I could not. Obviously I should just *buy* a lawnmower to replace my absentee landlord’s yard crew.

          This was the same house where the plumbing froze solid for 2 months and I was forced to wash dishes with snow, shower at work and use the nearby McDonalds bathroom for all other bodily functions.

      2. I am a renter. I would love to fix up the yard, repair the crumbling staircase, repaint the walls that are covered with a patchwork of paint, tear out the toxic carpet, etc. But I don’t do these things because I don’t have thousands of dollars and many hours of time to invest in somebody else’s property. If I had that kind of money I would fulfill my dream of investing in my OWN property.

        But ok, sure, tell me how my slumlord’s total neglect of HIS property in violation of many municipal codes is MY fault.

  18. Re #2 and the former affair — if I’m reading the answer correctly, there’s an assumption that the wife knows about the affair and knows the identity of the other woman. Then the answer seems to suggest that a minimalist greeting will leave the husband kind of spluttering to explain things. Not to get into details here, but when I was in a party in an affair situation, the wife never met the other woman in person and would not have recognized her on the street. If Other Woman ran into the couple in public, I think the best course of action would be not to make eye contact (in that awesome way city dwellers learn to do from an early age as their urban social contract to maintain a little privacy), and in any event for Other Woman to steer herself away from Husband and Wife so that they don’t have to pass on the same sidewalk. Or whatever space the parties are about to occupy at the same time: Other Woman should leave the restaurant, go grocery shopping some other time, catch a different screening of Fury Road.

    Affairs come in many different shapes and sizes. But once they’re done, they’re done. Husband and Wife may have worked through it and completely reconciled. Husband and Wife may be taking their very first steps to keep their marriage together. Or Wife may never have learned about it. Whatever stage of healing (or not-so-healing) they’re in, Other Woman should stay out of it. I’m afraid the Captain’s advice may insert some further drama into a situation where Other Woman would be better placed to let sleeping dogs lie.

    1. Yes, this. Unless the Search Writer knows for 100% sure that Wife has no idea about the affair, they should make it their mission to stay out of Wife’s life unless explicitly invited into it.

      In a just world, that burden would fall primarily on Affair Partner, since he’s the one who broke his word. But there’s no way to place that burden primarily on him without also placing it on his wife. So while he should also be finding a different restaurant/grocery store/movie theater (and not to deceive his wife but to protect her feelings), SW can’t control whether he actually does that. All SW can control is how they behave, and how best they can protect AP’s wife from the consequences of their actions.

    2. “Whatever stage of healing (or not-so-healing) they’re in, Other Woman should stay out of it.”
      Don’t call Affair Partner (AP) after affair has ended. Don’t ‘just happen’ to show up at the place they go for Sunday brunch and sit next to their table. Don’t get a membership to AP’s gym.

      “Other Woman should leave the restaurant, go grocery shopping some other time, catch a different screening of Fury Road.”
      If OW is going about her day and runs into AP, she should continue going about her day. She does not bear the burden of AP’s relationship issues. Being cheated on doesn’t mean AP’s wife has met her quota of unpleasant experiences and OW must now rearrange her life to avoid the possibility of upsetting her.
      The fragility of the relationship was a pre-existing condition.

      1. Never said Other Woman has to rearrange her life so that Wife doesn’t get her feelings hurt. What I said was that doing this nod-and-pass-by thing to leave Husband in discomfort or hot water creates drama. Whatever satisfaction or even schadenfreude Other Woman may feel about that is not conducive to helping her, Husband, or Wife move on after the affair is done.

        As an example, in my affair situation, Husband was a constant liar who had a separate apartment in a city in a different state than his suburban home with Wife. As far as Other Woman could tell, the divorce was finished “ABP” (“all but paperwork”), and besides, Other Woman did not see Husband frequently. Wife and Other Woman never met. The affair ended when Wife caught Husband in a lie he couldn’t get out of, called Other Woman, and informed her that the divorce was not as final as Husband had said it was. If Other Woman now sees Husband and Wife on the street, what good would it do for her to acknowledge Husband as she passes by?

        I wouldn’t even assume that the nod-and-pass-by would actually cause Husband — this or any other — any discomfort. If Husband is OK with lying to Wife about an affair, then he’ll have no trouble at all lying about who just passed them. “Oh, that’s Jane from the server room. Ha-ha, I never actually see her outside of that basement” or “Ah, that’s Mary from the pizza shop we order from on Fridays” or “Susan there is on our office pub trivia team” are the kinds of things Husband will be able to come up with on the fly to defeat any kind of drama-creation strategy. Other Woman should rise above it and not give Husband the opportunity for more practice.

        1. It’s not about causing AP discomfort. It’s about OW moving through the situation smoothly in as neutral a way as possible.

          The nod of recognition says “I know you, but am not going to engage with you.”
          You give the nod when you see a service provider outside of their workplace. “Hello waitress from my favorite restaurant, I see you, but am not going to impose on your free time.”
          Or to someone in your building whose name you don’t know. “Hello person I sometimes walk by in the hallway, I’m going to keep walking by.”

          So instead of freezing up, or quickly turning away, or some other hideously awkward thing that flashes a neon sign that “Here be Drama!!!”, they acknowledge they know each other and move on, in the way that vague acquaintances do.

          1. Yeah that’s exactly what I assumed from the advice. Honestly if I was walking with someone and they did that little nod thing with someone passing by, I doubt I’d pay any attention whatsoever.

        2. It’s not about causing discomfort, it’s about moving by smoothly and not engaging.

    3. The best course for the Other Woman would be to rearrange her life so as not to cause any inconvenience to the husband, is really what you are saying. But, in general, the husband makes a choice. He made a commitment, he broke that commitment. He gets to live with the consequences and sometimes that’s uncomfortable. I get a really strong vibe of “the other woman is morally inferior and shall thus skulk in the shadows for the rest of her life not to inconvenience the husband, boys being boys and all”

      Which is really a very sexist, privileged view point.

  19. Our culture is so fucked up! I love all these search terms that are like, “Person bluntly says obvious thing to me. What does it mean????” I blame all the dating advice books written in the last 30 years for this sad state of affairs.

    1. Yeah, the cultural impetus to either not say what you mean, or to assume no one says what they mean (or means what they say) is very strong. Frustrating, to say the least!

    1. The “affair” in the question made me think that he was married to this person when the relationship happened.

      1. You’re probably right. I think it may just be that I’ve often heard people talk about affaires when none of the participants were married to others.

        1. We will likely never know! 🙂

          I think the “Hey” nod is useful in many situations where you don’t want to employ the cut direct but you want to keep your distance from someone.

      1. That was a great column … I’ve been hoping some artistic Awkwardeer out there might come up with a great cartoon rendition of the Logick Kraken.

  20. For #6, I also want to suggest a garden! “Extra” fruit and vegetables are a low-key, acceptable offering to neighbors that gives you an excuse to say hello. Everyone understands what it’s like to have too many zucchini.

  21. On #3 (I’m sick of husband playing games on his phone), I agree that it is good for a relationship to have times when your attention is 100% on each other, and if you feel like you need your partner to pay attention to you more, you should tell them. On the other hand, my knee-jerk reaction to this question, probably because of my own personal issues, was more like “HE’S AN ADULT! STOP TELLING HIM WHAT TO DO WITH HIS FREE TIME!”

    1. Yeah, I’ve been in both the good and bad versions of this scenario. With my partner, my thoughts on hearing “Can you get off your phone?” would be “Oh yeah, I keep getting distracted by it. Maybe we should set up device-free times, because what I actually want is to talk to you.” On the other hand, I’ve also been in situations where I just want to tell the person, “Yeah, isn’t it great how technology hinders your ability to pressure me into talking to you just because we happen to be in physical proximity to each other?”

  22. It seems to me that #6 is a likely outcome of (over)use of #5. You can’t have it both ways, folks. Neighbors aren’t toys that you can pull out only when _you’re_ in the mood to play.

    1. Maybe, but…they’re two different people, in two different neighborhoods, with two different sets of neighbors, and they’ve probably been acting in totally different ways in their interactions with said neighbors. Besides, even the closest of friends should realize that there will be times when their neighbor-friend might not want to hang out and talk and be their shoulder to cry on, and if two people haven’t known each other long, then maybe they should be even more careful about developing a real mutual friendship first before unloading on their neighbors all the time? No one’s saying that neighbors are like little toys to play with and discard, but almost everyone needs both personal time and social time–and the percentages of each vary between people. #5 and #6 are both figuring out how to make that balancing act work…as are all their neighbors.

      1. I meant it in a more general sense, rather than assuming that by sheer coincidence 2 readers of CA just happened to live next to each other and be complaining about each other.

        While I take your point that few of us want to listen to someone unload if they’re not a friend, my point was that making friends also requires one to spend time listening to people. And that means, sometimes, listening to them unload. I see a lot of “I don’t want to be friends with my neighbor, just leave me alone” posts on forums like CA, and I always wonder if these are the same people who whine that nobody wanted to help them in their time of need and how selfish we all are these days.

        1. While you’re right that people need to put in the effort if they want friends…some people just do not want to be friends with certain other people, and it can suck, but it happens. Or they don’t want to be friends with their random neighbor because they already have a group of friends that provides all the socialization they need, and when they’re home they just want quiet time. Besides, even if you’re GREAT friends with someone, they might ghost away in your time of need, so that’s not really a good argument for barely tolerating someone you may find draining or annoying.

  23. #4-Well, nothing’s happening without the help of your boyfriend. So either you trust your boyfriend, and it’s a non-issue (i.e. he’s with you now, and it doesn’t matter who might be interested in him, it’s not happening while you’re still together), or you don’t, and the problem is really about your relationship.

    So ask yourself what you’re really worried about. She can’t just magic him away; he has to decide to go back to her. Is this a manifestation of your relationship insecurities (“why would anyone be with me?” “they’re only with me until something better comes along.” “He’s only with me because his previous girlfriend broke up with him and he’d go back to her if he could”), or does he behave in a way that erodes your trust (he has cheated on you/his other girlfriends/he has a pattern of dating other people intermittently with this ex , he’s unreliable and you can’t really trust him to be where he says or do what he promised, he gaslights you or engages in other abusive behaviors).

  24. #12 – My take is “someone’s friend is messing around with his phone” and “you’re probably in middle school.”

  25. #1- You aren’t software, you don’t need to be optimised. If he doesn’t like who he’s dating then he has two choices- adjust his expectations or break up. “Fixing” you is not one of those choices.

    1. Please, say this louder. Say this so loud that all my computer engineering classmates can hear it.

      1. If I ruled the world there would be mandatory “How To Date Healthily”classes which included this. You are allowed to tell your partner that something is bothering you. You are allowed to help them WITH THEIR PERMISSION if they decide to change it. You can’t fix- or “fix”- them. (The former is for genuine problems like “You have a drinking problem”, the latter is for stuff that comes down to “I don’t like how you do ‘feminine'” or “I like you except for your personality” or “You’d be so beautiful if you lost ten pounds.”) Either way, it is not your job.

  26. “. . . she was always gay. ”

    This isn’t necessarily true (because sexual orientation and sexual identity are not static), and unless you, CA, know the LW’s daughter I don’t think it’s accurate or actually matters. Whether the LW’s daughter was always gay, or has become gay more recently, it’s still for the LW to accept her daughter as she is.

    As an aside, I actually don’t understand why people get this hung up on another person’s orientation, even if it’s their kid. It makes no sense to me that a person would “have trouble accepting” that their kid is gay, if the kid in question has told them directly “Yes, I’m gay.”

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