Carolyn Hax responds to a letter writer whose boyfriend thinks she should work on being closer to her somewhat estranged family.

If he were “very into self-improvement,” he’d be trying to get closer to your family, or his own. Pushing you to do this (or anything else) means he’s very into other-improvement.

Be very, very wary of that.

New boyfriend! So sensitive and helpful! So very helpful. Halpful. Helpy.

I like the Dear Businesslady series at The Toast and enjoyed this one, on how much it sucks to be a working parent in our barbarian country and on what to do when your work colleague aggressively wants to be your work friend.

Here’s the thing: some people just aren’t meant to be friends. And some people don’t realize that they’re not meant to be friends with certain other people. I’ve been in your position before, where I start to establish a rapport with a coworker only to realize “yikes, we need to dial this thing back into colleague territory”; I’ve also been in a version of Helena’s position, where my efforts to become buddies with someone are clearly being rebuffed. It hurts to feel rejected, but putting someone on the spot with any version of “why don’t you like me?” is a bad way to handle it. It’s like asking a partner to explain—really explain—why they’re breaking up with you: any useful intel you’ll get out of it won’t be worth the salt you’re pouring into your own open wound.

This personal essay on hunger, family, and memory is really good. Hard to read. Really good.

Edited to Add: Breaking! Friend Jess White’s essay Living in Laramie: After Matthew Shepard is up at The Toast. It’s about landscape and being haunted and the stories we grow up knowing in our bones. Read it.

What’s the single best thing you’ve read online this week?

85 thoughts on “Links

  1. Oh god, the Helena letter reminds me so much of a recent work situation that ended tragically. (And leaving me feeling really guilty.) Work is for work, not for making friends people. Sad puppy eyes will not make me change my mind about not going out to lunch with literally anyone.

    I really enjoyed this great article about why the Social Justice Warriors are winning.

    And also this article about techniques to improve your mental state!

    1. I just wrote the mental state ones down on an index card so they’ll be right at hand the next time I see them. Thanks!

    1. Why is it that collecting things seems so male dominated? Is it, really? Or is it that women typically collect feminine things and therefore don’t get attention bc girly?

      1. Pretty much the second one, as far as I can tell. Or even just that women collecting things is seen as either trivial or a vaguely-pitiable obsession.

        1. I think there’s some of that connotation for men, too. However ‘geeky’ men are at least more likely to be acknowledged to exist, even if not always celebrated.

      2. I might be a bit gender non conforming, I used to describe myself as a tomboy, now, don’t really care for labels (me, personally). All I can say is me owning a vag doesn’t mean I don’t like collectibles that aren’t shoes*. So far I have a pretty big appetite for musical instruments, especially guitars, I like antiques (especially watches) and pocket knives (I own three so far) and have always had a taste for swords (but I think you need permits for those, so I’ll give it time).
        Collecting probably runs in my family, my dad loves watches too and model cars, and my grandma has a collection of bells she got from different parts of the world because she loves travel, both her and my dad like little souvenirs.
        And then there’s my sister, who like me isn’t exactly femme femme, but embraces a her feminine identity a lot more, loves collectibles like comic books, action figures, football (soccer for the US) cards, and pins, and she’s the jock in our family!

        So it would be interesting to look into why women aren’t a lot more present in the world of collectors, because if you look at DeviantArt for example , you’ll find tons of chicks with badass geeky collections, everything from jewelry to posters.

        *Considering I wear mostly Vans, does it still count? It’s ironic how there might be collector bros who look down at a woman’s collection of stilettos and platforms because they’re shoes, would they do the same to a sports fan who collects Air Jordan’s? Or is it that girly automatically trumps your collectibles?

        1. Geeky collections.. my collections are specific and well displayed (not hoarding). They include Waterford crystal, Wedgwood vases, and neoclassical sculpture of Roman gods and goddesses. Mr Elf’s collections are Roman and Greek armour, helmets and swords. Also Mr Elf is an amateur astronomer so we see many a nebulae or other star group pic here. =D

      1. I found it incomplete, actually. Along with panicked civilians firing indiscriminately, there have been civilians who managed to stop robberies, mass shootings, and other such happenings with the use of a firearm. A lot of them were off-duty or retired cops; a lot weren’t. It makes me wonder if, prior to purchasing a gun, people should be required to take a course training them on what to do / not to do in a mass shooting situation.

          1. Kithcenchantress, at least one of your links was from Breitbart, which you may not be aware is an extremely racist hate site with zero credibility. No need to resubmit the rest, as there are many other sites with active debates about guns going on where people can satisfy their curiosity.

        1. On the other hand, there are many, MANY more cases where gun ownership did not help one little bit (contrary to initial reports, there WERE armed guards on the premises at Columbine, for example — didn’t do a thing) or where the shooter was stopped by UNARMED people (like the Giffords shooting). And then there are nutjobs like the woman who recently opened fire at a Home Depot in Michigan, convinced that she was a “good guy with a gun”.

          See, that’s really the problem: there’s no way to know who is a “good guy” until they die. Until that moment, every person with a gun is — to borrow the idea from the famous essay — Shrodinger’s Insane Shooter. The last ten years demonstrate amply that anyone with a gun MUST be presumed to be an would-be shooter ready to go off, for the sake of public safety, because there is no way to test for it and the consequences are too damaging to be ignored. Of course, the U.S. is far too silly to take the obvious step of making guns and/or ammunition inaccessible like other countries (oddly enough, the gun nuts are now trying to hold up Switzerland as an example — the country where all guns must be registered and ammunition is nearly impossible to obtain); instead we bow to the will of the gun fetishists and then wonder why there are all these mass shootings. Ask Australia — they used to have them before they passed severe gun control laws and banished most of the guns.

          1. Australia has actually had legally defined “mass murders” by gun even since the passing of their gun control laws. I must politely but firmly disagree with you about the US being “too silly” to outlaw guns. Mass shootings are not the only danger to be faced; home invasions are a possibility, and I do not want to have no guns available to me in that event. Store robberies are also a common happening. Stories where the shop owner shoots the robbers and saves both his livelihood and his life make local papers but rarely national ones, because the media tends to downplay such stories. They’re out there; Google them.

            There are cases where private gun owners stopped mass shootings; there are cases where private gun owners did nothing, or made the situation worse. I think that taking guns away from everyone when the problem lies within a tiny percentage of gun ownership won’t solve the problem. There is no guarantee that a mentally ill person won’t obtain a gun illegally.

            I know the city of Chicago has been held up by pro-gun people again and again, and I will do so, too. Gang violence is a serious problem in south Chicago, and the vast majority of those guns have been obtained illegally. I do not want to take my chances against an illegally armed person without being armed myself.

            I really think the key to gun control is training citizens in not only how to properly use and store them, but how to react calmly in a high-pressure situation. Even if we outlaw guns, mass shootings will still happen. Or mass knifings, which China sees depressingly regularly. I strongly feel that access to mental health should be much more affordable and widespread; what the US has right now is a joke. It makes me mad that politicians on both sides use this as a talking point whenever a shooting happens to make themselves look empathetic and in the know – but nothing ever comes of their speeches. We’re still dealing with mentally ill people on the streets, mentally ill people not getting the care they need, and a stigma on people receiving mental health services. These things absolutely need to change, even if gun laws stay the same.

            Clearly we disagree on this issue. I respect your opinion and why you feel the way you do. I used to feel that way, too.

  2. The best thing the internet has found for me within the past week or two is the musical ‘Hamilton’!!! Soundtrack is available, go listen!

      1. It’s so brilliant to do the king as the abusive ex. Well, the whole thing is brilliant GAAHHH. It treats everyone’s very different takes on what it means to make a good life in such a complex way.

    1. I didn’t realize until just a few weeks ago that that musical was based on the weird Alexander Hamilton rap one of my poli sci professors made us watch half a dozen times, last election season. I thought it was hilariously weird.

      1. Assuming you’re talking about this, it’s less that it’s “based on” that song and more that that song is actually the opening number of the musical, performed by the writer and leading actor of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda! I know people in the audience got giggly about it because haha a rap about a founding father, but the show actually has great atmosphere and is a fab blend of comedy and genuine drama. The soundtrack is on Spotify and I highly, highly recommend it!

        1. I’ve listened to it on Spotify a good half dozen times at work this week. Even though Burn makes me cry every. Single. Time.

          1. I’ve listened to Act One forever but I Act Two promises pain and sobbing. I’m adding a song every few days – I barely got through Say No to This and was rewarded with The Room Where it Happens. Now I’m up to the second Cabinet Battle.

    2. My husband won’t. stop. playing it. My 6 and 4 year olds won’t stop singing it. It has taken over our house.

  3. Yay! New links!

    This is the most recent excellent thing I’ve read this week:
    It’s sort of a general rule for someone who wants to approach a stranger and start a conversation but doesn’t know how to do so without being invasive and threatening.

    I shared it on my facebook and a few of my guy friends shared it with THEIR guy friends and lots of good conversations happened in lots of threads.

    1. I loved that! It’s good for both people who are trying to be more aware of coming off as creepy/overbearing, and also coming from the opposite end for people like me who are terrified of possibly offending or boring someone and so default to not talking at all. Things can’t always be broken down so neatly, but this makes a really good rule of thumb for “do both people probably want to be having this conversation?”.

  4. Best thing I read on the internet this week is two short stories set in Anne Leckie’s “Ancillary Justice” universe. Clears up a couple of confusing plot points, which was great, but also definitively genders the main character which I found oddly disappointing.

    If you like the books (I read “Ancillary Mercy” all in one day and now I have So Many Questions) check out Night’s Slow Poison and She Commands Me And I Obey

    1. Wait, “She Commands Me and I Obey” is set in the same universe as her novels? I totally didn’t catch that when I listened to the story on the Strange Horizons podcast. Might have to give that story a re-read at some point! And I’ll definitely be reading the other one, which I hadn’t seen before.

      In related news, I just seconds ago got the email from Amazon that my preparer of Ancillary Mercy had shipped. Yay I can’t wait!

      1. Yeah, I didn’t get the connection at first either, but Breq talks about spending time in the Itran Tetrarchy in, I think, the very first book. I’d forgotten all about it.

  5. Aw, shucks! I’m digitally blushing. I felt like that column was my attempt to channel CA (and indeed, the commentariat ended up quoting you while critiquing my “defer plans-making to a future time that will never arrive” suggestion).

    I haven’t had time to do much substantive online reading lately, alas, but I ended up clicking through this ridiculous slideshow of ’70s ads for drug paraphernalia (via the AVClub), and I feel like my worldview will never be the same:

  6. On Walking Away by Casey Rathunde at Other Half Sports:

    (tw: discussion of a current rape investigation, rape culture) (disclaimer: I’m an occasional Other Half contributor)

    The author, like me, had to leave her Blackhawks fannishness behind not (just) because one of the players is under investigation, but because of the way the team has made it clear they just don’t care. It’s so well written.

    1. OMG that was my best thing, too–it’s like Casey reached into my brain and put my thoughts down to explain why I’ve distanced myself WAY WAY BACK on my NHL fannishness in general and why I’m selling my Blackhawks stuff on eBay (except for the hand-knit K*ne doll that I’ve turned into a pincushion).

    2. It’s like how I’m starting to feel about college football, and that’s something I never thought I’d give up.

  7. I have been doing almost nothing except binge watching Steven Universe lately and alternately going squee, tearing up and laughing like mad.

    But I do have this to share:

    It’s an article from my favorite author on how to pick up girls. Or not. It isn’t particularly deep but it is very very funny.

  8. The comments on the Hax letter were so annoying! All these people saying maybe the boyfriend is seeing that the family is nice and the girlfriend is not being forgiving. I had no idea until I met my husband’s family that parents and siblings could be so nasty – the worst I had encountered in my own family was my cousin Pat licking my husband’s cheek when she met him for the first (and, amazingly, the last) time. The commenters who think the boyfriend is right have been lucky enough NEVER TO MEET A HORRIBLE FAMILY!

    1. I love Carolyn Hax. I am much less enamored of her commenting section, however. For every comment that gets it (and there are always good ones), there are two that are annoying. In particular there are a lot of “If LW were a man/woman, Hax would be a lot harder/easier on them” and a lot of “LW is over-reacting/needs to pull hizzer self up by hizzer bootstraps” comments. As internet comments go, they’re not bad, but oof, they are no Awkward Army!

    2. I love Carolyn Hax, but I can’t stand her commentariat. To the point that I actually complained repeatedly to WaPo when they used to run the “while Carolyn is away, her readers answer the questions” series, because the advice in those was more often than not legitimately terrible and sometimes dangerous! The last time she went on vacation, they just pulled from her archives. I hope that they do that from now on. It was far less terrifying.

    3. I think it’s hard for people who don’t have terrible families to really understand what it’s like to have a terrible family. I wouldn’t say my family is the worst EVER, but there’s really not a lot of love there, and I regularly go months at a time without talking to them (and I have to be the initiator always, they’ve probably called me on their own initiative less than a dozen times in ten years). It’s emotionally better for me to pretend I don’t have a family, but it’s hard to explain this to people in a way that doesn’t make me the bad guy, after all, what kind of monster doesn’t love their parents? Unless there’s a specific abuse you can pinpoint, a lot of happy-family people won’t accept “my parents were pretty neglectful and I felt like I was a burden to them” as a valid reason for estrangement. This is why my closest friendships are with other people who had subpar families.

    1. Ooh that was a satisfying read 🙂 It blows me away that actual grownups think Ayn Rand was an even slightly reasonable or moral human being. I thought she was pretty clever when I was a young teen (and I only read The Fountainhead, which I remember being less terrible than that description of Atlas Shrugged), but I grew out of it!

      1. Thank you so much for sharing the link about improving one’s mental state! It helped immediately. 🙂

    2. If you like Adam Lee’s top-ten list, try his series deconstructing Atlas Shrugged.

      Related: In the comment threads, someone named Sneezeguard started scripting dialogues between the Atlas characters and Cobra Commander from GI Joe. Adam Lee collected the dialogues and put them all in one place. That sounds weird, but trust me, it is hilarious.

    1. when i stop being on a catherynne m valente kick i will… possibly have expired. thank you for the links!

  9. Oh god, that first letter. I’m having so many feels right now.

    My first boyfriend was into “other-improvement” too. It was never even slightly about my best interest, it was about him wishing he was dating someone cooler than me and trying to make me into that cooler girl. If I had just given up my bizarre insistence on having my own (wrong, according to jerkface) preferences I’m sure he would’ve been much happier.

    For anyone else who dated or is dating that guy, there’s nothing wrong with you! You have a right to do your hair the wrong way! You have a right to not tan if you don’t want to! You have a right to dress wrong and talk wrong and have the wrong interests! You are not doing life wrong because some jerk thinks you should be his puppet.

    And honestly, if you’re that terrible why the hell doesn’t he just dump you? I mean, I know I kept dating that jerk because I thought it was normal to be unhappy and because I bought into the idea that “relationships take work.” What I don’t understand is why he kept dating me when he seemed to think everything I said, did, thought, or felt was The Worst. In hindsight, breaking up with me would have meant not being able to control me anymore, which he seemed pretty bent on, but at the time I was just so confused.

    On a more cheerful note, there’s a real person named Loki Skylizard! Dr Skylizard, even! (and his site is just delightfully deadpan about it) Apparently his parents let him and his sister change their names if they wanted to when they were eight.

    1. Yeah. That was my first college boyfriend. He just really needed me to be thinner and dress differently. Specifically to dress more like his ex girlfriend, who had a completely different personality and body type from me. And then, after years of trying to turn me into his previous girlfriend, he starts dating someone who looked like a younger version of me after we broke up. It was like this weird thing where he was always suck on whatever gal he was with before.

    2. I had a toxic BFF in college who was like that too. I didn’t realize how insidious the constant improvement schtick was at first because my parents have always been about that. She kept harping on me about “why do you feel that you don’t deserve love?” and then laying into me because I laughed wrong, or she didn’t like how I always had to have coffee in the mornings, or I didn’t swim in the lake with enough spontaneity, or she thought my easygoing nature made me seem weak to other people. It is such a mindfuck, because you feel like you’re giving up on doing the important work it takes to become a better person when you finally walk away.

    1. Interesting article written with great sensitivity. Some of his concerns have not been my experience as a female nerd.

      “When a self–proclaimed female nerd appears to more closely match this ideal than the male nerd does the male ideal, the male nerd may see the disparity in their divergences from the ideal as a potential threat. His discomfort may be conscious or unconscious, but it often results in a feeling of inadequacy and resentment. His response may be to pre–emptively reject these women in order to forestall any chance of feeling hurt or vulnerable as a result of their own attraction.”

      In High School, I was one of 2 girls in the Ham Radio club. The true nerds boys there were simply delighted we chose to join them. Personally have never found any nerd boys or young men to be threatened by nerd girls. No doubt this probably happens as the author feels this way, perhaps it is just not overtly expressed in most social settings.

      1. My freshman year of college, a transfer student shows up at our Game Society room where we’re getting ready for a D&D game and asks me “Are you a camp follower?” He could not conceive of a woman being interested in gaming; they were just the girlfriends hanging out while their boyfriends were immersed in role-playing. Or something. I just looked at him dumbfounded–are you seriously asking me if I am a prostitute whose primary clients are soldiers in the field? WTF? He also didn’t understand why his question was problematic.

        That made the misogyny common in nerd culture really stand out for me. I am glad you have not had similar experiences. Please understand that you are lucky to be in the minority that way. It’s plenty overtly expressed in lots of social settings, as the Fake Geek Girls and Gamergate kerfuffles in fandom most visibly demonstrate relatively recently as referenced by the author.

    2. Variations in cultural masculinity Do vary widely. On this side of the pond this is how men can seriously intimidate each other for purposes of sport.

      And The Crowd Loves it! Hear them ROAR.

        1. Ally McBeal would be so proud, but then her hallucinogenic baby would be dancing to “Hooked on a Feeling” instead of “Oogachaka”. =)

  10. Something fun to share is the results of the Astrophotography Competition for 2015. Check it out on full screen for wonderful images.


    1. Very interesting! Having gone through two pregnancies and plenty of periods, this makes a lot of sense.

    2. Mind-blowing. As someone wanting to avoid pregnancy and related tolls upon my health, the article makes me even more cross that the monthly ‘break’ in taking the Pill to induce bleeding is entirely unnecessary. It was put there to make the Pill seem more ‘natural’ (and no doubt, to stop women feeling that they were getting away with something).

  11. Resolved: That “I Only Call You When It’s Half Past Five” should be retitled “The Nopetopus Song.”

  12. That Toast letter had a link to an article about the *feelings!!* that occur while watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. That was awesome. I am shallow that way.

  13. It’s like asking a partner to explain—really explain—why they’re breaking up with you: any useful intel you’ll get out of it won’t be worth the salt you’re pouring into your own open wound.

    I very much disagree on the breakup front. Lots of people who engage in shitty behaviors don’t realize it, and some of them legitimately want to change. Getting that info can be extremely helpful. Too, if the question is being asked in good faith and the questioner hasn’t been shitty, learning that the other person just isn’t all that sexually aroused by zir, for example, can help one just shrug it off and move on, as there’s simply nothing to be done in that case. And if one doesn’t truly know, “I don’t know exactly, I’m just not feeling it,” is a perfectly good answer. That response seems to assume that people are all asking in bad faith or that every relationship that ends must have involved dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics, but in reality, most people break up for mundane reasons like waning attraction, mismatched goals, mismatched libidos, etc. The questioner is literally asking for it in that instance – I suggest answering the question with total honesty and directness, with no extra effort (beyond not being intentionally hurtful) to soften the blow (exceptions for cases where there is/has been abuse or red flags and one thus fears for zir safety). Unless it endangers someone, honesty is nearly always the kindest behavior; “trying to spare someone’s feelings” is usually an attempt to spare one’s own feelings by not making someone else mad at oneself. It’s an understandable conflict avoidance strategy, but it’s not usually kind or ethical as far as others are concerned.

    1. Once you’re no longer together your ex isn’t your booster, and has no particular reason to give you help and advice.

      Any effort to not be hurtful is extra effort. Essentially the answer to “Why did you break up with me?” is an elaboration of “Because I don’t want to be with you”

      1. Everything on this website is an illustration of why I have no interest in forming such relationships, but I have heard tell that some people stay friends after ending romantic relationships. Surely friends have reason to give each other help and advice?

        1. I am personally friends with several exes–but not for the first several months after a breakup. And not with any of the ones who demanded that I give them Good Reasons for a breakup, or try to make them understand why it was necessary.

          Friends have reason to give each other help and advice, sure. But it’s not my job to *teach* them anything.

    2. As the Captain has observed previously, most honest answers to “why are you breaking up with me?” are either going to be something outside the asker’s control [such as “I’ve realized I’m not attracted to you” or “because we couldn’t agree on whether to have children”] or are of the form “Because I told you that if you kept doing X I would leave you, and you didn’t pay any attention.”

      If it’s mismatched goals, someone who doesn’t realize that could as reasonably be told “communication failures” as “because I want children soon and you don’t want them ever.”

      Someone who has spent weeks, months, even years trying to get their partner to do their share of the housework, or stop insulting their friends, or listen to their music, or get a guinea pig* and been ignored or told “sorry, honey, I’ll do better” over and over with no actual change isn’t exactly motivated to have the same conversation for the 23rd time, now that they’ve given up on saving whatever was good in the relationship. That’s even aside from the likelihood that the now-ex will say “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was that important, I’ll change, just don’t leave me.” Because a person who ignores you when you tell them that they’re making you unhappy is such a good partner.

      *it doesn’t matter here whether you or I think it’s a good reason for breaking up, because it’s not our relationship.

  14. The best thing I’ve read in the past couple of weeks has been the SpiderMable story (which any fellow Canadians here may have seen already, as she was trending on Twitter!). It did a lot to restore my faith in humanity. This kid is adorable and I love how into it everyone got!

    “SpiderMable, 6-year-old cancer fighter, frees missing Oiler | Mable’s greatest wish is to join neighbourhood friendly hero in fighting crime” |

  15. Well, it’s not something I’ve read, but the best thing I’ve watched on the Internet this week has been the Angry Yoga lady! Always good for a laugh:

  16. The best (or at least most interesting) thing I’ve read this week is this discussion on the difficulties of translation, with an extra layer of placating a geek fanbase vs. making things intelligible to new fans. It starts off with one specific catchphrase, but broadens to more general issues.

    (One term the article doesn’t define and should have is “scanlation”: it’s when someone scans a comic and posts it online with an amateur translation.)

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