It Came From The Search Terms: “August October”

It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”


My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”


DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

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66 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: “August October”

  1. A alternate interpretation of #5 could be that other people care too much about that person going to grad school, which isn’t for everyone. I’m 40 and my mom still sometimes hassles me that I should get my master’s, even though it’s basically useless in my field as long as you have work experience and I don’t actually enjoy school for its own sake.

  2. “People who care about grad school too much.”

    If you say this because you have a friend, lover, colleague, or family member in grad school whose time and attention you aren’t getting as much as you’d like because they’re consumed with school…be patient, be kind, and understand that it won’t last forever and eventually you’ll have a much more balanced relationship again.

    If you say this because someone or oneS is trying to make you feel bad because you didn’t earn your degree from the “right” school, because you didn’t study the “right” topic, because you didn’t finish grad school, because you didn’t get in, or because you never applied in the first place (possibly because you never wanted to go), just remember that academic degrees have exactly zero impact on what kind of person you are – they signify our advanced level study in a field, not your worth as a person.

    1. I’d add:

      If you say this because you are currently IN grad school, and it seems like everyone else is way more intense about it than you (this is how I felt), that’s OK. Grad school does tend to be all absorbing, and figuring out how to balance that with having a life and doing things you enjoy is actually awesome and a great way to keep sane. It doesn’t mean you’re less dedicated. Everyone has to carve their own path.

      1. Yes to both of these comments! And I would thirdly add: if you say this because your friends are grad students but you’re not and Every Single Conversation™ turns into them complaining about grad school, I suggest three tactics:

        1. (if you feel comfortable, ONLY ONCE): Say “Hey friends! I feel like I can’t really be part of this conversation. Could we change the topic to something everyone can talk about?”
        2. Privately, invite ONE friend from your grad student friend group to hang out with you one-on-one, where it won’t devolve into a collective rantfest.
        3. Limit your time with that friend group.

        These are tactics my non-grad student friends have used with success!

    2. Yes to both of these!

      I got so tired of the sad puppy eyes and “but what about your wasted potential?” when it came out that I was going into industry rather than academia. I promise, my mind has not withered up like a leave in November just because I left the hallowed halls.

      1. I never realized until right now that that’s exactly gaslighting. I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and ask some pointed questions instead of politely dissembling. To my mom, when she expressed outrage that I wasn’t going to college and instead wanted to cook: “Wait, what are you trying to say there? Are you telling me you think I’m a failure because I’m ‘wasting my potential’? Are you disappointed in me? Do you believe that restaurants add so little value to society that you’re ashamed that that’s the profession I’ve chosen? Do you believe that just because I’m a goddamn math/science genius that there’s no other thing I could possibly want to do with my life? Do you believe there’s nothing else I could do and be great at? ” To her credit, she eventually did say that she’s glad that everything worked out in my life and that she’s proud of me for walking my own path, but you know who really needed to hear that? 18-year-old me, that’s who.

        1. Thank you for posting this, disconnect ❤
          I finished a bachelors in maths a couple years ago and feel adrift now, like I'm a failure for not jumping right into more STEM-whatever. I was dealing (barely) with depression during my studies, so was too inconsistent a student to get into grad school.

  3. OMG I love It Came From the Search Terms and did not dare dream that a new one would be posted the day after the Patreon campaign went up. GO AWKWARD ARMY! GO IT CAME FROM THE SEARCH TERMS!

    I hope some of these searchers found something helpful to them here. There’s a lot of awesome stuff to discover.

    #1 – The Ask A Manager advice blog would probably be a good resource too. In fact, I’d be surprised if this hasn’t come up in a couple permutations already on that site.

    1. I like doing them but they take a lot of time, and for a while, WordPress changed how/whether I could view them. Glad to be back in the groove though!

  4. Yay, it’s great to see this feature return! Also great to see you hit the first Patreon goal so soon. 🙂
    I deeply wish I could send helpful letters back to past-mo and always enjoy reading other people’s letters-to-past-selves. This is a particularly lovely one.

    1. Hey, I do too. Not long ago, I wanted to do a writing exercise so I decided to write a letter-to-past-me exactly half my lifetime ago, and it was perfect. I was 17, just coming to the end of the first of 2 years studying subjects I should never have chosen and just weeks away from meeting someone who would change my life in beautiful and terrible ways, become my soulmate and then break my heart so thoroughly I can sometimes still feel the ripples of its aftershocks even now. My letter was great because imagining how things might have turned out as a result gave rise to an awesome daydream/fantasy scenario that helps me get to sleep every night 🙂

      I love reading other people’s letters to their past selves and imagining how their lives might have turned out, too.

  5. As to #13, I often think it’s being confident that gets a girl labeled ‘bad.’ How dare a girl know what she likes and doesn’t like, or, even worse, say so OUT LOUD!

    Which is sexist and wrong, obvs.

    1. I think ‘bad girl’ does mean ‘(sexually) confident’, but I’m not sure it’s used generally in a negative way. I’ve only ever heard men say it in a sentence like ‘I like bad girls’ (or during sex), in an approving way. And really, doesn’t ‘bad boy’ mean pretty much the same?

      1. It can indeed be used in an approving way to mean sexually confident, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. See the thing with bad girls is, you don’t have to treat them as well as those Good Girls. They showed you that when they become Bad Girls. (note just in case- this is not what I believe!)

        I hate the idea of being ranked as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on the formation of quantity of my bedroom acts, thanks. That’s rooted in the idea that sex is Bad, especially if girls do it.

        ‘Bad boy’ or ‘bad guy’ is generally used by girls in a way that means ‘he won’t necessarily treat you nice all the time so even if you go ahead, be cautious’.

        1. It’s so interesting, the different connotations we have. If I heard “He’s a bad boy” I’d think James Dean type of thing, the sort of guy you see a lot in fiction — “surface” bad but actually not. Or maybe “doesn’t want to commit but is good in bed.” Whereas “he’s a bad guy” I think actually a crappy person.

    2. On the flip side, they could totally be faking it till they make it in the confidence stakes. I was bullied by a particular ‘confident’ ‘popular’ girl at school who broke down when my mother called the police to report some of the stuff she was doing because her parents were separating and she was lashing out.

      Years later I also came to the realisation (once I had lost all innocence, basically) that when she was bragging about all the sexual acts she was participating in as a 10 – 12 year old, she was basically sharing with us, her classmates, that she was being sexually abused (whether she knew it or not). It breaks my heart to realise that we were all far too young and ignorant to recognise it for what it was and report it. We all just thought she was so ‘cool’ and ‘mature’. I can only imagine how that affected her, even subconciously.

      Obviously this is an individual case but not all people who outwardly appear confident are actually confident and sometimes ‘bad girls’ are actually ‘girls who are suffering and not dealing with it well’.

  6. For the person with the insufferable ass brother, if you’re not in a position to limit the time you spend together for whatever reason, it’s good to adopt a ‘professional’ attitude when dealing with people like this, the same way you might do with a colleague who you don’t like but still have to work with. So: basically civil, keep conversational topics neutral, excuse yourself whenever possible so you don’t have to deal with him too much. Otherwise the Captain and co. tend to have very good advice for maintaining boundaries and dealing with family members who say shitty things, so not much else to add!

    (I’m so glad this is coming back as a regular thing!)

  7. I’m going to have to come back to the rest of these when I’m not sorting out Life Stuff (good Life Stuff! Like Life Stuff That Might Pay Money AND Align with Several of My Passions, Whodathunk That’d Be Possible?!), but I wanted to reach out to whoever wrote #3, if they’re reading the comments…

    My mom died when I was 21. Our relationship was (as several regular commenters who have been around for at least as long as I have can attest to), uh, complicated. She was not actively malicious, but suffice to say that when I first encountered the term “helicopter mom” in college and read the description, it was as if a ray of light burst through from the heavens and illuminated my childhood for the scarred wasteland that it was. Suffice to say as well that there was a reason why I first encountered that term while attending a college that happened to be 1700 miles away from home.

    It’s been the better part of a decade since she passed of causes that will remain an eternal mystery, due to the county coroner’s office ruling the death as one of “natural causes” and saying I’d have to pay a fee to find out anything more precise. Now, let me preface the rest by saying that OF COURSE I miss my mother…but (such is the only possible conjunction that could follow such a statement), if she’d lived, I suspect she might have made my life increasingly difficult. She had health problems (guess where I got the Type I diabetes from!) that she kinda exacerbated all on her own, she didn’t leave the house unless I was around to drive her, and her support network consisted of me and two other people, only one of whom was in the same town as her – and had enough on her plate without being my mother’s keeper.

    On the other hand, I was just starting to come out of the fog of teenage-hormone-induced jerkishness and could finally, sorta, maybe start to see where she was coming from, and I think she was starting to get that I was my own person and not a carbon copy of Younger Her, and that while we’d never have the same level of closeness that she had with her mom, we could still have a strong relationship in spite of me being (in her words) “just like [my] father!”

    In fact, the last time I talked to her was a good conversation – she had plans to come out to Baltimore, where I was living at the time, so we could see a Bruce Springsteen concert together, and we were both excited about that; she gave me some insightful advice about a job I was applying for (for which, based on her advice, I decided to withdraw my application); and when we said goodbye, I was actually looking forward to the next time we’d get to talk, which is not a sentiment I would’ve found myself embracing in high school or most of college. Two days later, she was dead, though by the time the two other members of her Team Me and I pieced together that it had been an unusually long time since any of us had heard from her, she’d been gone a week.

    Anyway. The point I have now provided reams of exposition for is that I know how it feels to have a parent die when you were just starting to, if not breach, approach the surface of the murkiness pressing in on your relationship. I second the Captain’s advice about writing a letter and maybe imagining what your mother would write in response – I am, as a matter of fact, writing this comment as a way of procrastinating the homestretch on the first draft of a novel I am writing which is so heavily based on my relationship with my mother that, if not for the fact that it involves a mad scientist and the mother figure returning from the dead, I could market it as a straight-up autobiography when all is typed and done.

    I am sending gentle thoughts your way and hopes that you will get the kindness you deserve during this difficult time.

  8. Having been, more or less, that person who got a promotion and had other people express surprise about it, my first piece of advice is to treat any comment on your promotion as a compliment, and assume that other people are just bad at making conversation. No different than when you get a dramatic haircut and people say “Wow! You look so different! Your hair is so short!” without following up with a comment that indicates that different equals good/better. Which most people know they should make, even if they privately liked the old hair better.

    In my case, the promotion was kind of diagonal– as in a small step up the corporate ladder, and a big step laterally at the same time, so the most common comment was some form of “Was this your choice or did they have to move you to get you away from Boss?”– Boss sometimes has a bad reputation, but we’ve always gotten along fine. Most people were appropriately complimentary when I explained, but I think I had people expressing surprise at my transfer right up until the time I transferred back. So be aware that for all that the Office Grapevine seems to spread news at the speed of light, some people just live under rocks.

    Note that if the persons expressing surprise want to talk about how So and So could/would/should have gotten the promotion you did, you don’t have to listen to them, and the Captain’s advice is good.

    1. Some people are just… special, though. I used to get a lot of OHMYGAWD YOUR HUSBAND IS GOOD LOOKING from some of the ladies at work. Not in a sleezy, I’d hump him too, kinda way. Definitely in a “how in the name of all that is holy did YOU manage to get with HIM”. And the same ladies who said that where also those who’d kind of drop hints about the illicit ways in which some people, women in particular, might have gotten their promotions. They also were not shy about commenting about people’s less-than-happy life events – I got a “marry in haste, repent at leisure”, my male colleague got a “so your wife left you for a woman?!”, both at ear-splitting volume, right in the middle of an open-plan office…

      Oddly enough these were also the people who never really seemed to get the promotions themselves. And, lo and behold, they didn’t seem to notice that the effort they spent sticking their noses into other people’s business meant that they weren’t focusing on their own work. Oh hum.

      1. Yeah, that’s my observation too. Some of these not-so-nice people (in my office men) pride themselves on not being agreeable and then turn around and complain that they didn’t get promoted. But you gotta, you know, make some productive suggestions to get promoted and not stop at pointing out everything that’s wrong *eyeroll*

        1. That’s the crab bucket, though, isn’t it? Spend so much time and energy making sure nobody else gets out, and when you take the time to assess your position you realise you haven’t moved either.

  9. OMG #23 with the “Should I feel X?”–basically, “Am I allowed to feel what I’m feeling?” That takes me back to far too many points in my life.

  10. It’ll be different now because it’s included in this article, but I’d have loved to know how many pages into the search CA was when the person searched for “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

  11. *raises hand* #12, “sorry I can’t date you”- but, isn’t this in fact a great answer? I notice the person it was said to -didn’t- try to continue the conversation with the person who said it, instead, resorted to the Oracle of the Interwebs. Seemed to close the door pretty firmly?
    I wish younger me had had the stones to say it. Whereas “I don’t want to date you” to me, would unleash the coercion demons of ButWhyyyyy?
    Looking forward to the Army’s thoughts on this!

    1. I understood the search terms themselves differently (and I believe the Captain did as well) – that the person googling it was looking for ways to compose a “no dates from me!” answer to someone who wanted to date them, not that the googler wanted to find out what secret messages hide behind a “I can’t date you” that they received.

      As for your question, I’d guess that someone who is inclined to pester someone for a relationship would ask BUT WHYYYYYY regardless of whether it was stated as “I don’t want to” vs. “I can’t”. I do believe though, just like the Captain said, that there is potentially more room for ambiguity in the asker’s mind in a “can’t” answer than in a “won’t/don’t want to”.

      1. I, too, share this interpretation, and I can second the wishful thinking latching onto ambiguity (in good faith) from personal experience. I was taught to privilege people’s actual words over interpreted subtext because interpreting subtext is subjective and messy. So when I was rejected for dating at various points because [some external reason out of the person’s control], I took that at face value and would ask again if the situation changed (while thinking vthe person might actually be interested but for those circumstances), whereas I would have (and, indeed, have and continue to do so) just dropped it if the person said ze wasn’t interested in me romantically. I’ve since changed my behavior to interpret all rejections as “no thanks”, figuring the person can always ask me if the situation changes, but this is definitely a thing that can happen without being a result of e.g. masculine sexual entitlement. The phrasing doesn’t necessarily change the response from someone who feels entitled or is acting in bad faith, but it can help sort between people who do and do not respect boundaries.

        That said, I also understand that, especially in cases of women dealing with men, people sometimes fear a violent response, and safety has to come first. Soft or insincere rejections aren’t ever actually kind IMO (the clear truth is kindest), and I disagree with the strain of thought that holds that someone listening to what one actually says and believing one instead of always being able to tell what is sincere or insincere is a problematic behavior, but they are sometimes a necessary unkindness for the sake of personal safety.

  12. #25 is word for word what I would say to my very-recent-past self. Glad to be on the other side at last, but… so much life wasted getting here!

  13. Re. no. 12. A boy (in his mid-thirties, but most definitely a boy) once told me “I’m not breaking up with you. I just can’t be in a relationship right now.”

    All of the impact, none of the closure. Masterful, really.

  14. “You can’t choose your family”? Captain my Captain, really? That quote cut me from someone who has reassured so many that, for example, being a family member does not in fact entitle them to treat you worse than they would casual acquaintances, who has championed our right to protect ourselves above maintaining a toxic status quo. Fellow survivors, of course you can choose your family! Cutting off contact does not make you a terrible person, and building new relationships are not less meaningful for lack of biology!

    1. Pretty sure she meant that as, “Unfortunately, one is restricted to the luck of the draw when it comes to those with whom you are born blood relatives”, not “You do not have the right to choose whom you associate most closely with”.

      1. That’s how I read it too. Blood relatives are a roll of the dice, and sometime you get snake eyes.

    2. (TW for family abuse and elder abuse)

      Well, my uncle is still my uncle. I can’t un-uncle him, nor can I chose a different one.

      My uncle is, however, a doucheface and an asshat, who abused my elderly grandmother (THAT’s being handled in court at the moment), he abused my mother growing up and sprained both her wrists when she was 20 (he stopped when my father, at 6’2 and trained in martial arts, beat the crap out of him and threatned to kill him if he touched her again… why it came to that, I don’t know, but I’m damned glad SOMETHING stopped him) and is generally not welcome in my life/vicinity. I haven’t seen him in years. There is family I dislike (I’m, erm, not a huge fan of one SIL, for example), but, genuinely, if she was stuck and on the streets, I have a guest room, whereas if he was stuck and on the street I MIGHT refrain from spitting on him before leaving him there. (Don’t abuse people I love, basically. I generally try to be a good person, but there are limits).

      Which is to say: you can’t chose who your family is, but you can damn well chose how you associate with them.

  15. I am not criticising the sentiment but the rhetoric. “You can’t choose your family” is something that was used to silence me as a child, and while I do not expect people shy away from a specific trigger like that, I think there is something to be said for trying to breakdown the expectations of what a family is supposed to look like, that unlimited contact should be the default and anything that deviates from that is lesser or broken. What would your life look like if everyone you were close to, blood related or otherwise, were people who you actively chose, who valued you and contributed to your life the same way as you do to them? Obviously there are responsibilities that go beyond that with vulnerable people, but that should be true of all vulnerable people, it is necessarily human to protect them, whether you are related to them or not. No one has a right to you, no one has the right to disrespect or mistreat you. What if the ideal we promoted in being related to someone didn’t mean tolerating shitty behaviour out of obligation but mutual respect, but working harder to understand and support one another?

    I’m a survivor and I choose my family, some blood relations, some not. The people who I have cut off, they have no right to call me theirs, they may share DNA but they have no claim over me, and that is important. Often times people invoke blood in the worst ways, like I experienced, or commonly the seemingly innocuous control through guilt. The people who use that, even if it is not inherently abusive or intentionally manipulative, are sometimes secretly terrified that if it were a matter of choice, they wouldn’t be chosen, without realising that emotional blackmail doesn’t exactly encourage free affection, making them all the more desperate. By re-enforcing the nuclear myth, we deny those people a frame work to get the love they crave also, because the pattern is GUILT FAMILY MEMBER BACK INTO LINE, not “listen to them and try to contribute as you would with an actual human person free of a suffocating net of obligation and fear”.

    Does this mean cut off every family member you disagree with, or is different from you? No. It does mean freeing yourself of the idea of what that relationship is supposed to look like, and allowing yourself and them not to conform to those pre-existing pressures.

    The people I love, I choose, I choose every day, and I want them to be able to choose me, I want them to be happy. I choo-choo-choose you.

    1. I’m so sorry you have been hurt and manipulated into silence in the past. Would it help if it were rewritten as “You can’t choose your family of origin/the family you were born into”? If you read through the archives I think you’ll find that Captain Awkward very much agrees with you, she is very clear that no one owes family of origin anything just for being the one you were born into and that chosen family is a wonderful thing.

      1. I’ve read and reread every CA post, for years, it is why I was surprised. It is cool you are sympathetic and helping, thanks for that, but that doesn’t change it. “You cannot choose your family” is used rhetorically as fact, and then exposure the element you can control, but it is not fact. It is a throw away line, and I don’t blame CA for using it, she has had to face plenty of but faaaaamily before herself, it is easy for this stuff to slip through your fingers without you even realising it’s there. I basically wanted to validate my survivor buds if they were affected by it as I was, that’s all.

        It is something I get really frustrated about with functional families actually, because I know so many people who are related who are really good people, really decent human beings, but they never get to know one another because they are so caught up in the roles they are supposed to have, they are so caught up in what a family is supposed to look like, in these roles they have to play that they never really see each other, they never really know each other. I lost that stuff because of such horrific things, it pisses me off when I see people lose it for stupid reasons like that, when tolerance can actually cause hurt to fester and prevent any genuine relationship from happening. I don’t know what level of ass this brother is, for example, but if there was not that expectation there, either politeness and tolerance prevents them from saying, “When you say/do stuff like that, you sound like an ass, and it is beneath you.” before it is intolerable, or there is a bunch of drama and judgement if the ass-ocity is truly unmitigated and the LW has to make choices to protect themselves because that is not the way faaaaammmily behaves. So, I like the idea of moving away from these set expectations for everyone really, not just we fun kids with Proudly Tap-dancing Singing Dinosaurs.

        1. ‘It is something I get really frustrated about with functional families actually, because I know so many people who are related who are really good people, really decent human beings, but they never get to know one another because they are so caught up in the roles they are supposed to have, they are so caught up in what a family is supposed to look like, in these roles they have to play that they never really see each other, they never really know each other. I lost that stuff because of such horrific things, it pisses me off when I see people lose it for stupid reasons like that’

          I feel like… look I’m sure you’ve thought of this but it is REALLY hard to tell from the outside (as in, just being friends with someone and not being that person) how functional those relationships with family really are. I don’t want to sound patronising, I hope I didn’t, and I’m sorry you are hurting.

          Also, we don’t know that the person with the insufferable ass brother didn’t already try the ‘it’s beneath you’ thing. Plus that doesn’t work for everything. If the brother is, say, a raging sexist- a lot of people honestly believe that sexist opinions are not opinions, they are Just How It Is. Being told those ‘facts’ are beneath them is not likely to help.

  16. Re #6: maybe she’s busy and doesn’t want to talk right now… or maybe she just doesn’t want to talk to you. Ever. And she’s trying to be nice about it.

  17. #14 really hit home. My mum recently heard from her brother+SIL that they were coming to visit. And by visit, I mean descend upon her house like two bored locusts. These folks told her (didn’t ask, but TOLD) that they would be visiting for 4 days, asked if she could pick them up from the airport (with a presumptive tone assuming that she would do it) which is 30 minutes away from her house, and are expecting her to plan all of the activities and entertain them. She’s planned a bunch of fun local stuff for them + herself + Da, which is very considerate of her. Then she explained how they’d invited themselves over 5 years ago during a time when she wasn’t free (she’s a self-employed music teacher). She’d told them that she was working and even gave them a list of stuff they could do for entertainment. They basically showed up anyway, plopped down on the couch in the middle of her studio, and sat there for the duration of the visit. WTF, y’all?

    Note to those who invite yourselves over (esp. for family): don’t. Say you’d like to see them, ask about good days/times to visit, and make sure you have enough to do on your own that you’re not putting your host out. Arrange for your own hotel/AirBnB if you can, or clean up your host’s house if you’ll be staying there. But don’t assume that it’s your host’s job to entertain you and do all the work for your visit.

    I wish I could’ve stepped in for my mom during that call and said “Sorry, but I’m not available to host you during those days. Here’s some good resources for hotels and fun. Enjoy [city], it’s a great place to visit!”

    1. I groaned in recognition when you mentioned “self-employed”.
      What IS it with some people just not understanding that setting your own schedule != always free?

      *freelancer RAAAAGE*

  18. Re: #11. If Grandma is alive and well and you found her sex toys, put them back, walk away, and don’t mention it. If Grandma has recently passed and you found her sex toys while cleaning out her living space, just throw them away and don’t make a big deal about it. Nobody wants to deal with their deceased relative’s sex toys, but someone has to and that someone may be you. Sorry about that, hon.

      1. You know what, it would. I’m putting that one in the file. I have the hardest times with opening lines.

  19. “I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together.”

    The fact that this exists out there for other people and I have never once experienced it makes me depressed. Especially at age 32. And I know, all the advice about putting yourself out there and meeting people etc etc etc, I feel like I’ve tried so much and random internet dating is just so exhausting, especially for an introvert. I feel like it shouldn’t be this hard when it happens spontaneously for other people many times… Sometimes I wonder if I’m partly asexual, but don’t want to be.

    Anyway derail over, the advice that this quote was part of is very good. 🙂

    1. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I associate that magical relationship feeling with teenagers, and if you weren’t pursuing relationships until after that point, there’s a reasonable chance that you won’t feel that way. I don’t think I’ve felt it since about age 19.

      Really, you’re not missing much. That feeling convinces you to make some really stupid decisions sometimes. My current relationship has been 99% magical butterfly free, and it is by far the happiest and healthiest relationship I’ve ever experienced.

      (Or, maybe you are asexual/aromantic, which is also totally fine.)

      1. Also this feeling usually occurs when the other person isn’t right for you, which is why you stick around when clearly you should just say “no thank you” and walk away. The high is high but the pain is low and long. It’s not an experience I’d recommend.

        1. Hey now. I get that we want to be reassuring, but that’s a hell of a ‘usually’ to throw out. I’m sorry those experiences ended in pain for you, but that’s neither a universal nor a given.

      2. Part-time Jedi is right. That feeling is very powerful, but not, in the end, usually very much beyond a feeling. I felt it once – he was the epicenter of many emotional earthquakes for most of my teenagerhood, But even in the middle of obsessing about the perfection of every stroke of handwriting on sticky notes he left me, it was obvious it was not merely not going to work, but even to try would have been a hideously bad idea (and a sex crime on his part).

        Please don’t think that a lack of stars and spangles and huffing ballpoint pen because *they* wrote with it means that the relationships you’ve had or want to have are lesser somehow.

    2. I never felt that feeling at all until I was 34; I had come to believe firmly that it was stuff and nonsense, and teenaged exaggeration, and that it wasn’t sensible at all.

      I was completely unprepared for when I felt it. Nearly flubbed it entirely because I was utterly overwhelmed by the feelings.

      1. Agreed with Howard Bannister in that it can still happen later in life. They say falling in love (lust?) can stimulate the same response as that of Cocaine (never tried it so don’t know). Basically you become addicted to all things “object of your obsession” which causes you to make terrible choices. I fell into that addiction while in a monogamous relationship. I was over 30. The person was terrible for me and also off-limits. It was a recipe for terrible decision-making. But it doesn’t always happen with all people.

        @Kmcdonell if you think you are asexual but don’t want to be then perhaps you are demisexual? only attracted to limited and very specific people and maybe you just haven’t found the right person? There is no wrong way to feel sexual or lack thereof, sometimes there is a lack of feeling, sometimes there is feeling strongly repressed by shame or other social conditioning. When I was younger I had a lot of shame around sexuality and it took some deliberate work on my part with my own body to overcome the religious conditioning that I was taught but then I realized I am very sexual. I guess what I’m saying is it could be any number of things for you. Find what you want and good luck finding a partner that fits well with you if that’s something you want.

    3. The only people I’ve ever had it with were spectacularly wrong for me. I’ve admittedly had it with a few people, but I came to learn that it’s often really unhealthy as it indicates infatuation and lust rather than anything that constitutes a healthy experience. Love might grow over time with those people, but that feeling is no indication of whether it will or not.

      Basically, that feeling makes your judgement go to hell. You make stupid decisions. It plays with your brain and convinces you the person is perfect for you and your love for them is the true, deep sort that can actually only come after a long time of getting to know and trust somebody. It’s the firework that’s spectacular but is gone in seconds, compared with the less exciting candle that can burn steadily for hours, that you can trust to light your way.

      In my experience, it is a sign that you are in love with your own idea of what a “perfect” person (for you) is like, projected onto that real person. In some cases, it might turn out that the real person is close enough to your ideal match that it might work out, but maybe that’s little more than coincidence.

      I used to get That Feeling with pretty much everyone I dated and would fall for them at the drop of a hat. Probably because I had Issues from a shitty childhood where nobody ever told me (or acted like) they loved me, but that’s by the by. Then one day I met a guy and it didn’t feel like that. Instead of feeling constantly amazed, terrified and almost unbearably excited, I was…comfortable. Happy and content. Instead of worshipping the ground he walked on, I liked and respected him and accepted his flaws rather than angrily burying them under a sea of denial. Instead of outright refusing to see red flags…well, there were none. There was one yellow flag, which i spoke to him about, and he dealt with it and it never came up again.

      Past Me would probably think it wasn’t true love if I didn’t get That Feeling. But now I know what true love really feels like. The last guy? I’ve been with him more than twice as long as any of THOSE relationships lasted, and we’re happily married.

      THAT, my friend, is why you’re not missing anything. Maybe you are just… healthy in that way.

  20. I have two thoughts on #23 that are, perhaps, perpendicular:
    X. “I don’t want to drink or do coke” is a complete sentence (really, nearly any sentence starting “I don’t want to …” is a complete sentence, drugs, sex, going down to the basement, whatever).
    Y. If Husband knows Querent has a medical reason and pushes them to use these substances anyway, I’m entirely comfortable labeling that abuse

    (which leads into Z. Behavior doesn’t have to be according-to-Hoyle abusive to be legitimately objected to … but this is)

  21. #14 is particular pertinent to me right now, because *a third party invited someone else to stay at my house*, without checking with me first, and seemed put out when I said that wasn’t going to be possible. As a matter of fact we’re decorating/doing DIY and temporarily without a spare bedroom so it’s been easy enough to get out of, but even if that hadn’t been the case *nobody* invites anyone to stay at my place except me. I’d be amenable to a mutual friend asking me if I could put ‘Nicola’ up for a couple of nights to help her out, but this wasn’t the case here; a busybody who has nothing to do with anything (except that she likes to arrange other people’s lives) told Nicola she could stay with me, and then got all offended when I said she couldn’t. Busybody then accepted that Nicola should stay at her house instead, and has since complained that it won’t be allowed to happen again – Nicola wants to stay four nights instead of two – and Nicola will have to go to a hotel in future. To which I say ‘amen’ – this was my original point! I don’t know or like Nicola well enough to invite her for her own sake, and she’s not in a position where paying for a hotel would cause her any inconvenience. In fact, I’m pretty sure she could actually *buy* a hotel if she wanted to; she’s just cheap, and would rather blag a freebie than pay for anything with her own money. Funny how quickly the busybody found that out, isn’t it?

  22. #8 & #9- same advice. RUN NOW. Your partner does not get to decide what’s right for you. Especially when you are feeling “forced” or that he’s “really aggressive.” Those are very bad signs.

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