I’ll start answering at noon, Chicago time, today, so get your questions in before then.
I’ll turn comments on at the end of the chat – too much to keep up with all at once!
Update: Ok, comments are on. If you missed getting a question in, we’ll do this again next week in a slightly more organized way.
Q: Hi Captain, I’m a 50 year old woman who’s divorced and widowed. I have been married twice, 25 years total. I’m widowed less than two years. Everyone (and I mean everyone) is telling me to get out there and date, but I have no clue. It’s been a mere 30 years since I’ve dated. Several issues in no particular order: all the men in my age bracket, plus some of the younger ones, seem SO domestic. All they want to do is settle down. All I want to do on a first (or second or third) date is just go out dancing. What’s the rush?
I’m on a couple of dating apps, and know how to navigate, but nothing much seems to happen. I get likes on the regular, and I get chatted up, but it’s really hard to meet in person. Is this usual, or not? Also, since I’m older and have assets, I’d tend to want a “living apart together” situation, where we choose to be together, but don’t live together. So many men seem to balk at this! What gives? And finally, I’m childfree, and make it clear that I don’t want anyone else’s children either. I’m of the opinion that a LAT relationship would be very respectful of any child if I ever found a man. It would mean I would never have to be a step-parent, and that child could get to know me if they wanted to. No pressure, no pretense of the happy blended family. I know what I want; I know what I need. I also know that I’m damn good partner/wife material. So why does this seem so uphill? Thanks, Captain. I really like your column and the work you do.
Cheers, K just K (she/her pronouns)
A: Hi K just K!
Short answer: I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEIR DEAL IS.
Longer answer: It’s probably going to take time for you to find someone who is both worthy of you and on the same page about what they want out of life. Your best bet is probably to pursue the things you’re interested in (i.e. if you feel like going dancing, go dancing!), nurture your existing friendships and relationships, keep dating & meeting people when that feels right and interesting for you, take breaks from it all when it feels like a slog.
If your preference is to meet up pretty soon after a few messages, keep making that clear – “I’m enjoying messaging with you, can we get a drink soon?”
If your preference is to keep things light/casual/not-physical for the first few dates, you can make that clear, too – “I’m having fun spending time with you, and I’m not in a rush – let’s just go dancing!”
You’ve found long-term partners before, so you know how it works – the ones that will click with you won’t make feel like work. The rest is pure dumb luck and time.
Q: Hi Captain! Summer is coming (ugh, 80s in Boston today). Do you have any go-to things you do that are fun and awesome when the weather gets unbearably hot and muggy? I try for the free nights at local museums (a/c!) or indie film limited-run movie releases (more a/c! supporting artists!), but was wondering if you have any additional thoughts.
- The library!
- Public pools!
- Theater subscriptions!
- Lecture series & readings!
- Getting close to the water for the breezes!
- Early morning walks before it heats up, after dinner walks after it cools down.
- Befriend your local ice cream vendor.
- Babysit the kids of your friends who have air conditioning. They get a night out of the house, you get to lounge on a cool couch with their Netflix subscription.
- Volunteer for a political campaign or activist cause and hope their offices have a/c.
- Find local cafes or bookstores or bookstore/cafes with social things – readings, book clubs, board game nights, etc.
- When you’re sweltering, remind yourself that snowpocalypse is just around the corner.
Q: Hi Captain, happy Friday! Thanks for offering a live chat 🙂 I’m currently grappling with how to be assertive with my parents on a really specific issue. My sister graduated from her Master’s program a few weeks ago (from a top university!) My parents live out of town so we carpooled to the graduation, about 2 hours from where I live with my spouse. They were really weird all day and didn’t even seem happy for my sister. That evening, after we returned to my house, I took a walk with my parents. Things were fine until my dad used an ugly slur for fat people. My parents have a history of fatphobia and fat shaming (if it’s relevant, no one in our family is fat). I called him out on it calmly and asked him to stop because that word really bothers me and in fact reminds me of an ugly fight I had with someone else years ago. He became angry and said “well, I want you to stop saying ‘old white guys’! I’m an old white guy!” (my dad frequently uses this phrasing to make fun of other people in his age bracket, usually older, conservative people who he doesn’t get along with). I was thrown but made the mistake of trying to explain my perspective, and ask what I should say instead. Things got even weirder and he ended up using a racial slur for some reason. He was yelling, talking over me, and interrupting me. I told him I didn’t want to discuss it any longer because of what he was doing and he stopped. They went home the next day and I don’t know how to bring this up with them. I don’t want to let it slide like I would have in the past, and I know I want to confront via email, but just not sure what to say…. Thank you!
A: Wow what a “fun” way to celebrate your sister’s accomplishment.
You say you want to confront them via email, which makes me wonder, what was your mom doing during all of this? Was she going along with your dad or did she shut down or did she try to get you to make peace? If she wasn’t the aggressor, to me it makes more sense to email just your dad and say “Hey, I’m really not happy with our conversation the other day. It’s really not like you* to say ugly things like [slurs], and you and mom seemed pretty disengaged the whole weekend, which makes me wonder, is there something going on that I don’t know about? Where is all this coming from?”
He may double down, he may apologize, he may give you excuses – I really don’t know what will happen, and you might get more information than you ever wanted – but I think asking questions gives you your best chance of giving him an opportunity to make it right. I think you did the right thing in the moment by shutting it down, and you should be prepared to do that if it happens again – “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this, let’s end this conversation and try again another day.”
*Sometimes this IS like the person in question, but I’ve found it helpful sometimes to give people the “Please live up to my supposed good opinion of you” face-saving opportunity to stop sucking instead of the “Why are you sucking so hard right now” version. For more, see this guest post by Valerie Aurora.
Q: Hi Captain! Thanks for sharing your wisdom! I am about to spend the holiday weekend with my husband’s extended family. I need some help mentally checking myself when it comes to my MIL. Her family seems to have the “fond exasperation” down when she behaves badly (or just oddly). Since having my baby/her first grandchild, and thus hosting her for long weekend visits, I’ve gotten into a habit of using those behaviors of hers to reinforce how I don’t like her. I could use help stopping that negativity train, not only to improve my relationship with her and her children (who have picked up on my animosity), but to help me matter-of-factly reinforce boundaries when she’s determined to cross them. I’m not trying to repress how I feel, just want to stop feeding the beast, so to speak, which is hard to do in the moment! Thank you!
A: Could you:
- Focus on the people you really get along with and want to see, and mentally reframe the visit that way? Not “ugh, three days with MIL” but “Oh good, I get to see ____ and _____!”
- Take advantage of the opportunity of free enthusiastic Grandma babysitting and get out of the house to go to the movies for at least one of the days.
- Ask your husband run interference (“Dude, don’t leave me alone with her for more than 1 hour”) and be the one to gently correct her when she does something weird, like, “[Mom], you know spouse doesn’t like answering personal questions like that!”
- Practice saying “Thanks, I’ll think about it!” instead of arguing if she gives you intrusive advice (You will think about it and not do it). This can deflate difficult people who are expecting an argument, they have nothing to latch on to and if they escalate they look like the asshole.
- Choose your battles. Presumably she raised your husband and his siblings to be alive and still talking to her, so she’s probably not gonna accidentally murder your baby if she does something that’s not exactly what you would do or the way you would do it.
- Find three safe topics of conversation – at least one of those should be something she is the expert on and you are not, where you are asking for her perspective. “What was husband like at this stage of being a baby?” “What kind of ridiculous parenting advice did people give you when you were a new mom?”
You got this, it will be ok.
Q: A friend is getting harassed by their abusive ex and abusive ex’s spouse. They are claiming friend fakes their serious chronic illness and the shitty things they are currently going through, and are accusing my friend of stealing money and lying. How can I help without fanning the flames?
A: You’re probably doing a lot just by believing and listening to your friend, and I presume you’re not trying to be friends with these jerks and inviting them to stuff or trying to middle-child some kind of faux peace between everybody, so, good! When and if you encounter these rumors in the wild, be the person who says “I know all the people involved in this, and x is completely untrue.”
Q: Some of my male colleagues (tech company ofc) are frequently kind of low to mid-grade sexist — jokes on the theme of “lol women amirite” and talking about how they like Jordan Peterson. I feel really uncomfortable (I WORK WITH MISOGYNISTS? WHY.)
But I don’t want to confront them personally because I am new, do not want to be Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes, and most of them outrank me. WAT DO. Do I talk to my boss? Suffer in silence? Why is it okay for them to say that stuff at work???
A: Misogyny like this is so exhausting, I’m sorry.
Let’s talk about “confronting” and what that could mean.
There is “Bro, stop telling sexist jokes near me or I will have to talk to HR about you and nobody wants that.”
Then there is “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” “But women are not like x, so, what are you trying to say?” “You know I’m a woman, right? Why would you say that?” “I get the feeling that you have not worked with many women before now, and that’s not your fault, but could you like, pretend that you know better than this, at least when I’m around?” Like, make it very boring and unfun for them to make these jokes around you. Be Funnyletter Who Hates Jokes. It’s okay!
There is also “LOL Jordan Peterson, isn’t he the guy who doesn’t understand lobster biology and tells young dudes to clean up their rooms and take showers? So, did you start taking showers and cleaning your room yet?”
“Your sexist ‘comedy’ is really groundbreaking and original. Do you have a YouTube channel I could not watch?”
I think these dudes are testing you, and they would say they are testing “how well you can take a joke” but really they are testing how compliant you’ll be and it’s important to shut it down now when you have being new on your side. It’s okay to review your company’s harassment policy, ask your boss “Hey, how do I handle the constant low grade misogyny I’m dealing with, I want to be a team player but I’m part of the team, too, what has worked in the past?” And I guess it’s never too early to start documenting.
Q: Hi Captain! How do I talk to my partner’s sister about her boundary issues? She’s the planner of the family. She has tried to decide where we should live, asked if their brother could stay at our house (sure, but why didn’t he just ask?), informed me that their brother will be moving in with my partner when I go away to school (first I’m hearing of it, cool). She’s an odd duck with a good heart, and I have no anger towards her, I just want her to stop planning my life. I’ve told my partner each time it’s happened that it’s not cool and he needs to stop making big life plans without involving me. He is getting much better at that, and I know it’s a big change that won’t happen overnight. They’re a very close family and it’s not my style, but they’re happy. But how do I broach it with her? How do I say, “hey, I like you just fine, but you really need to stop deciding how other adults should run their lives.”?
A: I think you’re absolutely right that it’s on your Partner to get more comfortable saying “Cool Plan, Sister, but you know it’s not a go until I check with [Yourname], so, hold off until I get back to you.” It’s very likely that the sister thinks that your partner IS checking with you before he agrees. As for addressing her directly, you’re very close to the right script, and it’s something like “Sister, I know Partner said he was cool with [Plan That Got Made Without Consulting You], but actually, that doesn’t work for me, sorry. I love that you’re a planner – I’m one, too! – so when stuff affects me, I want to be included in the discussions and decisions right from the start.”
Q: How do I ask my intrusive parents to stay in a hotel when they visit? They’ve always stayed in our guest room and my husband and I can’t do it anymore.
A: You wait until a visit is in the offing (no sense stirring things up until it’s actually necessary) and you say some version of “I know you usually stay with us when you come, but that won’t work for us this time.” If you can afford to pay for the hotel, that might sweeten the prospect, like, “So, we found you a hotel room nearby.” But if you can’t, it’s still ok to make this request.
You might get lucky, they might be relieved. If they aren’t relieved (likely, since you describe them as intrusive), and they want to know why, or kick up a fuss, it’s okay to tell them “We love seeing you, but we’ve figured out after a few visits now that it’s less stressful/much more fun when everybody can go to their own space at the end of the day.” And if that doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to have the big argument about their specific behavior that you’ve been trying to politely avoid. I had to have this argument with my Dad after (true story!) he started opening all my kitchen drawers and commenting on how they were incorrectly organized and also (true story!) opened all my roommates’ bedroom doors to try to figure out which room was mine and if it was messy. Thankfully they were not home and not naked.
You can love people and not be suited to sharing living space anymore.
Q: How does one find the energy to work on side or passion projects while holding down a full time job? I think part of my problem is I focus a lot of my energy on therapy (which I attend twice a week). I am in a good space treatment wise for my anxiety and depression but I need this time and space in my life. I am great at planning out what I am going to do after work but by the time I get home all I really want to do is eat dinner, watch TV or read and go to bed. My weekends are full of chores, seeing friends and just resting. I feel so guilty about this problem because my art and writing are supposed to be things I love to do but I never get anywhere with it. How does one find the mental space and time to work on hobbies that have a more challenging starting point?
A: Is it cliché to recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? She has two practical suggestions for jumpstarting stuck creativity: 1) Morning Pages, or, a daily practice of writing three unfiltered pages in a notebook every morning when you first wake up (the website 750words exists to help for people who prefer typing) and 2) having a weekly Artist’s Date with yourself where you do something to connect with the world and your creative self. This could be going to an art exhibit or a reading or concert something like grabbing the prettiest fall leaves off the ground in the park. The morning pages are for discipline and a daily habit, the artist dates are about making room for pleasure and fun and about starting to carve out time that is just for you and your creative self. The dates don’t have to be tied to your specific discipline and they don’t have to be “productive” in any sense, but one rule she has is that you should do them alone and not use them as social time.
I go very long periods without doing either of these things but I always come back to them and I’m always glad I did.
Ok, that does it for today! Thanks for all the thoughtful questions.