Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today and I will answer as many as I can. Comments get turned on after everything’s posted on my end.
Great questions this week! Transcript below, updating sloooooooooooowly.
1 Q: No question, but can you number the questions so they are easier to reference in comments, like you do for “it came from search terms”? Thanks!
A: Good suggestion!
2 Q: I made an internet friend because they needed help at a time I could provide it. Since then I’ve caught up with them a bit but not as often as they’d like. I’ve realized recently I don’t get any joy from our catch ups – I find them self-centered and overbearing – but they talk like I’m one of their only friends. How can I African-Violet or slow-fade this person without feeling responsible for their already-bad mental health afterwards?
This came in from a Patreon supporter, and a kind person answered it in the thread there:
A: It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a bit of honesty. First the sugar, some compliment, “I used to enjoy our chats, I appreciated your input, etc. BUT I can’t handle all the negativity, I find that our conversations are all about you, etc.” The person can process your honesty and grow, or more likely, they’ll fly off the handle, insult you in some way, hold it against you and end it themselves.
What I’d add is, if this is a friend you do want to try to keep, try leading with lighter topics, common interests, and steering things away from discussing problems and that Helper/Helpee role and see if they follow your lead. Do you have stuff in common that isn’t their problems? If they don’t follow your lead, be more direct and specific, like “Hi, good to talk with you, but I don’t have the bandwidth to talk about [problems] today, can we talk about [fun topic]” or “I know we’ve talked a lot about [problems] in the past, but can we change it up a bit? I’d like your input about [totally different topic].” That makes it about you and your preferences & needs in the friendship vs. “You are doing something wrong by doing the thing I used to encourage you to do, and now I don’t like you, bye forever!” Sometimes those Helper/Helpee roles solidify out of habit, not malicious intent, and you’ll feel less bad if you give it a chance to be something else before you bail.
Related to the above:
3 Q: How to support my internet friend in maybe mental health crisis who feels other people I’m friendly with bullied her (some I agree was bullying, some not) who lashes out at me & assumes I have bad intent when we talk (esp. if I explain their perspective)?
A: Get out of the middle of the conflict between this person and your friends, for one thing. “I won’t defend my friends or try to explain away what they did, [xyz bullying behaviors] are shitty and you deserved better. However, I didn’t do those things to you, and I feel like you are taking some of your anger at them out on me. Can we change the subject away from [friends]? Or should I give you some space and we can catch up another time?”
Update: There’s a much better script in the comments.
4 Q: Needed: advice on how to handle the “When are you having kids?” Question from elderly relatives when my partner and I aren’t planning on having kids ever.
Sometimes it’s worth making the “We’re not planning to have kids, ever, also, stop asking people that because it’s an awful question for people who are struggling with fertility issues” argument and sometimes it’s easier just to gloss it over and say “Don’t know Aunt Bea, when are you gonna stop being such a troublemaker?” + change the subject.
5 Q: I’ve can identify bad shit almost TOO well, because advice columns lean that way, and I’m so afraid of missing another red flag. So Cap’n, how do you tell when things are good? What is a normal amount of suck (i.e. pining vs Bad Person, Run)?
A: Hard to say without knowing what the red flags are. Not all red flags are dealbreakers, they can just be indicators that you should ask questions and take your time getting to know the person to make sure that the person’s actions match up with their words.
How do you feel? Do you spend more time enjoying the relationship or worrying about the relationship? Do the things that suck feel surmountable? Is the other person self-aware and doing their part to work on whatever it is?
6 Q: Do you (or your followers) have any dating tips/safe sites for online dating for trans folks based in the UK?
A: Beyond classic online dating tips (meet in a public place, have your own transportation to and from, make sure a trusted person knows where you are going and who you are meeting, make a plan to check in with that trusted person periodically once you’re on the date, keep your phone charged, trust your gut), I don’t, and I don’t know the dating scene in the UK at all. Readers, some help?
7 Q: Hi Capt, trying to figure out how to talk to the Life begins at Conception ppl in my family about last week’s
#RepealedThe8th victory without forcing my views down their throats and being gracious about their beliefs. I want to be kind and respectful. Any advice?
A: First, take a second to celebrate the victory and the incredible organizing work. I think I read every post on the #HomeToVote tag. ❤ ❤ ❤
Second, what if you went with some version of “We both voted our conscience. I hope someday you’ll come to see that this is a good thing for Ireland and for women’s rights, but I am not going to try to sell you on it – please give me the same respect.”
8 Q: How do I learn to REALLY let go of a relationship with my mom?
TL;DR edition is that my parents split, and my mom cracked. Did everything in the book you’re not supposed to do to kids in the middle of divorce, let her abusive boyfriend (now husband) threaten my dad and sisters, became an alcoholic to the point of needing a 4 month medical stay, and all the while has never been on iota of the mom other people get to have. My youngest sister and I have been more of a parent to her than vice versa.
I’m generally very comfortable with our relationship (that is to say none really beyond the cursory cards and texts), but there is still so much guilt. My middle sisters have “moved on” so-to-speak by making their relationship with our stepmom their primary “mom” role, but I’m not close enough to do that and regardless of how great stepmom is (and she is!) it doesn’t change this fact that my mom has never been, and will never be, what I needed her to be.
Do I just focus on the good from pre-divorce years (circa age 12 and earlier)? Focus on the good things, traits, experiences she was able to give me? How do I forgive her for not only failing young(er) me, but continuing to do so now into adulthood?
There is a book called Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Dr. Karyl McBride about fraught mother-child relationships. It’s targeted specifically toward narcissistic mothers and daughters, but I recommend it often because I think the messages about letting yourself grieve the relationship you should have had, maintaining healthy boundaries, disengaging from conflicts, keeping your expectations really low so you don’t set yourself up to be hurt repeatedly, and giving yourself permission to keep your distance if that’s the healthiest choice for you are valuable for many kinds of difficult family relationships. Maybe cards and texts and not doing any more damage is as good as it gets for you and your mom. This book might be a good resource in helping you accept that this is the new normal for your relationship and let go of the idea that you have to make it be anything else.
I also think this is something worth exploring in therapy, if you’ve got access. Parental stuff is really primal, and if those old wounds are interfering with your happiness now it might be worth airing them out with the help of a trusted and trained professional.
9 Q: Captain! Please help. Long long long story short. My mom died six months ago. My uncle is a financial advisor and had been handling my mom’s retirement fund. It’s a pretty straightforward thing, to release a retirement fund (RRSP) to the named beneficiaries. But over about a three month period, my uncle wouldn’t respond to emails, or would only respond to parts of emails, or would respond with information that contradicted things he had previously said, or would respond with information that was clearly not applicable to our situation. I’ll spare you the details. He also repeatedly asked us about a tricky matter of estate tax law (I’ll definitely spare you the details of that!) and suggested that we should give a bunch of the money we inherited to my mother’s husband. My sisters and I found all of this really inappropriate and concerning – as financial advisor, he should just fill out the forms and get us our money. It was just roadblock after roadblock and everything he told us was completely incorrect. One of my sisters called his workplace, without mentioning his name, to try to get accurate information about the process of releasing an RRSP, and the workplace was horrified when she told them what we had been told. Everything he told us was wrong.
We decided that we had a choice: to let my uncle screw everything up (possibly in league with my mother’s husband, who dislikes us), or to let his workplace know he wasn’t handling our file properly, and ask to have someone else handle it. We chose the second. My uncle went off on stress leave, and we haven’t heard from him in three months. We’re not a particularly close family and so three months of silence is pretty normal. But we are pretty sure my uncle is hurt and angry about what we did. Now, however, I have to reach out to him to let him know some other awkward and controversial family news – I could write a whole other letter about that.
I have been trying to draft an email to my uncle and I think it has to include an acknowledgement of what happened. Don’t you think so? Or is it reasonable to just ignore that whole shitshow and just focus on the current shitshow? I know I can’t control his reactions and if I reach out, I’ll accept whatever response I get back. But is there a polite way to say “I know you probably think we betrayed you but we think you were betraying us, and I regret that you are going through a really hard time but I’m not sorry for what we did?” Or should I just ignore that and focus on the awkward news I have to share? – Inherited a Mess
A: I’m so sorry for your loss, and wow, that is a mess!
There was a 100% chance your uncle was being unprofessional about how he handled the process of distributing your Mom’s funds to you and like a 98% chance that he was being outright shady. It sounds like he hasn’t been in touch with you directly since the account was moved over and he went on leave, and it would take a lot of nerve for him to bring up the whole situation in the first place. Still, let’s imagine he did bring it up along the lines of “I can’t believe you ruined my life, you disloyal niblings!”
What would you say? Wouldn’t it be something like “Look, mixing money & family is complicated under the best of circumstances. While everyone was grieving for Mom, it just worked better for us if we didn’t cross the streams. I heard that you took a leave of absence after that, I hope you are doing much better and are taking good care of yourself.” Isn’t “Hey, that sucks, but now we know not to mix family and money stuff anymore, it’s just too awkward and hard for everyone, good talk” a better way to go than “Uncle, were you trying to help my mom’s husband steal her retirement fund from us or are you just really bad at your job?”
In this case, since he’s not bringing it up, I’d just send an email along the lines of “Hi Uncle, I wanted to loop you in on [messy family situation relevant info] + [what you want or need him to do about it, if anything]. Love, YourName.” It communicates the info without dredging up the conflict.
10 Q: How do I sit with the discomfort of having been a jerk and made someone unhappy? I cut ties with someone that needed more emotional investment than I could give, and while I’m glad I set boundaries, I know how much rejection sucks and I’m sorry to have put that on them.
A: It just takes time, I think. If you sensed you’d be better off without them, and you’ve already done the awkward thing and cut ties, you just have to let enough time go by that you can relax into the decision. Try putting energy into other friendships and other areas of your life, even if it’s just sending a thank you note to an old mentor or a postcard to a relative.
11 Q: As one fat femme to another, where do you get tights? What are you’re strategies to prevent each thigh from flaying the other in a skirt on a hot day?
A: ‘Tis the season!
- Tights: We Love Colors.
- Someone mentioned Thigh Society, yes, agreed.
- Lush “Silky Underwear” Powder
- Long enough skirts so I don’t have to sit like a lady.
12 Q: How do you schedule your day so that you make time for writing? I’m trying to develop a system of self-enforced time management, because my job is independent and my manager is very hands-off. I’ve got a lot of writing and class-planning to do this summer, and I feel the days slipping by with admin work and ADD focus issues! Thank you!
A: Hello, my ADHD buddy!
For a very long time I subscribed to nebulous but very persistent fallacy that “Writing is what you get to do when you’ve taken care of all your chores, young lady!!!!!”
I knew intellectually that this was a cognitive distortion, some vestigial rule from childhood that I was self-imposing on my poor writer-self, but I could not shake it for the longest time. So what happened is I would build longer and longer lists of tasks that “had to” or “should” be done before I could settle in and write. And I would rarely or never actually get through all the “small” tasks, and I would feel awful and torn and unproductive, so then I would beat myself up about how I should be writing.
Life got much better when I realized that I do my best writing in the morning, after breakfast and before opening up email, any social media app or website, or doing any administrative or household tasks. I find that I get a good burst of focus during that time of day, but I have to budget that focus, and if I spend it all on emails and routine tasks I will burn up the whole day without making progress on anything.
So my advice is: Figure out the time of day when you have the most energy and focus. Do the good, interesting, fun stuff during that interval, when you have a lot of brain for it, then check your email at a set time each day for a set interval, then do any admin stuff that comes up. Don’t let your email inbox be the boss of you.
13 Q: Where would you draw the line between – generally crappy parents, and parents who are emotionally abusive?
A: Here’s a list of emotional abuse signifiers that might help you make that determination. A question to chew on with a therapist or counselor (or journal) might be “If I decided what happened during my childhood was abuse, how would it affect how I take care of myself and interact with my parents now?”
14 Q: I love flowers. I would really, really like to have a partner of mine bring me flowers. I feel like asking them for flowers undercuts the sentiment of having someone bring me flowers – that, instead of a spontaneous action, it becomes something I’ve told them to do. I am open of my love of flowers, have them often, and post about how happy they make me on social media – not as hints (currently there is no partner to be hinting to anyway!) but just as a genuine expression of happiness because I have flowers. I also have at least one friend in my life who is likely to tell my partners how happy I’d be if they brought me flowers.
So, should I just ask for what I want, even if by asking, I feel like it changes how I feel about it? Or should I buy myself flowers when I feel like it, and hope that someday I meet someone who can see what makes me happy, and wants to take action on their own to make me happy? It feels like setting myself up to fail either way!
A: Buy yourself flowers sometimes, and also communicate to your future partners (deploy the friend if you must, put it in your online dating profile) that you really like getting flowers. Then you’ll have flowers! And evidence that your person pays attention and listens to what you like! Keeping it as an unspoken test just seems doomed to disappoint you.
15 Q: I’m mid-forties, have been in the same corporate profession/role for over 20 years. There are many things I still like about it but due to family/care needs and just my overall sense or intuition about what is going to work for me best in future, I’m looking at making some mid life changes to what I do, when I do it and the hours I do in that job to balance with other things that also make me feel happy, healthy and fulfilled. I’ve got a three month period to work this out while doing some part time work, and I’m looking forward to exploring and working out what the next chapter looks like (whether that’s a few months or several years). I have lots of good general transition skills but am interested in your advice and that of your readers on on making life changes that aren’t due to a sudden or sad event (e.g. the breakup of a significant relationship, moving house/city, change in health status). I don’t need to take a partner into consideration, but do have shared custody of my teenager, and I’m not expecting or needing that to change at all. And I would just also like to hear your or anyone’s mid life or general transition stories that they would like to share…your advice is great and you have a great community here (and also cause I love hearing about “late blossomers” or people who changed their lives midstream and / or did something they thought previously they never could or would do). Thanks for everything you do!
A: You sound like you have a solid plan and a timeline, and all I really want to do right now is ask you about the cool exciting stuff you plan to do and watch your face light up when you tell me about it.
So I’ll put this one out to the community: Where are the mid-life career changers and how did you do it? I know a lot of people find Brene Brown’s books really useful and inspiring around this kind of thing. My favorite “starting over/late bloomer” story is this one: Julia Sans Julie.
16 Q: My MIL tells my sweetie or his bro they should change hair, clothes etc, often bc “girls/employers prefer ABC” (um no). W/ sweetie I can laugh it off, “I like you this way!” It makes me irrationally angry but isn’t aimed @ me. Keep laughing? Sit and chafe?
Whenever a parent or older relative gives me a lot of advice based on what employers and/or the opposite sex like, I mentally substitute “*I* would like it if you changed your hair/clothes/didn’t slouch so much/majored in economics.”
You could always say something joking along those lines to your MIL, like, “Are you sure you aren’t just saying you would like it better if Sweetie did x?” but I think this is probably one of those “choose your battles” situations – if your spouse and bro are shrugging it off into the great backwash of unheeded parental admonishment, follow their lead and don’t escalate.
17 Q: What are some ways to reward yourself that don’t cost money? Inspired by my teacher friend. I’ve been doing a “behavior chart” for myself and reached my goal but money’s super tight right now. Thanks!
A: Things that are free: New music, movies, and books from your library. Free concerts and gallery days and museum days where you live. Permission to do something “unproductive” with a certain block of time (sleep in, take a nap, play video games, enjoy a solid masturbation session). Wear or use something that you normally save for special occasions. Call or Skype a faraway friend that you never get to see. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself and mail it (just costs a stamp). Reread a favorite book. Use something like Pinterest to collect images of things that make you happy. Waste an hour looking at Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things. Memorize a poem. Sing in the shower.
18 Q: Strategy tips for when you have ~3 months to find a job to support yourself in an expensive area, your employment throughout your 20s was sporadic and unimpressive, and reading Ask a Manager sends you into a depression spiral about how you’re unemployable?
A: I have been in this situation more than once! There’s probably nobody that’s going to give you better resume, cover letter, or interviewing advice than Alison, but I can talk about self-care strategies.
Step 1: Catastrophize! No, really. Give yourself permission for a temporary freak out. What’s your worst case scenario if you don’t get a job within that timeframe? Will you have to get a roommate/move to a cheaper area that might have fewer job opportunities/take on work that’s outside of your chosen field just to pay bills/move back in with parents/ask friends or family for financial help/take on more debt/become homeless and need to find a homeless shelter.
Everyone’s list is going to look different. Not everyone can ask friends or family for help or move back in with their folks – that’s one of the differences between “broke” and “poor” – so identify what your worst case scenario(s) look like.
Step 2: Figure Out What You Would Do If One Of Those Scenarios Happened
Let’s take a pretty bad case scenario – you might be homeless! – as an example. You probably won’t be, but you sound like you have reliable internet access and employment or financial resources for at least the next three months, and planned homelessness is a lot better than unplanned homelessness.
You’d probably want to acquire or look into stuff like:
- A library card and access to a public library with wi-fi
- The most inexpensive gym membership you could find, so you have a place to take showers and also a place to go during the day when many homeless shelters close their doors.
- A way to keep your most important stuff with you (literally, what bag would you pack it in, what would you put in the bag).
- A storage unit or place (like a friend’s garage or basement) to store things you can’t take with you.
- Do you need to temporarily or permanently re-home any pets? (If so, that sucks, but it’s better to plan than to not plan).
- Speaking of pets, could you find a gig as a house sitter or pet sitter that would take care of your housing needs in the short term?
- Do you have a working cell phone so you can be reached by employers?
- Could you ask a friend or find another place that you could use as your address for mail, employment applications, financial stuff, voting, etc.
- If you have decent credit, you could apply for a credit card now that you could use for emergencies later. Is taking on consumer debt an awesome financial idea? Probably no. Does your safety maybe depend on you being able to get a cheap motel room for a couple of nights, and will you feel better if you have the option even if you ever use it? Almost certainly.
- If you have student loans you could fill out paperwork for a temporary forbearance or deferment.
- You would cut way down on bills, cancel non-essential services, and stop automatic payments from coming out of your bank accounts.
- You would compile a list of all the shelters that you could go to and their hours & policies.
- You could gather numbers & info for churches, food banks, social services organizations.
- If you have health insurance for the next three months, now would be a good time to take care of any and all checkups, refills, ask your docs for samples of prescription meds, and you’d probably at least look into the process for applying for assistance with health care costs (Medicaid, subsidized ACA premiums in the US).
- A flattering & low-maintenance haircut would be a good investment, Job Seeker!
- You might make a plan for selling objects that you can’t store or take with you.
- You might sign up with every temp agency and recruiter in town. If they have steady work, great, but even a few days of answering phones or data entry here and there can add up.
- You might sign up for “sharing economy” services/apps, especially now while you have a permanent address and resources. If you have a working vehicle, you could drive for Lyft or Uber. If you don’t, there’s TaskRabbit, Fiverr, Rover (dogwalking) Instacart/Peapod shoppers. Is there healthy debate about whether these services are good for cities and/or workers? You betcha! Could a little cash get you from “possibly homeless” to “not homeless anymore”? Maybe worth a try.
- If you graduated from college, does your university have a career center or alumni network? If you’ve never tapped into this before, this is your time!
- What other skills could you trade for money? Babysitting? Yardwork? Housecleaning/organization? Light accounting?
- Make a list of every local museum and cultural institution’s free days & hours. You can only send out so many resumes in day, and you’ll need to feed your brain and your soul with something joyful and beautiful.
Do this for all your worst-case scenarios. What do you fear will happen? If that happens, what will you do about it?
Ok, now for the secret: What’s on your list almost doesn’t matter. It’s a process thing for stopping the anxiety/paralysis cycle. As you made the list(s), you took an inventory of your resources, assets, skills, and needs and you figured out how you’d solve each eventuality. Your past jobs may not have been “impressive” (whatever that means) but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a resourceful or worthy person. Apply that same process to job hunting. What do you want to do? Where/how will you find the resources to do it? What’s your backup plan if that doesn’t work?
Step 3: Make some kind of sustainable, consistent schedule for looking for work.
Commit to sending a few applications/resumes each day or each week, doing one thing to build your skills each week, and maybe doing one thing to meet people in your field each week. When you hit your target for that week, give yourself permission to stop and do pleasurable stuff. Feeling like you have to be “on” 24-7 is exhausting and unsustainable, you’ll go better if you pace yourself.
That last one probably should have been its own post, huh.
That’s all for this week. Comments are on.