Submit questions on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) or on Patreon before noon Chicago time today.
I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 1pm, with comments turned on once the post is up.
Thank you, this was fun to do last week.
Q 1, a holdover from last week: “Hi Captain! I’m starting at a prestigious med school this fall. I know that I’ve worked really hard to get here, but my parents have long been psychologically undermining me and won’t stop now. Any tips on resisting their signals and trusting my competency?”
I think it’s time to examine how often you talk to these people, and why, and what information you give them about your life. Maybe it’s time for your parents to become “occasional greeting cards/passing pleasantries”-level people, where you aim for a series of mostly pleasant surface-level interactions and the goal of not escalating things from your side or making anything worse than it already is. Give yourself permission to leave a conversation or an event if they say mean things, give yourself breaks from being in contact at all, give yourself permission to edit the details of what you tell them about your life. After all, they can’t comment unfavorably on something if they don’t know about it, and if they wonder why there is distance between you, hey, you’re busy with med school!
Even when it’s necessary to protect ourselves and liberating to acknowledge the truth about what’s happening, it is very painful for emotional abuse survivors to acknowledge the gap between how parents should act (loving, supportive, proud) and how they are actually acting. So please shore up your other support systems and reach out to friends, possible mental health support, mentors & other members of Team You, so that you do have people you can confide in and count on to be supportive, loving, and proud.
Q2: “A question… scripts for negotiating with debt collectors and related financial entities, with a side order of bypassing and shutting up brainweasels that shriek YOU ARE BAD FOR NEEDING TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE…?”
I was a broke grad student for a very long time and I have had to deal with debt collectors before. it’s the worst! I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!
Some things that have helped me:
First, I found out everything I could about my rights and their practices.
Second, I never, ever, ever talk to them on the phone. I don’t verify shit for their records. I definitely don’t give them contact info for friends or family if they are trying to use me to hunt down someone else. I also do everything in writing. The first time one calls I ask “Can you send me something in writing? I have no way of knowing that you are who you say you are, and I don’t talk about sensitive financial matters over the phone.” They will do everything they can to try to pressure you to stay on the phone, so just repeat that like a broken record and then hang up.
In the USA anyone attempting to collect a debt is required to verify their authority to collect the debt in writing, usually within 30-45 days. I also document everything: The firm, the name of the person, the date, everything they say. After that request for things in writing, I create a contact for them and then block the # on my cell phone.
There’s more practical stuff at that link.
As for the shame aspect of it, your shame is useful to debt collectors. It is not useful to you. I assume that you are a conscientious person who generally tries to pay what you owe, and that if you’re not paying something it’s because you can’t. Even if you were careless or “lazy” in some way, I would still think you deserved food, shelter, health care, leisure time, and good things in life because you are a human being.
I’m going to tell the truth about something that I was very ashamed of once upon a time: When I moved out of my ex’s place in 2011, I had less than $300 in the bank and no computer, and the breakup & move came in the summer when I didn’t have adjunct work. I was lucky in so many ways, I had a friend moving out of her place to get married, and she had paid up the rent for a few months. I had community, as in, the very first Captain Awkward Dot Com pledge drive bought me a computer and put food on my table. Other friends hooked me up with freelance work. But it was grim for a minute there, and during that time I stopped being able to pay off a credit card from grad school. That $150/month minimum payment wasn’t doing anything to bring down the overall balance, it was like throwing money down a hole. It basically came down to eat & have health insurance? vs. pay this bill. So I stopped paying it and eventually it got sent to collections.
Let me be *completely* honest, in case it might help someone: Also during that time, I had a bunch of automatic payments for bills, student loans, etc. coming out of my bank account, and while I did my best to stop/re-organize them, I didn’t act in time and I bounced some payments. When I couldn’t deposit enough money to cover them in my bank account within a few days, my banker helped me temporarily suspend my account. We didn’t want to close it with a negative balance, because it could have meant I might not be able to open another bank account for a period of years, but this temporary fix stopped any payments from going out or through while keeping the account technically open. That meant I couldn’t use an ATM or debit card until I had had a positive balance and no shenanigans for six months, and I had to do all my financial transactions in cash or in person at the bank or by paying bills at currency exchanges. It sucked and was terribly inconvenient, though it made me very, very careful with money and reversed some lazy habits I had accumulated.
Back to the unpaid credit card balance! Down the road, I settled it for a nominal amount of money, about 10% of the total balance. There were credit report consequences (my only credit card now is a secured card with a $500 limit, tbh I like it that way b/c it means I can never go into bigger debt again) and tax consequences (companies can write off bad debt as a loss for tax purposes, but individual people have to claim the difference between the total balance owed and what we settle for as income), and bill collectors calling, but otherwise nothing bad happened to me. I wish I’d just had the money to pay the whole thing off without a fuss, but since I didn’t, I made the best choice for myself out of some bad options. There’s a reason they call it unsecured debt, and I wasn’t going to harm my health to pay something that the credit card company had written off without a thought.
People can judge all they want or think I should have made better choices, but fact is most financial advice that exists is for people who are already pretty secure and comfortable and there weren’t a lot of resources I could turn to. Like, sure, “have a budget and stick to it!”, but how do you budget 0$? Also, I personally find most money-saving “tips” to be completely exhausting and depressing.
I dug out of the hole. It took time. I would like to never go back there, but I know it’s always possible, so I will give any moralizing or shame that serves the interests American financial industry at the expense of my safety & survival a hard fucking lifetime pass, and I hope you can do the same.
Possibly helpful reading: Joon Madriga’s Rising: Money Strategies for the Broke, The At Risk, and Those Who Love Them, Poorcraft by C. Spike Trotman, Money Drunk, Money Sober by Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan, Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado.
Forgive all student loans! Universal health care! Solidarity! Bread AND roses!
Q3: “I recently held a phone interview w/ an applicant who was an ideal candidate on the phone, until the end when they said “I’m glad it was a phone interview b/c you can’t tell I didn’t shower.” They are asking why they didn’t get the job. Do I tell them?”
A: Even if that was THE dealbreaker, I wouldn’t tell them that. Especially not in an email.
At most I’d say “We just found someone who was a better fit for the job. However, I really enjoyed speaking with you and you have some great experience and skills, so can I offer a piece of advice for your job search? I’m sure you were joking at the end of the call when you mentioned not taking a shower, but you might want to avoid jokes like that in future phone interviews and err on the side of being more formal. Good luck with everything and thanks again for taking the time to apply and speak with me.”
This is our daily reminder that there’s a real fine line between “nervous person who makes a bad joke that doesn’t land” and “weirdo with no filter.”
Q4: Through a charity program, I am putting a teenager in a foreign country through private school. She was 12 when I started, she’s 16 now. She seems like a nice kid and I’m happy to do it. But she found me on Facebook recently and chats me regularly. She wants to know about my spouse (I’m a lesbian) and my family (I’m minimal contact with parents who were abusive) and my dog (thank God, that one’s easy).
I am happy to write the checks, but I’m not really looking to be her penpal. She seems to live in happy traditional family and doesn’t get the hint that I’m not and doesn’t seem to have the “don’t Facebook chat adults with six questions in a row about their personal lives” cultural understanding that American teenagers have.
So… how can I not be an asshole here?
A: You could most likely remove her ability to contact you on Messenger, right? Maybe give her an email address instead, so there’s less expectation of immediate responses, and you can answer or not more at leisure.
There’s also always “Oh, so nice to hear from you, but I don’t have time to chat, so don’t be worried if I don’t respond. Hope school is going well!” and then, well, not answering. I think it’s easy to forgive or overlook her initial enthusiasm, and chances are it will die down over time, especially if you are slow to answer.
Could you hook her up with a website that’s more geared toward international penpals for teens? “Since you like chatting so much, would you like to find people your own age to talk with?” Related: A pretty delightful short documentary about this.
Failing that, what’s wrong with “Oh, I don’t have a spouse right now. If I did, it would be another woman“, “I’m not close to my parents, sadly,” or just sticking to dog topics? Those are pretty routine small-talk sorts of questions (and in fact form the basics of early language learning texts) and it’s okay to answer them in a perfunctory way. See also: “Ooh, so many questions! Well, here’s a picture of my dog, for now. Sorry I can’t chat, but have a good day at school.”
Q5: “I was wondering how best to establish a social event for work people. I would like to invite some of my colleagues socially, maybe make it a regular thing. The wrinkle: It needs to be outside my home and right now the number is small, so I wonder what happens when everyone declines. Also what if I stumble upon some unknown animosities between the people I like? Any advice welcome and thanks for getting back to me :)”
Start with a one-time thing, make sure it’s something that would be enjoyable for you to do, and then secure one reliable colleague who will show up before you make the general announcement so you know that it won’t just be you.
Pick something preferably inexpensive, close to work, and inclusive (at minimum make sure the venue is accessible to any & all disabled folks on your team, think about whether drinking/alcohol is a thing your team handles safely and enjoyably).
Then issue the invite: “Reliable Colleague and I are going to try axe-throwing after work next Thursday, from 5:30-7:30 pm, at [venue]. Anyone want to join us? RSVP by [day] so we can schedule enough axes.” Then send a reminder when you need the final head count.
If people reply and can’t make the first thing, or suggest something else, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should change your plans. “Sorry that you can’t make it this week, we’re going to try to make this a regular thing though, so maybe next time.” “Our heart is really set on axe-throwing this week, but we want to make a regular Thursday night thing, so let’s go to the tapas place the following week. Want to plan that with me?” One way to get me to stop planning anything (and to secretly hate you) is to be a person who doesn’t plan anything but who craps on every plan that other people come up with.
If people have animosities toward each other, you don’t have to fix that, but as host you do have to make expectations about behaviors clear and smack down anything that’s inappropriate or mean. One rule could be “Ok, a 5 minute limit on work venting, this is supposed to be fun” or “To keep this fun and light, please don’t say anything about people who aren’t here that you wouldn’t say to them.”
Give it some time to get into a groove, and good luck.
Q6: Hi Cap! It is that time in my early 30s when old friends who disappeared into 5+ year relationships have broken up & now suddenly want friends again. Advice for navigating friendship renewal when the reason old friend & I haven’t been in touch is because they chose to disappear? In all cases so far I would have been thrilled if friend got in touch to resume friendship at any prior point but I am bitter as soon as I find out friendship-renewal attempt is on heels of new singleness. (with the male examples, am giving benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to hookup) (this may be naive but we’ll see)
A: Two things come to mind:
- Let them be the one to make the effort/the plans, and don’t necessarily put a lot of effort into juggling your schedule to fit them in. See them when it’s fun/interesting to you now, not out of obligation to the past.
- Seriously limit your role as post-breakup-shoulder-to-cry on, and if they try to take advantage of you in this way, definitely address it: “Hey, you kinda disappeared from my life when you started dating X, and it’s great to have you back, but that doesn’t mean I want to process the last 5 years with you. Let me be your fun-going-to-the-movies friend for a while, and we’ll see if listening-to-my-problems friend still lives here.” Especially for heterosexual dude friends who might be looking to hook up or get a lot of free emotional labor (or both).
That’s all for today, thanks for the great questions, comments are open.