Chat/Short Answer Friday Today

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?”

A: Congratulations!

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.

Last one:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.



















112 thoughts on “Chat/Short Answer Friday Today

  1. OP 5 here. Thanks for answering my question! I’m sure this will help me get started.

    Also commenters, if there’s something you’d like to do with (nice) colleagues when it’s hot outside, I’d love to hear about it. I’m currently juggling getting ice cream, just sitting in a park or some kind of game night in my head. Still trying to come up with something that makes me go “Yes!” though.

    1. I would go with something pretty structured with a clear beginning and end time at first. Something very easy to opt in to after work. It’s much easier for me to hang out for an hour or so after work than it is to motivate to go to a work-thing on my day off.

    2. If you have a local paper, it may have a list of upcoming events. Even if nothing works for your group, it may inspire some ideas.

    3. I would say go to a nearby restaurant with a nice patio. Most of the after work things I’ve been to have been purely food and drink based and we have never hurt for things to talk about. The most popular ones always involve inviting someone who used to work there that we all miss, then we all go to see that person. Although that may be a sign of my super dysfunctional workplaces.

      1. Yes! One of my coworkers organizes a monthly hangout once a month after work, at a nearby restaurant where they have a patio and drinks and sometimes live music. Sometimes it’s a big group and sometimes there’s just a few of us, but it always happens reliably. And “alums” often show up, which doesn’t seem dysfunctional to me!

    4. I don’t know where you are, but in my area, there are a couple of free evening things to do at various points. The first Wednesday of every month, they have an Art Walk downtown where most of the art museums are located, and admission to the museums is free that night; there are often food trucks and a couple of brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area, and there are usually some independent artists set up with booths displaying artwork for sale. I bought a pair of really cool earrings made of purple Swarovski crystals a few years ago.

      Another art museum has free admission on Tuesdays from 4 pm to 9 pm, and they have an on-site cafe, so if you were in my area and wanted to do that after work, you and your coworkers could grab supper in the cafe and then meander around the museum for an hour or two.

      It helps that I live in a fairly large city, but a lot of places have cool stuff like that.

      Also, your local library can be a good resource; they often offer free or inexpensive classes on how to do various things (art, writing, fixing/building things, all sorts of stuff), so say, the library has a class on painting still life from 7 pm to 8:30 pm, you could see how many coworkers wanted to go do that.

      And if there are any colleges/universities nearby, they might have some interesting but inexpensive/low-stakes activities on weekday evenings that you and your coworkers could try after work some time.

    5. Some areas do free outdoor movies (in a park, usually) during summer. I love rooftop anything during summer. I’d be down for rooftop drinks, rooftop desserts, rooftop music, rooftop board games… and I hate board games. IDK if you’re into sporty stuff but there are often yoga/walking in the park groups that I’d go to with coworkers. Anything more intense though, no. Not with coworkers.

    6. To be honest, I don’t really want to hang out with my coworkers outside of work. Maybe occasionally. Not regularly. I’d much rather go home. When I do, it’s usually some variation of have drink + chat about whatever.

      1. This is an important opinion for OP to keep in mind. Some people view any contact with their coworkers outside of work hours as ‘more time during which I need to be in work-mindset’ and avoid it whenever possible. Some are up for socializing but would be self-conscious about doing certain activities around colleagues. Some would love to join you but either have too many commitments to do anything new or can’t mesh with the specific timeframe you want to plan for.

        If certain of your coworkers never come to your events, it does not mean they don’t like you as a person or respect you as a professional.

        If you’re not able to obtain a critical mass of people to make this a regular (or even sporadic) thing, that’s not a referendum on you or on them.

        The Captain’s advice about securing one minimum reliable person is good, but if you don’t have anyone you feel you can rely on that way (or even if you do), you could schedule your activity around an already-existing, publicly-attendable event – many have posted good possibilities here, and of course there’s the amazing and lifechanging for many more ideas.

        Lastly, if there are specific people who don’t come to your get-togethers because [see first paragraph], but you specifically want to see more of *them*, you might get more interest by floating a one-on-one hangout. That way it’s less ‘work event’ and ‘friend event with this person I happen to know from work’, plus you can better customize your suggestion to something you think they’ll like.

        For even less stress/pressure, you can combine it with the ‘piggyback on a pre-existing event that you’d do even if the person doesn’t accept your invite’ idea. “Hey colleague, I found this axe-throwing club that offers free beginner workshops on Wednesday evenings. I know you’ve tried sword-swallowing in the past, so I thought you might be interested in this too. Let me know if you’re ever up for checking it out together!”

    7. From my experience, don’t announce it as a regular thing, or at least not until it’s well established. People are more likely to put a little extra effort into coming to something if they think it’s a one-off. If it’s weekly, they think “oh, I don’t really feel like it this week, I’ll go next week.”

    8. Hello, zweisatz! Sorry, I am joining this party a bit late – but I simply cannot resist answering to your question because I LOVE organizing events and I LOVE it when other people make the arrangements, too. So, you are organizing an event. Yay! That is a win in itself and you are doing a great thing.

      The Captain already gave great advice but I wanted to add a few things. The two most important things in my opinion are: 1) Do not give up! 2) Learn from everything you can.

      I have organized events of very different sizes (ranging from board game evenings to conventions) for 20 years and one thing I have learned that initially there is almost always friction. People are just used to doing – or not doing – certain things at certain times and chaning that pattern will take time. So, let’s say, you want to begin organizing axe throwing every Thursday (by the way, I love the thought of axe throwing!)? Well, first time it might be just you and one or two colleagues – but do not worry! As long as you have fun, slowly the event will gain momentum and more people will join in. If you get one or two of your colleagues to help you organize the thing it does not matter if one of you has to skip one evening of axe throwing, the others will take care that the regular Thursday axe throwing will go on.

      So, do not be surprised if the first event is not that fantastic and special. As long as you are having fun and it is nice, you are doing great. At first people might be a bit stressed if they do not know each other that well. Also, I would recommend you not to wait for feeling a big “Yes!”. The idea is to get to know your co-workers in informal situation, right? So, do you know what the others are interested in? So, how about picking something that you are “ok” with? That way you are also not as disappointed if your colleagues do not share your enthusiasm in axe throwing. Also, how about trying out something that is (relatively) new to you? It might be easier for your colleagues if you are not far ahead of them when it comes to skills and performance, if you get to build your skills together.

      Also, you do not have to make the decision of what to do on your own. Getting an ice cream and playing a game in a park actually sounds great. Perhaps you could do that and discuss together about ideas of what to do. Of course, it would be great if you had some ideas ready. I loved it that The Captain gave very good pointers on accessibility – and alcohol. The latter is a tricky thing. On the other hand, much of the modern Western culture of relaxation is built around consuming alcohol – but consuming alcohol is really not that accessible. There are countless reasons for one not to want/be able to do that and many of those reasons are highly persona: religion, childhood trauma involving alcoholism, being an alcoholic, being pregnant, living with an invisible illness which prevents consuming alcohol… I am one of those people who really cannot consume any alcohol and any mention of going to a bar after the event would make me pass the entire event – and I know I am not alone in this. If you are completely sure that none of your co-workers have any problems that relate to consuming alcohol, then go ahead, but if you are not, I would advice caution.

      Uh, sorry, I did not mean to discourage you, I have just had to pass so many study or work related events because they have been related to alcohol that I wish there were more events people like me could happily take part in.

      Whatever you do, go have fun! Yay for you for bringing joy to the life!

    9. As an introvert who still likes to be included, I’d appreciate one that was fairly short (2-3 hours) with a definite end time, and started immediately after work so I don’t have to go home and come out again. People who want to keep on going after the scheduled bit could easily go for drinks etc, but those who want to go home will have an easy out. 🙂

      1. I’m A Little TeaPot, I hear you so hard! Not that I mind people organizing work-social things, but I already had a full social life when I started my job. There are people I’m individually getting to know and incorporate into my circle, but its slow and needs to happen organically.

        Bryn: 1) Whoa, I thought the Captain was just making up axe-throwing as a random thing! 2) We live in the same town! I wondered if there were other local Awkwardeers!

    10. I’d like something with air conditioning personally. I am a delicate flower and I need to Outdoors carefully. (And with LOTS of sunblock.)

    11. OP 5 again. Thanks for the feedback everyone, you have great suggestions, reminders and tips! – and reminded me that I should take into account my own food issues 😉

      On an unrelated note: Really love the format. It’s nice to have discussions on so many different topics in the comments.

    12. Late to the commenting party, but in case you’re still checking comments –

      A friend of mine in a related industry plans a small industry-related meetup a few times a year and it’s always at a nearby restaurant after work. It’s nice! Easy to plan, easy to attend, people can stay for however long or short they want, eat or not, drink or not, and just have a chance to chat with people they may or may not already know. It works whether two or 20 people show up. We all have something in common so it’s easy to start a conversation with a new person. I don’t think you should spend time or energy planning an activity since inevitably, someone won’t be into that particular thing.

      I know some people are categorically opposed to doing anything even vaguely work-related outside of work hours, but I like this group enough that I consider it a social event, even if the way we know each other is through our jobs.

    13. Last night some colleagues and I volunteered to cook dinner at a residence for out-of-town families receiving treatment at a local hospital. This particular facility hosts regular volunteer groups from corporations to do these dinners, and I know our local food bank also welcomes one-time volunteer parties. It worked really well for us since everyone had an assigned role preparing, serving, and cleaning up the dinner, so it was structured and kept everyone busy, plus it was nice to contribute to the community at large. We all really enjoyed ourselves!

      Maybe there is a local organization that could use a volunteer crew from your work for a one-time project? It could also help encourage people to commit to the plan, rather than a purely social event where they may flake out. That happens a lot with social events like bowling night or whatever – people intend to come and then don’t feel up to it on the day of.

  2. Q2 – Money Shame is a THING for sure. CA is on the money (ha!) when it comes to document everything in writing and I’ll add, especially when you are able to pay something off. Keep that letter that says PAID. It’s hard to get a copy later if you need to prove things are paid (Yay for shitty credit reporting). I am happily addressing the debt collectors as they show up and enjoying life in the meantime. Another YAY for secured credit cards. And a big annoyed face everytime a cashier asks me if I want to open a store credit card “it’s so easy”! Ugh.

    I have also listened to an amazing friend at her TEDxTalk.

    It’s worth the listen.

    1. It’s a great talk, but it should probably have a trigger warning for suicide.

  3. On #6, I admit I can be petty on this. The only thing worse than now-that-I’m-in-a-relationship-I-don’t-need-you friend is just-broke-up-how-ARE-you friend. I dislike that we’re supposed to pretend that we just got so busy and gosh it’s been a while, when in reality I was here the whole time and probably reached out a bunch before realizing you were friend-breaking up with me. I’m astonished by how many formerly good friends I last saw at their big, expensive-for-me wedding! No real advice just sympathy, sometimes you do just have to process your own hurt feelings but decide if you enjoy this person’s company or not, and try to be the bigger person if you do.

    1. Yeah, I never understood this either. A spouse isn’t, like, a responsibility that takes up all your time the way grad / med / law school is, or a new child is, or even some intense career that involves, I dunno, living in the wilderness is.

      It makes it seem that the friend saw me as a fun person to hang out with when they were bored, and when they were in a relationship they were entertained enough that they didn’t need me. It made me feel a bit used, tbh. That might be a bit of a pessimistic lense. But if there’s a better explanation I wish I knew what it was.

      1. Re #6, how does this work when the attempt at reconnecting is on the heels of say, their young child finally going off to school, rather than a breakup? My (former?) bestie has gone mostly AWOL while raising a little one. She’s not the same person at ALL anymore, and while I try to be sympathetic, my partner and I are childless by choice and other friends who have kids are still the same folks underneath, so I’m struggling with this relationship. Is this just me? (Please delete if an inappropriate threadjack, perhaps I shall submit a formal question to the Captain if so!)

        1. I think this is very normal – Your friend had something that was absorbing all her spare energy (money, sleep, social units, patience) and now she is ready to hang out. I would say if you want to keep the friendship, find what you do have in common and do it, and learn to be around her kids at least a little bit. Your friend is still in there.

        2. Not just you! I’m currently trying to kindly slow-fade my kid-centric friends – they are lovely people, but I don’t know the first thing to do with kids, and so I have outlived my usefulness in this circle. At best, maybe they’ll pop back up in 20 years like the last OP’s question, and I’ll applaud their kids’ accomplishments.

          The big difference is that it’s OK-to-necessary with a parent! Unlike a kid, a significant other does not generally need your full attention 24/7 for their entire lives, nor should you be responsible for teaching them every human skill needed to thrive. We’ve covered that before here. 😉

        3. You’re not wrong to be annoyed and exasperated, and she’s not wrong to prioritize her kid over you. Both of these things are true.

        4. I have some friends who are in various stages of child-rearing, and we can’t always make the schedules work for getting together very often. I remind myself how fast time goes and look forward to hanging out more when the kids are older. And of course people change for all sorts of reasons, including kids and relationships. Sometimes a friendship survives those, sometimes not.

        5. As a parent of rapidly growing children I’d say keep her on the back burner (if you want to), and maybe put the feelers out in a few years. I’m sure she would be grateful. It depends if you still want to – you say she’s changed. If that’s things like she doesn’t have many opinions on the things you both used to care about, I’d cut her some slack; if she’s done a 180 on her politics and she’s telling you you can’t understand that because you don’t have kids, then maybe steer clear.

        6. As the parent of a small child, I don’t think it’s you, but it might be her. Some people change dramatically when they become parents. Some don’t. There’s no right way to be a parent as long as the kids are happy and safe.
          Also, there’s no obligation on you to continue to be friends with someone who’s company you no longer enjoy for whatever reason. If you want to, make space for her to reorient to life outside of diapers and everlasting nap/feeding schedules. I hope she’ll appreciate the effort. But you are not required to do so.

          1. Oh gosh, this is so relevant to me right now. I have a one and a half year old, and while I still love many of my old friends, I’m the only person in my social circle with a kid and they sincerely do not understand the drastic changes to my life. I used to get psyched about sewing and putting together incredible costumes for both personal and public events, about kink and poly meet-ups, about radical political activity! It’s not that I love those things less, it’s just that I actually can’t right now: I gained too much weight with the pregnancy to fit into my cool vinyl club clothes, I only sleep through the night about twice a week, and ALL of my emotional and mental energy goes into my kiddo, my full-time job, or my marriage. I’m basically trying to keep my friendships on “maintenance” level—once a month brunches, occasional game nights with wine, movies at our place once or twice a month. It’s not the same level of intensity, and I am big-time less emotionally available than I used to be, but it’s the best I can manage at this time.

        7. My best friend from childhood also went awol after marriage and children – after feeling a bit left behind and failing several times to connect with her I decided to experiment and see if I stopped calling how long it would take her to get in touch… that was over 6 years ago. She has not once called or emailed to make plans, see how I am, congratulate me on a new job or relationship, ask me why I stopped calling – nothing. Obviously the friendship must have been ready to die but it still stings. If she reached out now I don’t know what I would do honestly – feeling disposable hurt a lot, and I’m not sure I’d trust her again. If your friend is making the attempt she is doing more than some, and maybe it’s worth keeping that friendship, but I wouldn’t blame you if you took a step back at all.

    2. I have a kind of similar situation with a friend right now, though it doesn’t involve any relationships or breakups. She always wanted to spend time together when it was something fun that she wanted to do & needed someone to do it with- like going to happy hours, dinner, the beach, etc. But whenever I was going through a tough time and needed to talk about it, get a little support, she would get super judgmental and like, pissed off that I wasn’t just being fun. She would then disappear on me for weeks or sometimes months, and I would have to be the one to finally reach back out to her. She would always pull the “omg I was just soooo busy” line. But really I knew she had been avoiding me because she didn’t care enough to be a friend during difficult times. At this point I’m not sure I want to play that game anymore.

      1. You can’t force her to care about you the way you want her to. It sucks and it hurts, but it sounds like your options are to keep getting slapped down, make yourself okay with a more casual friendship, or say, “You know, I’m not getting what I need here, I’m out”.
        It sounds like you really don’t want that first one. You say “I’m not sure I want to play that game any more” – so don’t. Save yourself the heartache and stop chasing after her.
        That last one is okay, by the way. You’re allowed to end friendships if you want. If she accuses you of being a bad friend or a bad person, I officially grant you Internet Stranger Absolution.

    3. I understand that time is finite and obviously having an S.O. takes up time, so I’m ok with people that just hang out less. But if there’s really been essentially no contact, then they go into the “person that is fun to hang out with when available but really isn’t a friend” box that they apparently decided to put me in. It’s not the worst thing in the world – it’s always nice to have people to hang out with, after all, they just get zilch in the way of favors or emotional labor because that’s reserved for friends.

  4. Q2 – I have also been there! It sucks, and it made me feel like crap, and once I had health insurance again I spent too much of my limited therapy sessions (this was all pre-Obamacare) dealing with “I am a horrible person because I credit card ballooned to the point that they shut it off, my car almost got repossessed, and I just undid five years of reliable payment on my student loans.” I am not a horrible person, you are not a horrible person, and we have a horrible cultural problem with thinking if something bad happens to someone then they must have brought it on themself. The Captain’s advice is so very solid. I have also straight up told bill collectors “I am unemployed and have zero dollars right now, but I am interviewing. Can you call in (a date three months out), when I will be happy to find a way to pay you?” I don’t know if it would work with credit cards, but it totally worked with medical bills.

    Q6 – I have been on both sides of this. As I get older, I find it harder and harder to find the time and energy to hang out with friends I really do want to see, and I know that if I weren’t coupled the lack of company would drive me out of the house. Maybe I’m just blunt and have blunt friends, but I have both said and received “you know, we can still hang out when you’re in a relationship.” Anything other than an apology lowers my opinion of the person just a little. And then yes, let them do the planning.

      1. Spot. America is set up to eff over the average person.
        Credit card companies deliberately give an over generous credit amount and small minimum payment because they *don’t* want you to pay it off. If you pay it off they don’t get all that fat interest and fees and penalties.

        1. Yep. So the people who pay off over a longer time end up subsidising the (richer) people who settle in full at the end of each month.

          It’s really the people who struggle but in the end pay off who’re supporting the whole system. I used to work in a position where I could see sometimes how much debt collectors paid for tranches of non-performing unsecured personal loans/CC debt and sometimes stuff would go for less than 10p in the pound. That’s all priced in to the interest rate.

      2. Yes it does. Then people are more likely to work for less, resulting in bigger profit margins for those who make profits.

    1. Yes it’s such a bullshit rigged system.

      I second Captain’s advice to ignore the shit out of those “inspirational” budget advice things, they are never applicable to most people. They just end up making me angry like even if I *could* have the self restraint of a monk and forgo all fun and treats, I wouldn’t reach anywhere near the goal you’re championing, because I don’t live in whatever magical place you do with insanely low living costs. :-/

      1. Like a friend posted on Facebook a while back: [parahrased] If your “awesome budgeting plan” starts off by assuming I am buying $5 coffee franchise drinks every workday, and you try to tell me how “easy” it will be for me to save a bunch of money by not buying those drinks, let me stop you right there, because you clearly have nothing to offer me, a person who spends $0 on coffee every month. I can’t cut back zero dollars into negative numbers. I am already too poor to buy fancy caffeinated beverages. What I need is a budget plan for a person deeply in debt, hounded by school loan people, and unable to afford a modest apartment–even in a high-crime part of town–that is still just roomy enough to shelter me and my stuff and pets. Your budget asking me to give up coffee and online shopping and fancy salon manicures or haircuts is not relevant to my problems.

        And, well, yeah. Nailed THAT.

        1. OMG yes this. It’s why I find the YouTube channel The Financial Diet so laughable. It’s budgeting advice for rich people. Don’t buy as many designer clothes? Mate, I already buy all of my clothes from thrift stores.

  5. Q2 – I have also been there, and it does suck. We used a non-profit credit counseling service to help us dig out of the original hole, but it has been a very long road to get out completely. I would second CA’s advice to know your rights, to know what debt collectors are allowed to do in your state (for example, are they allowed to call you at work?), and to do everything in writing. Stay strong, make sure you allow yourself small treats here and there, and know that you are NOT EVEN CLOSE to being alone! Later this month I will make my last student loan payment, and as of yesterday we officially have less than $10,000 in debt. It has taken seventeen long, bumpy years to get here, and it tastes gooooood. You can do it too, and you have an Awkward Army of people behind you who have been there and done that and believe you are awesome!

  6. Q2 – One thing I found helped tremendously was to be proactive. It won’t work all the time, but if you ever can’t pay a bill (or can’t pay right now) is to phone debtors up and grovel. Utility companies etc are used to people who lose their jobs etc, and i you phone up and say ‘I’m in trouble, can I pay half for the next three months, here’s when I propose to pay it back, I will contact you again’ (and do it) you’ll probably be fine. Equally, send the debt collectors a breakdown of income and expenditure (but round your costs up: if you’re conscientious, you’ll stiff yourself, don’t do that). Then pay off priority debts (if your location has this concept) and split whatever you can afford between remaining debtors until you’re back on your feet.

    Debt can be very scary, but if you are honest and deal with honest collectors, it’ll just be another business transaction. If you’re dealing with shady operators, seek help: there are places like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (they’ll also help if you’re ‘merely’ overwhelmed) and other charities who can be in your corner, talk calmly when you’re stress-crying, etc.

    Just… and I probably don’t have to say this, but feel it needs to be said: once you have an agreement, stick to it and pay up. And if your circumstances change for the worse, again: reach out, and be proactive.

    1. Perhaps this is the case sometimes, but often debt collectors will berate you, ask for your relatives phone numbers, propose illegal solutions, etc. Do not talk to them on the phone, maybe with the exception of federal student loan people. There are ways to work out payment plans, but debt collectors are often extremely unscrupulous, ethically and legally.

      1. (I’m in the USA, so the information below is probably not applicable in other countries.)

        Yeah, federal student loan people and the IRS are both surprisingly easy to work with if you just keep the lines of communication open. Pro-tip: The IRS will generally not call you unless you’re already working on a payment arrangement. If someone cold calls claiming to be the IRS, be very suspicious. The IRS generally does very nearly all their communicating via postal mail, and most people can also do a lot of sorting out tax situations on their website, but for some goofy reason you have to have some sort of open credit situation (a mortgage, car loan, or credit [not debit] card) to gain access to a lot of the online resources.

        Any private debt collectors, nope. Let them go to voice mail or request information in writing but otherwise stone-wall them on the phone.

        1. If everyone vowed to ignore calls from all numbers they don’t recognize, plus any from known debt collectors or begging megachurches you do not attend, or whatever, I think they would eventually realize the time and effort they are paying people to put into harassing other people is money and time badly spent with zero percent return on that investment.

      2. That’s really true; especially credit card debt collectors. You don’t have to talk to anyone who tries to shame you, pressure you, or who makes you feel uncomfortable. Use CA’s advice to have them communicate in writing. It’s okay to hang up on people. But seriously, go hang out and ask questions on Reddit. Just search for “debt” or “getting out of debt” to find the right subreddit. They will tell you exactly how to negotiate, what your rights are, how to get the best deals, etc. etc. etc. And they’ll be supportive, too. It takes a village!

  7. #2 – the shame is your biggest enemy, in my experience. It keeps you from looking at the mail, as stuff gets worse and worse. It keeps you from doing the research so you don’t get taken advantage of. It keeps you dodging the calls, so you can’t ask for charitable care or a payment plan or even just for the phone calls to stop. It keeps you from asking for moral support from people that care about you.

    Moral support shouldn’t be discounted. Someone to sit with you when you made the call, to contradict anything shaming that the collector says or help you hang up if they get abusive, to cheer for you when you pay one of those debts off, it’s good stuff.

    A couple of philosophical things to keep in mind:

    There is a general principle in the US (and I presume elsewhere but I wouldn’t speak to places I don’t live) that debt should not be a millstone around someone’s neck for the rest of their life. That’s why we don’t have debtors prisons or debt bondage and why bankruptcy exists*. They have to try and keep you in a shame jail because they cannot put you in a real jail.

    Also. Despite a lot of the rhetoric you hear about “running X like a business” as though businesses paid cash for everything, businesses RUN ON debt. Businesses pay interest and late fees and negotiate settlements on debts and sometimes walk away without paying. I have direct experience with the Party of Personal Responsibility not paying their bills and getting hauled into court.

    *Obviously there are a lot of things like money bail that can end up functioning like debtor’s prison, but that’s not the same thing as just being able to throw people and their families in jail because of debt (fun fact, Charles Dickens lived in a debtor’s prison with his parents as a child) and its not relevant to my point here, which is about the question asker shifting their own mindset around debt.

  8. Q2: It’s been *very* good for my mental health, and surprisingly good for my credit score, to remind myself that creditors are 100% not my friends. (Esp. in the US) our entire consumer economy is 40 years into policies *designed* to send all new productivity and wealth straight to the top, while extending everyone else credit they can’t afford to cover the gap as wages fall further and further behind the cost of living.

    It’s not just you! Nearly everyone loses a huge chunk of money at some point(s) to snowballing interest and fees on their bills. Try to get to where you can feel some self-righteousness about how unfair and ridiculous it is to have to pay money for not having more money, and be mercenary in dealing with this industry.

    Figure out what legal option would actually be best for *you*–a payment plan, default and a settlement, whatever options you’ve got–and remind yourself constantly that debt collector’s job is to manipulate you into agreeing to what’s best for *them* (paying them as much money as they can extract, as fast as possible). Find someone sympathetic to tell about this, if possible, get some trustworthy help sorting through your options and interfacing with your creditors.

    There’s probably better readings on the subject, but this helped me:

    1. I have been on both sides of this. I have struggled with paying bills that were in collections, and I have worked as a collector when I couldn’t find another job.

      Most 3rd party collections agents work on commission and have monthly goals. The closer you are to the end of the month, the more likely they are to push HARD to get some kind of payment in the current month even if you are paying off the whole thing on your next paycheck. They are also taught to negotiate everything and that everyone negotiates like they do. If you say you can pay $50, they will assume you can go up to $75 or $100, so don’t lead with your max payment.

      When you are in a position to settle, know that the collector will have guidelines on what percentage of the balance they can take without approval, but those are ALWAYS negotiable. If you go below their threshold, they just have to get management (and sometimes client) approval. I’ve seen bills settled for 10% of the balance if the debtor could do a lump sum, sometimes less.

      I think the best advice I can offer is to be careful with promises over the phone. Unless you can (and will) make a payment, don’t discuss specifics with a collector. If they can get you to specify the payment method, amount, and date, they will enter it as a promise to pay. Promise to pay re-ages your debt, so the info will stay on your credit report longer. It’s tempting to make an empty promise to get them off the phone, but if you can’t pay, keep it vague.

      1. Years ago a super shady company decided that I owed them several thousands of dollars. I did not.

        I explained in great detail alllll of the shady/illegal aspects and practices of said company to the collector and flat refused to pay that much to them…

        However, if they were to write off the balance completely as “paid in full” I would give them a lump sum of X dollars.

        Basically it was to get it off my back/credit report. He accepted something like 3% of what they were asking.

        Six months later a different collector from the same agency called and tried to bully me over it.

        He said former collector was not authorized to make the deal. Oh well…he made it, he worked for you, I have a “paid in full” receipt. Doesnt sound like *I* have a problem.

        Then I threatened him with the federal trade commission. Funny…I’ve never heard back.

        1. I want to reiterate for OP (and everyone else) – just make sure that any deal you make with them, especially one that includes an agreement to drop the debt from your credit report, is IN WRITING. If it’s not in writing, they very very very likely won’t honor their part but will expect you to honor yours.

          I feel like it can’t be said enough, especially where debt collectors are concerned, get every single thing in writing.

        2. In the days of landlines & dialup, my old housemate- who lived in the main house that was her mom’s with her kid, while I lived in the separate converted garage/rec room in the back- kept getting billed by the phone service provider for a phone line & number that didn’t exist, but had somehow become linked with her existing account for the line she actually *did* have in her room. After going back & forth over it numerous times, trying to sort it out, and make sure they weren’t mistakenly billing her for her mom’s line, or mine, it turned out that this number was supposedly attached to a *pay phone*. This was at a regular house in a normal residential neighborhood, she had grown up there, and there had NEVER been a pay phone of any kind on the property EVER. They kept insisting, she regularly invited them to send a technician out to see for themselves that neither this pay phone or mysterious line existed, and they just as regularly declined because it showed up in their system as being there so they didn’t need to check. She eventually just had to pay it because they were sending it to collections and she didn’t want that going on the credit record she was trying to rebuild after divorcing her terrible ex. It was under $100, but she was on welfare at the time and didn’t need the expense. She was furious, but she had tried everything to get it removed felt she had no choice at that point.

    2. I am a smalll business owner. I can’t pay my employees unless my customers pay me. If a customer owes on their account, my office sends six months of statements and four monthly phone calls. If the customer ignores all our attempts to communicate after all of that, then the account gets sent to collections. If a customer works out a payment plan with me, or simply sends monthly payments (no matter how small) I am satisfied. I once had a bus boy customer paying me in $1 bills. Since he owed hundreds for necessary care, and obviously had no money but was still trying, I wrote off his bill. Which in the small business world really means it came out of my salary. But still. A customer clearly trying to honor their debt conveys respect and receives understanding.

  9. Q1: Everything the Captain said, plus this: Graduate study is hard, and many programs are designed to be just this side of academic hazing. It is very common for people to struggle during their graduate programs, particularly in the early years. If this happens to you, please know that it doesn’t mean your parents were right about the BS they used to discourage you. It means you are a normal grad student. Your school/department should have some resources to help, and your classmates are going through the same thing (so they can comisserate). Students ahead of you in the same program will probably have good pointers on resources as well.

  10. Captain, thank you for your thoughtfulness, always. I, too, fell into debt and predatory lending, and your frankness is a balm to my heart.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. This community was instrumental in me being able to rebuild my financial life, and if anything that I experienced can make others feel less alone, I’m for it.

  11. For the last OP… Yes be sure to be alert for males wanting you to help them process all their feels.

    It is not your job…in any way at all, even if they *hadn’t* disappeared for years.

    Also, yeah keep an eye out for them trying to use you as a place holder (hook up) while they get over things/wait on their next serious relationship to show up.

  12. Q6, Beverly Craven has a catchy song about a situation like yours, “Woman to Woman”.

  13. For anyone who needs a thorough re-evaluation of what it means to owe debt, I recommend “Debt: the first 5000 years” by David Graeber. It’s a heavy book (clearly written but covers a lot of history and can be emotionally difficult), so I don’t recommend it if you have little time, but its examination of the role debt plays in human society can really desconstruct the shame we have around it.

    It’s one of those books that changed the way I think about the world.

  14. I’m simultaneously giggling at and excited by the idea of going axe throwing! Good luck with arranging a fun activity, OP5

  15. “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)”

    This is true as a general rule, but there are some exceptions (USA-specific):

    So if you were e.g. insolvent (your debts were more than your assets) immediately before the debt was cancelled then you would still have to *report* it, but you might not end up having to actually *pay taxes* on all of it, depending on the specifics of the situation.

  16. Q1: Honestly, if your parents have been psychologically undermining you for years, I would highly suggest some therapy because it might take some serious unpacking. (Med school is hard enough without parents being cruel or unkind or “just telling the truth!” to you.) I’ve had a lot of luck with a family therapist (who counsels just me because it’s my family who is messed up – being told “all of your reactions are completely normal” is extremely liberating and lightening if you’ve been put down forever, especially if you’re “too emotional” about it). Best of luck in med school!! We are rooting for you!

  17. LW4 – Is it normal for the charity to give out your personal information? Is it possible they encouraged her to contact you? It’s a little concerning if they did, from a privacy standpoint and a “Should teenagers be building relationships with adults in strange countries” way as well. I might consider talking to them about that.

    1. It’s probably seen as a good way to make sure the donors stay involved and willing to keep shelling out.

      1. That’s possible, I just don’t think it’s very responsible. It’s very dangerous for the kids, who presumably are at more risk of being victimized than kids who don’t need sponsors for school.

        And generally I would give a hard side eye to any organization that encouraged fully unsupervised interactions between teenagers and strange adults who are giving them financial assistance.

    2. If her name isn’t terribly common, the student might have just searched on her own. If Facebook only has 5 Minerva Jablonovers, and the OP is the only one of the 5 who lives in the States and is the right age, there you go.

      We got FB Messenger messages from our exchange student before she got here. We were like “does the program… encourage this? Oh yeah, our full names are pretty uncommon.” I think it’s a bad idea. But I bet these programs just haven’t caught up to modern social media in that way, to make a policy banning it.

      1. I think curiosity can also be a pretty natural reaction in this situation. If you’re a teenager and you know that a mysterious benefactor in another country has been personally helping you, in a way that significantly changes your life, you might find yourself really drawn to find out more about this person or to contact them.

        The situation might trigger the imagination in an imaginative kid who’s read stories about mysterious rich aunts or uncles (boy are there a lot of those stories), or a desire to be polite and express gratitude in a kid who is inclined that way, or just a desire to have another adult, or a desire to make the relationship more understandable by turning it into a ‘distant relative’ kind of framework.

        Plus all the same sorts of questions and others from the parents! Who may or may not be lurking over her shoulder.

        So many different reasons. But I don’t think it’s strange that it would happen.

        I agree to try not to be curt or harsh, but I think it’s perfectly OK to keep your distance.

        If this scholarship thing is through a charitable organisation, maybe you could ask them for suggestions?

        There may be some appropriate way of letting the girl and her family know that you enjoy a bit of anonymity, while wishing them well.

    3. Coming here to say this as well. Any charities I have worked with who have similar programmes or focus on children are (rightly) very, very stringent when it comes to child protection and privacy. In my experience all correspondence between the child and sponsor is opened and read – not only for translation and logistical purposes, but also to ensure there is no grooming going on. Sad but true.

      I would check with the charity whether this is allowed, and if so why they think this way of doing this is adequately safeguarding children; and if not what the more appropriate way to keep in touch is.

      1. Any similar schemes I have heard of have always discouraged direct contact between the child and sponsor, both for child protection reasons and also to stop the child’s family pressuring the sponsor financially. Please do contact the organisation not just to check what is allowed but also they may be able to help with how to respond.

  18. 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.”

    Aside from keeping personal hygiene out of business conversations, are there ways we can keep ourselves away from the “weirdo” side of the line? I have social anxiety so thinking of this as a fine line makes me wonder if I am coming across even worse than I worry about. I could avoid jokes, but.. like sometimes awkward or inappropriate isn’t because someone made a joke.

    Idk, I know this isn’t about me but. I really do try to have a filter so maybe I shouldn’t worry?

      1. I thought the part I quoted was speaking to it in a larger context, not just professional situations but if not then yeah, it seems pretty clear. Thanks!

        1. I guess the key words are professional and formal. Outside of those situations (where you can stick to stock pleasantries like the weather, because everyone knows we’re trying not to reveal too much) the stakes are much lower.

          If tempted to make a joke with friends I don’t know well, I refrain, and ask them more about themselves. Once I feel I’ve got the measure of them, I categorise them in advance by the type of humour they would be OK with. And I save the bleakest/most filthy jokes for my partner.

          Having these categories in advance helps – I have found myself literally biting my mouth closed while internally going, nooo these people are kitten and puppy level only, David Cameron pig jokes will not fly!

          1. This. I learned this as an adult. I suppose because as a teen or college-age person, things were always pretty informal with peers. I went into adulthood thinking ‘jokes are good and make fun’ but eventually had the light bulb moment that you really need to know people somewhat first. Not everyone’s a nerd, for example.

    1. I try to have a filter too, but sometimes nerves/ADHD/social awkwardness create the perfect storm where I blurt out something that completely bypasses the filter- my subconscious has made the thought and sent it flying directly out of my mouth before my conscious mind is even aware I want to speak.
      It’s not always a faux pas or poorly timed joke, occasionally it results in being able to finally clearly articulate an abstract or complicated idea I couldn’t properly put into words before, but more times than not I wish I could have bit my tongue even *before* I opened my mouth. 😖
      I’ve gotten so much better over the years about thinking twice before I blurt out some inane thought, but I still don’t know how to control it when it happens before I could even think *once*.

  19. MONEY! Let me help:

    –There’s a documentary called Affluenza that shows how predatory lenders destroy people’s lives. People commit suicide over debt. Do not commit suicide over debt! Or for any reason, but especially not debt. Watch the film and feel outrage at the banks and sympathy for yourself. Radicalize.
    –There’s no such thing as debtor’s prison. You will be okay. Even if you destroy your credit, every 7 years you get a do-over. You will be okay.
    –Whenever you get mail, open and read it right away. You don’t have to do anything about it, just read it and stack it in a stack. That reduces anxiety by about a thousand percent; just to know what’s going on.
    –For any financial problem, there’s always a solution. Go on some of Reddit’s financial subreddits and ask them for advice. People are smart, experienced, and non-judgmental. Also, Google is your friend.

    Story time:
    My niece couldn’t pay her student loan so just kept avoiding them until they garnished her wages. She makes minimum wage and pays $250 in child support each month, and her student loan people started taking another $250, leaving her with not enough to live on. I only happened to find out about this and I was on it immediately. My poor niece felt shame, depression, and helplessness. I felt protectiveness and righteous anger. I spent about two hours researching what to do and found out she could rehabilitate her loan by making five $5 monthly payments, then the garnishment would disappear. After that, she’d be on an income-based repayment plan so her loans would vanish after 120 monthly payments — basically, $600 total over the course of 10 years. It took some paperwork but the loan people were really nice and helpful, and now she’s back on track.

    The moral of the story is that her shame got in the way. My standing up for her fixed everything. Be your own aunt. Stand up for yourself. Confess that you can’t afford to make the payments. Ask for help. Put yourself first. Money is a no-shame zone.

    At one point she told me that a creditor told her that $500 would catch her up. She said to me, “Five hundred dollars??? Where am I going to get five hundred dollars?” in the same way that I would talk about $500,000. It really made me remember what it was like to be poor. I had no idea she was in those straits, and if I had I would’ve plunked down $500 like it was nothing. It’s been a long while since I was that broke and even longer since I was so young that I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. It kills me that young people all over the US, one of the richest countries in the world, are dealing with debts like this and are made to feel ashamed of it. Don’t fall for it — negotiate those debts like a mother tiger would for her young. Feel no remorse. Deep breaths, your friends at Reddit, and don’t worry you’ll be okay.

  20. Q4 – I just wanted to say I’ve found that Facebook and general chat etiquette varies so much by where you’re from, as well as age. I do not want to talk to certain young former students or some friends whose cultural norm is to say hi every time I connect. My go-to is “Nice to hear from you! I’m not really using Facebook messenger much, but definitely email/keep writing those snail mail cards/etc to keep in touch.” Followed by filtering their messages or blocking on Facebook. Even if it’s not 100% true, I find it reduces stress and eventual frustration and resentment on their part when I can’t keep up with the constant contact.

  21. Poorcraft looks like an excellent book for me, thankyou! I’ve been reading a similar guide to cheap living called The Art Of Frugal Hedonism. It’s an Australian book, so might be useful for your thrifty Antipodean readers.

  22. Q2: I also recommend The Simple Dollar ( as intermittently useful reading. Making your own laundry detergent and cooking 7 days ahead would have been useful to know about when I was single-parenting, and their suggestions for climbing out of debt have been very useful for my kids (I wish I would have known about them during my own dodging-the-collection-agency days).

  23. Oh no… “I’m glad it was a phone interview b/c you can’t tell I didn’t shower.”

    I would totally say this! And think it was a funny, innocent way to inject some lightheartedness to a professional call. Damn.. I tend to get anxious during those calls/conversations and try to mask it with wobbly humor like that and most of those jokes are at my won expense (sometimes almost exactly like that one word to word! it’s actually pretty eerie to me).

    It’s SO good to see this message published here and the answer from the Cap so in the future I won’t do that. I needed that reminder.
    Sadly, often I don’t have a lot of experience when trying to get a job so there almost always will be better candidates than me and I started to believe that by injecting my weird humor I will be at least better remembered and maybe it will make me stand out when the CV definitely will not. This question put into focus for me how this may blow in my face.

    1. I know… this one really surprised me at first, the comment would have been fine in many hiring contexts I’ve been involved in, from both sides. It’s not my style of joke but there’s no way I’d pass over an otherwise ideal candidate for it! A useful reminder that corporate cultures vary widely I guess.

      1. Partly I think this is just a sign that this candidate was not a great match for this employer, and the employer could always cite a bad cultural fit if they want to provide an explanation. But I also think this is definitely a risky thing to say at an interview because there is a level of professionalism and polish that’s expected. The interviewer doesn’t know much about you so they are going to take a harsher view of your judgment in this situation than they normally would. And I can see this joke falling flat and being super awkward too.

    2. And there are some workplace cultures where the interviewer would have just laughed and made a mental note that this person’s sense of humour might jive well with their potential co-workers.

      There are lots of good general tips about what’s usually your best bet in interview situations, but assuming you’re not saying something actually morally offensive (e.g. racist, sexist, homophobic, etc), there are also just individual differences in workplace culture.

      For interviews it’s almost always safe to err a little on the formal side, if in doubt.

      1. Yes, it’s subjective, and if someone made this joke to me in an interview I would probably laugh and say “Same!”

        But it sounds like the questioner works somewhere that the ability to filter and judge appropriateness in formal situations is important, so, it’s little things like this that matter.

        If this is terrifying to someone reading, and you are looking for a rule: Err on the side of formal “company manners” in job interviews or situations where you don’t know people well, and if someone is going to make things less formal, let the interviewer take the lead.

  24. I’m not trying to excuse the behaviours that the LW in Q6 is concerned by, but I guess it did hit a sore spot for me… in my early 30s and in a relationship that is slowly but steadily unravelling. My ‘choosing’ to disappear is in large part what happens when a person with a mental illness and a full time job spends their spare spoons fighting as hard as they can for a relationship, knowing full well it may not work out. It’s not that I don’t want or care to see my single friends, it’s that I’m struggling with limited resources. I hope my friends will still be there for me when I have more spoons, whether that’s due to things improving or a break up.

    1. I mean, life happens. If you did want to resume a friendship with these folks, understand that to them, without context and being in regular contact with you for a while, maybe “disappearing for really good reasons” and “just disappearing” look pretty much the same, and you might have to do a little more of the work of reaching out and rebuilding those connections once you’re ready. While you were doing your important life stuff they were also doing their own important life stuff and maybe they haven’t been holding the same space in their social calendars that they once did for you. That’s not mean, it’s just life.

      I’ve been on both sides of this one and my desire is generally to connect, to favor connection over disconnection. I have a lot of friends I don’t see often but I’m always happy when I do, a lot of people that were a big part of my daily life now that I mostly wish well from afar, I usually don’t worry too much about who called who last or whose turn it is to reach out (life is happier that way). And one way we recover after a breakup or a draining relationship is to reforge connections with the other people in our lives – that’s healthy and good! But if someone who left my day-to-day life for a long time suddenly came back and also suddenly wanted a lot of emotional labor/a listening ear/to act like we had always been BFFs, yeah, I’d want to take it slow.

      And I might have some feelings about it – I’ve definitely been ditched by a close female friend who crawled up the ass of some dude and never had time for me except when she needed to talk about dude and process every utterance of dude and then is all “I misssssssss you, why don’t I ever see youuuuuuuu” the second she breaks up with him. I’ve also had the male friend suddenly try to pull a “u r my surrogate girlfriend who will process all my sad feelings with me the way girlfriend used to ” move after a breakup. You can have feelings (side-eye feelings) about all that and still in the end come through and be a good friend to your friend, or at least try. If that’s not you, then that’s not you!

      1. I’m actually in furious agreement with all of this, so much so that in some way I feel uneasy about commenting. I don’t want to come across as if I think I’m entitled to anyone’s friendship or emotional labour, or as if I think my circumstances erase the effects of distance and time. Although this time I’m the one doing the disappearing act, I’ve been on both sides of this.

        I guess why I’ve jumped in is that I want to point out that a friend who seeks reconnection with friends after the end of a relationship isn’t necessarily disingenuous or a user, which is the vibe I got from some of the comments upthread. I’m sure some are – and let’s face it, most of us aren’t our best selves in the aftermath of a breakup – but some are just people who have been busy Dealing With Stuff who now have some extra time and energy. They’re not using in the same way the friend who wants to reconnect after finally being finished with that massive phD isn’t using. Or the friend who has been having difficulty conceiving, or going through financial stress, or griving, or… etc etc.

        I would probably add to your “Hey, you kinda disappeared from my life when you started dating X, and that hurt” script by adding a “I’m not sure how I feel about being friends, let’s keep it low key and see how it goes” or even a simple “What was up with that?” or “That was really uncool, and I want you to know that”. I think those are all fine things to say, if they feel authentic for the LW.

        For myself, whatever happens, I’m planning to stick with processing my feelings with my therapist. I’m quite a private person, and I’ve had really back luck talking about what’s going on, which has probably compounded my isolation. I think the worst response was “you should dump him, I’d make a much better husband for you*”, and while nothing else has reached quite that level of terrible, I’m mostly feeling like everyone else is too busy with their relationship and non-relationship feels to have any space for mine.

        *I imagine that when this guy gets dumped, he turns into the “Be my surrogate girlfriend” guy. No, just no.

    2. Elektra, I was in that position toward the end of an increasingly painful and unhealthy-for-me long-term relationship. Partly my withdrawal from friends was due to the fact that my then-partner and I had a lot of friends in common, and (1) I didn’t want to put them in an untenable position by confiding in them when I didn’t know how things were going to turn out, plus (2) dealing with Painful Relationship had become a full-time job and legit the biggest thing on my mind, and hanging out while pretending to be happy was seriously lonely.

      What helped me: I sat down about a year before the breakup and said, “Self, you are painfully isolated. Maybe you can’t talk to your friends or even your mom about what is going on in your relationship, but you need to find a way of getting human contact anyway. Because when shit goes all the way down, you are going to be in a lot more trouble if you are isolated.” I organized work dates with friends who freelanced. I went hiking as much as I could with the other outdoorsy folks. I started befriending a wider range who weren’t close to then-partner, and seeing if there were people I was acquaintances or lower-level friends with who were open to deeper friendship.

      I also tried confiding in three friends who were very much My People Not His, with mixed results. (The first friend told me to DTMFA. Since I was clear that I didn’t want to do that, and then-partner was clear that he didn’t like it when I talked to other people about my struggles because they might judge him, I initially isolated myself *more* as a result. With the couple of friends I told later, I asked for non-judgmental listening.)

      Being able to talk freely wasn’t something I was able to do with most people until after the breakup. But even so, nurturing parts of my life that had nothing to do with then-partner, or the pain and fear I was experiencing, gave me a break from trying to solve unsolvable problems. It didn’t make the fear, loneliness, or sadness go away, but it reminded me that there were genuinely lovely people in my life whom I wanted to see more often, and it increased the amount of (literal) sunlight in my life.

      If you’d like some Jedi hugs, I will send some your way.

    3. I’ve been the just-broke-up-how-are-you friend. Only worse because my partner was an asshole to you during the friendship and I went along with it. I will tell you that by the time I left that extremely toxic relationship, I had almost no friends except the ones I saw only at work. I was very, very isolated and very ashamed to come crawling back. This may not at all be the situation your particular friend is in, maybe they were just a very self-involved friend, but it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes being cut off from friends is part of an abusive relationship.

      1. Yeah I’m in a similar state except without the break up. There are friends I’ve distanced myself from not on purpose, but just because of the way our lives are going. Sometimes I run into someone and reconnect, sometimes I don’t. I don’t think you should resent your friends for situations you don’t know anything about. I do agree that your friendship might look different with less emotional labor if it’s been a while but why not reconnect?

    4. People vary a lot on this. I have a few former friends who have gone radio silent, and after a couple years, I stopped inviting them to things. We see each other now and then on FB but aren’t really in each other’s lives. I’m not putting effort into trying to connect with them anymore, but if they decide to reach out again, I’m fine with picking up where we left off. Though I also think this maybe depends on the closeness of the relationship – if would hurt much more from closer friends, but any sort of simple message that they’d pick up again when life calmed down would be enough for me to re-engage when that became possible.

  25. Q5 – if you’re getting food, inclusiveness for any diets (halal, vegan, allergies or intolerances,… ) of your colleagues might also be a thing.
    This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve fairly often been invited to BBQ events, campfire goulash, german sausage breakfast or stuff like that, where the only veggie option was basically a glas of water.

  26. LW4: From her perspective, you’re her benefactor. A generous and kind person who is helping her get the best start in life. She has an emotional connection to you. You’re an important adult in her life.

    From your perspective, you’re doing a kind thing and it’s nice that a kid somewhere across the world is getting a good education, but that doesn’t mean you want to make friends with a teenager. You don’t have much in common, there’s a lot you can’t tell her, and you have real, adult friends. Plus it’s a bit creepy.

    She may well be hurt that you don’t want a closer relationship. Be prepared for that. It’s not your fault at all, and you don’t owe her friendship, but be kind.

  27. Q2: I’ve been there, too, and it sucks. You think you’re the only one going through it, which just compounds the shame. Add me to the chorus of people who’ve Been There. Fistbumps and solidarity. They even contacted my abusive relatives, who then started contacting me. So, yeah, totally get where you’re coming from.

  28. Q2: If you have a job with a benefits package, check to see if it has an Employee Assistance Program that includes financial counseling. This is a contracted service where you can call an outside company whose sole job is to help you get your credit back on track, make a budget, set financial goals, etc. They get paid by employers who contract with them, not by banks or credit agencies, so they will be on your side. A lot of people aren’t aware their company offers this service so it’s worth asking. (The programs also help people with “happy” goals like planning for home buying or retirement, and they keep your personal info confidential from your employer, so asking about it isn’t a red flag.)

  29. regarding Shame and debt: I was raised in a very financially conservative household, which goes back generations. I grew up sharing a room with my brother in a shitty little house, my parents had terrible ancient cars that were probably unsafe, because they wouldn’t go into debt.

    It helped me to reframe things in business terms. Think like a business owner– debt is a tool, it can do good things for you but it can also create a bad situation if you’re unlucky (and luck, not moral worth or whether you are a good person or whether you work hard enough is quite often a deciding factor). Businesses don’t feel shame about deferring paying an invoice, they rationally look at the cash flow available, what they can afford to pay, and the consequences of nonpayment for example: “I can afford to pay two of these four, if I don’t pay bill A they turn my phones off, if I don’t pay bill B I can’t get more inventory from my supplier, if I don’t pay bill C then I get a 60-day shutoff notice on my water, if I don’t pay bill D then some people get mad at me. Okay, it’s pretty clear that C can wait until the end of that 60 days but at that point it HAS to be paid. The attractiveness of not paying D depends on how much I care about those people being mad and how much trouble they can make for me, and how attractive not paying A is depends on if I’ll lose out on orders or I can do all my business over employee’s cell phones.”

    Take morality out of it, that’s some Nietzschian Master Morality stuff– shame over debt is something the powerful teach to the poor to keep them subservient and so that they assume their “betters” are morally better people for having more wealth.

    When the value of a business asset isn’t worth the money going into it, what does a smart business do? They cut it loose, or sell it, if they can’t sell it they don’t pour money into pit, they walk away. It’s no different if that’s an under-performing chlorates plant in Michigan or an underwater mortgage or a car that’s taking more maintenance than you can afford to keep up on or a cargo freighter.

    There is no shame here, everyone makes mistakes, and luck has a huge role that no one likes to acknowledge. You’re doing the best you can, and if you’re making rational decisions in your own interest then you’re doing nothing different than businesses do every day if you make an intelligent choice about not paying certain debts, prioritizing others, declaring bankruptcy, or otherwise handling your finances how it’s best for you. They want you paying up out of shame because it’s best for THEM, but you’d better believe that they’d do the same as you in a heartbeat.

  30. Q1, I am super unimpressed with your parents right now and have appointed myself your new cheerleader. Holy crap you got into a prestigious medical school! That’s awesome! I’m proud of you and I don’t even know you! I’m sure it’ll be hard sometimes but you can do it! Whenever you feel overwhelmed, just look at how much ass you’ve already kicked just to get in, you can totally do this. *waves pompoms wildly*

  31. For Q2: Credit expert Gerri Detweiler has a free book available called “Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights.” I know Gerri and she’s the real deal. There are no strings attached.

    You can download it as Nook, Apple iBooks, Google books or Sony reader use .EPUB, Kindle or as a PDF.

    Go here:

    It says “buy now” but you really don’t have to pay for this. Please share the resource with anyone you know who’s having debt collection hassles.

    And good luck.

  32. Q6: Some people, for whatever reason, have an internal ranking where non-romantic relationships, especially with women, are just practice or time-fillers until the REAL IMPORTANT thing comes a long – that thing being a hetero romance.
    Finding out your friend views you as secondary to ~Dating~ can hurt and it is 100% OK to nope out.

  33. Thanks so much for that answer to Q2, I really needed that. I’ve spent a long time being in a position where I have to choose one thing (or nothing) to pay. I learned a lot about what collections companies can and can’t do, and years in customer service taught me that there’s almost no company that won’t negotiate a bill to get payment. I’m currently working on one of my old debts, and this gave me the push I needed to negotiate it.

  34. Q1: Something I wish I’d known in college: if you’re in the US, FERPA is a privacy law that says once you’re 18, your parents have no right to get any information about you from your college unless you give them permission. This includes grades, whether you were in your dorm last night, anything. Make sure your RA knows about it too – mine didn’t, so I got a lecture about “worrying” the DNA contributor by being out of town the weekend he decided to pretend to take an interest to look good in divorce court.

    1. Pffft “DNA contributor”! Excellent! I used to refer to my male “DNA contributor” as my “sperm donor”, but that didn’t work well. 😛 So I’m stealing “DNA contributor”.

  35. Your comment about heterosexual men asking you to do emotional labor set off such a huge Bell for me. For years, I’ve had guy friends tell me about their insecurities, act like I’m their best friend, beg for reassurance, etc., only to disappear or act annoyed when I asked them to do the same for me. I thought, why are they opening up to me and seeking me out if they don’t actually care about me? BINGO! Thank you.

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