Short Answers/Live Chat Today

Good morning! Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today.

From 12-1 I’ll answer as many as I can and update as I go. Comments open once everything is posted.

These have been fun so far. I’m looking forward to questions.

Ok, it’s on!

Q1: I recently enforced a hard boundary and gave an old friend an African violet. But I’m left with their voice in my head from the manipulation/gas-lighting at the end of the friendship. Any tips for shutting up my jerkbrain from agreeing with them?

A1: Maybe use the strategy you would use around any intrusive thought. From the link:

“Here are steps for changing your attitude and overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts

  • Label these thoughts as “intrusive thoughts.”
  • Remind yourself that these thoughts are automatic and not up to you.
  • Accept and allow the thoughts into your mind. Do not try to push them away.
  • Float, and practice allowing time to pass.
  • Remember that less is more. Pause. Give yourself time. There is no urgency.
  • Expect the thoughts to come back again
  • Continue whatever you were doing prior to the intrusive thought while allowing the anxiety to be present.

Try Not To:

  • Engage with the thoughts in any way.
  • Push the thoughts out of your mind.
  • Try to figure out what your thoughts “mean.”
  • Check to see if this is “working” to get rid of the thoughts

This approach can be difficult to apply. But for anyone who keeps applying it for just a few weeks, there is an excellent chance that they will see a decrease in the frequency and intensity of the unwanted intrusive thoughts.” – Martin Seif, PhD and Sally Winston, PsyD, authors of Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT Workbook

Also, give it time. If walking away from this person was the right decision, hopefully with time the relief of not having to deal with them anymore will start to outweigh the stuff that happened in the past.

Q2: My Mom recently found out she needs her gallbladder removed and she is refusing to schedule the surgery. When this happened she began fighting with me way, way more often then our normal every few months fights when I refuse to wear make up/diet/buy a second home and she gets angry. When these things set her off she also launches into tirades about the boundaries I have, such as not inviting her over to my house because she criticizes everything and then gets mad if I get upset. A small argument over “I think you’d look prettier with makeup” turns into “IT IS ABUSIVE THAT YOU INVITE YOUR FRIENDS OVER AND NOT ME” in three sentences. This is draining for me and can’t be fun for her. I’m assuming she’s scared about her health and acting out. I want to be there for her but I also don’t like being called a monster every time I call to check on her. Any advice?

A2: Even if your mom is scared about her health and acting out right now, you don’t have to just take it, especially since it sounds like she’s routinely pretty mean to you.

In your shoes, I’d stick to only practical/logistical things, like, “Mom, let me know when you’ve got your surgery on the calendar.” Anything that is not discussion of the date or logistics, cut the conversation short and remove your attention. “Well, that’s all the time I have to be told that I’m a terrible daughter, so I’m going to have to cut this short. Let me know when you have a date for surgery and we’ll plan from there.” 

Then hang up/stop texting back for the day. Make it very boring for her to berate you about who you invite over. “Ok Mom, this is getting pretty draining, so I’ll have to cut it short. Got a date for the surgery yet? Let me know.” If she won’t stay on topic, hang up and try again another day. Once there’s a date on the calendar, then talk about further logistics, like, rides to and from surgery, meals, & other after-care kinda stuff.

As for being her emotional support about the surgery and health stuff, why would you do that? She’s not your friend, she’s not even a basic amount of nice to you, she makes it incredibly hard on you, so maybe it’s not your job to absorb all of her feelings. If there’s nobody else in her life who can listen to her or help out, maybe it’s because she’s kind of an asshole?

And if there are other people, including hired caregivers, who can take point on logistical stuff after the surgery, call them in without guilt! You don’t have to do this all by yourself.

Also, if you usually call her on the phone about this stuff, try a different medium like email or text for a while.

Finally, when/if things calm down post surgery, keep right on not inviting her over to criticize your housekeeping. “Mom, it’s not enjoyable to invite you over because all you do is criticize me. I actually don’t care what you think about my makeup or my house, if you want us to spend more time together you’re going to have to think of new topics. Maybe try pretending that I’m a fellow adult who you like, and then don’t say anything to me you wouldn’t say to that person.”

Her: But I love you, I’m your mother, etc.

You: “I know you love me. Now try acting like you like me. Can you go one whole conversation or visit without saying something critical or mean? I hope so, because I’d love us to spend more time together, but if all you’re gonna do is harp on me, I don’t see it happening.”

Q3: What should you do when your therapist tries to pressure you to do something that you don’t feel is right? I recently had a situation where I knew about news from a sibling (not harmful but not something I thought was a great life choice, and I knew it would upset my parents) a bit in advance of when my parents did. I had some conflicting feelings about it, so I was processing it all with my therapist. (Family of origin stuff is why I sought therapy in the first place, which is a long story, but suffice it to say that I got a lot out of reading Will I Ever Be Good Enough.) My therapist decided that the news needed to be told to my parents, and by me! And spent the remainder of that session plus the entire next session trying to get me to disclose my sibling’s news using whatever possible means and dismissing all of my objections. She proposed some truly weird stuff, very specific plans, like that I should triangulate with one parent and get them to deliver the news if I wasn’t comfortable approaching the other parent directly. I normally would trust her on this stuff, and even drafted a message, because she was so definitive and I didn’t want to let her down. But then I took a step back and realized that I didn’t actually want to tell the news! It didn’t feel right to me. My usual rule is to involve myself less in family drama, and I have a history of being way too enmeshed so I try to maintain awareness of that and not dive back in. And it wasn’t my news to tell, and that started to really concern me. So I ran it by a few other people whom I trust (BFF who knows my family well, spouse, online friends of 15+ years) and my therapist was literally the only person who thought this was a good idea. I ended up stopping seeing her over this (and the recent post on how to break up with a therapist came in SUPER handy, so thank you very very much for that!), but I’m wondering now if there was some way to address it in the moment that I missed. Do you have any advice or suggestions? Thank you! (For this and for all of the amazing advice – your archives have been so so helpful as I work through different kinds of family stuff.)

A3: It sounds like you did the right thing by finding a different therapist, and it also sounds like the process of going to therapy is working in that you talked about a problem, got some recommendations, and then trusted your own judgment about what to do.

I think one rule that therapists and bossy internet advice columnists share is: You (the client/the questioner) are the boss of your own life. For example, I can write “oh god please break up with him” for seven years straight and if the person doesn’t want to, they won’t, nor should they if they decide it’s not the right choice for them. I can have strong opinions, but I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences. And if I got it all wrong and it really is a happy relationship, great! Therapists are people and people can be wrong.

If you ever run across a therapist who oversteps in this way again and/or one who is just wrong about whatever is going on, try saying “Ok, thank you for your input, but that’s all the advice I can or want to absorb about this topic. Can we redirect to ____.” Or, “I usually appreciate your perspective, but I don’t think that’s the right move for me, and I won’t be doing that. Can we change topics to ___.” 

A good therapist is going to hear that and think “whoa, I probably crossed a line in there somewhere” and be grateful for the feedback. Assuming we’re not talking about your plans to do actual crime, someone who keeps pushing you to change course after you’ve made it clear you don’t want to is not being helpful.

Q4: Can a relationship with periodic ugly fights ever be healthy? My current relationship is so different from past experience that I’m not sure what to think. Almost all the guys I’ve been with to this point, including my ex-husband, have had or gone on to get PhD’s (I am similarly educated, New Yorker reader, etc.). I hadn’t dated a blue-collar guy since high school until I met Stanley, who didn’t finish college and whose work involves a mix of brains and brawn. He’s handsome, fun, committed, and responsible around the house, and he doesn’t reject my affection, a refreshing change from the nonchalant manchildren I’ve dealt with before. But once in a while he blows up. I never feel physically unsafe and he never calls me names, but he harangues me about past fights (he saves up every tiny perceived insult like a diamond chip) and things that are minor/none of his business, like getting to work late or leaving car lights on. My reactions are mystifying to me. I grew up with a screamy dad, with whom I have a close relationship, so screaming doesn’t faze me. I stay cold when Stanley starts to yell, but eventually I cry (something I rarely do otherwise) to signal that he’s getting too offensive and I’m done, and that tends to shut him up. The rest of the time he’s sweet and funny. I oscillate between thinking this is getting ridiculous and I need to cut bait, and feeling weirdly ok with these periodic blowups. It’s almost refreshing that he expresses his emotions (without using cringy “I Feel” statements) instead of not caring or playing it off. It may be that I feel superior because I’m more intelligent than he is. I feel I would/will draw the line if he ever gets physically violent, but I don’t want this to slip away from me and be unable to shut it down if the time comes. Thank you, Cap’n. (Call me) Ms. Stella

Q4: Hi Ms. Stella, leaving aside the fact that plenty of educated people who read (and write for!) fancy publications can be abusive turds, and “better than the ex” doesn’t always mean “good!,” something doesn’t have to be physically threatening to be unacceptable. Besides recommending that you at least skim Why Does He Do That to see if it rings more bells than you’ve noticed ringing before now, I wonder what would happen if the next time “Stanley” yelled at you, you raised your voice and said “Stop. Yelling at me.”

Would he stop?

Or would he yell louder?

(same deal with your dad, tbh)

And, like, where is the feeling of…obligation?…that you have to sit and listen to the yelling until you cry coming from?

You asked if this can ever be healthy, and I don’t have an answer (my dad’s a yeller, too, but an otherwise gentle soul), but you having to ask “Is this cool or is it gonna escalate to the hitting place?” is generally not a great sign.

Q5: My child is genderfluid and uses they/them pronouns. Their grandparents don’t have a problem with the genderfluidity (I’m not sure they really believe in it, but they behave respectfully, which is all I can ask), but they *hate* having to use what they perceive as a plural term in a singular grammatical context… it feels all wrong to them. I’ve tried showing them articles about how they/them has been used as a singular for centuries; I’ve tried pointing out that they don’t have trouble using ‘you’ as both singular and plural; I have, in short, logicked them into a corner, and all they’ve said is, “I’m not convinced.” Well, they don’t have to be convinced, but how do I stand up for my child’s right to be called by the pronouns of their choice, whether their grandparents “like” those particular pronouns or not? I normally get along well with my parents, and would rather not create a serious rift, but I do want to communicate that I do not consider it optional for them to use my kid’s preferred terminology when addressing or referring to that kid. Also, clarifying in case I was confusing: their objection isn’t to using a gender-neutral pronoun, nor to having a gender-neutral grandchild. It’s specifically to being asked to use a pronoun which they perceive as plural for a singular child. But that’s the pronoun my kid wants to use; they’re not interested in using pronouns like zie/zir or other gender-neutral options, and I don’t want to make them for the sake of their grandparents’ grammar issues.)

A5: Lots of people who have a problem using people’s pronouns claim they don’t have a problem with trans or nonbinary or genderfluid people or their identities, so, let’s unpack that for a second.

If your parents are a man and a woman who married each other, there is a very high chance that when they got married your mom changed her last name. Suddenly people who knew her as “Miss Maidenname” had to call her “Mrs. Marriedname.” She had to do a bunch of expensive and annoying administrative stuff, she had to introduce herself with a new name, and she probably signed a few checks with the wrong name before she got it right. Her parents, who knew her whole life with the name they gave her had to learn to write a different name on the holiday card. And she (and everyone around those people) adjusted just fucking fine. In their lifetimes, your parents have also learned countless new expressions that became second nature. “Google it.” “Emoji.” “Blog.” “Bromance.” “Sexting.” It’s not that hard. Unless, of course, you don’t think certain people deserve the effort. And in a world where powerful governing bodies host bigoted arguments as to who is human enough to pee in a bathroom, it’s time for people to fix their hearts or die.

So you’ve had the logical argument about grammar, now it’s time for the emotional one. Next time “I’m not convinced” comes up, try this:

“You don’t have to be convinced, you just have to do the right thing. And this isn’t about us auditioning for or convincing you anymore. This is about you convincing me that you can be trusted to do the right thing by my child.

Ultimately, you get to choose the kind of relationship you want to have with me and my kid. What we’re talking about here is ‘discomfort about breaking a grammar rule you learned as a kid (that it turns out wasn’t actually a rule)’ vs. ‘making my kid feel safe and welcome and loved.’

If I can’t trust you to do the right thing about this, then I can’t knowingly put my kid into a situation where they won’t be welcome, safe, and loved, and we’ll all have to see each other a lot less. I love you both deeply, and I very much do not want that to happen, so, please think about it. I have faith that you can get this right, but I’m done having this argument.” 

And then you give them space to figure it out and hopefully do better. Since they are behaving respectfully, it sounds like the hard part’s done, and they can die mad about it on the inside.

Q6: Hey Captain! So, I recently came out as queer, ended a marriage (with a man), and told myself I was going to go on some dates with women (or any non-male-identifying folks). Basically, I wanted to explore my queerness, especially since I’ve been in relationships constantly since I was 16 years old (I’m now almost 30). Here’s the problem. I went on two dates with an amazing woman and things already feel pretty serious. We have a lot in common, she’s super smart and cool, and I’m going back to visit her soon for our third “date” (which is actually going to be about 5 days long.) My therapist is telling me that I should apply arbitrary rules about needing to remain single or go on X number of dates before getting into a relationship, while some of my (more cynical friends) say that I’m limiting myself by potentially getting into a relationship (or something relationship-like), especially when just a few weeks ago I was touting the benefits of needing to be on my own. It’s not that I don’t like being single or being on my own. I like it a lot! I just also really like this lady. What gives? What should I do? How do I feel out these new waters while being authentic to myself, exploring my new identity, and enjoying my time with this awesome new lady-friend? Thank you!

A6: I get where your therapist is coming from, especially since you’ve been in relationships since you were 16. Your therapist is saying: “ALONE IS GREAT. TRY ALONE FOR A SECOND.”

Not “no dating” or even “no sex” or even “no love feelings!” alone, but like, what do you like for breakfast when you don’t have to take anyone else into account? What do you like on your TV how do you like your living space to look and feel. If you had five days to spend all by yourself how would you spend them?

You can still date this lady if you want to! Just, where is the pressure to lock everything down into some committed long-term relationship coming from? Is there even any pressure in that direction?

Maybe the timing is just too awesome for words and this lady is going to be the next big love of your life. Ok! Great! But also: for the summer, could you practice keeping at least some of your daydreams for yourself, and not starting all your sentences (even mental sentences) with the word “We…”?

Great questions this week, comments are open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

166 comments
  1. Adele said:

    Wrt q3, I’m reminded of “The Gift of Fear”. I’ve not actually read it yet, that’s not what it reminds me of.

    It reminds me of the recommendation I’ve seen in several places, but mostly here, to totally read the book except chapter *** (I don’t remember which, I’m sorry, help me out here guys?)

    The author had baggage that he couldn’t step back from and it came out all over that chapter. Because gurus, therapists, authors and pastors are all human and fallible and spill their baggage all over other people’s floors sometimes.

    I guess what I’m saying is if you feel you otherwise got a lot from these sessions, you don’t have to consider other useful guidance you got from this therapist “tainted” in any way because she screwed the pooch here.

    • JenniferP said:

      I mean, I’ve shit the bed on a question here more than once, hopefully there is still valuable info in other posts that will work for someone, somewhere.

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      From what I recall, there’s some victim-blamey stuff about parents (especially mothers) who don’t leave abusive spouses in order to protect their children. But from other POVs it’s seen as empowering, and a statement that no matter what went on in the past, you still have the ability to decide to leave in the future. I guess, like all books, read it and learn from it, but don’t make it your bible.

      • I think people really misunderstand that entire chapter. The entire point of The Gift of Fear can really be summed up in one sentence: “it’s better to be alive than right”.

        And then he’s saying, in that chapter, “In this ONE CASE, that’s not accurate, you’re better off doing the right thing even if it kills you, because you’re not the only one in the dynamic anymore, you have a moral obligation to your child, trust me, I’ve been there.”

        And he’s… not wrong there.

    • Light37 said:

      Chapter ten is the chapter on DV, and yes, he’s definitely got a serious bias here- which, considering the childhood he described, is not too surprising. However, there’s a lot of valuable information in the other chapters IMO.

  2. Jaybeetee86 said:

    The therapist question Speaks To Me right now, as I recently switched from a short-term (EAP) counselor to what I thought would be a longer-term therapist, who provided practically polar opposite advice to a situation I’m in, and both seemed to come to their conclusions really quickly, and, from my perspective, seemed to twist some facts to fit their respective theories. The funny thing is, I think both of them had good points in there (the EAP counselor focused on ways I was catastrophizing the situation and provided an alternative point of view, albeit one I found a bit simplistic. The therapist pointed out that I’m very anxious about this situation because something *is* wrong, and it needs to be addressed) – neither of them are entirely wrong, but neither felt quite right either. Both gave me valuable things to think about. And as Captain Awkward points out, and as I’m learning now, I’m allowed to push back when something doesn’t feel quite right. I think with the therapist especially, being a Dr. and a PhD. I tend to revert to “Listen to him, he’s a doctor” mode, when what I need to do is consider his advice against my own instincts and knowledge, and see how it fits.

  3. Clorinda said:

    Oh please please please, third-date woman, PLEASE don’t jump into a new LTR with the first woman you date. And my reaction would be the same for anyone coming out of a marriage and already planning what sounds like “a life together” with the first person they dated, no matter the gender or sexuality. PLEASE. Take some time, have some fun, live alone, date a few folks. And I say this as a person who actually did end up marrying the first man I dated after my divorce. I lived alone for a year. That year was very valuable to my growth as a person. Don’t skip it.

    • Maddie said:

      I 100% agree, coming from someone who also married that first guy. When we met, both of us had *just that week* left abusive, controlling spouses. And we just… fit together so perfectly. Spending time with him was as easy as breathing (even though I kept holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, because seriously, things can’t be just this great all the time… can they?) Ignoring each other for some arbitrary amount of ‘avoiding a rebound’ time didn’t make sense, but having freedom was still very important to us both. So, what we did was to hold deliberate space for ourselves, our own interests, our wants and needs, to be separate individuals who just enjoyed spending time together. We agreed that we would have no obligations to each other, other than the truth. We’d be together when I had time, and he had time, and we both wanted to see each other, and neither of us would rather be doing anything else. We each needed to be informed in order to make good decisions – neither asked for permission, nor told what to do, neither one of us above nor below the other, each a trusted someone to walk the journey alongside, as an equal. So honesty was of ultimate importance – not just to each other, but with ourselves too. And you have to know yourself before you can be true to yourself. We became the best of friends. Life tested this in big and small ways, until we both felt secure in the reality of it. Five years later, when neither of us could even picture a future without the other in it, we got engaged. A few years after that, we got married. But even today, we remember to hold space for ourselves. A heart should not be a cage or a prisoner. We love fiercely, but with open hands.

      LW, I encourage you to give yourself this gift. Leave the door open to possibility. Don’t become enmeshed. If this person is right for you, they won’t need it – or even want it. Give yourself time and space of your own, where you have no obligation and make no promises other than to be truthful. Get to know you.

      • This is a really beautiful comment!

  4. subliminalflicker said:

    For “yelling man” LW (last question): I wonder if this isn’t a case of dude doesn’t know how to express anger in a healthy way (which tbh a lot of people don’t) and it just doing what he learned to do in his family or whatever? Barring, of course the red flags of “abusive dude”.
    It might be a good opportunity for you both to learn how to fight/argue/express these feelings in healthier ways – via a therapist or other means. I mean, if otherwise the relationship is good, maybe bringing this up to him during one of those good times, and be like “I feel like you’re trying to express something to me when your like that, but it’s not coming across as anything other than hurtful. Can we find a way to work on this do that we’re both expressing our needs/feelings more constructively?” If he responds poorly, that might be just the answer you need.
    I say this as someone who’s brain does weird things when I’m angry/frustrated and I have a lot of difficulty recognizing, processing, and sometimes managing that without accidentally spilling a little (but is something I’m working on with my own therapist).

    • subliminalflicker said:

      Ok. That was Q4 I just had some app issues.

    • What really worried me about Stanley was this: “…he harangues me about past fights (he saves up every tiny perceived insult like a diamond chip) and things that are minor/none of his business, like getting to work late or leaving car lights on.”

      Yelling is not a good sign, but picking on LW Stella about every petty thing he’s been saving up? Until she cries? That’s Evel Knievel in a red Naugahyde jumpsuit, juggling five red flags as he jumps the Red River on a red motorcycle.

      • subliminalflicker said:

        *apologies if it double posts, I’m having app issues*
        I agree that that behavior is totally unacceptable.
        My interpretation was on the generous side, but that’s why I included the caveats I did.

    • KStanley said:

      Ahem. Guys know damn well that getting in a woman’s face and yelling (much less hoarding things to continue/ramp up the yelling) is going to scare the hell out of most women. That’s WHY they do it. It is NO different than balling up a fist and gripping it with the other hand.

      • subliminalflicker said:

        Is this in reply to my comment? Or just about that particular question? If in reply to me, I must have massively misrepresented my intentions. I NEVER intended anyone to get the idea that I thought yelling dude’s behavior was ok.

        I just meant that most people have issues in at least one area and that one way of determining if he’s a jerk or if his brain is a jerk was to ask him to work on it. If he’s a jerk about the asking then there’s your answer.
        Since we were working on limited information I didn’t want to make any assumptions. I realize I was probably more generous than yelling dude deserves, but abusive jerk interpretation I felt was fairly well covered already. Next time I’ll make my disclaimer a little more obvious.

      • subliminalflicker said:

        I totally replied but apparently the WordPress app is a jerk.

        Anyway the gist was: I realize I was probably being more generous than yelling dude deserves, but thought I’d offer another option since we had limited information.

        If this was just in reply about the question and not directly my comment then feel free to ignore.

        • Emma said:

          FWIW subliminalflicker, I think you’re right. These are behaviours that some men do because they know it scares women. But for others… it’s just the only way they know how to deal with conflict. I remember a friend being shocked when I told her no one in my house had ever thrown a plate in anger. In her family (all women except the youngest child, for what it’s worth), throwing crockery at the walls was just what people did when they were angry. It may be similar for Stanley.

      • gemmaem said:

        I mean, as a woman who grew up in a healthy yelling household, I don’t personally view yelling as scary or a red flag. My parents raised their voices to each other sometimes, but that, for them was part of healthy communication. They both yelled, and they were both okay with being yelled at, and they would explain to me, as a child, that the yelling wasn’t because they didn’t love each other or weren’t listening to each other, it was just their way of being honest with each other about their feelings by expressing them freely.

        My husband does not like yelling, or being yelled at. He rarely raises his voice above mild irritation, no matter what I’ve done. For him, a healthy discussion should be conducted calmly. And I have adjusted to that, and treat him calmly in return. We both understand that the “try to speak calmly” requirement places no limits on what we can say, only on how we say it. We’ve developed a completely different, equally healthy way to communicate. It works well!

        If Q4’s dude grew up in a yelling household, then, yes, it really may not have occurred to him that this is not the right way to behave. That it sometimes makes the LW cry ought to have flagged for him that this is a problem, but it sounds like he’s interpreting her crying as a sign that this specific instance of yelling has gone too far, rather than as a sign that yelling in general is something he shouldn’t do. It’s possible that he could learn to communicate better; that’s up to him and the LW.

        Honestly, to me, the thing about bringing up past slights is a bigger problem. I think that if the LW wants to, though, she could try to address both of these things with him at some time when they are not in a fight. A reasonable script might be “Do you think you could stop bringing up old grudges? Or, if there are still issues from those old grudges that we need to sort out, is there a way for us to discuss them calmly?”

        The LW doesn’t have to do this. She could decide that the shouting is not for her. But if she does feel, on some level, safe enough to say this, and if she believes it might be heard if she did say it, then bringing it up at a calm moment is not a bad idea.

    • beautifulblue said:

      I agree with this assessment. While it’s 100% NOT LW’s job to teach a grown man social skills, if this is a relationship that is otherwise making her happy it might be worth talking togetherness to set some ground rules and discuss healthy conflict/airing of grievances. For instance, no yelling if that’s what LW wants, stopping the argument until BF has cooled off if it escalates, discussing issues as they present themselves rather than saving them for angry outbursts.

      I was pretty awful at this when H and I first started dating, and I’m super grateful he gave me clear boundaries and some time to learn new skills. It was totally normal in my house growing up for people to scream and yell, insult each other, bring up past slights, be super condescending. It took a LOT of self reflection and growth for me to eradicate that (mostly. I still yell sometimes 😔) and to find other strategies for conflict. To be fair, I was also 21 when we started dating and I wouldn’t necessarily expect someone older to cut me the slack H did.

      That being said, if LW doesn’t feel that this is worth the price of admission AT ANY TIME she should nope out and not feel guilty at all, it’s not her responsibility to re-parent an adult.

  5. Working Hypothesis said:

    I’m the LW about my parents, and my kid’s pronouns. Looking at the Captain’s analysis of it, I think the issue is that they’ve never been asked to change their mental framework about language *on purpose* for somebody before. Neither my mother nor my stepmother changed their names on marriage, and they’ve always looked pretty skeptically at people who do. They do take on new words as they come along, but not deliberately because anyone asked them to… they either pick them up or they don’t, and it’s nobody else’s business.

    So right now, they’re feeling that it shouldn’t be any big deal to someone what they call them, and that isn’t limited to people with different gender pronouns than my folks expect. They gripe about having to use married names, too; and even though my mother’s preferred title is Ms., she doesn’t complain in the least when somebody calls her Mrs. or Miss. My father occasionally gets called by my stepmother’s last name and considers it amusing instead of offensive. Their way of thinking about what someone is called just doesn’t include the expectation that it matters a lot to the person it’s about, and that’s something about which they’re consistent, whether the subject is gender or something else; and whether they are the one speaking or the one spoken about.

    That means I think you’re right about the emotional argument, but it’s going to need to focus specifically on that segment of the problem. “I know this kind of thing doesn’t make a big difference to you, **but it matters to your grandchild**, and it’s a significant part of whether or not they feel welcome and loved for who they are,” is something which may get through to them. I know they don’t want to hurt their grandkid in a million years; they just don’t understand why it would. I don’t need them to understand *why* it hurts my child; I just need them to know THAT it hurts my child. Thank you for some of the language in which to tell them that, Captain.

    • 5 Leaf Clover said:

      That sounds like a perfect plan!

    • JenniferP said:

      I mean isn’t “It doesn’t bother me so I can’t believe it would bother you (even though you already told me in words that it does)” below even the lowest possible empathy bar? It’s a big deal because you told them it was a big deal. They don’t have to get it, they just have to do it.

      Not related to your parents, specifically, but I keep thinking about how The Handmaid’s Tale commanders who are like “your name will be Offred now, here is your scarlet Pilgrim cosplay uniform, and we will have monthly rapetimes” probably peed their pants at the idea of having to use the singular “they” once upon a time before the story starts. I picture them sniveling, snot-nosed, “But (sob) my (sob) 4th (sob) grade (sob) teacher (sob) said (sob) it (sob) was (sob) a (sob) ruuuuuuuuuuuule!”

      • Argablarg said:

        Wow, I had basically this exact same exchange with my parents a couple of days ago. They were pressuring me to watch their dogs even though I’m chronically ill and don’t have the energy to do so. They use the “explain to me how this works and why” as a sort of stalling-and-manipulation tactic– if I can’t explain the reasons for my boundaries, they don’t have to abide by them (it will not surprise you to learn that the bar for “understanding” my reasons is very high indeed, practically unattainable). This is all bogus, of course, but to any bystander, it looks like they have the high ground! Anyway, generally these things end with me angrily telling them, after their umpteenth “help us understaaaaaand!!” that they don’t have to understand, they just have to accept that this is the way things are going to be.

        • Working Hypothesis said:

          LW here again. I think the test is going to be how they react when I tell them outright that it doesn’t matter if they understand; what matters is that it hurts their grandchild. So far, I admit that I haven’t said that. I’ve said their grandchild prefers it, but I can see how they might not make the jump from ‘they prefer X’ to ‘it makes them feel unacknowledged and uncherished if you don’t do X,’ especially if that really isn’t the case for their own preferred verbal forms.

          I don’t fault them much for what they’ve done… so far. I haven’t given them a lot of reason yet to think this is a big deal, because I wanted to figure out how to say that first. I do think it will matter a lot how they respond when I do tell them it’s a big deal. If anybody is interested, I will follow up after that conversation has occurred.

          • Vicki said:

            Please.

          • Yes, I think specifying that their grandchild (who is not them! who is a different person than they are with different feelings!) would be hurt by this particular behavior is crucial.

            I also note that nothing they said reflects them thinking it’s not a big deal. They’re treating it like it is a very big deal that they’re being asked to use singular they. Someone to whom this was genuinely not a big deal would say “Uh, okay, I don’t personally much care what people call me, but if you want me to call you ‘they’ then sure, I’ll visualize a mouse in your pocket to remind me to use you-and-the-mouse pronouns, no big deal”. So perhaps the equivalence that needs to be drawn is between their feelings about pronoun pluralization and your child’s feelings about being called the correct name, with the latter trumping the former.

            My mother is probably of your parents’ generation, more or less, and also has extremely strong feelings about singular they. Certain rules of grammar were drilled into her as a child and treated as tremendously important. If your parents are immigrants or descended from immigrants, or otherwise felt they had to learn Correct English in order to assimilate or fit in or achieve class mobility, there may be some pretty major baggage hooked onto that one little pronoun. But my mother has come around and gotten pretty good at using gender-neutral terms for me, including singular they, and I hope your parents do too.

          • Vicki said:

            Another thing you might keep in your pocket is, your parents say (and likely believe) that they don’t care what people call them, but there are almost certainly limits to that, and those limits likely include gender. Your father doesn’t mind being called “Mr. Mom’s-Surname,” but likely would mind being addressed as MIss Mom’s-Surname, and almost certainly would react badly if someone addressed him as “young lady.” That might help him get that there’s a difference between “you shouldn’t call anyone that” and “you shouldn’t call your grandchild that.” (Whichever gender pronoun your parents are using for your child, it might be worth addressing it as “it’s wrong to call Child by those pronouns, just like it would be wrong to use them for you” to whichever parent that would be true of.)

          • TinyFrog said:

            I think the advice you’ve been given is pretty perfect. There’s another tack that you might want to explore too on the offchance that your parents have that thing going on where they are struggling to Do The Thing because of habit, and are getting annoyed about that and all ‘well why should we have to change’ instead of maybe being a bit more gracious and warning you that they might slip up at first but try their best wholeheartedly.

            I have two languages, one is English and the other is one in which ‘They’ is used as an honorific or a polite form. So it’s super easy for me to use ‘they’ as a pronoun in /that/ language, but in English, my brain just stops. It’s not that I mind using ‘they’, it’s that I stumble mentally each time I have to make a conscious effort to do it, and because it was hard to do it, I couldn’t get to the point where I learned to do it naturally. Which was upsetting because eventually I was going to mess up when talking to somebody and I really didn’t want that, and I already had one language where this was really easy for me!

            What helped in the end was replacing ‘they’ with ‘persons name’ for a short time. So instead of ‘Jessie doesn’t like icecream but they do like grapes” it because “Jessie doesn’t like icecream but Jessie loves grapes”. For some reason this managed to unstick my brain – in English, naming the person every single time time somehow didn’t scan as ‘not how the language conventionally works’, and because I had to remind myself to keep doing it, after a while it became easier to start using ‘they’.

            So maybe you can suggest that they (at bare minimum), name your child each time so they aren’t at least using the _wrong_ pronouns?

          • This question knocked something loose for me:

            Slow Lorist said: “They’re treating it like it is a very big deal that they’re being asked to use singular they.”

            Speaking as an Old Phart, I resist the singular they because I find it ambiguous, confusing, and disorienting (and I really hate being confused and disoriented). LW’s original question provides a perfect example: “their [the grandparents’] objection isn’t to using a gender-neutral pronoun….” vs. “they’re [the kid is] not interested in using pronouns like zie/zir or other gender-neutral options.”

            I had to reread that paragraph a couple of times to get it to parse right. I wonder if some of the bigness of the deal for the grandparents is this discomfort; being outside of awareness would make it all the worse.

            Thank you for that kick of clarity.

            It might make for a little extra carrot to acknowledge that, if it’s hard for them, making the effort is an extra gift they can give their grandkid.

            Also: “I’ll visualize a mouse in your pocket to remind me to use you-and-the-mouse pronouns.” This is brilliant. It might just turn the trick for me! (My failure mode would be when I call you-and-the-mouse “y’all.”)

            Vicki said: “‘it’s wrong to call Child by those pronouns, just like it would be wrong to use them for you’ to whichever parent that would be true of.” I love this!

            TinyFrog said: “What helped in the end was replacing ‘they’ with ‘persons name’ for a short time.” This is a hack I’ve used. I can find it clumsy and awkward, but at least I can make a good faith effort with it. The biggest help for me is in dragging the whole composition process into consciousness, where I can keep a Close Eye on it.

          • Kosher Pancakes said:

            LW, thank you for being a champion of your kid, it’s always heartening to know a fellow enby has loving and supportive parents who are willing to fight battles on their behalf. I’m sorry their grandparents are resistant to the pronoun change. This whole discussion reminded me of a poem a 73-year-old woman wrote about her nibling (that’s the gender-neutral term for niece/nephew) who uses they/them pronouns. I’ve linked to an article about it which includes the poem.

            What I really like about the poem is the author admits to not understanding the reasons for using they/them pronouns, but recognizes that what’s important is supporting her nonbinary relative in the manner they’ve specified.

            https://www.buzzfeed.com/sydrobinson1/this-is-the-sweetest-poem-about-pronouns?utm_term=.elE7jZED8#.drbLg4lAG

          • Working Hypothesis said:

            Slow Lorist, I think you’ve hit on a big piece of the problem! My parents are both second-generation Americans, first in their respective families to go to college, and they grew up in an environment where Correct English was a *huge* deal, because it made the difference between being able to have their intellect taken seriously and not. My great-grandparents were as smart as my parents, but because they immigrated as adults and didn’t have a chance to learn English in school, nobody knew it. And since both my parents are lawyers, they’ve spent their entire lives working with words and seeking clarity in them.

            The thing is, they’ve also spent their lives using those words to try and make the world a better place. They became lawyers in the sixties in order to fight for civil rights for women and people of color. They’ve been active allies on queer issues, because they *see* the need for legal/political action. They don’t see the need for picking through sentences which confuse them (cavyherd got it absolutely right in describing the problem; it hasn’t been helped by the fact that I’ve had to talk a lot in recent emails about relationships between their grandchild, whom I call ‘they’, and institutional groups of people, who also get called ‘they’).

            I think I’ve found a useful tool, however! At Pridefest this weekend, there was a comics dealer selling, among other things, little illustrated guides to they/then pronouns! How they’re used, why they’re important to the people who use them, pretty much everything I’ve been trying to get across to my folks. I bought two, and am going to give them to each side of the family.

            I also *adore* the idea of “imagine I’ve got a mouse in my pocket, so the plural word will be correct in talking about us.” It’s memorable and fun, and it may help bridge the “but grammar!” gap with my folks. I’m going to suggest it.

            Thank you so much, everyone who’s offered advice!

          • I am so torn about this. Had I been growing up in this age, I would almost certainly be a “they.” I have a tool to deal with the fraught: just invoke the deep breath I’ve learned to take when the computer software breaks. But it still makes my brain hurt, and not in a good way.

            Fortunately, I’m hip to the fact that English Evolves (because English—especially American English). And also, this is not my first rodeo.

            (I still say English needs a proper neutral pronoun that’s not “it”. And you kids get off my lawn.)

          • Hey Working Hypothesis, sounds like you’ve gotten some really helpful advice. The only thing that’s throwing me off a bit is the Captain bringing up “or else maybe we’ll see you less often”, without adding “after checking in with your child to make sure that’s what your child wants” — like, yes, pronouns generally important but your kid gets to decide exactly how important relative to other things and which battles to fight when. I would think.

        • stump said:

          I’m getting visions of the Sealioning comic…

        • ShadowAngel said:

          Is there a variant on either of their names that they just absolutely hate? I know I’m a little closer to that “meh, who cares?” reaction in myself about most name variants, and even wrong names, but there’s a nickname for my name that just…Is Not Me. And if I need to try to get to some comparison more specific than “duh, call people what they want”, I tend to go more to that small bit of visceral Not Me than to the positive comparison of all the names that are me.

          • Argablarg said:

            Wow, that sealioning was perfect! I am totally using that from now on!

          • ShadowAngel said:

            Gah, nesting fail. I just switched to desktop and realized that nested under Argablarg’s; it was meant to go under LW’s as a suggestion for another route to maybe get them to see the emotional issue.

          • Working Hypothesis said:

            That’s a really cool idea, ShadowAngel. None of the three of them have names which are easily nicknamed (either for good or ill), but I’ll see if I can figure out variants which will get the idea across. I might be able to, at least with some of them.

            When I was 20, I changed my use-name, and my mother hasn’t to this day, more than 25 years later, started calling me by the version I prefer. My father did, though, and I might also point that out to him — that he understood when I asked him to call me by the name I preferred, and this is no different.

          • Nine times ten said:

            In my experience, someone who doesn’t want to lose ground on the pronoun thing will claim they don’t mind being called whatever nickname they’ve always hated.

          • JenniferP said:

            It’s similar to “I don’t care if a person is green or purple or blue or whatever!” as a prelude to them saying something that is 100% likely to be kinda racist.

          • Working Hypothesis said:

            I doubt very much my folks will try pretending they don’t really mind the name variants with me. They’re confused about this whole pronoun thing and don’t get why it’s a big deal; and I don’t defend that; it’s bad behavior. But they’re not actively trying to *avoid* getting it; they just currently *don’t* get it, partly because I’ve been wary about putting my foot down so far, since I haven’t felt I knew how.

            I went through something pretty similar with my dad thirty years ago, when I came out to him as bisexual. At the time, his response was, “You obviously know more about the subject than I do. I yield to superior expertise,” when I contradicted a myth he had previously believed about the topic. I hope and expect they’ll be able to do the same a generation later. They’ve never objected to learning they were wrong. I’m evidently going to need to rub their noses in the fact that this matters enough to be worth the trouble of changing, but I can do that.

  6. Jaybeetee86 said:

    Oh, and in regards to Q4 there – I’m nobody, but in my personal experience, there are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily mustache-twirling abusers, but who learned just *really bad* ways to argue, and never picked up that they were doing something not-normal. My ex and I have been talking, and this is something that has come up. I find in arguments, he’s *extremely* harsh, and tends to go for the jugular in a verbal sense. He sees his style as “direct and blunt”, with perhaps some tough love thrown in. I perceive it as absolutely brutal, and it’s a big reason he’s now an Ex. What has become apparent in conversation is that not only was that type of arguing normal in his household (which was also physically abusive), but his friends and colleagues all have similar styles. He’s told stories from his workplace that would make me want to curl up in a ball and cry if I ever worked there. He’s told stories about screaming, swearing arguments and his friends have had, but then they’ll hang out the next week and be completely cool with each other. He and his best friend have even come to blows, but made up pretty quickly. It’s become apparent that he was baffled by what he saw as my “extreme” reactions in arguments, because to him, what he was doing was perfectly normal – he wasn’t trying to abuse me into submission, to him, *that’s what arguing looks like.* On the other hand, I come from a quiet WASP-y no-raised-voices background where criticism tends to be extremely couched and tactful, and I just have no framework for dealing with his style of conflict.

    What I have since made clear to Ex is that it doesn’t matter if that style of arguing is normal in his circles – *I* can’t deal with it, I get hurt every time we argue, it makes me *act* and *feel* like an abused partner even if that’s not his intent, and if he wants us to be together or even stay in contact, he NEEDS to find a way to communicate with me that doesn’t leave me feeling like he just slapped me. To his credit, he is trying to do this, and has asked me to call him out when he goes too far.

    All this to say to the LW: it’s not so much what he does, it’s more whether or not he’ll respect a boundary you set. As CA said, if you ask him to stop yelling, what would happen? If you left the room, if you told him (before you get to the point of crying) that he was freaking you out or taking things too far, what would happen? Would he cease and desist if it became clear you needed him to, or would he double-down or even escalate? He might just think yelling is normal, but the real test is whether he’ll try to curb it if it’s a problem for you, or if he figures it’s a problem for you to solve.

    • Mayati said:

      Heck, most abusers aren’t even mustache-twirling stereotypes either!

      You’re right that the question is how soon do they change? How much effort do they put into it? Even if they’re trying as hard as they can and changing as fast as they think or you think is reasonably possible, how do YOU feel about it? What about backsliding? What about the effect of *really bad* arguing behavior or other behavior on the relationship going forward? Can you trust this person to never do it again? How much of your mental space has to be devoted to managing the other person’s emotions, actions, behavior? How do they react when you say “no” to them? Are they getting professional help or taking other concrete steps to change, or are they just not really working on it in any ways you can point to? And again, are you happy? Not “is this fair to them,” but “is this fair to you?”

      The thing about the label of “abuse” is that it’s hard to call someone you love an abuser when you see so much good in them every day, and when so many things about the relationship are wonderful, and the bad stuff is so easy to minimize and you think you’re overreacting. That’s…how a lot of abuse works, really. So until an abuse victim/target is comfortable using the word “abuse,” the question fundamentally has to be “do I feel safe and respected in my relationship?” not “is my relationship abusive?”

      • Yeeeeees! Yes to Jaybeetee86’s “the real test is whether he’ll try to curb it if it’s a problem for you, or if he figures it’s a problem for you to solve.” And yes to Mayati’s questions about how much brain space it’s taking up, etc. The dude might make efforts to change and tick all these boxes… and it STILL might not feel ok for LW. It is the scariest thing to address the yelling, because 1. he might say no and 2. the LW has to make a tough choice. It’s the moment shit gets real, but it’s got to happen if LW doesn’t want to grow more uncomfortable and untrue to themselves.

    • aebhel said:

      That’s the thing. I’m a lot like your ex–I mean, I try not to be an asshole, and I don’t come from an abusive home, but my family tends toward the loud, verbally aggressive, and extremely blunt even when we’re not angry at each other. I have to consciously modulate that to some degree around my spouse, who hates confrontation, and to a very great degree around people like my MIL, who would be shattered if I ever spoke to her the way my brothers and I or my college friends and I normally talk to each other.

      There’s a pretty broad spectrum of argumentative styles, but how people handle a boundary is what’s telling.

      • Anne On said:

        I hear your point about different arguing styles, but the LW makes the point that dude is yelling at her about times when she was less than perfect. She isn’t participating in an argument, she’s crying from feeling attacked. Its very troubling and seems to be a dangerous situation.

      • Guildenstern said:

        This reminds me of this post about conflicting argument styles (which I might have found through CA in the first place, I don’t remember): https://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/015056.html. There is a very long comment thread on this, and as a 100% conflict-adverse person, I found the perspectives there very enlightening.

        I’m joining the chorus of people saying that how he reacts to being told to stop yelling at you (in the moment), or to a conversation about this (in a calmer moment) is key. Some people do have some cruddy interpersonal habits. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is irrecoverable, but if they’re not willing to change or doing the actual follow-through work of changing something that makes their partner uncomfortable and unhappy, that is an important red flag. It’s up to Stella to judge whether his responses and the rate at which he is able to change are enough to make her want to stay in the relationship, but she won’t be able to make that judgement at all if the conversation doesn’t happen.

        • TO_Ont said:

          Also, they don’t need to be irrevoverable for you to decide yelling is a line too far for you, or that you’re not willing to be the person that stands by them as they figure out a better way to express anger.

        • Anne On said:

          “Some people do have some cruddy interpersonal habits”: a great reason to leave the relationship.

  7. mh said:

    Hello Q4, educated professional woman here married to a blue-collar husband. We used to (or I guess still do) have screaming fights until I cried. I married him anyway, we had kids. The fights got worse and he’s in jail now for domestic violence. I’m about to be a single parent. Cut bait before you become me.

    Also, if I may, I suggest you look into your feelings of superiority and where they might come from. For me, this is a way of trying to exert control in the relationship, just as his screaming at you is.

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      I’m not saying that this was the case with you, mh, but I will say that I’ve noticed that white collar women (in my observation always women) who get with blue collar partners can sometimes tend to overlook or justify some screamingly large red flags when it comes to anger management out of some sort of “I don’t want to be seen as the snob who can’t hack it in life without needing my fainting couch and smelling salts.” It usually ends bad, because, it turns out, being verbally or physically abusive isn’t just a “culture” thing – the person’s just abusive.

  8. Deanie said:

    Thanks for calling attention to the weird classism in Q4. That said, somebody yelling at you until you cry is just awful.

    • Nanani said:

      Yeah, I think the classism is putting a weird spin on this.
      LW4, if I’m reading this right, you might feel guilty for breaking up with him because you think it makes you classist or like you’re somehow doing a bad thing by having a problem with this behaviour?

      You’re not. It is OK to break up with anyone, anytime. Your dating life isn’t a democracy and doesn’t need to be a recreation of class struggle.

      And if you want to fight classism, work on not equating stuff your (soon to be EX) BF does with being blue collar.

      • GreyjoyGardens said:

        “Your dating life isn’t a democracy.” This needs to be emblazoned in flaming three-feet-high letters. You don’t need a good reason to break up with someone! This seems to be something that women in relationships with men feel a lot – that someone has to be Awful before you dump them, that you’re not entitled to dump a “nice” guy. And I see the “oh no I don’t want to come across like a gold-digger or a snob” too.

        It’s OK to dump someone because you don’t want to date them anymore. It’s double OK to dump someone because you don’t like his bad temper.

      • Alexandra Hamilton said:

        Right – it’s almost like LW doesn’t want to accuse him of being uncivilized due to the perceived social-class differential… like, she’s afraid it will look/sound snobby if the professional woman tells the blue-collar guy how to behave? But it IS uncivilized, regardless of one’s social standing, to yell at someone about all manner of minutiae until they cry. That is correction-worthy behavior. It isn’t equivalent to her being snooty because he didn’t know which fork to use.

    • LW mentioned the possibility that she’s being a snob, but I think that’s a whole separate issue from the yelling, and it’s counterproductive for LW to mix them. If LW is being snobby then LW can fix that themselves, but it’s not some sort of excuse for his yelling. Or a reason to feel bad about not tolerating yelling. It sounds like LW is fed up with some social habits of the insular educated/wealthy social bubble and wants something different. Sure, I get that. And that LW needs to check and see if being blue collar really does necessitate all this yelling (because those messages are floating around out there in politics and media– being blue collar means being Real [Nationality] who are incredibly socially conservative and aggressive and therefore honest and tough, blergh). But there are also PLENTY of blue collar people who do not tolerate this kind of yelling and whose feelings would be just as hurt as LW’s. Being blue collar is used by some people as an excuse for bullying, but it’s just as BS as any other excuse for bullying.

  9. denali denali said:

    For LW6 – I feel you on questioning all the arbitrary rules and the things “they” say about jumping into new relationships after a LTR ends. I think what is best for you depends partially on 1) how your last LTR ended and 2) how are you working on taking care of yourself/getting to know yourself and 3) are you still processing/healing what you need to from your LTR even as you enter New Relationship.

    My context is similar-ish to yours – typically in relationships since 16, ended a 13-year relationship/10-year marriage almost 2.5 years ago, been dating my current sweetie for 1.75 years and thinking more thoughts about moving in together. (also, bisexual but all relationships have been with men)

    The thing is, my marriage was icky and bad and partially long-distance for the last 2 years of it, so in some sense I’ve been “alone” for 4+ years, not 2+ years. I’ve been in therapy for 3 years now and working on myself and feel in such a better place to be making decisions and knowing that current sweetie and how I am in this relationship is worlds better than past relationships.

    Post-marriage, I casually hooked up with a handful of people, went on a few dates with a woman, was off online dating for several months, and then as soon as I got back on I found current sweetie. Entered that first date with all the clear “I Am Not Here for a Relationship” messaging communicated and… whoops. Here we are, very in love and having a lot of fun and providing awesome support to each other and yeah – I’m still processing and healing from my Ex and Sweetie doesn’t get in the way of that.

    So I guess my advice is – consider the “arbitrary rules” and take a deep look and listen at yourself, but if they don’t seem to fit and you’re finding your joy… it’s ok.

  10. Cassandra said:

    This is all such good stuff. Thank you for this feature, Captain, and thank you to the folks submitting questions. Lots of food for thought this week. ❤

  11. QoB said:

    LW4: what if you raised this issue with him at a time when you’re not fighting/he’s not yelling? what if you said “hey, there’s been something that’s bothering me and I want to discuss it with you…”. How would that go? If you think “actually you know what, I’ve never spelled it out like that and he’s been pretty good about discussing other issues we’ve had”, then that’s probably a good sign. If your first reaction to that suggestion is “oh no I couldn’t/but he’d be angry”… then that’s… not a good sign either.

    • Alianne said:

      THIS. My husband comes from a yelling family–his parents, his brother, all the aunts and uncles and cousins, they all shriek out their feelings and think nothing of it, whether it’s an actual argument or just who has to do the dishes. I was raised in a family where yelling was a last resort and meant someone was mad as hell, and so the first time he shouted at me, I burst into tears and ran from the room, certain that our fledgling engagement was off. He immediately came after me, worried and apologetic, and was very perplexed when I explained that by my standards, he’d gone from peace to nuclear armageddon in seconds. We’ve been married ten years, and I still have to say to him on a regular basis–“Look, yelling at me is only going to make me scared and anxious, because all I hear is that you’re yelling and you’re bigger than I am.” He has gotten better about it, but it has taken a lot of time and reminding.

      Sheelzebub test, LW4–can you live with his yelling and belittling and making you cry for another week? Another month? Another year? Tell him that you don’t like this behavior, and that there needs to be a better way for him to express his emotions than periodic hateful FEELINGSBOMBS that make you cry.

  12. selkieblue said:

    Q4, I’m so glad you asked your question. I’m in a very similar dynamic with my boyfriend, who I live with — his family had a lot more conflict than mine and there was a lot more yelling, and also he grew up poor and I grew up upper middle class, and both of those issues and the potential associations between them are constantly threatening to break us up. In my case I don’t have any suspicion that physical abuse would ever, ever happen, but I do ask myself: if this is just how we fight, if us working on our arguing style etc. doesn’t go anywhere, how long am I ok with this for? It doesn’t have to be headed anywhere worse for it not to be ok with you. I don’t know if this is an issue for you, but for me, I ask myself a lot if my not wanting to meet him in the middle on the argument stuff/not being patient with his argument style is a product of privilege and a sign of classism. And, I mean, maybe? Not saying it’s related for you, but it is for me. But also, I don’t know how much it matters. Staying in a relationship that doesn’t work is a terrible way to fight classism and capitalism. I think a lot about the test the Captain asks readers to apply: If it never gets better, how long would you stay?

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      “Don’t yell” isn’t classist. Lots of rich people yell, and lots of poor people understand the concept of using an “inside voice” and not screaming at their loved ones.

      • Kate P said:

        Yeeeeah, I’m seeing a lot of weird classism in the “well maybe that’s just how blue-collar/poor people fight” commentary here – my husband is in a blue-collar profession and was raised poor and he’s also a very calm, considerate, low-key dude who has never yelled at me once in the four years we have been together.

    • Yelling is cross-cultural, but even if it turned out I was wrong and it is a class thing, it’s irrelevant. EVERYONE has to change and adapt the way they argue. We all grow from children to adults, and learn a new way of arguing at each stage. And then, we all have relationships (romantic, friendships, coworkers, etc) with people who aren’t used to the way our specific family handles arguments. Every family is a bit weird. Even IF there were a class difference, learning to adapt how we argue and handle our anger would be something everyone would need to know how to do no matter whom they’re dating.

  13. rydra_wong said:

    Re Q4 — I assume the LW chose “Stanley” and “Stella” as a reference to “A Streetcar Named Desire”.

    In which Stanley rapes Stella’s sister, Blanche. The LW might want to consider what her choice of references says about what her spidey-senses may be telling her, because to me the implication (conscious or unconscious) of that choice is: this guy isn’t safe.

    There’s been decades of drooling over Marlon Brando as Stanley, but nonetheless, the character’s a rapist, and him yelling “STELLAAAAA!!!” while wearing a white vest doesn’t make up for that.

    It’s almost refreshing that he expresses his emotions (without using cringy “I Feel” statements) instead of not caring or playing it off.

    The Captain noted the tinge of classism in the letter, but it can go in reverse too — romanticizing someone blue-collar because he’s so “refreshing” (and “real” and “authentic”) and doesn’t use “cringy” I Feel statements like those wussy New Yorker readers.

    Also, “not caring/never expressing emotions” and “screaming at you” are not the only available options.

    It may be that I feel superior because I’m more intelligent than he is. I feel I would/will draw the line if he ever gets physically violent, but I don’t want this to slip away from me and be unable to shut it down if the time comes.

    Feeling that you’re “superior” and thus will be able to “draw the line” or “shut it down” if he gets physically violent (while worrying that might happen) is a dangerous state to be in.

    I know of a number of women who’ve said that they ended up staying in abusive relationships for longer because it was so hard to admit that they (smart! educated! confident! feminist! PhDs and New Yorker readers, probably!) were being abused; we have a horrific cultural stereotype that says that “domestic abuse victims” must be pathetic weak-willed doormats who aren’t strong enough to leave or smart enough to know they should — and who’d want to identify with *them*?

    • Traffic_Spiral said:

      Yup, all of this.

      1.) Do you know why doctors make the best marks for con artists? Because they’re rich and they think they’re too smart to be taken advantage of. Actually they’re smart in chemistry and biology and idiots in the real world, but they never listen to the people that tell them it’s a scam, because they feel they’re too smart to be taken in. They aren’t. The perfect mark is the one that thinks they’re too smart to be taken advantage of, and so doesn’t walk away at the red flags. The perfect victim is the one that thinks s/he’s too clever to be a victim and so doesn’t leave at the warning signs. It’s how that hollywood sex cult NXIVM got people – lots of “we’re a strong sisterhood” bullshit when in actuality they were branded sex slaves.

      2.) Poor people aren’t a subspecies that Just Can’t Help yelling and hitting. Is there a word for this sort of condescending crap? Should we make one? Stanley-Fetishizing?

      • Madge said:

        I think we can push back against classist assumptions about abuse without getting into the troubling water of what characterizes a “perfect victim” (which treads awfully close to victim blaming) or referring to anyone as an “idiot.”

        • Traffic_Spiral said:

          It’s not victim blaming to acknowledge that certain mindsets make a person very vulnerable to abuse.

          • Madge said:

            I mean, it kind of is? It doesn’t seem that different than saying that dressing a certain way will make a person more likely to be assaulted.

          • Sallym said:

            Madge, I get where you’re coming from, but this is going to depend on whether or not this can be backed up, yes? No studies show a correlation between clothing and assault. If people wearing overalls were twenty-percent more likely to be assaulted, it would be bullshit and still not the victims fault – but I’d want to know that there seemed to be a correlation between overalls and what predators look for in a victim.

          • Traffic_Spiral said:

            No? If we took you seriously we’d have to agree that believing it was ok to be hit in a relationship made you no more vulnerable than if you didn’t believe that.

          • Madge said:

            I do get that it can be useful information (assuming it is true), but I also think that around this issue extra care should be taken with language. Talking about the idea of a “perfect” victim just feels…icky and unnecessary. Especially when the stated characteristics of said victim include being “idiots in the real world.” It’s really important, as you say, to counter the narrative that says only certain kinds of people can be victimized, in order to decrease vulnerability; I think there are more constructive ways to do so (for example, emphasize that one’s level of education/confidence/wealth does not determine whether or not one will be abused; raise awareness of warning signs).

      • peregrinations said:

        The perfect mark is the one that thinks they’re too smart to be taken advantage of, and so doesn’t walk away at the red flags

        I recently discovered that my Darth Ex is a full-fledged, warrant-in-several-states, serial con artist. I’ve connected with a growing group of women who he’s conned in the years since I left him, and it’s a brilliant group of women with advanced degrees, kicka** wits and skills, and successful careers. I thought at first this was just his “type” but this makes perfect sense – we make good marks because (as several of us have admitted) we can’t believe that we would fall for a con so we ignore the initial signs. This makes perfect sense, thank you!

        • Traffic_Spiral said:

          Yup. In almost every aspect of life, the ability to early on say “wow, I really goofed here, and I am over my head with how to handle this – retreat,” is vital. Also, I think a lot of people don’t understand that you can’t beat an abuser at his/her own game. You’re not actively trying to break down THEIR mental and emotional well-being in order to get more control over them, so how are so supposed to counter their doing it to you? You can’t effectively fight back without becoming the exact same thing, so you just have to walk away.

          • Mark Twain said, “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.” I think it’s the same deal with manipulators– when you step on to their playing field, they’ll beat you with experience. But of course you don’t always know you’re stepping onto their playing field; you think you’re just walking around like normal.

        • Nanani said:

          IIRC this also why a lot of obvious scam emails are 1) that obvious and 2) contain spelling errors and whatnot.
          There’s a certain demographic of mark that think they can outscam the scammers becase anyone with that many spelling mistakes must be an idiot right? (Wrong)

          • Maybe? But also there’s an awful lot of people who don’t recognize all the spelling & grammar mistakes. It’s a way of screening out people smart enough to not be fooled.

            (Insert my standard rant about how people who read online for pleasure aren’t really aware of how many people in the world can only read enough to get by. There’s lots of levels of literacy.)

          • queenbeemimi said:

            Like thneedle, I’ve heard that this is a strategy more for weeding out people likely to question and balk at some later point– scammers don’t want to invest their time pitching someone who isn’t going to pay them, so they’re specifically looking to target people who don’t have the information literacy skills they’d need to recognize and shut it down. (Political clickbait nonsense works the same way now that it’s 2018 and we all live in hell, but I digress.)

          • Nanani said:

            That’s why it’s A strategy, not THE strategy.

      • Deanie said:

        The assumptions about Stanley’s intelligence by the LW should be thrown the garbage for another reason: he know’s what he’s doing. If yelling fights that end with crying happen often enough, he knows it upsets you. He goes beyond proving his point or venting emotions by bringing up old stuff. The fights don’t end because he feels bad about making you cry, they end because he won. He hurt you and he knows what buttons to push to do that.

      • Clarry said:

        But doctors don’t make the best marks for con artists. If we’re going to generalize and say there’s one group that makes the best mark, it’s the elderly. Also the recently widowed (or recently bereaved), the perennially lonely (or the temporarily and unhappily lonely), those with low self-esteem

    • Madge said:

      I, too, thought that bit about “cringy ‘I Feel’ statements” was weird. Like, how is yelling better than saying, “I feel [emotion]”?

      • Amtep said:

        I think she’s referring to a style of phrasing taught in certain kinds of therapy. Instead of something direct (“Stop yelling at me”) it’s said as “I feel you yell too much at me” or “I feel bad when you yell at me”. The idea is that it avoids making the other person defensive, but I can see how it can be a pet peeve. I have trouble with it myself, because of bad associations with a previous relationship.

        • Lily said:

          yeah, “therapy talk” is a pet peeve of mine. I’d rather hear “stop cracking your neck, goddammit!” than “I feel sad when you crack your neck”, and if anyone asks me “how do you feel about it” I will explode. To many bad experiences.

          • Madge said:

            I guess it’s a personal preference. I’d be more put off if somebody snapped at me for cracking my neck than if they said, “I feel uncomfortable when you make that sound, do you think you could stop doing that?”

        • Inahc said:

          I was introduced to the concept in elementary school. One girl took the advice, and the rest of us teased her until she stopped. :/
          I feel (ha) like that’s not the only reason it makes me uncomfortable, though. There’s something weird going on in my brain there around phrasing and I wish I knew what it was.

        • TO_Ont said:

          It can sometimes be used as a way of being sounding super condescending.

      • Lee said:

        It can be part of a specific style of emotional abuse, where anything you do to enforce boundaries, express a preference or just… be a person who makes their own choices makes the abuser “feel” bad.

        “When you wear dangly earrings, I feel that you’re showing off for other men, and that you don’t want me.” “When you leave the house by yourself, I feel anxious that something might happen. I would feel better if you would text me every ten minutes exactly so I know you’re okay.”

        Or on a more insidious level, “When you nag me about housework, I feel that you think I’m a bad partner,” and then the conversation devolves into reassurinng them about themselves and somehow the housework never gets done.

        • Planegirl said:

          That whole “I feel…” thing can also be a way for listeners (including some therapists) to discount the validity of what you are saying by suggesting that you are having an excessive or unwarranted reaction to what is actually a legitimate problem. It can often come with a twist to the “feeling” word to make you seem even more unreasonable.
          I remember sitting in a few therapy rooms and having to have conversations about upsetting instances of abuse that I had experienced, only to have the therapist say “So, you feel angry because …” or “You’re feeling aggrieved because…” That made it sound as if I were some snotty b1tch complaining that I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted from the other person, instead of a seriously upset person being miserable about someone else frightening or mistreating me.
          I sometimes re-worded these conversations in my head to turn them into perfect therapy-speak: “Yes, you’re right, I feel abused when X screams at me solidly for an hour…” or “That’s right, I feel molested when Y makes me put my hand down his pants”.

  14. n.b. said:

    The fact that Q4 is saving up insults like diamond chips and bugging you about slight faults that are none of his business sounds like he perceives your suspected feeling of superiority. He sounds defensive and willing to use some shouting till you cry to cut you down to size so that he feels big and powerful again.

    • n.b. said:

      that should say “Q4 Man” is saving up insults…

  15. Rhoda said:

    “The rest of the time he’s sweet and funny.”
    Here’s the thing about abusive people: they’d never find anyone to have a relationship with if they showed their abusive side right from the start and kept it up constantly. Nobody would even go out with them. (Well, maybe somebody would, but that person would definitely not be in the majority.)
    This is why just about every letter to an advice column about an abusive partner seems to start with the words “my partner is wonderful EXCEPT FOR…”

  16. Rhoda said:

    My better half is debating whether to have his gall bladder removed right now. The thing is, removing it doesn’t provide instant relief. It takes weeks for the body to get used to routing bile directly from the liver instead and that means weeks and weeks of an extremely restrictive diet. A minority of unlucky people have permanent problems after the surgery.
    So, I can see why someone would drag their feet about doing it.

    • JenniferP said:

      It’s no joke! But verbally abusive moms need their gallbladder out too sometimes, and the seriousness of the surgery isn’t an excuse for “Tell me more about my faults, Ma!” time.

    • Cathie said:

      I have no experience with gall bladder surgery, but unfortunately a lot of experience with other surgeries of various kinds (actually, I’m scheduled for my 11th surgery on Monday). Yes, in general, we need to be more cautious about surgery — though in my own case there really wasn’t any good alternative to all of the surgeries I have had (ie, badly broken leg, C-sections, diverticulitis, bowel resection, etc.) The basic advice I would have for anyone contemplating elective surgery is to ask these questions: are there any other alternatives to surgery? have you explored them sufficiently to be sure they won’t work? and is your surgeon experienced with the kind of surgery he/she is recommending? Hope this is helpful.

      • JenniferP said:

        Hi Cathie, good points about second opinions, but I’m confused, how does this relate to the Letter Writer’s question about her mom being mean about surgery? We’d have no way of knowing if the surgery is not needed, so let’s assume it is.

        I hope everything goes well Monday.

        • Panda dreams said:

          It’s a bit confusing that you recommend to discuss surgery scheduling and logistics with the mother. Since this is such a difficult subject, people want to give advice on how to discuss surgery, I think.
          /Not Cathie

          • Lily said:

            It sounds like the mother is sure that she needs the gallbladder removed. In this case:
            Mom’s responsability: scheduling the surgery or deciding to not do the surgery. Tell daughter what she needs from her in this context, if applicable. (e.g. “drive from the hospital”)
            Daughter’s responsability: telling Mom whether or not a certain helping thing works for her (e.g. “No, I can’t drive you on saturday, but monday works for me”).
            Not a good idea with an abusive and acting out parent: being their emotional support.

    • Maiasaura said:

      It does? —says the woman who had hers removed 2 weeks ago and is eating a baked potato with cheese and broccoli from Wendy’s while reading this thread.

      It can be a very serious surgery. It can also be no big deal; my doctor said I could resume a normal healthy diet as soon as I left the hospital. Mine was extremely painful and I’m so glad I didn’t wait to get it removed!

      • GreyjoyGardens said:

        Two people in my life had their gallbladders out, and both felt MUCH better immediately and had no complications. One had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days because her gallbladder turned out to be in very bad shape so it was a more complicated operation – BUT she recovered well and it cleared up a lot of nagging health problems she was suffering from.

      • Ren said:

        There seems to be less consensus on it now than there used to be. I’m in the UK and different NHS trusts will say ‘eat whatever’ or ‘restrictive diet’ as standard. A friend of mine wasn’t given any dietary advice despite really severe complications that nearly killed her, six months later she’s still very unwell and just another doctor who just about lost their mind that she’d been left to do whatever. Certainly ten years ago when my mother-in-law lost hers the advice was more universally restricted

      • L said:

        Ha, my gall bladder removal itself went fully without complications and I barely needed the pain meds I was prescribed, but I was a hangry mess for pretty much the full month afterward — restricted diet on top of my usual flavor and texture hangups, even with the help of my very patient partner, was a much bigger quality of life issue than I had foreseen.

        But if LW’s mom finds herself in a similar situation, that is, if anything, *especially* a reason for LW to draw boundaries.

      • How restrictive of a diet gets recommended to you varies from doctor to doctor, it seems, and everyone’s body adjusts at different rates. But generally speaking, when you suddenly don’t have your bile storehouse, high fat foods can cause some digestive issues. My husband had his gall bladder out two years ago, and although he went back to a normal diet almost right away, to this day fatty foods can give him some pooping problems.

        But still, some dietary adjustments and digestive discomfort may be far superior to the problems being caused by an inflamed gall bladder. I know several people who have had to have theirs removed (one was an emergency situation). They’ve all been glad they did it.

    • Panda dreams said:

      Yeah, I don’t quite see what you could possibly win by getting into a discussion about surgery with your mother, especially if you already argue about everything else. Medical treatments are often very personal things, and people seldom are happy with advice unless they asked for it first.

      To the LW: I disagree with the advice to discuss surgery/logistics with your mother. If she brings it up, make comforting noises and change the subject. If you need to process her illness, maybe vent to friends or talk to a therapist.

      • F as in Frank said:

        Panda dreams, I completely agree.
        While there is a case for saying *one time* “let me know what you decide, if you want I can provide X logistical support if you give me enough notice”, I don’t recommend pressuring someone to have medical procedure. It is stressful and it is unlikely to work, as it sets up the other person to argue the position that they should not have the procedure.
        LW, I would do all you can to not have terrible conversations with your mom including not talking about upsetting things like surgery and folllowing the Captain’s advice about changing the medium in which you currently interact.

    • skblue said:

      That’s odd. I had my gallbladder out about 10 years ago after a few horrific gallstone attacks. Maybe it was because mine was a pretty simple laparoscopic surgery without any complications, but I was never told to follow any kind of special diet after.

    • uCarly said:

      I dragged my feet with my gallbladder surgery so I understand why the Mom might be doing that but I don’t think that’s… the heart of the matter, I guess. I don’t think the Captain’s advice about the daughter fending off her mom is unhelpful since it could just be tweaked to “let me know IF you’re having the surgery, and if you are, let me know the details. If you’re not having surgery soon then I’m gonna go and I’ll check in next week. Hope you feel better in the meantime and forward me that funny joke you said Auntie Soandso emailed you.”

      As for my gallbladder surgery experience, it was HORRIFIC, but postponing it so long was partly the cause of why it all went sideways. (My personal situation was I’d have literally died from sepsis if I didn’t get my gallbladder out, so it wasn’t something I could just put off forever… not that I wanted to acknowledge that… not that I DID acknowledge that… it’s amazing I’m alive!) I wish my doctors had said to me and my loved ones something like what the Captain suggests re: logistics. Things like throwing together low fat meals ahead of time and freezing them would have saved me so much time and energy after surgery. Gallbladder removal is indeed a serious thing but that just makes it extra important for the daughter to know what she’s gonna do if her mom has the surgery and asks for help, imo.

      • I’m so sorry you experienced that! I was surprised to read the question about the mother and gallbladder surgery, because just last week my dad, who has been having recurring gall bladder problems, had to have emergency surgery because his gallbladder had turned gangrenous (!) and he was in danger of going into sepsis. Apparently the doctors didn’t know if he’d live through it (he’s doing well now). It’s a scary thing!

        The nature of the question made me feel especially panicky, and I suspect that’s a feature, not a bug, of the mom’s decision to toy with her daughter about the surgery. Sure, the mom could be much more concerned about her own fears, but her daughter’s worries about the surgery are a button too, and this mom is pushing it. She knows the daughter can just walk away from having her buttons pushed, but this one comes with the critical threat of the mom’s health. Is there ANYONE else who can talk to the mom about this instead of LW? If there isn’t, then yeah, the Captain’s advice to basically pretend the button isn’t being pushed and “rewarding” the mom with boring administrative help is the only thing I could think of, if LW isn’t willing to walk away from this issue.

  17. Lisa Kaufman said:

    As someone with a couple of decades of experience as a provider in various branches of the mental health field, I can tell LW3 that Telling You What To Do is generally the hallmark of a not-very-good therapist. Inexperience, burnout, a personal unrecognized blind spot or trigger, but not good therapy. And (as you can attest) it’s not a very effective method of promoting different behaviors. Let’s say someone comes in with a problem to be solved. I tell them, “Do this, it’ll go great.” The immediate response is almost always, “But…here’s why I can’t, and here’s why that won’t work.” Not only is that normal, that’s healthy. You’re having an internal debate about what to do, which is why you came into therapy, and you’re strongly ambivalent. You feel more than one way about something. If I pick side A in this debate, your role is suddenly to explain side B. So you get lots of practice supporting the arguments for side B, and integrating them into your overall view on the matter. It’s accidental reverse psychology. This is like day 1, Therapy 101: Don’t tell people what to do. And that’s even before getting into the whole issue of the fact that your therapist basically told you to get in there and triangulate harder. If she’s otherwise been a good therapist, it may be worth a shot pointing out that you and she have gotten stuck here, and you’d like her to listen and maybe ask questions on this topic rather than direct for a bit, but both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of her approach here are not sitting well with me.

  18. Q4: First, my inclination is that a relationship where you get yelled at a lot over minor things that are none of the other person’s business, and where they only stop when you cry is a relationship that has serious problems that should not be ignored, even if he’s not in fact an Abuser who does it to control you. My dad is like this. (By the way, my dad is highly educated and has published books. This has ZERO to do with class or what kind of job you have, people.) He is a deeply moral person who loves his wife and kids, which is probably why my mom kept him around for so long. But holy shit, do I wish he had gotten help with this years ago.

    Also, I feel like someone has to say this: please, PLEASE rethink “I’m more intelligent than he is” as an attitude. Whether or not you stay with this particular guy, it will not serve you well in life. People know when you think you’re smarter than them or when you look down on them for their job. Trust me.

    • Maddie said:

      Thank you for saying this! My husband is military and on-the-job educated. I am college educated. Neither of us is “more intelligent” than the other. We have DIFFERENT areas of expertise, education, capabilities, and interests, as well as different opportunities, experiences, and personalities as people. Not more or less than – just not the same as. Together we raised three kids: one is a laborer, one works in sales, and the third is in college right now. All three are ‘intelligent’, as arbitrary measurements go, and highly successful in their relative fields. Each has applied their talents and deployed their efforts to their own areas of enthusiasm, with discipline and perseverance, to learn new and individually exciting things, and each has found challenges to meet and had successes in overcoming along the way. They are each happy with their chosen paths, and more importantly, they are kind and thoughtful people who add good to the world. We couldn’t be more proud of them. I am a big believer in the quote: “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing itself to be $tup!d.” The subject one studies is not a pronouncement on capacity to learn, just like the contents of one’s bank account is not an adjudication of their value as a human being. Not every expert gets a certificate, no matter what you’ve heard about the abundance of trophies. We should never let that keep us from seeing other people as winners.

      • Thank you!

        Something I learned in some job or other: everyone knows something I don’t know. Every Single Person in the universe knows something I don’t know. That has *nothing* to do with intelligence; it only has to do with experience and exposure.

        And yes, there truly are people in the world who are less smart than me, but they STILL know things I don’t know.

        (Side rant: the number of people who equate education with intelligence and use the words interchangeably.)

  19. Panda dreams said:

    Q4: going with the theme of being the boss of your own life, you can decide for your own if you want to have yelling arguments in your life or not. Some people think yelling is a great way to have arguments, some people hate yelling. From your question, I guess you would fall more in the later group (the “cold” group?). And that’s fine! Also, you don’t have to stay and listen until he stops yelling/you start crying.

  20. Convallaria majalis said:

    Dear LW for the Question5, you sound like an awesome parent, defending your child’s right to use the pronouns they wish. It sounds weird that they have made such a big a deal of grammary when we humans break the rules when speaking all the time – and it is not a big deal! Language should be for communication and for living, not the other way around. Besides, your arguments of the historical use of “they” as a single pronoun are correct; even a person like me for whom English is only the third language know about them and have encountered them used in this context, for example in books by Jane Austen (here is a link about the subject: https://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/austhlis.html)

    Besides, not every language has gendered pronouns. I consider myself lucky; I grew up in an environment where several Scandinavian languages were present which offered me a great learning opportunity. While Swedish has gendered pronouns (“han” -> “hans”, “hon” -> “hännes”) and the gender neutral pronoun “hen” was only recently officially introduced to the grammar Finnish does not have gendered pronouns – and even the pronoun “hän” has almost disappeared in spoken Finnish and been replaced by “se”, a pronoun used for anything not human. So, if Finns manage to survive (and even thrive) without gendered pronouns, so can your parents. Now I am left wondering if us Scandinavians are the only ones with spoken languages very different from the “official” written ones; probably not. Norwegian even has two versions: “bokmål” and “nynorska”. Nowadays I often hear younger people happily speaking a mixture of different languages and the influences gradually seep to the official written language. In my opinion language should not be a rigid rules system but an evolving organic construction in service of humanity – and, uh, yes, I know I am very priviliged for having been able to study in a high quality free public school system.

    Obviously I do not know what is behind this very rigid attitude of your parents – but I wonder if it is possible that they are afraid of making mistakes and accidentally using a gendered pronoun? If they have been brought up by punishing of making mistakes this kind of mindset might be the result. Would trying to make it seem as easy as possible for them make them more comfortable?

    Also, best of luck to you and your child! Both of you rock!

    • The anxious-about-making-mistakes point also occurred to me, being someone who years ago was an adamant grammar-prescriptivist and has happily evolved – changing pronouns for someone is more difficult than changing a full name, because pronouns are largely subconscious in the actual process of turning thoughts into words. That’s no excuse, of course! But it is possible that LW4’s parents on some level are worried that they’ll screw it up, and so are resisting the need to even try. If you think this plays into their motivations at all, it might be worth an acknowledgement that there will be mistakes, and as long as they accept corrections gracefully and keep trying to do better, that’s all you and your child need.

      (This suggestion is in-addition-to rather than instead-of the Captain’s advice, in case that wasn’t clear!)

      All the applause and love for supporting and advocating for your child’s gender!

      • KStanley said:

        I know what you mean about the pronoun autopilot. My friend Jordan used to be my friend Sue. Jordan is a great fit, I have had zero issues remembering to use it. (Jordan is also a truly good, admirable person by whichever name.)

        That said, Jordan lives in the UK and I live south of Chicago, do we don’t physically see each other often. Until very recently, I HAD to proof all correspondence for pronoun usage. My autopilot bit m every time. The switch hit when he posted some pictures that looked distinctly masculine, so my jerkbrain FINALLY said, “Oh! Jordan is a guy.”

        Hopefully the grandparents will have an autopilot reset more quickly than I did.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yeah, I once worked as a camp counselor and we got a note at the beginning of a session that once child preferred ‘they’. It was the first time I had to try to use it consistently, and it really made me realise how much of language is normally processed subconsciously.

        I actually a couple of times said things like ‘I’m glad we had that conversation with the kids about different pronouns people use. [Name] looked so happy when he was telling people he uses ‘they’….

        Luckily that one wasn’t around any kids, but…

        Initially I found it helped to use names a LOT more in the interim, to reduce the use of pronouns at all. And to rehearse phrases in my head sometimes, and when the kids weren’t around, to try to deliberately make up sentences that used the right pronoun, to practice.

        • Convallaria majalis said:

          Here in Scandinavia a lot of research on the language used by kindergarten teachers has been conducted during recent years – during the result they filmed the usual days (with permissions from the parents and the personnel) and later analyzed all the material. In short the result was that the personnel use words like “boys” and “girls” much more often than necessary (in contexts such like “do not yell, boys!”), categorizing children. Nowadays the teachers are instructed to act just like TO_Ont in the camp: nowadays they use the children’s names more. Now they are conducting follow up research.

          Inahc (who commented below): wow, that is interesting! Of the European languages I am acquainted with also German and French has gendered objects (German also has neutral objects, so there are three categories). I am not really sure whether the categories in Swedish and Norwegian count as being gendered – there _are_ categories, though. In Finnish there are neither categories like that nor gendered pronouns, the same applies to Estonian.

          • TO_Ont said:

            Also, ‘children’ and ‘kids’ are words; use them! ‘Girls and boys’ as a phrase is rarely any more necessary than ‘OK, blue eyed kids and brown eyed kids, time to line up for recess’. Like, what does gender or eye colour have to do with lining up for recess? It’s irrelevant to that situation, so there’s no real reason to list genders (or eye colours) in that context.

        • F as in Frank said:

          What helped for me was reading the written descriptions under images on Everyday Feminist a couple of years ago. At first I continually was shocked by the gender neutral descriptions. Now I typically default to gender neutral when describing someone who has not indicated a preference (e.g. “wow, their shirt is striking” about a stranger on the bus).

      • Working Hypothesis said:

        Thanks, Heather! I think you’re probably right, that my parents are partly resisting because they don’t think they can make the transition without a lot of mistakes in the early stages. They’re not used to making mistakes in speech or writing — both attorneys who use words professionally and personally really well, and that’s part of their self-image that’s probably more important to them than they realize. And yeah, there probably *will* be mistakes at first (there were for me, when I first had to get used to ‘they’ for my kid!) but that’s okay! Making mistakes about it isn’t a problem for my child the way refusing to try is; they just remind the person who made the mistake and move on. But I bet it’s making my parents feel more anxious than they’re aware of, to be facing a situation where they’re likely to stumble over their words for the first time in more than sixty years.

        None of this is an excuse for not trying, and I’ve got some good tools now for getting that across to them. But it’s a useful thing for me to be aware of in presenting the obligation, and I thank you for bringing it up. I can let them know that mistakes early on are expected and okay; it’s not trying which isn’t.

        I can also share my own experience, which is that after a few weeks of consistent use, it was actually hard to go back to ‘she’ (which I needed when talking to my kid’s school authorities, to whom they didn’t want to come out yet) than it was to use the “new” pronoun! It changes over pretty quick. I think they’re fearing a longer, more difficult process than they’re really in for, and that’s something else I probably need to tell them.

    • Inahc said:

      Ooh, ooh! TIL that Hindi genders objects, but not pronouns. I find that hilarious and awesome 🙂

  21. Q1: so this is pretty dorky, but sometimes I talk to my own brain when it fixates on stuff that’s not helpful. I’ll literally tell myself “brain, you’re being weird again. shhhhh” and then go do something distracting, like listen to a podcast or play a game on my phone.

    • DameB said:

      A thing I heard recently is to assign the jerkbrain a name and appropriate personality from a teen movie and address it as such. So LW could name hers Regina (from ‘Mean Girls’) and say “As if! Shut up, Regina!” and that makes it easier to ignore it. (I may be mixing in some Clueless references there?)

      • Inahc said:

        Sometimes making fun of it can help, too. 🙂 “Suuure, the entire world will grind to a halt if I don’t pick the perfect example sentence. Whatever”

        • Inahc said:

          “oh look, the world is still here! What a *surprise*” :p

      • TootsNYC said:

        This was the advice my son got when he was in treatment for OCD> There’s a book, “Talking Back to OCD,” that has you do that. Give it a name, think of it as an enemy or as someone who is mean that you don’t like, and then literally, out loud, tell it, “You are wrong. Be quiet. Leave me alone.” etc.

  22. Angel said:

    That last one rings real true for me. I’ve been dating a girl for about four months now and we’ve been surprisingly serious about this being a long-term thing. I asked her today if she wanted to stop beating around the bush and be my primary person (we’re polyamorous) and she said no! And I said “..?” And she told me that while she’s been behaving as if I’m her primary, and I’ve been behaving like she is, she doesn’t want to make that an official thing until the end of the summer. There’s no rush, and she wants to be sure before she makes that official. I admitted this is a fair point, so we are continuing to be in love and happy without getting too serious on that front. Maybe, Q6, you should try that.

  23. Miaz said:

    Q5… you said that your mother and your stepmother did not change their last names When they got married. How would your mom like it if someone called her mrs. Marriedname? this is along the same lines. You call people what they ask to be called. When your mom became a grandmother, did she have any feelings about being called Grandma, granny, grandmother firstname , now Etc? these are all examples where people get to choose what they are called. but I do like the idea of talking about it not from a logical standpoint, but from an emotional standpoint. I’m glad that they accept your child, and now they get to prove it by using the proper pronoun.

    • Anonymoose said:

      Her “Marriedname” is the name she has, though. I think you mean “Mrs. Husbandsname”

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      Both my mom and stepmother have been called Mrs. Husbandname often enough to find it only mildly irritating and not something they bother correcting anybody for. I suspect if I tried to go that route, they’d just tell me, “Well, we put up with it and so can you.” But I like the idea of using different grandparent-terms then the ones they’ve chosen, because that’s something my kid can use themself to correct their grandparents, humorously but with real intent — respond to having the wrong pronouns used for them by addressing the offending grandparent by a different title than usual. 😀 It won’t particularly offend or upset my parents, I don’t think (they really *don’t* much care what they’re called), but it’ll startle them into noticing and get the point across. Thank you for the idea!

  24. peregrinations said:

    LW2 my mother was like that, with the constant criticisms and name-calling and projection. What finally stopped it was when I drew a hard boundary and refused to take it, and enforced it by getting up and walking out. It was hard to do, but it worked. She only half-apologized and we were never close, but she didn’t openly criticize me again after that. You shouldn’t have to put up with that, surgery or no.

  25. Gayperson said:

    Q6: This is called the “gay virgin” phenomenon—when you hook up with someone of the same sex for the first time (or similar) and it is so awesome that you are like THIS IS ❤️ IT and things become super serious. I think there is an L Word episode about it. It is a normal reaction to awesome gay sex. And actually it can lead to really great relationships but also, just, not always! So take it slow if possible.

  26. jennthemighty said:

    Q4: RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN. Reread your own question and look at the ways you are trying to talk yourself out of your gut instincts, minimizing behavior that makes you feel scared and shitty, trying to convince yourself to be ok with something your body is telling you is not ok. What you said at the end of the letter frames it as a missive to your future self–a future self that you seem to foresee being hit and being unable to draw the line because you forgot what normal was. Seriously, reread your last few lines. It’s scary and a lot of us on this board are worried for you and rooting for you. What if you never have to endure being yelled at again? What if future you doesn’t have to draw that line in the sand? Opt out, choose the adventure where you are safe, joyous, and free. You are allowed to want more from a relationship. if its accessible to you, seek out therapy or some kind of group (CoDa? ACA?) where you can explore why you are hesitating to act in your own best interests, what drew you into this dynamic in the first place, how to break the hold. Check back in later. Let us know how you’re doing.

  27. Kitty said:

    “Die mad about it” and “fix your heart or die” are my new favourite phrases ❤

  28. Shifrah said:

    @Q4, I’m curious whether you’ve talked to your partner about this issue? You could even use “I feel” statements! Unless you actually feel in danger right now – which it’s honestly a little hard for me to tell from your question – what can you lose by saying to him, “You know, sometimes you get really angry at me and berate me. Are you aware of that? That’s not a way that I feel comfortable arguing, so I need it to stop.”

    See what he says, and how he says it. If he gaslights you – “I don’t do that, ever! YOU do that!” – or if he blames you – “well I wouldn’t HAVE to yell at you if you didn’t show up late to work!”- that’s a lot worse than if he says “I don’t see what the big deal is, that’s how everyone argues in my family.” You can explain what the big deal is, you can even go to therapy together to learn how to fight fair, but if he goes down the gaslighting, victim blaming road, I would cut him loose.

    I’m also a bit concerned about the possible classism in your question. Stanley was a sexy beast, and you mention some relief in how your rough-hewn partner differs from your previous ones. Is it possible that you are slightly fetishizing your perceived differences? That’s not an evil thing to do, but it can cloud your judgment (as well as not being the nicest thing to do to a partner for more than, like, one second in the bedroom). I get a sense of “playing with fire” in your final sentences that concerns me a little bit, regardless of what your Stanley is really like.

  29. jmm said:

    Ms. Stella, you know what else is a serious red flag in your relationship? The fact that you think you’re more intelligent than he is.

    Tbh, you sound like you have a lot of hangups about education, resulting in a weird kind of snobbishness that makes you brag about reading The New Yorker. Fine, whatever. But more importantly, your attitude seems to bleed over into some contempt for his intelligence and choice of profession. Contempt is one of the main predictors of divorce.

    I feel like you should think about both issues — his yelling, and your casual put downs.

    • queenbeemimi said:

      Eh, Idk, you could be right but this feels off base to me from what Stella said. If anything, it seems to me that she’s putting Stanley’s blue-collar masculinity on something of a pedestal, in a way that may be inhibiting her from properly contextualizing his outbursts. What I read in the question was more along the lines that Stanley is very, very different from the men she’s dated previously, and this means she has a very limited framework with which to judge his communication style.

      The bigger red flag, to me, is that she’s drawn a parallel between her relationship and the Kowalski marriage. Because… yikes.

      • Muddie Mae Suggins said:

        I think it might be both, actually, which I think is common with fetishization.

  30. Amy said:

    Q5: There is a place in this world for “You don’t need to understand or like it, but you do need to do it anyways.” It’s actually a fairly common experience–we encounter it as kids when our parents tell us to do something ‘because I said so’, as teenagers when college and job applications ask us to jump through hoops to convince them we’re worth accepting, and as adults when our work requires following clunky or absurd policies just because that’s what the policy is. It’s time to tell your parents that this is how it needs to be–they don’t need to like it grammatically, they don’t need to understand why it’s important, but they do need to do it consistently **and without complaining where grandkid might hear them.** End of discussion.

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      Well, in fairness, they *haven’t* been complaining where Grandchild can hear them. They’ve been complaining to me, by email. I guess if they really want to, they’re allowed to keep doing that, but yes, I’m putting my foot down about what terms they actually use for their grandkid, no matter whom they’re talking to. They can complain at me about it, so long as they do so in the correct form. If they don’t at least try to get the pronouns correct, though, I’m going to stop answering their questions. Sorry; I don’t *have* a kid who’s a she, so if they ask me how ‘she’s’ doing, I’ve got no information about that.

      At Pride this weekend, I found a really cool graphic-novel format book about the whole they/them pronoun thing and I bought a copy for each side of the family. I hope it’ll help them understand the whys of the matter, but if they never understand and still call my kid the right thing, that’s still an okay outcome. The reverse is not.

      • Maybe the Grandparents have a beef with you and not the Grandkid or the gender pronouns. You’re the one scrambling to mount defense after defense, scrambling to convince them. They don’t have to put forth any effort to watch you squirm except say “we’re not convinced,” and they know you’ll keep trying because you want the best for your child. It’s like the Grandparent version of the car-trip game, “I’m not touching you I’m not touching you I’m not touching you!” If the Grandparents still need to learn more about using “they/them,” (and they probably don’t), maybe they’ll need to learn by doing, Montessori style. In this scenario– that the Grandparents have some sort of beef with you– the Captain’s advice works just as well I think. Sorry you’re dealing with this obnoxious behavior, and it’s awesome that your kid has you in their life.

        • Working Hypothesis said:

          I doubt they’ve got a beef with me right now. They’re pretty direct in general; when they aren’t happy with me, they say so in blunt terms, and when they’re pleased with me, they say that, too. Lately, they’ve said the latter, frequently. More likely, they just don’t see any reason to put the effort in. They don’t especially enjoy seeing me scramble; they just don’t think I should be bothering in the first place, for the same reason they aren’t bothering to make the change. They don’t see why it should matter so much what anybody is called, so they don’t think it’s worth their effort to change to a grammatical construct they find confusing.

          I do hope they will come around and do the right thing; they are, in most respects, amazing parents and grandparents and I don’t want to lose them on either my own behalf or my kids’. But I’ll pull back if I have to.

          • That’s good to hear! Good luck trying to get them to come around.

  31. mcosita said:

    Q4 – I ran into this same thing with my husband. He is the first blue-collar guy I had been with, and he is the only man who has ever yelled at me. There is research that explains this – the book the Power of the Past explains that basically blue collar families are much for emotionally expressive, for better (so affectionate! So warm!) and worse (yelling.). There are lots of articles about it online if you don’t want to buy the book.

    100% that does not give him a pass to yell. Or to fight dirty and throw everything he can think of in your face. I had to have the conversation with my husband of how hurtful it was, and how the ONLY thing yelling accomplished was to scare and hurt me. The alternative to this “expressiveness” in the book is walking away, thinking about how you feel, then coming back and talking about them. So my husband started trying to do that — and is pretty good at it now! Our fights have long silences which is 1000% better than being filled with yelling. Yelling still happens (in a stunning development, I have yelled at him too, on occasion) but I do not worry about his anger anymore. I don’t picture it escalating to physical violence anymore. (It never ever did, but a man’s untempered anger seems like it so easily could, and no amount of other good guy things he did could convince me otherwise.)

    So, he’s gotta adjust. Yelling is not acceptable emotional communication. He can do it. But also you don’t have to teach him that lesson if you don’t want to. Not your job to teach men or other people be decent human beings. (I’m trying to cover all my thoughts on this, but I also just woke up, so I’ll end here.)

  32. Nebula Ersatz said:

    Q4: I think the yelling and the score-keeping/grudge-cherishing/nit-picking are separate issues. The yelling is not great by itself, and I definitely wouldn’t be willing to put up with it, but I can see where it could be something semi-subconscious that could be unlearned with a good faith effort.

    BUT him keeping a tally of things you’ve done “wrong”– including things that don’t affect him at all– and fostering an environment that makes you start keeping that tally yourself in preemptive self defense… That’s a level of control that, if not abusive in itself, at least is priming you to be abused.

    • OtherBecky said:

      THIS.

      Yelling vs. not-yelling is a matter of different arguing styles. Yelling makes me uncomfortable, but it’s what some families do and isn’t inherently bad or abusive or non-loving.

      Saving up tiny perceived transgressions that didn’t even affect him in order to berate you until you cry is not a matter of different but valid ways of arguing. It is controlling and abusive.

      Story time here: I dated a guy who did that. Let’s call him John. John didn’t yell, but he did berate me until I cried. I once told him that I wished he would just hit me, because it would hurt less and I’d know what to do about it. (That argument ended up with me apologizing and comforting him for my having implied that he might ever hit me.)

      Having to explain to someone with a different arguing style that yelling makes you afraid/uncomfortable/etc is one thing. You shouldn’t have to explain to someone who’s supposed to love you that repeatedly making you cry is not ok.

  33. Lucy Merriman said:

    No advice, but I am always put in a good mood to read about parents who are in their kid’s corner when it comes to their identity and preferences, whether it’s a big thing like gender, orientation, or religion, or a smaller identity like a hobby or genre of music they love. It can be so hard to be outside the norm when you’re a kid. Rock on LW5, keep supporting your child.

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      Thanks, Lucy. I started parenting with exactly one maxim I was determined to follow: “Raise the child you have, not the child you thought you were going to have.”

      Or, by implication, the child you used to have, the child you wanted to have, the child you once were, or anything else except the child you DO have. I didn’t especially expect my kid to be genderfluid, but they are, so *that’s* the kid I’m raising — as well and supportively as I know how. I’m not going to try and make them be somebody else; that wouldn’t be raising the kid whom I do have very well.

  34. Ainsely Stibribbons said:

    Whoa, Captain’s advice about the shouting is so revelatory to me, and I’ve never thought about it that way! Is listening to the yelling Optional or is it Mandatory? If LW is listening to the yelling until she cries, it definitely sounds Mandatory, and if it’s Mandatory it must be because LW senses consequences for skipping out on Mandatory Yelling Class. And as long as LW is acting in deference to feared consequences, the course requirements for Mandatory Yelling can change at any time.

    In fact it’s even more transparent than that–LW is crying because she doesn’t like yelling, so obviously…. she’s gonna fear More Yelling. Like… that seems pretty plain when you look at it that way. What are the odds that the current level of yelling is enough to make her cry, and yet she’d be totally a hundred percent fine with More Yelling?

    As long as you’re held in check by the fear of More Yelling, you’re not free and you’re not safe.

    • QoB said:

      So well put!

  35. syzorr said:

    LW4 and LW6 hit too close to home

    I’ve grown up with many mental health issues so I’ve been rather developmentally delayed in a lot of ways (except academically it seems) and grew up believing no-one would ever love me etc. My own childhood was very abusive with plenty of yelling, screaming, occasional violence, homophobia and misogyny. I ran away screaming the moment I could and put an entire body of water between myself and my father…

    Found the “right person” shortly after my 21st birthday, and she is still someone I love and trust but also behaved in a very similar way to LW4’s example. She is someone with her own difficulties (being significantly ASD) and would get incredibly aggressive and loud when struggling (to process, or with life in general etc). It wasn’t until now-ish, over a decade later as I have finally learned enough to de-program myself that I have learned vastly different strategies and have become a much different (and better, I hope) person. She has also been becoming more aware of her own behavior and we’ve ended up helping each other to work through our mental health challenges.

    However, given what I know now, no way in hell would I tolerate that behavior and I’d have walked out the door the first time it ever happened. Walk away from him LW4 unless he is willing to engage with changing his behavior and seeking some professional help (and you feel that it’s worth the investment). The only reason I would say that option is a possibility is because obviously you care for him. Maybe there is a way to work through this but he needs to do the work.

    We have since parted ways and I’m now dealing with the fact that I don’t really know where I stand with regards the world (identify as non-binary) and trying to take the time to engage in self-care and development to understand what I want and need. Scared of the possibility of meeting another “right person” (a la LW6) and just falling in to a long term relationship again because that would be easier than dealing with my long-term difficulties. Take the time to get to know yourself, someone who is worth the long term investment should understand why you need to.

  36. Clarry said:

    Stella– Would you say the following statements are true?
    You like your sweet funny Stanley.
    You’re disturbed by the yells-at-me-until-I-cry dynamic.
    You’d like to stay with him, don’t want to break up with him, but you don’t want to ignore the red flags, if they’re red flags.

    Now is this one true?
    You’re afraid that if Stanley were to stop yelling, if he were to stop saving up discontents and then blowing up with them in occasional harangues, then he’d automatically turn into an I-feeling, nonchalant manchild like the exes in your past.

    When I put it like that, can you see the flaw in your thinking? (If I’ve got it right.)

    You say yourself you oscillate between thinking you should leave and feeling weirdly okay.
    Would it be fair to say you’d love it if you could have both, have Stanley and everything Stanley is and represents minus the yelling?

    Why not go for that? Give it a try to see if you can get it?

    How to get it? Some possibilities: Counseling. Approaching him when he’s not yelling. Giving him options to express himself that don’t involve yelling. Changing your reaction to break the yell/cold/cry cycle.

  37. ObstreperousB said:

    As someone who uses they/them pronouns, I’d actually find the “you-and-the-mouse-in-your-pocket” thing incredibly insulting. I’m not 100% sure I can articulate why, but I think it has something to do with the implication that the speaker is humoring me while ignoring the point of using those pronouns in the first place. “They” is the word I’ve decided to use for a reason–neither “he” or “she” is an accurate reflection of what I am. Saying something like “I’ll pretend you have a mouse in your pocket” implies that you’re just going to go on thinking of me as whatever gender you’ve decided I am, while doing a kind of mental find-and-replace before the specific word “he” or “she” comes out of your mouth. But the word isn’t really the point. The point is that I’m not a man or a woman. Ignoring that in your head while superficially going along with my request for “they” pronouns is inadequate. I realize there isn’t much cultural precedent for thinking this way, and I certainly don’t expect perfection, but I do expect people who ostensibly care about me to make the effort.

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      ObstreperousB, thanks for the perspective. I’ll have to ask my kid what they think of the idea. I liked it, but I’m not the one whose opinion matters here.

      My kid uses they/them specifically (as distinguished from other gender-neutral pronouns like zie/zir) because they are not just gender-neutral but gender-fluid. They vary from day to day and sometimes hour to hour, and ‘they’ is the correct pronoun for somebody whose gender one doesn’t know. It’s always correct no matter what gender they are right then, so they decided it was what they’d use rather than trying to ask people to shift around. I have no idea whether this will make their view of the mouse idea any different from yours, but I can find out, and will before I decide whether or not to use it.

      Ironically, my parents have made clear they’d be fine with other forms of gender-neutral pronouns. They don’t get confused by zie/zir, since it doesn’t mean anything *else* that they already expect from it. But my kid doesn’t like those because they’re specifically ungendered, and my kid *isn’t* always ungendered… only sometimes, and when they have a gender it varies. So they picked the broader term, which is grammatically accurate when one doesn’t know somebody’s gender. The problem isn’t that my parents think they do know my kid’s gender; it’s that they don’t get why anybody cares that much whether somebody uses an incorrect term. And they don’t have to get it, but they do have to use the right words anyway.

      • ObstreperousB said:

        My experience may not be that applicable to your kid, then, as I’m agender, so I use “they” for slightly different reasons. Maybe you can point out to your parents that they would stop doing something else that causes your child distress, even if they don’t personally experience that distress? Like, I also expect people who care about me and know about my arachnophobia to not show me pictures of spiders, because they know it’s unpleasant for me and that should be enough. Someone who would insist on showing me spider pictures just because I don’t have a logical reason to object to them is not someone I’d want around me.

        • Working Hypothesis said:

          ObstreperousB, that’s pretty much the approach I’m taking. “I don’t care whether you ever understand why it matters to Grandchild. It DOES matter to them; it makes them unhappy to insist on using a different pronoun from the one they’ve chosen, even if the different pronoun you choose isn’t gendered. Please cut it out, because hurting your grandchild is not okay.”

      • Path said:

        You actually said it yourself there. “‘They’ is the correct pronoun for somebody whose gender one doesn’t know.” This is the technique I use to teach others, since I’m a they as well; “refer to me as if you don’t know me yet”.

        “Have you met the new boss yet?”
        “No, they haven’t been in.”

        “Did you hear we’re getting an exchange student?”
        “Oh cool, I wonder where they’re from.”

        Your parents probably already use this (most people do). If you’re not totally done trying to prove this to them, you could point this out, and if you want to be smug about it, point it out when they do it. I’m not seriously advising the last one (since I would kill for parents or grandparents I could come out to!), but you know, sometimes you just get a bit tired of it all.

    • Speaking as someone who sees this issue both from the inside and the outside, I would offer the idea that the “mouse” option is a “fake it ’till you make it” strategy.

      I have to be careful when interacting with my trans friends, because I have a tendancy to see them with their AAB gender as a transparency laid over their current gender presentation. This is very much not how they see themselves, and it would cause them pain were I to let this perception slip into my language.

      So I use various hacks to get the right pronouns to come out of my mouth until I’ve interacted with them enough that they are represented in my brain as an integrated whole, which has their self-identified gender. From me, this is how I make the effort to respect them and how they wish to be addressed. Eventually, the whole thing streamlines and the right pronoun just comes out of my mouth automatically. But I try extra hard to get it right until that happens, with any tools I can find that work.

      • ObstreperousB said:

        I don’t really object to that, although I probably wouldn’t want to know about it until that phase was well in the past. The original seemed to be phrased less as “this is how I’ll learn your pronouns” and more as “this is how I’ll humor you about your pronouns”, which is what rubbed me the wrong way.

      • KStanley said:

        Yes, it’s more difficult to remember with someone known pre-announcement, but before the appearance has shifted much. I have a much loved friend who (until very recently), I had to REALLY edit correspondence to. The autopilot was not easy to dis-engage.

  38. For “Stella,” I have a few thoughts:

    1. There are ways to argue that are neither fighting dirty nor using stilted therapy talk. After people get to know each other well they often make plainly-expressed rules like, “either party is allowed at any point to leave and take a breather or take a walk or something, and our script is [“I need to take a break and calm down but I’ll be ready to talk about it again at such-and-such a time,” or similar]. Or “no bringing up past conflict– we should stick to the matter at hand or we’ll never solve anything.” Or “we try to paraphrase what the other person just said so we know we’re on the same page.” “No interrupting.” “No yelling.” Honestly this guy’s behavior worries me so I’m hoping you end up applying this to another less screamy relationship, whether that person has an advanced degree or not.

    2. You mentioned being “cold” toward him as he yells, then crying. Obviously I can’t know if that’s just a run-of-the-mill choice or something else. But there is such a thing as ‘dissociating’ (often a result of childhood experiences), and it can be expressed that way. You mentioned your dad was a yeller. Mine was too, and I experience that sort of dissociation. I feel utterly calm, emotionless and rational. But I don’t cry or feel anything at all for quite some time afterward, even when I want to. Everyone is different though. And although I am responsible for my own actions and am taking steps to address it in general, dissociating is not a deliberate choice I’m making in that moment. You may want to look into this for negotiating future relationships too; working with a therapist is a good idea to break out of the strongly ingrained pattern of how you react. And I just want to add, “yelling” is SUCH a tricky thing to talk about. Most of us have yelled. But it can also be a form of abuse. If I tell someone my dad yelled at me, they’d say, “yeah mine too, what else is new?” But I meant window-rattling screaming at toddlers, veins standing out, performing a dance of physical intimidation that seemed to perfectly convey the message of I’ll-fly-out-of-control-at-any-moment, getting in someone’s face, making my mom jump in shock, pounding fists on the table, storming out of the room, slamming doors so hard they break, everyone must tiptoe around for hours, that kind of yelling. But they meant, “dad raised his voice, said what needed to be said about breaking the rules, finished, and then we all ate spaghetti.” Anyway, if you tell someone he yells, or your dad yelled, the response you get could be addressing a completely different scenario. Keep that in mind if someone blows off “yelling” as “oh everyone does it.”

    3. Other commenters addressed the “more intelligent” comment, but just in case you meant it as simply a shorthand for a highly educated New Yorker reader, may I suggest instead “more academic,” because that’s what it is, academic intelligence, or if you really mean WASP-y, then “more WASP-y.” And instead of “less academic,” maybe “more [physical, artistic, street smart, practical, spiritual, wise, common sense, nurturing, experienced, whatever that person’s intelligence is,]” or simply “self-taught,” as the case may be. If you want to break away from dating the mega-academic man-children you expressed frustration with, then it’s a good idea to give this habit a thorough overhaul. And if you’re having trouble overwriting the social programming that academic intelligence is superior to other types of intelligence, then challenge yourself to branch out and try that other area (physical, spiritual, etc).

  39. Len F said:

    “I recently enforced a hard boundary and gave an old friend an African violet”

    I’m confused about the violet part. It sounds like an idiom, but I can’t find anything on google except for gardening tips.

    • JenniferP said:

      The African Violet of Broken Friendship: Basically, a wish that there could be a ceremony for saying goodbye to friendships that aren’t working anymore, with a nice note and a plant.

      • Len F said:

        Oh! Thanks!

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