Short Answer Friday (Live Chat)

How it works: Patreon supporters can use the thread there to submit questions, everyone else can use Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which time I’ll answer as many as I can until 1pm

Discussions open after I’m done with the questions. These are fun to write.

Q1: I (she, feminine pronouns) work in the same industry as a close friend. Networking is a huge part of excelling and getting your work noticed. My friend, who I genuinely love, has blacklisted/ comprehensively gone off an astonishing number of people (male and female) in the industry, and she continues to speak very negatively of them whenever their names are mentioned. She experienced a lot of bullying growing up, and I don’t doubt that some of these industry people have behaved genuinely badly towards her. However, I have seen her decide to never speak to industry people (some of whom were also close friends) because of things that seem very minor or even completely subjective (for example, different texting styles or infrequent communication between projects). She gets very upset if I do not support her by cutting off these people, too. It’s getting to the point where I am not sure how to navigate this. For example, I just completed a very successful project with two people whom she introduced me to, but since then, she has decided never to speak to them again (to be clear, not over anything big like bullying or sexual harassment but because she thought the guy was giving off potentially flirty vibes – I read the email in question and it did not seem flirty to me). I’d like to work with them again, but I’m really worried about how she will respond. She’s already unhappy because I was invited to participate in an event with two other people she dislikes (because they didn’t want a close friendship with her but were otherwise perfectly friendly and professional). I didn’t even know they were involved until I’d agreed to participate! I don’t want to invalidate her experience, and I don’t want to work with assholes, but when she takes offense so easily and so often, I’m not sure how to proceed. I don’t want to be best friends with all these people – I just want to get my work done! She is otherwise a fantastic, very supportive friend. Advice + scripts for moving forward would be much appreciated!

A1: This sounds a lot like the letter Alison and I tackled together at Ask A Manager a few months back.

I appreciate your clarification that your friend’s dislike is not based on abuse or bullying or other #MeToo stuff, and is more about small interpersonal frictions or dislike. We all know that the same person can treat two people very differently, so I appreciate your thoughtfulness about that.

Say you do tell your friend about your plans to work with these folks she doesn’t like, and she complains about them a lot and seems to expect you to…what? Ditch working with them? Take on her grudge as your own?…I think it’s worth trying scripts like:

“Ok, I get that you don’t like them. What are you asking me to do?”

Like, get it in the open. Is she venting or is she expecting you to actually quit gigs or not accept any invitation that involves people she doesn’t like?

See also:

“Wait, are you asking me to not work with people that I work well with so far because you don’t like working with them?”

“I get that you don’t like _____, but you’re not the one that has to work with them. I don’t want to invalidate your experiences but I also need to cultivate my own professional network, even if it means working with people you aren’t fans of sometimes.” 

“You should absolutely work only with people you respect and get along with. But what you look for in a collaboration isn’t necessarily the same as what I look for. I don’t need to be friends with people in order to work with them.”

“I always appreciate the heads up when a situation might get sticky, but I also appreciate the chance to form my own network and my own working relationships with people. Sometimes it feels like you expect me to take on every grudge you have as my own, and I don’t know what to tell you.”

Hopefully she’ll hear you. If you love and value this friend, I also suggest finding some Not Work topics of discussion.

Q2: I work at a university with an (apparently) amazing staff benefits package. Thing is, all my coworkers are permanent salaried employees, and I’m an underpaid temp worker. My contract keeps getting extended & I fully believe that they really will make it permanent sometime (soonish? hopefully?), but university bureaucracy is a nightmare. In the meantime, what do I do when my coworkers complain about not being able to use up their vacation time and I struggle to pay bills when the office closes for July 4? Do you have any scripts/methods for not raging when they talk about scheduling free massages & eye checkups?

A2: As an adjunct professor who recently had a tenured colleague complain to me about not knowing quite what to focus on during his upcoming paid sabbatical, my answer to this is:


You could try silence, or “hrmmm, interesting” + ye olde subject change.

You could try “Oh, paid vacation time, that sounds like a pretty good problem to me! Let me know how that all works out.”

But really…

Fucked if I know.

Q3: What are you reading this summer?

A3: I’m reading EVERYTHING this summer. Thanks to library extension and being a fast reader and a little more free time than I get during the school year, I probably read a book about every three days.

Sunday I finally finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky (I’d been saving it) and then immediately started re-reading The Fifth Season. 

Last week I devoured The Changeling by Victor LaValle (this needs to be a TV series ASAP, it’s just so visual and well-plotted and suspenseful) and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Right before that I read Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Circling The Sun by Paula McClain. And Mark Oshiro’s debut, Anger Is A Gift, which destroyed me and would be a great companion to The Hate U Give for YA books about right now.

I read all the Tommy & Tuppence books by Agatha Christie, in sequence. Michelle MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has me rethinking sliding glass doors.

I got some romance in there: T. Kingfisher’s The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine made me rethink sexy paladins. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole should 100% be adapted for the screen.

Last night I started The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s fun. Soon I’ll dive into Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

Reading is the best.

Because this has come up before in book threads: I’m not a book blogger or book reviewer, and I’m sure everything I’ve listed here should get a trigger warning or content note for something. I read very fast, I read for my own fun, and I literally do not keep track of what might be upsetting to other people. This is a list of what I am reading, not what you or anyone should read. If something here catches your eye but you’re worried about potential triggers, please read someone else’s reviews before you dive in.

Q4: Any tips for dealing with shame/guilt about not being disciplined enough? I’m coming off a hellish couple of months of constant travel/public speaking/work events, and although it was great for my CV, it was really difficult and I’m feeling burned out. Now I just want to laze around the house and watch Parts Unknown, but I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of all of the projects that I want to do but aren’t urgent. It’s also making my envy of other colleague’s success much worse. I’m aware I’m being too hard on myself but am not sure how to move past thinking about it as a self-discipline problem.

Parts Unknown is wonderful and we’ve watched a fair bit of it ourselves this past month (The Houston episode is especially beautiful and seems like everything Bourdain was trying to do or say). And I’m glad you mentioned that show specifically, because it is a literally a show about stopping to smell the flowers and drink beers with people and look at the world.

You need breaks. You know you need breaks. So what if you gave yourself a defined period, like, three weeks, to just indulge in your breaks, read widely, catch up on TV and naps, etc. and then after that you’ll dive back into working on projects? That way you can tell the little “should” voice inside that you have a plan to get back to work.

The reason I say three weeks and not one week is that you need to trick your mind a little, like Marmee in Little Women when she said “fine, don’t do your chores, do whatever you want” and Beth was back to dusting in like, three days.  One week isn’t enough time. Two is probably about right. That third week you’ll be actually a little bored with yourself and hungry to get back into a working routine.

Another suggestion: During that three weeks, disconnect from whatever medium keeps shoving your colleagues’ successes in your face. Who gives a shit what they’re doing? Their work doesn’t take anything away from yours.

Now go and RELAX.

Q5: What do I say in a first message to parents after 2+ years of minimal contact & a mental health breakdown last year that is continuing? I know I’ve disappointed them but I don’t really want to get into that or my mental health.

A5: This first message isn’t going to be the only message, right? So it doesn’t have to do All Of The Things. It doesn’t have to make up for lost time. It just has to communicate some version of “Hi, are you still there? I’m still here.” 

People make fun of greeting cards for being trite (personally, I clutch my chest anytime I need to buy one and see that some of them are SEVEN WHOLE DOLLARS now), but sometimes trite gets the job done. Pick out a greeting card in the general “thinking of you” genre or a postcard with a cool image on it, scrawl out a short message, and send it. See what comes back.

Also, I think it would be helpful for you to avoid starting with “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Maybe you are sorry, maybe you aren’t, maybe you aren’t the one who owes apologies, maybe no apologies are owed. Sorries are for later, if ever. Start with “Hi!”

I hope things get better for you real soon. ❤

Q6: I recently started my first full-time, after-college job, and it’s great. I firmly believe that I would not be here without your blog (and Ask a Manager!). Thank you so much. My question is, now that I have actual, functional health insurance (where the deductible isn’t so high that I can’t imagine actually scheduling anything) … how do I go about finding a primary-care doc and/or a dentist? My EAP has set me up with a short-term therapist for now, so huzzah for that, but I think I should probably schedule some checkups / cleanings / whatnot, and I don’t know where to start.

A6: Congratulations on the new job.

Your health plan almost certainly has a website, and that website has a “find a provider” function to help you locate people who are in network. For a primary care doctor in the USA look for both “primary care” and “internal medicine” as specialties. You could also ask nice coworkers who are on the same health plan, “Hey, I need to pick a primary care doctor and I’d like to find one close to the office – anybody know someone great?” Then pick one, make an appointment, and see how it goes.

I’ve also used apps like Zocdoc successfully. You enter all your stuff, and your health insurance info, and they match you to doctors who are taking new patients in your area.

I’m sure you can master these logistics, is part of this about not knowing which doctor to choose? I like seeing female doctors, I have better luck with young ones, I like asking them about Health At Every Size or at least people who can roll with “Yup, I’m fat, so, what would you do for a thin person with the exact same symptoms?” I like doctors who are close to public transit and close to work/home or other places I go regularly, so I factor all this in when I’m looking.

And then there’s good old trial-and-error. You’re not married to the first one you pick.

Q7: So, this may be too big a question for the short answer session, but I’d love some tips on becoming less selfish. The problem is on the surface I seem to others like a kind and generous person – I donate lots of time and money to charity, would rather get gifts for others than buy stuff for myself, take the time to listen when others are down, etc. However, I’m doing these things either to give myself an ego boost (i.e., I love to see a friend’s big smile when I’ve found the perfect gift) or because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t (i.e, helping coworkers when they seemed stressed due to heavy workloads). Even when I help others basically anonymously (such as giving money/food to the homeless) I’m doing it to give myself a warm fuzzy feeling. I feel awful that I am basically using other people this way but don’t know how to change my mindset.

A7: This sounds like a self-worth problem rather than a “doing generosity wrong” problem to me – have you ever spoken to a therapist about feeling like you’re using people when you do nice things for them? Is doing your best to be a kind person really a reason to beat yourself up? Maybe dig into that with a trustworthy pro.

The other practical solution that comes to mind: Volunteer for a cause in a way that connects you to an organization and community over a longer-term, so you are working on an issue in concert with other people. Let the community and the work sustain you.

Q8: Do you have any general guidelines/tips to help someone decide whether or not they should pursue therapy?

A8: Well, I think most adults could use a look under the emotional hood at some point in their lives, so if you’ve never tried it and you think you might benefit from it and you have access to it, why not try it? You could always stop if you don’t get anything out of it.

There is one kind of letter that I get over and over again that is almost universally a signal for “Stop, drop, and try therapy!”

That letter starts with “Ever since I was a child…” and then includes many many many details about childhood, family history, and things from the past that the Letter Writer thinks might be relevant to the current problem.

Then the current problem is something that could be solved with “Break up!” or “Maybe you could host Thanksgiving at your house instead?” and I am not making fun here – in most cases there is a pretty simple solution that feels genuinely impossible to the Letter Writer because the past is so much with them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that the coping mechanisms that they developed to survive whatever happened in the first 500 words or so of their letter are things that are not helping them function now.

Therapy’s good for that. It lets you excavate all that past stuff in a safe way. It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life. It helps you tell new stories about what you want to do and what you need.

Q9: Partner & I don’t want homophobes at our wedding but we have lots of “disagree w/ the lifestyle” people in extended family. How do we find them out & not invite them? Have 50 conversations w/ people who don’t think they hate me but actually do? Scripts?

A9: Here’s one possible way to handle this:

Make a list of the people you want to be at your wedding. Not “because faaaaaamily” or “because mom will be mad if I don’t invite all the cousins” but the list of people whose faces you’d be genuinely happy to see that day. Are any of the known, vocal homophobes on that list? Cross them off.

Then invite the rest of the list.

If anyone left on the list of people you really want to see on your wedding day is secretly homophobic, they’ll self-select out. Or they’ll show up and they’ll behave themselves. Not a win, exactly, but maybe a draw?

If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, gives you shit about leaving off homophobic relatives, have a united front: “Wow, it’s so weird that you’d want us to invite someone who has said so many ignorant and terrible things about queer people to our big gay wedding.” “Well, Granny has made it pretty clear that she disagrees with our ‘lifestyle’, so why would we invite her, exactly?” 

Your wedding doesn’t have to fix your family, or their attitudes. It also doesn’t have to settle every old score with perfect fairness.

Congratulations, I hope it’s an awesome party.

























222 thoughts on “Short Answer Friday (Live Chat)

  1. Just commenting to nth the Broken Earth Trilogy. It is utterly refreshing, and unique, and beautiful, and sad (and there are no orcs in the fantasy world which is a welcome change, just saying).

    1. I loved also the Inheritance Trilogy. I prefer it in part because it is less sad. It also totally opened up for a friend of mine how it feels to be a woman constantly reading books about men. That was an interesting conversation.

      1. My fiancé was genuinely surprised to find out that I find the LOTR series boring for the fact that it’s a bunch of guys going on some important quest where they succeed and friendship eventually wins the day—while the limited female characters are not developed in any meaningful way, serving as decorative objects only existing in relation to the to men to either move the plot along in a sort of sexy grrrl power way or weepily pine for the heroes. That’s practically every geek/fantasy story ever, and probably why misogyny is rampant as fuck in the geek-o-sphere; it was never designed to include us.

        1. To be fair to Tolkien, he invented the modern fantasy genre. It’s not entirely his fault that he has a lot of imitators. (It is completely his fault that it never occurred to him to add a few more girls to the line-up, though. Even Lewis did better, and in nearly every other respect I find Tolkien the better Inkling by far.)

          1. It took me a loooong time to realize how ubiquitous that trope is in fantasy (and SF) because even when I was a little girl, I was almost universally able to identify with whoever the hero/es was/were, whether they were male, female, non binary, a gender, or even nonhuman.

            And while I do enjoy the Narnia books*, I totally agree with you regarding Tolkien vs Lewis.

            (*It also took me forever to realize they were religious allegories, and then only because I read that they were. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in a non-religious, non-churchgoing family.)

          2. I believe it was Robin McKinley who said that Tolkien wrote about women with his “teeth visibly clenched.”

        2. I love LOTR, but I think it deserves to be one excellent fantasy world rather than The Most Important Fantasy Series of All Time *sage dudely nods* It’s part of why I’m so thrilled about Broken Earth. The way magic and fantasy creatures work in the world building could inspire a whole armada of spinoffs, and I wouldn’t even be mad.

          1. I would love to find another fantasy or sf series with world building as detailed, interesting, intricate, and original as LOTR! The only thing I’ve found that’s even close is the Dune series.

        3. I still think Galadriel & Eowyn are total badasses, and two critically important characters. Eowyn accomplished something that none of the men, no matter how brave or powerful, could do; and Galadriel is arguably the most powerful Elf still living in Middle Earth.
          I wouldn’t call either one of decorative objects at all.

      2. Have you tried the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie? The main character (a ship AI!)’s culture doesn’t differentiate between male and female in their grammar, so everyone is “she” in the book. It’s really fascinating what it does to your brain to picture every character as ‘she’, and especially so when they go to a culture where they *do* differentiate, and people refer to some of the characters as “he”.

        Also, super well-written and interesting books!

    2. Also on the subject of books that should be on film, I am halfway through the Miles Vorkosigan saga like “Why is this not a TV show? So much awesomeness.”

      1. Seconded — although casting Miles appropriately would be a challenge.

        (Would be wonderful if they cast an actor with osteogenesis imperfecta, though — actual disabled representation of a disabled character!)

        Also, speaking of fabulous female characters, Bujold’s Cordelia is THE BEST, and one of my “how to be a good human” role models (without ever being treacly or goody-goody about it.) And I respect her ability to be ruthless when the situation demands it.

        Wild applause for the Vorkosigan books — although I STRONGLY suggest reading them in internal-chronology order.

        Captain — I love Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher, and the Clocktaur War books were SO GOOD!! ❤

        1. Clocktaur War was fantastic, I swallowed it whole

          While we’re talking books, and fantasy books with female leads in particular, can I bring up Jen Williams? I’ve read the first two of the Winnowing Flame and am currently reading Copper Promise, and IT’S AMAZING. Really interesting, twisty plot and worldbuilding; great, well-developed characters, male and female (no enbies that I know of), of various races and sexualities, with believable relationships; antagonists who make sense, who you can feel for. Even the Jure’lia, worm aliens whose only desire is to feast and destroy, are somewhat sympathetic??

          She was at Nine Worlds last year, but I hadn’t read her books then. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing her again!

    3. Gonna recommend Tamora Pierce’s books for anyone who likes fantasy as books that have awesome female heroines, great friendships, and tackle issues like sexism, classism, etc in a serious and hopeful-feeling way. Basically my comfort books. 🙂

      1. Having just reread the first two quartets, I will second this recommendation! Mercedes Lackey also tends to have some awesome female characters.

      2. Though it’s a pity about the weird and sometimes regressive relationship issues in the earlier books. I’m still not convinced that the start of Daine and Numair’s relationship isn’t ultimately coercive, and I’m also not sure why Daine is redlined in this comment but Numair passes spellcheck.

        1. I reread the Immortals series recently, and while I stand by my initial impression that the Daine-Numair relationship isn’t *coercive*, it never entirely stopped creeping me out a little bit. Relationship between a 30-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl in a setting where girls often marry at 16? Eh, sure, why not. Relationship between same when the girl was 13 at the time of their first meeting, and he spent a couple of years as her mentor? Even though it’s made explicit that he’s no longer her mentor? Icchhh.

          Tamora Pierce got a lot of pushback for that one. I suspect she’s considered any hint of power dynamics more carefully in subsequent books.

          (Both Daine and Numair are redlined for me.)

          1. Lots of YMMV, but what creeped me out a bit wasn’t their initial mentor/student relationship so much as the fact that, to me, Numair still feels like he’s acting as a mentor to Daine at the start of the fourth book? It’s been a while since I read that series though.

            Mostly I just reread her Protector of the Small series a lot. Kel is the best.

            (I rewrote that sentence with Numair and Daine’s names just to see if they were redlined, tbh. They were. So’s Kel. So is “creeped”, for that matter. Creeped is totally a word! 😛 )

          2. When I reread _In the Realms of the Gods_, I was looking out for that, and they did seem to be acting like equal partners in their travels. If I hadn’t known their history, I wouldn’t have thought it a teacher-student relationship. But knowing that it had been once … those dynamics leave an emotional imprint.

            Protector of the Small rocks. It’s one of my favorites of hers.

          1. Hm, I hadn’t really seen anything racist, but maybe I didn’t notice? I did notice that Trickster’s Choice was rather White Savior-y at times. IMO Trickster’s Queen was better.

          2. hmm that’s weird. 2 years ago I saw an incident where she did say something ignorant and then gave a thoughtful apology after receiving a lot of pushback, but I also saw a few incidents where words she said were taken totally out of context and twisted to make her seem really really awful. Is this recent as in this year or as in a year or two ago?

          3. Did she? Is there someplace I can google for this? It’s not that I don’t want to believe you, it’s more that I don’t want to believe you and I’m hoping I won’t have to.

        2. I read the Immortals books when I was the age of Daine and had a massive crush on my 14-years-older-than-me percussion tutor AND I desperately wanted to be a vet when I “grew up”. I identified so strongly with her and being able to project/process my feelings through those characters really helped me. As an adult I know that the Daine/Numair relationship is problematic but I still ship them wholeheartedly. But then, I’ve yet find a story that doesn’t have problematic relationships?

          1. Solidarity from someone else who just wanted to write ‘Daine Sarrasri’ in the ‘life aspirations’ box. I found the other quartets later and loved them too, but Daine will always be closest to my heart.

    4. I’m close to the end of _The Obelisk Gate_ and yeah, N. K. Jemisin is a magician with words. I just hope that when I get to the end of the series, she leaves me with a little hope amidst all that sadness. (No, don’t tell me. I’ll find out soon enough.)

      1. I’ll throw another one out there in this vein, in case folks haven’t read it: Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death is wonderfully written and tragic while somehow hopeful.

        Extreme trigger warnings though.

        1. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read by Nnedi Okorafor. I highly recommend the novella Binti (there are two follow on novellas that I’m saving for vacation or some sort of down time when I can savor them) …

      2. I’ve spent the past year blowing through all of N.K. Jemisin’s novels. I LOVE the Broken Earth trilogy & the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series, but I gotta say, Dreamblood – Killing Moon & Shadowed Sun – are vastly underrated. I’m almost done with Shadowed Sun and it’s really phenomenal.

    5. I would also strongly recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms book by Jemison. They’re less tight than the Broken Earth Trilogy, but much more epic and the sprawling (yet intimately personal) mythology was like nothing I’d ever read in fantasy. It really affected me. Also the third book is told from the POV of a queer person of color which is representation not only fantasy, but all of literature desperately needs.

      1. Also FYI Mary Robinette Kowal has been doing a lovely thread of SFF recs based on the last thing you read. I think I added 30 things to my list today alone.

  2. For Q2- the underpaid university contractor, I feel you pain! A few years ago, one of my fellow underpaid colleagues had HAD it, and he wrote up his budget showing how much he was paid a month, his rent, his student loan payments (since all these jobs require degrees) and sent it to the head of our department, noting that he was making negative $200 per month. And…it worked? The university responded quickly, raised staff salaries to the “median standard for our positions,” increased benefits and started a raise program (where previously I hadn’t gotten a raise in 5 years). Now I am 100% sure this only worked because the complainer was a young white cis man, but if you’re in the same position it may be worth a shot?

    1. LW2 here. That’s an amazing story, but very hard to picture happening at my university. My simultaneous curse and gift is that I’m the only person in my position (a stopgap FrankenJob created to keep my department from falling apart). On the one hand there’s no one to join forces with (so no collective action), but on the other hand bc I’m solo I have some direct contact with the dean (so they can’t pretend that they don’t know what my situation is).

      Or maybe I just need to channel cishet white man confidence. Who knows.

      1. LW2, I have no idea what country you are in, but suspect you are in the US.

        On the off-chance that you are in Australia:* Check your intitution’s EBA (Enterprise Bargaining Agreement) for temporary to permanent position provisions. It should be available on you institution’s intranet, if it is not publically available. You may also be able to contact the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) for assistance, though you may need to join and/or have a waiting period for non-urgent assistance.

        Good luck.

        * and for Aussies reading this who are in similar situations.

      2. If you’re singlehandedly keeping your department from falling apart, they need you. It might be worth looking around and seeing what other job options you have and using that leverage to try to get more pay/time off/whatever it is you need. (Then again, it might not; I know dealing with that sort of stuff is a huge pain. You know your situation better than I do.)

  3. Q2: I think we need a modified Ring Theory for non-crisis problems. Watching your vacation time expire because you weren’t able to use it is like watching part of your paycheck evaporate. It’s a real problem, but complaining about it to someone who has no paid vacation time is in poor taste.

    1. Complaining about not being able to take vacation time because you are SO busy, doing such Important Work, that Can’t be Delegated to someone else….is most of the time a person desperately trying to show how important they are (or think they are) or playing the martyr card. To say this to someone who doesn’t have vacation at all is condescending, cruel, and arrogant. On a good day I might say the person is just an asshat, but I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy.

      What would I say? “Huh, I wish I had such simple problems like that.” With a smile on your face. If they actually respond, you could say “as a contract worker I get (no/ x vacay days) but hopefully I’ll get a permanent salaried position too”. With a big smile. This may shut them up about with with a side helping of “I’d like to get a permanent position, please”.

      Good luck, hope you get a better job soon.

      (Also, yes, there are people who can’t use their vacation for very real, important reasons, or because work/boss/job sucks. I’m assuming the LW is not working with folks in that situation).

      1. Even if they have good reasons to not be using their vacation time, maybe they should, i dunno, complain about that to people who also have vacation time instead? 😛

        1. Thanks, Captain & Elenna & Jerseys mom. Honestly it’s great just to have someone acknowledge that this really does suck.

    2. For real. I missed Friend A’s bachelorette party (and a number of other wedding-related activities) due to living in a different country. Friend B spent a weekend IMing me to complain about how she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make the bachelorette party due to stuff cropping up at the last minute. In retrospect, I should have told her, “You really need to find someone else to talk to about this,” but what I really wish is that she had had the sensitivity to realize that I—a person who wasn’t going to be able to go despite really wishing she could—wasn’t the best audience for hearing about how she might not be able to go and how upset she was about it.

    3. It is not. You are being paid exactly the same whether you used the vacation time or not. Not taking it isn’t necessarily healthy for you, but it is absolutely NOT a loss of pay. I have had so many salaried people whine to me about this topic, people who are supposed to know basic math. And yeah, most of them are people who wouldn’t have been noticed if they did take a week away, they just want to sound impressive.

      1. It is literally a loss of compensation though. You take home the same number of dollars, but you work a greater number of days than was agreed to if you don’t take your vacation time–and presumably people are taking vacation time into account when they accept job offers.

    4. So I have kind-of a weird but opposite problem.

      In theory, I have 28 days vacation, 10 days holiday, and 12 days sick-time and I work a 40 hours week.

      In actuality, since I’m an American on salary, I work a 42 hour week to meet my required deadlines. And if I take any of that time, I will be working over the weekend or extended hours in the previous and/or next week to make those same god-damned-deadlines. So I have vacation time going unused because while it was offered as a perk to get people into the job, management has no intention of actually letting us use it.

      I know one man who did not take any time off for 18 months, which included two fiscal year rollovers, because of the work they were requiring him to do for a project. So that project ends, and he want’s to take 3 weeks off before the next one starts (which yes, he wasn’t needed in the office at that time) and HR is all “you can’t do that, rollover vacation is only held for 3 months past the end of the fiscal year, and you’ve only accrued 8 days so far this fiscal year.”

      There are times when I envy the paid-by-the-hour interns. They dont’ get paid if they don’t show up, but at least they aren’t lied to and gaslighted by management. “Oh, see how we give you all this time off! We’re such a wonderful place to work!”

      1. That’s also an awful situation to be in. I don’t know how much can be done about it in your situation, but collectively as employees, I think it’s important for us to be aware that PTO is part of our compensation and if you can’t use it, you’re not receiving the compensation you agreed to for your labor. I think it’s about time we had unions for everyone.

      2. Companies rely on the fact that they can give on paper benefits they have no intention of actually paying out. If you don’t have the “pull” (whatever that looks like in your industry) to single-handedly force your manager or HR to come through with some sort of real work/life balance, that’s when unions come into play. White collar unions are a thing, even in the US.

  4. Talking about greeting cards, there are various places that let you do photo cards for about $2/each. Specifically a certain large drug store has an app where I upload the photos, customize a tiny bit and an hour later I go pick it up. Super quick and people adore them.
    Could you upload a recent photo of your or your pet or whatever and send that? It’s fun and a little more personal.

  5. Q2, I think I’ve found two things that help with not lashing out when someone vents to me about a problem that’s smaller than problems I’m dealing with.

    First, make sure that I’m taking steps to deal with my own problems and that I have a safe place to feel my feelings and work through them. So, basically, make sure I’m going to therapy or a mutual support group and doing the “homework.” Reminding myself that I’m doing my best to resolve my problems and taking concrete steps each week reduced my general stress level day to day. This means I’m not so close to the emotional threshold of raging / yelling / doing something I regret when someone does something like complain about petty problems, or something that I rationally know isn’t a big deal but I feel intensely about.

    Second, in the moment, it’s not rude to try to change the subject or even remove yourself from the conversation. A sympathetic, “huh” and then a subject change to something positive could work, and the topic you enjoy might put you in a better mood anyway. But, it’s also okay to excuse yourself and just physically leave the room if the conversation seems overwhelming.

    The thing is, your emotions are valid; they aren’t wrong. And owning the fact that, say, income inequality is infuriating, and your coworker accidentally just threw this unfairness in your face.

    Maybe even get it all out in writing or find some way to process the fury over your pain and anxiety that comes from being in an unjust system and figuring out a way to bring that insight back around to making concrete, positive steps.

    Knowing I have the option to go do that later, and that the choice to walk away in the moment to cool off is harmless and often helpful, has definitely saved me a ton of unnecessary drama and preserved relationships I value.

  6. Q8 was very timely for me. I’ve recently selected a therapist for the first time, had a consult with her to confirm we both felt like it would be a good fit, and have an appointment scheduled upcoming. The decision is made, action has been taken, all I have to do from here is show up to the appointment.

    Logically I know it’s a good thing, especially since there are some issues that I thought I had successfully processed ages ago that are resurfacing in ways I don’t know how to handle, and just because it’s not a bad idea in general. But emotionally, I am CONSTANTLY revisiting this decision, asking myself why I think I need therapy when my problems are silly and minor and made-up, thinking of how self-absorbed I am to pay someone to listen to me talk about my fake problems (especially when I won’t talk about them with my close friends).

    (Yes I know this is all fake, and I would never think these things if I was advising someone else, but the jerkbrain is real!)

    Reframing it as “a look under the hood” or a sort of tune-up for an engine that’s already running is very helpful. I don’t have to be broken down on the side of the road for it to be a good idea to do some maintenance.

    1. Congrats on setting it up! There’s a huge start-up cost to breaking through the stigma of therapy I think. I’ve done therapy on and off for years but only now do I finally have a really good fit and am digging into breaking down self-sabotaging patterns.

      I honestly had some folks (therapists? I can’t remember now) who basically dismissed me as someone who’s “already made tons of progress!” but I can sit and examine my own patterns and go…if I’m so on top of my game then why am I drowning slowly when everyone else seems to be effortlessly swimming?

      My first time going to therapy I set it up to “help me develop career goals” cuz I didn’t think I had anything to work through. Ooh boy was I wrong. Starting with session one.

      Also! Stop when you’ve benefited as much as you can. Maybe you just need 4 sessions total and you’ll feel right as rain. good luck!

      1. Thanks! I suspect I’m going to need a good deal more than that…honestly I foresee my initial conversations with the therapist as something akin to what the Captain mentioned (not from my childhood, but still from something that happened nearly a decade ago). The specific problem I want help with right now is like the tip of the iceberg showing above the surface–but I know as soon as I try to explain that, I’m going to end up dredging the whole long history of how I got to this point. It’s going to take some digging, and that’s not the only thing I want to work on, just the most pressing!

        1. This could have been written by me. I’ve recently had my very first therapy session and struggled with the same self-doubt – what if I’m making it all up, what if these are just minor things I could handle all on my own, what if I take valuable time with a therapist away from someone who would need it much more than I do? And I told my therapist all of this in our first session. And I told her about that thing that happened a decade ago and I gave her a run down of all my relationship struggles since then. We spent an hour just talking about my “whole long history of how I got to this point”. Well, not the whole history. I’m sure there’s lots of things I could have added, but I didn’t need to give her a perfect, detailed view of where I’m coming from, just a general understanding of how I got here. I also told her about all the automatic thoughts that jumped into my head, everything my jerkbrain told me, even if it was because of things that she said. And it helped. Just aknowleding it and feeling like there’s someone who will work on these things with me helped. I can’t wait for our next session and to get started on this whole process and I hope it will go the same way for you. Best of luck. You’re not alone.

        2. That’s how I feel too. I can’t get into any problems of the ‘now’ without talking about how I got there, and sometimes that back story is extensive.
          It hasn’t been helped by the two crappy therapists I’ve so far seen (one was very young & didn’t seem to know what she was doing, the other felt like she was invalidating everything I tried to talk about.)

      2. @thanksforallthefish, if you were my friend, and you said something like the above… that you’re struggling when “everyone else seems to be effortlessly swimming”,

        That feeling is a real, valid, legit one, but it’s one that I might hear from that friend of yours that you identify as “effortlessly swimming” later that day.

        I find that people very often fall prey to imposter syndrome and this comparative struggle issue when they’re comparing their insides to everyone else’s outsides.

        If everyone keeps their head above water and only confide their difficulties and self-doubts to confidential, then each person will think that everyone else is rocking it while they’re just managing.

        1. Yeah, a lot of the feeling that you [general] are barely keeping your head above water while everyone else is swimming right along is the effect of comparing, basically, your behind-the-scenes and rough-cut footage to everyone else’s finished film. It seems to be particularly true in the age of social media; most people want to put their best foot forward (especially for people whose employers/potential employers might see their social media accounts), and what shows up on their social media is what they want to show, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it does lead to others reading this carefully curated series of images and text about someone’s life and not seeing the struggles and tears and work that we’re all (or certainly most of us) doing just to keep it all together.

  7. For Q9, we don’t actually know it’s a big gay wedding. It could be someone bi or pan marrying someone of a different gender who’s anticipating pushback for not inviting homophobes because they wouldn’t object to this marriage that they perceive as straight, even if it isn’t, really. In which case, it’s still ok to not invite homophobes, even if other people tell you about how they love you and would have wanted to show up and support you (because you know that they wouldn’t have approved so much if you’d married someone else).

    Also, if that’s the case, then the other, more secretive homophobes don’t self-select out. I really, really sympathize with problem of people who you aren’t sure about who might only be showing up because you’ll seem straight to them. This might also be scary because you can see the future bi invisibility stretching out ahead of you, and you don’t want to feel that at your wedding. That’s fair. I don’t think there’s a great solution to that, except maybe trying to make sure you’re out to people before the wedding so they can’t be in complete denial. But also, them refusing to acknowledge you doesn’t make your wedding any less about you, in all the parts of who you are and who you’ll continue to be.

    1. Also, you can ask for donations to GLAD or Lambda Legal or some other queer charity in lieu of presents or a shower or a bachelor party or the like… a mix of education and supporting the cause :). Couch it with a statement from both of you about bi visibility even in a hetero-seeming monogamous marriage (if that’s what’s actually happening) if you’re brave enough and don’t want any confusion…

      1. I was thinking something similar: Make it visible on the invitation that this is an important part of your life, and by RSVPing/attending they are giving aid and comfort, so that everyone gets the message: If you aren’t 100% supportive of who we are, then stay your ass at home.

        A friend put a note on her invitations about the wedding party, who had pledged a per/guest donation to [important cause], kind of like Pledge A Protest, so that just by showing up people were sending money in that direction.

        Or dig through their facebook.

      2. There’s some fantastic bi/multisexual-specific charities and organizations that might be perfect for this. #StillBisexual seems like it might be a good fit, especially if LW is specifically bi. It’s also the only one I can remember off the top of my head (whoops), but there are more out there, and they typically get much less funding than organizations for other specific identities or for organizations that support all queer identities.

        Making a wish list of items by independent LGBTIAP+ artists might also be a good way to show your support while also displaying your queerness.

    2. Invisipan, your comment is spot on, exactly right, and makes me feel so very very seen. Thank you. ❤️

    3. Yeah, this is basically what I figured (that the LW either isn’t out to their extended family, or the homophobes are in denial), since they said the homophobes don’t think they hate the LW.

      1. I initially read that line more as the relatives being in denial about how hateful and hurtful an “I just don’t agree with your ‘lifestyle'” attitude really is. I.e., that the LW has relatives who would claim not to hate them, but simultaneously say homophobic things.

        Although I can see how the other interpretations I’m reading here could make sense too.

    4. (one or both of them could also be ace, btw. 🙂 also probably lots of other possibilities i’m not thinking of right now)

    5. Yeah, reading again that’s what I think it is too. It would be a wider question of both ‘how do I not have people I don’t want at my wedding?’ combined with the unpleasant ‘as an invisible member of the LGBT+ community I’m often blindsided by homophobes including in my own family’.

      Recently I found out my mum’s boss is homophobic. It isn’t really surprising to me as I grew up in the same church that she still attends, but it did mean this person who I babysat for, did part time admin more and was asked by her my commission price for a portrait of her dog does not know I am bi, and all the complicated thoughts I’m having about that. 😦

    6. “see the future bi invisibility stretching out ahead of you” ❤ ❤ ❤

  8. Lw 1 if I were in your shoes I would start doing the math for is what ever good she brings to this friendship is worth the drama that she crates for herself (also I am not sure if I read it wrong but does she expect you to stop working with the people she doesn’t like?). She doesn’t seem to be in a good emotional place and she might start baliming you any day for some perceived slight.

    1. I feel LW1’s problem will solve itself very soon after she uses any of the Captain’s scripts, at which point she will become one of the terrible, selfish, unfriendly bullies who need to be cut out of Friend’s life.

  9. For Q4, I’d also recommend making a list of all the projects you are wanting to tackle when you are done with your break to help get them off your mind. Maybe even add a calendar reminder when your 3 week break is over to read through your project list so your jerk-brain will know you will get back to it and can’t forget about it. Otherwise, your brain will have an excuse to keep reminding you about your projects when you are trying to take your break.

    Also, thanks for the answers to Q3, I ❤ reading and always looking for new items to add to the TBR list 🙂

  10. Q6: If you are in the US and are looking for providers with competency around alternative sexuality and lifestyles, open relationships, polyamory, nonmonogamy, swinging, as well as BDSM, kink, leather, LGBTQIA communities, and other sexual minorities, then a great resource is The Open List

  11. Oh wow Q7, are you me? I waste too much brain-bandwidth berating myself for “doing nothing”, even though I spend a working day a week volunteering as a counselor for a mental health charity (the irony is not lost). Why? Because it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I enjoy doing it. It works towards a long term goal of doing it professionally. Same with the conservation work, and volunteering in the community garden – it’s fun, it’s good for my mental heath, so it can’t be “good”.

    I feel in Anglo-American society we’re steeped in this Calvinist culture that of it’s good, it has to hurt. That it’s not a “worthy” action unless it involves sacrifice and making yourself miserable in the process. If you get warm-fuzzies, the action is somehow tainted with the sin of Pride, even if the action has observable positive effect. And It. Is. Such. Nonsense.

    So, ask yourself, what are the outcomes? Has recipient’s day been made a little bit better? Has that charity got more resources for fighting the good fight? Has that frog hopped off into the bushes and not died on a hot pavement? Yes? Then that’s what matters. Unless you’re boring on about how much of a good person you are and how that absolves you of any responsibly for when you inevitably do fuck up, which I very much get the impression you’re not, then what earthly difference does it make if you felt good about it or not.

    Feel good about it. That’s how the pleasure centers in our brains encourage us to keep doing something. Enjoy the positive reinforcement for making the world incrementally better.

    1. Outcome is everything. I do a lot of charity stuff, and at the end of day if you’ve given your time / money in a way that is beneficial to the charity most of them couldn’t give two hoots what your motivation is (unless you’re obviously evil…).

      You Have Helped.

      WHY you’ve helped is between you and your brain – I concentrate on the fact that I can near-guarantee the charity doesn’t care, and try to shush any brain-noises.

    2. Yeah, feeling good about helping is a good thing! It motivates you to keep doing it. Think of it this way: if you could choose between a society where everyone feels good about helping others and does it to get warm fuzzies and feel good about themselves–or one where everyone only enjoys things that concretely benefit themselves, and any help given is either quid-pro-quo or out of grudging acknowledgement that somebody ought to do it… which would you want to live in?

      If you were running a charity, and one of your volunteers said to you, “I really like volunteering here! It feels good to know that I’m making a difference,” would that seem like a bad thing? I don’t think it would, or should.

    3. Yes, count ‘enjoying helping people’ as a gift you’ve been given that helps you help others! More people will be helped – it’s good!

    4. Haha, Wolfie, I was just about to type the exact same words! – Q7, Are you me?
      I don’t have the solution to this unfortunately, except to try to be kind to yourself, but just wanted to say, you’re not alone! We will get through this!

    5. +1, also what I was going to say.

      And interesting that you blame “Anglo-American society” because I’m German and I was a little bewildered by the idea that helping people and getting warm fuzzy feelings because you’ve helped them makes you selfish and your help not count. Like… this sounds great to me? People are helped, you get a benefit from helping, everyone is happy, everyone wins. The fact that helping others doesn’t involve you being miserable makes it more likely that you’ll be able to keep helping over a long period of time. I’m not seeing any problem or anything to be ashamed of here.

      1. Which is obviously not to say that the OP’s feelings aren’t real and valid (and deserve to be explored with a therapist), but just chiming in on the “this could be a cultural problem?” thing.

        1. Yes, it’s definitely a cultural thing in the US, a leftover from our Puritan founders. If it’s pleasurable/enjoyable, it’s bad/sinful!

          I don’t understand how people can live like that, and I honestly never will.

  12. Q1 – You may also want to start observing how your network is interacting with this friend on the professional end of this. Is her blacklisting and badmouthing people resulting in fewer opportunities for her? It sounds like it might be if you’re getting invited to events that she isn’t. And if that’s the case, are YOU getting associated with her (and her attitudes) based on proximity? I’m going stone cold BUSINESS for a second here, and leaving the friendship out. Are YOU losing – or about to start losing – income because your friend is quick to take offense and then vocal (in what sounds like an unprofessional way) about it in professional settings? And if that is – or could become – the case, are you okay with that? If you value the friendship above your business, that is 100% okay and you are allowed to make that choice, but make sure you’re very clear that it is a possibility so you can knowingly choose to do that. Because if she continues like this, and you’re known to be aligned with her, it could damage your career too.

    You may want to practice professional ways to disassociate when other people ask about things this friend has said. You don’t have to call her out, but you do want to show that YOU are professional and easy to work with. Example: “Oh, I heard (Your Friend) say that X was terrible about emailing -blah blah blah.” You: “I haven’t had the same experience as (Your Friend), so I can’t necessarily agree. When I worked with X on project ABC, I felt like things went very well.” Or something like that – you get the idea.

    Captain’s scripts for your conversations with your friend are good, and I really think you need to have this convo with her sooner rather than later. So you can get a clear picture in your head what she’s expecting from you, and you can make some informed (but possibly difficult) decisions about how to proceed.

  13. Q7: To my knowledge, selfish helping usually is about the helper looking good in front of an audience, or about feeling in a position of power.

    What you describe (feeling good just because you got to make other people feel better, feeling bad if you don’t) sounds like empathy working correctly – what kind of attitude did you think you should have? No emotional effect at all, as in indifference? So that your help actually FEELS like a sacrifice, with no emotional benefit at all? It sounds like that is your ideal, and I’m wondering where you picked that up, because I’ve never encountered that before. No sarcasm, just honest curiosity.
    Anyway, I agree with the captain – you should discuss your ideas and feelings about this with a professional. That’s a really unusual attitude to have, and feeling this guilty about helping others (while feeling bad if you don’t) doesn’t sound sustainable.

    1. Huh, I should have refreshed. Apparently there’s more people who feel like that – I honestly never encountered it before. My point still stands – selfish helping looks vastly different. If, in a situation with no witnesses, where you don’t know the person and would never see them again, you would STILL help, you aren’t selfish. Your empathy is just wired to your other emotions in a way that rather reliably causes altruistic behavior, which is perfectly reasonable and straightforward in such social animals as humans.

    1. I know, I love her and was super happy to see her mentioned! ‘The Seventh Bride’ is the biz.

    2. I had the same reaction, I love her stuff so much. I finally got my husband to read the Clockwork series about a month ago and he was like “You were right, that was really good!” Of course it was! Clockwork series and Seventh Bride are probably my favorites.

    3. YES. And her books under Ursula Vernon are, honestly, genius – I’ve yet to find a better author for reluctant readers. (Summer in Orcus, in particular, is a take on portal fantasies I was utterly charmed by.)

    4. So much squee! (I was a little taken aback at the ‘romance’ part; I mean, it’s hopelessly romantic in parts, but that’s not where the focus is.

      As a long-term Pratchett fan, I’d seriously put her in the same category – that was one of the few non-Pratchett comic novels that has _everything_: the deep thoughts about good and evil and how to proceed, the humanity and ‘how to not be a dick to your friends’, the ‘who is “human”, anyway’, the adventure and tension and many, many moments of ‘I didn’t see that coming’. Not saying ‘everyone should read’, but if you like fantasy, adventure, and D&D… read it.

      1. Noted! I’m a lifelong Pratchett fan- I even have a full sleeve tattoo inspired by his writing – and I’m so down to read something that even slightly resembles his writing!

        I’m also a giant D&D nerd, so there’s that, as well 😀

  14. For LW 6, once I identify a few potential primary healthcare providers, I schedule brief appointments (essentially interviews) with them to see if I think we would communicate well and to get a sense of the way their office is run. I’ve never been turned down for this and feel reassured that my family and I will receive good care. It has worked out well.

  15. My dad is an MD (currently doing research, has been on and off research vs practice for the past oh 40 years) and I just remember being about 20 and asking my mom how you go about finding a doctor/dentist/opthamologist when you move to a new city. Literally all she said was “well I married a doctor so I just let him figure it out”. That was the least helpful advice I’ve ever gotten from my mom.
    But definitely asking people you know if they like their doctor. And realizing that if you go to one appointment with them and don’t like what they are saying (my last doctor tried to tell me I had a vitamin D deficiency when I was in range, just in the low side) you don’t have to stick with them.

    1. Side note, but the official “old” ranges for vit D are suspected to be too low by a lot of the med/scientific community, so that was probably a good sign rather than a bad.

    2. Or like the doctor I went to for a cold, who kept harping on about pap smears and wouldn’t shut up when I said I’m not sexually active so I’ve been told it’s not necessary. And kept going on in detail about what counts as “sexually active”, as if I was too dumb to understand this. It was like he couldn’t comprehend why a woman my age would not have had sex. It was bizarre and creepy and I never went back to him, and actually made a complaint to the clinic about how uncomfortable he’d made me.

  16. Q7, Réné Descartes pondered the same question — isn’t all philanthropy really just feeding our ego? He came up with two thoughts that I have helpful sometimes: one — your ego isn’t “bad” in and of itself. It is a kind of tool or horse that you can use to get shit DONE. A strong ego gives energy, motivation, power, etc. As long as is your SERVANT and not your boss (aka knowing when to let go), it’s not a crime to have an ego that gets fed sometimes. Obvs not at the expense of others.

    The second, more practical, take he has is, really who CARES why anyone gives money to a good cause? — the good cause still gets the benefit. I hope this is at least a little helpful.

    1. This question made me think of that Friends episode where Joey and Phoebe were arguing about whether there is such a thing as a truly selfless act, and he said her giving to charity didn’t count because it made her feel good. Unfortunately this idea that true giving must hurt is fairly widespread.

  17. Regarding going to therapy, just be aware that in order to bill your insurance your therapist has to give you a diagnosis which then becomes a part of your medical record. Now if you don’t have any serious mental illnesses and are just seeking therapy for an emotional tune-up, you will most likely get a fairly benign diagnosis or something like an adjustment disorder or Unspecified Anxiety Disorder. But I’ve worked with people who’ve gotten (what I consider to be) misdiagnoses of significant mental health disorders that later impacted their ability to do things like get life insurance. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from therapy (as a therapist I’d be putting myself out of a job that way), but I would recommend that as part of the boring business-y part of your intake session with any therapist you ask them what they are planning to use as your diagnosis and make sure they explain it to you (a lot of them won’t unless you ask).

    1. LAF, as a social worker and somebody who has attended therapy for the last 8 years, I would like to suggest that this model is not universal within the United States.

      Using a diagnosis for coding for insurance is very common in medical settings, yes, but plenty of therapists work outside that setting and use other models (for example, my therapist charges on a sliding scale instead of taking insurance; I can afford my therapy, and she doesn’t need to give me a diagnosis she’s not 100% behind).

      That is to say, LW, LAF’s right that it’s a good idea to bring up with a therapist what role a diagnosis will play, but please don’t assume that you MUST get a diagnosis in order to get therapy, or to pay for therapy. That is true in certain contexts, but not all.

  18. Q7: I believe that people act in their best interests at all times. Sometimes we don’t balance well between short-term interests (bed is cozy!) and long-term interests (being on time to work is good for my career), but we are always fulfilling some need we have.

    You avoid feeling bad by pitching in to help coworkers who are under deadline. You get a warm fuzzy from your friend loving the perfect present you found for them. You give to charity–anonymously or not–because in doing so, you conform to your own expectations of how good members of a community behave.

    That last is important; we all have an image of ourselves and usually we want to think of ourselves as Good People. If we include Donates to Charity as an aspect of being a Good Person, then we want our actions to match that belief in order to maintain that image of ourselves as a Good Person. This is not a flaw. It doesn’t make us selfish. It’s how people work, and how society functions. This is a good thing.

    1. Q7: allowing yourself to become complacent and self-satisfied while making the world a worse place is what’s selfish. Think Donald Trump.

      Finding pleasure in creating pleasure in others, feeling guilty for problems not of your making and working to fix them, and doing the work to second guess the motivations behind it?

      That’s not selfless. Because you’ve not reached the Buddhist ideal of departing your sense of self and existing only through what you do. Ok, not *selfless*. Whoop-de-doo.

      It is positive. It’s kind. It’s helpful. It makes the world better, even safer, for people who aren’t you.

      I promise, those people you help, if you asked “would you prefer if I followed st Augustine’s philosophy and did this purely because it’s right hating it all the while, or if I felt good when I helped you and went home with a smile ony face because I enjoy talking with you?” would only answer one way.

      Study the philosophy of ethics, get your teeth into the paradoxes that appear (like the paradox of altruism), but in life, people want you to do the kind thing with a kind heart and *you are*

  19. I think the follow up to Q1 is “how do I handle it when my friend is calling something assault/sexism/harassment, and I just…really don’t think it is?”

    “I get that you don’t like him, but I need to think of my career” in response to a #metoo story, or even “That email is perfectly innocuous and I think you’re making a big deal out of nothing” are things I would struggle to make myself utter to a woman who is talking about feeling harassed. Most of the time, women *understate* these things, not overstate.

    But, instances in which you think the accuser is the one being unreasonable DO exist, so it might be necessary. But ugh is it ever painful to find yourself thinking phrases from the Apologist Bingo Card.

    1. I think the key in that situation is to not pretend that you’re siding with your friend. There’s not going to be a good way to deal with it (abusers ruin everything), but own what you’re doing – “I believe you, and I’m so sorry, but I am going to take this job anyway. Do we need a moratorium on work talk for the time being?” Like, give the friend agency in deciding what would make her feel safe. Don’t pretend you can play both sides, or that it won’t affect the friendship at all.

      1. Would you say something different in the rare case that you really truely didn’t believe them? I wouldn’t want ‘I believe you’ to become a meaningless platitude that people say automatically without any meaning behind it, but OTOH neither would I want to set myself up as some big judge, or be pointlessly hurtful… Is it an acceptable white lie? Or would you find a different phrase in that situation?

        1. Really truly don’t believe them like you think they’re lying?

          I’d seriously consider burning the relationship if I had reason to believe that the other person would outright lie about serious things, especially when the whiff of the rumor of the idea that some people might lie about sexual assault gets blown up into “all women lie all the time” by the mras of the world. One legitimate case would get spun around for decades if they could prove it.

          1. There’ “lying” and then there’s “they genuinely believe it was harassment/abuse/etc but their sense of fear is coming from past trauma and not a current situation” which is so hard to respond to.

            I think the best you can do is ask lots of probing “You seem to feel really threatened by this person, can you help me understand why?” kinds of questions that culminate in “I respect you feel really threatened, but what you describe doesn’t rise to a level I consider harassment–it sounds like you just had a normal-level conflict. If there is other information I should consider, tell me, but I have to proceed with the information I have, and the information I have isn’t anything that would make me stop working with that person or smear their name.” Then follow the Captain’s advice to own it and be clear about your position and accepting that may affect your friendship.

            I recommend Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse for exploring this dynamic further. (Caveats that she has a tendency to take good macro ideas and apply them in micro ways I side-eye (‘we owe our communities and ourselves genuine attempts at conflict reduction’ does not equal ‘we owe individual dudes endless conversations about why we’re not into them’, chap– in particular she has only ever dated women and doesn’t seem aware of her own blind spots around straight dude power dynamics in dating). But overall it’s been a hard but useful read. Her main thesis is that we live in a society that undereacts to abuse but over reacts to conflict, and that creates heaps of problems. She spends a lot of time exploring this dynamic and how it plays out in the personal, societal, and state levels. She really digs into this dynamic being discussed–how do you respond as an individual and a community when an accusation of abuse has been made, particularly when it does not appear to be substantiated? (someone genuinely thinks they were abused but they just had conflict and now wants you to shame, blame, and exclude the ‘abuser’, which you don’t think is warranted but don’t want to be an abuse apologist about). It’s not perfect, but it is a thought-provoking read.

        2. Maybe “I hear you” or something similar? But really. Believe women about these things. Examine your biases if you don’t.

  20. That last tommy and tuppence is so creepy (or should I say wicked?). I think the video version made the right call turning it into a mrs. Marple instead. (IIRC)

  21. Q7: I’ll let you in on a little secret: those warm fuzzies are totally normal. I promise you. Not only that, expected! A charity, for example, if they’re doing their job right, will work to give you as much of those warm fuzzies as possible so you are more likely to support them again sometime (hopefully soon). If you’re getting the warm fuzzies and whoever is the recipient is benefiting, then congratulations! You have participated in the age-old human process of reciprocity. Humans are pretty good at it by now, and it’s one of the main reasons we’re all here.

    The only concern is when you’re getting the warm fuzzies and the recipient is not. Then you have a problem. But trust other people will use their words and tell you if there’s a problem. Otherwise: you sound lovely. Keep doing lovely things.

    1. The leading economic theory about why people give is called “warm glow” which is just a fancy way of saying warm fuzzies. (Prestige is another.)

  22. For Q6 some times your insurance list or zoc doc can be wrong both of these list contact info so even if there is make an appointment on line i always follow up with a call before my appt to double check they do take may insurance because some times the lists are not the most up to date
    Also if you get any blood tests/labs or like mri etc outside the dr office specifically ask if it will be sent/processed by a facility in your insurance network or not because while it seems like they would do that automatically its not always the case

  23. Q9. As a person who invited people to their big gay wedding and got a little flack for it (we invited only people we knew. we had been together for 5 yrs, if we never met someone’s husband, wife, or sig. other then: nope they were not invited. That also went for family. We invited family, but not everyone. Like we inivted aunts and uncles but not necessarily their adult children. bc again: 5 years, not interested in meeting us as a couple? not getting invited.) It worked for us. We only had people we actually knew who were interested in being happy with us for the big day. It honestly made our day better and easier b’c we knew every single person in that room was as excited as we were.

    Also, homophobes will make themselves known. Be prepared for this. I had one relative who called to say that “they cannot reconcile what we are doing with their version of God and will not feel comfortable coming to the wedding.” They asked if they could come to the reception to see family. Knowing this was something that might happen both of us had sorta prepped speeches in our heads. Mine was along the lines of “We only want people who want to celebrate the whole day with us.” Basically saying no ceremony, no reception. And that I hoped that by understanding how important their religion was to them they would understand how important this day was to us and that there were no hard feelings. Several years later I received a very nice apology about not attending our wedding and that they had done a lot of work and reached a realization about how homophobic it was and how they are working on themselves to make changes in their lives to be less so. I guess my point is being up front, but not backing worked for me AND it made a relative do their own work on themselves.

    1. Pretty nervy to say “I won’t come to your wedding because reasons, but I’ll take advantage of your party to catch up on my socializing.”
      But excellent! that they saw the light and are coming around. Better late than never, I guess?

      1. Q7 I think you can argue that insisting that you have to feel the ‘right’ thing when you give for it to count is actually more self-indulgent or egotistical than just enjoying the good feeling! lt’s giving your spiritual or character growth, or how being charitable affects _you_ and gives you a morally edifying experience, a bit too much of the focus.

        If helping benefits the person, then the fact that you’re doing it because it makes you feel good when doing it is either a) a good thing, or b) just irrelevant one way or another.

        Keep helping, and try not to worry so much about whether you’re feeling the ‘right’ things. Just keep helping.

        Personally I think it’s wonderful that helping people makes you feel good. But I think it’s even more wonderful that you’re helping people, period.

      2. “I won’t come to your wedding because I think it’s sinning, but I will eat your food and drink your booze.” Nice.

        1. This is very useful information! I think that a person who suggests only coming to the reception probably themself doesn’t see it that way, but rather thinks they are being as polite as they possibly can with the religious beliefs they have. Maybe they only suggested it to be polite and willing to compromize, and are actually relieved that they don’t need to come and try to be nice and not offend anyone. Indeed in many situations it would be a good solution to skip as little as possible of the day program. But put this way, I see that in this kind of situation it wouldn’t be so and it’s best to skip the whole thing if you have religious objections to one part of it. Personally I would probably just say I’m not able to come, so I wouldn’t have to reveal the reason.

  24. Re: greeting cards, if you can find a cute boutique that sells stuff by local craftspeople/artists, they often have blank greeting cards. I sent some of my friends cards of Alien riding a Big Wheel in a Japanese garden. It was awesome!

    1. Yes! There are so many artists/artisans who make beautiful cards. Funky boutiques, local bakeries, craft fairs, farmers markets.
      I just got a set of blank cards with *gorgeous* photos of local birds, taken by a local photographer.
      A pretty card with two lines in your own handwriting goes a long way.

    2. There are also lots of artists who sell online. Searching around on Twitter or Etsy can find you lots of offbeat cards.

      If self-promotion is allowed here (and if it’s not, so sorry Cap! please delete this comment!), I also make oddball greeting cards for things I don’t see elsewhere. Cards reminding your friends to take care of themselves, or “sorry I was a bad friend because depression ate me,” or covertly hostile Thank You cards for gifts that come with strings attached, etc.
      They’re available here:

  25. Q6: I used to go to a GP as my primary care doc. I had to see a pulmonologist to get cleared for surgery once (yay, lifetime asthma!), who told me I could (in many cases) use a specialist as a PCP, so I switched my primary over to the pulmonologist. Saves a step, you know? Your plan’s website will be able to do those kinds of filters for you. And then, if you need other care, ask the PCP for recs. Where does she go for a root canal? Maybe that will be helpful. Plus, a simple google search gets you further these days than it used to, with background info and patient reviews readily handy.

    1. Definitely seconding the strategy that once you find a provider you like for one area, asking them (and their staff!) for recommendations for providers for other care. We have a PCP we love, so once we had to choose a pediatrician for our then-newborn, we asking him as well as his fantastic nursing staff where they send their kids. Several of them glowingly recommended the same person, which is how we wound up with an utterly amazing pediatrician.

  26. re: Q7, YES to what others have said about our Calvinistic et al. culture that insists we suffer if our efforts are to count for anything.
    I have always felt guilty about how much I enjoy my volunteer activities. Even as a (former) hospice volunteer/grief workshop leader, I felt guilty when people act like I’m doing something so heroic–because I LEARN SO MUCH, and felt like my heart & soul had grown a hundred-fold. When I confessed to my wise-woman daughter, she said sardonically, “So you should volunteer to do stuff you HATE?” I laughed out loud.
    Simple. Easy to remember. And good to know.

  27. Q7: Whenever I start questioning my own motivations like this, I try and think back to my reaction to one of the lectures from the couple of intro psych courses I took in college. It was the lecture where the professor talked about a number of different studies that showed people do nice things for others not out responsibility or inherent goodness but because it was literally pleasurable to help other people. One of the takeaways was that true altruism may not be possible for us as a species. Our prime motivator for doing apparently selfless things may always be inherently selfish. While the professor presented this in a mostly matter of fact manner, I remember there being a bit of a sad, wistful edge to both his tone and a lot more of that same feeling in the way most of my classmates received that information. A feeling of shame that our most noble pursuits might always be motivated by our own personal benefits.

    It boggled my mind! I was sitting there watching my class react to the possibility that we as a species might have a fundamental capacity to *enjoy* helping others, that there might actually be some truth to the idea that on average people are good at their core, with … distress? So what if it’s not the platonic ideal of selfless altruism? Who fucking cares? Oh no, a good samaritan might actually *like* helping others and that could lead to them… doing it some more! What a catastrophe! What if this further spiraled into us creating a utopia for everyone but no one ever reached the ideological purity of true enlightenment? However will we cope?!

    Yet on a personal level, I have before and since then asked these exact same questions of my own motivations. Am I doing this to help someone or just because it makes me feel and/or look good? And these questions are definitely important at an individual level! There innumerable ways that doing a good thing for others can be bad and one big category of them is when the good thing also unfairly benefits yourself. Examining and reflecting on their own motivations is how generally good people try and keep themselves from falling for that trap. But it turns out that on a personal level it is hard to separate out “unfairly beneficial to me” from “gave me any benefit whatsoever.” The latter is not wrong at all, but we’re worried about giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. I find remembering my reaction to that lecture very helpful when I’m having that kind of self-doubt. How would I feel if I knew that most of the rest of the world was acting that way with those motivations? It helps me look at the situation more fairly, separating out that worry that I might be going easy on myself. Another variation might be asking yourself how you would feel about a person that you generally respected as a good person telling you that they were doing those things for those reasons.

    1. I think it’s possible for people to be so wrapped up in feeding their ego of What a Selfless Person They Are that they’re not actually thinking about what benefits the recipients. High school church groups on “voluntourism” trips to Belize, I’m looking at you.But that doesn’t mean all warm fuzzies about charity is bad.

      1. Absolutely. As with many things in life, it depends on how accurate their self image is.

    2. Ditto to all this.
      Q7, I used to feel guilty that I tended to do only good things that made be feel better doing them, until I heard a psychologist/sociologist/can’t remember talk about the role of positive feedback in generosity and helpfulness. IIRC, they said the warm afterglow of doing something nice probably helped develop cooperation and altruism in humans. We help each other because it feels good to help each other.
      What this person was saying is that it’s normal and right to support causes and do things that make you feel good when you do it, so stick to the causes and good acts that make you feel good. If you don’t get the positive feedback, you’ll probably stop doing it. Use the positive feedback!

      Basically it comes down to: good people do good things because they want to. Why do they want to? Because it makes them feel good. The most “selfless” person ever did their selfless thing because they *wanted* to.

    3. I also remember boggling at the idea that the impossibility of pure altruism makes us all bad people somehow.

      What does a good person look like to you? Is it somebody who does a good deed, sees the positive effects, and feels nothing at all? Can’t good people be delighted by doing good?

  28. Finding docs:

    Ask coworkers! Even for therapists. I found my bestest therapist ever from talking to a coworker – and not one that I was super close with or anything. But he had weight-loss surgery and was in therapy and was talking about how great this guy was and so I asked for his name. I will admit that while I work for a very big corporate bank, the work environment is very far from toxic and so people can be open.

    And always read reviews on yelp/healthgrades and any other sites. And if you feel the teenie-weeniest bit squicky about a doc, fire them (you don’t really have to fire them) and find someone new. You do not have to put up with doctors who don’t listen to you or take your concerns seriously. And it’s always best to establish a relationship before something goes pear-shaped with your health. And always be up front with your docs about expense concerns for any medications – they may have coupons or other meds they can prescribe.

    As for finding a dentist, call a periodontist and ask whose work they like. I’ve run into a few offices that won’t do it but I’ve run into more that will give me a few names of dentists they like. And while I don’t get real dental work all that often, it’s good to know my dentist is competent if I need it.

  29. Q1: I’d be really careful about your friend. She seems to turn on people quickly and completely. She’s likely to isolate herself and you’d be wise to not be stuck being isolated with her. Also, anyone who poop-talks others so thoroughly over very little is just dangerous. What’s she going to do to you when you piss her off? And if someone susses out that you’re close friends, are they going to think you’re a vindictive weirdo like she is? Being known as close to the vindictive weirdo could work in your favor (man, Q1 can work with anyone) or not so much (oh yeah, Q1 and Weirdo hate everyone – someone forgot to put “Kind Regards” in an email and they still haven’t gotten over it).

    And worrying and dreading how she’s going to respond to your success is not the sort of thing you do with great friends. I am guessing you’re hiding a decent amount from this friend in order to keep the peace. I cannot imagine trying to control who my friends work with beyond the indisputably evil (toxic assholes, rapists, serial harassers).

    1. This is a self-limiting problem, I’m afraid. If the friend really is as Q1 describes her, one strike and Dead To Me, it’s only a matter of time until Q1 ends up on the blacklist herself.

      1. That’s what I was thinking as well. It sounds like she’ll end up cutting LW-Q1 off for some reason or another.

  30. Q6: I recently had to select a general practitioner, and did not like the first one, but did like the second one. Here are some things that were not obvious to me at first:
    1. Not every provider can take new patients, so save yourself some time by asking that question first.
    2. You might be able to find a provider group in your network, which could give you more flexibility for appointments (e.g. main provider is on vacation, but another provider in the group can see you.)
    3. You can also look for “general practitioner” in addition to the specialties the Captain mentions.
    4. Always confirm with the provider’s office that the provider takes your insurance. Do not just trust the insurance website. If the website is out of date and you go to the appointment, you will have to pay out of pocket.
    5. Check your policy, but a once a year appointment with your primary care provider should be FREE – no deductible!
    6. If you do not like your provider for any reason, don’t go back! Just find another one for your next (free) annual appointment.

    Finally, this doesn’t really apply to the LW b/c they are already looking for a provider, but for anyone else – it is important to have a primary care provider, especially as you get older. In my friend group, we have had several health scares lately, and care has been delayed in some cases b/c the person was always healthy and didn’t have a primary care provider, so they had to wait to be seen as new patient. By having an established primary care provider, you will be able to get appointments more quickly during a health crises. Wish it wasn’t this way of course, but it is, and I’ve see the consequences recently.

    Hope this helps 🙂

    1. Your points about insurance and back-up practitioners are really great.

      My own approach is to see which local hospital is covered by my insurance and to look at the doctors affiliated with it. Usually I can then narrow the list down by geography/gender/specialty/taking new patients to a handful or two. Then I look at reviews on Google and Yelp and look for patterns. (So the doctor who everyone loves but has terrible staff might be a no for you, for example, but the doctor who’s loved by people who like no-nonsense attitudes and hated by people who think the doctor overexplains, might fit, etc. You’ll know what feels right for you if you read enough of them.) One minor caveat though – the doctors with lots of good reviews also tend to have long waiting lists; if you anticipate needing to see your doctor on short notice on a regular basis, you might have better luck with one that people seem to like but doesn’t have a fan base.

      I’ve found seven practitioners and one midwifery practice in two states using this method, and the only one I didn’t like was the partner of the one I did like and only saw on accident.

      Good luck!

  31. LW6: In case this is you, I at one time felt VERY uncomfortable asking people for advice on a primary doc. I was having some low-level but kind of complex health problems and I realllly didn’t want to talk to people I knew about them. But in the end, I did–the annoyingness of our health system came up with a colleague, and he mentioned that his gf had some complicated stuff (he didn’t say what) and that she found a really good doctor, so I said, “hey, I’m also dealing with some stuff I can’t figure out, I would love your doc’s name.” We didn’t even talk about what was going on with me or his gf, and we haven’t since except once when I thanked him for the rec. I was so anxious about asking around but finding this new doc was one of the best things that’s happened to me in the past few years.

  32. Re: leaving out homophobes. I don’t think you need to test for idealogical purity here. I think good manners and an open mind goes a fuck of a long way. In my long gay life I’ve found that I way prefer people who may not have 100% worked through their homophobia BUT know how to 100% not make that my problem (eg when we are at a family event together they are pleasant and kind and supportive) to people who are not perhaps not homophobic but shitty or judgemental in other ways. Rooting out homophobes is unnecessary because if people are able to comport themselves with such grace and dignity that any residual homophobia is barely perceptible, that is good enough for me. Bonus: those people are often the ones who end up doing very important ally work (which they would never call “ally work”) in unlikely places like conservative places of worship/schools/political offices.

    1. Yeah, a lot of us ‘homophobes” are not actually homophobic, y’know? I don’t agree with your lifestyle choices, there are some of mine You don’t agree with, that’s how it goes. Yes, I will politely decline your invite to your big gay wedding (‘select out’ because its not my cup of celebration).. but will invite you & partner over for dinner after (and before!), because you are my friend. Yeah, you are correct, I will ignore the ‘ bi’ part of your personality if you are currently in a hetero-normative relationship. But actually, there are like maybe two friends I would even discuss My/ Their sex life with, and if Other Hetero-normative Friend wants to discuss their sex life with me, I self-select out just as fast as any big Gay /Bi/Poly discussion. (Wow! that is interesting/funny/Darth- have you seen this movie? Subject Change subject change). I do know of people who are actually homophobic- These are people who will NOT self select out, they will want to Tell You about it and Make You deal With it. But not everyone who ‘disagrees’ are these people.
      Nopetopus Cowgirl ” I don’t think you need to test for idealogical purity here” ++ Agree
      (And if you do want to test for ideological purity? Shrug. I will miss you, but its your choice, and your intolerance)

      1. Just as well we don’t know each other, then, since I’m not going to let you pretend that I’m either monogamous or heterosexual. I’m not going to tell you what I do in bed with my husband or with my girlfriend, but I’m also not going to let you pretend that she and I are “just friends” rather than romantic and sexual life partners. I don’t disapprove of other people being either monogamous (which is a lifestyle choice) or heterosexual (some of my best friends are straight), but I’m not going to sit here and let you call me “intolerant” for disapproving of your intolerance. The things you would blatantly change the subject about are entirely G-rated, like “the last time I stayed over at Adrian’s, she made non-dairy pancakes for lunch” and “they take good care of me by convincing me to rest when I’m sick.”

        Also, not all mixed-gender relationships are heteronormative, especially not ones where none of the people involved is heterosexual. Yes, there are societal pressures encouraging bisexuals to have other-gender partners, but that doesn’t make “heteronormative” a synonym for “heterosexual.” Your behavior as you describe it–things like expecting bisexuals who have other-gender partners not to mention any past same-gender partners–is heteronormative.

        [Sorry, Captain, there seems to be a soapbox over here labeled “bisexual invisibility.”]

      2. I understand the “no one else’s sex life is any of my business” approach, but I (hetero-ace cis woman) don’t think it’s quite the same for LGBTQ folks because of the marginalization in society. I don’t need to know that my straight friends are hetero in order to fully support them, but if my LGBTQ friends choose to trust me with that information, I’m happy to be able to assure them that I will stand up for their right to marry, right to make their own medical decisions, right to express affection in public, and right to exist without threat of violence or discrimination. I don’t need or want to know the details of what anyone does in bed, but if there’s someone new in their life or if they’re dealing with medical stuff because of transitioning, I feel like being a good friend is being up for talking about that as much as I would with a straight friend’s relationship stuff or medical stuff.

        1. Similar boat.

          As someone who’s grey-ace, I have trouble understanding on a ‘gut’ level the difference between sex-life discussion and sexuality discussion. I’m not in a position to empathize with why someone’s sexual orientation makes up an important aspect of their self-image. (Even my own ace-ness is of the lukewarm ‘Sex? Sure, why not?’ variety rather than an aversion, because I don’t feel that strongly about it one way or another.)

          On an intellectual level, though, it very obviously *is* an identity issue for many if not most people, and someone who comes out to you isn’t oversharing about ‘private’ matters.

          (And particularly considering the boggling level of marginalization that LBTQ folk face, it isn’t the place of their friends to ask ‘Why should I care who you’re attracted to?’ but rather for those friends to ask society ‘Why do YOU care who they’re attracted to?’)

          1. Hmm, I should look again at what I wrote because that didn’t come across the way I intended. I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying, but when you say “same boat” I don’t feel like it’s actually the boat I’m in. I was more trying to push back on the idea that ignoring the “bi part” (or any LGBTQ part) of someone’s personality is a neutral option. When people have been historically persecuted for part of their “personality,” ignoring that part of someone’s life doesn’t seem like something a friend would do.

          2. I’ve generally found that it’s straight people who it’s hard to get to shut the fuck up already about their and other people’s sex lives, because they’re more likely to assume that everyone’s on the same page* and what they’re saying is entirely noncontroversial.

            *Although there is also very certain type of pansexual polyamorous kinky guy (always a guy) who is 1,000,000% convinced of the exact same thing, and will quote bad evo psych at you if you push back on this idea, but I digress

          3. @Kacienna
            Sorry, possible bad choice of words there, just that I’m also coming from the perspective of a [pan]romantic grey-ace cis woman. My main point is that my reflex is typically to pay less attention to sexual discussions due to general lack of interest, BUT that I’m aware it’s important to push back against this reflex when it’s a LGBTQ matter.

      3. OK! Identity=/=sex life, and you don’t get to “disagree” with my existence, but have fun not being a homophobe, I guess

      4. Hey just popping into say that you are indeed homophobic and I’m kinda hoping you “select out” of this community.

      5. You’re really not my friend if you ignore the bi part of my personality, because it makes up 100% of it.

        1. +1 & exactly what I hate about the characterization of my identity as a “lifestyle.” (Similarly, when people pull the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” line.) “Lifestyle” is how often I go to the movies, whether I make my bed, or even how I live out stronger convictions like whether I eat meat or punch Nazis. You could disagree with my food choices, you could disapprove of my Nazi-punching, you could go to the movies every week while I go once a year—and we could still be friends or even love each other. You can’t say that you love me if you hate or “disapprove of” or “disagree with” who I am. Regardless of who I’m marrying, who I’m having sex with or whether I’m having sex at all, I *am* bisexual, and the queer community will always be mine. If you hate or disrespect or “ignore” my community, so you do to me.

      6. Gross. This really isn’t the place for your “I don’t hate the gays, I just “disagree with their lifestyle”” soft bigotry. Use the word homomisia if you prefer, but you’re still a bigot. My gay loved one isn’t a “lifestyle choice” they’re a person who deserves exactly the same respect as I do as a straight person.

      7. Moderator Hat On:


        What the fuck?

        Homophobia has become a catch-all term for people who think being gay is a lifestyle choice or that is limited to sexual *activity.*

        Lots of hair-splitting things people say fall under that term:

        “Love the sin, hate the sinner” = homophobia
        “I’m fine with what people do in private, just not when they rub it in our faces” = homophobia
        “It’s cool if you’re bisexual as long as I can totally ignore it” = biphobia, a subset of homophobia
        Calling people’s identity a lifestyle = homophobia
        Your hairsplitting dinner invitations = homophobia

        Also, byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

      8. “Yeah, a lot of us ‘homophobes” are not actually homophobic, y’know? I don’t agree with your lifestyle choices, there are some of mine You don’t agree with, that’s how it goes.”

        Right, I get what you’re saying. And it’s great that you have some LGBTQ that you know in your life and can be friends with. But. Sexuality is not actually a lifestyle choice. Who you love is not a lifestyle choice. What church you go to? Tattoos? Jobs and hobbies? Those are lifestyle choices. By framing sexuality (or other fundamentals of self such as ethnicity, disability, etc) on par with those other things, you are in fact being homophobic (or racist, ableist, etc). Sure, maybe you’re not actively hateful, but you are participating in Homophobia Lite, with a side helping of But I Have Gay Friends.

        I get it. You don’t want to be smeared with the same brush. But you’re on one end of the SAME spectrum of bigotry, while people like Westboro Baptist Church and the people who kill trans women around the world. People on the receiving end of that bigotry have the right to point out when people are anywhere on that spectrum, even when those people think they don’t have a “bigoted bone in their body.”

        1. Sorry. Didn’t refresh before posting my own reply. Thanks, Captain for stepping in.

    2. I’m glad that is good enough for you, but it is not good enough for me. I know that some of my partner’s extended family are perfectly polite to me but also write blogs about how being trans is fake, ego-driven, and against god, for example. Would they ever “make it my problem” by talking to me about it? Probably never. But these beliefs fundamentally disrespect and dehumanize people in my community and family, and I just don’t want to spend a day celebrating the family my partner and I are building with people who are polite but also bigots. There are also folks who don’t think they know many queer people or don’t know what to believe or how to think about queerness, having grown up in a homophobic environment, but who are doing their best to not be bigoted. That’s fine, but not really what I was asking about. Politeness just isn’t enough for me here.

      1. Totally makes sense! I wouldn’t want to celebrate with people who don’t think some members of my family are full human beings either.

  33. Q7: as long as you’re not doing what many mothers have done: force gifts on people and then complain when it wasn’t what the person wanted, or filling their house with too much stuff, then I think you’re doing it right. Helping someone isn’t wrong, it’s insisting on the person loving it as much as you, and guilt tripping them that’s wrong.

    Q1: I don’t understand people like that. So the person they refuse to talk/speak to didn’t do anything to traumatize them, and they expect you to refuse them too? So he/she is traumatizing you in the process: oh no, i want to be a good friend but they don’t like them so I have to do what they say to be a good friend? That seems to be the opposite of a good friend, and they’re not being a good friend to you. Sounds like crappy grade school behavior, honestly. And yeah, ruined career. I hate the concept of: just because you know someone, that people would think you’re just like them. I’m assuming we all have someone like that in our life, and since I don’t know who those people are, I’ll just say it here: I’m not like those people, so stop treating me like those people.

  34. Q2: This question could be about me – I, too, work at a university with a very generous benefits package, and I, too, sometimes complain about my inability to use my vacation time – and perhaps a reframe from my perspective will help with the rage.

    I’ve been working there for 10 years now, and in that time, my pay has been cut 2% in terms of actual numbers and ~15% when adjusted for inflation. My union, which was disbanded by state law 7 years ago, negotiated most of those very generous benefits in lieu of pay raises over the 20-odd years before it was disbanded. Our staff has also been cut literally by half, with no reduction in workload, meaning I (and my coworkers) are expected to do double the work for 85% the pay as when we were hired (or less for some of the people who have been there longer than I). So when you hear me complain about difficulty scheduling vacation time, what I’m complaining about is my employer literally trying to steal my pay by making it difficult to use the benefits that constitute an ever-increasing portion of my compensation. In my personal case, if I can’t find a way to schedule the 216 hours of vacation time I have banked in the next six months before I lose it (difficult when we are understaffed by half), my employer will have effectively stolen $3,400 of my pay. You’re concerned about wages lost for a holiday off without pay; imagine facing thousands of dollars of wage theft, and perhaps you’ll see their complaints in a more sympathetic light.

    You’re falling into the trap of capitalists (in this case, state capitalists and pro-capitalist state institutions) pitting workers against each other due to differential compensation so that they don’t band together against the capitalists/pro-capitalist state. The fact that other people are getting screwed less than you doesn’t mean they’re not getting screwed and don’t have legitimate complaints.

    Also, as a tangent, don’t assume those promises to hire you permanently mean anything at all. My friend was working for a private firm that strung him along for five years with two failed searches for the job they kept promising him, and I was screwed over by my state employer when HR flatly refused the reclassification our dean had promised me in as part of a staff reorganization. Unless you have it in writing, with a specific time frame, it means little to nothing. Sorry. :-/

    1. All true, but none of that makes LW the correct audience for such complaints. They have every right to be annoyed, and it is entirely reasonable to ask those who are relatively less screwed to reserve their complaints for a similar level of screwedity and NOT for those who are more screwed than they.

      1. I disagree. It’s actually a super important point. While it can be tacky to “complain down,” looking at the unbelievable bullshit faced by people with better job security, more pay and more seniority gives newer workers (especially in academia holy crap!) a chance to see that it actually doesn’t get that much better and that they’d do well to really consider their options rather than just toiling away. That might include GTFO the industry, organizing, getting a contract in writing, looking at the competition within the industry etc.

        To someone making [paltry]$, listening to someone else complain about [paltryx2]$ sucks, but it is also instructive if the person you’re listening to holds the job that you might advance to if you’re very lucky. Maybe the complainer is spoiled and tacky. But maybe hold your resentment for a sec and check if there’s a warning to heed in there. There is already far too little transparency about pay and perks in the workplace.

        1. I’m having a really hard time keeping profanity and sarcasm out of this response.

          Do you really think people making crap don’t KNOW it’s still crappy higher up? Do You think the bottom of the totem pole can’t read a blog or tweet? Really?

          No, it’s not a super important point to condescendingly pretend to be “informing” people about work conditions when theirs. are worse. than yours.

          (Plus I’m not even in academia, I just have friends who do and an occasional ounce of empathy)

    2. LW 2 here. Your complaints are very real and absolutely applicable to my coworkers’ situations. Except for a few minor details you could *be* my supervisor – so I was in a bit of a panic for a moment!

      Of course you deserve to have access to your benefits. Of course you’re not the villain here. Neither are my coworkers, who are each doing at least 2 people’s jobs while the university cuts funding lines.

      But it really fucking sucks to also be doing 2 people’s jobs without the health insurance or sick days or retirement contributions, earning less than my old grad student stipend. And all I want is to not blow up in the office because of the inequality.

      1. You could be honest with them, while holding in your being as you speak the fact that they aren’t responsible for you not having benifits, so the anger that you are feeling doesn’t leak over to them as if they are responsible as you express yourself. Something like, “I hear you, but I find it hard to sympathize because I get no vacation time or benefits while working here.” It’s a bit blunt, but they might sympathize with you and nip in the bud the complaining to you about struggles that you don’t even have the benefit of struggling with (yet, hopefully. I hope your job gives you a non-contracted, full-time position). Hugs to you.

        1. yeeeeeeeah everywhere I’ve ever worked, if I tried to “be honest” that way, I guarantee you I’d be given a talking to about my “attitude” if not just fired (see “attitude.”)

          One of the reasons that the complaining is so grating is because for people in the temp/adjunct position, setting that kind of boundary literally risks our jobs. I know it seems like reasonable people wouldn’t be that offended, but people HATE to be reminded that they have it better than others. Your bosses, supervisors, and higher-ups REALLY hate to be reminded of it.

  35. re: Greeting cards. For those of us on budgets or who feel like the Captain when we spy the price of a greeting card nowadays (lord, I am my grandmother right now), you’ll be happy to hear that the Dollar Tree has Hallmark cards for $1 each, and some for 2/$1! I stocked up last time I was there just in case it was a fluke. 🙂

    1. Big Lots/Odd Lots and similar stores can be a good source for inexpensive greeting cards too.

      And speaking of sounding like family elders, I sound like my mom, but she buys greeting cards when she finds them at a good price (especially, say, sympathy cards that you often don’t know you’re going to need much before you actually do need one) and just stashes them in her stationery drawer until/unless she needs them.

  36. I’ve experienced something similar to Q4, and my therapist’s advice was basically exactly what the Captain said. XD

    I always felt like I had to “do more” to get ahead and develop my career, so I did all these extra courses and professional development and ended up feeling burnt out and resentful of everything. But stopping didn’t feel like an option because that felt like “giving up” on my career (probably this came from my mother and her expectations). So therapist said what if you take one month without doing these things, you’re not “giving up”, you’re just taking a break. It did help 🙂

  37. Q4, There’s a quotation I saw in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management that is useful to me. “Recreation,” says Bishop Hall, “is intended to the mind as whetting is to the scythe, to sharpen the edge of it, which would otherwise grow dull and blunt. He, therefore, that spends his whole time in recreation is ever whetting, never mowing; his grass may grow and his steed starve; as, contrarily, he that always toils and never recreates, is ever mowing, never whetting, labouring much to little purpose. As good no scythe as no edge. Then only doth the work go forward, when the scythe is so seasonably and moderately whetted that it may cut, and so cut, that it may have the help of sharpening.”

    Gives a new meaning to “stay sharp”,hm?

  38. Q2: Are your coworkers complaining to you specifically, or are they actually complaining to the group, or someone else and you happen to overhear? Because those are different things. If they are complaining to you specifically, then, first, they must feel close to you personally, or are trying to become close to you personally, and second, unless they are absolutely unbelievable jerks, they probably just don’t realize you don’t have paid vacation, so you should tell them, that’s what people who want to try to become close to you deserve to know. If they are complaining to someone else, then responding wouldn’t be appropriate.

    1. There’s also a difference, I think, based on how much you want to be friends with these people. If someone tells you something heartfelt about something that is genuinely stressing or panicking them, and you only respond with comparisons, it will very much affect your friendship if you do this too often. OTOH, this works both ways, and if they do not try to understand how difficult your own situation is then maybe they’re not that good friends in the first place.

      And of course, if you can’t or it’s too painful, then it’s better to let them know that you’re not the right friend to provide support about that particular thing.

      The downside is of course there’s a cost, and if too many important parts of someone’s life are off-limit for conversation, sometimes there’s not enough left to sustain a friendship.

      But if these are coworkers, it’s very possible you were never looking for a particularly closr friendship in the first place. And there may actually be many other topics of conversation you can share.

      1. If they’re trying to get closer rather than just wanting a sympathetic ear, an answer like “Yeah, they’re making it hard for all of us I’m still waiting to be on staff and have some vacation to schedule” seems reasonable. In this specific, they’re both complaints about vacation time at the same company; a hypothetical third person with a permanent position saying “yeah, they don’t let me schedule mine either” wouldn’t seem out of place. It’s also not a dismissal of their large problem in favor of your smaller or unrelated one: “yeah, too bad about your cancer, but my hairdresser cancelled my appointment!”

        The person who started by complaining about not getting to take their vacation isn’t expecting “at least you get some,” but there are non-dismissive ways to say something like “I know, I’m in a worse part of the same boat” [mixed metaphors, sinking slowly into the swamp]

  39. Q1: this almost sounds like borderline personality disorder. I know we’re not supposed to diagnose people over the internet, but that black and white/friend or deadly enemy thinking is one of the characteristics of it.

    1. We do not diagnose people over the internet Rhoda, and it’s not okay that you knew that but posted this comment regardless.

    2. No thank you, as a person with borderline personality disorder. Can we resist the urge to diagnose personality disorders over the net, and also to make all unpleasant and worrying behaviour a sign that someone has one? Thank you.

      1. It is against the site policies for a reason. Comments by regular posters don’t automatically go through moderation, so I didn’t see this until it was already posted, but I’m sorry anyway.

    3. “I know we aren’t supposed to diagnose people over the internet”

      You know, so why did you?

      The friend’s behavior could mean a lot of things, and if it were BPD, what exactly is the LW supposed to do about that? The effects would still be the same. There is a reason that internet diagnoses is against the site policies.

    4. Sounds more like trauma reaction to me! But we don’t know nearly enough about this person to diagnose anything, because we are strangers on the internet.

  40. Q2: try to find a better job elsewhere. There really should be a law that employers must offer actual full time employment to people after they’ve worked a set amount of time as temporary contract workers. Either that or the wages paid should compensate for the lack of benefits. You just know these employers will keep extending and extending that contract to keep LW on the hook.

    1. Lol ur grasp of the academic labor market! How is this your advice? It doesn’t address the actual question, and on top of that, it’s almost maliciously naive. It reminds me of those hand-wringing articles agressively demanding why millenials aren’t buying time shares or whatever. Just because they’re under-employed and have unprecidented amounts of student loan debt in an increasingly exploitative job market is no reason to punish those nice time-share companies by not being able to afford vacations, ever. “Oh, your job treats you the same way it treats everyone in your profession? Obvs your own fault. Get a better job, dummy! Personal responsibility!” No. Just. No.

      1. THANK YOU.

        I spent nearly a decade dealing with the emotional aftermath of leaving the academic job market unwillingly, and the thing that made it most unbearable were all the “you suck be better” “advice” people tried to give me. Fuck that noise.

        1. Right? Ffs. It must be very comforting to blame individuals for systemic problems. You get to keep believing that the world is fair and that you’ve truly earned everything you have.

  41. Q7, I feel you so, so much here. I have caught myself following that same train of thought into the chair in my therapist’s office literally worrying that I was somehow an awful, manipulative, abusive person FOR LITERALLY FEEDING THE HOMELESS. (As in, buying a homeless man a food item that he specifically requested.) Even I had to pause for a bit when I realized I was managing to do that, and I’m very, very proficient at self-hatred.

    I agree with what other people said about Calvinist dickery interfering with our natural instinct to help one another and feel good for doing so and thereby feel like doing it more. I also appreciate the people who mentioned Augustine and Descartes — “Is anything *truly* altruistic? Like, *truly*?” is a philosophical question as old as the hills, and I think it’s best to take a more pragmatic approach.

    I would say this is definitely one of those things where if you’re *capable* of worrying about your motivations for doing good deeds, you are probably at very low risk of doing them for motivations bad enough to vitiate them. Yes, it’s good to maintain a critical perspective — that’s critical in the sense of analysis, not in the sense of attacking — on what we’re doing, including the good things; it prevents us from pulling overbearing nonsense that *doesn’t* actually help because we’re so wrapped up in our fantasy of what virtuous saviours we are. (One of my basic rules of thumb is: Who has requested that I do this? How close is the source of the request to the people it’s intended to help? How much does this process respect the agency of those to be helped?) But this, to put it mildly, doesn’t sound like a problem you have.

    The point is that the important part, the thing that affects others, is what the action *is*, not your own personal thoughts going on in your own personal head, to which nobody else has access. If you’re donating to your local Indigenous friendship centre or to a front-line by-and-for social service organization for street-involved queer and trans youth, I promise you they do not care whether it’s motivated by your perfectly normal desire to feel warm fuzzies, your austerely virtuous sense of mission, or your desire to spitefully perpetuate a family feud by liquidating your estate before anyone else can inherit it.*

    It occurs to me: if you’re not allowed to feel good for doing good deeds, what precisely would you have to do in order to merit feeling good? You’re SUPPOSED to feel good about yourself when you behave well. In fact, when people DON’T feel good when they behave well, that can be part of what gives people depression and disrupts their executive functioning: their brain is not giving them the appropriate rewards for achieving what it wants to achieve. It makes it very hard to endeavour to do anything at all, let me tell you. Self-flagellation is only motivating for so long, and when it gives out, it gives out hard.

    You might be doing good deeds for the warm fuzzies, but so what? You’re getting the warm fuzzies because you’re doing good deeds. You hereby have my permission to enjoy it.

    *(You laugh, but did you ever hear of Ruth Coker Burks? Google her–TW homophobia, HIV/AIDS, death, and intrafamilial emotional abuse, but it’s extremely heartwarming–and take note of where she got the cemetery land from.)

  42. Q7. I’m imagining a sort of science fiction world scenario where people only did good for other people when they got no benefit from it or were actually hurt from it. Women wouldn’t only suffer in childbirth, they’d get no pleasure from seeing their babies laugh. Doctors could only alleviate suffering in patients if they hurt themselves in some way. No one was compensated for doing a good a job with money or anything else that benefited them. It’s hard even to figure out how this would work. Everyone who does anything for anyone else usually gets something out of the transaction: money, a returned favor (not necessarily directly from the person they did the favor for), good feeling, just a happier, better world in a general sense. Maybe thinking about the absurdity of not being selfish would help the LW.

  43. “Therapy’s good for that. It lets you excavate all that past stuff in a safe way. It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life. It helps you tell new stories about what you want to do and what you need.”

    Just wanted to say this is a golden paragraph. Especially “It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life.”

  44. Captain, you’re really going to love Her Body and Other Parties. And since we apparently have extremely similar taste in books, I’ll highly recommend Version Control, by Dexter Palmer. It was just so great.

  45. Circe is one of the books I’ve read in the past while that I finished with a heavy sigh (because I’d finished it) and tears in my eyes. I’m going to check out that fantasy series! Captain, thank you for the list! To each their own, but I find books I enjoy more from lists of what other people have tried versus blindly perusing.

    1. Circe is absolutely wonderful. Circe was such captivating person and the book was delightfully long – each time you thought “oh the story is gonna end here” it just evolved and flowed into another story. Loved it, would recommend 100%

  46. Q7…when I first read your question, I was honestly kind of baffled. My superpower is that I was born immune to guilt. At the same time, though, I had to spend a lotof time–literally years–learning how to enjoy things without my brainweasels flipping out. In my fubar FOO, the weapon of choice wasn’t guilt, but contempt. Enjoying things was a sign of weakness, and weaknesses were scorned and exploited. One of the results was that I could never really enjoy anything. I always had to choose between enjoying things and feeling safe. I learned the habit of always choosing my second-favorite, because it was less painful to be made fun of for liking things I only mostly liked than for things I actually cared about. This sounds super messed-up, right? It was. I’m giving you all this backstory to tell you what I’ve learned: pleasure is good. Pleasure is intrinsically good, on its own, independent of its connection to merit or morality or any other consideration. Pleasure is good for us. The things that feel good feel good for a reason. You don’t have to earn it. Everyone deserves pleasure–we deserve it just by being alive. (Obviously, we shouldn’t indulge in pleasures that harm ourselves or others, but nota bene: this caveat needs to be treated as a guideline rather than a rule. Sometimes the night on the town is worth the hangover, and everyone gets to decide where to draw that line.) So, what’s wrong with enjoying these activities? They make you feel good. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re a *good* person. Good people are happy when others are happy. Good people enjoy helping. I know there’s a lot of pleasure-shaming out there, but if you think about it, most of the stuff that feels good is stuff that is good for us. A good night’s sleep. Comfortable shoes. Excellent sex. Good conversations. Meaningful work. Helping people. Making the world a better place. I strongly suggest that when you’re doing these excellent good deeds, rather that chewing yourself up about it, visualize yourself as a cat basking in the sun. Kitty doesn’t worry about whether he deserves to enjoy the sunshine. He stretches himself out to soak up every drop. He accepts the pleasure simply and for its own sake. Be like Kitty. Enjoy pleasure for its own sake. Soak up every drop.

    1. “We need pleasure to live. A life without nice feelings in it is like a diet with no vitamins in it. It’ll make you sick and eventually it’ll kill you. We know this because people with depression stop feeling pleasure, and they often kill themselves. Left untreated, depression is a fatal disease. Pleasure is not optional. Pleasure is not a luxury. Without it, we die. That is literally the opposite of a luxury.”
      — “Isozyme” (

    2. “The days that make us happy make us wise.”
      – John Masefield

      (and John Crowley)

  47. Ah, Q2 and A2. To your tales of woe, I can add the time I vented to my university colleague that I’d been on contract for so long and had no way of knowing would it ever turn into something permanent. To which she replied ‘I know but look at me, I only have ten permanent hours a week and that’s really hard!’ To which I replied, since that situation is demonstrably better than what I complained of in every way, I do not sympathise.

    1. It’s differently hard.

      If you have a temp contract that says 35h/week for 12 weeks and then get another contract for that period, ad infinitum, you don’t know whether you have a job in three months’ time, but you know that you have a full-time job FOR that time. If you have a permanent 10h/week contract, you know you have that income indefinitely… but you do not know whether you’ll be able to pay your rent next week or the week after or any week in the future because while they _usually_ give you 35h, they might turn around and do not. (I’ve seen this happen in several workplaces.)

      So you both have insecurity, but of different kinds, and for people who are looking for steady income that feeds them every week, *both* suck.

      Given the choice I’d pick the full-time time-limited contract.

      1. I don’t know which one I’d prefer between short-term full-time and permanent half-time, but I was only working 4 hours a week on a short-term contract. I’ve never had a full-time job and always combine several part-time positions with freelancing.

        1. Oh yeah, also in academia in my country a full-time position is 16 or 18 hours a week, not 35.

      2. Ah I see now why you assumed I was temporary full-time! Her use of ‘only ten permanent hours’ does sound like she’s comparing herself to me, but she actually did have a guaranteed ten where I had a temporary 4, so yes, you can accept my assessment of ‘demonstrably better in every way’.

        1. Thanks for explaining. It doesn’t change that you get a quarter contract and she gets half, and if either of you want to work and earn full time, you’re both screwed. You, as you say, more than she is.
          And calling 16h ‘full time’ just means ‘we’re expecting you to do a lot of extra work for which we don’t want to pay you’.

          That sucks.

          1. It’s complicated. 16 hours really is full-time, they are contact hours. You have to do prep and corrections and admin outside of that time and you’re paid a full-time salary. It’s not minimum wage, far from it. Everyone who isn’t full-time will freelance or self-employ on top of it. And yeah, it is hard for her too, but like in Q2, she picked the wrong audience to vent to

      3. I think “differently hard” is a good way to describe the various levels of being in The Precariat.

        I’m out of it now (thank god), and when I complain about stuff (like not having paid parental leave) I make sure to temper it with awareness, like “but I’m really lucky to even be able to take unpaid leave at all.” Because it could be worse.

  48. Q7, if you are craving a visceral, empathetic experience of other people’s misfortunes, one that will inspire you to be more selfless: follow the news, read fiction, actively listen to the people around you, and strive to have varied life experiences. Alas, your newfound empathy will be accompanied by a propensity to cry during commercials, an addiction to public radio, and an Eeyore-like pessimism about the human condition. At least this is my personal experience.

    But honestly, you sound like a very kind person. It is normal and healthy to find altruism rewarding – humans are social animals! I’m in a human services field, and when I’m beating myself up about not being the perfect helper, I like to imagine what the person I’m helping would think if they knew about my negative thoughts. In this case, all the people you’re helping would WANT you to be kind to yourself and enjoy the experience. They wouldn’t begrudge you a bit of happiness.

  49. Q7: So, you are concerned because you feel warm fuzzies when you do something beneficial for others. What do you think you should be feeling instead, cold pricklies?

    Food tastes good because Evolution doesn’t want* us to accidentally starve to death from indifference–and also doesn’t want us to eat bad things, so bad things taste bad.**

    Sex feels pleasurable because Evolution wants us to make babies and also wants us to bond with our fellow human beings, because a well-bonded social group has an improved chance for survival.

    Cuddling babies brings joy because Evolution wants to motivate us to care for helpless little creatures who are basically a big noise at one end and a big stink at the other, and wouldn’t really be worth the effort, annoyance, and expense if it weren’t for the autonomic mush-brained reaction of kyooooot. This one has been so emphatically programmed into us that the strength of it spills over onto the babies of other species. Kittens! Puppies! We even make goo-goo noises over baby elepants, who outweigh most of us.

    Helping our fellow primates provides us with warm fuzzies because, again, Evolution wants us to bond tightly with our troopmates, so that our family, tribe, species, and genus survive. Here again there is often a spillover effect that causes us also to want to aid our fellow mammals–or our fellow life forms dwelling within the thin and fragile biosphere of Earth.

    Here’s how deep it goes: Once upon the deeps of time, in the deeps of the primordial ocean, there were little bits of things that were more or less alive, that possessed movements or behaviors called tropisms: they did their mindless best to move away from things that were bad for them and toward things that were good for them. It’s why sunflowers follow the sun and prey animals run from predators; and from those two original tropisms–flee pain, seek pleasure– also descend all human behavior, emotion, and civilization.

    Do you really want to try to fight THAT?!

    When you feel warm fuzzies from doing a good thing, what that means is you are functioning correctly. Your wiring works nominally. All systems go! Little green lights across the board!

    You are apparently worrying about Matthew 6:5. Well, yes, it is prudent to check in with oneself from time to time to make sure one isn’t just praying on street-corners. However, pretty much if you’re not posting every good deed on Facebook, you’re probably fine.

    If you help build a house for Habitat for Humanity, how is it a bad thing if you gain construction skills in the process? If you foster abused animals until they can find a forever home, how is it a bad thing if you get snugglies and kissies and ankle-strops and purrrs while they are with you? If you donate your widow’s mite to the Nature Conservancy, how is it a bad thing if you save the receipt and take the tax deduction? Save your receipts and take the tax deduction! Enjoy the face-licks! Improve your own home using the skills Habitat taught you!

    Doing the good thing AND having the warm fuzzies IS altruism. I think you’re conflating altruism (good) with self-abnegation (bad). Stop that.

    * Yeah, yeah, Evolution ain’t teleological; shaddap.
    ** Admittedly refined sugar, which is bad for us, tastes good because it tastes like fructose. Evolution wants us to eat fruit so we’ll get all those nifty phytonutrients; Evolution didn’t know we were going to get silly about it and become addicted to pure sucrose.

  50. Q1: I have an ex friend/coworker like that. She would go hot and cold on people and torch relationships both professional and not. She was very insistent that if she didn’t like someone I had to ostracize them. Forced teaming. Big red flag. I unhitched my wagon from hers as it crept into creepy controlling levels. People like your friend have difficulty separating themselves from others and whatever you decide, firm boundaries enforced often are likely to be a feature of any healthy relationship with her. Good luck.

  51. Q7: There’s a Jewish idea that the ideal charity is completely anonymous: the donor has no idea who they are helping, and the recipient has no idea who is helping them. Ideally, as few people as possible would be aware of either of those things–in this model you might, for example, know that a doctor or hospital provides free care to people who can’t afford to pay, but nobody except a few people in the finance department knows who they are. (Yes, this is within the US model where patients have to pay for health care.) If you went to that clinic, you wouldn’t know which if any of the other people in the waiting room were charity patients, and neither would the doctors and nurses treating them.

    If you do things that way, you can still feel good about having given money to a food bank, but since you don’t know “I bought that person dinner,” there’s less chance of them feeling a sense of obligation, or of you expecting gratitude. Similarly, I can be pleased at knowing that a specific staircase is less likely to need replacement soon because I weeded the cracks in the pavement, without having to announce this to other people who use that path. (I can tell people I donated to the food bank–when it made sense fo itemize our taxes, I was also “telling” some government agency, if they bothered to look at that level of detail–but the people who are getting that food still don’t know who I am, and I don’t know who they are.)

  52. Re: Q7: There’s totally an episode of friends with this premise (The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS: Yes, problematic show that has aged poorly, but the premise of this episode is interesting. I definitely struggle with the same thing, and I spend *far* too much time worrying if I’m just going stuff for other people to make myself look/feel good. Ultimately, doing any sort of good deed is going to make you feel good about yourself. If the thing you do is truly helpful to the other person, though, feeling good about it is just an added bonus, and you can go on feeling good about it, in my opinion.

    Re: Q8: This hit home with me:

    “Then the current problem is something that could be solved with ‘Break up!’ or ‘Maybe you could host Thanksgiving at your house instead?’ and I am not making fun here – in most cases there is a pretty simple solution that feels genuinely impossible to the Letter Writer because the past is so much with them.”

    Oh shit, I totally wrote a letter like that a few years ago. Thank you, CA, for sending me a succinct response that made the obvious solution clear without making me feel stupid for overthinking it. Your response also gave me the little push I needed to get back into therapy, so, mission accomplished! 🙂 You’re a gem.

  53. Just as usual I am late to the party, partly because the difference in the time zones, but I will offer my two cents anyway.

    First of all, thank you so much for the reading tips, dear Captain – and also thank you for asking that question in first place! The Captain did a fine job reminding us about the possible triggers in the books which is great since it prompted me to do some research – and all the books seem to be ABSOLUTELY SUPER INTERESTING. It is always a pleasure to find new ideas to implement on one’s reading list. Just one thing, I wanted to recommend a book myself, “The Weaver” by Emmi Itäranta, a young Finnish novelist specialized in genre fiction (fantasy, sci-fi). The book is so very beautifully written in my opinion though it does gets a trigger warning for violence. I always try to keep up with what is being published in Scandinavia.

    Dear person who asked the Q7, I just wanted to let you know that you are not the only one who has had thoughts of being selfish when enjoying helping someone. I have been there, too and have in fact discussed these thoughts in therapy and worked with them. I hope that you will find these thoughts useful or at least worthy of consideration.

    I have always loved helping others out and since I volunteer in a rescue organization I know many other people like this, too. We are not alone; luckily there are plenty of other human beings ready to lend a helping hand.

    When I told about my thoughts to my therapist the first question she asked was whether I thought that my actions helped someone. I said “Yes”; back then I was caring for seven malnourished, worm infested kittens and seeing that simple care like food, clean water, medication and touch did wonders to them. The same applies to you giving food to homeless people: whether or not you feel good, they still get food which they need. I am quite sure both of us feel compelled to doing these things because they make us feel good. I endure all the scratches, cleaning vomit and hairballs and litterboxes because I love animals and getting to be with them makes me feel wonderful. Feeling good about doing good things is a great thing; it fuels us to let us keep doing work which others benefit from. My therapist asked me whether it is such a bad thing to be selfish, especially if the result is beneficial to others. People, especially those thought to be female like me, are often brought up to help others, be polite and not to be selfish – but here lies the trouble: many people simply enjoy helping others and for some reason enjoying something is seen as selfish. I do not really get why people should sacrifice themselves by doing things they loathe.

    We humans have developed in ways which strengthens our impulses to do certain things: for example to eat. Eating offers us feelings of pleasure; our bodies reward us for doing a thing which helps us survive. I believe helping others works in the same way: it makes many of us feel great.

    It took me some time to process all these thoughts: that it is ok to feel fine and to keep helping others for that reason alone. I do not really consider myself a particularly good person but I do not believe it is even necessary. As long as we mostly enjoy of it, let’s just keep doing the good work.

    The Captain’s advice was great: I, too, recommend talking with a therapist about the subject. I also suggest that if you are not already volunteering in an organization think about giving it a try. The animal rescue organization in which I volunteer has many really great people in there and we have also discussed about thoughts like this together. Good volunteer organizations offer support for the volunteers and are not a ground for power struggle, so perhaps ask around about the atmosphere and culture in the organizations.

    Best of luck to you!

  54. Number 7, you ARE kind and generous. Mean selfish people don’t care how much a friend loves their gift as long as they’ve fulfilled their gift-buying obligation, and they don’t feel guilty seeing their coworkers under more stress than they are. Feeling good when others feel good and bad when others feel bad means you are a compassionate, empathetic person with a good heart. I’d be more concerned if you weren’t getting anything out of your acts of generosity! What kind of person feels totally indifferent to the effects their actions have on others?

  55. Q6: Once you have a bit of a list of potential providers from your insurer’s website/zocdoc/coworker recs, I been surprised how helpful it can be to check the names on that list on Yelp / Google Reviews / etc. YMMV – some providers yield little to no online pings – but often I’ve found quite a number of reviews. Of course these have to be taken with a grain of salt (and occasionally a pound of salt), but especially if there’s a lot of them with consistent patterns, they can be at least another good first screening tool/source of info.

  56. RE: LW8 (Therapy)

    I’m presently talking to someone myself – an actual therapist, for the first time, rather than counselors (there is a difference, and I feel like I’m making much better progress with the therapist than I did with several counselors – sad reality in my region is that there are often long wait lists to see therapists or psychiatrists, so “therapist shopping” around here isn’t much of a thing unless you land with a really bad one). Here are two other nuggets to think about in terms of “when is it time to pull in bigger guns?”

    1) Is this interfering with your day-to-day life/happiness? Or if not literally day-to-day, is this issue impeding you *often*?
    2) Do you see patterns in yourself/your behaviour/your relationships that are not working for you?

    In my case, my last relationship was a disaster (I posted here awhile ago that I was still talking to this ex. Uh, no longer so…)…and the relationship before that was a disaster…and the one before that wasn’t very good. I finally had to acknowledge that, as Captain Awkward would put it, I had a string of Darth Vader Boyfriends behind me, and I wasn’t choosing wisely for a variety of reasons – nor have I been attracting quality guys. I am in my early 30s and would still like a family someday, but obviously I have some things I need to unpack. I’ve been able to do some of that on my own (self-esteem, Daddy issues, conflict aversion/anxiety), but am now consulting a professional to go the rest of the way. Thus, an issue that was impacting my day-to-day happiness, and a nasty pattern I wasn’t breaking on my own.

    It’s awful that even here in Canada, therapy can be difficult to access if your benefits don’t cover the costs – there are long waitlists, they cost a fortune, and yes, someone like me who is “mostly okay” can feel guilty for taking that spot someone else might really need. But if your answer to either of the above two questions is “yes”, and you do have access, I’d recommend it for anybody. You don’t have to be full-on crazy to benefit from therapy.

  57. Hey Cap and all, I have a terrific reading suggestion for the topic of “ingest media made by women”, only it’s actually a listening suggestion: Levar Burton Reads. It’s a podcast where Levar Burton reads short stories, and that’s all. He gives a short introduction, maybe a sentence. Sometimes he also has author interviews, but mostly, it’s about the stories.

    Without going back and counting, I can say that half the stories are science fictional or fantastical, and well over half the stories are written by people of color and well over half the stories are written by women (and he talks often about his deep respect for his mother, who was an English teacher). Some of them are by authors I’d already read, but because I tend toward novels I hadn’t read the stories. A couple of them are by authors I’d heard of but never read. I have enjoyed every single episode to date, both the stories and the reading of them.

  58. “I read very fast, I read for my own fun, and I literally do not keep track of what might be upsetting to other people.”

    This is why I don’t like it when my friends with children ask me “hey did you see ‘x’ movie? Would it be okay for my kid?”

    A) I don’t have kids. I watch movies for me, and don’t really pay attention to what would or would not be appropriate for children.

    B) Even if I did have kids, my idea of what’s appropriate for my children based on age and maturity level might not be the same as what you think is appropriate for your kids.

    I do think your summer reading list looks interesting, however. 🙂 I may have to pick some of those up (when I’m finished with my current TBR stack).

    1. I’m the worst person to ask about what movies are appropriate for kids because 1) I don’t have kids and 2) my own parents seemed to take my brother and me to whatever and we were fine with it (we were also well-behaved and didn’t disturb other moviegoers). Little Shop of Horrors at 4 (for my brother) and 6 (for me), Terminator 2 at 8-9 and 10-11. Each child is different, so I don’t question parents’ decision that something isn’t appropriate for their young child, but I do get grumpy about people criticizing other parents for taking a well-behaved child to any given movie.

  59. Q1
    You could also try something along the lines of ‘Yeah, X seems like kind of an ass re: interpersonal matters (which could cover both inappropriate-quasi-flirting-guy and the ‘let’s be colleagues but not friends’ (which to be clear I don’t think is assy, but if it would help you to agree with your friend that it is…) people), BUT from what I’ve seen they can at least behave themseleves in the context of [profession], so I don’t want to blacklist them from collaborations.’

    If these people feel close enough to you to engage in recreational kvetching, that opens the door for you to do so as well. Maybe not in direct response, but on a separate occasion, something like ‘Oh look, another contract extension; wonder if I’ll get put on salary before retirement rolls around’, etc.

    Maybe they’ll just say ‘Huh, that sucks’ and think nothing further of it. Maybe they’ll at least not continue rubbing your nose in the ‘Loving my awesome benefits!’ talk in the future. Or maybe they’ll even say ‘They haven’t got that sorted out for you YET? Let me call my buddy in the Department Of Getting Shit Done, maybe she can help’.

    Dollar stores are great for greeting cards. Agreed that $7 is highway robbery.

    This is a quasi-philosophical thing that I’ve thought about many times. *Is* there such thing as a truly selfless deed, when it’s impossible to remove our own feelings from the equation? Whether I spend $10 to buy a cute purse or donate it to a homeless shelter, I’ve still gotten $10 worth of pleasure from that act; if you’re wired to get more of a hit from one type of pleasure than another, does that make you inherently more virtuous, or does it mean your good deeds actually matter *less* because you’re not suffering for them? Where did my brain get the idea that the word is actually ‘virtuitous’, and why haven’t countless spellchecks convinced it otherwise?

    These can be interesting matters to ponder, but in terms of day-to-day life? You’re putting good out there in the world. Give yourself a break re: your motivations.

  60. ” It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life.” Thank you for this, it perfectly captures why I am undertaking therapy. I have specific issues I need to resolve, but overall, I want to feel like I own my own life, know what my self looks like and how to change it if I choose to – rather than unknowingly enacting my parents’ blueprint (which they equally unknowingly created).

  61. Q1, girrrrl, you need to protect your money! You say networking is a huge part of your field; do other in your field know that your friend is a bit sensitive and difficult to work with? If so, don’t let that reputation rub off on you.

  62. One thing one two of my friends did when they got married was the rule was if you hadn’t met the spouse to be and only knew one party, you weren’t invited (made it easier to include favorite relatives and exclude those they weren’t as close to).

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