Hello! If you’d like a short question answered today, submit it on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday) or as a comment on the Patreon post before noon Chicago time today and I’ll get to as many as I can between noon and 1pm.
Comments open up after all the answers are posted.
So much ground covered today! Here it all is.
Q1: Hello Captain! Two weeks’ ago Q2, about the underpaid temp worker whose full time friends would complain to them about not being able to use their accrued vacation time, really resonated with me. I have a question that also is in the vein of “navigating social situations when there is a privilege imbalance.” Captain, I am buying a house soon! It will be a big life event and I want to share both the news and my happiness about it with my friends. As is the case for many home purchases here in the year 2018, luck (the job market in my industry) and privilege (my parents helping with down payment) were important enablers of this upcoming purchase. A good number of my friends very much want houses themselves but simply can’t make it happen. (How) can I share the news with them in a tactful way? Or do I just STFU and only share the news if people specifically ask? P.S. She/her pronouns
- The people that poster were encountering were coworkers, not friends.
- They weren’t “sharing good news” they were complaining about having a problem the questioner would love to have.
- A problem that was directly related to compensation and fairness and disparities in the place where they worked together.
That’s not your situation, so share the good news with friends the way you would any other good news about your life. And be honest about the help you got – “We bought a house! Thanks so much to my parents, who helped us out with the down payment, we’re so excited and grateful. Can’t wait to have you all over.”
If you’re looking to share the ups and downs of your search for a house, a thing I’ve seen people do that’s really nice is to use social media filters and opting in, i.e. “Hi friends, I’m training for a triathlon over the summer, and I’m making a filter here for my posts about training and goals and bikes. Let me know if you want to be reading these posts, and I’ll add you!”
You could do the same for “Who wants to look at house listings with me?” Personally, I can’t buy a house right now but I super-enjoy looking at real estate listings and vicariously house shopping for other people, and if you were my close friend I’d be all about it.
Q2: I recently had a parent from whom I was almost-not-quite estranged die, which has led to a lot of complicated grief that I’m working through both in therapy and with supportive friends/family, and that is going pretty well. I’m having some concerns, though, in my responses to people wishing me condolences, etc. asking how I’m feeling, if I need anything. The thing is, my needs and grief are a different kind of hurt to the kind expected in white Anglo-American culture at the death of a parent. (It’s very much grief for what could have been but wasn’t, as it is for many instances of abuse.) It’s been hard to figure out what I can say to communicate that I am doing all right in the day to day, but that I’m still bereaved, and that the situation is complicated, without going into five minutes of messy backstory. Do you have any ideas? Pronouns: they/them
A2: Since you mention white Anglo-American culture, in particular, did you know that “Mourning” used to last two, sometimes three years? Years, plural where people wore dark colors and were given a pass on performing happiness or fulfilling social obligations or dealing with pesky marriage proposals. Maybe it would help if you thought of yourself as being “in mourning” now. Part of being “in mourning” is giving yourself permission to open sympathy cards, eat sympathy casseroles, take time off from work for wakes and funerals and from social engagements as you wish, and hear “I’m so sorry for your loss” and other ritual expressions of sympathy without taking it as judgment or pressure for you to feel any kind of way about the person you lost. You and your departed parent can’t deserve or un-deserve these things, your culture has rituals that are the same for “RIP Beloved Spouse and Parent” and “I Basically Just Came To This Funeral Because I Look Great In Dark Colors And To Make Sure This Asshole Is Really Dead.”
It sounds like people close to you know what’s really up, so don’t feel like you have to either set the record straight or perform a certain kind of grief for people who don’t know the situation well when they express concern for you or offer care. “Thank you for your kind words” or “Thank you for thinking of me” can get you through a lot of death-adjacent social situations. “Do you need anything?” can just mean “Seriously, do you need anything? Because I like you and I can bring over a stack of silly movies or take a walk with you or feed your cat when you’re out of town.” One answer can be “I’m not even sure how to answer that, I’m still sorting out how I feel and what I need, but I’ll let you know!”
If someone gushes that you must miss this person sooooooooo muuuuuuuuch, they are projecting their own fears or memories about losing a parent. You can say “We weren’t very close, I’m afraid” and then metaphorically pull a very thick and stylish black veil down over your face. Oops, can’t stay and talk, you’re In Mourning!
Q3: Hi Captain! I just got word that my mom is dying. She’s been sick for a long time, and the nursing home says the time is coming. It sucks, and I’m headed home. My question revolved around my dad. They’ve been divorced nearly 20 years. Last time I asked her about him (several years ago), she said she didn’t want to see him. He was emotionally and verbally abusive for their entire marriage. He’s also self-centered, self-important, and likes to make a (fake) martyr of himself so he can be the center of everyone’s thoughts and discussions. If I don’t tell him before she dies, I’ll be blamed by him and his wife for… something. I have no idea what exactly they’ll come up with, but it’ll be something about faaaaamily, and how he should have been told so he could go see her even if she didn’t want to see him. And then he’ll parade that around to all their friends so he can get their pity and attention (this has happened several times around other fraught issues, so I’m fairly certain it’ll happen again). Way cool, I know, but fuck it, I can deal. My question is, do I even ask my mom if she wants to see him before she dies? Do I ask her to mentally revisit something that makes her cry until she can’t breathe every time? I can’t figure out if it’s better to ask her if she wants to say goodbye (or fuck you?) to him before she goes, or if it’s better to not ask, and if she wants it she’ll tell me?
A3: Oh, I’m so sorry, your poor mom.
Your mom a) knows that she’s dying b) surely remembers that she was once married c) knows how phones/email/postal mail works and d) is the 100% ultimate boss of whether she spends one more second thinking about the abusive jerk she once espoused (and mercifully freed herself from!).
If SHE brings up your dad, then you talk about your dad with her. If she does not, that’s your answer, forever and ever (literally forever). In the meantime, do not give him information that would prompt him to track her down and stress her out. It’s none of his business unless she says it’s his business.
Once you clarify that boundary, the rest falls into place, right? If after she dies, your dad tries to throw a What About Meeeeeeee? party in your mentions, you can honestly say “Well, she never mentioned you” or “I’m sure if she’d wanted to see you she would have called.” Try “Your relationship with each other was never my responsibility to manage” for good measure. You’re a person who is about to lose your mom, not the facilitator of his fantasy of some kind of deathbed reconciliation.
I want to say good job, you, for recognizing your dad’s games and making sure your mom doesn’t get to be proxy-abused by him one last time.
Ooh, before I forget: Someone did a great thread on Twitter about how to give people the news that someone has died.
Q4: I came out as trans to my family in an email and they’ve taken it poorly. My dad said he’d never use my new name, I told him that’s not ok, no response from him since but he likes my vacation photos. My mom is grieving like I died, despite letting her know over a year ago that I was questioning my gender identity. Unfollowed me on Facebook because she can’t stand seeing me gendered correctly yet. Wtf am I supposed to do now? I’m an adult and living on my own. Oh, he/him pronouns and it’s been like 2 weeks since I sent the email.
A4: You told your family who you are and gave them the opportunity to show you the love and acceptance you deserve. You invited them in. You told them a piece of wonderful, life-affirming, happy, true news.
They’re failing spectacularly in their responses, and you deserve better. They may see their error and behave better with a lot of time, but that’s not on you to facilitate or control, and you don’t have to wait around for that to happen. You may end up deciding to go low or no contact with them for a good while before even trying to talk about this again.
I’m not sure if you told your whole extended family or just your parents. I understand worrying that your extended family might react the same way, but, you don’t have to let your parents be the only conduit or keeper of those relationships. If you’d have sent your grandma or other relatives a birthday or holiday card before the announcement, you might keep the lines open by sending occasional postcards/greeting cards (things that don’t demand immediate response but say “I’m here and I’m thinking of you.”)
I think it’s very, very important that you let your support system – Friends? Therapist? Fellow trans folks/community? – take some good care of you right now. You’re not the only one who has been through this kind of painful rejection, and there’s nothing like people who survived these same terrible & wonderful times to remind you to be kind and loving to yourself.
Q5: This seems pretty minor, so it’s okay if you don’t get to this question, but my parents are moving out of my childhood home today. I lived there from before I can remember until I left for college, and I’ve lived nearby for over a decade post-college. I am having what I think are reasonable feelings about them leaving. The problem is that my Feelings have always been a problem for my parents, so actually talking to them or having some kind of last visit closure wasn’t an option. They hate that I’ve always been sentimental, and would probably laugh or roll their eyes if I tried. I went over one last time and tried to have my own private goodbye with the house while my parents played with my kids, but it didn’t seem to help. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to go back, and I’m still selfishly mad that they’re leaving to go live so far away from me and my kids. They’ve never really wanted to be close to me, emotionally or otherwise, so I guess I’m just upset that I can no longer pretend that somehow things will get better and we’ll have the relationship I wanted. I know that over time I’ll get over it, but do you have any mantras or aphorisms or beer recommendations for getting through this transition basically on my own?
A5: Hi there. I’m glad you got to say goodbye to the house. It’s understandable that you would feel some stuff because you are also saying goodbye to the idea you had of what your family was like or would be like. You’re grieving and grief feels weird and takes time.
Your parents aren’t the right people to process feelings with, so, who is? Spouse?Therapist? Friends? Talk to them about this. Maybe make a journal or scrapbook with photos and memories of the house, or draw pictures of it. Get the feelings out somehow.
You are a parent, so you can show your kids the emotional availability and attention that you wish you’d had. (They can’t really process the other grief feelings with you and shouldn’t have to).
You asked for beer recs. My tastes in beer are pretty prosaic. I used to live in Prague so I like pilsners and dark bocks, nothing too hoppy. I’m kind of dying to try this (I like plain old Shiner Bock and their Ruby Red variety) but it’s not available in Chicago yet.
Q6: And another trans related question: I recently realized I’m transmasculine, still not sure what I want to do yet. I’m only out to my husband and BFF and just started seeing a gender therapist.
My husband has said some things in the past about other trans people that were… shall we say… not that accepting (“how could they do that to themselves, they were so pretty before”, in that vein). When I came out to him we had a great two hour discussion, but he was asking me “what does this mean” and will I change my body, because he’s straight and not attracted to men. Which I already know. But now I’m scared to change any part of my appearance, because then he will be less attracted to me, and I’m not ready to be out to the rest of the world yet.
Any advice or scripts for how to deal with this?
A6: Hello! What big, awesome news!
It’s great that you have a therapist! You also need community where you can explore and process and play with expression and be your handsome SELF that is not about or at your husband.
Your husband also needs a resource and outlet where he can learn information and process his feelings. This is a giant resource-list for spouses of transgender folks. I don’t have a strong YAY or NAY rec for any particular resource, but you have to be able to be like “dude look it up” or “dude I can’t speak to that but maybe these folks can.” He could benefit from a safe place where it’s okay for him to freak out that his marriage is changing without you bearing the burden of those freak-outs.
You know this in your heart: Some marriages survive and adapt wonderfully to the gender transition of one of the partners and some just don’t. Those discoveries, negotiations, and tradeoffs are yours and your husband’s to make, in your own way and your own time, and no one can tell you what that all should look like. Still, I would like to gently suggest that there are many possible win conditions here, and “divorced/no longer sexually involved, but happy and deeply loving friends” is not the worst outcome in the world especially if the other option is that you suppress everything about your identity out of fear of losing someone. You don’t have to figure it all out right now.
Q7: Hey Captain! Today’s question is about past regrets and exorcising demons. Back in the 90s, when I was an undergrad student, I was stalked and ultimately assaulted by a classmate. I tried to report everything to the proper authorities at the time – but first they couldn’t do anything about the stalking because it hadn’t resulted in physical harm, and then they couldn’t do anything about the assault because no one else witnessed it and it didn’t leave any physical evidence. At the time I just wanted to get away from the stalker, so I changed my major to something else, where classes were held in a different part of campus – and that actually ended the stalking. Life has certainly had its ups and downs in the couple decades since, but I did manage to graduate with honors and parlay my education into an extremely successful career. However, to this day I regret being driven out of the STEM field I had originally chosen. I have thought about going back to finish another bachelor’s degree in my original major, but from a time and cost perspective that isn’t really practical. The bottom line is, I figured out a way to keep myself safe when others wouldn’t, and have an amazing job I love now – I’m just still rather angry that the course of my life changed because of an abuser who was never held accountable. Any ideas on how to let this go, and appreciate the wonderful life I have now?
P.S. Also! Wanted to clarify, I’ve already had lots of therapy for the (officially-diagnosed!) PTSD I developed from the stalking and assault. I’m (mostly) healed and no longer have the nightmares and panic episodes that plagued me for years. I just remain, well, pretty damn pissed off about the missed opportunities. Thanks!
A7: Can’t imagine why anyone would be pissed off after stalking and assault robbed them of their chosen field of study, resulted in years of PTSD and nightmares, and the people with power to do something about it totally failed to address it!
J/k I can imagine this perfectly
Two things you can do to channel this:
- Explore something related to the field you used to love in a way that is fun and interesting to you now. Reclaim it. It doesn’t have to be a degree or lead to a career. Take a class at a community college, volunteer with an adjacent organization, pick up a skill as a hobby. STEM doesn’t belong to that asshole.
- Become an advocate for people who have experienced stalking and assault. Lots of ways to do that – letters to the editor, serving on committees, shaping institutions and social spaces you move in, speaking about it, mentoring young people. You survived it, you thrived in the aftermath, you healed, now it’s time to change the world!
In the meantime, keep kicking ass and taking names.
P.S. I just read a very enjoyable book about SPACE and MATH and fighting for one’s rightful place. It gave me a lot of feelings, and if what you need is a good cry and a good read, you may enjoy it, too.
Q8: Meta-question for you — any tips for accepting (solicited) advice, when the answer isn’t what you were hoping for?
A8: You asked one specific person what they thought and they told you what they thought. You can ask follow-up questions, or for recommendations of other places to find the information. You’re not obligated to apply the advice, so, say thanks and move on.
Q9: I appear to have developed a mental block around putting together presentations…right at the time I’m job-hunting and have to put together presentations during the interview process. Halp?
I give you: a list
- Does it have to be a brand new presentation or can you recycle?
- What would your Drunk History episode be? (Mine = The Defenestrations of Prague)
- What if you threw a party and gave all your friends a limit of 5 minutes/25 slides to explain a topic they are super-nerdy about?
- I do this with documentary students who are struggling to shape a film out of tons of footage: If you had 10 images and 10 sentences to tell your story, what would they be? 4b: Export and print these out and we’ll stick them to the wall and look at them like we’re in a gallery. Hands down my favorite thing to do as a teacher and/or an editor, we always find new ways to tell the story.
- You can do this, you’ve done it before, you’re just procrastinating. Procrastinate a little more (maybe watch some Drunk History), then set a timer, write down everything you know about what you want to present on as fast as you can. When the timer goes off slap that shit into some slides and go!
Q10: Friend uses “If I don’t text first will they text me” to see if they are valued. Gives silent treatment until they get texts, sometimes even after to make you “text first” multiple times to “prove you care” I have SAD scared to text, very stressed, halp?
P.S. Want to clarify- I care for my friend very deeply but constantly being hooked to my phone to take care of them & make sure they feel loved if I need some time & space is stressful + they often reply in negative/rude ways even if they want texts. Having a hard time helping them.
A10: When someone gives me the silent treatment, I have exactly one response: I HOPE YOU LIKE SILENCE, MOTHERFUCKER. I grew up in New England and moved to the Midwest almost 20 years ago. Leave one brownie on the plate and I will prove Zeno’s paradox with it, try something passive-aggressive with me and (provided I notice you’re doing it in the first place) I can outwait you until the heat death of the universe. Set me up to fail the way your friend is setting you up to fail? I HOPE YOU LIKE FAILURE.
You say you like this person and you seem extraordinarily patient and kind, so, try this:
Set up a time – weekly, maybe- where you text or talk to or Skype or otherwise interact with this person in a way that works best for you. “I don’t have time to text as much as you want, but I don’t want us to lose track of each other, so let’s touch base every Tuesday night for a little while.”
Follow through on what you said you’d do. And if you have to change the schedule for whatever reason, let them know in advance. Treat it like a sacred appointment.
At other times, live your life. If they start texting you a lot or expecting texts at other times, remind them about your Tuesday plan. Respond once: “Hey, can’t talk now, let’s catch up Tuesday.” Then don’t reply to anything else. It’s okay to turn your phone off, temporarily mute them, whatever.
The first time you set the boundary will be the hardest. They might panic and escalate things and you might have a weird argument about it. The next Tuesday, text them as usual and see if you can start over.
Over time, one of two things will happen: 1) the friendship will end because y’all are not really compatible or 2) your friend will adjust and you will both feel more relaxed and secure in knowing that you have a structure for hanging out.
P.S. There was a thread for text-based therapy and therapy-adjacent things the other day, similar to the list here. If your friend is lonely and needs a ton of real-time support, there are Non-You alternatives.
Q11: Any good tools/trix for trying to assess ur own feelings? I found Im good @ suppressing feelings, which I know is not gr8. But I don’t know @ times whether I do feel somethin but i’ve squished it, or if I just think I should feel something/someway but I don’t. I should mention that I do journal pretty regularly and that usually helps, but I struggle when I need a quick assessment and don’t have the luxury to to write it all out.
A11: Yes, there’s an app for that! You can set reminders at specific times of the day or randomly, your phone pings you, you stop for a second and choose how you’re feeling from a range of options (and colors!) and then you have an opportunity to enter words that you associate with that feeling.
As a person who regularly enacts this skit with therapists:
Therapist: So, how are you feeling right now?
Me: Well, I think that…
Therapist: I didn’t ask what you thought. How are you feeling?
Me: We’re gonna sit here until I say a feeling aren’t we
Therapist: Our sessions don’t last that long
Therapist: Fine, tell me what you were thinking.
Me: [A firehose of words and thoughts!]
Therapist: You almost named a feeling!
Me: Neat! Which one?
Me: Ah! My old friend.
Therapist: So, next week, then?
Me: Oh, thank god. I mean, yes, next week!
The color-coded chart is way easier, and I can track moods and associated data and changes over time, like, yep, I was down in the gray-blue part of the scale for a while there but all my associations were “the news” and “creeping Fascism” so, that makes sense, right here’s where the meds kicked in, right here’s where the kicked back out again, etc. etc.