Short Answer Friday – 8/31

Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!

To ask a question, patrons can post to this thread and anyone can reach me on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which point I’ll answer as many as I can between then and 1pm.

Comments are open! So many great questions! Thanks everyone.

Q1: I have a new baby, who is loved very much. He is the first grandbaby on both sides. Yay! This means at family events, everyone wants to love on him. Yay again! They all believe they are Good With Babies, and as he gets cranky and overstimulated everyone still wants to pass him around or get in his face in an attempt to calm him, which does not help. At all. Any scripts to say “Please back the eff off for now, and also please don’t be offended, we would so love to have you visit and play with the baby another time so I can have a break then?”

A1: Yay, a baby! You’re gonna have to get in there, scoop the baby up, remove him from the situation, and say “Ok! Time for a little break!” and take him in another room and soothe him.

And you’re his parent, so, you are the Boss of All Things Baby, and people will deal. Relatives: “Oh, I’m good with babies, let me calm him down!” gets “Oh, you are very good with babies, and you can definitely visit/hold him/play with him another time! But right now, I got this!” as you whisk him away.

If other people feel weird about that it is 100% their problem. Babies don’t give a fuck (it is one of their best qualities).

Q2: I cut off my Darth Vader parents many years ago, and everyone else fell away. Except for one cousin, whom I like… as long as we’re “small doses”, several states apart. They love phone calls, which I hate; I love letters, which they hate. So we occasionally text (which I like), and they give me gifts (ugh). /// Gift giving in my family of origin was a hot mess, and now I basically hate even the idea of gifts. /// I’ve told them 3 separate times that my pierced ears closed up *20 years ago* due to allergies, but I received another pair a few months ago. Cue the shame spiral about how apparently my words are as relevant as the screeching of cicadas. ///
I just want to retain a feeling that one person I grew up around cares about the person I am now, but when I get a text about a package awaiting me at our post office box, I’m overcome with dread and despair. ///

A2: Hi! I have four strategies for you. All of them involve a little bit of disengaging – this particular cousin and their annoying quirk are not responsible for :gestures vaguely: All Your Complicated Feelings About Family – so the more you remind yourself that this is just one person and their one weird thing (and not a statement on you or what Faaaaaaaaaaamily should be like) the less fraught this will be.

  1. Return to sender. You don’t ever have to go collect that package from the post office. After a certain amount of time, the package will be sent back where it came from (or lost in the void, which, ok!). If your cousin inquires about that, say “Oh, that was from you? Weird, I thought we decided ‘no gifts’? I hope you can find a good home for it.” 
  2. Channel her. “I don’t like earrings/gifts, but you know what I do love? Postcards!” Get the postcards. Read the three sentences on there. Feel less weird. Send a postcard back sometimes if you are so moved.
  3. Donate immediately. Pick up the package. Swing by your local charity shop (in Chicago, I like this one).  Drop whatever is inside the package in one of the bins. Someone will like it. Don’t send a thank you note or text, and if the person asks about whatever it is say “Oh, yeah, I donated it – I couldn’t use it, hopefully someone can!” You. Said. You. Didn’t. Want. Gifts.
  4. “That’s just their way.” Take a deep breath. Repeat this to yourself. “That’s just their way.” They don’t listen, they don’t really see you, but they are the least objectionable family you’ve got, and you’ve chosen to stay in touch, so, that’s just their way. You can’t fix it, so, decide how much of your feelings budget you want to spend on it.

Q3: How do I know if it’s time to give up on my dreams of being a college professor? My former advisors and academic friends are pressuring me to go “on the market” again this fall, and part of me is like, “Eh, why not?” But this will be my third year on the market and I’ve started to feel like I’m wasting my time applying to jobs I’m not going to get. Complicating matters is the fact that I currently have an objectively good, albeit uninspiring, non-academic job that I can’t justify leaving for a one-year academic job, so I’m probably being more selective with the jobs I apply to than I have any right to be. I’ve had a decent “hit rate” with getting interviews, but I recognize that the deck is stacked against me. When does pursuing this become a waste of my time and energies?

A3: This is the first fall since 2003 that I’m not going back to school in any fashion and I’ve also given myself permission to stop trying to be any kind of college teacher for a while (a first since 2010), so there is a 10,000 word essay on this, like, vibrating out of my fingertips right now…




Maybe try this:

We’ve got a three-day weekend coming up if you’re in the USA, so, good timing for you to have a good think.

  1. Take a cursory glance at what’s available in your field. Anything grabbing you? Like, you read the posting and think to yourself “that’s my job” level of excitement? It’s okay to apply selectively and budget your energies.
  2. When is your field’s annual conference? Planning to go? Got something to present or do there? Got people you want to catch up with, and/or meet? Got the $ and some nice outfits? (“Nope!” is an okay answer to these questions, just, ask them of yourself and your budget).
  3. There is the job, and then there is…:pretentiously pushing up glasses:…The Work. If you didn’t go on the market this round, is there some enjoyable and exciting piece of research and/or writing and/or creative project on your topic of interest that you could work on? Could you tell your mentors (and yourself), “Oh, I don’t have time to apply for positions this year, I’m working on ______, though please let me know if you hear of something you think would be the perfect fit for me and I will rally!” 
  4. The Professor Is In is probably a good resource?
  5. There is the job and then there is…Your Life. Is your life making you happy? What good things have you been putting off because you might have to drop everything and move? What trouble spots have you been ignoring because your energies have been focused on the job search?
  6. If you never became a college professor, what are five other lives you could be happy living?

Q4: Can you help me establish good boundaries with helping my husband with his job search? It’s a minefield of him feeling useless and unwanted; he spent almost 2 decades pursuing degrees that are hard to tie directly to full-time employment. He does have many good skills and experiences and I do think he would do very well at many jobs. I don’t want to fall into a dedicated “caretaker” role of reminding him to do things like stop agonizing over his resume and just submit the darn thing already or doing things that he is fully capable of doing himself, like typing “how to dress for an interview for [job] in [industry]” into Google, or talking him off an emotional ledge every.single.time. he gets less-than-100%-positive feedback from a would-be employer. He’s “too busy” for therapy (we have great health insurance through my job), and we have access to the same, excellent career service office at our mutual alma mater. On the other hand, I have some personal experience in job-hunting, and I do work for one of the largest employers in my city (though not in his specific discipline/area of expertise) so I could be a networking resource. In fact, my company has expressed the possibility of helping him with his job search as part of my own compensation package. I want him to succeed and find rewarding, stable work, and in general I enjoy helping people work their job searches, resume editing, etc. “No help for my husband ever” is not the outcome I’m hoping for.

Hi there!

I’m sure you are very capable and helpful and kind and if there was something your husband needed or wanted from you that would help him get a job, you would cheerfully do it!

But I think that disengaging a bit is possibly the most helpful thing you could do.

If your husband wants to send me a question along the lines of “Hey, I spent 20 years in school and it hasn’t really added up to a career. I feel fragile and scared and I’m kind of at a loss for what to do. I feel like I’m too old/too out of step to start something new. My spouse wants to help me, but I don’t even know where to start, so their offers of help are starting to freak me out!” I promise I will write him a thorough answer to the best of my abilities. But I can’t (and you can’t) transitively help him get his shit together.

The most telling thing in your whole question is that he is “too busy” for therapy. But he isn’t too busy for you to spend time “talking him off an emotional ledge every.single.time. he gets less-than-100%-positive feedback from a would-be employer.” 

If I could talk to your husband directly I’d say “Dude. Go to therapy. Figure out what’s holding you back. Find something you want to work at or on or for. If you can’t find a paid job right now, volunteer at something that interests you. Phone bank or knock on doors for a candidate. Bag up groceries at the food bank. You’ll feel useful, you’ll be useful, you’ll meet people, you’ll make the world a better place, you’ll hopefully connect with the idea that there is work that needs to be done in the world that is separate from your exact dreams or your self-image or what you studied in school. Go to therapy. Volunteer somewhere. Make a start.”

For you, the querent, maybe the best thing you can say to your husband is “I want you to find work in your field and I want to help, but I want you to see a therapist and I want you to work with [outside coaching/placement resources in your discipline as available, which, it sounds like thanks to your job, some are?]. I think they can provide structure and guidance for you and give you a safe sounding board. If you have specific help you need from me, like, looking at your cover letter for a specific opening, let me know. I believe in you and I know you can do it!” 

And then you pull back from some of the ledge-talking over time and redirect him toward solutions, like, “Yep, that sucks, so, what’s your next step?” /”What do you want to do about that?” /”What do you think you’ll do about that?” And also change the subject after a certain point, like, ok, that’s all the job talk for tonight, let’s watch TV!

If he asks for specific help, help. But stem the tide of brainstorming ways to help, not because you don’t know what will help (you definitely know!) but because it has to come from him. 

Those are the hardest boundaries because they mean setting boundaries with ourselves, and they mean setting boundaries with ourselves when we can see someone we love is hurting. It’s so hard. But the current way isn’t working! He needs people who aren’t you to help him establish some accountability and some structure.

The level beyond that is, um, “Hey, so, do you actually want a job?” but that is definitely above my pay grade.

Q5: I’ve had the same friend group since high school and while we all went away for college, we’ve now all settled back in the city where we grew up and hang out pretty frequently. One of our friends, “Tina” moved a few states away (would be 4 hours by train) for a really demanding job with night-shift and weekend hours, and she’s been getting increasingly angry/jealous/hurt when the rest of us have been hanging out. Tina has expressed being hurt that she hasn’t been invited when we all hang out, and if she wasn’t invited she leaves passive aggressive comments on our social media posts like “#NotInvited” and “Wow guess I wasn’t invited…” We’re divided in the group if we should be inviting Tina to all our hangouts. Half say yes since she’s feeling hurt (and definitely experiencing FOMO) and it doesn’t take much effort to at least extend an invite, but I’m in the half that says no. I think it’s a bit ridiculous to have to invite a person who lives hours away every single time we get happy hour, have a board game night, go to a winery, etc. when we know she can’t make it! I’d love to get your take on this. To invite or not invite?

A5: If some things are planned in advance, and y’all would want her to come if she happened to be free, then invite her. “We’re going on a winery tour next weekend, who’s in?” Caveat: It’s okay to plan the thing for when it’s convenient for y’all and then invite/loop her in when it’s a set thing, you don’t have to negotiate everything you do around her schedule. If she keeps saying no, she can’t go, that’s fine! An invitation is not a contract or a command, she said she wanted to be invited to stuff, you invited her, her feelings about the rest are her own.

For last minute stuff/more casual stuff, it’s okay not to invite her, though if it is a weekly/standing event then it’s also ok to say “We play board games every Thursday at Guthrie’s, I know your schedule is crazy but if you ever want to make it you don’t need an invitation – just show up, or text me first if you’re not sure it’s on.” 

Also, talk to Tina and say: “Listen, we miss you a lot! But we’re not hanging out AT you or to exclude you, and it’s not fair or reasonable to expect that we’ll factor you into every last minute pizza night when you live four hours away, so can you stop with the #notinvited posts please? Also, let us know when you will be in town so we can make sure to plan something then.” 

It’s also okay if friends drift apart after high school. But if she is your friend, yeah, do a little work to include her.

Q6: A family friend became a single mom this spring. At her baby shower, I included the receipt. Since I forgot to request a gift receipt, it was my regular credit card receipt, which was a mistake because when she did return it a few months later, it went back on my card (my bank statement is how I found out). Not wanting to leave her with effectively no gift (especially since baby was in the NICU a month), I bought a Target gift card. What do I write in the greeting card that I’ll mail the gift card in? Also, I see her parents, brother/roommate, and probably baby this weekend. Do I say anything to them?

A6: “Hey, let’s try this whole gift thing again! So glad baby’s home to stay.” 

She was probably way too busy to even notice where the refund ended up.

Q7: Long story short, my MIL is LW#1141 30 years from now, and is having an incredibly difficult time committing to actually divorcing her husband, even though she knows he’s toxic and has been destroying her spirit for decades (so I genuinely hope LW follows your advice!). My question isn’t for her, but for her kids/their spouses (including me): all of us think she should get a divorce, and have been trying to support her throughout the process of her leaving him, including letting her live with us in our houses, talking to her for hours, finding her therapists and support groups, reading Lundy Bancroft with her, letting her know we’ll support her financially, going to the airport and picking her up. We know that it has to be her decision to leave him, that people in abusive relationships go back and forth many times, and we have each other as a support group, but it’s incredibly wearing on all of us and has been going on for months. Do you have any resources or suggestions for how we can practice self-care and find support?

A7: You’re doing all you can to support her, so make sure you spend time together (with your mom, with each other) that is not about taking care of Mom. Ask her advice about stuff in your lives. Find pleasurable hobbies or ways to spend time together. Laugh. Do fun things together. You don’t have to make your whole lives about #ThisFuckingGuy.

Q8: You know that thing where you eat something so awful that you want to make everyone around you taste it too, just to confirm it’s really that bad? My husband is like that with Trump news. Every time there’s another tiny update in the reality show that is our country, he feels the need to read all the news and talk to me about it. Unfortunately, my tolerance for the Great Pumpkin is a lot lower, and talking about it all the time makes me sad and upset. Any tips for setting limits on how much I can take?

A8: As someone who used to literally hide in another part of the apartment when past roommates watched The Apprentice so I wouldn’t have to hear that voice or look at that face, I FEEL YOU. I will die mad that I ever had to think about that asshole or anyone in his asshole family, that he ever had power over anything in the world. I FEEL YOU.

So. There are problems and injustices in these United States that he did not invent. He is not the center of everything, much as it feels that way at times. And there are activists who have been working on these problems for a long time, and they could use help. So, maybe focus your own energies on stuff like the largest prison strike in US history (happening now!), or supporting progressive women running for office or helping us hold onto voting rights or making sure people who need abortions can get them or petting all the dogs in your local shelter or making sure people where you live can eat. Put books in the hands of people in prison. Find some local politics to get excited about. The work of repairing the world has been here and it will be here after that guy is flushed down history’s tacky gold toilet.

And tell your husband that. “I can’t focus on him or hear about him, I need to work on other stuff. And I can’t be your Trump Anger Absorbing Sponge, I am overflowing, so you’re gonna need to join a message board or some shit.” Also, monitoring every policy turd that dude drops is not the same as taking action, so, redirect him to action. Like, every time your husband bitches about Trump, he’s gotta make five calls before he can even talk to you again.

Q9: I keep faking it but rarely do I feel like I make it. At what point does one give up and admit (to oneself at least) that I’m A Fake? And it’s time to stop? Or, am I supposed to use external measures – does feeling like a horrible fake even matter if others on the ground with me seem to think I’m doing fine? Maybe what I’m really asking is, how much stress and anxiety is too much?

A9: It’s therapy time, friend.

Q10: Dear Captain, this question comes from my now 15 year old daughter. She has a friendship issue which has been going on for a few years now and does not seem to be easily resolved. She is geeky and very interested in science and finds herself different from the other younsters in her class – but she used to have one close school friend. The friend is very different from her. She is calm and the friend is very active, she is considerate and the friend tends to blurt out inappropriate questions. This is why she put their friendship on hiatus a year ago in the first place: the friend kept asking her all kinds of very personal questions related to sexuality, for example: “Are you considering to auction your virginity?” “How does the penis go to the vagina” and that sort of thing. My daughter was very embarrased by these questions and asked her then friend why she kept asking thins like that. It turned out that the friend had all these questions and my daughter was the only one she trusted enough to ask them. Their friendship has now been on a hiatus for over a year and now my daughter is pondering whether they should try being friends again or not. In my opinion she initiated the hiatus very well, using scripts learned from you, dear Captain. We would love your input on this problem. My daughter is very much a hugger, so she wishes to send you her thanks and a big Jedi hug, if you want one.

A10: Hi there! Hugs back!

It’s okay to be friends with people who are really different from us, so if you’re missing this person and want to be friends again (and, very important, if they want to be friends again), why not?

This time you know what you’re getting into (this person is going to be pretty exuberant and doesn’t really have a good filter), and this time hopefully you’re more able to say “Wow, I have no idea what to say about that question/I’m not really comfortable talking about stuff like that, but did you know there’s a website called Scarleteen that answers all kinds of stuff about sex?”

Q11: Hi Captain! What’s the most ridiculously cute (or just plain ridiculous) thing the kittens have done this week?

A11: Funny you should ask, though it’s in the category of cute-but-gross:

Also, they keep GROWING. So large.

Q12: I moved to the country a few years ago, and now have a commute, several kids, a demanding job, livestock, a partner, aging family and in-laws… basically, I don’t go back to see friends as often as I’d like, due to sheer lack of time and spoons. Any suggestions for a) good ways of staying in touch with people I value (right now that’s sporadic text messages and occasional Skype dates) and b) making new social circles in a super-rural environment?

A12: For old friends: texting, Skype dates, postcards, social media, and maybe arranging an annual getaway where you all meet up for a long weekend or they come visit you on the farm? “Getting away” sporadically is hard, but maybe “This is the big annual trip that we do every year, it is sacred time” is easier.

For making friends in rural areas: Churches, community theater, arts, music, nature preserves/sanctuary/environmental stuff, farming organizations, political & advocacy groups, book clubs, trivia, Dungeons & Dragons, knitting/craft groups, all the same stuff as anywhere (only more driving). What’s on the bulletin board at the local grocery store or coffee shop? And could you put something there about what you’re interested in?

It does take energy, but I think community is there if you look. We’re communal animals.

Q13: I’ve been dodging a Casual Acquaintance who seems to think that we’re better friends than we are for months, and clearly the message that I’m not terribly interested in a deeper friendship isn’t coming across. I don’t want to be rude because they seem like a good enough person, but they have a tendency to disrespect boundaries and to ask for complicated favours in rude ways (due I think to just extreme social awkwardness). I feel bad for ghosting/vagueness, but we are both part of my city’s small-ish writing community, so something like deleting them off Facebook isn’t really in the cards. Are there any other ways to communicate distance than just continued “sorry, too busy to hang right now!” kind of refusals, or should I just keep at it until they get the message?

A13: Nicole Cliffe answered this beautifully.

I think you keep saying no to the favors, like, “No, won’t do that!” and maybe the next time they ask you to hang out you can say “Hey, no thanks! I’ll be glad to see you at [Writing Group Events], but I really don’t want to get together outside of that.” 

If you don’t want to delete/unfriend outright on social media, there is the Unfollow and the Filter. Use them!

Q14: What’s a good way to roll with other people’s shock/disbelief when you deviate from a common social script? For instance: a common social script for a man who doesn’t want to help a woman with a problem she’s having is to gaslight her about the “legitimacy” of the problem. Since this is awful, I don’t do that, but many women in my life don’t seem to know how to process it when I acknowledge a problem as legitimate but still tell them I can’t help.

A14: Hrmmmmm, I’m not sure I’m following about the “common social scripts” part but if you’ve said “sorry, can’t help you” and the other person is upset/surprised by that, and you’re sure that you don’t want to change your mind, what can you do except repeat what you said and then try to change the subject or move on from the conversation? Like, “I can see you’re upset, but I really can’t help.” And then…don’t help? And let their reaction be whatever it is?

Q15:One of my closest friends just does not like my boyfriend. It’s not for anything other than personality differences, as he’s truly an amazing partner and supports me and loves me fully. Essentially, he is just not good socially in anything other than very small groups, and she loves to have parties at her house with 8-15 people a lot. So he’s very quiet, especially with her because she makes him uncomfortable, which she perceives as aloof. In fairness, he does not try very hard to change this perception. They are both adults, and their relationship is theirs to manage, but it bothers me, and upsets me when I know we have not been invited to something because she doesn’t want him around. Should I just continue to stay out of it? Ask him to make more of an effort with her for my sake? Ask her to try harder to cover up her dislike for him when she’s around me? 

A15: You can’t control how she feels or who she invites to things, but if this is an important friendship to you, here’s some stuff you can control:

  1. Go to her parties solo sometimes. Boyfriend can amuse himself and not be uncomfortable in the home of someone who doesn’t like him. You might have to talk to her about this, like, “Hey, I’m bummed not to be invited to stuff – would it make a difference if it were just me and not me+1 next time?” 
  2. Invite her to do one-on-one stuff, and make Boyfriend an off-limits topic of conversation, like “Look, I know you don’t like him, so I will try hard to talk about other stuff and you will try hard to keep that look of disdain off your face if I do mention him.” 
  3. Try crossing the streams with them again, in a very small group, where your boyfriend knows/likes most of the people, and y’all are the hosts, approximately a year from now. Just leave it alone until then.

Q16: My (she/her) wife and another of her partners (also she/her) have been together for 20+ years (almost a decade longer than my wife and I) and they’ve always had a tricky and somewhat turbulent relationship, but also clearly loved and cared for each other. But lately things seem to have gone past turbulence into active dysfunction in a way that makes me uncomfortable to witness.

They seem to be clashing more and more, and partner spends a lot of time bitching about my wife when she’s not present. (We’re neighbours and our lives are quite entangled) and I’m having trouble navigating my role in this situation. I’ve said to my wife, “if I had a friend whose partner talked to and about them the way partner talks to and about you, I’d be telling them to reevaluate their relationship,” and I kind of want to tell partner something similar (“if I had a friend who talked about their partner the way you talk about wife, I’d be asking them how much they still wanted to be in the relationship”) but I know that the actual conversation that needs to happen here is entirely between them. I guess I need help figuring out where my boundaries should be and how to better defend them.

A16: I love your “if I had a friend whose partner talked to and about them the way partner talks to and about you, I’d be telling them to reevaluate their relationship” script and I’m just gonna add one tiny thing to it, which is “I am super-uncomfortable being a sounding board about this, y’all are going to have to figure it out together or separately, but we’ve gotta change the subject.”

Get out of the middle! It’s okay to make that clear.

Q17: How do you get stuff done when you have no deadlines, and you have depression & perfectionism, and are paralyzed anytime you try to start? I don’t know if I need a kick in the pants or a sabbatical or a strict routine or a new life.

A17: There is a good book about habit formation called Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin, which I’ll recommend with the caveat that I definitely tuned out some “better eating habits” content. Anyway, what I found valuable about it was the way she broke down how to find out what motivates you, like, maybe you are someone who is motivated by having external accountability, so having a study group or a writing group or a buddy to check in with about what you’re working on would help you, or maybe you’re motivated by reminding yourself why you need or want to do what you’re doing. (Rubin is kind of a natural rule-follower, which, uh, does not apply to me).

I also like the Pomodoro method (adapted well by friend-of-blog Rachel Hoffman) of setting a timer and just picking one thing and doing it for a set amount of time as a way to break analysis paralysis. Like, it doesn’t matter what order, even, just, pick a thing, now, do it for 5 minutes. Action can be its own motivator.

You might in fact need a sabbatical, a strict new routine, therapy, a coach, a kick in the pants. Some of the stuff on your to-do list might be bullshit that you don’t actually need to do. IDK. P.S. If you have The Impossible Task, ask for help with it?

Q18: Question is: what are practical tips for building a morning routine? Currently mine is like “smoke 3 cigarettes while staring at Twitter” which is… not a great way to start the day. But putting Energy into anything else in the morning is so hard!

A18: You might like that book on habits that I mentioned above. Also the UFYH-author has a great “unfuck your morning the night before” list of things:

  • Wash the dishes in your sink
  • Get your outfit for tomorrow together, including accessories
  • Set up coffee/tea/breakfast
  • Make your lunch
  • Put your keys somewhere obvious
  • Wash your face and brush your teeth
  • Charge your electronics
  • Pour a little cleaner in the toilet bowl (if you don’t have pets or children or sleepwalking adults)
  • Set your alarm
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour

I am a disorganized person with ADHD. Most mornings, my slightly more organized husband wakes me up and feeds me breakfast, I get some meds into me, I feed some kitties, and then I get started with whatever I’ve got going on. Mr. Awkward started school this week and his whole schedule shifted earlier and he didn’t have time to make breakfast on Tuesday and after he left I was like…

…what even is life…

…I think I finally ate a food around noon that day…

…what are meds…

…so I’m not exactly a crackerjack.

Two things do actually help me:  1) Free-writing a few pages, either in a notebook or online. I have been sucking at this for the last month or so because petting kittens is more fun and by the time I would do the morning pages it’s time to start the day’s Real Writing, but it’s a touchstone and whenever I go back to it I’m more functional.

2) The second thing is I’ve started putting my phone and anything that connects to social media in a different room (literally on a different floor of my apartment) after a certain time of the evening. So a) there is a definite quitting time in the evenings where I read books and don’t look at the Internet and b) in the morning I don’t read Twitter or anything about the world until I’ve had a food and some meds and petted some kittens. IT IS GREAT A+ HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

Oh also I turned off almost all notifications on my phone. ALSO RECOMMENDED.

Q19: My surname is common for my ethnicity, rare overall (this isn’t it, but think Nguyen). When I’m in a class/job/etc with someone of the same name, people often say “oh, are you related?” or “It must be nice to be at the same school as your sister!” I try to say “oh, we’re not related!” as breezily as possible, but it still feels awkward, especially when they’ve presupposed that we are related and I have to step the conversation back to correct them…I never leave the convo feeling good. Any other tips?

A19: If you have the energy to engage, and especially (for example) if the people making this mistake are white people of the American variety, try adding “Oh, we’re not related! You probably didn’t realize, but it’s a very common name, like Smith or Jones.” They’ll likely apologize at that point and you can say “I appreciate it! And now you’ll know not to make the same mistake when you talk to [Your Not-Sister With Same Name], right? Spread the word?”  

Q20: I already have one cat who likes being an only child, but your kittens have stirred something deep inside and now I want two kittens more than I have ever wanted anything in my life. Talk me out of it?

A20: 1) They poop SO much and it smells like DEATH. 2) Beadie, were she still alive, would have cheerfully gutted these little motherfuckers and left their corpses on my pillow for me to find. Barring that, she would have rage-peed on everything I own. And then they would have peed. And then she would have peed more. AN OUROBOROS OF HATE AND PEE. You made a commitment to your cat, who loves you, and who doesn’t deserve this nonsense.

(I love them so much)(I still miss her so much)

Q21: My mom & sister are mad at me for not letting them visit when I was in the hospital recently. Neither one is a comforting presence or relaxing & I was sick & stressed enough as it was. They say they’ll visit me next time, like it or not because FAMILY.

A21: Guess who you won’t call when/if you go back to the hospital, and who will always find out about any hospitalizations well after the fact?

Why are people like this.

Q22: What’s the best way to shut down someone’s(usually an older white man) Bad Opinions(tm) when you’re easily flustered and bad at debate? These opinions come on a tide of plausible deniabity and build on normal suppositions one feels inclined to allow/agree with but somehow always concluded things like “and therefore diversity is bad.” In the moment it’s hard to notice the point when it goes from normal to bigoted.

A22: On social media, I started telling these dudes that my debate-a-stranger rate was $500/hour, payable in advance, 2 hour minimum, automatic 20% surcharge for libertarians or anyone with “contrarian” or “devil’s advocate” in their handle or display name.

Nobody’s sent me money so those dudes are all muted or blocked forever now.

In real life it’s harder to invoice, but what I’ve learned is that I can usually see these guys and their “plausible deniability” antics coming from a mile away (and probably so can you) and I don’t have an obligation to hang out until they get to the explicitly racist stuff (and neither do you). Telling an older white man that you don’t really care about his thoughts is a risky thing (sometimes they get really angry and violent), but you can say “Oh, I don’t want to listen to this” or “Oh, I don’t enjoy debating about this” and bow out of the conversation completely if you want to. They don’t want to actually discuss it, they want a forum to be loud and wrong and dominate you, and you can deny them the satisfaction.

Q23: Advice for Interview Brainspace for a Super Awesome Job interview about 3 months after being dismissed for “fit” – and still working through it!! (she/her)

A23: When you were dismissed, there was a lesson. What was that lesson, and what is the three sentence story you could tell about that lesson if you had to?

  • Like, were you a bad fit for the place? Why or why not?
  • Were they a bad fit for you?
  • What do you need out of your next workplace and a job re: fit?

Interviewer: “So, why did you leave Company X?”


You Today:It was a bad fit, which I was pretty upset about at the time, nobody likes acknowledging that, but now that I’ve thought about it I realize it really was a bad fit, and a company/position that has x, y, and z  [where x, y, and z are facets of the new job] qualities would be much better for me.

Q24: I have an OK thesis draft, a kind & supportive advisor, mostly effective anxiety meds, but the thought of letting my advisor read my thesis is making me panic (& making it hard to revise.) Not worried about things going badly – just AAAAGH. Any advice?

A24: Just fucking send it already. It’s your advisor’s job to read it and to help you shape it into what it’s going to eventually be. This is just one draft in a series of drafts. Send it!

Then immediately after you send it do something really nice for yourself.

Thanks for the great questions, comments are open now, but moderation will be light after 6pm or so today and through the weekend, so please don’t panic if your comment gets eaten by the spam filter – I’ll release them as I can.


































221 thoughts on “Short Answer Friday – 8/31

  1. Q21: Totally with the Captain on this one. I mean, seriously? Your family is making your hospitalization about THEM?!?! Not cool at all. And certainly not how family should work in my book.

    1. I’m kind of glad that my younger sister really doesn’t like hospitals/sick people, so stays well away.

    2. Q21, my mom actually implemented a Surprise Hospital Visit while I was being treated for leukemia earlier this year – I was wheeled out of my room for a CT scan and when I was wheeled back, she was JUST THERE. (In the middle of the afternoon! She lives 4 hours away! She didn’t even text!)

      Don’t be tempted to just give in to keep you the peace – my forever struggle. The peace was not kept. Giving her what she wants never results in reciprocity (despite multiple use-your-words conversations from both me and my brother).

      Next time I’m in the hospital, she’s going on the “not allowed to be told I’m here” list.

      Big Jedi hugs and I hope future hospital visits are purely hypothetical.

      1. I do my best to make sure that my mother only finds out about hospitalizations when they’re over — she’s only an hour and a half away, and it’s NOT FAR ENOUGH.

      2. Ouch…my sympathies. First, here’s hoping it never happens again (ptui ptui…that’s my Albanian friend’s spit against the devil)…. but if it does, tell your medical team what happened & how awful it was for you. Give them your mother’s name, and ask them to keep her out. They’ll put her on your anti-HIPAA list. If you spell it out, even the front desk will be asked to keep her out.

        My mom was a front desk “pink lady’ for decades… they can get ferocious defending their patients!

    3. Jarred Harris, my reaction exactly! The first thing which came to my mind was the circle of… consolation? Uh oh, I am sorry, English is abandoning me, but I mean the thing where the person(s) in the innermost circle get to dump their bad feelings on anyone on the outer circles. LW21 would clearly need someone to help them maintain their boundaries while they are hospitalized. It is just plain wrong to have to consider other people’s feelings in addition to being ill.

        1. #21 – Ring Theory is wonderful! I love Ring Theory. The only problem I’ve found is that the offenders don’t see themselves. In the example in the link, Susan’s colleague says “this isn’t about you.” She’s laughably wrong, but trying explaining that to her. As far as she’s concerned, her need to be there IS a loving supportive comforting thing, and if you leave notice at the nurse’s station that Colleague is not to be allowed in the hospital room, she’ll tell herself that it’s a mistake that Susan didn’t mean it, that Susan really needs her comforting presence, and she’ll still be telling herself that she’s right even as the security guards drag her away. (If you’re lucky enough to have security guards. I’m guessing most hospitals have better things to spend their money on.)

          Not quite the same thing but in the same ballpark. A close family member died recently. Many family members rushed into town to comfort the bereaved. Except their idea of comforting was to allow themselves to be driven from service to graveside to wake one day, and to be picky about food which was being served to them the next. There was also marveling about how great it was to be in a family. (This was an in-law married in.) Her own family has several rifts, largely, I’m guessing, because family members weren’t big on being “comforted” in this way.

          The LW in 21 didn’t allow Mom and Sister to visit when she was in the hospital. They’re not comforting presences, and now they’re mad. The only thing to do is to make evasive maneuvers to make sure they don’t know about future hospital visits because no amount of ring theory is going to educate them. (I’m now imagining a cloak and dagger type plot such that LW checks into one hospital but leaves clues leading them to a hospital in another state. The opposing side finds out, makes counter moves to discover the location of the real hospital, figures out the fake name their target is registered under, and shows up because it’s so important to comfort their loved one at any cost.) (Except now the LW is wearing a big nose and mustache Groucho Marx type mask …)

          1. This is a really good point! Ring Theory works great on reasonable people who have a brain lapse, I think, but it doesn’t account for things like how one person’s idea of comfort is NOT another’s, and that’s even for well-meaning people. For instance I’m very much a “I’msickpleaseleavealonetohide” like a cat but other people would feel super neglected if I did that for them! And then of course that unreasonable people are very likely telling themselves that they are indeed being comforting, helping the sick person, and absolutely not making it about them.

          2. “There was also marveling about how great it was to be in a family.”

            Oh lordy, my family does this too! There are always several proclamations about how “This Is What Family Does for Family” and “Family is Family” and “Look at How Well We Family” and “We Are the Best Family That Has Ever Family-ed in the History of Families”. And I’m in the corner, willing them to shut up. The whole thing is so weird!

            It’s also the reason that when I had a recent health scare, I told *no one* other than husband. If I’m going to have a health crisis, I need to not worry about how anyone else feels about my health crisis, other than my kiddo and my husband.

          3. (Responding to Clem Lemon) I’m now envisioning a list of “marveling about how great it is to be in a family” variations. In one, it’s the family itself doing the marveling the way you describe. In the situation I wrote about, there was a twist since it was in-law marveling on how great my family was in comparison with hers. (If only she knew!) (Or if only she’d pay attention enough to see!) I imagine more variations which involve defining family by the way celebrities do it or according to the laws hospitals have.

            But yeah, it shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it always does the way people get a picture in their head that they can’t get away from. I’m thinking of one case where the patient specifically asked for no flowers because she was allergic to them under the best of circumstances. So what does the comforting friend do? Send flowers, of course. I think the excuse was “oh, I don’t think you’ll be allergic to these.” And yes, the patient was allergic to some sorts of flowers and not others, but how hard could it have been just not to send flowers?

            It all comes down to how we can control the information going out. We can’t control how it will be received.

          4. The Ring Theory, thank you, sayevet! I thought of it more for the LW21 for reassurance since clearly it sounds like their mother and sister could never understand this concept. I was wondering if the LW21 has any close friends or other family members willing to be the buffer?

            People’s experiences during a hospital stay vary wildly – and each experience may also vary greatly. When I was pregnant with my daughter I had to be hospitalized due to a serious medical condition but I did not feel sick at all. I had to stay in bed rest which made me very worried of my unborn baby and also bored and restless. In that situation every visit from friends and family was a treasured gift while after the C-section I only wanted to see the closest family members for brief periods of time.

            In my opinion the LW21 should inform the hospital that they do not wish to see their mother and sister. I do hope the hospital in question enforces that boundary. I hate it that LW21 has to worry about them while also needing medical attention. If the LW21 has anyone who could handle this situation for them, that would be really great.

  2. Q17: thank you so much for reminding me I’m not the only human being struggling with depression, anxiety and inability to function or at the very least to work. Deep breaths. Dodge panic attacks. It will be ok. Not fine or great, but that will come, too, as we become a tiny bit better at understanding what works for each of us – one little thing that did wonders to me was writing down a list of my good qualities, and for each one a series of examples of where I showed that quality (in order to prevent jerkbrain from just going “no, that’s not true, you have no quality” and me going “that’s true”) and then reading it from time to time. Big jedi hugs if you want them, and again, thank you.

  3. Wow Captain, thank you for your always-so-astute read of my situation and your awesome, awesome advice. Your response really made me realize how helpfully helping the helpy help I have been with regards to his situation, and how that isn’t actually helping very much! I suppose any aspect of his situation I have had the power to fix, has been fixed, and a long time ago, too. And YES, I need to set boundaries with myself. I guess I’ve been sort of yo-yo’ing the situation: getting really excited about solving! the! problem! with charts and web searches and mock interviews and and and… and then becoming overwhelmed. It is… bad. And not getting into that cycle is one aspect of the situation that IS in my power to improve.

    The “do you actually want a job” question, yup yup yup, is the big question that sort of looms over all of this. He hasn’t brought it up so I’m not going to, either, ha.

    And by the way, Captain, you are a BUTTKICKER of a writer. You are so good at choosing just the right words and having just the right tone to communicate so much complexity and emotion, so eloquently. Gah, I wish I could learn your ways!

    1. Hey Q4–I don’t usually out myself, but I do career for a living, and there comes a point with some persistently career-unhappy people who say they want a change but won’t do anything where you have to just accept that they aren’t ready.

      Whatever the change is, they know what it is or they know it needs to happen–and sometimes both–but when you’ve done your very best with them and still nothing is changing…it’s because they aren’t ready. You cannot make them be ready. You cannot talk them into readiness. You cannot force them to perform readiness for you. There is nothing you can do, because it’s up to them. Basically, if it helps at all, this is a thing that happens to those of us who do this for an actual living and we know and accept that we are not remotely all of the equation. You don’t have to set yourself on fire to get your husband experience as a firefighter.

  4. #5– How often has Tina planned a nice get-together and invited the rest of the old gang?
    Right, didn’t think so.

    Tina wants to be invited when the rest of you hang out together but never takes the initiative to do the planning and inviting. I don’t know what it is about group dynamics, but when it’s one-on-one, people sometimes have an inkling that they can be invited sometimes and do the inviting other times. When it’s one-on-one, it’s obvious that even the most low-key hang-outs take some effort to make them happen. If you’re just getting together to feed ducks in the park, you still have to arrange for which park, under which tree, someone has to bring bread for the ducks, and there’s still last minute deciding if it looks too much like rain. Why is it then when 3+ people get together, people imagine that it all magically happens with no effort, no calls or texts, no decisions for what would be fun and when they can all get together.

    My suggestion: 1. Invite Tina to something one-on-one. Hey, would you like to get the train down here [afternoon when she likely isn’t working] to feed some ducks? 2. Wait for a return invitation. When you don’t get it, tell her straightforwardly that you would have liked a return invitation

    1. Exactly this. When was the last time Tina sent everyone a group message: “Hey everyone! I randomly have next weekend off and there’s an art installation I think you would love in [my city], would y’all be free for a quick overnight? I can look up an AirBnB!”

      If that never happens, then Tina is not trying – she’s coasting.

      1. Like, okay, yes, this is a valid point and something to be attuned to as a pattern over time — is Tina intiiating anything, especially when she’s in town, or is she expecting everyone to psychically intuit when she’s around and free?

        But also, if she’s the one who lives four hours away from everyone else, it’s one thing for her to travel into her old neighborhood on a day when she happens to have the time and energy for doing an eight-hour round trip. It’s another thing for her to ask everyone else to travel four hours each way, make overnight stay arrangements, etc. Both are doable! The latter might be a fun thing for everybody to do sometime! But one is volunteering herself for inconvenience, and the other is asking everybody else to inconvenience themselves.

        Let’s also not discount the emotional weight of proposing this kind of thing and getting a rejection. It’s one thing to be organizing something anyway, say to yourself “I’ll add Tina to this email, but I’m 98% sure she won’t be able to come,” and nod resignedly to yourself when she RSVPs no. It can feel a lot riskier to say “Hey, does anyone want to come visit me for this event?” or even “Hey, everybody, if I traveled into [your city] for this, would you be up for doing the thing with me?” when you’re afraid you might get silence or a round of sorry-I-can’ts in response.

        I’m not defending the passive-aggressive #notinvited blogging, which is about the least productive response possible. If Tina’s feeling lonely and out of the loop, there are much more useful ways to address that. Tina could really stand to use her words, and to think about what is and isn’t reasonable to expect, and the Captain’s script for pointing that out in a friendly way is great. But it can be really hard to move away from all your friends. It’s a lot of emotional work sometimes to balance the FOMO and the loneliness and the fact that initiating anything just takes a lot more work and organizing and risk of rejection than it used to… with the fact that, well, you were the one who moved away and the logistics are what they are and your social life is ultimately your responsibility to take charge of, not anyone else’s.

        Yeah, there are some things that it’ll just be silly to invite her to. And yeah, some friends may include Tina by default on invitations where LW is like “nope, she’s not coming and this is silly” when they’re the one planning it. The calculus of what events are which, and how to balance “Tina is our friend and she misses hanging out with us, we should keep her in the loop even though she won’t make it to most of this” with “look, I don’t want to feel obligated to invite someone four hours away who never comes to EVERY SINGLE THING I ORGANIZE,” is a thing that LW and their friends group will have to work out. And I think the Captain’s guidelines and scripts are great there! But I think it’s pretty harsh to propose treating Tina exactly the same way you’d treat someone ten minutes away who never initiates an outing.

        1. Yeah, this. When I lived an hour outside of the city where my friends lived (and I worked), people just weren’t willing/able to come to me very often–I don’t love hosting at the best of the times, and when I put in a ton of effort to arrange things only for nobody to show up (or on one memorable occasion, when I was supposed to have a good friend over for my birthday, for her to show up three hours late and stay for forty five minutes before she “really needed to get back”, despite the fact that I was in the middle of making dinner for us) it just tipped me over into “don’t bother making plans, no one will come.”

          I know an hour isn’t the same, and I did regularly show up for things I was invited to (because again, I was commuting that distance every day anyway) as well as asking if people were free for stuff IN the city when I was there, but I wouldn’t assume Tina not inviting people to come to her means she’s not really invested.

          1. Yep, I used to live in a city that was ~2 hrs from where most of the people I knew lived, and while it was populated, modern, and a fine place to live (LOTS OF GREAT THRIFT STORES!), it was actually a pretty boring place to hang out. It was mostly known as a place where wealthy retirees moved to or wintered, and the vast majority of entertainment options catered towards that crowd.
            My friends all lived in a major metropolitan area or it’s suburbs, where almost anyone can find interesting things to do all day long every day of the week.
            I lived in a tiny janky shithole that one of my friends dubbed the Serial Killer Shack (I loved it & it was perfect for my needs), don’t cook, hate hosting, didn’t have the room to have more than 1 or 2 persons overnight, and most of my friends did not have the income for even a cheap hotel/motel, but I had my choice of family/friends to stay with in my old area. I also had multiple pets some of my friends were allergic to/not comfortable around (and my house was not set up in a way that I could separate them.) Add kids, 9-5 jobs they couldn’t get time off of + my schedule was way more flexible…yeah it just made WAY more sense for me to come out to them.
            I would have been deeply hurt if people had stopped inviting me to [things planned in advance] just because I couldn’t make it to all of them, or because I did not reciprocate or plan/host equally. I was often even invited to last minute plans, because they knew I was fine with hopping in the car for the 2 hr drive out even if sometimes it meant I spent the night and left the next day to go straight to work.

      2. I totally agree with the suggestion that Tina could be coached into approaching this more constructively and that that might include inviting her friends to activities out her way. I’m really surprised at the comments pushing back on that on the grounds that it is more somehow more of a hardship for the friends to travel to see Tina than for her to travel to see them simply because there are more of them. I think this is false logic. If we can put aside individual circumstances that might cause hardship (which apply equally to Tina) for a minute, it isn’t really any more difficult or expensive for any *one* friend in old neighbourhood to visit Tina than it is for Tina to visit them, and although it’s a bit more complex to co-ordinate any sort of group event it’s not as if the effort or cost of all the old neighbourhood friends travelling is being borne by just one of them. I see this sort of thing all the time between friends who live in my big city and those who live in nearby country towns. It is always the country people who are expected to travel, as if it is less of a hardship for them simply because they have to travel more to *all* their activities so they are used to it. That’s actually a rather selfish attitude when you think about it.

        1. However I will admit that what I’ve said is more of a general comment on this type of situation and I apologise if it comes across as derailing for the specific case of LW5

        2. It’s not that it’s necessarily a hardship, so much as asking people to visit her can read as her asking _them_ a favour, since it’s more effort for them. But sure, extending individual invitations to people to do things in her town is still a good idea, even if they don’t always say yes.

          Although four hours away, to me, is really an overnight trip. It can theoretically be done without staying overnight, but boy is that awkward and exhausting.

          Do they offer to put each other up sometimes when they visit each others’ towns? Or does the friend have family in the LW’s town she stays with? I think when you have a friend four hours away, inviting them every now and then (even once a year) to stay a night at your house is a very nice gesture if at all possible, and makes it more likely that you keep up a friendship.

          Although sometimes people do get less close when they move, too.

        3. I think this depends on whether Tina has strong one-on-one friendships with other members of the group. If she does, then absolutely, it’s no more difficult for one or two people to go to her than it is for her to go to them, and both sides should be bearing the challenges of maintaining that relationship.

          But sometimes friend groups are less about those individual friendships and more about the group dynamic, the community as a whole. If that’s the case, then one or two people heading out to Tina’s new city might not actually offer what Tina’s missing–and she might not have close enough relationship with any given individual to warrant a one-on-one invitation like that. I think the loss of those kind of social community spaces is something a lot of people forget to factor in when they’re moving; individual friendships can be maintained, but unless you’re visiting your old area really often, you’re not going to be part of your old communities anymore. That can be a painful loss, especially when you haven’t necessarily found your spaces in your new area yet.

        4. In the LW5’s case I understand both of their points (although I do think that Tina is handling this in a hurtful way). I love organizing events and if it is not much extra trouble I probably would invite Tina, too, even though I would be completely sure that Tina would not be able to make it. If the organizer is setting up a Facebook event, why not send an extra invitation – or add an extra e-mail addres to the list of recipients? If Tina is still a person the LW considers their friend, why not make a little bit of effort if it helps Tina know that she is missed and that her friends think of her? For example in my tabletop role playing groups if someone was unable to physically attend but otherwise wished to participate in the game we often made a Skype call or a Google Hangout for them – and after a friend of mine moved to another country to pursue her career, whenever we play ttrpgs we record and send her a voice or video greeting to let her know that we are thinking of her and whenever she visits we make sure we will hang out together.

          Still, I have to say that Tina is not reacting in a constructive manner and this issue should be directly addressed with her. The Captain’s answer was brilliant.

          When it comes to traveling, finally the decision rests with the group of friends and how much time, money and spoons each of them have for traveling. Perhaps they could make an adventure of traveling to see Tina; me and my friends have traveled to conventions and other geeky events for longer than 4 hours, so why not go seeing a friend and the city they live in, if it is feasible? Still, this hypthetical trip should not be done to suppress Tina’s emotions of abandonment and loneliness rather than for everyone to have fun together. Tina’s feelings are hers to deal with, in the end.

        5. I just wrote a long response to another poster right above you about why this would not have worked when I was in a situation where I lived ~2 hrs away from most of the people I knew. It was way, WAY easier AND more entertaining for me -> them than the other way around for multiple reasons. I mean, I didn’t even have a TV/VCR so we couldn’t do things like ‘movie night slumber party’! That didn’t mean nobody ever came to visit my area, but it was pretty limited, occasional day trips and a couple overnights/weekends.
          I would never have reacted like Tina if people had stopped inviting me to things because I now lived far away, but I would have been deeply hurt & felt like my friends didn’t really give much of a shit anymore.

    2. That’s a bit unduly harsh considering the travel time issue: 4 hours by train is no joke, so trying to get The Whole Gang to shell out the time and money to come see one individual is a big ask.

      Reciprocity also isn’t what LW5 is criticizing/complaining about in this case. The question was if it’s “ridiculous” to offer invitations to trivial group outings that odds are good Tina won’t be able to attend anyway. That doesn’t sound like a situation where the problem is reciprocity is the problem.

    3. #5 -I did get far away from the original question which was whether to invite Tina to get-togethers in a place 4 hours from where she lives. I’d moved to Tina’s irrational hurt and Tina’s passive aggressive responses. I was hoping it might be possible to get through to Tina that she’s being unreasonable if she wants to be invited time after time when she never does any inviting of her own. I thought maybe Tina was making the mistake that I’ve seen others fall into and that I remember doing long ago– that of forgetting that groups are made up of individuals. I’d want to be part of a big group without cultivating and nourishing friendships with individuals within it.

    4. I am not Tina but I have been in her shoes. I have always worked weekends and holidays. This makes it very difficult to make and keep friends outside of my field and also complicates things for my family. This is a me problem and I don’t expect people to accommodate me, but, it’s still really hard to find that I am no longer being invited to things I would like to do with people I would like to see. Since it’s so rare to be able to attend something, it feels really special when I can. If I happened to have the day off I would definitely spend four hours on a train to see old friends, and I would feel really hurt/sad/disappointed/lonely/rejected to find out I had not been invited to something I could have attended. This has happened to me a lot and has even caused some friendships to fall apart or fail to launch and it’s bringing up a lot of big feelings just thinking about it.

      I guess what I’m saying is, if you would like to see Tina, please invite Tina, and definitely have the talk about the inappropriate responses on social media but also just…invite her. It means more to her than it does to you and she may be deeply hurt by the exclusion.

      1. I totally get how feeling excluded could feel bad. The question is how to expect your friends to invite you to something you “could have attended”?

        Do you want to be invited to everything and say yes 5% of the time? Because I can totally see that if I invite friend A to an event and s/he/they say no 20 times, I’m not gonna be inclined to hunt for the yes on the 21st.

        Do you expect your friends to remember your work schedule? Not an impossible desire but possibly unrealistic.

        I think the Tina’s in this situation would be best served by being proactive: “I am going to be in X city on weekend Y. Do people have plans I can join or would anyone like to do Z cool thing I found in the city weekly?”

        1. I don’t really understand why just continuing to issue invitations is such a big ask? I have friends who work odd schedules and also friends who deal with chronic illness. In both cases, they often turn down invitations, and sometimes even have to back out of things at the last minute. I still invite them to things, because a) I know they appreciate the invitation even if they can’t make it, and b) sometimes they can come and it’s fun, and we’d both miss out on that if I stopped.

          1. I am with Amy here. I have been running tabletop role playing games and organized board game nghts, movie nights… Lots of different things – and in my opinion sending an invitation is not a big deal, especially if it done with the help of social media. One can also do really nice things to make the absentees feel missed and thought of. Whenever I have been unable to attend my friends have sent me a postcard or a voice or video greeting by one of the social media channels – and I live in Scandinavia where people are considered taciturn (and yes, we LOVE postcards).

            Of course Tina is also being sort of a jerk here with her passive aggressive hashtags – but if the LW and their friends consider Tina a valuable friend they should all avoid further escalation and talk things through. Has none of them asked what Tina would want?

          2. I guess it depends on my type of social situation. If it’s a big group event where exact numbers aren’t important, sure it’s not a big deal to keep her on the Facebook event or group text or evite.

            But I have been in situation of wanting to catch up with a friend and reaching out over and over. “Want to do dinner? A walk? Coffee? Drinks? Concert? Come to my house?” And getting turned down every time. My friend had mental health struggles that I sympathize with and I don’t like rejection either. I wasn’t going to keep trying hoping to roll snake eyes one day.

            Some events also require commitment like tickets or certain numbers for a game or dinner reservations.

            So if it is a situation where it’s free for anyone to come, definitely invite Tina. But I can see not reserving a slot for her when the number of yeses is so slow if commitment is needed.

        2. I have a friend whose policy for that sort of group thing was, if someone told her we wouldn’t be able to come to things for a while for whatever reason, to ask whether we wanted her to keep inviting us. I said yes to keeping being invited, even though I had to decline most of the individual invitations; other people preferred not to have the regular reminders of fun they weren’t having. I am fairly sure that if someone had started making a big fuss about not having been invited they’d have been off the list for good. (This was a somewhat different dynamic because there was a finite number of seats for each event, and “you didn’t invite me” often meant some shape of “there wasn’t room this time,” which doesn’t seem to be an issue for most of the things Tina wishes she’d been able to attend.)

          1. Vicki, this has been my policy as well. When a person usually in the loop of the invitations has told me that they will not be available for a period of time I have always told them this: “We will miss you so much! Do you wish to keep receiving invitations during this period? It does not trouble me at all and if you wish, we are happy to keep you informed.” Every time so far they have wanted to keep receiving the invitations.

            If they have volunteered the reason for their absence (my policy is: no-one has to tell me anything but I am always there to listen) our groups have always adjusted accordingly: if the absentee has informed the whole group that their absence is due to illness we have always made a video greeting and sent a postcard; if it is due to travel we have taken a picture of the group and posted greetings to their social media – and also sent a postcard (because we LOVE postcards).

            The LW2 would probably love it here. I wonder if they have ever heard of Postcrossing?

            We have been lucky, though; during the two decades or so when I have arranged events absolutely no-one has been passive aggressive or used any hurtful hashtags.

        3. If you’re inviting a group, there’s usually only one invitation – a group email or Facebook or something like that. It’s just a matter of keeping her name on the email list, pretty much.

        4. Excellent points, Cheesesteak in Paradise! This is clearly something the LW and their friends will have to seriously discuss with Tina.

          While it is indeed easy to send an extra invite to an event which does not require that much commitment, like a board game evening (not with a game which takes serious commitment) or a movie night, it is indeed a completely different story when it comes to something decided on a short notice or something which requires possibly expensive tickets – and often the most sought after tickets are sold out in minutes and this is something Tina will have to understand. She is an adult and she decided to move of her free will to pursue her career; decisions like that will have consequences.

          Remembering everyone’s schedule is impossible so we use this handy web page to decide the best possible time for an event: Of course, creating a Doodle for an event takes time and work and as a person who organizes a lot of things I would like to point one thing out: please, remember to appreciate organizing! It does not have to be much, remembering to thank the organizer will do nicely.

        5. I actually had a dear friend send me an invite to her wedding shortly after I had moved out of state and she knew due to Reasons it was at least 99.99% impossibile that I would be able to go, but she didn’t want me to feel left out. I really appreciated her kindness and still have the invitation 25+ years later in my box of special keepsakes (and yes we are still close friends & they are still together!)
          And she still invites me to things even if she knows there’s a good chance (these days it’s due to chronic illness & disability) that I may not go.

      2. I’ve also been in MuseN’s and Tina’s situation. What sort of bothered me about the non-invitations was that there was just this assumption that of course I wouldn’t come, so why even bother asking me. The thing was, though, it felt like they were taking the decision out of my hands. Instead of me getting to decide whether the two-hour round trip was do-able, they were making the decision for me, and always concluding that the answer was going to be no.

        They were wrong.

        1. This is where I’d fall, too. If it’s an email list or FB posting, what’s the harm in including Tina in the invite list? Seems like the inviter could learn to accept that a “no” from Tina is nothing personal, and continuing to include Tina means that Tina would feel welcome if she did think the trip was doable.

      3. I also used to work a nights/weekends/holidays job (it was basically my Job Description to work those days/hours) but my wonderful friends group just made MORE of an effort to include me/invite me to things they hoped I could make it to. And this was WAY before internet/email/cellphones/social media made doing so easy/practical.
        It takes an absolute minimum of time & effort to extend an invitation to someone even when you know they cannot go, and letting someone you ostensibly care about know you still consider them ‘one of the gang’ is WORTH IT.

        1. I want to add that Tina’s *actions* are not reasonable, but her hurt & feelings of rejection certainly are!

    5. I’m not sure this is completely fair. Tina does live in a different city than everyone else; the city where they live is no longer her home base. That means that her being the planner either involves her inviting everyone else to her area, or inviting herself to their home city.

      The former, as anyone who’s ever organized group travel can tell you, is a big deal. One person traveling between cities isn’t that big a deal, but a whole group requires a decent investment (both financially and in time/energy spent planning) to pull off. It’s obviously not impossible, but it’s not something you ask people to do just to feed the ducks for an afternoon either. The latter, on the other hand, involves Tina essentially inviting herself to visit her old friends–which 1) can come off as rude/presumptuous depending on the wording and your relationship, 2) might not work out (maybe the weekend she can make it up, everyone else is busy already), and 3) can be really hard to even ask about the possibility of when you’re already feeling rejected. It also might work out fine! but it’s not something I’d judge a person harshly for not knowing how to do.

      I’m not saying Tina is totally blameless here. It’s unrealistic to expect your social life to remain unchanged when you move several hours away–that kind of move really necessitates building a new social circle in your new local area. That often comes with a dose of loneliness and isolation at first, which sucks, but it’s weird and aggressive and unhelpful to handle that by lashing out at your old friends for casually hanging out in your old city without you. But I don’t think failing to issue return invitations (or even generally not being the group planner) is the root problem here.

    6. Tine is pretty much being unreasonable here, however I am currently in a sort of similar situation and it kind of sucks. I live about 2 hours away by car from the place where most of my friends live and I always drive to see them, never the reverse. However I have been not that social lately and so I’m not upset about not being invited places. My friends have more or less told me that they are not going to come my way ever so its on me to see them. It sounds to me like Tina needs to just deal with the fact that she is not as close friends as maybe she thought she was or make the effort (which is guaranteed to be one sided) to see them in their location. In my case I live in a rural area and my friends live in a Bustling Metropolis so there is no real reason to come see me in my podunk town. What I would suggest for Tina is to lay off the passive aggressive weirdness and visit maybe one weekend a month, announce the visit in advance, give a place and time to see Tina so people can come by if they want, or not, and just do more low key hangouts instead of “but why wasn’t I invited drama!”.

      1. Tina didn’t write, but I keep wanting to address my advice to her. Like I want to tell LW to answer those whiny I-wasn’t-invited posts with something saying “y’know, if things were to change in a few years such that we all did live conveniently near each other and had compatible work schedules, it’s posts like these that would make me not want to invite you to games night anyway.” Of course, that sounds a smidge threatening and aggressive and bridge-burning so it’s not a serious suggestion, but it would be a way of getting through to Tina.

  5. Q12: If you’re in the U.S., you might check out your local grange. I think the organization is national? We have lots and lots of granges here in Oregon, like maybe a dozen in our county alone. They do farmer’s markets and other social things.

    Q17: I’ve got a variant on the Pomodoro method that works for me. When I have a list of several tiresome things to work on, and I’ve already identified what a logical first step would be for each, but I’m just not motivated to start any of them, I set my phone for a 20-minute timer (or 10! or 5!) and then roll a die and use that number to tell me the one I’m going to start, immediately. When the timer is up, I’m allowed to keep working on that one if I want, or I can roll the die again and start another. If I had only one big thing hanging over me, I’d still want to use the die rolling, so I’d try come up with multiple smaller angles to choose from and make it not feel so much like one big thing. I use a pretty die, like for playing Dungeons & Dragons – I’m especially partial to the eight- and twelve-sided ones.

    1. OMG that’s an awesome idea, the dice thing! I’ve tried rolling dice for which task to do because yes I am that kind of geek, but I never thought to combine the dice thing with the timer thing!

      1. A coin, dice, and a deck of cards depending on how many inconsequential decisions are in the mix. I like to say they’re the most important tools in my work studio. I just get stuck on decisions. I don’t know what to work on, what to read next, whether the blue goes here or there in the painting, which clothes to give to the charity collection box, which charity collection box to use, and on and on. People think decisions are hard when the stakes are high. I find they’re just as hard, maybe harder, when it doesn’t matter, when the pros and cons list is almost equal.

        1. I totally understand! I use so many tricks to make inconsequential decisions. I can make a random number generator out of anything 🙂 I don’t even ask my husband for a number between x and y; I just ask for a number and then use rounding and modular division to make it fit the range I need.

        2. My brain hates randomness – either it insists that we have to do the Right thing and everything is Wrong until proven Right, or it decides we can’t do X because Y isn’t done, and we can’t do Y because X isn’t done. So what I’ve ended up doing is practicing intentionally doing a small Wrong thing in spite of its terrible Wrongness. It’s exhausting because it tends to trigger massive tantrums from JerkBrain, but it has been getting easier with practice. 🙂

          I suppose “Do a random thing” is essentially the same problem as “do a Wrong thing” for me, but one step higher up. It feels easier to start with choosing wrong myself; letting dice choose wrong *for* me is twice as scary. Maybe that means I should try it. :/

          1. Guh. Do Right Thing in Right Order. Black hole of bottomlessness. I’ve gotten better at just picking the first thing I see, and only letting the Right Order rule when it makes a material difference to overall efficiency. But it’s a seductive suck, it is.

        3. I finally worked out that decisions are The Hardest. Clean out the nasty litterbox? Piece of cake by comparison. (There’s apparently some actual science that backs this up, too.) Boy was that a relief! It’s not just me being Bad and Lazy (as the brainweasels would have it).

          I’ve discovered that I get a little kick of motivation whenever I see a thing that needs doing (as long as I look at Only One Thing at a time to avoid overwhelm, and stay out of analysis paralysis). I’ve turned this into a hack. During a time I’ve decided is Getting Things Done time, I (for example) get out of bed, and then just do the next step on the first thing I see. Typically, that’s collect laundry for washing. Go into the bathroom for morning ablutions: laundry soap and change are on the way. Head out to the kitchen, start laundry is on the way. On the way back to the kitchen from laundry, tidying back-pack is on the way. In the kitchen, dishes are on (in!) the way. Back to the bathroom, bucket is on the way. Fill bucket with plant water.

          And so on. Works pretty well. At least until I sit down and get sucked into an art project….

          1. This sounds like a fabulous technique…I wish my ADHD + a bunch of other shit brain worked that way. Some of my symptoms involve difficulty/inability to do more than one thing at a time properly, AND difficulty/inability to learn/do things that involve a sequence of steps (cooking, dancing, etc), *AND* poor sequencing ability in general. Deciding to, say, do the laundry means I struggle to get from gathering-> washing -> drying without being so distracted by [washing dishes/tidying backpack/watering plants/morning ablutions] that I abandon the laundry somewhere in the middle or even forget to start it at *all*.
            Yeah, it’s bad, and I take meds, but they only help so much because not all of the executive function issues are from ADHD. And the hormones changes associated with peri menopause caused my ADHD to get SO MUCH WORSE that (before I was diagnosed) I was terrified that I might be getting some form of early onset dementia.

  6. Q20: I have a dog, with the occasional overwhelming urge to get a second dog, and the way I get over that is by dogsitting. I always end up sobbing at least one time before the other dog goes back home, and then I’m cured for a while. For me, based on the specific issues that my dog has (he is a total butthead on walks), having two dogs goes from sounding really fun to being the pits. So maybe you can borrow a friend’s cat who is going on vacation and see how things go? I’m not totally sure how cat sitting works.

    1. Nice suggestion! Unfortunately, generally with cat-sitting, the person goes to where the cat lives & feeds it, because cats are territorial assholes and they don’t like to be moved and they don’t like new cats in their space. It can take a long time to adjust. And stressed out cats tend to fight/pee. So bringing cats in and out of the house would stress the current cat out even more than acquiring long-term kittens who could eventually be endured/assimilated.

      1. Follow up suggestion based on my new knowledge about cats-find a person who has cats that hate each other and ask them about their trials and tribulations with having cats that hate each other. My one friend with two warring cats says it is lame because she never gets to play with them both or snuggle with both of them at the same time because of the hate. So she basically only has one cat at a time unless they are fighting.

        1. My dear long time friend had two cats when he moved in with his fiancé who also has two cats – and as you can guess, my friend’s tom cat HATES his fiancé’s cats. They have to keep a tight, complicated schedule with their cats.

          1. My childhood cat was an indoor/outdoor cat who’d been a mother and was used to regular household additions of strays I’d adopt. My male cat I’d gotten as an adult was very tiny and lived alone in a pet-free apt. So my idea that he needed a pet who cuddled and had rabbit-soft fur was met with fury. WHATS THIS THING!? I thought I’d introduced them but it never worked. He stalked her and terrorized her until I found her a home where she’d be solo. She still peed on everything in her new home without other cats. I felt terrible that I hadn’t actually known how to acclimate them. He was mad I hadn’t asked him first and disgusted to find out there were things like cats. He’d missed me being gone from home so much, not other animals that he’d never had relationships with.

        2. This is my big stumbling block with fostering kittens, even though I really wanna do it. Even when I get a bigger place where it’s easier to physically separate kittens from my older loner cat, I will feel sad every time I hang out with one of them becuase I have to leave the other alone.

          1. Kitty, I understand this very well! I have only been able to foster cats and kittens because of sheer luck and my husband’s contribution to our housing: we have an extra room to spare. If you ever decide to give fostering a chance, even though you will not be able to hang with the foster cats all the time you will be doing them a huge favour. Jedi hugs if you want them!

      2. acquiring long-term kittens who could eventually be endured/assimilated. I first read that as endured/ASSASSINATED. I’ve had large groups of cats, so yes, they learn to suck it up, but your average long-term single cat is just fine with continuing on that way.

        1. yep. We had one older cat for 10+ years and a succession of other cats/kittens who all met with terrible ends 12-18 months after we got them. Sure, it could have just been the kittens getting to that adolescent uncoperative stage where they won’t come in when you call, and then they get hit by a car or injured in fights, but I always used to joke that the older cat was taking out contracts on them …

      3. My parents cat-sit for family friends, for as much as a week at a time, and they do transport the cat over rather than drive to the other house. They said it’s usually two or three days before they as much as SEE the cat – they know the cat is alive because food disappears and poop appears (in the litter box, the cat is well trained) but it is also Very Freaked Out Indeed by the transition.

        1. We took our family cat on our annual camping trips a couple of times. You can imagine how well that went over. (Always leashed at the campground because otherwise he was By Damn Going Home.

      4. On poops- it could be that the formula they’re being fed isn’t being digested completely and that another would work better. I read a lot of white papers on premium pet foods when they first appeared on the market, wayback… it was considered optimum to find a food that worked and then not vary it. We’d tell customers to watch the poop’s composition, bulk and dryness as well as smell to see if the pet was getting it throughly digested.
        Ahh, pet ownership…

        1. That was my thought. Obviously it’s poop, it’s not gonna smell like roses – but it shouldn’t totally stink up the house either.

        2. One of our cats we adopted as a tiny, runt of the litter feral kitten (at 4+ months she was 2.5 lbs) and despite tests making sure she had no diseases or parasites, and feeding her THE top quality kitten food for her size/age…it wasn’t her poops that stank so much, it was her FARTS. And by STUNK, I mean they smelled like 10,000 toxic open sewers in the hottest part of summer OMG HOW CAN SOMETHING THAT HEINOUS COME OUT OF SOMETHING SO TINY AND CUTE?!?!
          Like, I’d be sitting on the couch & she’d come nap on my tummy after hours of ultra hyperactive kitten play, curled up like an itty bitty ball of angelic kitten sweetness and all of a sudden this TERRIBLE STENCH would suffuse the room and my skirt would catch on fire & my eyeballs would melt & the paint would peel off the walls as I choked & gagged and she’d still be snoozing away in dreamland…
          Once she started growing & catching up to her brother & sister this ceased to be an issue (who ate the same food and did NOT have the Death Farts) so we figure it probably had to do with an underdeveloped digestive system or something, but I can swear to you that in a lifetime of being around cats & kittens (including veterinary work) I have NEVER experienced the like either before or since.

      5. How about volunteering at the local shelter? I can’t have cats due to a no pets policy, so I go there and pet all the puddy tats I want.

    2. I have a dog who is powerfully dedicated to being an only child and would not tolerate dogsitting. Whenever I long for a second dog I visualize the time he bodyslammed a pug out of my reach because I had the temerity to attempt to pet it.

      I also sometimes want a cat but then I petsit for my parents and OH MY GOD HOW DO THEY POOP SO MUCH and then I no longer want a cat. I live near a cat cafe so I can get a rental.

      1. I am crying laughing envisioning the pug bodyslam…CRYING! 🤣

        Because that is *totally* something I could see my last dog (the sweetest, funniest, most loyal, lemon beagle mix you could ever imagine) doing, then looking at me with her giant innocent melty brown Margeret Keane “What, mom?” eyes when scolded for it (they didn’t work on me, I knew better LOL.)
        She was one of those extraordinarily smart dogs who could understand not only a huge range of words (even the difference between words that sounded almost exactly the same, said in the same tone/way) AND the vocal inflections used, and could & would act very much like a young toddler who, while not quite at the point where they could reason things out yet, is *just* starting to get a hazy intuitive grasp of it instead of merely acting/reacting, and just like that kid, is learning to test/push those around them to see what they can get sneak past them (not always naughtiness.)
        She was truly my baby girl and though it’s been almost five years, I still haven’t fully healed from her loss at nearly 17. It’s the first time since I was six years old (45 years…) that I haven’t had at least one dog in my life.

  7. Hi LW #3 and 24! If you haven’t already, check out, this is a forum I found really useful when I was finishing my PhD and looking for inspiration. Most of the topics are geared toward how to move out of academia, but there are also lots of people seeking and sharing advice about how to make decisions about career path.

    LW #24, it’s great to hear you have a kind and supportive advisor, that will help much. I wonder which aspect of this is stressing you out most? If it’s coping with feedback, the thing I tell myself is that me and my reviewer(s) are all on the same team, we are all trying to issue the best document possible, and the reviewer’s intent is to help improve the end product (for science!), not attack my life’s work. Reviewing my document is not a judgment on my worth as a person. Sometimes that’s been harder for me to believe my mantra, like when it’s journal reviewers ripping apart my manuscript. Most of the time though, I can believe my mantra, especially when my reviewers are coworkers/supervisors, since we all represent the same organization and we just want the work product to reflect well on us. If your stress is more generalized about the whole process of finishing up and moving on and what’s next, I think is a good resource.

  8. For the first question, about the baby, I love the Captain’s script. Something to add is that it might help to trade off swooping & settling duties between you and your partner whenever possible. I remember feeling isolated when baby needed to nurse (early on, I was too self-conscious to nurse in front of others). My introverted spouse didn’t love being in the role of host, either. If you and your partner can trade off the “go to another room and settle baby” vs. “stay with the family members” roles, it’s really helpful and keeps you both feeling like adult humans.

    1. I recently cut ties with a family whose attitude towards new babies terrified me. They would visit the recent parental couple just because, and hand the baby between themselves because “they had a right to get to know the baby, and the baby had to get to know them”. Lady, we are talking here about a less-than-6-months old creature whose earliest memories won’t register until the age of one nor disposes of a fully developed visual framework allowing them to register the faces of a family of 50+ members. It’s ridiculous that you intend to “imprint” the baby at earlier ages whilst putting them under stressful situations!

      Guess who felt bad enough about the baby that would refuse to handle them when they thought it was “my” turn and therefore was categorized as a baby-hater? Myself. Specially after this situation was combined with the other question writer’s about hospital visits. Mom has a hard more-than-24-hours-long delivery, needs two blood transfussions and the father’s family go to visit the VERY NEXT DAY because they’re the new grandparents, uncles, aunts and have A RIGHT on the baby? I was only dating the brother of the father, was enduring a cold with a runny nose, tried to refuse to go because hell! mom needs to be exhausted and probable both she and the baby are immuno-compromised, and was dragged to the hospital nevertheless. And because I didn’t want to hold the baby (because of cold!) I got the Faces…

      I don’t know who I wanted to slap more that day: my hubby and his family for imposing, or the father for not stopping them.

  9. Q4 and Q7 – I highly recommend reading up on motivational interviewing and stages of change! With the caveat that the Captain’s advice (to let them act on their own; to stop making your relationship about their action/lack thereof) is spot on and so don’t go into it thinking “I will read this to learn how to help the person do the thing I know they can do.” Rather, it can be helpful in being the kind of listener who helps people talk through things in a way that helps them figure out what/how THEY want to do things (rather than “here are the solutions!”), and also to help you understand and empathize with why change might not happen as quickly as you’d like.

    1. “he kind of listener who helps people talk through things in a way that helps them figure out what/how THEY want to do things (rather than “here are the solutions!”),”

      I need to be this for my kids. “motivational interviewing” and “stages of change,” hmm?

      1. For that kind of supportive-listening conversation, I also really recommend Nancy Kline’s books “Time to Think” and “More Time to Think”. And if with children, Faber & Mazlish “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk”.

  10. Love all the advice, all of it, and feel the strong need to share that AN OUROBOROS OF HATE AND PEE got me snort-snickering something fierce. Snorkering!

  11. Q5: I suspect that, while Tina’s behavior feels very personal (how could it not?), it’s not really about you or your friends. She already knows she can’t reasonably expect everything to stay the same when she moved several states away. But because she’s the only one of the group to move away so far, she’s feeling the weight of her decision and possibly feeling isolated in a new place with a stressful job.

    None of this changes what you need to do, and I think the Cap’s advice is solid, but it might be worth keeping in mind while you deploy the script.

  12. “If you never became a college professor, what are five other lives you could be happy living?”

    SUCH a good question. One my husband is slowwwwly coming around to answering, because hi LW4 are you me?
    Getting him to understand that a career =/= vocation and doesn’t have to be The One True Job to be satisfying and enjoyable has been/is a long process of talking and then leaving it alone for a few weeks and then talking again and then sometimes saying “you realise your paralysis about this affects our life together and therefore my life, right?”…. I feel like he’s making progress but I am so looking forward to the relief when he finds a job that works for him.

  13. Q18: You can do this! I have semi-conquered the same issues by creating a strict routine during the work/school week. If I do the same stuff in the same order at the same time, it reduces panicked decision-making and self-loathing. This is what I usually do:
    – Once a week, I put all my meds and vitamins in a day-of-the-week pill organizer. I make note of what needs to be ordered or purchased before the next week.
    – Once or twice a week, I make a big batch of oatmeal or other breakfasty things that I can just heat up in the morning (Instant-Pots are miracles for this)
    – Every Saturday morning, I have coffee, put on my stained clothes and clean things.
    – Once a week (ideally at the same time), I clean out my bag and restock it with tissue, snacks, pens, etc.
    – Every night, I get my outfit ready (including underwear, socks, shoes, accessories). If I don’t do this, I spend 20 minutes looking for a matching show/sock, changing tops because something is stained, doesn’t fit, or makes me feel fat. I am still trying to meticulously edit out the sucky pieces of my wardrobe.
    – My keys, wallet, ID badge, and wallet always always always go on a hook next to the front door. If I don’t do this, I spend another 20 minutes looking for them, then finding stray shoes and forgetting what I was doing.
    – I started getting up earlier to give myself time to do make sure everything is done and I’m not rushed. When I’m rushed, I forget things. In the morning, I have coffee and jump in the shower before I get distracted by anything else. I only allow myself to look at the internet while I’m eating breakfast. I give myself 15-20 minutes. I don’t get dressed until I’ve eaten, put on makeup, and brushed my teeth because I will spill stuff every damn time.

    The giant caveat is that I have not been doing all of these things this summer while taking online classes and fewer strict deadlines, and I really feel the difference. I feel less organized, less motivated, and less efficient. I really need the routine, and having a bus to catch forced me to keep up with it!

    1. Diane, that is simply fantastic! It took me over two decades of adulthood to accomplish some of these things. I am not a morning person so I usually check the weather forecast in the evening before (I live in Scandinavia so the weather here affects a lot to clothing decisions) and choose clothes and earrings for the next day (I wish I could buy the LW2’s earrings and instead send them postcards). Friday is the traditional laundry and cleaning day in our household. I always keep my keys, wallet, the public transportation card and all the necessary stuff in my bag so that I can just take it with me when I leave – though I could use your bag cleaning routine.

      Yay for you! It will probably take some time but LW18 can do it! Best of luck to both of you!

    2. I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting my day started for the past… year? I’ve been working on it in therapy. One of the classic depression symptoms is not being able to get out of bed in the first place. But apparently getting the kids out the door to school and then melting into the sofa instead of getting ready for work is a known variant. Maybe LW18 is running into something similar?

      My therapist recommended treating my depression like it was a separate person, and asking it what it wanted, and try to work out something we can both live with. I am still pretty new at it. But what I am experimenting with so far is that I need to be ready to walk out the door, and only then can pre-work fooling around online begin. And it has to end at X o’clock, and I will set an alarm if I have to.

    3. Seconding this suggestion to put as much energy as you can ahead of time, so you can autopilot in the morning. I’m currently readjusting back to a morning schedule after a few years of sleeping later and later, and most of the things on Diane’s list have been instrumental in that.

      The things I’ll add from my own routine:
      – I make my lunch the night before, or (preferably) cook something with lots of leftovers once a week so I can grab and go. I went on a smoothie kick this summer, so I would assemble that the night before too, then blend and go in the morning.
      – Plan for relaxing/creative things the night before too, if you want them in your routine. Twice a week I have an extra hour to myself in the morning – 95% of the time I use it for reading, so I clear off my coffee table and set out a book for myself before bed. Then I get to go to sleep excited to read that book when I get up, and I don’t have to spend willpower in the morning to decide what I’ll do.
      – I also set an alarm on weekends – not for my weekday time, just for 9ish hours after I head to bed. Even if I just drag myself out to the couch and sit with the cat for a while, it stops me from sleeping too long on Saturday & Sunday mornings. Then I sleep better going into the week, and weekday mornings (esp Mondays) are a little easier.

    4. Oh yeah, probably the more useful information would be the process by which I arrived at the plan. My therapist asked me what is happening now (leaving the house at 9), what I want to be happening (leaving at 8:15), and then what would need to happen to bring what is happening more in line with my desires. And I started with the premise that I needed to have everything done before I started pre-work messing around. And we talked about treating the depression like it is a person with its own goals.

    5. I do most of these things and it makes my morning much easier. Trying to remember to pack my ID (which lives in my purse when not on my neck) or put dusting powder in my sandals, or make my lunch if I’m working that day mean that I have one more thing to think about when I’m low on thinkiness, and that means stuff gets left behind.

      A few suggestions:

      *I always pack work lunches the night before when I’m ready to do dishes, that way anything used gets washed right away.

      *If I’m working out in the morning, I wear my gym socks to bed and have my outfit waiting for me, along with the clean clothes I’m going to change into afterwards.

      *Makeup has a strict routine and is kept simple. Primer, foundation, eyeliner, mascara, blush, lipstick or lip balm. Hair gets done in the same style and takes about five minutes from unbraiding the bedtime braid to morning ready.

      * I only shower in the morning on workout days, which leaves me a little more time. This works fine since I prefer to shower at night anyway.

      *I keep a couple of very simple breakfast options around, like a bagel and cream cheese or peanut butter and jam on toast. I eat a half-cup of applesauce each morning so I buy the six-pack of cups, which lasts the week.

      *Get up at the same time every morning- I’m not always good at this, I admit. Something to work on.

      *I also travel by bus, so I check the online apps a little while out that tell me when it’s supposed to be coming. That way I can rethink my plan if necessary.

      1. When I traveled by bus, apps didn’t exist, and mobile phones were still primitive. Something like that would have helped ENORMOUSLY! I lived in one county & worked in another, and not only were the routes & connections atrocious (and impossible to take home, I had to beg my parents for the ride) there were THREE separate times the bus lines I took changed routes/schedules completely without warning & I was hours late for work each time.
        Transit has improved greatly since those days (<20 yrs ago lol) so I doubt I’d still have those same timelines or challenges but still- YAY TECHNOLOGY!

    6. (Deploy kit the night before, yay! Pill organizers, yay!) is I predeploy my whole wardrobe so that, when it’s time to get up and get dressed, the things that come off the hangers at the front of the line are all pre-coordinated (

      Additonally, my wardrobe is chosen to be as mix-and-match as possible, so any combination of shirt/pants will coordinate. So when I get dressed in the morning, whatever comes off the hangers next just works. I’m very lazy.

    7. One of my very oldest coping behaviors for my long-undiagnosed executive function disorders was getting in the habit of INSTANTLY putting my keys in the Designated Key Holding Area the moment I walked in the door. Most of the time that meant they went right into my purse, but other times it has meant a hook by the door and is currently a small table in our entryway, as my purse lives in my bedroom all the way in back of our loooong house and it’s inconvenient if I just need to get into the car for something or move it without actually leaving.
      An ex-roommate of mine (who I now believe also suffers from executive function disorder) used to lose her keys every single day (literally, not exaggerating) within minutes of getting home and then have a tantrum when she couldn’t find them. She also wouldn’t listen when I encouraged her to figure out her Designated Key Spot & get into the habit, so I had to deal with it for months before she moved elsewhere- very frustrating!

      Oh! I also keep all every card in my wallet in its Designated Spot/Slot, so I both know exactly where it is when I need it, and also know IMMEDIATELY what is missing if I take one out & forget to put it back for some reason (thanks to stored CC/debit #’s this rarely happens anymore.)

  14. Q14, I think the gender factor may be a red herring. There’s no unawkward way of saying “I wish I could help you with your problem but I don’t want to”.

    I guess try to take it as a compliment that the world and its dog sees you as an ideal person to trust with their problems?

    1. Sometimes people don’t want help, they just want to vent. Depending what the problem is, saying that you can’t help them might sound dismissive. “Rush hour traffic is the worst!” “I can’t fix the traffic.”

      1. Sure, but from the sounds of it these are slightly more involved problems than your example, and the LW explicitly says he doesn’t *want* to help. (Including, presumably, by being a sounding board or patient ear). Which is fine! He’s the boss of his time and his friendships. But ultimately it’s a social rejection, and it’s natural that the person being rejected feels bad.

      2. Jitz Girl, this was my exact thought on this. If people keep looking at you weird for telling them “I cannot solve your problems!”, it may be because they were not asking you to solve it.

        This can be a bit gendered (women looking for mutual support; men looking for problem solving), but not always. (My mum is a problem solver and my male work friend is a venter/supporter.) People may also want different approaches at different times.

        But yeah, I would definitely make a weird face at you for doing this. If I tell you a complicated problem I’m having with, say, talking to my boss about an issue, I’m not expecting you to solve it – and it’s even weirder for you to say “I can’t solve that one for you!”

        If you feel there’s a “social script” you’re missing, I think this is most likely it.

  15. Q19, I am a white person, and part of a specific ethnicity – Cajun. My surname is not as common as “Broussard”, which is like “Smith” to Cajuns, but it’s not rare. I currently live in New Orleans, which is not where the Cajuns live, despite what pop culture tells you, and I often must explain. I say that my last name is not rare among Cajuns, it’s kind of like being named “Williamson”.

    One of the people whose assistant I am will, every time he encounters my surname (usually someone living in Lafayette, LA), asks if the person is related to me. I say, “Well, since my father had no brothers, if they’re related to me, we’re at least second cousins are “once removed.”

    1. Same here- Dutch American (not to be confused with Pennsylvania Dutch 🙂 ). I basically say it’s a super common last name in the Netherlands, and if I feel like chatting, add what it means. (I should probably stop doing this- a key element is dike, which… does not sound so good in conversation, though my queer, she/her self finds it hilarious.)

      1. aceinplainsight, your surname must be AWESOME! Yay, having “dike” as a key element. I must admit I do not know much about how it is to be Dutch American, but I love Netherlands and am in the process of learning Dutch, it is an important language in my field of expertise.

      2. Ooh, Dykhouse, van Dyk, Dykstra? I’m of the same background (relatively recent immigration), and I lovvvvve explaining to people the special code that the Frisians get for names. (i.e., does it end in -stra, -sma, -ma, etc.? Congrats, at one point Person Name-sma was Fris.)

    2. Going tangential… I’ve got a fairly standard face and a fairly common name… and get a lot of family questions. Except my grandfather took his stepfather’s name to get a job during the “no Irish need apply” days. So nope not my relatives, unless I know them already!

    3. I was recently told by a semi stranger that my surname isn’t German at all- even though there’s a village nearby going by that exact name since the 12th century (though my ancestors are not from there). Granted the surname is very rare but it still is German, smack right in the centre of the country. I was extremly baffled and offended… Compounded by the fact that I’m mixed race and people for ever have been commenting on my name, how it fits my appearance or doesn’t or whatever blah blah. First name is old testament, so it spans both cultures and is easy to pronounce all over the world, but both cultures think they own the rights to it…

    4. When I read that last part I confess that my very first reaction was “Huh? Don’t they mean “brothers or sisters”? Because if their father had SISTERS that answer wouldn’t work!”

      I was utterly puzzled by this for at least 30 seconds before I remembered Patrilineal Surname Traditions…and then I got annoyed by it just like I have ever since I learned what’s behind the tradition as a little girl in the 70s. 😂

  16. Q19: I also have a surname that is very common around where I’m from and uncommon elsewhere. When I was a teenager I was contacted by a random stranger on the early internet (think mid-90s AOL/CompuServe era) who insisted we must be related because we had the same last name. His was the only family with the name where he grew up, and had had a difficult time accepting that it was pretty unlikely, there are thousands of people with my last name around here, it is literally the Smith of the language it comes from.

    1. When I married my now ex-husband I hastily took his surname under pressure from his father – and ended up with a surname which turned out to be one of the most common names in one of the Scandinavian countries. What was worse, combined with my first name I became like “Jane Doe” – there were thousands of people with the exact same combination. Besides, the surname is the last name of one of the main characters in a vastly popular series of books which lead to comments like “OMG, is that a real name?”. A disaster followed: I began getting hundreds of friend requests from strangers in social media and I was constantly tagged to photos of strangers. My ethnic and native language related identity seemed to cease to exist entirely. People kept asking me constantly if I was related to one of the tens of thousands of other people with the same surname. I guess the moral of the story is: do not let your in-laws to pressure you to change your name.

      1. What an interesting discussion. My husband was the only child of the only child-who-had-children of an only child who emigrated to Canada by himself in 1903. So our name is now shared by precisely four people in the whole world – my husband, our two children, and myself. And its not looking as though either of our children will have children of their own. Likely our name will be extinct in another 50 years.
        My husband’s family would search phone books whenever they travelled anywhere, just to see whether there might be someone in a town somewhere who was a long-lost cousin. But none were ever found.
        Several years ago, I got an email from a fellow in Pennsylvania who had a similar name, not exactly the same, and it turned out his family emigrated to the States in the early 1800s. So if there was any family connection, it was from two centuries ago.

    2. I have a very common surname and have had a complete stranger ring me up and insist that I *must* know ‘John Surname’ because his son lives in my street and therefore John must be my father-in-law. He insisted, even when I told him that my father-in-law was actually ‘Dennis Surname’. Because clearly I didn’t know (a) my name (b) the name of the man I was married to or (c) his father’s name, and it took a random stranger on the phone to enlighten me. Sheesh.

  17. Q9: A similar question came up on a different board I read, and as someone who is literally starting SSRIs this weekend, when you start asking “how much is too much?”, it is already too much. Talking to my doc about my issues the first time was hard, talking to a therapist was harder, and going back again to say I couldn’t hack it and please allow me to apply store-bought chemicals to my brain was EVEN HARDER (y’all, I have cried my weight in tears this month, which is part of why I needed to see my doc), but I have reached the bottom of the pool and I cannot keep faking it, cuz it is affecting my life very negatively and trying to medicate cannot possibly be worse. So here I am. Recruit professionals, you don’t have to carry this burden alone. (Also, store-bought chemicals are just fine if your brain doesn’t make them on its own. Promise.)

    1. Amen to all of that! And may you always remember depression is a lying bastard.

    2. Jedi hugs if you want them! Have been at the bottom of my own pool before, and the store-bought chemicals the doctors filled my brain with are a major part of why I am still alive today. Today don’t need all the ones I did then, and maybe someday I won’t need all the ones I do today, but if I need them for the rest of my life? Fine with me, because they are the reason I still have that life to begin with.

  18. Q21 – Some hospitals will literally list you at the front desk under a pseudonym rather than your real name if you ask them to. “Patient information” operators will only have the pseudonym as well, when people call. That way you can curate who gets to contact you in the hospital.

    Sadly, I have a friend with a highly abusive family who needed to do that. I truly hope that your family isn’t highly abusive, but “we will visit you in the hospital even though it makes you sicker” skates pretty close.

  19. Q10: Scarleteen volunteer here with an enthusiastic seconding of the suggestion to namedrop us to any young person who has sex questions & needs a safe and friendly space to ask them. I won’t get embarrassed or weirded out by those questions and it’s probably way less awkward for everyone involved!!!!

    1. woohoo and thank you so much for your work and service! Scarleteen is a national treasure and I recommend it a lot.

    2. Yay, sparklebeard, what you do for everyone needing reliable information on sexuality is priceless! ❤ So, thank you so much for your work.

    3. Yay! As someone who was removed from the already poor sex ed of my school as a child (religious reasons! thanks mom) and was never given the required education any other way, I wish I had Scarleteen as a child and deeply value what it is!

      My entire sex ed was hearing the most salacious “facts” giggled by friends…so ya know…highly accurate and helpful.

      Thank you so much for the work you do.

  20. Q21, about hospital visits: All hospitals in the USA have protocols set up for denying visitation rights to people whom the patient does not want to see. You have the right to privacy in medical settings.

    When you enter the hospital, tell the admissions desk to tell the security guards that there are some specific people who must not be allowed to visit you, and give them the names. This policy is in place for such extremes as an estranged ex who might try to kidnap a newborn baby, or victims/witnesses of crimes who might be attacked in the hospital, but it can totally be invoked for any patient if they say the presence of these specific people would be detrimental to their health and recovery. (a friend did this to keep intrusive relatives out of her delivery room when having a baby, that’s how I learned about it)

    Make sure that you tell your nurses, too. Nurses are very protective of their patients. For maximum effectiveness, don’t post on any social media that you are in or going to be in the hospital, in case cousin Susie passes on the word. If necessary, register as a “private patient”, meaning that if someone calls the hospital to see whether you are a patient, the staff will not tell the caller that you are there.

    Of course, if your unwanted visitors get wind that you are in the hospital and try to visit, and are blocked by security from visiting you, they will be very angry and tell you how humiliated they felt. It would be best if they just didn’t know you were there until you got out. But this option exists, if you should decide that you need it.

    1. Interesting. When my younger son was born, my MIL sounded like she was going to come to the delivery room and be very intrusive and overbearing. I told the nurse at my OB clinic about the situation. I said, “I’m working on it from my end. But what can the hospital do to keep unwanted visitors out during delivery?” She got really evasive, like “yeaaaaaahhhhh, we really prefer you manage that aspect of it.” I just wanted to focus on the task at hand and not have to simultaneously handle my MIL. Now I would be more assertive with the nurse, but at the time I didn’t want to be difficult, I guess? I ended up going into labor in the middle of the night, and it was over before MIL could get there.

      Anyway, in my limited experience, medical people may not be delighted to do this for you, so be prepared to push back a bit.

      1. Jitz Girl — that sucks and was wrong and they treated you badly. Item one on my birth plan was ‘my mom and dad don’t get in the room’ and the whole nursing staff knew and handled it beautifully.

        LW21 — I’m so sorry.

      2. If you’re in the USA, that’s a fairly serious HIPAA violation – hospitals are required to give a patient the opportunity to deny the release of directory information at all or to specific people. See here – Also, because protected medical information may be discussed with a patient in the patient’s room or a treatment area in order to provide care, the privacy restrictions very much allow one to keep people away from oneself in a treatment room or recovery room.

        I’m so sorry you had that experience – by law, you should never have had to face the possibility of unwanted people intruding on your medical care.

        1. Depending upon how old JitzGirl’s younger son is, he may have been born before HIPAA was passed (1996).

          But since 1996, yes, that sort of scenario is covered by HIPAA.

        1. Being that even still photos of giving birth give me the screaming meemees/beyond body horror squicks/shuddering willies, I have no desire to be in a delivery room under ANY circumstances, let alone crashing one for my own jollies.
          The ONLY scenario I can even imagine *possibly* doing so was if Actually Banned delivery room crasher appeared and needed handling/human shielding/dragging out faster than security personnel could get there, and I’d say that’s a not very likely scenario!

  21. Yay, one of my favourite (almost) weekly events in the internet! Questions and answers – and KITTENS! I accidentally said the word “kitten” out loud in my native language and one of my two tom cats heard it and was immediately alert and ready. He LOVES kittens, they are probably the best thing he knows. He loves washing them and he has even nursed orphaned kittens. So, dear Daniel and Henrietta, much love to you from a Scandinavian tom cat.

    Dear LW20: I know so very well how you are feeling. The Captain’s kittens are so cute that my brain is almost melting and clearly both me and my cats would love a video of them, if The Captain has enought time and spoons. I have volunteered in a local pet rescue organization for a decade now and offered a foster home for adult cats and kitten alike so I would love to offer some perspective.

    So, you already have a cat; now, as you know, cats, just like we humans, are very individual. While my cats LOVE people, other cats, dogs, ferrets… there are many cats who prefer their solitude. So, do you know whether your cat is used to company or not? Does your cat have symptoms of solitude induced stress (like peeing, scratching or dropping objects) when you are away or when you have arrived after absence? Have you seen the cat interact with another cat? How old is your cat?

    If your cat is elderly, if they have health issues or if they do not show any solitude induced stress symptoms they might just enjoy living alone – but on the other hand, if it is possible for you to get a cat now financially and if you have time to spare, then why not? The organization in which I volunteer recommends that cats getting to know new cats are kept in separate rooms for two weeks; during this period objects like towels or toys are exchanged from a room to another so that they get used to each other’s smell – or they can be groomed using a same brush (of course, health and hygiene issues like parasites must be dealt with first). The organization recommends adopting a kitten of the same gender unless there is some reason to choose differently; in my case I adopted three of my cats as adults.

    I empathize with your kitten fever – but if you cannot get a cat at the moment there are many good options: cats (and dogs) in foster care or rescue shelters need a lot of socialization. I have seen so many kittens in my care grow from a sad, timid creatures to friendly little balls of fur after they got to know some loving humans. Going to pet and play with rescue kittens now and then means the world to them. Many purrs to you and your cat!

    Dear LW8: I know exactly how this feels; I have to keep reminding myself daily that the great pumpkin is not currently in my country and I admit having had nightmares of him. I believe that attention is exactly what this person wants, that is why he keeps pouring all the poison to the news worldwide. The world would be so much better if we could all just ignore him. I get it that it is almost like a car accident, that it is hard to look away. I’ll add one suggestion to The Captain’s fine ideas: how about if your husband would have to put some coins to a piggy bank every time he mentions the great pumpkin? You could then use this money for a good cause, like donate it to Planned Parenthood or another organization contrary to the agenda of the pumpkin? I would love it if this was a thing: every time the pumpkin uses Twitter, donations would flow to organizations (or political candidates) he opposes.

    LW6: Yay, a baby! The Captain is absolutely right, the mother probably did not pay much attention to where the money from the gift return went. Besides, now you get to perhaps give her something she has realized she needs – or a gift card, which is also something she will love.

  22. Hearty congratulations to Mr. Awkward on starting school and may have have a kickass academic year! And hearty congratulations to you, Cap, on your un-school year and may you have a kickass journey into new endeavors! As a post-ac myself I know how hard it can be to actually step away from academe (even temporarily) and just, go you.

    1. Thank you! It’s good to have a break (all my colleagues are saying that the online learning management system went completely down today as they are trying to get their course websites ready) and give myself room to plot a new course, but I can’t help feeling a bit unmoored. Like, isn’t there somewhere I am supposed to go? Or 10,000 things I need to do?

      1. I was in school in some form continuously from ages 3 to 30 and as soon as I left grad school I started having recurring nightmares about homework I hadn’t done and tests I hadn’t studied for (like…. way more than usual) because apparently my subconscious could not cope with not having all-consuming schoolwork all the time.

        Six years later I am super into this thing where all I do on the weekend is laundry and video games.

      2. A few suggestions,from my first months as a retired customer service consultant: Go to: parks, nature preserves, etc, for strolls, appreciating outdoor life, and feeding the ducks (I take thawed frozen corn = far better nutrition for the critters than bread).
        Go to museums, galleries, boutiques, shops , etc. that you haven’t had time to visit.; and try things on, get ideas about what you might want to buy or make. People-watch! Riding the bus frequently has given me great perspective on society, and built humility and gratitude.

        Do: get the facial/pedicure/other salon service that will lift your spirits. Find a small volunteer service that you enjoy (not too taxing or time-consuming, and definitely not “board of director membership” : this should be fun for you! (The website probably does this) Do lots of free-wheeling about plotting the new course you mentioned (I’m assuming that it’s a course that you plan to teach) and let ideas percolate. Do take at least a day trip somewhere out of your regular orbit; maybe in an unfamiliar part of your home town, if not outside of it.

        For me, the key was staying grounded and being productive (though on a lower-level than in full-time work); being connected (but not too much) ; catching up on “would be nice to do’s”; and being wide open to new influences.

        Y’all rock, Captain! Your website has helped me so much with Faaaamily ! and other concerns. You’ll find a sailing pattern that works for you, in this work hiatus. Enjoy your break!

  23. Captain, if animal harm is going to be in a question or answer, would it be possible to get a trigger warning for that from now on? It’s a pretty common focus for people with intrusive thoughts.

    1. Hi Dia, please forgive me, I had to re-read the post a few times to even find the mentions of possible animal harm – are we talking about hyperbolic stuff about my former cat not liking kittens? Or something else? – so I am probably not going to be great at warning people about this in those contexts and I am not going to promise that I will, though if it is a question about animal harm specifically I will name & tag it descriptively the way I do other topics. I’m very sorry.

      1. Yes, it was the stuff about the former cat not liking kittens. Unfortunately my brain makes no distinction between something that is hypothetical vs real. But I realize that it would make it harder to think to tag, and I appreciate you being honest with me about that – it’s all good to have info to be able to make more informed choices about consuming content as a person with triggers! I also appreciate you being willing to tag questions and above all I appreciate the overall way you answered, as it’s sometimes hard to be vulnerable and ask for accommodations and having a sweet reply just makes everything better 😊❤️

      2. My campus just changed from quarters to semesters, so I have a million panicked students, and am starting a month early!

      3. Yeah, I didn’t catch it at first either and I don’t typically think trigger warnings are very useful/necessary, but to shed some light on it, I think your description of what Beadie would do to the kittens is somewhat graphic (rather than just being like “Beadie would have killed them”). It’s different because it’s not about humans harming animals but about animals harming animals, plus it’s obviously joking and hyperbole, but yeah, I can see why that could be offputting.

          1. Kacienna & Captain, I also love that kind of blatantly over the top hyperbole, violent or otherwise, the more detailed the better (and funnier.)

  24. Q1: “Looks like the baby needs a break” is your very best friend. If you have a partner or quiet relative who’s an introvert and gets overwhelmed by those family gatherings, this is also a great way for that person to get some alone time—take the baby and run. My introvert partner made extensive use of this when our kid was a baby and it was a definite win-win.

    Q16: Your script is super great. As someone who’s been in very healthy and very unhealthy polyam arrangements, I want to emphasize that you do no one any favors by being in the middle of this. Your wife’s partner venting to you about your wife is especially not okay. A little metamour griping can be fun (“Does he leave his socks on your floor too?” “ALL THE TIME”) but only in the context of dyads that are generally strong and happy, and gripes that are very minor gripes with no real pain or anger behind them. Your situation sounds very different from that, so set some big strong boundaries right now.

    With your wife’s partner:

    “I’m not comfortable with you complaining to me about Wife. I need you to stop doing that. If you have problems with Wife, you need to sort them out with her.”

    “Whoa, hey, that’s none of my business. You and Wife should discuss that on your own.”

    “I don’t want to talk about this. How’s your new puppy doing?”

    I don’t recommend saying anything like “You sound unhappy in that relationship” because a) that sort of thing can always be spun as jealousy, even if it isn’t, and can come back to bite you, and b) it is not your thing to fix. You don’t mention at any point that you’re friends with this person; you just say that you’re neighbors and have entangled lives. (Can those lives be disentangled a little?) So don’t feel any obligation to give advice, especially where her relationship with your wife is concerned. Stay entirely out of it.

    When your wife’s partner is mean to your wife in front of you:

    “What you just said to Wife was really unkind. I don’t want to hear anyone talk to anyone that way, and I especially don’t want to hear anyone talk to my wife that way. You two have your relationship your way, but if you’re uncivil in front of me, I will step away so you can have your conversation in private.” (The key is that you aren’t just white-knighting on your wife’s behalf—the meanness is making you uncomfortable and you get to speak up about that.)

    With your wife:

    “Wife, I am really troubled by the way that your relationship with your partner is affecting you, and is affecting my relationship with you. I absolutely support you and love you, and I’m going to show that by no longer talking with your partner about you. If she tries to vent to me about you, I will cut her off, and if she’s mean to you in front of me, I will call her on it and refuse to be a witness and accessory to it. I am concerned for your well-being in that relationship, so please tell me how I can support you in either making it better or ending it, because the status quo is not okay.”

    And keep demonstrating to your wife what kind, loving, supportive partnership looks like, telling her how much you appreciate her, respecting her boundaries and her space, addressing any problems in your relationship with her, and so on. Encourage her to have higher standards and to believe she deserves to be cherished. That mindset, more than anything, is what will give her the fortitude to demand better from her partner.

    1. You don’t mention at any point that you’re friends with this person; you just say that you’re neighbors and have entangled lives.

      It’s…complicated, as poly so often is, and attempting to make this even vaguely anonymous is making this hard to explain. I wouldn’t call us friends, not because we don’t like each other or enjoy spending time together, but because we’re family. That’s the commitment she and I have made to each other, separate from but also in concert with our relationships with my wife.

      But I agree with you about me needing to shut down her griping in front of me better, and push back more when I can. I’m very disinclined to risk “making a scene,” particularly in front of friends, and I think that sometimes gets in the way of me defining and defending my boundaries better.

      1. So complicated and so hard to keep anon because I hang out here too. It’s not helping that I’m in tons of pain snd towing a lot of chain right now and so is Partner. Or that we both have traumatic family backgrounds.

        I’m trying to avoid griping and stick to occasionally asking for reality checks, but right now when my wife speaks to me like that I’m just getting up and leaving because experience says she will escalate before she listens and people who have injured their shoulder muscles aren’t meant to get super tense. It certainly doesn’t help my listening skills.

        And in conclusion, it’s gotta get dealt with, it’s gonna get dealt with, but right now I really appreciate you all supporting Q16, because she deserves good support and I’m kinda spotty on that atm. (She checked with me before posting a question here that might allow some people to identify who’s involved. I appreciate y’all not guessing.)

      2. I think past a certain point, a metamour is basically an in-law with a single major distinction (well, I suppose not in *some* parts of the world/country). They’re just part of the family group (just with more sex and less blood relation, again, in most places).

    2. Regarding your answer on the baby question: I remember a few years ago when I was at a funeral of a dearly beloved family member who was not only extroverted (I am NOT), but also had a highly prominent job in the community so everyone knew him. I, meanwhile, live in another state and only knew close family. At one point in time I went to the bathroom and wailed to a cousin, “I need a baby so I can escape all these people!” Right on cue someone else walked into the bathroom with a baby belonging to another cousin, whom I immediately appropriated (she – and mom – were both fine with this). So much better for both of us! Later on an aunt who knew how I felt grabbed me and said, “Hey, we’re leaving to go put kiddos to bed; want to come babysit?” I’m surprised I didn’t leave skid marks! We had something like a one-to-one adult/child ratio bcs of all of us introverts coming home to “watch the kids”. It was the best! (And gave the kids’ parents, all children of the deceased and so they actually knew all of the friends who were coming, time to visit with them and not worry about their kids, who knew us well enough to be fine going home with us. Win for everyone! Babysitting for the introvert win!)

  25. Re: Dear Tweeter (aka the president).

    I have informed the people I spend time with that I have implemented a virtual restraining order on all things Trump-related.

    He is not allowed onto my media, into my conversations, or into my head space except during pre-arranged times. He is already fucking up so many things; he’s not entitled to more of my attention than I’m willing to give.

    I subscribe to a couple of activism -related newsletters and I listen to a couple of news podcasts and I look at a couple of news websites I trust and that is IT.

    Now when people in my circle start to discuss him, I just say, “Sorry, restraining order. Let’s talk about weather/food/cats/baseball/what we’re gonna be for Halloween.”

    On another note, the response to the question about Old White Debate Club Guy was pure gold. Thank you.

    1. I have a Chrome extension that to the best of its ability (which is considerable) replaces all photos of him with a photo of a cute kitten. It is a life improver.

      I’ve also had to shout my mom down at the dinner table to get her to stop telling me what fresh horror he had done now even though I’ve told her 50000 times that I don’t want to talk about it and I find it emotionally difficult to talk about it and talking about it raises my blood pressure. I legitimately have to be like “MOM. STOP. NOW. WE’RE TALKING ABOUT CATS INSTEAD. I WENT TO THE CAT CAFE. AN EXOTIC SHORTHAIR BIT ME.”

      1. That extension is so nice. I don’t use chrome as my main browser but every so often I get over there and I smile at the kittens, and not even always realise that it’s replacing something I don’t want to see. (I believe it ate a fair bit of resources and isn’t always quick enough, but it definitely made a few days better and not worse.)

    2. Here in Canada, many of us have implemented Trump Restraining Orders. I follow a couple of news sites that I trust, for perspective; otherwise, NADA to Trump’s ” MAGA” !

      One activist thing many do is supporting charities helping immigrants to our country. In Manitoba (my home province), asylum seekers cross the border from the US, hoping for better treatment than they had there.

    3. Gah! I just had this with a coworker.

      Me: Hi, just cruising by!
      CW: Wanna sit & chat?
      Me: Okay, sure.
      CW: National politics.
      Me: Uh, not up for it. Another topic?
      CW: Sure. Now about national politics….
      x4 until:
      Me: Okay, moving along now…. ::shudder::
      CW clearly had stuff on their mind that they felt compelled to chew over, but I really wasn’t in the mood.

  26. Q12… The bulletin board at the local grocer’s can be a fun place to start…or Paner’s or library or wherever your community posts notices.
    A little frivolity on the topic from an old favorite Kate Wolf… “everybody’s looking for the same thing.”

  27. #2– I’ve used the donate option to good effect. Not only did I donate, I told the giver that I donated and did it cheerfully. “Thank you so much for those earrings! You know I don’t wear them, but I dropped them off at Charity Thrift Store, and someone lucky is going to find them and love them! Made me feel great, and I hope you share in the good feeling.” The unwanted gifts stopped immediately.

  28. Q14, are the problems you don’t want to help with perhaps things like “this man of our mutual acquaintance is harassing me, can you help?” or “I’m scared about losing access to reproductive care, what are you doing to help?” The gender stuff in your question makes me wonder if the problems you’re being asked to help with are also gendered. I think CA’s response is spot on for problems like “can you help me find a dog-sitter” or “can you help me move,” but if this is an oblique way of asking about whether you can get permission for not helping with the safety and health of your community and the women in your life, that’s another kettle o’ fish.

    1. The question is worded so vaguely that I can’t tell what the actual problem is. Unfortunately, it sounds a bit like “These women should be grateful to me for not gaslighting them, even though I’m not giving them any help.” If that’s not what Q14 means, then yeah, just roll with it as best you can.

      1. I went straight to: “Yeah, the brakes on my bike need adjusting.”
        “I can’t help you with that.”

        It is possible I have some twitches around “helpful” dudes who were way less good at the thing than I am and broke my stuff…

      2. Honestly, same. I realize it’s not a fair read given such a short question but it sounds to me like one of those abusers (or would-be abusers) who present themselves as woke and coopt the words of the anti-them.

    2. Yeah, this whole question seems weird. What people don’t like is others (not just men, but usually) giving useless shallow advice to cut off a conversation because sympathy is difficult. Not legitimate offers for help. When someone asks for your help with something, they usually want your help. If, on the other hand they were looking for sympathy, refusing to be sympathetic and being a jerk is probably also going to get you some weird looks

      Option #1: This is usually unwanted.

      Her: “God, the bus was awful today! It broke down and I had to walk 3 miles with my groceries! My feet are killing me.”

      Him: “Why don’t you just buy a car?”

      Her: [thinking] [Oh my fucking god, why didn’t I think of that! Clearly I am brain-dead and have never considered that option and then rejected it because I’m broke/epileptic/without parking/[other good reason]! Thank you for your brilliant insight!]

      Her: “… you know, you could just say ‘man, that sucks, glad you’re home now’ and maybe give me a footrub.”

      Option #2: This is usually wanted.

      Her: “Hey, could you get that thing on the top shelf?”
      Him “Sure!” [gets the thing]

      Option #3: This is usually going to get you weird looks.

      Her: “Hey, could you get that thing on the top shelf?”
      Him: “I realize that it’s a problem for you that you’re short, but I am not going to help you – that would be gaslighting!”
      Everyone else: “…. dude, what?”

      Option #4: This is usually going to get you weird looks..

      Her: “God, the bus was awful today! It broke down and I had to walk 3 miles with my groceries! My feet are killing me.”
      Him: “Well I’m not going to help you with that – that would be gaslighting!”.”
      Everyone else: “…. dude, what?”

      If everyone around you is reacting with disbelief, I’m guessing that you’re doing #3 or #4.

      1. Traffic_Spiral, I must confess that I squealed with laughter at your examples 3 and 4, they are so hilariously ridiculous. I wish so much I knew more of the LW’s situation.

        1. Why thanks! But seriously, if he’s getting “shock and disbelief” from people, I’m willing to bet that he’s saying some out-there shit.

          1. I inherited my grandparents’ old gaslamp. I love old items and would really love to get it in working order – and now I cannot help thinking about an additional scenario:

            Me: “This old gaslamp is not working properly. Would you help me with it?”
            LW: “I realize that you have a problem with the lamp – but I will not help you because that would be gaslighting. Literally.”
            Me: (making an extremely sad face)

            I wish I could really help the LW more – but at least we have now thought of some really hilarious scenarios.

          2. So much this, I was actually looking for a comment that says this so I could say ‘yup’!
            That’s my read too. I get that sometimes someone can feel entitled to being helped and acts upset if refused, but that’s not something super common. In my experience most people are pretty understanding when they make requests/suggest they need something – they get that the other person can refuse. If they fell disappointed, they normally don’t shove that into your face. That’s the social script most people follow, I feel, and not following it is considered awkward or rude.

            If the LW is getting a lot of intense reactions like ‘shock’ then this is a sign there is something off with the way he communicates. He is the common denominator. He may act rude or be dismissive in a very inconsiderate way (even while admitting something is a problem).

            Or he surrounds himself with odd women who act in a weird way, which I guess is also possible but less probable imo.

  29. Thanks so much for the prison strike signal boost! This form of literal slave labor has been one of my biggest issues for decades, and it’s been depressing how little coverage one of the largest strikes in history by incarcerated workers has been getting, despite the degree to which many people exploit and benefit from their labor, often without knowing.

    1. yup, it’s also a really overlooked area because it is extremely difficult to suggest any improvement to prison conditions without getting into an immediate minefield of really angry people who think that advocating for prison reform in any way is not caring about crime victims. It’s a topic I care very deeply about but rarely bring up except around specific people because I have had people say intensely upsetting things to me about it – moreso than about any other social justice issue that I care about.

    2. Please continue to get loud with your knowledge. I didn’t have any idea it was so widespread. I just thought, laundry and license plates for cig money. No wonder the privatized prisons thing is so deep. Ulgh, not in my name!

  30. Q22 another script option “look at you go, that so quaint” or “that’s nice sweety” in your most Grandma Who’s Not Really Interested but Still Wants to be Nice voice.

    1. I get trapped in quite a few tedious but not rabid convos from Older Blokes about eg “why do actresses call themselves actors” anti-feminist shizzle, with bonus xenophobia, and I usually say, as if I’ve just thought of *something I really wanted to ask you, Keith*: “Was it you going to that great physio for knee pain?” and they say either yes followed by bearable physio talk, or no followed by “you should talk to Penelope about that”, so you go and find Penelope and take your drink with you.

      They always have knee pain, or know someone who does.

        1. The look in their eyes as you leave is a fascinating combo of “wait… what…?” and “Ooh I Gave Great Advice About Knee Pain”. Rewarding.

  31. Q5 – if you have more than 6 hours notice of a group activity, then in theory Tina could physically arrive on time to participate. Unless you know for sure that she already has an overlapping commitment, it’s not ridiculous to offer an invitation, particularly since Tina’s said that she would like to be invited.

    I think you and Tina have different understandings of what it means to offer an invitation. To you, an invitation signals an opportunity and an impossible invitation would cause negative feelings. To Tina, an invitation has a more symbolic meaning and indicates that she belongs to the group. The fact that she feels differently than you doesn’t make her understanding less valid. Remembering to extend a “courtesy invitation” shouldn’t be that much more difficult than coordinating around the various local schedules. You personally don’t need to feel obligated to invite her to anything but if her presence would be otherwise welcome at an event, then might as well let *someone* invite her.

    Of course, if Tina responds to said courtesy invites with complaints about not being accommodated, then you should revisit the whole topic. It would be unreasonable for her to try to stop the rest of the group from doing things because the laws of time and space mean she can’t join you. But just as you differ from her about the desirability of an impossible invitation, you might also differ on what qualifies as being “worth the trip.”

    1. I really like that framing of it/explicit reminder that an invitation is sometimes not just about whether the invitee can actually make it, but about saying that you would want them there if they can.
      I worked an odd hours job for a couple of years, where I wouldn’t know my schedule more than a week in advance. I couldn’t commit to anything that required advanced planning, I couldn’t take any kind of role in suggesting what dates/times would work, except occasionally mediating or suggesting “hey maybe a poll?” But being on the invite list, and getting the discussion of dates/times helped reduce how lonely and isolated I felt.
      LW, maybe don’t include Tina in the coordinating unless you really want to be sure she can make that specific event—based on what you describe, I’m not sure she can be relied on to opt herself out of planning like I did, and being included then ignored would not have the same effect as being given the opportunity to participate and recognizing that you don’t have productive input. But once the schedule is set, by all means, let her have the chance to decide what’s worth it.

      1. Yes. When I got married, I invited my grandmother in Germany, even though I knew her health didn’t permit overseas travel anymore. Because it would have been awesome if she was magically able to do it.

  32. Q8: my solution is, “what are you doing about it?” The people who complain the most turn out to be doing the least and if you point it out to them they start avoiding talking politics at you because FSM-forgive they actually exert some effort. (Especially when they ask you what you’ve been doing and you have a huge long list because the blue wave isn’t happening by itself.)

    1. I love that moment. “Well, what are you doing about it?” “How much time do you have?”

        1. Okay, I’ve managed through trial, error, and a certain amt of work to find ways that I can get involved that are sustainable and meaningful for me personally, but a year and a half ago I would have LOVED your handout!!

          1. It’s mostly specific to our county, though it does have national links too. I gave it to people like you who were actually trying to figure out what to do and to constantly complaining berniebros to shut them up. Imagine if all those white dudes complained to their representatives instead of to the women in their office. Imagine if they worked to help marginalized people vote. I need to update (there’s not much about the midterms), but here’s our activism list from our blog that only has the general stuff.

  33. Q1 – I know people who are like that, but for cats. They are absolutely convinced that they have super special cat whisperer powers and even when told repeatedly “She doesn’t really like people” will be sure that they will be the exception and still try really really hard to get the cat to like them. There are certain qualities that … I feel like a lot of people feel they are in the top 1% who really are not, and they often base a fair amount of Stuff around being good at that specific thing. It’s a very difficult dynamic because you don’t want to say “hey, this thing you think you’re spectacular at…not so much” but yikes.

    Q22 – I think this depends on your goal. If you’re trying to convince them otherwise, probably just disengaging is best. I try to think, OK, they’re probably just as confident that I’m wrong as I am that they are wrong, so would I be likely to be convinced my entire worldview on Topic is wrong no matter what they say? If they are obnoxiously in your space insisting you argue with them, I love CA’s tactic, and if in person maybe something like “my rainbow pin was not a sign saying Please Debate Me” as appropriate. If you’re trying to signal to other people around you who might be hurt by their words that not everyone agrees with them, but don’t want to get into a huge annoying argument, what about something like “I strongly disagree with you, but we’re not going to change each other’s minds, so how about a subject change!”

    I think very often “informing someone they are wrong” and “not getting into it with them” are not compatible goals, often one’s gotta take precedence.

    1. Story time: My ex-husband actually did have super special cat whisperer powers. We were at a party and I asked the hostess where her cat was so I could pet the cat. The hostess said the cat really didn’t like people. Cue ex-husband coming into the room…wearing the cat around his neck like a boa!

      1. Once I went to interview a woman for a newspaper article. She answered the door with a Siamese cat sitting on her shoulder. “What a beautiful cat,” says I.

        “Yes, but I have to warn you, she doesn’t like other people so don’t try to pet her –”

        At which point the cat jumped from the owner’s shoulder to mine and made herself comfortable.

        It’s always helpful when a pet signals that you are “good people.” The interview went well.

      2. My late mother was like that. She had a special touch with ALL animals, but with cats she was like some kind of wizard. It was pretty much her trademark and what everyone remembers her by.
        The one exception I can remember was a cat I adopted from someone who had rescued her from her own mother, who was a wealthy & successful businesswoman and also a crackhead. Poor kitty was super unhappy and didn’t like ANYBODY…not mean, she’d just ignore them or walk away. I spent the night on friends couch and while I was falling asleep felt a warm squishy body come lay down on my side and start purring…
        I adopted her and she still didn’t like people much (except my husband, when I met him) and around my mom she never got any better than ‘meh’ 😑 My mom ADORED her (she was a beautiful patchwork torti & white) but she was just not having it! I have no idea why, but it did make me laugh!

  34. Q22: I haven’t had a chance to deploy this yet, but the one answer I’ve been tempted to use in response to tomfoolery of many many sorts is “I’m not playing that game. Have a good day.” and just like, fucking off and leaving the Tomfoolery Spewer in the dust. I have no idea if that would actually work or not, but anymore it’s always my immediate reaction to reading Bullshit.

  35. Q2: Unless I’m missing it in the question, have you *had* the ‘can we not gifts’ talk yet? There are several ways of broaching this which shouldn’t cause offense, from ‘gift-giving is fraught for me because FOO, you know how it is’, ‘I’m trying to have less Stuff in my life’, etc.

    Unfortunately it may not work (see, earrings, the not wearing of), but it feels like a necessary first step. If gifts continue, you can proceed to the captain’s suggested tips for coping.

    Regarding communication with the cousin in general, it may help to see this as a love languages situation? Can there be a little give and take?

    Maybe you could arrange tri-monthly (or whatever) phone dates so that she can communicate in the way she enjoys, making sure to schedule them so you have a definitive Thing to do afterwards so the call doesn’t drag on indefinitely?

    And maybe you only send occasional letters, but this way it’s more likely they might actually be read and appreciated? Cap’s suggestion of postcards is a great compromise.

    Also, social media, if you do that and would feel comfortable friending her. (With filters if need be to keep anything sensitive from being potentially passed along to Darth FOO.) The occasional like is a low-pressure way for both of you to say ‘I remember you and I see what’s going on in your life now’ without demanding further engagement if you’re not up for it.


    Q5: If it were previous to the passive-aggressivity, I’d be fine with saying add her the the group texts/facebook event/whatever means y’all use of arranging these things. Maybe have an actual Talk about it, along the lines of ‘Hey Tina, it’s always 100% okay if you can’t make something, I just want you to know what’s happening because if by chance you are free on a given night and feel like making the trip, we’d always love to have you’.

    (If invites are more word-of-mouth or in-person discussion, maybe someone in the ‘invite Tina to everything’ faction could be the designated person in change of shooting her a text.)

    But the snottiness you describe makes me wonder what you’d really be gaining out of the effort.


    Q20: There’s always volunteering at a shelter for your kitten fix, but you have to know thyself before you go that route – personally I get overinvolved with animals I encounter, particularly animals in need of homes. In your shoes, I would undoubtedly end up falling in love with a kitten or kittens, and begin the process of rationalizing to myself ‘Well MAAAAYBE Current Cat wouldn’t mind them so much once they got used to them’ except that they totally would and it would all end up in sad cats.

    Or, as phrased so much better by our dear captain, AN OUROBOROS OF HATE AND PEE.

    So unless they allow you to put on your volunteer applications ‘I am not a good candidate to adopt or foster pets, so don’t let me even if I beg’, tread lightly.

  36. Q20 counter-anecdata: It really depends on your cat’s personality, so you’re probably the one best qualified to know how they’d react to little interlopers. Our older guy was great with the two kittens we brought home a couple of years ago, and I’m particularly glad that we got two kittens instead of just the one we’d been planning on–they could burn off a lot of their energy chasing each other around and then curl up with him, and he didn’t have to engage with kitten-playtime unless he felt like it. But he was a super-chill little guy about most things, so we were already pretty sure he was going to adjust well.

  37. #15 YES. I wish my friend would take this advice. I don’t dislike her husband, we just have nothing in common and he makes no effort to sustain conversation so hanging out with him is work. I wish she’d stop trying to push him together with our friends, when noone else isn’t he group brings their partner, I don’t think we’ll ever be actual friends with him and that’s fine becuase he’s an adult who can make his own friends. I’d be perfectly happy never hanging out with him except when I go over to her house.

    (And yes I’ve had a conversation with her about when I invite her to stuff I’ve organised I mean just her unless I mention him, and she’s been great about that, but there’s nothing I can really do about other friend events and hang outs but put up with him as politely as I can.)

    1. I wish some people I met in the past were like you. I always got in trouble in family meetings of my ex because they found worrying that I wasn’t interacting steadily with them… in situations where it was too loud, there were to many people, all they talked was small…

      My ex needed a friend like you telling him “if she struggles, you know you don’t need to drag her around, don’t you?”

  38. Dear Q2:
    In combination with any of the Captain’s excellent strategies, you might consider giving yourself a treat each time this happens. Have some ice cream, see a movie, check out a cool graphic novel from the library, go for a walk in a beautiful place, whatever floats your boat.

    I too have family of origin Issues With Gifts, but I try to practice giving myself — and believing that I deserve — small things that I know come from a generous, thoughtful, no-strings-attached, “this is just because I love you” place.

  39. Q4/Captain: Will you forgive me if I use your question/response to spitball about my own situation a little bit first? I’m returning to adjuncting this semester after a three-year absence. I didn’t really miss it until this past spring—I love teaching, and I’m excited to be in the classroom again.

    I’ve only been on the job market once. Well, I applied to one job, but withdrew from the interview when they told me it was a 4-4 load (plus committee work and advising and research). I love teaching, I love advising students. I even love committee work!

    But the research imperative freaks me out. And four classes a semester is a huge burden with all of those other responsibilities. I could see a 3-2 or even 3-3 with all the advising and committee service. But those jobs don’t really exist anymore. Teaching is largely farm d out to adjuncts, and the few FT faculty positions that open up really demand a lot. It makes me sad.

    I’m going to mull over the Captain’s advice and try to think of those other things I could see myself doing.

    What I would say to Q4 is this: really, really imagine what your life would be like in the various jobs you’re considering applying for. I know how easy it is to obsess about the search process, and to fixate on success/failure. But if those jobs are anything like the one I was describing, try to picture your day, your week. When will you spend time with your loved ones? How will you squeeze in your self-care? How do you feel about the tenure process? Do you handle stress and uncertainty fairly well?

    Now, if you can look at the listings, imagine the 60+ hour weeks, and go, “Sign me up!,” maybe you do want to give it another go. I don’t k ow what your field is, but it’s pretty common IME to go on it three times.

    I’m wishing you all the luck in the world with your decision.

  40. Q1- we’re in nearly exactly the same situation. We have an almost 3 months old daughter. She’s the second grandbaby for my parents and first for my in-laws. My MIL had a birthday party recently and everyone was all over her. She was completely overstimulated.
    So I’m really happy with the Captain’s scripts. We’re definitely going to use them for my mother’s birthday party this month.

  41. Q14 (deviating from social scripts)- There is a (FAR from universal) gender difference wrt discussing problems. Women are often socialized to bond through commiserating over each other’s problems– that is, when one person says, “I’m having this problem,” another is expected to say, “oh I know just what you mean, I also ___. It really sucks, doesn’t it?” Or alternatively, simply to listen and empathize, and to validate the other person’s feelings. It can be nice. But just as there’s pressure to empathize, there’s pressure to offer up vulnerabilities in the first place… which is probably why men aren’t socialized to do this as much. Sometimes when women do this with men’s problems men get offended because it seems like they’re trying to one-up the problem by also having something similar, sometimes women get offended that they offered up a vulnerability expecting an empathetic ear but got stonewalled with dismissive-seeming practical suggestions. And offering up vulnerabilities in the first place can seem complain-y when it’s often meant to be socially generous, a way to bond. And that’s all apart from the gendered gaslighting thing. Sorry if I’m saying what you already know, I have SO little context.

    Anyway, I know the gendered script was just an example of the larger question of people’s shock and resistance to you deviating from a social script. But what if you kindly asked the person what they wanted from the interaction (like do they want a listener, were they looking for a fun debate, were they looking for practical suggestions?). Maybe it’s not what you or they expect. Maybe you could suggest one of these types of things, if in fact you’re willing to be the listener/debater/suggester. If you deviate from the expected script like “I’m not doing this,” it’s kinda fair for the other person to wonder then what you ARE wanting/intending to do? Maybe do what you can to allow for this space of uncertainty and model an alternative.

    But if you’re just dealing with someone who demands unreasonable things/actions from you that you aren’t willing to do, that’s a boundary issue and it’s just an unavoidable fact that setting and defending boundaries will often be met with disbelief, anger and offense.

    1. Yeah, I’m not saying that the question-asker is doing exactly this, but a man responding to _complaining_ by saying “You’re correct about that being a problem! I can’t help in any way. Next topic!” would… actually still be making it a conversation about how Man! Fixing! Ladyproblem!

      If the LW *is* doing exactly that, no wonder they’re getting blinks of surprise: if a woman genuinely wasn’t asking for help, then she… is not asking for help either way and is surprised that you’re now talking about your role in solving her problem, whether you’re for or against solving her problem.

      Exaggerated example, but if I said “I’d love to go to Italy, the tickets are so expensive though” and someone went “Correct! I can’t get a pilot’s license and fly you there, so next topic”, that would be out of place. The topic wasn’t getting them to take me to Italy, the topic was my own feelings about Italy. I was trying to make small talk and exchange information on likes, dislikes, and interests, not extract airfare somehow. Even if I’m complaining about a more concrete problem, chances are I’m exchanging information about life, not trying to extract help.

      If LW’s complaining acquaintance is clearly and straightforwardly asking for help, then like, you can set boundaries with other people around doing favors for them, but you can’t make them like it. There isn’t a script that will make people like it.

      However, LW, you don’t mention an explicit empathizing step. I say stuff like “Wow, that’s awful. I would have no idea what to do! What are you thinking about doing?” all the time. It goes validate -> empathize -> refocus the conversation on my friend and their agency.

      1. tortillachipmonster and purps, a fantastic take on the LW14’s problem. I wish I knew more of what the LW meant; there can be so many scenarios where LW might still be able to help in some way even though fixing the problem might be beyond their capabilities.

        Like, in the example about Italy purps gave (which I find also very hilarious). Despite being unable to take the person to Italy the LW could tell that they, too, would love to travel there – and they might suggest an Italian restaurant, a visit to the museum with an exhibition of Italian art, some Italian films…

        Several other scenarios also played through my head (I apologize that some of them might have triggering content; I deal with life by writing comedy):

        A woman: “I recently found out that I have a tumor in my uterus.”
        LW: “Now, that really is a problem, but I cannot help you. I am not a surgeon.”
        (A better answer might be: “Do you wish to talk about it? In either case I would love to be there for you. If you ever need a ride to a doctor I would love to help you out.” It is very probable that the LW might be able to help, despite surgically removing the tumor might be out of their options.)

        A woman: “I was catcalled on my way to work this morning.”
        LW: “Now, that is a problem, but I cannot help you.”
        (Oh, yes they can. They can ask the woman to tell more of the experience if they want and to personally tell a catcaller that it is not cool the next time they see it happening.)

        Like tortillachipsmonster and purps suggest, the LW probably can help the woman (unless this is indeed a case in which they do not want to help). There are so many ways of helping: being there, listening to the person, just spending time with them… The LW might get better reactions in the future if they just admitted that the problem exists and after that listened.

        1. Haha, after reading your and purps’s comments I’d pay money to see a politician honestly say, “You’re correct about that being a problem! I can’t help in any way. Next topic!” The examples y’all gave are delightfully ridiculous, but then again when I try to think of a likelier situation where a woman with some sort of problem would actually be shocked and dismayed at *not* having been gaslit by a man, I’m drawing a blank. Like you said, I wish I knew more of what LW meant.

          But even in some sort of situation where a woman clearly asks LW for a loan and LW says “no,” and doesn’t intend to assist in any other way, if LW is looking for a way to disperse the remaining shock and awkwardness, well, he might not be able to. But some possible scripts might be, “how are you holding up?” “you’ve gotten through a lot before, I know you can get through this, too,” “that must be very difficult for you,” “you certainly deserve better,” something like that. It sends the message, not of helping in any way, but simply “I hear you and you matter.” But realistically, the person might still be miffed at the rejection or see the “you matter” message as hollow since there’s no offer of assistance in it. But it doesn’t sound like LW’s current approach is working any better, so might as well give some of these polite platitudes a shot.

          1. totillachipmonster, I am drawing a blank, too. I believe everyone here would love to be of help to the LWs. The only example where I even imagine saying that “Yep, this is a problem but I cannot help you” is this question because… I really do not get it. I have trouble coming up with a scenario which would not be ridiculous. Usually there is always a way one can be of some assistance: just being there and empathising, helping the person figure things out themselves or perhaps suggesting some alternatives like in the case of purps’ Italy example. Perhaps the LW’s perception of what “helping” means is too narrow.

          2. Reply below Convallaria re LW 14 and times someone might not be interested in helping: Maybe the LW is looking for polite ways to end the conversation, having tried some “that sounds really difficult”- type responses and finds he is stuck in a conversation that still hasn’t ended? I (she/her) have a coworker (also she, and 15 years my junior; I am technically her superior but there are lots of things I can’t do). She just. goes. on. sometimes. About stuff I am sympathetic to but have no power to fix. I get to the point where my only options are to get up and go do something else or (I guess) be direct and say “[Coworker], I don’t have any further input about your work schedule. You need to talk about it with [Manager]. Can we please talk about something else now?” Like, it’s not that I don’t understand that you’re frustrated about [thing] but there’s only so much repetitive venting I can deal with today, and I still can’t fix your schedule.

            I agree with earlier commenters that this type of nattering about a topic serves a social function and (may) be more common among women, and sometimes I have more patience for it than others. In my personal situation I think Coworker grates on me because I start to *feel* like she wants me to fix the problem. Like, if she just mentions working three Sundays in a row *one* more time I’ll sigh and pick up the phone and call our manager. Which, theoretically I *could* do but I am not *going* to do on her behalf short of a sudden emergency.

          3. Squidhead (what a great nick, by the way!), this is very much a possibility. I have also encountered this problem in many individuals though I must confess I have been lucky with my coworkers: I have held numerous presentations related to my favourite interests in conventions and this is an issue which tends to pop up occasionally during or after the presentation. When there is time for questions or input people will just begin talking… And they never stop and there is no question or point anywhere in that flood of speech.

            During my studies I have encountered a few fellow students who are just like this, too and it is awkward and unpleasant and I have ended up avoiding them and feeling bad about it. Clearly these persons have issues related to communication but I need my peace and quiet.

            How does your script work with this coworker, Squidhead?

            During my presentations I have ended up interrupting the speech with a firm: “Thank you for this point. We are short of time so let’s move on.” It has worked so far because it is true: there are usually so many questions that we are always short of time. Nowadays, though, they have began filming the presentations and after that I have not encountered any comments like that.

          4. Convallaria, Using My Words is not always my strong point, so I haven’t directly used that script. (In part, I would feel like I was shutting down her concerns…as her sort-of superior I don’t want to do that even when there is nothing I can do to remedy the problem.) But she was really stuck on a particular issue the other day and I did finally say ‘well, you can go tell [person who could actually make that happen]’ with enough flat finality in my voice that I think it deflated her. We were really busy that shift, though, so she might have just not had time.

    2. Based on the noted gender dynamics, I, too, wondered if the responses the questioner experienced might be related to him saying “I can’t help you” when the other person was not actually seeking help. It took a clear, direct description of that dynamic for me to learn that people may well be sharing complaints seeking validation and commiseration, not solutions.

      So I would recommend what purps suggests if these are situations where there isn’t a direct request for help (this may also run afoul of ask/guess culture differences; there are indeed people who will hint at a need for help, fishing for an offer without actually asking – the way to handle this if you don’t want to help is still to just empathize and neither agree nor refuse to help when there is no explicit request, though one can ask if help is desired if one does want to help). If these ARE direct requests for help, continue to politely decline, and let the person have whatever feelings ze will; this is actually a kindness (clear boundaries are always a kindness), even if the person reacts badly.

      ALL that said, the help request was framed as an example of a more general trend, and the answer to the particular question asked is maybe just do nothing. People are going to have the reactions they will have, and those aren’t in your control. The only thing you need to do to roll with those reactions is to not respond to the shock/disbelief unkindly, or maybe even at all.

  42. Q24. I have similar issues about emailing my thesis committee to schedule things (just ARRRGGH feelings). If you can focus on revising it without thinking of your advisor, do that until you’re at a point where you are satisfied or when you know you need someone else to look at it before you can fix it. Think about it more of “I did this and I want to communicate it well, so I need to fix my writing” rather than “I’m fixing it to get it to an acceptable level to show my advisor.” Then if you have trouble pressing “send” on the email, my strategy kicks in.

    I use boomerang with gmail, or whatever client you can find that lets you schedule an email to be sent. I draft the email, check it, and then schedule it to send (sometimes it’s just sending it 10 minutes from now). And then I usually go dive head first into some very distracting activity, like a fast-paced video game or a movie or a party, whatever makes you not look at your phone for a while. It seems to shortcircuit my anxiety a bit, because I didn’t SEND it, right? It was just a draft of an email. That eventually sends itself. So it does get sent, but I didn’t have to press that particular button.

    After I used that strategy a couple times, I wasn’t that anxious sending the emails and didn’t have to use the scheduler.

    BTW, same email scheduler is great if you have to remind your advisor of things multiple times…you can make it resend an email over and over. I had a older student that sent a weekly reminder to our advisor that he hadn’t looked at her paper draft yet (after giving her a deadline to finish it).

  43. Q14: I want to ask gently, is your conscious effort making you expect a certain reaction?

    I’m a regular ole white lady who loves to cook, and for a while I felt like I had “weird” interactions with an Asian-American friend when we talked about food. I realized: because a lot of shitty white people will say food from that part of the world is gross, when I was saying it was tasty/good/interesting in conversation with her, I was subconsciously expecting her admiration for not disliking it. It was then “weird” to me that she wasn’t fulfilling the ridiculous social contract I’d made up. Once I realized this, the feeling evaporated and I could be more normal and treat her more normally.

    So rather than declare you won’t engage in toxic masculine behavior (which can feel jarring if you’re a woman who was just hoping/expecting you wouldn’t and didn’t need to announce it) could you just move straight to some good listening tactics? If someone’s not explicitly asking for direct help, they might just like to hear “ah, I’m sorry, that sucks”.

  44. Really amazing answers, Captain, as always they were incredibly helpful both to the LW and to me as I read them. Since I’m a writer struggling with motivation, I’m really glad you linked us to 750 words. I had no idea that kind of site existed, nor had I ever thought to look for one, so I will definitely be making use of it. The only think I’m not too clear about is whether getting a “clean slate” every month means they wipe the previous months writing from the records, or if it’s like a diary you can look back on?

    Either way, thank you for all of the morning motivational insights. Even if I am not the LW, I truly needed this!

    1. The points are done on a month basis, but all your stuff stays there as far as I can tell for ever (or as long as the site lasts). I’m about to do mine and my streak is >2500 days. And I can still search for older stuff. As far as I can tell it is private, but of course the internet and humanity being what it is, I still use a bit of discretion in the way I write.

    2. Former regular user of 750 words here: the “clean slate” only applies to your stats/streak-counting. The words themselves are saved month to month (and possibly forever?), plus you can download everything you wrote in a previous month as a text file!

  45. Q21 writer here, just wanted to thank the captain and all the commenters for the nice words, I very much appreciate it.
    I’m dearly hoping not to have another stay in the hospital (diverticulitis is miserable), but if I do, I WILL be following the advice to not even tell them.
    FWIW, I told my mom not to tell my sister I was there. (“Whyyyyyy? She’s your sister!” “Because she makes it all about how her feelings and I’M the one who is sick.”) Sure enough, the day after I got out, my sister called to ask why I hadn’t told her I was in the hospital (and to complain about our mom) and I found myself making her feel better when I still didn’t feel better.
    It’s not that they’re terrible people exactly, they just can’t look at anything beyond themselves, you know?
    So, thank you again.

  46. Q22: When I don’t feel safe being confrontational or it’s a bad time or I just plain can’t be arsed, I tend to go with: “I’m just going to stop you there at this time,” *exit to toilets* *return and head for different part of room containing friends* “I need to be Very Busy for five minutes, Friend,” *animated conversation.

    If I’m willing to be a little more openly cranky I’ll go with “So, since you value honesty and forthrightness I gotta tell you my eyes are glazing over here, later!”

  47. (Warning: kinda gross)

    All I can say is, be glad the kittens took the pad out of the box. My dog will pull anything he can out of the trash to chew on, so guess what I (being a female of childbearing age) find when I fail to close my bathroom door?

    1. Once, when I lived with a roommate and her cute but tenacious dog, we had to keep the bathroom garbage can on top of the shelves above the toilet and explain why to any female houseguests.

    2. yep, the family dog once got into the bathroom bin and produced 2 square meters of bloody shreds. Since then the family has closed bins in all bathrooms.
      He did it with tissues, too, but that’s not THAT impressive. ^^

      1. Our family dog loved paper products best, including used tissues (but thankfully not pads). Her best feat was pulling toilet paper out 2 doors and around about 4 corners without breaking it of the roll. (I miss her very much, even the picking up Kleenexes after her part.)

    3. Ha, my family had that dog too. And also four women in the house so…yeah. That produces an impressive amount of mess, along with one innocent-looking poodle who doesn’t know what you’re talking about, and of course everything was like that when she found it!

    4. A friend of mine used to have a very well trained pet rat that she could let wander her bedroom (while she was in it) and eventually found he had made a little hidden nest under her bed with things he’d pulled out of the trash…

  48. Q3! As a retired college professor I must speak to you!

    You have an f*in JOB. FFS don’t quit your job for some short-term position, or a part-time one either. Your job lets you apply only for jobs that really interest you, rather than desperately applying during your temporary faculty job.

    Yep, academics with full-time, safe jobs and the respect of (at least some of) their peers do think that academic jobs are the cat’s pajamas. They have the gall to think you should risk a good quality of life – I mean, how is their QoL and are they offering to feed and house you while you lay the foundations of an academic career? No? Then ignore the pressure. Don’t buy in to someone else’s idea of what you ‘should’ do.

    Being a college professor is not all it is cracked up to be. What dumb things did you do as a student – I know I did many – will be returned to you a hundred fold. Idiot students, low pay, the constant potential of having to move until your career is established, did I mention idiot students? So many possibilities: the unprepared who don’t think their lack of logic, writing, and math skills should or will affect their performance in class, those who don’t read the book or do the homework and come to you in bafflement, those sitting 4 feet away from you playing Minecraft and thinking you can’t tell. . . the cheaters and plagarists . . . Most of your students are better than that. Some are even engaged and care about what they are learning. But it does get old and a jaded professor is the worst. From time to time you will find that an academic job is objectively good, albeit uninspiring.

    Remove any social pressure and feelings of “I should do X” or “people will think better or me if I do X” and then consider what situation will be most comfortable. Maybe it is a faculty job. Apply for those jobs that grab you, do some adjuncting in hours that will not affect your current job, review your application materials with an experience professor, and expect to be rejected. The job market is very tight. Maybe an academic job was your dream, but your dream is changing. That’s OK. Go pay someone to work with on identifying alternate career options. I bet there are some that you haven’t discovered.

    In the end, pursuing an academic job becomes a waste of time and energy when you don’t want an academic job any more.

    Love from the trenches

  49. Q5, I had a Tina in my friend group too. There was a big disconnect regarding invitations between those of us still in Home City, and our Tina, who had moved to Eastern Europe from the UK to work. We thought it would be weird and redundant and more of a ‘ner-ner you can’t come!’ snub to extend an invite to someone who obviously could not come to (example) regular movie nights, our Tina felt that by not being invited (even to things she could not possibly attend without a hefty dose of sci-fi transportation magic,) we had forgotten her.

    Our Tina was feeling the pinch of moving so far away and knowing nobody, and seeing us via social media enjoying ourselves just brought it home to her that our lives were carrying on without her. We weren’t doing anything AT her, and we weren’t doing anything wrong, but our Tina was still having some big feelings about it wrapped up in some insecurity over whether her move had been the right thing.

    The solution was to offer her invites to things that were being planned in advance. We still posted pictures from movie nights on social media, but they affected our Tina less when she had been invited to birthdays and bigger occasions with enough advance warning that she could choose to book a flight home or not.

    Q5, don’t sweat the weekly gigs, but if your group is having a bigger bash every few months, loop your Tina in and invite her to that. It won’t cure her loneliness or her uncertainty about moving away, but it will help a bit with her insecurity that you’ve all moved on and forgotten her.

  50. Q14: Your question reminded me (she) of frequent conversantions with an ex (he): When I explained how some actions or habits of his were a problem for me, he acknowledged that there was the problem for me but also said that he would not change what he did. Of course I did not like this and in the end we broke up.
    So if the situations in which you break the social script are similar, you not offering help in solving a problem caused by you, what you are really saying is that you do not care for the woman as much as for your own comfort. The shock and disbelief then is not due to a violation of expected scripts but to a revelation about your relationship with that woman.
    …Of course, my interpretation of your question may be totally off-base. In that case feel free to ignore.

  51. Q24: I can’t speak for all academics, but if your advisor’s anything like me? What they want to do is help you succeed. What they’re definitely not going to do is judge that draft, or to judge you based on that draft. I judge my student for things like misogyny and plagiarism — I do not judge them for the quality of their work, because, trust me, I have seen the whole gamut of bad work, and I know that the quality of a single draft/assignment tells me nothing about someone’s academic potential, nevermind their worth as a person.

    I’m currently supervising my very first PhD student, and she’s _amazing_, but she freaks out every time I ask her to send me something, and I’m always like no, look, you’re amazing, just send me the thing, I literally do not care what state it’s in, please just send it to me so we can together make it better. I mean, like, yes, all other things being equal, a high-quality draft would be nice, but ranked way higher than that on my list of priorities is supporting my students so that they can be healthy and productive. Also, I would always prefer a draft submitted on time so that I myself have time to thoroughly comment on it.

    In other words, what the Captain said. And in the meantime — good luck! Showing your work to other people is very scary; goodness knows I still struggle to send my paper drafts to co-authors.

  52. #15: I have a friend who has a partner who I deeply dislike. The reasoning might be different from your scenario–I actually think he’s a scumbag who’s likely to hurt her someday, on top of just plain not clicking on an interpersonal level–but I’m pretty sure she thinks my concerns are silly/baseless/colored by my disliking him, so there’s maybe still some overlap.

    It’s been hard on our friendship, honestly. It’s hard to hang out with her these days. Group things where he’s there are hard because he’s frankly mean a lot of the time, which makes me really uncomfortable. It’s a little better when I can get her one-on-one, but even then she brings him up all the time–I think she thinks she can talk me around if she just tells me enough cute anecdotes about him? Except half the “cute anecdotes” aren’t so cute and actually make me worry more, but we’ve been over it a couple times and I know she’s not interested in hearing it yet again, so I’m sitting there torn between saying “that’s kind of messed up” and derailing the outing or trying to do the “if you’re happy that’s all that matters” dance and not alienate her and…ugh. Anyways, the end result is that we’ve been hanging out less and less since she started dating him. I miss her–I mean, this is someone I think of on the level of a sister. But every single interaction ends up being mostly about this guy (which would be obnoxious even if I really liked him!), so even when I do see her, I feel like I don’t actually get to hang out with HER. It’s hard to maintain closeness that way.

    I love CA’s advice on this question. It’s basically saying, don’t try to force your friend to love your SO when it’s clearly not happening. I even think that implementing just one or two of the points would go a long way–I’d absolutely put up with this guy in group settings if I could also hang out with my friend occasionally without it being All About Him, or deal with talking about him sometimes if she stopped also trying to push me into a friendship with him in group settings. He’s her SO, after all; he plays a big role in her life, I don’t expect to be able to stay close to her and also completely avoid all mention of him forever. I just wish she’d let me engage with other parts of her life sometimes instead.

  53. Q5:
    I’ve been on both sides of this problem, and this is my personal takeaway.
    Think of it this way: it takes so little time and energy to shoot off a quick text saying “Hey Tina, we’re getting together tomorrow night for drinks if you wanna join!”. On the flipside, it hurts a lot to be Tina and see your friends posting pictures and having a great time without even being invited because they *assumed* you wouldn’t be able to make it.
    I do the mental math on that, and it seems less damaging to just…invite her. Will Tina say no? Yeah, probably. But she might say yes. And I’m of the belief that it’s the thought that counts. Knowing that her friends at least considered inviting her could make a huge difference.

  54. Q5 – Hold on. Tina lives 4 hours away and pitches a fit if she’s not invited to everything? How realistic is it that she’s be able to rearrange her life, jump in the car, drive 4 hours to play UNO at Lucinda’s house on a Wednesday, and drive 4 hours home? Seems unrealistic. Seems also like if the friend group plans a big thing that requires extra planning, like, say, going to an amusement park, invite Tina and let her decide if she’s attending. (I’d bet a nickel she won’t – don’t invite her again if she doesn’t go)

    The other thing – Tina is obviously stung by the social media posts. Maybe the friend group could not post every time they get together, (unless you want to rile her up, which I suppose is a different thing altogether). Or make a private list that only the group can see and not include Tina on it.

    Tina’s gotta expand her horizons and get some local friends. But that’s a Tina problem, not an OP5 problem.

  55. LW18: If you’re mostly doing this on PC, one thing that I have found EXTREMELY helpful is a program called Cold Turkey. You can choose to lock yourself out of some or all websites at specific times, and even lock yourself out of programs. For me, it’s been a lifesaver both in getting out of bed and in going to bed when I meant to because my browser LITERALLY SHUTS DOWN AND I CAN’T GET IT BACK until my scheduled time. IIRC the program was $35 when I bought it and can be used on multiple PCs. I’m allowed to put software on my work PC too–perk of working in a small business–so I also use it as a distraction-blocker for work.

    (I haven’t found an equivalent that I’m satisfied with for my phone so this may not work for you if you mostly are a phone-browser. However, if your problem is mostly about getting yourself to stop doing one thing and start doing another thing, I’ve found that anything that forces a disruption can be really helpful.)

  56. A little late to the party, but – LW18, I am not a morning person and routines save my life. Here are some tips for you:
    * I get that you don’t have a solid morning routine now, but can you think back to a point in your life when you did? What did that look like?
    * Hard agree that a successful morning routine starts the night before. Figure out what needs to be in place for you to flourish in the morning.
    * Maybe you have one or two morning habits that you can link with one or two additional activities, and after a while the linked things will turn into a routine? For example, if you’re great about taking your AM meds at the same time every day but nothing else, could you put your meds in front of your coffee pot the night before, so now you’re great at taking your meds and also making coffee at the same time every day. Add, rinse, repeat, as applicable until it grows up into a whole routine.
    * Add, rinse, repeat. A routine isn’t born a routine, it grows up to become one after it’s been completed a million and a half times. You might add something, take it away, do it some mornings but not others. Figuring out your morning routine is a process! It might be less daunting to tinker gradually rather than deciding on a whole new routine you’re going to start in one fell swoop – or it might not. Up to you.
    * The best morning routine is the one that works ~ for you ~ . Do you just need to get out the door in time to get to work, or are your timelines more flexible and you want to set up your whole day? Is there stuff that most people do at night that’s easier or more enjoyable for you to do in the morning, or vice versa? The point of a morning routine is to help your brain by expecting fewer decisions from it and help your brain and body together be ready for your day. That’s it. What is most helpful for your body and your brain?

  57. Q8: this was my husband, along with a few other topics of constant bitchery, until I finally looked him in the face and said: “Okay. What are you going to do about it?” It threw him off enough that I was able to nicely, calmly tell him that unless he was going to actually do something, I didn’t want to hear about it anymore. He took it quite well, and it’s become a running joke. “WHEN are they going to FIX that STUPID {catches my look} ……. yeah, yeah, I know, I should write a letter….. what do you want for dinner?”

  58. Q14:
    [That’s a rough situation, and you have my sympathy / that’s a question that a lot of people have strong feelings about / that’s the sort of decision people often need to talk out with friends]. But for various reasons we really can’t get into, I’m not the right person to [work through this with you / to be your sounding board on this / to help you move next Tuesday / to get in the middle of a thing that’s between you and friend 2 / to provide the sort of informed guidance that this situation needs / to talk you down off the ledge at 2 a.m. / to discuss your romantic feelings for anyone / to pretend that i have any legitimate input on what you should do with your life / to have passionate discussions about anime]. I can offer to [do some googling for you / give you the phone number for the suicide prevention line / give you my sister’s email address so you can ask her how she rented a u-haul last week despite being under 18 / be the person you play scrabble with when you need a break from feelings analysis / go for a long silent walk when you need to process stuff internally / talk about our shared interest in competitive macrame and underwater foosball].

    If “but whyyyyy?”

    “I hope that [asking you to go to someone else / reminding you to look inside your own heart for the answer / pointing you at professional support / reminding you which sorts of friendship things we do best together] makes you feel empowered and appreciated, not dismissed.”

    “There are many ways to be friends. I’m a true friend but I’m not that category of true friend. For us to have a mutually supportive, ongoing friendship where we both value each other, we have to value each others’ boundaries. I can’t discuss [subject X] further without a boundary violation.”

    The redirect or summary or sign off:

    “So [let me sign off so you can try someone else about this asap / can we talk about something that interests both of us or do you want to reconnect after you’ve got this solved? / would you like me to send you that email address? / do you want to try walking in silence for a while?/ Is this enough of a crisis that i should call 911? / We should talk when it’s daytime and we’re both sober. / Yes, i do have a truck. No, I don’t help people move. / Given my history, i am the last person you should ask for dating advice. / If person X did horrible thing Y, you need to talk to a support line or the police on how to proceed and and what to do. / I hear that the intended -to-be-helpful-thing mutual friend said about your [wherever] was unexpectedly hurtful because Family History. Sounds like pro- level heavy baggage–not something i can help unpack. / See you at chess club Tuesday? / See you at work tomorrow. ]”

  59. Q2: The LW refers to their gift-sending friend with they/them pronouns, but in the answer, the Captain says, “Channel her” as one of the strategies. Was this an error?

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