We’re doing the thing today, where people can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday) before noon Chicago time and I will answer as many as I can this afternoon between noon and 2pm. Comments get turned on once everything is posted
Please enjoy this artsy photo of Daniel Striped Tiger hanging out in his new rainbow tunnel/bifrost.
Q1: Starting my 1st kids theatre job, SO SCARED. So much to remember/could go wrong + stakes feel SO high bc KIDS. soothing words pls? The show is v. interactive so there are large parts where I just can’t know what will happen. We’ve had 2 days rehearsal. HELP
A1: The kids don’t know how it’s supposed to be, so if you make a mistake or forget something they won’t notice – you can come back to it later! The kids are there to have fun, be together, collaborate, and try something new. Their families will come to the show to see their kids and if the show is actually un-terrible it is a bonus. If you or someone else in charge chose a show that has improv or other audience interaction, those parts are probably supposed to be a little messy and probably supposed to teach the kids to be open to mistakes and happy accidents. Focus on safety, kindness, listening to each other, having fun, being gentle, trying new things, and don’t worry about creating the perfect show or teaching them all of theater. They’ll remember the experience more than the polish or perfection of any given performance.
Q2: I got back together with ex, what to do if my folks now hate him? They’ve got a point, and I can’t talk force them to reaccept him with open arms. I appreciate them looking out for me but at some level I wish they could stop being so salty about it?
A2: Give it time and don’t force it. If they have reasons for not liking him, is he self-aware about why that might be and is he doing his part to make amends to you and change those behaviors? Can you keep your expectations low right now, and say “I understand why you don’t like him – we broke up for a reason! As a favor to me, can you at least be polite/neutral when he’s around, not bring up old issues, and give us both a little time to try again?” Can you find a balance between “I want my partner to be included” and “I want my partner to be with me for every moment of every family gathering” to give everyone some space and time? The rest is time. If you are happy over time, that will make a better case than any script or conversation.
Q3: Hey Cap! I’m trying to meet new people with an app and about half the time it feels like the person is expecting me to entertain them. They will open with only a greeting and will not ask me any questions leaving me to carry the conversation. Is it rude to just unmatch these folks? In my experience bringing their lack of effort to their attention doesn’t work. How do you think I should handle this? Thanks!
A3: Unmatch away! At every stage of meeting people and dating, you are trying to figure out “would I like more of this?” It’s okay to hold out for people where you’re both curious about each other and the conversation flows.
Q4: I fucked up moderating a disagreement because i thought it was about difference of opinions but it was actually about boundaries; i just want to leave the group because I screwed up and can’t trust myself and trauma makes me feel like a bad person now.
A4: Moderating discussions takes a lot of energy and skill and time, and even if you’re pretty good at it, it can all go sideways sometimes. And it is really horrible when it goes wrong, if the stakes are high in the discussion and people are hurting each other. If you need a break from moderating or participating in that group, take one, but if the group is important to you, acknowledge your part in what happened, apologize, take a little break, and then come back when you’re ready. Communities go through growing pains and people make mistakes.
Q5: Hi Captain Awkward and Kitty Crew,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a year, and it feels like everything I do manages to somehow hurt his feelings or make him think that I am annoyed with him in some way. He and I have really similar emotional baggage, so I understand him well, but I’ve spent years working on my anxiety, perfectionism, and healthy boundaries, so I don’t feel like this happens in the reverse nearly as often.
When he does say something that hurts my feelings, I have gotten A LOT better at calmly explaining how I feel and asking for what I need. He often reacts with defensiveness like he needs to prove a point or how if I could “see things rationally” (not helpful, my dude!). Anyway, last night things came to a head when I wasn’t “excited enough” about some very minor things going on in his life and I didn’t feel like joking around with him when we had plans to try to reconnect as a couple after a long day at work. I’m burnt out and tired of feeling like I am some horrible person because of how much he takes on my feelings as a referendum for who he is. What, if anything, can I do? (she/her)
A5: If one person in a relationship always feels like they are messing up and owe the other person an apology or reassurance, something is messed up. You’re allowed to feel your feelings (even if those feelings are “I’m tired and not into joking around tonight, can we not?”) and not manage his (If he’s excited about whatever it is, and you said some version of “nice, that’s good news!” why do you have to perform a certain amount of excitement).
So…didja see all the posts from the last couple weeks about people who act like their feelings are the only important feelings and who pick fights about small stuff and make their partners feel horrible b/c they don’t have good self-soothing strategies and want their partner to do it all? This relationship sounds like waaaaaaaaay too much work. Maybe it feels like you’re always annoyed with him because you are (and you should listen to that annoyance and follow it to new lands, new single lands).
Q6: Hi Cap,
I’m 6 weeks into a wonderful new relationship with a great guy whose queerness nicely complements my own, and my question is how do I (they/them) navigate the line between letting him in on my baggage and insecurities without making them his problem to solve?
Occasionally he’ll say he’s not into something or that something I did made him uncomfortable, which should be normal boundary-setting stuff in a new relationship. But then my jerkbrain starts to panic and spiral into “He doesn’t like that, I fucked up, I always fuck up, I’ll never be good enough, he’s going to disappear, nobody will ever love me” etc. Obviously this isn’t true and an overreaction — I’m learning how to be in a relationship with him as he’s learning about me and there are preferences and boundaries to establish along the way. He’s been great about giving me comfort and a chance to process/explain when this happens, but I don’t want to be oversensitive or make him feel like he can’t say no to stuff without making me cry. So can you recommend any strategies for acknowledging and soothing my jerkbrain without relying on my new partner to constantly provide reassurance?
A6: Hi, this is a great companion question to #5, great timing!
Here’s what you do:
- Work on your own feelings & insecurities with a therapist (or some non-therapy mental health option). That’s what the partner in Q5 owes the other partner – taking care of one’s mental health to the extent you can so that reasonable boundaries or small conflicts DON’T turn into existential crises.
- Make sure you spend time with your friends/family/other members of Team You and cultivate a robust support and social network. You’re lovable and there are lots of kinds of love in the world – he isn’t the only source.
- See if you can mentally reframe him saying “Oh, I’m not into that” or “Here’s where my boundary is” away from your jerkbrain’s well-worn narratives. What if “I don’t really like spicy food, can you get something mild next time we order food together?” or “Hey, please don’t touch that spot on my body, it kinda freaks me out” doesn’t mean “You fucked up and nobody will ever love you” it means “I trust you and I’m telling you stuff you need to know so we can enjoy each other’s company.”
Q7: Last night a really promising new relationship (my first in a long time) ended when we realised he wants children one day and I (she/her) don’t. Instead of continuing to date knowing there would be a limit to how serious it could get, we mutually decided to end things. We were kind to each other, respectful and used our words. There were a lot of tears. We’re taking a break from contacting each other right now and I’ve muted his social feeds until it’s less raw. We both want to try to develop an awesome friendship when enough time has passed for that to be possible. I’ve never felt the need to be friends with an ex before but I really believe this one is special and our friendship could be a valid and fulfilling relationship of its own one day. Tips to help us make this work when we’re ready?
A7: That’s so hard, so good job making a tough decision.
- Give it a lot of time. For me it takes at least 3-6 months, maybe a year to get things out of my system.
- It will be okay if friendship doesn’t happen. It really will. You’ll have other people and other stuff in your life to sustain you and you don’t need him. When you believe that, you’re probably pretty close to ready.
- If a friendship is meant to happen, it will happen because the things you have in common (interests, hobbies, people, places) will bring you back together naturally.
- DON’T do date-like stuff (“Oh can you come to this wedding with me?” “Wanna come over and watch a movie at my place on the couch where we used to make out?”) as your first forays into hanging out again. DON’T drink or otherwise lower inhibitions. Don’t necessarily revisit old favorite places – do something new.
- It might not be the right time until one or both of you have met someone new.
Q8: I certainly don’t think it’s too early to think of Halloween, so Cap’n… what would a Captain Awkward Halloween costume look like this year. 🎃
Glasses, a black pencil skirt & graphic t-shirt with a cardigan over it, tights or leggings, Converse or ankle boots should get it done. I grew up in the 90s, I spent 15 years attending & working at an art school, I like stretchy fabrics & sturdy footwear.
Q9: My father retired 10 years ago and I (she/her pronouns) took his place running the family business, the only sibling to do so. One of my requirements was that he retire, not semi-retire, as I can not work with him / his personality. He’s a covert narcissist, wanting attention and adulation without doing any effort or putting himself out there. Periodically he gets bored or frustrated with his life and then start to make demands of me / the company. With the coaching from some friends, I’ve gotten better at keeping communications professional, refusing to engage in personal insults, etc. Any suggestions on redirecting his attention? He’s in his 70’s, never had many friends, limited mobility from health issues, so attempts to get him to “woodworking club” or curling or bridge haven’t worked.
A9: You’re so smart to completely limit his involvement in the company and you’re kind to want to channel him somewhere else. My first thought is: Is there some kind of networking or professional association associated with your field that he could be a mentor/volunteer/board member/guest speaker for, where his professional history could be recognized and an asset and people might be actually interested in the stuff he knows? Like, he could put on a tie and go glad-hand some people and maybe there would be fancy plaques and pastries? Something vaguely prestigious but time-consuming and non-essential that you get invited to do as head of the business now that you don’t really have time to do but could throw him at it?
My second thought is: By stating and maintaining your boundaries, you’re doing your part here, and if an adult man isn’t happy or able to find things that interest him in life, that’s on him. It’s okay to say “Sorry you’re bored, Dad, but our agreement about the business stands” and “Can’t talk right now, Dad, I’m swamped! Why don’t you call [sibling]?”
Q10: I’m an adult person in my 30s. I’ve had some serious life stuff (TM) happen over the past several years and this year in particular. The stuff that happened this year, I held back from my dad. He found out about two weeks ago and was hurt. But the thing is: he went straight into advice giving mode. For one thing he straight up told me me what to do.
A) he’s an engineer B) I’m his “little girl” C) I ended up feeling more like a teenager than an adult when we talked. You need to do x,y, and z. It’s so frustrating because I have a plan. With my spouse. Do you know of any resources of establishing an adult relationship with your parents?
I’m not 15 anymore.
A10: Hi! My sister from another mister!
I wrote this post from this exact place of frustration. My mom (a former manager and management consultant) has an extra frustrating side of thinking that every situation can be fixed and really can’t hang when something can’t be. Some of the ways I deal with the “I wasn’t asking for advice, I was just telling you a decision I made” conversations:
- “Oh, I wasn’t asking for advice, I was just telling you a decision I made.“
- “Oh, I wasn’t asking for advice, I was just catching you up on what’s going on with me. It’s okay to just say ‘that sucks’ or ‘I’m sorry you were going through that’. You don’t have to fix it!“
- “I told you when I felt comfortable telling you.”
- “I don’t really need advice, I just need my dad to say ‘I love you and I believe in you,’ and maybe give me a hug.”
- If they argue with me when I don’t take advice or when they’re really concerned about something that I’m not concerned about: “Well, you raised me to be independent and to handle my problems, so, do you trust me to handle it or not?”
- “Thanks, I’ll think about it!” works wonders. I don’t have to take their advice. I don’t have to argue with them and convince them it won’t work, either.
- I don’t talk to them when I’m in the middle of vulnerable things where I know their input would be harmful or maximally annoying. So yeah, they do find out stuff late. There’s a reason for that and I don’t want to fight about it or rehash it but I also am not going to change a thing that works for me.
- I channel their advice-giving impulses to where I really do need help. My dad is an expert on home improvement stuff, the weather, the best way to get somewhere, everything about auto repair and maintenance. My mom is really good at financial stuff, insurance, keeping plants alive, baking, first aid. So I save questions for them about those topics even when I could figure it out myself. The questions are low-stakes enough that I won’t get emotional if they give me the wrong advice, I get actually useful help, and they get to feel needed/important.
One of the biggest lessons about being an adult in an adult relationship with another adult is learning to be okay if that other adult doesn’t agree with you or has sad feelings about how you handled your own life. You can love your parents, you don’t have to take your parents’ advice and you don’t have to take on their feelings about that as your problem.
Kitten Interlude. I have typed every word of this while this is happening:
They both tried to snuggle there in a big old kitten pile (which I could not photograph, as, arms were trapped) but it proved unsustainable.
Q11: I have a friend in an emotionally abusive marriage who lives on another continent, so I can’t do what I want (or rather, what I would do if she was closer) which is offer to take her (and her kid) in until she gets through a much-needed divorce and back on her feet (she does not have family that could take her in, both parents deceased). I need a mantra for calming myself when she talks about her specific problems in the marriage so that I don’t lose multiple hours to feeling anxious, angry, and powerless to help her and just mind-boggled that she will not just kick this freeloading abuser out of her house (she’s the sole breadwinner for the family). I would also like ideas for things to ask her that stay out of the nitty gritty details where we always seem to get tripped up on her coming up with reasons why she can’t leave and me thinking that none of them sound good enough to stay in an abusive situation like she is in, and I would like to able to be a source of support for her even though I am far away, but I fear that my rage at her vile husband is making me less effective in that capacity, so I could use some guidance on how to be a better support for her and if possible, help her find her way out (I realize it may not be possible). I can’t help thinking that the abuse is making it harder for her to see that she can just leave him _now_, even though it won’t be easy (I don’t think it’s ever going to be easy), but I know she has to be the one to be ready. I just need some ideas for how best to help both her and me until she gets there. Help!
A11: Hi there, this is so rough.
It’s okay to:
- Talk about lighthearted subjects, seek her advice & support about things in your life, reinforce the pleasurable things about your friendship.
- Limit how much you talk about this with her to times where you have the bandwidth. You’re not married to this jackhole, you don’t have to absorb every detail of it in real time, you can say “I’m so sorry, that’s all the sounding board I have in me today, can I check in later this week?” and then follow through and check in at other times. You can encourage her to expand her Team Her to other friends, a therapist, helplines in her country, online support groups, an attorney where she lives, etc.
- Direct her to resources like Why Does He Do That.
- Remind her that she’s the boss of her life and ask her questions that emphasize her agency. “What do you want to do about that?” “What do you think you’ll do?”
- Say stuff like “You already know what I think” when you’re revisiting a topic for the 1,000th time.
If you want to help in a more concrete manner and feel like you’re DOING something, put money aside. She’ll need it, wherever she ends up.
It’s not enough, but you can’t fix the situation and setting some limits with yourself about what you can do is healthy for you.
Q12: I have a friend who I think is in an emotionally abusive relationship. However, I am having a very hard time finding resources for men who are in relationships with women who are being emotionally abused. His partner is isolating him, threatening self-harm and blaming him for not stopping her, calling his attempts to reach out “gossip,” and I’ve had a really hard time finding relevant things for him to read. She’s also leveraging “feminism” and his identity as a man and therefore inherently “the bad one” against him, which makes me really really sad and I think would make resources like “Why Does He Do That?” more harmful than useful. There are very few resources for men, and the ones that do exist focus on physical abuse, which isn’t his situation and I’m afraid would make him say “oh well that’s not ME, it’s not that bad” instead of recognizing his situation. Do you or any readers have recommendations for links I could send him?
I wish MRAs actually cared about abused men and not just hating women
A12: Beyond googling stuff like this (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/help-for-men-who-are-being-abused.htm), I don’t know. Even that link is like “look at this list for women leaving abusive men and extrapolate.” I too wish that men would write about this stuff for men or that someone would produce a work like Bancroft’s with that depth of experience and research when abusers are not cisgender men. I confess, I do get my back up sometimes when people ask me about this, like, do, women have to do everything, and whose fault is it exactly that men have so little ability to see themselves in resources that don’t center their exact experience, how is it that we’re so shitty to all victims that male victims can’t bear to see themselves in that role, but I agree that it would be great if something like this existed and I do feel for the men who are left out in the cold. But I don’t have that resource, nor am I going to be the one to write it.
That said, let’s help your friend! What I might suggest for you in talking to your friend is looking at the big list of scripts in #1144, where the LW is looking for ways to tell her mom & others about the abuse without using that word. Can you turn those into questions like “Are you happy” “Do you want this to continue?” “It’s okay to leave if you are this unhappy!” “Do you think it’s okay to treat anyone like this?” “If someone were treating me like she’s treating you, what would you tell me to do?” Given the dearth of resources about men & abuse, and the way his partner is trying to use the existing resources against him (abusers will use anything they can to grind their victims down, and “you’re the real abuser here” is a very common projection tactic), is it about proving to this dude that he’s being A-abused, or is it about giving him space & tools to leave even if he never really acknowledges the A-word? The word “asshole” also begins with A, so maybe it’s “Listen, it sounds like emotional abuse to me, but maybe the problem is that she’s just an asshole and you deserve someone will be nice to you.”
Q13: Hi Captain,
I am one of those unfortunate souls who has inherited a very strong caffeine sensitivity. Even decaf coffee or white tea leaves me feeling very anxious and headachey, and it can take days before I get back to normal. So, I could use a little help navigating the “I’m going for coffee, can I get you some?” ritual. For several reasons, I end up getting offered this pretty frequently at work by co-workers I only sort of know. At first I would very nicely say, “Oh, I can’t have caffeine, but thank you!” and a lot of times they would offer to get decaf or tea, and then I have to sit there and explain (and sometimes argue about the fact) that decaf still has caffeine, as do most teas, and it turns into this whole thing where it feels like I’m inadvertently arguing against their generosity. Sometimes I don’t feel like (or have time for) the whole conversation so I just cheerfully say, “No, I’m good, but thank you!” and then I get a range of weird looks- is that a weird response for me to have? Also, sometimes people can talk me into getting an herbal tea (and I either know the tea brand or trust the person to enough to know I will get a 100% caffeine free herbal tisane), but what are the expectations? Am I supposed to offer to pay for it, or give them cash when they get back (I pretty much never have cash on me), or is the expectation that at some point I will do the coffee run and return the favor? Finances are tight for me, and it’s just not the sort of thing I want to splurge on, but I don’t want to be rude, or to be THAT person who always takes and never gives back. Any insights?
A13: Hi, if you don’t want coffee it’s okay to say “I’m good, thanks for asking!” and not give it another thought. Nobody in this situation needs the details of your Story With Caffeine or your finances.
Given that this is coming up a lot, it’s maybe about more than the drink, it’s about the friendly exchange/doing something nice/the culture of your workplace/the chance to take a quick break. These folks aren’t trying to push caffeine on you or freak you out, they’re trying to make sure you’re included. So, you could say “No coffee or tea for me, but would you bring me back sparkling water/juice (something you can have)” if you do want to participate in the ritual sometimes (and yeah, reimburse them, so do something within your budget only when you can afford it and have a couple dollars), and/or you could offer to go with them for the company and get your own drink, or maybe you never make a coffee run but you make cookies every couple of months. But honestly, it’s okay if you never participate. “Oh, I’m not a coffee or tea person, thanks for asking though!” is fine.
Q14: Hi Cap! I’m hoping to open a bookstore in my area next year and would love to have open-mic story events like you have highlighted in Chicago. Do you have any tips, suggestions, or recommended organizations to help make these events welcoming, meaningful, and successful? Thank you!
A14: Congratulations! I’m never on the producing side of these, maybe look at the You’re Being Ridiculous or Story Club or Grown Folks Stories or The Stoop websites and see how they roll. And go to the existing shows where you live and meet the people who do this kind of thing, ask them what they need and see what you think works or doesn’t work. The rest is space, chairs, time, trial & error.
I can tell you about current conversations around storytelling in Chicago:
- Accessibility of venues
- Not everything has to be a podcast (if you’re recording, ask consent/get a release/make it clear what you’re using the story for and that people can decline /and also maybe don’t keep people’s personal stories on your hard drive forever – use them for something or delete them)
- If your audience & slate of performers is all white & straight, why is that, do you think?
- Can we stop inviting the known assholes and harassers, please?
- Hosting & curating an event is a skill, maybe we can weed out sexist/racist/gross material ahead of time and also maybe the host doesn’t have to top every story with their own story.
It will be fun & you should totally do it.
Here endeth the week’s session. Comments are open.