Hello! Late start today – Commander Logic & I went out for pancakes.
Here’s the deal:
Patrons can submit questions at this link.
Anyone can submit a question on Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday (please use the hashtag, my mentions are a messsssssssss and I don’t want to lose you).
Since I got a late start, questions close at 1pm instead of noon. I’ll answer as many questions as I can between 1 and 3pm Chicago time.
Comments open when everything is posted.
I posted this on Patreon and I’ll post it here: I am pretty much at my limit with questions & moderating discussions about sexual violence, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. I’ve said most of what I can say in other posts, I don’t really have anything new to add, I do not want to tackle this stuff in this short, rushed format, sprinkled in and among other topics, and I especially can’t do it this week in these United States of America. If you need resources, they are out there. My wall, I have hit it. Thank you so much for understanding. ❤
Here is a kitten:
Here is a pile of kittens:
Q1: Hi Captain! Do you listen to podcasts? Any recommendations?
A1: I do not listen to any podcasts. It’s an ADHD thing – I don’t like background noise in general, it’s hard for me to listen to someone talking and I definitely can’t concentrate on anything else if I’m trying to listen to someone talking, and I don’t have time or inclination to set aside *just* to listen to podcasts. These nice folks have a podcast about advice columns.
Mr. Awkward loves Gastropod.
Q2: I work in a typical office environment (roughly 30 people in 2 depts in the same building). We tend to be a share-y group of folks. I would love some scripts for when a coworker is telling you a story about their family member, and you totally are on the family member side (such as clear favoritism among adult children, but the coworker is the parent bitching about their less favored child; or one who told her nephew he shouldn’t turn down a dance date because think how bad he would feel if he were rejected). Unlike voluntary relationships, you can’t opt-out of all conversations with coworkers. I tend to freeze in these conversations. Any advice?
A2: Choose your battles and if you want to engage at all? In the case of the dance date story, I’d straight-up say “Being rejected never feels good, but it’s still okay to say no to dates when you’re not interested!” That is doing your part to change the culture. I’d also jump in if the person gets racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc. In the other case, assume nobody in the history of ever wants you to comment on their parenting, they’re not asking for advice, and nothing you say is going to change the situation. If you freeze you’re just…quiet for a minute, right? It’s not your job to fix the people or the situation, and it’s okay to be quiet when you have nothing to add to a story about people you don’t really care about from someone you don’t really care about, so squeeze out the occasional “hmmmm that sounds like a tough one” and move on with your day. You don’t need to invest emotional energy in every single person you know who is wrong.
Q3: I’ve made a lot of big changes in my life recently and the changes are still coming. All are good changes (moved out of parents house, decided to quit grad school, possibly changing jobs for a pay increase) but telling my anxiety that is difficult. Any suggestions? My usual coping mechanisms aren’t working at the moment.
A3: Are you able to get through your daily list of things you need to do to remain functional and employed and safe and fed? Are you able to convert anxiety into action (self-care action, professional action, political action) to work on & change the things you feel anxious about? In other words, do you need to wrestle intensely with your anxiety (go to therapy, investigate meds, otherwise aggressively treat it) or do you need to tell it “Shut up, Anxiety” and kind of tune it out while you go about getting things done? I imagine my anxiety as sort of like Mr. Clippy from Microsoft Office that keeps interrupting me while I’m trying to get shit done to remind me that I’m probably failing at everything. Sometimes I can dismiss it and just keep going and sometimes I can’t (because the things I’m anxious about can’t be solved right now or solved by me).
Q4: Hi Captain,
I’ve let a lingering incomplete grade hanging over my head in my degree program for far too long. I completed the work, sent it off to my professor (a few years ago now), but never heard anything back. Because I am both a procrastinator and hate thinking about things I’ve left undone, I’ve just put a “I’ll do it later” flag on this for the last few years. In theory, my program is done! I’d love any tips for reaching out to this professor (who may not even remember me) to get this resolved. I’ve always prided myself on being pretty good at written communications with professors, but this has become a knot of avoidance and anxiety that’s difficult for me to untangle. I value your experience as both our Captain and a professor yourself, and would appreciate your help!
A4: Your professor forgot about this long ago and nothing will happen unless they are reminded.
This is a routine problem that many students deal with. This is not some unique to you fuck-up that will forever derail your education.
Important: Do not assume that your professor knows how to actually clear an incomplete grade for you even if they did read your work when you sent it. Resolving Incompletes way after the fact is common enough that it’s not just you, but not common enough that your prof will automatically know the procedure. You have to figure it out & tell them.
- The file with the work that you sent (and the original email, if possible).
- The professor’s email address.
- Some checking with the registrar in case a) there is a specific form that needs filled out and the process for that (Example of said form) and/or b) did your prof actually send everything in long ago and this has all actually been taken care of all this time.
Set a timer for 30 minutes. Use that time to research the process for clearing an incomplete grade and find the form (finding my example took less than 1 minute). Use your school’s process to access your unofficial transcript, and check with the registrar by phone or email if you need to confirm anything else about the process.
When the timer goes off, ding! Eat a snack.
Then, if stuff still needs sorting, set a timer for another 30 minutes. Compose an email to the professor with whatever paperwork needs done & the instructions. Script is below. Also, put dates on your calendar that are appointments to check on things – In 2 weeks, in 1 month, in 2 months, etc. You will spend 5 minutes on this every month until it’s resolved.
“Hi Professor ____, it’s ______, from your _______ course in _____ (semester & year). I hope you’re well.
You may remember, I received an incomplete grade for the course, and sent you the work on _____ (another copy is attached). Can you fill out the attached [whatever it is] for me and return it to the registrar with my final grade? And can you copy me on that email or quickly confirm with me when you have, so I can follow up with them?
Apologies, I should have followed up with you long ago.
Your contact info”
Congratulations on your upcoming degree. It will take you <2 hours total to resolve this.
Q5: Any tips for writing through an anxiety flare? My focus has gone up in flames.
A5: Maybe it’s okay if we’re not maximally productive right now?
I don’t know. I can’t focus on anything. Here’s what the experts say:
- Use a timer for short focused bursts, then take breaks.
- Use “Benchley’s Law” (a person can do almost any amount of work provided it is not the work they are supposed to be doing at the time) to set up a pyramid of procrastination and rewards.
- What is the bare minimum that you must get done. Do that.
Q6: I’ve just started a taught postgrad degree after a long break from study. Our first module exams start 2 months into the course. I have had 2 separate illnesses for the first 1.5 weeks of term and whilst I am making it to lectures and putting a brave face on it, I am struggling to concentrate and not getting much done in my independent study time [because of all the fever/ill/going to the doctor].
I’m really nervous about falling behind as there’s not a lot of time to make up any gaps. Do you have any scripts for how I can let my advisors know what’s been going on at our first academic meeting next week, without sounding anxious/like I’m overreacting, and any ideas what practical help it’s appropriate to ask them for?
A6: So, are you sure you are actually behind and that your professors have noticed anything about you being behind? Like, is this an actual gap in work/reading/completing assignments or more your nervousness talking because you felt like you should be able to work more? (Like, are you just anxious and overreacting and will it get better if you can focus on feeling better and catching up bit by bit?)
What do you think you need in order to catch up? A note-taker? More time to take exams & turn in assignments? The chance to re-do an assignment with a low grade for a better one? A study group with peers who are really caught up? Some support from student services and/or disability services and/or student mental health services (an outlet for anxiety)? For your advisors to read & assess something you’ve written for your classes so you have an outside opinion on where you are?
This sounds incredibly stressful but it also sounds like you are coping pretty well and doing what you can. Depending on your advisors, I would think about whether the most useful thing you can wrest from them at this time is:
- Comfort and reassurance about your feelings about falling behind vs.
- Specific help & support navigating the university’s services to support students with medical issues (“I had some serious medical issues early in the semester. I’m healing well but feel like I’ve lost momentum and my concentration is not where it could be. What resources are there to help students like me get caught up?”) vs.
- Their comments & feedback on the research & work you are doing.
Figure out the strengths & interests of your advisors and channel them.
Q7: Is it reasonable to expect a therapist to be warm & welcoming? I felt really comfortable with both therapists I saw in grad school, and I always felt like they cared when I showed up. But the therapist I saw this spring told me that expecting her to say “How are you?” or ask me questions when I was silent for a while was unreasonable and meant I was asking other people to manage my anxiety for me. I tried a few sessions with a new therapist recently, and also felt like he didn’t actually give a shit about why I was there and just expected me to talk at him. I want (and need) to find a new therapist, but should I just lower my expectations around actually feeling comfortable with them?
A7: I don’t think it is “expecting too much emotional labor” for a therapist to ask a client “how are you” or “what are you thinking/feeling right now” or otherwise guide the discussion in a session. Like, what is this person even doing in that profession?
So, it’s no wonder you’re looking for a better fit! It’s okay to want someone who is welcoming, interested in what you have to say, and kind. Use those bad experiences to guide initial discussions with the new person, like, “How do you typically like to work with clients?” and “Sometimes I shut down when I talk about my feelings, and I need my therapist to be a little assertive with asking questions.” More here.
Q8: I recently (less than a month ago) finished the PCT which I realize is an exciting accomplishment. When I talk about it, other people are excited and congratulatory, and want to know all about it. The problem is I feel like I’m expected to be really positive and frame any negative experiences around it as a “growth experience” or a worthy challenge, because I chose to be there! I don’t want to complain about a five-month vacation. But honestly? It kind of sucked most of the time. It’s my third intense adventure-travel trip in three years, and I’m broke, depressed and lonely. I only had four months between finishing the 3,100mi CDT and starting the PCT, so I had/still have health problems from overtraining and malnutrition. A creepy dude followed me from town to town for the first 600mi, which was really scary, and then when I lost him I had health and motivation problems from heavy wildfire smoke. I didn’t like the crowded social scene on the PCT so I didn’t make any close friendship connections like I was hoping, and I didn’t meet my athletic goals either. I don’t know how to navigate conversations about the trail because overall it was very disappointing, and I feel like I failed. I don’t want to come across as spoiled or ungrateful for the privilege to do such a trek, and “It was great but I’m tired and still recovering” will only work for so long. I try to accept compliments gracefully but beyond that I don’t know what to say.
A8: PCT = Pacific Crest Trail, yes? How neat. And deeply challenging. I’m assuming you’ve read/seen Wild, so you know that you’re not alone in how much it can suck out there and that’s probably the representation of what it’s like that most people have in their heads. That doesn’t mean you owe people an accounting of it that best suits their expectations, or you owe people every single emotion and thought you have in your head. “It was great but I’m tired and still recovering” is a totally fine answer. “I’m still processing – it was beautiful and amazing, but there were some creeps and wildfires and other stories I’m not quite sure how to tell yet.”
Your question made me think about this poem by John Updike (whose novels I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate, but he can write short things!):
Back From Vacation – John Updike
‘Back from vacation’, the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, ‘Not so!’
YOU CHANGED. You did something important to you, and now you’re changed, and you’re not sure what you changed into, but you know you did. But nobody else really notices. You’re overflowing with feelings and the things you’ve seen. Everyone is equally absorbed in their own stuff.
There are people who care a lot about YOU but who don’t really know or care what the PCT is or what it’s like. They want to know how you are (& the truth of that), but they don’t give a crap about your training goals or the details of camping & hiking.
There are people who read Wild and want the dirt on the PCT trail, your goriest creepiest dirtiest burying-your-poopingest tales. They don’t really want to know about you, your goals, your feelings, what you survived. They want The Moth version. Or they’re in the hiker message boards and social media groups because they’ve done the same thing you have or are thinking about doing it, so they want your story as a way to figure out their own story (or as an opening to tell their story).
There are people who are asking “Oh, how was it?” to be polite, the same way they’d ask if you ran a 5k this weekend or redecorated your house. Completing the social circuit means saying “It was great!” or “It was much harder than I thought it was” and then asking a question in turn.
So for you, who are trying to figure out your story of this experience and where it fits into your own bigger story, it can feel overwhelming to figure out which audience you’re talking to at any given time. Maybe when you’re dealing with someone who has more than a passing small talk interest, it’s worth checking in, like, “What level of detail are you looking for? Do you want the inspirational tale or the harrowing one or the one where I don’t know yet?”
Q9: Do you have any tips for being more emotionally open and vulnerable in a relationship?
A9: I think Brene Brown’s writing & speaking on vulnerability is fascinating, dig into her stuff!
As for how, I really love this thing that Commander Logic wrote about how to get more comfortable saying things out loud and showing affection. One of the best things she wrote is about getting in the habit of opening up to people by sharing enthusiasm/compliments/affectionate statements.
Q10: I’ve searched for answers to the problem of the chatty coworker, but nobody I can see addresses the problem of somebody monopolizing, not just working hours but BREAKTIME. “Cedric” is not a bad guy; he has some legitimately interesting experiences and opinions to share. The problem is that he won’t stop sharing, even at lunch. Sitting in the cube next to his is bad enough but yesterday he stole my entire lunch (30 minutes) from me, and I’m about to lose my mind.
He was finished eating when I came in and everybody else left right then, so I was looking forward to some alone time with my book (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris, if anybody else likes great writing and vicious but subtle humor). Instead he sat awkwardly next to me (I picked that spot because it’s the best at the table and I thought for sure he was leaving) for half an hour, yammering on and on. I didn’t look at him and pawed mildly at my book and said “Hm” as little as I could stand without being terminally awkward, but he did not get it. I need scripts, please, Captain! You’re my only hope. I’m not usually bad at being assertive but my head was filled with violent visions and I could not figure out a way to interrupt, nonviolently, and tell him to shut up.
Note: I don’t think it’s anything personal. He’s like this with everyone.
- He will never take a hint. Your “hmmm” looked like polite enthusiastic listening to him. You’re going to have to say, bluntly, “Cedric, I really just want to read my book. Talk to you later” or “Cedric, I need 30 minutes of quiet reading – we’ll talk later.” Then be friendly when you see him later.
- There’s a greater than 75% chance he’s gonna say “Ok! No problem!” And then keep talking at you, like, about how he needs quiet sometimes, too, or what book are you reading. So you’re going to have to say it again, like, “Cedric. Enough! I really need some quiet at lunchtime to recharge. Please let me read.” You’re going to have to be what will feel mean but is really just assertive.
- A lunch room or break room or other common area that’s at work carries an expectation of socialization, like, this is the place that it’s okay TO have chit-chat without disturbing people’s work. By wanting to quietly read in there, you are possibly the outlier in your company. So, consider alternatives. Reading in your car or going outside, finding an empty conference room, otherwise heading out for lunch.
Q11: A member of a long-time friend group is constantly suggesting that we all get together, pushing to set a date, then bails shortly before the event (usually cites kid-related conflict) & is put out if the rest of us still go. What’s going on here.
A11: My questions (that you don’t have to answer, but, where my mind went immediately): 1) Is this person the only parent or one of the only parents in the group? Are they a single parent so there is no backup or it costs them an extra $60 every time they want to do anything fun 2) Is this person the one who takes the lead on most of the social planning that brings you all together?
When the person gets “put out” maybe try this:
“Thanks so much for planning! It really sucks that you couldn’t join us! But we all made the time in our schedules, and it didn’t feel right to bail on dinner at that point.”
Or: “Hi! You keep planning awesome stuff! But then you cancel at the last minute! And then you’re mad at us? What is going on? All I wanna do is hang out with you & our friends, let’s figure this out!”
Maybe you’ll find out that there’s some serious health or childcare stuff going on, and that can be part of the plan for addressing it, like, “Next time we’ll take the party to you so you don’t have to worry about childcare!”
Q12: I’m job hunting (it’s going pretty well) and one of the things I’m excited about is being able to afford therapy.
But uh, how do people sort that out, since therapists work similar hours to the rest of us?
A12: In my experience, lots of therapists have evening hours at least 1-2 days a week for just this reason, so call around and ask in your search. You might also be able to schedule an appointment right at the beginning or end of your workday and shift your schedule slightly, like, “Can I work 8-4 instead of 9-5 on Thursdays, I have an important evening commitment.”
Q13: I’m having a hard time balancing discourse in my classes – I don’t want to talk over people or monopolize time, but I hate letting it go when I feel like people are misunderstanding me. Should try to let it go in classes like this or is it okay to back-and-forth?
A13: Hard to give a blanket “no stop talking” vs. “all discussion is awesome” without knowing the class and how the professor likes to run discussions. Sometimes back and forth is great (it’s better than awkward silence) and sometimes a good moderator can say “ok, let’s hear some other perspectives” and open it back up to the room. You can also restate the person’s points back to them to make sure you are understanding them correctly and build that habit into your discussions with them. You can check in with the professor, too, privately – “[Student] and I keep getting into it, I just want to check in and make sure that we’re not monopolizing the discussion!”
If someone is missing the point of something you said, and you’re worried about taking up all the air in the room, are you able to catch them at the end of class or outside of class? – “Hey, last week I feel like our conversation went off the rails a bit. Can you help me understand what you were trying to say about x?” Let them talk first! THEN clarify “Oh, ok! But I really think that y is true, so we don’t actually disagree.”
Q14: How do I politely decline invitations to eat out when I’m short on cash, that saves face?
My general feeling is, there’s absolutely no shame in being on a budget, and “Aw, that sounds awesome but we’re being strict about cooking at home right now. But I’d love to see you, can we try (cheaper/free) thing instead very soon?” is fine. You can also say “Oh, I can’t make that, but I can make [alternative] if you want!” without giving a reason.
Q15: Hi Captain. What’s your preferred method of gift giving? I have urges to give it to them and run off! I usually present it a little bit before it’s time to return home or leave it on their desk or something. Don’t worry, I think I’m good/graceful in this area, but my brain likes to exclaim “abort! abort!” I think I feel this way because I’m not a fan of the spotlight when I’m the one receiving gifts (also my parents were unhappy with my “performance” of thank yous so there’s that) P.S. Thanks for always sharing pics of cuddly KITTENS ♡♡♡
A15: My preferred method of gift-giving is “I got you this surprise for a gift-giving holiday that is months away. Would you like it now?” I am an incredibly excited and enthusiastic gift-giver and I don’t like surprises (in either direction). I think your way is also fine!
Q16: I need to call HR about inappropriate comments from an AVP, but she’ll know it’s me and there WILL be consequences. But what she said is so unfair and wrong, and needs to be corrected… I’m terrified, overwhelmed with this decision, and stuck.
A16: AVP = Associate Vice President? I’m sure Alison has many a thread about this if you need a HR person’s perspective.
My inexpert had-to-google-AVP perspective:
If you’re sure this needs to be done, then do the right thing and let HR do their jobs. Approach this from the perspective of “I am trying to help my company avoid hassle and do the right thing.”
To cushion the anxiety:
- Document everything.
- Look up your company’s polices and processes about this, so you’re armed with facts and can tell right away if HR is following their own policies in the conversation.
- Spend the weekend updating your resume/online presence and looking for other jobs. Probably everything will work out, but if it didn’t, what are your options?
- Be really nice to yourself for doing a hard thing.
That’s what you can control. The rest is up to other people. You did what you could to take care of the firm and (more importantly) yourself.
Q17: Hi Captain Awkward, what music, silly websites, and activities are helping you feel joyful right now? I’m looking for some ideas to help with feeling hopeful (since there’s so much stressful stuff happening at the moment).
A17: I’m sorry, I know this isn’t what you asked, but I don’t feel joyful right now. I am angry, down to the molecular level. Yesterday I temporarily lost the ability to swallow solid food. If I suddenly developed the anger-fueled ability to levitate and shoot lasers out of my eyes, I wouldn’t even think it was weird. That’s how angry I am. The websites I hang out on are Swing Left and 5 Calls and the VoteWithMe app and literally anything that will let me feel like I am DOING SOMETHING about these motherfuckers.
It’s totally understandable that you would want something fluffy and distracting and it’s totally okay to want to take care of yourself and unplug. We have to pace ourselves, & knowing every single thing about every outrage is not the same as doing something about it.
I do have my comforting stuff, like, someone asked what I’m reading – Allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the T. Kingfisher (Talking animals, brave heroines, witchy crones with humor and wisdom up their sleeves, the occasional sexy paladin). The Good Place is back (Seasons 1-2 are on Netflix). I post kitten photos and Jason Mendoza gifs sometimes. And then it’s back to:
The hopefulness I have is: I hope people will convert their anger into action. I hope the people who are doing something will keep doing it, and the rest of us will find our way to contribute and do something. We need all of us.
Q18: Hi Captain. I think I’m ready to leave my husband. He’s a good man, my best friend, we’ve been together for a long time–since my early 20s. Our interests have drifted, and I don’t feel the way I used to. My question–and I know you’ve had similar–is how I detonate my whole life and hurt someone I care so much about. I’m scared to be on my own. I’m not super financially stable on my own–he’s always paid the bills. I’m in the middle of a thesis. Did I mention I care about him a lot? I can’t stay but I can’t get up the courage to go. Is it ethical to hold back on pulling the trigger? How do people ever do this?! (also he’s my main emotional support and I worry about being without someone to talk to about…well…everything) She/her pronouns.
A18: Hi there! Forgive me, but you do not sound at all ready to leave.
(That doesn’t mean you won’t leave or that leaving isn’t ultimately the right choice. I believe you that you want to! And good people can not want to be married to good people anymore!)
But the logistics stuff (how will I pay my bills/where will I live?) and the emotional stuff (how will I tell him, who will I talk to about my life when he’s not here?) are pretty necessary next steps in that decision-making process. You’re pretty sure you want Not Him, but the daydreaming about what life looks like after him and the logistical part of it (spreadsheets, money, real estate, paperwork) are still ahead of you. A counselor might be a good sounding board. A divorce lawyer could talk you through the money stuff where you live. A marriage counselor might be able to help you start having the scary conversations. There are sites that walk you through the process and hook you up with support.
Do some more of that work – and talk to this best friend/good man of yours – as you make this decision. Maybe he’s as unhappy as you are. Maybe there’s a kind, gentle way to disassemble this marriage where nobody goes broke. Either way, you need a plan.
Ok, that’s what we’ve got today. Be excellent to yourselves and each other.