Short Answer Friday for 11/2

Hello! This morning I am voting, picking Henrietta Pussycat up from the vet from her spay, and then I’m answering short questions this afternoon. Review of how it works:

  • Patrons can submit questions at this thread (Advantage: More than 280 characters).
  • Anyone can submit questions anytime via Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday. Please use the hashtag, my mentions are busy enough that I might miss it without.
  • Deadline for questions for this week is noon, Chicago time, Friday, Nov. 2. If a question comes in after that, I try to include it next time.
  • I answer as many questions as I can between noon & 2pm. If I think something is too much/too big for the venue, I’ll tell you and we’ll figure something else out.
  • I’m asking people not not submit questions about abuse & sexual harassment & violence in these short answer threads.
  • I’m also suggesting that you redirect your U.S.-election related anxieties and energies here. Our fears and our feelings are real, but there is stuff to DO right now. Let’s DO THE STUFF, to the best of our abilities. We can process later.
  • Comments open when everything is posted.

Q1: “Ahoy, Captain! I’m constantly asked about my British accent, but I’m not British! I had seven years of speech therapy as a child with articulation problems, and my voice has some quirks that sound a little more British than American. I’m white, so “But where are you really from?” comes from curiosity rather than racism, but meeting new colleagues/students/dental hygienists is awkward enough without suddenly becoming hyper-aware of my speech. Any advice on redirecting without getting self-conscious? Also, since it isn’t an accent, it’s more perceptible sometimes than others, and I worry that people will think I’m (inconsistently) faking an accent to sound smart/exotic. (oh Cthulhu).”

A1: First, a PSA: I’m glad you mentioned racism, because white people definitely need to to stop quizzing nonwhite people (and/or people with “foreign” accents) about where they are “really” from. If you doubt me, please watch this video and remember that even if you think you have good reason to ask/you are just being kind/like, you studied abroad in their country and you want to talk about it with them/you went to school with someone with the same last name/you want restaurant recommendations, you are contributing to a pattern that really and truly wears on people and they have no way of knowing that your interest is benign. If someone’s national or ethnic background is something they want to share with you or something that’s important to your interactions, trust that they will do it on their own in their own way. Stop expecting them to play “guess my background!” on demand to satisfy your curiosity.

Now to your question, a fellow Patron in the question thread had a great suggestion:

“I get that a lot (Australian with a not-very-strong accent which people read as fairly randomly either American or English). I say ” *light laugh* just Australian, but I get that a lot!” The “I get that a lot” smoothes over the awkwardness. People just… when they notice a not-normal thing it introduces a spot of discomfort and they need an excuse – any excuse will do – to slide past it. (this assuming you want to do a softening and smoothing not a dead-eyed shutdown) Some small portion will continue on with “yeah, it really doesn’t sound Australian!” – a “yeah i dunno why!” is usually enough to get us to move on to a less-boring topic. My general tone is that it is one of the mysteries of my life that people say this to me. My subtext is “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t worry, you’re not alone, a lot of people share your hallucination!” “huh, weird!” Like… they’re seeing the dress as black and blue when it’s really white and gold. Very normal, not correct, just one of those things.”

I sometimes say “maybe I watched too much TV as a kid!” but that’s cause most Australian TV has American accents, I guess that won’t work for you. Some other mildly self-deprecating but dismissive thing. But not a humble brag, just, actually self-deprecating counters the risk of being seen as pretentious (I’m not sure how likely that is, and how much it’s just a worry, but either way hopefully it will help you worry less about it hopefully). Could you say “I had trouble learning to speak when I was little, so my accent ended up a bit weird!” (not sure how comfortable you are using a rough childhood situation as a glib comment, but I think it would be effective – gives a “reason”, is clearly not pretentious] [I suspect your self-consciousness about it is because of the articulation lessons – but actually quite a lot of people get this, for no particular reason]”

“I get that a lot!” + a subject change is perfect. I think this is also one of those things where people will take their cues from you – If you act like it’s a big deal, people will think it’s a big deal and be curious, but if you play it off and change the subject, most people will let it go and the ones who can’t or won’t are the ones making it weird.

Q2: Ahoy Captain. We’re getting a divorce, an amiable one, but… how do we tell our friends? Do we just put it on Facebook or what is normal procedure?

A2: I don’t know if there is a usual procedure (this would be a good marketing niche for greeting card designers, right? “We loved celebrating our wedding with you, now it’s time to celebrate our divorce, which will be final on [date]”). I’ve seen people make a Facebook announcement and didn’t find it strange, though to me it seemed like it was a late step in the process and the people involved had already spread the word a bit to friends & family. The downside of social media announcements is comments, like, people you went to elementary school with weighing in all “but you were always the perfect couple!” or “marriage takes work!” so if you do go that route think about your filters and moderate heavily.

This is where the extrovert/heavily networked people in your family and friend group come in handy, right? “Hey, talkative friend who knows everybody, X and I are getting divorced. It’s amicable and mutual, and we want to spread the word a bit but not have 100 awkward conversations where people tell us how surprised they are. Can you be our buffer about this – spread the word, and DON’T tell us about people’s weird questions and feelings? Thanks!” 

Q3: My good friend has a spouse who I’m friendly with but not as close to. I’m happy for them to attend things that I plan with my friend, and for big group stuff I invite them individually and am fine with either coming alone. But for smaller group stuff I want the spouse only if the friend is coming. I have zero problem with the spouse being there with my friend, but I don’t have the closeness where I want them alone as 1/3 to 1/6 of the group. I like them but it changes the dynamic. Is there any kind/polite way to communicate “This invitation is for you; it’s fine if your spouse comes with you, but they’re not invited to come alone”?  

A3: I have five suggestions:

  1. Script for overall discussion is probably “I like [Spouse] so much, but sometimes when I’m inviting you to a really small event I want it to be just us, so can you check with me first esp. if I don’t send them their own invite?” Also, think very carefully about whether you want to have an overall discussion or just handle it event by event, esp. since the consequences might be you get neither of them if both are not welcome.
  2. Be future-oriented, as in, change up how you do this in the future, don’t ask people to answer for the past (unless you want to make everyone feel unwelcome).
  3. If you’ve been inviting spouse through the friend, start separating it out and making sure they each get their own email or text or addition to the event page for things when they are both invited. Use your subject lines constructively – “Sal & Sally, you’re both invited to …” “Sally, you’re invited to…”
  4. Be clear and consistent – “Would you like to join me for X on [date]? It’s a tiny group this time, so no +1s or spouses, let me know by Friday.” “Wanna go to breakfast with me? Just us this time.” And then be consistent, like, if this person’s spouse can’t come maybe yours and other people’s don’t either.
  5. Sometimes this goes down easier as gender-segregated events – “Just us gents this time” – so if that’s useful to you, use it.

Q4: “What are your thoughts on Dylan Marron’s ‘Conversations with People Who Hate Me’?”

My thoughts are “this literally is the first I’ve heard of it” and I had to Google it to even know that it was a podcast. Since this comes up every time: I don’t listen to podcasts generally so the chances I’ve listened to or even heard of your favorite one are extremely tiny. I hope you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) it exactly as it deserves?

Q5: “What are some of your favorite friend-date activities for spending 1:1 time together?”

A5: Tonight I’m going to Commander Logic’s house to play Scrabble. Chances of wine/cheese/giggling are high.

I like sharing meals together. I like going to concerts and movies and the theater and readings. I like having people over for cozy couch time. Anywhere you can talk & catch up for hours (and eat!) I’m probably pretty happy.

Q6I’m 46, cis, het and female (she/her). I’m trying to get back into online dating after I had a panic attack over it last year. My major hobby/vocation/extra curricular activity is MMA—weapons, wrestling, boxing. It’s a huge part of my life. I’m pretty good at it (20 years now, I better be).

Mentioning it in dating profiles goes badly, I find, but I feel really disingenuous concealing it since it flips people out. Any thoughts on a good way to approach this?

A6: Anyone who is gonna be a good match for you is gonna be at least, AT LEAST, agnostic about your favorite thing to do with your free time. Like, the baseline here is “Hrmmm, I don’t know anything about that really, but how cool! What do you like best about it?” and you should actively weed out anyone who is weird about it.

Maybe look at it this way: You’re not auditioning for people to like some generic version of you, you’re trying to narrow down the people who can hang with who you really are. When a dude reacts badly to learning you are a skilled badass lady fighter, it’s not because you failed some audition. It’s because he is not cool enough for you. Keep looking.

Q7: How do you know when it’s time to switch mental health professionals? I’ve been with the same therapist for seven months now, and I feel like progress hasn’t been great, but I’m not sure how to determine if I need to let this process take more time, whether it’s because I’m not doing what I need to do, or whether it’s because the therapist/treatment aren’t working for me.

A7: Well, this is something you can talk about with your therapist, and pretty frankly, too: “I’m not making as much progress as I’d like to be, do you think there’s something we could be doing differently with our sessions/do you think there’s something I could be doing more aggressively between sessions/do you think it would be beneficial for me to try working with someone else/can we check in about what progress has happened since we started working together and revise our plan?” 

And if you feel like you can’t bring this up, that’s telling detail. Talking about how you work together is part of the work. More info on how to tell what works here.

Q8: I belong to a professional organization. This past year I have joined a committee for an in-person event that will be held in the next month. Only a few of the committee members are able to attend the actual event (which is to be expected) and a lot of the committee work is creating session descriptions and finding speakers. Our committee chair left the committee last month when they changed jobs, as they are no longer in our niche area. Their departure did put us in a bit of a bind as we found out that not all sessions had speakers arranged, although it has all been worked out at this point. For me personally, this added a lot of stress. I guess my question is, how do I answer questions about their departure? This event isn’t huge and their absence will be noticed, especially as I will be subbing in for a couple of speaking parts. I don’t want to bad mouth them, or make it a dramatic telling, but at the same time, I am not sure I am up for making it a happy happy story of them moving on. Especially since they told me to let them know if I had any questions immediately following their departure, which I did and which they completely ignored. Should I just mentally compartmentalize the bad personal aftertaste this has given me? 

A8: If y’all haven’t already done this as a committee, draft some kind of announcement or statement about the person leaving and make sure the news is out there. And then use that statement to guide and inform how you answer questions from people. I really feel for you being left in the lurch by this person, but I encourage you to think about the message you want to send about the organization and the event (wanting attendees to be engaged and excited) vs. your personal feelings about all of it, which might be best saved for close friends (venting at the bar) and fellow committee members (private discussions about how to fill the gaps this person left and take some of this off your shoulders).

To that end, what if you said “Departing Person left some big shoes to fill, and this last month I grew to *truly* appreciate how much work they’d done recruiting speakers in past years.” + then turned the conversation toward what you’d like this member of the organization to do? For example “If you’re looking to get more involved in conference planning, the committee could always use x, y, z” or “We’re really looking for more speakers who can talk about x, y, and z topics” or “This is my first time running this solo, if there’s something I’m overlooking, please tell me!” or “We don’t have quite enough session moderators, any chance I can get you to jump in?” 

Nobody can undo the stress you’ve been under, but orienting yourself (and your membership) toward action is gonna be the best medicine, I think. Good luck, may it all go smoothly!

Q9: Captain, as a creative and hard-working person, do you think that it better to have a more-cool role on a less-cool-overall project, or a less-cool role on a more-cool-overall project? Each project has thousands of people in it and lasts over the course of many years. I could be happy doing either but am definitely more excited professionally for cool-role-project. It also comes with a little less money that would have a non-dealbreaking but also non-negligible lifestyle impact.

A9: I don’t have an answer, just questions:

  • Which project sets you up to have the most options in the future?
  • Which project sets you up to learn from people who will help you level up the most?
  • Do you have some ongoing creative practice that’s just yours, that can sustain you either way?
  • Then, do a gut check. Flip a coin. If you had to abide absolutely by the coin flip (you don’t, but pretend with me), how do you feel about that?

Q10: I’ve been desperate for years to start doing more creative work but when a good idea moves me I become too manic to focus and can only daydream, and when I’m not manic I feel totally immobile and unmotivated. I feel like my peers are lapping me while I stay still and every cool idea I have will die with me (if it doesn’t show up in someone else’s work – although I was greatly comforted by something in the archive about that being a good sign of sorts haha). Mostly I just feel rotten about myself every time a cis white dude, specifically, gushes about his cool project – stuff by not those dudes (esp. games, comedy, YouTube) helps me, but I still feel like I’m a windbag with nothing to contribute and I only think I “deserve” a voice to spite bigger windbags, when ideally I would be lifting up, entertaining, maybe collaborating once I get over my fear of and aversion to that. I know I should seek mental health care (been feeling pretty shit for a decade) and I know timed exercises/750 words/NaNo and the like sometimes make me feel better, but nothing has made the process of actually sitting down and bringing an idea to an acceptable level of completion seem less insurmountable. Any strategies? 

A10: I’m definitely not immune to this feeling. A lot of people want tips and suggestions to see if they can bypass the process of “finish stuff, send it out, then make new stuff” or make it easier somehow and, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t. No matter how, like, insightful we get about our process or how much we plan out elegant projects, eventually we will have to reckon with “finish a thing, send it out, make a new thing.”

Some stuff that might help:

Yes, take care of your mental health. I got diagnosed with ADHD a few years back and it helped so much, both in giving me tools and strategies and also helping me let go of some of the shame and self-recrimination that was not motivating in the least. Whatever you’ve got going on, having a trained pro guide you through both your goals and your list of “shoulds” (the stuff you’re using to beat yourself up with) isn’t a bad idea.

Give yourself a License To Suck. A writing teacher literally did this for a class I’m taking, it’s printed on a business-card sized thing and we can carry it in our wallets. It’s a reminder that people aren’t born with mastery, and if it’s worth doing it’s worth sucking at it for a while in order to get better.

Take a class or otherwise find community that gives you permission to generate a lot of first drafts, break projects down into manageable chunks, work with supportive peers, build in accountability and a schedule. If you’re going to suck, suck with other people who are also trying.

Try going for volume over quality for a while. That’s what NaNoWriMo is good for, right? Process, practice, volume, non-judgment. If you struggle with perfectionism and you have lots of stuff going on, this way no project has to be the one perfect project. Check out the parable of the pots. Also, see this from Ira Glass.

Test ideas and themes in different mediums. One of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered said the most important thing to me at the end of film school, when I took a memoir writing class with her: “Not every good idea you have wants to be a film.” She also introduced me to the practice of reading/telling stories out loud for audiences, which led me to nonfiction writing, which led me here.

How freeing was that? SO FREEING. Sometimes my ideas are movies but they can also be essays or poems or this advice blog that ate my life in the best possible way. Maybe your unfinished short story is languishing because it wants to be a short film. Maybe your novel wants to be a painting. Maybe you’re really a photographer. I don’t know! Maybe you don’t, either.

Q11: Do you have any words of wisdom for an amateur writer doing #nanowrimo2018 ? I seem to have written myself into a corner and I’m not sure how to get out. (This will be my 11th win if I finish again this year, but I’m not feeling it at the moment.)

A11: It would be okay if you didn’t do it or didn’t finish this time. It would be okay if you used this year to revise one of your old efforts instead of writing something new (maybe take an old piece and shift the setting or the POV character?). If you do do it and stick with it, the habit and the process will reassert themselves and the ritual of writing will probably start to feel better even if you’re not inspired. It will probably be more fun if you find other people to cheer you on.

Q12: I’m in the early stages of a relationship. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and tiny hearts with our initials. I know this stage doesn’t last forever. At some point there’s chewing with your mouth open and dirty socks and more real and less lusty head over heels. I don’t have any good relationship models in my life. How do I enjoy the good parts without worrying so much about what’s to come? (He’s a good person. There is no but there. I like what we are building together.)

A12: Versions of this question keep coming up. The answer is always the same:

Relationships aren’t a test you can study for and get an “A” by doing the most work. So use this anxious energy about the relationship that you’re feeling as a reminder to shore up the other areas of your life. Strengthen your friendships and family relationships and make sure you’re not losing track of the other people you love. Make sure that your career & education & creative pursuits & hobbies are doing what you want them to. Spruce up your living space. Revisit your plans & daydreams about the future. Get your health checkups and dental cleanings. Spend some alone time, don’t feel like you have to be with this person every single second. Your romantic relationship is just one part of your life, and the more secure and happy you are as a person, the better set up you’ll be to make good decisions about your love life, even if that decision is “keep enjoying this!”

Q13: Hey Captain, Happy Friday! I was wondering if you have any tips for building personal discipline and a better work ethic? I have heard, all my life, that I seem to phone things in, that I’m capable of better than what I give, that I project laziness that comes across as disrespect, etc. This has come from my family, teachers, employers, (ex-)partners, etc. And, they’re not wrong – I tend to stop at “adequate” but don’t go the extra mile to be excellent in most aspects of my life. I’m a single parent with a super-demanding job and always feel like I’m running on fumes, but know I could do at least a bit better! Help?

A13: Hrmmmmm….these sound awfully like all the messages I grew up with, the ones that rebounded inside my head literally since forever, endless jokes about having “She had so much potential” engraved on my gravestone, and totally discounting all the stuff I was doing and had actually done in favor of the ever-expanding list of what I should be doing. It’s taken some mental health diagnoses and ongoing mental health treatment and the practice of years to stop automatically playing those mind-loops.

Do you want to be doing “more” and if so “more of what”?

Are we sure these people are right about you? Are you sure they aren’t saying “Hey, even your ‘phoning it in’ version of this is pretty good and we resent that about you.”

And if they are right about you, is that really so bad? You parent your kid. You hold down a demanding job. Your kid is alive and happy and your work gets done, right? So what even is this “more”?

Have you talked it over with a therapist? Because that’s where I’d start.

Q14: My job offers professional development funds (yay!). The past few years, I’ve used some of that money for membership in a local professional organization that I’ve often felt lukewarm about. (I was a member briefly after grad school, then discontinued my membership, and rejoined in 2016.) What are some helpful considerations in thinking about renewing (or not)?

A14: Considerations, in no particular order:

  • Is this the only organization in this field or is there another one (even if it’s not as local) that would be a better fit?
  • Are you fully utilizing what’s available within the organization? Maybe look back at their programs and see if there’s something there worth taking advantage of.
  • Are the problems with the organization fixable and do you feel like volunteering with the organization to shape it more to your needs?
  • Is there something else you’d rather do with that money? [A conference, a class, an investment in reading material]
  • It’s not your money, so why not? Are there upsides to belonging (networking, being able to list it on your resume)?

Q15: How much talking in class is too much? She/her, non-traditional student in a “caring profession” – my cohort is 90% female. Most classmates seem shyer to speak. My speaking enthusiasm level is Hermione-Granger-with-Undiagnosed-ADD. When I wait for someone else to go, sometimes the prof will impatiently jump in, which is frustrating because I *want* to have a lively discussion. I’m worried peers judge me for taking up space. I’m worried I might *be* taking too much space. Should I talk less? Worry less? Can I focus on some concrete way to support my peers? 

A15: There’s a lot of room between being This Fucking Guy and being that lifesaver active student who is not afraid to talk during class discussions. Your self-awareness about this makes it less likely that you’re a problem, but if it’s making you anxious it’s probably worth checking in with your professor, like, “I want to be active in discussions but I want to make sure I’m not talking over other students, any feedback/can we agree that you’ll tell me if you think I’m overdoing it?” 

If I’m a teacher of a discussion-based class and only one student is ever talking, I’d be looking for ways to mix it up, like, asking a question and having smaller groups chew on it together and then present back to the bigger group, or asking a question for discussion and then giving students a few minutes to write down their thoughts before we talk about it. Really, it’s your teacher’s job to manage the whole vibe of the room, and if there are points for class participation you’re not doing it wrong by participating actively!

The “writing it down” strategy has worked for me when I have had to speak with students who do have (documented) ADHD or just a tendency to blurt things out – “It’s great that you’re so engaged and you have a lot to say, but you interrupt me and other people sometimes, so can we try a thing where when you have a thought or a question you write it down and then wait until I pause for questions to ask it?” You might try that as a strategy for yourself sometimes if you’re worried that you’re being too much – instead of speaking out loud, write whatever it is down in your notes, and write down the things that other people say, too. You still are having the insights, right?

Another strategy (both for moderation and participation) is to make sure you’re amplifying and responding meaningfully to the things that other people say. “Going back to the question Sylvester asked…” “I’ve been thinking about the point that Sylvie made…” If your peers know that you are paying close attention to them when they do speak up, hopefully it will encourage them to keep going.

Q16: Some good friends recently told me that I apologize A LOT and take responsibility for things that are outside my control or not really an issue. My instinct was to apologize for apologizing, so it seems my friends were accurate in their assessment. 🙂 Anyhow, do you have any scripts on how to redirect this tendency in my own head and out loud? What do I say if I feel bad that something didn’t go as planned or I was less than perfect without constantly saying “I’m sorry”? (This wouldn’t apply to situations where I really am in the wrong – but if that happens, I would want my apology there to have some weight and NOT be just a reflex)

A16: Yes, I do have suggestions:

1) Practice restating apologies as expressions of gratitude.

“I’m sorry I forgot to return your book sooner” => “Thanks for lending me the book!”

“I’m sorry I’m such a bummer tonight, I’m really feeling down” => “Thanks for hanging out with me and listening.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t had much time to hang out lately” => “Thanks for being so flexible with my schedule, I’m so glad to see you!”

2) In electronic communications, type them out when you make the draft but build in time to edit and erase before sending. If I didn’t do this, literally every email I sent would start with “Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.” I decided to stop automatically apologizing about this a few years back and I think it was a good choice. It took me as long as it took to respond to the email, in many cases I’m not actually sorry, and I wanted to stop perpetuating the standard that all emails require immediate response or that women must always pre-apologize in life.

Q17: Maybe more of a crowd-sourcing question – techniques/hacks/systems for doing things (think stretching, at-home physio, etc.) that I need to do but find boring and, while not painful, a pain? 

A17: The Pomodoro Technique (adapted to good advantage by Unfuck Your Habitat as “20/10s”): Set a timer for the length of time that you want to do the annoying thing (like, 20 minutes, but really whatever you want, you can start smaller, you’re the boss of you). Do the annoying thing knowing that there is a hard end-time. Then take a timed break to do something enjoyable (10 minutes). Reset as necessary until the stuff is done.

Someone in this community recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book about habit forming, Better Than Before, and with the caveat that she has some personal thoughts about body image & eating that I don’t share, I’ve personally found it really useful. Like, I enjoyed it at the time, but I think about it waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often now than I thought I would when I was reading it. The biggest takeaway was that people have different tendencies about what motivates them, and if you can figure out yours you can kinda hack your habit-forming  – like, some people really benefit from having a buddy to do hard stuff with or someone to be externally accountable to, some people are just great rule-followers and the fact that it’s a rule makes it hard to deviate, some people really need to know why a thing is happening so constantly connecting the new habit to the why (“If I do my physical therapy exercises I can get strong enough for that sex position I like again”), etc.

Q18: Not the most serious question but I just got engaged (yay!) And what on earth is it about weddings that makes everybody have An Opinion?? On everything??  

A18: The intersection of family, tradition, culture, marketing, and shit we’ve grown up seeing in movies and on television is a powerful one. Congratulations! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were lifesavers.

Q19: Scripts for talking to bosses about mental health? I see a therapist twice a month and I don’t know how to explain the absences, or my occasional depressive episodes (less frequent now, yay!)

A19: If the Affordable Care Act did literally nothing else, the mandate that all health plans must cover mental health services the same way they cover any other health concern is a world-changer. Now the culture has to catch up. Until it does, disclosing mental health stuff at work is sticky, because there still is stigma, and once you disclose you can’t un-disclose. Fortunately, Alison at Ask A Manager has a great primer on this. With her advice in mind, one script might be “I have a recurring medical appointment twice a month” and no more information than that. Another one might be “I have depression. It mostly doesn’t affect work (beyond needing to check in with my counselor twice a month), but I’m having a depressive episode and need to treat it more aggressively right now, which means… [specifically what you need – time off, an adjustment to the workload, a quieter work space, a more flexible schedule].”

Q20: “My friends Alex and Pat recently had a huge falling out due to a seemingly trivial issue. Tomorrow at a wedding will be their first time around each other since the fight. Is there anything I can do help keep the peace since I’ll be interacting with both?”

A20: The bad news is the good news: There is literally nothing about their conflict that is your job to worry about. Say hello to both of them, have a great time, don’t bring any of it up unless they do. If they do, try changing the topic to “what a lovely wedding it is.” Only in case of emergency, like they re-start their argument in a way that would be noticeable to other guests or the people getting married, should you do anything (in that example, the doing something might be “ok, why don’t you both get some air!”)

Repeat after me: Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Q21: I’m at a point where my old friend group is “cycling out”. I’ve made some new acquaintances through my weekly activities that I’d love to bring up to friendship level (e.g. inviting them out), but sometimes feel shy. I’d love a script/advice on this.

A21: Remember, the best invitations have a specific time and date and place attached and you’ll have less anxiety if you invite them to a specific thing than if you mention “coffee sometime” and then wait forever for “sometime” to be real. When you’re ready to take the plunge, be specific and ask: “Wanna grab a drink after rehearsal next week?” They may not be free that day, and they may not want to get closer, but almost nobody who goes to a weekly social hobby is going to think you did something wrong by asking or find it weird, at all. Give making plans a couple tries before you give up. If you ask three times and nobody bites (and nobody suggests an alternative), let it go for 3-6 months before bringing it up again. Somebody’s gonna be very glad you asked.

Q22: Hi! recently ended 8-year relationship. didn’t live together, but work together, have creative projects together. Breakup wasn’t mutual: I instigated. Tips for how to be kind and make space for myself to move on? Do I need to end creative partnership too?

A22: Here’s all the post-breakup advice for being nice to yourself.

I don’t think you can make assumptions either way about what happens to the creative partnership now. I think you have to ask the person what they want to do, see if it aligns with what you want to do, and make the decision that’s right for you. What would you do if the collaboration needed to end? Do some research and protect your work.

If you’re reading this and you have a creative collaboration with a friend or romantic partner, I want you to stop, drop, and put something in writing about who owns the work and what happens to it in case you decide to go your separate ways someday. Do this even if nobody is making any money from the work. Do this even if you have no problems or thoughts of ending the friendship or the working relationship because a fair agreement negotiated now, while you like each other, is a huge favor to future-you if something shatters here.

Ok, that should be something for everyone. ❤

156 comments
  1. sarcfringe said:

    For Q19 – one thing I have to remind myself regularly is “I’m not feeling well” isn’t just for physical illness. Sick days caused by mental health stuff are just as valid as sick days caused by having a cold, and they don’t require any extra justification or disclosure of personal health info.

    • JenniferP said:

      Very true!

  2. automaticdoor said:

    Q3: you don’t mention anything you particularly dislike about Spouse—why don’t you just try getting to know them? Then they can be part of that inner circle, no awkward required. This seems like a fixable issue!

    • Kitty said:

      There doesn’t need to be an active dislike for someone to just not be close friend material. I think probably that LW has already considered becoming closer with the spouse, and have probably known them long enough to know if they could be closer. I have a friend whose husband is a polite and inoffensive guy, and he’s fine at some group events, but I have no interest in becoming actual friends because we have literally nothing in common besides my friend.

      • MsMildew said:

        This. One of my dearest friends was married to a guy that I liked ok, and we all hung out together a lot, but he wasn’t someone who I would have had any interest in being friends with on my own at all, had I met him before I met her, or had they not been married, or in any other context at all. We had enough in common to be friendly acquaintances at most, never ‘friends’.

    • misspiggy said:

      It can be a difficult one. If Spouse attends a few things with OP and not Friend, Friend could get jealous or feel left out. Spouse could have nefarious intentions for OP. If Spouse makes a move in Friend’s absence, how is OP to handle that without Friend blaming OP?

      That’s all likely to be hovering even if OP likes spending time with Spouse.

      • TO_On said:

        ‘Makes a move’? She said she wasn’t as good friends with him as with his wife, not that he was an asshole…

      • Jane said:

        If your friend blames you for their spouse hitting on you, they aren’t a good friend and that’s important information too

      • Parenthetically said:

        lolwut. Am I reading a different letter, because one thing I sure as hell didn’t get from this letter was “I’m worried Friend’s Spouse will hit on me if I ever see them at parties.”

        • Q3 said:

          Yeah, that is not a thing that would happen.

  3. crooked bird said:

    Q13 you’re a single parent with a demanding job & you think you’re not doing ENOUGH?

    I can be a workaholic sometimes & my behavior around big goals and projects has damaged my health, & thinking of how much work you must be doing EXHAUSTS me.

    You are doing enough. Your tendency to stop at adequate is probably your body’s instinct of self-preservation against the stressful conditions you are in. Listen to it. I should’ve listened to mine.

    • fragmentation said:

      Yup. I have also been on the receiving end of a lot of comments about my potential, and I find it helpful to think of them as compliments rather than criticism. Yay, this person thinks I could become a great musician if I tried!

      Similarly, I like to remind myself that when people tell me I should apply myself more, they generally aren’t even suggesting that applying myself would make me happier. They’re saying it would make them happier! Once I put it in perspective like that, the things they’re asking me to do usually sound pretty ridiculous.

      And the truth is, the better you are at stuff in general, the more unrealized potential you will have. If you decided to devote yourself to it, you could probably become an excellent airplane mechanic, or an excellent opera singer, or an excellent pastry chef. Being smart and talented gives you a lot of potential paths to follow! But it doesn’t magically give you the time and energy to follow them all at once.

      You are already doing way more than most people have the time and energy for. The question to ask is not “could I push myself even harder and survive”, but “is this making me happy?” Be kind to yourself.

      • misspiggy said:

        This is wonderful and I want it on my wall.

      • Vicki said:

        The second paragraph reminds me of a Miss Manners phrasing for turning down suggestions/requests: “Why would I want to do that?” Not “why should I?” or “why do you want me to?” but “Why would I want to do that?” That won’t get rid of all pushy suggestions–it’s useless for weird or uninformed medical advice, because the person will sincerely say “your skin would clear up” or “to cure your X disease,” but it refocuses suggestions that you spend your weekend cleaning their garage, or donate your knitting to their charity group that you have no connection to.

      • MsMildew said:

        Thank you so much for this. I wish I’d had the insight to see it this way all through my life.
        I have multiple major executive function & learning disorders that went undiagnosed and even unsuspected for years, and while I learned early on that for some inexplicable but very real reasons, I was incapable of doing XYZ normal things that just about anyone could do, and had dialed my definitions of success *way* down to match what I was actually capable of achieving, NO ONE ELSE could understand why such a gifted, intelligent, creative, talented, beautiful, etc young woman seemed to be deliberately throwing away her life & talents in crummy minimum wage jobs instead of the prestigious & high paying careers she was so obviously qualified for (spoiler: no I wasn’t, see again all those pesky undiagnosed disorders…on top of actual physical health issues that caused enough problems with the amount of work they caused me to miss.) The number of people who assumed and fully believed that I was deliberately sabotaging my own life “just so you can have blue hair and a nose ring, don’t you know how stupid that is?!?” was astounding.
        And since despite all my struggles and setbacks, I was almost always a happy person who loved (and still loves) life, this framing would have been SO valuable to me, even though every bit of “advice” I was given was under the guise of “you’ll be happier if you do ABC!”, I would have loved to have been able to turn it around on them – “no, YOU’LL be happier if I ABC! I’ll just be stressed out trying to live up to standards I am incapable of meeting!”
        I don’t know if it would have helped with my mom, who (Dog love her 😆) absolutely 100% seriously believed that I could waltz into any publishing house and get a job as an editor, on the strength of a high school education (with spotty grades), and no experience whatsoever in writing or any related field, (and NO DESIRE to work in that field, even) merely by telling them how much I love to read/how many books I’ve read, and about that epically long poem I once composed (for a class assignment) about my D&D group when I was a middle schooler in the early 80s.

        • KittensMakeEverythingBetter said:

          Thank you. As someone with some fairly serious mental health issues that keep me from “reaching my potential”, I can relate all too well. I can either function somewhat or I can attempt to “reach my potential” and then need intensive services. I decided long ago that function somewhat was going to have to do it. I only wish I’d had these scripts.

          • Inahc said:

            Yup. My “potential” got me a 4-year migraine, and muscle problems the doctors don’t even have a name for (when they acknowledge them at all). I still catch myself setting unrealistic expectations regularly. Fuck everything about “potential”.

      • kwallio said:

        I ❤ this comment, thanks for posting it. I have been on the recieving end of so many "but you have so much potential" comments over the years. I have problems with fatigue and low energy and its so enraging to hear these comments because I KNOW what I could accomplish if I had the energy, I just can't, thats all.

    • Regdren said:

      The only time I’ve ever been told about my potential was when someone thought I wasn’t living up to it. The context has pretty consistently been a comparison of an idealized me to the actual me. It’s possible for “potential” to be used as part of a compliment, like how a beginner shows promise. However it’s used in other ways often enough that I look at the speaker’s phrasing around the word veeeery carefully.

      • MsMildew said:

        Absolutely THIS.

      • fragmentation said:

        Yeah, those comments are rarely intended as compliments. But I like to treat them that way regardless 🙂

        Not only does this make me feel better, it lets me respond with sincere appreciation, which is one of my favorite ways to redirect that sort of conversation. It doesn’t always work, but often the other person doesn’t want to argue and goes along with it, or they realize they were being pushy and take the offered opportunity to save face. And every once in a while it turns out they really were just trying to say something nice, in which case I’m extra glad that I didn’t misinterpret it as something mean!

  4. Clorinda said:

    Hey Q12, it’s NOVEMBER 2nd!!! If your NaNoWriMo project isn’t making you happy, switch to something else. Or maybe write a bunch of short things instead of one long thing.

    • NaNoWriter said:

      Thank you, that’s an excellent point. And thank you, Captain Awkward for taking my question, much appreciated.
      I think part of it is that *everything* seems so hard lately, especially work, and I got frustrated.
      Then I sort of painted myself into a corner with the novel I was writing. As of this evening, I haven’t given up on the novel yet. I was able to re-work a trouble spot that had me stuck before. Long story short (ha ha), I think I’ve figured out how to get my main character back on the rocket ship (not proverbial, a real rocket ship), and from there I think it might be a series of vignettes, which I find easier to write and might be able to tie together into a novel.
      In writing, as in life, I think I need to remind myself more often to a) breathe and b) life should be more fun.

      • Best wishes on your rocket ship story and/or life! (And connected vignettes can make great novels, I’m thinking The Ship Who Sang as a classic that’s very episodic.)

  5. Q22 here! Thanks for the reminder to put it in writing, Cap!

    If anybody has experience breaking up with someone who didn’t want to end the relationship, while still needing to see them pretty regularly, I’d love to hear what worked for you. This is my first non-mutual, non-inflicted-upon-me breakup.

    (I should’ve clarified that I’m looking for tips on how to be kind to the other, incredibly heartbroken, person. Would ending the creative partnership be more kind or less kind? Should I try to be less available? Eight years is a long time to talk to someone every day and then suddenly stop; I’ve not been able to go low-contact yet. It’s sad, yes, but it’s the right decision for me, so I think I might’ve done a lot of the grieving before the relationship ended? The other person, though…that person is devastated. Which is hard to be around.)

    Anyway, hope it’s ok to reach out to the comments section! You guys are all the best!

    • JenniferP said:

      It’s okay!

      I think giving it a little time and letting the other person take the lead in how they want to go forward (to the extent it doesn’t conflict with what you doing what you need to do to take care of yourself) is a kindness. You had more time to think about it and make decisions, giving them a little time to regroup is kind. Letting them gain back a sense of autonomy is kind. Good luck!

      • Thanks for forever being awesome!!

    • Kaos said:

      Just remember, regardless of the fact that you instigated the break up, your ex’s emotions are not yours to manage/fix/soothe. You have to let them learn their new normal without you there to “fix” things. FWIW my vote is to dissolve the partnership completely…every aspect, and go your own ways for at least six months to a year.

      • Just gonna print that out and tape it to my face…

        • Kaos said:

          Heh. I had it written on the palm of my hand for a few years until it
          “stuck.”

      • Isotopes said:

        This is really great advice and a good thing to remember. I’ve been struggling with this as the person who asked for a divorce and it’s been so difficult to remember that…his emotions aren’t mine to deal with anymore. He thinks I owe him time and explanations and that we need to get together and talk and I need to help him through this and…I don’t anymore. That’s the thing with a breakup.

        To the original question-asker: I’ve found that things get better the less communication we have. I’m very, VERY early in the process right now (it’s only been a few months), but the more we were communicating, the less well we both seemed to do. The idea of BOTH people needing to adjust to their “new normal” is really important.

        I would also suggest dissolving the partnership, as difficult as it’s going to be. I feel like just having that little bit of contact makes things so much more difficult. I’ve never had a relationship end where “keeping in touch” led to good outcomes. Best of luck as you work your way through this whole thing. Take care of yourself.

    • fragmentation said:

      Every breakup is different, but when I’ve been the person to end a relationship, I’ve never been able to make it work without at least a year of low contact. Otherwise, I just end up in this emotional limbo where the other person feels terrible whenever we’re together and it makes me feel terrible too, and then I start feeling bad for not wanting to spend time with them, and it spirals from there. If I keep seeing the person regularly, this can persist for years (ask me how I know!).

      I wish I had a better answer 😦 It sounds like you’re thinking about all the right things, and you’re being caring and considerate of both the other person’s feelings and your own. I wish you the best of luck!

      • Thanks, and I know you’re right. I keep hoping there’s some secret “no no it’ll be fine here’s an example of one time it WASN’T like that” but you’re right.

    • If you have unavoidable unfinished business (literally business) with this person, maybe you could change the expectation that you see each other to take care of it and instead establish a less-personal mode of contact as the norm, such as email, text chat, or Skyping (idk what kind of creative collaboration it is, so…?). And let them know it’s to respect their space, not because you hate them?

  6. Helen Huntingdon said:

    Q13: I have no idea of the pronouns for this LW, but I know that waaaay to often women who hold demanding jobs get this kind of nonsense. I’ve struggled my whole career with being passed over for mentoring or training, even as I keep asking for it, even as I keep advocating for why I need something specific, because people just keep saying, “Oh, she’s so stellar, she’ll be fine anyway — let’s give it to someone who needs it more.” So I get denied equal opportunity because people believe that qualities and skills I have labored hard to gain are just something that came to me naturally, not something I have to work hard at. So clearly I have all kinds of extra time and energy, right? Because I can just do all those things? That my male coworkers get training and mentoring for?

    It’s a real problem in my current job.

    On the other hand, that “perception of stellar” has gotten me some great things too, so maybe it’s all balancing out. But anyway, if you’re holding a demanding job and being a single parent, it sounds like you’re doing pretty darn well. Definitely a topic for therapy — a therapist could help you work through whether you really can and want to do more.

  7. ShadowAngel said:

    Congratulations to LW18!!
    I recently got engaged, too. Mine was a long time coming, so I already had some loose visions in my head that I can point to whenever people want to get all idea-projecting on me. It might be entirely that I have very good friends, but I’ve found that starting any “I’m engaged” discussion that goes past pretty rings with an elevator pitch for the overall aesthetic I already have thanks seems to indicate that I do not need your suggestions I have it in hand thanks.
    Even my occasionally overbearing grandmother has managed to refrain from any suggestions beyond what I’ve actively solicited (wedding inspired by our family histories; solicited more information on that side because we’re not as tied to their roots).

  8. Igne said:

    Q3 – the way I usually manage this is to specifically invite the friend and then say they’re welcome to bring their spouse. Example – ‘Jane, having a party on the 15th, would love to see you there. Please feel free to bring Sara along’ Generally, that sort of phrasing implies that Sarah shouldn’t come w/out Jane. If the spouse shows up when the friend does not, then you can have the conversations about it that Cap suggested, but I’ve never had anyone be insulted with the above invite.

    • TootsNYC said:

      I agree–this is how I’d do it.

      I used to write a column on wedding etiquette, and this was always my suggestion for how to handle “and guest” when you only wanted them to bring their current boyfriend if they were inf act still dating at that time:
      Address the invitation to them.
      Write a personalized note that says, “We would love for you to bring Hunter,” and slip it into the invitation.
      Voilà! You’ve invited Hunter by name, but the message is still pretty clear–Hunter isn’t invited on their own. But neither have you said, “just bring anybody you want.”

  9. TootsNYC said:

    Q13, who has “living up to your potential” worries:

    I once watched Darryl Strawberry run for a fly ball in the Mets right field. I thought, “They’re right, he really doesn’t put much energy into it; he looks lackadaisical, no wonder everyone is always lamenting that he’s not living up to his potential!”

    He caught it.

    And he threw the ball to the infield, and the other guy was out.

    Some people just make it look easy. Maybe that’s you.

    (now, sure, Darryl was doing things that worked against him (like drugs)–but I think a lot of that “he’s not living up to his potential” thing came because he loped along instead of running flat out like Lenny Dykstra. And yet…there he was, under the ball in the outfield)

    And anyway, who said anybody’s obligated to live up to their potential?
    You’re obligated to play well in the game right in front of you.

    These “living up to your potential” comments always come from OTHER people, who are making up their own ideas about what you “ought” to do.

    • Good point.

      I used to work with a guy who always appeared to be standing around not doing anything. He was very tiny, but he seemed to have endless time on his hands to lift heavy things for other people or just hang around.

      Every time he went on vacation, it took more than two people working as fast and hard as they could to do his job.

      He was just that good at it.

      At one point some efficiency expert was brought in, and to make a big dramatic impression, immediately walked out on the production floor, looked around, saw this guy looking like he had nothing to do and all the time in the world, and pointed at him and said, “Start by firing that guy!”

      We all doubled over laughing.

      Maybe the writer of Q13 is just like my old coworker — just really good and makes it look easy on top of it.

    • Kitty said:

      This. I’ve had anxiety about not doing “enough” to advance my career, and feeling resentful of the time I spent on extra training and mentorships and qualifications I took on. It took a conversation with my therapist to realise I already was doing a whole bunch, and that the drive to do that had come from my mother’s expect, not what I actually wanted. I’m fine being average, and having my weekends to myself again.

  10. TootsNYC said:

    Q2, with the divorce they’d like to let people know about

    This is the sort of thing that’s handled in my ILs’ family by the Aunt Mafia. I’ve frequently had my mother-in-law call and say, “Michael and Margaret are getting a divorce.”

    So the idea of asking other people to specifically spread it around (among friend groups) is a good idea. That friend can say all the “it’s amicable, they seem to be handling it well, but of course they don’t really want to talk about it a lot” kind of stuff.

    • PrairieChick said:

      When my marriage was ending, I contacted the the people who needed to know about it. Some contacts were phone conversations and others were mailed the information, depending on context of the relationships with the people.

      The message was that: We are divorcing, and you need to know that this is happening. We don’t want to discuss Reasons. We want matters to be amicable. We we will let you know of any changes resulting , to our family activities, routines, etc.

      Taking the initiative and choosing the message worked well. I’m sure that some relatives and friends did spread the word; but none needed to be Spokespersons.

      • Nameless wonder said:

        It partly depends on the players. When I was pregnant again after a miscarriage, a colleague in work offered to spread it around so I didn’t have to tell people and it was much appreciated. With my divorce, though, I absolutely DID NOT WANT my mum being the news spreader.

  11. TootsNYC said:

    Q19, needing to visit the therapist a couple of times a month

    Thank God for living in NYC, where everybody, it seems, goes to therapy.

    I did the “I have an appointment,” thing, and then at other times sort of mentioned “therapy.”
    One thing that had helped me so much at the beginning of my depression was the support of a fellow church member who was a big advocate for the mentally ill. In honor of her, I try to be as open as I can about having had depression, and having gone to therapy.

    But nobody is required to do that, and “I have an appointment” is all that’s necessary. People may guess, of course. (If you really wanted to hide it, wear an elbow brace now and then)

    • cavyherd said:

      “I have an appointment.” Where I work, at least, inquiry beyond that is forbidden. HIPPA is a glorious thing.

  12. hope3494 said:

    Q1 – my son has a speech disorder that frequently resolves as an accent in older students/adults. He’s still in therapy and for now sounds “young” rather than foreign but I appreciate this question and the scripts. He may find some of them useful in the future.

    Q12 – I’m using NaNoWriMo for two purposes. One, developing the habit of showing up. I’ve written for decades but have long subscribed to the “can only write when I feel inspired” theory. Entering middle age, life is too short for that business. My goal is to develop a habit of time and space where I can reliably write every day. A month when “everyone” seems to be engaged in a project is ideal for developing the habit. Second, I have two non-novel projects, one of which I’ve had lingering in my files for over 2 years and the other for about a year. Plan is to finish both this month up to the point where I can roll back through in January for a polish up and first edit.

    • NaNoWriter said:

      Q12 here, thank you for your reply! And excellent point about getting back in the writing habit. I enjoy telling people about NaNoWriMo and explaining the theme of “you don’t need an idea so much as you need a deadline, hence writing 50k words in 30 days,” and it seems to really resonate with people. We spend so much time and effort editing ourselves before we can get anything created. (Of course, I mean it in the creative sense. Funny how some people who spout hate have no self-editing button, while the nicest people I know are afraid to say boo to a goose.)
      I wish you a lot of success!

  13. TootsNYC said:

    Q8, who is resentful enough of the now-department organization member that they aren’t sure they can handle “oh, where’s Pam?” questions

    The Captain has a good point about framing this: What is good for the organization?
    Because it’s not about you; it’s about what’s good for the organization.
    Sourness and resentment aren’t good for the organization; discretion is.

    Also, it won’t be good for you to let that resentment leak out; people leave jobs and organizations all the time, and often with somewhat short notice. And this is a place where your professional rep matters.

    Maybe you can remind yourself that your answer is calculated and mildly manipulative. And full of spin.
    You don’t need to tell your own personal full truth.
    Tell the version of the truth that makes you look good.

    The person left; and you can just leave it at that. You can just not know very much, or have not a lot of interest in talking about it.

    If the organizing of the event comes up more, remember that you want a framing that looks good for you–“whirlwine recovery!” “learned a lot!”

    • janevansusteren said:

      This and also, people on boards of professional organizations get overwhelmed and behind all the time. That it the native state of about 1/3 of any board in the months leading up to a conference – it is unlucky that one of the people on LW8’s board left while they were behind, but that kind of chaos is not unusual in conference planning. If LW8 hates it, they should consider finding other avenues for supporting their profession.

      There are also some slightly red flags here – the former board member’s behavior is consistent with someone getting out of a sick system, and LW8 got so little support to put together a session and then so little recognition for pulling it together that they feel exhausted and resentful. LW8 should keep an eye out for unhealthy dynamics in other areas too.

      The Captain’s scripts are great! But other people on the board should be saying what a great job LW8 did and they should have stepped up and helped provide speakers (ok look maybe it’s just me but I have a list of a dozen people who can give an excellent talk on a months notice because speakers, speakers are always getting snowed in and getting badly injured and getting unexpectedly promoted and sent to other countries.) Good volunteers are precious in all ways, and newish ones need more support than LW8 is getting.

  14. Kaos said:

    Q6: It goes badly because males can’t handle it? They don’t like the idea that a…female does something so “masculine?!” Right???

    Those guys are so beyond a waste of oxygen (in general) and your time, specifically. Definitely do not hide or camouflage, or otherwise soften this.

    It is a major part of who you are and like CA says they need to be at least agnostic about it, certainly not negative. Those guys? Fuck them…only don’t.

    Side note: I spelled “camouflage” correctly…first try. No red underline! Yay me!

    • TootsNYC said:

      I love the Captain’s point that online dating is NOT about appealing to the broadest possible market, but is instead about narrowing the selection down to people who might actually think you’re neat.

      That’s how I approached dating–I was always the most concentrated version of me, because I figured if they didn’t like that, I didn’t want to be around them (how exhausting would that be!)

      • M said:

        Same. When I was doing online dating, I made it extremely clear that I’m a feminist and have very strong political views – because anyone who either doesn’t like that or who I just can’t have a conversation with about it, is clearly not the person for me. I consider it a good strategy for weeding out the jerks; I’d rather not waste my time on someone and *then* find out they don’t like a major part of my personality and beliefs. I had several guys message me with unpleasant comments, who was able to ignore entirely; I also met several guys online who had no negative reaction. None of them would fall into the category of a ‘bad date’, and one of them is now my husband.

        Bottom line: if something’s important to you, be upfront about it. If they can’t handle the idea that you could kick their @ss, then they certainly don’t deserve your time and effort.

        • I went through a brief phase of trying to look more feminine/put together for dates. Very brief. Like, one date. I seem to do OK. (Actually I think looking less conventionally attractive/feminine might actively help weed out the guys who feel entitled to certain…standards of attractiveness in their dating partners, it’s like an invisibility cloak. Last time I was doing online dating I didn’t even put up pictures.) Point I’m trying to make: sanding off the rough edges in a way you feel positive or neutral about for the purpose of dating is fine and normal; hacking off half of who you are is a bad idea and you can probably find dates without doing that.

    • Emmers said:

      I just want to add that as a straight woman in a primarily male hobby field, if you’re single you basically have your pick of an awful lot of dudes. Even if not all of the single ones are into you, the laws of statistics are in your favor. Don’t hide yourself just to find somebody mediocre.

      (But you don’t have to partner up with someone in your hobby, either! When I met new dudes in hobby #2, for a while there, they were gobsmacked that I married a guy who didn’t do that one. “But there are so many of us!” seemed to be the idea. Like my first paragraph. So, yeah.)

      You be you.

      • TO_On said:

        I have actually found the opposite. My majority male hobbies (and my degree) are full of partnered up men, and of men in general who are not currently looking… And those that are are very rarely looking for people similar to them in this particular way.

        I have heard it often enough to believe that it’s often true, but it’s not always true.

        • ChildOfMedia said:

          I’ve generally found the trope that “you’ll have so many to chose from” is super false. Most dudes in MA are very stuck in “traditional” gender roles. They talk a good game about wanting a fighter GF but there is a certain amount of terror at the idea of dating a woman in the sport. Horrors! What if she can beat you in a fight! Then you aren’t “really” a man!

          Plus I’m 15-20 years older than most dudes in the hobby and have had very different life experiences. I’ve found very little I can talk about with most of them. (Though my last good relationship WAS with a gym brother but we were the same age and huge geeks).

    • johann7 said:

      I was wondering exactly HOW it “goes badly” – too many men freaked out that she can fight, too many men fetishizing her fighting ability (as Thetigerhasspoken notes below), both?

      The general advice doesn’t change – it’s a great filter for weeding out people who are either too into her abilities or too squicked by them – but if she’s primarily facing one of the two (or some other version of going badly), knowing what may help our advice on specific coping strategies.

      • ChildOfMedia said:

        LW here! I’ve found a lot of the issues fall into the “fetishization” of my interests: ie guys either want to beat me up or want to be beaten up. Those are fine (consensual) interests but also…not mine. I enjoy fighting on a visceral level (and yes, it releases many of the same hormones as sex) but that’s not a dynamic I’m interested in bringing to my romantic relationships.

        I understand that the signal to noise ratio for on line dating is very high on any given day but having to weed out the guys who pantingly want a free Dom is more tiring than I’m able to deal with. (I just got out of a pretty toxic living situation with an emotionally abusive and draining family member that I think gave me mild PTSD, or at least it feels that way.)

        Bringing the issue up afterwards I’ve been attacked for “concealing my competitiveness” (WTF I know) or literally been called a “monster” and “not a real woman” (especially since I don’t want children). Yes, that’s happened more than once.

        MANY guys assume I’m a lesbian “experimenting” because “straight woman aren’t aggressive like that”.

        This is something that’s super important to me–I can’t live without it–and I’m generally very athletic and SERIOUS AF about it. I know relationships are about learning and compromise but I seriously wish I had a script or strategy to short circuit the initial ‘getting to know you’ chunk and just go to “this isn’t going to change about me, can you live with that?”.

        I suppose I might just have to say it in the profile in the end and take the total lack of interest that kind of thing seems to caise, which is very damaging to me on its own (I very much feel like I’ll never be cared for or desired because I’m so ‘un-normal’, that’s a whole ‘nother letter.)

  15. Raptor said:

    Q1 – Every once in a while, people think I’m Canadian. Twice, I’ve gotten Dutch or Danish as well. I had speech therapy as a child, though not for anything in particular. Is this a thing??

    • Kitty said:

      I’m Australian but multiple times have been mistaken by other Aussies for British, which baffles me. I think it’s because my family constantly commented on how I “mumbled” or talked too fast while growing up, so I made an extra effort to enunciate, which apparently to some people reads as British.

      • Iris said:

        I have the exact same thing, Kitty. I put it down to my mum sending me to elocution lessons as a child (yes I am old) which was the unofficial speech therapy of my childhood. It got worse because I have a close friend who is English and I picked up some of their vocal quirks. Interestingly when I visited England everyone there immediately knew I was Australian as soon as I opened my mouth, but when I was in New Zealand a few Kiwis picked me as a fellow Kiwi. Go figure.

        For the OP I think the lighter you treat it the better “Everyone says that” “I get that all the time” “Nope, just Australian, I just sound weird” and so on. It’s never been a thing because I didn’t make it one.

        • H. said:

          I also have the exact same thing (except for not being American). In my case the speech /elocution person actively decided to give me the British accent (I can even remember her saying “[my country people] speak lazily, I’m teaching you to speak properly.” As a whole though it was worth it – simply because I was sent there because a lot of people could not understand what I was saying – and I had a lot to say – it was immensely frustrating to both me and others that I was unable to communicate adequately. My two lowest level answers are: “Yeah, a lot of people say that.”, or “I had speech therapy as a kid and the teacher preferred English accents to [my country] ones.” Both of them are absolute rote answers, and when they’re said in a cheerfulish manner that makes it obvious that they’re rote answers tend to make the questioner move the conversation fast onto a more interesting topic (often with a 1/2 apology of “I guess you get that a lot.” thrown in on the way.
          I agree with Iris, – the whole topic can be got over really fast without becoming a thing if you act like it’s a rather dull fact rather than something interesting or to be ashamed of.

          • Nopetopus Cowgirl said:

            I work in two languages that I speak roughly equally well and both with the local accent. But I’m on a medication that gives me subtle word-finding difficulties which can become noticeable when I’m tired or stressed. I sometimes have to work around the word I’m looking for (eg “company design” the other day when I couldn’t locate “logo.”) People often assume I’m not at ease and switch languages on me. Even when THEY struggle in the language they’ve just switched to. It’s really awkward sometimes and I used to over-disclose about my medical condition and feel uncomfortable with that. But now I try to just say “Oh we can speak either/both but I sometimes need a few seconds to figure out how to explain something either way.”

          • TootsNYC said:

            this is sort of funny, because people who are not on those meds, and who are speaking in their native language, sometimes have trouble finding the word.

        • PlasterMaster said:

          I have sonething similar! I never had speech therapy and I’m pretty sure I don’t need it, but people in my country often think I’m not a native speaker or say I have an accent. Might be because I think a lot in English? I’ll try to follow the advice next time this thing comes up – I think it’s a good idea to say “I get that a lot”. If the person is nice, I’ve sometimes asked them what it was about my speech that sounded different to them (answers were different every time so I don’t think I’ll keep asking!)

      • Anne On said:

        Kitty, I also enunciate which I think contributes to people’s confusion. I’m an immigrant in country A from country B. My family immigrated to country B from countries C and D, so I don’t have the stereotypical accent. I want to find a way to say “this is what immigration sounds like” in a non-snotty yet educational way. I’m going to just try that I’ve gotten that a lot – maybe that’ll shut it down faster.

        • TootsNYC said:

          You could try, “Oh, my family has living in a lot of different countries, so we’ve ended up with a little bit of everything.”

    • M said:

      I AM Canadian, and people ask if I’m British. In fact, in high school a girl flat-out accused me of ‘faking an accent’. Routinely. Worse yet, other kids (and at least one teacher!) seemed to believe her. I was completely upfront about having a speech impediment and being in speech therapy; several of the kids in school with me had known me since pre-school. Didn’t matter. I still have people ask from time to time – and when I lived in the US, people would ask why I *didn’t* have an accent (Americans seem to think all Canadians talk like Newfoundlanders.)
      So… yes, randomly deciding other people have (or are, bafflingly, pretending to have) an accent is a thing. Can we all agree to just, like, NOT inquire endlessly about why other people’s voices sound different from ours? It’s tiring, and really, if they’re not volunteering this info, why should anyone care?

    • A said:

      Canadian is a weird guess (I am Canadian and all Americans I encounter have so far assumed that I’m one of them, and are often surprised when they find out I’m not).

    • Amy Pond said:

      I mistaken for Canadian all the time. I’m already closer to it anyway, having developed a Minnesotan accent after 20 years of being back in my home state. I grew up living in various countries, so when I did move back permanently, I had a total lack of any accent at all. Other teenagers used to get really freaked out about that, for some reason. I’ll accidentally slip into a variety of accents all the time, especially if I’ve been binge watching something. I come by it honestly, as it’s something my mom has been doing her whole life too. 😂

    • Amy Pond said:

      Dang, I have to add- sometimes I’ll actually end up having a British accent with my “mental” voice. It does happen randomly, but if I watch more than a few Doctor Who episodes at a time, I’ll have it as a mental accent for weeks. 😂 I’m usually able to keep it inside my head, but sometimes it will then creep out into my vocal speech if I’m not careful.

    • Elenna said:

      I’m Canadian and people have often commented on my British accent, which is probably especially unusual because my parents grew up in China. In my case it’s because (according to my parents) I learned English from a preschool/Montessori teacher who was British and I guess I picked up her accent along with it? (I was born in Canada but presumable the teacher was an immigrant.)

      (Now that I think about it, I’ve probably responded at least once to a race-motivated “where are you from” with “Oh, you mean my accent? it’s because i learned English from a British person.” Yay for accidentally deflecting racism???)

  16. Kitty said:

    #6 I’ve seen many iterations of this question in various places, and I totally agree with the silver lining reframing to try to use this as a built in asshole detector! 😊

    #17 I love this advice to focus on what individually motivates you. I don’t connect well with long term benefits so it’s helped to focus on the immediate benefits of exercise like feeling energised and sleeping better, rather than the long term ones of better fitness that seem amorphous and harder to grasp. Also I find it really hard to motivate myself to clean my apartment as often as I would like, but I care deeply about what other people think, so whenever people are coming over I do a frantic clean. Maybe I should invite people over more often to motivate me to clean more often!

    #19 I relate with too and it’s hard. I not only have therapist appointments but also other various health issues that require specialists. The issue I have with even generic statements like it’s a medical appointment is I don’t like feeling like my boss or colleagues are wondering why I have so many medical appointments so often, and wondering what my issues are. I often try to avoid this by folding in my appointments to days that I already have off for holidays or long weekends.

  17. livingandcorporeal said:

    Q3: I don’t think LW is saying that they keep inviting their friend to things, and their friend keeps bringing their unwelcome spouse–they’re saying that they keep inviting their friend to things, with it being fine if their friend brings their spouse… but then the spouse comes, alone. Either Friend Only or Friend Plus Spouse would be fine, but instead it’s Spouse Only.

    Which seems like a significantly weirder situation but maybe the friend and their spouse think LW is closer to the spouse than is the case and that inviting them as a couple is the same as inviting them both individually?

    • Q3 said:

      This interpretation is correct, though with stronger language than I want to use, but I also have a happy update!

      So, funny story, my best friend 1) reads CA regularly, 2) was involved in introducing me to CA, and 3) is the friend in my question. I was really worried about hurting Friend or Spouse, which is why I wrote in for help instead of just approaching them directly. I thought that leaving all genders ambiguous and not giving any geographical information would be sufficient for anonymity, but Friend figured it out. (There’s a reason we’re not allowed on the same team for Codenames, Pictionary, etc.)

      Because Friend is awesome, we had an email exchange along the lines of:
      Friend: Hey, I saw this CA question, and I think you might have submitted it and even if you haven’t, I’m going to pay more attention to how you word your invites.
      Me: Yeah, that was me, and I did it because I was afraid of hurting you and I really do like Spouse, just *anxietythings* and if you were hurt I’m so sorry and we can talk about it.
      Friend: No I’m just embarrassed about boundaries/cues/anxiety.
      Me: No we’re good! Best friend is best friend!

      The moral of this story is: a) I really do have the best friends and b) warning to everyone else, even if you think you’re anonymous on here, you might not be!

      I’m staying (relatively) anonymous for this update for other reasons, but Friend does know I’m updating and is okay with it 🙂

      • That’s such a good update! ❤

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        OH yay update! and yay friends!

  18. Callie said:

    Q15- I’m in a 100% women cohort (there was one guy but he dropped out after the first class). I’m also a talker and I’ve found the thing Captain Awkward says about building on others to be really useful to getting them to talk. I’ve had some people after class tell me they hadn’t been talking before because they didn’t feel like anyone wanted to hear what they had to say. In helping professions the more voices the merrier! I love hearing what others say and expressing that made a difference in how much others were talking.

  19. egl said:

    #11 It’s not too late to start your NaNo project over. Either from a point it was working or an entirely different idea. (It’s never too late, but the more work you’ve put in, the harder it is to admit it.)

    Or, have monkeys invade.

    • Pam said:

      I need to read the monkey invasion

    • Elsajeni said:

      It’s also always fine to just write [THING HAPPENS SOMEHOW] and skip to after Thing Happens, or to write [WAIT WHAT IF INSTEAD] and re-start but keep the old stuff in case you end up liking it better!

    • cavyherd said:

      My hack is to start writing about why I can’t write. Hey, gets words on paper, right? (And you laugh about that monkey invasion….)

  20. TO_On said:

    Q6: I agree with everyone else to definitely put the things that you love most in your profile! I think when you do online dating you sometimes have to keep reminding yourself that (at least for most of us) what we’re looking for isn’t a thousand ‘likes’ from guys we don’t actually want to date, but at least one person who genuinely LIKES us, who we also genuinely like!

    Leaving aside guys who won’t like you and who you won’t like, I do think there are things you can sometimes do to help people who have no previous interest in your hobbies but who you might actually like connect to you. Here I’m thinking of nice cool people who think it’s cool that you are passionate about MMA but just aren’t sure if you’ll have anything in common or where they would fit into your life if they aren’t also into it (or into something similar that they can relate to it).

    E.g. imagining what kinds of other things you’d like to do with a guy together and describing some of them, or when you talk about your MMA saying some of the things you love about it (‘I love the intensity of sparring and being so fully in the moment’ ‘I love training really hard for months for a goal and seeing myself getting better’).

    Whatever is true… But things that show a bit about your personality, that someone who doesn’t share your specific passion can relate to and that might strike a chord with them.

    Of course I don’t know what your profile is like already and maybe nothing I’m saying is relevant! Also I suck at dating (in my late 30s cis het woman and still learning things most people did in their teens) so I may be a terrible person to take advice from.

    BTW I do a martial art and it’s actually started a fair number of conversations. Probably kept some people from messaging me too, but that’s a bonus.

    • MsMildew said:

      Don’t feel bad! I never dated as a teenager (combination of over protective parents that didn’t let my brother or I do a lot in our own, and being too “weird” for most guys to be interested in) and never have dated following conventional patterns at all, but still had a full and active sex life that included boyfriends, lovers, and a large number of interesting single or short term experiences. I think my husband was the only guy I’ve ever been with who has ever taken me on a proper ‘date’ as in, we went out to dinner or whatever even before we slept with each other 😆 (which had nothing to do with him becoming my husband, I just found it a novel experience at the time LOL.)
      I’ve since found out I’m highly neurodivergant, and I still find the way most ‘normal’ people behave regarding dating, sexual & romantic relationships, marriage, and even making friends & acquaintances to be both bizarre, confusing, counterintuitive, and many times simply incomprehensible, so grain of salt and all that, but the point is that you can find a way that works *for you* that is not necessarily the same as how the rest of the world does it.

    • ChildOfMedia said:

      Grin, it sounds like we have a great deal in common. I didn’t date at all until my 30’s and by then I had so much less patience than I might have had earlier.

  21. crooked bird said:

    NaNoWriMo LW: 10 is a nice round number. What have you done with your ten previous novels? Maybe dust off your favorite and revise it this year. I did this with my second published novel & honestly it was much more rewarding than rough-drafting it during NaNo had been! And the best of it is, you get to call yourself a NaNoRebel.

    I had a complicated system for what counted as 50,000 words but I don’t quite remember it, but the cool thing is that as a Rebel you get to make your own system. 2,000 words a day is too much for my brain, b/c honestly I do actually need them to be mostly good words for both personal and professional reasons (word vomit wastes editing time I don’t have, basically) so setting my own demanding but not ridiculous pace was lovely.

  22. Abby said:

    Thanks for the answer to Q16, I really appreciate it! As always, solid and practical advice.

  23. Emerald said:

    LW#1 – I’m in my mid-30s and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever heard of someone else who has this problem. Thank you so much for writing in! I usually tell folks that, no, I was born and raised here. To help smooth over the awkwardness I usually also add that I was raised in part by my grandmother (kind of true? I did live with her for about 5 years as a kid) and that she was originally from the UK (also true, but her accent was long gone by the time I was born). I know I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my *voice* but sometimes I’d really rather not have to manage other peoples’ disappointment that they were wrong.

  24. Jackalope said:

    Q12: I feel you so much on this. I am now in my first significant long-term relationship that is actually going somewhere that’s not a breakup (getting married in a few months, so as you can see it’s going well). For the first several days all I could ask myself was, “What is wrong with this guy that he actually likes me? [I know, such a painful question to see!] When will we break each other? When is it all going to go downhill? What will be our button issues and how miserable will the fighting be?” and so on. It was SO tough.

    I think the Captain is right in what she says; I also will say that what helped me (not that you can create this, exactly) was having our first few conflicts and seeing how we worked through them. I HATE conflict, and still wish that everything could be all rainbows and butterflies all the time, but it helped *so* much seeing that we could work through a conflict and have things be actively *better* on the other side of it. Plus, seeing that we truly cared about each other even when mad made us both more relaxed.

    I’m the sort of person that feels that everything in life can be solved by books; if you have any tendencies that direction, I would recommend books by John Gottman. I will mention the caveat that he’s a marriage counselor so is mostly talking about marriages rather than dating, and also I seem to remember that he’s on the heteronormative side (although much of his stuff is just things couples can work through without specifying gender or marital status). The things that I like about him (and YMMV) are that: a) he is vocal about the fact that no matter how happy the couple, there will be chronic long-term arguments. To me it was like a breath of fresh air when I read that when you choose your mate, you are choosing the fights you’ll have for the rest of your life. This might be a bit counter-intuitive, but I felt so much more like I wasn’t broken because I hadn’t magically made all of the conflicts go away. And I was able to look at things critically; for example, in the last relationship I was in, my SO didn’t want to spend time with me. Hardly ever. (Why was he dating me? I still wonder.) I thought of that book and realized, “This is NOT a fight I want to have for the rest of my life.” That helped me break up with him. b) He comes up with simple things you can do to fix things. (For example, he emphasizes what he calls the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 4 traits he believes are relationship destroyers, and talks about how to dismantle them in your life.) c) He recognizes the strength of little things; for example, if your partner tries to get your attention or engage you, respond back. Simple, but I wouldn’t have thought of it. Anyway, this is a bit long, but reading his books made me feel much more comfortable with my relationships and more relaxed, like this was a thing I could actually do. He also has sections that talk about how to have a conflict that I find much more useful than a lot of what I read before him (again, YMMV). If you feel like you don’t have good relationship models, that might be one place to get some specific guidelines you can try out and see if they work for you so you can continue building the relationship that you want.

    Q16: I would just like to say that the previous advice in the blog about not inviting people into my apology-fest has helped me many times. I’ve managed to curb a lot of my nervous-tic apologies and stop if I don’t think it’s necessary or helpful. Not all the time, but definitely getting better!

    • gin_undermyskin said:

      Huh, I was the opposite re the “not inviting people into my apology-fest” thing – to me that was just another stick to beat myself with. I vastly prefer the “I wanted to stop perpetuating the standard that all emails require immediate response or that women must always pre-apologize in life” framing that the Captain used in this post.

      • gin_undermyskin said:

        Hell, I’m gonna say it more bluntly – I’m not actually sorry that the ways in which sexism has shaped me are not always perfectly pleasing to others. I find myself thinking of the “My partner’s wife is a People-Pleaser. Good news, I am a Fixer!” letter, where the Captain says “It’s sooooooooooooo boring when the person you’ve groomed in every way to please you insists on trying to please you and doesn’t spontaneously develop the ability to assert herself after years of not doing so, amirite?” (Which is possibly also why I hate the term “people-pleaser” so much in general.)

        To be clear here, I’m not letting that be a reason NOT to re-evaluate my apologising habits in cases where it really is a problem. It’s just that I’ve seen a little too much of that double bind where women get told “you have to do this thing or else you’re worthless, but ew, we don’t want to WATCH you doing it!” and the “making people participate in your apology dance” thing hit that nerve a little. Team “I wanted to stop perpetuating the standard that … women must always pre-apologize in life” 5 EVER.

  25. nnn said:

    Q11: If reworking something old etc. doesn’t feel right for you, another strategy is to write *about* your story – things that you want to happen, questions you don’t yet know the answer to, things that you need to research, etc. Even if it’s in your own voice and worded as a note to self. Some people find doing this gets what’s in your brain out, so there’s room for your brain to generate more new ideas.

  26. nnn said:

    Q13: If you feel like you’re running on fumes, you’re ALREADY going the extra mile!

    • MsMildew said:

      I would heartily agree with this. Anything more just leads to burnout.

  27. Q10. I’m not sure if this is helpful for you, but I found it was easier to do the “finish things” part of “make-things-finish-things” when I found a style of art where I could finish the whole thing, to completion, in one sitting. Sometimes as quickly as half-an-hour.

    Even if your daydreams are sprawling sagas in ten illustrated volumes, figuring out how to write a two-page story– one setting, 1-3 characters, one specific conflict and resolution–can be really confidence boosting. Or, for me, one ink drawing, or one poem in a specific, short medium (sonnet, tanka, etc).

    Both the practice that comes from sitting and doing the craft, plus the knowledge that I am, definitely, for sure, capable of finishing a short thing, to the point where I could post it on my instagram and get a few likes, or send it out to magazines. That sense of completion let me say, “okay, what if I basically did that, but the thing took me *two* sittings?” Since I knew I could do one short thing in one sitting, two days in a row, I felt more secure in my ability to do a slightly longer thing over the course of two days.

    • yarnofadifferentkind said:

      On the other side of things, I find it easier to sit down and start something if I know I *don’t* have to finish it right now. I was a horrible procrastinator at the beginning of college because I fell into a vicious cycle of “put off starting project until the afternoon before it’s due, have a terrible time producing when I know I have to be done in 24 hours, be unhappy with the result, remember all this and be afraid of starting next time, put off starting project until the evening before it’s due, have a terrible time producing when I know I have to be done in 18 hours, be unhappy with the result, remember all this and be afraid of starting next time, put off starting project until 1AM the day it’s due…” It was a revelation to me when I finally made myself start a project a week before the due date that I could just… do some research, take some notes, and be *done* for the day.

      So for me the goal is never “bring idea to an acceptable level of completion”. (I recognize that’s the eventual goal, but I don’t even let myself think about it lest I get stressed.) The goal is *insert one smaller step along the way*, all the way up until the project is almost complete. At that point, the goal is “finish”, but by then I can handle that because the finish line is in site.

      • Ah! I can see how that could happen. It comes down to understanding yourself, I think. Personally, I procrastinated because starting a long project felt overwhelming, and I was afraid that I’d abandon it in the middle (which I’d done before) and berate myself over it, or that I’d get really invested, time-wise, in something that turned out to be bad, and will have wasted all that time and emotional energy.

        But that’s a very different fear than fearing that you’ll make something you’re unhappy with, or doesn’t represent you well in a class / professional setting, or just a ‘brain freeze’ from the stress of a tight deadline.

  28. nnn said:

    Q17: I find stretching/physio pairs well with passive screen time (TV/netflix etc., sometimes with reading if choreography permits).

    When I had stretching-type physio to do, I made myself a rule that I can *only* watch TV while doing my physio. Since I lived alone at the time, I rearranged my apartment so I could no longer see the TV while sitting in a couch or chair. My only remaining option was to lie on the floor, which was where I needed to be to do the physio anyway.

    • Inahc said:

      Yeah, when my brain was going “but physio is so *booooring*” I dragged my physio mat over to the computer and put on some old anime. 🙂 Nice, simple filler-heavy shows where I won’t miss much if I zone out – because really, once I’ve been doing the physio for a few minutes, I’ll get really into it and won’t want to pay attention to anything else. The boredom is a lie 😉

      Now I just wish I could solve the problem of “but if I start physio, I might ignore all alarms and get stuck doing it when I really wanted to do X at exactly Y time!”

  29. Always Thinking said:

    Q1: Can you make a joke about watching too many b&w movies where all of the American stars spoke with British accents?

  30. Melanie Raye said:

    Q21 here 🙂 thanks for the help, Captain. I will definitely make a point of asking for specific things, when I get up the courage to ask 🙂

  31. Oh, Q13, I wish I could give you the biggest hug. Seriously, you’re holding down a demanding job *and* raising a kid on your own, you are officially Doing Enough.

    I have to wonder, how do you know you’re not trying hard enough? It looks like you’re doing plenty to me, and sure I’m just an internet stranger, but seriously, you’re a single parent! I’d be impressed if you were holding down the least demanding job ever to bore someone to sleep and raising a kid at the same time.

    While I’m at it, you say you “don’t go the extra mile to be excellent” but do you really need to be excellent? By definition, “adequate” is good enough! And why do you have to be excellent at everything anyway? I halfass all sorts of things (especially laundry) and the sky hasn’t fallen in yet.

    Also, would you happen to either be a woman or perceived as one? I can very easily imagine a girl getting a lot of shit for making her own decisions about which things are worth putting effort into and generally not sucking up to authority figures as much as they think she should. Maybe “you’re not trying hard enough” means “you don’t appear desperate enough for my approval.”

    I could be wrong about any or all of that, ignore anything that doesn’t work for you, Q13! And I hope you start feeling better about how you run your life. Internet stranger believes in you!

    • Lathyrus said:

      This is pretty much what I came here to say. My friend’s sister likes to say
      “good enough” is always good enough
      and hearing it was life changing for me.

      • That’s what I was coming here to say. It’s what helped me stay sane as I was completing my Ph.D. Good enough is good enough and, after a certain point, the extra work won’t really bring in any extra rewards. So unless those picking at you are giving you monetary bonuses for “excellence,” they’re really not worth spending any of your limited energy on.

  32. ArchaicPen said:

    Q12 ( how to stop worrying about your new relationship – I’m not sure if the numbering changed since others wrote comments): as my mother would say, don’t borrow trouble!

    It is tough when you don’t have good relationship models but in my experience, in a good and healthy relationship, the dirty socks phase has more than enough advantages over the exciting new shiny phase to make it something to look forward to rather than to dread. If that’s where your relationship is headed (and by the way it’s fine if it’s not), would it help to reframe your worry about things going stale into excitement about developing a deeper partnership?

    • Vicki said:

      Even if you like what’s sometimes called New Relationship Energy, there’s also a lot to be said for the state where you can think “I know they won’t leave me if I forget to do the laundry and turn up in an old t-shirt and mismatched socks, because they didn’t when that happened last year. For knowing someone won’t serve me something with hot peppers, because we’ve been together long enough to know I can’t eat that.

      Yes, you want someone who won’t stop cleaning their place/doing their share of the chores at a shared home once that courting stage is over–but it’s good to know that if I fall behind on the laundry because the machine broke, or didn’t have a chance to cook dinner because I was too busy with work, we’ll deal with it. The assumption won’t be that “Vicki doesn’t bother cooking for me anymore” because you’ve got a pattern, and “I was stuck late at work, can we order Chinese?” doesn’t mean that I’m never going to make your favorite dinner again. It means that we can stop trying to impress each other because we already have, because you know I’ll help you chop onions and I know you’ll have the right kind of tea in the house and we both know we like going for long walks together. (A few small day-to-day examples from my own relationships.)

      (With luck, it will be a long time before your “I know this is solid” includes one of you having had to take the other to the hospital: but keeping someone company in the ER would be a large and possibly uncomfortable thing to ask in a new relationship, whether date-friends or platonic friendship.)

  33. Rachel said:

    Q6 – Badass Warrior!

    I just wanted to say that this is not just about the potential dates out there who decide not to message you because they can’t handle your warrior lifestyle.

    If at any point someone is messaging you like “I bet you’re not as good at MMA as you say” or “what happened to you to make you get into this ~unsuitable~ hobby?” BLOCK THEM.

    I hope I’m wrong but I imagine that some people will see this as an opportunity to go ‘devils advocate’ or ‘neg’ you and you do not need that in your life.

    • ChildOfMedia said:

      I also get those comments because I am a huge geek (life-long) and love comics so I’m a “fake geek girl”. *eyeroll*

  34. StarGazer said:

    Ok, this is going to sound really weird, and maybe stupid, and I’ve talked myself out of saying anything for a good while now, but my mom has encouraged me to. Your kitty, Daniel, looks SO much like the cat I lost last years, so much so that I almost stopped breathing when I first saw his picture. I showed one of the more recent pictures (the shark bonnet one) of him to my mom, without telling her who it was, and she asked me when I took it, because she didn’t remember me getting any pictures of my cat with something on her head. Then I told her it was your cat. Now, I don’t know if I actually believe in anything spiritual, or any kind of afterlife, but when I look at his pictures I swear I’m looking at a reincarnation. (The only difference being my cat was female.) It’s not even just the physical, it’s his attitude as well. I told my mom, if reincarnation is real, and if that’s my Cleo reincarnated, it made me happy to know the person they ended up with is someone that’s as awesome as you. It comforts me so much when I see his pictures. I know it’s dumb, but it does. I feel really super extra stupid posting this, and really embarrassed, so I’m using a throwaway account because I’d never be able to show my face around here ever again. 😶

    • JenniferP said:

      Awwwww! He’s the sweetest boy.

    • Kacienna said:

      There’s no need for you to feel dumb! This is super adorable and I’m so glad you posted it! I also recently lost a cat, and I would love to think of my cat having another life (they get nine, right?) in another loving home!

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Not at all! I moved into a place some years back and the landlord’s cat was a perfect reincarnation of my childhood cat and I felt so comforted to visit with her specifically.

    • Blooper said:

      A different situation, but similar feeling. I started having dreams about my late pet cat. I would wake up with mixed feelings. My partner soothingly said “maybe he’s just saying hello” … which sounds ridiculous, but it made me … SO happy?? The thought that he can’t visit now, but can in my dreams was very comforting. I certainly remember my dreams a lot and, to me, my dreams don’t mean much, but this idea changed my mixed feelings to joy.

      If thinking of Cleo reincarnated as Daniel brings you joy, I don’t think it’s silly!

    • Isotopes said:

      When my cat died (well, parents’ cat), I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. I was heartbroken. It would hit me at the strangest times. Months later, I had a dream (I think it was a dream). I was just lying in bed, and she jumped up on the bed, walked a few laps over the covers (which was something she always used to do), and she gave me a little snuggle, and hopped down. And I felt so much peace. And I hoped she knew how much I loved her and what an awesome little kitty she was. So…I get it.

  35. Q10 – There is famous writing advice to write for an imaginary or specific person and not The Big General Public. Not only does it make your output less generic, it also excites you to please this imaginary supercool being who is rooting for you and has excellent taste and totally gets your sense of humor and is excited to explore all the cool weird ideas that you are and is frustrated at not finding enough of whatever good stuff in bookstores that you’re also frustrated at not finding. Maybe you ACTUALLY know that person, or have in the past. Maybe you have a fantasy of that person. Either works.

    If I had to cobble together from your letter the main entity you’re currently dwelling on while creating, they
    -are a windbag who annoys the shit out of you
    -speak in a voice (white dude) that does not resonate with you
    -super-peers who are “lapping you” and successfully using your ideas before you can
    -thinks you’re a windbag who doesn’t deserve to be speaking at all
    -No idea is worth doing unless it reaches an acceptable level of completion, lifts people up and entertains them, and basically is perfect and fixes all that is wrong with the world (I joke, but I totally know the feeling)

    That imaginary person sounds like a tiresome, hateful misogynistic asshole; maybe some cross between Iago and Newt Gingrich. I would not be motivated to work for or around this person, either! But that can happen with the JerkBrain: we get preoccupied with this Imaginary Terrible Person who knows what’s really up and hates us for it and sometimes seems to be Everybody Else, and then we make work in fear of or in reaction against this entity.

    I suggest you spend some quality time thinking about your ideal audience member. Whether they are real or imaginary or formed from little bits of your favorite rock stars, camp buddies and teachers, you need some way to put yourself in that frame of mind, in their “company” when it comes time to create. So put together something you can access again easily that puts you in that frame of mind. Maybe make a playlist, or a Pinterest moodboard, or stack some books together that really clarify the awesomeness and take a photo, or wall collage. Then as you create ask yourself, “What would [ideal audience person] think?” and tell yourself, “ooh, [ideal audience person] is going to love this!” Curate your world and activities to be filled with people who reflect this ideal audience person in some way. Unfollow those who grate against it.

    It’s also worth remembering that many people who you’re probably lumping in with the white-dude-windbags’ audience / posse are actually complex people, and when they see your work it actually might resonate with the [ideal audience person] in them. People can be surprising.

    I also have A LOT of trouble with this and have worked with a therapist about it before. Their perspective really helped, and honestly the feeling still comes and goes, and some times are better for creating than others. It’s okay for that to happen, it’s normal.

    • This is good advice. My writing got a lot better when I started writing for three people– all of whom I know, although one of them is an internet friend–and it stayed better even though we no longer read each other’s work regularly. It can be difficult to find an art or writing group you really connect with, but once you do, even if it’s only one or two people, the momentum and encouragement is wonderful.

  36. Q17 – I knew someone who worked in physical therapy research to develop video games that make a game out of annoying routine therapy exercises, because the main problem with these exercises seems to be that they’re so boring and unappealing that people don’t want to keep up with them (you’re hardly alone). I think it was at MUSC or Walter Reed VA in Charleston? But there are lots of other programs, if you research them perhaps it’s possible to access some of these games. Here’s a place to start:
    http://hability.net/blog/how-video-games-are-becoming-useful-physical-therapy-tools/
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2008-02-08-wii-rehabilitation_N.htm

  37. Light37 said:

    Q6, I vote for mentioning it upfront because you want to weed out people who aren’t right for you. Someone who freaks out at the mention of MMA in your profile is someone you don’t want to date anyway, so let it work for you! The delete button is your friend.

    Signed,

    Another Woman who Loves MMA (but had to give it up due to injuries)

  38. Re-reader said:

    Q2 re: divorce announcements on social media. I got divorced in 2015, and put this on Facebook:

    “As some of you may have seen on (Ex-Husband)’s page, our divorce was made final this morning. We are going to try very hard to remain friends and cooperative co-parents, out of respect for our 27-year history together. Our first priority is our children, and out of respect for them we will not be airing our differences on Facebook. Please, no comments on this post. I will take a “like” on this post only as a show of support and understanding for both (Ex-Husband) and me, and our kids, as we navigate this difficult transition.

    • Isotopes said:

      That’s such a kind message, what a wonderful thing to put out into the world. Especially that a “like” is “only as a show of support and understanding for both.” Divorce is such a crappy time and it sucks sucks sucks (I am going through it right now), and that sort of phrasing is just lovely.

      • Re-reader said:

        Thank you, Isotopes. I was hoping my post would help someone. We are 3 years post divorce and I’m so glad that we can still communicate and cooperate with our 3 kids (now ages 23, 20, and 15).

  39. Clarry said:

    Q5 I find that nothing facilitates one on one non-threatening conversation like jigsaw puzzles. It’s like you’re using a different part of your brain. It’s non competitive. It eliminates some problems with body language (if that’s ever a problem). You sit on opposite sides of a table with the puzzle in the center. You stare at the puzzle. You talk about everything and anything in a nice meandering way. Every now and then someone says “got one” and shows off the pieces that now go together. If you suck at it, no matter, you’re there to talk anyway.

    • whistle said:

      Yes! I love to puzzle with my friends, sometimes one on one and sometimes in bigger groups. I’ve done a few “adult coloring book” type puzzles which are super fun with a friend – you put together the black and white version (which is hard) and then color it in. The colored version can be hard or easy depending on how you color it.
      Some of my other favorites for one on one time: walking around neighborhoods with interesting architecture; going to a conservatory or arboretum; perusing a used book store; playing a good two person game like cribbage or backgammon.
      Thinking about this question has made me realize I’ve been spending too much social time in groups and not enough one on one for my liking. I’m going to work on that 🙂

  40. Thetigerhasspoken said:

    Q6: I’m also a competitive martial artist and the reaction I most often get from dudes is “omg so hawt can you beat me up lolzzzzz.” Which . . . I find utterly insufferable. So putting it in my profile is a great way to weed out the people who I will find insufferable!

    “Fail fast” is one of my favorite sayings, I’d rather find out in a guy’s opening message that he’s not for me than hours/days in. Don’t save people from being the jerks they are, give them the opportunity to show you their true colors and you will waste a lot less time with people who aren’t worth it.

    • ktjp said:

      This is kinda what I was thinking? Q6, I am reading your question in a very specific way that may or may not be relevant, but do you mean “goes badly” as in “goes creepy”?

      I ask because, for the civilians, I do BJJ/submission grappling, and I also hang with a lot of professional wrestlers, and quite a few of my friends and instructors in that arena are also sex workers who make money by filming and selling fetish-wrestling content (sometimes called “customs” if it’s same-gender, sometimes called “mixed wrestling” if it’s intergender) and/or having wrestling sessions with or for paying clients. (Hell, I have friends who legit have a part-time job doing things like Jello wrestling, and they make good money.)

      It’s definitely a big thing (made more complex by the fact that it is a legitimate source of income for many people — a lot of very very famous wrestlers and martial artists have done this sort of thing and it’s not hard to find), and it attracts a certain variety of creep. That is, not everyone who has a wrestling or grappling or strength fetish is a creep, but people whose fetishes don’t necessarily involve nudity, penetration, etc. can often have really heinous boundaries about what’s appropriate to say to people they’re interested in because they think they can pass it off as “it’s nonsexual! It’s not like I propositioned you!”

      (I used to be a prodomme — ask any FSSW how they feel about foot fetishists, for example, and you’ll get a similar response — they are often the ones who are the most problematic about harassing random women about their fetish, or trying to find ways to get the content they want without paying for it.)

      tl;dr if this is what’s happening, you are not alone (go look up Jordynne Grace’s book “DMs of a Female Indy Wrestler”) and it is 100% okay to put your foot down instantly and put that awkwardness/discomfort back on them the first chance you get. I don’t think you should not mention it if you want to mention it (and it sounds like you do, because it’s very important to you, fuck yeah) but it may help to make the wording less specific — my profile says something like “I enjoy watching and practicing combat sports,” for example, which is a great conversation starter, but allows me to be as specific as I choose to be at a time when I choose to be that way.

    • Isotopes said:

      “Believe people when they tell you who they are.” I spent a year and a half with a guy who was a butt. He told me constantly how he wasn’t a great guy, how he didn’t deserve me, how I was too good for him. He was an a-hole, all those sorts of things. Spoiler alert: all those things were true! And he was telling me those things really early in the relationship. I think as a way to mitigate any possible expectations I might have.

      Not that I learned my lesson that time. I got married to someone who was pretty similar (in saying those things, not really similar in many other ways), and again, shocker, after ten years with that person it all just sort of hit me that, oh, yeah, he’s right. He’s told me who he is and I didn’t pay attention. Or I tried to console and soothe instead of just saying, “Ok, you’ve told me who you are, that’s not the kind of person I want to be with.”

      I feel like “fail fast” is what I’ll use going forward if I ever decide to get romantic-stylez with anyone again. You tell me you’re kind of a jerk and you don’t deserve me? I’ll take your word for it.

    • ChildOfMedia said:

      Oh, very much but I’m also drained and made to feel fundamentally unlovable/ugly/undesirable by those reactions it drains me more than I can express

  41. Clarry said:

    Q13 Have you tried asking these family members, teachers, employers (ex)partners what they had in mind when they suggest you do more? Take the employers for example. I found it useful to practice little daily exit speeches to my employer and co-workers. Instead of saying “good-bye, see you tomorrow” when leaving, I say “I finished the xyz I was working on and started the qrs, see you tomorrow” or “wow, the customers had us slammed, but I think they all got good service, see you tomorrow.” If the employer says you’re not trying hard enough, you might ask what else they wanted you to get done. Another hint has to do with posture. The person who slouches is lazy no matter what they accomplish. It’s totally unfair for a teacher to give you a lower grade because you’re not sitting up in class, but if something like sitting up straight in the front row while making silent nodding with rapt attention movements is going to raise your grade, why not go for it. A teacher who says you’re not trying hard enough without giving specific feedback on how the schoolwork could be improved is a lousy teacher. It’s hard for me to imagine that a family member or ex-partner who says you’re capable of more who isn’t using it as a codeword for “I’d be satisfied if you were male,” but if it’s at all possible that they have a point, ask for specifics. “What did you have in mind?”

    • TootsNYC said:

      “Another hint has to do with posture. The person who slouches is lazy no matter what they accomplish.”

      Yes! This was part of that Darryl Strawberry effect I mentioned above. He sort of slouched as he loped across the outfield–and I thought he wasn’t trying hard enough. And yet, he caught the ball.

      So if you WANT to create an impression in other people’s minds, a little bit of bustling now and then might do it.

  42. Elenna said:

    Q17 one thing the Captain didn’t mention that sometimes works for me is self bribery? so like, you have a TV show that you only let yourself watch while doing physio, or you buy a bo of nice chocolates and you get to eat one every times you finish your exercises, or something like that except tailored to what you like.

    Obviously this only works if a) you’re the kind of person who is motivated by short-term gain and b) you have enough self control to not just watch the show or eat the chocolates anyways, but it can work.

    • Yup. I tend to bribe myself with music, which has the advantage that I can do it WHILE I’m doing my PT. (For me it’s not “this is the only time I can listen to fun music,” it’s more of a spoonful of sugar thing, because exercise is BORING.) Another thing that works for me is tracking whether I do it or not. For some reason, even if I’m not doing anything else with the info just having to write down that I did it, or observe that I didn’t, helps me to be more consistent. I have a notebook with a modest number of things that I try to do every day/most days/ once a week (depending on the thing.) It takes me about 5 minutes to update it every evening before bed. I understand paying attention to “streaks” (how many days in the row you’ve done the thing) can also help with motivation and consistency, although that’s not something I utilize personally. Doing it the same time every day sometimes helps. You could try other ways to make the activity itself more pleasant, like lighting a scented candle you like the smell of.

      • daen said:

        I have daily stretches/home physio to do, and the things that motivate me are, in no particular order:

        1) Reminding myself that if I do the exercises I will feel better, or conversely, that if I don’t, I will feel worse. (After about three weeks, I reached a point where physio or not makes a measurable difference in my pain levels on a same-day basis.Avoiding pain has been an excellent motivator for me, especially when there’s a very clear cause and effect.)

        2) Setting up an app on my phone where I mark off each day when I’ve done the physio. I respond well to seeing the ever-increasing row of checkmarks.

        3) Building physio into my morning routine, so it happens the same time every day, and I don’t have to think about it. Done journalling? Time for stretches!

        4) Getting out of bed and putting on my exercise clothes right away. I have everything within arm’s reach when I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, and my bathrobe is further away, so it’s easier to put on the exercise clothes and be ready for the day than it is to go through the interim bathrobe stage of not-quite-ready-ness.

        5) Like jellyfishcreationstory and Elenna above, bribing and/or distracting myself while exercising. My distraction of choice is youtube videos.

        By now, the habit is self-supporting enough that I’m able to change up my morning routine while traveling and still make sure it all gets done. Now my challenge is adding in some further exercise for improving my strength, endurance, and flexibility…

    • Antigone10 said:

      I never did figure out how that’s supposed to work. Like, if I set aside fun music for just exercise, I’m punishing myself to exercise because I’m taking all the time I listen to fun music and making it only a tiny part of my life. Also, I feel like I have barely enough time to actually do things I enjoy, much less tie them to something that also takes up time.

      Honestly, it feels like punishment to do exercise. The only thing I can do is find the exercise that does the least amount of punishment, time, money and energy wise.

  43. Nameless wonder said:

    Q2: I called my parents, sent a message to the cousin groups and my aunts and uncles, messaged a couple of friends, then put it on Facebook for the few that didn’t cover. The “I’m sorry”s were exhausting but I literally just went “thanks” for them all. My ex put it straight on Facebook. I think my method was better but his was less exhausting.

    I have a follow up for the commenters for Q21: when starting to build new friendships, how do you get people’s numbers?! I feel like for people you kind of know a bit but don’t have a number for yet, everyone else manages to exchange numbers without massive awkwardness. Every time I ask for someone’s number (or offer them mine) it seems so stressful. (Last time I asked she said “why?!” and I said “… just to say hi?” – we’re both single parents that live fairly close by who have left abusive relationships and we get on well – I felt so stupid that although she gave me her number I haven’t messaged her at all.

    Is it just me? Is there a better way to do this?

    • Anna said:

      The most natural point to ask for their number, I think, is when you are making a plan to get together (or carpool, or whatever). Let’s get coffee next Saturday – OK – What’s your number, I’ll text you the address of the coffee place – It’s 098-765-4321. And then you text or call them so they have yours, too.

      And it is a bit stressful, because you’re making a relationship overture (the relationship being a friendship), and you might be turned down. But most people are happy to make a potential friend or acquaintance.

      Good luck!

  44. Jane said:

    Q10, one thing that has helped me navigate the painful space in my brain, where shame and jealousy and exhaustion all comingle to make a lovely little swamp around the idea of writing and letting other people see my writing —

    I have identified that one of the big emotions I am feeling, sensible or not, justified or not, is *grief.* I am *grieving* not being the person or the writer I thought I would be at this point. I am grieving that this thing that brought me so much joy and excitement as a kid has turned into another way to measure my worth (and generally find it kind of weirdly low) as an adult. I am grieving that I am not getting the validation and support that would make creativity less painful. I am grieving the mental health problems, neuroatypicality, and weird trauma stuff that made writing and developing a regular work ethic fraught for me, when other peeps apparently were getting on without those issues.

    Grief is (perhaps strangely) the less-judgmental way that I have reframed my intense shame and guilt about the projects I haven’t finished and the progress I haven’t made. It helps me to be able to say “I have experienced real losses, and that’s why I feel bad,” as opposed to “Feeling bad is the natural punishment for failing so much.”

    This is really only a starting point for a whole program of self-forgiveness that has let me write more, and which has taken yeeeeeears to implement. It was also super important for me to find resources and coping skills tailored to the type of neuroatypicality that I exhibit (ADHD). I’ve tried a half-dozen different systems of organizing my work; when one stops working, I move on to another one, and sometimes cycle back to old ones when my brain has gotten less tetchy about it.

    I think that anything that lets you feel okay about who you are and the way your life has been so far will make writing feel like less of a heartache.

    Best of luck in all things.

  45. “Where are you from?”
    I loved that video.

    But it also makes me feel a little weird, because among Jewish people, what you ask a stranger (who is also Jewish) is, “where are you from? where’s your family from?” with a value of “from” meaning exactly what it meant in the video: Not From Around Here.

    Because Jews are always from somewhere else…

    And perhaps we have ancestors from the same country, in which case, “Landsman!” (both ‘a’ pronounced ‘ah’ like to-mah-to). It’s nice to have a connection with a stranger you’ll be working with.

    • M Dubz said:

      Alternatively, in the Jewish circles I run in, you ask where they’re from because there’s a nonzero to high chance that you have humans in common (most recently, discovering I had taught the current boyfriend of one of my students in a different state when he was a teenager… hahahaha).

  46. lunaeule said:

    Q6: If I am correct, this is not only about annoying dudes reacting super negatively to a badass woman but maybe also about people who simply don’t know much about martial arts who think people who do them are somehow aggressive or broken. This stereotype is not that great but can be held by good and nice people and maybe LW6 would like to know how not to scare people off who are simply not that well informed about martial arts. In that case I would recommend using some of the values that martial arts hold dear and describe your love for martial arts using that framing. Things like discipline, hard work, testing your limitations would be some obvious ones. I do traditional martial arts and really like the philosophies behind them that are often connected to Taoism or Buddhism. Once you can show people that there’s a lot of thinking about peace and your responsibility to others in what you do when you practice a martial art, people with weird stereotypes might start seeing you as the opposite of what you started out with.

  47. Bubbles said:

    Q10 – First of all it sounds like you have been doing creative stuff, you’ve just mainly been expressing it through creative bursts. I think the Captain offers some solid advice but I’ll actually suggest to try out a few different things if that doesn’t work for you. The Captain is spot on about failure, and trying failing at different strategies is OK too. Every single little thing you do gives you XP, your experiences and attempts and the media you read/watch enjoy inform you as a creator.

    I work professionally as a writer and it took me 12 years of trying, I was so annoyed at myself for being ‘slow’ or bad or wasting my time on stupid junk. But here’s the thing…
    -The fan fics I wrote? – Sometimes I work with licensed IP
    – The times I helped out at my local gaming/comics conventions and ran panels – I learned powerpoint to do that.. I need it in my job!
    If you can think about all the stuff you do already, and I bet somewhere along there you’ve improved yourself merely by the strength of your passion.

    – When you get a burst, write down your ideas in a journal, then put it away before you exhaust your ideas and energy. Come back to it a few days later, it may not seen as fun when you were ‘on’ but here’s the thing it’s XP and it’s evidence you have created something. You may not want to make that project as is a few days later but those ideas are valuable. Very often I’ll write stuff down excitedly, look at it a few days later and think it sucks only to steal the antagonist a few weeks/months later, for another project which then goes well.

    – Make something small, like really small. If you want to make a game google ‘Small games’ and take a look. Find an easy to use game editor like, Bitsy, Twine, RPG maker etc. You’ve mentioned you can do 750 words, that’s enough for a Twine or a Bitsy game. Similarly if you want to work in prose look into Flash fiction. If you want to sit and write those 750 words in one go, do it. Then put it away and use similar chunks for editing. Then put it in your portfolio/blog whatever. It may not feel like much but give it time and you will have made things. After you finish a thing, learn from it . Was there stuff you could have done better? Don’t beat yourself up about it, just reflect.

    – After making a few small things hopefully you’ll also be able to gauge what you can realistically get done in your current life set up. Sure you may see people who somehow write 90,000 word novels, get PHDs and win best Halloween contest..but I tell you what I can’t do that and neither could most people. Are these projects you want to do big scale things? If so put them in the notebook for later. Sometimes people may come out with similar ideas…but that might happen even if you did do it. How many times do we end up with multiple Robin hood films in a year? or Sherlock etc. How many times in a year is any given Shakespeare play performed? Many but they are often different in many ways.Only you can make your project in your way. Your job is to make things in your own way and in your capacity. You may have an idea for a big epic, but what if you just wrote a short story set in that universe? or made a one shot podcast of a self contained scene?

    – As for the uplifting or people’s work your instincts are spot on as it being something you can do as a decent person but also as a creative. As someone who has made similar small projects to the ones I listed above, it means the world when someone likes my work or leaves a simple comment. If you have a social media account then use that to post the work of people you like, if your energy is low just RT or like it. If you’re feeling a bit better then write a comment expressing how much you like it. As a by product of me doing this once, someone I admired looked at my feed and found a friend of mine’s work. They then offered to mentor my friend which helped their career a ton. A few tweets of negligible effort on my part significantly impacted my friend’s career for the better. It’s not hard to uplift people’s work and positive participation created opportunities for me too. I’ve made friends just by showing interest in people’s work, and I only put as much energy as I have time into it.

    You’re not alone in this struggle, and your voice is very much valid. You’ve also quite clearly have made progress and you have achieved stuff. Just keep on working on finding the best methods for you.

  48. slythwolf said:

    Q11, something that used to help me when I did NaNoWriMo (back before I got a job that takes Black Friday Very Seriously and no longer have time), was to put in brackets as much of a description for what needed to happen next as I could muster, and then jump ahead to whatever it was I would rather be writing. My go-to tended to be makeout scenes. You could also have ninjas suddenly attack, or dragons, or something.

  49. Jenny Hamilton said:

    Q19, I’ve found it useful to frame my depression as a chronic health condition. This doesn’t change the scripts the Captain gave you, but it helps me in my own mind to know that I’m not doing anything wrong — I’m treating a chronic health condition! If it gets bad for a while and I need to do more stuff to manage it, that’s a flare-up of my chronic health condition. I’ve used that language to bosses, too, and it’s been absolutely fine. As long as you frame it matter-of-factly, it’s likely the boss will take their cues from you on how to talk about it.

  50. Angel said:

    Q15: I AM YOU. In my first year of college, maybe my first semester, I had a professor say on the SECOND DAY “does anyone *besides Angel* know what this is?” And then he pulled me into his office sometime in the second week and told me I’m a brilliant student and he loves that I participate, but shush! (He said it nicer than this.) I’d been trying to give everyone several beats to jump in before I answered, but after that conversation I really bit my tongue. Silence was sometimes a full awkward minute! But as class progressed, people got more comfortable speaking up and honestly that class had better participation than any I’ve had since then. It’s great that you want to participate and have conversations about the things! But if the other students know you’ll always cover the “someone talk” part of class, they’ll never speak up. Maybe this is a place where you need to write down all your thoughts and have a lively discussion after class with the professor or something.

    Captain, what does this license to suck look like? My sibling is in desperate need of one and I could do with one myself.

  51. AndTheRest said:

    I’m doing NaNoWriMo right now, so this comment is my one allowed procrastination on the Internet today. That and I’m feeling a bit like Q15, with a bit of Q18, in that like most people, I Have An Opinion on a few things. 😉

    Q9 – Okay, I don’t have an opinion here. You’ve said you are more excited for cool-role-project. Will cool role look better on your resume? Does it offer you more responsibility? What is most exciting about cool-role-project versus cool-project-small role? In the worst case scenario, if the project you join fails or goes dead in the water or becomes a shitshow, which would be easier to move on from?

    Q10 – Measuring our worth against the visible work and achievements of others is really shitty and almost inevitable. I think it’s a product of our culture, especially in the era of social media, where everyone shares how amazing their life is (though it isn’t, really) and never mention the things they failed at or couldn’t accomplish (which is, like, lots of stuff, for everyone). What makes you happy, Q10? More specifically, what do you like to do that makes you happy? Also, who defined “acceptable” regarding the completion of your projects? What if you decided to work on something that was only a project for you? Maybe this is also where a mental health professional could help, with establishing small personal projects where you and the therapist agree on what “completed” is, on projects that are for you and you alone? Because YOU are worth the time and effort the project took — the world ain’t going anywhere, it can wait a little longer for you to step out and make a difference. 🙂

    Q11- Congrats on getting your character back on the rocket ship! For all of us WriMos who may end up in a corner at some point, some of the lovely cliched traditions of film and television include: time travel, killing off a major character, making at all a dream, character kidnapped and replaced by evil twin/demon/shapeshifter, sudden accident or disaster… I know there are more. I really like egl’s suggestion of a monkey invasion. Someone please write that!

    Q12 – Seconding Jackalope’s recommendation of John Gottman, if relevant. His work is based on decades of real research of couples and marriages. “Masters of Love” by. E. E. Smith, article in The Atlantic (June 2014) is a pretty good general audience article about his research: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/

    Q13 – You are a single parent with a super-demanding job. After the kiddo (kiddos?) and the job, I hope you still have time to take care of you! Maybe give yourself permission to not be excellent at all he things people think you should be excellent at? Of course, kiddo, and you and your job are your top priorities, and if you already feel like you are running on fumes, I’m guessing you do not have the time, energy, and/or space to do better at other stuff. Remember, it’s so much easier to excel at things when you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week, you have domestic staff to cook and clean, have reliable persons to drop off & pick up and supervise kiddo as needed (and bake cookies for the class, etc, ad infinitum), and have enough income that you never have to worry about paying the bills, paying for unexpected repairs, and you can afford a trip to Disneyland for you and kiddo without taking out a loan. The overwhelming majority of single parents do not have all those things, and I would be surprised if you do. All I can suggest is to excel at what matters most, and phone in the rest if that’s the way it has to be for now.

    Q15 – I was this person in a very small class, mainly because the prof always asked us questions and the other three students refused to answer any of them. I alternated answering his questions and just being silent until he answered the question himself. Because they Would. Not. Answer. EVER. Went on like that ALL semester. If any of them were upset that I talked more than them in class, they didn’t speak up about that either.

    Q18 – OMG, wait until they start Having Opinions on Babies! And How to Be Pregnant! And How to Raise Children! Ugh. I haven’t had to deal with this myself, but I watched my brother & sister-in-law deal with all of these things. To a limited extent, I’m dealing with a bit of it with regard to Finding A Job. Apparently people feel that these experiences are universal (not for all people) and universally the same in nature (they definitely aren’t!), so they believe their advice is highly relevant. Plus, their belief of the advice’s relevancy is inversely proportional to how relevant the advice actually is. Anyway, congrats and good luck!

    Well, this kind of sucks — I write an obnoxiously long comment, and I can’t even’t add it to my NaNoWriMo word count today. Hang in there, writers!

  52. Kit-Kat said:

    Q1: I have a soft voice and sometimes people think I am sick or ask about it. Sometimes I just go with it (“Feel better!” “Thanks!”) but if I reply my go-to phrase is “That’s just my voice!” Works for it all, including the “but whyyyyy’s”! *shrug* “That’s just my voice!” Obviously if someone can’t hear me that’s different.

    (Note: In my case this doesn’t work as well at work. It does affect how I’m perceived to be doing my job and it helps to let a boss know I’m not speaking so soft they can’t hear on purpose and try to work on a solution proactively.)

  53. Angiportus Librarysaver said:

    Arrrright, here’s the really important question–how is Henrietta doing??

    • JenniferP said:

      She’s a champ! Her cone is getting stinky, though – she drags it through everything.

  54. Strangemusic said:

    Captain, thank you so much for your response to Q10. I could have written so much of that letter. Six years ago, I graduated with a Masters degree in Musical Theatre and I have done… virtually nothing creative since. Due to a lot of burnout, a really horrible experience with a professor, and a great deal of other stress, massive depression and beating myself up for quitting while watching my classmates make progress with their dreams, I have barely even felt the sparks of creativity for at least two years. (For awhile after graduation, I tried clinging to my creativity through other mediums – writing, photography, jewelry making, etc., but I haven’t even been able to move myself in that direction for what feels like forever.) I finally managed to drag myself out of the pit of blackness and despair I’ve been languishing in to find myself a new therapist a couple of months ago. By a strange twist of fate, my new therapist also happens to be the graduate teaching assistant I took a creative writing class from as an undergrad about a decade and a half ago, so she’s really familiar with creative struggles. I actually wrote quite a few words yesterday, and some of my abandoned projects are starting to speak to me again. My therapist also convinced me to send the script of a musical I wrote in grad school to a composer friend and ask him to take a look at it. I have a LOT of work to do still, but I feel like I’ve uncovered the beginnings of an overgrown path back to my creative soul. And I might actually be able to use some of the other suggestions you gave Q10 now. 🙂

    So Q10 – yes, take care of your mental health. Find a good therapist who can help you untangle all your stuff. I promise, it’s worth it.

  55. Strangemusic said:

    Q11 – check out the forums on the Nanowrimo site. There are so many great suggestions and weird tricks for getting yourself unstuck, you’re bound to find at least one that helps you, or at the very least kindred souls to commiserate with. I’ve also found the word sprints on twitter extremely helpful. Often they have prompts that may seem silly, but if you run with it, you might find it gets you out of a rut. Some years ago, I used a prompt from one of the twitter sprints that I thought would be completely ridiculous, but I ended up actually having a lot of fun with.

  56. Q9, having been somewhat in both positions, my feeling is: go with the cool role in the not-so-cool project. It doesn’t really matter if you’re helping to build a rocketship to Mars if your only function is to order lunch for the astronauts. Do something that makes you happy and excited *while you’re doing it,* even if the end result is just a bus trip to Cleveland.

  57. LW for Q13 said:

    LW for Q13 here. So much good stuff in these comments!

    To answer some of the questions that have arisen…I’m a single mom of two school-age kiddos, holding down a demanding executive-level (C-suite) job (at a small company – pay is quite good and certainly high enough to afford a few niceties, but it doesn’t go that far in our very expensive city, and certainly isn’t enough to afford high-end services like full-time household help). I’m considered a top performer at work, spend quality time with the kids, work out 4-5 times a week, and even keep our home pretty tidy – but there isn’t much energy left over for other creative or charitable pursuits.

    I do frequently receive the feedback that everything seems easy for me – so why I am not doing even MORE? Surely I could be learning a new language or writing a book or running a foundation or SOMETHING, in addition to core life responsibilities? I’m also often the best or one of the best on a small, local scale (in terms of work stuff), but my therapist thinks I’m capable of elevating to a broader level of excellence, and that I do indeed have it in me to find the time to contribute more to the world on a lot of levels. I’d love to, but…sometimes when I can find a couple spare hours I just want to read a fun book or play a video game or even sneak in an extra nap, instead of cramming in even more productivity and excellence. At this point, my epitaph would indeed be, “She Didn’t Live Up to Her Potential.”

    Anyway, thanks to the Captain and the excellent Awkward community for listening and commenting!

    • TO_On said:

      Yikes, that’s frustrating to hear that people want you to do even more.

      One thing that springs to my mind when reading your post is life stages… Yeah, you might have more in you you want to do, but you don’t have to do everything concurrently. Most people have long lives these days and in ten years, twenty years, even more, you might decide you want to take on some different or projects.

      What’s the societal obsession with ‘potential’, anyway? Why do we define a good life in such a competitive, results-focussed way? It’s especially disturbing when this kind of thinking infects elementary schools and kids hobbies, but in some circles it seems to carry through to adulthood, too.

      • TO_On said:

        It feels like it has something to do with seeing humans as economic units rather than as humans… Although it seems that the arts, rather than challenging this view, often just say ‘no, humans are units of creative output rather than of economic output’.

        The good news is it’s not everywhere. You can find different friends, a different therapist, etc, and have at least some of your social circle be people with healthier, less ‘output’ oriented worldviews. It’s when a message is coming at you from all sides that it’s hardest to question it.

  58. Ash said:

    Q17 (doing things that are boring/a pain):

    My thing is music. Bouncy pop-y workout music. I don’t normally listen to music that much but it’s literally the only way I can ever do my physio.

    Also, a tickchart with *realistic expectations*. My physio told me to do my exercises daily but I really struggled with that, so set my goal at 3-4 sessions a week and found I could maintain that consistently for several weeks / as long as needed. Remind yourself that even if you don’t manage all the time, doing it sometimes is so much better than never.

    I haven’t done this one personally but have been advised that writing down your goals for the activity (eg “strengthen knees so I can start swimming regularly”) on a little card and looking at it while trying to motivate yourself can help.

  59. Lw1: I keep being asked where in Australia I’m from. Has happened all my life (born in sw England, moved to London age 18, still there now age 42).

    I don’t know what to say since people that don’t want to believe me… won’t! The best response I’ve found is to look confused and almost laugh it off – like they are being ridiculous. They don’t mean to be, so I do go easy on them, but being dismissive and “oh no, I’m English born and bred” or “yeah people say that, no idea why, I promise I’m a Londoner” tends to work. Be light and move on, and then it’s not really A Thing. It’s as annoying as you want it to be.

    Lw6 I have no idea what you’re on about but assuming it’s some kind of martial arts type sport, competitive or otherwise – you mention boxing. Fair enough. I’d mention being sporty up front but not in a This Is A Very Serious Deal Breaker kind of way – even if it later becomes one! So, maybe “for an idea of what I’m like, Im pretty lively and love X sport, I’d love to meet someone who is active too!” – that should weed out the couch potatoes at first pass, and you can dig deeper into sports etc once you’ve found someone who has at least a basic connection with you. No need to over think this! Sure you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, nor have yours wasted, but dating relies on so many different factors that I’d just be honest but not too heavy about it, be open minded reading the profiles of those who respond – and good luck! Enjoy the process rather than stressing over it.

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