Friday “Answers of Varying Length To Short Questions”: Part 1

Welcome to the re-activation/remixing of “Short Answer Fridays,” where patrons of the site have first dibs for getting short questions answered. I broke it up into two parts, I’ll post the rest this weekend.

Q1 Scripts for when my mom talks about how she looks like a slob, or how she is such a lazy wretch because her house is a wreck (spoiler, it looks a million times better than mine). Or should I just grit my teeth and let it go, always an option. Love your work. Thank you for doing it. (she/her/hers)

I am allergic to self-deprecation in others (my own is another story), I strongly dislike the bonding ritual of putting yourself down as a gambit to get the other person to try to convince you that you’re great, and one way I deal with all of it is to playfully agree with the person. So I would go with “Ha mom, you’re right, what a dump!” or “Sure mom, you’re a slob, everybody knows!” 

I keep my tone light, I laugh, I change the subject as soon as I can because I don’t want to give it a ton of attention, the message is “I’m not playing this game with you.” I think these conversations are more between the other person and themselves than anything to do with me, so who am I to take a side?

Other people have luck with “Stop saying mean stuff about my mom you big jerk!” or sincere talks like “Why don’t we try saying only nice things about ourselves for a change” or “If you’d like some compliments or reassurance you can just ask, you know.”

Or there’s always Mr. Awkward, who’s 95-year-old friend often grouses about looking old and Mr. Awkward answers, deadpan, “Well, good news, Scoop, you don’t look a day over 96.” 

More questions after the jump.


Q2 Where’s the line between “This is a normal adult thing to do so I expect you to do it” and bullying people into doing things (e.g. going to dentist, finding therapist) or between setting boundaries vs. emotional blackmail (“You agreed to do x but haven’t and refuse to commit to a concrete date. I’m seriously considering cutting contact until you get it done.”)? Especially people who suffer from depression and/or procrastination. Thanks! (she/her)

Versions of this question come up a lot. Without knowing the relationship or the stakes (how and to what extent is another person’s delay in seeing a therapist or a dentist affecting you, specifically, for example, and what is your standing to affect the situation, are you the spouse/partner, parent, housemate, friend, etc.), it’s hard to draw a line in a way that works for all possible situations. Maybe a story will help imagine an alternative to “emotional blackmail” or “bullying.”

When I taught media production, I worked with many students who fell behind amid accumulating missed assignments and looming deadlines, adjusting to college and a steep learning curve, and handling genuinely difficult life stuff, including mental health and executive function issues. As a new teacher I tried tons of strategies to get people back on track: being incredibly strict about deadlines [no late work accepted, period!], being incredibly lax about deadlines [Please, I’m begging you, just hand something in, I will grade it as long as you do it!], and eventual happy mediums, reminding people of missed classes and assignments to the point of nagging them, notifying them that they were in danger of failing the course and copying my supervisor to document things when they inevitably failed the class and wanted to argue about that fact, notifying their advisors and student affairs that they weren’t attending class and someone should probably check on them, referring them to student counseling and student health and the writing center and the Title IX coordinator and other resources. I tried it all, all the strategies and policies and overcorrections, and many were useful, but over time I found something that worked better than anything else to help students recover from academic struggles:

  1. Remove shame.
  2. Emphasize agency.

If a student was willing to work with me to get themselves out of gradebook hell, this is what we did:

We met, we looked at the syllabus together, we reviewed their grades and what was missing/still upcoming and tried to identify things that would have the greatest impact gradewise and as learning experiences. Then I asked them to come up with a plan for how they wanted to make up missed work and attack future work. What was most important to them in terms of finishing the class and learning what they came to learn? What could safely be skipped (low points, early exercises)? What did they think they could realistically do with the time and resources they had? What specific help or resources did they need to get it done?

If they could come up with a realistic plan and commit to it – completing what they agreed to do, meeting the revised deadlines they chose, turning in all future work complete and on time, participating in class, being proactive about communicating with me and their teammates on group efforts – they would pass the course. Once they made a plan, I would advise, support, strategize, cheerlead, connect them with resources, and do everything in my power to help them make it a workable one and carry it out. But they had to make the plan and bring it to me, I would not do it for them.

If there was no plan that would let them realistically complete the course (sometimes there’s just no saving it, and health/family/other classes needed to be the priority), we’d deal with that head on and work together on ways to land the plane as gracefully as we could. You’re gonna fail this class no matter what you do? It happens, let’s hook you up with your academic advisor so it can be a deliberate, guided crash.

One key factor was removing shame as much as possible. Often the students felt incredibly stressed and embarrassed for falling behind, even when very serious things had been going on in their lives, things that would derail anyone. But lots of students struggle. Lots of students fail the first time they try to attempt something new and challenging and come back to crush it later. One grade, one class, was not a indicator of their potential. Come on, a bad grade doesn’t make you a bad artist!

One way to do that was to listen to the students and believe them about whatever was going on. I didn’t need an elaborate explanation or “proof,” just, hey, what’s going on and what do you want to do and what do you need from me. Professors loooooooooove to joke about the parade of grandparents who conveniently die around finals time but, listen up you unfunny smug assholes, old people die! Death doesn’t give a shit about the academic calendar! It’s horrible to have to balance grief, travel, financial stress, fraught pressures with family, and all kinds of destabilizing crap and finals and feel like no matter what you do you’re letting someone down! I ended a very serious long-term relationship during grad school in the middle of trying to make a film, my very beloved grandmother died during another semester, both things wrecked me for months and you better believe it affected my work! I would rather be “conned” 10,000 times and hand out extensions like candy corn than be an asshole to a single solitary grieving or otherwise struggling person. And guess what happens when you trust people and treat them with good faith? They tell you the truth. Whereas if you shame people they hide from you, stop answering emails, stop coming to class, and delay asking for help, or come up with some embarrassingly elaborate story because they think that’s what it takes to get you to stop and see them as people. Shame is not a motivator.

The students were free to peace out and take the “W” or the “F,” as a grade, but I let them know that they were welcome to keep on coming to my class and salvaging what they could even if there was no way to bring the grade up, this was still their education, their community, and they were the boss of how to handle that. I let them know I would be proud of them whatever they did; I’m proud of you for taking care of yourself in a hard situation, I’m proud of you for making a tough decision, I’m proud of you for prioritizing your mental health and well-being, I’m proud of you for asking for help, that’s not always easy for everyone, I’m proud of you for sticking with it, and hey, I’m proud of you for the times you did or said or made something really funny or beautiful or skillful or vulnerable in the time I’ve gotten to know you. You’re going to be fine, whatever you decide, wherever you go, you’re welcome back anytime.

Some left the class, relieved to have the pressure off, others stuck around and crewed on their classmates projects instead of worrying about their own, happy to get the experience and try again for the grade another time. All fine! What was better is that they didn’t just drift or slink away like students had in the past, they reckoned with the workload and their own limits and made the best decision for themselves. The others (by far most of them) RALLIED LIKE GANGBUSTERS. They made a plan. The executed the plan. They chased me down to hand in their assignments and get feedback. Their final projects were usually GREAT. They wanted to show me, themselves, their classmates what they could do.

Realizing this liberated me so much as a teacher, it’s the thing that taught me that you can care about people but you can’t do their caring for them or instead of them. Sometimes things can’t work out, sometimes people just can’t do the thing and even if you do your best you can’t prevent it or save them. Nagging, lecturing, threatening, ultimatums, none of it fucking worked so I should stop forever and save my energy. The only thing that worked was “You’re the boss of you, so, how do you want to do this & how do you think I can best help you and encourage you get it done” + “You’re not a fuckup and lots of other people have been where you are” + “Let’s be incredibly honest with each other about whether this is what you actually want to do and how likely it is to actually work.”

So how to apply this in other kind of relationships? I’m definitely not suggesting that people treat their personal relationships like classes and set themselves up as the instructor and the procrastinating or reluctant partner or friend as the student. I had power in that situation and a syllabus that laid out the expectations in advance.

What I’m suggesting is the opposite of a student/teacher relationship, I’m suggesting that if a relationship is important to you and you’re invested in it, maybe treat it like a collaboration, and afford the other person maximum agency within that collaboration. There people who are suited to particular kinds of collaboration but not others (not every buddy is a compatible travel-buddy), there are ways people can help each other and pick up the slack inside a collaboration, there are ways to play to each other’s strengths and mitigate weaknesses and still have an enjoyable, fulfilling, worthwhile collaboration without everything being a constant 50/50, but there are also things that you cannot handle for another person, they must do it themselves if it’s going to happen, and sometimes collaborations fail.

What happens, I wonder, if we treat the important people in our lives like the bosses of their own lives and equal partners in a collaboration with us, maybe we’re making a marriage, maybe a friendship, maybe it’s jazz or Dungeons and Dragons or casseroles or cheese or raising small people together, I don’t know, I’m spitballing here, the point is, what are you making and what do you want it to be like and does everyone get a say. When problems arise, ones that aren’t easily solved, what if we asked our collaborators what they want to do and are able to do, what they think is realistic and possible for them to do, ask them what’s been stopping them from getting it done, ask them what they need from us? What if we then check in with ourselves about whether the help they need is something we’re willing to do (considering that it’s possible that what we need is for them to take care of whatever it is WITHOUT depending on us) and leave it up to them to decide if the specific help we can offer is actually useful to them. “We’ve been arguing about you making a therapist appointment for six months now. I don’t want to fight, but I can see you’re struggling with this, can you tell me what’s getting in the way?” + “How do you want to handle that?” + “Would it make it easier if I made the scary phone call for you or checked in with you right after?” + “Okay, so can you do it by next week?” + (the hardest part) Accepting if it’s still not happening after all that, maybe it’s not going to.

“Removing shame” could mean interrupting shame spirals and not turning every conversation about boundaries or action into a referendum on the person and their history and feelings and traumas and barriers, i.e. Let bygones be bygones, apologies can wait, hold onto your excuses, can you help me figure out how to make this work from this moment forward?

Asking someone what they want to do and how doesn’t mean agreeing to everything someone wants, or putting our own needs on hold, or parenting someone else. Asking means listening, finding out how they view the problem, getting a perspective or information we didn’t have before, like, do they even want what we want and do we want what they offer? Is it realistic, does it have a chance of meeting our  needs, do we trust them and ourselves to follow through on agreements, are we invested enough (do we have enough affection, energy, attachment, connection, pleasure, money, time, patience, ability) to put in the effort? There are people in this world I could probably have tried harder to stay involved with or at least in touch with, but you know what? “Hold up: I don’t actually like/love/enjoy this enough to try this hard, I want different things” was important information.

Hail Sheelzebub, we know the rest. The rest is can you live with things as they are if nothing changes? Do you like or love this person enough, are you getting enough of your needs met that it’s worth working on this more, or sticking it out even if this one thing isn’t ever going to happen? Is there a different, less intense or interdependent kind of relationship with this person that would be less tense for you, where resetting your expectations would make it more enjoyable and less stressful? Are you just incompatible here? There are people you can like a hell of a lot without depending on them or prioritizing them. If there’s no way to make it work, or you’d rather not commit the effort, stop issuing ultimatums and plan the kindest and safest exit that you can.

Updating to add, the wonderful Erynn Brook posted a thread about executive function yesterday that has lots of practical info.

Q3: How do I square advice to “be myself” and “just relax” at work with the fact that when I’m myself, I tend to mess up social cues, forget the work hierarchy, and become more openly critical of flawed policies, thus leading to angry managers? I’ve gotten fired a few times in the past and I’m super anxious about a new job. Very relevant is that I’m a woman on the spectrum in a tech field. (she/her/hers)

Where is the “be yourself” and “just relax” advice coming from? Is it a trusted source, or someone with power over your career like a supervisor, and if so, could you ask the person, “When you say that, is there something specific you mean, especially something specific you’d like to see me do?” “I hear that feedback often, and I never know what it means. Is there something specific I should be doing differently?” 

Because it sounds to me like you need to stay aware of work hierarchies and find more strategic and diplomatic ways to deliver feedback way more than you need to “just relax.” So what if we thought about your anxiety and the new position as fuel for questions to ask existing mentors, friends who have a good handle on corporate stuff in your industry, people training you, your friendliest and best new coworkers, and your new boss. You’re new here! Ask questions! Adapt these as you like:

  • “What do you wish someone had told you when you first started working here?” 
  • “I’m struggling with x and could use some help. When you run into similar issues, do you usually ask [colleague vs. supervisor][whole team vs. team lead][human resources vs. more informal supervisor chat]?”
  • “Is there an org chart that spells out people’s roles and seniority?” Look, sometimes in tech and media, literally everyone is wearing sneakers and a funny t-shirt and it’s hard to tell who the bosses are just by looking. Ask!
  • Where do they keep the information you need (manuals, project deliverables, style guides, policies) and who in the company and on your team is the repository for institutional knowledge and troubleshooting? Find out, and cultivate that person as your ally.
  • You’re new here, ask about corporate culture stuff, too! A friend once worked in a place where his desk was far away from his team’s desks and he figured out that they all went to lunch together all the time but he was never invited along. He worried about it foreverrrrrrrrrrrrrr but real talk, they weren’t excluding him, they liked him fine, their habit for years was to verbally say, “Lunch?” over the cube walls and they forgot that the new guy wouldn’t know or be able to hear, so from their( incorrect) perspective he was the one opting out of lunch. A quick “Hey, I don’t want to crash your plans but can someone remember to ping me if everyone’s going to lunch?” conversation cleared it up. Finally.
  • “If I have feedback on a work policy, what is the right venue and when is the right time to bring that up?” Good guidelines for that exist: Don’t do this right out of the gate, settle in and observe first, also, unless your boss is THE problem (as in they are breaking LAWS or endangering you or other people somehow), probably don’t go over your boss’s head to their boss or others in the company without talking to them first, ’cause it makes them look bad and they do not like it, ever.
  • “Do you know if [possibly intimidating decision-maker] is more of an email-person or a talk in person-person for thorny issues?” 

For now, relax at home on your own time. Relax when you’re with friends and people close to you who know your quirks. Relax when you know the ropes of the place you’ll be working and understand how things are done there. “Just being yourself” can also be about knowing yourself (“This is just how I am, being very diligent and focused is how I relax”) and helping your manager understand what you need, for example: “If there’s something you need me to do differently, I know that I do best with direct feedback, so never hesitate to spell it out for me. I’m not a good guesser and trying to pick up on hints or nonverbal cues isn’t always my strong suit. Thank you.”

I hope this new job is a great fit for you. I made a longer thing about giving and taking feedback specifically in creative and tech environments if you’re interested.

Q4: We have a housekeeper who comes and cleans our house once a month. This is our first time with a housekeeper, so how do we make her job easier/better for her? We clean up the gross stuff before she arrives, we’re flexible on times, and we give bonuses twice a year, but more stuff to do is great! (she/her/hers)

From my past experience which I hope to have again someday because professional cleaning is a gift:

  • Ask. “Is there anything you’ve noticed that we could do ahead of time to prep so your job is easier?” “If you notice something that should be added to the list, let us know.” “Are there any supplies you’d like us to pick up?”
  • Clear clutter – mail, bills, paperwork off surfaces as much as possible if you want someone to actually clean the surfaces, even if it’s just putting it in a folder or tray so it’s easy to move. Cleaners won’t know where the stuff actually goes, many won’t want to mess with your personal papers, and the ones who can’t help tidying them away will annoy you when you can’t find the notice from the power company.
  • If there’s something specific you want done or you want it done a certain way, say so. “Can you pay extra attention to the baseboards and ceiling fans this week?” Ditto if there’s something you’d like them to not touch, a room you’d like them to stay out of. Just say. They want to do what you want.
  • If you know something is a particularly gross or dirty job this week, like you had a party or got real busy with work or your houseguest brought their very incontinent dog to stay for a few days, nothing says “I appreciate you” quite like money.
  • Does the cleaner have a favorite soda or cold beverage? Keeping some around and making it clear that it’s up for grabs is a nice thing to do.
  • Make sure human needs are cared for! This is something I learned from this harrowing and also fascinating essay about being a home cable installer (sex, crime, right wing politics, personal safety, and labor conditions discussed candidly within): A lot of professional service people who come to your home aren’t allowed to ask you if they can use your bathroom, if they can sit down, or if they can have a drink of water, they can accept if you offer, but the companies train them that they can’t ask.  This is gross! I’m sure the questioner’s cleaner is all set with this, but if you’re reading this and planning to have anyone clean or repair or install things in your home or yard, showing them the bathroom and making it clear that they can use it, offering them something to drink, and letting them know it’s okay to sit down (and where) are just basic human manners. “If you need to step out for a second to smoke or make a call, no worries, here’s the best spot and you can dispose of any trash here.” “If you need to plug in your phone while you’re here, this is a good spot.” They can’t ask, so, don’t assume they’ll “just let me know if you need something” or “make yourself at home!.” You have to offer.

Uh….more general advice, maybe not specific to the questioner but based on memoirs of cleaners I’ve read and stories from friends who have done that job:

  • Don’t be a creep?
  • Clean your own sex dungeon/toys/implements (or make it very clear when you hire someone: “I need a cleaner to clean my sex dungeon,” since informed consent shouldn’t be a new idea for people who have sex dungeons). Lock up your own guns and other dangerous/possibly illegal stuff. Secure your valuables and cash?
  • Be mindful of your pets and children? Make sure the people know: Indoor vs. outdoor, bitey-ness, allergies, poisons, tools & other safety stuff?
  • Be friendly and polite but don’t treat the person like your new pal and therapist and download all your personal problems onto them while they are working? Respect the original scope of work (cleaner) and don’t try to stack other tasks onto that without explicit negotiation and pay adjustments? (For example, YOU watch your kids or arrange childcare).
  • Be available, esp. the first time or two, but don’t hover over the person?
  • Pay a living wage and do the paperwork in a way that does right by the person?
  • If you don’t like something, unless it’s UNSAFE, probably give the person a chance to fix it first (vs. reporting them to the parent company)? Like, don’t be passive-aggressive and hide behind authority or formalities, if a person is cleaning your toilet, you can look them in the eye and ask them to put things back where they found them or use your preferred brand of whatever and if you can’t, maybe you can’t hire help.

Any readers who have worked as cleaners have more stuff?

Q5: Moving! It’s so exciting and yet so terrifying. So much stuff. Do you have any words of wisdom on planning for a move, tips for streamlining the process, etc? As well, advice on “aspirational” plans? I keep trying to think how things will be “different” in the new place, and then asking myself if that’s what I want then why aren’t I making the effort to have that now? Thanks. (she/her/hers)

Hahahahaha I am not a particularly organized person so the “aspirational” part is completely out of my wheelhouse as is the wisdom.

This is a really good guide from UFYH.

The things I’d add or amplify from experience:

  • Daydreaming and choosing things for your new place is a good use for Pinterest. I also love the book “Living Large In Small Spaces,” it’s aspirational as fuck but beautiful and thoughtful. Go ahead! Make your vision board! Think about the kind of life you want to have and how you will use your space.
  • Do not try to talk yourself into living somewhere you don’t want to live. Sometimes compromises are necessary but don’t try to sell yourself on a thing you know is a bad idea.
  • Living close to friends, work, things you like to do is valuable, think about tradeoffs of “cheaper rent by living further away” vs. “how much you will spend on cabs/Lyfts if you ever want to see people.”
  • Scout potential locations for audio as well as good bones and natural light, both for filming and for life, and visit the area at multiple times of day. I mean it: When you’re looking at a new apartment or house, take out your phone, turn on the voice recorder and record what it sounds like for a little while, and think about what is nearby and how it will affect you. Living in a flight path?  “Oh, it’s so quiet here near the playground…during the day…when the kids are in school” or “Oh, our neighbors are so friendly, and yet, they scream at each other like drunken banshees and their dog never stops barking!” are things you don’t want to find out later.
  • LABEL YOUR SHIT
  • There is a time for sorting through all your things and thoughtfully reckoning with your possessions and how they fit into your life and curating them as you pack. That is for the early stages of packing, weeks, plural before your actual move. There is also a time for “Throw it in a box or put it in the bin, we don’t have time to think about it.” That is for the week of your move. Do not mix these two modes.
  • Friends who are organized and like helping are a godsend, they don’t have feelings about your stuff to slow them down, so “Can you come over, pack my bookcase and drink wine with me?” is a very good thing to ask for.
  • Pack one box or suitcase with everything you need for the first 24-48 hours: Sheets, a shower curtain, whatever you need to sleep and clean yourself and get ready in the morning, snacks, water bottle, medications, important papers, etc. LABEL IT. On moving day, try not to let it out of your sight.
  • Last time I moved I rented plastic bins instead of buying/collecting boxes and it was great – they were sturdy, they had handles and were easy for the movers to stack and carry, and the fact that the company comes and collects them about a week after you move gives you motivation to unpack quickly and not let things sit.
  • I have NEVER regretted hiring movers. If you can, do it. My Chicago trusted people are here, they have moved me multiple times since 2006, I do not want to move possibly ever again, but I love them.
  • Plan to have people over about a month after you move and get your place set up SOON. Do not live out of boxes/bins/storage solutions. Make it a home.
  • I think it’s normal and okay to use the idea of moving as a structure for thinking about your life and doing a reset on some things, don’t beat yourself up for not doing whatever it is already!

Q6: My in-laws have terrible guest mattresses, and my back hurts a lot when I sleep on them. But we visit for a week every year. A hotel isn’t an option … Is there a polite way to offer to buy a (foam internet) mattress? Do we bring an air mattress? If I get pregnant can I use that as an excuse even though I’ll only be 2 months along. I love them but want sleep! (she, her, hers)

Whether you offer to replace the mattress or bring an air bed (or have one shipped before your next visit), your spouse should handle this conversation and treat it like a very boring, routine problem that good hosts would want to know about and deal with. “We’d love to [whatever solution you come up with to supply a new sleeping option without them having to spend money] before our next visit, would that be all right?”

They’ll say some stuff, if they need a reason they can say: “Spouse is a very picky sleeper these days, and we love to come see you so it’s worth the investment. Thanks so much for always putting us up!” It’s okay to frame it as a recent problem (“picky sleeper these days“) vs. “your mattresses have always sucked” if you think that will help the medicine go down. 

You don’t gotta be WITH CHILD to want sleep. Do it! Or rather, get your spouse to do it!

Q7: Fiancé (he/him) and I are getting married later this year. For Reasons, we’re only inviting a few people (6-8, I forget exactly). One of the friends he’s inviting (she/her) is someone I dislike – she calls late at night and talks to him for hours, and my very anxious brain interpreted that as “she’s into him!” I 100% trust Fiancé and know he would never cheat, but how can I handle having her there? (they/them)

I realize with a very small wedding, a guest you dislike can’t fade into the crowd the way they can in a bigger group, but to me this is more of an ongoing fiancé issue than a guest- at-one-party issue. The wedding is the wedding, she’ll say congratulations, you’ll say thanks, you’ll eat lunch, you’ll be married, the sun will set and rise again. “My partner is up all night every night talking to a lady I don’t like and I’m having to think about how much I trust him and constantly try to squash down my jealous feelings to the point it’s making me dread my own wedding” is a much bigger deal.

It’s quite possible she IS into him, it’s possible she’s not, she’s obviously an important part of his life with all the late night calls and being one of the chosen half-dozen for the guest list. You trust him to “never cheat,” but something is bugging you about this whole situation and it’s time to figure out what that is really about and also talk to your fiancé honestly about it. How often are these late night calls happening? Is this something that’s going to happen forever? Did/do you have an expectation (possibly an unspoken one) that the intensity of these chats would fade out, esp. with the upcoming marriage? Does their intimacy with each other include you or feel like it excludes you? Is she frosty or rude or weird to you when you do interact? Does he know you don’t like her or have you been hiding it in an attempt to appear chill? Get to the bottom of that, so you can enjoy your big day even if 1/8 of the group is not your favorite person.

Q8: Do you have poetry suggestions for dealing with loneliness and aging?

Recently I’ve been struggling to feel that I’m loved/enough, even though intellectually I know I am. That’s exacerbated by not fitting neatly into boxes of Adulthood Success while my friends start checking those boxes (marriage, kids, etc), and nerves about being alone forever (less about not having a romantic partner than a fear of community being harder to hold onto as time goes on) (she/her or they/them)

Here’s a gut-punch from Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who wrote one of my favorite post-breakup jams. In a similar vein, Flood: Years of Solitude by Dionisio D. Martínez hits that melancholy note. What The Living Do by Marie Howe is about grief for someone who is gone, and the work and discovery of surviving a loved one.  You can hear my beautiful friend sing it here (and buy the recording here).

Ilse Bendorf’s Catch A Body is one of my favorite poems about connection, wanting connection, being vulnerable in search of connection. Jennifer Moxley’s Dividend Of The Social Opt-Out is a perfect one for introverts and the delicious freedom of occasional solitude. Pull out to the cosmic level with our beloved Dr. Sweet Machine and You Are Not God’s Sparrow. Lucia Perillo’s Dangerous Life is an ode to survival, to self-sufficiency. Or check Patrick Rosal’s Brokeheart: Just Like That for the lines:

"And just like that everyone knows 
my heart’s broke and no one is home. 
Just like that, I’m water. 
Just like that, I’m the boat. 
Just like that, I’m both things in the whole world 
rocking. Sometimes sadness is just 
what comes between the dancing...

...I can’t pop up from my knees so quick these days 
and no one ever said I could sing but 
tell me my body ain’t good enough 
for this. I’ll count the aches another time, 
one in each ankle, the sharp spike in my back, 
this mud-muscle throbbing in my going bones, 
I’m missing the six biggest screws 
to hold this blessed mess together. I’m wind-
rattled. The wood’s splitting. The hinges are
falling off. When the first bridge ends,
just like that, I’m a flung open door."

Wendy Videlock’s I Have Been Counting My Regrets is a fun one to go out on.

That’s my top-of-mind anthology, the readers are gangbusters at the poetry recs (“There are enough ballrooms in you…”) so I expect great things!


Thanks to everyone for their kind patronage and questions, I’ll have another batch of questions up soon. The next round of open submissions will open on or around June 14.

155 comments
  1. About Q4. My BFF has a cleaning business, and experience has led her to tell new clients “I clean under the beds, so if there is anything…?” This often leads to a pause, a wide eyed look, and a quick flurry of activity before she starts. Sex toy problem solved.

  2. vanadiumoxide said:

    Q2: a) Captain, thank you so so much for your answer from a teacher’s perspective. I’ve been in that teacher role (and not known what to do), and I’m currently trying to break out of the shame spiral in the student role!

    b) The first time I ever found a therapist (and stuck with them), it was at the repeated request of someone close to me and framed as a birthday present for him. Was that a healthy reason to seek therapy? No! Was it an effective way to get me care that was and is extremely valuable to me, without being the thing that soured my relationship with the person? Yes! (Not applicable to all cases, of course, but perhaps the idea is useful to someone.)

  3. My guess is that with Q3 is that people don’t really want her to “be herself” so much as they want her to LOOK and FAKE “relaxed” and natural and Not Uncomfortable at work. I know jack squat about how that factors in with autism or if that’s even doable, but if “being yourself” causes you problems. then you need to not be yourself at work. Or have a “work self” that is more acceptable to others, which is what I’ve had to do.

    • Koala dreams said:

      In many kinds of work you need a work self, that is, a set of behaviour that’s suitable for the work environment instead of just being the same as you are with friends or family. Unfortunately it often takes time to figure out how to create this work self. If you are interested in therapy, you can work with a therapist to explore these kinds of things. Another option is to talk with people you know who work in similar type of job and ask them about their experiences.

    • Rae said:

      Agreed.

      My 16yo has ASD, and it’s the social cues & language nuances that she struggles with most (though she is fluent in sarcasm, ironically).

      She’s always saying, “why do people think it’s weird that I say exactly what I mean? I think it’s weird that people would lie by saying things they don’t mean. Or, how about when people say really vague things and then everyone’s trying to figure out if they interpreted it correctly? That’s wierd!”

      Yep, she’s a smart one, that girl!

      • johann7 said:

        Your 16 year old apparently thinks very much like I do; sadly, life is unlikely to get any easier on those counts, if my experience is any indication. People will continue to say what they don’t mean, not say what they do mean, and/or be so vague as to make parsing meaning an impossible task, all apparently without noticing that they are failing to communicate effectively, thus expecting others to get better at divining their intents. (I once had a meeting where I spent a literal half of an hour trying to understand someone who resolutely would not be intelligible; it started with her making an ambiguous statement about the next step of a project we were doing together, I asked for clarification, she made another statement that contradicted part of her original statement, and then we went back and forth with me saying what I heard and pointing out the contradictory bits, her agreeing with both the contradictory things I was saying, me asking which of the two was correct because they were contradictory, her re-stating both contradictory things, etc. It remains the most baffling interaction I’ve ever had with another human.)

        As the previous story suggests, sometimes all of the coping strategies still won’t help. Personally, I’ve had good luck overall with 1) re-stating what I think I heard in clear, direct language, and 2) double-checking that it’s what the person intended to communicate, in any situation where a) I know people tend to employ euphemistic language or b) what somebody said is factually wrong, a bad idea, contradicts something ze said earlier, etc. (inconsistencies are a signal that something is not literal or that someone isn’t thinking through the implications of zir statements to recognize the inconsistency, either of which needs to be sorted out).

        Also, in my experience (both direct and with other autistics) sarcasm is easy for autistics ONCE WE’VE LEARNED THE CUES – there are clear linguistic indicators in spoken language, and emerging norms for written language, which we can mostly learn. It’s confusing when it has been uncommon in one’s experience, so one never had cause to learn the cues, or with people who understate (or completely omit) the cues – allistics tend to assume that non-normative statements are sarcastic irrespective of the cues (leading them frequently to misidentify sincere statements that are not congruent with their own thinking as sarcasm, “jokes,” etc. – see Poe’s Law), so they’re less prone to miss sarcasm, but also more prone to miss sincerity. I learned how to exploit this early by “lying” with the truth, framing truths I wished to conceal in as overt and absurd (in the sense that most allistics would assume someone being forthright about that particular truth to be absurd) a manner as possible. I don’t intentionally mislead people in this manner any more, but I do still sometimes run into the problem when I’m trying to be clear and direct and people assume that I’m not because my response is something unexpected.

        • I really appreciate this comment because I hadn’t considered that thing about allistics’ assumptions re: non-normative statements and how that sometimes means sincerity is not taken at face value. I’ve been on the receiving end of that when I’ve made sincere statements and now I know why!

    • This was my thought too, especially if it’s coming from peer-level coworkers. Tips from my “work self” are: 1) if there is a regular coffee/lunch excursion and you can participate sometimes, even if it is not your preference, consider doing so, and 2) be able to pleasantly engage with routine questions about your weekend/hobbies. What I mean is that while non-work stuff is Not Their Business and it’s tempting to close the loop quickly with an “it was fine” every time, it may help on Sunday evening (or whatever your schedule is) to put a bit of thought into packaging a weekend narrative that you’re comfortable sharing: was your weekend relaxing? Did you make progress on a hobby that you don’t mind them misunderstanding somewhat? Did you meet up with friends/family that you are enthusiastic about having seen? Did you cope with some home maintenance that they will sympathize with/maybe have advice that they get to feel good about giving? NB my work self is still very much a work in progress.

      • Jane said:

        I know this is dreadfully boring, but I 100% have embraced talking about the weather as a way to defend my privacy while projecting friendliness.

      • Nanani said:

        Before I went freelance, I got a lot of small-talk-mileage out of having one “public” hobby that I would discuss at work. It was a local band, so when they were touring I’d talk about going to the show, when they were releasing I’d talk about the new songs.

        Sports and pets also work extremely well – “How about that local sports team?” is a classic for a reason

        Ideally this is a real interest, not one you pick up as camouflage. The idea is to have a go-to redirect that is both easy for you to talk about and likely to be familiar to the listener, without needing to divulge too much of your personal life or play 101-coach or reveal a “weird” interest.

    • smoke tree said:

      I think having a work persona is necessary for pretty much everyone who works with other people–generally you have to be a slightly blander and more forgiving version of yourself to make nice with coworkers and the general public. And as someone who has been on the receiving end of the “be yourself!” comments, I totally agree, they don’t really want you to be yourself. They want you to be someone who’s more comfortable/convenient for them to interact with, but it’s not very polite to phrase it that way.

    • Brjun said:

      Speaking as someone in a similar situation: something that really helped me deal with this, was imagining that people at work are literally speaking a different language. Not English, but… IDK, Work-ish. There are regional dialects, of course (different companies and industries), but overall some of the bent is the same.

      So, let’s say Jake wants to re-write the entire back server in PHP and that’s just stupid! In English, I would perhaps express this idea as “Jake, absolutely not, this is stupid”. But, we don’t speak English at work, we speak Work-ish; translating the thought to Work-ish is no more lying than translating it to Spanish (“Su idea es estúpida, Jake”). And for the record, in Work-ish, that sounds like “Jake, I have a couple of concerns.” It sounds like an understatement, but it isn’t because you are not speaking English.

      “This weekend, I spent two days in a state of constant depression” -> “I was feeling under the weather.” Workish might not have words for sex or mental illness, so you need to find the closest equivalent, but that’s not a lie, it is a translation.

      When people want you to “be yourself” at work, that usually means that they do want you to be yourself, but still communicate in Workish. They want you to express concerns, just … in a way that it is literally foreign right now. It is OK to treat this as a culture/language study exercise. It might take a while. You might have to stick to topics that you can talk about in the interim, and you might need to ask for help if you can, much as you would if you were suddenly working in Madrid and only had middle school level of Spanish. But, Q3 LW, I believe in you!

      Disclaimer: I am an immigrant, who is also perceived-female in the tech industry, and, IDK, would a neuro-typical person write the thing above? All I can say is that it helped me a lot and it got easier, and I hope it does for you too.

      (And yes, Ask A Manager is a good blog about this)

      • MysteryFan said:

        I LOVE your “translation” image. Definitely easy to understand. I will use it the next time I talk with my sister who has issues at work with oversharing and allowing her “true” emotions to show.. (Now how do we keep from rolling our eyes in “Those situations?”) Next on the list!

      • JenniferP said:

        I love this strategy. Work-ish as a language.

      • Jelia Jamb said:

        100% agree. I work in customer support for complex enterprise software, and I often frame my job as translating from Customer to Developer and vice versa. So English-to-English translation is basically what I do for a living, but it still took me a while to realize that I could extend that to other areas, like translating from personal life English to Workish, from personal life English to Faaaamily English, from Ask Culture English to Guess Culture English, etc. Now I use this framing a lot. Basically whenever a conversation is starting to go weird or I realize after a conversation that I didn’t understand it the same way the person speaking to me did, I take a step back and ask myself if I could use one of these “cultural” translations on it.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Haha, I love the translation idea and have sometimes thought of it with different groups I interact with.

        I’ve also used a similar idea of translating the words of people I find have a very different communication style but aren’t actually intending anything particularly mean/blunt/passive aggressive etc.

      • viva said:

        WOW. This is brilliant. Thank you for sharing this.

      • “This weekend, I spent two days in a state of constant depression” -> “I was feeling under the weather.” Workish might not have words for sex or mental illness, so you need to find the closest equivalent, but that’s not a lie, it is a translation.

        This is SO GOOD! This is already something I’ve been trying quietly to do for myself (it is not shameful to be mentally ill, repeat to self as necessary) and with friends who grok it, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of “sick, not contagious”. It sidesteps the particulars (“I’m four hours later than I said I’d be because I was lying in bed playing stupid phone games because I couldn’t motivate to come to this thing I actively want to participate in”) while still sounding legitimate, but not making people worried to be around me. And hey, my ADHD and depression *probably* aren’t contagious…

        As for sex, well, there’s a reason I have so many “friends” I hang out with outside of work, but then, I work in a field where polyamory is really not okay.

      • Britpoptarts said:

        “Work-ish” is an excellent analogy! Thank you for that.

      • I think that’s a really useful way of looking at it. I’ve often heard it said that those of us on the spectrum are interacting with other people in what for us is a foreign language (i.e., neurotypical), and that framing is a helpful way of approaching specific cultures like Work or School or Volunteering or Church.

    • Czarnoskrzydła said:

      Yeah, well said! I dislike the ‘be yourself’ advice because it’s so general and often said to people the advice-giver does not actually know all that well. So he/she does not know what ‘being yourself’ really entails.
      I like to joke around and be kinda goofy and use a lot of slang language and crude words. This is me being myself, it’s not great to act like this at work or durign a job interview or while getting stuff don in any goverment departament…

      I absolutely agree that “be yourself” really means “pretend to feel good and be relaxed so I CAN be more confortable and at ease around you” because of the above reasons.

    • Bardulph said:

      I now think that “be yourself” is an incredibly unhelpful thing to say. When I was a horribly shy and not-out gay teenager my best friend’s mum (who in many many ways was a wonderful person but not in this way) spotted my unhappiness sometimes (wonderful!) and would say (not so wonderful) “Just be yourself!”. I would think “who IS that?” and it would make me even more unbelievably miserable to think I that I didn’t know the answer to such a simple question. Actually it’s not simple at all and even now at 46 I can’t say I know the whole answer – I don’t think I ever will – indeed, I don’t think there even is a whole answer for me or likely for anyone. It took me 30+ years of painful self-examination even to get this far! It’s not an appropriate thing to say to anyone IMO.

      • Had a boyfriend run this on me. I think what he actually meant was “don’t be tense or upset about things that you’re unhappy about.” Which—is the exact opposite of being myself…?

  4. Drew said:

    You borrowed your body.
    You get to keep your name.

    Holy crap, Sweet Machine. That’s the 2×4 my brain needed this weekend, for SO many reasons. Thanks so much and Jedi hugs from across the cosmos.

  5. PollyQ said:

    Q2: That is such beautiful, amazing wisdom. FSM bless you for coming up with it, and thank you for sharing it.

    What I’m now beginning to ponder is how I might implement it when the annoying fuck-up in my life is myself, and shame, nagging, ultimatums, etc., never worked for shit when trying to get myself to do stuff. Step 1: actually print out the answer, and leave it around to re-read on a regular basis.

  6. PollyQ said:

    Q7: If the OP is reading this, might I suggest postponing the wedding, and/or getting some couple’s counseling to address this issue? I know, it sounds like the opposite of awesome, but although I’ve never married myself, I’ve seen too many of my friends’ and family’s marriages crash and burn over problems that were right there from the start.

    Good luck, no matter what you choose, and Jedi hugs if you want them.

    • Engaged Enby said:

      We’re in premarital counseling at the moment (I refused to get married without it). I’ve been meaning to bring it up, I’m just really worried (thx, anxiety) that I’m going to sound like a jealous harpy for basically saying “hey, I don’t like this friendship of yours!” One of the ways in which my parents abused me was by limiting who I could be friends with/how much I could talk to even the friends they approved of, so I’m very wary of doing that.

      • Persia said:

        I’m giving the late-night caller the big ole stink-eye. Doesn’t she know people have to go to bed and get up in the morning to go to work? Also, same issues as others have raised.

      • Kaos said:

        I get what you’re saying, but as someone who has been married since the dawn of time I have to say that if my husband was having hours long calls, late night or otherwise with pretty much anyone, much less another woman, that would not be ok…not even a little bit.

        The issue isn’t her calling though, it’s him allowing it. You should be his priority. Sure no one, including me wants to/should dictate who others can be friends with, even our spouses (I wouldn’t put up with it either) but there are certain limits, and this is one of them.

        My husband would never tell me I could or couldn’t be friends with someone. It’s not in his nature and I’d just laugh at him presuming he had that authority. However, if someone I knew he didn’t like was taking up an inordinate amount of my time and I knew it bothered him, I’d choose him. Likewise he would do the same for me. I might love my friends…but I love my husband.

      • Mary said:

        You probably know this, but just to re-affirm it: counselling should be a safe place where you can say, “I’m not saying you can’t, but this is why it upsets me,” and your fiancé can say, “I hear that it’s upsetting for you, but this is why it’s important for me. Is there anything I can do that helps you feel better about it?” Your counsellor is trained to facilitate that conversation in a way that lets both of you get your needs heard and help you find a resolution that works for both of you. Good luck!

      • Saskia said:

        There’s a tremendous difference between you telling your partner that you’re uncomfortable with how much time they spend talking with friend at night, and their relationship with that friend (when it encroaches on time you would be spending together) and the way your parents abused you. These aren’t the same situations, because (I hope) you and your partner are in a balanced relationship, unlike that of parents and their minor children. Premarital counselling is exactly the place to bring up this concern, and I hope the counsellor is able to facilitate that discussion in a way that supports you.

      • Maddie said:

        My parents did the same AND I once lost someone I cared for deeply due to my own entitlement, controlling behavior, and learned jealousy. So I really get not wanting to come off that way. BUT a partner who loves you deserves to know how their actions are making you feel EVEN IF those feelings are irrational (and in this case, I don’t think they are). It’s part of really knowing you as an individual rather than you as a template.

        Here’s a story: Back when my husband and I were dating, he went out to our local hang-out alone on a night I didn’t feel up to socializing. That’s cool; he’s less introverted and I needed some solitude. But when he came home, he mentioned that he’d danced with a girl from work that I knew. And this bugged me, even though I knew the girl had no interest in him and vice versa. So we talked. And while we were talking, I figured out that what bugged me was the message it was sending to others who didn’t know our situation. I was dreading being seen as a dupe by other regulars who would assume he had been cheating behind my back, afraid that interested women would see him as a target the minute my back was turned, worried that he’d telegraphed, “I’m available as long as she isn’t here with me.” He decided that wasn’t the message he wanted to even potentially send.

        So, what messages do you think are being sent/received in your predicament? Is it possible that you feel like this ‘friend’ is getting the message that she takes precedence? That she can call at any time and you will be set on the back burner? Do her calls feel like some sort of weird flex? Do you feel like maybe he’s sending out the message that he enjoys her company more than yours? Like there’s no place carved out for you in his life that she can’t invade – even your wedding? Maybe there’s no physical cheating, but it can still feel like he’s emotionally polygamous, or like you’re being forced into an intimacy with her by proxy.

        Try to focus only on how you feel when the phone rings and you know it’s her, how you feel after he’s been on the phone an hour, two, longer. Sit with that feeling. Examine it closely. Think about what messages are being sent and received by all three of you in those moments. What is he telegraphing to you? to her? What is she telegraphing to him? to you? What is it that you really fear most, and how are his actions contributing to confirming those fears rather than confirming your ability to be safe with him? Get clear about all of that.

        You don’t have to doubt his faithfulness to receive these transmissions. Sometimes transmissions are based on faulty wiring, and we need to fix ourselves. But other times, the transmission is inaccurate and just doesn’t need to be sent anymore. Let him choose how he will respond to the information you give him. He may surprise you. It might not have ever occurred to him that his actions say he is prioritizing time with her over time with you by constantly letting her interrupt for hours. Tell him how it looks from your end; how you would receive that information if you were the girl calling a guy with a fiance. Don’t wait and hope this fades away. It’s eating away at you. Explain why. That’s not controlling people; it’s giving them the information they need.

        • BetterInGreen said:

          Maddie, this is amazing! I am saving this for its startling clarity, to be applied to my own situations as they arise. I really hope the LW reads your wise words. Thank you so much for writing this.

        • viva said:

          These types of insights are just as valuable as The Captain’s answers and I thank you (and others) for sharing your thoughts and insights in the comments. I learn SO MUCH from y’all.

        • BetterInGreen said:

          Maddie, your whole comment is so illuminating to me, I am saving it for future application to my issues when needed. What a powerful insight!
          I really hope the LW reads your comment too. Thank you so much for sharing this way to unpack and resolve the feelings productively.

          • BetterInGreen said:

            Whoops! Sorry for the double post!

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        One way to make it not “jealous harpy” is to look at is not as a person issue but as a time issue: in our culture, most people’s free is in the evening, after work/school, so that’s when couples are able to spend time together. Which means, Fiancé’s spending hours on the phone with a friend (regardless of friend’s gender) is cutting into your time with him.

        How often are these phone calls, so how much of his time are they taking away from you? If she’s calling once a month, that’s 1/30th of your together time; twice a year, 1/150th. But if she’s calling once a week, that’s a full 1/7th! I’d have problems too, if my partner were spending that much time with someone else, much less someone I don’t like!

        If the friend is important enough to your Fiancé that she’s invited to the wedding, she’s truly a friend, not merely a friendly acquaintance so he’s not blowing you off for some one who’s not part of his life. So is your problem with her that “she’s into him” or that you just don’t want this person to have such a big share of your partner?
        Consider her in the context of friend by taking gender out of it. Ask yourself the following questions as if the friend were a guy, and see how you feel about the conversations.

        –Does Fiancé *want* to talk to friend/look forward to talking to friend, or is his being on the phone calls purely reactive?
        –what are they talking about? Is it a shared interest that you’re not part of (gaming, sports, art, whatever) or are they talking about general life (“This is what i’m doing/thinking/feeling, what’s going on with you?”)
        –If it’s the latter, how important to Fiancé is it to keep friend abreast of everything in Fiancé’s life? There are friends and there are Friends, they don’t all get equal share of info about our life.
        –If it’s a shared interest, is it a project that requires this time investment or are they just nerding out for hours?
        –Is the interest so important to him that he wants to spent that time nerding out about it, rather than with you?
        –If it’s a shared interest that you *are* part of, then why aren’t they involving you?
        –Why do these phone calls go on hours? Is it because Fiancé’s actively engaged for hours, or because the friend keeps on going and he doesn’t know how to break it off?

        I hope you and Fiancé can sort this out to your mutual satisfaction!

        • viva said:

          Great comment, love this.

  7. A thing I vastly appreciated as a student was profs who communicated about this stuff in ways that removed shame and emphasized agency, and also were realistic.

    I fondly recall one prof saying at the beginning of every semester: “if you’re sick or dealing with a disaster during exams, come and tell me and DO NOT JUST TRY TO WRITE IT. As soon as you walk into the room and turn the piece of paper over, I have to count it. I can try to reduce the percentage it counts for, but I have to count it. So don’t do that. Same with handing in a paper. Tell me before you hand it in, and I can do stuff. Once it’s in, or officially late, my options get narrower.”

    It was the most useful thing.

  8. Kaz said:

    Q3 – also on the spectrum in a tech field and within spitting distance of female. I think “be yourself” is, frankly, terrible advice! Because… I am not the same person at work as I am in my free time or with my friends. I’m a somewhat edited-down, professionalized version of myself. My sense of humour is more inoffensive, my topics of conversation are lighter, a variety of subjects I usually have strong opinions on no longer exist. On the flip side, I have fairly strong opinions on a bunch of technical subjects, and I approach most things happening at work as a dedicated professional whose job it is to make X thing as good as it can be. I do relax, I do socialize with people, but it’s Professional Kaz doing all of that and it’s a very different experience from doing so at home.

    (I think it may have been easy for me to do this because I was already used to self-editing fairly heavily in social situations. This is just more extreme and with a different focus.)

    The “strong opinions on technical subjects” can get dangerous; like you, I can get openly critical of things and can argue back quite strongly if I think something’s not being done in the right way. I’m lucky that my boss actually really values this trait – he’s told me several times that I have super valuable input – if not, I might run into problems myself. But, some ways to mitigate this:
    – before jumping in, do an assessment: how far in my scope of responsibilities is this thing/what is my chance of actually affecting it? and how significant are the consequences if we don’t change how we’re doing it? Those together govern how far you can go in arguing. Ex: if it’s a policy instituted by another team that I think will cause unnecessary overhead, I’m likely to just let it go. Treat it like bad weather – something you have to endure rather than try to change. On the flip side, if there are e.g. major security holes in one of my areas of responsibility, I will argue that one to the death.
    – flag this to your boss and make clear that you will back down if he tells you it’s not up for discussion. “Just so you know, I can get very passionate about discussing things I think can be improved and will sometimes miss cues to stop. If this happens, please just tell me that it’s not up for debate!” (wording isn’t great but something along those lines.) And then, if he does tell you to let a particular subject go, do and treat that as final.

    • Lizzie said:

      This is a really good advice, and a great description of self-presentation in professional contexts.

    • becca said:

      Ask A Manager did an open thread recently (like within the last two or three months) asking for comments from non-NTs about work strategies that helped them function. I’m not on the spectrum but I do have ADHD and it was a HUGE help for me to find tips and ideas. I literally read through like a 100+ comment entry taking notes. There were autistic folks making comments that Q4 might find helpful.

    • Ask a Manager did a post recently (like within the past 2-3 months) asking for comments from non-NTs about work strategies and procedures that have helped them at work. I went through that post with a fine tooth comb taking notes. A lot of the comments were ADHD related, but there was a bunch of stuff from folks on the spectrum as well that Q3 might find helpful.

      (Sorry if this posts twice, I can’t tell if my browser isn’t working or if I’ve been relegated to a spam filter or into moderation for some reason. My comments hardly ever seem to appear on the site.)

      • Yep, posted twice. I’m both spandrella and becca. Sorry for the impatience on my part!

      • Kaz said:

        Oh yeah, I remember that post! Lots of useful stuff. It’s over here at how to succeed at work when you’re not neurotypical, for those interested.

        I cannot recommend Ask a Manager highly enough in general. Thinking about it again, my work persona may have been largely formed of reading about three years’ worth of back-archives of AAM and then going “what would Alison do?” about most situations. She has some excellent scripts for professionally pushing back against bad decisions, working with insecure bosses, dealing with inappropriate behaviour, advocating for yourself, etc. and offers a good barometer for when to let things go vs when to stand your ground. I need to do a little cultural adjustment (I’ve worked in the UK and Germany – US work culture is somewhat different) but it’s still a goldmine.

    • Emma9 said:

      (Not on the spectrum, but socially anxious.)

      Very good point to remember is that ‘not self-editing, at all, ever’ is an unrealistic bar to think you can clear, especially at work. It’s a matter of degrees, of deciding what you want to smooth over and, conversely, which hills you want to die on, in which situations. ‘Be yourself’ is indeed terrible advice, because you don’t have *A* self!

      Rather than forcing yourself to relax (always a paradox and just as impossible as it sounds), it might actually help you to come up with defined rules and parameters to craft your ‘work self’ to be the person you want her to be.

      Have an action plan for social interactions that are just boring and annoying (but which should probably be endured pleasantly for a bit, if you can, before redirecting back to work) versus ones that are actively Not Cool (you might not want to *ask* about HR procedures/reporting policies/etc right away, but if anyone *tells* you anything about them, during orientation or informally, file that information away in a notebook).

      Speaking of notebooks! I really like having a convenient catchall place to record important stuff to know about a job, and in addition to technical procedures, it can be a good place for ‘style guides’ on interacting with various coworkers and managers. (Hierarchical flowcharts, feedback styles you’ve tried with specific managers and what kind of results you’ve gotten, ‘Janet will love you forever if you ask how her son’s doing in band occasionally’, ‘always CC managers on project emails with Steve or at the very least save copies’, etc.)

      Naturally, if your notebook is physical, don’t leave it lying about, and if it’s digital, keep it in a device owned by you rather than the company.

    • Yeah, the most helpful thing I think people might possibly mean when they say “just relax and be yourself” is “don’t try to fake being a completely different person, that’s just going to make things even more weird and be a lot of work besides.” Ironically the people giving that advice very probably want you to fake being neurotypical, which of course would make you a completely different person.

      Like everybody else is saying, LW3, throw out the advice to be yourself and do a bit of self-editing instead. Everybody else does it to, they just don’t always admit it. And I hate to say it and freely admit it’s shitty and unfair, but faking being neurotypical as much as you can stand to will probably help your career.

      Speaking of things that are shitty and unfair, people definitely react way worse to women who are “openly critical of flawed policies” than men who do the exact same thing. It sucks that you’re going to have to work way harder on disagreeing gently than a man would have to. In my experience men don’t even reliably react well to a woman not saying anything about how the man ought to do his job and just quietly being better at her job than the he is. Source: am a woman and have been a programmer since 2006.

      Something else that might help, in addition to Kaz’s suggestions, is using a lot of hedging language like this page describes http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/hedge.htm when you’re talking about a policy/plan/idea you disagree with. I mention that because I have this one coworker who presents all of his opinions and ideas as incontrovertible facts and it irritates the entire shit out of me but I’d be fine if he would soften his language so it didn’t sound like he thinks he’s the only one who knows what he’s talking about. To be fair I do have a gigantic chip on my shoulder about men treating me like an idiot, but it still can’t hurt to present your ideas as possibilities, not as the One Right Way To Do It.

  9. Q4: I have house cleaner suggestions, as someone who employs cleaners (through a co-op) and has been doing a fair bit of research into this.

    – Hire a cleaner through a worker-owned co-op if you can find one in your area. These co-ops handle administrative services (really useful for workers who don’t speak the local language well, need help with filing taxes, etc.) and make sure the cleaners get benefits like health insurance. Next best is a reputable service that likewise treats cleaners as employees, gives them employee benefits, and has insurance or bonding in case of breakage or theft.

    – If you are employing a cleaner directly, look up best practices for being a good employer. Your top resources are Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. NDWA just launched Alia, a system for helping domestic workers get health insurance; since house cleaners and babysitters often have multiple clients, Alia lets each client contribute a pro-rated amount that adds up to one employer’s worth of benefits. It’s pretty cool.

    – If you skip a cleaning, pay your cleaner anyway. Think of this as equivalent to getting paid by your employer even when your office is closed for a holiday. The cleaner depends on you being a regular source of income.

    – Tip in cash, 20%, every time. Give a generous “Christmas handshake”, ideally before Thanksgiving so they can use it to shop Black Friday sales. Give an annual raise (unless rates are set by the co-op/service).

    – Keep your cabinets stocked with non-toxic cleaning supplies, and provide any relevant safety equipment (gloves, masks, etc.).

    – Undocumented immigrants often work as house cleaners. Consult with a lawyer if you think this might be relevant to you, but the short version is, don’t necessarily take a possible lack of work authorization as a reason not to hire someone. According to Nolo, “You are not obliged to confirm the work authorization of anyone you hire as an independent contractor. If, however, you know or have reason to know that an independent contractor is not authorized to work in the U.S., you can nevertheless be held liable.” On the flip side, don’t assume that a house cleaner who seems to be from another country is undocumented. And don’t be an asshole about it, regardless.

    – If there’s a language barrier and you want to make sure important information is communicated, consider using a professional telephone interpretation service for the initial conversation between you and your cleaner, and perhaps for a check-in every six months or so. It doesn’t cost much (around $2–3 per minute) and can really help you both feel confident that all vital matters are mutually understood and agreed upon, including the crucial things the Captain mentioned around human needs. Make a list in advance of everything you want to address, and also give your cleaner a heads-up that you’d like to do this (maybe in writing if you’re not sure you’ll be understood in speech) so they can likewise prepare.

    – House cleaning is really intimate, Americans can feel very weird about having hired help, and it can be easy to fall into being shy or nervous around even talking about what the person is doing. But do try to talk with your cleaner as frankly, clearly, and respectfully as you would if you were hiring someone to babysit your child or update your website or edit your novel or unclog your pipes. They’re a professional adult providing a professional service. Give clear metrics for success, compliment good work, and say “Thank you” when they’re done.

    • Shifrah said:

      W/r/t language barriers, Google Translate has gotten much better over the past few years. I usually provide the text in English and in the target language, so that if part of the translation is off, the person can look at the English as well.

    • katelyn said:

      Re: raises: I use a co-op that sets prices for the cleaners, but I have built in a “raise” by means of adding extra to my tip each time the cleaner comes. I let her know that she can count on receiving that amount from us going forward, so she doesn’t think it’s some sort of fluke and can plan on that added income.

  10. Kate said:

    Question #2 – your advice was SO spot on. I pushed and pushed and pushed my husband to go to therapy to deal with long-term trauma, even low-key threatened to leave him (I said “your behavior is untenable long-term”), and in the end, what got him into it was me saying “What can I do to help you get started?”. I helped him fill out an online form and since then he has handled everything – appointments, even needing a new therapist, etc. In our marriage, I’ve learned that sometimes he needs a push (I also helped him fill out the form to get an appointment with a GP) and then he will take it from there, but helping him figure out how to make it happen/structure it and then stepping back is the key. It’s been SO helpful for both our marriage and him on his own (that’s something he said on his own).

    • AnotherSarah said:

      Also learning this about my SO–I’m so scared of ending up doing all the emotional labor, but what he often needs is just a tiny “Hey, I noticed you didn’t do the thing we talked about, is there something I can do to assist?” If Q2 is also afraid of becoming a nag or The One Doing the Work, that may not even be an issue in the end!

    • AnotherSarah said:

      Also learning this about my SO–I’m so scared of ending up doing all the emotional labor, but what he often needs is just a tiny “Hey, I noticed you didn’t do the thing we talked about, is there something I can do to assist?” If Q2 is also afraid of becoming a nag or The One Doing the Work, that may not even be an issue in the end!

    • Andraste said:

      Yes! Most of the time my husband is a super responsible adult who does plenty of mental and emotional labor in our relationship. He’s had an ingrown toenail since November 2018 that is bad enough it needs doctor’s care (like, daily bleeding bad) but he hates going to the doctor. I told him he needed to go for months, but he gets really anxious about doctor’s appointments. What finally worked was a few weeks ago I got on our insurance website, found a local doctor who takes our insurance, gave him the number and said “call them tomorrow and make an appointment.” He just needed a little push over that executive dysfunction hump. I think when you are anxious about something, it’s easy to feel like something that should be easy is just so dang hard, and you’ll come up with all the excuses in the world not to do it. I’ve been there too and he’s had to push me! If your relationship is otherwise equitable, reciprocal, and healthy, I don’t think it’s wrong or somehow selling yourself the short end of the emotional labor stick to sometimes do the thing the other person can’t do.

  11. Q7 – LW should maybe ask her fiance if he envisions those calls continuing on for the foreseeable future? Because – *me* – I get the sleep deprived equivalent of hangry when my sleep is interrupted at all, let alone nightly! Again – *me* – I think that is breathtakingly rude to do to a couple! Disrespectful, inconsiderate, etc, etc. I fail to understand how ANY adult would think that was OK to do, and wasn’t infringing on couple time…

    If fiance has no plans to dial back on the phone calls, I’d be demanding couples therapy and rethinking my life plans with this person.

    • Karyn said:

      I don’t think this is happening nightly. And the letter doesn’t say that she’s inconvenienced by the long conversations–no missing movie night, or cuddle time, or even missing sleep. Just that LW thinks that these calls means that the friend is into Fiance. I’m not even sure she’s brought up to Fiance that these calls bother her. That’s the first step, as Cap advises.

      • SycamoreTea said:

        Friendly reminder that LW for Q7 is they/them pronouns. 🙂

      • Hey y’all, the OP uses they/them pronouns!

      • Karyn said:

        Ack! Sorry, thanks.

  12. bullyandblaze said:

    Tony Hoagland’s “Beauty” is a bit about aging and a lot about existing in a body that’s changing where one likes it or not (from a third-person POV).

    And Richard Siken’s “Litany in Which Certain Things are Crossed Out” is not about aging at all, but is very, very much about loneliness and not being sure where you belong and about being too much and not enough both at the same time. It is a *whole lot* of poem (which is characteristic of Siken’s work) and I suspect that the degree to which I find it comforting is an anomaly, but if it’s the kind of thing that you need, it is exactly the kind of thing that you need.

    • Shifrah said:

      That was a very good poem.

  13. paperkingdoms said:

    Ooof. Catch a Body hit me in all of the best ways.

    Enough so that I had to come back to remember that I really loved your answer to Q2. As a professor who does some of these things, but the framework & articulation help a whole lot in thinking about why I do what I do and it is awesome.

    Thank you!

  14. pink said:

    I am not sure if my comment will cross the line of “appropriate internet stranger advice” as it comes from my professional self and it’s part of my day job, so please do delete if inappropriate. My hope is that it’s useful signposting which helps the LW.
    For q.3: the difficulties that this person talks about struggling with can definitely be part of the autistic spectrum, and it’s the reason that, in the UK, Autism is recognised under the Disability Discrimination Act. What the LW describes dealing with is incredibly hard and tough, and there are charities and statutory agencies which will work to support people in the workplace and to ensure that employers are making appropriate modifications and allowances. A part of my job is making sure that employers are changing the environment rather than the pressure being on the person with autism to make changes that just aren’t possible for them. People, with or without autism, have such varied profiles of strengths and skills, and the LW deserves the chance to feel safe at work and to be able to shine. Sometimes it’s helpful to have an advocate or professional step in for a while to help employers understand the needs of their employee and adaptations that might need to be made, for example around communication style. The LW also raises an interesting point about how much a male-dominated profession and workplace actually wants to hear the views of a strong woman who is highlighting the need for change; she might well be experiencing silencing and discrimination and again it might be valuable to have a third sector mentor or support so that she can think some of that through. It’s very easy for organisations to blame the person with a disability. It is horrific that she has been fired repeatedly in the past; I absolutely salute her courage and resilience and hope that she hasn’t been too knocked by it. I don’t know what country she is in or what legal protections might be in place there, and what agencies might be available to help; in the UK, as I mentioned, DDA would apply, and you might be able to seek help through occupational health, and also third sector organisation such as ASPENS and MIND for advocacy and legal advice. It might be worth the person exploring whether there is any similar support in their country.
    I hope this is helpful and stays within the Captain’s boundaries. It was really sad to read what horrible experiences & repeated rejections this LW has had for stuff that may well be completely outside of their control, and I hope that support organisations exist in their country that could offer them some thinking space, guidance and employer support if this feels helpful or necessary. Telling someone with autism to ‘just relax’ is so meaningless and shows such a depth of ignorance about the challenges their employee is navigating and facing daily that it strongly highlights a need for employer education and training. It might really help the employer to understand and reframe some of the things they have found difficult as strengths and to adapt their job role accordingly to utilise these; the LW might well have an incisive insight and passion about policy for example which at the moment is being experienced as criticism but could usefully be redirected perhaps to allow her develop or adapt policies which do need updating. I wish her the best of luck

    • JenniferP said:

      Hi, totally appropriate, just temporarily trapped in moderation. Thank you.

    • Forrest said:

      Hey—I’m a careers adviser in the UK, and I work with lots of autistic students and graduates. I’m aware of various organisations and resources for autistic jobseekers, but don’t really have a handle on which ones are good. If you’ve any recs (or dis-recs), i’d find it super useful!

  15. Jackalope said:

    Q8: I don’t know if this will help, but I found as a single childless person that it was in some ways easier for me to maintain community. I’ve done a lot of initiating with my married, childful friends, but I’ve managed to maintain a number of good friendships over the course of multiple decades even as they checked off “adulting” boxes and I stayed single and childless. If this doesn’t help then ignore, but my life is much better than I feared it would be 10 years ago in that area.

    • Emma said:

      Also, just know that not all of your married friends are blissfully happy. Some might be struggling with bad marriages. Maybe a little envious of your freedom! So don’t withdraw, because some might appreciate a friend who they know won’t judge them if they decide not to be married anymore. Things change.

  16. SarahBot said:

    Q4: my mom has cleaned other people’s houses my entire life, and from what she’s told me, what you’re already doing is great and if you want to do more, the Captain’s advice is right on – clear direction about anything you’d particularly like your cleaner to do or not do (both in terms of overall expectations, and one-off requests), cleaning up any clutter or anything particularly gross or unusual beforehand, and being flexible in case of occasional schedule changes were the real core things that made Mom’s life easy. The only time I can ever remember her complaining about a client was that she worked for a woman once who really made it clear that she looked down on my mom for cleaning houses, and just the fact that you’re asking this question indicates that won’t be a problem in this situation!

  17. Engaged Enby said:

    Q7 here! I sat down with Fiance and asked him to dial the calls down to A Reasonable Amount At Reasonable Times (AKA not Past My F’ing Bedtime O’clock). He apologized and promised to do so. During the process I also found out that she does this to at least one other guy in the group, so maybe she’s just Really Bad at Boundaries (she’s younger than the rest of us and I think still in college so probably hasn’t adjusted to a more typical sleep schedule).

    Still not looking forward to having her at my wedding (I’m well into Bitch Eating Crackers mode by now) but at least I won’t be thinking evil thoughts.

    • Emma9 said:

      Speaking as someone with an atypical sleep schedule, please be assured that that’s not an excuse for her disrespecting your fiance’s sleep or yours. (On the contrary, having one myself makes me *more* aware of how much it sucks when things get between one and one’s bed, because there are so very many Things that happen during the standardly-accepted ‘awake period’.)

      Regardless of whether ‘bad at boundaries’ means she needs them spelled out explicitly or just disregards them, this is one that can be enforced by either turning off ringers at night or setting her number specifically to silent.

      As far as the wedding, don’t berate yourself for the evil thoughts if they come. I’ve found that trying to force yourself not to consider someone a BEC consumes more brainspace than just ‘whelp, I don’t like them, fake politeness and move on’.

      • Evan Þ. said:

        I co-sign the idea of setting ringers to silent. When I first moved across the country, there were some wonderful people from back home who kept calling me in their midmorning, forgetting that it was now my very early morning and they were waking me up! Of course, they’d apologize when I told them, but the damage was already done. So, I set my phone to automatically turn silent over each night, and things were great.

  18. dsg said:

    Q6: We had exactly that issue and I regret that I pushed back on my wife at all for suggesting we solve the problem. In our case we just got a foam mattress topper but it vastly improved our visits.

    If you have any paranoia that there’s already stress between you and your in-laws, perhaps your spouse can frame it as something he needs for good sleep too?

    • Cathie from Canada said:

      Here is another suggestion: when we were sleeping at my father-in-law’s place we were finding the bed uncomfortably firm and hard. We bought an inexpensive comforter, like the one we used at home, and discarded the heavy blankets/bedspread combo which had been on the bed. We couldn’t believe what a difference it made to our comfort level — it enabled us to get through the rest of the trip without sleeping problems.

      • Q6 – I have this issue too. But what if the guest bed is one that the in-laws sleep in themselves (aka in separate beds when they don’t have guests?). So commenting on an uncomfortable, very old mattress (with springs that poke you in the back!) feels harder- as it is actually their bed?

    • Kaos said:

      See yeah I was thinking he should frame it as his issue to his parents. Even lacking an issue with the ILS, any little thing could be the proverbial straw that broke the “I never really did like her/him, she’s/he’s so entitled” camel. His parents…”his” issue. I mean an unhappy spouse kind of is the other spouse’s issue, so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Sort of an off-white lie, so to speak.

      • JenniferP said:

        Never a bad call! “I’m sleeping like crap lately, this will help me, your precious son!”

        • Bizhiki said:

          Did I miss somewhere where LW6 refers to her spouse as someone who uses he/him pronouns? I don’t want to be that person, but I’ve also just had a really homophobia filled day, so.

          • JenniferP said:

            You’re absolutely right, apologies.

          • dsg said:

            Oops, sorry for my comment too!

      • TO_Ont said:

        I would let the spouse figure out what’s likely to work best with their parents. In my family direct relatives can and will be asked to sleep in noisy places with no privacy or beds that are known to be uncomfortable, but a spouse of a child is still ‘oh, but he’s a guest’ even after 20 years of marriage.

  19. Rae said:

    Q1 – This scenario that plays out for me in two different ways & I handle them totally differently.

    My former boss, Gigi, (who really became like a beloved auntie) has a very low self-image & calls herself names whenever she makes a blunder. After a few instances of this, I started pushing back gently in the moment by saying, “hey, don’t talk about my friend, Gigi like that! She’s pretty great, and I don’t like it.” I was direct, but smiling & would give her hand a little squeeze. In Gigi’s case, it feels like a true lack of self-esteem rather than an attention grab.

    By contrast, my dear mother is a drama monger who thinks self-deprecation is the pathway to platitudes & affirmation. Nope. That’s a hard pass. Whenever she does this, I either (a) ignore it/change the subject or (b) call her on it & tell her it makes me upset. She absolutely HATES it when I go option B on her, and it’s a few rounds of her back-pedaling yet still trying to get the response she’s looking for. I just hold firm with variations of, “Mom, please stop telling me how messy the house is & what a poor housekeeper you are. It feels manipulative & I don’t like it.”

    • Jackalope said:

      As someone who wrestles with low self-esteem sometimes I found the first approach helpful; I have a friend who told me that it’s not okay for me to talk about her friends like that. Since then I’ve tried to look at it in my mind as an issue of whether I would allow someone else to talk about my friends the way I’m talking about myself, and if the answer is no then I have to stop.

      I also find it helpful sometimes (obviously just from those who are pretty close to me) if the person I’m talking to just responds, “I love you!” That helps push me out of the self-deprecation shame spiral and makes it better. I’ve also had friends who didn’t want to deal with it who just ignored the comment and/or changed the subject. I tend to find that pretty neutral unless they are rude about it which isn’t usually an issue. So a few more possible ideas for the question-writer!

    • Angel said:

      There’s also a third scenario, in my experience, because pretty much everyone responds either by doing one of the above or actually giving the validation people are typically seeking by doing this.

      My very best friend in the entire world can sometimes be very self-deprecating and it’s not an attention grab (hi depression!) but everyone in her life responds like it is. When people disagree with her (“no, you’re great and wonderful and perfect!”) she feels patronized because she knows they’re mostly saying it because that’s the expected response. (And let’s be honest, it feels that way whether or not that’s why they’re doing it.) When people try to shut it down (“don’t talk about my friend that way!”) she feels like she has to wear the “I’m fine and nothing is wrong” mask because people don’t want to listen to her deeper self. Cue: distancing from friends.

      So when she does that around me, I say “you know I don’t think that, but I hear you.” (Or similar.) I don’t passive-aggressively agree with her; I don’t shower her in compliments. I just tell her I understand. Sometimes she needs to verbalize the terrible things she thinks about herself, not so people will argue with her but so that she can feel heard in the space where she is.

      The best thing is that I learned this from her. When my depression was at my worst and everyone was either shutting down my fears/anxieties/bad self-talk or enthusiastically arguing everything I said, she was a small oasis of “I hear you.” Of “I understand.” Of “that sounds tough.” Of “You know that’s not true, but I sympathize.” And when I had it out of my system, she would tell me that she loved me, and that I could do it and whatever else I needed to make me feel better. There’s a reason she knows more about the inner workings of my depression than anyone else ever has.

      So, basically, know the difference between “self-deprecation for attention/praise” and “self-deprecation because that’s really where their brain is right now”. And if you can handle it with that person, maybe consider letting them tell you where their brain is. Sometimes being heard is more powerful than being refuted.

      • JenniferP said:

        I like this a whole lot, thank you.

      • Esme said:

        Oooh. I like this. The Captain kick-started my thinking, and I was considering an approach like, ‘I am (genuinely) sorry that the house/your appearance is not where you want it to be. FWIW I think you are doing fine.’ Possibly adding sometimes that it makes me sad when she’s all ‘mean girls’ on herself like that.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        This comment is the best thing on the internet today.

  20. heffalumps said:

    Q2: Captain, if I’d had you as a teacher I might actually have… I don’t know. if not graduated, at least gotten something better from my later schooling experiences than what I had. thank you for *helping* your struggling students, instead of just doing your job and processing them through the machine. every one of those people has had a measurable improvement in their lives because of you. /salute /sniffle

  21. DropTable~DropsMic said:

    one thing I wonder about the “be yourself” advice directed at Q3 is if it’s in the following context:

    “I’m really nervous about this new job. What if I don’t fit in/don’t do well/offend someone?”

    “You’ll be fine! Just relax and be yourself 🙂 🙂 ”

    Which I think is well-intended and it’s true that sometimes people overthink things like this and make the awkwardness worse. But when someone has a specific problem fitting in (autism in this example, or severe social anxiety, or they’re from a different cultural background, or the language where they’ll be working is not their first language, what have you) it can be the opposite of helpful, it can come off as dismissive.

    I have had similar problems at work. I don’t have a great solution that is helpful to you right now (for me, it turned out I worked in several toxic places in a row and the solution was to get out, but there’s no reason to assume your new job will be as bad as some of mine have been). I think the captain’s advice is good.

    • Nanani said:

      I think this is where “consider the source” comes in.
      Friends who haven’t been in that position honestly -can’t- give good advice, no matter how well intentioned.

      It’s a bit like a fresh grad getting job seeking advice from one’s parents or other people with decades more time in the workplace – they have ZERO idea what it’s like to be new to the workforce NOW. What worked for them decades ago is almost definitely bad advice now, even if they remember it accurately.

      Friends and family who haven’t worked in a “flat” (but we totally expect you to follow the invisible hierarchy) place, who don’t have LWs spectrum-related considerations to deal with, who aren’t a woman in a male-dominated field, etc., probably can’t help even though they want to.

  22. M said:

    Q3 – female techie on the spectrum here! In general, when I hear ‘relax and be yourself’, I read, ‘Please pass better’. It’s not bad advice, depending on what you’re trying to do – eg, fit in, get promoted, succeed at the local politics ladder. (It sucks from a social-model-of-disability perspective, and if you’re very comfortable being open about your diagnosis, you could try to address that head on – I have never been comfortable enough to try this.) It means: practice active mirroring more (by which I mean: mimic NT body language in the specific person you’re interacting with). Learn the small talk scripts. Find a distraction mechanism for when you might be getting ‘too intense’ – I use fractal doodling on postits in meetings to avoid calling out Technically Incorrect things, for example, because while they drive me wild I have learned that to speak up is to spend social capital I don’t necessarily have.

    I’ve had ‘relax’ mean ‘you are too intense / engaged’. Almost always, instructions to ‘relax’ end up with me burning twice the CPU to mimic casual interaction models. It’s expensive, and can lead to burnout. Engage with care; but be aware that they virtually never literally mean for you-as-you-are (me-as-I-am) to actually act more like ourselves.

    • Old Biddy said:

      Yeah, I’m a woman and my PhD advisor gave me the “Be yourself” advice about faculty interviews (STEM field) back in the mid-90’s. at the time I knew it wasn’t really useful, but I wish I’d had your suggestions back then. His personality was/is very similar to my own, but unfortunately ‘slightly awkward introvert’ goes over a lot better for guys than women.
      When I hit my late 40’s (which was my advisor’s age when he gave me the advice), I realized that it was actually great advice for conferencing-while-middle-aged-introvert, so I did get something out of it eventually.

    • hamsterpants said:

      This is so on the nose. I’m not (diagnosed) NT but I do occasionally get told to “be myself,” and what you said about “pass as NT better” really, really resonates.

  23. Civilian Linetti said:

    Q7 LW, please ask these hard questions of your fiancé before you get married.

    You really need to know if he intends this relationship with his friend to stay this way for as long as they both shall live, and whether that’s something you are prepared to have as part of your future marriage.

    Cheating isn’t limited to physical infidelity, deep emotional relationships outside of a marriage can be damaging too if it takes one partner away from the marriage and investing time and emotion in the friendship instead.

    It may be that your fiancé doesn’t want to have late night calls from this woman either, but doesn’t know how to tell her to stop, but you won’t know until you ask him about it. If it is a boundaries issue you can brainstorm it together.

    Is uninviting her from the wedding completely off the table? When I was planning my wedding with my husband, we didn’t extend invitations to people who were good friends, but who didn’t support our relationship or we weren’t mutually close to. And if one of us deeply disliked a friend of the other, that friend didn’t make the cut. What case did your fiancé make for including this woman in your guest list? Or did you feel unable to question her inclusion?

    • Ajana said:

      Good points. It feels like the fiance is more invested in maintaining the relationship with the caller, and meeting the caller’s emotional needs, than meeting the emotional needs of the OP. They can talk for hours with the caller but the OP doesn’t feel like they can talk, really talk, to their intended.

  24. Not That Jane said:

    Q5: Hubby and I told each other for YEARS that we wanted to have people over for dinner more often. We said this in the tiny third floor apartment, the first semi spacious duplex and the second inconveniently laid out duplex. Our supposed desire to invite people over for meals was definitely aspirational.

    But guess what? We moved to an actual house, with room to have a couch and a decent dining table, and having people over just sort of… happened. In hindsight, we can see that we really didn’t have an inviting space for dinner parties until now – and that affected how often we could muster the literal and metaphorical spoons to entertain guests. We now have dinner guests about once a week 🙂

    I guess I’m saying, don’t beat yourself up about “not putting in the effort to have that now.” Sometimes when you’re proud of your new space and you feel more able to stretch out / express yourself / drink tea next to a sunny window / grow a few plants / whatever, the “aspirational” changes get easier to make.

  25. xKatya said:

    Aaah Q5 is very relevant to me at the moment (~5 weeks out from moving! so excited! so stressed!) and I may just print this out and tape it to my fridge:

    “There is a time for sorting through all your things and thoughtfully reckoning with your possessions and how they fit into your life and curating them as you pack. That is for the early stages of packing, weeks, plural before your actual move. There is also a time for “Throw it in a box or put it in the bin, we don’t have time to think about it.” That is for the week of your move. Do not mix these two modes.”

    • PebbleBear said:

      I’m coming up on moving again too, and I have to say that Captain’s advice on having the box/luggage with things you will need that night when you’re moving is the one thing I always always make sure I do. I have one tote that I drew giant stars on and I have one smaller box with the same. The tote goes first and goes into the room I will be sleeping in the first night. It has things like bathroom stuff, pajamas, clothes for the next day, a phone charger, sheets, anything I might need for that night and the next morning. Even a small snack. The smaller box travels with me in the car, it has tissues, some plastic grocery bags for trash, pain meds, sunscreen, regular lotion, anything I might need *while* actually moving and packing up the truck. I usually keep it on a kitchen counter while moving stuff in and out along with a cup labeled for each person helping.

      Something that is AWESOME for the night when you’re relaxing after moving all the things- I empty out a plastic tote, dump in a bottle of cheapo minty mouthwash (like from the dollar store) and fill up the tote with warm water until my feet are covered. I know it sounds crazy, but the mint helps sore feet a lot.

      tl;dr I move too much xD

    • Ainuvande said:

      The labeling boxes advice is gold. There is nothing worse than “I have 10 boxes marked “kitchen,” which one has my cooking utensils in it?” or “which bathroom box has tampons again?”

      I am also a fan of not putting everything away right away. Furniture is easier to move before it’s full of stuff again. And I walk through my new kitchen miming doing the things I do regularly to see if my planned placements make sense. That way my cups and coffee are not stored in opposite corners from my coffee maker. Likewise hotpads near stove and measuring cups near the counter where I make things most often.

  26. Shad said:

    Regarding the “if that’s what I want, why aren’t I doing it now?” portion of Q5, sometimes leaning into that can be helpful! An example from my experience: I want my clothes to actually get put away and have a home. What’s in the way of that happening? On a bad day and in a rush, opening drawers and adjusting the folding to fit and making sure the drawers close is too much. Solution: put my clothes on open shelving. That cuts the drawers out of the equation so there are two less steps and frustration in the way. Additionally, changing method forces me to deal with the current overload that’s adding inertia to the problem and provides a reset on bad habits.
    And don’t underestimate that inertia! With that clothes example, one bad day meant I had a stack of clothes on a low trunk. So next time I brought up clothes, it was easy to just add them to the stack. Rinse and repeat for a couple years, and now that’s my (bad) habit. Moving to a new place with a new setup, even if it’s just how the room is physically arranged, is a chance to reset those bad habits.

  27. Perfectionist said:

    For the cleaner question: from a former housekeeper in a hotel and former self-employed person who worked in a lot of people’s houses, my number one piece of advice is: when in doubt, give more money. (And, if you’re not there to give it to them in person, leave it in a clearly marked envelope so that they know it’s for them!)

    If you have an abnormal amount of mess, unusual/extra work cleaning request, your beloved pet has left messes that need cleaning, more money is the answer! It’s so much easier to do a job for people who will recognize, “hey, cleaning up literal dog s*** out of carpeting sucks, here is extra money and also a bottle of champagne that someone gifted to us but we can’t take on a plane, enjoy!” (A real thing that happened to me, it made my week!)

    And, just ask if there’s something you can do. Depending on your type of cleaner, they may have rules from their agency, like, “Don’t throw away anything unless it is inside of a garbage can” (that was one in the hotel–we couldn’t, under policy, even throw literal trash that was next to the bin, though most of us would pick up tissues and wrappers next to the bin).

    If you want something done a specific way, just ask nicely but directly, like: “Instead of using one cleaning sponge for all did surfaces, I’d really prefer if you used X cloths just for cleaning the sink and Y cloths for cleaning the kitchen counters and Z very special cloth for cleaning the glass table. Just my little quirk, I appreciate it!”

    Also, for Christmas/new year’s gifts: I love ten dollar boxes of chocolate, don’t get me wrong, but I would always rather have that ten bucks instead!

  28. jc toy said:

    From A5: “Do not try to talk yourself into living somewhere you don’t want to live. Sometimes compromises are necessary but don’t try to sell yourself on a thing you know is a bad idea.”

    This. If someone had smacked me over the head with this in 2014, the past five years of my life would have been *so much better*. Don’t let anybody tell you you can live in TerriblePlace just for a couple of years, just while you accomplish GoalA, unless GoalA is strictly time-limited (eg, a terminal masters degree program where they force you to be done in two years). It is 110% not worth the risk of getting stuck. And yeah, some people like places better as they get to know them… but that’s a gamble, one that I will never, ever make again.

  29. Nanani said:

    Q5 – Renting plastic bins to move is ABSOLUTE GENIUS.
    I’m hoping not to have to move again for a while, but that’s going in the long-term note file.

    Relatedly, I’m sure LW knows whether this applies, but if your move involves crossing international lines, even the ones you can drive over, move up your planning and packing timetable by MANY WEEKS. Even LOTS of weeks.
    Free movement of people does not equal Free movement of stuff. Your permits/visas/citizenship doesn’t exclude your stuff from various international agreements. (Nor your pets) (Moving a pet internationally is not fun)
    Enlist professionals at least for the “getting a shipping container full of household goods over the border” part.

    Enlisting professionals for even small moves has also been worth it, in my experience.
    They’re fast, they don’t ask a million questions about what you chose to keep/ditch or try to get you to “just take my old one” instead of moving your item, you can pay them once in money instead of infinity times with favours.

  30. Kaos said:

    Q4: I’ve never worked as a cleaner, I have people clean my house these days (over the past decade more or less), but my sister did do it for years. She was always appreciative when she was going to be working near a meal time and her employers provided her with a meal. I’ve always done that. It might be something I made or “ok I’m going to X place what would you like me to bring back for you” type of thing.

    Also, if you have extra stuff you want done, like washing a couple weeks’ worth of dishes (yeah, people do that) it’s an extra job. If you want them to tackle it, ask them if they are willing, and if they are, pay them separately. If they aren’t willing (I wouldn’t be) don’t try to guilt/bribe/or otherwise extort them into doing it.

  31. Beth said:

    As long as your house isn’t an allergen zone for me, I am your Very Best Friend if you want me to come over in the weeks before you move, drink your wine and eat your food and pack your boxes. I am REALLY good at packing boxes, especially now that I am no longer moving every 18 months. I still have the skills and am no longer burned out. Books? You bet. Clothes? Done. Delicate fragile knick-knacks? Handled with love and care.

    Just don’t invite me over to “help you move” on moving day and THEN let me find out that you have not packed anything, you just got a pile of miscellaneous boxes and are expecting your friends to pack your whole damned house AND load the boxes into their own cars AND drive the stuff to your new place that’s over an hour away. For free. Not sure why this person still had friends on moving day, but she sure had fewer the day after.

    • Green Door said:

      So much yes to this. And if I’m moving your stuff, you damn well better have your front walks shoveled if it’s winter. And have nice clear pathways around your hows. I had a back ache for a week after helping my folks move and tripping over the fan cord because I couldn’t see it underneath the huge dresser I was helping haul. Also, if it’s going to take more than two hours YA DAMN SURE BETTER FEED ME. Nothing like busting my hump in the heat for six hours straight lugging your crap from here to there, for free, and then getting “ok thanks” as I’m about to pass out from hunger.

  32. hummingbear said:

    Unless you’re INCREDIBLY lucky in workplaces, “just relax and be yourself” is terrible advice for *anyone*. I’m sure being on the spectrum makes it even more challenging, but – it’s called “office politics” for a reason. Politics means constantly calibrating what you say to your audience, thinking five chess moves ahead about what ramifications your bringing up an issue will have with five people in the chain of command, dealing with people you don’t like, “managing up” through subtle statescraft. Politics is what gives you a career instead of a job (took me far too long to figure this one out.)

    I’m glad there are people who work 100% with people they like and respect, and thus can take the currently trendy advice to be vulnerable and a whole person with them, but most of us don’t. Construct a work persona and stick with it! You can let down barriers later with select coworkers who have earned your trust.

  33. No advice for Q8, just commiseration. Right now I have precisely one friend who doesn’t have kids or isn’t pregnant, and all of my child-having friends are also in LTRs. I don’t know if I want those things for myself, but I also struggle with feeling left behind, and with feelings of Can’t We Just Hang Out As Adults Without Kids (answer: No, we can’t, and I understand that, and I’m fond of my friends’ kids, so it just is what it is and I try to appreciate what I have).

  34. hamsterpants said:

    About Q4 “Secure your valuables and cash?” DO THIS, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because cleaners are dishonest or thieves. It so you know where things are and don’t blame the innocent cleaner when you can’t find you stuff. My mom hired a cleaner and then shortly thereafter noticed her diamond earrings went missing. She was really pissed and did blame the cleaner, though she didn’t report her to anyone. Guess what? A few weeks later my mom found the earrings. She’d just misplaced them. If she had let the anger get a hold of her, she could have ruined someone’s career and, possibly, life, for no reason at all.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, this is absolutely why I included that step. If you know where your shit is, you can’t make mistakes like this, and your cleaner will be more comfortable.

    • Clarry said:

      Definitely. I wasn’t the house cleaner. I was the private cook for a woman who needed a special diet. I went in the front door and straight to the kitchen and never even saw the rest of the apartment. One day the client asked me if I’d seen her ring. I shook my head no. She asked if I was sure, this time with her eyes flashing. I said no again rather emphatically. I felt like explaining that I’d never even been in the rest of her apartment, and she was home the whole time I was ever there for 2 hour shifts. I’d never so much as used the bathroom there. I got to work and listened while she made phone calls the whole time, telling everyone about the ring and how much it meant to her and how sentimental, valuable, etc. At the end of my 2 hour shift, it emerged that the restaurant where she’d left it somehow was able to contact someone else she was with. I heard her end of the phone call, but she never came to tell me the ring was found. I guess that slipped her mind. I gave a lot of thought after that to how I didn’t feel safe there. She could have accused me, and I’d have had no way to defend myself. I quit shortly thereafter for that and other reasons. It was such a tiny thing, but I felt like I couldn’t take the chance.

      A few years later I was explaining to a friend why I always use a lock on my locker at the gym even though the place was so safe that no one ever used locks. “I’m absent minded” was it. In truth, I’m not more absent minded than anyone else, but what if I did on occasion forget where I spent some cash. With my wallet locked up when I’m not with it, I could be sure no one had taken anything. Without a key, I could always wonder if someone had rifled through my wallet or worse gotten a credit card number while I wasn’t looking.

    • Esme said:

      Ugh. Yes. I worked in an office for many years and people all-the-time suspected the cleaners of taking their knick-knacks or whatever that always turned out to have fallen behind their huge beige monitors, etc.

  35. hamsterpants said:

    Q5 I second getting movers if you can possibly afford it. Depending on your age, social group, schedule, health, the weather, distance of the move, availability of parking, reliability of UHauls… sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money. A full day of sweating profusely, doing damage to my rickety back, trying to figure out how two weaklings were going to get a 300 lb dresser safely down a flight of stairs, getting annoyed with my friends for not showing up when I’d asked them to, going to/from the UHaul place… to me, it was worth $300 to not do that. Of course not everyone has this ability, but I second the Captain saying that I didn’t ever regret having movers, even when it meant cutting into other expenses for a few months.

    • coffeespoons said:

      I moved last summer, and getting professional movers was one of the absolute best decisions I made. If you are on a budget crunch, one option is to do what I did and hire movers for just part of the move. I didn’t have the money to hire movers to come in and spend a whole day moving all of my belongings, but I could afford a half-day’s worth of movers. I focused on having them move all of my furniture, the heaviest boxes, and the most cumbersome items that wouldn’t fit easily in my car. I moved everything else myself, but not having to wheedle my loved ones into helping me get the mattress or couch down from my third-floor walk-up and into my new home was PRICELESS. Good movers will have experience with maneuvering big, awkward furnishings through stairwells and doorways without injuring themselves or damaging your belongings, and you will be absolutely amazed how quickly they do this. When my partner and I hauled that couch up to the apartment, it was a good twenty minutes of sweating, straining, and stressed-out calculations about how we’d need to angle the couch and ourselves to get it through the stairwell. The movers got the same couch out of the apartment, down the stairs, and into the truck in 2-3 minutes. It was some of the most worthwhile money I’ve ever spent, and because they were so quick, they were able to move a lot more of my stuff than I’d anticipated. If it’s a local move, you might consider this. When you call the moving company to get an estimate, let them know how much furniture and about how many boxes you’ll want them to handle, so they can schedule accordingly.

  36. isabeausuro said:

    Regarding the poetry, I wrote https://ysobel.dreamwidth.org/447348.html a while back

    (I am considering publishing a book of poetry, if I can get past the You’re Not Good Enough brainweasels)

    • JenniferP said:

      How wonderful, thanks for sharing!

  37. slimlove said:

    Q5 – I just a) planned and executed a cross county move, while b) dealing with a car accident and all the rigmarole around buying a new car, so I have some opinions! 2 caveats, though: when I am particularly stressed, organizing and accomplishing things helps me a lot, and the scale of a move matters. YMMV depending on your approach to planning/logistics, and whether you’re moving across the country or across town.

    –Do something every day. From the time you decide to move to the day you land in the new place, do at least one thing. Even if it’s a day when you already have a lot going on. Even if it’s just one small task that takes 2 minutes.

    –I heartily endorse the Captain’s advice on hiring movers (seriously, movers will change your life, they are the best). And while the late stages of a move are always chaotic, if you can it is really helpful to prepare your place before the movers arrive. This means separating out anything that is staying with you instead of being loaded up (I usually use my kitchen for this) and corralling any pets and children. And as with the advice for Q3 above, make sure your movers know they can use the restroom and it’s always nice to have water on hand for them.

    –If you can, I also recommend hiring cleaners for the move out clean.

    –Also endorse asking for help, especially if there’s something you’re particularly anxious about/bad at/tend to avoid. My best friend just drove 2000 miles with me while my cats expressed their displeasure from the back seat, despite not living in either the city I left or the city I moved to. I have been the person who showed up to frantically shove things in bags and the person who researches moving truck options because I love to research and a friend hates it.

    –Related: be kind to your friends/family, and do something nice for anyone who helps you. This can be in the moment or later on when you’re settled/no longer hemorrhaging money. This doesn’t have to be big; it can be as small (money wise) as a heartfelt thank you card.

    –In addition to packing a bag/box with stuff for the first 48 hours, I have found it helpful to specifically separate out the stuff you absolutely CANNOT lose (birth certificate, passport, checkbook, copy of your new lease/move-in paperwork, etc.) and put it in a special box/bin that looks nothing like any of your other containers.

    –If you are using some kind of pod system, be aware that some cities require permits for them.

    –I enjoy both spreadsheets and to-do lists, so I keep a master list of everything that has to be done, no matter how small, and build a budget that includes everything right down to what I anticipate to spend at Target as I’m getting settled in. I err on the high side for every amount and also keep all receipts and enter actual costs against the budget. Again, YMMV depending on your love of Excel, but definitely try to figure out some sort of master system to keep you organized. Even the smallest move as a million moving parts, and it’s easy to lose track.

    –Did you know that Home Depot (and I’m sure other similar stores) has an entire moving aisle? I have several large paintings, and I was amazed to discover that you can just buy a special box for them! Bubble wrap, wrapping paper, specialty boxes, and so much more. If it’s within your budget, sometimes it’s best to just buy the stuff you need instead of haunting the box pile at the liquor store.

    –If there is minor damage to the place you’re moving out of, a lot of times you can fix/replace those issues cheaper and faster than if you leave it for the landlord. A previous landlord would have charged something like $30 to replace damaged mini-blinds, but I just went to Home Depot and bought a $5 set that fit the frame and replaced them myself.

    –When I can, I like to use stuff as packing material rather than just packing it. So scarves and winter hats and towels can be used to wrap tchotchkes and pad extra space in a kitchen box rather than taking up space in a box of their own.

    Good luck with the move! It’s going to suck, but it’s also going to be great.

    • Green Door said:

      My best tip…for those super important papers/things you’ll need immediately upon moving…or the super precious-to-you things, buy one bin in a totally unique color, different from all your other boxes/bins. (Mine was turquoise). That way, you’ll be able to spot it in all the chaos. I had to return to work immediately after moving day and it was such a relief to be able to immediately spot the bin that had my work bag, ID card, a work outfit, and my checkbook. No panicking looking through 500 cardboard boxes that all look the same!

      • hummingbear said:

        IKEA sells a basic fix-it kit (hammer, screwdriver with multiple heads, crescent wrench) that comes in its own little BRIGHT ORANGE plastic box with a space for each tool. That little box is always the last thing I pack when moving. It’s always a lifesaver to have the basics immediately to hand and easy to spot.

  38. Dr. Rebecca said:

    LW6, if you get an air-mattress, TRY IT OUT FIRST. I’ve spent days/weeks on several kinds, one leaked, one was massively huge and unstable, and one was so very inflated that there was no softness to it at all and my entire body hurt.

  39. nnn said:

    Q1: It could be entertaining* to respond with long boring dissertations on how awful it is that our society instills such high expectations in and of women that even a person as awesome as your mom feels bad about herself when she’s in her natural state, or that capitalism instills such a ceaseless and unsustainable work ethic that a person can’t even feel good in their own space if they’re not constantly working at improving it, or any such thesis that you could go on about at tedious length.

    *(Whether this would also be appropriate and/or effective depends on personalities, and you know your mother better than I do)

  40. nnn said:

    Q2: I love everything the Captain said, but I wanted to add some thoughts about specific consideration of cutting off contact. Something to think about is a) is it a natural consequence and b) is it helpful?

    Cutting off all contact with someone who refuses to see a therapist might be a natural consequence. Cutting off all contact if they refuse to see a dentist, not as much.

    And would your absence from the person’s life simply deprive them of your delightful company, or could it make it even more difficult for them to take the desired action or resolve the underlying problem? (As an analogy, parents kicking their kid out of the house for having bad grades, would probably make it more difficult for the kid to improve their grades.)

    That said, if you *want* to cut off contact, that’s your prerogative. If you’re setting that as a consequence because you genuinely don’t want them in your life in the current state, that’s fair. Assuming they’re not, like, a dependent child, you don’t *have* to keep them in your life even if removing them makes it more difficult for them to solve the underlying problem.

    But if you don’t actually want to cut off contact and are just trying to come up with a consequence, whether it would actually be helpful needs to be taken into consideration

  41. As far as motivations etc, there’s an excellent online tool I use with my clients a lot, available at quiz dot gretchenrubin dot com, which takes you to an assessment instrument that evaluates how you form habits. It sorts you into one of four “Tendencies” and knowing that about yourself can really help you start to figure out how to game your own responses and allows you to more effectively set up a strategy for forming a habit.

  42. nnn said:

    Q3: For the specific problem of being openly critical of flawed policies, some scripts to use in moment when it’s appropriate to raise the question:

    1. “Do you have any idea why this policy is like this?”

    (The “do you have any idea” phrasing helps mitigate accusatory tone.)

    2. If, once they’ve answered, you feel it’s strategic to continue pursuing the line of inquiry, your next comment should be about risk, also phrased as a question. “How do you find that affects the risk of X?” “What are we doing to mitigate the risk of X?” However you can deliver it without accusatory tone.

    Whatever it is, frame it as risk. This shows you’re being mindful of the organization.

    Your tone and delivery throughout this is as though you’re trying to learn. Act as though you’re assuming *of course* they’ve thought this through, and *of course* they’ve taken it into consideration, and you, as a newbie, are just trying to learn and understand.

    Once you’ve established yourself, you can go straight to “Doing X will increase the risk of Y”, or even “I’d advise against that policy,” but the “help me understand” approach will help get you past the current obstacles.

  43. nnn said:

    Thank you, Captain Awkward, for mentioning taking care of human needs in Q4, because it never occurred to me before that workers in my home wouldn’t just use the bathroom when they need to! (The layout of my home being such that the location of the bathroom is readily apparent and they’d be walking right past it.)

    I’ll be sure to offer in the future!

  44. nnn said:

    For Q5, assuming it’s a move within the same city/general geographic area:

    – If finances permit, have some overlap in the time you have possession of both places. It’s a lot less stressful if you don’t absolutely have to get the whole move done in one day or even one week.
    – Clean the new place before you move any of your stuff in. Clean your old place after you move your stuff out.
    – Put some food in the new place before then, and wine if that’s your thing, and coffee if that’s your thing.
    – In addition to general labels like “kitchen” and “books”, label your boxes with specific items you know you’re actually going to be looking for, even if it seems ridiculous. Examples from my last move: “purple shoes”, “bike pump”, “style guides”.

    The immediate answer to “if that’s what I want then why aren’t I making the effort to have that now?” is because your life is in upheaval from moving house! But a thing to think about – perhaps while doing the mindless work of packing boxes – is what aspects of that aspiration don’t serve you (and thereby have been preventing you from doing it already), and can/should you adjust it so that it actually serves you? Then, once the move is over, you can use it as an opportunity to implement an adjusted form of that aspiration if doing so serves you.

  45. Scarlet said:

    Q4 – 3 comments from when I had a bunch of cleaning jobs in my 2nd year of university:

    1 – yeah, definitely deal with your own sex toys. The very first time I cleaned a house for one couple, they left a large dildo out in the shower, right at eye-level when I drew back the curtain. I… did not know how to deal with that, and ended up deciding to leave a note saying I’d run out of time to do that part of the bathroom, oops (plausible deniability, I guess, “maybe I didn’t see your sex toy that I certainly wasn’t willing to pick up to clean around”), would clean it extra heaps next week, and spent the entire week wondering if they’d fire me for not having done the shower, if it was some kind of weird test, if they’d forgotten and would be embarrassed and I’d lose the work for *that* reason… it was stressful, frankly.

    2 – if there’s something extra you want done, please mention it the week BEFORE, or have it as a swap – my time was strictly monitored according to things like time-limited bus tickets, lectures I had to get to, other jobs in the same day I had to get to across town… having a surprise extra half-hour job in there could throw out my whole day. No surprises, please!

    3 – if there’s something you want done differently, please mention it early and be clear. One of my first cleaning jobs I *did* get fired from, and because of when it happened I could never quite be sure what was up – it so happened that the husband “popped back” one day on his way past to use one of the bathrooms, which I’d already cleaned and didn’t have time to clean twice (see aforementioned buses etc). And it was that week that they fired me, but I just don’t know if it was part of a cumulative issue that they’d never mentioned, or if he left some mess (see aforementioned didn’t have time to go back over it), but 19-year-old-me was pretty devastated over the failure (and loss of something like 20% of my weekly income).

  46. Scarlet said:

    Ack, Captain, I think the form auto-filled in my full name which I did NOT intend to leave online (thx chrome), can you remove it from the comment about 3-things-from-Uni-cleaning-jobs, or just delete the comment please?

  47. Q8, although it’s not perfect for your situation, the wonderful Mary Oliver’s ultra-wonderful “Wild Geese” starts with the most perfect line: “You do not have to be good.” I’ve since memorized the entire thing, but that first line was how it all got started for me. And to be fair, although that poem is her most recognized, she wrote oodles of other beautiful work that might be relaxing, especially if you’ve got a big heart for nature and nature-imagery.

    Also, you rock. Just because you are you.

  48. Lorelei Rivers said:

    Q5: My brilliant husband came up with a logistical moving tool when we moved from two apartments to a new house in January, and it was transformative. We got a dozen colors of masking tape (it comes in sets for kids’ crafting), assigned each new room a color, and made a key (e.g. all kitchen boxes from both apartments were yellow). Each box and piece of furniture got a strip of tape all the way around horizontally, so we didn’t have to turn them to figure out the color. We wrote the contents on the tape on two sides, as precisely as possible, plus on top of the box. Some boxes got two colors, especially in the last days of packing. On moving day, we put a strip of the right color over the door of each room, and posted the appropriate keys outside the upstairs and downstairs entrances. It made things easier and more organized for both us and the movers – we only needed to provide guidance for things like furniture placement. They had never seen that idea either, and thought it was awesome. Even with combining two households worth of stuff in the moving truck, only 1 single box landed in the wrong room. It gave us a mental/verbal shorthand for talking about the rooms (pink bedroom instead of downstairs southeast), which we still use sometimes. Unpacking was SO much easier. Now that I’m reusing boxes for other things, I just take the tape off and relabel.

    I had planned on using colored labels or stickers or something, but the tape was so much better. It was also immensely satisfying to see piles of same-labeled boxes in each room.

    Mr Rivers was also the one who insisted on hiring movers, and as everyone else has said, it was worth every penny.

    • Vicki said:

      Thanks for the idea–I just copied and pasted it to a file on my computer, because we’re moving in July.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      Your brilliant husband is a genius and should get a Nobel Prize for his colored tape idea.

    • Clever!! I did something very similar (but more labour intensive… coloured tape is GENIUS) when I helped my org move office. I drew up a floorplan of the new office and gave each room a number. Each box for a specific room was numbered, and large pieces of furniture were given a big ol’ sticker with the number.
      On moving day, the floorplan was posted in large format at the bottom of the stairs, and each room was given a big sticker with the number.
      The moving team (me and the admin… it was a hard few weeks) had also used the floorplan tool to figure out where the larger pieces of furniture should go in a room (and whether it would fit!) so we were well equipped to explain where things should go or politely gesticulate when everybody involved lost the ability to word at the end of the day.

    • vivs said:

      Brilliant!!

    • I also drew floor plans and posted them by the front door. And then room plans and posted them on each door. And each piece of furniture had a piece of painter’s tape on it, with its designation.

      Over-preparing helped distracted me from the stress of moving — because if I keep busy, I can’t panic.

      Also, I had 18 friends help me move the Saturday after Thanksgiving. You can’t be in all places at once.

  49. RG said:

    Hey, you may not know this, but you should if you’re offering advice like this, the DDA no longer exists in the UK and was replaced in 2020 by the Equality Act 2010.

  50. Delaneykay said:

    To echo Story Nurse, don’t hire through a Brand Name Agency if you can avoid it. It is shocking how much money the agencies keep and how poorly they supply the workers. (“Other People’s Dirt” by Louise Rafkin is a good but enraging read).

  51. OP#2 said:

    Thanks for the very helpful and kind replies, both to you Captain and the commentors! I sat down and looked into what and how much (thx @AnotherSarah) I want to do and which consequences (thx @nnn) will come from it. Also, thanks for your personal story, Captain!

  52. Clarry said:

    Q3. I never thought about it in exactly these terms before, but the thing that’s helped me the most when getting the “be yourself” advice is the acknowledgment that all of us have several selves. I’m being myself when I’m asleep, and I’m being myself when I’m dancing in a crowd, and I’m being myself when I’m concentrating hard on a book. I’m being myself when praying and when I’m chatting with a friend and when I’m nervous in a doctor’s office. With that in mind, it’s not a jump to say that of course I’m being myself when I’m I’m a little reserved and hiding a bad mood at work. I’m just being one of myselves.

  53. AndTheRest said:

    On moving… if you have friends & family who are like the parents in letter #1201 who have volunteered to help you move… THINK TWICE ABOUT THAT. If they are overly helpful but gladly take direction and will help in the ways you want them to, it may work out okay. If they are the type who Insist On Doing Things Their Way or are blatantly The Ones Who Know Better, be prepared for them to ruin your plans, especially when it comes to setting up the aspirational vision you’ve dreamed about. If you can afford to hire movers, please take the Captain’s advice and do so.

    I did not on two previous moves, and even though money was an issue for me then, I regret not spending the money to hire movers instead of letting family members “help”. It would have been so worth it for my mental and emotional health, avoided unnecessary drama, and allowed me to manage the moving process the way I wanted. I anticipate moving later this year, and I don’t care if I have to withdraw funds from a retirement account, but I WILL hire movers and keep the meddlers out of the process.

  54. CommanderBanana said:

    I feel you re: the mattress. I have reached the age + back injury combo that a bad mattress can equal excruciating pain, me not being able to walk, and several expensive chiropractor visits to put everything back together again.

  55. oh man! said:

    Q2: I was heading for a solid D in a course in my college major. I talked to the prof, he let me withdraw but continue coming to class, let me keep my grades from the lab and just retake the lecture portion the following semester, and I ended up pulling a B. No shame. It was a tough course that just did not stick the first time.

  56. oh man! said:

    Q5: I prefer to pack everything and get it to the new place, then take my time and sort through everything and keep or send to storage or send to Goodwill. There is way more time after the move and I can really take my time.

  57. StrangeRhapsody said:

    Q2: I just have to say, CA, you sound like an amazing teacher and I wish I’d had teachers like you in college. Especially where you discussed with students what things would help the most for LEARNING what they needed out of the class and letting them continue to come to class and learn, even if there wasn’t any way for them to catch up on the work and get the grade. I feel like sometimes there’s so much emphasis on jumping through the hoops to get the grade that we forget the point of education is to actually learn things. Thank you for treating your students as human beings and helping them prioritize health and their own learning needs and for removing shame from the equation. I want to rename you Captain AWESOME!

  58. Cam said:

    Q2: Thank you for being an understanding, awesome professor. In my sophomore year of college, two of my grandparents died within a week of each other. Let me tell you, it’s no fun having that conversation twice in one week with professors and supervisors that yes, I just missed 3 days of class because my grandmom died, but my granddad died last night of a broken heart without her so I’m gonna need another couple days off. Luckily, a) I went to a small college so my professors actually knew me b) I was a good student who rarely skipped so they trusted me c) didn’t grade based on attendance anyway and let me make up the work. My brother at a larger state school did not have the same luck with his classes at the time.

  59. Rincat said:

    Q4 – If possible, provide your cleaner a meal while they are there. I hired a friend to clean once a month for several months, and I always bought lunch for her or had some snacks/lunch fixins on hand, and let her know she was free to eat whenever she needed. If you can’t do a full-on “bonus”, then a meal is a nice way to say thank-you.

  60. Hg said:

    Q2, for me, I’ve been in relationships that weren’t well matched where the other person wouldn’t/couldn’t choose to do the adult self care thing I needed them to do. In fact, that was the majority of my life experience in this area so I assumed that all partnerships involved a degree of frustrated impasse and as a woman, culture had assigned me the task of making adult self care happen via the power of true love.

    My experience in my mid thirties is that true love or being a ‘good woman’ is not the magical lever after all. I had a few conversations with my partner (6+ happy years together and counting) about their not getting check ups for degenerative genetic health condition that came with rare but lethal complications. What helped was being honest about not wanting to live our life together afraid of sudden heart failure/pneumathorax/retinal detachment but also accepting that they’d had rational reasons to avoid the doctors thus far, borne of experiences I accepted were traumatizing, involving overbearing relatives taking over partners care. I also accepted I am a nurses daughter so not getting check ups = pushing all my buttons!

    What partner found useful was being able to say ‘part of how I cope with the unjust shitty reality of my disability is reserving control over my right to make/refuse medical appointments’ and me not trying to cajole them out of that with hypothetical ‘what if your retinas detach’ examples. What I found useful was saying ‘part of what makes our life so wonderful is that we are a team – so how can we get closer toward a check up scenario that you do feel you have control and dignity over?’ I wasn’t willing to go years living in fearful ignorance, there was no control or dignity in self neglect either.

    On a practical level, we found changing doctors to a surgery closer to home that allows online booking helped, partner did book themself a blood test and check up and felt able to share the results with me. I worked very hard at not stropping around in resentful guilt trip attempts to book a check up for him (’twas hard.)

    Partner wanted to reassure me – but I think they did the emotional work of booking the damn check up appointment *because* deep down* they knew their wellbeing was worth the discomfort. I was a supporter in the process who loved them enough to trust that doctors appointments were awful but still was honest about my need not to commit to building a life with someone who dies a preventable early death.

    LW, I suspect the difference between continuing or cutting off this person is in this issue: does said person value their own basic wellbeing enough to step out of the comfort zone? If you think they do but need practical help and honest validation that yes, dentist etc is important, then you might be able to support them in their choice to seek help. If said person is caught in a cycle of feeling moved to please you/guilt at letting you down/helplessness in their own life, then there is not much you can do to fix it. That realisation hurts but is less painful than punishing each other in a perpetual struggle.

    I hope you and this person can have that moment of honest communication about your future, it sounds like you care so much about them.

  61. avery_p said:

    captain! long time reader, first time commenter, unlurking finally to tell you that your answer to Q2 is fantastic and you sound like an amazing teacher. as a current student, sometimes struggling, who is considering teaching at a university at some point — thank you so much. i’m taking notes.

  62. Nick said:

    I just had great success with telling a new doctor that I don’t want to be weighed, and I want to thank y’all for reminding me that’s a thing I can do. She made a note and then never brought up weight, weight loss, or dieting. We managed to keep the whole appointment focused on my asthma.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m so glad. My (great!!!!1) gynecologist & her team ask “Any changes in your body we should know about – sleep, appetite, weight, mood?” which puts it weight in perspective as just one thing about a person’s body.

  63. Re: Teaching

    I once switched a class to ‘pass/fail’, because my grades weren’t what I wanted, and it wasn’t a required course. It was a fascinating class, I liked/respected the teacher, and we were past the drop/add period. Also? This way, I kept my full time status, but could concentrate on the upper level classes in my major that I needed to do better in.

    Re: Bad mattress

    Instead of saying “Dear gods, your mattress sucks!” You could go with, “I’ve been having back issues. Do you mind if I get a new mattress for your guest room? This new one I’ve been using at home seems to be helping a lot.”

  64. Re: Being yourself at work.

    When they say ‘be yourself’, take that as a “be a CURATED version of yourself”. You don’t (usually) have to pretend to be someone you’re not, but the person you are with your friends is likely not the person you are with your parents. (Unless you have a very different relationship with your parents than I do.) This is where you get to showcase your work-skills and competence. See if you can find someone you feel you might be able to ask questions of and vet things through them (assuming they’re willing.)

    i.e. Can you take a look at this email before I send it? or So-and-so said this and it bothered me. How can I get them to not? or What’s expected at work-event? I’ve never been/I know I stuck out a bit like a sore thumb last time?

    If there’s no coworker you feel comfortable with, perhaps someone in HR?

  65. Re: moving, I’d add the suggestion that, if you can afford it, you hire a cleaner for your new place, even just as a one-off thing. I think most people have the urge to give their new home a good deep clean, but that urge comes at a time when you are exhausted and frazzled. I particularly recommend this if, like me, you have a disability/health issues that affect your energy levels.

    When we moved in here, the builders had been in situ for a month, so there was sawdust everywhere, plus there were some really gross things behind the oven and other appliances, which we were having replaced. My partner heroically did battle with the behind-the-oven space and handled a lot more of the mess, but honestly, it was a tough time and we were both wrecked and we should’ve paid for help.

    What I have since learned (months in hospital and lots of surgery will do that to you) is that there is no shame in outsourcing the cleaning in general, and moving is a particularly challenging time in anyone’s life. And we didn’t even have kids running around; I can’t imagine how people manage that!

    I would suggest being on hand/having friends on hand to move boxes if necessary (unless you’re using a housekeeping/home help service where shifting a lot of heavy stuff is a pre-agreed and financially compensated part of the deal), and obviously letting the cleaning company know that it’s a just-moved-in situation – as per the Captain’s recent post on cleaning, you want them to know what to expect.

  66. CathyBoo said:

    For Q5, my best moving tip ever is to skip writing detailed labels and take digital photos. Write “Kitchen 1” on a box, photograph the box label, and photograph every layer of stuff you put in the box. Then if you’re the kind who arrives and unpacks everything, you can unpack all your kitchen boxes at once. But. If you’re a hot mess like me or something goes wrong and you don’t get to the spare bedroom for three weeks but can’t find that goddamned can of WD40, you can scroll through your phone and figure out which box you put it in.

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