It Came From The Search Terms: Cruel Summer

Hello! Search terms have piled up, let’s do the thing where we answer the search strings people typed in that led them here as if they are questions. Context is missing (by design), so expect some comedy answers in between with the sincere stuff.

Let’s kick things off with a song. Have I used this one before? Who knows? I never don’t want to listen to Bananarama.

1 “Captain Awkward Approaching Women”

























Or, hold up, perhaps you were thinking about approaching some women? In that case, my views on this topic can be summed up as “Read the room, don’t assume” as capably outlined by code name “Starling” lo these 10 years ago. Re-litigation of this topic will be redirected here.

2 “Words of sympathy for someone who hates you.” 

“Sorry, I can’t help being this awesome, you’ll just have to find a way to deal with how fucking great I am.” 

Or, in case of death, it’s okay to go with platitudes. “Thinking of you and your family at this difficult time.” “I’ll always remember _____, they were one of a kind.” 

3 “Freelancer guy with great enthusiasm fucks xxx.”

McSweeney’s, you doing ok buddy?

4 “My parents obsess over my weight.”

What a depressing, boring hobby. Can’t they find a jigsaw puzzle or take up whittling? Always remind yourself: People, including our parents, have choices about how they treat us, if they want healthy and loving relationships, they can choose to be kind.

Here are some guides to shutting down/evading intrusive body talk.

5 “Employee work got sloppy recently.”

When someone’s work obviously slips, it’s possible there is something stressful going on outside of work, it’s also possible that this is a sign that the person’s workload has reached a breaking point and they are rushing to meet targets. (Or both, it could always be both). The answer to both problems is probably to help the employee slow down, with steps like:

  • Gently let them know you’ve observed the problem. “You do such great work, but recently I’ve noticed some errors that aren’t like you at all and I wanted to check in with you. Everything ok/Anything I should know?  
  • Assume nothing. Ask! Bosses always think they have to have an answer for everything, but it’s okay if you don’t. If a usually good employee is struggling, it’s okay to ask them: What do they think is happening, what they think will help? What’s the worst thing that happens if you do what they suggest?
  • Encourage them to take time off, as appropriate and necessary.
  • Encourage them to take advantage of HR resources (EAP referrals to stuff like counselors and legal help, short-term disability/family leave) and back them up through applying.
  • Review their workload and division of labor among the team. When employees are extremely competent, their job description has this weird way of creeping and creeping to add more duties. Is it time for a temporary re-distribution (to give the person a break) or to make some strategic hires?
  • Make a plan for getting the employee the time off, support, additional help/time to slow down and review their work they need with maximum buy-in and agency from them.
  • Bosses! You can set an example by working reasonable hours, using your PTO without pushback or apology, stop expecting people (incl. yourself) to be “on” at all hours, and encouraging your team to do the same.
  • Remember, it’s expensive and annoying to replace good people, so even if human solidarity doesn’t motivate you, consider the business case for being a compassionate boss!

6 “My roommate always wants to know where I’m going.”

In my experience, there are additional questions subtextually buried within this question and the trick is to figure out which one it is before responding.

  1. Is this a question about company? Where are you going + [Can I come with you to that thing you’re doing?][Can I have a ride somewhere if you’re heading in that direction?]
  2. Is this a question about an errand or favor? Where are you going + [Can you pick up some toilet paper while you’re out?][Can you drop this in the mail for me?][Can you give this book I borrowed from our mutual friend back if you’re going to see them?][Can you do some other errand or task?]
  3. Is this a question about time? Where are you going + [How long will you be gone?][How long can I count on having the place to myself?][Will you be back in time for this thing I/we planned on?][Do I need to factor you in for dinner?]
  4. Is it just curiosity? (Possible, though if it’s coming up a lot, not the most likely)

As much as we can wish that people would just skip ahead to the question they are actually asking, there’s no guarantee they ever will, especially since I think some people were taught that asking the “Where are you going” question before asking for their favor is more polite somehow, like, they will only ask the favor IF your answer tells them that you are going in the direction they need a ride anyway. Unfortunately, so many other people spring questions like this as a trap, a la “What are you doing this weekend? No plans, you say? Aha, then you CAN [go on a date with me][dogsit my nine angry chihuahuas][stay at home all day for the package I’m expecting][join me at my timeshare sales conference and magic show],I have learned to stay noncommittal and wary.

If you share living space with someone I think it’s polite to give them some idea of your schedule (esp. if they rarely get the place to themselves), and it’s not weird to ask, “Hey, Roommate, if you’re going out anyway can you get some trash bags, we’re almost out,” or tell a roommate “I might crash at [friend]’s house, so don’t worry if I’m not back until tomorrow.” In other words, this question can be intrusive but it’s not automatically intrusive, context matters, your overall relationship with your roommate matters. We don’t owe our roommates a full accounting of our whereabouts or an automatic +1 to everything we do, and there is a way of asking this question that has DEFINITELY made my lizard-brain want to yell “WHAT ARE YOU, MY SCHEDULER?” in the past before I figured out about the variety of questions within the question and adjusted accordingly. I offer the following General Recommendations For Bringing Shoulders Down From Around Ears:

If your relationship with your roommate is generally good, if you can trust them to take the word ‘no’ for an answer and respect boundaries (as in, they aren’t a person who sees every time you leave the house as their personal driver or errand service and they don’t invite themselves along to everything you do), then try just telling them “I’m heading [where you’re going], why do you ask?”  

If your experience with being asked this question by this person has you bracing yourself because they monitor all your comings and goings excessively, try to become your shadow at social gatherings, or try to get you to do favors/errands for them constantly, skip directly to “Why do you ask?” and prompt them to spell out what they want before you give them information. You may be happy to do them a favor, but it’s okay for it to be a real question.

7 “What to do if your mom is giving you a silent treatment.”

Be nice to yourself and remind yourself that the silence is probably better than being yelled at or having all your faults listed or whatever she does when she’s angry and not quiet.

My advice is: Never chase people who give you the silent treatment down for answers or explanations or apologies. Let them have what they act like they want (space and silence), let them be the ones to get in touch when it doesn’t get them what they want (you chasing them and/or torturing yourself with mental gymnastics about how to appease them). Mean people who won’t talk to you can stew in silence, hopefully over time you can learn to enjoy the beautiful, quiet freedom from their disapproval. If they want to be in a healthy, functional, peaceful relationship with you, they have to come tell you what they want eventually and negotiate a path to peace. If they never do? That’s your (quiet) answer.

8 “My boyfriend moans about his job all the time.”

“A burden shared is a burden halved,” goes the saying, but I’m not sure that’s always true. Sometimes the burden grows and grows, because now two people are spending all their time on it instead of just one. And sometimes, especially if the questioner is a lady, it’s a burden…dumped, as if men do not also have career resources like Ask A Manager available to them on the Manternet.

While it’s good for friends and romantic partners to listen to and support each other, “venting” can definitely cross a line. It can become its own pursuit, it can feed itself, it can create a situation where your boyfriend works all day at a job he hates and then ruins all the time you spend together by obsessing about a job he hates.

Is your boyfriend making you feel like you have to work at his shitty job, too, even though you don’t get paid to be there? Time to set limits. Is your boyfriend becoming Job Hamlet, where he agonizes a lot but keeps losing the name of action (i.e. the venting doesn’t make him feel better, it makes you feel worse, and/or nothing changes for the better)? Time to set limits. 

  • Time to limit how much time you spend on discussing work.“Ok, that’s enough Job Talk for today, let’s do Fun thing.” One way we can fight back against terrible jobs is to endeavor to give them our energy only when we are on the clock. TBH, this goes for nice jobs, too! Does mulling all of this over again on date night help get him/you paid?
  • Time to be honest when you hit your limit. “That sucks, and I’m so sorry, but I have nothing new to add. I’m down for a quick daily venting to cleanse the soul, but once the timer goes off, we have to be on Date Time, not your terrible workplace’s time.
  • Time to ask questions that emphasize agency and solutions. “What do you think you’ll do about that?” “What do you want to do about that?” “How do you want to solve that?” 
  • Time to help, within limits. Resist urges to take over your boyfriend’s career woes as your problem. If he wants help, ask him what kind, for example, if he wants to look for a new job, does he want you to proofread his resume and letter? Great.
  • Time to check in with your own career.  You can listen, bounce ideas, and assist your boyfriend as makes sense and as you are invited to, but please, tend your own ambitions! His struggles aren’t your limitations, make sure you’re not focusing on a partner’s career at the expense of your own.

Unfortunate Capitalism Truth: A bad job might not get better any time soon, in which case, “Hey boyfriend, you’re working hard and doing the best you can, and I see that and admire you for it, you’re in a hard situation but you’re not giving up” can be an affirming message and reminder. Sometimes “This thing sucks, but you’re handling it as well as you can, I see how hard you’re trying, I love you and appreciate you, please don’t beat yourself up for keeping a roof over your head in a shitty situation” is the best we can offer. Plus, of course, reasonable and healthy limits about how much his shitty job is allowed to occupy your time.

9 “When someone has a mean streak.”

When you spot a skunk, don’t pretend it’s a cat.

10 “affordable housing birthday cake”

I like both of these things. Tell me more!

11 “Should I vent to a stranger I admire.”

I prefer it in the form of a question.

More generally, I’d wonder, what are you hoping to get out of this venting process and did you ask the person if they were up for hearing about whatever this is and receive consent first?

12 “My boyfriend won’t let me watch tv.”

Leave this controlling motherfucker to his books, then, key word being leave.

13 “BF makes fun of me exercising.”

Hopefully working out means that when you leave this condescending dipshit, you can carry the TV all by yourself.

14 “Boyfriend picky and dismissive of me.”

How to be instantly happier: Dump rude, dismissive, condescending, mean, controlling, critical boyfriends and watch some television.

15 “Trying to improve bf”

Have you considered watching television programs, they are interesting and do not involve being anyone’s nonconsensual life coach or treating fellow human beings like lumps of clay or uncultivated fields for one’s amusement.

14 “I had sex in my roommates’ bed.”

Wash/change the sheets as stealthily as you can, the better to take this gross violation to the grave so your roommate never, ever has to think about this. Don’t do it again.

16 “Is it my responsibility to help my husband make friends.”


Spouses can support healthy and enjoyable social lives for each other by making time and resources available for each other to spend time with friends, pursue interests, and do community/hobby events where they can meet new people. Spouses can come along as ice-breaking buddies for the painfully shy. Spouses can co-host events at home. Spouses are not responsible for arranging play dates for grown-ass people, so if your husband wants more friends, consider that he surfs the same internet we all do, and the process of “Find an enjoyable thing that other people do, attend it (or participate online) regularly, get to know the people who hang out there, see what develops over time with the ones you like best” is pretty much the same for everyone.

A question you didn’t ask: Do you have the friends and social life you want? If so, enjoy that, if not, work on making friends who delight you. Expect your husband to encourage and support you (with time, resources) to make healthy friendships, you don’t have to settle his social life before you’re allowed to have one. If he resents or puts friction around you spending time with friends or going places without him, that’s a serious problem and down the road you might enjoy a life where you get to have friends + a nice TV instead of a controlling husband with no friends who doesn’t want you having any, either.

16 “You disappointed by a close friend who has turned his/her back on you writer diary entries”

Is some teacher giving this as a homework assignment? It comes up WAY too often to be random.

“Dear Diary,

I will regret forever the night that [Cassius][Penelope][Rumpelstiltskin][Moonflower] [Leon, Rat King and Aerospace Ringmaster] cruelly spat on our friendship, though I know I had it coming.

Ever since the day we first met in [kindergarten][the sketchy laundromat that contains a portal to hell in dryer #13][basic training][potions class], it was as if we were lost [brothers from another mother][sisters from another mister][sibs from another crib] and we spent every waking, breathtaking moment of wonder and youthful experimentation in each other’s company.

I know I was wrong to [promise their hand in marriage to a cruel baron in exchange for a temporary military alliance][grab their guitar out of their hands and sing Heart of Glass at a slowed-down tempo during their big audition for the spring musical][wash their cashmere sweater on hot with the towels, and then dress the cat in the shrunken garment as a joke][break the roommate code by having sex in their bed], but I’ve done my best to [apologize][behead the Baron and have the marriage annulled by the Church of Rome][wash the bedding][promise to only sing backing vocals when invited]. I thought that after I gave them [one of my kidneys][my firstborn][a room of straw spun into gold][the still-beating heart of the North Star][front row seats to Janelle Monáe] that our friendship was sealed forever.

Diary, they have asked for “a little space” to think about whether they’ll find it in their heart to forgive me, so I am only telling you what’s in my truest, secret heart: I would give anything to have my friend back by my side.

I hope and pray they will let me make amends and repair our fractured friendship. May tomorrow’s messenger send the Finch of Forgiveness and not the African Violet.”

Hopefully that will hold you/everyone for a while?

Happy August, friends. Comments are open.




167 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: Cruel Summer

  1. “When you spot a skunk, don’t pretend it’s a cat” is the. best. sentence. of relationship advice I have **EVER** heard.

    1. Relatedly, I often go on walks during the nighttime, and there have been a few times when I see an animal that I think is a cat, and my instinct is always to crouch down and call to it… but THEN I see that telltale white stripe and let me tell you, there are few things more physically chilling than being a few feet away from a skunk and BELATEDLY realizing what it actually is. Because if you’re already that close, you really can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) do what you want to do instinctually… jump up and run away. So my addendum to this bit of relationship advice is, “if you mistook a skunk for a cat, it’s okay (and probably better) to back away slowly and carefully.” You DON’T have to let the skunk know you’re onto its little game!!!

      1. That is excellent.

        … I had a scoutmaster who once sat on a stump all night because a skunk decided her lap was comfy.

        1. Skunks & mean people: Can be occasionally sweet when you have something they want/when they’re asleep!

          1. Fun fact: descented skunks raised in captivity apparently make really fun pets. They’re supposed to be smart and playful and get into EVERYTHING. If I didn’t work full time outside my home and live in a state where owning a skunk is illegal, I would totally look into getting one.

          2. Yeah, I am all down with the analogy, but to be literal the skunks I’ve encountered have seemed goodhearted, goofy, easygoing sorts, more curious about people than scared or aggressive. I mean they can damn well afford it. With dogs they are not so cool.

        2. Okay, I can see how, once you are lapping the skunk, you have to keep lapping until the skunk leaves, but I would love to know how the scoutmaster got jn that position to begin with. Woodcraft 101: If you’re sitting on a stump and a skunk approaches, calmly but promptly get up and walk away.
          Off topic, may I say–Manternet. I am dying. I am dead now. That is the best thing I’ve read all day.

        3. As a scout, we once cooked dinner at a campsite just a bit too far into the evening (i.e. when wildlife was becoming active)… as dusk arrived, a skunk ambled amiably up to our horrified outdoor soiree, casually strolled a circuit beneath the picnic table (including carefully stepping on every one of our panic-frozen feet) looking for scraps, poked around the cookware for a bit, and finally claimed a greasy spatula and absconded with it into the gathering darkness. We never arrived late to a campsite again.

          1. I love the visual of a skunk toddling off with a spatula clutched in its wee mouth. Even better if it returned triumphantly to its skunk friends, who issued the challenge of snitching something from a campsite, certain it would never be so bold.

      2. It’s a raccoon and not a skunk, but…come snuggles with mama!

        Fellow night-walker here who, for what it’s worth, often doesn’t use a flashlight and thus on semi-frequent occasions gets farther into the personal space of a raccoon/possum/skunk before noticing them than is remotely polite, and has never gotten sprayed or otherwise harassed over it. I usually say something like ‘Oops, sorry to startle you, have a good night’ and continue on my way. Completely inane, of course, but I anthropomorphize everything and the habit isn’t going anywhere, plus a calm voice can be helpful even with non-domestic animals.

        1. What I’ve done is slowly turn around and face away from it. At least twice, (including the time I nearly tripped on the skunk, and had to stop my foot mid-stride to avoid accidentally kicking it), this has resulted in a skunk that had been raising it’s tail preparing to spray, to turn and run away instead. (They’d rather run than spray, but they’re slow, so they need to slow down/discourage pursuers. So, I try to make it clear I’m not pursuing, and won’t see which direction they ran).

          1. My version is that time I saw the rattlesnake just before I stepped on it, squeed (because pretty snek!), but apparently was blocking its sunbath. The snek did the snekkish equivalent of heaving a sigh (thought balloon clearly read “Tourists!“), and went down its snek-hole.

          2. I’ve run out of nesting but this is a response to cavyherd…

            I had a similar thing with a dugite. I was waiting outside my parents’ house for a friend who was picking me up, when this 5-foot-long dugite (ie a venomous brown snake) came around the corner of the house. I jumped up on a brick planter box and started shouting for the cleaner who was inside. The snake looked at me with an expression that clearly said “I don’t know wtf you’re shouting about, but *I* sure don’t want to meet it!”, turned around and went back the other way.

        2. How long has that raccoon been pulling this scam? WHAT HAPPENED TO MEEZER???

        3. My sister has nearly done this, thanks to some darker patches in the yard (I was there and spotted the mistake BEFORE we had a raccoon inside the house, but it was up to the porch, about to come in). It scared the hell out of her when she realized – she’s rather afraid of even small wild animals. I myself have moved toward an opossum or raccoon intending to pet it before realizing it isn’t my cat; it doesn’t help that the raccoons in my neighborhood are COMPLETELY habituated to humans, so they will walk within inches of one, completely ignoring one. One time a raccoon stole my hot dog buns off a plate sitting right next to me (our neighbor intentionally feeds, and therefore attracts, animals that many – most? – people consider pest species, which also learn to see humans as food dispensers rather than threats, so they don’t run away, though the opossums still mostly hiss at me if I get too close).

          Not as many skunks in my area, at least not that I see, though I know they’re around from seeing one every once in a while and smelling them more often.

        4. When I was a child, several large possums regularly visited our yard. We tended to leave the back door open so our pets could go in and out, and it was a straight shot from the back door to the cat flap to the garage where the cat food lived.

          Once my mother heard something go through the cat flap and assumed, as you do, that it was our cat. A few minutes later she hears something come out the cat flap, and our cat strolls by. All normal. Then a bit after that she hears something come out the cat flap AGAIN and looks over and a very large possum is strolling to the back door, licking its lips. The cat was utterly unperturbed. In fact it seemed like this happened ALL THE TIME and this was merely the first time a human had seen it go down.

      3. Nothing has ever kicked me into badass adrenaline mode the way that fear of skunk smell has. My dog got sprayed once and smelled bad for a year. It was like she had fallen into the swamp of eternal stench. Another time I was letting her out and she was halfway out the door when I noticed a skunk about five steps away. I leaned forward and snagged all fifty pounds of her then fell backwards with her into the house while shutting the sliding glass door closed with my foot at the same time. It was an amazing maneuver. Then last weekend I was at a dinner with my new baby and some kid at the table shot a straw paper cover at me and I ducked out of the way allowing it to hit my baby’s face…. so clearly my protective instincts are super limited in scope.

        1. Is it weird that I want to see Jason Statham do that amazing maneuver in a movie?

        2. I once went to a lecture at a local university, and after it was over, the dude I was with and I stopped in a small stand of trees to have a breath of some entirely legal fresh air. I had enough and stopped for bit while he kept going a little longer, and as I was peaceably gazing at the stars I heard a rustling in the undergrowth.
          “Must be a rat,” I thought. It kept going and got closer. “…okay, a really big rat?”
          I looked down and a few inches from my right foot was a small, baffled-looking skunk. I yelped, “Dude, skunk!” and took off running in the opposite direction. The dude was smart enough to follow suit.

      4. I had a fun oops-a-skunk encounter some years back; at the time, I owned a fluffy tuxedo-cat who was indoor-outdoor, though she generally came in before dark. (I had a cat-flap in the outer storm-door so I could give the cats free access.) I went out one summer night to take out the trash, and saw my fluffy black cat on her back on the driveway, white belly showing, so of course I went over to scritch her… and then she ran away, ON HER BACK, WITHOUT TURNING OVER FIRST. That was… really, really weird, in the milliseconds before I worked out that it was not a reclining cat but a perfectly upright skunk!

      5. I know this didn’t start as “dealing with your local skunk,” but the last few years I lived in New York, there were skunks in my local park.

        One thing we and our neighbors learned quickly was, the skunk doesn’t want to interact with you either; give them a little distance, and all parties will be happier. That meant I once stopped a stranger who was walking a dog at dusk, to tell him that I’d just seen a skunk down this path, so he should probably go that way instead. And my partner was standing at the edge of the park smoking one evening (he has since quit) and saw a skunk approaching from maybe 20 or 30 feet away. So he started whistling, quietly, and the skunk noticed him, turned, and walked in another direction.

        (This, too, is part of life in the big city.)

        1. Our back yard has a skunk, who we call Occupant. (She gets a lot of mail)

          The cats have learned to be polite, and thus far I have prevented the dog from trying to play with Smol Angry Stripey Dogge.

          She seems to have gotten somewhat used to us, and so long as we make noise going back there after dark, she just ambles off looking slightly put out.

          1. Our back yard has a skunk, who we call Occupant. (She gets a lot of mail)


          2. My husband has a have a heart trap that he baited with cantaloupe to catch a tomato devouring woodchuck. Instead he caught a baby skunk. He looked up online for what to do. Ended up covering himself with a sheet, walking slowly towards the trap, humming as he went, unlatching the trap and running like hell. While his librarian researcher wife and volunteer fireman son watched from the safety of inside the house. He escaped the skunk, the skunk ambled out to his den under the shed, and life was good. I think the humming was the best part.

      6. I was walking home in the late summer dusk when I spotted a big cat ambling in front of me. Of course I reflexively went awww and got a bit closer, whereupon I discovered it was in actual fact a gigantic raccoon, trotting down the sidewalk an not giving a fiddler’s damn who saw it. Thank God I realized this before any attempted petting.

        1. In Brownies we were fed countless horror stories about how raccoons can rip your face off, to scare us out of hiding food in our tents (and probably also to teach us to remain calm and quiet if we wake up in the night to wild animals?) I promptly forgot all of them until decades later, walking to my Very Strict Security Job, I came across one taking up the entire sidewalk and froze in sheer terror until the damn thing finally moved along, then texted my supervisor “Going to be late because apparently I am pathologically afraid of raccoons.”
          Didn’t get fired!

          1. I once passed a raccoon sitting in the middle of the sidewalk in broad daylight rocking back and forth.

            We crossed the street so we wouldn’t have to go near it. I don’t know what was up with it but rabies is a possibility and I hear the post-exposure rabies protocol sucks. And, you know, even if it’s not rabid I don’t fancy getting bit by a raccoon.

          2. We have quantities of racoons living in our complex (in addition to the odd skunk). They finally started keeping the Dumpstr lids closed, so the last few years I haven’t had to go out at oh-dark-thirty and supply a ladder for the kits screaming because they’ve fallen in. Occasionally I encounter Mom, but we stay well clear of each other. In no wise would I ever get within arm’s reach of a racoon if I could help it. I am fully confident that one could thoroughly ruin my day if it were so inclined.

    2. And even if it’s not a skunk but still isn’t a cat, still best to avoid going in for pats. (Cue story about how I nearly accidentally patted a brushtail possum on a dark street corner behind my unit once. It was extremely confused, I was flustered, and it was just an embarrassing experience for everyone involved.)

      1. A friend of mine tells the following truly horrifying story, which she claims happened to a friend of hers. (I do not know her to be the type to lie or even embellish, but I sincerely hope this is an urban legend.)

        The woman in question, a cat owner, awakened from a deep sleep, needing to pee. She noticed that her cat, who usually slept atop the covers, was inside the covers, curled up by her feet.

        A little weird, but hey, it was a cold night, and it felt cozy to have something warm and furry next to her feet. No big thing.

        She got up and went out into the hallway, and there was . . . HER CAT.

        She returned to her room, drew a few breath, grasped the covers at either corner, and flung them from the bed, leaping backward as she did.

        And there on the bed, blinking up at her, was a terrified little possum.

        (I don’t know what happened after that because all of us listening to the story were cringing and shrieking at that point.)

        1. I haven’t had a possum in the bed, but once did wake up hearing noises in the loungeroom and yelled at my cat to shut up, only to realise she was asleep at the foot of the bed. The noises were from a possum which had fallen down the chimney and was running around frantically trying to find a way out of the house, knocking things over and making sooty little footprints everywhere.

        2. And I’m sitting here going “Please let that happen to me!” (Possums are one of the safer mammals to have randomly show up because their body temperature is not conducive to rabies). Similar to when all my friends are posting about the horrible, terrifying snakes showing up in their yards and I’m just like “Universe, I’m right here!!!”

          1. You SAY that, but when you go into your garage to change the laundry and Mysterious Possum does the whole scream/drooling “how dare you wake me from my beauty sleep no I won’t tell you how I got there” thing, it’s somewhat startling.

            I mean, the rabies thing is totally valid, though, AND they eat ticks, I’m totally in favor of them as neighbors, just not as non-paying roommates.

          2. My goal in life is to be bitten by every animal species. I’m planning a big tetrodotoxin party when I’m on my last legs 🙂

          3. Not to be a jerk, rather to spread cool opossum knowledge: opossums are not mammals, but North America’s only native marsupial! Opossums are my favorite local wildlife – the tick control and lack of rabies already noted, plus they also eat house pests like mice, garden pests like slugs, and carrion (including the skeletons, unusual for scavengers; this helps limit the prevalence of decaying animal corpses in an area with opossums – scavengers aren’t always highly regarded, but they are advantageous both for the general ecology and for humans specifically), and they’re decidedly (ugly-)cute IMO. Sadly, in colder climate zones, they’re prone to losing toes and even tails to frostbite due to the lack of fur in those areas.

            I have three that live in or very near my yard, two entirely white-furred ones (not sure if they’re truely albino, as I haven’t seen the eyes close enough in good light to be able to tell their color; apparently they’re relatively rare in either case) and one with the more common mottled grey/brown fur.

            Tangential anecdote: my favorite post ever on the neighborhood Facebook page was somebody new to the area expressing alarm about all of the “giant rats” around; we quickly determined that he was unfamiliar with opossums and was (understandably) interprting them as giant rats thanks to the hairless tails and general shape.

          4. Marsupials are a kind of mammal though, along with monotremes and placental mammals.

  2. Q1: SHUT IT DOWN. The Captain has won the internet for all time. I am over here cackling to myself in a witchy manner for the rest of 2019.

  3. “When you spot a skunk, don’t pretend it’s a cat.” This will be going down in the list of “mom expressions” I’m making for when my young boys become teenagers. This website just continues to be a font of excellent life advice!

  4. My 13 yo, 10 yo and I are having an ongoing conversation about what to look for in a person to date or befriend (respectively). I think I’m using the ‘when you spot a skunk, don’t pretend it’s a cat’ advice with them when it it comes up again. If only I’d heard this in my teens.

    1. Can you elaborate a bit? I just got out of a long-term relationship that ended super abruptly because I, at 26, obviously still don’t know what to look for in a person to date. 🙈 (Serious request, although you obviously don’t have to reply! :))

      1. I tell my kids (14 y.o girl / 13 y.o boy) to look for people who are kind to them and others, have a sense of humor, like to read, can talk about more than one interest, are smart, listen to their parents, respect boundaries people put in place, and who make them laugh. The list gets added to as things come up.

        My daughter has a boyfriend. They just started “going out” (aka riding bikes together, hanging out at the library, and talking on the phone or in group chat – oh and ice cream dates that parents are also a part of) but she’s been talking about him for months so I knew she liked him. He was a friend first and they just have similar sense of humor and she would talk about how funny and smart he was. She also liked that he was very protective of a specific boy in their friend group – the boy is mainstreamed with his peers but he struggles academically and socially. Her boyfriend has known this boy since preschool and even though he knows that this boy might say something awkward or just sit in the corner on his phone talking about dinosaurs her boyfriend makes sure he gets invited to parties and group events. As my daughter is also protective of this same boy, it really made her happy that her boyfriend did the same.

        1. This is just so lovely. Congratulations on raising an excellent human who has found another excellent human with whom to have ice cream dates. I know teen romances don’t last (and frankly shouldn’t last), but I kind of want these two to open a unicorn ranch together and live happily ever after.

      2. Regarding what to look for in people to date (this will always be biased by personal preference and culture, but I do think there are some things that can be generally applied in order to minimize/end early relationships that are unhappy for at least one person or even abusive), I would say:

        someone with enough shared interests that you have things to do together, and enough disparate interests that you also have things to do on your own;

        someone who makes you feel good about yourself rather than making you feel like you ways need to be inauthentically performing a role, walking on eggshells, navigating conversational traps, tolerating insults or dismissals, or any of the other kinds of draining and/or harmful emotional labor people frequently do to stay in relationships with imcompatible people that gives us so much fodder for advice columns;

        someone with enough of a shared worldview to prevent major conflicts over core values*;

        someone whom you find sexy (for dating, if one is seeking sexual relationships, and especially if one is seeking a sexually exclusive sexual relationship);

        someone who is seeking the same type of sexual relationship (inuding not sexual at all/asexual, sexual and exclusive, sexual and not exclusive with similar desires for how sex with other people is handled, similar desires for frequency of sexual activity all around);

        someone who treats people with less status kindly (people who do not do so not only embrace status hierarchies, but use them to feel good by making others feel bad, a tendency that may well eventually target you);

        someone who smells good or at least inoffensive to you (not their soaps or perfumes, but their human odors – this is extra important for people who live together and especially who share a bed, since we’re not always going to be freshly showered around our sex and/or dwelling partners);

        someone who doesn’t make offensive “jokes” (I’m talking about people who frequently make “jokes” that punch down, distinct from people who rarely do so and may just have a few correctable blind spots or people who joke about loaded topics but in ways where a marginalized group or person isn’t the butt of the joke);

        someone who is capable of being open and honest about zir feelings (as opposed to people who insist they’re fine when they clearly are not, people who won’t talk about difficult topics at all, or people who shift fraught conversations to focus exusively on what YOU are doing wrong rather than how you both can develop an accord or compromise – this is important for conflict resolution, which is necessary in every relationship because no two people have 100% of the same values and desires);

        and someone who handles boundaries/rejection/disappointment well.

        On a more subjective, culturally-dependant note, I’d suggest dating people (of any gender) who clearly reject common gender norms, because certainly in contemporary USA society (and I would argue nearly all human societies at present), lots of our gender norms are extremely harmful (for everyone, and especially so for women and genderqueer people), and people who uncritically internalize the not-so-harmful norms are more likely to also internalize the more harmful norms. On this particular count, I think that women who date men have an extrmely useful sorting tool: ask men out on dates rather than ONLY trying to attract attention and flirting and waiting for the man to ask you out. A man who is going to turn you down simply because YOU did the asking (this is the common stated fear informing reticence) is telling you he’s internalized a lot of harmful norms about masculinity and gendered dating, and is therefore a bullet dodged. Along the same lines, I avoid strong essentialists, as they are likely to essentialize harmful cultural norms/stereotypes and then insist that nothing can/should be done about them or that the impacts aren’t bad because they’re essential characteristics (naturalistic fallacy).

        This isn’t directly related to qualities that make people good prosective romantic partners, but one of the things to keep in mind when actually applying relationship advice is that CLEAR REJECTION IS ALWAYS A KINDNESS. People who don’t want to date you – or be your friend – are BAD PROSPECTIVE ROMANTIC PARTNERS OR FRIENDS, and rejection means we can move on to focusing our time and energy on people who are good matches. Pressuring or convincing someone to pursue some kind of social relatioonship is a bad idea; even if it initially seems like the interested party is getting what ze wants, ze isn’t, because what ze ACTUALLY wants is a relationship with someone SUPERFICIALLY SIMILAR to the person in question but with the important difference that the hypothetical person is interested zirself. Because that’s a fantasy rather than reality, initial acquiescence means more eventual misery for everyone involved.

        *While lots of people can and do make ongoing relationships with people who have radically different religious, philosophical, ideological, etc. views work, to some extent, for long periods of time, our worldviews are linked to our core values, and a major difference in values will eventually cause problems, sometimes in unexpected ways, perhaps ways that don’t show up unless/until one has children – e.g. vaccination, a child facing an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy, issues around agency and discipline of children. Similar financial perspectives, tolerable degree of mess or clutter in a shared dwelling, cromulent division of household labor, compatible career goals (not necessarily similar; indeed, if one person wishes to devote considerable time and energy to a career, it may be more advantageous if the other person wishes to work part-time or not at all and covers more domestic and household logistical labor, especially if one wishes to have children; because this has been historically gendered in USA, career-focused men partnering with domestic-focused women is easier and more common), shared desire to procreate or not, and compatibility with – or good enforcement of boundaries for – each other’s family are key things to look for when considering long-term partnerships with shared dwellings.

      3. As far as what to look for in someone to date, one of the top things in my list was kindness, since I dated one or two people who didn’t have that as a primary trait and I found that it is (at least for me) a trait without which all others are irrelevant. I’ve also found, having dated someone who was indifferent to things that mattered to me (he told me once after I shared a very painful story about a miserable weekend with a family member, “Oh well, you survived, who cares?” Or something along those lines…) that it is helpful to share a brief story when first dating about an event you want empathy for, to see if they care or not. I heard someone else say she did the same thing with a disagreement on one of the first dates, or standing up for herself, or something, to see if he could handle her wanting something against what he wanted. Little things like that can help you feel out the waters, so to speak, before getting too emotionally involved.

  5. Q16. I’m pretty sure this is a writing prompt from “the freedom writer’s diary,” which is an actual book of writing prompts that goes along with the movie Freedom Writers.

    I suspect some high school teachers just use the book for their whole class. I have mixed feelings about the movie, but the resulting writing clubs are to be a positive experience for a lot of teens, even if some are looking for further, uh, “inspiration” on Google.

    1. I sincerely hope that a bunch of teachers start getting assignments that are just madlibs of the above suggestion and are like “what the entire fuck is going on here”.

      Just because I’m a little bit evil on the inside and enjoy people’s consternation I guess.

      1. That’d be hilarious 😂 the funny part is, if I remember it right, they’re supposed to be personal narrative writing prompts. Like, “write a diary entry about a time your friends disappointed you or turned your back on you.” Which makes Googling for something to copy off of kinda silly, because you’re supposed to be introspective.

        Although, in fairness, I hated personal narrative essays in school, and while I never plagiarized, I did just make up stuff to write about sometimes. So I can’t judge the teens of today 😅

        1. “I hated personal narrative essays in school”

          Those were a bad fit for me, especially in 5th and 6th grade when I wanted to be writing wild sf/f stories and could have been learning about what makes a story work and instead had to write about getting braces or what my cat was up to (though of course cat stories are great). Poetry was also allowed, so I thought I was being really clever by exploiting that loophole and writing acrostics about fungi, inspired by my science class. I thought I was going to get back at them by writing about something “gross” but instead I got printed in the school newsletter.

          1. I feel like most middle schoolers (definitely true of my past self) lack both life experience and the degree of introspection that makes a personal narrative interesting to read. And I never wanted to write something I’d be bored to read.

        2. Oh, I did too. I understand the intent but my first reaction was “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.”

          1. Same here. I always made something up that sounded right but innocuous. I didn’t want to get teased. By college/grad school/teacher seminars when they were STILL asking personal introduction questions, I started responding, “I’ve lied on every one of these since middle school.”

        3. Oh I definitely made things up for essays. My home life was happy but uneventful so whenever we had any narrative essays I decided to make it more interesting. I remember one of them was something like “Write about a time you had a disagreement with a family member and what you did to resolve it.” Being a very imaginative child with a liking for history and adventure fiction, I wrote about how I had murdered my twin brother using untraceable tree frog poison in order to claim his share of an inheritance. My mother had to endure a fairly interesting conversation with the teacher on that occasion about what exactly I was reading for inspiration (which was pretty much everything I could find). I don’t think I’d quite grasped that the essay was supposed to be broadly realistic.

          1. In our GCSE English class we got warned about this. There was a creative writing exam question a year or two before along the lines of “Write about a time when you…” and a very bright student wrote a fictional essay set in a car driving home from a 9-5 office job and talked about the spouse and children at home. The writing was excellent and they should have gotten high marks, but they were heavily graded down for not having answered the question because it was supposed to be from personal experience.

  6. Re 8: My mom (who is not aware of boundaries, and also likes to do the Intrusive Question With Hidden Agenda that 6 gets, argh) is moving, and likes to vent at anyone who will listen. I sent her an email akin to this:

    “In the spirit of optimizing our relationship, I want to share something that so far I haven’t figured out the best way to approach, but it really needs to be said.

    I respect that (subject of complaints) is hard and stressful — for anyone, let alone someone also dealing with (her specific medical issues). And I know the value of being able to vent about problems.

    However, I’m finding that more venting is coming at me than I have the battery to listen to. Each individual discussion is only mildly draining, but the cumulative effect is too much.

    I like spending time with you, especially when we do more fun things like (specific examples). I don’t want to use up all my battery on the things you’re stressed about, because then I don’t enjoy my time with you, and I have limited enough battery as it is.

    I look forward to (thing we’ve planned)”

    Note: the battery analogy is one we had previously established — because of chronic medical issues I basically have a faulty battery charger, and it gives me a way to say I’m tired that she doesn’t hear as specifically about her.

    I have had to say “do you remember the email I sent?” when she gets going, and that’s happened more than ideal, but it has helped.

    I offer this script to anyone in similar circumstances with a chronic complainer; tweak as desired to fit.

    1. Cool, I’m glad it’s working (at least to some degree). For the record, I’m relating a little more to this battery analogy than to the “spoons” analogy. Thank you for that!

  7. I live with roommates and my young adult (as in adult, but still pretty new at it) kid. My kid has anxiety about people breaking into the house. I want to know when I can have loud sex and when friends are over so I can decide if I want to put on a bra. We have a blackboard where residents put when they are out of the house or having people over. WHAT they put is up to them. Someone came to look at an available room and said “I find this intrusive.” Okay, cool, we’re not a good match then.

    IS it intrusive? IDK. But I own the house and I like my kid feeling safe, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. Well, there’s a difference between “I’m going out, don’t wait up for (meal/locking up)” and “I’m going to this specific place for this specific reason.”
      The former is more about house logistics. The question was about “Where are you going?” which is more the latter.

      But as you say, someone who grates at house sharing logistics should not be sharing your house.

    2. I think the fact that you own the house and have a relative that lives there makes this a slightly different equation, but as the homeowner I think you have a right to keep track of the comings and goings of your tenants and their guests on some level. If you don’t require them to be more specific than “out, back 8/5 AM” or “book club 9-11 8/3,” I don’t find that intrusive. That’s basic courtesy in a shared living space situation. Now, if you needed them to specify exactly where they were and policed their comings and goings, or had to pre-approve a guest list for any gatherings, that would be a problem, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re doing.

  8. Q2 “Words of sympathy for someone who hates you.” I might also suggest just leaving them alone. I would not appreciate someone I hate re-entering my life at a time when I required sympathy.

    1. Yes. Leaving people the hell alone goes with everything and looks great no matter the season!

      1. Yeah, trying to assuage your guilt AT your enemy – who likely has good reason for said hate – while they are grieving is a bad idea.

        1. I mean, they don’t *have* to have a good reason for said hate. But even so, what benefit does OP derive by engaging with someone who hates them?

          1. Well, they might be unavoidable. There are a couple of perfectly decent and lovely people who are very much the opposite of my cup of tea in my extended circle, so I read it as that/a coworker/extended family situation.

          2. My mom is good friends with my childhood bully and general archnemesis’s mother. I feel various ways about that but have mostly settled on very mild betrayal hidden under a giant pile of ostentatiously not giving a crap.

            It does mean that the entire time my mom remained in my hometown I did occasionally run into my archnemesis, the way you tend to run into people in your hometown if your families run in the same social circles, and we had to say polite things to each other. And they did of course attend a family funeral since they’ve known our family for decades, so my nemesis has had to offer words of sympathy to me, hater-of-her-guts.

            She went with “I’m so sorry” and I said “Thank you” and we both went back to pretending each other didn’t exist and it was fine. I think in cases when leaving them alone is not viable, sticking to the classics is definitely the best choice.

  9. #7: Ah, I commiserate! I’m also the child of a mother who gave me the silent treatment all throughout my childhood whenever I did anything that upset her. It used to drive me insane and made me want to work all the harder to get her to talk to me again. I learned that she needs to stew over her feelings and she’d come back to acting like my mom in her own due time. She saw things that I did against her wishes as a personal attack/betrayal, which obviously was not true, but she also just didn’t understand how to express her feelings. She grew up in a home that didn’t talk about their emotions and didn’t have the mental toolkit to deal with it. So, it sucked, it frustrated me to no end, and I’ve had to work hard not to take that as a way to deal with my own feelings into adulthood (there have been many times I’ve caught myself giving the silent treatment to friends/partners/etc. and had to readjust my mindset).

    Because I’m over it now, and she no longer gives me the silent treatment since I’m a Certified Adult™ in her eyes now, the two most ridiculous silent treatments that stand out to me from growing up:

    1. That time I bought some trashy teen novels in middle school after I made my first babysitting paycheck and she didn’t speak to me for 3 days (my dad – who took me to get the books – kept goading her into talking to me, ie “come on honey, at least she didn’t buy drugs!”)
    2. That time I got a nose ring in high school w/o telling her and she didn’t talk to me for 2 whole weeks. I eventually took the piercing out years and years later because my job at the time didn’t allow it, and boy did I hear about that for awhile.

    1. My cousin got married in the Catholic church and the priest looked exactly like The Rock (this was back when he was a pro wrestler and not a movie star) in a cassock and even kind of sounded like The Rock and I was entertained for the entire lengthy Catholic service by staring at this guy who seriously looked like at any moment he was going to tear off his black robe and piledriver somebody.

      And that is my story about my cousin’s wedding, please plagiarize at your leisure google searchers.

  10. #7 with mom giving silent treatment. I’m going through this except with my dad, and we all live so far apart the only communication is phone. It’s been a year of wonderful silence, until this last weekend when my mom decided she needed to “fix” things. I explained that he has my phone number so he’s capable of picking up the phone and calling, and that she isn’t required to “fix” anything. Also explain that in fact, adult relationships do not require someone to volunteer to fix them, neither of us asked her to so she can just stop. She replied with “Well I just need to hear both sides and have time to think about it though….” so she didn’t hear me at all. This is how my relationship has been with both my parents my whole life. Dad ignores me, mom tries to fix it. Again and again and again. It’s exhausting.

    But I wanted to say thank you to the Captain for the advice given, because I frequently feel like I should just give in and make an apology for whatever he’s mad about this time. Particularly when my mom attempts to guilt me saying how stressful it is for her that we don’t get along, it’s really difficult.

  11. I have been keeping myself occupied over the last few days of a very slow work period, by catching up on the Captain’s archives from before I became a reader. (You have made my work week bearable!) Then today, a new entry in my favorite series. Awesome! ♥

  12. Please, O Captain, PLEASE PLEASE tell me someone has put your song to a tune and it’s singable! (Or someone, let’s get this set to music and get it done!)

    1. I wrote it…earlier today…so…no? Anyone is welcome to set it to music as long as it’s attributed and I get a copy.

    2. In the meantime, this might be amusing to you!

      (…today is apparently my day to be reminded of random youtube vids by comments here, sorry if it’s coming across as spammy, Captain!)

  13. I googled “affordable housing birthday cake” last week, looking for an image to send to a friend who is passionate about affordable housing on her birthday… and apparently came to this site right after?? Is that how the search terms thing works? If not, and someone else searched that, it seems super strange.

    Anyway I did not find such a cake but did find a pretty sweet cake shaped like the house from UP.

          1. :Dons software person hat: If you really want to know, read the next paragraph.

            The Captain’s website statistics collector knows what site you came from, because websites always know that. So if you searched for that, and then didn’t do anything with any of those results, but typed ‘’ into the address bar right afterwards or clicked on one of your bookmarks that was set to that, it looks exactly the same as if you came here from a web search.

            :Removes software person hat:

            Anybody want a cold beverage?

          2. Oh no. The things I have searched for before directly coming to this site. The. Things.

            Anyway, if the next time you look at search terms and end up with “Is a hot dog a taco,” let’s just agree not to talk about it here.

    1. I tip my hat to you, as another person who googles “[thing person likes] + birthday cake” to post on friends’ social media channels.

    2. You’ve burst my bubble, I was imagining that somewhere on the internet there’s a photo of a time someone got that THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH guy’s photo printed onto the cake and had someone write “THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH” in icing and excuse me I think I need to go order a cake now…

  14. No. 7: After years of appalling behavior from my parents, I put up some serious boundaries. My parents reacted by demanding we sit down to “talk things out,” which roughly translates to, “How about another round of insults, belittling and gaslighting?” I declined the invitation yet still tried to maintain a relationship with them. And they ignored me.

    Eventually I dropped the rope and stopped trying. I admit it bothered me at first, but I threw myself into my own life, and before I knew it, a few more months had passed and suddenly my parents are trying to reach out to me because this wasn’t going as planned.

    Does your mother leverage the fact you need or want something against you? It took this time-out for me to realize that’s what my parents do — with money, assistance and, it turns out, attention. As long as I was trying to have a relationship with them, they thought they held the power. They would deny me the relationship I was trying to have and I would have to dismantle my boundaries and agree to “talk things out” — ie. the relationship would continue on their terms. They didn’t expect that I would stop talking to them.

    This was a couple of years ago; I still don’t talk to my parents. They pop up every now and then to try to pressure me back into a relationship (their attempts at reconciliation are seriously awful). It’s clear they haven’t examined their behavior or thought about their role in destroying our relationship. They think that if they just wait it out, I’ll give in eventually. And then I’ll give in in other ways. And then others. And then, and then, and then….

    I hope your mother isn’t like my parents. I hope that if you back away from her for a while, she’ll realize she’s losing the game she started. However, I hope you can use the time apart to both grow as the wonderful individual you are and assess your relationship with your mother from a distance. I was genuinely surprised at how peaceful life was without my parents. I had more time and energy, and even lost weight because I wasn’t stress eating. I still still feel sad and angry sometimes at how things turned out, but I don’t regret sticking to my boundary, even though it wasn’t always easy.

    Best of luck to you, No. 7; I hope your situation resolves one way or another.

    1. Thanks for this. I stopped talking to both my parents in March. The extinction event was my father going off on me because I politely told him I was not ready for jokes about my dead pet yet (it was a weird pet to have but I was still fond of it.) I just…threw my wine down the drain, bailed on the family birthday party, blocked his number and social media, blocked my mother’s social media because I knew the “just make peace your father is sorry he’s always so so sorry but is never going to treat you like a human being so you’re the one being irrational & breaking up the family here” messages were coming and I just haven’t spoken to either of them since.

      It still stings because this is my first year with functionally no parents and everything is still weird. My mother didn’t acknowledge my birthday (and she could have; I sent her mother’s day flowers!) Father’s Day went by and I did nothing, my father’s birthday went by…I dread Christmas. But my life is oddly peaceful and I don’t really miss engaging with them in a real way, it’s more that I miss feeling cared about by them.

      Anyway I’m going to go cry now but thanks for giving me hope that someday I won’t feel quite so terrible. Even though I’m the one who stopped speaking to them, I’m the one that feels abandoned.

      1. Sending Jedi hugs if you’d like them. It’s so, so hard to internalize the fact that one’s parents are crappy because even if they are terrible, it’s still at least a little lonely without them. We stopped speaking to my grandmother – oh wow, 20 years ago now. She died ten years after we stopped without me ever having spoken with her again. My parents are not super-great in lots of ways, and even though I am currently speaking with them, I have lots more separation from them than I would ideally like. But when they are acting like jerks, you don’t need them just because they are your parents. I can tell you that, for me, it has gotten easier over the years. To the point now that I mostly think of them as random strangers – like a middle school best friend or a person with whom you worked at a high school job. It still hurts when they act like idiots/jerks, but not nearly as much as it did when the issues first came up. Wishing you peace and comfort.

      2. I’m sorry about your pet. If you would like to share further info (name, genus/species, funny story about it), I would be happy to read more.

      3. I’m sorry you’re going through this. My mom stopped speaking to me almost 2 months ago. My crime? My husband and I decided to NOT use my parents as our real estate agents when selling our house and looking for our new one. We are currently in our 3rd house, and my parents have been our agents each time before this one. We have many, many reasons for not working with them, which I won’t get into, but will say that it’s a combination of bad advice in the past and lack of boundaries.
        The fun twist for me is that they did come to my son’s high school graduation party (they had been invited before all of the drama), and spoke to my husband and kids, but not to me. I also got a birthday card from them, and my dad even sent his customary birthday flowers to me. So, it’s been weird.
        It’s hard. I have two kids (they’re 17 and 20), and I cannot imagine anything that would make me stop speaking to them for any length of time. I do not know what is going through my parents’ heads here, and don’t really see how they can justify this to themselves.
        It feels like they’ve never really loved me–because if they really did, they wouldn’t be willing to end our relationship over something like this.
        Try to remind yourself that this is about them, not you. (Even though I know how hard that is to believe, sometimes.)
        I wish I had better advice, but maybe it helps to know that you’re not alone?

  15. Ah, #6. Bracing myself for a family visit this weekend with the Passive Aggressive Queen of the Fishing Question and Hinty Hints. A woman who can turn, “What time do you most enjoy the beach?” into a sideways request for me to host and pay for a graduation party for one of her offspring while I am on vacation in a tiny, rustic beach house with no dishwasher. I have to ask, “Why do you ask?” twenty times to get to the real nugget at the center of her trap-questions, which is always a roundabout attempt to extract inconvenient, stressful and expensive “favors”. I’m going to bookmark this post and re-read it all weekend long, just to remind myself that I am not alone.

    1. Also remember: every question does not require and answer! Be a politician and answer something the questioner didn’t ask! For instance, “where are you going?” gets a “Be back at 7! Bye! ” “What time do you most enjoy the beach?” could get, “Sand is super interesting. All those former rocks , pulverized over tens of thousands of years! ” Or go judo, and turn it back on her. “Dunno. How about you?”

      1. LOL, I can have a lot of fun with this strategy…I’m really good at nonsensical tangents 🙂

      2. Another option is to answer the “trap” questions and then simply walk out of the “trap” once it’s sprung DESPITE the other person assuming that you can’t say “no” without whatever excuse they’ve preempted with the earlier question(s). The trap hinges on social conditioning to be nice, agreeable, and deferential to those with more status, and while it can be uncomfortable to violate those norms because social conditioning, it’s simple to do so (“Oh, no, I’d rather not;” Bartleby is your role model here, his ultimate fate aside). It might help to remember that people demanding large amounts of uncompensated labor or use of your resources (e.g. beach house), especially those who do so manipulatively, are already not being nice, so you’re not actually the one breaking the social contract there.

        I personally prefer this direct strategy to attempts to deflect the request because I hope it will eventually condition the person to ask for what ze wants directly (at least when asking me) rather than reinforcing the indirect-loaded-question game. If you generally like the game but just want to dodge a particular request, deflection and demurral is a good strategy, while if you hate the game in general, you may find that refusing to play is overall more successful, especially in the long term.

        1. Sorry, not to be jerky, but Bartleby’s recurring statement was actually: “I would prefer not to.”

    2. I’ve gotten lectures about being rude from my parents, but sometimes being ridiculously ‘nope’ in your responses is a way to dissuade them without playing the game. What’s my favorite time to go to the beach? The time when someone else is driving and paying for parking. Or yes, I can’t wait to see (movie in theaters next week) when it comes out on Netflix! Or something else.

      I don’t mind being seen as impossibly cheap if it means I don’t have people asking me to pay for their meals or drive them places all the time. (Though I’m a bit sore that sibling introduces me to all her friends as ‘no fun.’ Then again, she’s half the reason I have this strategy.)

  16. Q6: Another possibility for the reason behind the roommate always asking where you’re going is that they’re lonely and living their life through your activities/friends, and/or wanting a closer friendship (or relationship?) with you in which you share that kind of detail. That can be tricky to manage if you’re not interested in being their friend/romantic interest.

    1. I think that falls into the category of “where are you going = can I come with you,” wanting to be your perpetual +1, as the Cap mentioned. You’re right, though, that’s a tricky thing to navigate.

  17. Ah #6! I admit, I used to be (and if I end up with roomates again, will continue to be) That Guy. I’m a hard core introvert who needs alone time to recharge and I tend to be a person roommates like to share their troubles with. So knowing when the apartment would be totally empty and silent was something I would literally schedule my week around. I didn’t care what my roommate got up to or how long they’d be gone. I just needed to know a) if I could get some alone time to recharge my batteries and b) if I needed to feed their cats.

    Some roommmates loved the structure– and the added security of a human who knew that you were not home when you’d said you were going to be home and who could potentially file a missing person’s report the next day. One roommated hated it because it was incompatible with her identity as a free spirit who needed the flexibility to go on spontaneous wacky cross-country roadtrips at 3am. (True story. That roomate situation ended up being great for both of us and her cats who had me for reliable feeding, litterbox cleaning, and stimulation.)

    Like the Captain and other commenters say, everyone has different needs, and some mesh better than others.

    1. I used to have a collage roommate that I did not want to account my schedule to at all. Looking back with adult perspective, she probably just wanted to make sure I was not dead floating in the river, but she was super christian and I was spending nights with a boy, and I just deeply did not want to let her know if I was gonna have sex that night or not, so I drove her nuts with my ‘who knows? Don’t worry if I don’t show’ attitude.

      1. Ha! I would’ve done the same, and, tbh, not really even been that sympathetic to her motivation: like, you are NOT MY MOM, Janice from Craigslist, my mom lives three states away and knows that I’m a goddamn adult, and if I’m dead in a ditch that is still NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS SO BUTT OUT.

        I live alone now, which is really better for everyone, but I used to “joke” that, conversely, I’d have been the least helpful roommate witness on Law & Order. Don’t know if she was seeing anyone: she never brought ’em home when I was there. Friends? Probably had some. I don’t know. Work? No clue, but she paid her half of the electricity on time. No idea how long she’s been gone, Briscoe, I just know I haven’t had to avoid anyone in the kitchen for a few days. It was great, frankly, though too bad about her being dead and all, now I’m probably going to have to find another roommate and that one probably won’t clean the bathrooms.

        1. I would totally watch this episode. Since it doesn’t exist, I think maybe you’ve provided the plot to my ninth novel.

  18. #16, Captain is right. It’s probably not relevant except to illustrate how having a spouse with no friends who doesn’t want you to have them either sucks, but I want to vent. It’s been seven years since the conversation and four since he gave me freedom but sometimes I still feel rage remembering the time I suggested we hang out with a couple of recent acquaintance. “But I want to hang out with friends, not acquaintances,” he whined. Hanging out with acquaintances is how you make friends in a new city, motherfucker! (I only wish I had added the last bit.)

    1. I feel you, Darthina. Not a spouse, but someone else close to me who seems to keep redefining the degree of closeness necessary to spend time with people so that it just never really happens.

  19. Banarama is never not wonderful. And thank you for the re-pointer to Schrodinger’s Rapist.

  20. A strategy for situations like #6 could be to pick your favourite interpretation of the question (the one that you view as most acceptable, the one that’s most relevant to the situation, etc.) and answer that. This lets you control the messaging, and also makes the other person do the work of using their words and of changing the script if they have ulterior motives.


    – “I’m taking out the recycling on my way down, so you don’t have to worry about it.”
    – “Just running down to the corner store. Need anything?”
    – “I’ll probably be back late – don’t wait up!”

    1. This was my thought. Not looking for company or interested in sharing the details? The answer to their question is ‘Headed out for the evening, I probably won’t be back until X. Anything you need me to pick up if I hit the store?’ True! Will satisfy them if they needed pertinent information to make their own plans and/or just wanted to complete the conversational circuit! Forces them to be explicit if they were in fact trying to entrap you!

    2. I’m afraid I’m one of the “ask as a prelude to a favour”, but I spent a lot of my childhood around extended family where if they had jumped straight to the “why do you ask?” – answer: “well, if you were going near a shop, we’re nearly out of milk”, would have resulted in martyrdom. They had no intention of going to a shop, but now they *have* to go.

      In other words, they would receive a guilt trip when none was given, and my prelude question was learned self-defense.

      (note – this was my dad’s side. He tried his best to put boundaries in place to protect me and my brother, but four-year-olds are more observant than you realise)

    3. I did something similar at my old job, where if anyone saw me leaving around lunch they would ask where I was going, in hopes I would grab them lunch too. They would pay for it, but I would end up organizing lunch orders for eight people, who for some reason would never actually return the favor and get lunch for me. So I started replying with “Oh need to run a few errands then maybe grab food along the way” and hurry away. People couldn’t ask me to get them food if I didn’t even know where I was going (spoiler: I totally knew where I was going).

  21. I live with my mom, which is mostly great, but she does ask where I’m going every time I leave. Mostly for logistical/safety reasons, but she also just wants to know what’s going on in my life. To me, it feels suffocating and oppressive to be so observed. My solution, which I admit may not be the best, is to lie until my pants are on fire. I tell her the most neutral thing possible, and then do what I want. It satisfies her curiosity and need to plan logistics. I feel like I have space to live my life. I’m sure lying is not for everyone, but it sure works for me. (My Mom was *not* a safe person to talk to when I was a teen, so I have lots of practice lying to her without getting caught.)

  22. Back in my days of having roommates, I sought solitude the way a junkie seeks drugs. I lived for the occasions when they were gone for an extended period so I could guiltlessly camp out on the couch half-dressed watching garbage TV and eating cake for supper.

    I worried about seeming overeager, though, and was careful to ask about their away-from-home plans in a less than completely transparent manner.

    I did once offer a roommate $20 to go see a movie and leave me in peace for a few hours. We were on good terms and she knew I’d just finished a huge project and needed some alone time, and she was an avid film geek, so it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

    1. I once read an advice letter (maybe here?) about a woman that got Friday afternoons off during the summer. She had the house to herself and loved it! Then one day her husband came home and said since she’d enjoyed her afternoons off so much, he’d arranged to take the same afternoon off. I am haunted by this story to this day.

      1. UGH. One reason my husband and I are still married is that we each have a day that’s our own day off.

  23. Love “When you spot a skunk, don’t pretend it’s a cat.” Reminds me of screaming “NOT A KITTY!!!” as our dog bombed across the backyard towards a family of skunks snuffling in the grass. Luckily she realized her mistake and came back before things got smelly. The Stinkersons lived under our neighbor’s porch a few summers ago, the little ones were so cute.

  24. I’m just enjoying the Bananarama video and thinking about how, once upon a time, I didn’t think there was anything at all remarkable about those hairstyles or pants styles.

  25. #16, literal tears in my eyes, this had me laughing so hard. CA, I love your sense of humor so much.

  26. The answer to #13 made me cackle. YEAH for getting buff enough to move stuff that needs moving. Whether that’s boxes, boyfriends, or the world.

  27. Please, someone write about “the sketchy laundromat that contains a portal to hell in dryer #1”. Thank you.

      1. Is there any way the Awkward Army could view this film? Because that is totally my cup o’ tea!

        1. I keep wanting to interpret Nine Angry Chihuahuas as a particularly strange 12 Angry Men interpretation, if that helps.

  28. Ohhhh the ‘where are you going/what are you doing?’ trap.

    I am friends with the Saddest Extrovert (I know that’s a snippy way to refer to her but she is pushing my buttons hard at the moment) who needs a loooot more company than I do. We have this cyclical thing where she starts to seek more and more company from me specifically rather than spreading her needs around her social circle. Eventually I turn into a grumpy cat and hide for a few weeks, which usually resets things. (We’ve talked about this dynamic and we both recognise that it happens. I can’t figure out how to stop it though.) I can tell it’s getting to be grumpy-cat time when she starts carefully asking me what I’m doing that day and I am immediately filled with unreasonable rage because I KNOW she’s angling to hang out but she won’t just come out and ask, she’s waiting for me to say ‘Oh, nothing much’ so that I then have no face-saving reason to turn her down. I feel so manipulated. I think that in her head she’s being meek and polite – like she wouldn’t ask me for my time if I was doing something more important – but can’t fathom the idea that doing nothing, alone, in my house can also be important and desirable.

    1. You may have already tried this, but if you haven’t, it might be worth being more direct with her about what’s going on.

      “What are you doing [today]/[this weekend]?” “I’m planning to spend time alone and recharge my introvert batteries”

      “I know you need more company, but I can’t meet your needs that way, and I want to be able to enjoy the time I spend with you and not feel overwhelmed. I’m probably up for [typical amount that works for you] amount of hanging out. Beyond that, it’s best if you ask other people.” (Leaving things as open as you desire for true emergencies and special opportunities).

      I also wonder if it would work to have a standing hang-out time, either a particular weekly/monthly/whatever date or an understanding that you’ll get together at least once per week/month/whatever. This isn’t something you have to do, of course, but I’ve seen it recommended here in the form of weekly phone calls for people that get pushy, and if she she has anxiety about when she’ll have social time/time with you next, something regular that she knows will happen might help.

      1. I set up scheduled weekly phone calls with my mother, who was previously ringing me several times a week and we were both getting annoyed because I was, and remain, too busy for calls on weekdays in general, and definitely not multiple times a week. So now she doesn’t feel ignored and I don’t feel hassled and a big source of friction has been removed.

        I think this kind of regularly scheduled contact is a very good idea if both people are acting in good faith, and just have mismatches in availability / expectations. People who react badly to being ‘limited’ in when they can call you are indicating that you definitely should limit when they can call you.

        1. I recommend this tactic to all people who are trying to keep lines of communication open with a difficult family member (like a parent): Channel it all into a scheduled, regular thing and be unavailable the rest of the time.

    2. Sounds like you may also have some ‘guess culture’ vs ‘ask culture’ conflict too (trying to guess a time to hang with you feels manipulative to someone who just asks when friends are free). I’m all ask, and would stop it by telling her ‘hey, I’m really busy right now and need my solo time. Let’s do x at some future specific time’ making a solid date so that she can look forward to it, and so that she can move on to plan b.

      1. That may well be. I just spent a fairly intensive week with someone who is VERY Ask Culture and we had to sit and chat and calibrate a couple of times.

        I hope I appreciate the many good points of Ask Culture as they deserve, but DAMN it can feel like a LOT of requests (and subsequent processing/evaluating/accepting or declining) of each one from my end.

        The biggest recalibration is always “Can you …?”

        I mean, I almost certainly CAN, yeah. Are we SURE me doing it is the best option available? Because I’d prefer not to, and yet that’s quite hard to say.

        I’m sure from their end I’m a highly enigmatic bivalve, so. Takes practice.,

    3. I’m the type of introvert that loves planned outings in the future instead of “what are you doing right now” hangouts. Maybe you could get her off your back with a “today/this weekend isn’t good, but I’m free [two weeks in the future for Event]” to let her know that you do actually appreciate her company sometimes.

      But if she’s a true friend and you actually think she cares about the dynamic you’ve both talked about, you have a lot more leeway in “saving face” here if you just say “remember that dynamic we mentioned? Today/this weekend is Me time!” If you’ve said yes to every request she’s thrown out, what evidence does she have that you don’t want to go? You need to stand up for your needs and see how a true friend responds to that.

    4. You feel manipulated because there is some manipulation happening. Just because your roommate thinks this form of manipulation is more polite than asking directly doesn’t make it not manipulative.

      Do you think earlier rudeness on your part would be productive?
      Like, instead of waiting until you’re pushed into grumpy cat mode, turn her down.

      – What are you doing?
      “Nothing much, and I can’t wait” (optionally add: to recharge alone in my room/play video games until dawn/read my new book)
      or “I’ve been looking forward to a quiet day off”
      or something like that.

      The follow up:
      – Since you’re not busy let’s Do a Thing
      “No, thanks.”
      You don’t need to invent a reason, you don’t even need to wait for a specific invitation. You can just say no.

      If “no thanks” is met with a suggestion that you ~have to~ because you don’t have other plans, that’s rude of her.
      You’re allowed to say no just because you’d rather not.

      I hope a pre-emptive no will save blowups and resets, maybe.

      1. “Do you think earlier rudeness on your part would be productive?”

        The suggestions you give here don’t strike me as rude?

    5. Would it help to draw a clear line between “oh, nothing much” (which can easily be read as “free to hang out with you”) vs “downtime” or variants like “recharging my introvert batteries”, “taking some me time”, etc? If someone tries to argue with your explicitly-stated desire for downtime, you have an unambiguous boundary violation to address, but at least you get the plausible deniability out of the way and pull the real issue out into the light.

      1. My BFF and her spouse use “hamsterballing” as a descriptive term — “Oh, R had a busy day at work, he’s hamsterballing. He’ll show up for dinner, though.” kind of thing.

        I’m not sure where it came from, but I totally get it.

      2. I just tell people I have important plans to not leave my apartment or talk to anyone, but YMMV.

    6. “You misunderstood – I have plans, my plans are to do nothing. Alone. Cheers!”

    7. Extroverts often do, in fact, understand an introvert’s need for solitude. We just don’t phrase it that way. We’ll say we need time to wind down. (Because being with others leaves us so energized we can’t sleep, etc.)

      This is all preface to saying that it’s fine to tell an extrovert to go away and leave you alone.

      Really, it is.

      1. I’ve just reread my comment and hope it doesn’t come across too much as ‘introverts and extroverts are DIFFERENT SPECIES and extroverts can’t comprehend the sensitive depths of the introvert’, because I hate that crap. My apologies if that’s what I conveyed!

        ‘Cannot fathom’ was poor phrasing on my part. The hard thing with this particular friend is that she really, really, reeeally wants the company and will use big sad eyes to get it from me if she can, but finds it easier to accept me being busy with an actual thing because I guess it doesn’t feel like rejection to her. Simply saying that I need some time alone will also cause her to blurt out ‘WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO TALK TO ME ANY MORE’ at a later date when I’ve probably forgotten the whole exchange. (This is hard work and almost a deal breaker to be honest, but our kids are really close so argh.) I don’t think this is a particularly extrovert trait at all, I only used the word to express the gulf between how much social time we each need/enjoy – which isn’t really the core problem at all.

        1. Oh you didn’t come across that way at all!

          I was trying to make the point that your friend is pretending she doesn’t know what’s going on. Also giving you words that some extroverts I know (by which of course I mean myself) will use.

          But you’re right of course, this isn’t introvert vs extrovert. It’s a manipulative person.

          Maybe try to not worry too much about her over the top reaction. When she says whatever inappropriate crap she says you can respond “Wow” and reiterate that you’ll be spending your down time alone.

          1. Ahhh I get you! And yes, you are 100% right – she does understand, she just doesn’t like the answer she’s getting and has figured out that she can often change it by using certain tactics. Bleargh. I am trying to channel the Captain’s theme of Doing Less – accept the invites I want, turning down the ones I don’t and letting her reaction be what it is.

    8. here’s your answer in the future for what you’re doing:
      “what are you doing thursday”
      “what kind of stuff?”
      “stuff stuff”
      “well did you wanna do x?”
      “nope, stuff”

  29. #16! Perfect! And CA should now stand for “Captain Awesome”! I, too, love your [multiple-choice] [write your own adventure] [Mad Libs] sense of humor!

    1. Can we nominate “APPROACHING WOMEN” as maybe something in one of the short-work Hugo Award categories? Is it speculative enough for that?

      1. It doesn’t feel like sf/fantasy to me, but if it is, the Rhysling Award for sff poetry might be more appropriate. (“Doesn’t feel like” because genres aren’t well-defined: Damon Knight famously defined science fiction as “what I’m pointing at when I say science fiction.”)

  30. No. 7 — Whenever I set a boundary, my mother gives me the silent treatment. I mean Every. Single. Time. I’ve tried all kinds of responses and what I find best for my mental health is … enjoying it. I still call my parents’ house once a week, and if they don’t answer or if my mother is “in the bathroom” every time I call for three months, welp? That’s three months that I didn’t have to deal with her spewing FOX news talking points, making snide comments on my parenting or bemoaning the fac that she hasn’t seen my daughter in foreeeeevvvveerr. I actually kind of enjoy it these days — talking to her is careful, constrained, and unpleasant.
    There’s a caveat here. I’m an adult woman who doesn’t need my mom for any damned thing and lives multiple hours away. When I was a damaged teen living with my parents, accepting the silent treatment was much harder. Hugs if you want them, phantom person from the search terms.

  31. In fifth grade, I desperately wanted a pet skunk. And a pet deer and a pet squirrel and other pets, but especially a pet skunk.

    1. That was meant as a reply in the skunk discussion upthread. I’m inexperienced as using this website’s commenting system.

      1. Use the ‘Reply’ link under a comment to reply to it.
        Your menagerie of youthful desire is cute. 🙂

  32. Re: nosy roommates. I’ve had both roommates and co-workers that can get p nosy for no real reason. Sometimes I get the vibe they are gathering material to be judgemental, and while the mature version of me knows this has no effect on me, it definitely pushes all my buttons. Like I recently shared a hotel room with a co-worker (technically I’m higher level but don’t work directly with her) who every time I left to go out I got grilled, and when I honestly answered I was going to a cafe to get work done over the weekend I got, “you’re going to work on your talk MORE? Wow how long does it take you to finish talks? It’s still not done?” Then the next week my work habits were brought up by her to other conference-goers in an unprofessional way. She even commented on the fact that I snoozed my alarm (only once!) in the morning, making a point to brag that she always gets up on the first ring. It didn’t go over well as it was a very unprofessional and unrelatable thing to talk about at a conference, but my point is that some people are just freaking nosy bc it makes them feel better about themselves.

    1. I was going to comment about this too. I know people who ask a lot of questions specifically so that they can judge you about your answers.

      If that’s the case, giving minimal answers “I’m going out for a couple of hours” is best. It can be followed up with “why do you ask” so that if the household is low on toilet paper, the roommate can say so

  33. For #6, my immediate assumption was that Roommate wanted to know so she/he/they would have some idea of when to call the cops about a missing roommate, and also to tell said cops who Other!roommate had been with when last she/he/they saw Other!roommate.
    I may be slightly paranoid. Or seen too many true crime shows.

  34. Re #6: I might just be jaded, but as (usually) the only friend with a car, “What are you doing on x day?” is usually the first option, the, “Can you do something for me?” variant.

    I don’t mind driving people around for the most part, but it does make me bitter when someone asks what I’m doing and then asks for a favour. Like, just ask me for the damn favour! Don’t play games, leaving me to guess if you’re asking to hang out or asking for a ride somewhere or what. It just strikes me as manipulative.

    I’ve taken to flipping around and replying, “Why do you ask?” It requires them to be direct about what they want. I usually say yes anyways, but I’m not going to show my hand first.

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