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”
HARK, MY SON, THE WOMEN DOTH APPROACH
WEAR MODEST GARMENTS
DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT
DO NOT STIR OR MAKE A SOUND
ELSE THEY MAY CATCH YOU UP IN THEIR ARCANE RITES
THEIR BLACK CLOTHES CONCEAL SHARP KNIVES, HIDE THE STAINS OF THEIR WORKINGS
WALK SOFTLY, MY BOY, STAY ON THE PATH
HURRY, GRANDFATHER IS WAITING FOR YOUR BASKET
DON’T STRAY, DON’T WANDER, DON’T CATCH THEIR GAZE
YOU MIGHT RECOVER FROM THEIR FRENZIED WORSHIP
BUT NONE HAVE EVER RETURNED THE SAME WAY THEY LEFT
NOR WITH BOTH TONGUE AND WIT ENOUGH TO TELL THE TRUE TALE
REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED TO OLD MAN JEFF
WHO ORDERED THE WOMEN TO “SMILE”
HE CAME HOME WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE
BUT WITHOUT ALL HIS GUTS INSIDE HIM
HE KEPT SAYING “THEY SMILED, THEY SMILED THE WHOLE TIME”
WHILE WE STITCHED HIM UP
LET’S FACE IT, HE WAS GIBBERING, BUT STILL I LEARNED
THAT WOMEN’S SMILES ARE NOT FOR US TO COMMAND
HURRY, CHILD, THE WOMEN APPROACH
MAY THEIR PASSING BE SWIFT AND MERCIFUL
MAY THE CROPS GROW, MAY THE MOON SHED LIGHT
MAY YOU REMAIN SAFE WITH ME ANOTHER SEASON
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.
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.
- 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?]
- 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?]
- 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?]
- 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.
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.