Short Questions for August 2019: Part 1 of 2

Hello, it’s the monthly feature where patrons of the site can ask short questions.

Q1: Thanks to years of reading your blog I finally learned how to call out -isms when they happen! But now I’m stuck at the next hurdle, where people who get called out are so mortified they go into an over-the-top apology loop and keep it up until the apology gets more annoying than the original transgression. Do you have any scripts for when people go way too hard on the apologies after being corrected? (she/her/hers)

A1: INTERRUPT!!!!

I know, we’re taught that interrupting is always rude & wrong, but honestly, it’s so useful at times, like when you ask someone to stop doing something and they take it as an opportunity to process all of their feelings about whatever it is at you. Thanks, Stu, it was so fun to experience your misogyny at work, now, bonus I get to be your personal sexism therapist, translator, and Interpreter of All Women, ooh goody! So glad we had this talk!

Multiply that by infinity for white people who freak out when we are reminded that a) racism exists and b) racism isn’t a bone in our bodies and isn’t about our personal intentions or goodness. Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe this phenomenon, and says that the “splutterings,” (extreme defensiveness, shouting, crying, disbelieving people about their lived experiences, compulsively shifting the topic to historical events (politicians who remind everyone “I marched with Dr. King!” when asked about racism now) or unsolicited non sequiturs about how cool we are about race stuff serve a purpose that isn’t just the personal shame of getting something wrong or cognitive dissonance at the magnitude of white supremacy and injustice.

“These splutterings ‘work,’ DiAngelo explains, ‘to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.’ She finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it. And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.”

These overshares, even when the person is sincerely upset and ashamed, have a structural, ritual purpose. Ever ended up apologizing to someone who actually owes you an apology, but when you asked them to stop doing whatever it is that hurt you, they get so upset that you feel bad about saying anything in the first place and pressured to comfort them…about the bad thing…they did… to you? Yeah. Like that. But on a grand, national, and global scale.

So where does that leave us?

If you mess something up, and we all mess up sometimes, I think one good practice is to do whatever we can to not dwell on ourselves in that exact moment. Whatever our intentions were, we said something that hurts. Our feelings of shame and worry that we messed up can be real, but they aren’t THE immediate problem. Being corrected isn’t about our personal epiphany or learning to be a better person (that can wait!), it’s about stopping the harmful behavior with minimum fuss and adverse impact, and making a commitment to get it right going forward. Apologize, correct the behavior, and move on. From this piece on accidentally using the wrong pronouns:(bolding mine):

You are talking about someone who goes by “he/him” pronouns. “She is a great student. I’m sorry, I meant to say he is a great student. He’s been reading all of the assignments very thoroughly and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.” You don’t have to make a big deal out of your mistake or draw a lot of attention to it. You mostly need to fix it. You might have a follow up conversation with the person you referred to incorrectly to apologize or see if there’s something else you can do to correct it moving forward besides doing better. Making it a bigger deal in the moment is not necessarily helpful and could be harmful unless that’s what the person who was incorrectly referred to wants. Depending on the situation, you might be worried that people think you aren’t friendly towards transgender people because you made a mistake, but generally it’s good to avoid making the situation about you and your intent. A good way to show you are friendly is to get it right in the future and to act upon some of the other guidances you may find through this website or other resources.

Critique is an investment in the relationship. If someone is taking the risk of telling you you messed up, it doesn’t mean “YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON WHO EVER LIVED, PLEASE DIE NOW” it means “I care about this and I’m trusting you to get it right.” If you feel awful and embarrassed, that’s normal, just, those feelings are for you to take to your journal or a therapist, not to process in real time with the expectation that the person you offended will hang out and help you do it.

Anyway, dear Querent, here’s your shame-spiral interruption script to adapt into your own words as the situation demands.

“Hey _____, let me interrupt for a second. These conversations are awkward for everyone. I appreciate the apology, and as long as you [do the good thing/stop doing the bad thing] from now on, we’re good.” 

Interrupt. Translate their apology into a promise for better action in the future. Keep Awkwarding.

Q2: I recently joined a beer and philosophy meetup. I enjoy the group and the discussion, except for one person. Her comments are often neither brief nor relevant, with her talking as much as everyone else combined and going on tangents that don’t connect to the topic. She seems to be friends with the organizers and while they’re otherwise great, they don’t seem interested in reining her in; is there anything I can do? (she/her/hers)

A2: Since you’re new and she’s a regular, this is tricky. Almost certainly you’re not alone in feeling as you do about this person, but you don’t know who your allies are and if you complain about her to the wrong folks you will come across as the jerk.

One tactic I might try is suggesting that the big group break into smaller groups for discussion, maybe switch/rotate every 10-15 minutes, or chew on a question in small groups and have each group report back to the big group at the end. “Can we break into smaller groups next time? I love hearing from everyone and talking about the work, and with the big discussion circle we sometimes only get through a few people.” 

You can also channel group discussions with aggressive “Yes, And!” action. You don’t have to let her finish every paragraph. Wait for a pause or the end of a sentence and then speak up and throw the discussion ball to someone else in the group. “Interesting point, Alex! Phil, weren’t you talking about how ___________ leads to _________ last week? Do you think this is the same sort of question?”

That way you’re not interrupting to talk over her, you’re including other people in the conversation. Be strategic and choose someone talkative if you do this, the shy quiet people will not catch your ball and it will go right back to her.

Q3: What are your favorite ice breaker/ getting-to-know-you questions? Spouse and I trying to get out and build a bigger community. I’m not great at spontaneous chat with new people and would love a few more conversation starters to add to my bank beyond the not-great “what do you do?” (She/her/hers)

A3: Commander Logic, enthusiastic connector, has been going with “What are you nerdy about?” of late, and having great results with it. She is also great at asking people for recommendations for local things and getting them talking about their neighborhood. “Do you have a favorite bakery or coffee joint?” “If you ever have out of town guests, what’s a place you love to take them?” 

I try to think about both context and subjects that are low stakes but that people have strong opinions about. You’d be surprised at how well “What is your favorite sandwich?” at an event where people are eating, people get very excited about sandwiches.

The “what five objects would someone use to summon you” or “what would create an irresistible You-trap, like, if you walked by this place on the street you’d have to go in and check it out” threads that go around sometimes on social media are pretty good stuff.

I don’t like “Would you rather ____ or _____?” questions or “Let’s generate some debate!” type questions for this stuff, I like questions that get the person to tell me a story about themselves. If you celebrate, what’s the best Halloween costume you ever saw/wore? What was your first ever job? Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a kid? What’s a word that you knew what it meant but never knew how to pronounce? If the universe could give you back one lost item, what would it be? When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?

Q4: I’m slowly pulling myself out of a Depression Hole where one of the biggest problems has been executive functioning. (Got a therapist, working on the medical side.) My issue is that I have a ton of deep seated shame from a childhood filled with notes sent home for missing homework assignments, getting yelled at for being late, etc. How do I avoid the shame spiral/impostor syndrome around ordinary mistakes? (She/her)

Hi there, friend! When I got diagnosed with ADHD in my early 40s on top of the anxiety & depression, there was a giant period of grieving. What would my life be like if I hadn’t been struggling so long with all the “little things” that add up to so many unfinished “big things” and so much avoidance and disorganization?

You asked how you can avoid the shame spiral/imposter syndrome around ordinary mistakes, and the answer is, you probably can’t avoid/prevent/control your feelings. That’s not a thing we can do, even though it’s a thing that people desperately want to do.

What I think we can try to do (thanks, therapy!) is practice ways of feeling the feelings without letting them sink us. On a certain level, feelings are just information. We can have the feelings, observe the feelings, name the feelings, make a note of the feelings, and make decisions about what, if anything, we want to do about the feelings. We can have compassion for ourselves about them, we can hold space for them, and maybe they don’t have to be the boss of us all the time.

One thing I do is make note of feelings that come up when I’m trying to plan my day or my week. Is a task getting moved day after day without getting finished? What are the feelings about that? It’s not magic, I still struggle with executive function stuff despite medication and therapy, but it does actually help me to know, if I’m avoiding or dreading something, why? And sometimes I’m able to say, hey, Buddy (my internal monologue is addressed as Buddy), it’s obvious that you’re procrastinating about that, so do you actually want to do it or not? What’s going on here? And that’s enough to help me get to the “I will feel better once this is done” place and get that little nugget of momentum and satisfaction from crossing it off the list.

Those narratives built in childhood about how “lazy” I was hurt really bad, and changing the narrative to, I wasn’t lazy, I just had a different brain that made it harder to do certain kinds of things, has been a process. The past affects us, but we can’t undo it, so what do we want to do with today? May your process be healing.

Q5: My friend has a bad habit of complaining to me about stuff that they know stresses me out, pausing mid-rant to say “sorry, I know you don’t like hearing about this stuff” and then continuing right on again. For Reasons I don’t want to shut them down completely, but how can I ask them to A) dial it back and B) stop apologizing when they have no intention of stopping? (she/her/hers)

A5: This is a hard one, because I think at a certain point you are going to have to shut one of these rants down so that the discomfort this person is making you feel is returned to sender. Boundaries have three steps: Deciding where your boundary is, telling the other person where it is, and then enforcing it.

This could mean interrupting one of the rants:

  • “I’ve told you I don’t like hearing about this stuff, so, let’s not do this today, ok?”
  • “We talked about this. Please find a different sounding board for ____.” 
  • “I’m sympathetic, but I’m really not up for this today.”
  • “I need you to check before you go into download mode, and I need the answer to be actually meaningful, so, not today.”
  • “Hashtag gentle reminder, hashtag please vent to someone else about stuff like this and hashtag but please come back when you want to go get ice cream.” 

And it could mean, when the fauxpology comes, holding up your hands and saying, “You always apologize, but you never actually stop doing the thing, so, can we not?” 

And it could mean that the conversation is cut short and things get very awkward and you feel enormous pressure to just give in and let it happen. But it sounds like you’ve been perfectly clear (they know you don’t like this and they do it anyway), so probably this person needs to feel the full “This is what ‘nope’ feels like” effect at least once. I can’t think of a gentle, more subtle “dial it back” way that you didn’t already try.

Whether you put this into practice or not is up to you, I just want to emphasize: It’s not mean to to tell someone ‘no’ inside a friendship.

Q6: What’s something romantic I can do for my husband serving in Afghanistan? I send him random silly stuff and we can chat and Skype and text. I’m not feeling very creative. We’ve been married nearly 20 years. (I am she/her/hers husband is he/him/his)

A6: Have you and he ever written paper letters to one another? There’s something about a tangible object that you can carry with you, something that can be read and re-read, something written quietly and intentionally to the person that has a magic to it. Maybe find a list of questions like these (not necessarily these exact ones, adapt to your purposes) and trade answers on paper over time? Could you read the same book together and have a long-distance book club (or each pick out a favorite book to assign to the other person to read) and talk about it?

Readers, what kinds of things keep you connected in long distance relationships?

Part 2 is coming.

 

 

 

 

210 comments
  1. Hi I'm New Here said:

    Q3: I ask people what book they’re reading now. People either reply, which you can work with whether you’ve read the book or not; or they say something like, “Oh, I’m too busy with my kids/paintings/Etsy side gig/goat-wrangling to read,” in which case you can ask about that.

    • I like that! I ask what TV shows people watch for a similar reason. So far it’s been a pretty benign interaction–either we geek out about the same shows, or I get to ask what you like about the shows you’re watching.

      • Jenesis said:

        +1 to asking about TV shows. Some of the proposed icebreakers downthread sound more like creative writing exercises than getting-to-know-you questions, but pretty much everyone watches TV or at least is aware enough of what’s currently popular on TV that it’s not a difficult segue into whatever Netflix show/podcast/book they like.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          Asking about TV is not as benign as one would hope. As someone who doesn’t watch TV of any kind, I have found that the reaction to not watching TV is similar to finding out that someone does not drink alcohol. Those who do partake often seem to take “I don’t watch TV/drink” as some sort of judgment on *them* and/or an invitation to investigate why one doesn’t participate in a seemingly mandatory social ritual, so 99.9% of the time, the response is “why not?” rather than “what do you do instead with your free time?”

          • anon said:

            As a fellow person who basically never watches TV (and when I do, it’s always years after anyone cares about it), I share this annoyance. Absolutely, it’s nigh heretical not to be into any shows, and I really don’t want recommendations. So I tend to pre-empt the “why not, its so good, surely this MUST be the first time you’ve ever heard of doctor who and THATS why you havent seen it” by saying something like, “I dont really watch anything, I’m too busy with [topic I actually care about],” and anyone polite enough will accept the redirect most of the time.

          • I got that on a feminist blog site, of all places, once. They had an open thread about TV. I remarked that I don’t watch fiction on TV, but do love panel games and quiz shows. A short nice side-conversation started about TV quiz shows. And then a moderator accused me of working to derail the conversation, which left me hurt and confused, but mostly annoyed. I’d had neither the intent nor the effect of derailing the conversation.

            TRiG.

          • Wow, that’s awful and makes zero sense. It’s an open thread about tv; quiz shows are tv – where’s the derail? Sorry that happened to you!

          • Clarry said:

            I find that the response to “I don’t watch t.v.” is usually “Oh, I don’t watch very much.” It’s as though watching television is a shameful thing that people admit to. When confronted with someone who doesn’t, they feel chastised. Don’t ask me why.

          • Forsworn Memorialist said:

            My dad asks if I “still” don’t watch TV every time we converse, just about. When I was a student or postdoc or in my first job he offered to *buy* me one. I’m not sure what is so…*correctable*…about not choosing to watch (if he is worried lest it’s a church prohibition I should resist, it isn’t; I merely don’t like the effects of commercials on my attention span.) In my middle age he seems mollified when I respond by describing how I DO engage the news: “I subscribe to The Washington Post, my husband subscribes to the New York Times, and we listen to NPR and share an Economist subscription.” Perhaps it’s mostly about making sure I take in the results of journalism (his former occupation).

    • Hi I'm New Here said:

      I just remembered — the last time I asked someone this question, he told me about the time he and his wife were almost abducted by aliens, so that was something.

  2. Eye said:

    This is the stupidest nitpick ever, but shouldn’t the analogy be “upload mode”? You upload files to other drives; you download them FROM other drives.

    Also, it makes me more than a little uncomfortable to see you field a question from someone about how to send a care package to a spouse engaged in supporting American racist capitalist imperialism abroad without even the slightest acknowledgment that that’s what’s going on. What’s next month, an uncritical response sympathetic to someone who’s feeling bad about the fact that they work at an ICE concentration camp?

    • GreenDoor said:

      So tell me, Eye, how long have you been lurking on this site just waiting for the chance to pounce on the Captain? Congrats! You did it! Now take a hike so the rest of us can provide advice that’s actually helpful.

    • Drew said:

      I have good news for you! Blogging is free. You can post your own answer to that question on your own page and rant away about something that is completely unrelated to two spouses’ desire to stay connected in a very difficult circumstance, rather than shitting up the comments here.

    • emmelemm said:

      I believe this is what they call “performative wokeness”. Not very helpful here.

    • JenniferP said:

      You and me, Eye, together we’re gonna stop a war that’s old enough to vote by being mean to every individual soldier’s wife, they’ll call it the Thread-Shitting Protest and celebrate it every August 26. All the other protests and elections didn’t work, but this is where it all changes. High-five!

      I can not believe in a war and think that the families of the people fighting it are human beings.

      Everyone who is not Eye, can you help me out by not responding to this subthread anymore? I want to leave comments open but if this hijack becomes The Topic of the thread or a Montage of Dunks, I will shut it down, which sucks for all the other discussions. Kindly keep your replies on topic to helping the asker of the question, or take it to the forums or your own web spaces.

  3. This may be too me-specific for LW 6, but I’ve done paper letters off-and-on with various friends, and this one thing stood out: a friend sent me a small book of poetry that had been signed by a poet we both liked. I didn’t feel right keeping the signed book, so I sent it back to him. But first I read all the poems, and when one triggered a memory or association, I wrote it down on an index card and stuck it between the pages. (I made sure to let the ink dry first. I used to work at a rare book library and I’ve seen some things.)

    I had SO much fun doing this; I don’t know if he had as much fun reading it, but I would absolutely have enjoyed something similar in return. Maybe there’s a book or graphic novel you can annotate for him, so he gets both personal connection and entertainment value from one gift?

    • Kaila said:

      I love this idea. Consider it stolen.

    • JulesK said:

      My brother and I did something similar with music. We got small tape recorder-players (they’re hard to find but still out there) and sent tapes back and forth to each other where we played a favorite song in the background and talked about why we liked the song or what it reminded us of. It was a fun connection, and it was nice to have a recording of his voice during times he was incommunicado.

    • When I helped my favourite ex move cross-country, they would take the evenings to themself to work on “a secret project!”. I spent a night or two helping them get set up in their new place, and on the way to the airport they gave me a Thoroughly Annotated in Bright Colours copy of “The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, with little pictures and squees and thoughts and underlining and circles and colouring in the title pictures and it’s just…so precious to me.

      About two years after the sequel came out, I finally returned in kind. They’re working on the third for me, but got distracted by a different book they SO LOVED that they annotated that and sent it instead. It’s a really lovely thing to read, and get to experience all this joy with someone else.

      ~Sor

  4. one of the Marys said:

    ranting friend has figured out you won’t put a stop to it so you can start “small” by making it less comfortable
    “Sorry I know this is a sore point for you” or whatever and you can say something like
    ” Yes it is so tell me about —”
    “yes I’ve mentioned before that it reminds me of —”
    “thanks for stopping yourself because this topic stresses me so much”
    Try a few comments like that so it become more obvious they’re actively disregarding you.
    Then/if/later you can try one of those comments followed by steering the conversation in another direction all together. Treat the “sorry but” sentence as your cue to take the conversation in another direction

    • JayNay said:

      yes, do cut in here, LW. you’re allowed to stop your friend. They’re already aware they’re stressing you out!
      The Captain’s script are wonderful, because they’re gentle – e.g. I LOVE “I’m sympathetic, but I’m really not up for this today.”
      An exaggerated physical reaction might work as well, like throwing up your hands or saying “ugh, you know it” and making a face like you’ve smelled sour milk.
      It’s ok to say you’re not “explain all my feelings about stressful topic” person. You’re not a bad friend because you have limits on how much you want to hear about this.

  5. Anonamoose said:

    Q3: I have a friend who’s favorite question to ask is if you’ve ever seen a ghost. Even skeptics usually will say ghosts don’t exist, but then launch into a story of a creepy experience they had. Definitely makes for interesting conversations, even if it gets derailed to talk about “ghosts aren’t real but why do so many people think they experienced a ghost”, that’s still interesting.

    • Quinalla said:

      That’s a good one!

      I usually ask about the best restaurant or recipe they tried recently or what did you do this weekend? Even if they say “nothing much”, you can usually reply with what you did or something to keep the conversation going. If I am at an event organized by someone, “How did you meet X?” or if it is a business event “How did you like the presentation?”

      I also try and remember that small talk is awkward for most people, even people who look like they are awesome at it are often nervous inside. So just go for it and if it falls flat, try again or move on to someone else. It happens to everyone!

    • Hrovitnir said:

      Haha, OK, that’s interesting. I emphatically do not believe in ghosts, but also don’t want to be rude to someone who does, so would just get really awkward if someone asked me that.

      • Hexiva said:

        Yeah, ditto, that would be very awkward for me. It’s a bit like asking “so what church do you go to?” or worse, “do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” At best, it’s difficult to answer because it’s weird to discuss religious beliefs with someone you barely know; at worst, it feels like a trap where the asker is about to try to change my beliefs if I don’t answer right.

        (Last time I tried to post this it said it couldn’t post? hopefully this time will work?)

  6. Emma9 said:

    Q5: You’ve probably tried this, but just in case, a less-confrontational route might be to wait for the fauxpology and quickly jump in with “Thanks, I really appreciate that. So, how about that SUBJECT CHANGE?” (Have a topic in mind so you can pull it out of your pocket asap.)

    Q6: In your care packages, you could always ask if there’s something specific that he wants or needs that you or I might not necessarily anticipate that would help him – or if there’s something you can send for one of his pals who doesn’t have as much of a support system.

    • fragmentation said:

      Q5: I’ve had surprisingly good luck with this approach. You don’t even need to wait for the fauxpology — I’ve done it just by interrupting:

      Friend: “and then Bob did something even more terrible and–”

      Me: “Ah, I think I’ve reached my Bob limit for now. Want to talk about pottery? You’ve been using some new glazes recently, right? How do you like them?”

      My favorite thing about this strategy is that it tends to avoid both fauxpologies and shame-spirals, because you literally don’t give the person a chance to say those things before you change the subject!

      • MusicWithRocksIn said:

        I do this with sportball talk during sportball season. “Alright, that’s all the sportball things I can hear today. Have your heard from your sister lately?” Polite and casual and subject change that lets them keep talking but not about that. It hasn’t been too bad this year because local sportsball team is doing so badly, but in good seasons I sometimes utilize this every day. I let it go on for a little and then cut it off, if anyone pushes back, then it is time to shut it down.

  7. Emma9 said:

    Q3: “Do you celebrate any lesser-known holidays, and if so what, and how?” (Could get a serious answer from someone with a non-mainstream religion, or ‘National Grilled Cheese Day’, either would be interesting to hear about.)

    • Igne said:

      As a non-christian, I’d probably get defensive about that, because of how culturally christian the vast majority of the US is. It reads a little bit like any non-christian holidays are automatically lesser-known. note: I’m not saying the question implies that! I’m just know I’d flinch a little internally at a question like that, and I don’t think I’m the only one, so it’s maybe not the best ice breaker.

      • Spicy Onion said:

        I actually wasn’t raised with any religion. That I guess kinda puts me in a weird perspective, but I guess because of it,I have always found religion fascinating. Anyway, in my brief experience on this planet, I have found that these types of questions should only be asked after one knows the other person a little better.

      • cavyherd said:

        Possible rephrase:

        “What’s your favorite Official Day? I’m a huge fan of National Ice Cream Day, personally. Though I’m not opposed to National Chocolate Day.”

        • CL Cox said:

          Or even, if you know you’re going to be in a social situation like this, find out what official day(s) are close to that one and throw one of them in there. “I hear tomorrow is National Ice Cream Day, do you know any good places in this area/what’s your favorite flavor/ I’m gonna take a bath in it, how about you?” Most people have a favorite flavor or at least know of a place their friends and family like, even if they themselves don’t eat it.

    • Nanani said:

      Yeah… being in a non-mainstream religion isn’t generally safe smalltalk so maybe don’t use that as an icebreaker.

    • Emma9 said:

      Thank you for the perspective – I was hoping the phrasing would allow the listener to interpret the question in whatever way made them comfortable, eg someone in your shoes would go with the ‘Grilled Cheese Day’ variety of answer, but better safe than sorry! So maybe being more specific that you’re curious about their favorite non-serious holiday would be better.

      • Eucal said:

        As a WOC, no, this question is not a good ice breaker and “allowing the listener to interpret the question in whatever way made them feel comfortable” is grossly insufficient.

        Because in a group setting when most of the people are white, I know that all eyes are on me, and that people expect me to say a holiday from my culture. Even in one-on-one situations, to me I would see that as a variation on “where are you from?” Regardless of what I answer the damage is already done, and I will feel marked out as “exotic” and “foreign.”

        • Emma9 said:

          Thank you as well. Cavyherd’s alternative definitely sounds like a much better idea.

  8. Kaila said:

    Q6: Similar to writing paper letters, but I have always been the writer in my relationships and the other person just isn’t, so it was unfair to ask for letters back. One gift I gave someone once I dubbed “love letter diary.” I took some everyday occurrences and wrote them down, directed specifically at my partner. I talked about how I thought he would have loved the farmer’s market I was at that morning, how a quote on a coffee shop board made me tear up and think of him, how the chill of autumn is on the breeze and cuddling sounds nice. If I felt the desire, they became straight up love letters, talking about our past together and looking to the future, all the normal love letter stuff. I dated them and presented them in a box after a few months. I guess it’s more of a gesture than actually staying connected, but every time I wrote a letter I felt very in love with him, even while he wasn’t there.

    Other ideas:
    30 days of selfies collage
    Create a photo story around your house/park/that restaurant you went on your first date on
    Write back and forth a choose your own adventure story (you write a page of a story, end it with a multiple-choice question, the other person chooses what happens and writes it down, also ending with a question, and so on)
    Record yourself reading a book

  9. When my son was in Afghanistan, the two things he wanted in his care packages from us were his father’s oatmeal scotchie cookies and Red Bull. Apparently that’s not easy to get there, or it wasn’t five years ago. I suspect you are already on top of what your husband likes best, but you can check into the possibility of a special cookie or treat from his childhood that might go well with a paper letter. It’s so hard to be here and them being there, and my best wishes that your husband come home well and undamaged.

  10. 5 Leaf Clover said:

    Q6: It sounds like you are doing great! Seconding the Captain, when my husband and I spent a year apart, paper letters were great for all the reasons mentioned. Another thing we really enjoyed was both putting on an earpiece and playing each other in an online game (our choice was Hearthstone.) It was fun to get to do an actual activity together as opposed to the usual “so how was your day” stuff. And once he bought me an expansion and that felt romantic!

    • slmrlln said:

      Q6: I second the idea of doing stuff together online. My husband and I lived apart for four years, and my favorite thing that we did was Skype Pancakes. On a Saturday morning we would both get on Skype on our phones, bring them into our respective kitchens, make pancakes, and eat them together. Although that exact example might not work for you, I’ve heard of people doing this with movies or TV shows, especially if you’re the kind of person who reacts out loud while you’re watching.

      • TinLizi said:

        My husband and his best friend in another state have a computer game that they play together online. They schedule times to play. It gives them a common project.

  11. Wee Ninja said:

    I need to pronounce words in my head when reading, and I would LOVE to know what people’s answers are to “What’s a word that you knew what it meant but never knew how to pronounce?”

    For me, it’s papyrus. I thought it was pronounced “pap-EE-russ” … and didn’t find out I was wrong until I was a sophomore in college, when I pronounced it incorrectly in front of my entire history class.

    • As someone who spent probably 15 straight years with her nose in a book, I had a *lot* of words that I had only ever read and never heard aloud, so when I did try to use them in conversation I’d guess at the pronunciation. “Debacle” is the only one coming to mind right now but I know there were others.

      Almost as fun are words that you have both read and heard aloud, but the pronunciation is so different than what you assumed that they register as different words. Well, the fun part is the story of how you learned you were wrong, that’s usually some pretty relatable cringe material.

      • A Silver Spork said:

        I spent many, many years thinking that “colonel” and “kernel” were two different military ranks. And no, I didn’t realize my mistake when I started writing war fiction, because “kernel” is a perfectly cromulent word in English. Eventually someone I showed my writing to someone who DID know the difference. The embarrassment. It BURNED.

        • JenniferP said:

          SAME!

          • Cathie Fonz said:

            And don’t get me started on different American and Canadian (British) pronunciations — “lieutenant” is both “loo-tenant” and “left-tenant”, “schedule” is “ss-ked-you-all” and “shed-ewe-all”
            A friend of mine who was about 10 years older than me said the reason for some of my spelling and pronunciation challenges was because we had been originally taught to read in different ways — she learned by phonics, looking at each word as a collection of individual letters which are sounded out, whereas I had learned “whole word”, memorizing the beginning and ending of each word and recognizing it from that. As a result, I had difficulty with longer words — for example, when reading I might see “experience” and “experiential” as basically the same word.

        • HistorianNina said:

          I was just this morning talking to my 10 year old about this word! We were talking about spelling and weird words and we realized in the course of the discussion that she had been reading colonel as “colonial” (not unreasonable!) in her books.

      • goddessoftransitory said:

        “Segue.” To be fair though who looks at that and goes ah, segway, of course!

        • Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian said:

          My brain forever insists on telling me that’s pronounced “seege”, even though I /know/ the word is “segway”!

          • Ermintrude said:

            I thought ‘fatigue’ was fatty-gew, etc. Darn French.

      • Karyn said:

        Rhetoric. For the love of god, why is it not spelled ‘rederrick’. Or for that matter, why is it not pronounced ‘ruh-TOR-ick’?

      • Oh wow, me too. For me one of the worst ones was “catastrophe,” because I knew how to pronounce “catastrophic” – so I pronounced the first one “cat-a-stroph” instead of “ca-tas-tro-phee”. There are many other examples. And I feel @goddessoftransitory downthread really hard – I still look at “segue” and think it should be “se-goo”.

      • Carrie said:

        Word you didn’t know how to pronounce: epitome. (FTR: eh-PIT-oh-mee)

        Word where the spelling was different from the pronunciation: pneumonia.

    • Igne said:

      I spent years thinking Armageddon was pronounced like a dinosaur ‘ar-meg-adon’ I was kind of dissapointed to discover it’s arm-eh-gedon instead. (It’s the dread ar-megadon!, summon mothra to help!)

      • Jules the 3rd said:

        queue… probably tons more since I also read more than heard, but my parents caught most of them 40ish years ago so I don’t remember most of them.

        • Melewen said:

          Queue — perhaps the only five letter word with four silent letters. At least they’re all standing nicely in line.

      • SW said:

        Oooh I just remembered that I thought that one was “ar-Meh-gee-uh-don” and was quite surprised the first time heard someone say it correctly.

      • Ermintrude said:

        That dinosaur sounds like it would be in the Bible/an epic historical tale. It does seem like it would go well with a Leviathan and a Behemoth.

    • Violet said:

      I remember as a kid I thought “misled” was pronounced “my-sld” and meant “tricked,” which is…not incorrect, but in my head it wasn’t at all the same thing as “mis-led.” I associated it with misers and Scooby-Doo villains, and imagined some guy called Old Jenkins cackling as he bragged about how he’d “my-sld” someone. I don’t remember how old I was when I figured it out, but I’m guessing at least in my teens if not older.

      • Drew said:

        One of the Encyclopedia Brown stories centered on Bugs Meany thinking that “misled” was the past tense of “misle” and EB using that to trip up his foe. Except that even at the tender age of back in , I knew this was a stupid reveal, because THE VERY FIRST WORD you would see if you tried to look up “misle” would be “mislead” and that would reveal your mistake.

        I loved those stories but that was a dumb one.

        • eh1266 said:

          Encyclopedia Brown taught me that the word “bookkeeper” has three double-letters in a row! I love a child detective 🙂

      • JenniferP said:

        I am glad I am not alone, I wonder what book we all read that used this frequently! 😂

      • Sunflower said:

        Me too! I’m honestly delighted to know I’m not alone.

      • Same! I thought there was a verb ‘to misle’ for years – was definitely a teen before I worked it out. I still think it’s a good word.

    • Kaila said:

      I was very confused for a long time about the Large Hadron Collider. I thought it rhymed with colander, the kitchen utensil. I pronounced it “Large Hadron kohl-eh-der” until I was corrected. Still embarrassed about that one.

    • Turquoise Dragon said:

      Counterfeit, like fake money. I always said it con-FED-erate, as if it was from the losing side of the American Civil War.

      • MuddieMae said:

        Hey, you weren’t totally wrong as they issues their own paper money that became completely worthless when the war ended.

    • Al said:

      I misread “alacrity” as “aclarity” for years. I still have to pause when I encounter it to mentally sound it out.

      • In my head, it’s still “a-LAR-city” (with the ‘lar’ pronounced like ‘Lars”)

    • nnn said:

      /me runs off and googles how to pronounce “papyrus”

    • nnn said:

      For me, it’s “annihilate”. When I read it, I mentally pronounced it with two short I sounds (i.e. the same vowel as “in”).

      I did sometimes hear on television the word “an-EYE-uh-late”, and figured it was a completely unrelated word until one day I was watching with the captions on.

      • Onomatopoeia said:

        Yes, I wrote annihilate as “enilate” did the longest time before figuring out they were the same word!

        Also I spent many years pronouncing amoeba as “ammo-ebba”

        And last week I met a traveller who pronounced biscuit as “bis-kyoo-wit”, it was thoroughly charming and also English is a ridiculous language

    • This One Here said:

      The usuals, “epitome” and “hyperbole.” I’m a legal assistant, so things like “certiorari”.

      • Hyperbole! That one got me too, in my head I still say hyper-bowl

        • Onomatopoeia said:

          Like the superbowl but more so!

          • 1. “Super-lative”. To rhyme with native, right? I understood it in the “good, better, best” sense, I just never heard it said aloud. Soo-PER-l’tive is really fun to pronounce, though.
            2. “Super-fluous”. Soo-PER-flu-us is also really fun to pronounce correctly.
            3. I have an aunt who was called Penny when I was a kid, and of course I knew what that was short for. And then in some kids’ book of Greek myths I read about Pen-e-lope. You know, pronounced like antelope? It took me awhile to realize that it was the same name as my aunt, and happily, nobody else knew. And as I met other words with a similar structure, I didn’t make that mistake again… until reading Harry Potter. It actually took me reading the book where the character herself includes a pronunciation guide, for me to get that mistake. (I still wonder if that line made it into the British edition of the book.)

          • Audrey Puffins said:

            To Jennifer Thneed: yes, Hermione’s pronunciation guide was very much in the British editions as well. Y’all across the pond didn’t have a monopoly on being unfamiliar with the name. 😉

          • @Jennifer Theed – there’s a Russian YouTuber I like who pronounces Penelope “Peh-neigh-LOPE-uh,” and it turns out to be an ASMR trigger for me.

        • merarity said:

          Me too! I was shocked when I learned how it’s actually pronounced.

        • merarity said:

          Same! I was baffled when I learned how it’s pronounced, to me it should obviously be hyper bowl.

          • 1. “Super-fluous”. I understood it in the “good, bettter, best” sense, I just never heard it said aloud. Soo-PER-flu-us is really fun to pronounce, though.
            2. I have an aunt who was called Penny when I was a kid, and of course I knew what that was short for. And then in some kids’ book of Greek myths I read about Pen-e-lope. You know, pronounced like antelope? It took me awhile to realize that it was the same name as my aunt, and happily, nobody else knew. And as I met other words with a similar structure, I didn’t make that mistake… until reading Harry Potter. It actually took me reading the book where the character herself includes a pronunciation guide, for me to get that mistake. (I still wonder if that line made it into the British edition of the book.)

          • Crap! I edited that comment before I hit Post! Because I had conflated superfluous and superlative. Which are both fun to say, and I do know the difference, and I did mis-pronounce in the same way when I first met them. Too bad the changes didn’t take.

          • Ahh, double crap. I double-posted by accident. My apologies, Cap and everyone else.

    • Clarry said:

      A-par’- thee-id. With the th unvoiced like the final sound in bath and with the stress on the 2nd syllable. I thought “apartheid” like in South Africa was something else. One word for when I was reading it in the newspaper, another for when I was hearing about it on the radio.

    • sophylou said:

      My mother played the organ and directed music at several churches when I was a kid. So she was always going off to direct “quire” practice. When I saw the word “choir” I thought it was pronounced “choy-er” and I didn’t really understand how being a “choir director” related to anything my mom did.

      • Jane said:

        omg. I hope you are delighted to know that choir was spelled quire in English until I think the 1700s, when it was back-engineered to include what they thought at the time was the original Greek root.

        • C said:

          I played a song by Handel called “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire” on recorder as a kid, and I always had this mental image of a stack of paper warbling.

        • Audrey Puffins said:

          As a child who went to a church with an abundance of old-fashioned hymnals, I grew up more aware that “quire” was a legitimate spelling than I was that “choir” was the same word.

    • Red Reader said:

      I still to this day can’t figure out whether greenery is pronounced “foh-lee-age” or “foh-lage” or “foyl-age”. But I can’t spell it unaided either, and I’m sure these two things are related. (foliage, my spellcheck tells me, so at least “foyl-age” is probably not correct.)

      I like watching movies about real people’s lives, which my husband is chronically incapable of not referring to as “biopics,” pronounced “by-OPPicks” to rhyme with “myopic” instead of “bio-pics,” like biographical pictures. The first time I heard him say it I laughed so hard I fell off the couch, and he could not figure out what was so funny. Now he almost catches himself, but always just barely too late.

      (Also, this line of anecdotes reminds me of the way that Wakeen came to be a commonly used pseudonym at Ask A Manager – from a story in which a writer was unaware that Wakeen, from face-to-face conversations, and Joaquin, from emails, were the same person until they asked Wakeen to have Joe-a-quinn do something.)

      • Foliage is actually pronounced “foh lee age” or “foh lage” depending on where you are in the US. I usually say “foh lee age” unless I’m very tired in which case it often comes out “foilage”. So I guess from my perspective you’re correct. 😉

        The only reason I never mispronounced fuchsia was because my mother had them.

      • beckley said:

        The movie people in my life call them biopics rhyming with myopic and… I am going to use your comment to help me stick to the only right way to say it, even with them.

        p.s. I had a student work through the “misled” issue aloud in class this past spring. It was charming and I hope not too embarrassing.

        • Red Reader said:

          Husband contends, and I suspect that he is right, that it’s one of those words that just might not have a one true way to pronounce it 🙂 but I will probably continue to giggle every time he goes “by-OPPic. I mean, bio-pic. Dangit.”

      • foy-leege for me, two syllables. Also caramel is car-mul, orange is ornge (one syllable), and crayon is cran

      • Spicy Onion said:

        TBH the way your husband says it sounds much better. I think I will just use that from now on and maybe it will catch on! LOL. It doesn’t HAVE to sound like the original word.

      • Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian said:

        I was today years old when I found out that “biopic” is “bio pic”. I’ve been saying it like myopic forever, and so do the people in my life.
        This is amazing.

        • Sarah said:

          What?! I’ve now got a new one to add to my list.

          Let me also add that quinoa (KEEN-wa) and quihnoah are not two different delicious foods but actually the same one! Yeah, thank you kind waitstaff person. 🙂

          • Ermintrude said:

            Also, chia = ‘chah’, I found out the other year.

      • Sharker said:

        I didn’t know that “lb” was the abbreviation for “pound,” and thought there was a whole other measurement called “lobes” that people just never talked about.

      • I had a friend who spelled his name “Maurice”. I called him Mar-ees (like ocean in Spanish + the end of “geese”) for a while until he told me that it’s actually just like “Morris”. Ugh.

        • Renita said:

          See I usually hear that spelling pronounced More-eese so I think Morris is uncommon.

        • Al said:

          I listened to the audiobook of Artemis Fowl several years back, and the narrator didn’t know how to pronounce the Vietnamese name Nguyen. He kept saying en-GUY-en. Like, the English word “guy”. It was physically painful to me. I’ve always wondered if they ever corrected that.

      • MuseN said:

        Wait… it’s not “by-OPPicks”?!

      • SW said:

        TIL biopic doesn’t rhyme with myopic, thanks!

    • NZBound said:

      This is me all the time. And no one ever corrects me – not sure if they think I am talking about something else or if they are just “I get it, let’s keep the convo flow going” or “this amuses me; let’s see if she corrects herself.”

      Most recently, found out ‘geoduck’ (I pronounce it phonetically as ‘geo’ as in geology and duck as in quack quack) is pronounced ‘gooey-duck.’ I really thought they were pulling my leg…

    • Forsworn Memorialist said:

      My last world-of-texts persistent mispronunciation occurred way into my twenties and is in Stephen R. Donaldson’s magnum opus. I silently read six books with HAR-u-chai characters. Then I heard the author on tape reading about the Har-U-chai. And it sounded *wrong*. I retrained myself with considerable difficulty for the sake of respect for the author.

      • C said:

        I have so many fictional ones! I pronounced “Cersei” from GoT as “KEHR-say”, as though it were Welsh, until I saw the show. (Still kind of like it better than the right way!) And Nynaeve al’Meara from Wheel of Time was “ni-NAYV al-may-AH-ra” to me until I got to the book that had a pronunciation guide in the back (pretty sure the first one didn’t). Patrick Rothfuss’s character Auri, I pronounced to rhyme with “cowrie”, but he pronounces it pretty much like “Ari”.

        • pocketbard said:

          On the topic of GoT characters whose names I got so very, very wrong, I assumed for the longest time that “the Damphair” was pronouned “the dam-FAIR” as opposed to what I now realize is obviously “the damp-hair”. Sigh…

        • Forsworn Memorialist said:

          C, if you were pronouncing Cersei in a Welsh (or Latin!) way I’d like to hear you speak Sindarin, which was built to resemble Welsh.

    • Nanani said:

      The intersection set of “English’s quirky pronunciations” and “loanwords from other languages know” is the home of many non-standard attempts at saying words out loud.

      I still can’t wrap my head around how English speakers say “auteur,” “niche,” and “cul de sac”, just to pick French examples.

      • I once had a discussion with an entire Starbucks full of barrista/os who were very charmed by how I pronounced “croissant” (the French way, as it happens).

        • TO_Ont said:

          Wait, there’s another way of pronouncing croissant? I am Canadian, and all my life I have only ever heard it pronounced in english the same way as it’s pronounced in french. Maybe it’s one of those words where there’s an American version?

          • Igne said:

            The French (and Quebecois, iirc) pronounce it like kwa-sawnt with an soft T, whereas americans in the southern midwest say kreh-sant with a harder t and the emphasis on the first syllable.

          • TO_Ont said:

            Igne, I see. I’d never heard the American southern midwest version, I guess. In Canada there isn’t much difference between the english and french pronunciations.

          • And then there are those souls who have only read the word and so say “croy-sant” or similar.

          • Cody said:

            I call it a cross-aunt. My dad even made a dad joke about that. (Calling them irritable female relatives)

          • In the Southern US I usually hear croissant as, “kruh-SAHNT,” with a hard T, as in “ham on kruh-SAHNT sandwich.” My parents pronounce it correctly (exaggeratedly French) and I used to find it super embarrassing as a kid. But plenty of people also take the word, “crescent,” and apply it liberally to croissants. A Southerner would never, for instance, say, “kruh-SAHNT roll,” it’s a crescent roll. Even if it’s a croissant.

      • anon said:

        I learned the word ennui from reading, and had an ex absolutely roast me for pronouncing it “enn-you-eye.”

      • Hrovitnir said:

        Ahhh, let it be noted that pronouncing “niche” as “nitch” is a US (/Canadian?) English thing.

        I’m sure it doesn’t sound like actual French, but British/NZ/Aus English it most certainly is said neesh.

        That along with “CApillaries” (rather than “caPILLaries”) is always disturbing in US educational videos. 😛

    • Zombie Bunny said:

      Affidavit. Don’t know how old I was when I first encountered it (I read widely and often, usually by choice, sometimes by force). It was only in the last five years that I learned it was pronounced ah-fih-DAY-vit or ah-fuh-DAY-vit, depending on your accent, and not ah-FEE-dah-vitt like I read it in my head. Didn’t help that my father and eldest cousin made fun of me for it relentlessly for the rest of the meal, until I felt thoroughly humiliated (not typical behaviour for either of them, but when my Dad sees the chance to bond with another male over a joke – or “joke” – he gets tunnel vision). And I’m in my twenties, so I felt extra embarrassed at the mistake.

      I’d like to say he never brought it up again after I begged him not to, but I think it took me a few separate occasions, as well as saying some very “unkind” words (the distinctly female-coded unkind, which actually have to do more with passivity than kindness) before he got the hint (that I wasn’t just hinting).

    • For me it is two words: segue and chic.

      I pronounced the first to rhyme with “league” – my best friend snickered because it was an excellent come uppance for me.

      The second, I encountered when reading The Forsyte Saga. Winifred Darcy is described multiple times as chic. I was sure this was an English spelling of “chick.” I was amused to note that chick seemed to mean the same thing as sheek (a word I’d only heard).

    • Ms Kittenwhiskers said:

      So many! I learnt to read very young, so there were many words I had read and understood from context but had no idea how to pronounce. The one that comes immediately to mind, besides hyperbole and epitome which I think are pretty commonly mispronounced (hyper-bowl and eppy-tome): albeit. I pronounced it al-bait (al to rhyme with pal), not all-bee-it. Inseparable, which I pronounced with the emphasis in the middle, like in-SPARE-able. Also, acrid, which I thought had a soft C: ass-rid.

      • Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian said:

        My brain still wants me to pronounce albeit as “all-bite” because I first came across it in writing around the same time I was learning German, and didn’t connect it to spoken until many years later.

      • hazel said:

        Misogyny. I pronounced it my-so-guy-knee. In a college class.
        I blame the patriarchy.

    • Ermintrude said:

      I’m still mispronouncing words that I’d not heard after decades of knowing some of them. English be crazy.

    • JenniferAndLightning said:

      I spoke (and I am really not exaggerating) maybe a total of 500 words during 7th grade. My relative silence ombined with my prolific reading resulted in a veritable dictionary of words I knew only in written form. It would come up a lot in high school and college and gave me good practice at coping with embarrassment.

      But the incident I most remember was pre-7th grade silence: encountering the word ‘hors d’oeuvres’ in Bunnicula. I can’t be the only one who expected it to be written ‘orderbs’ or similar.

      • Eggplant said:

        You are not, in fact, the only one, and I now realize the moment of recognition for me was probably also Bunnicula. I showed the page to my mom, confused, and when she pronounced it out loud, I was utterly baffled that “hors d’oeuvres” was the very “orderves” I was used to eating at fancy parties. If I’m 100% honest, my brain still spells it out the second way before I remember the correct way.

        • A Social Worker said:

          My family jokingly pronounces it “horse divorce” and I have to think VERY HARD about how to pronounce it correctly with others!

          • “horsed overs” here, when my family is joking around. And, similarly: “bang-yays” (beignets)

    • C said:

      I grew up in New York, where we frequently learned about the Iroquois in school. I was about 12 when I learned that everyone else had been saying “iro-kwoi” all this time, rather than “iro-koi” as I’d thought it was. (“Iro-kwah” was not something I ever heard, except in French.) I guess I figured, because of the French-ish spelling, that the “qu” must be pronounced like /k/ as in “quiche”. But it took years to even notice that there was a /w/ missing in my pronunciation, because the following vowel was rounded anyway!

      • My sister’s third-grade teacher called the Sioux (usu. pronounced “Soo”) as Sigh-ox.

        Which prompted me to tell my sister to ask her if the teacher had ever listened to sigh-oxie sigh-ox and the bane-shees. (Sister, alas, did not.)

    • SaraFox said:

      In 2nd grade I heard the teacher continuously say we need to work on writing “SAs”, and when it came to test time I spent a few minutes gawking at the word “essay”. Fortunately I figured it out from context.

    • MusicWithRocksIn said:

      Too many to name. But I do remember when I first learned this was a thing that happened to other people and not just a massive personal failing – I was reading wee free men in my parents ugly oversized green chair on summer vacation and it was like the room lit up and music played. This entire thread is a balm on my soul.

      Most notable to my poor little brother though is that I read him four of the Harry Potter books before the movie came out and I butchered poor Hermione’s name in a horrifying way. Once the movie came out I learned to say it properly, but he still defaults to the way I used to say it most of the time.

      • Red Reader said:

        Hermy-own!

      • not really a lurker anymore said:

        Yes! Tiffany had a dictionary but it wasn’t a pronunciation one!

    • TO_Ont said:

      The British word ‘row’ in the sense of a fight. I read it so so so many times before I ever heard it out loud that now even after years of listening to UK podcasts and watching their comedy, ‘my’ pronunciation is so deeply ingrained that I still always read it as rhyming with ‘no’ and THEN catch myself and force myself to read it again rhyming with ‘cow’.

    • hsomers said:

      The one I remember best is “SUEDE-oh” for “pseudo,” which I said aloud quite confidently in my high school literature class after apparently never having heard the word pronounced before. I still both routinely misspell pseudo as “psuedo” and have to pause and REALLY CONSIDER HOW I’M GONNA SAY IT before I utter it.

      • DropTable~DropsMic said:

        heh, my co-worker jokingly mispronounces it this way on purpose.

        I think he does so to differentiate against “sudo,” short for “superuser do,” which is how you tell a Linux computer that you not only want to do the thing, you’re the most privileged user and are thus allowed to do the thing.

        https://www.xkcd.com/149/

    • hsomers said:

      The one I remember best is “SUEDE-oh” for “pseudo,” which I said aloud quite confidently in my high school literature class after apparently never having heard the word pronounced before. I still both routinely misspell pseudo as “psuedo” and have to pause and REALLY CONSIDER HOW I’M GONNA SAY IT before I utter it.

      • MsSolo said:

        Last year of my English Lit degree, cheerfully pronounced “suede – o – nym” to the whole class XD What a time to find out I was pronouncing it wrong!

        • hsomers said:

          Suede-o solidarity!

    • WordNerd said:

      I have two. My mom would say someone was being faseeshus when they said something tongue-in-cheek. One day I read a new word, facetious (face-TIE-us) and looked it up. Ha! Also, my mom-the-teacher was big on not talking baby talk. So we didn’t pee, we urinated. Didn’t poop, had BMs. But I thought it was a word, not an abbreviation. I was in third or fourth grade before I realized it stood for bowel movement. And suddenly wondered – how the heck would I have spelled that word? Beeem? Beaem?

    • Gentle said:

      Fatigue! I was saying “FAT-i-gway” until sixth grade and nobody thought to correct me. That, and I didn’t really get the distinctions between “through,” “thorough,” and “rough,” so I pronounced “thoroughly” as “thruffly.” Unfortunately I was very fond of a book series about horses called the “Thoroughbred Series,” so I babbled non-stop about “thruff-bred horses” until someone figured out what I was trying to say and corrected me.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      oooh Cacaphony! I thought it was Caack-ah-phony. My sister laughed out loud when I tried to insist my way was correct.

      • borgcube said:

        Cack-a-phoney solidarity! When I was a teenager I’d helped my grandma with some yard work. The crows took offence and made a LOT of noise while we worked. We were actually afraid they would fly down and peck us.

        Anyway, my mom came to pick me up after the job. Grandma tells her about the cack-a-phoney the crows made all afternoon. I chimed in, agreeing I’d never heard such a loud cack-a-phoney. My grandma and I had both only read the word and never heard it pronounced, and we both guessed the pronunciation wrong. Oh did my mom laugh that day.

    • Profligate. It’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelt, with the emphasis on the first syllable, but I’d just never heard it spoken and added an extra ‘i’ in there somewhere.

    • Wee Ninja said:

      This thread has brought me so much joy this week. Thank you all for sharing (and I have had so many of those same pronunciation errors … Hermione was VERY confusing when I read the first Harry Potter books). Wish I could “like” each comment 🙂

      • borgcube said:

        Chiming in with my thanks to everyone who shared! Such charming answers from my fellow read-more-than-speakers!

    • Malaika Moon said:

      For years I wondered what these (phonetic pronunciation ahead) horse-dee-over-ess everyone was eating at fancy events in books.
      I was in my late teens when it finally clicked after someone said hors d’oeuvres aloud when it was written in front of me.

    • magorc said:

      I spent the greater part of my grade school years thinking arkansas (ar-kan-saw) and arkansas (ar-kan-sas) were two different states. I guess I just never stopped to count!

  12. Nanani said:

    Q5 – You almost certainly will have to Enforce the Nope at least once. Maybe multiple times.
    “No, seriously, I’m not up for this topic” and then leave/hang up/close the chat if they don’t stop.

    You aren’t being rude, they are by disregarding a boundary that they fully acknowledge is there.

  13. IsbenTakesTea said:

    Q5: I’ve also gotten mileage out of a quick interrupt of “I want to be here for you but have limited emotional bandwidth for this today: how about giving me a solid 3-minute rant?” and then fully engage in the “uh-huh” “I *know*!” “/le gasp!/” listen mode for those 3 minutes (a solid rant length), and then cut in with “I hear you–that sucks/is very stressful. Thanks for sharing with me! How about them Dodgers?”

  14. quarky said:

    LW3, honestly, thank you for even asking this question. First off, I love everyone’s suggestions for better questions to ask. But I’m also excited for other people to have other/better questions to ask *me*, as someone who may actually scream if she’s asked “what do you *do*?” one more time. I either have to talk about my past employment and pretend I don’t exist in the present, or I have to say “I’m a stay at home parent” and then watch my interlocutor flail around for a way to not sound embarrassed for me. Like, I get it, you don’t think that’s “doing” something, sputtering that what I do is sooooo much harder than having a job is not going to make me feel better for either of us. Yes, that’s my baggage, but I’m also excited about people starting to not equate “knowing how you contribute to the economy” with “getting to know you.”

    • MoominGirl said:

      But I’m also excited for other people to have other/better questions to ask *me*, as someone who may actually scream if she’s asked “what do you *do*?” one more time. I either have to talk about my past employment and pretend I don’t exist in the present, or I have to say “I’m a stay at home parent” and then watch my interlocutor flail around for a way to not sound embarrassed for me. Like, I get it, you don’t think that’s “doing” something, sputtering that what I do is sooooo much harder than having a job is not going to make me feel better for either of us. Yes, that’s my baggage, but I’m also excited about people starting to not equate “knowing how you contribute to the economy” with “getting to know you.”

      Same, but substitute “I have been too ill to do paid work since 2010” for “I’m a stay at home parent.”

      • isabeausuro said:

        Fistbump of solidarity — I’m too disabled for employment, and it gets super awkward (even though I at least have a supremely visible disability so don’t have to deal with as much “but you’re so young” crap). Our society tends to define personal worth by job status, and there’s no good space for “too ill” — ‘unemployed’ is technically true but has bad connotations.

    • Jules the 3rd said:

      My spouse (he/him) is the stay-at-home parent in our team, and I’ve seen the same ’embarrassed for you’ reaction, but it’s gotten less over the years. I’d use it to lead into ‘how old are any kids in your household’ and ‘do you like DnD’ because we are always challenged to find other kids whose parents we like and whose schedules / interests kinda match.

      I hope you also find that people are getting better about it all.

  15. Awkwardlyowl said:

    Q.6: I second the shared media idea: I’ve done it with movies or television shows too. It’s nice to have a thing to be exploring or experiencing together (I also have many Minecraft dates, where we play together on a shared server, for this reason). I also enjoy postcards: they are lower emotional impact and effort than letters, but finding (or making) odd little things to send with thoughts and feelings is always appreciated by the people I send them to.

  16. This One Here said:

    RE: People’s definitions of “Laziness”

    When my kid was still wetting the bed at a point where he should have been past it, my then-mother-in-law told me that her son, my kid’s father, had the same problem, and the doctor said it was “laziness.” I asked if that was the word the doctor used; she replied that the doctor said he slept very soundly, and was unable to wake up to relieve himself. . . you know, “laziness.”

    • Onomatopoeia said:

      Haaa, yes, people will interpret what doctors say in the wackiest ways. I got a lot of tummy aches as a toddler, doctors ran a bunch of tests and found nothing physically wrong. I have a copy of my childhood medical records now so I know the doctor described them as “probably psychosomatic/stress-related as a result of loss of father”. My mother told me my whole life that the doctor had said I was making it up for attention, which was probably genuinely how she interpreted what he said. :/

  17. Clarry said:

    Q4. I’ve done well with what I call a “win list.” You’ve often been yelled at for being late, but I’d bet there are plenty of times when you’ve arrived on time, and everyone carried on normally as though you’d never been late. Recall those times, write them down, and when you start kicking yourself for coming late, overwrite the urge to cringe with a memory from your win list. Yup, you missed a lot of homework assignments, but I’ll bet there are a bunch you turned in too, or ones where you got the practice you needed from the homework some other way, or times you blurted out exactly the right thing instead of the wrong thing. There are times getting lost led to something pleasant happening that you’d otherwise have missed out on. (I once got lost in the library having confused science with science fiction, inconvenienced no one but myself but still felt like an idiot because who can’t follow the numbers on the shelves in a library, ran into a friend who was seated at a table in a place I’d never have found if I’d been smart enough to follow the numbers right, and renewed the friendship to much happiness for years to come. That’s on my win list. I make myself think of it every time I make a dumb mistake.) You can keep your win list in one place. (I do. It’s in one notebook now.) But it works to have your win list all over too. Recall something you got right in the beginning of every (private) computer file. Put notes about the time you remembered needed groceries inside your kitchen cupboards. One could say “8/26/19 Went to grocery store for laundry detergent. Bought half a basket of groceries but no laundry detergent. Saw big display by cash register on the way out. Remembered and got it on sale!” That’s all it takes. Small notes like that.

    • Zombie Bunny said:

      This is wonderful advice! I often find myself, usually at night when I should be sleeping, fixating on embarrassments from my past that should have absolutely no bearing on my present life (typically, social mishaps that all witnesses have long forgotten about) and this sounds like a great exercise to counter all of that.

    • T Smith said:

      This is so true and great advice! My fav example of unexpected benefits from a mistake was the time I backed into a new neighbour’s van the day after moving into my new place (haze of packing/lack of sleep/stress) – I was utterly mortified and the woman was pretty shirty about it – cue years of embarrassment and face-palming, until I happened to be chatting to her recently (5 years later) and mentioned how embarrassing the whole thing had been, and she said ‘oh, that was you? that actually turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me!’ It turned out that when she took her van in to be repaired, they couldn’t fix it in time for the holiday she’d had booked, so the insurance provided a fabulous camper van as a replacement, and she had such an amazing time on her holiday with it, that she extended it for another couple of weeks, and had the best time! Utterly hilarious and unexpected, and is now my go-to memory for ‘this thing you thought was the worst ever, turned out to be fantastic’!!

    • Sharker said:

      “times you blurted out exactly the right thing instead of the wrong thing”

      Wow, thank you for this! I’m a blurter with recently-diagnosed ADHD, and lately I’ve been trying SO HARD to silence myself, mostly in professional situations in which it will honestly do me good to talk a little less and think a little more. But it feels restorative to remember that this trait has led to positive interactions too, not just an endless series of embarrassments.

      I still remember a decade ago when I was in retail, a stranger answering “How are you today?” with “I just finalized my divorce!” But her tone and bearing were so obviously victorious, that without even thinking about it, I blurted, “Congratulations!” And she fucking froze mid-step. Like, long enough for me to start envisioning my manager being called over, the write-up I was about to get (not my first, of course). And then she burst out, “You’re the first person to say that to me, instead of ‘I’m sorry.’ I didn’t even know that was what I want to hear! Thank you!”

      • Anon said:

        Yes! I am the same way, and 99% of the time I would say it comes out as a quit wit and good sense of humour. It’s just that, on the few occasions where I definitely say the wrong thing, I remember them very heavily. It’s good to remember that you can’t win them all, and, as long as you’re not saying anything grossly offensive, your wins probably outweigh your losses.

    • Clarry said:

      Let me stress that the win list is not only for big things. A good day might be: Got to work on time with my uniform clean and ready to go. Lots of customers, and I handled the rush perfectly well. Boss was in a grouchy mood, but I remembered it was about her, not me, and didn’t get my feelings hurt.” You could say that’s nothing special, just doing your job on an ordinary day, and maybe it isn’t anything special, but it’s a win anyway. It’s easy to feel stupid for getting lost, but it’s an item for the win list if you got lost, drove around for a while, asked directions, and found your way eventually. Didn’t make the same mistake twice is definitely one for the win list. It’s all in reframing. “Spent 2 hours figuring out how to use software that everyone else intuited easily” sounds like something to beat yourself up over. Reframe it as “Doggedly stayed at figuring out new software until I learned it. Showed real perseverance at something frustrating and hard for me and was successful.”

  18. Jaybeetee said:

    LW4: I do with the ADHD and executive dysfunction and the ducking up and the forgetting and the being late and the being the messy roommate and the not adulting correctly and all the stuff.

    When I spiral over mistakes, or get a bout of imposter syndrome, I try to CBT myself a little, specifically in the from of reality-testing. I ask myself, “Who doesn’t duck up?”

    Seriously? Who doesn’t? And if you can point to a person who seemingly never ducks up in the way that you just ducked up, that person probably has different weak spots. This isn’t about bringing other people down, it’s about perspective. You know aaaaallllll your mistakes. You don’t know all of other people’s mistakes. Automatically, you’re going to perceive yourself as ducking up WAY MORE AND WORSE when, maybe… it’s not as unbalanced as you think. Because literally everyone ducks up.

    The other thing I do is ask myself what I’d say to a friend who had just ducked up. Would I say the sorts of things to my friends that I say to myself? If no… who would I say those things to? Who would deserve that? Would I talk to any other being that way? Would I, perhaps, never dream of talking to anyone else the way I talk to myself? Extending from that… do I deserve to be spoken to in harsher or meaner ways than literally everyone in the world?

    Maybe no? Maybe I deserve the same courtesy as I’d give anyone else?

    As you get into a regime, as you develop ways of dealing with your specific issues, you’re going to start ducking up less and feeling better. But you’ll always duck up. Not because you’re bad or stupid or not trying enough, but because people duck up and certain things are hard for you. When you start beating yourself up, ask yourself if what you’re saying is really true. Ask yourself if you’re really The Worst. Ask yourself what kind of treatment you’d like right now, and how you’d treat someone else right now. Consciously decide that you’re not worse than other people, and that you deserve the same kindness anyone does… even if you just ducked up.

    • Anonymous for this said:

      “Would I say the sorts of things to my friends that I say to myself? If no… who would I say those things to? Who would deserve that? Would I talk to any other being that way? Would I, perhaps, never dream of talking to anyone else the way I talk to myself?”

      Thank you. This is a very necessary reminder just now. Because I’ve truly ducked up something at work, and have been procrastinating fessing up and taking the consequences. Part of me knows that my boss and the other people it affects won’t talk to me like I talk to myself. But they won’t be pleased, and rightly so.

    • Sending this to my daughter the high school graduate: lessons on ‘how to adult at work’ instead of ‘how to cope in school’ are really handy right about now 😉

      Especially when suggested by a stranger nad not by Mommy 😉

  19. Clarry said:

    Q6. Start or end each letter/skype/text with “the best thing that happened to me since the last time you heard from me is …” Make it into a ritual that you don’t skip. This works best if each thing you mention is devastatingly small. Sure you’ll mention promotions, births, cures, winning the lottery, but the idea for this is to report on best things like spring flowers, finding the book you wanted at the local library, co-worker brought new baby to work, and then look for something even smaller like “the new baby smiled when I held her.”

    • I was looking for something like that this morning which turned out to be “the cat laid down on the back of the couch and rested her head on my shoulder.”

  20. Nep said:

    When my spouse and I were living separately, I ended up reading a book to him. We never quite finished, but he liked hearing my voice and the story, and I liked reading to him and feeling like I was doing something to help him. It felt so intimate and it really helped us both during a hard time.

  21. Susan said:

    Q6. I don’t know that it’s romantic, but when a friend was in Afghanistan (in addition to handwritten letters) I burned CDs of songs I was into (he had computer access, you could also do a small USB drive) and got actual prints of photos from places that we’d been together (I still lived in our college town). It’s so easy to email pictures and make Spotify playlists and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s also nice to be able to hold something in your hand that someone you care about touched.

    • neenerini said:

      Another non-romantic context suggestion: a friend and I who hadn’t lived near each other for a long time started a long email thread where we would send a word or phrase and the other person would write a free association response and end with a different word or phrase for the other person to respond to. It got us communicating about things that weren’t just catching up on the big life events we were missing and reminded us why we were friends in the first place (what we had in common and liked about each other).

  22. Susan said:

    Q3: I really like to ask people about their travels, because then you can easily segue into other questions depending on what they bring up (like if they say ‘I was with my mom and my sister’ you can say ‘oh do you get to see your sister often, where does she live?’ or if they say they loved the food in Italy you can say ‘do you know any good Italian restaurants around here? have you tried any Italian cooking since you got home?’). And you can bring this up by saying “I’ve been thinking about taking a trip next year [which could just mean you were daydreaming during a boring meeting and is not a lie], what’s a great place you’ve been? I’m asking everyone.”

    • Blooper said:

      I really like this question! I enjoy hearing about culture/language barrier stories. Plus there’s so many places I want to go but know little about. I want to add that, personally, I’ve had to adjust this question a bit because I have friends in my social circle who are underprivileged (disability and/or “working poor”) so they are unable to travel. Sometimes I ask: Do you ever think about backpacking? or Have you ever met a celebrity?

  23. Jackalope said:

    Q6: When one of my best friends was living overseas in the Peace Corps I sent her regular letter that were exactly 6 pages long (the number I could mail and not need another stamp with the weight of paper I was using). I’d just start a letter and keep going until I’d run out of room and then send it (may have had a few stories interrupted that way….). I also tried to send things that would remind her of inside jokes. For example, we would talk about our college chia pet, so I’d send her a letter from the chiapet, or I’d remind her of a joke someone told us ages ago. Anything that is like an “in” joke or story can be great. Also, someone else suggested writing a round robin story which I have had some fun with; I can also recommend just writing a story for the other person, too. (To continue with the above examples, I might write a story about the Chiapet that Ate Manhattan, or whatever…). Something that feels very you-two-ish.

  24. portsmouthliz said:

    When my husband meets people from a different country, or even a different state, he likes to ask “when you go back to visit, what’s your favorite thing to eat?”. We’ve gotten in some really fun conversations that way, and the question always makes people light up and get engaged.

    • A Silver Spork said:

      Speaking as a foreigner living in the US, this one, or really any “tell me about your homeland” are… fraught. I’m sure your husband means it 100% innocently, but a lot of people *don’t*, and it makes me feel like an exotic animal being examined. Your husband probably doesn’t use this to segue into “so tell me what you think about [the authoritarian government/the human rights violations/the shitty-ass church doing shitty-ass things] in your country”, but a lot of people do, so my shoulders jump to my ears.

      Also, and I recognize that this is totally on me and not applicable for most people, but talking about visiting bums me out, because I CAN’T visit my home country anymore – I’m trans, I’d get murdered on the street and the government/police would shrug and do nothing about it.

      • TO_Ont said:

        I have a handful of times got questions to tell someone about ‘my culture’ or favourite foods from ‘my country’ even after I let people know that my parents immigrated to Canada when I was three months old and I don’t even have any memories of the first Canadian city I lived in, let alone the country my parents grew up in. It was at worst very unpleasant and at best just weird, because it assumed that I had a lot to say about that country. And I do speak the language a bit but it’s still very much a foreign country to me and frankly just not that interesting.

      • So, a question. I’m an adult-ed writing teacher, and one of my first-meeting evaluation essays is, compare/contrast the home you grew up in with the home you live in now. My suggestion: student can compare size, climate, number of people…

        Most are married, or at least not living home with parents. So everyone moved at least once. But: A lot of my students are foreign-born, moved to USA as kids/teens/adults. Do you think this is an awkward topic?

        • A Silver Spork said:

          People’s mileage will vary, but I personally didn’t have a problem when I had assignments along the lines of “write about your childhood home” that let *me* define home: whether that’s my country of origin or the building itself or something between the two in size. I’d suggest making it VERY clear that you’re letting them decide the scope of “home” though.

  25. CB said:

    I always enjoy reading these short questions, but this week in particular they are Extremely Relevant to me. Apologies, shame spirals, past regrets, late ADHD diagnoses… it’s so useful to read the way other people deal with these.

    Q4: I am extremely prone to shame spiralling, and as the captain says, I have yet to find a way to avoid them or stop them in their tracks. I’ve also found that, in the early stages, logicking myself out is pretty ineffective. In those initial moments, when the shame is burning in my stomach, I try to a) avoid any impulsive actions that might make things worse, like sending overwrought messages or quitting something I like, and b) distract myself. I try things like doing some sort of handicraft, watching an old favourite tv show, going for a walk, completely rearranging my bookshelf etc. Those painful thoughts and feelings are still sitting in the background, but at least I’m not leaping onto the thought train and further beating myself up. Once the situation is less overwhelming, (which for me can take between an hour and weeks), then I can think about it a bit more and try some of the therapeutic approaches other commenters have mentioned. I do wish I didn’t have this emotional tendency, but I am proud of how much less self-destructive my coping mechanisms are becoming

  26. bbop said:

    Re Q6 – When my partner was serving overseas I found that I was searching for creative ways to connect because our current means of connection weren’t fulfilling. It would be worth considering if you have issues/concerns with what you’re currently doing beyond the usual ‘he’s far away and it’s hard’. Personally, my partner would call me for 10 minutes every day during his lunchtime and I found it really terrible – it was a daily reminder that things sucked, it was too short to have a real conversation, and it was his only break for the day so he was also distracted by checking personal email, social media etc. and wasn’t tuned into the conversation. I ended up requesting that we chat once a week on a weekend instead, and making it longer so we could have a real conversation.

    Otherwise, I gravitated towards doing things or sending things that either made his situation a little better (I sent him a blanket when he mentioned he was cold at night, and headphones when he said his had broken) or things that he could bring home with him, ideally that wouldn’t take up space in his bags (e.g. I sent a custom print I ordered on Etsy that he could put up near his bed and that we framed when he got home).
    Also, I decorated the insides of the care package boxes; papered the insides, added origami, etc. to make them more of an experience to open.
    Other ideas – Spotify playlists mentioned above was good for us too, plus we played Words With Friends, I sent him some stuff from Society6 to make his space nicer to live in but cheap enough that he could pass it on to the next person when he came home. Mostly he appreciated the photos and videos of home life – perhaps you could take a daily video in one of those apps and compile it for him for when he gets home?

  27. Mikko Saarinen said:

    Q4.

    So like the Captain I had my ADHD diagnosis come late so I’ve processed and am still processing a lot of shame over not getting stuff done.

    Sidenote here for all the people with executive function challenges and siblings who don’t have them. It’s been extra hard to process my own challenges when my siblings have graduated from top universities and have jobs people dream about in some of the most respected companies where I live.

    Anyways in addition to a lot of practice relating to forgiving myself a thing I picked up from a youtuber with a similar background to me (shout out to Hannah Hart for being super awesome) is the concept of to-done lists.

    Instead of making to-do lists and feeling bad for not getting stuff done. I used to do lists with my pre-sleep writing where I’d list things I’d done that day. When I was still really depressed those lists totally included getting up, showering, brushing my teeth, eating etc. You can even do rewards for yourself for ticking over a certain number of items. It’s a small thing but it forces you to think about things you have done. And over time that helps, even if it seems dumb at first.

    What also helped was one of my friends getting really angry at me when I was shame-spiraling at her about not doing things and tirading an extensive list of things I have done. This has since emerged as a pattern XD I seem to need someone I love getting angry at me for some things to stick :b

    • I’ve seen these called ta-dah lists, which I love. I use them a lot when I’m feeling down on myself.

  28. reyofsunlight said:

    I’m guessing that, being in Afghanistan, the husband probably won’t have access to a computer and internet that would make this exactly replicable, but my experience might be useful?

    When I was away from Boyfriend for nine months, we both got World of Warcraft accounts and deliberately set time aside a few days a week to go questing and into dungeons together, while chatting over voice chat. Us exploring a virtual world together made us feel closer and let us share experiences together; we shared a conceptual space, if not a physical one. The day we both got flying mounts, we flew over Orgimmar (a big city in-game) together, looking down at the players and the buildings. It was one of the most romantic moments I’ve ever experienced with him. It might be worth looking into a less technologically-taxing game you guys could play together.

  29. Q2 said:

    Hi, Q2 here, I didn’t manage to include in my question that this is a pretty small meetup, only 6-8 people any given night, so breaking up into small groups is a bit harder to manage. Anyone have any other suggestions for how to deal with / redirect the person who wants to talk all about them instead of about the discussion questions? (It probably doesn’t help that I kind of dislike the person. I don’t think she’s mean or a bad person, but I find her to be overly familiar, confident she knows the answers for everyone, and very invested in describing what a free spirit she is.)

    • JenniferAndLightning said:

      How new are you to this meet-up? If you have only attended a handful of times and it is an established tight-knit group (that you want to be a part of) then I think you should tread very carefully. I would probably start with some careful observation.

      First, (especially if I did not like the person in question) I would try to get an objective-ish measure on how much she actually speaks. People (even feminists) tend to overestimate how often women speak and we all tend to overestimate the duration of things we find boring or annoying. When I am teaching and I feel like someone is dominating the discussion, I will start timing that person as a check on my subjectivity.

      Second, observe everyone else’s reactions carefully. Other people may also be annoyed and bored even if they aren’t complaining. Look for tells and micro expressions. Are they engaged and listening? Bored and tuned out? Watching the clock? Tearing up the label of their beers into a tiny pieces?

      I would observe for at least 2 evenings to both confirm my impression that this woman dominates the discussion and get a sense of how other people feel about that. After that, I would approach those who seem bored and frustrated and gently suggest that we find ways to keep discussions on track and make sure everyone has a chance to actively participate. I wouldn’t even mention the name of Ms. Talks-A-Lot. They will understand, but by discussing it as systemic you can side-step loyalty issues.

      Frankly, I would probably not bother with any of that for a meet-up. If I really disliked a dominant member of a small group, I would just find a different group. I use the above tactics for groups that matter to me when I want to change the group culture and also preserve relationships and avoid alienating anyone.

      • Q2 said:

        I’ve gone 3 or 4 times so far; the group meets twice a month. I’ve already done the measure how much she actually talks thing as a first step before writing in. She really will talk as much as everyone else combined for the first 45 minutes or so. And I’ll think she’s done and start to say something, but the pause isn’t quite long enough and she’s off again.

        The group seems to maybe be in a growth phase. There have only been 6-8 people the times I’ve been there, but usually 2-3 on any given night were there for the first time. I really like the organizers a lot, but I’ve started to let my own body language communicate how I feel when Ms. Talks-A-Lot forgets how to stop talking – not being confrontational but allowing it to be visible that I’m tuning out rather than trying to make the effort to appear engaged. The last time, I got the impression that the other people who were there for the first time were also kind of tuning out but I can’t be totally sure. Unfortunately, since the attendance varies so much, I don’t know how easy it will be to connect with other bored people.

        So far I’m still finding it worth attending, though leaving the group is an option. I’m reluctant to do so because I haven’t found any other groups that center on the kinds of discussions I want to have. I previously tried to start my own with my friends but couldn’t get enough momentum to make the scheduling work, so I’ve had to look further afield to fill that niche.

        It’s probably the organizers I’ll have to talk to, if anyone. Scripts welcome!

        • JenniferP said:

          Thanks for the additional context! I think @JenniferAndLighting had great suggestions overall.

          Since you want to keep going, and this lady is making you maybe not want to keep going, and it’s usually just a couple people in a bar, and there’s no moderator, is it the end of the world if you become the slightly interrupty person who continually interjects into this person’s monologuing with, “Oh, that reminds me of a point from the reading this week” or “Interesting story! So, what did you think of [planned discussion topic], specifically?” [Plus do the stuff in the OP where you grab the conversational ball from her and toss it to someone else by asking them a question].

          Like, beyond quick hellos and general pleasantries, give her attention pretty much only when she talks about [planned discussion topic] and tune out (or get up and go to the rest room, see if anyone wants another beer) or start a side conversation when she’s on a roll and if she notices, say, “Oh, sorry, Name, I just wanted to ask Doug here what he thought of [philosophy discussion stuff] and I didn’t want to interrupt your story.”

          You can’t fix her, you don’t have standing with her to be like, “Friend, Buddy, Dear Heart, you are Doing That Thing Again” , you don’t know the organizers well enough yet, but there’s nothing stopping you from redirecting the conversation where you want it to go. Interrupt her! Or have one-on-one side conversations! If people really, really, really want to listen to her, they’ll lean in to her and your gambits for side conversations and subject changes will go nowhere, and that will give you some information. If they don’t, they will follow your lead.

          • Q2 said:

            Thanks! Sometimes I just need someone else to tell me it’s okay to push back a bit 🙂

          • JenniferP said:

            Either the other people are all Really Into What She Is Saying and you’ll need a different group, or they’re all sitting there like you, hoping someone will stop it. It sounds like this is a really, really important social outlet for this person so you can be gentle but also get things moving back on topic.

  30. Ermintrude said:

    I went with ‘affaDAHvit’ in my head before I heard it. I think there’s a good chance that those of us who get mocked for our mispronounciations know more words than those doing the mocking.

    • Ermintrude said:

      Nesting fail gah.

  31. Violet624 said:

    What about sending him a form of a mix-tape? Songs that make you think of him and your relationship, songs you think he might enjoy? You make a song-list love letter :.)

  32. Katia said:

    Last LW, I still have love letters from my ex of like 20 years ago when he was deployed. I haven’t looked at them in 16 years or so but they are still meaningful to me so I can only imagine what they would be like for your own beloved spouse, or maybe even for someone to find stashed in an attic bundled together in 50 years. Write those letters!

    • solecism said:

      I was in a digital storytelling class earlier this year, and a pair of sisters were taking their grandparents’ letters written during World War I, recording family “voice actors” reading each side of the correspondence, and adding music of the era to create audio mementos to share in the family. Digital scrapbooking? So, yeah, letters can be really rewarding keepsakes. Not to mention all of the archival research based on collections of personal correspondence.

  33. rmd said:

    I don’t know if it’s romantic, but when a friend was deployed in Afghanistan, I traced an outline of my hand and labeled it as a “Remote High-Five” and included it in a letter, and he apparently ran around high fiving everyone for me. If you do a paper letter, and high fives are a thing you engage in, maybe add that in, too for a bit of fun?

  34. pocketbard said:

    Q6: When my then-husband was doing seasonal work as a forest fire fighter, I bought a teddy bear in a little firefighter uniform that stood in as his “proxy” during the fire season. I would take the teddy bear out with me to whatever I was doing during the summer — going to parties, walking nature trails, having fun at amusement parks, whatever — and take pictures of me and the bear (or friends and the bear). Then I’d get those pictures printed out and include a few every week with a handwritten note to let my husband know what “he” was doing over the summer while he was 2000 km away. I’m pretty sure he kept them all, and it was a lot of fun for me too. Maybe this sparks an idea for you!

  35. nnn said:

    I wonder if “So, what are your favourite icebreaker questions?” would work as an icebreaker question

    • Car said:

      I would love that. I freeze at the “what is your favorite” kinds of questions because I feel put on the spot (what if I don’t have a favorite? What if they judge me for my tastes?) But that’s low-key and cheeky enough that I would be quite happy to chat.

      I have occasionally been desperate enough to walk up to people at an event and say “Do you mind if I just stand next to you for a minute? Because I feel totally awkward at these things and have no idea what to do.” That generally works as a launch into types of events we do and don’t like, anecdotes about past disaster situations, etc.

  36. darthtrina said:

    Q6: My sweetie is in the same time zone and not militarily deployed, so I don’t know how many of these you might be able to use.

    Adding on to the Captain’s questions suggestion, I have “The Book of Questions” by Gregory Stock. That might be useful either in Skype, paper letter, or email letter. We do about one a night unless they’re super easy. Mostly it’s about learning how we each think, not “right” answers.

    Others mentioned online gaming. We use https://boardgamearena.com/, where you can either play live against each other or turn-a-day style which is where you get emailed that the player made a move and it’s your turn. You can do more than one move in whatever time period, or even “no time limit,” which probably makes the most sense for your situation. Just be sure to invite your spouse and limit the number of players to just you two.

    Also, you asked about romance, not yourself, but maybe keeping yourself busy and trying new art / craft hobbies and sending him stuff, or learning a music skill and sharing on Skype? That could be both romantic and keep yourself going well in his absence.

  37. Róisín said:

    One lost thing: the sock. When my grandfather died I started a pair of socks on the plane to his funeral so I’d have something to do with my hands. When my grandmother died a year later, I finished the pair. They meant so damn much to me and one of them has been missing for at least a year, and I’ve moved twice and it isn’t in any of my things. It’s gone forever, and if the universe could give me one lost thing back it would be the sock I knit to remember my grandparent.

  38. Red Wheelbarrow said:

    I’m late to the party, so I apologize if I’m repeating something that’s already been said. Re. romantic ways to connect: I remember reading, years back, about a seventeenth-century couple who were separated by an ocean, and who agreed to sit and look at the moon at the same day and time. I realize this might be tricky with time zones and military schedules and so on, but something about it struck me as really beautiful.

  39. heatherpatterson1493 said:

    Q6: I served in Afghanistan too!

    The thing is, deployments are really isolating. I was always aware that my deployments were driving a wedge between me and my loved ones, as they tend to do, and I worried. For me, the content of the action isnt really as important as thought behind it. Creativity isnt as important as consistency. I wanted to know that I mattered enough to people for them to make an effort.

    You’re hitting all the highlights, tbh. Send a few rad care packages and you’ve rounded out the list.

  40. Persia said:

    Q1: Here’s what I say whenever someone tells me I’m doing something wrong.

    I apologize for (badthing). I acknowledge I was wrong and I hurt you. Thank you for having the courage to call me out for (badthing). I will never do (badthing) again.

    Then I make sure I clamp my mouth shut whenever I’m around my victim. If my victim was on social media, I make sure to never speak to my victim again so I won’t hurt them anymore.

    • Twitchy said:

      What do you do if someone you know tells you you’re doing something wrong?

  41. TinLizi said:

    LW1: “I marched with Dr. King!” politicians. There’s a great line in the musical 1776 that John Adams yells at Ben Franklin, “Oh don’t wave your credentials at me. Perhaps it’s time you had them renewed.” I always think of that in these situations.

    LW4: When I’m having depression or anxiety spike, I sometimes give myself 10-20 minutes to wallow in self pity. I call it that too. I set an alarm, I lie on the bed and cry in the most dramatic, Disney princess, woe is me way that I can. Then I get up, wash my face, get a drink of water, and pick a simple task to accomplish. If I’m having a really bad day, sometimes I’ll shower and get changed into all fresh clothes. It kind of signals to my brain that the day has Started Over and I get another shot at it.

  42. in response to Q2, progressive stack (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_stack) is a great way to make sure everyone in a group convo is heard (even quieter people)! we use it in my local DSA and it’s very effective. i honestly wish it were used in more spaces as it’s a great way to balance conversations out.

  43. Beth said:

    Q6: My now-wife and I were long-distance for almost 10 years. Among the things that worked for us:

    LOTS of contact, even if a given contact was short. Lots of short, silly emails. We were in contact almost every day, sometimes more than once a day (if there was, say, a chat and an email exchange).

    We played silly word games over email — it took us weeks to get through “I Love My Love With an A (B, C, etc.) Because She (is Awesome, Anticipates, is good at Acting, etc.).

    We had conversations that spilled across multiple contacts — asking a question in email that would be discussed in chat and then further over the phone. This helped the feeling that the connection was continuous, as opposed to a lot of brief connections.

    We shared a lot of media — books, videos, websites, movies. We sent stuff, sometimes silly. Flowers for birthdays and Valentine’s Day, We sent each other books, and sometimes tucked physical notes inside the books. We emailed pictures and other digital items back and forth.

    We spent time with other people, went out and did things, and then told each other about it. We thought about each other every day, several times during the day, and told each other about it. Basically, we filled the empty space between with words, and the words held us closer together.

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