Yes! It is time! Time to treat the search strings people typed in right before they washed up on these blog shores as if they are actual questions! Inside: Mask etiquette, reformed Nice Guy™ apologies, overly-neighborly neighbors, favor-sharking defined, and more.
Q1 “How to apologize for being a nice guy.”
I’m guessing that this is about NiceGuy™ behavior, where a person is cloyingly nice to someone they hope to have sex and/or a romantic relationship with and then feels aggrieved and owed something when the object of their niceness realizes what’s happening and is like, “Sorry, I just wanted regular human kindness with no secret strings attached?”
The best apologies name the behavior, precede changed behavior, and deliver both the words and the changed behavior without strings.
For example, “I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable when I came on too strong and then got angry when you didn’t want to date me, that was wrong,” followed by not pressuring them to reassure you that it’s okay or explain their reasons, or even still be your friend, depending on just how uncomfortable things have gotten. If they want to be friends, they know how to find you, and if they do, you can be sure they mean it, whereas if you chase them down, you’re just gonna end up in Weird Apology Town again on the way to Blockedville.
Two additional notes:
- If the person has asked you to leave them alone, do not get in touch just to apologize. You demonstrate that you can respect boundaries by respecting them, not by looking for exceptions.
- Whether or not the person outright asked you to stop contacting them, if the offending behavior happened long ago and you are not actively in touch with this person anymore (e.g. sharing a social circle, a workplace, a hobby scene where you’re apt to run into them from time to time), let them be! As nice as it might be to get an acknowledgement that you’ve changed, sometimes improved behavior has to be its own reward.
A Reformed NiceGirl™
Q2: “When relationships end because of geography.”
We romanticize stories where people are willing to give up everything else in their lives for a change at romantic love, but in real life, sometimes there is a mountain high enough (a visa requirement steep enough, a bank account small enough, a family situation that requires care enough, etc.) to keep people from being together in the same place, and all the love feelings in the world can’t fix it.
I wish everyone who searched for this question healing, peace, and good things closer to home in the coming year.
Q3: “How to stop neighbour coming into your husband.”
Hee! I’m going to assume that this is a typo and the intended question is how do you stop a neighbor from
coming ONto trying to seduce said husband, but the typo doesn’t change the answer:
This is a husband problem, and his magic words are probably something like, “Oh, thank you for the offer, but I do not want that.”
Q4. “What does it mean if someone asks if you choose a person based on looks.”
Do you know how to spot a loaded question, by which I mean, a question that contains a strong hint that the asker obviously assumes or strongly hopes a specific answer will be forthcoming?
Whether “do you choose a person based on looks?” was directed to a potential date-friend, a hiring manager, or a casting director, the strong sense I get is:
- The asker has strong feelings about whether choosing people based on their looks is okay, fair, allowed.
- They also have strong feelings about how their looks stack up as a possible deciding factor.
When working out how to answer a loaded question, my first and best strategy is to stop and think about how I honestly feel. What’s the worst thing that happens if I just say that?
- “I know I’m supposed to say no, looks don’t matter, but I definitely only swipe right or answer dating site messages from people when I really like their picture.”
- “Well, it’s a Steve Buscemi biopic, so whoever we cast in the role needs to believably look like a teenaged Steve Buscemi.”
- “You sound like you have something to say about that, care to go first?”
Usually honesty is the right way to go, even if I can tell that I’m not understanding all the subtext or delivering as expected.
If I were trading initial messages on a dating site, and my honest answer prompts a rant from my match about how “shallow” women are nowadays and how I’m not exactly a “10” myself, did I answer the question “wrong”? Or was the person just looking for a reason to neg me about my looks or go off about their own self-image issues? Doesn’t matter, my views are clearly incompatible with whatever the heck they’re on about, ergo we should not date.
If this were an audition for Steve Buscemi: The Flames Before The Fame, and Meryl Streep rolled up in a turtleneck and a firefighter hat with her best Young Buscemi take, let’s be honest, I’m going to sleep on it and probably finally watch that movie where Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan before I say a final no, but in the end I’m not going to waste Meryl’s time. Being honest about “yes, it’s a visual medium and my take is quite traditional, so looks do count” isn’t how I appeal to everybody, but it’s how I find just the right Young Steve-needle in the headshot-haystack.
Speaking of loaded topics…
Q5: “How to say you’re looking for a relationship without saying you want a relationship.”
You can try something like “Ideally, I’d like to fall in love and settle down someday, but right now I’m pretty happy to meet lots of nifty new people” if you want to communicate “Calm down, buddy, I am not going to be writing Mx. MyFirstName Your-LastName in my diary at night the second I meet you.”
But, if you’re open to homework, I want you to grab whatever you use to take notes with and then stop and think very hard about why you think you’re not supposed to say that you want a relationship in those words.
I don’t think you are silly for thinking you’re not supposed to say that or for asking this question, I think there are pervasive tropes throughout pop culture where straight cis women who say that they want romantic relationships and then actively try to form romantic relationships are portrayed as “clingy,” “crazy,” “needy, “”obsessed,” “stalkerish,” “desperate,” etc. whereas straight cis men who say that they want romantic relationships and then try to convince someone to fall in love with them are “romantic,” “persistent” & “adorable!” even when they do meets-the-actual legal-definition-of-stalking behaviors.
I personally think true love means never, ever breaking into a high school student’s bedroom and watching her sleep at night, Stephanie Meyer and $3.3 billion dollars in Twilight book sales and movie tickets say otherwise, but where, specifically, are you getting that message? Where is the voice that’s telling you you’re not allowed to both want this and say that you do coming from?
Name it, make it cite its sources.
Next, consider how badly you want a romantic relationship with any person who you suspect might leave, detach, or freak out if they found out you actually wanted a relationship with them, and consider what happens if, as you date around and meet people, you make “I want to date somebody who makes me feel comfortable being honest about what I want” your baseline requirement. Maybe not stated as such on a checklist, or something you expect to know on the first date, but as you’re moving into Dates 3-20, what if you only keep seeing people who don’t make you feel like you have to hide what you want from your life inside a fortune cookie made of hints?
Q6: “My friend was hurt a couple years ago by his gal and she dumped him high and dry he never got an explanation she refuses to talk to him today.”
I’ve been doing this advice column gig long enough to think that chances are that your friend knows or guesses why he was dumped and just doesn’t like the reason or the fact of the dumping, but say it’s true, say your friend was in love with someone who dumped him out of the blue completely without explanation and is still refusing to talk to him about it today.
There is actually a lot of information here that can help your friend put this all behind him, if that’s really what he’s after.
First, when someone breaks up with you and refuses to talk to you ever again, it’s probably safe to say they don’t love you anymore. “Why did she break up with me?” “Sorry bud, I guess she didn’t love you anymore.”
When someone refuses to talk to you, present tense, about something that happened “a couple years ago,” that is not an unclear message. It means “Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk about it.” Your friend should leave her alone, no more answers are ever coming.
It’s okay if he was hurt by her sudden change of heart and puzzled by not having more warning or explanations, but the facts don’t change: She doesn’t love him anymore and she wants him to leave her alone. Somebody who would treat your friend this way is not the right match for him, whatever her reasons or quality of communication. It’s been years, plural. If this is still bothering your friend to the point that it’s interfering with his ability to form new romantic attachments, and especially if he’s still bothering her for answers (or trying to get you to to do it), he should take it to a therapist.
Q7: “Kind sharking” and “What is favor sharking?”
These are both terms for a manipulation tactic where a person showers you with favors or gifts or “help” that you didn’t ask for in order to pressure you into doing a return favor that you don’t want to do or being in a relationship with them that you don’t want to be in.
A loan shark loans money at extremely high (illegal) interest rates and often uses threats of violence to collect debts. They make it easy to borrow the initial amount, pushing it on the borrower, and then apply pressure when the borrower is already obligated.
A favor shark bypasses asking you if you would be willing to do the thing they want (a request you might reasonably say “no” to) by creating a powerful sense of obligation that makes you feel like you’re the bad guy if you refuse. If you do refuse, they treat you like you reneged on a deal that you didn’t know you were making.
If you sense you’re in a favor-sharking situation, time to gut-check any proffered help or favors or requests with “Wait, did I ask for this?” and “Ok, whatever the other person assumed, do I actually want this?” and use the words “Oh, no thank you” liberally.
Q8: “My boss wants to hire me to ghostwrite his book.”
This can go enough ways that I can’t quite sense the question. If you don’t want to, say no. If you’re considering actually doing it, my first piece of advice is to imagine an amount of money that would make you excited (not resigned to, not fairly compensated for, EXCITED) to ghostwrite his book, double that, and that’s your minimum starting fee, at least half to be paid as an advance on contract signing. Be expensive. Bosses who think “I should write a book, but actually, I should hire you to write it” tend to not value things that are not expensive, and if your boss envisions this as “a fun side project for pocket money in your free time” you want to find that out now, so that you can RUN.
My second piece of advice is to put absolutely everything in writing, including how many rounds of revisions there are, including what he is expected to supply you with (or be available to be interviewed about) and deadlines for him to give you that material, and to also put a strict end date on the whole agreement where you get to walk away (with your retainer fee) if you’re trying your best but it’s not working.
Q9: “I always pay my way and theirs when we’re out how do I stop?”
Can we please build a future where people who do things that cost money together can be honest, boring, and matter-of-fact about money when they plan said things and where people don’t feel like they have to quietly go broke in order to save face?
I think that one small step toward that beautiful universe involves making expectations about money as clear as you can when you’re making the initial plans, so nobody has to sit there dreading the moment when the check comes while mentally calculating their bank balance, or worrying that the other person is going to be surprised and let down.
That means, if you’re inviting someone out somewhere and you intend to pay, make it known from the start: “I’d love to take you to see that movie, my treat.”
In corporate or academic life, the expectation is that whoever is most senior on the org chart treats and that the company or institution picks up the check for prospective clients, students, and/or hires, but not everybody you might share a work meal with is born knowing that, so it doesn’t hurt anything to say “Care to have lunch? It’s on me/the company obviously.” When we can safely go back to restaurants someday, as a favor to me, do not make your intern sit there anxiously hoping the complimentary bread basket is a hearty one today only to find out that they didn’t have to pay at the end. Let them eat and enjoy that fancy meal!
It sounds like the person who searched for this has an established pattern of treating friends/family/date-friends and wants to break it, and the best time to do that is also before the outing. “Are we still on for Friday? Also, I know I usually treat, but can we start splitting the bill or taking turns from now on?”
You set up a pattern by paying for everything in the past, so it’s understandable that it feels weird to disrupt it, but patterns can get unmade the same way they got made. Tell the person what you need, give them a chance to run their numbers to see if they can afford it, make it okay for them to say “I’m so sorry, but I can’t afford it,” and offer the option of doing something cheaper or free.
Q10: Captain Awkward shuts down comments.
I’d already closed comments now and then to spare the Letter Writer a pile-on or when I knew I had too many distractions to moderate things like they deserved, and sometime last year I realized that I no longer have the bandwidth to process a NaNoWriMo amount of words every time I want to write some words. I started leaving them closed more often than not to see what would happen, and what happened was that roughly the same number of people read and supported the blog and my mental health improved.
Many kind people have volunteered to moderate comments over the years, but it just doesn’t work for me. When we tried it in the past it made more work, not less, and it’s fundamentally one of those things where I need to do it myself or not at all, and I need to do it with my full attention or not at all, so, while I do really miss so many of your voices, this works better for me.There are places people hang out together to discuss posts here, and I will turn on comments now and then for old time’s sake, but “no comments” has been the unofficial default for a long time now. If anyone was still wondering, this can make it official.
I’m going to open comments on this, with a blunt request that people refrain from brainstorming ways to keep comments open on other posts on the site in the future. It wasn’t an easy decision but it’s not an open negotiation.
Q11: “How to fix someone who hates themselves.”
You can’t fix other people, and even if it were possible, I’m not convinced you should. It’s not cool to make people into projects, and it’s especially unwise to take on someone else’s self-loathing as your project.
Q12: “My best friend doesn’t know my birthday.”
PSA to all people of CaptainAwkward.com reading age who care about celebrating their birthdays and who have specific celebratory activities or birthday gestures in mind:
TELL PEOPLE. When it is. What you want to do, eat, and see.
Remind them. Spell it out. Assume they might never remember on their own, assume they’ll appreciate a reminder so they can make you happy, especially if the alternative is you suffering in silence convinced they don’t care about you.
If you feel yourself objecting, like:
“I shouldn’t have to remind people…”
“Friends should remember each other’s birthdays without being told…”
Cool, next time you’re making new friends, quiz them about how they like to handle birthdays and pick only the ones who match your vibe.
With the friends you already have, next year try “My birthday is coming up on [date], and what I’d really like to do is _______.” If your birthday just passed and they forgot? “Oh hey, friend, my birthday was last week, will you do ________ soon to celebrate with me?”
It is painful when someone forgets something that’s important to you, but this question comes up over and over again here and I do not think it has to be this hard.
Q13: “Is it rude to not want to reconnect with old friends?”
Is possibly appearing rude to people you don’t want to be friends with better than faking a friendship you’re not into?
Sometimes we outgrow each other, and I think it’s okay to wish people well and let them go.
Q14: How to tactfully get away from the neighbor who talks too much?
You’re going to have to interrupt them. You probably were taught never to do that, and you were probably also taught not to talk at people endlessly, and sometimes humans can have competing needs and conflicting styles without anybody being the asshole.
“Oh hey, good to catch up with you, but that’s all the time I have. Goodnight!”
“Nice talking to you. I’m going to go inside now. Take care!”
“Oh, that’s my timer going off. Later!”
Scripts like this that are meant as “GOODBYE, THANK YOU, I AM GOING NOW” work best when you deliver them and then physically depart (close a door, shut a window, apply headphones).
Can I tell you a secret?
I have ADHD and sometimes I get really enthusiastic about something and forget to take turns talking, and pretty often when that happens I either don’t notice interruptions or am actively grateful when other people save me from the Word Kraken.
Can I tell you another secret?
There have been times I have been talking at someone more than with them and they got bored and uncomfortable and ended the conversation in a way that made me feel kinda embarrassed and unwanted, and not only did I live to tell the tale, in many cases I lived on to have a perfectly fine/normal/cordial/friendly relationship with those people because the information that they were not enjoying the endless talking helped me be more conscious and less nonstop about it.
It’s good to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, but people will not wither and die if they receive data that you are done talking for today. Greet your neighbor for a few minutes, and then interrupt and GTFO!
Q15: “Why does a man keep you a secret from an ex-wife.”
We could brainstorm good reasons, like, “She’s abusive and has no boundaries and he’s trying to shield you from becoming a target of her bad behavior.”
We could name common, obvious reasons, like, he’s still married, or he’s trying to get back together, or he’s trying to keep his options open there a little while longer, or he’s still involved in the divorce proceedings and the fact that he has a new partner will affect things somehow.
Does he keep you a secret from everybody in his life, or just her?
How long has this been going on and what does the endgame look like?
What does he tell you the reason is?
What does your gut say?
Q16: Is it rude to wear a face mask to talk to a neighbor?
You may have noticed there is a pandemic on, so it is the opposite of rude. Wear masks!
Let’s knock out some inbox mask etiquette stuff real quick while we’re here:
- If you can* wear a mask, wear one, get your kids & household & people you have immediate influence over to wear them. Make it a habit.
- If you host public events, preside over public spaces, run a business, etc. go ahead and require masks for employees and patrons and be very specific and clear about guidelines.
- Even better, if you can, give masks to people who don’t have them. “We’re asking people to wear masks inside, can I offer you one?” “Do you need a mask? I’ve got an extra in my purse/car/pocket.” Again, IF you can, possibly this is more effective (say, for a business owner, who can get some logo-ed ones) and nicer (say, for a neighbor) than saying “Yo, asshole, wear a mask!”
If you’re comfortable, experiment with treating people like of course they wear masks, they just forgot today, the way the maitre’d in fancy restaurants in movies smoothly asks if he can “offer the gentleman a jacket and tie.”
A Twitter friend specifically asked about managing rage at people who don’t wear masks, and here’s what I think about that: Rage is gonna happen sometimes, what you do with it is really, really depends on where you are and what your relationship is to the other person.
Is the non-mask wearer a neighbor, who you see every day, and who always wants to stand too close talking to you and not wear a mask?
“Hi neighbor, do you need a mask? I’ve got an extra one inside I can get for you, also, I need you to take about 5 steps back, thanks!” They may grumble, but this is someone you have a relationship with and theoretically *can* influence.
Is it the non-mask wearer a total stranger and are you somewhere it’s possible to keep your distance?
Control what you can control: You can wear a mask, you can give them a wide berth, you can assume that a stranger yelling at them isn’t going to accomplish anything, and when you get home, you can channel your frustration into action: What’s your building, neighborhood, town, city, state doing to encourage mask use, make it possible for people to get access to masks, and where can your “I need to speak to the manager” impulse do the most good?
You’re the best judge of your own safety: Do I have a script to help you personally stop the violent anti-mask rioter who is going apeshit in the Trader Joe’s? No! Move away, do not engage! You’re the expert on where you live and on how likely this situation is to involve gunplay, so if you need to put your basket or cart down right where you’re standing and skedaddle, do that!
You can’t fix other people: Do I have a script to convince your conspiracy theorist mask-denying MAGA relatives to wear a mask? No! I don’t have a script to convince those people to do anything. What I suggest is that you tell your personal skeptic relative collective why you wear a mask, offer to help them pick some out or otherwise obtain them if they want help with that, tell them that they’ll need to wear a mask if they want to be around you (& grandkids) anytime in the next year, and then from there make the best & safest decisions you can for yourself.
*If you are one of the statistically small sample of people who *cannot* wear a face mask, hello! I know that you exist and I am sorry if you are getting caught in the net of selfish, entitled mask-resisters, especially in the U.S.! You know what would probably help a lot? If everybody who could wear a mask just did that. Then we could assume that anybody not wearing one has a good reason and trust that there are enough of the rest us to make it work.
Literally everyone else: MASK UP and spend your store of internet argument energy making mask use more widespread, less costly, and easier for people where you live vs. arguing that since some people might not be able to wear masks nobody should ever be expected to.
An asthmatic person with an anxiety disorder who needs a nebulizer and 10-minute practice sessions to tolerate a mask for any length of time, i.e. You might theoretically find someone who is less interested in hearing about mask excuses, but she sure doesn’t live on this website.