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Author Archives: JenniferP

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A woman walks on a sidewalk near a river with Notre Dame cathedral visible in the background. Photo by me, 2008.

Our families & friends gifted Mr. Awkward and me with a honeymoon trip, and tomorrow’s the day. I’m not bringing a computer with me, so, I’ll see you at the end of March, except for the some of you I might see on March 18 (2pm-5pm, Cafe de Jardin du Petit Palais,Musée des Beaux-arts de la ville de Paris – Avenue Winston Churchill – 75008 Paris).

Questions are closed for now and I won’t be checking email with any reliability.

The archives (as always) are open, as are the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com.

Be excellent to each other, and to yourselves.

And spare a thought for Awkward Cat, who, though she will have daily visits from an adoring caretaker, will be so very lonely and pitiful while we’re gone.

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A #smol black and white cat with giant green eyes and a pitiful, imploring facial expression. Unfortunately, she’s seen the suitcases which we were hiding from her in the bedroom. 

 

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Hey Team Awkward,

This is a quick one. 

I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!

That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.

So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way. 

Thanks in advance,
Awkward Alcoholic 

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Captain,

My partner (he/him pronouns) and I (she/her) have been together for 7 years and are getting married this summer. Our wedding will be a week away in a different state than we live, and we are so excited to spend the time with our family and friends. My partner’s sister is an alcoholic and drug addict with many coexisting conditions. She is abusive to my partner when she feels he isn’t “there for her,” and he went no-contact a while ago and told her to get sober if she wanted a relationship with him. She tried to kill herself on a camping trip with us one summer, and someone nearly drowned trying to save her. We cannot have her at the wedding. She is a danger to herself and others when alcohol is involved, and we do not trust her not to drink. She has made no efforts towards recovery and just last month got a DUI. She has been hospitalized multiple times in the last year on involuntary mental health holds, and was arrested for attacking a nurse. In our state, she has gotten off relatively easy. The state we plan to marry in is much less forgiving. If anything happened over the week the family is staying, she would be stuck very far from home and possibly imprisoned. She trashed her last apartment and was evicted, but was taken in by their mother. Due to her living with mom, we have seen her on rare occasion. At the last family gathering, she spoke as though she was coming to our wedding, and not wanting to rock the boat at their mother’s engagement dinner, we did not correct her. I feel some degree of manipulation is involved, as she was *not invited to the wedding*. Now we plan to write a letter to her laying out the reasons she can’t come along, but she will be crushed and angry. We intend to word it in the most respectful terms possible — on one hand we are dealing with a textbook addict, but on the other we have a family member with severe mental health issues that we want to be sensitive to. I am also afraid of the fallout. Mom wants to do a family sit-down and give it to her, but that seems cruel to me as there is nothing up for discussion. I would rather she process our decision on her own. How do we break it to her?

Signed,
Just want to relax during my wedding

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a decade younger than my sister, who is in her mid-30s. After moving cross country, I feel so liberated and energized with the distance in place between me and my entire family.

I have played many roles for my sister…it was a draining pattern. Even as I have put distance between us, a good friend back home let me know my sister seems to have a new man in her life (spoiler: she doesn’t). How do I know she does not? With this latest new man, she’s forwarded me their exchanges. My sister is enthralled by striking up emotional affairs with male co-workers. She boasts how much these men reveal to her; how little they talk to their wives and girlfriends; or how these men don’t mention their wives/girlfriends to her. She’ll forward unsolicited text exchanges (I don’t want to see them, ever). The exchanges are basic who/what/where updates. She withholds communication (which is a relief, frankly) when I point out things like…ummm why should you know about their SOs in the first place? All of this strikes me as bananas. I work long hours in a male-dominated work place…I’m never privy to or pry for SO updates or information.

I’m at the point where I feel like I will lash out and say something that will really hurt my sister. Am I overreacting? Maybe this is an entertaining way to pass the hours while at work? Yet I want to broadcast: “Go pay for pricey therapy like I did! ” How do I communicate I’m no longer interested in hearing about her fantasy relationships and imaginary play-by-plays? Now I’m being judgmental, but I also think it’s sad to carry on a series of unfulfilling relationships. I don’t think there’s actually a way to help her, especially as I have spoon-fed her therapy resources and information, at her request. This was entertaining when, you know, I was in middle school and she was in college. She has never had a relationship and says she hates dating even though she was 18 when she went on her last date.

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From your host, boxed_light:

Hi Captain! Peregrinations got busy this week, so I’ll be hosting our next Bay Area meetup! I’m boxed_light on the forums. Here are the details:

San Francisco Bay Area Awkward Meetup!

When: Sunday, March 12 at 1 pm

Where: PIQ in Berkeley – UPSTAIRS is the plan!
91 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704 (Google Maps link below)
1.5 blocks from Downtown Berkeley BART station (on Fremont-Richmond and Richmond-Daly City/Millbrae lines)

What: Bay Area Awkwardeer meetup! Feel free to bring knitting, crafts, books, etc, or just yourself

About PIQ: PIQ is a bakery, cafe and pizzeria with a wide range of meat-based, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, and it looks like they have a couple salads for gluten-free folks as well. They have a big open floor plan with lots of seating and a reasonably quiet atmosphere (good for talking). We will ideally be on the second floor which is fully handicap accessible (there’s an elevator on the main floor). If we are not there, check the main floor, also fully accessible. Bike parking available, street parking for cars.
PIQ’s website: http://www.piqbakery.com/berkeley

Menu: http://www.piqbakery.com/menu
Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/piq-bakery-berkeley

How to find us:
I’ll be seated inside on the second floor, and will have small stuffed sabertooth cat with me. I’ve got brown and blue short hair as well, so I should be decently easy to spot. I will make a foldover sign saying “CA Meetup” to put on the table. Again if you don’t see me on the second floor (aka there wasn’t enough space), I’ll be on the first floor.

If you’re shy or nervous, feel free to bring a book or crafts so you can chat as little or as much as you wish! Last time we got some excellent crafting done during our hangout. ^_^

For more info:
Feel free to pm me on the forums (boxed_light), or leave a comment on the post, I’ll be monitoring them up til the event.

Hope to see you there!

Enjoy yourselves!

Hi, Captain!

I’m really suffering for my inability to say no. I’m pathologically afraid of refusing people or hurting them or letting them down, and so I keep ending up in situations where rather than being able to say ‘I am very uncomfortable with the direction this is going’ I pretend to be just as into it as they are. Actually, quite often I end up leading the way into something I know I don’t want to do, just because I can tell that’s the kind of person someone wants me to be (and I’m pretty much always right about their wants, afaict, but it does mean it’s definitely on me not them). I keep reminding myself it’s a problem and I need to stand my ground, but it’s like I’m trapped in my body while it goes through the motions. So by the time I manage to admit that I’m not ok with doing X, the person I was doing X with is almost always upset and confused because I seem super into it right up until I’m super not.

How do I break this habit, and learn to be true to what I want and am comfortable with, rather than dragging myself through this bullshit? The only advice I ever get boils down to ‘just don’t do it’ which is not the most helpful. How do you force yourself to stop something like this (which I’m 99% sure is a preemptive defence mechanism, like, ‘DON’T HURT ME, I’M SO NICE’)?

Thanks,
Suffering From Advanced Cool Girl Syndrome (pronouns she/her)

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Hello!

First a short PSA: My friend Dana Norris is looking for relationship/dating-type questions at Role/Reboot. She is all full up on “How do I convince my wife to have a threesome?” questions, so, don’t send her those – she’s covered it. You can email her at deardana@rolereboot.org.

Second, I’ll be here until noon answering short questions that come in on Patreon or Twitter with the hashtag #AwkwardFriday. No comments for now (can’t keep up with both questions and comments at the same time, we’re all wordy motherfuckers). Question away!

What’s a good quick way to shut up brain weasels (shrieking that I am terrible and that I can’t do anything right ever) while I am at work and trying to function?

If you can, stop what you’re doing and take a 5 minute walk around the office or outside. Get drink of water. Come back to your desk. Make a to-do list with two things on it. 1. What’s the one thing you most need to do today? 2. What’s a quick, possibly cosmetic thing that will take a few minutes but give you a sense of accomplishment and momentum? Do #2 first, cross it off your list and then come back to the other thing. When you’re done with those two things you can call the day “good” – anything else you do is extra credit. See the next question also.

(What are) ways to motivate yourself to Do Basic Stuff (cleaning, self-maintenance, emails) when tired all the time?

Rachel Hoffman at Unf*ck Your Habitat has the best system for this I know, an adaptation of The Pomodoro Method. Set a timer for 20 minutes and do what you can of The Thing. Then take a break for 10 minutes. (If you can only do 10 minutes, do 10 minutes with a 5 minute break). On days when you have more energy, you’ll create some momentum and do a couple of cycles. On days when you have less, do one and call it a victory. Getting started is the hardest part, and the reminder “I only have to do this for a few minutes” can help push past that inertia.

For both #1 and #2, there is some evidence that for some people, the sense of accomplishment and momentum that comes from starting a task is its own positive feedback loop. That can’t magically fix physical tiredness, but it can quiet the feeling of “nothing ever gets done.”

How to talk to friendly acquaintances I think are reasonable but then they suddenly defend Trump and I’m shocked.

I’ve run into this a few times recently and here’s what I have done.

  • End the conversation – sometimes gracefully and sometimes not gracefully. “Um, ok, I have to go…to the bathroom” is graceful, right?”
  • Well, that’s one opinion.Result: Awkward silence, them changing the subject.
  • “Wow, that really surprises me coming from you.” Result: Awkward silence if I’m lucky, emotional vomit about how they have their reasons if I’m unlucky.
  • Wow, that’s not true at all, but I’m interested to know why you feel that.(When they get facts really wrong). Result: They repeat a bunch of stuff they learned on Infoshit or Shitebart, I keep saying ‘but that’s objectively not true, I’m confused as to why it rings so true for you,’ until one of us mercifully ends the conversation, perhaps with a sudden need to use the restroom.
  • “Lots of people didn’t survive, though.” (For the “We survived Reagan and Bush, we can survive this, it’s not that bad” crowd). Result: Awkward silence.
  • “My friends & students are terrified of being deported and I’m probably going to lose the ability to get meaningful health insurance for the forseeable future…forgive me if I can’t see any ‘bright sides.'”  Result: They reassure me that ‘It won’t be that bad’ and I say ‘It already is that bad’ and then one of us mercifully ends the conversation, perhaps with a sudden need to use the restroom.
  • Well, every non-rich non-white non-straight person I know is very concerned about (Issue X), so, that’s enough for me to be very concerned, too.” Result: You know what the result is. Awkward silence. Emergency bathroom break.

What I’m looking for is something short that indicates that I don’t agree as I mentally add this person to my “not to be trusted…about anything” list.

Edited to add:

How to politely ask people to call me by my first name, not a nickname? This is most awkward when it’s in passing.

Be boring and correct them. “I’m Katherine, not Kat.” They’ll say some version of “Oh, I’m sorry” and you’ll all go on with your lives. It’s awkward to correct someone, but it’s even more awkward the longer you let it go on without correcting them, so think of it as doing them a favor by speaking up early and often. If I had a dollar for every time I had to say “Actually, I go by Jennifer, not Jenny” I’d have a lot of dollars. In related news, I wish there was a magic spell that gave transgender and non-binary people money every time they had to correct someone about names and pronouns.

Speaking of which…

Tips for changing my brain’s default pronouns for (a transgender person who has recently come out)? Same name=Same pronoun for my brain, but I’m so happy for them!

What if you wrote out in a journal, longhand, a few paragraphs describing this person, how you know them, the history of how you met, and why you like them so much, using all correct pronouns and their name as appropriate? Like you were describing the history of your friendship in a novel or for a person who’d never met them? It’s a way to practice this without practicing *at them.* I know that actors have good luck doing a physical task along with trying to remember their lines, so I wonder if the physical act of writing can help re-wire you a little bit.

I car share with people whose driving frightens me. It would be draining to not car share. My terrified squeaking when they drive crazily doesn’t seem to deter them, how can I make them drive sensibly :-/

You can’t make anybody do anything. You can say, “Could you please slow down?” or otherwise name the specific behavior you observe (use turn signals, be more careful about cutting people off, pay more attention/don’t be on the phone). Have the conversation when they aren’t driving, and say “You probably don’t realize it because you’re so used to driving, but sometimes you (do specific behaviors) and it really frightens me. Can you (stop doing those things/pay more attention)?

If they don’t listen to you and don’t change the behavior, don’t ride with them anymore. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but if this is about your safety it’s your only play – drive yourself, ride with someone else, use a taxi or public transit or other service. “It would be draining not to car share.” It is draining now, in the form of you being terrified to ride with them.

How do I tell my friend her tone is (probably unknowingly) making me feel dumb/condescended to w/out hurting her?

She might be hurt but you still gotta tell her, so, be direct and kind: “I’m sure you didn’t intend to, but when you (name one specific thing she said and did), it felt like you were talking down to me.”

If she apologizes and is more careful in the future, then, good. If she self-justifies or otherwise gets super-weird about it, it doesn’t cancel out the fact that she was hurting your feelings and needed to be told about it. If she keeps doing it, refer back to the initial conversation. “Remember when I talked to you about being condescending? That right there is what I meant. Can you not?

I’m good at being single, but want to also get good at romantic relationships. How?

If you can make other connections (family, friends, colleagues), if you’re generally a kind and considerate person who pays attention to your own needs and the needs of others, if you’re good at speaking up for the things you want and setting boundaries, if you know yourself sexually (whatever that may look like), if you know yourself and the kind of life you want to have, then you already know what you need to know to be good at romantic relationships when the right person comes along. Time to skip to the practical exam, ie, dating some people and seeing if you can find a person who is worth your time and attention.

The missing stair is a prof and also sponsors my organization. Tips?

  • Believe people when they tell you sketchy stuff about this person.
  • Warn new people about what this person does.
  • Use the buddy system and don’t leave people alone with this person.
  • Set boundaries to the extent you can within the organization, like, “Don’t touch people without permission,” “Don’t make sexual jokes or comments.” Document breaches.
  • Document what you observe and talk to your school’s Title IX office? If you don’t know how to do that, find your most-feminist-prof-with-tenure and start there. (Someone with tenure will be less likely to be subject to having Prof Missing Stair on their tenure committee or in another supervisory role. Ugh, I hate academia right now).
  • See also: Student Affairs, Office of Student Organizations. It’s very likely that your school has extensive codes of conduct for student organizations and if this person is violating those they can be removed from supervising the organization.
  • Is it possible to disband and re-found an alternate organization without this person’s involvement?
  • Remember always: Campus organizations, student organizations, are there to SERVE YOU as part of YOUR EDUCATION. You and your fellow organization members are not there to serve Prof Missing Stair. Harassing students is wrong and illegal. It is okay to “ruin the career of an important man” or whatever – it would be actually awesome if terrorizing and harassing students did fucking ruin more people’s careers.
  • Remember also: If some asshole professor harasses you, s/he is not the only prof you will ever have and not your only route to recommendation letters or your career, etc. Other people will support you and help you, and you are not beholden to this person for anything. Never believe people who say “I alone hold the key to what you want and you have to put up with being harassed to get it.”

Top tip for interrupting a man telling a story he’s sure you care about (you don’t) while remaining professional?

Say “Sorry to interrupt you” + ask a work-related question OR excuse yourself from the vicinity.

“Sorry to interrupt you, but I’m on a deadline right now – can you direct me to [needed work information]?”

“Sorry to interrupt you but I need to excuse myself for a second.” + go to the restsoom/go refill your drink/go do whatever.

We’re taught that interrupting is rude and that we’re never supposed to do it and my friends, THIS IS A TRAP. It’s rude to interrupt all the time, it’s rude to interrupt someone’s story with your own much better story, it’s rude when your conversation partner only wants to talk about their stuff and never your stuff, it’s rude when men constantly interrupt women (but not each other). But sometimes you gotta interrupt people, like, when your friend starts that shame-spiral for the 1,000th time or when your coworker won’t stop listing how many calories are in your lunch food. Stop your colleague, refocus the topic back on work or throw down a smoke bomb and disappear.

That’s all for today. Comments are now open.