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Dear Captain Awkward,

It’s been two years since my diagnosis with a very aggressive form of breast cancer, and eighteen months since my double mastectomy. The type of cancer (IBC) ruled out immediate reconstruction with implants (which I would have declined anyway, because not for me).

It used to be that women with IBC didn’t get reconstruction, because TBH we usually didn’t live all that long. Nowadays after a waiting period of two years or so one can have a DIEP flap where skin, fat and blood vessels are taken from the stomach and grafted onto one’s chest.

I’ve completed treatment, there’s currently no sign of cancer, and I’m doing well. I’m trying to move forward and get on with my life as much as possible.

But here’s my problem: medical folk keep pestering me to get reconstruction and don’t seem to understand that I DON’T WANT IT.

I’ve made a list of the pros and cons and–while it’s fine for others, it’s not fine for me, right now, under these particular circumstances.
I’m a smart person with a supportive partner, friends and family. Yes, the things surgeons can do are amazing. I know all about my options. If I want more information I know how to get it.

But..the continual unasked-for conversations from presumedly well-meaning medical providers are irritating at best and at worst can send me into a days-long depressive spiral.

Because I was trained to be a people-pleaser and discount my own ideas and opinions, and when I hear, “Have you considered reconstruction? We can do amazing things and by the way, you basically get a free tummy tuck..”

..my brain translates it into, “You are not okay the way you are, and your choice is not a valid one and your appearance is not acceptable. You are BROKEN. Let us fix you.”

What none of my medical providers seem to understand is that I want to maximize my physical activities and minimize my time spent in hospitals to the greatest extent possible, and for the most part I don’t give a rat’s behind whether I meet society’s expectations of how a female should look.

I’ve always been large-breasted and very self-conscious about it, and at the same time considered myself a bit of a “tomboy”.

It turns out I’m more at home in my body without breasts, have less back and neck pain, don’t miss bras or boob sweat, and enjoy wearing button-down shirts I buy from the men’s department.

My sex life is just fine.

I identify with others in the “flattie” community far more than anyone else in Breast Cancer Land.

But when doctors start pushing reconstruction, I feel as if my choice to remain flat is being questioned, and it affects my mental health when my efforts to explain and/or justify my choice seemingly fall on deaf ears.

Is there a script to politely shut this down? I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

Her/She pronouns, and just sign me “Flat and (Mostly) Happy”

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Dear Captain,

My best friend, Anna, who I’ve known for many years and love very much, is currently irritating the heck out of me and I don’t know what to do.

She hasn’t had the greatest dating history, and through the years I’ve always been there for her to give advice, be supportive or just be a shoulder to cry on.

However, lately there has been this girl she likes, and no matter how many times I encourage Anna she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead its constant discussion about a text she sent, what picture she liked on instagram, how she tweets, so on and so forth. When she doesn’t answer a text from Anna I get a hundred texts from her freaking out about how she must be wrong and she doesn’t like her anymore and that she’ll never find anyone.

It. Drives. Me. Batty. And I feel like a terrible friend for feeling that way. From what I’ve observed theres like a 90% chance that this girl likes Anna back. But she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead she comes to me.

My own dating history has proven to me that its better to be rejected and move on then to obsess over things. However I realize that not everyone feels that way.

If I hear about this girl’s social media usage one more time, I’m probably gonna explode. If she knew that I felt like this, Anna would feel incredibly guilty and bottle everything up, which I don’t want her to do. I just want the conversation to have a little bit of change. Theres only so many times you can comfort a friend for not having a text responded to before you don’t know what to say anymore.

Help!

Want To Be A Good Friend

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Hi Captain,

I have a friend (I’ll call him “Dave”) whom I haven’t seen in person in years, but am still in touch with on social media. Several months ago, he messaged me to tell me that he liked me and would like to go on a date sometime. I didn’t know him very well at the time, but I liked him enough to at least give him a chance. Though the date never happened, we did message each other regularly for a while.

I’m very involved in local theater (we met doing a show together, actually–I’ve stuck with theater since then and he hasn’t), and he mentioned at one point that he’d like to see me in a play sometime. I had just been cast in a show at the community theater in the town where we both live, so I gave him the details for that.

Well, it eventually became apparent that Dave is not a guy I’m interested in dating. I don’t think he’s a bad person; I’m just not attracted to him. At all. When I told him this, he put on the whole “but I just want to be friends, can’t we just talk and hang out as FRIENDS?” act. He then continued to keep sending flirty messages while denying that he was flirting. (“Can’t I tell my friend she’s pretty?” “Can’t I let my friend know when I’m thinking about her?”) I stopped responding to his messages and blocked him from viewing everything I post.

Now the aforementioned community theater play I’m in is just a few weeks away from opening, and I’m very worried that he’s going to show up. (I am very annoyed at my past self for telling him I was in it!) Anyone can buy a ticket, so I can’t exactly tell him he can’t come. At this theater, the actors always do a little meet-and-greet with the audience after the show, so if he does come I’m going to have to interact with him. My anxiety about this is sort of ruining what would otherwise be a really fun and exciting thing. What do I do? Help me, Captain!

Sincerely,

Exit, Pursued by Creepy Dude (She, her)

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Dear Captain,

I am a man and I have a problem: I’m a creep.

I’m 30 years old, and I haven’t had a whole lot of romantic experience. I’ve been shy my whole life and dealing with anxiety and depression since my teen years, so I haven’t put myself out there as much as I could have, and haven’t had the self-confidence to be a good prospect in the past.  My social skills have been getting better, and I’m getting treatment for my mental health issues.  I think I’m capable of dating now, and I’ve met a few interesting women to connect with in the last year or so.  These days, I even manage to gather up my courage and ask them out/confess my feelings.  However, I never to seem to get a straight “yes” or a “no”, and I end up responding in a bad way.  Some examples:

I met a friend-of-a-friend a few times before, and we had flirted with each other, so I was feeling confident about our connection.  Our group went to a party a while back, and I ended up asking to kiss her when we alone at one point.  She said “I don’t know” and it looked like she was nervous and didn’t know what to do.  I backed off physically, but I pressed the point: mostly questions in the “why not?” vein.  We parted without incident, but met back up at the end of the party (the group was riding back together).   For some reason, I tried to flirt some more, and I just ended up creeping her out.  I’ve had enough self-awareness to keep my distance ever since, though the damage has already been done.

Another scenario: I saw a woman on a regular basis at an activity.  I liked her, and told her so one day.  Confronted with the news, she became very awkward and didn’t give a clear verbal response (“oh…uh…”).  We ended up having a good conversation (about
everything else), but my declaration was left hanging.  Before I saw her again, I e-mailed her to ask to talk again—I had been flogging myself for not knowing what to say.  Her response was a clear “no”, and it was obvious that my e-mail had been unwelcome.  I was glad to get the straight-up answer, but I had to push her boundaries to get it.

There have also been a couple of recent instances where I’ve asked a woman out and didn’t take her “I can’t make it” as an “I don’t want to”, and have ended up pestering them again.

It’s clear that I’m establishing a disturbing pattern: I get interested in a woman; I make a move; she gives a non-committal response; I don’t take it as the brush-off it is and end up making unwelcome contact (i.e. asking for a date again, “but why?”, continuing to flirt beyond its welcome).  I know intellectually that getting a non-answer in these situations means “no”.  It’s also clear in retrospect that I should’ve just backed off in these cases, but I seem to panic in the moment and not act on that knowledge.  Through some combination of wishful thinking, inexperience and brain weasels, I’m pushing women’s boundaries and acting like a creep.

Any thoughts, Cap’n?  I feel so guilty about these instances, and I’ve reaped the personal consequences—burnt bridges and cold shoulders—but I’m still not getting it right.  How do I remember to bow out gracefully in such a moment?

– Don’t Wanna Be A Creep

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This is an amalgamation of actual letters in my actual inbox:

Dear Captain Awkward, I’m dating someone wonderful who really loves me, he (IT’S ALWAYS HE, DON’T @ME) but he has terrible political views, like, he thinks immigrants and black people and women and gay people and trans people aren’t really people something something about biological inferiority and it’s okay to violence them but only when they deserve it? I know it’s just how he grew up, he has a good heart and doesn’t really mean it, Confederate flags/”traditional” views are just part of his heritage. I’ve tried discussing this with him but he always talks over me. Can you help me explain my views better? I’m sure I can convince him if I just try hard enough? Can this relationship work?

Go look at some photos from Charlottesville right now.

BTW there’s one with the Confederate flag right next to Nazi flags that really rung some bells after last month’s discussion.

(Nazi flags and Confederate flags are best buds they like to go drinking together and talk about wars they got their asses kicked in and remember the good old days of being giant fucking racist losers.)

The heart wants what it wants but I gotta ask what would it take for you to break up with a dude who talks about “many sides” and “yeah but free speech is important” and “we can’t waste time with identity politics” right about now? I guarantee some of those tiki torch Connors and Trents and Wyatts are going home to cuddles and pie tonight. Maybe with you.

I know how you got here even if you don’t. They know how to hide this stuff in “polite” company and save the nastiness for anonymous forums. They use dog whistles. They make jokes that aren’t jokes. They play the Devil’s advocate. They say ridiculous things on purpose so that you can think to yourself “He can’t really believe that, can he?” They trick you with occasional actual orgasms and doing their fair share of the dishes and decent hygiene and god, you were alone for so long, and you finally found someone who is not repulsive in the shallow dating pool where you live, do you really have to dump this living, breathing human being who likes the same geeky stuff you like and who holds doors open for your mom and who probably is just doing his best, all to prove some abstract point? How can these people know better if no one will teach them how to be better? Can’t that be you, and in return you get to keep this nice boyfriend who smells good and who has a decent job and who and checks all of your other “don’t be a giant racist turd” boxes? There’s good in him, you’ve felt it, surely this can be fixed?

They wait until they’ve charmed you, until they’ve met your parents, until things are all comfortable between you, to show their true colors, betting on the fact that you’d be too far in to leave.

I know you’re embarrassed and it’s embarrassing as fuck but it’s not too late to get out of there. I know it’s not fair. Cut. Your. Losses.

I’m not making fun. I am deadly serious. It is only getting worse. At least one person died today behind this. We can’t lose you, too. Make a safety plan. Go quietly, but go.

It’s half-past Lysistrata time.

Love,

Captain Awkward

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend, who is a wonderful person and who I love hanging out with, but she stresses me the hell out. My issue with her is she constantly changes her mind and changes plans, which drives me crazy – which I realize is partly a personal issue, and I’m working on being more flexible, but she goes above and beyond what I think I’ll ever be able to deal with. Right now there are two main issues with her I’m grappling with:

1. I’m a planner by nature, and am the type of person who, when I make plans with someone, put them in my calendar and schedules other things around those plans. This friend CONSTANTLY changes plans, which irks me because then I’ve planned my day /week around our plans that then get changed or cancelled. I know this about her, and have basically told her twice now, “It stresses me out when you change our plans. Please don’t.” Each time she apologizes and says she’s going to be less flaky, but it never sticks. I’m to the point now where I avoid making plans with her unless it’s something I intended to do anyway – i.e., I’ll invite her to an event I’m planning to go to solo anyway, or invite her to group things where I know other people are going, so if she bails it’s not a big deal. But I feel like it’s affected our relationship, as I’m turning down invites from her to go do stuff because it may or may not actually happen, and thus don’t see her as often.

2. In a more recent development, this friend got engaged. I was asked to be a bridesmaid. Reluctantly, I said yes, after deciding saying no and probably damaging our relationship wouldn’t be an outcome I am okay with. But with wedding planning comes, well, planning, and again she is constantly going back on decisions that I think are set decisions, and it drives me nuts. For instance, when I said I would be a bridesmaid, she said she was buying our dresses. Then she said her dad said she couldn’t buy our dresses, and we had to buy our own. Fine, whatever. Then she texted all the bridesmaids that she had decided on an outfit and told us to order it, and to coordinate with each other if we wanted to go a group order (they do discounts on group orders so it would be financially advantageous for us to do so.) But she didn’t help coordinate a group order other than suggesting it. Then the next day she said she was still looking at other dress options. Then a few days later she sent us a text saying she made up her mind, order the first outfit she sent, do it in the next week, and if need be she’d pay for the group order and we could pay her back. THAT SAME DAY, like literally three hours later, she said no rush on ordering dresses, she was still looking. This entire exchange and the fact that I can’t take her at her word stresses me out to no end, and I know this is just the start – there are still many wedding logistics to work out that I will be involved in, such as the bachelorette, and the rehearsal dinner, and the day of the ceremony itself, and I don’t know if I can handle a year of this. Also she’s told us she’d pay for other things, like our hair and makeup, but I don’t know if I can take her at her word or if she’ll change her mind and I’ll be responsible for paying for those things too.

So my questions are this: What are some scripts I can use to reiterate, once again, that changing plans stresses me out? And how can I explain to her that I feel like I can’t take her at her word with the wedding decisions, and she needs to put a stop to that too if she wants me to be a part of her big day?

Please Help!
Reluctant Bridesmaid

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Dear Captain,

Every year I go on holiday in a cottage somewhere with the same group of 10 people. It’s lovely and a really important chance to catch up with old friends I don’t see enough. But every year I end up resenting the half of them who don’t pull their weight with the chores.

Not all of us are decent cooks, and it seems perfectly reasonable that only the people who are good at it cook dinners. And we have a “you cooked, so you don’t have to clear away after dinner” rule. But that’s only a tiny fraction of the cleaning that goes on during the week. We also need to load the dishwasher at several other points in the day, do the shopping, plan what we’re going to do, keep tidying things away, organise the holiday itself… All of this emotional and logistical labour and the majority of the cleaning/ cooking is done by the same small group of people.

As you might have guessed, there’s a strong correlation between gender and whether or not people do their share, although it’s not clear cut. My (male) other half is one of the cleaners, and one of the worst shirkers recently came out as non binary, so I don’t want to make a thing of the gender issue as it isn’t as simple as just the women doing the work and the men avoiding it.

I have in the past said something like “it feels like the same people do the majority of the chores, partly because a lot of it isn’t noticeable unless it doesn’t get done, so please be aware of whether you’re doing enough”. This has increased the amount of chores the shirkers do slightly, but not to their fair share, and it hasn’t changed the balance of emotional/ logistical labour. It also resulted in one of the shirkers hiding in a corner not talking to anyone for a couple of hours. (They’re in bad mental health and will do this occasionally throughout the week).

Policing other people’s chore is a) annoying and b) yet more emotional labour I don’t want to do. I’ve tried just not doing the chores, but this results in them not getting done until one of the people who already does too much work does them.

Lots of my thinks this is just one week a year and I should just deal with it and not make a scene or sit there stewing when half the group aren’t contributing. But I’m really pissed off by the injustice of it, especially given the gender divide. And as a friend, I also think my heterosexual male friends are much more likely to have happy romantic relationships if they learn how to divide labour more equitably.

Any advice?

Yours,
I Am Not Your Mother
(She/ her pronouns)

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