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Answer 1: On Crushes

So, you have a crush on a friend.* But everything is terrible/uncertain/stressful.

Send the love poem. Say the thing that’s in your heart. If not now, when?

What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t love you back, i.e. the status quo?

What’s the best thing that happens? They do!

The thing you’re torturing yourself about – “Do I do it in a phone call? Do I send a text? Do I yell it from 6-10 feet away?” – You know this person best and you know you best.  Your way is going to be the right way if they feel that way about you. If they don’t love you back, they don’t love you back. It’s not because you said it wrong. (Read this poem). If your instincts are telling you now is not the time, then you are probably right about that and having just the right words won’t change it.

Practice Round: Tell the people you don’t want to smooch how much you love and care about them, too. Yell “thank you” to the trash removal people from the window. Tell the grocery delivery person and the pharmacist what a good job they are doing. You’ve got excess love so give it away.

Answer 2: On Closure

Hey remember that friendship/relationship that ended very badly and they told you not to contact them again and to stay away?

You were doing okay, you were taking your feelings to the gym or the bike trail or the knitting project or the social circle.

But now the world feels like it’s ending and you’re suddenly obsessed. What if you could talk to them just one more time and make yourself understood and focus on “what’s really important?”

“Fix this,” your jerk of a brain whispers, “And maybe you’ll fix the world.” 

“You can’t fix the world,” your absolute dillweed of a brain reminds you. “But what if you could fix this one tiny thing?” 

Beloved, write the letter where you get to say everything you want to say. Get it all out on the page. Do not send this letter, but do write it.

Now, write yourself the letter you wish they’d write back. Imagine them saying everything you most want to hear, imagine them telling you “I am sorry” and “I miss you, too,” and “I love you” and “I forgive you.” Spare no emotional expense. Include every good and kind and loving thing remember this person ever saying to you, every compliment, every private joke, every happy memory you can think of. Write the happy ending to the story that you wish you had.

Burn the first letter.**

When you feel obsessed and lonely read the second one back to yourself.

The good times you and this person shared were real. They still happened to you. What shone then shines now. The things they loved about you are still in you. That’s all still yours, even if this one person is no longer in your life. They are not the boss of how you get to be loved or whether you deserve love, just as you are not the boss of whether you get to keep trying to demand it specifically from them. We can wish people well and send love in their direction and still follow separate paths.

After you re-read the good letter, channel the feelings into action that doesn’t harm anybody or further obsess you. Do something that is physical, mundane, and and an act of care for yourself and the others in your home environment: Scrub the bathroom down, clean out the bottom drawer of the fridge, dust the baseboards. Call your elected officials. Find something you’ve been putting off and do it.

Finally (do not skip this step), get in touch with someone who always does want to hear from you, someone who is always glad to let you in, somebody you don’t have to work at. The absent person isn’t the only love or friendship you will ever have in your life. You have excess love right now, so give some away.

 

*Advice does not apply to crushes on an employee/assistant/student/a roommate you are quarantined with/somebody you have power over, or any person who has to be nice to you because of where they work or because they can’t get away from you. Leave your barista/pharmacist/grocery worker alone. 

**Safety first! Shredding it into tiny pieces or making elaborate paper snowflakes is also a dramatic and symbolic act of destruction.

 

Do not evict roommates or tenants due to coronavirus fears. Find another way.

Do not call the police – that includes the 311 non-emergency line – on neighbors who you think are insufficiently socially distancing. I don’t care what ordinances your city put in place, if you don’t know quite how to have a conversation with somebody, why do you think someone with a gun and the power to arrest/fine/do indiscriminate violence to them is going to be better at it? If you don’t know your neighbors, there will never be a better time to get to know them. Maybe they could use garbage bags or cookies or fabric softener the next time you go to the store.

That confusing guy from college was probably going to remain confusing and never be your boyfriend, but it’s okay to feel a lot of feelings about having your semester cancelled and never being able to find out for sure where things could go. It’s okay to grieve, it’s okay to still nurse unsuitable crushes, and it’s understandable while all the feelings about everything would get wrapped up in this person. This too will pass. 

To the overwhelmed health care workers writing to me about stress, anxiety, and how to manage teams that don’t have enough of anything: I am so sorry. I am honored that you thought of me and I wish I knew something smart and useful to tell you. I think: Trust your training. Feel your feelings. Be honest with your team and with your patients. Be incredibly gentle with yourself. Find and use whatever small rituals, pleasures, and caring acts that keep you grounded. You are doing the best you can.This isn’t happening because you are too neurodivergent, too introverted, too awkward, not good enough at team-building or morale-boosting, or because you can’t think of the right words at the right time. I’m going to raise all the hell I can to get you what you need (while also staying home). 

I am as scared of dying and of losing people as anyone. But what’s more terrifying to me than any illness is watching people with money and power make selfish, cruel decisions and try to displace their fears onto those they see as disposable. Ask yourself, “who do I want to be, now, and when this is over?” This is the time to engage in mutual aid with our neighbors and  fight eugenics, fascism, xenophobia, and cruelty with the same attention we use to scrub our hands of viruses.

Hello, readers, thanks for your emails, your support, and your questions in this time of global pandemic. How’s everybody doing? (Yes, I know the first iteration misspelled COVID as Corvid, I ❤ ravens and crows and have been doing it all week, what can I say).

3sy5a1

Image: Meme stating that I have gone zero seconds without touching my face.

Personal update: Mr. Awkward and I are both virus-free as far as we can tell (which is no guarantee), but we’re both high-risk people and we are keeping our asthmatic, seasonal-allergy-prone asses home except for one or two essential medical errands. We’re very lucky to be able to do so, and I’m sending so much solidarity and appreciation to people who do the essential jobs to keep everyone fed, housed, not drowning in piles of our own garbage, and receiving necessary medical treatment.

The pharmacy has been out of my ADHD med for almost a month and doesn’t know when they’ll get resupplied. I run out Friday, so, I do not anticipate regular intervals of focused productivity, but who knows what inspiration may come in the hyper-focus zone. Last week, I did what I could to help former colleagues make the sudden switch to online teaching (release the tutorial-kraken!) and I’m working on a piece for Vox (who are doing some very good explainers) about scripts for getting relatives to take this seriously that will go up within the next day or so. I’ll share a link here when it does.

My general plans are to keep writing my morning pages with the #ArtBuddies, pet cats, wash my hands, keep my writing schedule as much as I can, wash my hands, read a ton of books, wash my hands, check in with friends (especially my extroverts) regularly, wash my hands, bug my electeds a ton about getting our collective shit together and getting relief to *people* (not just *workers/employers*), wash my hands, and play many games of “I didn’t know we had this in our pantry, let’s put it on some rice!” in between hand-washings.

And, you know, try not to freak out entirely.

Would you like to look at cats? They almost never share the lap peacefully, so this was a rare pleasure.

twocatsonelap

Image: Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat (closer, darker swirls) and Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger (further from camera, lighter stripes) share a rare moment of peace on my blanketed lap.

Now for some questions! We’ll call them #1258 and #1259. 

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I got to be on the radio last week, talking about Love & Politics & is it possible to date across political divides.  My segment starts about 35 min in if you’re curious.

Two questions I think about a lot (A LOT)(Really, honestly, so much):  When we say “Oh, let’s not talk about politics right now” or channel my Grandma Louise (“We have a secret ballot for a reason, and we can all keep our secrets at my table for one day!”) what are we really (not) saying? (And is this a question about manners or about morals?)

Some of the things I’ve probably meant when I’ve said “Oh, let’s not talk about politics right now:”

  1.  “I am unhealthily glued to the news the way everyone is, but this is my fun time and I need a break. Help!”
  2. “[Objectionable Politician] takes up enough of my headspace, s/he doesn’t get to have this time, too.” 
  3. “We generally agree about politics but the way you talk about it is exhausting/annoying/draining and I’d rather not spend my free time this way.”
  4. “We generally agree about politics but I know that once I get started I can’t stop and I don’t want to annoy the heck out of everyone.” 
  5. “Talking about politics isn’t the same thing as doing politics, I only have energy for one of those things.” 
  6. “I can’t spend my whole life obsessing about the election of one person when there is so much else that urgently needs attention.” 
  7. “I am the host of this thing and I do not want to spend the whole event as a referee.” 
  8. “If we avoid talking about politics maybe we can get thru this without anyone doing a racism.” 
  9. “I think I know what your politics are, but we’ve never confirmed them out loud and I’m afraid that if we do it will change how I feel about you.” 
  10. “You assume I agree with you and if you find out for sure that I don’t, our relationship will fracture.” 
  11. “I’m afraid that if I say what I believe politically or who I’m voting for, it’s like painting a big ‘come abuse me’ target on myself.” 
  12. “I’m afraid of finding out that you don’t think people like me are important or even fully human.” 
  13. “If we talk about politics, there is a 100% chance that we will argue.” 
  14. “You and I don’t have the kind of relationship where I can count on mutual respect and real discussion from the heart about contentious subjects, it’s better to not even try to engage.” 
  15. “We would have to spend 90% of the conversation on fact-checking and countering disinformation and propaganda and I fear you are too far gone.” 
  16. “If I want to hear white supremacist, xenophobic, and authoritarian talking points repeated, I’ll just turn on Fox News – talking politics with you is just recycled bigotry.” 
  17. “Growing up we didn’t talk about this with each other and we have no track record or road map for these conversations, it feels too late and too risky to start now.” 
  18. “I’m afraid that if I get it wrong I’ll push you away.” 
  19. “We see the world so differently, I don’t know where to start.” 
  20. “I’m not that interested in or knowledgable about politics and the whole topic makes me feel stressed out and ignorant.” 
  21. “I’m afraid that talking about politics with each other will shatter the pretenses that we are on the same side of important things.”  
  22. “I despair of every convincing you to see my point of view and I do not want to subject myself to yours.” 
  23. “I’m already so angry and upset, why invite more trouble?”

When you make an agreement to not talk about politics today/just now/with certain people what do you think you and the other person are *really* saying? Is it one of these or is it something else?

Do you think there’s a way to change that – not in the media landscape necessarily – but with the people we love and want to be close to?

Is what is broken between us about how we talk or more about how we (fail to) listen?

Imagine a world where you get to have one honest, constructive conversation with someone close to you who you’ve been afraid to or reluctant to talk about politics with in the past. Ground Rules: No interrupting each other, no name-calling, no whataboutism (“but your side is just as bad!”), maybe even no mentioning of specific politicians, parties, or personalities. I have this fantasy where there’s something like StoryCorps, with a chess clock giving each person equal time and a respectful back-and-forth and a list of questions like:

  1. What do you need from your government (at any level – national, state, local) in order to be safe and well?
  2. What would need to happen (politically, financially) so that you can always get what you need to be safe and well?
  3. If you were the supreme leader in charge of everything and knew for sure we could do/have/pay for everything you think would make this country a good place to live, what kinds of things would you do?
  4. What’s a political policy (law, political decision) that has deeply affected your life?
  5. Can you think of any political decisions (policies, laws) that have made your life better?
  6. Can you think of a political leader from when you were growing up who you admire and who you think made a difference for the better? What did they do that made a difference?
  7. This is who I am thinking about and fighting for when I do things like protest, call my elected officials, advocate, and vote. If you do these things, what/who motivates you to be politically active?
  8. You say you’re “not particularly interested” in politics. Is there something that would convince you to get interested?
  9. What’s the first election you remember, from childhood? How did you feel about what was happening?
  10. What’s one thing about politics that makes you afraid for the future?
  11. What’s one thing about politics that makes you hopeful for the future?
  12. This is one thing I wish I knew about you. What do you wish you knew about me?
  13. Where do you go to be informed about politics?
  14. Is there anybody you like talking about politics with even though you disagree? What makes that enjoyable?
  15. Is there somebody in the media you think speaks about politics with a lot of knowledge and integrity?
  16. If you could assign me one thing to read or watch to better understand how you feel about politics, what would it be? Would you read or watch one thing I recommended?
  17. This is one area where I’ve really changed my mind from how I used to think, and this is why I changed my mind. Is there something that made you change your mind?
  18. This is something I learned from you about how politics work in the world. Is there something you learned from me?
  19. What did your parents/elders teach you about politics? If you could hand one thing down to your children about how politics work, what would it be?
  20. This is something I love and admire about you and always will no matter what. Is there something like that you could share with me?

If you could ask someone you loved but who you felt pretty sure disagreed with you politically exactly three questions and listen to the answers without interrupting, what would they be?

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Dear Captain,

I had a friend I first met about 15 years ago. We got on amazingly well: mutual friends called us “one mind in two bodies” because our personalities were so similar. We understood each other almost perfectly and could talk and laugh for hours about things nobody else quite got. We then had an extraordinarily intense romantic relationship: we were ridiculously in love and had an incredibly deep connection. It ended because I was super needy and honestly wasn’t ready for that sort of relationship. We were both heartbroken and intended to get back together one day, but life took us in other directions. We tried to stay friends but I wanted too much from him; he felt he had to keep me at arm’s length. I told him I had too many messy feelings to have a healthy friendship, he begged me not to go, I said I hoped to be back one day, there were tears on both sides and we went our separate ways. This was in 2008. Resolving to take something positive from what happened, I worked hard on myself, addressed the co-dependency issues that had driven ALL my previous partners away, and now I’m married to an awesome guy I’ve been with for 10 years.

This January, we finally got back in touch. I apologised for some hurtful things I’d said when I was in a lot of pain over losing him. I told him how I’d changed for the better. I said if he forgave me for being a jerk I would love to rekindle that awesome friendship if he wanted to, now Other Feelings weren’t an issue any more. He replied to say it was a lot to take in (naturally) but he would answer via email, not to worry if that took him a while and, in the meantime, how was I?

Since then we’ve exchanged several messages but often he takes days, even weeks to reply so we haven’t really got a good conversation going (except one night when we texted about random stuff until 2:15am, which showed we still have that great connection and same weird sense of humour). Because communication has been so sporadic, it’s hard to gauge what sort of friendship we might have if at all. When he does reply he’s warm and affectionate, laughs at my jokes and sends me cool stuff he knows I’ll like. But because of our complicated history I’m unsure how well I can walk the line between “yikes, co-dependent ex-girlfriend is messaging too much!” and not having enough contact to re-establish a friendship.

I’m trying to give it time – maybe he’s just not ready and could be navigating A Swamp of Unexpected Feelings himself. But I feel with this sort of situation it’s important to be honest and open from the start about what you want, like I was in my first message to him. I gently reminded him he said he’d email me and while he didn’t have to, I’d appreciate knowing where things stood between us. He said he was busy but could do it next week… which was several weeks ago now and don’t feel I can ask again. Me badgering him when he needed space was why we stopped being close in the first place.

I’m feeling a bit lost about how to handle this situation. At the moment I’m playing it by ear, replying to messages when they come, trying not to send too many back, giving him space when he doesn’t reply. But while I’m thrilled to be back in touch, there’s this elephant in the room, it’s…uncomfortable, and I don’t believe he’s going to send me that email – it’s been nearly 2 months. How can I figure out what the relationship is between us without making him feel pressured to talk about things he clearly doesn’t want to talk about?

Hopeful Friend

PS I searched for similar letters but the closest I found was you advising not to reach out to an ex for friendship until your feelings reached the point of “oh yeah him, I wonder how he’s doing, would be fun to catch up.” Which is what I did… but now I don’t know what to do next.

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Dear Captain,

I have read and enjoyed your advice site for several years and appreciate all the work and thought you put into each situation and your response. That being said, as someone who is on the far side of 50, I have noticed that the vast majority of your current audience seems interested in relationships with SOs or with parents. I’m wondering idly if you are anticipating a shift in the focus of questions (toward parenting, menopause, etc.) as your audience ages, or whether you expect they will move on to different sites? What would you most like to happen?

I ask in part because so much of your advice is stuff I have found useful as a parent myself: ask directly/no one can read your mind, you can be angry at someone but not abusive, respect someone’s desire not to communicate, don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm, etc. Just as relevant for me and my middle-schooler and high-schooler as for anyone.

And yet there are some things that kind of squiggle around the edges. Sometimes as a mom you HAVE to take one for the team. Be the alarm clock. Give the last piece to the kid. Sacrifice needed sleep to weekend matches. You DO have to snoop in your kid’s phone if she’s just out of suicide watch or has been self-cutting. etc.

There is always going to be some grey, in part because teens flip back and forth between toddler and adult about every 90 seconds. And the stakes are so high. My mom friends and I are constantly counseling and consoling each other over real or imagined parenting mistakes. And we are always asking each other the magic question: “What Would A Normal Mother Do?

But here’s a problem — how can we set firmly the principles and boundaries of self-care when our roles are to protect and nurture? You can’t go no contact with a kid. You can’t refuse to feed or drive to school a kid who just called you a fucking bitch two minutes ago.

Or here is a problem a friend (for real) called me with today. My friend and I both are very pro-choice, intersectional feminists. Her oldest daughter (in college)has decided that she is “feminist but pro-life,” and has spent all of today at a pro-life rally, while simultaneously bombarding her mother (my friend) with pics, of ultrasounds, signs, pics of dismembered fetuses, etc., and texting her about how she has met “real” feminists today, and how strong and brave they are.

My friend is devastated and furious and hurt, of course. But she doesn’t know at all how to handle this. Does she grey rock/broken record/refuse to discuss the topic? (My recommendation.) Is it her responsibility to argue with and further educate her daughter? (Her inclination.) And where to draw the line between meeting her daughter’s need to bait her and get her attention versus meeting her own needs for some calmness and serenity?

This situation is in my mind a bit simpler because my friend’s daughter is a fledgling adult, though all her bills are still paid by her parents.

But beginning from infancy, this kind of dilemma emerges and while it changes faces, it always comes down to the same question. To wit, what guiding principles and strategies are most useful when trying to keep one’s own boundaries sturdy, and yet keep up your obligations and duties to whomever you are parenting?

A child is a sacred trust. It must be. If you choose to take it on, that child’s needs must always be considered first whenever possible. But where does that leave parents?

I’ve learned an awful lot from your site about how not to be a terrible parent. But I’m hoping it can tell me more.

Thank you so much.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

Well, not exactly. First, some background: I (she/her) am a member of a Face Book group for fan-fiction readers and writers. I’m a longtime writer of both original work and fan works, so I like to leave comments when people post questions about plotting, characterization, etc. Trouble is, I commented on one post a couple of weeks ago, and now the original poster won’t leave me alone.

It wasn’t so bad at first. She private messaged me within about an hour of me leaving the comment, specifically requesting elaboration on what I’d said. Sure, fine, not the first time this has happened. We kept chatting, about the fandoms we were in, that sort of thing. Hey, great, maybe I’m making a writer friend, I’ve been looking for that. And then she dug a little deeper into what I liked- did I read/write mostly G rated or X rated, was it mainstream stuff or fringe, etc. For the sake of the story, we’ll say that I ended up saying, well, I mostly like m/m, I sometimes like f/f, and I’ll only read m/f if it’s really special, and that I really like reading when men tie other men up and have sex with them. So she starts sending me bits and snippets of stories she’s been writing, and most of them turn out to be m/f, where the woman is being tied up to work through childhood trauma. And in between there are questions- “if her legs were tied like that, would she be able to stay in that position?” “would he check in with her at this point, or would he just keep tying knots?” I’ve tried to answer and respond in good faith, but it’s becoming draining. Worse, as all this has progressed, I’ve realized that the writer herself probably has childhood trauma surrounding being tied up, and she is using the writing, and by extension me, as free therapy.

I didn’t sign up for any of this! I was never even asked if I was up for (or even interested in) so much as being a beta reader, let alone this mish-mash of editor and therapist that I’ve been shoehorned into. I’m generally a big fan of “use your words” but this situation has me speechless. Can you recommend any scripts to disentangle from this boundary-challenged person before I say something I’ll regret?

Thanks for all you do!

Dragooned

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