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Hello!

I had a kid about two years ago, and as a result have developed a much closer relationship to my mother-in-law. (I’ve been married to her son for eleven years now.) In many ways, this is great! She is a smart, serious, get-shit-done kind of person who was the first woman to do some cool civic stuff in her home city, and I have a lot of respect for her along multiple vectors. But. She is so goddamn judgmental. This has lately been directed at “Relena,” my soon-to-be-sister-in-law, who has some health issues and isn’t super skinny, as my MIL and I both are.

While staying in my home for the past week, MIL has suggested that maybe Relena’s constellation of health issues are because of her weight, that she can’t adequately manage her own diet (by which I mean what food she feeds herself, not a weight-loss plan), that exercise would fix her pain, and, most egregiously, that maybe she has made up her issues for attention because she resents the time her parents spend caring for her younger sister, who has Down syndrome. (I was so sincerely shocked by that one that it took me a moment to pull my thoughts together, and by the time I did my husband was already shooting it down with extreme prejudice.)(Captain Awkward note: WHAT. THE. HELL.)

My husband and I dispute these things point by point, as they happen, and often, in the moment, she’ll listen. When we say sentences like, “well, she’s had surgery for complications due to her rheumatoid arthritis, I think walking for long periods definitely hurts her” or “I think she naps so much because severe fatigue is one of her symptoms, not because she’s lazy” she seems to really hear what we’re saying–it’s like a lightbulb goes off, and you can kind of see her going “oh, of course.” But then Relena will do one thing my MIL doesn’t like (say, eat chicken nuggets instead of salad for lunch, or decline to go on an outing with us that involves lots of physical activity) and she’s got it backwards again: maybe Relena’s in pain because she doesn’t exercise? Maybe her health issues are caused by [trendy current thing that’s almost certainly already been explored by her and her doctor]? Some-long-sentence-that’s-basically-the-equivalent-of-but-is-Relena-trying-though? As if she could “try” her way out of an autoimmune condition she’s been battling since her mid-20s. MIL never says these things to Relena’s face, though I’m sure Relena’s aware of her disapproval. I think all of this is exacerbated by the fact that she doesn’t like it when her son “neglects” to exercise, or eats a diet that’s more frozen pizza than greens and salmon, or would rather play video games than take a nature walk, and she still kind of hoped that he would someday marry a woman who would inspire him to suddenly be the person she always wanted him to. But weirdly, instead he’s choosing to marry someone who likes him how he is and shares his interests???

Is there a better way we can shut this shit down? My MIL already knows that my husband and I don’t agree with her, and she’s taken to preceding her remarks with “not to be negative, but” or, after we’ve offered (a relatively gentle!!!) correction, “I wish people wouldn’t think I was that way, I don’t mean to be.” [With “that way” usually meaning judgmental or mean-spirited, WHICH WHAT SHE’S SAYING IS.] I’m very intimidated by my MIL, and our closer and more positive relationship is a relatively new and fragile thing, but the idea of building it on the blocks of criticizing Relena grosses me the fuck out. My husband usually handles her pretty well when he’s present, but when it’s just me I tend to disagree once and then ignore her until she stops. When it’s just she and I especially, there’s some weird forced teaming with the subtext of us as thin/active/socially acceptable, and Relena as not. I feel like I’m being too passive in Relena’s defense. I’d love it if anybody could rec some books on invisible and/or chronic illnesses written specifically at people like my MIL. I’d also like a script for “please stop talking to me about Relena’s body and health, the way you fixate on her choices and her physical appearance is unkind and what you say is usually untrue*, and BTW you make me trust you less with my son every time this happens, because someday he will also make choices and possibly own a body that you ain’t gonna like.”

Thank you,
Zechs
(he/him, but my MIL definitely thinks I’m her increasingly butch daughter-in-law and that’s unlikely to change lol)

*once she suggested to Relena that she start a food diary and somehow that had never come up with her doctor and it turned out to be helpful and now anytime MIL has a concern trolly suggestion it’s back to, “well you never know, after all it’s a good thing I gave her the idea of a food diary.”

PS: My husband and I are already trying to change the culture of group hang-outs away from “long walk and a picnic in the arboretum” and more to “let’s see a movie” so it’s not just always Relena having to opt out.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Almost a year and a half ago, while I was in tenuous material circumstances myself, my partner of less than a year got sick. One minute they were having a biopsy and the next minute they were fresh out of what turned out to be cancer surgery. Shocked, I didn’t have the presence of mind to prevent post-surgery on my couch from turning into living on my couch. 

Frustrated with my overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of epic shitty circumstances (which also later turned out to include partner’s mental health crash-and-burn), and failing to get caretaking support from their family, my community, and whatever social safety net ostensibly exists for someone like my now-ex,I started aggressively pursuing work. 

I struck a deal with my friend to  help with their small online business. Working for them for the past almost year has allowed me not only to  address my recent and childhood traumas in therapy, but also to enroll in a course to learn their trade.

They offered me partnership, I took it. We’ve been splitting the revenues, but have yet to finalize our partnership agreement.

So here is the deal: my prospective business partner also struggles with chronic and mental illness. Sometimes getting them to do any work even on a flexible timeframe is like pulling teeth. Right now, the money coming in is by-and-large from a combo of their old work and my current work.

I am torn.

They extended a hand to me when I desperately needed it, and they really did help give me space to heal. Having experienced mental illness and loved someone who has mental illness, I have a hard time writing them off just because they’re difficult to work with. They were so patient with me when there were some days, and some weeks, when I just couldn’t work.

On the other hand, I *did* do a lot of work. I went to therapy, I got my ex off my couch, I revived their business, and I invested in professional development education which will empower me, if I choose, to work on my own. After everything I just went through, and from where I stand now, I am seriously balking at formalizing my commitment to this person who is reliably unreliable about doing anything besides paying me.

What should I do? 

So Burnt Out (She)

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Comments closed as of 4/27.

Dear Captain Awkward, So, if I tell you that when I was in high school, a teacher of mine called off class for a session of “yoga in the dark where no one can see what the teacher is doing” that left me very upset, I probably don’t need to give you more details, right? And I see a therapist now (not just for that, but the therapist feels that part is important), but I am not serenely at peace with the past here, and I do really, really badly with yoga. I have problems with rage and tears just from being told to “focus on my breathing.” So I avoid going to yoga. (I also don’t do well with meditation, Alexander Technique, etc. — basically, being pressured to “relax” makes me panic.)

My problem is that many people, in both my personal and professional life, very strongly believe in the universal healing powers of yoga. They refuse to believe that I could find it anything other than relaxing and empowering. I try to explain that having someone dictate how I ought to move and breathe does not make me feel relaxed or empowered, but multiple staff retreats at multiple offices have left me in the superfun position of explaining that I really can’t do yoga, and being pushed about it until I cry, because they refuse to believe that anyone could have a good reason not to like yoga. I say I’ve had bad experiences, and they insist that this will be different, and I say, no, really kind of traumatic experiences, and they say, “But yoga helps traumatized people!” And there I’m back with the tears and rage. One year I tried to do it; I had to run out of the room and apparently the teacher said that some people aren’t brave enough to get in touch with their bodies. When my coworker told me that I think I literally bared my teeth like a dog and snarled. This does not make me look like a competent professional. And it makes me feel like shit. They’re my coworkers, my job has nothing to do with yoga, and I guess I don’t think I should have to bare my soul and expose my vulnerabilities because somebody else thinks their favorite form of exercise would make me a better worker/person.

I’ve just started a new job in a high-stress workplace. My boss is very excited about a yoga-focused health-and-centeredness retreat. I’m still in my probation period. How do I not look unstable, or like a bad team player? Please don’t tell me I just haven’t found the right yoga instructor yet. I hear that a lot. And, thank you.

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Season’s felicitations, Awkward Army! Elodie Under Glass here with two letters about accommodating your loved ones during stressful celebrations. Goodness, could this be a TIMELY POST? Here’s Letter #1.

 

 

Dear Captain,

 

I have a weird situation going with my dad. There’s a lot of history here so I’ll try to be brief.

 

When I left for university, mom took that as her chance to quit the soul sucking job she hated and move her and dad to the other side of the country for a job she loved. Five years later, a couple months after I graduated,  she went to sleep and never woke up. It’s been three years since then.

 

I’ve spent every holiday and Christmas with my dad since, including one where he joined us at my in-laws place, because I don’t want him to be alone. But he’s got it in his head that I should be adjusting my life to accommodate for him more. The first time he bitched the entire time about our apartment not having a guest room or an elevator to the top floor where we lived. He’s got MS and walking is hard, stairs are worse, and a lumpy couch is a crappy bed even if you’re healthy, so I sympathized. But he complained every other time too even though I warned him that nothing changed.

 

We recently bought our first house, and he came to see it. Because we’re kind of poor, it’s a real fixer – upper with three floors and no railings. I warned him and he said it was fine… but then complained constantly about how we keep getting these places with all these stairs. I spent the whole visit basically carrying him up and down between floors.

 

I work in construction so I’m not allowed to take time off. The two weeks I get over Christmas are the only rest I get for the year. This year, I really want to spend it just me, husband and cat. But when I suggested I wanted a quiet Christmas he just assumed he was part of that. How do I tell him I don’t want him here all the time, that it’s not quiet and restful for me when he’s here, without hurting him? I already feel super guilty for thinking of him as a burden.

 

Sincerely, 
A Terrible Daughter

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Dear Captain Awkward:

OK, here’s a bit of an awkward situation for you: Very elderly folks, at the symphony or the opera, with one of those oxygen tanks that gives a very audible puff of air every three seconds, and makes a noise like a clockwork sniff.

I’ve been at many performances when one of these was in the audience, and it is incredibly annoying and very hard to ignore. I was at a concert just a few days ago, not even sitting near the offender, and yet I could hear it loud and clear, especially during quiet moments in the music, and it really did keep me from enjoying an otherwise flawless and moving performance.

What’s more, all the people who were sitting near the elderly man (in this case) were making faces and shifting uncomfortably like someone had farted, for most of the first half. Only some of them moved for the second half, and Mr. Oxygen Tank continued right on sniffing for the entire show.

My instinct is to report distracting noises like this to the ushers and/or management, but at this concert, as with the other concerts, I was 1) comped, and 2) busy during the intermission with work-related socializing. I also assumed someone sitting near the guy, given how uncomfortable they looked and how egregious the noise was, would have said something.

But also, I felt a little bad for him. Unlike people who talk or unwrap candies during concerts, this is something that is presumably unavoidable and medically necessary, and also, for the theater, an accessibility issue.

It must suck to get old and not be able to do so many things that you once enjoyed, and I feel like a bit of an asshole for snarling at an old guy for carrying his life-giving oxygen with him. Does he even realize how annoying the sound is, or has it become invisible to him? Or does it ruin his enjoyment too?

The Oregon Arts Commission has a discussion of this, and they don’t really seem to have a solution, but think theaters should come up with one.

What are your thoughts?

Your question made me play these two YouTube videos at the same time to gain a greater understanding of the problem.

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