Readers! Especially Readers Who Are Also Writers! Here is a blog you might want to know about:
It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into
the abyss… the internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?
1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”
And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.
Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).
2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”
Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.”
3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”
We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.
I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.”
Be kind to yourself.
4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”
Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”
Before you go, ask yourself:
Do you want to go out for coffee?
Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?
Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?
5. “People who care about grad school too much.”
Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.
(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)
6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”
My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.
Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.
In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.
7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”
You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?
8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”
Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?
“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”
People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.
9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”
The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face.
10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?
Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.
11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”
Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!
My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).
12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”
I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.
13. “Are all bad girls confident?”
Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?
14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”
This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.
With a close friend or family member,
Where I have a good history of reciprocity,
And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,
And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);
…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may ask “Is it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.
This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.
15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”
“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”
16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”
You don’t have to be!
17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”
“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.”
18. “What is Captain in sex?”
If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.
19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”
I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.
20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”
People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?
21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!”
Yeah, knock it off, Emma!
22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”
Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.
23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”
I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”
“Should it bother you…”
DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”
24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”
“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)
25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?
Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.
Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.
I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.
Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him, it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.
What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.
I know, you love him. I know.
And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.
But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.
P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.
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I’m a 17 year old homeschooled dual-creadit student who attends my local community college. I have a 4.0 there, and I am part of the honor society and an officer in the Honors Student Organization. I’m not, at least not in by my family’s standards, brilliant, but I am smart. I always try to be a nice person and do good things, but I am worried that I come off as condescending and sometimes bitchy to my class mates. My grades are a large part of my identity because I am so focused on school, and because of that I have a reputation as an overachiever in all of my classes. I use my reputation as, at least somewhat, a defense mechanism. I have never had a boyfriend, had any alcohol,done any sort of drugs, etc. The people in my classes call me a baby because I don’t lie about being extremely inexperienced, and I don’t really mind that. I my be inexperienced, but I am not as naive as they seem to think I am. I use my inexperience as a reason I don’t throw parties when my parents leave me home alone for sometimes up to a week (they both travel for work). I don’t hide my grades from my fellow class mates; in fact, I share them openly. However, sometimes I worry that I come off as condescending because a lot of people make Bs or Cs, which I consider failing for me. I know that considering that a B is failing isn’t healthy, but school is my life and I don’t know how to let it go. I generally don’t understand why people don’t try hard in school and do their best. I understand that a lot of people have a job, kids, or both; but those aren’t really the people I’m talking about. The people I don’t understand are the ones that complain about doing poorly on tests and having to drop classes and then do to festivals on the weekend when they have homework. I also know that sometimes I can see the world in too much black and white and not take into account the environment somebody grew up in. I want to understand them better, but it is so much easier to call them stupid and write them off in my head as a lost cause. How do I learn to think of people as people and try to understand where they are coming from? When should I stop giving them leeway and say they need to step up and try harder? How do I not let my school define myself and my life when they are so important to me? How do I/ should I hold back on what my grades are because I may come off as a insensitive and condescending? Why do some people ignore their school and then freak out because they are failing?
Thank you for your time,
– The Overachiever
The question in the subject line is one of the most common questions I get.
Carolyn Hax took a version of it on recently. Hers is not a blanket solution, especially (obviously!) when the relationship has deteriorated to the point where you need to not only be done but AWAY, but in those situations where the romantic part is definitely done but the caring about each other is not, she suggests that you stop pretending. Be honest that your feelings have changed and end the romantic relationship. Offer to be a supportive friend anyway. I would add: Be honest with yourself about what you are really willing and able to do, and don’t over-promise out of guilt. I think her approach is beautiful if you can make it work, and it makes me think fondly of some exes and how we took care of each other after the end of the relationship. One part of the relationship can end but it can still be a love story.
There’s a phrase and a dynamic that comes up over and over in the letters I read about this: “Partner has no one else but me” or “I am Partner’s only support” or “Partner doesn’t have any friends or family, there’s just me.” This factor adds so much guilt and terror to the letter writers’ situations, like, I will leave and this person will fall completely to pieces and there will be no one else to help them and whatever happens to them will be my fault (but I still might have to leave). The question that always comes to my mind (from my safe, cold distance) is, why? Why are you this person’s only person? How did that situation develop?
My best friend, “Toby” has been living in my city for about a year now and over that time he’s gone from being homeless and alcoholic to having a sweet flat and ten months of sobriety under his belt. I’m trying to be as engaged in his recovery and support as possible because he doesn’t really have much of a support network around him – the mental health system in this country is a joke and he hasn’t ever received the help he really needs for his STPD, anxiety disorders, alcoholism and BPD, he has only a few other friends in town none of which he knows as well as me and his other closest friend and sister live across the country and overseas, respectively.
He and his sister “Jackie” were raised in a horribly abusive household – less violent than psychological, verbal and financial – rich parents who had children for appearances and ignored them to the point of neglect when they weren’t belittling them or loudly expressing their anger at both children being gay, as well as things such as encouraging the eating disorder that has been dominating his life for a long time and having family pets put down once they began to bond with the kids. Jackie bore the brunt of the abuse and has not talked to them for years and has been written out of their will etc, but Toby was the preferred kid and despite being loudly and aggressively disowned by them last year still says he hasn’t made up his mind about them and brings up things like “well, they bought me a car, so they must love me”.
He’s currently in a psych ward on a short stay and got a call from his parents out of the blue. They want him to come up to his hometown to stay with them for a week next month (with the potential to stay longer) and seem to think that they can play happy families and ignore both a lifetime of abuse and a year of no contact despite hearing second hand about his homelessness (during which time the mother volunteered for the Salvation Army and refused to contact him), alcoholism and a near-death experience at the beginning of the year. During that time they were telling the rest of the family to never mention the fact that they had children and had changed all their phone numbers so Toby and Jackie could not contact them. Now they say that they have changed their names and have distanced themselves from the rest of the family and want to make amends – though their phone call contained no outright apologies and skimmed over the major problems in their relationship with Toby and Jackie.
Recently I was with Toby when he ran into his uncle (his mother’s brother) in a store so we think they may have heard about that from him. He is considering going up to visit but I’m not sure what their motivations are and I’m very worried. These people have shown themselves to have only his worst interests at heart and I’m not sure anyone else other than me is in a good position to give him advice or keep an eye on what happens. He recently got out of a very physically and mentally abusive relationship as well and I’m worried that he will transfer his dependence back to his parents which will undermine his recovery and – generally – stable mental health.
I’d like to give him some scripts to take to his parents once he is up there because we both at least agree that they shouldn’t be allowed to to treat the visit as a Fun Family Getaway if he takes their offer of a plane ticket.
– Worried and suspicious
Dear captain awkward and army,
A handful of my friends have become parents this year. Consequently, and as expected, I don’t see them very often any more, and when I do, it’s for brief 30-minute “passing by” visits just to see how they and their rapidly developing Von Neumann machines are doing.
I’d like to invite them to larger gatherings and events, and shape these gatherings so that new parents feel like
a) they can take their kid without feeling like it would be a distraction or burden b) they could genuinely enjoy themselves c) the setting won’t be too chaotic even with multiple adults and kids d) the kids themselves would be comfortable, happy, and safe e) travel wouldn’t be inconvenient.
I live in a major metropolis where apartment space is coveted, so the home setting is limited.
But I’d just like to give my parent friends opportunities to socialize and do really fun things without making any implicit unreasonable demands to inconvenience themselves. Not having kids myself, I’m looking for best practices to provide that.
And to parents in the awkward army, what would something like this look like to you?
-Friend to new families
I recently became the very happy owner of a large, visually striking tattoo on a visible part of my body. This has been a hugely positive experience for me and I am happy to display my art to other people, the occasional attention and questions don’t bother me at all — except for one response that I didn’t anticipate.
About once or twice a month, someone will ask me “but what does it mean” or a variation on this, and keep digging at me until I offer up something suitably personal. My problem is that a) these otherwise well-meaning people really pressure me for a detailed answer, asking and re-asking their question repeatedly even though I am visibly uncomfortable with their interrogation and give them multiple non-answers, and b) there is indeed a personal meaning behind my tattoo, but I have less than zero interest in sharing it with random strangers or new acquaintances.
I’ve been trying to come up with a simple deflection that is not also a total fabrication but nothing has worked so far. When I say “I don’t really talk about that stuff with strangers” or “that’s a pretty personal question” people seem to just get more intrigued and pressure me even harder. I suspect some of this is because people having been conditioned by reality TV shows like “LA Ink” to think that ‘tattoo!’ = “deeply intimate personal story the tattooed person is delighted to share with an audience” but I am not interested in sharing details of my internal emotional life with strangers. At this point I don’t really care what the ‘audience’ motivations are, I just want a simple way to shut them down that doesn’t sound like an invitation to keep asking the same damn question in fourteen different ways until I snap at them.
I don’t think these people are hitting on me or being deliberately invasive, but I do think they’re not respecting my attempts to not answer. It’s like their brain short-circuits when they see a tattoo (I really believe these are otherwise polite, boundary-respecting people). Also I’m still taken aback every time this happens and not so great at thinking on my feet in the moment — it’s only been six months and it’s not like this problem is going to go away anytime soon.
Is there something I can say or do to shut this down and move on to more appropriate, less intimately-personal questions? I have no problem with the fact that my body art is going to draw attention, I knew that going in and it’s fine, but it seems like there’s 5% of people who lose all sense of appropriateness when they see my newly-decorated arm. Maybe I should just start lying???
– Not Cut Out For Reality Television