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Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?

Thanks,

I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 

Hello!

Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

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Hi Captain!

My quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing mother took my 5 year old “out” without telling me while we were visiting over the holiday.

I didn’t know where he was, he was in his pajamas (it was 40 degrees out), she did not have a jacket for him. She did not have a *carseat* for him. I ran around her house and yard in a panic trying to find him before my sibling suggested she might have him. She wouldn’t answer my texts or calls but did answer when sibling called her, she said she would drive slowly on surface streets (so it’s totes fine!), and that she was coming right back. My dad worried I would over react and send her into a depressive episode.

When I asked my 5 year old about it he said he wanted to tell me before they left, but she seemed mad when he suggested it, so he thought he should just do what she said.

So husband and I decided she’s so fired she can’t ever be unsupervised with our kids, and probably we won’t stay at their house anymore. But setting this hard of a line puts awkwardness on my (mostly) rad dad, and some amount of awkwardness on the rest of the family who think I’m taking it too far.

I did tell her “Never Again” and “I Can’t Possibly Think Of Every Boundary That Needs Setting” and “I Don’t Know How To Feel Safe With You Around My Kids”. She says she’s very sorry and just that she didn’t want to deal with the logistics of taking kid out for an adventure. She says she didn’t realize my anxiety was that limiting (spoiler, I don’t have an anxiety disorder). When I said if something happened to my kid while with her that “would be the end of our relationship” she said she didn’t realize the stakes were so high. But Captain, the stakes are absolutely that high.

I don’t think I’m over reacting, but am I over reacting? Or is my mom the most fired? Can we just decide never to stay there again and let the chips fall? She does a many rad things but they don’t cancel frequent Super Bad Judgment Boundary Smashing. Can I still accept gifts from her that don’t smash boundaries? Why does my mom suck this hard?

Sad, Hurt, and Angry

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Hi Captain,

I (she/her) am 39 years old and haven’t had a real friend since I was 23. Due to numerous instances of abandonment and rejection before and since, I’ve developed a form of Social Anxiety where I panic whenever I think someone important to me might, well, abandon or reject me. I’m working on this with a lot of self-help and meditation, but I need some help with my current situation.

Two years ago, I met a guy my age at work, who is very successful, a young executive at our very large, you’ve definitely heard of it company. Upon discovering that we have a lot in common, and I was struggling with a miserable job situation at the time, he quickly became my mentor, and from there, we’ve become friends.

Here’s where it gets weird. Despite the fact that we talk about deep, personal, obviously non-work related subjects, including things like God, anxiety, self-doubt, spiraling down into dangerous depression, etc., he has refused to meet me outside of work. These deep meaningful conversations occur in 30 minute scheduled meetings once a month in his office. He won’t even give me his personal cell phone number, using his work mobile instead. (P.S. it’s not because I’m a married woman and he’s a married man. We had that conversation. Also, most of my invitations have been for us to do things with our spouses in tow, and my hubby is fully supportive.)

Background on him, he was formerly a soldier in Iraq, and his best friend was killed there. It messed him up pretty bad, and he did go to therapy. He has stated he has no friends (and supposedly he likes it that way). I suspect he erected these walls to protect himself from ever experiencing that kind of pain again. I think he is struggling because I’ve managed to get through his defenses, and he cares about me. He always genuinely appreciates me being a good friend- checking on him when he’s sick, sending him goofy memes to cheer him up when he’s stressed out (which has been a lot lately), etc. The verbal and written work/life barrier has been thoroughly crossed. He just won’t cross the physical work/life barrier.

Anyway, it’s been taking him longer and longer to say no when I invite him out, and it’s obvious to me that responding to my invitations causes him tremendous anxiety. It’s like he really wants to say yes but talks himself out of it. At our last meeting, after turning down my latest invitation (with a “probably not” following a full week of deliberation), he said that he was now willing to meet outside of work, but it has to be something really small, like lunch (which is impossible with his schedule). So far I haven’t found anything small enough, and he’s made no suggestions.

Because of my anxiety, every time he tells me no, I freak out and spend a day or two crying, unable to sleep, etc., until I’m able to get a handle on the negative thought train and shut it down. I’ve considered giving up on him numerous times, but I can’t do it because he gives excellent advice, I feel so comfortable talking to him, he understands my pain, he makes me feel good about myself, basically I need him to talk to, and I feel like he needs my help too. Everyone needs a friend, and I might be the only person persistent enough to keep trying with him, BECAUSE of my anxiety. And he’s SO CLOSE now. Admitting he would go out was huge. But I’m also frustrated and tired of the roller coaster ride of emotions (as is my husband.) To make matters worse, I turn 40 in two months and all I wanted was to be surrounded by friends, but I can’t even get one friend and his wife to go somewhere fun for an hour and have dinner after. I’m having a hard time staying positive. What should I do?

-Best Friend by Default

Dear Best Friend by Default,

I preserved your email subject line, for the most part. There is…a lot…going on here, and I am going to try to be as gentle and helpful as possible, and I am going to turn off comments (you…do not…want to read them, trust me), but I do not think you are going to necessarily like anything I am going to say.

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Dear Awkward,

I work at a nonprofit and am the only staff member who manages our +1,200 volunteers.

My ex-husband worked with a therapist for years prior to our divorce. The ex was violent, cheated on me, and was verbally abusive. At one point when things were really messy his therapist sought me out at a public event to encourage me to get STI testing because of my ex’s unprotected contact with sex workers.

3 years later, his therapist has just begun volunteering at my place of work. I feel sickened at the thought of working with someone who reminds me so much of this ex and knows so many personal things about me. What, if anything, can I do? Should I disclose this situation to my boss?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My sister is 37 and I (also female) am 34. We share an apartment and consider ourselves best friends. We’ve both had bad luck with relationships, and I had quietly given up on either of us marrying. But in the past few months she has finally found love and is now engaged. And I’m having a very hard time dealing with it.

I can’t stand to be around her fiancé. I don’t have any actual objection to him — no red flags, he seems like a good person who really loves my sister. I know that I’m just projecting all of my fears and insecurities about the situation onto him. Maybe it would help if his personality meshed better with mine, but he’s boisterous and loud and irritatingly familiar, while I’m a quiet, reserved introvert. We have no interests in common and fairly different values. It breaks my heart because my sister and I have always been so close, and now the most important person in her life is going to be this man that I cannot imagine being friends with. He gets along great with the rest of the family; I’m the only one who seems to be struggling with the situation.

I know it hurts my sister that I haven’t been welcoming to him. I really am so glad that she’s happy, and I’m actually excited about the wedding because it’s her wedding! I just can’t get through a conversation with the groom without wanting to run away and cry. I have talked to my sister about my fear that she won’t have room for me in her life anymore, and she promises that isn’t true, but I’m still scared. And there are other things, too, that she can’t control — like whether I can support myself alone (I definitely can’t keep our apartment) and the likelihood that I’ll be the spinster aunt alone when I thought we would at least have each other. It’s all pretty upsetting for me and every bit of it is channeling into resentment of her fiancé. I don’t know how to change my feelings or deal with them. What can you advise?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I use she/her pronouns.

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for almost four years. We live in different but nearby cities, and I don’t own a car (though I can get access to one with advance notice), so he often drives to mine. In our region, there is a lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit where you don’t get criminal charges, but do get your license suspended and pay a fine. I used to assume that my boyfriend could self-assess his level of inebriation, but after a roadside encounter with the police where I’m not sure whether he’d have blown over the lower limit if they’d asked, I’ve been more frequently using a BAC calculator to find out what time he would be expected to be below the limit, and asking him to wait until that time to leave. It’s imperfect, but it’s what I have available.

He feels that his self-assessment is more likely to be accurate than an online calculator (and I’m not sure that he’s wrong), and that I am being controlling by constantly pulling up the calculator when we’re out. I feel like I’ve enabled this by allowing him to drive me, and I’m being a bit hypocritical because I often drive while tired. I drink only occasionally, so I find it hard to assess what’s normal for the average person. It also feels difficult to ask people I know about this without inadvertently maligning him, because people may (very understandably!) have strong opinions about combining alcohol and driving.

I’m considering just offering to split costs on a taxi when he comes to visit, and/or arranging more dates where I drive to his city. However, that only covers the time we spend together, and it makes me nervous to think about him driving after drinking in any situation. Is this just a fundamental incompatibility? Is there a way to approach this that doesn’t feel controlling and self-righteous? Even now, I feel like I may just be asking for validation of my opinions instead of actual advice, but I really don’t know what to do.

Not BACchanalian

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Hello all!

You can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) until 11 am Chicago time today. I’ll answer as many as I can before 2pm.

Holiday and non-holiday related questions are okay, with following parameters:

  • I’m not answering questions about abuse in this short answer format.
  • I think we’ve covered just about every flavor of “How do I deal with my [politically difficult] relatives over the holidays?” in past posts & discussions.

Looking forward to your questions!

Q1 Hello! My job is pretty horrifying right now – they outsourced our team and we both therefore have new jobs but they haven’t actually hired anyone to do our old jobs yet. We hopefully (hopefully!) start training replacements soon after a series of delays and false starts including our entire role being forgotten when planning replacements. I’m doing OK but my friend/coworker is obviously burning out and she’s getting increasingly snippy and rude with me. How do I extend her grace when I’m fighting my own burnout too? Can I talk to her about this somehow?

A1: Oh yeah, time to talk to her! It might be as direct as “Look, I know you’re really stressed out, but do you realize how much you’re snapping at me? Are you okay?” or as general as “Hey friend, I know everything is so stressful at work right now, can we talk about how we’re going to get through our ridiculous workload for the rest of the year? Let’s make a plan.” 

Q2: I’d love another list of what you’ve been reading recently!

A2: I finally read Gaudy Night and loved it. Trying to read some of the other Sayers, verdict so far is “Gaudy Night > Harriet Vane Books In General (will def read all of these, only one left) > Not Harriet Vane Books (eh, these probably aren’t my thing unless I happen across them in a B&B somewhere someday, they’re not bad but I only care about Harriet, Miss Murchison, Miss Climpson, and sometimes Bunter).

Additionally in the past month: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, The Apple Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed, Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, All of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.

If you don’t know about Library Extension for Chrome, I’m here to tell you the Good News About Library Extension for Chrome. Search for a book on Amazon or Goodreads or other book searchy site and it will tell you if the book is available (+ how many copies and in what format – hardcover, audio, e-book, etc.) at your local library*. Since I have a Kindle, I click, click, click and then it’s like “free books reading all the time yay.”

*If they participate. If they don’t, you can suggest them!

Q3: I find a fellow volunteer somewhat difficult. We have the same goals, but they typically seem irritated with everyone and often complain about how people aren’t doing enough or doing it right. I’ve taken on more with our group partly because they needed a break, but it bothers me when they prod me to do things with the same speed and in the same way they would. (I have a job; they’re retired). I’d be fine stepping down and letting them be fully in charge, but there are policies about not having the same nominal leader for too long a stretch. I’d like advice for dealing with their conversations about who’s doing what wrong and with my own sense of being micromanaged.

A3: This is a difficult one. I suggest an informal, in-person conversation where you say some version of “I know you care so much about [cause] and I really respect your experience and hard work, but you stepped back from running things b/c you needed a break and I need some time to grow into the leadership role and fit it around my full-time schedule. Change is always awkward! Can we agree to check in with each other once a month to make sure we’re all on task, but skip these frequent reminders? It isn’t helping me get to things faster, and I’m feeling micromanaged.” 

They’ll say some stuff, listen to it, don’t argue, thank them for the conversation, and then [this is key] do what you were going to do anyway, even if they do nudge you all the time. Like, it’s okay to filter their emails to a box you check once every week when you’re calm & caffeinated. It’s also okay to set that as a clear expectation, like, “Saturday mornings are when I go through my inbox and deal with [cause]-related stuff, if you don’t hear back from me right away I promise I’ll get to it on Saturdays.” And then follow-through with that schedule. If you’ve been responding right away to every little thing, you’re sort of training the person to expect that you will respond right away to every little thing.

Advanced diplomacy: After the initial conversation, I want you to make a list of things where you do actually need this person’s insight and also a list of things you can safely delegate to them. Every month, during your check in, make a point to ask their advice about something (even if you already know what to do, maybe you’ll get something useful and at worst you’ll make them feel useful). Also, feel free to delegate stuff to them! You have a full-time job, they don’t, they want to do the work, so it’s within bounds to say“I’m not going to be able to get to x as quickly as you’d like – can you take that on for me?” 

Q4: I have a full week off work at the end of the year. How do I politely decline social invitations from people who know I have time off and no plans? I need that week to recharge, don’t want to fill it up with social plans.

A4: Invitations are not commands, so, try “Oh, thanks for thinking of me! I’m really trying to schedule nothing that week so I can rest and recharge. I’ll let you know if that changes and I can make it after all, but for now don’t count on me!” 

It’s okay to be enthusiastic about having down time! If people try to insist on you joining them for whatever after being told something like that, they’re the ones being weird.

Advanced reciprocity and kindness around social plans making: Do keep track of who invited you to stuff and got turned down, and when you’re feeling more social, invite them to do something with you in the New Year. It’s your “turn,” and it will send the message that you really like them and that it was just about scheduling.

Q5: My dear friend is in the late stages of getting her undergrad degree at a primarily online (but not entirely) state university program (not-for-profit school) and has just now found out that some of her credits from a previous school didn’t transfer over into whole courses, so it sets back her graduation date. It sounds to me like her assigned advisor isn’t very helpful or knowledgeable. She is not in the same state as the school and it’s not possible for her to visit campus in person to try to get anything straightened out. What would you recommend as a path of escalation around an academic advisor?

A5: If your friend can pull together all the documentation she can about the courses she took (course descriptions, syllabi if possible) and the equivalent courses at her current institution – whatever she thinks will make the case that the courses should transfer – that’s a good starting point. It can take some time to pull this together, but it can’t hurt.

Then she can try the advisor once more, with questions like, “What is the process for appealing a decision about transfer credits? Can I have detailed feedback as to why certain classes didn’t transfer? What documentation does the school need? (’cause oh look, I have some!) and if the advisor can’t really help, try asking them directly: “Ok, thanks so much. If you can’t sort this out for me, who do you suggest I talk to?” Be very polite, ask questions, be persistent, follow up every conversation with an email outlining what y’all talked about. After that, it really depends on her program. A professor she gets along with very well might have ideas, the department’s admin (someone you should ALWAYS make friends with) might be able to sort it. When/if she does escalate it around the advisor, she’ll probably do better if she doesn’t complain about the advisor (that person is gonna work there lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng after your friend has graduated), phrase it more like “Advisor helped me as much as they could, but I still have some more questions and they suggested you might be able to help. Are you the right person to talk to?” 

I’d also suggest that your friend prioritize her list of transferrable courses privately, like, know which ones are “these MUST transfer, I am not fucking taking that class again” and “Eh, if I had to go over some of this material again to get to the classes I really wanna take it wouldn’t kill me” so there can be some negotiation. Best of luck to her!

Q6: Very difficult question, only vaguely related to the holidays in that I want to read some more books between now and the end of the year. Where should I begin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? In chronological order of the events in the books? Or is there another book in the series that is an especially good entry point?

A6: I started with the “Young Miles” omnibus, (which starts with The Warrior’s Apprentice) shoved into my hands by my friend L. one New Year’s in Massachusetts and then shoved into other people’s hands by me, and it was fun as hell. Then I went back and read Cordelia’s Honor (two books about Miles’s parents and how they got together). I think if you swapped the order there – Cordelia’s Honor & then the Young Miles books – you’d love that, too, because CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.

Q7: I’ve been having a hard time at work since the beginning of September, for various reasons. Right now I’m slammed at work, which is likely to be the case for a while (I expect/hope that things will settle down by the first full week in January, but probably not sooner). I already have a vacation planned and have been making an effort to be diligent about self-care, including paying attention to sleep, eating well, and exercising a little more than usual to help with stress. I love the short answer chats and am grateful for any advice or wisdom you have for how to get through an extra-busy time!

A7: You’re doing great with the self-care stuff, that’s good news!

This is what helps me, a person with ADHD who has a limited attention budget that must be respected because when it runs out it runs OUT: Rituals at the beginning and end of each work day. This list is definitely for office-y type stuff, I don’t really know what you do, but that’s where a lot of my experience is:

  • Beginning of the workday: DON’T LOOK AT YOUR WORK EMAIL YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT. EMAIL IS A TRAP. (Social Media/Twitter/News etc. is also a trap. NO CLICKY.)
  • Instead, take 15 minutes and look at your to-do list/Make or remake your to-do list.
  • What’s the most important/biggest priority/takes most attention on that list? What are your deadlines?
  • What are a few small quick things that you could do and cross off quickly (to give a sense of momentum and accomplishment).
  • Are there a few things that, if you did them, you could call today a “win” and let everything else be extra credit?
  • Great, you’re doing great. Now, block out your day a bit and make specific time slots for reading/answering emails, any meetings or calls, when you want to work on big important thing vs. knock out a few small things, breaks. Over time, if you do this daily, you’ll hopefully start being able to match tasks for when you have the right energy for them. For example, I know I have the best zone of concentration between about 8 am and 2 pm, so whatever is most important to do that day should be done then.
  • Set a timer for 30 minute chunks (or whatever focused time interval is useful to you).
  • Cool, now you can look at your emails (in the time slot for “read emails”, right after your “review to-do list” time slot) and see if there’s anything else you need to consider. Sometimes emails will be really important, but for me, looking at them/answering them/reading them before I know how I want to use my day is a trap. I need to make a plan and then adjust as necessary.
  • Get your stuff done to the extent you can. Your plan will change. You will get interrupted. It’s okay. The plan is a safety net, not something to beat yourself up with.

20 minutes before the end of your workday, STOP. 

  • Look at your to-do list. Cross things off it. Look at what you did!
  • If you have to track your time in some way, this is a great time to enter your timesheet. It can’t pile up, you’ve got your schedule and list right there.
  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Don’t think about it too much, just make note of what didn’t get done today and if there’s anything specific you need to prep for, like, “dress nice, client lunch” – You’ll do your thinking in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Tidy up your work area. Make sure computer files are saved correctly (with descriptive names, in the right place on the server, so other people could find/use them if necessary), put loose paperwork in folders (you can label this shit with a post-it note, just, organize it and put it away if you can, you’ll be less stressed out if you don’t have a chaos pile when you come in tomorrow morning).
  • GO HOME, YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD, YOU CAN STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK NOW.

I hope that helps. I used to think I was “too busy” to stop working and organize myself and it was a lie.

Q8: I’m about to start a new job. I’m 28 and have had several jobs since college where it just wasn’t clear what i was supposed to be doing or where my boss was upset with me for something they never clearly articulated. I know the people I’ll be working with pretty well but i want to start on the right note. How do i ask for expectations to be clearly defined from day 1 and keep lines of communication open?

A8: First, check out the answer about daily rituals, above. I think it will ground you to have some kind of daily practice.

Second, presumably you’re going to have some kind of training period where people tell you what to work on and you observe and get the lay of the land. Keep the job description from when you applied handy. This training period is where you figure out which parts of the job description are real and what secret other work is part of your job.

Third, if possible, carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. If you go into your boss’s office or walk up to them to get instructions, bring the notebook. Your boss tells you to do something, or how to do something, or who to talk to, write it down. Someone gives you feedback about something you did, write it down. If you have questions, write them down. (Ask them, but also, write them down and the answers, too). You discuss something over the phone with a client or supplier? Make a note of what you agreed on. Write it down. It gives you something to do with your face and your hands and it helps you keep track of things. “Hold that thought, let me get my notebook.” 

Fourth, consider a ritual for weekly check-ins with your boss. (This can also be useful for people who need to “manage up” or for bosses who have no freaking idea what you do). You’re new, so it’s expected that you’ll want to check in a lot.

One way it could work:

Mondays, make your to-do list (as you understand it) and share a short version of it with your boss, by email if possible, though it’s possible to do quick status meetings, too. “Hi Boss, hope you had a nice weekend. This week it looks like I’ve got x, y, and z on my plate. Anything else I should focus on?” 

Thursdays, last thing before you leave for the day, send an update email, like:

“Hey boss, x is all set. For z I’m still waiting for approval. Whenever you have notes on the draft of y, I’ll knock out the edit! Anything else we need to knock out before the end of the week?

The Thursday email is also where you could say stuff like “So sorry, x took much more time than we initially budgeted, y and z will have to wait until next week. Is there one I should prioritize?” 

IMPORTANT STUFF:

  • BE BRIEF. Detailed to-do lists are for you. Have mercy on your boss’s eyes, time, inbox.
  • Your boss might not say much about or even answer these emails. That’s okay! This isn’t like school where you get a grade & feedback on every single thing you do. You’re giving the boss a general sense of what’s getting done and the opportunity to course-correct if they have different priorities.
  • If your boss doesn’t get why you’re doing this or it feels a little needy to them, try saying “I don’t want to make more work for you – don’t need you to do anything or even respond, unless you want me to do something differently – This keeps ME organized.” If they really don’t like it, don’t do it obviously. Instead, use your detailed to-do lists as a record of what you’re up to for yourself, give them quick verbal status updates as necessary.
  • If you work different days of the week, extrapolate. Assuming a 5-day weekday workweek, I say do these check-ins on Thursdays (vs. Friday) for several reasons: 1) If there’s something urgent, you still have a workday to work on it. 2) Don’t set up the expectation or the habit or even the idea that you or others would be thinking about work over the weekend. Some companies and industries do expect you to be thinking about work all the time, but that doesn’t mean that impetus has to come from you!
  • Over time, this will create a written record of what you actually work on. You’ll be able to see how much and what you accomplished, what you spend the most time on, where the friction points are, when your boss alerted you to different priorities. Also, should something go wrong, like, it’s performance review time and your boss has a different idea of what you should be doing, you’ve created a structure and the documentation to say (way more politely than this), “LISTEN, BUDDY, I CHECKED IN WITH YOU EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR, IF YOU WANTED SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT AT LEAST 104 SEPARATE TIMES.”

The version you’d say out loud is more like “Are the weekly status check-ins not working for you? Is there some other system you’d like better?” 

Good luck! People want you to do well and want to help you do well, mostly, I think.

Q9: My partner has to go on a work trip somewhere not very fun for Christmas – New Year’s. So I’m on my own. Don’t wanna see biological family because reasons. Do you have suggestions for how to spend solo holidays?

A9: Off the top of my head:

  • Is it possible for you to get a change of scene and travel somewhere, too?
  • Eat/drink/watch/do things you like but your partner doesn’t particularly like. I’m sure your partner is lovely, I’m also decently sure that sometimes you compromise about how you spend your time when another person is involved.
  • If you’re a “HOLIDAYS, YAAAAAAY!” person, check out all the free craft fairs, concerts, museum talks, plays, singalongs, etc. that tend to accumulate at this time of year.
  • If you have time off, and friends have some time off, can you catch up with them informally/not at peak HOLIDAY times, like, Boxing Day Brunch.
  • Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.

Q10: There’s a lot of family dysfunction behind this question, but for a short question…. my parents in general treat myself and my sister like they are still authority figures and sometimes literally says things like we are children (we are in our 40s and have professional jobs). When we visit they literally says things like “turn off the lights before you go to bed”, “don’t forget to lock the door”, “help your mom with the dishes” [which I always do], “do you know how to get yourself a snack? [mom mentions about 5 possible snack items]. I have tried sarcastic replies and saying things like “I am not 5 years old”. No help. Any other suggestions?

A10: They are not gonna change. They really aren’t. Like, sometimes it is worth having the “Hey, did you raise me to be a functional adult or not?” talk (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk) and sometimes it isn’t.

So what you need is, absolute eye-rolling solidarity with your sister, very clear boundaries about what they have authority about in your own life & decision-making when you’re not in their house (i.e. zero authority), and the words “Ok Mom” “Okay Dad” said with as much humor as you can manage when you can manage it and “I don’t know, I might literally die if you didn’t show me how to make snacks, Mommy!” when you can’t.

Finding something you do have in common with each parent as adults can’t hurt in the “making new memories and patterns to push the bad ones down” process, but yeah, they’re gonna remind you of this shit literally forever, sorry.

Q11: I work at a college library and it’s Stressing Time around here. Any tips from you or readers on how college staff can support students who are struggling? What do you wish your library had available (supplies, food, events) during finals season? Thanks!

A11: I think my institution brings in puppies for students to pet from some kind of shelter or volunteer organization, and it’s pretty popular.

What I think students could most USE during final students are 30 minute “Hey, buddy, you’ve procrastinated on that essay and now that you actually have to do it you have no idea where to start, it’s okay, grab a cookie and let’s take you through three basic ways to find sources” orientations, maybe in very small groups. Or “Ask A Librarian” office hours where they can get individual help. Like a safe, friendly, no-shame redux of that stuff they should have come to at the beginning of the semester but did not. Publicize it through professors – “Could your students use a quick research strategies refresher?” – Maybe even collaborate with profs in certain subject areas to help students walk through that section of the library.

IDK, I teach a lot of students who come from under-resourced high schools that have no library, no librarian, who don’t know what’s available or even where to start, and I’ve long ago learned not to assume about what they know. I’d LOVE to send them to something like “Ok, you found 10 books/articles about your paper topic and you don’t know which one to read first and you don’t have time to read all of them. That’s okay! Let’s look at the bibliographies real quick – Is there a book or article that all or many of the books mention? Great! Start there!” 

I love libraries and librarians. You’ll do something great, I know.

Q12: I broke up with a dear friend over the summer who is a lovely person, but spent ~2 years ignoring/not responding/declining requests to hang out. I’m starting to do that thing where I wonder if it was the right decision. Logically, I think it was the right thing, but emotionally I’m still hurting, especially since she was a pillar of Team Me and I really need those pillars right about now (I’m going through the end of my degree program and dealing with marital problems; we’re not breaking up, but there’s a lot of work to do and it’s triggering all kinds of “well, I don’t really deserve love/affection/sexual attention anyway” self-talk). And I’m starting to worry that other dear friends will “abandon” me the way that she did. My question is: what are some scripts I can tell myself to re-write this story in my head? Right now I’ve got “everybody leaves” playing in an eternal loop, with the occasional “you’re not good/lovable enough” jumping in as accompaniment.

A12: It sounds like the friend broke up with you, not that you broke up with them, is that correct? Either way, it’s natural to miss people who were important in your life in a stressful time, even if the relationship has run its course. So first step is to stop beating yourself up for having feelings. You can’t outrun or outthink feelings, sometimes the most you can do is identify & name them, like, “Oh, I’m having anxiety that my other friends will ditch me the way ___ did” and then sort of triage them, like, “Do I have to do something about this feeling right now or can I just let it be.” 

Other practical suggestions:

  • Can you vomit out some of the worry in a journal? Write letters to the absent friend of the things you would normally like her help with? Get as angry as you need to with work, spouse, absent friend in a private, low-risk way?
  • When the “I’m not good enough” thoughts intrude, could you try speaking to yourself and your feelings the way you would to a good friend, and try to be as gentle with yourself as you would with that person? It takes practice but this can really help.
  • Can you make some plans with the other dear friends in your life that are about pleasure (not necessarily about support/venting, though some of that will happen, more about relaxation and/or knocking out tasks with a buddy). Think low-key, low-commitment, treating yourself (“let’s grab breakfast and get some holiday shopping done, let’s get our nails done, I grabbed this massage Groupon, can I treat you? I want to see your face and I need to schedule some breaks from school/work”). 

In combination, having the outlet for free form venting and feelings and shame and weirdness can reassure you that you’re not just, like, feelingsbarfing everything on your friends, and having the friend-dates to look forward to will give you some bright spots and rewards for doing the hard work. I hope things get better soon, and congrats on finishing your studies! Everything is hard, but you’re working hard and you deserve to be nice to yourself. 

Q13: Doing the art/dayjob thing but it’s the dayjob part giving me grief. Working with a job coach but I’m still stuck. 29 with a thin resume. Graphic design is a dud but I have no other skills. Failed at teaching and STEM. How do I figure out my career and set myself up for success?

A13: Let me point you at three resources and once piece of wisdom:

  1. Recent thread about a process for figuring out what you want/what you’re good at/where the middle of that Venn diagram is. 
  2. Commander Logic’s guide to becoming unstuck.
  3. Heather Havrilesky’s beautiful piece this week, about art and shame
  4. It is okay if what you do for money does not match up with your deepest self – for the next little while, possibly forever. All your favorite artists had day jobs, most did not match their field of endeavor. 

Q14: What toys and treats have your kitty kids, present and past, absolutely gone nuts for? I want to give mine a great “Kitmas!” 

A14: This thing is the most-loved thing in our house.

We can be upstairs in another room and hear them play with it for HOURS. Literally hours. 

Rainbow tunnel is also pretty darn great. See below:

Henrietta lounging inside the Rainbow Tunnel. 
Daniel being all Coraline in the Rainbow Tunnel. (He was so tiny!)

Daniel loves all toys that can be carried in the mouth (crinkly balls, catnip mice, etc.), and sometimes he will push toys under the bedroom door when it is closed to try to entice us out. It is the best. Henrietta likes a wand toy with feathers at the end. They both love the Cat Dancer, which, you can’t beat that price! Beadie also loved any wand toy, any crinkle-ball, but her most-loved thing ever (like, it might be her actual soulmate) was a pet-safe heating pad. 

Q15 Do Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger and Henrietta (Kim Wexler) Pussycat have any holiday-themed costumes and may we see pictures?

A15: No, they did their 60 seconds of costume duty for 2018 at Halloween. Halloween 2019 is another year! All the catnip and treats! Sixty seconds or whenever they figure out how to take off hats (which are tied very loosely). 

 Q16: How do I avoid the topic of my job hunt/being recently let go? I straight up don’t want to discuss anything about it (and I’m hoping I have something in place) but it’s tough.

A16: I’m so sorry. You don’t have to tell people about it at all, if you don’t want to and it’s not public knowledge. You can also say, straight up, “Oh, it’s still kinda raw, I don’t want to talk about it at all right now, especially since we’re celebrating!” + change the subject to something you do want to talk about. Non-assholes will follow your lead. 

Q17: How do I handle being burned out on my chronically ill partner’s health talk? I know she doesn’t get a break but sometimes I just can’t handle getting hourly updates on organ functioning, and I feel talked over a lot of the time.

A17: This is so hard. Keeping in mind the principle of “comfort in, dump out,” does she have a counselor or other safe outlet where she can vent about health stuff at will? There’s a great site called Chronicbabe for young women with chronic illness, there might be other communities like that where she can find not only solace but solidarity.

Does she have all the support and help she needs to manage the condition, and is it time to revisit some of that (incl. perhaps involving professional carer), like, “Hey, the frequency and severity of these episodes seems to be escalating, is it time to revisit your care plan?” Can you make a structure where there are certain times of day that you both check in about health talk and give each other your full attention? 

Having as much support in place as possible will make it easier (not easy, but easier) to say, “Hey, love, did you realize you’re talking over me right now? I want to support you, but I am tuning out from some of these real-time detailed updates. I don’t want to tune out from you, can you give me an idea of what you’d like me to say or do when you tell me x?” It’s possible that they don’t need you to do or say anything, but they do need to say whatever it is, if that makes sense.

Q18: What do you recommend for a family member whose need to be “helpful” turns “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” into “Go buy me the thing we were talking about, even though I don’t know if I want or need it yet”?

A18: Try Oh, what a nice gesture, but I don’t need x – please don’t buy things without checking with me, I’d hate for you to spend money on something I can’t use.” 

Advanced Halping Evasion: Consider an information diet around this person – it sounds like even mentioning or brainstorming about a problem you need solved sends them into Helper Mode, try not even mentioning stuff you’re thinking through in this vein to them for a while and change the subject to other topics. 

Q19: My d&d group used to drink&play but 1 guy is now sober&requested dry games in May. Happily did. Last game someone asked, got his ok& brought wine. I wasn’t there, but I want to check in w him &support but we’re newer friends. And he did say it was ok? scriptplz?

A19: You weren’t at the game, so maybe how you go about checking in depends on how you know about the wine. I would assume he did say it’s okay unless you have reason to know otherwise, so maybe try saying “Hey, I saw that _____ asked if they could bring wine last time. I just wanted to check in with you again – I think the switch to sober games has been good for us and I’m happy to keep that in place forever. If you want us to keep that as an absolute rule going forward, it’s okay! You don’t ever have to say yes to wine if you’re not comfortable, and I’m happy to remind people not to mess with it.” 

Just be kind and direct and treat him like the expert on his choices. 

Q20: NaNoWriMo has happened, and it’s been great for me to iron out some problems with my WIP.
But…I was way below my word count thanks to procrastination. Not so bad in itself, but I lied to my partner about it almost daily. What do?

A20: No one’s reading this WIP but you, right? At least not until it’s done, whatever that means. This was a fun thing you did to motivate yourself. So, examine why you felt the need to lie about a fun, optional thing that was between you and you, and then come clean!

Q21: Productive response for when ppl keep doing & apologising 4 smth w no behaviour change? This just pisses me off.

A21: Good recent discussion of apologies here

I guess my question is, what would happen if you showed how pissed off you are? 

“You keep saying that, but the behavior doesn’t change, so, apology not accepted.”

My other question is, how much access do you want to keep giving this person to the part of your life they keep fucking up at? You can wipe the slate clean and still remember what was on it and act accordingly.

Ok, that’s all for this week! Comments are open, with the caveat:

  1. BE KIND. If you can’t be kind, be quiet? We’ve had some real unpleasant ableist and victim-blaming bullshit lately and I don’t care for it. Site policies are here if you need a review
  2. I’m about to skive off for the rest of the afternoon and have lunch and see a movie with Mr. Awkward, so moderation will be haphazard. If your stuff gets trapped I will release it this evening.