Behind a cut for mention of child abuse, sexual abuse, and abuse from a therapist. See also, bullying about weight and fat-shaming. Basically a bingo card of triggering, problematic shit and a very awesome Letter Writer trying to handle it all gracefully. ❤
Behind a cut for discussions of food & compulsive eating.
We are overdue for the blog feature where I answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are questions. Let’s do it!
First, as is traditional, a song:
RIP to one of the coolest, realest artists I was lucky enough to share the space-time continuum with.
:cries for the 100th time this week and it’s only Tuesday:
Let’s do this.
1 “How to tell someone you don’t like talking on the phone.”
“I’m not a phone person – can we take this to [text][email][chat] instead?”
“I can’t do a phone call right now, can you text/email/message instead?”
It’s okay to have strong preferences and needs around how you best communicate, and it’s also okay if those preferences are flexible and negotiable depending on who you’re communicating with, your mood and energy levels at any given time, what people in your life has access to, their strong needs or preferences, etc. You absolutely don’t have to have one blanket rule for everyone in your life or strive to be fair about this.
I wasn’t the biggest phone person before, but it turns out I prefer it vastly to Zoom (there’s a reason for that), and I’m enjoying catching up with people like it’s 1991 again, flat on my back with my feet up, twirling the charging cable around my finger like it’s an old spiral phone cord.
2 “Is it normal to hate talking on the phone when dating?”
It’s normal – or at least not uncommon – to not enjoy the phone or prefer different means of communication (see above).
I think the necessary follow-up question here is: Is it the medium or is it the conversation partner? If you don’t usually like talking on the phone, but your companion makes a normally difficult thing fun and easy, that’s a good information. If you don’t usually like talking on the phone and this person makes the prospect even less appealing, or if you do like talking on the phone with friends and family but not with this person, that’s interesting information about chemistry, compatibility, communication styles, etc.
Social distancing means that in-person dates are on hold for now and people can’t rely on non-verbal chemistry so much so figuring out how and whether you can have a comfortable, connected, enjoyable conversation with somebody is front and center for the time being. I think it’s always good to pay attention to your own enjoyment and comfort levels, especially when first getting to know someone, and “am I actually enjoying this” is perhaps a better question than “am I weird for not enjoying this as much as I think I am supposed to.”
3 “It it appropriate to put a sign on door to let neighbors know you’re resting.”
I love looking at a posted sign – especially a highly-specific rule – and wondering “What’s the story that prompted this?”
This question is a bit like that. There would be no need for a sign if these specific neighbors weren’t prone to interrupting during rest periods, right?
In that case, a sign that’s like “I work nights, please do not disturb” or “Don’t wake the baby” and then redirecting anyone who would be tempted to knock or ring a bell to another means of communication (email, text, leave a note on one of those dry erase boards people hung on their doors in the dorms) might work. “Leave your calling card on the silver tray in the hall, Jeeves will see to it.”
Sometimes people see general “To Whom It May Concern” notes and think, “Ah, but they don’t mean me,” so consider having a conversation with said neighbors along the lines of “Please text or email vs. just stopping by and I’ll get back to you when I can, or leave whatever it is on the mat, I’m often resting during the day and would prefer not to be awakened unless it’s a true emergency.”
4 “My husband teases me always about my health problems.”
If you’ve already had one sincere “Stop it, that’s off limits for jokes” conversation and he’s still doing it, your husband could be afflicted with Irredeemable Asshole Problems.
Post-quarantine I’m envisioning a National No-Fault Divorce Day, with flower crowns and maypole dancing like in Midsommar as everyone celebrates being freeeeeeeeeeeeee. There will be pro-bono lawyers working the crowd, and judges at kiosks throughout the park, and in the parking lot a giant swap meet for household items as everyone tries to rebuild a functional kitchen from their half of what’s left behind. “I’ve got two blenders and a bread machine I never use, trade you for a cordless drill and a decent cutting board?” “No cutting board but there are three jars of coriander in my spice cabinet, I can throw in the drill, some placemats, and a home brewing kit?” “Done!”
Maybe see you there?
5 “Grown men who only want to smoke weed and play video games.”
If you meet an adult man who likes doing this *and only this* with his free time, probably assume that this is pretty much how he is. Weed is relaxing and video games are fun and there’s no upper age limit where that’s not true of the people who find that to be true. Assume that he has chosen freely and leave him to it!
If this is not how you are (just guessing from the “grown men” phrasing), look for partners, friends, housemates, co-parents (!!!), etc. who do things that you enjoy (or at least don’t find stinky, ridiculous, and annoying).
How a person actually is at their current age > How you think a person should be by a certain age, so select for current compatibility, not imagined future potential. You will be so much happier if your relationships aren’t ones where you see yourself as the responsible, permanently irritated parent sniffing everyone’s hair to see if it smells of concerts and view the other people in your life as permanent Large Adult Sons with bloodshot eyes who need to be motivated and molded into something else.
6 “My parents text me too much.”
If you’ve tried asking them to cut this down and it hasn’t worked, or if the pandemic is bringing out old anxieties and old habits that you thought were settled, try responding pleasantly at regular, predictable intervals when you have the energy and capacity to reply, and completely ignoring non-emergency communications from them the rest of the time. They may not like it (and may temporarily increase the flurry or test your resolve) but they will very likely adapt to it if you stay consistent.
You might slightly reduce conflict even further by changing any conversations about this from “You text me too much! Jeez!” to being more about you and your own self-care habits. “Oh, I’ve been putting my phone on silent so I can read in the afternoons.” “I’m trying to not be glued to the news and social media, so I’m logging out for big chunks of time every day,” “A good window to reach me is between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, if I don’t respond right away I’ll try to check in around that time every day.”
My folks are not frequent texters but this seems like a good time for the story of how I was in class & meetings all day with my phone off and then went to the movies without checking messages since I just needed quiet, and the dark, and solitude, and Thor: Ragnarok on the biggest loudest screen I could find.
I came out of the movies, went to a solo dinner, and finally turned my phone back on to find a bunch of texts and voice mails from my mom along the lines of “Please call when you get this.” “Still trying to reach you, get in touch when you can.” It’s like, 8:30ish my time so 9:30 pm on the East Coast, everybody should still be up, so I call my mom’s cell back. No answer. I call my dad’s cell. No answer. I call the house line. No answer. I leave voice and text messages everywhere, and start to worry. There is zero chance that they are not home at 9:30 on a random Tuesday unless something’s up, so what’s up?
I call my older brother’s cell – is there an emergency? – no answer from him. Now I’m really worried.
Does my aunt know what’s up? She at least texts back that she knows of no emergencies but she’ll check.
When I finally hear from Mom, she tells me she called and texted because she has a question for me. Oh? Ask away! I’m dying to know!
The question? She wants to maybe buy a machine to convert Dad’s extensive VHS collection* to DVD or computer files as a holiday present and did I know which one was good? Otherwise maybe we’d have to find him a new VHS player on eBay because his most recent one gave up the ghost and he had nowhere to watch his stories. And sorry about not picking up phones, they’d both fallen asleep on the couch watching TV as had my brother.
When my heart rate returned to normal, we made a family agreement that thenceforth A LITTLE CONTEXT with any “please call me” texts or messages was ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY.
*Lest you thought I was the most intense cineaste in my family, my dad’s deep attachment to his VHS collection tells a different story. ❤
7 “My husband is not re-evaluating his life at all since the corona but I feel that I must leave because he has shown me that he has no empathy at all.”
There are going to be a lot of divorces in the next two years and that’s probably a good thing and I promise am not making light of how painful that is with all my party planning earlier in the post. (“Two, no make that three, working can openers…who’s got a bread knife?”)
People get married for lots of reasons, one of those reasons is “You are the person I’d most like on my team when the rough parts of adulting come for us” (sometimes summed up in vows as ‘…or for worse’ ‘In sickness and…’ and ‘…and for poorer’). A partner who knowingly and uncaringly makes a crisis harder on you? Somebody who shows you that they are not on your team? Isn’t the right match for what comes next, even with the best of hopes and intentions. I’m so sorry, I hope whoever searched for this is staying safe and being very kind to yourself and making solid plans for a safe landing.
8 “My partner wants to go everywhere with me is that healthy.”
Pandemic life is making it so nobody is getting a balanced, preferred, comfortable, safe, ideal mix of alone time and togetherness, but in general, if you’re dating someone who wants a different amount of togetherness than you, it’s 100% an issue of compatibility and 100% worth discussing, like, “You seem to want to do everything together, but I need a certain amount of alone time and one-on-one time with my other friends and family to be happy. Can we agree that I’ll be more proactive about inviting you along when I want to do stuff together, but if I just say ‘I’m going for a bike ride,’ it’s neither an automatic invitation nor is it a rejection?” vs. “Hey, I have a lot of anxiety about being invited, included, excluded, and not reading the room about that stuff so can you make it really really clear when you are inviting me and is it okay if I ask what you mean? I promise I’m not trying to pressure you if the answer is no, I just can’t always tell, and everybody who has ever told me they ‘need space’ broke up with me within a week so it would reassure me a lot if you could be way more specific than that.”
Maybe from there you can figure something that works for everyone, but “Nope, together, always, or else you don’t love me right!” definitely isn’t the default setting.
Insisting on constant contact and togetherness with a partner (which often goes hand in hand with excessive monitoring of their activities) is a means of control. If this applies to you, I recommend looking at the resources the good people at LoveIsRespect.org have put together as a way to start planning a safe way out of a relationship where this is the norm.
In either case, “Healthy,” “normal,” etc. aren’t reliable markers of what you’re allowed to need and expect. If someone convinced you it was perfectly normal and healthy to want to do literally everything with you, and this is how all other couples everywhere interact, like “We’re in love now, Google it” and you didn’t want that? Then you’re the boss of you and your needs are important whether or not they match a template. ❤
9 “How to respond to a guy on online dating who asks ‘what are you looking for on here?'”
I’ve answered versions of this many times before, whether sincerely (Be very honest about what you are looking for, including “I don’t actually know” or “I’m hoping I hit it off with someone who will want to get married and have kids someday” and “I am looking for a bag-pipe playing sex unicorn with large feet and a larger trust fund” if those are what’s true for you) and jokingly (“I’ll know it when I see it.” “A willing patsy for a Double Indemnity-type situation.” “Hmmm, you seem like you have an answer prepared, so what are you looking for?”)
Can we be very, very honest today?
I haven’t online dated since 2012 but I did a ton of it before then and I’ve done a lot vicariously through my friends and all of you in Awkwardland.
“So…what are you looking for on here” is a very basic question, an obvious question, and it should be a fairly neutral, easy question with an obvious answer (“I’m looking to…date…people?”). I shouldn’t be mad at it. People are testing the waters, it’s understandable, it’s like “so…what do you do?” in the pantheon of American small-talk. The oatmeal of questions. Not everything has to sparkle, goddamnit.
And yet, I’m pretty sure I’ve never once had an actually good date where I wanted a second one with anyone who has ever asked me that. Just seeing it in my search terms month after month makes me want to yell SWIPE LEFT at it.
Theories as to why it bugs me so much:
- I didn’t use online dating to meet women (browsing in feminist bookstores while sporting a strong shoe-and-glasses game worked for that), so my online dating experience is 99% with straight cisgender men and this immediately reads to me as a question that a guy asks every single person they write to right off the bat whether or not he’s read your profile. The dude who was just playing a numbers game of sending the same message to everyone to see who bites? That dude had nothing for me, nor I for him.
- It’s not a connecting sort of question, it’s a weed-out sort of question that makes a flirtation suddenly and immediately feel like a job interview.
- I feel like there’s always a secret question in that question, and it’s never a cool secret question, it’s more like:
- “I can’t think of anything else to ask and I have no idea what I’m doing.” Honestly, fine, this is the most benign, salvageable version of this, let’s just get through this in one piece.
- “Let me zero in quickly on whether you are looking for the same stuff I am, but in a way that makes you put it out there first.”
- “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for so I can pretend that’s what I want, too, just long enough to possibly have sex with you with the minimum effort on my part.”
- “Let me zero in quickly on what you’re looking for in a way that makes you try to guess what I’m looking for and tailor/audition your wishes to what you think I want.”
- “I get more casual sex when I pretend that I’m looking for a relationship and less when that becomes apparent so I like to keep my wants ambiguous until I know what I’m dealing with.”
- “If I know what you are looking for, I can selectively edit my life correctly to seem like I fit the bill long enough to entice you to overlook the sketchy stuff like how ‘separated’ means ‘I absolutely intend to tell my wife someday that I want to separate, once I’ve met the right new woman’ and ‘single’ means ‘separated.'”
- “Let’s not waste time with small talk, a total stranger I just walked up to in a virtual bar. Are you going to try to trick me into making babies with you right away or are you going to be cool and let me date you for 8 years while I wonder if parenting is really right for me and then leave you when it’s too late for you to make babies because I got my 23-year-old assistant pregnant on last quarter’s sales retreat and now I think it’s time to really follow my dream of being a dad?”
- “You’re not going to try to gold-dig my $27,3000/year salary like all those other lying vultures who couldn’t appreciate a REAL MAN who is NICE, right?”
It’s an obvious question so the answer should be obvious, too, right? So why is it a constantly recurring question in my inbox and my search data?
I think at least some of the anxiety about answering it is about sensing there some kind of a test being administered by someone who is already showing they haven’t put much thought into things. Like, there is clearly a right answer, something they are looking for, so why won’t they just say? Or, it gets asked so often, like one of those job interview questions like ‘what is your greatest weakness’ so surely someone has written a guide to turning it around, like ‘my greatest weakness is actually how awesome I am,’ so can someone put out the cheat codes already?
“It’s just efficient for figuring out if you’re on the same page or not.” You know what’s efficient? Actually reading people’s profiles and only messaging the ones who seem like they might like you and vice versa. See also: Leading with what you are looking for.
If you have asked this question in the process of dating, or love someone who did, I don’t think you are inherently boring or bad. “Do we want the same stuff y/n” is an important question for finding someone who is compatible with you, so please do not feel the need to share examples of how this is good, actually, I blanket-believe you and blanket-support you in your happy love story and I will die content in my theory that it worked out because you quickly skipped past this awkward question the way people fast forward past “so what do you do” and found something meatier to talk about when the formalities were over.
But my answer to the general “how should I answer this?” is, now and forever:
Answer it literally however the fuck you feel like answering it at the time. Do not worry about giving a “right” answer, secret or otherwise, because there isn’t one. There’s only what you actually want and how it intersects with what the other person wants.
However you answer, it will either lead to a fun conversation where you learn something true about each other (because everybody starts asking & answering more specific questions), or it won’t and you’ll probably never have to talk to the person again.
If you fail a total stranger’s boring secret test? OH WELL, GUESS YOU WANTED DIFFERENT THINGS FROM LIFE.
Please never, ever worry that you will get this wrong somehow or that there was some magical, maximally palatable way with just the right mix of reassuring and fascinating and sexy but unthreatening way – like the hot girl taking off her glasses at the end of a 1990s movie about prom dates and becoming the Objectively! Hot! Girl! for a moment and then putting them back on and becoming accessibly hot once more- that you could have answered that would guarantee that the person would have fallen in love with you if only you had known what it was.
Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.
10 “What to say when someone says ‘why should I date you.'” & “What does ‘Give me one good reason I should date you’ mean in online dating.”
I had just typed the answer to #10 and then dipped back into the search terms to see if there was anything else, and found…this. Okayyyyyyyyy.
“Why should I date you?”
“Why should I date you?”
Sounds like a you-question.
“Why should I date you?”
Sir/Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s.
“Why should I date you?”
SWIPE FASTER. LEFT! ONLY LEFT!
“Give me one good reason I should date you.”
You…messaged…me? I don’t actually know who you are? Wat?
“What’s one good reason I should date you.”
Lol, I’m not going to date you, but I’ve got five minutes, so be honest – does that actually ever work? Do people actually start listing reasons like they’re trying to convince you that you should take a chance on them? Tell me all about that!
Look, there’s an outside chance that “what are you looking for in a relationship/ on this site” is a sincere question with no hidden messages or tests, we all start somewhere, basic is always better than mean.
“Why do I actually want to date this person” is a question to ask oneself, definitely explore that.
“Why should I date you?” is what you ask when you think Alec Baldwin is the hero of Glengarry Glen Ross and you practice the speech in the mirror to yourself in the morning when you think no one is looking but hope that at least one of your housemates is awake enough to overhear how hard you nailed it today and you jerk off in the shower to the tantalizing prospect of a worshipful secret audience while your housemate desperately googles “Best earplugs for total silence.”
“Why should I date you” is for when you are actually contemplating becoming a contestant on The Bachelor and you know that the dullard-of-the-month-club is 100% going to ask you that on camera and you need to find the right mix of charm and smarm to snag your rose and the opportunity to go on a humiliating hot air balloon ride “solo date” while America watches you resist your impulse to toss this polo-shirted absolute void out of the basket like excess ballast and rise, rise, rise forever into the sky, victorious and alone like some avenging Valkyrie, in which case, carry on.
“Why should I date you” is a “neg”, in my opinion, which is a gross, pathetic pick-up-artist strategy designed to manipulate you into auditioning for being worthy of someone who would ask you THAT instead of wondering wait, why the hell am I auditioning for this person’s approval? Can’t they see I’m hot and cool and nice? Is this actually a job interview? I don’t actually want to be on The Bachelor?
Friends don’t let friends reward negging. Never answer this question. It’s a trap.
Comments are open. Be gentle. Be gentle specifically with me, I’m rusty. ❤
Hi Capt. Awkward,
I/she/her am a high school teacher and we’re not returning to campus until next year. That means we have 12 more weeks of distance learning. Right now we’re completing Week 3.
I have a student (11th grade, so around 17) who has a variety of mental health needs, gender identity stuff, etc. This student and I got along very well when we met on campus, and I was able to make a good and empathic connection. The kid likes and trusts me. I knew before we went into the shelter-in-place that the kid’s parents aren’t very keen about the gender identity issues that this kid has.
Fast-forward to now. All of my students are sheltering in place and all of us teachers are trying to figure out distance learning. I figured very early on that we wouldn’t be coming back to campus for at least 2 months, so as soon as we were sent home I started a Slack workspace and invited my students into it. We keep in touch on a daily basis and I help them and, overall, Slack’s been great.
Except this student of mine, who I am very fond of, is stuck at home with their unfortunate parental situation. Like most of my students, being at home with the parents 24/7 is wearing on them. Add to that the gender stuff and the mental health issues, and the student really needs someone to talk to. They’re in pre-crisis mode. So the student has been reaching out to me.
I spent several hours last Thursday evening chatting with this student in Slack, and they told me several things in strict confidence (nothing alarming or that would require CPS reporting, but very personal, like what you would say to a friend). I was really trying to be there for the kid, but I ended up with searing pain in my legs from sitting for so long in my office chair – this was after a solid day of sitting at my computer, working. I was there for the student, but I also suggested the student find their own people, their peer group, folks with the same gender identity experiences, mental health needs, and so forth.
I’m worried that the student currently sees me as the only person who is sympathetic and approachable, and that the student will then want to talk to me for several hours at a go, several days a week. I am sympathetic to the student, but the student isn’t my friend, and I have my own family concerns and mental and physical health issues. I don’t want to leave the student in the lurch. I want to be supportive. I want to do a good job as a teacher. And I recognize that these are strange times and that nothing is going the way anyone expected and I should have added empathy and availability for my students, but I’m already stretched pretty thin here as it is.
How do I tell the student that, while I’m there and interested, I can’t do these 4 hour long conversations while my legs are screaming in pain without hurting their feelings, making them feel rejected, etc.? How can I further reinforce that they need to find their own Team You without sounding dismissive?
–Just a teacher
Hi there, Just A Teacher,
You did a very, very kind thing for your student that day.
Can you try to sit with just that for a moment?
Let go for a moment of framing this in terms of boundaries, professional conduct, the future, the fear of letting someone down in the future, or the panic of being stretched too thin and wanting to conserve your resources for yourself and your family. You’re skipping ahead to anxiety and guilt about “what if I can’t do this next time/all the time” before letting yourself feel good about what you did do, i.e. When the chips were down and a struggling student needed you, you were there.
You might not always be able to be there in exactly that way, nobody should expect you to do that all the time, it’s okay to set limits and offer alternative support systems, you can’t singlehandedly stand in for a school full of peers and counselors and fellow teachers or make up for the lack caused by faulty parenting, that’s all true! But none of that changes the importance of what you did that day. Can you let that generosity and service and grace be the starting point of the story, just for today, instead of coming at it from a place of scarcity?
I (she/her) really appreciated your response to Miserable In Quarantine. My partner (he/him) and I are fortunately getting along better than ever. It’s nice to remember that we are friends first with all this extra time. Even with (especially with) all this extra closeness, my partner and I totally agree with the importance of alone time. Here’s the rub: we have young kids. Five years old and two years old. They are delightful but they are also small yet loud bundles of need. So for one of us to get that coveted alone time, the other has to be on kid time.
Here’s an example: let’s say partner has six hours of meetings in a row. I’m with the kids, keeping everyone alive. He comes downstairs after work is done, genuinely says thank you and acknowledges my labor of caring for our kids. Then he asks if he can go for a run. I look at him like he asked me to walk on lava. I need some alone time! I’ve had a little monster attached to my boob most of the day! But I also realize, work calls are not alone time. Phone meetings are the worstttttt. He also needs time to recharge and be a human. There’s so little time in the day to give each other what we need, and we are floundering a bit. We are both committed to making sure we each get work time and self-care time, but sometimes commitment doesn’t make up for the logistical challenges to quarantining with young kids.
We recognize we are super fortunate and privileged to have this be our big issue during COVID-19. But I also believe that in order to sustain the mutual aid we’ve been doing, we have to make sure that we take care of ourselves as well. You’re so good at hacks and systems for dividing housework fairly and compassionately. Any tips for those of us stuck at home with sweet little bundles of need?
Please stop touching mommy for two minutes
Hello, (Please Stop Touching) Mommy!
I asked two of my favorite moms to weigh in on your question, and before I post their suggestions I will offer several observations about co-habitation & co-parenting conversations that the pandemic has made clearer and more urgent.
People often write to me looking for the one big meta-conversation they can have that sets up the parameters for How The Relationship Should Work From Now On so they can skip over the annoying day-to-day conflicts. Surely, we can both Outline Our Needs and Agree To A System for How This Should All Go, and once we do that, Nobody Will Have To Be Hurt Or Feel Weird Again! It’s so efficient!
Please know that I love everyone who thinks like this, I see you, I get you, I AM YOU. There are some people and some relationships where this kind of thing works – “Let’s agree to the big picture so the small picture will be easier!” – and when it does it’s so very lovely! Agreeing to ground rules and setting clear expectations is a useful skill, it gives everybody a starting point and a chance to be heard, it’s a useful project for figuring out how compatible people are, and trying it probably won’t worsen anything that’s already bad.
And yet!!!!!!!! (There’s always a yet) I also know without a doubt that there are people and relationships and topics where this approach 100% doesn’t work and might never work. You can have the big picture conversation, everybody can nod and agree, and you’ll still have to sweat some or a lot of the small stuff some of the time. The guy setting fire to his toilet paper in the office bathroom was never going to notice or respond to a general review of policies or guidelines, passive-aggressive notes (“Can we all remember not to create fire hazards in the office bathroom, thanks so much! 🙂 🙂 Cheers!!”), or the horrified and shocked faces in the neighboring cubefarm every time he needed to move some product. It was always going to take someone saying, “Hey you – SPECIFICALLY YOU – Do! Not! Light! Things! On! Fire! In! The! Bathroom!” every single time he does it until it stops or it happens enough times that he’s fired.
It’s easy to laugh at ol’ T. P. Burns in the office loo or think of all the ways that we are not like One Single Pancake Guy, but truly, stress doesn’t generally make people better at noticing things, and it’s even harder to extrapolate and apply knowledge to future behaviors, especially if – theoretically – all one’s extrapolation energy has been temporarily re-routed to catastrophizing worst case scenarios in an endless anxiety loop.
By which I mean, if you’re waiting for your partner to notice that you need respite from kids or waiting for a housemate to notice that a household task is piling up, you might wait a long time, and you’re probably going to have to ask, poke, gently remind, etc. even if you think you already had a good system going, even if you thought the other person got it, even if you think it should be obvious, even if in the other person’s shoes you would definitely notice and step up in that moment. If you’ve been stewing for a while about an ongoing thing, that’s valid, I believe you that there’s a reason for it and I recognize and honor your frustration. But it’s possible the other person doesn’t know about the psychic debt they accrued during the lengthy brining process and stewing-time for full grievance marination, and that their clock starts (and restarts) whenever you tell them it’s a problem.
If you’re usually the non-noticer in your household for whatever reason, no judgment, no shame, this is a great time to work harder on specifically that skill. At very least, if somebody you live with asks you to handle something, a) Probably…do…the thing? b) Do it between “now” and “soon” so they don’t have to keep reminding you? c) See what happens if you mentally add “from now on” to the request even if they didn’t say that, and act accordingly, by which I mean, do that thing/make that your task from now on unless you hear otherwise? d) Consider thanking them for telling you instead of resenting them for “nagging” you? e) Just, like, own the fact you’re not always on the ball about x and that reminders are necessary sometimes? f) If hairs are to be split, split them in the direction where you pick up more of the slack? Cool? Cool.
If you’re the designated noticer, I think that both the kindest, and the most productive way to handle this with people you like and love is to 1) be very direct about what you need to happen right now 2) without attaching the baggage of the past and what should definitely have happened there, to the extent you can manage that, and 3) experiment with not assuming that each request will automatically carry over to the future, like when you cancel the weekly exercise class you optimistically put in your online calendar back in January and the app helpfully asks if you want to cancel all future events and you pretend that you don’t, every week, literally forever. If you want a thing to happen from now on? Say “from now on.”
When I said “the most productive way” I meant: The way that has a chance of getting the person to do the thing you want them to do with the least friction or delay.
If you feel that Exasperated Parent Voice coming on in reference to another adult, like “An adult should know by now that ____” or “We’ve talked about this already, they should have learned by now!” you might not be wrong about what should be happening (toilet paper + fire = a general no-no even before it was legal tender for all debts public and private) and it’s okay to have a feeling about that, but – and I cannot emphasize this enough – when whatever should be happening isn’t happening, sometimes it’s a hierarchy:
- I need X to happen
- I need Y to realize that X should happen
- I need Y to realize that X should happen without me telling them or having to remind them
- I need Y to realize that X should happen without me reminding them, do X on their own, and also I need to express my feelings about Z
- I need Y to realize that X should happen, process Z feelings, and also repeat this reliably in the future without conflict or work from me.
What we generally want – both practically and deep in our souls – is #5, all the time, always #5, the best number on this list is #5.
I am not a parent but I have 12+ years teaching adults to do complicated things with a steep learning curve and expensive, breakable equipment, and it is from that experience that I say: With the best of intentions on every side and every skill you possess, you can tell a person something that they deeply want to know, show them what to do and how to do it, give them many resources, references, and examples about how and what and why it’s important, remind them how and what and why and when, and then send them off to execute all of it on their own and it can still not quite take.
When that happens, shame, blame, exasperated reminders of what should have happened, “But how could you not knowwwwwwwwww,” “Come on, it was on the syllabussssssssss!” actually do literally nothing to change it. What sometimes changes the dynamic is going back to #1, breaking it down to the smallest next step, keeping expectations VERY small and VERY gentle, and trying to build up again from that.
Is it wise to build a permanent committed interdependent life with somebody where, you need #5, would be cool with #2-4 a lot of the time because nobody’s perfect or a mind reader, but with this person you feel like you always have to go back to #1, downgrade your expectations, and start negotiating again from scratch, especially when applied to the daily tasks of domestic life? No! Abort! Nobody is that sexy! (Letter Writer, fortunately this is not you, but it is definitely for some people in the Inbox.)
Does that mean you always have to be chill and never express frustrated feelings? Also no! Sometimes the answer to “do you want this to get done or do you want to be mad” is emphatically BOTH, and maybe exactly how pissed off you are is important information.
But when “please just get it done, preferably now (and from now on)” is the priority for survival or well-being, the gentle parent-voice, the one that uses lots of encouragement for good stuff and avoids shame, is the one you want, not the one that makes you secretly worry that you’re turning into your [most critical parent].
My inbox, my experience, and every single instinct I possess are all speaking with one voice about this kind of thing these days, and that voice says:
1) Yes, a global pandemic requires resetting lots of things, and the perceived value and gendered division of household labor and caregiving has got to be one of them.
2) Deep, involved, meta-conversations about How Should Our Relationship Work From Now On? and What Is The Platonic Ideal of Co-Parenting? can drain more energy than they save in the long run, or more accurately, drain more energy than everybody currently has budgeted in the short-run, and also become a magnet for all the upset and anxious feelings swirling around. With that in mind, a conversation you want (specifically you, Letter Writer) in your toolkit can be as simple as interrupting your husband’s runward trajectory, saying “Actually, can you pause your run until after dinner, I have got to hand you this baby for at least 30 minutes or I’m gonna freak out, thank you.”
If you do that, probably what will happen is you will hand your partner the baby, and he will run later. And you may have a great bigger-picture conversation using the guide our guest posters outlined below about, hey, let’s figure out how to rebalance this load.
But also, you might have to renegotiate some of it every single day even if the big conversation goes great, if that makes sense, like some days he will definitely remember that it goes Work, Give Partner A Kid-Break, THEN Run and some days he might go on autopilot, some days you may schedule it all out and then his work will be extra sucky and he’ll be like “Please, please hang in for 1 more hour and then hurl the baby in my direction as you go to the room with the door that shuts, I got u, but I MUST run this off” and it’s not ’cause he doesn’t care or he secretly hates you or deep down he thinks it’s not really his job or because you didn’t Make It Clear Enough. Yep, it’s a deeply gendered issue, and yep, one can be both a Tool Of The Wretched Patriarchy and A Pretty Good Dude, and yep, until The Revolution comes sometimes you gotta take it one day – and one specific thing that needs to happen right now – at a time.
I will now turn you over to Actual Moms.™ First up is Mikki Kendall, code name @Karnythia, author of Hood Feminism and Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights, gorgeously illustrated by A. D’Amico.
It’s great that your partner thanks you, but your partner also needs to recognize that he doesn’t get to extend your workday in order for him to decompress immediately after work. If he wants to get off work and take a run? This is why jogging strollers were invented. Or taking turns on who gets to take a run first at the end of the workday. Because frankly caring for kids is work too, and your alone time should not be sacrificed because of 6 hours of meetings. He got to talk to adults (however ridiculous because honestly most meetings should be emails) while you dealt with breastfeeding and whining and neediness. He can spend an hour with at least two parts of that, and then take a run after you have a chance to take a break.
5 & 2 are super challenging ages, but only if you don’t start making them do some things without you! Five is a great age to be expected to play with your two year old sibling long enough for either parent to go to the bathroom or make a call. 5 & 2 are old enough to be assigned some chores too. Like sorting laundry or picking up toys. Bigger chores can be done together to keep them busy and engaged when they are awake (I actually cannot stress this part enough because so much of what you’re describing sounds like the kids aren’t doing as much for themselves as they could be) and kids will not fall apart if they are expected to contribute and then entertain themselves quietly in a room.
And yes, they get restless being inside all day. So, a dance party to tire them out mid-afternoon so that they will nap. My favorite trick, when our kids were little and January was a deep freeze that meant no time outside, was to get those glowsticks that you snap, turn off the lights and throw a baby rave in their bedroom with all of their favorite songs on a loop. I would cheat and put snacks & drinks in unspillable containers to minimize the need to leave the party. Finish up with a trip to the potty and wind down with softer music (and those lavender scented candles/sprays if that’s your bag) and you buy yourself an hour or two of afternoon nap. Do not spend nap time on chores. Spend nap time on yourself, whether that is eating a meal in peace or a shower or just staring into space, treat that break as sacrosanct.
Also, honestly now is a wonderful time to consider weaning your toddler. It sounds like you are consistently touched out and there is no reason to sacrifice your own emotional health in this way when you can start taking back your body. Yes, even from your child who loves to nurse but doesn’t actually need to do it to access good nutrition. You need to be kinder to yourself in general and gift your family the wonderful experience of doing more to take care of themselves without relying on you for literally everything. Also, though I don’t know your partner’s work environment, he’s going to need to step up and push back on this back to back meeting expectation whenever he can, because honestly no one should be subjected to 6 hours of phone calls during a pandemic.
Thank you Mikki! Your books are great and everyone should read them.
Next up is my dear Commander Logic:
CommanderLogic (she/her) reporting for duty. My kids are 5 and 7, MrLogic has a job that a) he can work from home and b) earns enough to support the family, and I am currently unemployed and therefore fully responsible for remote teaching the kids. We are lucky as HECK.
Letter Writer, you don’t say if you are also trying to work; it sounds like you have a similar situation to me. Lucky as it is, it’s still FRIKKIN’ HARD. There is a reason I did not choose teaching as my profession. There’s a reason that, even when I’m seasonally unemployed, we still pony up for childcare and camp and stuff. I love my children, but I am a better mom when I have some time entirely to myself. Right now, as I’m writing this, my 5yo is asking me “What should I doooooo?” while shooting down every option I give him, and my 7yo is trying to wheedle me into making a snack for her that she has known how to make herself for 2 years. They’re the best, but they are a lot.
When my first kid was first born, I had three months of paid maternity leave, and MrLogic and I had a biiig discussion about this:
- Kids are a FULL-TIME job (and then some)
- Keeping house is ALSO a FULL-TIME job
- One (1) job is also a FULL-TIME job
- And I could handle about 1.5 jobs.
In talking it over, we planned for when we were both employed (sooo much daycare money, y’all), and we planned for when one or the other of us was out of a job. It looks the same no matter who is the stay-at-home parent.
When your partner asked if he could go for a run, it’s the SAME as if, after his marathon of calls his boss had said “Oh, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind one extra 2 hour presentation?” You are working. It is a job that we HIRE and PAY (not enough) for: teachers and nannies and babysitters and housekeepers and therapists and cooks (through the magic of takeout) and and and.
I suspect that it wouldn’t have been so bad if at the beginning of the day, your partner had said he wanted to go for a run after work. You could have planned! You wouldn’t have been expecting the sweet release of Not Being In Charge at that time! You could have said “Yes, that’s fine if you’ll watch the kids right now while I go [do what you want].”
Your time is equally valuable to his. You have a workday. You need to not be at work sometimes, too, and it’s even harder for you because right now your work IS your home.
You and your partner sound like a good team, so this isn’t necessarily an argument, so much as a series of questions you need to talk through:
- Do we agree that childcare and house management are two full jobs? (I MEAN OBVIOUSLY, but asking the question makes it a discussion instead of a lecture)
- How do we schedule those jobs to give us both some downtime?
- What would each of you want if your roles were reversed?
- Is there a way to create a kid-free zone in your home? That either of you can use?
- How do we create time for just the two of us together?
- What are the rules of downtime?
If you’re both trying to work, there’s additional issues:
- How do we schedule so one of us is the on-call parent for half each day?
- What do we do if we both have a critical meeting at the same time?
- What are the rules that your kids (may) understand about “I’m working”?
Early on in the lockdown, I was making lunch for everyone, and MrLogic watched me for a minute and said, “I feel really guilty that you’re making me lunch and doing all the kitchen stuff on top of teaching the kids.” And I said, “Well, this is my job right now, and I do it so you can do your job, so it’s ok. But DO PLEASE keep feeling guilty, and make dinner this weekend.” And he did. He’s really good at it.
Thank you Logic and LogicHaus!
Fun fact, MrLogic is the Dungeon Master for our weekly D&D game (now remote) and the NPCs all sound like he’s reading us a storybook and doing All The Voices, Dad-Style, and it’s just the best. My character doesn’t really like killing things, especially intelligent beings (D&D is so goblinist!), so I keep asking everyone and everything we meet its name both because I think it helps with persuasion and because once you Have A Name maybe we don’t have to have Teh Violence, and it’s very fun to make him have to brainstorm names on the fly, which is how you get an entire squad of bugbears named Steve, Other Steve, and Steves III-V (who we did NOT kill, though there was some unfortunate wounding). ❤
Letter Writer, I hope somewhere in there is a framework to hang these conversations on and get yourself some respite. You sound like a great mom and partner and I’m glad things are going mostly okay. You also get ❤ emoji.
There is literally no way I – a non-parent – am moderating a parenting discussion on these internets in the year 2020 even without heightened pandemic anxieties, so, Awkward out, and ❤ emojis for all.
Rachel Miller is at VICE today getting an important thing out on the table: “The Answer To All Your “Social Distancing Loophole Questions is ‘No.‘”
“But what about my Really Good Reason that I Must go out/gather?” you may be asking.
Good news, it’s covered in the piece!
“Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There always are. But an inconvenience is not an exception. And my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.”
If you’re not safe at home, if you have an essential job and must leave, if you are needed by someone in an emergency capacity, if you are the designated grocery shopper/prescription picker-upper/errand runner in your family or friend group, if you have a medical appointment that has to be in person…then take care of yourself and your business. The dog needs to go to the bathroom several times a day, so, mask up and walk your dog. I believe you about what you need. But a personal exemption pass does not exist. The virus doesn’t grant them, nor does my inbox. If you need to go out then you need to go out. If you need a reality check, check in with a close friend or someone else you trust. You don’t need to tell me about it and ask for an internet permission slip.
Consider that people continually proposing and asking for exceptions in public, on social media – what friend-of-blog Jake refers to as “Edge-Case Bob” behaviors – are doing harm by giving cover to the folks who are looking for excuses. This is not a time for brainstorming all the ways that a rule might not apply to you, not really. It’s a time for brainstorming how to take care of yourself and your loved ones and your community within the rules, and making the necessary exceptions small and quiet.
I’ve been getting media requests since my Vox piece and since being a source for some L.A. Times pieces by the excellent Jessica Roy (“How To Help Your Marriage Survive Coronavirus,” and “Coronavirus Social Distancing Etiquette“) and a lot of them are about looking for loopholes or about talking to neighbors, family, community members who are Doing It Wrong. Here’s my blanket statement about that:
You can control you and people in your immediate household that you have responsibility for (i.e. parents are in charge of their own kids). You can wear a mask. You can limit your errands and be respectful to retail workers. You can stop hosting and attending gatherings.
You can often influence people you know well who will listen to you. (Revisit one strategy here). When someone invites you to a gathering? You can say “No, and also, wtf are you doing?” You can combat misinformation, spread good information, and do what you can.
You can ask strangers who are endangering you to take precautions. “Hey, my dog needs more time to finish her business, can you walk on the other side of the street and I’ll take this one.” “Can you back up at least six feet while we’re waiting in line?” If they won’t do the right thing, the one thing you can control is you, so if it comes down to it, then YOU move. You move to where you are safer, and let them do their thing.
If you didn’t know your neighbors before this, the place to start getting to know them is offering mutual aid & cooperation, not policing. The police are not The Manager.
“I’m going to the store, can I get you anything – I’ll leave it on your porch” is a start of a relationship with a neighbor. “I’m happy to get your mail when I get mine and leave it outside your door so you don’t have to take the stairs, will that work?” is a good favor to offer to a neighbor with mobility issues. “I have an extra mask that doesn’t fit me right, maybe it will fit you? I’ll leave it on your doorknob.” From there maybe you can have the “I’ll text you when I finish my laundry so we don’t both have to be in here at the same time” conversation or the “Wait, are you having people over? That’s really not safe!” conversation. If your Next Door and other neighborhood social media communities aren’t about “How do we help each other through this, what do you need and how can we get it to you?” then either turn them into that or delete them.
It was always violent and dangerous for white people to call the cops in non-white neighborhoods and communities. That danger multiplies when a) people are stressed the fuck out and b) when prisons and jails are a petri dish of Covid-19 cases. We need our neighbors OUT of the jails, don’t put more inside! Every time I say this somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they *had* to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob? If it’s not an immediate life-or-death emergency, and you feel weird having a potentially awkward or high-conflict conversation with a neighbor, one way you can make it 10,000 times less weird is to NOT add someone with a gun to the equation. People on my block had family gatherings Easter weekend and it sucked because I know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, but what I can control is staying in my own house so that’s what I did. If we didn’t know each other before this, me coming on like the voice of White Lady Manners Authority isn’t getting it done!
(While we’re here, if you are not in an actual prison right now, then your quarantine experience is literally nothing like prison. Find a different simile, say two Hail Marys and donate to your local community bond fund. Thank you.)
I’m the kind of asthmatic where a common cold can turn into bronchitis can turn into torn cartilage in my ribcage and tests for pneumonia because anything remotely respiratory likes to root deep into my lungs like kudzu and flourish there. I’m gonna be inside like a little cosmonaut until there is a vaccine & reliable treatment; my doctor said “think in terms of a year, though really it takes 18-24 months to get a vaccine out and the virus will mutate the whole time.” I am honestly terrified of getting sick – I know pretty definitively that it will not go well. I’m terrified of Mr. Awkward getting sick, or of us spreading it to each other. My continued life depends on the essential workers and the friends who brave outside to bring us supplies, and I’m cycling through all possible 197 stages of grief about the prospect of probably never moving through the world in an uncomplicated way again, contrasted with the guilt of being one of the people lucky enough that I can stay at home. I’m having “Ok so if I die, please_____” conversations that aren’t theoretical. So this isn’t one of those days where I can be “strong” or encouraging or lift people up, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what the new normal looks like. I literally can’t remember what “okay” feels like, will I even recognize it if it shows up again?
What I do know is that trying to hold onto the old normal for ourselves at the expense of others’ safety means a dangerous magical thinking. As Rachel Miller writes:
“Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.
And as a professional-etiquette-and behavior sort-of-person, I echo this part pretty strongly:
I hope that people’s questions about “good” behavior during this pandemic will soon begin to shift to ones rooted in the assumption that we’re committed to social distancing, public health, flattening the curve, and not getting others or ourselves sick. What should I do with all the beans I bought a month ago? What should I do about this crushing loneliness I feel when I can’t see people IRL? Should I flirt with the roommate I’ve developed a crush on? Should I cut my own bangs?
But if you know, deep down, that your question is just a fresh rephrasing of, “May I be granted one (1) exception to the CDC recommendations in order to be a little less uncomfortable because I think my needs are more important than others’?” The answer is no. Someday the answer will be yes. I’d say I can’t wait for that day, but I can, and I will—because it’s right and we must.
And that’s what it comes down to, in the end. I would trade so much suckitude if it meant that all of you could still here in the world with me when I finally can go back outside. And those are the stakes we’re playing for, we are fighting to keep precious, irreplaceable people and the people who love them in the world, we are fighting against the overwhelming and pervasive pressure to reclaim some past idea of normal in exchange for some “acceptable” number of deaths.
To that I say: Masks on, full hearts, might lose, fight anyway.