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Hey Captain,

I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.

I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.

Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.

Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!

~Christmas is Confusing

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Four years ago, the first fling I had after I left my ex was with a guy at a large multi-day costume event in a far-off state. He came on really strong (in character) and as we have friends in common, I knew he was engaged and asked him about this. He eventually explained to me that he had permission from the fiancée to fool around above the waist, and as this is pretty common in our circles, I liked him, and I was about to go back halfway across the country, I figured what was the harm to have a little fun?

So we made out a little, and kept writing to each other flirtatiously after I went home. I wanted to come back for the final weekend of the event, and he offered to put me up at their home. I had been pressing him to tell her about us, and he said he was waiting for the right time, finally saying we’d all go out when I got there and he’d tell her then.

Long story short, “circumstances” intervened so that he never told her, she found out and chewed me out (with him standing there not stopping her), I had to find another place to stay in the middle of the weekend, and I was livid with him for ruining two potential friendships (with him and her) and cut off contact with him.

Months later she wrote me apologizing for yelling at me, said they had both worked everything out, and asked if I would consider being friends with him. I said yes, as long as he agreed never to flirt with me again.

Now he is a bit of an unusual guy. The characters he plays in these costumed events tend to be overly chivalrous and attentive to women (opening doors, pulling out chairs, getting the check) and that tends to carry over in his real life (he also has a lot of hobbies related to historical re-creation and crafts, and tends to like vintage things generally.) So what I might read as creepy boundary-pushing attention, due to the massive breach of trust he committed, others have just told me they see it as flirting/overpoliteness/old-fashioned aesthetic, and don’t really have a problem with it, just see it as harmless.

He tends to fall back on flirting-as-a-social-lubricant, because that is his comfort zone. He flirted with me a couple of times when we bumped into each other at a costume event after we had reconciled, but we also had drinks recently, out of costume, where he behaved himself.

As a modern woman, I don’t like pro forma chivalry in my normal life, but I can go with the flow of being “treated like a lady” at historical events if I know it’s all pretend. But with him, it rankles because I’m not convinced it’s all an act.

Recently I went again to the same event and spent a little time talking with him in character (during which he fawned a lot, flirted, and then apologized for flirting when I seemed to be bothered by it) and afterward, we went out with friends, during which he sat next to me, suggested we order stuff to share, and seemed to find excuses to brush up against me, which made me super leery. Usually, when he oversteps, I call him on it, but I didn’t do it during dinner because I didn’t want to have the big awkward conversation with friends there, and the breaches were slight enough that it felt like it wasn’t worth it to correct him.

So, since for the last few years he’d done little to restore my respect for him, or given me any consistent reason to trust him or his promise not to flirt, I made up my mind that I was done seeking out his company, although I’m okay with an occasional brief friendly interaction, and as we don’t run into each other very often, that’s not really hard to accomplish.

But he wrote me a couple weeks after that saying he’d had a dream about me being repulsed by him and was worried it was his subconscious telling him he had overstepped, and wanted to check if everything was ok between me and us. He said he admired my charm and talent and also liked me a lot, and that it was hard sometimes not to show it.

I’m not sure how to respond, or if I should. I’m going to be around his neck of the woods a lot next year and I’m worried about possible future interactions, especially since I like going to costume events in the area and we also share a group of friends.

A pretty timely problem to have, considering open and vocal disdain for creepiness is currently in the zeitgeist.

What do you think?

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Dear Captain,

This is a pretty low-stakes question, but I was wondering if you and your lovely commenters could help me out here? I’m a young, disabled woman working in a hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry. I recently started a job at a new company, and in my department there’s a potluck every fortnight at one of the senior people’s houses. It’s pretty much expected that you attend — which I have pretty mixed feelings about, because, like, what if you have kids or other home responsibilities? or if you don’t drive and don’t want to have to rely on your possibly-drunk co-workers for rides? — but they do seem to be good fun and are a great networking opportunity.

Because of my disability, I can’t stand up for long periods of time, and I have pretty severe fatigue issues, so cooking is not in the cards for me. So, the night before the potluck, I go to a posh grocery store, buy some super nice potluck-appropriate food in a reasonable quantity, and bring that. Sounds good, right?

Nope. Basically everybody has told me that I should be bringing something home-made, with comments ranging from discreet, well-intentioned warnings to super-aggressive in-your-face attacks.

I have so many issues with this, including: (1) most of the food is made by my co-workers’ stay-at-home wives, not them themselves, grr patriarchy, (2) a lot of the home-cooked food is legitimately terrible, whereas my grocery store stuff is at least tasty and unlikely to give anyone food poisoning.

I don’t want my disability to become general knowledge, I probably shouldn’t rage against the patriarchy, and I don’t want to insult anyone else’s food, but I need a script to get people to stop being weird about this. With the people I outrank I typically make a joke about how all I do is work all the time, but I don’t actually like doing that, because promoting overwork is bad and also I’m female and super-young for my rank so making a big deal out of my job title is a whole new level of awkward. And otherwise I just try to change the subject? But that’s not really working?

Thanks,

Making lasagne is not in my job description

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a recurring problem in my living situation (and relationship) that never seems to get resolved.

It might sound silly but it causes quite a bit of tension in my otherwise happy twosome…
I work two hours away from home which involves a long daily commute and means dragging my tired self home at 7.30pm at the very earliest. Anyone who works this way will understand that there is little time for much else other than dinner, a tv show and a shower before it’s time to get to bed and do the whole thing all over again. Luckily, I love my job.

My partner works 15 minutes from our house alongside his two very best friends. Sometimes, this gets on his last nerve but generally he has no problem spending that much time with them. One guy in particular will sit on after work at our place for the entire evening. He’s still there when I get home late and tired.

The problem is my boyfriend expects me to sit, smile and socialise until this guy decides to go home. They are usually stoned and my boyfriend hasn’t bothered to think about dinner (I find myself buying and making it most weeknights). On nights like this I become enraged but silent and he says I’m selfish not to be more welcoming to his friends. TIMING, dear TIMING!!!

Usually, this friend just talks to my boyfriend as opposed to me anyway but if I try to disappear until he’s gone home, I’m the SheDevil!

I feel that because he gets so much free time with his buddies (sometimes he goes to their houses… I am all for this!!) he could just give me a reprieve from their bro-time in my place. Give my head peace!!

Any thoughts?
Am I a SheDevil?
Cranky Co-habiting Commuter

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Dear Captain,

This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.

I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.

I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.

I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?

Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter

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Dear Captain,

My sister and I need some help with a potential situation this Christmas. My mother’s extended family has Christmas at her house every year on Christmas day and my sister and I usually stay with my parents in the days leading up to Christmas.

However, at Thanksgiving we ran into a situation. My cousin Amy’s husband Dan is demonstrating inappropriate behavior. In the past, he has come up and hugged us without asking or anything like that which we have dealt with by staying away from him. However, at Thanksgiving he thought it was funny to flick his lighter on and hold it under my sister’s arm. When she told him to stop, he did it again. She told him to stop a second time and he did but then he tried to hug her like he hadn’t just attempted bizarre act against her. I am apparently the only one who saw this and I got us out of there quickly. I mentioned it to my parents but as far as I know, no one has done anything about it.

In the past, anytime we have said something against any type of behavior, everyone shrugs it off as harmless and “he was just playing.”

We know we are going to be sharing the same space with him for a couple of hours on Christmas day, do you have any advice on what we can do?

Thank you,

Worried Sister

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Dear Captain,

This problem is tough to describe without getting perilously close to breaking the “no diet talk” rule, but I’m hoping I’m describing it neutrally enough that you can still help: my mother (almost 60) has a lifelong obsession with “health”, and it’s getting worse, and I’m worried what will happen if I don’t try to get her to stop.

What I mean is that she maintains a near-constant focus on exercise, severe calorie restrictions, and self-imposed rules around what foods she won’t eat. [Additional details available, but I don’t want to get sidetracked with diagnostics.] In the past, I’ve tried not to worry — she’s an adult and she gets to decide what she puts in her body. But the last few years, things have gotten more intense:

1) She externalizes it A LOT. “Health” is all she talks about. She uses her restrictions to dictate what my father eats, and where and what we can eat whenever we’re together. Holidays are really stressful — trying to meet her requirements, hold these constant conversations, AND eat any actual food myself (I have no dietary restrictions) makes meals absolutely exhausting. (And, OF COURSE, meals are the focal point for my family’s socializing.)

2) Her ideas about health are increasingly fringe. She reads pseudoscience blogs, and is constantly repeating “facts” she’s found (“Actually, skipping meals occasionally is good for you”). Recently she switched to a naturopathic “doctor” who ran a barrage of unnecessary blood tests in order to sell her his line of supplements. This feels like REALLY dangerous territory to me — financially, physically, mentally.

I have two younger siblings (we’re all early 30s), and they’re also concerned. We’ve tried, over the years, to enlist my father’s help, but he refuses to hear any “criticism” of her. We’ve tried to talk directly to Mom about it, but — well, we’re not good at confrontation (conflict TERRIFIES ME, because even the slightest wrinkle can turn into a blowout), so we just end up hinting and laughing nervously (“Maybe you shouldn’t listen to EVERYTHING that doctor says, haha!”) before changing the subject.

To be clear: she has no allergies, no sensitivities, no chronic illnesses. Anxiety runs deep in the family, but she refuses to see a therapist (I suggest it frequently, as a good hygiene practice). I’m sure her behavior is coming from a desperate fear of aging, and I feel for her. But I’m worried about how this obsession will play out as she gets older and her health DOES change.

I guess I’m writing you now because a holiday visit is looming and I’m either going to spend it miserably, silently tamping down my frustration yet again, or completely losing my shit. How do I get her to see that her “interest” is actually an unhealthy obsession?

Signed,
Please Mom Just Eat Something
(she/her)

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