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COMMUNICATION

Dear Captain,

I have been thinking about this one for some time now, and I’m stuck: What is a good response to “What are you up to tonight / this weekend / next Thursday?”

I loathe this question, and I’ve been getting it a lot lately. I get it from friends (who usually just want to find a time to hang and that’s not so bad), my cousin (who usually wants me to babysit), my mom (whenever she wants to invite me somewhere), and people I’m chatting with on dating websites.

This is why I hate the question:

1. I don’t want to give you a rundown of my plans. They’re private and you don’t need to know them. I kind of resent that you assume I will tell you.

2. I feel like it’s asking me to say yes or no to an invitation / commitment before I even know what it is (like, if you’re having a party I might be free, but my babysitting quota is full for the month so no to that). Ugh.

3. In the case of friends and dates, I feel like sometimes it’s a slightly manipulative way of getting me to do the actual asking / planning. Like, you want to hang out with me, but don’t want to ask me straight up. Why not? Just ask!

4. I don’t understand the point of the question. Usually, the asker will tell me why they asked after I answer, no matter what the answer is (busy, not busy, don’t know). No matter what I say it’s, “okay, well I was just gonna see if you wanted to [actual invitation / request]”.

I usually end up saying something noncommittal like “I might be doing xyz, but I’m not sure yet – why?” and waiting to see what the actual deal is. But I hate this because then I have to pretend to wait while I figure out if my original “plans” are going through before I give them an answer. Or, if I tell a potential date some generic things (oh, probably reading and writing a lot) and add that I’d like to take a break so they know I’m open, I’m engaging in the same coy behavior that’s bothering me in the first place.

It all feels like a gross, stupid game I don’t want to play. I know it’s a common question and I’m sure most people don’t mean anything bad by it. But it puts me on edge every time I hear it. Is it just me? Should I keep doing what I’m doing? Or is there a better way to handle this?

Thanks Captain!

Free for the Good Stuff

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So, you said something racist. Or, someone told you that you said something racist.

Or, someone you really like & admire said or did something racist, or is getting told on for saying something racist.

And now you feel uncomfortable. You feel guilty, maybe, or ashamed. Whatever it is, it’s weird and you don’t like it.

What I need you to do when this happens is stop, drop, and be quiet for a minute. You are not Racism Columbo, your job is not to interrogate the situation for whether it is actually, “objectively” racist. Your job is not to find the motive, to drill down to whether it was intended to be racist. Your job is not to revert to High School Debate Club mode and split hairs looking for plausible deniability. Your job is not to defend your fave from the racist stuff they said!

Your first job is to shut the fuck up for a second. If you have to say something, say “I’m sorry.” Then stop talking. Definitely stop typing in that little social media window. Stop. Don’t. Make. It. Worse. Honestly, if most people just stopped there, the world would start becoming a marginally better place almost instantly.

Important: Engaging with white people about race is an incredibly high-stakes and potentially exhausting activity for a person of color to take on. (Women, think of the last time you tried to sincerely engage with a sexist dude who mansplained your world to you. Did you need a drink/seventeen naps afterward? Did you feel like you’d been trapped in a horrible alternate reality with no way out? Yeah.) So if someone is willing to actually talk with you about this, chances are it is an investment having a better relationship with you, not a drive-by insult-fest or attack designed to tear you down and make you feel terrible and hate yourself. They are talking to you about it because they want you to get it and to stop doing the hurtful thing so that they can keep working with/hanging out with you. The people who hate your guts or think you’re a lost cause will just avoid you. There are worse things you could do than just listen without interrupting. 

Step 2, after that initial encounter, instead of trying to justify or excavate why whatever it is isn’t racist or isn’t “really” racist or wasn’t meant to be racist or isn’t usually racist or is racist only on Tuesdays, think about why it is or could plausibly be racist. (Think about this quietly, inside your head.) Why might someone see it that way? What context or history are you missing? How might your action look to someone who doesn’t know about your pure heart and good intentions, somebody who experiences the same “mistakes” and “slip-ups” over and over again from white people? And what are the relative stakes & consequences here if you’re wrong? The saying about misogyny goes: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.” Welp, white people are worried about being unfairly called racist and feeling weird about it. People of color are worried about dying (in medical situations, at the hands of police, from environmental racism, etc. etc. etc.)

The history of racism is complex enough and insidious enough that chances are:

  1. Yep, race is a factor affecting that “fun” or “simple” thing you’re discussing. That one, too.
  2.  It’s just possible that we white folks have some rill big knowledge gaps about it.
  3. Automatically discounting someone’s lived experience or point of view just because we’re momentarily uncomfortable is a crappy thing to do and we should stop it.

There are steps after that. Reading. Listening. Self-reflection. Finding ways to do the work of dismantling racism. Here is one organization that is doing work. Here is another. This one, too. (Don’t take my word for it or get distracted by whether any of these are the Perfect One. Do research and find something that works for you.)

For today, here are your steps if you should make a mistake and say or do something racist:

  1. AT MINIMUM, DON’T MAKE IT WORSE. This almost certainly means saying “I’m sorry” followed by a period of listening and quiet reflection.
  2. During that quiet time, think about what it would mean to accept, at face value, someone else’s insight on what is or might be racist. What do you lose when you say to yourself hey, wait a second, I’m the one who screwed up, so maybe I’m not the expert here?

Baby steps, friends.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a really great relationship with a really great person. She can spot a logical flaw in an argument at fifty paces, picks up new languages for fun, and has a hobby of organizing elaborate theme parties. I like her lots. But.

She is bad at at time.

Like, really bad. She cannot accurately estimate how long something will take or when she’ll be free to save her life. She always succumbs to optimism and substitutes what she wishes to be true for what is true.

This shows up in two main ways in our relationship:
1) We often end up spending less time together than she promised, because her life is kind of a jenga tower that needs constant maintenance to not fall apart.
2) She’s often late for our phone calls

(Our relationship is long distance)

This has gone on for two years of dating. It felt like there was progress in the first six months, but now it’s stagnated. It seems like weekly she’s half an hour or so late to a call with very little (or no) warning, leaving me standing around, my night in disarray. The time zone difference means that I’m often giving up prime social hours to talk with her, so this is pretty upsetting.

When we last saw each other, it was for much less time than we planned. It was pretty upset and told her that I was tired of excuses and apologies and promises to do better. It’s been two years and it all just feels like empty words.

In the month after, she was really good about time. Then she was really late, but gave me good advanced warning. I told her that I’d appreciated all her efforts and then everything went to poop. She managed to be late or suddenly change our call four times in the space of a week. One of the times, she changed it to when she was in a car with friends, a thing I’ve previously asked her not to do.

I feel really sad. I can’t help but parse this as her not caring about my feelings at all. Meanwhile, she’s too depressed by other things to even apologize or take any sort of responsibility.

I’m tired of being unable to do stuff because all I can think about is how hurt I am and how much she probably doesn’t care about me. How do I get my brain back? Do I have to end the relationship?

Sincerely,
-BlueAlien

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Hi Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.

I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:

Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]

Me: I’ll just change!

Her: Why?

Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.

Her: But why?

Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?

Her: Whyever not?

Me: . . .

Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.

I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?

– At a Loss

(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)

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Dear Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog!

This might be banal and is probably a case of Overthinking It. But it is something that I repeatedly seem to worry about recently.

Do you have any tips/guidelines on how to deal with the situation where you have said something that could be taken the wrong way. Where you realize, after the incident, that it might have been received in away you did not mean, and also remembering that the reaction might have been a bit off. Yet, bringing it up and apologizing might risk making something big and weird out of something that was small to begin with.

Best wishes!

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Hello! Long time no blog! I traveled to Texas for Christmas break, since my in-laws live in the Fort Worth area and Amarillo. It was lovely to see family and catch up with some old friends who have relocated and meet some nifty new people. I did not take a computer with me or do anything resembling work. Instead I read many, many books and sat on recliners under warm blankets and ate enchiladas and other wondrous things. It was an excellent and much needed break from everything. Today I’m back, with the problem of unreciprocated love.

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