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COMMUNICATION

Hi Captain! I hope today is treating you gently. 🙂

Last year, I (twentysomething, they/them) moved across the country to be with my partner. The relationship is good and healthy! The town is friendly, walkable-ish, mild weather, etc. When I visited, I could see myself living here – and more importantly, working at this one specific business. (Uh-oh, right?!

I had worked in a specialized retail shop for years in my previous city. My entire life basically revolved around this particular lifestyle. I loved having conversations about shared ideologies all day and getting to explore products and methods that came up in the environment surrounding me. I’m going back to school to specialize in this field, and want to work in it for the rest of my career.

There’s only one business in this industry in my new, much smaller town, so I applied. They were hiring full-time for several positions to start in a few months and needed someone with my exact experience, so I thought I had a good chance. I had a bit of a time crunch with my lease, so I moved to this new town without securing a job first. (Yikes!)

I went through the lengthy interview process at Dream Business once and then was invited back. But the winter, repeated rejections elsewhere, dwindling savings, and not knowing anyone in town apart from my partner had really put me in a dark place, mental-health-wise. I stumbled through this interview, misspoke, wasn’t prepared enough, got so anxious I frantically emailed the interviewer in the middle of the night about a mistake I had made and had panic attacks about it for days afterward. Unsurprisingly, about three weeks later I got a curt email that basically boiled down to, “we didn’t think you were a good fit, don’t ask for feedback.” It was devastating – I didn’t see myself having any other options in town after this place.

Luckily, I’m now medicated, in therapy, employed (though not in my field), and going back to school – so things have looked up since then.

BUT. I miss this industry – socially, intellectually, ethically. Imagine you’re really into…specialty coffee. And this Dream Business is the only place in town where you can get your…organic, locally roasted, shade-grown beans, and everyone who shares your views and interests also shops here and talks about it constantly. I’m absolutely mortified at the thought of going back in. In my mind, I screwed this up so badly that I can’t ever go back! I’d rather MOVE TOWNS than go inside while my interviewers might be working, but I want to put my money where my mouth is, values-wise. And I miss shopping for my specialty goods, and this Dream Business is my only option locally.

What would you do? Do you or would any readers have any scripts, battle plans, suggestions for full-body disguises so I can go shop without panicking about having to interact with people I feel super embarrassed about seeing?

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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:

:cracks knuckles:

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.”

NOT COOL.

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?” 

SWIPE LEFT

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. ❤

Hey Captain!

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?

Thanks,

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:

  1. I need X to happen
  2. I need Y to realize that X should happen
  3. I need Y to realize that X should happen without me telling them or having to remind them
  4. 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
  5. 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.

Mikki says:

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.

Hi Captain,

(I’M SORRY THIS IS SO LONG I’M SO BAD AT TL;DR’ing)

I’ve (she/her, 26) been with my partner “T” (he/him, 29) for close to a year and a half. The first year of our relationship was almost completely smooth sailing and we were both pretty sure we’d found The One. We used to joke that the “honeymoon phase” hadn’t ended for us yet.

Around a year in, we started to hit a rough patch related to our relationship being non-monogamous (but that’s not what I plan to talk about in this email). We started going to couples therapy. I was satisfied with that solution and felt good and hopeful about being able to solve the bumps we’d been going through.

Somewhere around then, T and I happened to be on a day trip to visit old friends of his several states away in VA – where he used to live before moving to NYC (where we both live now). While on this trip to VA, a friend of T’s basically begged him to move back there and take his old job back. I suggested that we move to VA. He often speaks of that job quite favorably and only moved to NYC to achieve a personal goal for himself. I have been unhappy in NYC for a while now and am VERY ready to leave. Despite the bumps in the road, I was confident we were on a good path to get through them. Moving several states away with T felt exciting and like a comfortable leap for us to take. We already spend 5-6 nights a week together here and its basically as if we already live together. He agreed and over the next month or so we began to seriously put our moving plans in motion. We found an apartment in VA and signed a lease for June 3, 2020.

Jump forward about 3 months and we are now quarantined together for going on 4 weeks now thanks to COVID-19. Things have been…..bleak. Both T and I are newly out of jobs. We both have pre-existing mental health issues and are now…..both incredibly depressed. I am struggling big time with the fact that T now seems to have no capacity (/interest?) for affection, romance, etc to me. We’ve been fighting a fair amount (which in the first year of our relationship was quite uncommon). When we aren’t fighting we’re usually sitting on opposite sides of the couch or lying in bed next to each other doing separate activities. We aren’t having sex, we are barely even cuddling. I have to ask him for hugs, kisses, sex (which gets turned down), ANYTHING and I’m starting to get insanely resentful. I don’t remember the last time he did something nice or thoughtful for me “just because.” I’m at the point where I’m doubting my feelings for him and starting to doubt the impending move too. I should note that I’m also quarantined at his apartment (I have my own apartment but my roommate has COVID – its not safe for me to go there or bounce back and forth between both places) and there are no signs of the quarantine being lifted so it seems that I can look forward to another month or 2 here, receiving the same treatment. I am miserable.

I have told T that I need more verbal and physical affection from him. He has been receptive to me voicing my needs but also told me that his mental state is focused on keeping himself afloat and not feeling suicidal so he has very little bandwidth for me. He also says “I’m just not really good at the type of romance you’re asking for.” (I asked him if we could do one nice thing for each other per day and if we could tell each other something we appreciate about each other each night before bed.) While I understand his struggles with mental health, this sucks. I am a person who needs affection and romance from my partner and sometimes I want to not be the one initiating it. I’m happy to model that affection and romance I’d like to receive….for a while. After a while of it not being reciprocated I start to get resentful, sulky, and stop wanting to put the effort in myself.

No idea if I can take 2 more months of this. I don’t even know if I want to move with him now. I feel incredibly emotionally neglected. I’ve asked for what I wanted and haven’t gotten it. I know I need to be sensitive to his mental state during an unprecedented and incredibly stressful time, but I also need to feel like my partner loves and appreciates me. What conversation should I be having with T about all this? Should I still be trying to save the relationship and have my needs for affection met.. or should I be ending it and cancelling the move? Do I need to adjust my expectations and be more sensitive to him?

Please help me

Miserable in Quarantine

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Dear Captain,

I’ve looked in the archives for something like this, but I couldn’t find anything. What do you do when you apologize and it seems to upset someone even more?

I (she/her) have an ex (he/him), and we have recently reconnected after a breakup and period of no contact and are trying to be friends. He was the one who ended the relationship, if that helps, and I was the person who asked for space, and recently reached out. We broke up mostly because he wasn’t the best communicator, and when I brought it up he said it was easier to break up. (He is a Geek Social Fallacies carrier)

I live in an area under shelter-in-place, and after that started he started texting and messaging more frequently, and then occasional phone calls. I wasn’t sure I wanted this much contact, but was feeling a little lonely with the SIP, and figured he was as well, we could support each other a bit. I have a wide ranging circle of friends that I have been virtually in contact with, I wasn’t focusing on him.

Anyway, we were talking about what we’d been doing since the SIP began, and I mentioned I’d been working on my writing, and he expressed interest in it, and I asked if he’d be willing to give me some feedback. This wasn’t unusual, it had been something he’d done for me when we’d been together. So I emailed it to him, he emailed some feedback (which was good feedback!), and I got caught up thinking about it and how the writing worked with his feedback, and I guess I hadn’t responded or said thank you, quickly enough? Because a few hours after receiving it he texted to ask if I’d gotten it. And I realized I hadn’t acknowledged it, apologized and thanked him.

And then a few days later I asked if he would read over an article I’m working on, and he said yes. He read it and sent me feedback a day or so later, but I was caught up in work when the email arrived (SIP and working virtually means I get SO MUCH MORE EMAIL than usual, and I got a lot before!), and I just didn’t get a chance to respond. Partially because I felt that he deserved more than a, “thanks, got it” email.

But the next morning beforeI got a chance to do this I got a text saying it was “weird,” I hadn’t acknowledged his messages. I emailed back, apologized, and thanked him. He then asked if we could have a phone conversation, which we did that evening.

Prior to our phone conversation, I realized he was probably feeling unappreciated, and made a point of acknowledging that when we talked, and said that he was also probably trying to show that he cared for me by doing me a favor, and that was really nice, and when I didn’t respond quickly enough he felt ignored or rejected or vulnerable.

And by saying that, he seemed to get really annoyed. Claimed I must be feeling resentment for our breakup, and that it wasn’t any “psychobabble” about feeling vulnerable or rejected, he’s obligated to help out any friend that asks for help. And ranted in this general vein at me for a bit. While also saying, as he ranted, that we didn’t have to have this “whole talk” about this, but he…kept talking? And talking, and talking. I tried to acknowledge his feelings, but I also didn’t want to keep discussing it, and basically listened until he wore down.

We ended it with him feeling better, I guess? But I felt worse. More so because I felt like I was trying to give a sincere apology and recognize his feelings and then we could move on, but it turned into him becoming more annoyed, and that line about being “obligated” really hurt, I thought he was just being friendly, but it now that gesture feels tainted somehow.

Captain, I don’t think it would be helpful to talk to him about this, I think I have to accept that this is just my friendship with him. But I’m confused, why did he get so annoyed? Is there a way I could have apologized better?

Confused Navigator

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My 50+ y/o housemate has a problem, and I don’t know how to help. Sounds stupid but her pants are always falling down. At any given moment inch(es) of her rear crack are exposed. It started years ago, most often when she would bend over, but it has progressively gotten worse–any time she stands up or walks about. I’m not sure of the cause. She does wear a belt. I can only guess that her pants–jeans 90% of the time–and skivvies are the wrong size or cut. She is pretty flat back there. Yet that’s only part of the problem.

The real problem is that she is hypersensitive about it, and any attempt to bring it to her attention, either subtly or more directly, elicits only an angry response as if it’s a disability that she can’t do anything about. She’ll bark “I know!” when either she really didn’t know or doesn’t know the extent of it. At one point, long ago, I even took a few pictures when she wasn’t looking, so she could see what the rest of us have to see, but, of course, she got really angry and missed the point entirely.

I mostly wouldn’t care except it has led to very awkward situations. For instance, she recently had a contractor come in to give an estimate for some floor work. Her pants were halfway off her ass, which the guy noticed when she turned around. I tried to get her attention without calling more attention to it because I knew she’d flip out at me. Later, she said she felt like the contractor was acting funny and had an attitude. I did not say, “Of course he did! Your ass was almost fully exposed the entire time he was here!”

Lest you think it’s some kind of weird quest for attention, I just want to say that it happens all the time, in public, at home, when nobody is around and when everybody is around. At one point a few other friends started calling her Buttcrack Betty to her face, but that fell by the wayside because I think we’ve all concluded that she sort of *can’t* do anything about it? There was a point where I know she became paranoid about it, and was constantly grasping at the waist of her pants or pulling down her shirt, and she probably got tired of enacting that nervous tic all the time, but this still brings me back to why does it happen in the first place?

Aside from social awkwardness, this issue could also be dangerous. I can just see someone getting provoked by it one day. How does one address a situation like this? Seriously, how? I feel compelled to start with something like, “Look don’t take this personally, but I want to bring up a safety issue with you.” Then what? This such a weird problem, I know. Any advice or suggestions?

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Hi,

I live in an area that is under a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. A few of my friends have been inviting me to activities that violate the order. My go-to excuse (and the truth) has been bringing up that I live with a high-risk individual, so I’m going to stick to the shelter-in-place order. Thing is, the invitations are still coming, and sometimes with encouragement along the lines of “none of us have symptoms” or “I have hand sanitizer so you’ll be fine.” Any advice for turning down these kind of invitations once and for all while also keeping friendships intact?

Thanks! (she/her)

Hello! Thank you for your timely letter.

Mr. Awkward made something for you over the weekend in honor of his sister, an ICU nurse who can’t stay home. Samuel. L. Jackson is also on the case.

I wrote this (full of scripts) for Vox  last week. Please allow me to respond to all the people who have dug up my personal email to express their indignation since:

1. My editor assigned the story to be about younger adults trying to get through to their parents and grandparents, because that is a thing that is happening. If they had assigned me the story targeting young people or “everyone, everywhere,” I would have written that one.

Me: “X is a problem, here’s what you can do about it.”

My Inbox: “But what about Y? Why are you IGNORING Y?”

Logic: “Weirdly, both X and Y can be problems at the same time.”

Good news, everyone: The suggested scripts & strategies in the piece can probably be adapted for people of all ages, since I wrote “You can be asymptomatic but still spread it to other people, so I’m erring on the safe side” not “You A BABY-BOOMER AND YOU ALONE can be asymptomatic ONLY OLDER PEOPLE, NOT YOUNGER PEOPLE, DON’T READ THIS OR LISTEN but still spread it to other people HAHAHA ONLY THE OLD, so I’m erring on the safe side DON’T READ THIS, YOUNGS.”

2. If you are staying at home, good! Also, maybe this doesn’t apply to you and you are not being personally called out and you do not have to personally let me personally know?

3. “You said ‘stay inside‘ but our GrEaT NaTioN has MaNy AcREs of wILdERnesS and NaTIOnal ParKS which are technically oUtSiED

Ha, you really got me there! Question: Can you get back and forth to one of those without stopping along the way for gas, food, beverages, bathroom breaks, or needing to interact with any staff of anything anywhere? P.S. Life comes at you fast.

Also, I got enough emails with this specific take that I have to ask: Was there a meeting? Or a club? If so, please unsubscribe me from your newsletter.

4. Fully half of you are writing from Florida where your politicians have decided to imitate the Mayor in JAWS. I promise I was not the one keeping beaches open where you live, so if you’d like to yell at someone who was, here is your governor’s contact info. I know you know how to write indignant emails, so, get going! Or, maybe he will find video easier to digest.

If I sound upset it’s because I am. I haven’t lost anybody I personally know as of today,, but people I love are sick, and death is creeping in inexorably around the edges of my circles and making itself at home there. I want to live. I want you to live. I want everybody’s most dipshit friends and family members of all ages to live. I even want the people in power who say “relax, don’t panic, go out and have fun” when they mean “keep spending money, STONKS! may depend on it” to live, okay, yes, it’s mostly so I can see them tried at The Hague for their crimes against humanity, but I still want there to be a tomorrow for them. There are things that we can do to stem the tide, so let’s fucking do them already.

Which is why I say, bluntly, Letter Writer, the longer your friends stay addicted to magical thinking, the more people are put at risk and the longer all of us will have to stay inside. Their justifications are bullshit:

So my recommendation for you is, if polite demurrals aren’t working, maybe…don’t be polite about it anymore? Like, at all? “No, I’m not coming, also WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Stop trying to figure out the nice way to say it, don’t watch your tone, forget hints. You can’t be serious.” 

You may get your “let’s put the social in social distancing with game night, at my place!” buds to reconsider their behavior. You may make them so angry that they keep having gatherings but don’t invite you to things anymore. Your job is not to soothe them or smooth it over, your job is to live through this. I know you want to keep your friendships intact, but to do that, you and they and everyone they know needs to actually be alive. Probably 99% of the time I am of the school of “my personal life choices aren’t a comment on yours, live your life, Friend, I’m not doing this At You” but this is an exception. You can’t control what your friends will do, but you can absolutely refuse to validate it, enable it, or pretend it’s okay.

I know my fellow country-people are hardcore bright-siders who think “overreacting” is the worst thing a person can possibly do and whose favorite activity is to debate about the exact correct level of reaction one should have to every possible stimulus, but let’s risk it this one time, okay? Experts are saying: REACT.

If they’re wrong and I’m wrong, I’d love to be wrong, being wrong would be the absolute best-case scenario, we can celebrate how wrong I was and how silly all the scientists were together someday when there’s a vaccine and a reliable anti-viral, i.e. the next time I will be able to safely leave my house. We can stand uncomfortably close, lick each other’s faces, and rub our sticky hands on all the railings and lampposts we see, I’ll show you my quarantine birdsnest hairstyle and babysit everyone’s children so y’all can go on dinner dates.

Until then!!!!!!!!: Be the weird mask person and hard core shut-in you want to see in the world, without apology.