Behind a cut for the casual fatphobia, racism, and misogyny of entitled white folks of a certain age. Update: People are sharing some of the specific slurs and types of comments their bigoted relatives say and asking how to challenge those things esp. in the comments, so I would counsel POC and other marginalized folks especially to be careful before clicking – y’all already know this stuff and maybe you don’t need it in your eyes while we white folks sort out our bullshit.
Would you like to read about nice people with good problems today? Good! Me too!
This question may fall under “general conversation skills,” but as I haven’t seen it on the blog, I’m writing. My spouse and I are both academics, in the same discipline. Her career is hitting some bumpy spots (high teaching load, few publications, not a great institution) whereas mine is going gangbusters (low teaching load, books & articles, awesome institution). That’s stressful, but we’re working it out (we have a distance situation, to compound things). What is really challenging is a conversational pattern we’re falling into, where talking shop feels like an emotional minefield. And our work involves a lot of our respective personal identities and time, so it’s hard to avoid discussing.
The fuller picture: I prefer “talking” about my area of expertise in writing. I avoided talking about it in grad school with my peers, really dislike Q&A at conferences, and kinda work alone, except when I read with other people (my work is pretty textual). My wife likes to talk in person, at conferences, and over post-conference dinners, and she likes to puzzle through ideas out loud. I often don’t want to, though I will–but she can tell that I’m not into it, and it makes her sad. Sometimes I feel like she’s talking a lot, and not listening to my desire to stop, change conversation, or to tell her that I just don’t know (and am not interested in figuring out the issue at the moment).
But she has expressed feeling not only sad, but feeling like my reticence is a signal that her work isn’t good, that I don’t respect her, and so on. But that’s not true–she’s awesome! And in fact, despite some outward success, I have the “imposter” feeling lots of academics do, and I feel unintelligent when she talks about things I don’t know, and I bet it translates into a defensive tone, or dismissal. I sometimes share stuff, too, but it’s more “hey, I read this cool thing” or “I got this article done,” and not a give-and-take. Sometimes we can manage, like if we trade things we’re writing, or have a very clear focus. But casually bringing up work often turns into hurt feelings and an argument.
One more piece of (perhaps not relevant) info. Despite being in the same area, we work differently. She agreed the other day that I would not be the person she would normally seek out to chat about her work, because of our methodologies and focus. But we respect each other’s work–though given our conversational patterns, she doesn’t feel like I respect hers.
We do pretty good communicating elsewhere, I think, but this pattern is starting to get embedded, and I don’t want to hurt her. We’ve talked about just not having work be a shared topic of conversation, but that feels like cutting off big parts of ourselves.
Not good at catchy sign-offs
I have a problem with knowing what to say when people ask about my life.
For some background, I am 25, have completed a Bachelors degree, but I have ended up living with my parents again. Originally I was only going to live with my parents for a summer before finding a place of my own to live. Unfortunately, I have chronic pain and it has gotten so bad that I can not work. Not being able to work in a problem for several reasons, though the financial side is being taken care of as I am receiving aid while I await an official diagnosis. My main problem is that all of my peers are moving on from school into their careers and I keep getting asked when I will move on.
I know that mostly everyone is coming from a good place when they ask me what my life plans are, but I’m having trouble coming up with a short, polite way of saying “I am terrified for the future so I think about it as little as possible and instead focus on trying to figure out how to live my daily life with limited mobility”. Another issue is that the disease the doctors think I might have tends to be thought of as causing mild pain even though it can be completely debilitating. I am at my wits end trying to shut these conversations down and it’s to the point where I avoid talking to people and I almost cry when they do start asking me things. Any ideas on things I can say?
Pained and Tired
Hi Captain! I’m 22, she/her, and relatively inexperienced romantically, if it matters.
Last summer I met a guy on Tinder and we hit it off right away. He actually asked me to be his girlfriend the first time we met up in person (my friend insisted this was a serious red flag, but I didn’t see this as a huge concern as we’re both pretty young—at the time I was 21 and he was 22, so I thought he might just be a romantic and not necessarily a sign of emotional immaturity). We went out for two months, during which he told me he “really, really, really, really liked” me. But then he went through some really rough things financially and emotionally and started messaging me less. I asked if he still wanted to see me, saying I understood if not. He said he did but needed some space for a while. I told him if he was still interested by then, I’d be around.
He never got back to me, so I figured he’d move on, but I never really stopped thinking about him. A month ago I texted him, asking how he’s been. I swear I wasn’t expecting to rekindle things or even an answer, but he said he’d been thinking about me too and wanted to see me again. We were going to have lunch but later admitted we both wanted to have sex. We did, and after that, radio silence.
I know we weren’t in a relationship, but I’m hurt that he’d say he didn’t want it to be the last conversation and then vanish on me again. I thought he genuinely showed signs of interest: He was the first to say he missed talking and that he had been thinking of me, without me asking. Since he was at work when we reconnected, I asked if he’d rather talk on the phone later, and he agreed but added “yet I still want to keep talking” i.e. still keep texting. He called me as soon as he was done with his shift, while still at his workplace, then while going home he texted me saying even though it was only for a bit (meaning 18 minutes) he missed talking to me over the phone, and then he called me again when we got home. All our calls were over an hour. The day before we met up, he asked if I still wanted to have sex or do our original plans, saying he was fine with either—even after I asked if he was sure.
Also, I asked him if he had any problems from when we were going out. He said it was honestly great except one thing that was ‘mostly just his insecurities’ but that that was something better addressed another time. Maybe this doesn’t mean anything, but I can’t imagine someone saying something like that if they’re just gaming to get laid.
I really thought I had tried to be communicative and make sure we were on the same page, and I’d like to know if I had somehow misread the situation. Also I’m just sick of thinking about him. Any clarity or insight would be appreciated.
One more thing: days after meeting up, I discovered that he deleted both his Instagram and Facebook accounts. Not blocked, deleted. I saw him scrolling through Facebook when we met up, so he must have done this very soon after that. That made me wonder if something else is going on in his personal life or if I should be worried, but I’m not sure if I’m grasping at straws.
-Tired of Overthinking
I have a friend who, for a long time, was a very chill person but as of late they seem to find fault in all I do and shame me for it.
For example: I’ll talk about a cute guy, and they will point out all the ways the guy is a bad dude or how I’m fetishizing being gay, somehow. Which is weird, because, how can you fetishize your own sexuality? Or I’ll bring up a piece of media I enjoy and they’re quick to point out every issue within the show, or I’ll even make an innocent joke about my own writing and suddenly the joke is under a microscope being picked apart.
I’ve spoken to them about the issue, even proposed we have a sort of signal (specifically, an emoji to include alongside our statements) along the lines of ‘this emoji means I just want to talk about this thing and not analyze it beneath a moral compass’. But even the most innocent statements seem to warrant a judgmental rant. They make me feel ashamed to the point I just don’t want to talk to them about anything anymore.
I’m a queer man with some shame-based trauma. This person knows that, and yet, it doesn’t feel respected, even after asking them to please keep this in mind during our discussions.
This friend and I are in a rather close knit group chat, so I don’t really have a means of stepping away easily and so I have to just face them and I try to suck it up but it seems relentless sometimes. I understand that there are morality issues everywhere one goes, but I just want to talk and chill out sometimes. If I want to talk about morality, I’ll talk about morality.
Any advice on how to get along better with this person or to avoid further upset with them? Are there any particular things I could say to deflect these unwarranted discussions?
Turbulent month, turbulent song:
And yes, it’s that time of the month, when we treat the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions they want answers to.
1 “How to handle snubs from close relatives.”
Sometimes you end up related to people you would never interact with by choice.
If you’re the one who messed things up and you know it, apologize once and then try to do better.
If you’re not the person who caused the breach, or if your apology for what you did is not accepted, stop trying so hard to make the situation better. Your effort is probably wasted, and you don’t have to keep auditioning for the approval of people who regularly show that they don’t care about you or want you around.
When you absolutely have to deal with the person, it might help to find a basic amount of polite that you can be to them suitable to the occasion. Not because they deserve it, but because it might make you feel better if you have a plan for interacting with some dignity. If it helps, imagine they are distant acquaintances, like, employees of a satellite office of your company that you run into once a year at the holiday party. In that instance you’d say “Hi, happy new year!” and then you go talk to the people you actually like and want to see.
Don’t treat the family like a monolith. Form your own relationships with the people you care about and who you want to connect with. The uncle who hates you hosts Thanksgiving every year? You do not have to go to his house and choke down his grudge-turkey, but also you don’t have to let Thanksgiving and his turf be the only time you see any of these people. He doesn’t own your grandma or your cousins or the month of November.
2 “My aunt says my partner is not welcome, what do I do?”
“Well, Aunt, we’ll be sorry to miss you. Maybe next year.” It’s okay to skip events where your partner is not welcome.
Unless your partner is some form of Nazi. In that case, I’m Team Aunt and also you should dump that Nazi dickhead.
3 “Do you have to invite adult son’s girlfriend to family parties.”
Depends. Do you want your son to come to these parties and feel happy and welcome there, or do you secretly wish he’d stay away?
Also depends – is his girlfriend a Nazi? If so, definitely don’t invite her to anything.
4 “My neighbor doesn’t respect the property line.”
You need to find someone who knows the laws where you live. That’s not me, even if you live where I live.
5 “My boyfriend tells me how to eat how to exercise.”
Did you want a free volunteer personal trainer? If so, enjoy! If not, tell him it’s none of his beeswax.
6 “What do you say to someone who is trying to set you up with someone you’re not interested in?”
“I appreciate the thought, but I’m not interested.”
“No thank you!”
7 “I’m in New Jersey when is this oak pollen going to go away for god sakes.”
I’m in Chicago and I also want to know this.
8 “Where will Harry and Meghan live?”
Google says “Nottingham Cottage” in “Kensington Palace.”
9 “Stories of sexy young girl with huge tits.”
Stories of people who are not efficient users of search engines.
10 “Boyfriend wants me to better myself.”
Did you ask him to be your amateur life coach? If not, tell him to focus on his own issues and ambitions.
11 “I don’t like my grandchild’s name.”
Learn to love it, or learn to be quiet about it, or both.
12 “Coworker dating app.”
My jerk of a brain initially read this as “Oh shit did someone make an app to try to help people date their coworkers please god no” when really the person is probably looking for “what do I do if I spot my coworker on a dating app.” Picture my entire body seizing up with revulsion for a few seconds until my brain caught up with the more likely interpretation.
My instinct is almost always to say hey, just leave the person alone, it’s not like it’s some terrible secret that you’re both on the app, and it would be pretty cool if you could give each other the gift of a bubble of privacy while you both try to do something vulnerable, especially since you work together. If they spot you as well and are interested in you, they can find a way to let you know!
13 “Husband doesn’t want me on birth control.”
If you’re a person who can get pregnant, you are the ultimate boss of whether, when, and if. No exceptions.
14 “I want to call suicide hotline but don’t know what to say.”
“Hi, I’m [Firstname] and I’m having suicidal thoughts.”
“Hi, I’m nervous about calling this hotline and I don’t know what to say.”
You won’t freak them out or get it wrong. They want you to call even if you don’t know what to say. I really hope you get what you need.
15 “When family wants you to visit but they never visit you.”
Visit them when you want to and when it makes sense for you, and if they pressure you for more visits say “I won’t make it, but you’re always welcome to visit me here! Can we put a plan together?”
16 “jean luc picard open shirt”
17 “Is it rude to invite guests to someone’s house without letting them know?”
Almost certainly yes! Even if you know this person is very hospitable and wouldn’t mind extra guests, why wouldn’t you at least let them know to expect them?
Refers to the way Mr. Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the 1990s Pride & Prejudice adaptation) treats Elizabeth Bennett when he develops a crush on her. Especially characterized by weird, intense staring bouts or standing really close to someone while studiously NOT looking at them, general glowering, and hostile non sequiturs intended to camouflage romantic interest. If unchecked, Firthing can lead to cornering one’s love interest and vomiting a bunch of feelings all over someone who didn’t even know that you liked them, or doing weird shit like showing up in the middle of the night to give them wordy letters.
Mitigating factors: A really nice house
Best avoided by: Asking the person on a date pretty soon after you know that you like them.
(Please tell me someone who knows Colin Firth reads this blog and has told him about this, it would make my year.)
NOTICE: By request, this behavior will from now on be referred to as “Darcy-ing.”