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Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Best,
Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

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It’s time to answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Here is a seasonal jam by The Avett Brothers:

Lyrics are here.

1 “I can’t stand going to my friend’s house because she smokes inside.”

Legit! I have a very hard time with smoke (asthma trigger), the same way cat-allergic friends have a hard time hanging out in the kitten palace. Sometimes it’s possible to hang out for a little while at my lovely smoker-friends’ places with the aid of my inhaler (used both pre-emptively and refreshed periodically), sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my friends can hang out at my place for a little while with the help of Zyrtec, sometimes they can’t, and/or we need to cut the visit short. Nobody holds it against anyone (we all get to set our own risk tolerance, especially when it comes to breathing, and we all get to make our homes primarily serve ourselves). It’s okay to invite the friend out and generally try to meet in places other than her home.


2 “My sister has changed so much I don’t even know her anymore.”

What if you could let go of who she used to be, or how you imagined she was?

Pretend you just met her. Look at her like a friendly stranger might, someone without any baggage or history where she’s concerned. Try to spend some enjoyable time with her, find out what she’s interested in now, find out what you might have in common now.

Look for reasons to enjoy her company, be proud of her, look for things to be curious about and praise. If she’s unkind to you, or just an asshole, that’s different, obviously, but what if you started from a place of kindness and curiosity?

Sometimes I wish we could all do this with all of our family members.

3 “Tidying Up hard to understand her accent

.”

As someone who has studied multiple languages and taught ESL to kids and adults, I have recommendations, though I should say up front that these suggestions require the ability to see the screen and read and I’m not sure what to recommend for people with visual impairments.

If you want to watch a TV show and you have trouble parsing the performer’s accent, try this:

  1.  Turn on the captions/subtitles.
  2. Remove other distractions (don’t try to watch it in the background while you keep one eye on your phone or sorting your mail or whatever). You’re going to have to pay closer attention.
  3. Get used to the idea that you might not catch absolutely every nuance the first time. You can rewind if necessary, rewatch if necessary.
  4. Stick with it for a few episodes. It’s very likely that it will get easier the more you listen and watch. You’ll pick up the cadences of speech better, and you’ll have more context clues, you’ll get to know the performers/presenters body language/facial expressions over time.

If you try that and it doesn’t get easier, maybe the show is not for you. Try the book instead, or find something else to watch.

Moderation Note:  Kindly refrain from cluttering the comments section with complaints/criticisms/feelings/arguments/jokes/incl. compliments! about Marie Kondo, her show, her book, her approach, literally anything about her. I find the intense discourse around her exhausting at best and racist at worst, and I will delete all of it (even nice things)(even jokes that are clever variations about whether something sparks joy). I like you an awful lot, let’s keep it that way.

4 “Can’t wear anything too “fancy” or my boyfriend gets mad

.”

I have an idea, let’s look at pretty outfits and imagine what we might wear to a “I dumped that controlling jerkass” party.

Maybe something from the Vivienne Westwood ’94 collection? 

Or the recent Golden Globes?

5 “Flowers on dick.” 

Scroll down to #18 for all your funeral-arrangements-for-enemies needs.

6 “sexual favors”and “free rent” “massachusetts”



Well that’s wicked specific.

7 “My boyfriend expects me to eat from his squalid kitchen

.”

Well, what happens when you say “I’m not comfortable with that?” 

I meant to add this to the “red flags & compatibility when meeting new people to date” discussion at the end of this post last week but I forgot, so I’ll add it here:

Visit each other’s living spaces  – after you feel safe/comfortable being alone with someone before you commit to an ongoing relationship. Are you comfortable there? Do you feel welcome? Can you relax? Is what you see (smell/feel) congruent with the person you’re getting to know and what you want?

“This person’s living space upsets me” vs. “What if they can’t help it?” is a well-covered discussion topic on the site. I am not interested in judging people, blaming people, diagnosing people, excusing people, shaming people, setting these conflicts up as moral contests. I am interested in giving everyone permission to factor how a current or potential partner keeps their living space into decisions about comfort and compatibility.

Back in grad school I made a short film about a laundry pile achieving sentience. It wasn’t a documentary due to biological impossibility…for now…but let’s just say my real-life hamper did all its own stunts. By contrast, my dad, the world’s tidiest man, can sense when you are close to finishing a soda. He hovers while you take your last swallow, pounces before you can put the can down on any surface, rinses it to restore factory settings, and ferries it gently to its rightful place in the garage, where his complex recycling system made up of 12 distinct bins and barrels awaits. He is an extremely good match for my mom, who prefers to maintain all surfaces in a state of surgical sterility.

A date who preferred my parents’ “we keep the correct vacuum cleaner for each room in a closet in that room” lifestyle would have looked at my MFA in chore avoidance and thought: “Nope! We would make each other miserable!” This is fine! We would! I would gross him out, he would remind me of my dad and send my shoulders up around my ears!

Maybe the boyfriend in the search string will clean his kitchen. Maybe he’ll get dumped ’cause he won’t. Maybe he’ll be the one who breaks up because the querent made him feel judged and uncomfortable. Maybe they’ll decide to live happily ever after on takeout and prepackaged things. Fine! This is all fine!

In no universe will I ever recommend anything resembling “Since some people struggle with housekeeping, love probably means swallowing your discomfort along with whatever they cooked, no matter how unsanitary you find it.” Serious incompatibility around housekeeping stuff is a recipe for intense stress and conflict, you’re allowed to have preferences, needs, and choose a lower difficulty setting for yourself and your relationships.


8 “Why does my boyfriend treats his daughter like his wife.”

He creepy?

9 “Niece hates me for no reason.”

She has a reason. It may not be a good reason, it may not be a reason you’ll ever get to the bottom of, but it exists even if it’s only her opinion.

When I sense someone doesn’t like me, and I can’t think of a plausible reason for the conflict,  and “Hey, have I done something to upset you?” doesn’t work (either b/c I asked and didn’t get a good answer or I don’t feel comfortable enough to even ask), I try to give the person a lot of space, be polite and keep it light when I do have to interact, and see if time either mellows the situation or gives me more information.


10 “BF’s ex-girlfriend warns me about him how do I respond

.”

Do you actually need to respond? Do you need to respond to her?

In your shoes, I might say something very non-committal to her, like, “thanks for telling me, I’ll think about it.” It’s such an unusual thing to do that (in my opinion) it’s probably worth thinking about for a few days before you either act on it or disregard it.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do nothing about what she said? (Don’t respond, don’t address it with your boyfriend, brush it off).

What’s the substance of the warning? Is she trying to warn you about abuse? Have you noticed any red flags?

What’s in this for her? What reason would she have to lie? Like, is she trying to get you to break up with the boyfriend so she can be with him again, or to create trouble for him? Or is she trying to warn you to GTFO for your own safety?

Your answers to those questions will most likely point you in the right direction.


11 “Housemate comments on everything I do.”



I’m sure I wrote some more emotionally mature and useful responses and you should probably go read those and try those suggestions.

Right now what comes to mind is:”What are you, the narrator?”

12 “What does it mean when someone reacts to a minor little comment that bothers them with a barrage of made up hurtful things to hurt the other person?

”

Nothing good! Consider how much time you want to spend with someone who does this (if any).

13 “I feel like I am a burden on my therapist

.” 


This is probably worth mentioning to your therapist. Consider also that your therapist gets paid for the time they spend with you, most therapists have some choices about who they take on as a client, and you’re just one of many clients they see. It is unlikely they are thinking about you (as a burden or otherwise) as much as you think about them.


14 “How often to go to someones house.”

I love literally any excuse to make a chart.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 5.52.01 PM

A Venn Diagram that shows the intersection of being invited to someone’s house and actually wanting to go to their house. Maybe you’ll need Zyrtec.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate, happy “day before half price candy” for those who don’t. Be excellent to yourselves and each other.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My teenager has informed me that their father told them he plans to mail me jewelry for Valentine’s Day. Their father and I have been divorced for nearly a decade and a half and I’ve been in three committed, long-term relationships in that time. I have less-than-zero interest in my ex-husband romantically (or even platonically) and while I am able to be polite/civil with him, I am quite looking forward to the day I no longer have to take his calls. He is not a nice person. (He was abusive during our marriage, used custody issues to punish me, treated our children poorly, etc. etc.)

Since he heard that I had to leave my most recent long-term relationship quite hastily for safety issues, he’s been acting far too friendly over the phone. A few months ago he told me that I’m the only woman he’s ever really loved and said he thinks we should still be together, which I responded to with “You know, life moves forward and though my path has been rocky, I’m happy with where I am now, thanks. Gotta go.” Ever since that revelation from him, I’ve made it a rule to do my best to keep any calls very short and to the point, if possible, and I always try to shift any conversations that get personal back to talking about the children we have in common.

That tactic recently backfired, leading to my teenager getting frustrated with me for talking about them with their father at all. I had told their father that they were feeling very anxious about college decisions and I’d been trying to help them feel less pressured and he turned around and told them I said they were being a “word-I-would-never-use” about going to school and that they need to stop being “that-word” and get their “expletive” together. Ugh. (I did let him know, through text, that what he did there was not okay and that was not what I meant by support, etc., and he did apologize to them eventually.) So, now since the “talk about our kids” topic no longer works, if he texts, “Hey, do you have time to talk?” I ask him if he has something pressing to discuss, as I’m quite busy, and it’s usually “No, just wanted to chat,” so I tell him I’m too busy to chat. If he calls, it goes to voicemail and I decide whether or not it’s appropriate to call back based on the content of voicemail.

Since I’ve been brushing him off, he has been reaching out to my teenager more than ever. They hate talking to him, but feel guilty not talking to him sometimes. During recent calls with them, their father told them that he really thinks we should have stayed together as a family, etc. It makes my teenager really frustrated and uncomfortable that all he seems to want to talk about with them is me and how he wishes we were still together.

I’m so irritated with him for the way he is treating me and my teenager, but not surprised, as he’s never been one to respect people’s boundaries.

[Don’t know if this is relevant or not, so I’ll add it just in case: He is in a relationship with a woman who is really kind and sweet (and a nice buffer/ally for my teenager when they visit their father), but who recently moved out of his house after having lived with him for about a year. His overly-friendliness started before she moved out. His behavior would be frustrating no matter what, but it’s even more exasperating that he’s doing this while in a relationship with another woman, no matter how rocky it may be.]

So… what do I do when he inevitably mails me jewelry? It makes me queasy just thinking about opening the box. Do I mail it back? Say thanks but no thanks? I don’t want him to get the idea that it is okay or in any way desirable for him to send me romantic gifts. Thankfully, he lives hundreds of miles away so I don’t have to worry that he’ll drop by with the gift. (Fingers crossed. Don’t want to jinx it.)

Over the years since our divorce I haven’t pushed back too hard or spoken my piece about his bad behaviors since he kept custody issues pretty contentious for some time and I never wanted anything to be misconstrued and come back to bite me. It’s been hard to break out of walking on eggshells with him and taking the step I noted above to let him know how he hurt his teenager with the nasty comments about their college fears felt good, but was terrifying.

Help, please!

(If you have some scripts for my teenager, too, for when their father starts up with his pining for me thing during their phone calls or laying on any other guilt trips that would be wonderful.)

Thank you!

My pronouns: she/her

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I use she/her pronouns.

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for almost four years. We live in different but nearby cities, and I don’t own a car (though I can get access to one with advance notice), so he often drives to mine. In our region, there is a lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit where you don’t get criminal charges, but do get your license suspended and pay a fine. I used to assume that my boyfriend could self-assess his level of inebriation, but after a roadside encounter with the police where I’m not sure whether he’d have blown over the lower limit if they’d asked, I’ve been more frequently using a BAC calculator to find out what time he would be expected to be below the limit, and asking him to wait until that time to leave. It’s imperfect, but it’s what I have available.

He feels that his self-assessment is more likely to be accurate than an online calculator (and I’m not sure that he’s wrong), and that I am being controlling by constantly pulling up the calculator when we’re out. I feel like I’ve enabled this by allowing him to drive me, and I’m being a bit hypocritical because I often drive while tired. I drink only occasionally, so I find it hard to assess what’s normal for the average person. It also feels difficult to ask people I know about this without inadvertently maligning him, because people may (very understandably!) have strong opinions about combining alcohol and driving.

I’m considering just offering to split costs on a taxi when he comes to visit, and/or arranging more dates where I drive to his city. However, that only covers the time we spend together, and it makes me nervous to think about him driving after drinking in any situation. Is this just a fundamental incompatibility? Is there a way to approach this that doesn’t feel controlling and self-righteous? Even now, I feel like I may just be asking for validation of my opinions instead of actual advice, but I really don’t know what to do.

Not BACchanalian

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This letter contains emotional abuse of people, potential physical harm of animals (now stopped/interrupted/not ongoing/the animals are ok for now!, but still I know some people can’t safely read about that), and enough WHAT THE FUCK that you’ll need a comfy chair and a cold washcloth, at minimum.

If you want the teachable moment without reading the whole story, here it is: When a romantic partner wants you to do something that is terrible for you to make life easier for his ex-wife  the lady he’s very much still married to and choosing to prioritize, 1) SAY NO! 2) RUN AWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

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It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?