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Hello gentle friends, it’s time for that thing where we treat the things people typed into their search engines to find this place as if they are questions in their own right.

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

Then we begin the no-context guessing games and assumptions!

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

If this person is talking to babies, kitties, puppies, or other actual baby cute things, this is extremely okay, let the man babble!

If this person is talking to a fellow adult in a baby voice, and you are that adult, and you presumably don’t enjoy this, my suggestion is to be very direct: “What’s going on with the baby voice? I don’t like it, please stop.”

Bonus: Ask A Manager has advice for how to deal with people using baby voices at work (because of course, someone was using a baby voice at work).

2 “Ex asks ‘are you still angry with me?'”

This one keeps coming up, so here are some discussion questions for whoever needs them.

Are you still angry? What’s the worst thing that happens if you say “yep, still angry”? Did this person ever actually apologize? Why are they bugging you about this, exactly? And why now? And how interested are you in discussing a relationship that you’re not in anymore?

You don’t have to keep working on past relationships, and you’re allowed to find whatever intersection of unfiltered honesty and “ugh, what will get you to go away and stop asking me this” that works for you.

3 “I’m so sorry, but my boyfriend has forbidden me to communicate with you.”

What in the what now?

Please allow me to make the argument that “my boyfriend forbids it” is not a good enough reason to stop communicating with someone you want to be communicating with. If you don’t want to be communicating anymore, that’s a good enough reason on its own, though I do get that sometimes “another dude has priority here” is the only thing that makes a certain kind of annoying dude actually go away.

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

5 “How to change a person with disgusting hygiene?”

You were probably looking for this, but in case this was a more general query:

You can’t change other people. You can ask for what you need, you can tell them what you need, you can ask them to take steps to give you what you need, you can break it down in detail like “Please take a shower, brush your teeth often, and wear clean clothes on days you know you’re going to see me,” you can inquire if there is something preventing them doing this and see if it’s something you can help with, you can teach kids to do this stuff if you’re a parent, but ultimately it’s up to them. You can care about people, you can’t do their caring instead of them.

6 “My neighbor wants to be friends, but she makes me uncomfortable, what to do.”

It never feels great to have this conversation, but when someone is trying really hard to be part of your life and your desires around that are mismatched, sometimes you have to balance whether it’s kinder to avoid/dodge/fade on them them and hope they eventually get the hint or whether it’s kinder to speak up with something like “You’re a good neighbor, and I can tell you’re trying hard to be a good friend to me, but I don’t want to [spend more time together][join your book club][connect on social media][buy your kids’ school fundraising crap][help you with your cat rescuel][be friends]. I know this is awkward, and I’m so sorry, but can we just go back to being friendly acquaintances, and I’ll see you around the ‘hood when I see you? Thank you for understanding,” and then move on with your life.

There’s no blanket answer for this kind of thing or guarantee that any of it will go smoothly, some people take direct rejection well, some people eventually get hints, some really don’t do well with either direct refusals or the soft no, reasons work on reasonable people and give unreasonable people something to try to fix or argue with. People often claim they “just want to know why” or “just tell me!” but so often, like every sentence with the word “just” in the middle of it, those things don’t necessarily make anybody feel better.

I’ve had to be the person who gives the “Hey, this is the tenth thing you’ve invited me to, and that’s so kind but I know I’m probably never going to make it, it’s okay to just stop asking!” talk and the one who realizes after far too many times that what seemed like a sincere offer to “totally hang out sometime!” meant never, the “sometime” was actually “never.” It’s confusing and weird because human connection is confusing and weird, nobody wants to be the Bad Guy or find out they were being  a nuisance. Anyway, sometimes what’s kindest is being kind to yourself and setting the boundary where you need it to be. If you’re sure you don’t want to be friends with a person who “makes you uncomfortable,” don’t be! You do get to decide who you invite into your life.

7 “What to do with a boyfriend that is trying to protect you but constantly lectures you.”

Tell him “If you don’t stop acting like Professor Dad, I’m going to dump you. No more lectures!” 

When he starts lecturing, leave the room! Go home!

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

There is a short story by Claire Humphrey about the fallacy that protecting someone means controlling them, with a content note for mentions of domestic abuse and serial killer stuff. I constantly think about adapting this story into a film.

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

Like, do you mean, asking them to take a vacation: “Fergus, you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, time to take a break, buddy!”

Or asking them to go on vacation…with you? But…why? You didn’t use the word “friend,” and vacation time is AWAY FROM WORK time, so…I would start smaller if you want to become better friends with this person. Lunch. Coffee. After-work drinks. Small hangs outside the office before disappearing to a destination. 

If you meant asking a coworker if you could tag along on THEIR vacation, that’s a hard no from me.  You either have the kind of friendship where they invited you already or you should let them goooooo. Speaking of which, I never press for updates, but I would dearly love to know what happened with all of this if possible.

9 “Friend gets mad if I don’t invite them to every outing.”

Here’s a possible script:

“Friend, sometimes I want to see you, and sometimes I want to do things alone or with other people. I need you to accept.”

If you set a boundary and someone gets mad, let them be mad, you’re not doing anything wrong, punishing you around something like this is so controlling and not okay.

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

Leave your students alone. Do not treat your students – including your former students – like your personal dating pool, ever. And definitely don’t come to me to be validated about that. No.

Discussion Note: Everyone can keep their anecdotes about the one time this really worked out happily for somebody somewhere to themselves. Sometimes if you’re a happy exception to a rule, your happiness has to be enough for you. It’s not evidence in an argument to move where the rule goes, especially given how often people who flout this rule are abusing their power, and how rarely even the worst offenders are held accountable for that.

11 “What can I do about a neighbour that calls me a pervert and tells me to stay away from his kids.”

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

  • You’re being targeted by bigots. Are you some variety of queer and your neighbors are big ol’ homophobes, by chance? Or are you neurodivergent in some way and your neighbors are being ableist bullies? Sadly not unheard of, and the query has the ring of that going on.
  • There’s some other neighbor hostility thing going on (lawn care, parking, trash bins, noise complaints, they leave their dog out in all weather and you called animal control on them, or, your dog constantly poops in their yard, idk what it is, but if you think about it you probably do) and it’s escalated to nuclear levels with this kind of accusation,
  • You’re doing something creepy that is making your neighbor reasonably concerned about your behavior (if this is the case you almost certainly know what it is, so, stop it and get some help please).

Mentally I’m moving forward with “the neighbors are the problem here and the person searching for this is not the bad guy” scenario, here are some possible smart moves that don’t actually depend on knowing exactly what’s happening.

Mandatory: Have zero further interaction with these neighbors, especially the kids. Leave them be. There’s not one thing you could say to anyone in that house that would de-escalate such a risky and high-stakes situation. Don’t apologize, explain, clarify. Don’t even wave to them. Give them no ammunition. If one of the kids kicks a ball into your yard, the parents can come get it or it can rot there, not your problem.

This is incredibly not fair especially if you’ve done nothing wrong, but sometimes protecting yourself means disengaging and de-escalating from people who are bad for you. Plus being able to truthfully say “Once they made it clear how they felt about me, I never contacted them again” can be a shield down the road if things get even worse.

Additional Possible Steps: 

Document your interactions with these neighbors. This can be brief: Dates, times, who was there, what happened, what was said. When did this start? Was there some kind of inciting incident? Is this really about something else? If this thing escalates you’ll want this record. Screencap any texts, emails, or messages you’ve exchanged, the NextDoor thread where it all went awry, anything that shows the history of the relationship with these people.

Tell people close to you what’s going on. This is an incredibly stressful situation, right? Again, through the frame of “the neighbors are the problem,” if you’re being harassed by a bigot or bully to this degree, what else might these people do?

This whole kind of thing thrives on secrecy and shame, so telling people ‘Look, my horrible neighbors accused me of some gross stuff and it’s incredibly humiliating and scary but I don’t want it to be a secret ’cause I need your help and support, especially if this all escalates,’ is one way to fight back. Make your friends aware of the situation and the history with these neighbors. Lean on people: Counselors, community, friends, family.

Heck, if you’re friendly with other neighbors, make the ones you trust at least basically aware of the situation – “Just so you know, I’ve been having a strange conflict with ______, they called me _______, I’m trying to give them a wide berth and hoping it all dies down, but if you hear some weird stuff, that’s why.” The rumor mill is gonna do what it’s gonna do anyway, if you’ve done nothing wrong you don’t have to flee or hide from it.

I’ve been watching a lot of Killing Eve lately and one thing I’ve noticed about Eve’s character is that, for a supposedly bright and perceptive lady, she is EXTREMELY BAD at informing people around her about necessary information and DANGEROUSLY OVERCONFIDENT in her ability to handle situations by herself. “I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my secret problems” is TV logic, the kind that creates plots like “I have a mutual crush on a terrifying assassin, how can this all be as dangerous and messy as possible?” vs. helpful real-life logic, which is what you need. Resist the impulse to hide and keep this all secret with everything you’ve got.

Tighten up your privacy and security. This is where you Google yourself from a private browsing window and think about the truly awful question, “How could an extremely hostile person who knows where I live possibly use this information against me?” This is where you lock your social feeds down, this is where possibly you quickly search for your neighbor’s social profiles (adults only, probably do not search for their children by name under any circumstances) and specifically block those people from accessing any of your feeds (Facebook, etc.) This sucks so bad and it’s completely unfair but it’s the smart thing to do so I’m telling you about it. Also consider blocking/locking out any mutuals you share if those people are not completely trustworthy.

This is also where you think about physical security and safety. Doors. Locks. Gates. Pets (don’t let your pets go where these people can have access to them). Cars. Packages. Lights. Motion-sensors. Window blinds/drapes/shades. Routines. Who has keys? Maybe nobody but you should have keys for now.

If this escalates at all, seek expert legal advice where you live. If your neighbor is unfairly harassing you with accusations like this, and you sense they might escalate things, get an expert, tell them everything that’s been going on, and let them help you. A lawyer can talk you through scenarios like, well what happens if they involve law enforcement or try to get you fired at work or do other harassing things? Trust your gut if you think these are people who will never let a grudge go or have a pattern of escalating conflicts.

Keep living your life. I’m hoping that as horrible as this is it was a passing, “Classic Unoriginal Rote Bigotry” sort of remark and not something more specifically and violently targeted, but who the hell even knows right now. (Holy crap is that a depressing collection of words.) This got pretty long for a drive-by query but I’d rather see someone take something like this very seriously and implement some filters and precautions and not need them if the alternative is leaving themselves open to more harassment and danger.

Moderation Note: We’re not Internet Detectives and can’t possibly solve this situation for what’s actually happening or give people legal advice in absentia. If you’ve been the target of something like this from bigoted/homophobic neighbors in the past and have practical tips to share, that would be useful. I’d ask people to not try to exhaustively detail all the possibilities.

12 “How to invite yourself to stay at someone’s house out of state.”

This is one of those areas where, either you know that you have that kind of relationship with the person, where “I’m coming to your area on [dates], is there any chance I can take advantage of your guest room or sofa for a few days?” is a perfectly appropriate question and everybody knows that “nope, sorry, that won’t work” is a perfectly appropriate answer or you don’t.

The wording of the request matters less than the strength and nature of the relationship. “Mind if I crash at your place during [week]?” vs. “Is your guest room open to visitors next month” vs. “Will trade some free babysitting and chef skills for space on your basement sectional” vs. “Hey Grandpa do you still keep the key to the lake house in the mouth of the fish? Mind if I head up that way this weekend?” matters less than whether you feel comfortable asking this person about this in the first place. Ask or don’t, consider also that you won’t lose anything by making a plan B for if they say “no.”

13 “How to handle jealous husband as female musician.” 

How stressful! Possible script if this were a scene in a movie:

“Dude, being a performer means that sometimes I get attention from people who want to flirt or who have crushes on me. I try to have good boundaries about that and be friendly without encouraging people or crossing any lines, but engaging with fans, even really enthusiastic ones, is part of the job and it’s not going away. Their feelings about me are not my fault or my problem to manage, nor are they something I need to apologize to you about or account for. And yeah, sometimes I’m going to wear ‘sexy’ outfits on stage or for photo shoots. It’s part of the brand, plus I like wearing them.

You knew what this was when we got together, I’ve never cheated on you and I don’t plan to change that, but it’s time for you to accept me and my job. You either trust me not to cheat on you or you don’t. If you trust me, stop [describe the behaviors – hovering/accusing me of cheating/being a jerk to my bandmates/being a giant hostile weirdo about it]. If you don’t trust me, we should think seriously about ending our marriage. I’ll hate to lose you but I can’t keep living with you being so mean and suspicious all the time. I’m not submitting to surveillance or constant checkups or soothing your feelings every time another dude looks my way.

Please think about it, talk it over with friends/a therapist/people you trust and tell me what you want to do. Just know that I’m not having this fight with you ever again. We have to put this to rest.”

Jealousy happens, not always rational, not always controllable. It’s the behaviors and reactions to that jealousy that are under our control, and it’s okay to ask people to get those under control if the alternative is living your life around their unfounded fears!

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

Don’t accept them. In the moment you can say “That sounds awesome, but I can’t join you. If you give me a little more notice next time, I’ll see what I can do. Have fun!” 

Tell people who are close to you who you hang out with a lot what’s up: “Hey, I’m a planner and I like to schedule things in advance/I need a lot of notice so I can get the night off from work/find a babysitter/budget my introvert energies/get a ride/set aside enough $, so I can’t always say yes to last-minute invites even when I’d like to see you. Thanks!” 

15 “I dreamt my ex invited me and his ex girlfriend in his house and had sex with us at different intervals what does it mean.”

Are you joking? Your true destiny has been revealed! Call them at once!

Or, just possibly, your brain’s hard drive was sorting through some old footage the other night and decided to show your sleeping self a movie that would push a couple of buttons real hard (maybe the ones marked “horniness” and “emotional stuff”?) and the dream isn’t necessarily meaningful in itself.

I never want to say that dreams aren’t important. I am a meticulous, vivid, immersive dreamer and I often remember my dreams upon waking. I can tell I’m anxious about something when I spend my nights waiting tables in a restaurant where suddenly I’m the only one working and a bus full of old people has just pulled up and I can’t stop until every one of them is satisfied, or I’m taking the final exam for a class I never signed up for but am unable to drop, or worse I’m TEACHING a class where I am totally unprepared and have no idea what the topic even is but the room is full of students looking expectantly at me and there is something on the white board that might help but try as I might I can’t read what it says. I have had recurring bad dreams about seemingly innocuous people from my life who turned out to be unsafe down the road enough times that I know to pay attention or at least ask why a person is suddenly showing up in my brain as the Devil. Those I’ve loved and lost visit me in dreams all the time, sometimes it’s Beadie, full of purrs and intense stares, and my childhood pets show up too, and we all walk together through a vast forest. Sometimes it’s my Grandma, red-nosed from drinking her single glass of rosé, destroying me at Rummy. And yup, sometimes I’m back in one of those situations, pressed close against some hot and confusing person in an encounter that I thought I’d deleted from the directory long ago but I clearly didn’t empty the Trash folder since my dream brain’s impressions are shockingly faithful to actual events.

My dreaming self isn’t the boss of me, she’s more of an observer, so if I happen to carry a strong memory of the night’s jumble of images forward into the day I always find it interesting but not necessarily instructive, in a “data isn’t the same thing as information” sense.

What do you think this dream means, if anything, and where is it pointing you in terms of what you need and desire? That’s probably what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

There’s a guy, let’s call him Ted, who I’ve known for about 15 years and hasn’t been in a relationship during that time but sometimes pursues them, always with much younger women. His feelings are never reciprocated and that’s partly because Ted comes across as…well, a bit creepy and patronising towards women in general. Ted is in his mid fifties and his latest crush is Julie, who I’d guess is in her mid thirties.

Ted came to me really upset, asking for advice about Julie. He thought they were getting on well and had had lots of lovely chats but she suddenly ghosted him and stopped replying to his texts, unfriended him on Facebook and, in Ted’s words, “snubbed” him elsewhere. He continued trying to contact her because he didn’t know what he’d “done wrong” and really wanted to send Julie a message apologising for it. He also admitted he had posted FEELINGSPOETRY on his Facebook. Gentle questioning revealed that yes, this was indeed just before she unfriended him, gosh, what a coincidence. (Ted: “I don’t think she could have known it was about her. It was all abstract and metaphorical.” Me: “Oh Ted. She knew.”)

The advice I gave Ted was: don’t approach Julie, don’t contact her in any way unless she contacts you first and if she doesn’t, respect her need for space. Do not apologise if you don’t know what you did, because then she’ll feel obliged to accept an apology she doesn’t want because you probably didn’t do anything that needs an apology. Also, stay away from her social media and distract yourself with hobbies. Julie probably realised you had feelings for her that she didn’t reciprocate; here’s why that can be frightening when it’s a woman being pursued by a man, especially a significantly older man.

After our chat, Ted cheered up and said he would definitely take my advice. But days later he went on Julie’s Twitter and sent her a message saying how upset he was, that he felt awful about whatever he’d done to upset her and that he’d got advice from me about it. I was pretty angry he’d told Julie I’d given him advice while doing the exact opposite of what I advised him. I don’t really know her so don’t feel comfortable approaching her, but she and I have a lot of mutual friends and while I’m not bothered if she thinks I give terrible advice I don’t want her to think I’ve been encouraging men to harass her. We all spend a lot of time at the same very male-dominated events and I want Julie to feel safe and feel other women have her back. I haven’t spoken to Ted about this but if he’s going to use me as an excuse to do shitty things by pretending it’s because I advised him to, I really would like to nip that in the bud before it starts spilling over into our group of mutual friends and making things really awkward. Any advice for dealing with this?

Thanks,

Reluctant Advisor (she/her)

PS Just to add, in case it’s relevant: I was once one of the much-younger women he pursued, although that was a long time ago.

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Hey there, Captain Awkward –

My dear roommate (Clay)’s ex-boyfriend was abusive. He had mental health issues, and emotionally manipulated roommate (they/them) in various ways. I spent a lot of time helping my roommate to process the feels and vulnerabilities emerging around what happened in their relationship – and potentially over invested myself in their emotional process.

This was complicated by the ex-boyfriend (Greg) still being a part of the community. He starting dating a different close friend of mine,(Sarah) I ran into him around town, we were on friendly terms.

We got into conflict around this when I shared some personal details about Clay’s life with Sarah, and I realized how much social navigating I was doing that was tiring me out. (Letting Clay know when Greg would be at parties / friends houses / keeping track of what information could / should be shared with who in the community around who was dating who etc..) I told Clay I was not willing to do this kind of social navigating and needed some space from the dynamics of the situation.

A few months later Clay and I were in an art show together. On FB, I invited Greg to the opening, which Clay was very upset and hurt by. From Clay’s perspective, because they had shared so much about their experience with me, they expected me to understand this was unacceptable. They were very hurt and shared that I had not respected their boundaries around Greg – but not until the show was over. (Which Greg did not end up attending). During the preparation / while the FB invitation was online, they did not say anything to me about this.

Around this same time, I also invited my friend Sarah (dating Greg) to an emotional-processing workshop I was hosting in our home, that Clay was also planning to attend. Clay was also very upset with me about this, and again from their perspective, not respecting their boundaries and experience with having been emotionally abused.

This conflict culminated in Clay moving out of our house, and three very dramatic and painful feeling months where we were not able to connect or work things through as we had previously done.

I take issues of emotional abuse very seriously, and am trying to learn from this situation. Was I being an inconsiderate friend? Do I need to learn to respect boundaries with more depth? Was Clay not taking responsibility for articulating their needs? Are all of these things true?

Looking for some insight and clarity –

Confused rooomie. (She/her)

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Hello friends! It’s that time, where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions. It’s a good way to check in with people’s preoccupations on a large, anonymous scale and it’s usually pretty fun.

First, as is traditional, a song:

(Lyrics at the YouTube link)

Also I know I used this one last year, but it came up when I was looking and I love it so:

Ok! We’ve got witchy autumn-themed music cued up, so without further ado:

1 “How to know if a girl wants to hang out?”

Say the words “would you like hang out with me” & include a specific place, day, and time in your invitation. If she says no & does not suggest an alternative time/day/venue, like, “Can’t make that, but I’d love to get together – can we do x instead?” and never follows up with her own invitation, she does not!

2 “What to do when your friends tell you to date someone you dislike and they dislike your crush.”

For the first person (the one you dislike): “If you like him so much, you date them.” 

For the second person (the one they dislike): “You don’t have to date them!” 

3 “What does it mean if my brother in law keeps saying flirty comments and trying to touch me in front of his brother which is my boyfriend?”

It means your brother-in-law is a creep & a sexual predator who is trying to groom you to put up with this. It’s okay to yell “gross, don’t touch me!” or “ew, why would you say that!” or “Nope!” and leave the place where he is and also avoid him forever, like, “Nope, I don’t want to hang out with your creepy brother, hard pass.” Like, you can make a giant stink and insist that this never happen again. Also, I DEEPLY question why your boyfriend doesn’t step in or stick up for you since this happens in front of him. Have you discussed it with him? Because it might be time to avoid the whole creepazoid family.

4 “How to send an email asking if anyone has dietary restrictions?”

In your email about the gathering/event, say “Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

I also like it when invitations say “The tentative menu is x, y, and z – please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

People who have dietary restrictions are pretty used to this and will have no problem responding.

5 “He criticizes my clothes.”

Is he the boss of you or your closet? Criticize his fallacy that you care about his opinion about that.

6 “Reaching out to an ex boyfriend after many years.”

Why? Self-awareness about why you’re reaching out and low expectations for what you’ll find when you do will make this much easier than it might otherwise be.

7 “How do I know my best friend is not cheating on me?” 

Is your best friend not allowed to have other friends?

I saw this and then….whooo boy: 7a “My friend is overly possessive of me and wont even acknowledge anyone else as my friend.”

Friendship is not a pie. You’re allowed to have multiple friends, people who try to isolate you from others do not have your best interest at heart, and if this friend won’t honor that you’ll need to end that friendship.

8 “My boyfriend wont let me eat.”

Yeah, that’s a “get yourself safe & away from him” situation. You’re the boss of your own food. Please keep yourself safe.

9 “What to do when your boyfriend doesn’t shower.”

If your partner’s hygiene grosses you out, it’s okay to be very blunt, like, “I notice you don’t shower, what’s going on with that? Please take a shower when you know we’re going to see each other.” “I don’t want to have sex/be close to you when you haven’t showered, please take care of it.” 

10 “How do you tell your spouse of 50 years that they need to shower better.”

“Babe, I need you to be more thorough when you shower – you’re missing some spots.” 

You may have to get realllllllllly specific about which spots. In 50 years you’ve had to have survived some awkward conversations, what’s one more?

11 “Why does my daughter continue to pick undesirable men?”

I don’t know! Assume she’s getting something out of the relationship that you can’t see, assume she has different priorities from you about what desirable even is. Then, remind her that you love her, try to keep an open mind, emphasize her choice & her agency in her romantic decisions, keep lines of communication open, try to hang out with just your daughter sometimes (vs. having both of them at everything). If the dude is actually awful, this will help her find her way back to you. If he’s a decent person but just not who you would choose, this will help you keep a good relationship with your daughter while you give him a chance to change your mind or everyone waits out the inevitable breakup.

12 “My children want to live with my rich in-laws instead of me.”

There is clearly waaaaaaaaaay more story here.

13 “Guy said maybe in the future meaning.”

Not now, i.e., don’t make any life plans around this guy.

14 “When relative distances from you do you try to contact or leave alone.”

If I know the source of the conflict or if things seem really out of the blue, I might try one time to address it – “Everything ok?”

But also, in families, not everyone has to like everyone, sometimes we get along better with some breathing room & space. Am I sure that the distance is about me, specifically (and not something stressful in their lives they’re dealing with) & does it all need to be resolved right now or can I trust that a little time will work it out?

15 “My boyfriend won’t watch a show with me.”

Not everyone has to like or watch the same entertainments. Let it gooooooooooooo.

16 “Doesn’t want me to meet his friends to take it slow.”

Hrm….

“Taking it slow” can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

Wanting to hold off on introducing someone new to your friends because you’re not sure yourself whether this one is a keeper can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

If someone you’re dating says “Let’s take this slow!” aka “I really like you but I’m not fully-committed yet and I’m taking my time before I decide that (& so should you!)” then it’s a signal to adjust your expectations accordingly, like, slow down your own commitment/investment level, slow down introducing him to your friends & family, slow down on future talk, remind yourself to put some time & love into the other people in your life & not disappear into New Couple! mode, & maybe don’t delete that dating profile just yet. Also, let the person who said they wanted to take it slow do more of the work of staying in touch, planning dates, etc. Like maybe it’s a prelude to a rejection, or maybe it’s an opportunity to give yourself permission not to do much or any work around this person right now. They’re taking it slow! No worries, you’re busy with your own thing and will check in when you have some time!

Also trust your instincts and trust what you want! If you feel like you’re being hidden away & compartmentalized from your person’s actual life, or he’s all “take it slow” about meeting friends but really clear about wanting all your time/fidelity/attention/commitment, if something feels unbalanced or unreciprocated, maybe trust that itchy feeling that made you Google this and pull back entirely. People can fall in love at different speeds, people can also string you along because they like your attention and they’re incapable of managing the whole “when I said I was single I meant I was separated and by separated I mean I’m still very much married and I promise I’ll tell her soon and anyway that’s why nobody can know about you, but we’re still having sex tonight, right?” discussion and order of operations like an ethical & trustworthy adult.

17 “Don’t want to spend Christmas with disabled step daughter.”

Listen, your holiday plans are your own – spend them how you want. Also, this phrasing does not make you sound awesome, so, probably it will be a huge relief to your stepdaughter if you just go on a cruise somewhere with her parent/your spouse or better yet with your family of origin or some good friends!

18 “I ghosted someone and now he’s sending letters to my house.”

Yeah, that’s creepy. Safety experts advise communicating directly with the person one time to say “I’m not interested, please stop contacting me,” using a medium where you can document that you said this (text, email), to remove plausible deniability from the situation. Then, never respond to any communication again, the logic being that if someone sends you 100 letters and you respond to say “I told you not to send me any more letters!” you’ve taught them that it takes 100 letters to get your attention so next time they’ll send 101. Every time you engage with the person after you tell them to stop, even if it’s yelling at them to leave you alone, it’s like buying yourself a few more weeks of stalking behavior because they are getting that little jolt of attention they wanted. The hope is that if you starve them of all attention & feedback they’ll lose interest.

Additionally: Tell other people in your life what’s happening and ask them (esp. any mutual friends) not to engage with the dude or give him any information about you, tighten up your social media visibility (block him everywhere if you haven’t yet, be mindful of sharing location data & photos online, he’s almost certainly monitoring whatever he can find), check on your locks/make sure you close your windows when you go to bed or leave the house, save all the letters in case you need to show them to law enforcement, vary up your routine & commute.

19 “How do you get your neighbor to quit asking for stuff.”

Say “no” every time they do ask, be very selective about when or if you answer the door, even make it clear – “I can’t/won’t help you with that, please stop asking.” 

20 “What to do when your new boyfriend is a slob.”

People change slow if they change at all, and you can’t make them do it.

Use that information how you will. Either find someone who is more compatible with you around cleanliness & hygiene stuff, choose your battles & speak up about the stuff that affects you, at risk of him not taking care of whatever it is and outright deciding “hey, I don’t wanna change the sheets more and I don’t wanna be criticized about it, I’m out!,” decide that you will probably never share a household and that’s okay, or learn to love the mess. He is a new boyfriend and you have the choice to be like, whoa, you have the best smile and we like all the same books, but I don’t think this is for me.

21 “I can’t stop cheating on my boyfriend.”

You actually can, so let’s rephrase this: “Something about my relationship with my boyfriend is not working for me and I am unhappy with him, so I keep cheating on him instead of breaking up or talking whatever it is over, but I’m also afraid of losing him or hurting him so I keep delaying the inevitable.” 

Feelings happen and they don’t always happen at convenient times or in the right order.

Let’s take feelings out of it for a second and talk about safety. If you’re sexually active, if you agree to have a monogamous relationship with someone and they trust you to hold to that agreement, and you’re also secretly having sex with other people, you are messing with consent. You are not allowing your partner to make informed decisions about their own sexual health and risk tolerance. That is a really shitty, violating, possible health-destroying thing to do to someone and it’s in your power to not do that anymore.

22 “When mothers barge in son’s room to find him wanking.”

Look, I know this is most likely a random porn search, but I grew up with a family who were pretty terrible about closed doors and privacy, so let me take this opportunity to say:

  1. KNOCK.
  2. WAIT FOR AN AFFIRMATIVE ANSWER BEFORE YOU TOUCH THE DOOR AGAIN.

Kids are people, people need privacy and respect, if it’s not a life or death situation (like someone is not literally bleeding, exploding, flooding, or on fire) you can fucking well knock and wait 30 seconds for everyone to get their britches reaffixed. You want little kids to learn to knock & wait for an answer before they interrupt you, you want your older kids to have respect and privacy and feel safe where they live, so, be the change (and the knocking) that you want to see in the world.

23 “Captain awkward cries all the time”

I cry a normal amount of crying + 20% if it’s a sad movie or if unlikely animal friends are involved somewhere or if it’s the part of the book where little girls send letters to their heroine about how they want to be astronauts someday. I also cry if someone is mean to me or someone I care about, if someone is unexpectedly nice to me, and….[censored for politics].

24 “Feel guilt quitting job manager asking me to come back.”

Good news, you don’t have to go back.

You can say “Oh manager, it’s so great to know you value my work, but this is the right decision for me. Thanks for asking, but no thanks!” 

And like, it’s good to keep things cordial with former workplaces if you can, but once you stop working there you do not have to respond to every communication you get. Once the question’s been asked and answered, you can ignore future requests.

And hey, if you decide you want to go back, this seems like a great time to ask for wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more money than you were making before!

25 “Husband supporting his adult children behind my back.”

Assuming “support” = financial support, yikes. Married couples need transparency & honesty about financial stuff. Maybe this is one for couple’s counseling and/or talking with a financial advisor to make sure that your shared savings & financial priorities aren’t being neglected and to dig into why he didn’t feel like he could tell you. Ya’ll need to open all the books and spreadsheets and accounts and air everything out, down to the penny.

One way to possibly handle this (after a full accounting/disclosure and some deep discussions) is to make an agreement going forward that X amount of money (the majority) goes toward your shared financial priorities & living expenses and Y (much smaller amount) of money gets split equally between each spouse to be spent/saved/invested as they wish without consulting the other, so if he wants to throw his monthly Y budget to his adult kids that’s up to him, you can still be confident that your savings & expenses are being handled and also have your own discretionary funds. It doesn’t remove the problem completely (I sense that the querent’s ideal amount of support for the adult children is zero dollars and no cents) but it does remove secrecy and lies.

 26 “Good headlines for dating profiles.”

  • “I’m shy and weird and nice.”
  • “Let’s eat cheese and do witchcraft.”
  • “Evil genius seeks henchmen for world domination scheme.”
  • “Winter is coming (Come hang out in my sweet blanket fort).”
  • “I just got divorced, everything sucks, wanna make out?”
  • “Let’s both put on a clean shirt and leave the house tonight.”
  • “Yes…and? Comedy/Improv dork seeks a willing player.”
  • “I promise I will never make you come to my improv shows.”
  • “My perfect date involves documentaries and crying.”
  • “Let’s canvass for the midterm elections and then fuck!”
  • “Severely allergic to cats, lilies, and people who ‘love to debate for fun.'”
  • “I like tacos, heist films, and books about space travel.”
  • “Let’s compare shoe collections (I wear a size 8).”
  • “Hold my hand during scary movies?”
  • “Weatherwax in the streets, Ogg in the sheets.”
  • “Ok basically my fantasy is to meet someone who wants to learn how to fence and then we’ll have duels and say witty, cutting remarks laced with sexual tension, who’s in?”
  • “My version of dating is to be really good friends who snuggle (a lot) and kiss (sometimes/a little) and do other sexy stuff (maybe/never). Who’s with me?”
  • “I express myself only in GIFs, memes, and rap battles.”

Be specific! To me, the secret isn’t to appeal blandly to the maximum number of possible people, the secret is to communicate your specific brand of weird in the hopes of attracting same. It’s okay to have fun with it, especially if the whole dating site seems like one big “I’m a chill relaxed normal person who likes to work hard & play hard, I have sanded off as many of my rough edges as I could before appearing on your app screen, I’ll break the news about the bagpipes and the family curse later, please swipe right!” avatar of the same person.

That’s all for this month. Live Chat/Short Answers return Friday 9/28 (I’m doing them 2x a month instead of every week, which I think I told Patreon but didn’t necessarily announce here), here is a kitten photo to tide you over:

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Daniel Striped Tiger (L) and Henrietta Pussycat (R) are two soft brown tabby kittens who are best friends and excellent sleepy snuggle buddies.