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Cultural Differences

Movie Poster Art from The Wise KidsDear Captain,

Last Fall, I began dating an awesome guy. He’s nerdy, a real feminist, and is just as much in love with me as I am with him. Things have been great and we both know how to use our words to make things even better. As it stands, we’re both in this for the long haul and have discussed plans of moving in together when I graduate from college and eventually of getting married. I am so excited about life with this guy.

My problem is that I come from a super conservative Christian sub-culture and my boyfriend is an atheist. While I’m super cool with his personal views on religion (and he is of mine as well, yay!) most of my friends, family, and people I interact with at church have made it their business to go out of their way to tell me to end things with him. Everyone sees my relationship as something wrong and offensive to God. In their eyes, they’re just helping me “do what’s right” but it’s emotionally exhausting and always makes me upset with the people.

As it stands, there’s literally nothing these people could say to me that would actually make me break up with him. But I’m tired of having to act nice when people tell me off for dating someone who isn’t a Christian. Since you are the master of awesome shut-down scripts, I was wondering if you might have anything up your sleeve for people trying to get me “out of my sinful relationship” when this (super hurtful) behavior is considered acceptable (and encouraged) within the sub-culture I am in.

(On a side note, I’m planning on joining a much more awesome denomination/church when I graduate from college, but as I am going to a college funded by this denomination, I’m stuck in place for a year.)

Thanks for your help,

Happily Dating

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Hi there Captain!

I’m a 36 year-old mom of two adorable boys (6 and 2). I also have no friends. I’m not entirely OK with not having friends, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past 30 years or so of not-having-friends-ness. What I’m less OK with is that my Big Guy seems to be following in my footsteps, and it’s making me worry.

A bit of background:

I grew up being *that kid*, the one who is always picked on, outcast, and very lonely (but not bullied, really). Elementary school was *really* tough. By the time I got to high school, I had a regular table I could sit at for lunch, Science Team and Quiz Bowl competitions I could attend and do well in (with said lunch-mates), and excessively high grades and test scores. Still couldn’t really call them “friends”. *They* all hung out and did the usual social stuff that high school nerds do outside of high school. I was just never included.

Those high grades? Came about because of my parents, who prioritized high grades above EVERYTHING ELSE. Including a social life. I mean, I’m sure they were concerned about my social life, but it was always “Studies first, (dance second), and anything that can distract from your studies can come afterwards”. So I complied, because my father’s commitment to making sure I succeeded academically was *really* intense.

As an adult, (as in, many, many years after the fact), I figured out that I had/have ADHD-inattentive type, which led to me not being able to finish my homework/keep track of all my crap. And also makes it hard for me to follow a conversation without spacing out in the middle of someone else’s sentence. And then have a hard time knowing what to say next. So: schoolwork not getting done, leads to me “not having time” for a social life. And in school, my fellow nerds were nice and friendly and let me sit at the lunch table, but I still felt like an outsider, because I was always ten steps behind them conversationally.

College was worse than high school, because my family uprooted their entire lives and moved three whole states so I could live at home in a three bedroom apartment and commute to school. They would make sure I didn’t flunk out (see above re: intense commitment to my academic achievement). And since I was at the most competitive, intense university in the world, you can fill in the blanks about how much of a social life I was able to manage.

So I never had a chance to navigate friendships and relationships as a kid and teenager (and young adult). I got married because Arranged Marriage is a common thing in my culture and I was completely OK with it. My husband is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t feel the need to have many friends, and likes his peace and quiet and political blogs and weird YouTubes of politicians from our country screaming at each other.

So how does this affect my kid? I don’t know how to make mom-friends. I was supposed to “join a playgroup” and “set up playdates” and then socialize with each other while our babies did their baby-stuff. But I didn’t know how to get from “Hi, nice to see you at our monthly breastfeeding support group” to “Hey there friend! Wanna get together for (whatever it is that friends *do* together. Seriously, WHAT?!)”. And now that he’s in Kindergarten, I STILL don’t know. All the other moms somehow know each other already. Their kids go on playdates with each other. They all stand around in their little circles on the blacktop before afternoon pickup and talk about whatever it is they talk about (Seriously, WHAT?!?!?). Big Guy gets the occasional birthday party invitation, but even there, the other moms know each other better than they know me, so I’m the odd one out again. (WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT IN THEIR LITTLE CIRCLES? I edged into a circle once, and one of the moms was asking the other where she got her hair done. I get my hair done at Supercuts.)

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Dear Captain and Crew,

I am transgender, FtM, or at least that’s what I came out as several years ago. Since then, I have become increasingly isolated due to work, debt, and extremely debilitating mental illness. I’m doing my best to sort those things out (moving to a place where friends are, looking for a new therapist), but I don’t really know anyone who gets the trans stuff – I always have to be the teacher. So it’s hard for me to talk about my confusion, and my very pronounced internalized transphobia. 

I feel like a monster. Like even without all the mental illness, debt, and isolation, there is no way anyone could ever love me, because I’m trans. My family has been pretty good (and by good I mean awful) about reinforcing that trope.

I’ve spent a lot of time alone the last few years, and now, I’m not even sure if I am trans. Or maybe it’s just that the social cost of being trans outweighs the benefits of feeling more comfortable in my body. Does it matter what your gender is when you never leave the house? The impact of looking for housing while trans, applying for social assistance while trans… even just using public washrooms – I feel like it’s worn me down so much. So I can’t tell anymore if I’m not trans (and was wrong before…?) or if I just am so damn tired of how it feels to be trans in this world. 

I don’t know how to stop hating myself, and how to stop thinking of myself as unlovable when everything in this world seems to tell me that my name and my body and any discrepancies between them make me a freak who can’t function in the system. How can I imagine a future for myself? 

So I guess my question is – how can I tell what my gender is, when 99% of how I think of my gender and how I perform it, is centered around other people – around my safety and ability to navigate the world? How can I know what’s truly there underneath? (And does it even really matter?) And do you have any recommendations for dealing with internalized transphobia? I’m trying to read positive, feminist FtM stuff, but it mostly just makes me angry, because I don’t understand how they can all seem so happy. 

Thank you,
Trans?Phobic

Dear Trans?Tired,

Hey there, it’s Lt. Trans aka A. Raymond Johnson. I did something terrible and changed your name without permission, which isn’t cool since as trans people, we have to deal with being misgendered and misnamed all the time, so I apologize for that. But I needed to right away confirm and validate your feelings of being tired of being trans. That isht is indeed exhausting. And you seem to be in a particularly bad run of it right now.

I wore the HELL out of this record as a kid. This explains some things.

I wore the HELL out of this record as a kid. This explains some things.

I totally get feeling like a monster. Read More

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m sure there there have been similar questions, but I feel mine has an added complication. It is, I shiver to say, an “unwanted advances” issue that I’m having.

Background: I am a female in my lower twenties who recently graduated from a university, and I’m living in a small two-story apartment building in a larger complex of similar buildings in a small US city. I am sharing this apartment with my mom and stepdad for economic reasons.

Problem: A few weeks back our building was having the plumbing redone and from about 9am to 5pm the crew was in our apartment tearing up walls and such. I waited outside on the steps one of these days for 30 minutes or so until the crew had left. An older man with a heavy foreign accent came out of his upstairs room and talked to me. I’m not sure why, but I tend to have rather automatic sympathy for the more obviously foreign-born people living in the US. Maybe it’s racism, and maybe it’s because I treat everyone in that situation like a foreign exchange student. As it turns out, this guy is Pakistani and he lives in an apartment upstairs, apparently alone. That’s the entirety of the things he said that I understood… More specifically, I didn’t understand what this guy was saying to me partly due to his accent, and partly due to the fact that the ideas he was throwing out did not seem to connect. He was asking me if I wanted to be his “friend” and
at the same time he was saying “My wife is in Pakistan.” Confused, I kept saying him things like, “Oh, is your wife moving here eventually?” Just as it was dawning on me that he probably meant for me to be his mistress or fling or whatever while his poor wife is back at home, he left, before I could express my horror in any way.

Now it gets weird. I have not spoken to him since then- perhaps a mistake. But, I did start noticing he follows me.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve had a problem for a while that has always been an issue with me, but is now beginning to affect my work and professional standing: I have a hard time understanding people strong foreign accents, and I don’t know how to address the issue without making it super awkward.

So here I am!

About me: I’m a 26-year-old software developer, US citizen living in the US, male and white. I feel blessed that I get to speak my native language at work and out in the city, but having lived in a foreign country, learning the language as I went, I understand how frustrating not being a native speaker can be (and not really, since I was an exchange student, and most people would assume at worst that I was a dumb tourist rather than “xenophobic enemy of the moment”).

But I can’t help that I have trouble understanding thick foreign accents speaking English, and recently, it’s been a problem for me at work.

My boss is Indian. She’s very intelligent and knowledgeable, but sometimes I have a hard time understanding her English due to her thick accent and sometimes quirky sentence structure. The reason this is becoming an issue is that I sometimes don’t understand my work assignments. Asking over and over for clarification clearly frustrates her, and makes me look stupid. “I don’t understand what the problem is, this isn’t hard to understand!”. Only it is!

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I appreciated your advice regarding being open to the possibility that two siblings can grow up in the same home but have completely different experiences and interpretations of the environment.

As I was reading I found myself identifying with the sister, whom the question-asker describes as still being stuck in the abusive situation but not seeing it as so.  Last year our small and close-knit church community went through a very painful split, with a handful of people leaving with claims that the head pastor was spiritually abusing them.  It’s a very (VERY) long and complicated ordeal, but I found myself wondering what sort of advice you might give to the “sister” who is still connected to the parents (or in my case, authority figure/pastor) whom other people have experienced as abusive.  In my personal interactions with this pastor I’ve actually felt very well cared for and respected.  He did our premarital counseling and has provided a great deal of encouragement, mentoring and advice to my husband and I in the first 4 years of our marriage.

Because my experience of him has been so different than theirs, I find myself really struggling to know how to connect with them in a healthy and productive way.  The feeling I get from these friends who’ve left is that the only version of reality they accept is their own, and any other possible explanation is just a symptom of the abuse.  In their eyes I am a naive automaton, enabling an abusive and evil man.  It’s really quite insulting and saddening.

Any advice for the other side of this question?

The Other Sister

Dear Other Sister,

Intern Paul and I have been Googling spiritual abuse, and it’s taken us to a dark and scary part of the Internet.  Can you help us define the concept and be a little more detailed about what your friends say happened?

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Until you guys write me letters, I’m just going to keep posting about weird social interactions, okay?

I grew up on the East Coast, but have lived in the Midwest (Chicago) for the last 10 years, and there are some distinct cultural differences.   Once I went out on the world’s most boring first date, and we discussed some of these.

Him: “I went to Massachusetts once.  They called it ‘soda’ instead of ‘pop.'”

Me: “Yes.  And we call water fountains ‘bubblers.'”

Him: “Wow, that’s so weird.”

Sadly I did not have a ninja smoke bomb handy to make my escape, so there was like 90 more minutes of this crap while we dutifully masticated our Thai food and agreed blandly that we should totally do this again sometime.

Anyway, what I want to talk about here is the Midwestern practice of offering other people the thing you really want before you’ll let yourself have it  Anyone who lives here and who has been to any kind of baby shower or other LadyParty has watched Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox enacted on a plate of brownies knows what I’m talking about.  “Do you want the last one?”  “No, you take it.”  “Let’s cut it in half.”

When I moved out here, I didn’t know about this.

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