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Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

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Hi Captain Awkward!

I have a younger sister (very close in age – Irish twins). She is beautiful, talented, intelligent, witty and fun — one of those life of the party types, kind of universally beloved. I am more of an average person, and had a tough time growing up under my sister’s shadow. My family is very competitive and I always came up short. One hilarious/tragic example is that my first two (TWO!!!! BOTH OF THEM! as if this happened more than once!) high school boyfriends both told me that they only started dating me to get closer to my sister since she’s the one they were actually crushing on. Other high school kids called her “the hot one.” I was not. People in my grade would invite her to parties but not me.

This was not her fault! She didn’t ask other people to be cruel. She did kind of act like your typical popular teenage girl, though, and we were pretty bitchy to each other — but I don’t think it was any worse than normal teenage siblings. I just took it really hard. My parents tried to be understanding, but they also have very high expectations and growing up I just always felt out of place, didn’t feel like I belonged or was valued.

Anyway, the result is that in my midtwenties, I now live very far from the rest of my family and try to limit my time with them. I see them three times a year at major holidays. I call my mom almost every day and I have a good relationship with her one-on-one, but I always feel sad when I have to spend time with my extended family — in fact, the sad feelings last for a couple weeks even after I return to my home in a different city. I also notice that when I’m with my family, I have trouble being my best self. After moving away I became an outgoing, happy, well-adjusted, confident person, but as soon as I get home I turn into a shy sad little clam (although I think they would describe it as sullen and ungrateful).

My sister has grown up into an accomplished, non-teenage jerk-y person, and she has a GREAT relationship with the rest of my family — they all live in the same city. The issue is that my mom regularly bugs me about why a) my sister and I aren’t closer (we don’t talk to each other apart from holidays, although it’s definitely always civil); b) I don’t come home more often; c) why I choose to live so far away.

My question is just … how to deal with this?? For my own sanity, I’ve kind of taken the “run awaaaay!!!” route and it’s worked for me. I’m happy when I’m not around them. I’ve got a great “chosen family” of friends that I’ve made since leaving home. But I realize that a lot of my family drama is my own issue now, and my mom’s feelings especially are hurt that I don’t spend more time with them so we can be a happy close family that does all kinds of stuff together. For example, soon I’ll be in their area for a weekend with my boyfriend (for a non-family event), and my mom keeps asking “but I just don’t understand why you won’t just stay with your sister?!?? they have a spare room!” (he and I have booked a hotel room instead).

It’s hard for me to just say “Hey, I’m just going to be home for Christmas for a couple days but then I’m going to travel” when it’s not really THEM that’s dysfunctional, it’s me. I think my mom is getting increasingly twitchy about this because we’re approaching marriage and baby-making age, and also she and my dad are getting older so she worries about us staying in contact when they’re not around anymore.

Do I have the right to just set these boundaries for myself even though I’m pretty sure I’m the messed up one here? If so, how do I do this kindly and appropriately while still taking care of myself?

Thanks!
Sibling Rivalry Up the Wazoo

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Hello Captain!

Last summer, I worked at a really amazing job and met a lot of people who I really like spending time with. I am fortunate to have developed a solid friend group and gained a long term job at a related company for the first time (my field is competitive, and difficult to find employment in), but there’s one guy, Derek, who’s making me uncomfortable.

Derek and I worked on the same team, and became very close – we have common interests/hobbies and had compatible work/social styles. He’s aware that I’m in a monogamous relationship, and was completely respectful towards me both at work and otherwise. After we left our summer jobs, we continued hanging out and texting a lot, and I considered him a good friend.

Recently, though, he’s made some really creepy and borderline sexual comments over text and in real life. I’m trying to slow fade our friendship, but things are complicated by my inability to completely avoid him – I don’t text him or make plans anymore, but he’s my new manager’s roommate now, and comes to our social gatherings. My new coworkers are starting to notice something is up, but I’m a shy person and I get really uncomfortable talking about this sort of thing, so a few of them have commented that we have “something going on”.

What’s a good script for heading this topic off when confronted by gossipy coworkers? I have a solid Team Me, and my boyfriend’s aware of the issue, but I don’t know how to explain that this dude is being unwelcome and WEIRD to people I’m not that close to.😦

Signed,

Not your personal Lana del Rey, Derek.

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Dear Captain,

For the past few years, I have been involved with an amazing man, “Robert”. Robert and I work closely at times; he was my boss for a short time until I moved into different branch of local government (we did not start dating until after I transferred). Robert is quite happily married to “Cora”, who has known about and approved of our relationship from the beginning. Cora and I get along—we aren’t close friends, but we are cordial and she seems happy that I am there for Robert. There is a lot about our respective relationships with Robert that complement each other–in terms of sex, companionship, some heavy psychology around Robert and my shared work–and we kind of have our own niches. It suits all three of us well.

So here is the problem keeping me up nights: Robert is a well-known, well-respected man in our smallish city in a very conservative area. People around here may have heard of polyamory, but certainly wouldn’t approve of it. Cora is also very known and active in the area’s society—she runs charities, throws parties, etc. And Robert’s position is highly political. I know for sure that if our relationship ever became public Robert would likely lose his job and he and Cora would become the subject of gossip and worse. He really loves his job, to the extent that if he lost it I don’t know how well he’d cope.

Am I being selfish for wanting to keep being with him? I really do love him a lot, and he loves me as well. But I keep being terrified that it will come out and I’ll be the reason he loses everything he has worked for in his life. We are very discreet when we get together and it would take some detective work to find out, but it’s not impossible. (And that’s not even getting into the complication that if I want kids, I should start within a few years…)
Part of me says that Robert and Cora are mature adults who can make decisions about their own lives, and I should allow that. But another part of me knows that Robert isn’t the sort of man who would dump me over other people’s opinions, even if he logically should, and that I need to step up and do what is right for him when he won’t do it himself. One of these parts is wrong, but I can’t figure out which one. I don’t want to lose him, but I don’t want to ruin him either.

-Jane the Housemaid

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Hello Captain,
I’m 29 years old, living with my parents, my older sister and my niece.

My mother stopped work when she gave birth to me, so she’s pretty much been a housewife all her life. My father is that wonderful combination of breadwinner and financial abuser (i.e, he has enough money to buy expensive shoes and perfumes for himself, but asking him for money so we can have food and power supply is like talking to a wall), so when things are down, it falls to my sister and me to pick up the slack when it comes to money. My sister just started a new job, and I’m still entry-level at the job I’ve had for nearly three years.

The thing is, it usually falls to me to pick up the financial burden. I’m asked to pay the cable, the internet, the groceries etc all the time. I’ve asked my sister for both of us to split the bills, but she doesn’t agree. And when I ask my mother to talk to her, her preferred method is to placate me rather than talk to my sister. Usually, this means that I’m counting every cent until payday because I don’t have a lot for myself. Despite this, anytime I buy food/toiletries for myself, I’m expected to share with the two of them. I plan out my groceries and needs for the month, and I literally cannot afford to be replacing items if they finish earlier than expected.

I need help saying no, especially to my sister. Every time I try to be firm, I’m called ‘selfish’ and ‘I used to be so nice’ and ‘we’re family, so we share everything.’ I don’t think it’s selfishness to want to let my personal groceries last as long as possible, especially when I can barely afford to look after myself, and especially when my sister won’t do anything. I’m at that point where I’m seriously considering buying a small cupboard/fridge, putting it in my room and keeping everything locked up when I’m not home. What should I do?

– Not Selfish

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HI!

So I know church is maybe not your milieu, but I hope this question has some broader applications and maybe deserves a broader answer.

I’m a lady in my early 30s who has been dating my wonderful boyfriend (late 20s) for a few years. We’ve been attending our church for 3 years, which we chose together. I was raised small town Protestant and my bf did the recovering Catholic/atheist thing for a number of years. We chose our church because, although it’s very formal (incense, fancy vestments, the whole bit) it’s a denomination that’s known for being really open-minded and liberal. We also liked the individual church we chose because it’s really beautiful and historic, and located downtown–so really, right in the thick of things. I wouldn’t call it a bad neighborhood per se (mostly because the idea of a neighborhood being “bad” is pretty racist) but during the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, there were a few scary incidents and membership took a nosedive.

Fast forward to today. Our church’s membership is growing, and about 2 years ago my boyfriend decided he was interested in pursing a career in the church. To that end, he created a ministry that focuses on homelessness and food insecurity, which is an issue that’s very close to his heart, as both of his parents were homeless at different points. The bulk of the work is that, once a week, he hosts a lunch for anyone who wants to attend, free of charge. The demand is great, and seeing 100 people come through in 90 min is not unusual. Most of the people who come through are either homeless or food insecure, and many of them are people of color.

This is a ministry that a lot of people are really excited about–our priest has been a total treasure throughout the whole process, and Boyfriend is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the diocese. But there are others in the congregation who are…less enthused.

Having grown up in a really small town, I’m used to the petty politics of church life. Boyfriend is really, really not. I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how many people we consider close friends, despite the age and income gaps (lots of older, upper middle class white people), have said some really nasty shit just out of earshot. Just this last week, I found out that at our summer kickoff street festival (which was attended by a number of Boyfriend’s lunch regulars) a woman who I considered a friend apparently said, “This isn’t the [local homeless shelter]. This is disgusting.” I ended up making the decision to not tell Boyfriend about this, as it happened several months ago, and there didn’t seem to be any point in tainting his image of this particular woman. But suffice to say, this was not a one-off comment; there are A LOT of people who overtly or covertly agree, one or two of whom have been openly hostile.

I’m just flabbergasted. I think Boyfriend’s work is really important, and I’m super-proud of him. I’m just really disgusted because I feel like he’s really trying to walk the walk, as far as the Christian message goes, and he’s supported by the administration, but markedly less so by other people (some of whom I thought were our friends and/or are very influential in the community.) I mean, Jesus KINDA TALKS A LOT about the poor and the destitute…

How should I handle this sort of malarkey when it comes up? Chalk it up to an age/income/culture divide and let it lie? Quickly slap it down and put them in their place? I worry that not saying anything at all enforces the status quo, but equally I worry that going on the warpath against a bunch of old ladies isn’t a good look, either.

Thanks,

WWCAD?

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Hello Captain and friends!

This problem has been sitting in my mind, waiting to pounce, for months. Recently it came to the forefront and shocked me a bit.

I’m a 24-year-old graduate student pursuing a career that I’ve wanted since I was a preteen. Grad school has been good overall, especially for my confidence. I have wonderful friends, good family relationships (I live with my parents), and artistic hobbies that I enjoy (although I don’t put much effort into them). I was diagnosed with severe anxiety in 2014, did therapy for a year, and went on medication this summer. Therapy reduced OCD symptoms and negative self-talk, and meds have reduced daily nervousness. I’ve had four part-time jobs in food service, reception, and retail respectively. I always put my best face forward at work, and I make up for school-related procrastination with anxiety-fuelled planning and get really good grades.

But the other day I realized that I’ve never been good at anything, and I’m probably not good enough for my career path. My first boss called me “inefficient”. I made more mistakes at my second job than the newbies, even after four semesters. (Same goes for the campus kung fu club.) I was frequently reprimanded at my third job and got a few serious talking-tos. At my fourth job I often felt overwhelmed and scattered, and they didn’t call me back to work the holiday rush. I’ve never been fired, but I had to quit all of my jobs due to going to/leaving school. I wasn’t very good at my volunteer positions or hobbies, either.

Two days ago I got a performance review at my school internship. My supervisors are excited to ramp things up with me next term. Although my technical skills are at par, I’ve made social blunders due to my habit of acting without thinking when I’m anxious. In general, I don’t have the professional conduct skills to “fit in” at the agency or truly connect with clients. With some wheedling I got one supervisor to indirectly admit that if this had been a job, I’d have been fired by now.

Realizing that I’m bad at the work I value and have wanted to do for so long was awful. And I don’t know why I make so many mistakes. I realize that anxiety sabotages concentration and motivation, but now that I feel less anxious the problems have not gone away. I’m nearly certain that these mistakes were/are due to unchangeable cognitive or personality flaws. I started self-harming this summer to make my self-hatred more concrete.

I just don’t want to be incompetent anymore. I don’t want to let people down.

Regards,

Tomato in the Mirror

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