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Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today and I will answer as many as I can. Comments get turned on after everything’s posted on my end.

Great questions this week! Transcript below, updating sloooooooooooowly. 

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Turbulent month, turbulent song:

And yes, it’s that time of the month, when we treat the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions they want answers to.

1 “How to handle snubs from close relatives.”

Sometimes you end up related to people you would never interact with by choice.

If you’re the one who messed things up and you know it, apologize once and then try to do better.

If you’re not the person who caused the breach, or if your apology for what you did is not accepted, stop trying so hard to make the situation better. Your effort is probably wasted, and you don’t have to keep auditioning for the approval of people who regularly show that they don’t care about you or want you around.

When you absolutely have to deal with the person, it might help to find a basic amount of polite that you can be to them suitable to the occasion. Not because they deserve it, but because it might make you feel better if you have a plan for interacting with some dignity. If it helps, imagine they are distant acquaintances, like, employees of a satellite office of your company that you run into once a year at the holiday party. In that instance you’d say “Hi, happy new year!” and then you go talk to the people you actually like and want to see.

Don’t treat the family like a monolith. Form your own relationships with the people you care about and who you want to connect with. The uncle who hates you hosts Thanksgiving every year? You do not have to go to his house and choke down his grudge-turkey, but also you don’t have to let Thanksgiving and his turf be the only time you see any of these people. He doesn’t own your grandma or your cousins or the month of November.

 

2 “My aunt says my partner is not welcome, what do I do?”

“Well, Aunt, we’ll be sorry to miss you. Maybe next year.” It’s okay to skip events where your partner is not welcome.

Unless your partner is some form of Nazi. In that case, I’m Team Aunt and also you should dump that Nazi dickhead.

 

3 “Do you have to invite adult son’s girlfriend to family parties.”

Depends. Do you want your son to come to these parties and feel happy and welcome there, or do you secretly wish he’d stay away?

Also depends – is his girlfriend a Nazi? If so, definitely don’t invite her to anything.

 

4 “My neighbor doesn’t respect the property line.”

You need to find someone who knows the laws where you live. That’s not me, even if you live where I live.

 

5 “My boyfriend tells me how to eat how to exercise.”

Did you want a free volunteer personal trainer? If so, enjoy! If not, tell him it’s none of his beeswax.

 

6 “What do you say to someone who is trying to set you up with someone you’re not interested in?”

“I appreciate the thought, but I’m not interested.”

“No thank you!”

 

7 “I’m in New Jersey when is this oak pollen going to go away for god sakes.”

I’m in Chicago and I also want to know this.

 

8 “Where will Harry and Meghan live?”

Google says “Nottingham Cottage” in “Kensington Palace.”

 

9 “Stories of sexy young girl with huge tits.”

Stories of people who are not efficient users of search engines.

 

 

10 “Boyfriend wants me to better myself.”

Did you ask him to be your amateur life coach? If not, tell him to focus on his own issues and ambitions.

 

11 “I don’t like my grandchild’s name.”

Learn to love it, or learn to be quiet about it, or both.

 

 

12 “Coworker dating app.”

My jerk of a brain initially read this as “Oh shit did someone make an app to try to help people date their coworkers please god no” when really the person is probably looking for “what do I do if I spot my coworker on a dating app.” Picture my entire body seizing up with revulsion for a few seconds until my brain caught up with the more likely interpretation.

My instinct is almost always to say hey, just leave the person alone, it’s not like it’s some terrible secret that you’re both on the app, and it would be pretty cool if you could give each other the gift of a bubble of privacy while you both try to do something vulnerable, especially since you work together. If they spot you as well and are interested in you, they can find a way to let you know!

 

13 “Husband doesn’t want me on birth control.”

If you’re a person who can get pregnant, you are the ultimate boss of whether, when, and if. No exceptions.

 

14 “I want to call suicide hotline but don’t know what to say.”

“Hi, I’m [Firstname] and I’m having suicidal thoughts.”

“Hi, I’m nervous about calling this hotline and I don’t know what to say.”

You won’t freak them out or get it wrong. They want you to call even if you don’t know what to say. I really hope you get what you need.

 

15 “When family wants you to visit but they never visit you.”

Visit them when you want to and when it makes sense for you, and if they pressure you for more visits say “I won’t make it, but you’re always welcome to visit me here! Can we put a plan together?” 

 

16 “jean luc picard open shirt”

HEL-lo!

picard_on_holiday

Image description: Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard wearing shorts and an open shirt reading a book on a green lounge chair. First spotted on this site here.

 

17 “Is it rude to invite guests to someone’s house without letting them know?”

Almost certainly yes! Even if you know this person is very hospitable and wouldn’t mind extra guests, why wouldn’t you at least let them know to expect them?

 

18 “firthing”

Refers to the way Mr. Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the 1990s Pride & Prejudice adaptation) treats Elizabeth Bennett when he develops a crush on her. Especially characterized by weird, intense staring bouts or standing really close to someone while studiously NOT looking at them, general glowering, and hostile non sequiturs intended to camouflage romantic interest. If unchecked, Firthing can lead to cornering one’s love interest and vomiting a bunch of feelings all over someone who didn’t even know that you liked them, or doing weird shit like showing up in the middle of the night to give them wordy letters.

Mitigating factors: A really nice house

Best avoided by: Asking the person on a date pretty soon after you know that you like them.

(Please tell me someone who knows Colin Firth reads this blog and has told him about this, it would make my year.)

NOTICE: By request, this behavior will from now on be referred to as “Darcy-ing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Captain!

Tl:dr – What do you say when someone needs you to tell them that you care about them more than you do care about them? Is there a way to be honest but not make them feel like you actually dislike them? Is there a way to lie so that they actually believe you? Is there a way to get them to knock off asking you?

Longer-then-400-words-version:

My partner has a long-time friend who is lonely, isolated, sporadically employed, and who has some mental health issues. Friend is smart, funny, usually well-meaning, and knows how far to push friendship and charity without pushing too hard. My partner gives Friend lots of time and occasional money.

None of this is a problem. Friend doesn’t intrude on our family time too much, and my partner’s friendships are theirs to manage. Partner doesn’t bring Friend into every conversation or insist that Friend is at all of our events. Friend doesn’t usually inconvenience me at all, and if they do it’s in ways that I’m happy to do to for my partner, and because I have goodwill to Friend and I don’t mind hosting them or hanging out.

My problem is that Friend will sometimes initiate conversations with me about what a burden Friend is to me, and how Friend feels ashamed to be included in events that are important to me when they are Partner’s Friend and not My Friend. I don’t think Friend actually wants to be my friend – they don’t usually ask how I am, or talk to me when my partner isn’t around, or seem to care about me except as someone to listen to them (although they are like that with my partner, too, because Friend is very self-absorbed). I think that Friend would like it if **I** really felt a true friendship-like connection to Friend that would cause me to **really** want to invite Friend to stuff not as a charity, and to **really** want to hang out and chat with Friend, even though I don’t think Friend feels that way toward me or wants to feel that way toward me.

Friend is very smart, and certainly is very sensitive to how people feel about them and react to them, so Friend knows that, in fact, I don’t feel those ways. I feel charitable good will, Friend isn’t an unbearable pain to have around, and I love my partner and don’t want to keep someone out of our home who matters to my partner. Friend also knows when I’m lying.

So when Friend asks me these things, I usually do some combo of lie and deflect. I say that Partner and I both brought lots of our own friends and family to the relationship, and that we each hang out with and play host to each other’s peeps. I say that it’s my pleasure to have Friend over. But even though both of those things are true, I’m not answering Friend’s real question, which seems to be something like “don’t you care about me,” or even “why don’t you love me.” I do think that my partner loves Friend. Love is a wonderful mystery, because I can see that Friend is not a very good friend in a traditional sense, but that if you love a person, you just do love them. I don’t love Friend, and I like Friend only in a casual way.

Friend’s need to be loved and to be reassured both touches me and also annoys me. Friend is not good with social conventions like “don’t make people choose between lying or saying mean stuff,” and when they ask me these things I usually fall back on really strict social conventions like, “I am at best saying empty nothing right now and at worst lying because That’s What We Do,” but I don’t like it. Moreover, it doesn’t give Friend any of what they need – it’s neither honest nor kind.

Is there a better, more honest, kinder way to respond?

– Not Your Friend, But Not Mean About It Either

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Captain Awkward,

I’ve found myself in a really damn sticky situation. I’m polyamorous. I just recently told my partner, we’ve been together for 18 months this June, we’re engaged, and we have a kid together. (For anonymity, I’ll be referring to my partner as Darin and our son as Ash.) I love Darin, and I love our son, before they came along, I didn’t know that kind of love was possible. I want to grow old with them. But I’ve recently figured out I’m polyamorous, and I told Darin, and he had said, ‘If you wanna go out with other people you do realise that we’d break up, right?’ And obviously, that’s the last thing that I want. But I feel really strongly that if I don’t explore my polyamoury, I’m doing myself a disservice. I feel like some part of me is saying, ‘You have to do this, if you don’t, you’re killing yourself.’ And there’s this guy, who I’ll refer to as Fireball, who I like and who likes me, and I did our natal chart for compatibility and we’re basically made for each other, unlike me and Darin’s which was 3/4 negativity and challenge.

My question is really, I feel like I need to do something about my polyamoury, like if I don’t, I feel like my Soul is dying, but my partner isn’t cool with it, and I have no idea what to do.

Thanks,
–I Don’t Want to be a B*tch to My Fiancé

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Here’s an awkward situation for you.

Backstory:

My acquaintance gave me a mattress in the summer, because it wasn’t working for her back.

I paid $260 for the movers. Unfortunately, they turned out to be creepy and unprofessional.

She’s convinced they stole things from her. At first I believed her, but now I doubt. They allegedly took a hard drive she had in storage, as well as her car keys. She’s sure they took more, but “can’t remember what.” She claims that she saw them come back 4 months after the move to attempt to go through her car…hmm. A great number of her complaints were regarding the fact that they didn’t speak English in front of her, so I had kinda been thinking she was having challenges with racism.

Current situation:

She contacted me a week ago, convinced that they swapped out the mattress in transit. I reassured her that this was not so.

Unfortunately, this opened conversation. Since giving me the mattress, she has discovered that she has stain protection insurance. She is having back issues again, and doesn’t like the new mattress she purchased.

She wants me to stain this mattress, have it cleaned, “discover” that the stain won’t come out, then have insurance replace it so that she can have the new one and I can get the one she’s using now.

It’s a completely different firmness. I’ve researched what she’s offering, and it’s entirely unsuitable for people of my weight and sleeping style.

Although she has assured me that she doesn’t blame me for the mover situation, she’s now exerting some significant pressure on me. She’s outlined in great detail how much money the situation has cost her, and has told me that the reason she’s pushing me is that she’s “fighting for her health.”

I feel sympathetic to her back issues, and I want to be a good human in this scenario.

But I’m currently unemployed and can’t afford to purchase another mattress if the one she’s offering doesn’t work. And I’d rather not commit insurance fraud.

We have many mutual friends. I feel like I’m stuck with her plan if I don’t want her to badmouth me.

More importantly, I don’t know the right thing to do.

No Such Thing As Free

(she/her pronouns)

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So, you said something racist. Or, someone told you that you said something racist.

Or, someone you really like & admire said or did something racist, or is getting told on for saying something racist.

And now you feel uncomfortable. You feel guilty, maybe, or ashamed. Whatever it is, it’s weird and you don’t like it.

What I need you to do when this happens is stop, drop, and be quiet for a minute. You are not Racism Columbo, your job is not to interrogate the situation for whether it is actually, “objectively” racist. Your job is not to find the motive, to drill down to whether it was intended to be racist. Your job is not to revert to High School Debate Club mode and split hairs looking for plausible deniability. Your job is not to defend your fave from the racist stuff they said!

Your first job is to shut the fuck up for a second. If you have to say something, say “I’m sorry.” Then stop talking. Definitely stop typing in that little social media window. Stop. Don’t. Make. It. Worse. Honestly, if most people just stopped there, the world would start becoming a marginally better place almost instantly.

Important: Engaging with white people about race is an incredibly high-stakes and potentially exhausting activity for a person of color to take on. (Women, think of the last time you tried to sincerely engage with a sexist dude who mansplained your world to you. Did you need a drink/seventeen naps afterward? Did you feel like you’d been trapped in a horrible alternate reality with no way out? Yeah.) So if someone is willing to actually talk with you about this, chances are it is an investment having a better relationship with you, not a drive-by insult-fest or attack designed to tear you down and make you feel terrible and hate yourself. They are talking to you about it because they want you to get it and to stop doing the hurtful thing so that they can keep working with/hanging out with you. The people who hate your guts or think you’re a lost cause will just avoid you. There are worse things you could do than just listen without interrupting. 

Step 2, after that initial encounter, instead of trying to justify or excavate why whatever it is isn’t racist or isn’t “really” racist or wasn’t meant to be racist or isn’t usually racist or is racist only on Tuesdays, think about why it is or could plausibly be racist. (Think about this quietly, inside your head.) Why might someone see it that way? What context or history are you missing? How might your action look to someone who doesn’t know about your pure heart and good intentions, somebody who experiences the same “mistakes” and “slip-ups” over and over again from white people? And what are the relative stakes & consequences here if you’re wrong? The saying about misogyny goes: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them.” Welp, white people are worried about being unfairly called racist and feeling weird about it. People of color are worried about dying (in medical situations, at the hands of police, from environmental racism, etc. etc. etc.)

The history of racism is complex enough and insidious enough that chances are:

  1. Yep, race is a factor affecting that “fun” or “simple” thing you’re discussing. That one, too.
  2.  It’s just possible that we white folks have some rill big knowledge gaps about it.
  3. Automatically discounting someone’s lived experience or point of view just because we’re momentarily uncomfortable is a crappy thing to do and we should stop it.

There are steps after that. Reading. Listening. Self-reflection. Finding ways to do the work of dismantling racism. Here is one organization that is doing work. Here is another. This one, too. (Don’t take my word for it or get distracted by whether any of these are the Perfect One. Do research and find something that works for you.)

For today, here are your steps if you should make a mistake and say or do something racist:

  1. AT MINIMUM, DON’T MAKE IT WORSE. This almost certainly means saying “I’m sorry” followed by a period of listening and quiet reflection.
  2. During that quiet time, think about what it would mean to accept, at face value, someone else’s insight on what is or might be racist. What do you lose when you say to yourself hey, wait a second, I’m the one who screwed up, so maybe I’m not the expert here?

Baby steps, friends.