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Families

It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”

Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!

My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”

==>

DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:

  • You can become a patron at Patreon. At the next funding goal, I release an e-book of columns once every year, free to patrons, a few $ to download for non-patrons. When/if we hit $2000/month, the blog goes ad-free. 
  • Monthly contributions not your thing? Paypal Cash.me and Dwolla also work. Whatever’s convenient for you!

Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.

 

 

Hello Captain Awkward,

I have a long question about how to get a family member to pay back the money they owe you. First bit of background: I recently got married and moved to another country VERY far away. It’s been almost a year now and really wonderful (except where my sister is concerned).

My “close knit” family (ie- intrusive at best and emotionally abusive at worst) has not taken it well. My sister and I grew up incredibly close and she was an ally to me with our parents/extended family (usually). She’s one year older than me but we always hung around together and went to the same college ect. Long story short, she’s always been a high achiever but also immature and VERY emotional/needy. There’s some deets behind that but I won’t get into it.

Well cue a few months after the move she informs me she just booked her tickets and is coming for 10 WEEKS and can’t wait to STAY WITH US! We live in a studio apartment, are still getting settled, money is tight, and we are literally newlyweds. I tell her hey this may not be the best idea but she insists she has so much travel she’ll be doing she’ll hardly be there plus it’s booked and she’d have to pay a massive fee to change. Okkkk i guess? She comes and is an absolute bitch. Every day she wants to go out (spend heaps), never pays for anything like groceries or household items, even makes my husband do her laundry (long story), and complains shes bored. Has more than one crying session about me making her feel like she’s “not a guest”. Everything is about her even when she literally lit the kitchen on fire – really tho, big fire (really long story). Apparently it’s so hard for her to be home all day with nothing to do but refuses to do anything by herself (except lighting the kitchen on fire – that was all her). She’s a passive aggressive bitch and I’m stressed to the max.

Turns out that travelling she wanted to do… She thought I’d be going with her (but not the new hubs) Ugh. I refuse to take more than 2 weeks vacation. Those 2 weeks were all about her and quite frankly stressful/not fun at all. She takes up all my additional time and is so HORRIBLE even my new burgeoning friends notice how mean she is to me. But hey it’s family and I’ll deal. In hindsight it was like she took every script out of our mother/family’s emotionally abusive playbook and threw it at me and I should have kicked her out.

Anyways, here’s the real issue. She kept asking my husband and I to pay for things on our card because “hey we’re booking together it’s easier to just do it at once” and she’d pay us back. Also at one point her wallet was stolen/lost and she had to get new cards sent ect which took a while. Recipe for disaster I know (now) but I also know how much she makes (ALOT more than me – we’re talking mid 6 figures) and that she would definitely be able to pay back. We had a long talk about her paying us back right away – she agreed. We’ll long story short, trip ends we present the spreadsheet with everything she owes us and she says she’ll pay asap, when she’s home no problem.

Now that she’s left she won’t pay us back, is dramatically bad mouthing me to all our family – who in turn are sending me harassing emails, says I’m bullying her ect. And she will not respond to any of my emails (they are actually quite nice). I’ve said basically is everything OK? I’m concerned about you. If you can’t pay back now lets determine a timeline/payment plan. NO RESPONSE at all. We didn’t even ask her to pay the apartment deposit that we obviously lost because of the fire she started (possibly/likely on purpose). Which was a lot of additional money!

It’s been 6 months since she left and we really need the money. I’m at a loss about what to do and honestly devastated that one of my closest relationships has been ruined but also that she’s ruining a lot of my other family relationships which used to be really important to me. With me being so far away I can’t defend myself and I’m feeling really isolated (I’m sure that’s her intent).

No one in my family is helpful and basically have all sided with her in a very “I don’t want to get involved but…” way. So no allies there. Some of our mutual friends have stopped speaking with me as well and it’s hard to enough maintain contact with the distance even without this drama. I think I have some details on the BS she’s telling people but it’s so long I can’t really fit it all in here.

Please help me with scripts to use with her – at this point just to get that money back, but also with other family members and my parents. I just have no idea how to handle this anymore.

PS- she’s gone on multiple vacations since she gone back to the US (long weekend skiing in Vale, now she’s just gone to some exotic island for a week long “girls trip”, 2 different weekends in Vegas) all of which are clearly on the luxury end. My parents love to tell me how great she’s doing, how much money she’s making and how great it is she can afford to travel so much, and she didn’t need to even move out of the US. Which is very upsetting.

Thanks,
B*+ch better have my money

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Hi Captain Awkward,

To make a long story short, I was recently diagnosed with a genetic condition that explains why I’ve had full back pain for the past five years. In those five years between symptom onset and a diagnosis the pain has just gotten worse.

I’m only 19 and going to university but I come home during the summer so I can save money (the city where I go to university is so ridiculously expensive) and be with my family. Unfortunately, my family is not the most understanding when it comes to my pain. My mum has the same genetic condition but a much milder form and while she seems to acknowledge on an intellectual level that I am in constant pain and because of that am suffering from depression, this doesn’t translate well into words or actions. She just seems exasperated that I’m not able to work 9 hours a day 6 days a week anymore. (My dad hasn’t voiced an opinion on the matter but I sense he’s disappointed that I’m not living up to my full potential.)

I need your help with the following two situations:

1. I need to resign from my job. I work at a small independently owned business and my boss has been nothing but understanding when it comes to my pain. However, I can hardly make it through even just 5 1/2 hours of work and I feel it’s unfair to my coworkers that I can’t show up to work on anything resembling a consistent basis. What can I say to my boss when I quit that is short and sweet so I don’t burst into tears in front of him? I want to thank him for being understanding while acknowledging that I have not been the best employee of late due to my pain.

2. I then need to tell my parents about my resigning. I have to go back to university in September so I’m only really quitting a few weeks early but money is tight for me and as I said, my mum isn’t the most understanding when it comes to my pain. Do you have any scripts for saying, “Hey, Mum, I’ve quit my job a few weeks early so when you come home from work you’re going to see me lazing around on the couch but I’d like you not to judge me for that?”

The good news is that when I go back to university I can access proper health services again (because rural Canada absolutely sucks when it comes to healthcare access) and get the specialized physiotherapy I need to help manage my pain. But in the meantime, I can’t really do much about my situation. If you or your readers could help make my remaining weeks at home a little less emotionally painful, I would appreciate any scripts/advice you have.

Sincerely,
Sick and Tired
(female pronouns please)

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Dear Captain & Crew,

This is a question about Xmas boundaries + the ever-awkward subject of money. I know, it’s completely ridiculous to be worrying about Xmas in July… I don’t want to think about Xmas before Turkey Day! However, Husband’s family starts planning Xmas far in advance, and they’ve started poking us about Xmas plans alread. Cue holiday anxiety!

After a blow-up at Xmas time 5 years ago by MIL (who is generally very sweet and kind), I have become very anxious about holiday plans with Husband’s mother and his extended family. MIL insists on spending waaaaay too much money on us, especially at Xmas time. For last year’s extended family visit, MIL bought our plane tickets ($2K+) before I’d agreed to the dates, paid for the rental car Husband and I used ($500+), insisted on paying for all the meals, and bought everyone a ton of gifts.

MIL’s trend of insisting on covering all expenses makes me very uncomfortable and anxious. 3 years ago, we all agreed on a Secret-Santa arrangement for Husband’s family, and set a spending limit of $40. Although MIL agreed, she bought gifts for everyone and blew right past the $40 spending limit per person.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with how much money MIL is spending on me. While it’s her money (and her choice to spend it), I really dislike how she insists on paying for everything whenever we see her. I really want to speak up about it. However, because of my own “I want them to like me!” issues, I feel like my mouth is glued shut & can’t speak up in the moment. I also know that my Husband really doesn’t want me to “rock the boat” by contradicting his mother.

I’m reaching my wits’ end in this situation, and I’m hoping you can offer me some scripts. I want to find my voice again and have agency in this relationship.

My questions:
1) After setting spending-limit boundaries in advance, how do I enforce those boundaries in the moment when everyone (but me) is all “yay, gifts!” on Xmas day?

2) If I can’t speak up to MIL in the moment about #1, what can I say to her after the fact to gently+firmly express that all the money she’s spending on me is making me really really uncomfortable?

3) What can I say when we go out to eat and MIL insists on paying? (Saying “we’ll get the next one” doesn’t work because she stubbornly insists on paying at every meal).

4) What do I say to Husband when he pressures me to keep quiet about Xmas/general over-spending?

Signed,
Stressing and Exhausted about the Holidays Months in Advance (DAMMIT)

(she/her pronouns)

Hi Stressing,

I’m sorry, I don’t have good answers or scripts to your specific questions. You are already doing & saying the right things. I think your best choices going forward are:

Go. And go knowing what you’re in for, including too much money spent on you, awkward gifts, & her picking up every check. Go wholeheartedly and try to enjoy what there is to enjoy about your in-laws and the way they celebrate. After this many years, you are not going to change your Mother-In-Law. She already knows how you feel. You can refuse to accept the gifts, fight every restaurant check, make a point, etc. but she is still gonna roll how she rolls. Choose your battles (like, making travel arrangements around YOUR schedule). Let your husband take the lead in all interactions, bring a really good book with you, stick to your own spending limits, and peace out of looking for middle ground where there is none. When you feel uncomfortable, go for a walk or go to bed early to read or go to the movies by yourself for a little while and give yourself some space.

Vs.

Don’t go. Celebrate the holidays your way, according to your preferences & values. Create a holiday tradition of your own with just you and your husband. Be low-key and thrifty and quiet and relaxed. Visit your In-Laws another, less-gifty time of year. In the meantime, let the guilt-trips and the “It just won’t be Christmas without you!” furor and the prospect of too-expensive gifts sent in the mail wash over you for the next half a year.

My recommendation would be “Go sometimes as a gift to your spouse, don’t go sometimes as a gift to your own well-being.” Reminding yourself that it’s a choice will hopefully give you more feeling of control. You went last year, so this seems like a good year to respond to the questions about your plans with “We’re planning to stay put this year and do Christmas with y’all every other year.” This is your husband’s family, yes? Then let him be the one to deliver the news and sail his non-rocky vessel through the guilt-storms.

P.S. “It’s July, I haven’t decided yet/I’ll let you know when that changes” is a perfectly fine answer to all winter holiday inquiries btw. Leave out “It’s fucking July, WTF fam?” part for best results.🙂

 

 

Hi Captain and Goat Lady:

I love my sister but she has a tendency to be negative and critical. I’ve tried to address these issues directly in the past (“e.g., when you nitpick me I don’t want to be around you”), so she’s started using her five year old son to side-step my boundaries. This allows her to disown any comments “he” makes and allows her to get angry under the guise of protecting him if I try to talk to her about it.

For example, one weekend I canceled plans with my sister and her son because I had a migraine. She told me that her son was worried I didn’t love him anymore. She will also tell me he has said things like “Aunt Anon got an apartment too far away” or “Aunt Anon is too fat” which directly mirrors what she likes to pick at me about. I’m certain he doesn’t actually say these things, but if he *does* say them it’s not a huge deal and she should be able to explain to him that yes, Aunt Anon does love him and it’s unfortunate she had to get an apartment so far away. How can I talk to her about this without inciting any protective outrage?

Thanks.

(She/her please).

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Dear Captain:

My parents get along pretty well with my father-in-law, let’s call him Peter. He is a widower so they usually invite each other to visit, my husband and I included. We usually have lunch, some bottles of wine and everyone has fun. Last time my parents visited Peter my mother stumbled across an old newspaper. It had a eulogy for my mother-in-law (let’s call her Nora). She was a great woman, a social worker and activist. Unfortunately, she passed away before I met my husband.

After my mom read it, Peter came back with some printed documents and handed them to my parents. They were some poems written by Nora, that he found after her death. My mom started immediately to read them and after finishing the first page said if I wanted to read them too.

Peter and Nora had had problems during their marriage. By the time of her death, they barely speak to each other, and were practically divorced. For that reason I think Peter probably didn’t know what Nora wanted to do with her writings.

So I said “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” And everyone asked why. So I said “well, because I don’t really know if Nora wanted them to be public. Maybe is personal stuff, and it feels wrong.”

Awkward silence ensued and then they replied the following:
Mom: “It’s no big deal sweetie, I’m sure Nora wouldn’t mind”.
Peter: “Well, it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead”
Dad: “But the only reason people write poems is to be published, isn’t’ it?”

They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)

I’m super defensive about my privacy and the idea of being exposed terrifies me. My mom and I used to have big arguments about this topic. Some of the things she did include: Throw away T-shirts claiming that they made me look fat. Open bank slips with my name on it. Go to my University and asked my teachers about my grades. She finally stopped doing these things long time ago, but I still feel threatened when she starts asking me personal stuff or comments on photos or personal things I have around in my house.

And I also used to write a lot during my twenties. I have at least a dozen handwritten notebooks, with tons of personal stuff: poetry, therapy tasks, ideas, cooking recipes, drawings, rants about people, etc. I really would hate if someone reads them but I don’t have the courage to toss them.

So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better. Would you please give me your advice and opinions? And also, what can I do with my notebooks? Any ideas?

Thanks a lot.

Privacy Champion.
(she/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I should probably start off by saying that I come from a culture (one of many) where family ties are super close, and family members getting into your business is acceptable and if you complain about it you’re ungrateful and aggressive.

I am now going to be working in another country (my country of birth) for the summer, and my aunt and grandparents are also here, staying in their home. I’m living alone (hallelujah) in another apartment, but i go over there once in awhile to see my grandparents.

However, something very strange is happening. I’ve been on my own pretty much, or trying to be. My aunt, however, decides to accompany me back to my dorm whenever i leave their home, even though I do not ask her to do this. She also decided, unilaterally, that she would accompany me to meet the person I’m working for. So she came in and SAT IN THE MEETING, and she did all this at the speed of light, totally ignoring my attmepts to divert her and giving me no chance to say hey, maybe you don’t need to be here. The job is acutally an internship and has been in the works, and this was not my first impression on the person I’m working for, so I’m not as mortified as I would be. The interviewers are also from the same culture, and appeared to understand the dynamics of the situation, for which i’m thankful.

That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that on the way back, as we went our separate ways, she told me that I needed to be more independent. I had no idea how to respond, besides “uh, i’m perfectly capable of being independent, except when you all foist yourselves into things that don’t concern you.” This is a common pattern in my family – be overbearing and steamroll people, then proclaim that they are too dependent and can’t live on their own and NEED the intervention of people constantly trying to dictate things to them.

What i’m wondering is…..what on earth do i do here? If i object to their meddling it’s considered rude. If I accept their “help” without comment, they use it against me to claim that I need their help, when i never asked for it. What. The. Hell.

Signed,

Trapped in a Feedback Loop

Dear Trapped in a Feedback Loop:

I want to introduce you to my favorite word right now and it’s not “no” or “wow” or “really?” as you might suspect. It’s “okay” and I’ve found it useful whenever someone is projecting something onto me that isn’t really about me at all.

Family Member: “You really need to be more independent!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “If you don’t listen to my intrusive advice, terrible things will happen!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried that my stream of anxiety about you will actually come into being!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried our family won’t see it as a ‘real wedding’ if there is no religious aspect.” (True story, y’all)

“Okay.”

It’s a different version of “Sure, I’ll think about it!” where you will think about whatever it is (and then not do it if it doesn’t suit you). It’s a non sequitur/feigned agreement way of saying “I heard you and I am not particularly ruffled by your concerns but I also don’t want to fight with you.” It doesn’t work in every situation, but try it out and see what happens. Sometimes it stops the conversation in its tracks because there just isn’t any place to go from there.

Another way to deal with the “You need to be more independent (while I totally undercut your independence at every turn)” Auntie is to ask her what she means. “Auntie, I’d love to be more independent. Can you help me understand what you mean by that?” She’s not gonna gain sudden self-awareness about how her intrusion on your job meeting or walking you home every single night conflicts with that wish, but it might help to know her specific concerns and get an idea of her point of view about everything. Don’t argue with her when she answers you even if what she says is very unfair, just hear her out and tell her you’ll think about what she suggested. Then, over time (not during that particular conversation, just, when another intrusion comes up organically in a specific situation), gently and inexorably refer back to that conversation. “Auntie, I’ve really taken to heart your advice about being more independent, and I’d like to handle work meetings by myself.” “Auntie, you’re very kind to escort me home, but for the sake of being more independent, I’d like to go by myself tonight. Thank you!” Think of it as boundaries-Aikido, where you are channeling her aggression away from yourself. In that sense, the “Be more independent!” advice was a gift she gave you to help you start gently maintaining your boundaries. It gives you a way to say “Thank you, but thanks to your excellent guidance,  I got this!” and carve out some space in a constructive way rather than lapsing into a teenaged-sounding “QUIT SMOTHERING ME!” (even if that’s legitimately how you feel around these folks).

She will not disengage quietly, so know going in that it will probably take many attempts. Go slow and avoid ultimatums to the extent that you can.

 

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