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Dear Captain Awkward,

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my question! Here’s the situation: I got married nearly two years ago. For our wedding, we tried to keep things very simple and planned for two toasts, one from each side. I asked my best friend to give the toast on my side. Two days before the wedding, my Mom insisted that my brother give a toast too, since he gave a heartfelt and funny one at my sister’s wedding. I agreed, albeit just to appease her, because I love my brother and he’s a great speaker. I explained to him that I would be honored for him to speak and that Mom really wanted him to as well, and he agreed with a note that it might not be great with such short notice.
It wasn’t great. In fact, it hurt my feelings. The other toasts were sweet and funny with some loving jabs. My brother was okay at first, just some silly marriage advice. But at the end he was like “I know I’m supposed to roast my little sister: growing up, she was a poor sport and a tattletale”. The end. Nothing to blunt the jab, nothing about caring for me or that he’s happy that I found such a good match. We have never spoken about it.

If this matters, my husband agrees that it was harsh and maybe awkward. His brother roasted him HARD but did it in a way that showed how much he adores him and nothing had a sting to it.

Generally my brother and I have a good relationship. We live a few hours apart, text a little bit most weeks and see each other a few times a year. Typically we’re trying to make each other laugh or just catch up on life, but I think we could eventually be truly close.

For some reason I just can’t let this toast go. I know I’m being sensitive, but am I just being a “poor sport”? Also, I don’t know if I should talk to him about this. I mean, he DID warn me that it might not be great with such short notice. Maybe I should re-write the narrative in my mind that he tried to make a joke (based in truth) that just fell flat?

Thaaaanks!
Sensitive Sally

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Submit questions on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) or on Patreon before noon Chicago time today.

I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 1pm, with comments turned on once the post is up.

Thank you, this was fun to do last week.

Q 1, a holdover from last week: “Hi Captain! I’m starting at a prestigious med school this fall. I know that I’ve worked really hard to get here, but my parents have long been psychologically undermining me and won’t stop now. Any tips on resisting their signals and trusting my competency?”

A: Congratulations!

I think it’s time to examine how often you talk to these people, and why, and what information you give them about your life. Maybe it’s time for your parents to become “occasional greeting cards/passing pleasantries”-level people, where you aim for a series of mostly pleasant surface-level interactions and the goal of not escalating things from your side or making anything worse than it already is. Give yourself permission to leave a conversation or an event if they say mean things, give yourself breaks from being in contact at all, give yourself permission to edit the details of what you tell them about your life. After all, they can’t comment unfavorably on something if they don’t know about it, and if they wonder why there is distance between you, hey, you’re busy with med school!

Even when it’s necessary to protect ourselves and liberating to acknowledge the truth about what’s happening, it is very painful for emotional abuse survivors to acknowledge the gap between how parents should act (loving, supportive, proud) and how they are actually acting. So please shore up your other support systems and reach out to friends, possible mental health support, mentors & other members of Team You, so that you do have people you can confide in and count on to be supportive, loving, and proud.

Q2: “A question… scripts for negotiating with debt collectors and related financial entities, with a side order of bypassing and shutting up brainweasels that shriek YOU ARE BAD FOR NEEDING TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE…?”

I was a broke grad student for a very long time and I have had to deal with debt collectors before. it’s the worst! I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!

Some things that have helped me:

First, I found out everything I could about my rights and their practices.

Second, I never, ever, ever talk to them on the phone. I don’t verify shit for their records. I definitely don’t give them contact info for friends or family if they are trying to use me to hunt down someone else. I also do everything in writing. The first time one calls I ask “Can you send me something in writing? I have no way of knowing that you are who you say you are, and I don’t talk about sensitive financial matters over the phone.” They will do everything they can to try to pressure you to stay on the phone, so just repeat that like a broken record and then hang up.

In the USA anyone attempting to collect a debt is required to verify their authority to collect the debt in writing, usually within 30-45 days. I also document everything: The firm, the name of the person, the date, everything they say. After that request for things in writing, I create a contact for them and then block the # on my cell phone.

There’s more practical stuff at that link.

As for the shame aspect of it, your shame is useful to debt collectors. It is not useful to you. I assume that you are a conscientious person who generally tries to pay what you owe, and that if you’re not paying something it’s because you can’t. Even if you were careless or “lazy” in some way, I would still think you deserved food, shelter, health care, leisure time, and good things in life because you are a human being.

I’m going to tell the truth about something that I was very ashamed of once upon a time: When I moved out of my ex’s place in 2011, I had less than $300 in the bank and no computer, and the breakup & move came in the summer when I didn’t have adjunct work. I was lucky in so many ways, I had a friend moving out of her place to get married, and she had paid up the rent for a few months. I had community, as in, the very first Captain Awkward Dot Com pledge drive bought me a computer and put food on my table. Other friends hooked me up with freelance work. But it was grim for a minute there, and during that time I stopped being able to pay off a credit card from grad school. That $150/month minimum payment wasn’t doing anything to bring down the overall balance, it was like throwing money down a hole. It basically came down to eat & have health insurance? vs. pay this bill. So I stopped paying it and eventually it got sent to collections.

Let me be *completely* honest, in case it might help someone: Also during that time, I had a bunch of automatic payments for bills, student loans, etc. coming out of my bank account, and while I did my best to stop/re-organize them, I didn’t act in time and I bounced some payments. When I couldn’t deposit enough money to cover them in my bank account within a few days, my banker helped me temporarily suspend my account. We didn’t want to close it with a negative balance, because it could have meant I might not be able to open another bank account for a period of years, but this temporary fix stopped any payments from going out or through while keeping the account technically open. That meant I couldn’t use an ATM or debit card until I had had a positive balance and no shenanigans for six months, and I had to do all my financial transactions in cash or in person at the bank or by paying bills at currency exchanges. It sucked and was terribly inconvenient, though it made me very, very careful with money and reversed some lazy habits I had accumulated.

Back to the unpaid credit card balance! Down the road, I settled it for a nominal amount of money, about 10% of the total balance. There were credit report consequences (my only credit card now is a secured card with a $500 limit, tbh I like it that way b/c it means I can never go into bigger debt again) and tax consequences (companies can write off bad debt as a loss for tax purposes, but individual people have to claim the difference between the total balance owed and what we settle for as income), and bill collectors calling, but otherwise nothing bad happened to me. I wish I’d just had the money to pay the whole thing off without a fuss, but since I didn’t, I made the best choice for myself out of some bad options. There’s a reason they call it unsecured debt, and I wasn’t going to harm my health to pay something that the credit card company had written off without a thought.

People can judge all they want or think I should have made better choices, but fact is most financial advice that exists is for people who are already pretty secure and comfortable and there weren’t a lot of resources I could turn to. Like, sure, “have a budget and stick to it!”, but how do you budget 0$? Also, I personally find most money-saving “tips” to be completely exhausting and depressing.

I dug out of the hole. It took time. I would like to never go back there, but I know it’s always possible, so I will give any moralizing or shame that serves the interests American financial industry at the expense of my safety & survival a hard fucking lifetime pass, and I hope you can do the same.

Possibly helpful reading: Joon Madriga’s Rising: Money Strategies for the Broke, The At Risk, and Those Who Love Them, Poorcraft by C. Spike Trotman, Money Drunk, Money Sober by Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan, Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado.

Forgive all student loans! Universal health care! Solidarity! Bread AND roses!

Q3: “I recently held a phone interview w/ an applicant who was an ideal candidate on the phone, until the end when they said “I’m glad it was a phone interview b/c you can’t tell I didn’t shower.” They are asking why they didn’t get the job. Do I tell them?”

A: Even if that was THE dealbreaker, I wouldn’t tell them that. Especially not in an email.

At most I’d say “We just found someone who was a better fit for the job. However, I really enjoyed speaking with you and you have some great experience and skills, so can I offer a piece of advice for your job search? I’m sure you were joking at the end of the call when you mentioned not taking a shower, but you might want to avoid jokes like that in future phone interviews and err on the side of being more formal. Good luck with everything and thanks again for taking the time to apply and speak with me.” 

This is our daily reminder that there’s a real fine line between “nervous person who makes a bad joke that doesn’t land” and “weirdo with no filter.”

Q4: Through a charity program, I am putting a teenager in a foreign country through private school. She was 12 when I started, she’s 16 now. She seems like a nice kid and I’m happy to do it. But she found me on Facebook recently and chats me regularly. She wants to know about my spouse (I’m a lesbian) and my family (I’m minimal contact with parents who were abusive) and my dog (thank God, that one’s easy).

I am happy to write the checks, but I’m not really looking to be her penpal. She seems to live in happy traditional family and doesn’t get the hint that I’m not and doesn’t seem to have the “don’t Facebook chat adults with six questions in a row about their personal lives” cultural understanding that American teenagers have.

So… how can I not be an asshole here?

A: You could most likely remove her ability to contact you on Messenger, right? Maybe give her an email address instead, so there’s less expectation of immediate responses, and you can answer or not more at leisure.

There’s also always “Oh, so nice to hear from you, but I don’t have time to chat, so don’t be worried if I don’t respond. Hope school is going well!” and then, well, not answering. I think it’s easy to forgive or overlook her initial enthusiasm, and chances are it will die down over time, especially if you are slow to answer.

Could you hook her up with a website that’s more geared toward international penpals for teens? “Since you like chatting so much, would you like to find people your own age to talk with?” Related: A pretty delightful short documentary about this.

Failing that, what’s wrong with “Oh, I don’t have a spouse right now. If I did, it would be another woman“, “I’m not close to my parents, sadly,” or just sticking to dog topics? Those are pretty routine small-talk sorts of questions (and in fact form the basics of early language learning texts) and it’s okay to answer them in a perfunctory way. See also: “Ooh, so many questions! Well, here’s a picture of my dog, for now. Sorry I can’t chat, but have a good day at school.” 

Q5: “I was wondering how best to establish a social event for work people. I would like to invite some of my colleagues socially, maybe make it a regular thing. The wrinkle: It needs to be outside my home and right now the number is small, so I wonder what happens when everyone declines. Also what if I stumble upon some unknown animosities between the people I like? Any advice welcome and thanks for getting back to me :)”

Start with a one-time thing, make sure it’s something that would be enjoyable for you to do, and then secure one reliable colleague who will show up before you make the general announcement so you know that it won’t just be you.

Pick something preferably inexpensive, close to work, and inclusive (at minimum make sure the venue is accessible to any & all disabled folks on your team, think about whether drinking/alcohol is a thing your team handles safely and enjoyably).

Then issue the invite: “Reliable Colleague and I are going to try axe-throwing after work next Thursday, from 5:30-7:30 pm, at [venue]. Anyone want to join us? RSVP by [day] so we can schedule enough axes.” Then send a reminder when you need the final head count.

If people reply and can’t make the first thing, or suggest something else, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should change your plans. “Sorry that you can’t make it this week, we’re going to try to make this a regular thing though, so maybe next time.” “Our heart is really set on axe-throwing this week, but we want to make a regular Thursday night thing, so let’s go to the tapas place the following week. Want to plan that with me?” One way to get me to stop planning anything (and to secretly hate you) is to be a person who doesn’t plan anything but who craps on every plan that other people come up with.

If people have animosities toward each other, you don’t have to fix that, but as host you do have to make expectations about behaviors clear and smack down anything that’s inappropriate or mean. One rule could be “Ok, a 5 minute limit on work venting, this is supposed to be fun” or “To keep this fun and light, please don’t say anything about people who aren’t here that you wouldn’t say to them.” 

Give it some time to get into a groove, and good luck.

Last one:

Q6: Hi Cap! It is that time in my early 30s when old friends who disappeared into 5+ year relationships have broken up & now suddenly want friends again. Advice for navigating friendship renewal when the reason old friend & I haven’t been in touch is because they chose to disappear? In all cases so far I would have been thrilled if friend got in touch to resume friendship at any prior point but I am bitter as soon as I find out friendship-renewal attempt is on heels of new singleness. (with the male examples, am giving benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to hookup) (this may be naive but we’ll see)

A: Two things come to mind:

  1. Let them be the one to make the effort/the plans, and don’t necessarily put a lot of effort into juggling your schedule to fit them in. See them when it’s fun/interesting to you now, not out of obligation to the past.
  2. Seriously limit your role as post-breakup-shoulder-to-cry on, and if they try to take advantage of you in this way, definitely address it: “Hey, you kinda disappeared from my life when you started dating X, and it’s great to have you back, but that doesn’t mean I want to process the last 5 years with you. Let me be your fun-going-to-the-movies friend for a while, and we’ll see if listening-to-my-problems friend still lives here.” Especially for heterosexual dude friends who might be looking to hook up or get a lot of free emotional labor (or both).

That’s all for today, thanks for the great questions, comments are open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Hi Captain,

Your blog has been really helpful in establishing boundaries with family, but my mum has brought us into conflict and I don’t know how to approach it.

Background: I finished uni with depression and no job prospects, so spent a year living with my parents working occassional cash-in-hand cleaning jobs, which I used for “fun” things. I would give my mum the cash and she would transfer the amount into my bank account, as we had to travel some way to either deposit or withdraw cash. Eventually I got a fulltime job offer which meant I had to retrain under the UK’s Apprenticeship scheme, so I earned around £3/hr until I finished training.

The first month of my apprenticeship I massively overestimated my new income, and overspent, going into my overdraft for the first and last time. I talked to my parents about what had happened. I’ve been consistently in the black ever since. I have no outstanding debt.

This happened three years ago, and I now live on the other side of the country with my partner. He has a good steady income, and we own a home together. I’m currently unemployed, and had been wanting to leave for health reasons, so had been saving for months.

My mum has made me aware that she has been reading my bank statements. Today she sent me an email boasting about a microloans scheme she invested in a few years ago. She referred to my “fun” money as an addiction (full disclosure: I can’t always resist microtransactions, but I set a monthly limit and otherwise live a very quiet life) and said she wants to “pretend it isn’t happening”. She implied that my dad is scared of talking to me about this, while he and I discuss my finances whenever I ring him. In the past she and my sister have made references to my parents bailing me out financially… which has never happened.

I’m hurt and confused for several reasons. My finances aren’t my mother’s business – I am financially independent. While I have been irresponsible in the past, I’ve tried to learn from it and have never put myself or my partner in financial risk. I feel the need to prove to my mother that I AM handling my money like an adult, but I don’t understand why she is involved at this point. I suspect she’s upset about the way her mother and brothers are currently treating her, and is taking it out on me, but I still don’t know how to respond to this.

What do I do?

Not-in-Debt in Norwich

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did y’all read this letter over at Ask A Manager?

Alison deftly handled the workplace advice, but I can’t stop thinking about the letter and I want to say a few things to the poor Letter Writer about the family stuff.

Letter Writer,

This is a horrible situation for so many reasons. Your boss is cartoonishly awful. Your dad is her willing flying monkey. And your mom is no fucking help at all. You are about to learn a lot of very painful lessons all at once, and I am sorry.

If you can get any other job at all, please do it. Waiting tables sounds pretty great, especially since most places that would hire you will want you to start soon. You’ve got a knack for administrative work, so register at every temp agency in your town. You can find ways to volunteer and network and build a portfolio in your chosen field over time, and that will actually be much easier when you’re out of the toxic situation you’re in. Those board members who complimented your work – are they hiring, by chance? Above all, do not listen to people who want you to do “prestigious” things at the expense of putting food on your table.

Also, if you live with either of your parents, it is time to move out ASAP. I know this is scary, but I promise you: A house full of roommates and a lumpy futon in a room with a door you can shut is going to be better than living with either of these people. You’re gonna need some space from your parents – especially your dad – before you can think about rebuilding a healthier adult relationship.

Keep your plans absolutely secret until you’ve got another gig and can quit. Your dad is not a safe person right now. If it helps, think of him as Theoden, King of Rohan while he’s still very much under Grima Wormtongue’s spell. You can love him but your safety depends on working around him. His advice to you sucks. He is not on your side. Do not consult him about or alert him to your plans. Your mom is also not a safe person right now. She is prioritizing the fear of a theoretical resumé gap over your actual well-being. It’s time for them to both hear a blanket “Thanks for the advice, I’ll think about it!” whenever they counsel you to do something about your career. You will think about it, and then you’ll do what is best for you. It is very, very hard to come to terms with the fact that the people you’ve trusted all your life to take care of you and steer you wisely are not up to that job.

When you leave working for Jill, expect an extinction burst of her trying to keep you in place. She might offer you more money. She might offer to give you a more regular schedule. She might promise to not leave the baby with you anymore. Don’t believe her. Do not be sucked in. She has already shown you that she will abuse you, the damage is already done, there is nothing she can do to turn this awful job into an acceptable job. The longer you stay, the more time she has to damage you professionally and personally. She may turn to threats – “I’ll break up with your Dad if you leave this job!” And like, what can you say besides “Okay?” or “Good?” or “Do whatever you want, I’m still out of here!” It may help you to find neutral scripts you can repeat to Jill, like “Thanks so much for the opportunity, but [New Job] will be a better fit for me.” You can alter it for your dad, like “Thanks to you and Jill for finding me a position when I really needed one, but I think [New Job] will be a better fit for me.” You will never convince them that your reasons for leaving are good enough, so, stop giving them reasons and stick with platitudes. Reasons are for reasonable people. Unreasonable people just see your reasons as things they can argue with.

Also get ready for Jill (and your dad, by proxy) to tell a bunch of lies about you. Do not use her as a reference, for anything. The  story will become how she gave you a job out of the goodness of her heart and you were bad at it and also ungrateful. The truth is you are pretty good at your job and would thrive in a functional workplace with functional people. The truth is she would have a very hard time finding anyone to replace the work you do, and definitely would have a hard time finding someone who would put up with her whims as patiently as you have, especially for the bullshit low wages she is almost definitely paying you. This is a very hard lesson to learn, but sometimes people will tell stories about you that aren’t true to try to punish you or manipulate you, and your best option out of a bunch of bad options is for you is to let them think and say whatever they want, because for you to stay and try to argue with them or prove them wrong gives them more access to abuse you. Abusive people like Jill are experts in creating an alternate reality, where you are both the worst person who ever lived and someone who is completely irreplaceable and owes it to them to stay forever (and let yourself be abused). It’s easier to get out of this trap when you know it’s coming.

Finally, if you can put some mental health support resources in place for yourself, do it. Here are some places to start. A trained person who be a reality check against the gaslighting and terrible advice from your parents is a valuable resource.

May you be in a new job very, very soon.

May this seven months of hell not even warrant a line on your resume.

May this become just an entertaining story that you tell at cocktail parties someday. (In your shoes I’d be tempted to go to at least one couples’ counseling session because: story fodder and to ask the therapist to his or her face “What the fuck made you think this would be a good idea?” but I also don’t have to look at any of these people again, so, do what works for you)

❤ and luck,

Captain Awkward