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Hi Captain,

Thank you so much for your blog, which I’ve been reading for several years now. I know this is a pretty low-stakes question, but I need scripts, and I just cannot find a way to respond to this particular situation.

I visit my future-MIL maybe two, three times a year, and have done so for the past four or five years. This involves staying in her house. It’s rough because I’m an introvert and she is very much not, and I struggle to find alone recharge time when she is offended if we don’t spend all our time with her. But that’s another issue. The thing is, she insists I should feel comfortable and wear pajamas around the house. Great! I love pajamas and like to wear classic loose plaid pants, camisoles, etc., when I am relaxing *inside.* Except the following exchange happens literally two or three times every time we stay there:

Her: Time to go to dinner/ drinks/ etc.! [Or if I’m lucky, I get a ten-minute warning. They don’t do specifically timed plans. Also another issue.]

Me: I’ll just change!

Her: Why?

Me: Because I’m wearing pajamas.

Her: But why?

Me: Because I can’t wear pajamas outside?

Her: Whyever not?

Me: . . .

Please help. This is not in a place where it is acceptable to wear pajamas outside; I would get stared at. And even if it were socially okay, I am not comfortable with that. I would feel gross getting outside dirt on my inside pajamas. I don’t take forever to get ready, I just spend five to ten minutes changing my clothes.

I also cannot comprehend why she feels the need to repeat this conversation over and over. Is this her way of telling me that I actually should not wear pajamas in her house? Am I being subtly called out for not being able to accurately predict when it’s time to leave? Can I please have scripts?

– At a Loss

(feminine pronouns, and my fiancé is male, if that’s relevant)

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Hi Dear Captain,

I’m an 18yr old just on the last legs of high school. I’ve got this Huge! Life! Affirming! Exam!(equivalent to SATs) coming up on April, and I am so not prepared.
So, I’ve got a family that’s lowkey hellish to live with.My siblings are all nearly a decade older. My mum is diagnosed with a mental illness that manisfests in instability and extreme anger.I rarely get to see my dad. Growing up in this household surely messed something up, because I have low esteem and anxiety. Pair that up with subtle put downs and remarks about my intelligence and vague body shaming from my sisters, my feelings for my family are mostly contemptous and distrustful now.A big part of my life plan is GET FAR FAR AWAY THIS IS NOT HEALTHY RUN.

Unfortunately, to fulfill my escape plan, I’ll need to study well enough to land a scholarship to uni. Or else it’s forevermore being stuck in this place. As it currently stands, I’m officially unable to give a crap. About anything. Being overly sensitive and fragile,I tend to shut down and be an unresponsive zombie in the face of conflict of any sort. In previous letters you’ve said you have never been as unhappy later on as once a kid, I’d genuinely like to get to that stage from where I am right now. But it’s either running away or uni for me.

It feels like I know the starting position, I know where the finish line is, but I can’t muster enough willpower to work towards my goals. It just doesn’t register in my numbed brain that I need to study my butt off. I just can’t care about anything. It took me six days just to write this email.

I don’t know how to get out of this funk.Time is running out,I can’t afford to be depressed or I’ll be in even of more a clusterf**k.

So in short,how do I stop being a zombie and care about my future and everything else?
Sorry to dampen your holiday spirits,Captain. Merry Christmas to you and your awesome cat.

Fingers Crossed

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Dear Captain,

Longtime lurker, first time LW. Thanks for providing such a safe, thoughtful & humorous space for thinking through life’s issues.

My ex-stepfather (XSF) is elderly, ill & failing. I foresee him dying sometime in the next year or so. I do not wish to go to his funeral, but I believe many members of my family will view that decision as unforgivable. Allow me to elaborate:

XSF & my mom were married for about 13 years, but since their divorce they have had an on-again, off-again relationship. I lived with them both for six years, then left the state for college & grad school, never to return. He was financially generous (more than my bio father was able to be at the time), but that is the only positive thing I can say about him. My mom, who had worked since age 12 in a difficult industry, stopped working when I was in high school. XSF paid for everything: a beautiful home, clothing, vacations, etc. I accepted these things without question. He paid for half of college-I paid for the other half. I went on to borrow for grad school, pay for my own wedding & home, etc.

Unfortunately , XSF was and continues to be unapologetically misogynistic, racist, homophobic, alcoholic, verbally abusive, and paranoid. I grew up in a culture which actually embraces many of these qualities, & while I fled the state out of gut instinct to get the hell out of there, it was only with time & growth that I recognized that I needed to get him out of my life. This was pretty easy to accomplish because even when living in the same house, our relationship was managed through my mom. To give you a flavor of our relationship: XSF is fond of nicknaming people: one of mine was “Mouse” because I (uncharacteristically) was always so quiet around him. Another of my nicknames was “Sprout”, in reference to my developing breasts. Need I say how utterly impossible it was for me to have a real relationship with this man? My younger brother has always had a better relationship with him, since XSF had no other sons & my brother was eager to bond with a father figure (bio dad was largely absent).

Since the divorce XSF has made no effort to contact me. My long-suffering stepsisters (with whom I never lived) made minimal efforts as well, which was fine with me. At the time, it seemed to me that if my mother was allowed to divorce & not speak to him, I was also entitled to do so. It was a huge relief to not spend time with him during my brief visits home.

During times they have been back together, I made a few gestures (some big, some small) to reach out to him & establish at least a civil relationship, for Mom’s sake. She convinced me to invite him to my wedding (to a man of a race he frequently mocked while I was growing up!), because they were once again dating, & she wanted him there. Fortunately, he behaved civilly.

Since XSF has become more frail, my mom has become one of his primary supports: cooking, shopping, cleaning, etc. He is rude to health care providers, refuses basic supports such as physical rehab, & continues to be verbally abusive to his daughter & (probably) my mom. In short, he has not changed. Despite this, during a recent social event with friends, Mom characterized XSF as “a good stepfather” to my brother & me.

I fear that when the time comes, I will go to the funeral out of a wish to support Mom, be a “good” daughter, avert conflict, “pay my respects”, etc. I want to have a preemptive conversation with Mom, saying that I think it will be more awkward for everyone if I attend. She tends to believe in doing what is socially expected, rather than being true to oneself, but she fully knows how strongly I feel about XSF. I know she will be sad if I don’t go, but I think that sadness is really grief about the relationship XSF & I never had.

I guess what I need is a succinct way to explain to friends & family why I am not going, without coming across as a bitter, ungrateful, disrespectful grudge-bearer. They all know he is a jerk, but “he gave you so much!” In a culture where the standards for male behavior are so low, he is viewed as a “Good Ol’ Boy”. But….I just can’t.

Thanks ,

Ex-Stepdaughter
(She-her pronouns)

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Dear Captain,

Earlier this year my uncle (mother’s brother) coerced my 85 year old grandmother (his own mother, who is increasingly blind and deaf, has been housebound and reliant on in-home care for the last few years, with some memory loss/mild dementia) into “lending” him a four-figure sum of money that represented a significant chunk of her overall net worth. He claimed he had a mortgage coming through in a few days and would pay her back then. That was several months ago and he has still not paid her back. My grandmother admitted to other family members, but not to him, that she didn’t want to give him the money and felt coerced but didn’t know how to say no.

Since then we’ve taken steps to protect my grandma and her finances (my mother now has power of attorney but my uncle doesn’t, her chequebook is no longer kept in her house, her bank have been alerted that she is at risk of financial abuse and have put a watch on her account for large sums going out), but there’s nothing we can do about the money she already gave my uncle; in the eyes of the law and the bank it’s assumed she’s legally able to consent to giving such a gift, though I have serious qualms about her actual ability to properly consent, the fact that she said she felt coerced, the ugly power imbalances in play etc.

My mother’s reaction has been disappointing but not surprising. I learnt at a very young age that I couldn’t rely on her to have my back if her own anxiety was in play, and in this situation she refused to intervene because she was afraid that her mother/my grandmother “would be mad at her for getting involved” and she prioritised wanting to avoid that conflict over actually keeping her vulnerable parent safe. She doesn’t approve of what my uncle did, but she’s been expressing this mostly in Marge Simpson disapproval noises rather than, say, actually having a conversation with him about the fact that he did something so gross and unethical.

No one, as far as I can tell, has actually called my uncle out about what he did. I know I can’t presume to understand someone else’s financial circumstances, but this is a man who owns and rents out multiple properties, who pays no tax because his job is overseas most of the year and who has non-vulnerable family members with significant savings – there are at least two other people in his life whom it would have been more appropriate for him to try to borrow money from, and it sickens me that instead he strongarmed the most vulnerable person in the family.

My uncle and his family still send me a Christmas gift each year, usually a small amount of cash. What he did to my grandma is a huge violation of my own ethical boundaries, and I feel really uncomfortable taking money from him. I’m also experiencing a strong desire to call him out somewhere publicly and make him suffer and feel afraid the way he made his own mother suffer and feel afraid, in spite of not generally being a vengeful person.

However, I’m a pretty reserved person and don’t generally share how I’m feeling, and the idea of making a big deal of this (either on social media or in person) is horrifying to me despite the fact that I feel like there should be more personal consequences for him as a result of his actions than he’s currently experiencing. I’m feeling strong pressure from my mother to keep my mouth shut about this, because she doesn’t want drama either, but the idea of him getting away with this eats at me. I also don’t know whether my aunt and cousins know that he did this, and whether they approve of his actions or not if they do know about it. On the whole they’re a more emotive/dramatic family than we are and I can see a public callout going wrong if they decide they’re on Team Uncle rather than Team Grandma.

So, my questions: are there any classy ways to make my disgust and disappointment clear to him? To refuse a cash gift at Christmas (I just cannot take money from someone who thinks it’s okay to do what he did)? I’m really torn between wanting him to suffer and really not wanting to make a scene. It’s been a bad year to be a man who abuses power, but I’m also really aware of the extent to which I’ve been socialised to give bad men who abuse their power the benefit of the doubt – part of my discomfort around calling him out is that small voice saying “well maybe there are extenuating circumstances you don’t understand and you should avoid making a fuss just in case”. But I really don’t think he should be able to walk away from this with his reputation intact.

What to do?

Thanks,

Fuck You, Uncle Dickbag

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Dear Captain,

This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.

I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.

I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.

I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?

Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter

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Dear Captain,

My sister and I need some help with a potential situation this Christmas. My mother’s extended family has Christmas at her house every year on Christmas day and my sister and I usually stay with my parents in the days leading up to Christmas.

However, at Thanksgiving we ran into a situation. My cousin Amy’s husband Dan is demonstrating inappropriate behavior. In the past, he has come up and hugged us without asking or anything like that which we have dealt with by staying away from him. However, at Thanksgiving he thought it was funny to flick his lighter on and hold it under my sister’s arm. When she told him to stop, he did it again. She told him to stop a second time and he did but then he tried to hug her like he hadn’t just attempted bizarre act against her. I am apparently the only one who saw this and I got us out of there quickly. I mentioned it to my parents but as far as I know, no one has done anything about it.

In the past, anytime we have said something against any type of behavior, everyone shrugs it off as harmless and “he was just playing.”

We know we are going to be sharing the same space with him for a couple of hours on Christmas day, do you have any advice on what we can do?

Thank you,

Worried Sister

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m Luke from #728. (The Solo family is fine, no worries.) I got a lot of mileage out of the suggested scripts then and I find myself in need of some completely unrelated scripts now.

I am not usually a dating-type of person. I’m not anti-dating. I’m dating agnostic, if you will. But I’m over 30 and don’t date and get a lot of “Your biological clock is ticking, dear” from *everyone* because hell is other people. Anyway, a dude I’ve known forever asked me out and we went on a handful of dates over a three-month period. I thought we were fine! Spoiler: We were not fine.

I have a dog named Crybaby. I mostly call her “Babe” or “Baby.” This has never been a problem before, because why would it? But this dude came over to pick me up for a date and went off on a four-and-a-half minute MAXIMUM VOLUME FEELINGSBOMB in the middle of my kitchen about how calling the dog “Babe” was disrespectful to him (??), calling her “Baby” was disrespectful to our future children (!!), and disrespecting him and our future children was disrespectful to his mother (?!?!). I just stood there and stared over his shoulder at the clock on the wall until he finished blowing up. Then he walked out, slammed the door, and got in his car.

I got a baseball bat, dialed 9-1 on my cell, and stood at a window with my thumb hovering over the “1” until he drove away. Apparently, I was supposed to run after him and apologize? I changed into sweats, gave Crybaby a treat, and ate a pint of ice cream for supper because that was upsetting.

The problem is, my entire family knows his entire family. My dad and his dad and his uncles all belong to the same hunting club. My sister and his cousin are besties. Our grandmothers go to the same church. I am in a book club with his mother. My options seem to be (a) quit society and move to a cave and eat worms, or (b) spend the entire holiday season explaining why I won’t return this dude’s calls *at Christmas*. I don’t want to eat worms! I want to strike a balance between “He doesn’t like my dog so he’s dead to me” and leaning into the other person’s space and saying, “He stood this close to me and SCREAMED LIKE THIS for four minutes because he doesn’t like my dog’s name.” This is so bizarre. I am at a loss. If you could suggest any kind of scripts for this clusterfudge, I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you,

Luke

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