Behind a cut for emotional abuse, misogyny, and discussion of these things as specifically related to recent gun violence and the possibility thereof, which is not what the Letter Writer asked, but definitely something I saw in the question.
One of my (32, she/her) very best friends (ditto, ditto), Sara, has been dating John, for about a year, and I’ve recently realized that I just do not like him much.
Most of the time, in either big or small groups, John doesn’t interact much with me or others at all; he’s in the “just kind of there” school of significant other-ing, which is understandable early in a relationship. We haven’t found any common interests (besides Sara) that could be an easy point of connection, other than me occasionally asking him about work in a small-talky way, which is too bad, but not a huge problem.
The problem is when he does interact with me unprompted, it’s often to “well, actually” me: things like “you don’t need bug spray, we’re on pavement” (yes I do) or “you say you’re avoiding sugar, but you’re drinking wine right now” (uh, OK?) or “you could take a rideshare for the same amount you’re spending on that drink, and then you wouldn’t need to stress out about taking the bus” (reiterating that I need to catch that bus is my way of signaling that this conversation will have an expiration date!). Or he’ll point out a flaw or foible in a sorta-joking way. Maybe he’s just a jerk; maybe he’s just socially awkward and is trying, badly, to join in the conversation. Either way, as another close friend, who has also not warmed to him, put it recently: it feels like he’s lightly negging us all the time.
I realize that part of adulthood is that my friends are going to date or marry people who are not necessarily my cup of tea, and that even if Sara and John break up, I will likely not be so lucky as to genuinely connect with every single person my friends ever bring around (though I’ve been pretty lucky so far). In these situations, what are some strategies I can use to forge some low-key social bonds, or at least manage to tolerate hanging out with, people who would not be my first choice to socialize with but matter to people I care about?
CONGRATULATIONS, ALL YOU BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE GETTING MARRIED SOON.
Let’s talk about some stuff I know about weddings. This is probably my one wedding-related post for at least the remainder of 2019. I’m going to try to hit all the bases I know how to help with. If you don’t see your concern addressed, comments are open.
Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your family.
Your wedding invitation list does not exist as a communication device to convey exactly who you like best and how much you like (or don’t like) someone in your family or social circle. You can leave the homophobes, Nazis, and child molesters off the guest list and you don’t have to explain yourself. Here are scripts for anyone who wants to pressure you about this:
“Everyone will live if this one person is not at one party.”
“[Relative] and I do have a problem, and that’s our business. It’s not your problem to solve, so please stop trying. If you keep pressuring me about this, my problem is going to be with you. Surely you don’t want that, so let’s change the subject.”
“You’re going to have to drop this topic, forever.”
My general recommendation is “Invite someone or don’t, avoid half-measures,” “I want to invite X but also control and head off everything about how they behave that day” or “I want to invite X on the condition that we work out everything that is fraught and stressful between us during wedding planning, a fraught and stressful process in itself” is a setup for stress and failure. If this person sucks and makes you uncomfortable? You can not invite them. If the stress of not inviting them is greater than the stress of just giving in, consider that you can invite them and plan to give them a wide berth. There will other guests, brides & grooms are in demand, maybe don’t think of it as “Many hours trapped with this difficult person and our unresolved issues,” think of it as “I’ll spend a quick few minutes of accepting congratulations from someone I don’t like so much before I get distracted with someone else.” People say weddings are a blur and they are right, it’s actually a challenge to slow down and pay attention to every single person, so let the blur work for you! But it’s my strong opinion that half-measures are doomed.
This is because you can’t change people or fix them. People in your family who annoy you will go right on annoying you on and after your wedding day. You can sometimes create buffers against jerks but you can’t control them, and the things that are fucked up in your family will still be messy at your wedding. Sometimes people can rally and behave themselves for one photo op, I hope that’s the case, sometimes people can surprise you with how decent and loving they can be even if things are messy in the relationship, but if they don’t, nobody at your wedding will blame you. Your guests just want to be happy for you and with you, everyone’s related to at least one total asshole, one story-topper, one person who laughs at their own jokes, one person who can’t hold their liquor. Your guests know the deal and they don’t expect you or anyone else to be perfect!
Your wedding (esp. your wedding party, if you have one) doesn’t exist to fix your friendships, either.
People can be great friends and shit bridesmen and groomsmaids. What is it that you want your wedding party to do? Who in your life that you love is best set up to do what you need them to do? Do you need a wedding party at all? It’s possible that charming, loyal, delightful friend who would give you a kidney but can’t be trusted not to kill a succulent in their care is not the one you want as your logistical XO for a complicated affair, but maybe you want them around anyway for Dionysian hilarity. Set people up to succeed.
“Be in my wedding party?” is an invitation, not a command. So be respectful and up front about budget & time commitments. Let “So sorry, I can’t, but I’d love to celebrate as a guest!” be a good, happy, loving answer when it is the honest answer. Also, don’t expect people to read your mind if there’s something you want them to do, you might have a playbook in mind but it’s far from universal, so spell it out! Help people make a good decision, help people give you what you want and need.
Friends/Family of engaged people: You’re allowed to answer “Will you be in my wedding?” with “Theoretically I’d love to but can you spell out what that looks like for you so I can make sure I can follow through?” before committing. You can say no and you can resign from being in a wedding party. Will it affect your relationship with the person who asked you? Probably? Yes? You still don’t have to go broke or tie yourself in knots to meet impossible tasks. This is one of those times to check in with yourself and give an enthusiastic, committed, excited YES or a NOPE, SORRY. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between or make it a constant negotiation.
Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your (or anyone else’s) body.
You are lovable and beautiful at the weight you are now and with the personal style you have now. You can obviously use your wedding attire to experiment and play with different looks – ROCK ON, FANTASY GOTH UNICORN PIRATE QUEENS OF THE WORLD – but you do not have to become a different person to take up the space marked “bride” or “groom.” “I don’t plan on losing any weight” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to people who expect you to starve and sculpt and spray and disguise your body.
For people nervous about being photographed and looked at in a way they aren’t usually, one thing that helped me was taking lots of selfies and having friends take lots of casual photos of me in the months before my wedding, so the whole act of photography was normalized, and my view of my body and face was normalized for me. I also talked to my photographer about this, telling him “I get anxious with a lot of posed photos, can we knock those out and then you can shoot documentary style so I don’t have to stop and worry about it”‘ and he was like “YES” and it worked out great. Be kind to yourself and your body, ok?
Be kind to other people about their bodies, too. “I want you to be in my wedding, but only if you change your weight, get rid of your piercings and tattoos, and modify everything about your face and body so you look more like the other people” = a crappy invitation! Either work WITH your most punk rock friend to find something that they can flaunt as they are, or ask someone else to pose beside you in photos.
“I want you to be in/at my wedding, but only if you cover up how queer/trans you are” is an abomination. Do not do this. YOUR SHITTY OLD RELATIVES WILL FUCKING DEAL, they can tamp down their prejudices for one day, and if they can’t, they should be disinvited. Like, if the mere reminder that queer people exist is upsetting enough to kill Grandma, I gotta consider that it was just her time to go.
Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your romantic relationship with your intended spouse.
Problems and doubts that exist before you get married will exist after you get married. They don’t just solve themselves, you have to solve them, together, you have to trust this person to solve them with you in a transparent way. Nobody gets magically better in bed, better at money, better at household chores, better at communication b/c a wedding ceremony happened. “I do all the household chores now, but after we get married it will naturally become 50/50” is 100% magical thinking. People change slow if they change at all, they almost never do it for you or another person. If your church or officiant has some kind of premarital counseling, take advantage of it. If not, bring on a couple’s counselor. Work this stuff out now, while everyone is hopeful and invested.
Wedding planning can be an interesting crucible to see how you execute complicated things as a team. If you’re arguing a lot about party planning details, if your intended spouse cannot be trusted to handle wedding planning tasks without tons of input and work from you or if they won’t let you take charge without micromanaging? ABORT & REGROUP. I’m not talking about joint discussion and budget and planning to make sure you’re on the same page, I’m not even talking about never arguing (Is rice a grain or a seed?), I’m talking about a situation where you end up having to check on a fellow adult and do all the work yourself and you’re constantly bummed out because the person who is supposed to be on your team is the one adding stress to your life. Either you need practice letting go of control or your spouse needs to show more ability and follow-through or y’all need more clarity between you, either way, figure this out before you legally combine all your money and your stuff with this person.
If you can’t be a united front about wedding planning stress, postpone the party, seek counseling, work out the issues between you. You need that person to be on your side and they need to be on yours. You need to trust them and they need to trust you. If you don’t have that, abort!
Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix everyone’s feelings.
Planning a wedding means making decisions. Not every decision is going to make every person in your life happy. You have to decide anyway.
There is literally no guaranteed way to deliver news that someone doesn’t want to hear “without offending them,” “without hurting their feelings,” “without making it awkward,” “without upsetting them.”
There is no script, there is no font, there is no “I’m fat and gay and poor and also I don’t like your church or your country club or Grandma’s veil so we’re taking this whole wedding thing in a totally different direction from the one you imagined your child would follow someday, but I’m so happy and I hope you can be happy for me, and if you can’t, keep it to yourself ’cause this is the plan anyway even if you don’t like it!” singing telegram that can control how someone will feel about or react to news they don’t want to hear. It doesn’t exist. I can suggest wording for scripts, I can cheerlead you, but I can’t make your relatives feel a certain way about your decisions or make the especially difficult ones behave themselves this one time. It’s out of my hands the same way it’s out of yours. Other people are gonna say, do, feel what they’re gonna do. Your job isn’t to manage that, it’s to act with integrity, make decisions, and communicate those decisions with integrity and let the rest be what it is.
If you say “no” as politely as you can or make some other decision and someone has feelings about it, but you know that you’ve made the right decision for you, it’s time to stop trying to anticipate or manage or soothe their feelings away. People get to feel their feelings. They don’t get to be assholes to you. You get to set boundaries about how much you want to or can absorb their feelings. You get to tell people “Ok but this is what we decided,” use the “Sorry you feel that way, I know that this is what’s right for me, you’re very loved and important to me so I hope you’ll be able to celebrate with us on the day” non-apology and then put the thing to bed.
Consider that people who use your happy life events as an excuse to pressure, berate, blame, or try to control you or otherwise unload a bunch of negative feelings in your direction are marking themselves out as people who deserve minimal information and can expect to forgo any expectation they might have had of reasonable discussion. These people get put on an information diet, they get an invitation in the mail (if they get invited at all), they get a blanket “Oh, thanks for the input but we already decided that,” they get no more discussions of decisions that are in process, only communication of decisions that have been made jointly by you and your future spouse.
Invitations aren’t commands and traditions are not commandments.
Invitations aren’t commands. At a certain point, someone’s attendance or non-attendance is more about “do I gotta rent u a chair or no” than it is about anything else. People have their own reasons for not being able to travel or show up. Try to celebrate with the people who can make it, the ones who did make it. It’s okay to be very sad if someone won’t join you, but to me, that’s an invitation to connect with them in other ways and make sure they know you’re important to them and that you love them in long-term ways over time (and vice versa), not a time to exert pressure. I’ve missed my share of weddings b/c it was “awesome party vs. rent/food/health.” My good relationships stayed good, even when I missed the celebrations. The ones that apparently demanded choosing unaffordable travel over my own well-being have drifted, and I don’t think that being one of many faces in the crowd on a certain day was the thing that made the difference. If it did? We’re going to have to live with that. I still made the right decision for me.
If someone elopes, trust that they had their reasons. Are you happy for them? Then be happy for them knowing that you’ve got the next 60+ years to be happy for them. You weren’t Left Out of anything, it wasn’t about you.
Traditions – which I recently saw defined as “peer pressure from dead people” – can be beautiful and important but they aren’t everything. They can be remixed and adopted selectively in a way that works for you. Nobody has to walk anyone down an aisle. Consider that anyone who tries to pressure you (“But you have to have _________ kind of food/drink/tchotchkes/toast/dance/bouquet toss/level of fanciness/a white poofy dress/church ceremony/decoration”) is free to have exactly what they like at their own, personal wedding. Their fantasies about what weddings are supposed to be like are not binding rules for you. If traditions are stressing you out and causing a lot of arguments, “Why are we even doing [tradition]” is a great question. Maybe it’s time to list out all the traditions in the families of both spouses, and opt into them one-by-one as it suits you instead of accepting a template.
You’re also allowed to enthusiastically embrace what’s traditional, there is no need to reinvent everything with the right amount of Pinteresting “authenticity.” “Parents/grandparents, I have no idea what I’m doing, what is the usual thing our family does about weddings, lay it on me!” can be a relief. Probably nobody is immune from the pressures of tradition, family dynamics, marketing or the Wedding Industrial Complex, you don’t have to make everything a life-or-death negotiation with The System to show how original you are. Templates can be incredibly useful!
If you are a lady-person marrying a man-person, people will expect you to have tons of opinions, fantasies, and be doing all the work. They will project all kinds of cultural bullshit onto you, and you probably can’t escape the maelstrom entirely, but you don’t have to accept it. The phrases “Oh, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll run it by my partner in case they have something specific in mind,” and “Ask partner, they are handling the food & music” can be a godsend. Also, YMMV, but sometimes reminding myself that planning a single party was not the sole creative act of my adult life and that said party did not have to communicate Who I Am Both As A Bride And A Woman, Plus Honor Everything About Two Families Including Honored Traditions And Exact Markers of Social Class, Especially Considering That I Create Other Stuff And My Chosen Medium For Expressing My Creative Vision Is Generally Not Napkin Colors was a healthy perspective-resetter.
Weddings cost money. How much & what you spend it on is up to you.
Even if you elope, the license and ceremony still cost some money. If you want to have other people there, you gotta budget, since throwing a celebration that is comfortable and enjoyable for guests costs at least some money. “We’re going to the courthouse and then for brunch after” = you still gotta think about stuff like accessible bathrooms, climate control, comfortable seating, all that stuff.
It’s okay to want a big fancy party, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly or you’re breaking Feminism or whatever. It’s also okay to want to be rustic and keep it simple, but consider truthfully whether your frail elderly relatives want to go camping in the woods with you. I reject shaming on both ends of the frugality spectrum, the “How dare you not have an ice sculpture on a yacht named after the diamond mine your grandparents left you” crowd and the “Well, I wove my own wedding dress out of cobwebs and gasoline-soaked rags I picked out of the trash over a series of months, unlike all the shallow, basic people who spent more than $3.50 on their crass, inauthentic parties which could never match my unique and perfect love” crowd are equally irritating in my opinion. Especially since the “Our relatives made manicotti and we chilled in the back yard with some beer and soft drinks” weddings and “There was a swank catered affair at a historic site, everyone looked amazing!” weddings I’ve been to all run together as “awesome weddings where people I love married someone they loved and we celebrated!” in hindsight.
Don’t let anybody shame you about doing what you can afford and what will make you happy or set you up to compete about this, okay? I know I’m more in the “it’s one party, not your whole relationship or life” camp, but it is an important occasion if it’s important to you, please don’t let anyone shame you about caring about a big deal event in your life. Especially given the sexist double-bind of “You must execute this perfectly, female human” and “You’re a selfish trivial asshole for caring about a thing your entire culture is pressuring you to execute perfectly” is a real one. I want to empower people to push back against expectations like this and outright evade them, but I’m not going to pretend that they don’t exist or that they didn’t affect me.
It’s great when families offer to pay for weddings, it can be such a lovely, generous gift, as long as you know that money with strings attached – money that is dangled as an excuse to control and abuse you – is very expensive money. You know best if this is the kind of money your family usually offers you, chances are if it’s how they’ve offered money in every other circumstance before, your wedding isn’t going to change that. You’re allowed to accept the money and still do what you want with your wedding, you’re allowed to negotiate compromises as you can, please consider how important “Big Dream Wedding” vs. “Thanks But No Thanks, I’ll Handle It Myself” is to you. Giving an abuser the power of the purse is going to take a toll on you. Is it worth it?
Vendors who work on weddings professionally can roll with dysfunction, they do it all the time. Coordinators, planners, and photographers can be buffers, they know all about directives like “Spouse’s parents divorced, so while we want one or two shots of both parents + newlyweds, you should also photograph them separately.” Ooh, also, it’s easier to take a few giant group shots that include some of your not-so-favorite relatives or your sibling’s shitty date that you hope to never see again and dispatch them to the bar or buffet while you whittle things down to smaller, specific groupings than it is to constantly be like “you, you, NOT you.” Be strategic, let any pros you’ve hired help you, they’ve heard it alllllllllllllllllllllll before.
If you have questions about specific wedding etiquette or traditions beyond “Be nice to people and don’t try to manage everyone’s feelings,” good news! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were great resources for me, a person who had no idea what I was doing and who was not rich or particularly attached to traditional weddings. If you don’t know about them, now you do.
Comments are open, bring us your wedding grievances, bring us your wedding sanity-savers, bring us your tales of things you worried about that went just fine in the end, bring us your disasters – planned & unplanned – and how you handled it all. If you sent me a recent wedding question and do not see anything here that answers your specific issue, these comments are open for you to get some peer support, too!
Now, before we go, say it with me, all together:
Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix you, your intended spouse, your relationship, other people’s feelings, your body or anyone else’s bodies, your entire relationship with money, capitalism or the concept of parties, your friends, or your family.
You can have a great day with imperfect people at an imperfect celebration where compromises and mistakes were made, and still have all the love and happiness in the world in your married life. Marrying a great person surrounded by loving people at an awesome party is pretty fucking great, not gonna lie, but I hope there are many more happy days, lots of kinds of happiness in store for all of us, including all the Awkward Future Spouses in Awkwardland.
Moderation Reminder: Please review the site policies if you’re new or if it’s been a while, and keep comments constructive, kind, briefer than the entire blog post, and on-topic. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out since it comes up every time we talk about weddings, there is nothing quite like a person who goes out of their way to type “I don’t see what all the fuss about weddings is about” in a comment field on a thread about weddings to make their unique and special brand of nonchalance stand out, especially when there are so many things on the internet to performatively not care about! Don’t spend all your Not Caring on us, kind stranger! Maybe someone out there is discussing their favorite TV shows and they need to know that you don’t even have a TV, or you can chime in with the full details of exactly how much you hate a book you’ve never read when someone is pleasantly discussing it with people who have. :-p ❤ ❤ Kisses!
Edited To Add:
Commenters, you’re knocking it out of the park today.
I can’t believe there was no “Weddings” category on the site before, but I’ve made one and done my best to add old posts to it to help with searching for more specific dilemmas.
Here’s a link to the “brochure”-style program Mr. Awkward and I made for our wedding, which we folded in thirds and put on chairs inside mugs our friend acquired from thrift stores. Yay for free clip art! Yay for telling people how things are going to be so they know when they’ll get fed and when it’s time to go home!
Here’s us in the middle of getting married & right after, fat, happy, and surrounded by the best people. Click to embiggen.
“Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to give this book to my mother. To present it to her as a precious gift over a meal that I’ve cooked for her. To say: Here is everything that keeps us from really talking. Here is my heart. Here are my words. I wrote this for you.” – Michele Filgate, Introduction, What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence
I feel like almost every piece in the book maps to a letter that someone has sent to my inbox about how to say the unsayable thing, how to know when it’s time to let go, how to tell your own truth, how to dig into the past without letting it define you, how to set boundaries, how to see a parent as a separate person who existed before you, how to honor the gifts our mothers give us and be honest about the poisoned apples they sometimes pass on. I kept highlighting as I went because I knew that some Letter Writer somewhere needed to see that sentence, see themselves on that page. “Mother Tongue,” Carmen Maria Machado‘s chapter about estrangement is one of the best things about that topic I’ve read. Some quotes from that essay:
“Whenever I saw her, she found some way to let me know that despite my accomplishments, I was failing. ‘You need to learn to make better choices,’ she told me, though what choices they were, she never specified. Besides, all I could hear was, ‘I wish I’d made better choices.’ And I couldn’t help her with that.”
“A reader might think that this is, obviously, a kind of misplaced parental anxiety and love. And they might be right. But I felt like I was losing my mind. There was no trust, no affection, no listening, just ignorant micromanagement. It felt like I was existing in a parallel universe, where everything I’d just done with my life, everything I was doing with my life, hadn’t made any difference at all. I was a kid again, useless. Nothing was mine–not my time, not my schedule, not my choices.”
I’ll stop before I accidentally re-publish the whole thing. If you spent Mother’s Day curled up in a ball because of a difficult relationship and/or if you have a letter hanging out in my queue about this topic, this might be a healing book for you. ❤
I’m working on a book proposal for a collection of essays, so I’m on a tear of reading essay collections of late. Here are some other collections I couldn’t put down:
Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which is an essay collection about race and politics and identity in America AND a memoir about family and love and being from a particular place in the Midwest AND a chronicle of how the music we love carries our dreams and tells our stories, how the music brings us back to particular moment in time, how it helps us remember and see. It’s a fucking stunner.
Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel which is, among many other things, such a love letter to the teachers who taught him to write. Chee has an essay in the What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About collection as well.
JoAnn Beard’s The Boys Of My Youth (I discovered her work through the outstanding 1996 essay The Fourth State of Matter which, if you are unfamiliar, could use a content note for everything from “school shooting/gun violence” to “dying pet” but it’s one of those pieces that says EVERYTHING and never lets go).
No comments, as I don’t really like debating about the books I read in my free time, I like what I like and you like what you like, but since people always want to know what I’m reading, here’s some of what I’m reading. I hope you’re reading things that speak to you!
Finally, I just got an advance copy of Jessica Pan’s “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come: One Introvert’s Year Of Saying Yes” in the mail, I’ll update here when I’m done since I think “What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year?” is a question that lots of us might like to see answered, if only vicariously and from a very safe distance.
Today I’m going to try to knock out as many short questions as I can about the holidays, celebrations, togetherness.
Readers can submit short questions at the designated thread on Patreon (advantage, more than 280 characters) or on Twitter (advantage, free for all!) before noon Chicago time today. Twitter folks, please use the hashtag #awkwardfriday so I can find it easily – my mentions can get overwhelming. I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 3PM, comments will open when everything is posted.
Also, feel free to condense/recycle something if you’ve already sent it to the inbox, let’s get as much holiday discussion as we can out of our system today!
Also, would you like some family photos? There is me, well-wrapped in blankets, some extremely asleep kittens (6 months old, more like cattens), Daniel cleaning poor Henrietta when she had to wear her cone, post-spaying, and Mr. Awkward at Uncle Julio’s, where, thanks to y’all, we took him and all the friends who visited him while he was in the hospital for dinner last week.
Questions are in. Let’s begin.
Q1: Hi Captain,
I hate the holidays. My mom passed away close to Thanksgiving in 2015, her side of the family is very small (one grandmother and one aunt, that’s it); my dad, who I’m low contact with, has 24+ relatives in the “immediate” family. My fiancé has no blood family that he’s in contact with; his best friend’s family is his “second family” and I know I’m “welcome” but I’ve had some disagreements with the matriarch and oldest son so I don’t want to go there. All this leaves me feeling pretty isolated, and I just want to fast forward through all of it and come out in spring when I don’t feel like I’m drowning. What can I do to just get people to leave me alone until after the New Year, when my seasonal depression/grief/feeling of being completely isolated ends?
A1: Hi there! What if I told you that you’re allowed to hate the winter holiday season and you’re allowed to spend the next month or so however you want? What if I told you that it’s okay to be sad, to feel zero holiday cheer, and to participate in literally none of it?
With the caveat that you probably won’t get people to stop wishing you happy holidays or inviting you to their celebrations, (invitations are not commands and there’s no good way to pre-empt people out of doing something they think is nice), you can absolutely react to all greeting and invitations with “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but no thank you. I’m planning to keep things very quiet this year/I’m really looking forward to some quiet time. Let’s catch up in the New Year!”
You don’t have to explain or elaborate (you can if you want to, “I’m still grieving for my mom and I just need to bow out of celebrating until I feel ready,” but you don’t have to). It’s okay to let your fiancé run interference with his family, too.
Be very gentle and nice to yourself.
Q2:Tips for being disabled during the holidays? Somedays I just can’t get in the spirit of things either because I’m too sad or because my pain is too bad to leave the house, and people get really weird about it.
A2: Look at your calendar, budget your energies according to what you know you can enthusiastically and realistically do, pace yourself, build in lots of downtime, be really kind and gentle to yourself.
Connect with the parts of it you really connect with. If you are religious, find a way to pray and observe seasonal rituals that you can do. If there are family members or friends you really want to celebrate with, save up your spoons to make visits with them count. If the best part is the music or the decorations or the food, find a way to treat yourself a little.
With people who want you to do more than you can take on, try scripts like “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to make it” or “Cool, but I’m keeping things really quiet this year” or “I wish I could join you for that but my body has other plans” or “Yes, I’m sad I won’t make it, too!” and let people be weird if they’re gonna be weird. You didn’t cause the weirdness. This also seems to be a good time to revisit your family’s traditions and see if there are things that could make stuff more accessible to you, like:
“I know we always go to X on Christmas Eve, but could I persuade you to do Y instead? That’s so much easier for me to get to.”
“I want to come but I won’t be able to drive home afterwards, could I get a ride or is there an extra bed where I could stay?”
“I can’t come out, but I’d love it if you brought me a piece of pie afterward. Can you stop by?”
You can’t avoid sad feelings by planning for them ahead of time, but you can make peace with your own needs and boundaries and do your best to take care of yourself.
Q3: Ack, I’m pretty sure the answer to mine is in the comments section somewhere. . . I’m looking for chipper scripts to shut down/side-step family members’ feelings about me spending Thanksgiving and Christmas alone.
A3: Noticing a trend here! With repetition comes mastery, right?
I’ve spent Christmas alone (except for smol cat) more than once as an adult, and each time, not gonna lie, IT WAS GLORIOUS. I’ve been the only person besides the driver on a Brown Line CTA train. I’ve stopped for a drink at a country & western dive bar and listened to a Willie Nelson marathon on the jukebox. I’ve made myself a special meal, where everything on the plate is my favorite food and all the leftovers are miiiiiiiiiiine. I’ve gone to the movies by myself. I’ve caught up on laundry. I’ve re-read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (a personal Christmas Eve tradition going back to childhood). Especially during the bustle of a busy semester and when I lived with roommates, those quiet reflective days alone were like a balm to the soul.
Try “I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration!” and let people’s feelings be whatever they are. Try “I’ll miss you and be thinking of you, of course, but I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration.” Don’t explain or justify – if your relatives don’t understand the solitary joy of a quiet holiday, you don’t have to convince them or make them feel differently about it.
Q4:My aunt. MY AUNT. She has a long and ever-increasing history of making Islamophobic and racist remarks (but that kind of low-key racist that can be excused as ‘oh, just doesn’t know any better’, which is SUCH a nonsense excuse). My father just told me over lunch that he and my mother have invited her to Christmas dinner. On one hand: I understand that this is the only relative my mother talks to, and that she would otherwise spend Christmas alone, and that mom feels guilty. On the other hand, my mother has a great history of excusing problematic behavior in order to keep the peace and ‘not ruin dinner’, and I have zero intention of indulging racist commentary about headscarves, and significantly less than zero intention of letting my kids see me letting racist and Islamophobic commentary slide (it’s unacceptable AND a horrible example to set. 2 reasons!). What’s a good script for telling my mom in advance that I’m willing to behave if she’s civil, but that I’m 100% willing to engage in an argument, and am 100% willing to pack up the kids and go home if needed, in a way that’s not… quite… that confrontational?
A4: RACIST. COMMENTS. RUIN. DINNER. Not people pushing back against them.
What if you tried being pretty up front about it ahead of time? “Mom, Dad, I’m really looking forward to seeing you this year. I hope you’ll help me out and let Aunt know beforehand to keep her racist comments to herself, I’m in no mood to listen to it and I won’t have that kind of talk around my kids. I’d hate to have to go home.”
“Oh, she just doesn’t know better” – “Hrmmmm, well, it’s time she figured it out, and if you don’t talk to her about it before dinner, I’ma have to do it AT dinner, and that doesn’t sound fun for anyone.”
You don’t have to go to this dinner, at all, and you can use that –“I don’t wanna fight with Aunt, but if it’s a choice between dreading/ white-knuckling through one of her outbursts and being treated like I’m the problem or staying home with the kids in our jammies, I guess we’ll just have to see…maybe it’s better if we just skip it this year and you an Aunt can catch up without worrying about us!”
Let’s be real: There’s no fixing Aunt, there’s no overnight fixing of a longstanding family dynamic, there is no escaping conflict, there is no amount of being reasonable and cool and diplomatic ahead of time that will stop this from becoming a train wreck, but you can be clear with your own boundaries and you can ask your Mom & Dad to be good hosts to you. Your mom has known her sister her whole life, she can make one phone call along the lines of “Look, I’m really excited to see you Thursday, but just wanna remind you there’s no politics talk at my table – if you make ignorant remarks again and chase off the grandkids, I’m not gonna be pleased.” Aunt can feel any way she wants about it, she can grumble all she wants, as long as she behaves herself.
I noticed that my dad, your stereotypical middle-aged, cis, straight white guy has a habit of reprimanding others in a patronizing and belittling way. For example, the other day during lunch with my grandma, she said something and he shut her down by gesturing towards his/her mouth and saying – as if she was 4 yo and misbehaving – that he’s “sure you remember it’s not polite to talk while you have food in your mouth”. (Btw, you could completely understand her. She had a little food in her mouth but pushed it to the side, as you do when talking before completely swallowing everything.) It’s less that he wants to be helpful and remind people of etiquette and more some kind of power-thing. He does similar things to me (and other women, but rarely any men, if at all). Any scripts for constructive ways of saying “Dude, we’re all adults, I’m sure you’re happy I’m visiting and want it to stay that way?”. I’m having a hard time coming up with any because it’s been like that since I was little when I used to freeze and later I just didn’t visit. If there’s a good resource/guide on how to deal with stuff like that, please let me know. Thanks!
The quickest and easiest way through a random and unsolicited critique is to respond briefly and as neutrally as you can:
• “Nice to see you, too.”
• “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll think about it.” (It’s true, I did think about their opinion for a few seconds before continuing not to care.)
• “I did sleep in this coat; airport floors are cold.”
If someone really is crossing a line and hurting your feelings, or won’t stop saying mean stuff, try this:
• “Wow.” Use a strong, pointed tone and follow it with a really long, awkward pause.
• “I’m confused. What is it that you want me to feel or do when you say something like that?”
If the conversation devolves from there into how sensitive you are and how you can’t take a “joke,” strongly consider going back to the airport and taking the next flight out. Somewhere warm, somewhere people aren’t jerks to you.
You’re not gonna change your dad, or get him to understand that this is sexist and rude, but you aren’t a little kid anymore and you are absolutely allowed to “Cool story, bro” him and give zero attention to the content of his critiques. “What a weird thing to say, Dad. Sorry, Grandma, we interrupted you. What were you saying, again?”
Q4b:Hi Captain, could you give me a mantra to repeat to myself when my mom makes unnecessary, critical comments over Thanksgiving? Past experience has taught me to expect maybe five unpleasant, judgy comments over stupid little things over the course of a two or three day visit, and has taught me that ignoring them is much, much more effective than talking to her about them. Thanks!
A4b. I’m tacking this onto the above – It’s okay to say “Hahaha thanks for the constant feedback, Mom, it never gets annoying” to her out loud or inside your head.
Q5:Hi Captain! I (they/them) am a first year student in an intense graduate program. Due to some mental health stuff, there’s a good chance I will have to repeat this semester but still be able to graduate on time. I am paying for this on my own but my family has a lot of bad opinions. I find out Tuesday whether I have to rearrange my schedule and my family keeps asking. I would like to have a nice Thanksgiving with my cousin and friends without my mom screaming over the phone (I live several states away). Do you have any suggestions for ways to sidestep the conversation until after the holiday? Is this even a fair thing to do? Thank you so much for all of your help!!
A5: You are allowed to put your family on a total information diet around the topic of grad school, through the holiday and beyond. “Not sure yet, thanks for asking!” or “Still working it out, but my research is so interesting, let me tell you about it!” or “I’m pretty sure we’ll find a good solution, thanks!” + a subject change, or “Mom, I’m trying to enjoy the holiday, I don’t have any answers for you and I’m getting tired of explaining & being yelled at. I’m gonna hang up now and try to de-stress.” Your mom will probably not take it well, but she can’t really force you to do anything and it’s okay to let her wear herself out. Also, since you mention “mom screaming over the phone,” you might want to put your mom on a communication schedule and stick to it.
Hope everything gets back on track for you soon!
Q6: Hi Captain! It’s the first time my husband and I are hosting both sets of parents on Christmas day. My in-laws love to buy vast quantities of gifts (especially now there are our 2 children, their grandchildren, in play). My parents are more likely to buy 1 or 2 gifts per person. My Mum has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, or less generously, she often says hurtful and patronising things, especially when other people’s ways of thinking do not match her own. Should I give her a heads up about the number of presents that are likely to be brought by my in-laws? I feel if she is forewarned she may be less likely to blurt out something disdainful about my in-laws’ generosity. Or should I just stop overthinking it and leave well alone?
A6: If you want to, it’s not weird to say “Oh yeah, Husband’s family does presents a little differently than we do, it can be kind of overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it” to your mom before the gathering, but I think your last question is a good one: What’s the worst thing that could happen if your mom blurts out something rude in the moment vs. how much grief are you buying yourself ahead of time by bringing it up now? “Aw, Grandma says funny things sometimes! Who wants pie?” is a survivable situation.
Q7:This is related to but not precisely covered by the “Got Any Great Holiday Plans With Family?” question. I love Christmas. My family loves Christmas. It’s always been a big family get-together/holiday. Here’s the catch: I live at least 2000 miles and an international border away from my family of origin, all of whom expect me to do all of the work of staying in touch. I’ve lived in my new country for nine years now, and the only one who made it to my wedding was my mother and the only one who has visited since then…is also my mother.
I realize travel is expensive, that’s why I haven’t made it home in several years. But none of the rest of my family (father, stepmother, two siblings, two grown nieces, and their partners and children) have even *tried*. And so I’ve given myself permission to stop trying. I refuse to keep putting all the effort in and getting none of it back. But It’s hard, and it makes me more sad at the holidays than I’d prefer to be. I don’t want to pretend everything’s fine, but I also don’t want to harsh anyone else’s holidays and I’m struggling to figure out how to balance those two desires. So I guess I just need help figuring out how to hold my sadness and ask for help from my local loved-ones without dwelling on it and harshing everyone else’s holidays.
A7: I don’t have answers really, more sympathy/commiseration. It’s okay to be sad that you can’t see your family this year, you’re not ruining others holidays by having feelings.
As for future celebrations, can you ask your family for financial help so you can travel more reliably, like, “It’s cheaper for me & spouse to come there than it is for all of you to come here, so as my holiday present can the family make a joint travel fund so I don’t have to miss every Christmas? I can’t always swing it on my own.” That specific thing might not be workable, but I know it came up during my own wedding planning, where my mom was grumbling about the cost of extended family having to buy plane tix to Chicago and I was like “Cool, every time I’ve seen these people since 1992 it’s because I bought a plane ticket, I don’t feel bad asking them to do it one time and if they miss it they miss it.” There is an idea that because you’re the one who chose to go away, it’s on you to bear all the costs from now on, and maybe you can start to push back on that gently. Since your mom is the one who still makes the effort and you’re close to her, can you be really frank with her about how you feel?
Q8: Hi Captain, I hope it’s not too late to submit. My dad is a recovering alcoholic and has recently relapsed. I checked him into a recovery facility last night. He thinks if he gets through the withdrawal symptoms, here won’t need any more treatment. The family disagrees, but since it was a voluntary check in, he can check himself out when he wants. Before all this, he planned a Thanksgiving getaway for our family (including my brother and his family and my mom, though they’ve been divorced for years). I want to cancel the trip, to emphasize that recovery is the priority and he’s an important part of the family and the trip shouldn’t happen without him. My brother thinks we should go and let this be a natural consequence of his drinking again. Captain, I’m not asking for a solution, that’s too big. I am hoping you and the commenters can share some wisdom or ask some of your important probing questions so we can come to a decision. Thank you.
A8: If your family would benefit from some time away together, even if some of it is sad time, it’s okay to go on the trip. If you don’t feel up to the trip or think it’s right to go on the trip, it’s okay to not go on the trip. Your dad is where he needs to be and hopefully there will be a good outcome. It’s okay to take care of yourself/yourselves.
As for a framework: Canceling the trip vs. going on the trip isn’t going to teach your dad any lessons. The consequences or intended message won’t really reach him. It’s okay to ask him his opinion about the trip and tell him yours- “We hate to go without you, but we want to be all together and have a change of scene, and nothing’s refundable anyway” vs. “We’re gonna cancel and do it right when we can do it with you” – but honestly, neither path will really be a factor in his recovery or relapse. Part of having a loved one with an addiction problem is learning to disengage from magical thinking re: “There’s something I can personally do that will make him stop drinking” and “That thing I did or didn’t do is what caused him to drink.” It’s the illness, not you. It’s his illness, not you. This is one of the hardest lessons in the world and I’m so sorry that it’s the one your family’s got right now.
Q9: Hi Captain,
I’m looking for ways to keep my cool during the holiday season. I live with my parents which means that just walking away from drama is not really a thing I can do. My entire family has different political beliefs from my own which causes great tension and then my mom always bites off more than she can chew around the holidays and takes the stress out on everyone else. On top of all of that I discovered last week that my immediate family has kept a group Facebook chat for months if not years where they can make fun of people who share my political ideologies in general and occasionally me in particular so I’m REALLY not happy with any of them and even though I confronted them about the group chat they think everything is fine. I know there is going to be way too much snapping and stress in my home environment which is guaranteed to make me stressed and snappish even if I don’t have any reasons on my own to be that way. I can hide in my room a lot but when I am forced to be around everyone for the Holiday meals and such I would like a plan so that I don’t just start screaming at people.
A9: Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh to all of this. There’s no fixing the situation, right? This is about enduring.
Operation: Be Out As Much As Possible
Got local friends who you can hang out with as much as possible?
Except maybe on the actual holiday when things tend to be closed, is there a way for you to be at the public library/coffee shop/the public pool? Do you enjoy walks/runs/bike rides? What free local events are going on, and can you haunt literally all of them: poetry readings, gallery shows, choir concerts. Food bank need volunteers? Here you are, ready to help! “Sorry, can’t chat, got to get to the annual poinsettia judging contest.”
Is it possible to a) help your mom with holiday workload by b) being the person who runs errands and is out of the house as much as possible?
I realize not everyone can do this – disability, access to car/driving/energy levels – but if you can, be the person who runs out for milk/batteries/wrapping paper/to drop stuff off at the post office.
Operation: Hide In Room Except For Meals
Got online friends you can vent to/text with as much as possible?
Got enough books/shows to binge/comics/games/coloring books to last you?
Got comfy pants?
Got some snacks that don’t make a mess?
Ready to go to bed early and sleep late?
Ready to just give off an aura of being really tired/antisocial? And when people are like “oh look, it’s the ghost, we thought you were never coming down!” say “yep, that’s me!” and then go back to your room.
Operation: Focus On The People Who Suck The Least
At mealtimes, sit down and spend time with people you actually like (Hint: often that’s little kids, if any are around). Let the other people be background noise. They know what you think about the events of the day, you know what they think, you’re allowed to be very bored by it all and not engage if they try to pick arguments with you.
That’s what I got. It’s a “grit your teeth and get through it, hopefully you’ll at least read some good books” situation. You’re not alone.
Q10: My family makes buying gifts for me into a lot of work/guilt. Saying “you’re so nice but I don’t need anything” doesn’t take. I’ve sent wishlists, charities, still this morning was told “you are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been.” Help?
A10: I tend to respond to attempts to characterize me with agreement instead of the expected argument, like “You have no sense of humor!” gets a “I guess not!” So, what if “You are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been!” gets “I guess I must be! I’ve already told you I don’t need or want anything, so give me a present at your own risk, I guess!”
Q11:How to tell your mother you don’t want to go home for Christmas, not because of any drama, but because of the life admin involved?
A11: Sometimes works better to phrase it with what you will be doing – “I’ll be staying put this year, I can’t travel right now.”
Q12:Is it appropriate to ask for a gift that is what the person does for a living? (when they have first asked you what you want for Christmas)
A12: I lean toward “Inappropriate!!!!!!!!” but obviously context varies wildly depending on what they do for a living and what your relationship is. If you think it might be something they’d be okay with, like, they’ve offered in the past or mentioned doing whatever as a gift for other people, you can build the question of appropriateness into the question – “Hey, you wanted to know what I want for Christmas this year. Is it okay to ask for _______? Please tell me if that’s out of bounds!”
I think a lot of my “inappropriate!” reaction comes from how many stories I hear about people vastly underestimating how much time and effort is at stake when they ask their friends & family for freebies. It’s not just the time or $ value of the gift, it’s the extra gut punch of “You really have NO IDEA what I do and NO RESPECT for it, do you.” So tread carefully.
Q13:Fiancé’s parents divorcing. I think dad’s creepy (mix vague allegations re: others, vibe). Planned T-day w/ them before divorce progressed. Now dad’s hosting, w/ minor celebrating w/ mom. Can I/how do I avoid T-day w/ dad and still get the parts w/ mom?
A13: Well, their plans changed (in a big way), so can yours!
I think you should be honest with your fiancé, first of all – “I don’t want to go to your Dad’s. I’d rather just go to your mom’s.” “I’m not comfortable around your Dad, I don’t want to go there.”
The key is, his dad is still his parent, and this sounds like a really messy time, so give him space to still go himself if he wants to, like,“If you want to go to your Dad’s solo, I totally understand, why don’t you do that and then I’ll catch up with you when it’s time to go to your Mom’s.” And you can straight up say – “You can give your Dad whatever excuse you feel comfortable with.Tell him my plans changed, tell him I’m not feeling well, tell him whatever. I find him creepy, but you don’t have to have that fight with him on my behalf right this second. He’s your dad and you’re the boss of what relationship you want to have with him.”
There’s no comfortable way to manage this (creepy vibes and allegations make things uncomfortable, divorce is uncomfortable) so be honest and stick to what you feel safe doing.
Q14: I’m a die-hard Potterhead who is also disgusted by Johnny Depp as a person + extremely disappointed in JK Rowling for defending him. The activist side of me says to boycott the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but the Gryffindor fangirl wants to go. Thoughts? #awkwardfriday
A14: I don’t tell people what to watch or not watch.
“Consumption is not the same as activism” (credit to Trudy, of Cinemacked, who, now that I’ve cited her, please do not @ her with fandom opinions, she doesn’t care and she gets more than enough traffic from people who want to argue).
Boycotts are coordinated, organized, ongoing, collective actions of many people toward a common goal (not one person forgoing a ticket to something). Knowing that the powers that be won’t notice, will you notice enough that it will trouble you? That’s your choice.
I watch & enjoy plenty of problematic stuff made by problematic people in a problematic world, and I don’t even pretend to have a consistent framework about this. There are certain artists and artworks where I can shove the bad stuff down in favor of what I enjoy about it, and certain ones I can’t. I want to make a Hollywood and media landscape where we don’t have to keep looking at and making excuses for abusers and misogynists on screen, but I’m also not willing to personally undertake the cultural asceticism that “If you enjoy something that a bad person worked on, you are proving that you don’t care about the bad thing they did, in fact, YOU THINK THE BAD THING THEY DID IS ACTUALLY GOOD” requires. That’s not my ethical mindset and I won’t pretend it is. It’s okay if it’s yours, I admire it, even, but I won’t argue about it with you. Is that a function of my privilege? Yep. Am I gonna watch Teh Thronegames to the last ridiculous dragon-y frame with the last hair extension blowing in the wind, drunk, on Commander Logic’s couch? Also yes.
Sorry to leave you with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but like, go if you want to, don’t go if you don’t want to. In my opinion, you’re not just as bad as Johnny Depp, you’re not personally enabling him, you’re not trying to override other people’s ethical choices about whether they see the film.
That’s all for today! Comments are open, though be warned: If you try to make me moderate “detailed Harry Potter fandom wangst,” I’ll burn the thread to the ground. Happy holidays!
Please forgive me if you’ve done this one before. I’ve looked into the archives and I haven’t found one specifically about this.
Basically I (she/her pronouns) have been unemployed for a year. No matter what I do, I have only had three interviews in that time despite going to three job fairs. Now I am staying with a friend in a different city from my husband to see if I can find a job there/see if we can move there. It is scary. I’m not sleeping well and I keep feeling a nagging doubt in my stomach but I move on.
There is only one problem. I feel like I can’t hear my own voice and make my own plans because of the advice of others. My mother in law thinks I should be a home health nurse/carer. My mom believes I should try to find a forever job. My husband believes I should pick a job that I can see myself staying in for five years. My best friend thinks I should find a job right away. It is nuts! Everybody has their own opinions and they bombard me with them all the time.
What happened to talking about the weather or asking me about the books I’m reading? Seems all anybody can ask me about lately is whether I have a job and have I tried X,Y,Z? I would ultimately like to have some time, while I’m in a different city, to figure this out on my own. To find my own plan and my own way.
I guess what I’m asking is a) how do I stop the good advice from turning into a non-stop barrage of “have you considered ________” and b) how do I listen to what I want?
Thank you for considering this or even just reading it. Writing this has already helped a bit.
Real low stakes question from me today. After too long a time of trying, husband and I are finally pregnant and husband, adorable creature that he is, is doing his all to be supportive. I have never had so many back rubs.
Part of this support is insisting that he do anything physical so I don’t have to. This includes but is not limited to carrying the shopping, pushing the trolley at Ikea, lifting heavy things, standing on the step to reach the high cupboards, fetching my water/vitamins/snacks etc.
I am mostly fine with all this, especially because one of the symptoms has been slight dizziness (I’d rather not risk falling from anywhere). I also know that husband needs to feel involved particularly after feeling helpless during our struggles with infertility.
But, I am an independent woman, and while I know that I am cool with this now and think its kind of cute, I also know that my temper is not all that kind when I am physically uncomfortable and actually I am pretty sure that something will irritate me to the point of emotional explosion when I am in the latter stages of growing a human and actually physically cannot do certain things anymore. Especially if he is heading into over-protective territory now.
I don’t know how to say “back off, I can still carry the groceries” in a way that wont hurt his feelings when he really needs to feel involved and helpful – after all its pretty much up to me and (mostly at this stage) the collection of cells in my uterus as to whether or not it continues growing and turns into a screaming, pooping bundle-of-joy.