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Dear Captain Awkward,

A couple of months ago, one of my best friends (we’ll call her Beth) and her partner (we’ll call him Dylan) broke up. Beth and Dylan had been together for six years and living together for five. They seemed to have a pretty good relationship, although Dylan dominated the apartment with his belongings, said he couldn’t marry her until he was a “real adult” (at 34, while doing nothing to move toward his definition of “adulthood”), and was generally kind of moody. Beth did most of the adult work in the relationship, including keeping a job she didn’t love in order to support them financially and doing all the emotional labor because Dylan wouldn’t go to counseling, individual or couples’.

They broke up because Dylan deleted their anniversary on Facebook. When Beth asked him about it, he confessed that he had been secretly dating a coworker and no longer loved Beth. She was blindsided, not least because she was very good at checking in on the relationship and he had essentially gaslit her into believing that everything was fine for months. Dylan moved out of their apartment and Beth actually packed his boxes for him. I did everything I could to support her and tried very hard not to set Dylan’s things on fire and to discuss my deep contempt for him with mutual friends instead of with Beth. Eventually it came out that the coworker was married and she created a lot of drama and misery for Dylan, and I thought, Great! He’s getting his and I don’t have to do anything.

Unfortunately, now that his little fantasy didn’t work out, Dylan has decided that he DOES love Beth after all, and he is insinuating himself back into her life and her apartment. She told me yesterday that they were having sex, but that he “can’t make any promises right now” and he says, “We shouldn’t be doing this” (while still managing to fuck her), which is basically the sexiest thing someone can say. Beth, heartbroken and holding out hope that he’ll come back to her and they can make it work, isn’t doing anything that I haven’t done myself, but I am furious that Dylan is taking advantage of her feelings so he can have AND eat ALL THE CAKE. But of course when I tell Beth that, I become the Bad Guy. Captain Awkward, I don’t know how to support my friend while also making it clear that there’s no fucking way this guy is getting back in our good graces, especially not with this behavior.

Thank you for your time!

Hard-Hearted Harpy Wants Friend to Be Happy (she/her pronouns)

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It’s time for that thing we do, where we use the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they were questions.

First, as is traditional, a song:

Lyrics here.

1 “How to encourage husband to make friends.”

The subtext runs deep with this one, does it not? Like, where is problem originating? Is husband lonely and wanting to branch out socially and doesn’t quite know how? Is the husband treating the querent like his entire social world/cruise director/people-ing facilitator? (It happens). Is the husband fine being not very social but the querent is feeling squashed or mismatched here? (It also happens.) Did he ask for help?

I guess I would say that finding Our People is a lifelong project but Our People should not themselves be our projects. If the husband wants to make some more friends, he presumably has all the same resources that other people use to meet each other (MeetUp, hobbies, pubs, churches, sports, community theater/music, trivia night, political activism, volunteering) and all the modes of communication & social media people use to get in touch with friends from other phases of life at his disposal.

If a spouse wants to be supportive of this friendmaking effort, doing what you can to make sure there is time & money & space available for what he does want to do (“Sure, we can have a couple people over for dinner this weekend!” “Sure, go have fun! I’m gonna do my own thing tonight!” “Sure, I’ll be the designated driver, text me 20 minutes out and I’ll pick you up. Can you do the same for me on Thursday?” “Go ahead and take that art class on Saturday mornings, we’ll find the money.” etc.) is a pretty good place to start. Otherwise, he’s gotta take the lead and do the work, he’s not a toddler that you arrange play dates for or a dog you drop off at doggy day care. Also, in this process, make sure you don’t neglect your own friendships & social connections. These don’t all have to be shared.

2 “He just moved closer and now I want to break up.”

It happens. It sucks. I’m telling a story about it in Chicago this Friday.

With proximity, you have information that you didn’t have before. Be compassionate, be honest, be free.

3 “Breaking up because geography.”

Sometimes that’s a really good reason.

4 “Is it selfish to break up with my boyfriend bc I want to experience other people?”

Breaking up before the “experiencing other people” part might be the best order of operations if that’s what you want to do. I’m sure that’s not an easy decision, but what if you could make decisions about what you want without calling yourself names in the process?

5 “captain awkward how to dump someone”

Quick review:

  • You can have a face-to-face conversation, you can use a phone call or a text or a letter if that’s what you need to do to be safe.
  • Communicating your decision is more important than explaining your reasons. You don’t have to build an airtight legal argument that they agree with to leave someone.
  • Own the decision. “I’ve decided to break up.” “My feelings have changed.” “This is the right decision for me.” 
  • If they ask for reasons, that’s ok – that doesn’t make them bad people! – but you’re not a management consultant pointing out flaws in their operation, maybe you don’t have to list the complete list of their liabilities for them in a vulnerable and hurtful moment. It’s okay to say “You didn’t do anything wrong, but my feelings changed and I know I would be happier alone.” 
  • Don’t pressure the other person to stay friends with you and don’t feel like if you say “ok yes let’s be friends” that you’ve made an ironclad agreement that can never be revisited. Friendship is its own unique thing, not a holding pen for all the people we don’t want to kiss.
  • Have an aftercare plan for yourself – something where you get alone time, or see friends or family, and have space to feel sad or relieved or whatever it is you feel.
  • If they need comforting about the breakup, you don’t have to be the one who fills that role.

6 “Hi dad mom died sex”

Whatever word association game is being played here, I want out.

7 “Mum got angry at me but idk why and she wont tell me or even talk to me.”

Check out #5, here, re: The Silent Treatment.

There’s no fair way to play this game your mom is playing, so, DON’T TRY. If she won’t tell you why she’s mad, give her a wide berth. Let her silence be a gift to you instead of the abusive burden she intends. She has choices about how to communicate with you. She is making a bad one.

8 “How to tell friends you can’t afford to go out for expensive dinners.”

“I’m on a tight budget right now and I can’t afford to eat out so much, but I’d love to spend time with you. Can we do [something cheap or free] instead?” More here and here.

9 “My grandparents hate my tattoos.”

Your grandparents are entitled to their opinions but not to be jerks about it.

You are entitled to do what you will with your own body.

Sometimes a cheerful “well, good thing it’s not your body!” response works to cut down on the comments, and sometimes the sincere discussion works, i.e. “Grandparents, given that it’s my body and the tattoos are already here and not going anywhere, what are you hoping for when you comment on them that way? Do you really want our relationship to be about these tattoos you don’t like, or could we find a way to just be kind to each other?” 

10 “I’m scared my parents are gonna catch me stealing their Adderall.”

Well, yeah! Stealing another person’s prescription medication is illegal and wrong. It’s dangerous for you. It’s bad for them – your parents have that prescription for a reason, and if you’re stealing their pills they aren’t getting the medication they need. If you need evaluated for ADHD and to possibly be on your own medication, then ask your parents to help you do that. But stop stealing their drugs, please!

11 “Am I a selfish bitch for wanting more money?”

What if you could name the things you wanted without calling yourself mean names?

12 “Hinting that you want to get invited to someone’s house.”

Hinting doesn’t work. Try inviting these people to your house if you want to spend time with them, and if it really is about being inviting to something in particular just say it: “Next time you’re all playing badminton while wearing fancy hats, if you have room for me I’d love to join you.” Then withdraw. You’ve said your thing.

13 “Best response to someone who is seeking for a relationship from you.”

Hands down, the truth about what you want is probably best.

14 “Are grandmas always right about your gender?”

Not if their ideas about your gender conflict with what you know to be true about yourself!

15 “Why is my mom mad at me for taking a better job?”

IDK, but she’s not the one who has to work there, so your opinion is probably the important one here.

16 “How do you get your husband to set boundaries with his parents?”

He may or may not ever learn to do this and you can’t control that. So, you set boundaries with him, and with yourself. Basically “Husband, your relationship with your parents is yours to manage, but this is what I need from you to be happy and okay, so if your parents cross certain lines, I’m going to speak up and/or absent myself and let you deal with it.” 

17 “My boyfriend is always counseling me.” 

“Hey dude, if I want a therapist I’ll hire one.”

“Hey dude, if you want to be a therapist so bad, go be one!”

“Hey dude, even if you were a therapist, you couldn’t be my therapist, so stop.”

“Stop.”

18 “Best friend wants to be roommates but she’s too messy.”

Tell her “Friend, I love you so much, but I don’t want to cross those streams. I think we would stress each other out a lot if we lived together.” It doesn’t have to be a judgment on her, just, people will be happier living with people with similar definitions of clean when they are signing up to share housing. Knowing this about yourself is a good thing, decide accordingly.

19 “How to friendzone a guy you led on.” 

First step, RETHINK EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW YOU ARE DESCRIBING THIS. If we rewrite your whole question to “I wasn’t sure how I felt about this person, so I flirted with them, but now I’m pretty sure I just want to be friends, how do I let them know” we remove all the sexist assumptions that you owed your friend a certain outcome here.

Maybe try “I know we’ve been talking/flirting/kind of considering getting involved romantically, but I’m only interested in being friends.” 

Then, stop flirting (it’s the kind thing to do), and give the person a little space to process and decide if they want to be friends, too. You are not being mean when you do this, you are giving them true information that will help them make a good decision about what to do next. Friendship is not a consolation prize or a holding pen where we herd the people we don’t want to make out with, it’s its own valuable thing.

20 “What should I tell him I’m doing this weekend.”

A) Whatcha doing this weekend and B) Is it something you want him to know?

It’s the difference between “Oh, I’m busy with this and that, you know” and “I’ve got family coming into town, here is our detailed itinerary of fun!” and “I didn’t schedule anything in particular, why do you ask?” and “I’m going to the art museum on Friday, wanna join?” All are perfectly acceptable answers.

21 “Best response to ‘what are you looking for’ on Tinder.”

What are you looking for?

  • “I want to go to the comic book store and we’ll each pick out a comic for the other person.”
  • “I want to put on old soul records and make out a little bit but keep pants on at least the first time we meet up.”
  • “I want to come to your house and pretend that we’ll watch a movie.”
  • “I want to eat pancakes at midnight and talk about books.”
  • “I want to vanquish you at Scrabble.”
  • “I want to have one awesome night of no-strings-attached sex and then probably never see you again.”
  • “I want some cuddles and some good conversation but I’m not really about Teh Sex. Any fellow aces out here?”
  • “I want to throw a two person dance party in my basement, please bring disco ball.”
  • “I want to eat tacos and fuck.”
  • “I want to fall in love someday and not pretend that’s not what I’m after.”
  • “I want to play Dungeons & Dragons, but, you know, sexy.”
  • “I want to recapture a night from 1997, where we go see The English Patient and then close down one bar after another until we end up watching the sun rise from your car parked outside my house. I will provide costumes.”
  • “I need a cool extrovert to be my date to this swanky event and help me make small talk.”
  • “I need henchmen for my world domination plans, please submit application.”
  • “I’ve always wanted to build a pillow fort and then spend a whole Saturday in it in my pajamas. U up?”
  • “I signed up for this nonrefundable blacksmithing class with my ex and now I don’t want to go by myself. Any recently broken-up people out there want to learn a cool skill with me?”
  • “I never dated before and I want to try it out.”
  • “I’m in your city for the weekend for a work trip and I’d love it if someone who lives here would show me around. Can I buy you dinner at your favorite local spot?”
  • “Look this theater subscription isn’t going to use itself.”

What if instead of trying to find something that would be widely & generally appealing, you just got really specific about what you would actually like to do with a couple of free hours in the company of a new person?

22 “Can you pay someone in blood?”

No. Ew.

Wait. What did you buy on Vampire eBay?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content note: After the jump I mention Rape Threats Dudes Have Sent Me for saying what I think about creepy dudes.

Dear Captain,

Over the past several years I’ve drifted to the periphery of a friend group where one member is a sexist creep. I immediately found him slimy and pushy and off-putting upon meeting him, but gave him the benefit of the doubt because he’s my friend’s brother — and then learned that he’s heavily into PUA bullshit and was pretty much being awful on purpose. It was a few years into my friendship his sister that he started hanging out with everyone, and as he’s spent more time with the group, I’ve spent much less. (Not just because of him, but he’s definitely one reason.) There’s only one friend I’ve explicitly discussed this with, and he’s sympathetic when we talk privately, but I don’t get the sense Mr. Plumed Fedora experiences much pushback at all from anyone in the group — including me, which is also something I’m really struggling with — when he casually complains about “feminazis,” creeps on every woman he encounters, etc.

Recently an opportunity came up to maybe spend more time with the group and I was kind of excited about it but… I truly loathe this guy and resent the amount of time I’ve already spent with him. Is there a good way to say “Your brother/friend is a misogynist and I don’t want to be around him, no offense”? Should I suck it up? Continue fading out? Finally learn to stop avoiding conflict?

Thanks,
M’lady Nay

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It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

Context: J and I are both part of an online circle of friends who have known each other for years. Although several of us have never met in person, we consider each other close friends. Since we’re geographically scattered and many are dealing with our own issues of mental health, stress, strained finances, etc., we have limited bandwidth for socializing, making the main group chat an important point of contact, and alternatives to it hard to construct.

J has issues I’m not going to try to diagnose here, but they result in periodic outbursts of self-loathing. When this happens, it generally takes over the entire group chat for hours. We used to try to help, but never seemed to get anywhere. Over time things have gotten worse, to the point the rest of us agree they should be talking to a professional, but they’re highly resistant to seeking any help. Now we commonly say nothing because it’ll at best not help and at worst result in their self-loathing becoming anger directed at us, and usually this results in them complaining that no one listens or cares.

I fear this will reach a point where others start leaving the chat entirely to avoid them, and/or J getting kicked for exhausting the admin’s patience, resulting in people I care about dropping out of contact and losing important supports. While this isn’t exactly my responsibility to deal with, I’m generally one of the people with the most metaphorical spoons available within the group, and I don’t want to push the problem onto those with less.

On the one hand, we can just plan for the eventuality of having to kick J entirely and the fallout from that, but I’m hoping there are strategies we can try before it gets to that point to keep their outbursts from poisoning a communal space, while also encouraging them to get help (especially if it doesn’t involve in-person counseling or therapy, to which they’re particularly resistant) in a way they’re more likely to actually listen to. Other than the admin muting them, everyone refusing to engage at all, or broken-recording with “seek professional help” when J gets started, I’m at a loss.

– Not a Doctor

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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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