Archive

Friendship

It’s time to answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Here is a seasonal jam by The Avett Brothers:

Lyrics are here.

1 “I can’t stand going to my friend’s house because she smokes inside.”

Legit! I have a very hard time with smoke (asthma trigger), the same way cat-allergic friends have a hard time hanging out in the kitten palace. Sometimes it’s possible to hang out for a little while at my lovely smoker-friends’ places with the aid of my inhaler (used both pre-emptively and refreshed periodically), sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my friends can hang out at my place for a little while with the help of Zyrtec, sometimes they can’t, and/or we need to cut the visit short. Nobody holds it against anyone (we all get to set our own risk tolerance, especially when it comes to breathing, and we all get to make our homes primarily serve ourselves). It’s okay to invite the friend out and generally try to meet in places other than her home.


2 “My sister has changed so much I don’t even know her anymore.”

What if you could let go of who she used to be, or how you imagined she was?

Pretend you just met her. Look at her like a friendly stranger might, someone without any baggage or history where she’s concerned. Try to spend some enjoyable time with her, find out what she’s interested in now, find out what you might have in common now.

Look for reasons to enjoy her company, be proud of her, look for things to be curious about and praise. If she’s unkind to you, or just an asshole, that’s different, obviously, but what if you started from a place of kindness and curiosity?

Sometimes I wish we could all do this with all of our family members.

3 “Tidying Up hard to understand her accent

.”

As someone who has studied multiple languages and taught ESL to kids and adults, I have recommendations, though I should say up front that these suggestions require the ability to see the screen and read and I’m not sure what to recommend for people with visual impairments.

If you want to watch a TV show and you have trouble parsing the performer’s accent, try this:

  1.  Turn on the captions/subtitles.
  2. Remove other distractions (don’t try to watch it in the background while you keep one eye on your phone or sorting your mail or whatever). You’re going to have to pay closer attention.
  3. Get used to the idea that you might not catch absolutely every nuance the first time. You can rewind if necessary, rewatch if necessary.
  4. Stick with it for a few episodes. It’s very likely that it will get easier the more you listen and watch. You’ll pick up the cadences of speech better, and you’ll have more context clues, you’ll get to know the performers/presenters body language/facial expressions over time.

If you try that and it doesn’t get easier, maybe the show is not for you. Try the book instead, or find something else to watch.

Moderation Note:  Kindly refrain from cluttering the comments section with complaints/criticisms/feelings/arguments/jokes/incl. compliments! about Marie Kondo, her show, her book, her approach, literally anything about her. I find the intense discourse around her exhausting at best and racist at worst, and I will delete all of it (even nice things)(even jokes that are clever variations about whether something sparks joy). I like you an awful lot, let’s keep it that way.

4 “Can’t wear anything too “fancy” or my boyfriend gets mad

.”

I have an idea, let’s look at pretty outfits and imagine what we might wear to a “I dumped that controlling jerkass” party.

Maybe something from the Vivienne Westwood ’94 collection? 

Or the recent Golden Globes?

5 “Flowers on dick.” 

Scroll down to #18 for all your funeral-arrangements-for-enemies needs.

6 “sexual favors”and “free rent” “massachusetts”



Well that’s wicked specific.

7 “My boyfriend expects me to eat from his squalid kitchen

.”

Well, what happens when you say “I’m not comfortable with that?” 

I meant to add this to the “red flags & compatibility when meeting new people to date” discussion at the end of this post last week but I forgot, so I’ll add it here:

Visit each other’s living spaces  – after you feel safe/comfortable being alone with someone before you commit to an ongoing relationship. Are you comfortable there? Do you feel welcome? Can you relax? Is what you see (smell/feel) congruent with the person you’re getting to know and what you want?

“This person’s living space upsets me” vs. “What if they can’t help it?” is a well-covered discussion topic on the site. I am not interested in judging people, blaming people, diagnosing people, excusing people, shaming people, setting these conflicts up as moral contests. I am interested in giving everyone permission to factor how a current or potential partner keeps their living space into decisions about comfort and compatibility.

Back in grad school I made a short film about a laundry pile achieving sentience. It wasn’t a documentary due to biological impossibility…for now…but let’s just say my real-life hamper did all its own stunts. By contrast, my dad, the world’s tidiest man, can sense when you are close to finishing a soda. He hovers while you take your last swallow, pounces before you can put the can down on any surface, rinses it to restore factory settings, and ferries it gently to its rightful place in the garage, where his complex recycling system made up of 12 distinct bins and barrels awaits. He is an extremely good match for my mom, who prefers to maintain all surfaces in a state of surgical sterility.

A date who preferred my parents’ “we keep the correct vacuum cleaner for each room in a closet in that room” lifestyle would have looked at my MFA in chore avoidance and thought: “Nope! We would make each other miserable!” This is fine! We would! I would gross him out, he would remind me of my dad and send my shoulders up around my ears!

Maybe the boyfriend in the search string will clean his kitchen. Maybe he’ll get dumped ’cause he won’t. Maybe he’ll be the one who breaks up because the querent made him feel judged and uncomfortable. Maybe they’ll decide to live happily ever after on takeout and prepackaged things. Fine! This is all fine!

In no universe will I ever recommend anything resembling “Since some people struggle with housekeeping, love probably means swallowing your discomfort along with whatever they cooked, no matter how unsanitary you find it.” Serious incompatibility around housekeeping stuff is a recipe for intense stress and conflict, you’re allowed to have preferences, needs, and choose a lower difficulty setting for yourself and your relationships.


8 “Why does my boyfriend treats his daughter like his wife.”

He creepy?

9 “Niece hates me for no reason.”

She has a reason. It may not be a good reason, it may not be a reason you’ll ever get to the bottom of, but it exists even if it’s only her opinion.

When I sense someone doesn’t like me, and I can’t think of a plausible reason for the conflict,  and “Hey, have I done something to upset you?” doesn’t work (either b/c I asked and didn’t get a good answer or I don’t feel comfortable enough to even ask), I try to give the person a lot of space, be polite and keep it light when I do have to interact, and see if time either mellows the situation or gives me more information.


10 “BF’s ex-girlfriend warns me about him how do I respond

.”

Do you actually need to respond? Do you need to respond to her?

In your shoes, I might say something very non-committal to her, like, “thanks for telling me, I’ll think about it.” It’s such an unusual thing to do that (in my opinion) it’s probably worth thinking about for a few days before you either act on it or disregard it.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do nothing about what she said? (Don’t respond, don’t address it with your boyfriend, brush it off).

What’s the substance of the warning? Is she trying to warn you about abuse? Have you noticed any red flags?

What’s in this for her? What reason would she have to lie? Like, is she trying to get you to break up with the boyfriend so she can be with him again, or to create trouble for him? Or is she trying to warn you to GTFO for your own safety?

Your answers to those questions will most likely point you in the right direction.


11 “Housemate comments on everything I do.”



I’m sure I wrote some more emotionally mature and useful responses and you should probably go read those and try those suggestions.

Right now what comes to mind is:”What are you, the narrator?”

12 “What does it mean when someone reacts to a minor little comment that bothers them with a barrage of made up hurtful things to hurt the other person?

”

Nothing good! Consider how much time you want to spend with someone who does this (if any).

13 “I feel like I am a burden on my therapist

.” 


This is probably worth mentioning to your therapist. Consider also that your therapist gets paid for the time they spend with you, most therapists have some choices about who they take on as a client, and you’re just one of many clients they see. It is unlikely they are thinking about you (as a burden or otherwise) as much as you think about them.


14 “How often to go to someones house.”

I love literally any excuse to make a chart.

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 5.52.01 PM

A Venn Diagram that shows the intersection of being invited to someone’s house and actually wanting to go to their house. Maybe you’ll need Zyrtec.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate, happy “day before half price candy” for those who don’t. Be excellent to yourselves and each other.

Hello everyone! I’ve tweaked the format for short answer question submission (explainer for how it works is here) for these posts to keep the number & scope of responses manageable and to better guard privacy. Here’s this week’s batch of answers. Thanks to all who submitted and helped me try out the new system, I learned a lot.

Q1 Any advice on how to compliment a longtime friend in his late 20s on his intentional emotional growth without sounding condescending? I can tell he’s worked hard in the last year to become more confident, vulnerable, and considerate! So far I’ve said, “I can tell you’re in a really good place,” but I want to honor the work I can tell he’s done, you know? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)

A1: I think “I can tell you’re in a really good place” is a wonderful way of putting it, why not leave it there for now? “I’m so glad you’re my friend” or “I’m so proud to be your friend” or “You’re so good at ____” are always in season.

If you want to say something more, try asking a question: “You seem like you’re in such a good place these days. How are you feeling/How are you doing/What are you excited about right now?” If he wants to tell you about some of the changes he’s been making, you can make more specific affirming noises then.

Sorting out our own emotional well-being is its own reward. Your friend is happier. You are happier in his company. Honor his work best by enjoying its fruits!

Q2: Hey Capt.! I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to! But as a late-twenty-something its a bit demoralizing. Not to mention my mother still treats me like a kid. Any tips on keeping my spirits up? Negotiating boundaries (no I will not go to church)? Not feeling like a loser for living at home at nearly 30? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)

A2: Hi there! This is probably a good time to remind folks that US culture is really big on the idea that moving away from home and establishing one’s own household is the sole path to becoming a ‘real adult.’ On an individual basis that might be a necessary path for some of us to breathe and thrive (it certainly was for me) but it’s far from universal. Cultural traditions, disability, care-taking, and financial realities keep lots of “real” adults close to home, not to mention that there are people who like living with their parents.

It’s okay if you prefer living away from home, it’s okay to feel upset at having to move back there, it’s okay to want to go back to having your own household again, but freeing yourself from the “I”m such a loser” framework frees others from harmful, often ableist messages, too. If you can’t do it for yourself right now, could you try for the sake of other people? The good news is that you’re already practicing reframing this – “I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to!” – so keep doing that as you tell the story to yourself and others. “I had some financial setbacks, thankfully my parents are able to put me up.” 

There is advice on some more practical concerns in another past post:

“Be nice to your parents.  As weird as it is for you to be home, it’s also weird and awkward for them to have an adult child back in the nest.  Be extra considerate about chores.  Volunteer for things before you are asked.  Cook dinner.  Wash up.  When they give you “helpful” (annoying) advice, say “Thanks, mom, I’ll think about it.”  Even if it’s wrong, you’ll think about it, right?  Don’t pick fights, sulk, or punish them for your circumstances. Thank them for being a port in a storm for you. Take a lot of long walks away from home to give them space and privacy from you.  Make effort to seek out their company and do stuff with them – board games, cards, renting movies, taking a walk after dinner.  Ask them about their days. Treat them like adult humans who you like and not necessary evils.”

It’s harder to treat someone like a kid when they are actively participating in the household like an adult. See if you can mentally convert some of the things that were rules in childhood (like a curfew) into consideration for others (“I won’t be home for dinner tonight and I’ll text if I’ll be later than 11:00 pm.”)

As for church, and other boundaries you want to set, consider how much of setting a boundary is about having confidence in your own integrity and your own needs. You don’t want to go to church, your mom wants you to go, as long as saying “no” won’t jeopardize your immediate housing security (sadly not something everyone can count on), she can ask as many times as she likes and you can say “Mom, thanks for asking, but I don’t want to go to church. I can have lunch ready when you get home, though!” “Mom, I know church is really important to you, and I respect that, but I also know that it’s not for me, so, no thanks! Enjoy the service!” every time. If she yells at you or gets really upset? That’s her choice. You still don’t have to go, and you might be able to go a long way by modeling the behavior you expect in return. 

People often think the next step is to convince her to stop asking, but you can’t control that, and you can’t fix her feelings. What you can do is to be consistent with what you said you’d do (not go to church) and experiment treating this like a recurring caring and friendly invitation that you’re politely declining vs. a primal fight for autonomy (which on some level? It is) and seeing if your mom adjusts with some time. Mine did, I hope yours does too.

Q3. I’m so exhausted all the time, and it feels impossible to get all of my responsibilities done. Whenever I have a free moment, and try to change gears to something relaxing or fun, my partner always seems to be nearby, asking me to grab things for them or take them to a myriad of stores… and by the time I’m done, it’s time for bed. I feel trapped in an endless, exhausting cycle. Pronouns: they/them or he/his. 

A3. Hi there! I must congratulate you. So few words, so many overlapping and interconnected issues, namely:

  1. You’re exhausted all the time,
  2. You have too many responsibilities for the energy & time you have and you’re overwhelmed,
  3. When you do have some down time, your partner jumps in to schedule things and ask for help,
  4. When this happens, you don’t say no.

My suggestions for starting points or processes for addressing the exhaustion/overload piece of this are:

  1. Consider a medical checkup, esp. if exhaustion is new or has grown significantly recently.
  2. Consider tracking where your time goes for the next a week or so, without judgment or attempts to optimize things. DON’T BE FANCY. No shiny new productivity tools or or tips or hacks or apps (how would we even know which one to recommend or apply without knowing what the issue is). I’ve had good luck with a simple grid with days of the week and times of day (downloadable template) and a pencil or pen. Another even simpler way is to end your day by making a list of all the things you did. Nobody’s gotta look at this but you.
  3. Block out 2-3 hours about 2 weeks from now (after data collection) where you can be totally alone and quiet and unreachable. Libraries are good for this. Bring your filled-out grids, some blank ones, some ways to make notes.
  4. What does the data tell you? (Past insights when I’ve tried this:  Commuting and eating take up actual time/I should stop pretending I’m ever going to get up at 6:00 am/My lowest-paid/lowest reward freelance client was taking up way too much time, time to either raise rates or quit)
  5. Consider at 5 -10 possible ways you might be able to address the overall “too much on the plate” situation. Discard anything that smacks of “work smarter, not harder” or beating yourself up for not being able to do everything on your list. Keep wishes & daydreams.
  6. Sort your list. What’s one step you could reasonably take in the next 24 hours? Is anything looking juicy and quittable? What’s the worst thing that could happen if certain tasks remained undone, or got deleted from your workload?
  7. Use a fresh time grid as a planning template for the week ahead, block out obligations and things you want to do. Can you start to see ways some of this could work better? Or maybe everything is still bullshit but you can see the shape of the bullshit a little more clearly? Great! That’s enough for right now. Treat yourself.
  8. See if you can keep this going and check in every two weeks: A free hour, thinking about what you need & want to do in the week ahead, brainstorming actions & next steps, treating yourself. Repeat. My hope is that you’ll slowly regain a sense of control.
  9. Important: Probably nobody is ever going to give you time to think or plan, certainly not most employers, so you’re going to have to wrest it for yourself and guard it carefully against interruptions. People are going to be very quick to offer hacks/tips/tricks (The Pomodoro Method! Habitica! Bullet journaling! Morning pages!) and those can be useful tools but they are not a substitute for an overall process for setting boundaries around your time and giving yourself permission – this 1 hour every week, this 15 minutes at the beginning and end of every workday – to think about your life and how you want and need to live it.
  10. You may want to share your process with your partner, especially as you go, or invite them to try it out, too, but consider focusing on yourself at first, with your own schedule & priorities uppermost.

Now, here are some questions I suggest asking yourself/your partner/the situation:

  • Is your partner able to do these errands alone? If not, what alternatives exist (find a delivery service, ask someone else they know)?
  • What happens if you say “No, I’d rather not do that today, can it wait?” or “I need to close my eyes for half an hour, can I come help you then?” or “Mind handling the shopping on your own today?” Not to argue (“You always jump on me the second I get home!”), but, neutrally, as if this is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask (because it is). If you have a habit of always agreeing to help when your partner asks, is it silly that they’d develop an expectation that asking isn’t a big deal?
  • Because you are so busy in other parts of your life, do you think your partner is trying to cross the streams of spending time with you AND getting all the errands done? What are your partner’s “busy” levels compared to yours? (I can easily imagine a situation where one person coming home from work is ready to wind down for the day and someone who has been home all day is like, “You’re here! Let’s get this party started!” aka “Life with kittens.”)
  • Can you both agree to interrupt that pattern, by setting aside clear blocks of time for errands/household stuff and relaxing/date stuff?

Best of luck in finding a way to be more intentional about how you spend your days and your dates.

Q4: Some neighbours (idk who) have a cat, Bob. He liked to hang in our backyard (stressing our indoor cats to the point of peeing on a bed) until we enclosed it ($$$) Now he sits on the mesh and fights my 14yo cat through it. This week I got close enough to Bob to read their tag + phone number. I didn’t text them at 2am (last fight) What do I say, and when? Pronouns: she/hers

A4: Maybe the next time “Bob” drops by for a fight, you can snap a photo with your phone, or shoot video if you can. Then you could text the number and say “Hello, neighbor, this is [Name] at [Address.] Is this your cat, Bob? He really likes to drop by and bother my cats at night. Any way you can keep him in at night?” 

Recommendations:

  • The first time, wait until the next morning/a decent hour before you text.
  • Keep in mind that this person didn’t know about your expensive problems with Bob before this moment, they don’t have the same buildup of upset feelings. Start friendly, and focus on what is happening NOW and what you would like to happen NOW/IN THE FUTURE.
  • Keep expectations low. You’re probably not getting reimbursed for anything expensive you did to your yard. What you might get is “Can you keep Bob inside at night?” or “Hey, if Bob is being loud/disruptive, howabout I text you and you can come collect him?”
  • This vet I turned up in my Google search had some interesting suggestions.
  • I know nothing about where you live or what laws & rules about animals are like there. You should research the rules where you live and talk to people in your neighborhood. That way, if a direct request to Bob’s person doesn’t work, you can maybe find good next steps.

Moderation Note for this one: I rarely post anything about animals and animal welfare – Nicole Cliffe correctly calls this “the third rail of advice column work”- and this is why: People get very concerned about animals (a fine quality!), and sometimes also get very unrealistic ideas about what it is possible to do in regard to someone else’s animal in a way that crosses over into vigilantism or the fallacy  that the questioner is OBLIGATED to trap/steal/save Bob from his owners (an upsetting quality!). Unfortunately, “Bob” might just be an annoying quirk of this questioner’s neighborhood, and they may not have much recourse. If you’ve successfully convinced a neighbor to be more proactive about a cat situation, tell us about that! Catnapping fantasies or unfounded legal advice: No.

Q5: Whether I’m teaching my college class or explaining board game rules, people often forget small things I’ve already explained. Nbd, shit gets complicated, I clarify the thing if they ask. However, my anxiety spikes when they respond, “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!! HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW??” Correcting them seems like punching down, so I just smile and apologize and stress. Do you have any better ways to deal if/when this happens to you? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A5: If you’re pretty sure that you are covering whatever it is adequately, it might help if you think of a strange “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!” reaction (vs. a simple request to repeat or review the information) as someone else’s anxiety (or other feelings-reaction) flaring up at you. Their feelings are real, but that doesn’t mean you caused them, or that their feelings are the primary thing you need to address. What’s happening is more about them than it is about you.

It still feels weird/upsetting in the moment? But maybe knowing/reminding yourself of that can help you get some distance?

In response, you don’t have to correct them, but you certainly can. And you can stop apologizing, which I think is one thing that is stressing you out. Try being very neutral and factual, like, “I did cover that at the beginning, but it’s okay to go over it again. What’s tripping you up?” 

Another thought, teacher-to-teacher: When I get the same student questions a lot, or the same part of the instructions is breaking down for people, it’s usually a sign to either create & make available or edit a written version students can refer to.

Q6: My ex is fine but definitely Ex-For-A-Reason. Occasionally they’ll reconnect and it’s great! Eventually For-A-Reason shows up and I’ll cut contact. This happened recently and I handled it well, but I’m sad to gain/lose that connection again (for good, I’m done playing emotional yo-yo). Logicbrain knows I miss idealized ex, I’m not close to many people, and I’m generally lonely (but working on it!). I did good/regret nothing, but what do I do with feeeeeeeeelings? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A6: There’s no shortcut with feelings, sorry, friend. You feel them for a while, you be nice to yourself, you give it a lot of time and space, you redirect your attention to parts of your life that are satisfying. More detailed instructions here.

Q7: I have a friend that I wish was a small-doses friend, who I instead spend an evening a week with; we take a class together and take the same train home after. I’m getting frustrated with her for invading my space, through no fault of her own. How do I manage my feelings and maintain a friendship with her when I find her annoying sometimes and see her 1000% more than I wish I did? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A7: How long does the class go? I ask because time will take care of this problem pretty soon, right? And when the class is over you can take a break. In the meantime:

  • Who do you like in the class, who makes you look forward to it? Time to quietly branch out, make sure you meet and work with some other people during class time?
  • Make a list of reasons you like this person and a list of things you enjoy talking to her about. On some train rides, ask her about those safe, enjoyable topics. Choose to engage.
  • On other train rides, could you try saying “Hey [friend], it’s been a super long day, I need to put headphones on and tune out on the way home, can we chat next week?” thank her for understanding, and grab some quiet time. Sometimes people need quiet, it’s okay to ask!

Q8: I know you’re married to a great dude after having a not-so-great history with some dudes in the past. Do you have any advice on how to feel okay and safe dating when it seems like every small thing is a red flag and every expression of intimacy is terrifying? I don’t want to override my body’s fear signals but I also don’t want to be alone forever. Already in therapy. Pronouns: she/her/hers

A8: Hi! During the winter in 2012 when Mr. Awkward luckily crossed my path, I was trying to rid myself of certain habits like sleeping with people right away, being afraid to disappoint people, or letting my essential homebody nature and inertia steer the ship too soon.

Chicago winters are harsh, liking a variety of cosy indoor activities isn’t wrong, and yet, I wanted to stop living this Marilyn Hacker poem. I wanted to stop recreating cycles of “Hi, you seem nice and like you can carry on a conversation!” followed by “Let’s imprint on each other sexually!” followed by “Eh, just come over, I made soup!” followed by either “Hey bro, don’t you have your own apartment to go to?” or “Welp, I guess you’re my boyfriend now, I can work with this.” Maybe it was time to change something up.

What I had going for me then:

  • I wasn’t new at online dating – the novelty had definitely worn off, and I had learned from some earlier mistakes.
  • We teach what we need to learn – advising others  here had helped me re-examine my own history in a gentle light and helped me articulate what I wanted.
  • I liked my life, I liked my apartment, I liked my friends, I liked my work, I liked myself, I liked being alone. This empowered me to be very, very picky.

Again, thanks to the writing I did for this site, I did put some pretty specific guardrails in place. Seven years later I can’t say for sure how much was instinct and how much was deliberate, but this is what I tried at the time:

  • Small Doses. I scheduled first dates with new people on weeknights.Why this worked for me:
    • Dates like “Want to grab some tacos after work Tuesday?” kept things centrally located, low-key, and inexpensive. If I’m already out of the house for work, no need to fight inertia or put on a special shirt!
    • “School nights” gave me ironclad reason to wrap things up early, limit or skip drinking altogether, and avoid the whole idea of going home with somebody or inviting them home with me.
    • It kept weekends free for hanging out with friends (who I already knew I liked) or enjoying time alone. If I liked someone enough to want to book up a Saturday, that was good information.
  • Slowing Down. I scheduled first dates few and far between, and after each first date, I tried to give myself some time to decide about whether I wanted another one. For example:
    • At the end of a date, I tried to say stuff like “It was really nice meeting you, thank you for coming out” instead of “Sure, let’s do this again sometime!” so I could sleep on it.
    • Before making another date, I thought about what I wrote in all the dating answers on here: Is this person as cool as my friends? Am I excited to see them again and get to know them better? Was the actual time we spent on the date fun, comfortable, relaxing? Am I at least contemplating [kissing stuff]? Were there any red flags (more on this below)?
    • Unless the prospect of a second date made me want to say a wholehearted “Yay!!!!!!!!” it was a No thank you.” And I straight up cancelled/reversed on some things if I caught myself trying to talk myself into the idea of someone.
    • If I did like someone and want to have a second or third date, I waited a long time before inviting them to my home or doing any home/cooking/cosy OR sexy stuff. Not because that’s bad (cosy evenings at my place are awesome!) but because I personally didn’t want to lapse into that mode of least resistance right away.
  • Safety and Congruence
    • Basic Safety Stuff: I met people in public places that were easy to get myself to and from. I told friends where I was going. I asked people for real names. I did at least a cursory Google search, and left that info with friends, too. I made a Google Voice number to keep my cell number private. I texted my check-in person when I arrived on the date and when I got home.
    • Intermediate Safety Stuff: I gave myself permission to bail pretty immediately if something didn’t feel right, especially if I sensed someone was a jerk or being untruthful.
      • One time a man looked at least 15 years older than his profile photo. Another man had a very different body type than he did in photos. It wasn’t that they were unattractive in person, or that I expected movie stars, but I did expect…congruence? Honesty? Self-awareness? Whatever was going on, it wasn’t my issue to dig into, so I excused myself pretty quickly and sent some extremely awkward “Look, I can’t help but noticing you look really different from your photos. Since you look fine just as you are, I hope you’ll post some recent photos before you try this again! But the discrepancy is so jarring to me, I’m just not comfortable” messages through the app when I got home.
      • Someone whose profile said “divorced” whose story morphed into “I finally told my wife I wanted to separate last week and we are still going to be roommates for a while, is that a problem?” on the actual date? = MARRIED, WHAT YOU ARE IS MARRIED, SIR. I wish that person well, I don’t think they were evil (esp. since they ‘fessed up right away when we met), I know this shit gets complicated and expensive sometimes, but I had made it clear in my profile that I didn’t want to mess with married people or anyone with an ongoing committed romantic/emotional/legal entanglement, and someone who thought they could override that or worm their way around it was not for me. Let me have informed consent, or leave me alone.
    • Sorting “Red Flags”: Dealbreakers vs. Incompatibilities vs. Questions. These are/were some of mine, provided as examples. Yours/other people’s will be different
      • Dealbreakers (Red Flags): Untruthful. Mean to the waitstaff. Brings feature screenplay to our date expecting me to give notes on it. Mansplains my job to me. Takes “no thanks” as an invitation to negotiate: (“Come on, have another drink”). Keeps trying to push the level of intimacy higher than is comfortable, talks explicitly about sex a lot or keeps bring the conversation back there even when I don’t participate or change the subject. Talks during movies. Hipster racism (which is still racism!) or casual misogyny (totes misogyny!). Negs/Backhanded compliments. Handsy, grabby, a space invader.
      • Incompatibilities (Orange Flags): Mistakes first date for therapy session, downloads a ton of sensitive/personal info on me, overshares. Conversation has no flow, I either feel like I’m performing, I’m expected to be the audience, or it’s an interrogation. Explains jokes to me. Is weird about “who pays” – either insists on paying for everything despite me holding out money, or pulls out a calculator. Every story is a rant or complaint. Making plans is difficult, requires way too many texts, person has no suggestions of activities or places to meet, lots of “I don’t know, whatever you want to do is fine!” Crosses the enthusiasm/evangelism line, i.e. If we’re on a date and you like something a lot, it’s probably fun to listen to you talk about it, even if it’s not my thing! But if you start insisting that I must like a thing, too, or telling me how much a thing I like sucks, I will endeavor to never touch any part of your body with any part of my body. Also here? “I’m not attracted to them/just not feeling it, not sure why” and “Our investment/enthusiasm levels are mismatched somehow.” 
      • Questions (Yellow Flags): Only people from their lives they mention are exes/sex partners, no mention of friends or family. Evasive answers to questions like “where did you grow up.” Any serious topic of conversation gets deflected with jokes (which, it takes one to know one, but what are we evading/avoiding?) Gaps in their story, long silences that aren’t comfortable silences.

Dealbreakers/Red Flags meant something about this person was pinging my radar where it comes to safety and/or integrity.  I didn’t want to go out with them again, and I probably would prefer not to see again in this life. As soon as I sent the “hey thanks for coming out, I don’t think we’re a good fit but I hope you meet someone great” message, I tended to block them on the dating app. And, since I had some good friends who were using the site at the same time as me,  I also sent out a few “Hey, watch out for this username, he’s pushy as hell” warnings.

People who seemed to be kind & doing their best but were just incompatible with me got filed as “Nice enough, but not for me!” Someone didn’t have to be a bad person to be a mismatch for me & what I wanted. Realizing this, and putting into practice by saying “No thank you!” to spending more time with people – even when they were very, very nice people, even when I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings – was an incredibly powerful and healthy realization for me.

If what I had after a date were questions AND I really enthusiastically liked the person, I might give things a little more time. I didn’t need people to be cheerful or have perfect lives, and I was definitely okay with someone being reticent about painful or uncomfortable topics or a little shy (especially when meeting a stranger for the first time)(especially in contrast to people who wanted to dump all their baggage on me). If we had a second date and something still didn’t feel right? I’d know what to do.

I don’t know where to stick this in the bulleted list, but it’s another important lesson of that time: I didn’t try to convert incompatible date-people into friends. New friendships were and are for people who goddamn delight me, where I feel strong connections and enthusiasm, not an awkward dumping ground or collection plate for people I didn’t want to have sex with because I couldn’t bear to say “You’re nice, but no.” 

That’s a lot of text, right? I swear at the time, in practice, it wasn’t that complicated. All these rules/practices were about knowing myself, giving myself permission to want what I really wanted and set boundaries with myself about that.

What happened was:

I went on a bunch of first dates over the course of 6 months or so. Those ranged from “Oof, awkward” to “Eh, fine” to “Whoa, that person is a catch! He’s wonderful! But not my catch!”

I went on no second dates.

Then I went on one great first date.

And a great second date.

And all my guardrails/checks-and-balances were important because they were a reminder to myself to slow down and pay attention.

And they were a reminder to let myself enjoy things, to appreciate how good things could be. Because I felt safe, seen, respected, loved, appreciated. Because things were easy. Because I could be vulnerable. Because things matched.

So I married that one.*

I hope that helps.

Let’s do this again sometime!

 

 

*I realize this makes it sound like we got hitched on the third date. No. We got married about 4 years after we met, though I knew that it was likely/probable within a few months of meeting.

P.S. I wrote some stuff about compatibility around living space/household stuff that fits in with the whole red flags/dating someone new/is this for me? discussion here (#7).

It is time for the return of the feature where we answer things people typed into search engines to find this place as if they are questions. Obviously we are missing details and nuance and the larger story. (That’s what makes it fun).

First, as traditional: music with the month somewhere in the song.

Second, the “questions.”

1 Wife refuses to take birth control.

The opposite/other angle of this post! Everybody’s the boss of their own body and your wife doesn’t have to put anything in hers that she doesn’t want to. So, if you are a person who can have the possibly-results-in-babies brand of sex with said wife, and you don’t want to risk making babies, I recommend the following steps to control your controllables:

  • Don’t do any of the sex stuff that could possibly result in babies until you have a clear and reliable path/decision about this. You can choose to not cause an unwanted pregnancy!
  • Talk to your wife honestly about what you want out of your life and your relationship. (Babies…never? Babies…but not yet?) and listen to her. Maybe she wants babies more than she wants you, and that’s sad, but giving her a chance to make an informed choice about that is the most loving thing you can do.
  • If what you truly want is “No babies (or risk thereof)!” your wife doesn’t have to go on birth control she doesn’t want. Instead, you could take steps to limit your own fertility.

2 “Mistake of loving a man who does not love himself.”

“How can you love anybody else if you don’t love yourself?” is the axiom, right? It’s one of those things that seems logically sound, but I’m not sure it is. I think it’s possible to love other people even when it’s hard to love yourself, I think sometimes that loving other people is how you teach yourself to love yourself (Like, “wait, would I let someone treat [person I love] the way I’m treating me?”), so I’m not always one to make “love yourself, then others” the absolute order of operations.

Given that, how does this man treat YOU. How are his behaviors toward YOU. What kind of care does he take of YOU. Is he good and kind to the people in his life? If he doesn’t love himself but he’s good to you, maybe you can work with that (though it’s up to him to figure out how to be better to himself, not you to make that happen).

If he doesn’t love himself and he’s not good to you? That’s a trap.

3 “My best friend had a baby and I can’t stand little kids.”

Here are your choices:

  1. Learn to “stand” your friend’s kids, at least a little, the way someone had to learn how to “stand” you when you were a tiny human.
  2. Don’t, knowing that you and your friend will grow apart.

If you Just Can’t with kids and babies, I believe you and I don’t want to fight with you. You can’t. So, don’t! Just, I strongly believe that decision will have consequences for your friendship and you should know what they are. The kids won’t always be little, but your friend will probably always remember if you disappear from her life when she has a child or treat her child like it’s something she inflicted on you. Friendships can grow and outlast big changes, and it’s possible to balance time with small kids with solo friend time, so I hope the people looking for this can realize kids are just humans and they live here, too.

4 “My friend never wants to go out anymore now that she has small kids.” 

Good timing! A common problem! Small kids can’t be left alone, “cool” venues and outings are wasted on them, and babysitters are expensive (like, mentally add $40-80 to every planned outing you want your friend to do and see if you still expect them to cheerfully do it). For years, Mr. Awkward and I have followed this program for brand new parent-friends:

  • Set a day and time. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight before naptime can be the best time (maximum quiet) or the worst time (the longer they sleep, the worse the diaper situation when they wake).
  • Show up to friend-parents house with food or makings of something hearty and large, a casserole or stew with strong leftover potential.
  • Parents leave house, go see matinee.
  • Awkwards keep baby alive and prepare large food thing.
  • Parents come home, we all eat.
  • Baby goes to bed.
  • Parents & Awkwards stay up, watch stabby television that needs parental guidance warnings, drink booze, play games with complicated rules and swears!
  • Awkwards go home, leaving a clean kitchen, alive baby & parents, and a fridge full of leftover stew behind.
  • EVERYBODY STILL HAS FRIENDZZZZ.

Alternately, parent-friends like to go out sometimes without their small kids, but sometimes you gotta alternate which parent you’re gonna entice out of the house because someone’s gotta stay behind (or spend $40-$80).

5 “Friends forgot my birthday quotes”

I don’t know about quotes, were you looking for this post?

I’m still sticking with “It hurts when people who usually acknowledge your birthday forget” and “If you are an adult who wants something in particular to happen on your birthday, please tell people! Please help them give you what would make you happy.” 

6 “Getting husband to buy flowers” 

Look, it’s the old “I don’t just want flowers, I want my spouse to want to buy me flowers ‘just because’ without being asked” problem, like, I know, we all want small acts of romance and kindness, but you married that person, the one who could clearly use some verbal reminding about flowers, so:

Do you want flowers, or, do you want to be married to someone else?

Legit either way, I guess? If asking “Would you surprise me with flowers once a month or so? It would make me so happy if you did that sometimes, even a really inexpensive grocery store bunch!” seems more difficult than divorce, you know your own life best. For example, I’m not gonna tell you you have to stay with the person who sees a direct request for a small happy-making thing as an opportunity to argue with you, so if you tell them they are like “it’s not really a surprise, now, is it,” and therefore “there’s no point” to doing a tiny thing that you told them would make you happy, leaving you both “without flowers” and “vaguely wrong for even mentioning them.” If you’re married to WELL, ACTUALLY, THEY’RE JUST WASTEFUL USELESS DEAD PLANTS, AND ALSO, I WAS PLANNING TO ‘SURPRISE’ YOU SOMEDAY BUT YOU RUINED IT FOREVER BY ASKING Guy,  here you go. Be happy and free!

But I don’t think it’s a happy path to expect love to involve a lot of mind reading and then setting up little tests for each other to (probably) fail. There probably are some “I simply love to surprise people with flowers out of the blue!” people on earth, but there are way more of the “Yay, I am happy to buy some flowers sometimes, I knew that was a thing Some People liked but not that My Person liked it so much, this will be fun, I’m glad they asked!” people. And we will bring you flowers sometimes, if you ask.

7 “How to ask for financial assistance from my uncle.”

Weirdly, this search term comes up EVERY SINGLE TIME I look at my search terms, but I have never (as far as I know) answered it.

:DRAMATIC SOUND EFFECT:

Until now.

My suggestion would be be very direct, specific, and get to the point. A mad lib:

Dear Uncle,

I hope you are well. 

Would you be willing and able to help me out with finances for [Reason you need the money]. The estimated amount I would need from you is [$$$$.$$. And yes, name the exact number, and name the maximum/most you would actually need right here, don’t underplay it to get someone to say yes with the expectation you can go back for more later], and I would ideally need it [when and how you need it paid, all at once, over time, once a year for x number of years, etc. Lay it all out clearly.].

[At this point, clarify whether you intend this to be a gift or a loan, and if it’s a loan, when and how you realistically expect to pay it back. Also offer to put any loan terms in writing].

Please let me know if you can help, I appreciate it so much.

Love,

[name]”

In my experience, people can tell when you’re about to ask them for a favor, the more time you spend psyching yourself up to ask or pretending you contacted them for some other reason or overselling the thing, the less respectful it actually is in the end and the more the person will want you to get to the point. If it’s worth asking, ASK. Make it very easy for the person to know what they are saying yes or no to.

Good luck, Niblings of Earth!

8 “Calling sister a slut.”

Don’t. I frown upon this. I don’t think it’s a word you get to apply to other people, or use as an insult.

9 “Why does your fiancé keep his toxic father in his life?”

I don’t know. Lots of reasons: Loyalty, nostalgia, they think they have to, hope for a different ending, a little bit of a relationship feels better than none, having a toxic parent feels better than having no parents, not ready to let go/give up.

I’m a big fan of letting people make their choices about their own relationships while also setting boundaries about how much a toxic person is allowed to annoy/inconvenience/hurt/alarm YOU. Abusive people tell their victims what to do and how to feel, who they can and can’t have in their lives, and they are generally terrible at boundaries, so one way to counteract (not undo, unfortunately, but thwart) their abuse is to say “Babe, you can have whatever relationship with your dad you think is right for you, you’re the boss of all that! If you want to take a break from seeing him, I support you – I don’t think you have to let him into your life just ’cause he’s family if he doesn’t treat you right, and I also know that I don’t feel comfortable around him, so I’d prefer to not spend much time with him, if any. But it’s really up to you, if you want to see him, please do. This is where my boundary is, so you know.” 

10 “How to tell my step dad my biological dad is walking me down the aisle.” 

Obviously this is a glimpse of a longer, more complicated tale. Without knowing that tale, I’d say some guiding principles are 1) Assume nothing about who is ‘supposed to’ do what at a wedding and assume nothing about your stepdad’s likely expectations around that, ’cause he may not have any? and 2) When you talk to him about it, do it in terms of asking  what you WOULD like him to do at your wedding.

Stepdad…knows…you have another dad? So, if it’s overall a good relationship, maybe instead of treating this like bad news that you’re breaking, you could say to Stepdad, “StepDad, I’m gonna have BioDad walk with me down the aisle, will you escort Mom, and then all three of you can stand there with me for the ‘who presents this person to be married?’ part?” (The truth of your relationships/relative affection for all/any of these people will be what they are even if they all stand with you for that moment).

I would also think about when/how you decide to communicate this depending on the relationship and how far away your wedding is. Depending on your aisle, the “walk down the aisle” is literally a few seconds and a photo-op, does the question of it need to hang over y’all for months at a time or is it something that can be sorted at the rehearsal, with a breezy, “Okay, you’re over here with me, you’re with Mom, glad all my Dads can be here, let’s do this thing, yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy, so happyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!! (+ i.e. I’m getting married tomorrow and I goddamn dare someone to pick a fight with me about this)!attitude. The benefit of delaying this decision (or at least delaying communicating it): If a grown-ass man/dad figure is likely to get angry/punish you/act super weird and possessive about who is walking you down the aisle at your wedding, you always have the option to walk yourself down.

11 (plus) “How to say you want a relationship on dating apps?”

Straightforwardly! I find the whole “I’m looking to have a long-term romantic relationship someday, but I’ve internalized that the only way to find someone is to fake that it never even occurred to me fall in love with any living creature before, lest I scare them off forever with my enthusiasm!” game to be second only to the “I know we said we were getting married and we share a household, so when are you going to SURPRISE! ask me to marry you, as a total surprise?” game in pointlessness and tedium.

Say what you want. For instance:

  • “I’m interested in finding a long-term partner and I’m interested in meeting other people who are looking for the same thing.”
  • “I’m on this app because I’m looking to meet people who might be a good match for me for a long-term committed relationship. That doesn’t mean you have to fill out an application and have an audition tape before we can meet for a drink, but if you’re looking for something more casual we’re probably not a great fit right now!” 
  • “I’d like to date people who are cool with at least the notion of getting married and having kids, ideally within the next decade. As fun as it is to bait and trap a series of reluctant, relentlessly single people into a lifetime of domestic partnership they never wanted, why not work less hard at this and just admit from the get go that we’d really like to fall in love someday, with someone? 

I want the people like the determined child-free guy in this letter to find the child-free woman he’s looking for, without apology! And without wasting the time of people who want different things from life!

Looking over my inbox, there are lots of brave folks who want to meet new people to smooch (or emphatically Not Smooch) in 2019, so I adapted some of them into personal ads below. If you see your letter sort of adapted here (there are definitely composites), please know: I SEE YOU and I LOVE YOU and I WANT WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOU and I hope you will a) laugh b) feel seen and less alone c) feel like you can ask for whatever you really and truly want from your precious beautiful life, for real, just please say the thing you need even if it’s oddly specific or seems hopeless. Someone else is gonna see themselves here in what you wrote to me, and they may not be exactly your type/single/geographically feasible/into you, but you are not the only one who feels the way you do, I promise you.

Please enjoy (and freely copy/adapt) Some Highly Specific Dating Profiles I’d Like To See In 2019:

  • FRIENDS FIRST FER SURE: “I think I’m a demisexual,which means I like to get to know people for a very long time before the idea of any sex is on the table. I’d love to fall in love and have sex and all of it someday, but I need to take all of that verrrrrrrrry slow, which can make being on sites like this pretty frustrating: Frustrating for you as you wait to see if I’ll bang you someday and frustrating for me (as I wait to see if I’ll bang you someday, as meanwhile I fall in love with my friends one by one). Any fellow sexual snails/turtles/other slow-moving-but-completely-adorable creatures out there want to go on some dates with me? As friends?”
  • ACES IN (MEAT)SPACE: “I am asexual and looking for fellow local asexual people to meet and maybe snuggle with sometimes without pressure to do anything else about that. There has to be someone else on this app who is like ‘I think I want a romantic partner someday but not exactly in the way that most people mean that, so how do I even do this without it being soooooooooooooooo exhausting’, right? Everyone I know who identifies as ace is online and farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr away. They are wonderful, but a girl can’t live by Tumblr alone, so follow the ACE-beacon I’m flashing in the sky. I’ll buy the first bubble tea.”
  • I AM YOUR WILLING SEXUAL HOUSEPLANT: “I’m an extremely horny, mildly kinky, bisexual polyamorous graduate student with a long-distance fiancé and almost no free time, looking for someone who wants to have a really fun sexy date ideally once a month, preferably every third Thursday between 3pm and 12 am (no sleepovers, I have an early class the next day) as well as a standing invite to the regular 2nd Sunday metamour community potluck and D&D game. Who else has a totally crap schedule and would like the occasional hot make-out session with someone smart and nice and low-maintenance, especially someone who will not give you sad puppy eyes when you return to your research for weeks at a time? P.S. HARD NO ‘people who just love debating.'”
  • LET’S FIGURE THIS WHOLE DEAL OUT: “I’ve never dated anyone before, and at 28 I wanna go on some first dates but I don’t really know what I’m doing. What if we figured this out together? Let’s go dutch, do inexpensive fun things in the city, and not have too many expectations or preconceptions. Who’s with me? Maybe we’ll fall in love, maybe we’ll just help each other feel less weird about being alone and not really knowing ‘how’ to do this awkward thing everybody but me seems to already know how to do.”
  • MILD AGORAPHOBIA AND EXTREMELY CUTE CATS: “Listen, it’s winter. It’s cold outside. I want to meet you! But I have a low-level anxiety disorder that makes it so that don’t want to leave my house more than I have to. What if we met up in public/with other friends around for safety reasons and after that we could skip right to “friends/dating for 1 year mode” where everybody wears very comfy clothes, you bring over books and craft projects or whatever you like doing, I make us soup or order delivery, we sit under warm blankets and watch good (or bad) television together? If sex & love follow, great? I’d probably be up for that? And I could come to your house sometimes, I guess? I just…I don’t want to go ‘on dates.’ I like to be at home, which I promise you, is as cozy and welcoming as it can possibly be.”
  • NOT YOUR ______- 101 TUTOR. “I need to meet some fellow Gen-X queer and transgender POC lovelies who have figured at least some of their personal bullshit OUT. No disrespect to the newbies (I love y’all so much, but I just can’t right now), I need the people who ‘came out’ at least a decade ago, the ones who either figured out how to have a relationship with family or who wrote those jerks off. (I’m not playing the ‘No, where are you *really* from?‘ game with your Grandma ever again. I’m from Maryland.) Please also be… not a white person (I love…some…of you…so much, but I can’t right now), and please have a political agenda beyond making sure rich white Republican men who don’t give a single shit about the rest of us can claim each other on their taxes. If you have a therapist, great, if you’re on your 10th therapist, EVEN BETTER. I know I sound like a buzzkill but I promise I am a creature of joy and light (and really great shoes) and I swear we will have the BEST TIME. I’m just very tired of teaching unpaid impromptu Intro To The Local Scene workshops to the beautiful children and hungry to meet some grown folks. Let’s go to concerts and sit down in actual seats like God and my aching knees intended!”
  • EQUAL PARTS HOPE AND RESENTMENT ABOUT HAVING TO BE HERE: “I’m divorced. You’re divorced. We both have kids. We did not think we’d ever be doing this dating thing again, we’re not sure we want to, but we’re starting to think that sometimes it would be nice to have someone smile at us, laugh at a joke we told, do a small nice thing for us again (and appreciate the reverse),  or have an adult conversation. Does any of this sound good? Happy to schedule around custody stuff, I’ll save my ‘terrible ex’ stories for ‘not the first date’ if you will!”
  • GRANDMA. SCHOOLTEACHER (RETIRED). BASS PLAYER (NOT RETIRED). “I may be old but I’m not dead. Swipe left if you think what’s playing on ‘the oldies’ station sounds like ‘that racket’ your adult kids used to play before they all moved out. Swipe right if you want to go to shows and confuse the young.”

It’s 2019. New year! New plan! Stop trying to be open to every possible person, stop worrying about what’s “normal,” you don’t want every possible person, you aren’t for every possible person, you are who you are and you want what you want. Own. It. The good responses will be better, the crappy ones will have to try harder (and at least be more entertaining), and maybe some of the people who are just gonna bore you or waste your time will pass you by.

(P.S. The shy people who want to move slow? ARE LEGION.)

Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?

Thanks,

I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 

Hello!

Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m reaching out because, while this is a relatively specific scenario, I’m sure a lot of people feel this way at one time or another. My partner’s old friend group never really warmed to me when I first moved here, and I let that be okay because I knew his ex was still really hurting from their break-up (there was no cheating, I should be clear, and I wasn’t involved). I accepted that they didn’t really see me as a fully-drawn person but rather the reason why everything was different between two of their closest friends now – which isn’t great from the outside. I made a few attempts to get to know the more accepting ones on my own terms, and I had mixed results. Some I do legitimately feel have become friends and I see them semi-regularly. Others were kind to me but clearly not feeling it and we have enough fun when we see each other but don’t really keep in touch. There are a significant amount, including his ex, who I barely see and when I do it’s tense.

I don’t really subject myself to the full group because it’s an anxiety-creating experience, and I still have feels about being sorta bullied by then when I first moved back – pointed glances, whispers to each other while I was at the table, conversations where I couldn’t contribute anything that lasted the entire time. It didn’t feel good, so I just dipped. I made my own friends here, and I have my own life. I’m polite when we see each other out, but that’s about it. That said, there are a lot of big birthdays and weddings coming up, and my partner and I have been together about 4 years so he wants me to attend them with him. I want to go, too, because I feel some type of way about being intimidated out of attending – and also because I want to have the kind of relationship where I go to significant life stuff as his date.

I am … dreading this more than I thought. His ex will be there, and she feels the way she feels about me. She’s not been above being super kind to him and acting like I don’t exist, and everyone more or less follows suit and resumes the Mean Girls (and Boys) act. I’ve talked to my partner about how this kind of exclusion makes me feel, and he’s been supportive and empathetic – and tries to help bring me into the conversation, when he can – but he can’t change what other people do or don’t do. His position, which I can see, is that he’s cut way back on this group in general and never asks me to be around them – but these are big significant life events, and he wants us to go.

I don’t know if there’s even a question in here, but — I guess what I’m asking is, how do I handle a situation where I know there will be a few friendly faces but also a few (more) openly hostile faces? How will I hold it together if the bullying and whispers and whatnot start? How will I stay chill and composed and above it if what I really want to do is scream I HAVE LIVED HERE FOR FOUR YEARS, Y’ALL, YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOVE ME BUT GROW UP. How will I stop myself from feeling awkward and excluded when the conversation mostly involves stuff that I wasn’t around to see? I want to do this; I know I can do this for a few hours for wedding or a 30th birthday just not every week. I’ll say I’ve booked plane tickets and whatnot to some of these things, so the “just don’t go!” advice ship has sailed. What are your/the commenters thoughts, if you’re up for it? Thanks in advance.

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Dear Captain,

There’s a guy, let’s call him Ted, who I’ve known for about 15 years and hasn’t been in a relationship during that time but sometimes pursues them, always with much younger women. His feelings are never reciprocated and that’s partly because Ted comes across as…well, a bit creepy and patronising towards women in general. Ted is in his mid fifties and his latest crush is Julie, who I’d guess is in her mid thirties.

Ted came to me really upset, asking for advice about Julie. He thought they were getting on well and had had lots of lovely chats but she suddenly ghosted him and stopped replying to his texts, unfriended him on Facebook and, in Ted’s words, “snubbed” him elsewhere. He continued trying to contact her because he didn’t know what he’d “done wrong” and really wanted to send Julie a message apologising for it. He also admitted he had posted FEELINGSPOETRY on his Facebook. Gentle questioning revealed that yes, this was indeed just before she unfriended him, gosh, what a coincidence. (Ted: “I don’t think she could have known it was about her. It was all abstract and metaphorical.” Me: “Oh Ted. She knew.”)

The advice I gave Ted was: don’t approach Julie, don’t contact her in any way unless she contacts you first and if she doesn’t, respect her need for space. Do not apologise if you don’t know what you did, because then she’ll feel obliged to accept an apology she doesn’t want because you probably didn’t do anything that needs an apology. Also, stay away from her social media and distract yourself with hobbies. Julie probably realised you had feelings for her that she didn’t reciprocate; here’s why that can be frightening when it’s a woman being pursued by a man, especially a significantly older man.

After our chat, Ted cheered up and said he would definitely take my advice. But days later he went on Julie’s Twitter and sent her a message saying how upset he was, that he felt awful about whatever he’d done to upset her and that he’d got advice from me about it. I was pretty angry he’d told Julie I’d given him advice while doing the exact opposite of what I advised him. I don’t really know her so don’t feel comfortable approaching her, but she and I have a lot of mutual friends and while I’m not bothered if she thinks I give terrible advice I don’t want her to think I’ve been encouraging men to harass her. We all spend a lot of time at the same very male-dominated events and I want Julie to feel safe and feel other women have her back. I haven’t spoken to Ted about this but if he’s going to use me as an excuse to do shitty things by pretending it’s because I advised him to, I really would like to nip that in the bud before it starts spilling over into our group of mutual friends and making things really awkward. Any advice for dealing with this?

Thanks,

Reluctant Advisor (she/her)

PS Just to add, in case it’s relevant: I was once one of the much-younger women he pursued, although that was a long time ago.

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Hello Awkward Friends!

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!

Some past holiday discussions of note:

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.

daniel licking hen Captain Awkward in blankets Daniel and Henrietta sleeping Jeremy at Uncle Julio's

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.

Q4a: Dear Captain,

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!

A4a: Great question! I sorta covered this in the Buzzfeed post from a couple years back:

. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: "I liked your old glasses better," or "That coat looks like you slept in it," or the always delightful "Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?" Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It's never a fun ritual, but the comments didn't mean "you suck" so much as "you belong to us but you don't quite match what I remember" in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: “I liked your old glasses better,” or “That coat looks like you slept in it,” or the always delightful “Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?”

Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It’s never a fun ritual, but the comments didn’t mean “you suck” so much as “you belong to us but you don’t quite match what I remember” in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

The quickest and easiest way through a random and unsolicited critique is to respond briefly and as neutrally as you can:

• “Huh.”

• “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.

• “Really?”

• “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!