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Geek Social Fallacies

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a situation that is getting very awkward indeed. In a few months, I will be going on vacation to Tokyo with my best friend. This has been a dream of ours for a long time, so we have a lot of plans. A coworker – with whom I’m friendly, but not very close – heard through the grapevine about my trip and started a conversation about when I was going and what I planned to do.

The week after that, she told me that she was planning a trip on the same dates, and she was so glad to know someone who could ‘show her all the sights’. I was a bit taken aback, but I told her my plans had just included myself and my best friend, and we already have reservations booked for just the two of us for most of the attractions we want to see. She seemed to understand and didn’t mention it again for a while.

However, I later overheard her talking to another coworker about ‘our trip’, and how I had planned everything out for ‘us’ to do. I waited until the other coworker was gone so as not to embarrass her, but this time I told her in no uncertain terms that my plans had not and would not include her. She got upset and said I’d been so enthusiastic about my trip that she’d gotten excited as well, and why was it so difficult for one more person to join us?

Since then, she’s kept talking about ‘our’ trip and what ‘we’ll’ do and all objections I make are completely ignored, even though I’ve stopped being polite and I have told her in front of others that she is in no way involved in my trip. I want to have a great experience with my friend and I absolutely do not want to be stuck playing tour guide to an acquaintance.

Since this is not work-related, I don’t feel like I can bring it up to our managers. I know I can’t stop her from making her vacation plans, even if they coincide with my own, but she already knows the name of my hotel and my rough itinerary from that first conversation, so how can I get it across that my friend and I do not want her with us? I’m concerned that she might have booked at the same hotel or that she’ll show up there, and I don’t want to cause a scene or have to try and avoid her. To my knowledge she’s never done anything like this before, so I’m completely baffled by her behavior. Obviously this problem is a bit different from many of the other letters you get, but I have no idea how to address this situation. Help?

Thank you,
Tokyo Traveller

preferred pronouns she/her

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Hey, Captain. I’ve got a bit of a social conundrum and would appreciate any tips/scripts to help me deal with people I don’t want to talk to at all.

Short back story: My husband is a youth minister at a church. We have been living in the church parsonage rent-free for the past 8 or 9 years in exchange for monitoring the property, and him not getting a pay check. Over Christmas, the church burned down. A week later, the pastor and a deacon came to us an explained (very poorly) that due to state building codes, the church cannot be rebuilt in the original location, and the only other property the church owns for building is where the parsonage sits. They told us they would like to start removing the parsonage by March; but please don’t tell anyone about this because they hadn’t decided how to tell the church body, or even when to tell them-they seemed to think that two months is sufficient time for a single income (me) household with two children and a person who is a wheelchair user (my husband) to find a new place to live (it isn’t, we’re still looking).

Current problem: While my day job sometimes schedules me for Sundays, there are still weekends I have off, and due to not being right next to the church, if my husband is to perform his duties, I have to take them to church. Our girls also like going to church. I do not. I am feeling a lot of anger and bitterness, as well as depression, because this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Now, when I am at church, I find myself needing to act like I enjoy being around various groups of people who are a) willing to give a family a bare two months to move, and b) are exhibiting more ideological differences with each passing day (I’m sure given the current political climate, most everyone can guess why) that I find more and more difficult to deal with. I have already left off social media outside my online bookstore owner persona, but I can’t leave my husband and kids to always go to church alone-then my husband has to deal with people commenting on my having to work (it’s so dreadful) or asking where I am and if I’m okay (I’m not, but they don’t want to hear that anyway).

Any ideas/scripts how I can politely tell them to leave me alone and give me space because we are not on the same page, when I’d really love to have an epic breakdown and tell them exactly where they can all go?

Thanks bunches

Too Stressed For This
(she is fine as pronoun)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I have a good female friend, V. Friend V has a wife, O. Every weekend, all of our friends group and SO’s will get together Saturday night to hang out, have a drink and play games. This is great. What is not so great is that O has privately reached out to every masculine person in the group that she has not dated and let them know that they make her uncomfortable and would they please not talk to her or interact with her in any way. She has also publicly said that she thinks each one is an asshole and will ask people who date those men what they see in them anyway.

When I thought that she only felt this way towards me, I was hurt, but tried to do the right thing to make her more comfortable. At this point, as more of the situation is coming out, I’m struggling for a solution. Her discomfort is beginning to feel secondary to the discomfort of the half of our group she’s slagging and asking to tiptoe around her, but I don’t know how to deal with this.

Please, help!

Sincerely,

Frustrated

(He/Him pronouns are fine)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I find myself in a very awkward but relatively low-stakes situation with a classmate. There is a woman in my cohort at college who has this weird habit of rescheduling other students’ social events (not just mine, but mostly mine). For example, someone invites the group by email out to go hiking, and she’ll respond saying let’s all go bowling instead. Once I invited everyone to a dinner party I was hosting at my home, and she tried to change the event to be a restaurant outing at a different time!

I understand that in the course of group planning, sometimes people negotiate things like whether to meet at 8 or 9, or whether to get Mexican or Italian, but her behavior is going way beyond that. And frankly, sometimes I don’t really care if everyone can make it – I just want to go see this awesome concert and it’d be even more awesome if others wanted to join.

There’s obviously a lot of GSF5 going on here. How can I talk to her about this without making it seem like I don’t care about her presence? I do care, and I love spending time with her, but I can’t accommodate her on every social outing. Also/alternatively, what is a polite way to indicate to the group, after she inevitably makes some “helpful” suggestions, that my invitation is not up for negotiation?

Just Send Me Your Regrets
(she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I was just fired after less than a year at a toxic job. I was vomiting from anxiety on a semi-regular basis… it was awful.

My team and peers were amazing, but my relationship with my manager was terrible. After months trying to fix it, I began seeing a new psychiatrist and taking new meds just to manage the anxiety that it caused.

The circumstances surrounding my firing are also extremely shady. I feel so traumatized by the experience that the thought of working again fills me with panic. It will be a while before I can rejoin the workforce.

Needless to say, I’m extremely distrustful of Former Manager and have no desire to ever see or interact with him again. I’d still feel that way even if I had quit.

I’ve blocked both him and his SO on LinkedIn/Facebook. However, I’d really like to see my former coworkers again when some of this blows over. They’re awesome and were devastated by my departure. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a get-together and they seem interested, which is exciting!

Hosting an event is perfect: I have control over the attendees, and Former Manager is NOT on the list. But I don’t have any control over events hosted by others, and this fills me with dread. Coworkers are already planning at least one summer event.

I don’t want to flake out on them, but I rampantly avoid confrontational situations and I’m terrified of seeing Former Manager. It’s not a big group, so I can’t fade into the crowd. They also like board games, so “just don’t interact with him!” isn’t an option.

I could try to determine if he’ll be there in advance, but it’s hard to ask without making things weird or divulging inappropriate information. He’s still their manager; if I say I can’t be around him it could sound unprofessional or even impact their work relationship.

So, let’s say I go to an event and he’s there – I can’t give him the cold shoulder. I’m also terrible at doing the “neutral, yet disinterested” treatment. I always think I can, but then my stupid politeness kicks in and I treat the person like an old friend or even smooth over their awkwardness. This happened even when I worked for him.

How can I navigate this situation, particularly since my anxiety here is so fresh and I’m feeling very avoidant? I don’t want to dodge the group completely – I’d like to maintain these relationships – but I’m so afraid that my manager will be there!

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

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Hello,

My close friend from childhood, “Jake,” is a kindhearted person with a drinking problem. I have learned that his drinking problem is not something for me to either fix or enable, so I do neither. Most of the time I simply hang out with him before he starts drinking for the night, and then excuse myself once he begins, to avoid being around him while he is drunk. This works 9 out of 10 times and has kept our friendship intact for fifteen years now.

My question is not about my relationship with Jake, but about how to deal with other people affected by his out of control behavior on the rare occasions that I am present to witness to it.

I invited Jake to my recent birthday dinner. My work colleagues were there. Jake, who is gay, made unwanted (verbal) sexual overtures to my straight male coworkers. He made loud, explicit and insulting observations about my female coworker’s outfits and bodies. I was fairly mortified and also speechless when it happened, cringing silently in disbelief. (He would never have said anything like this while sober, of course. When I asked, he told me he doesn’t remember the evening at all.)

What does damage control look like in a case like this? What do I say to these people now? Is there a better strategy than “sorry my friend harassed you, he’s an alcoholic”? I know Jake’s comments are not my responsibility, but I feel like I need to let my acquaintances and colleagues know that I don’t condone the things he said. I’m friends with the real Jake, not the distorted person he becomes while under the influence.

Thank-you!

I think an apology will definitely go a long way to mending fences with your coworkers. I would keep Jake’s good qualities and non-drunk self out of it. Be brief and don’t make excuses. This isn’t about rescuing his status in their eyes, this is about repairing your relationships with these people.

Coworker, my old friend Jake was drunk and extremely out of line the other night, and I’m so sorry about his behavior toward you. I’m also sorry I didn’t do more at the time to put a stop to it. I was so taken aback and mortified that I froze.

And then, if you really want to make things better for those folks going forward, I have two suggestions:

1) Practice speaking up more in the moment to curb the bad behavior and shield your guests.Jake – that’s enough!” “Not cool, Jake.” “Jake, I’m gonna call you a cab. Time to go now.” You aren’t responsible for his behavior, but if you’re hosting events you are taking on some responsibility for other people’s comfort. Jake’s targets were likely also speechless because they had no basis for anticipating his behavior or knowing how to react to it in a way that wouldn’t make everything worse for you. If you don’t feel up to redirecting him or shutting him down in public, I understand, but that makes suggestion #2 even more important.

2) Don’t cross your wider social streams with Jake again, especially not when it involves people you work with. That means Jake might get excluded from things like intimate birthday dinners in the future, not because you are a bad or disloyal friend, but because he can’t hang. 

Think of all the letters here from people who are like “I love (friend/relative), but seeing them means I also have to see Drunk Mean Asshole, and I worry that if I tell them that I don’t want to hang out with DMA anymore that they’ll disown me, but DMA is ruining all the time I spend with them.” I’m sorry, but you are That Friend now! If you enjoy Jake’s company when he’s not drinking, think about enjoying that solo and keeping group events for people who can behave themselves. If Jake protests not being invited, tell him exactly why: “You were such a jerk to everybody at my birthday, I don’t want to cross those streams again. We’ve made a way to make our friendship work despite your drinking problem, and let’s stick with what works.” Please don’t make your wider social circle absorb his bad behavior for your sake. You can’t fix him, you don’t want to enable him, so what’s left is shielding the other people you care about when Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

I am married to a wonderful, funny, smart man. We have an amazing two-year-old and I just found out that I am expecting again. Life is good, except that his normally-long-distance family is suddenly in the area (an hour’s drive away) and thus all the issues about my dislike of them that we have managed to gloss over are coming up in a big way. (The stuff I found in the archives about in-laws involved a partner’s family being just as toxic for him/her as for the LW, and this isn’t so much our case.)

His family history is too long and sordid to get into, but it involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and my husband being informed at nine years of age that he was now responsible for everyone else, including not just his siblings but his mother. (She was the one informing him of this.) This resulted in an incredibly responsible and patient man, but one unable to see his siblings and mother as anything but helpless victims who need him, when in fact there is major manipulation going on in order for them to maintain the hapless lifestyles to which they are accustomed.

It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him); he wants me to love his family. And he keeps comparing them to my family, and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family. When: well, if this were a Hollywood rom-com, my family would be the uptight prissy overeducated East Coasters, and his would be the lovable “honest folks” who teach my family to open up. But in real life, my overeducated parents and brothers are the kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine, and his family drove me to tears on my wedding day with their social boorishness and constant pressuring of me to drink (I am a recovering alcoholic AND was visibly pregnant). So when my husband says, after a nightmare afternoon with his brother during which said brother indulged in belching, farting, cursing, and homophobia in front of the toddler, and ignored social cues to the extent that he was there three hours longer than either of us wanted him there, “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I want to scream that I am just too tired to keep up the pretense that All Brothers Are Created Equal anymore.

And in a few weeks his mother will be here, for seven months’ stay. (Not actually in our house: small mercies.) She will be here my entire pregnancy, because that’s not already enough of a stressful or emotional time. And she’ll want to see her granddaughter, so I imagine she and the aforementioned brother will be at our house nearly every weekend. In addition to the broken record she plays about her victimhood (divorced almost thirty years but How He Ruined Her Life comes up in every conversation), she is a rabid conspiracy theorist, and bases her right to judge how her son’s kid is being raised on a lot of debunked stuff. Like, anti-vaxxer stuff: that level.

I try really, really hard to be polite, to guests and in-laws especially. But “polite” is going to be the best I can do, if the latest visit from his brother is any indication. Pregnant, working full-time, and parenting a toddler, I do not have one-tenth of the social acting energy I would need to pull off a “Yay! You’re here again!” And pulling that off is what my husband wants from me, despite how he’s seen my wickedly-introverted self get completely drained by a few hours with people whom I genuinely adore, and his having watched one pregnancy wipe me out already. He wants me to be delighted that these people are descending on us every weekend.

Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? How can I convince him that it has to be enough, because it is all I have, for them to be fed and given places to sit down and allowed to chat at the toddler (at least until they say something offensive)? And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.

There may be no possible answers to this, but there is no possible answer to “just force yourself to love these people”, either!

Like Chekhov But With More Theories About Government Plots

Dear Like Chekhov,

We can’t undo a lifetime of your husband’s relationship with his family in a blog post, so, I want to start by saying: There is probably no script where you set boundaries about his family that will necessarily make him see things your way, where everything is resolved pleasantly without further friction.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries with him about their visits. The truthful answer to his question: “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?” is “Dude, I would be really sad, but I’d also try to work with you about what kind of visiting schedule you could handle, and as long as you were polite to them when we did see each other, I wouldn’t pressure you to feel any kind of way about them. Not everyone is meant to be best friends!

 

When his mother arrives, could you handle something like:

  • 1 visit per month from Grandma & brother at your house where you act as pleasant joint host. You will break out the good dishes and smile. You will try not to say “You can’t possibly be serious.
  • Husband can take your daughter to see Grandma and on outings with Grandma as many times as he wants.
  • Husband, please go have fun hanging out with your brother! The operative word here is “Go!”  When Brother overstays his welcome, kick him out!Brother, good to see you today! We’re kicking you out, though – got a million things to do. See you soon!Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores.So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.

 

I suggest these arrangements for illustration purposes, what’s more important is that you decide what you can live with and then ask for it.

There is stuff that your husband values about always having an open door to family and that’s real, primal stuff. There is also stuff you need about sufficient down-time and not having to play hostess to people you dislike all the time so that he can perform filial piety, and that is also real, primal stuff. I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. Choosing you in this instance doesn’t mean not ever seeing his family, but it does mean not shoving them down your throat and then berating you when you don’t love that.

This honestly might be a good time to bring in a couples’ counselor to referee. Whether you involve one or not, I suggest stating every request about his family strictly in terms of your needs.

  • Start with visits from Brother, since he’s here. “If you want to see Brother this weekend, can y’all go out? I am not up to hosting anyone tomorrow.
  • Husband, I need time to myself today. Why don’t you take Toddler to see Grandma instead of having her come here?
  • I have about one family dinner or outing in me per month right now. If you want to hang with your family more than that, enjoy! But I can’t commit to more than that.
  • You’re a working mom, so isn’t it just so helpful that your husband’s family is here to help? So helpful!”Hi Mother In Law, hi Brother, good to see you. Have fun with Husband and Toddler – I have some errands* to run. Gotta go!”
  • You’re pregnant, so you need naps. So many naps**. “Sorry to bail right when the fun starts, but if I don’t close my eyes right now I’m gonna pass out!
  • It’s risky, but sometimes invoking your doctor can help. “Doctor says I’m supposed to take it easy right now!” “Doctor suggested that stress is bad for me right now.” “Doctor recommends not taking on additional stressors right now.” Your husband is going to be horribly hurt that his family are considered “stressors” as in, “But they’re faaaaaaaaamily! That’s not the same as something stressful” and that’s maybe where the couples’ counselor or doctor comes in because the truth is they ARE stressful… to you… and no amount of his wanting it to be different makes it so.

Bailing on togetherness time won’t be without friction or consequence. Your mother-in-law is definitely gonna pick up on it if you are not around 100% of the time faking happiness to see her and her wack ideas, and she is 100% gonna make remarks about it to her son, who is 100% gonna try to persuade you to get with their family program of “Boundaries Are Mean.”

Scripts for when that happens:

  • I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.
  • Our house does not have to be In-Laws central every weekend! I literally cannot handle that, and if you want to see your family that often I need you to find another way to make it happen!
  • I don’t think the conversation about whether I love your folks ‘enough’ is fair or productive. If I’m going to love them like you do, that will have to develop in its own time. I can tell you that being forced to host them for hours every weekend is not improving my affections!!!” (BTW your “I’m done pretending that all brothers are created equal!” script is good.)
  • I’m okay being the bad guy here. Tell them you want them to come but I’m just not up to it today! Tell them that you forgot that we already had plans! Tell them whatever, but I cannot do this every weekend.

Letter Writer, this all sucks, and I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to want to take care of yourself and limit stress. Turns out that limiting exposure to people you know stress you out is a very effective way to limit stress.

Like many abused kids, your husband never got to learn the life skill where other people can have all the feelings they want about something that he needs to do to take care of himself, and he can make the best choice for himself even if it pisses them off and annoys them. That’s very unfair and sad, but it’s not fair for him to try to impose that pattern onto you. Now is definitely the time for you to exercise that skill, as in, “I can’t handle having your family here every weekend even if you have different feelings about that.” There is no prize for being the world’s most accommodating person, and the prospect of your husband (or his mom or brother, by proxy) having sad feelings doesn’t obligate you to play eternal gracious hostess! It is okay to have conflict sometimes and to risk pissing people off!

*”Errands” could be “going to the movies” or “seeing friends.”

**”Naps” could involve headphones, and reading.