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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and just love it! Your answers and the community here are both awesome. So thanks. My question is really tough and I’m afraid your answer is going to be “there is no actual compromise possible here.” But I’m going to try.

My husband and I were both raised as extremely religious Catholics. When we were dating (courting??) we both agreed that we wanted to have lots of kids, like a dozen, and homeschool them all. Over eight years of marriage, we’ve both changed a lot. We’re both a lot more liberal and our kids are going to public school. After the third kid, we both agreed that we no longer wanted to have any more kids. But, being Catholic, there are only two allowed solutions: NFP (natural family planning, also known as Vatican Roulette), and total abstinence. We did that for a miserable year and a half and then, predictably, got pregnant with our fourth.

I cannot describe how horrible this has all been to me. Four kids is A LOT OF KIDS, especially given that the oldest is only seven. I loathe being pregnant with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. All of them have been high needs. I haven’t slept well since 2009. My husband is exhausted too; he cried like a baby when he found out we were having the fourth and I believe he is still depressed about it four months after she was born.

And I no longer see any point to this punishingly difficult lifestyle since I am no longer Catholic. Between kid 3 and kid 4, I did a lot of studying and am now entirely agnostic. My husband was really upset by my deconversion and mostly prefers not to talk about it at all. He’s become a lot more skeptical about his faith, but he does think it’s true and it worries him to think I might be going to hell. Meanwhile I now think that birth control is definitely the greatest thing since indoor plumbing.

Our birth control method now, given that NFP so obviously does not work, is abstinence. Every couple of weeks my husband can’t stand it anymore so we have non-PIV sex. Only there is zero communication about this. I think his perspective is that, if he’s got to “sin,” at least he’s not going to make it worse by premeditating it. The problem is that it’s obvious both of us want to take it further and I know from experience how hard it is to think clearly when you’re horny. I am terrified that sooner or later we’re going to get pregnant again. I cannot, CANNOT go through pregnancy again; I get the shakes just thinking about it. Meanwhile our sex life is completely screwed up from the NFP and then the whatever-this-is we’re doing now, so that neither of us is really enjoying it that much and we both kinda feel like roommates. It sucks and the thought of doing this till menopause is awful.

I want to go on birth control. He doesn’t even want to discuss it. He told me some time ago that if I did go on birth control, he’d continue to feel obligated to never have sex again because contracepted sex is a sin. I don’t want to do something unilaterally if it truly would upset him, but on the other hand I feel like his religion will make it impossible for him ever to agree to it, even if he WERE okay with it, because that would implicate him in the “sin.” So I can’t find out how he really feels about it. And then there’s the money issue … we don’t have insurance and all the really effective birth control methods are pretty expensive. With his cooperation we could easily save up the money for it in a couple of months, but since I’m a full-time carer for the kids, I don’t have much in the way of my own separate money. And it’s not like a couple thousand dollars are sitting around in the bank right now for me to just take and use … even if I would feel okay unilaterally spending that amount of money, given that normally all major purchases have to be okayed by both of us. And I have almost no one in my life who isn’t fanatically Catholic, certainly no one I could call on to drive me home from getting my tubes tied.

What, dear Captain, would you do? Can you help me come up with a script for “seriously, we need to actually TALK about what we’re doing and your Catholic guilt and denial are not helping”? I have been quietly waiting for the past two years or so for him to come around, but he hasn’t, and I feel our disastrous fourth pregnancy is my fault for agreeing to rely on the broken fire escape that is NFP instead of going behind his back and somehow getting an IUD. Yet I still hesitate to make such a big decision unilaterally; I’m equally scared to tell him (and face his hurt feelings) or not tell him (and have a big whopping secret looming over my head). And of course there are the practical issues.

Thanks for reading my lengthy novel,

Offred (Just Kidding) (Mostly)

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Hello Captain and fellow Awkward travelers,

My husband and I, along with our 16-month-old daughter, moved to a new city on Saturday. The reason for our move is that I just finished medical school and will be beginning residency in June.

Husband woke up this morning and said he’s not sure he can stay in our new rental because his allergies have been worse. He feels like he can’t breathe or sleep. He has a long list of tasks he wants me to do to banish all possible allergens from our home, but says there’s a possibility that he’ll want to move anyway. I’m now so stressed thinking about the financial and logistical costs of a second move that I can barely put words together.

That’s the short version. Here is some other relevant information, in no very thoughtful order:

  • There was nothing about this rental that would have indicated it was a hotbed of allergens before we signed the 12-month lease. It’s about 15 years old, appears well-kept, and by the landlord’s report was previously occupied by a non-pet-owner.
  • There’s no reason to expect another place would be a better bet from an allergy perspective unless it were a brand new construction, which is quite expensive in our area.
  • We have no savings.
  • Husband has a number of chronic, uncomfortable-but-not-life-threatening physical health issues that require considerable effort on his part to manage.
  • He also has (and acknowledges that he has) anxiety that presents as and amplifies physical symptoms. He’s been doing much better from this perspective over the past few months, but during my pregnancy and maternity leave, he was basically in a sustained crisis (frequent visits to the ER and different kinds of specialists; lots of money spent on vitamins and supplements; multiple restrictive diets attempted; physical activity, including things like preparing his own food or holding the baby, extremely limited). 
  • He also is in recovery from dependence on prescription drugs, to which he attributes the bulk of his ongoing health problems; because of this, he has a deep distrust of physicians.
  • During my pregnancy, we moved into a brand new apartment and then broke our lease after a month because there was loud construction noise that worsened his symptoms. We fought a lot about that decision, and I found it pretty traumatizing.
  • The division of domestic labor that was established when I was on leave and husband was incapable of holding the baby has proved distressingly stable. To put it bluntly, I don’t feel I can rely on him to do more than occasional daycare drop-offs and pickups, and even with those I expect a lot of complaining.
  • When people hear that I have a young toddler and am finishing medical school, they often assume I’m extremely competent and type-A, but in fact I’m pretty limited by anxiety, lack of energy, and attention problems. Most days I’m home I find it hard to do anything other than feed, clean up after, and play with my daughter.
  • Most of the time I’m utterly incapable of applying my medical curiosity or compassion to my husband’s suffering. If I’m honest, what I truly feel, deep in my body, is that I wish he would just suck it up. Sometimes I’m so unmoored by this feeling that I worry I’ll be a bad doctor.
  • I certainly don’t want to move, but I’d much rather move now than after I start work. I’m stressed out dealing with my husband, but I’m not done with the relationship, and I need even the limited help with parenting that he gives

Captain, I’m well aware of the codependency that screams from every sentence in my letter – but that seems like something that it takes years to get free of, and I need to get these things sorted now. What do I do?

-Desperate for Roots (she/her pronouns)

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Hi Captain,

Since my adolescence, I’ve not had sexual desire. I identified as grey-A for a while, and then switched to identifying as asexual when it seemed clear to me that I would not develop any sexual desire. I was happy with this assessment. I have been active in various ace forums since I was a teenager, and have many friends I’ve met that way, both online and in-person friends.

In the past year, I was diagnosed with disorder that affects hormones (not directly related to sex hormones–thyroid, etc.). I took medication for it, to relieve the chance of various serious health issues (increased risk of cancer, osteoporosis, some other things). As I did so, I–for lack of a better word–developed a sex drive for the first time. I am no longer, by any reasonable definition of the word, asexual, or even grey-A or demisexual. I have a frequent and persistent attraction to people and desire for sex, and it’s not exclusive to people I know well. There’s no real chance of going back, without risking the health issues that I took the meds for to begin with.

Captain, I’m terrified that I’m going to lose my friends. The whole “you’ll grow out of it” or “have you checked to see if something’s wrong with you?” tropes are both so common and so toxic to the asexual community, and so frequently off-base, that I’m hesitant to even acknowledge what happened to me. I feel like I’ve failed my community in a massive way. Part of me wants to just lie (that is, remain celibate and claim to still be asexual), but I know that’s wrong (and the ‘remain celibate’ part would be difficult). Part of me wants to just drift away so they never have to know that I was a fake asexual. I don’t want to lose my friends, but I have no idea how to say, “Guess what! I saw a doctor and went on meds and now I’m a sexual!” without badly hurting people.

Help?

No Longer Ace
(They/them pronouns)

Dear No Longer Ace,

Whatever happens with your friends and how they take the news (if and when and however you give them the news), please know this: Your sexual identity is there to describe you, in all your wonderful complexity. You are not here to “live up to” or perform it. Changes over the course of your life in how you feel about sex don’t mean that you were faking something before, and “I used to identify as ace, but that changed as I got older/dealt with some medical stuff that was affecting my sex drive” is a valid story to tell about your life if it is the true story.

Also, you treating your medical condition and having unexpected results isn’t a judgment on or a prescription for anyone else, so please resist any attempt to paint it that way. I can see why the implication that asexuality is a changeable condition that “just needs treatment!” is damaging to that community, but science also tells us that medication side effects and certain medical conditions can affect the human sex drive in multiple ways and directions over the course of a lifetime. You can’t be the only one who has ever been in this situation, so try to find the others and seek out their stories.

Here are some other suggestions for taking care of yourself right now:

  • Go very slow and give yourself time to get used to everything. Figure out your own desires and well-being. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of anything, especially not right this second.
  • If you can, find a trusted professional you can talk things over with.
  • When you’re ready, find one or two close trusted people in your ace friend group to talk things over with. These should be people you have lots of things in common with in addition to ace activism and bonding. Tell them what’s up and see what happens. Tell them how scared and worried you feel about breaking the news. Don’t try to approach it as a Whole Group-issue. One on one is best.
  • If they really are your friends, hopefully they’ll be kind to you and reassure you. They can be the ones who tell the rest of group for you, if that’s something you want to do. And hopefully the long history of affection and things you have in common will carry you.
  • If they express shock and discomfort, here’s a script: “I didn’t choose any of this – not how I felt before, not how I feel now. I’m still the same person who is your friend.
  • If they are mean to you and/or dismissive of you or accuse you of hurting them or the community, I’m so sorry: You’re gonna probably need to bail on that conversation and try again another time. You’re not hurting them, or anybody, by being who you are. 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

All my adult life, I’ve been an adventurous eater. My partner and I love to cook and try new dishes. We invite people over for dinner parties a lot, and our friends and family love to reciprocate. We also really enjoy trying new restaurants with them.

Unfortunately, I recently underwent allergy testing to find the source of a mysterious rash, and it turns out that I have a delayed-action sensitivity to some of my favorite foods and some common food preservatives. This is probably the cause of the rash. My doctors told me to eliminate these foods and preservatives from my diet. (This gets even more complicated because they told me I can slowly, eventually start to re-introduce them one at a time to see if some of them cause worse problems than others, or if they are OK in small quantities but not large ones.)

I hope this wouldn’t be true of the folks who love me, but I know some people are really, really weird about strong food preferences and allergies. They often take it personally when someone can’t eat food they have prepared. I have even heard of situations where a host secretly feeds a person whatever they have claimed to be allergic to, so that they can feel superior if that person does not have a bad reaction. Of course I won’t have a bad reaction right away — I’ll just get a horrible rash the next morning! On top of this, eating food prepared outside of my own kitchen will now require me to ask really specific questions of the person who prepared it (did you prepare this with bleached or unbleached flour? did you use a mix?) that I am worried will come off as judgmental. Plus, what will people think when I’ve made a big deal to them about not being able to eat a certain food, and two months later they see me happily chowing down on it for lunch the break room, as I re-introduce it to my diet? (This is especially concerning in cases where the person is a casual acquaintance or co-worker — good friends will get updates about all this stuff from me as it happens.)

What should I do? Send out a mass email? Inform people on a case-by-case basis? And how do I make myself feel better about suddenly having to be so careful about my diet?

Thanks,

Reluctantly Picky

(P.S. “She/her” pronouns are fine.)

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Dear Captain,

I have been retraining/job searching for at least 2 years.

My psychiatrist expressed that it would great if I could help with filing and organization. This is something my previous job (that I RAN from, as to develop other skills) utilized my talent to the point of burnout.

In the past few months our office visits have been… bizarre. All of the regular staff is gone, and patients that I recognize are manning the desk.

While I have no problem with that at all (I have things to work out, no reason I can not be an admin) I am beginning to worry.

Last time I visited her as a patient my psychiatrist was the only person present, and has unofficially made texting our main form of communication.When I came in to speak about about job responsibilities (which we scheduled via text) my psychiatrist was disheveled and definitely not dressed for either visitors or a professional interaction. Her office is in her home, and she had probably just woken up, but it still took me aback.

I continue to receive text messages that I cannot make heads or tails of. Typically they are accusations or word salads that I cannot understand. I have mentioned that these messages scare me and think that whatever is happening sound more like a police matter.

I know something is up, but I care for my Psychiatrist because of the help they provided in my darker times.

What can I do to help? I don’t want to judge but this is causing me tons of anxiety.

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I know we just talked about this, but this showed up in the box this morning and I want to show side-by-side how PREDICTABLE and DELIBERATE this kind of emotional abuse is. A partner who harps on you about your appearance is not a good partner. In other news, it’s about to get very crowded in the center of the sun.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My partner is worried about my overweight. It’s their most important issue, to the extent of regular arguments. One sided arguments, since they are right. I am overweight, and should be thinner. All our friends are thinner, so my partner is less attracted to me. My partner will not know what to do without me when I die early because of my overweight, so is only arguing for my benefit. Anything I could say is just an excuse. Including that I am the one with a job. That my partner isn’t any thinner. That I get up every day an hour and a half earlier to play with our 3 year old, quietly, so as not to wake my partner, until day care opens and I bring them there, so my partner can sleep late. That when I come home from work, my partner hands over the kid, while they rest by watching television. That after I put the kid to bed, I am asked to bring my partner food in bed, usually sweets, or fats which I am asked to fry. Those are just excuses, because my partner is unique in wanting to sleep late, and the kid is charming so playing shouldn’t make me tired, and my partner’s eating shouldn’t make me eat, and a few times in the past when my partner did let me go to the gym some mornings or evenings or weekends it didn’t have a major effect, and I should be able to get my exercise when playing with the kid anyway, and weight loss really is more about not overeating than about exercising. And anyway I shouldn’t be be blaming everyone else in the world for my problems instead of taking responsibility for them myself. So I don’t say any of that (which is a problem in itself, because then I am either behaving like a wall, or just agreeing to make the argument stop, but not getting any thinner). I do occasionally ask my partner to exercise with me, but they had a hard day, so I shouldn’t nag, and it’s not their job to fix my overweight. And since I know how important my weight is to my partner, whenever I overeat or eat sweets or carbs I must do it for spite, not because I need comfort for myself.

Any advice?

Heavyweight

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Dear Captain Obvious,

My mom has always been on about how I look, but since I’ve turned 16 it seems to have gotten worse. She got me a fitbit that she makes me use (which I hate because it tells me I eat too many calories a day, even though it’s the recommended amount), made me diet with her, and constantly makes comments on how “I should go to the gym more,” even though I’m a perfectly healthy weight for my height. If i’m about to leave the house with no makeup on, she says “Oh why don’t you put a little foundation and mascara on before you go?” and is visibly embarrassed if she sees m in public wit none on. She also hates me wearing my glasses, as they “cover up my beautiful face” and will make more comments on them if I wear them outside the house instead of my contacts. My boobs aren’t very big, but my thighs are, so she’s always pushing me to wear push up bras and slimming clothes. It’s gotten to the point where I’m embarrassed to not be made up, am starting to obsess over my weight, and am just downright lacking in self-esteem. I’ve tried bringing it up before, but she either plays the victim or pretends like she never did any of that. Any advice on what I can do?

Sincerely,
I’m only 16. I’m not a model.

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