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I have some questions about romantic feelings and dating and breakups accumulating and I don’t know if they all belong together, but maybe they don’t all need separate threads? I think what they might have in common is people who are trying to rules-lawyer their own hearts.

Let’s find out!

Hello Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure if a good friend of mine [20F] is over me [20] or not, please help!

I’m in a tough spot with a good friend of mine (let’s say Carroll) that I’ve known for about a year at college. Early this past freshman year we both hit it off really well, and she’s a great person. We both seemed to like each other for a while but we both got cold feet around the first third of the year. Thinking about a relationship with her, I constantly came to the conclusion that I was happy with my lifestyle, and starting a relationship wouldn’t be preferable (I haven’t gotten into too many relationships). However, with sophomore year approaching, our living situations seem to be more compatible, and my attitude towards a relationship with her has changed to be more positive.

Over the course of the year, things weren’t really awkward and we are still good friends. However, at several points near the end of the year, there were points where it seemed like she was talking to her friends about me and laughing about it. I wouldn’t consider her gossipy, it seems like the people she hangs with always want to discuss things in secret with her. This might be me just being paranoid (I’m not the center of their universe lol), but there were also points where my own friends poked fun about the whole situation to me (in the presence of her, ugh) and she seemed to think it was funny as well. To be more specific, she didn’t really join in on the joke, she just kinda whispered something to her friends shortly after, finding it amusing.

Thus, I’m in a sticky situation. To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her. I’m not sure if we’re both still in the stage of cold feet, or if she’s gotten over me and thinks of me as a joke to her friends. I know a lot of this is paranoia, but I want to be able to get closure on this, since all I feel when talking to her sometimes is that I’m a big joke to her. My main point is how to clarify this with her given this worry. It’s hard to clarify with her because for all I know, it’s the latter and things will only become more awkward by speaking to her, furthering her attitude and preconceptions. She’s a great friend and if she’s truly moved on, then I don’t want to hinder our future as friends. But if she does have feelings, it’s something I don’t want to ignore.

Thank you!

Hi there! You are now Letter Writer #1211!

Do you want to be in a romantic relationship with Carroll now? y/n

Do you want to just go on being friends with her, but without this weird vibe you’re getting that there’s a joke you’re not quite getting? y/n

Have you ever had an out loud conversation with Carroll along the lines of “should we date each other? y/n”? Where she was “y” and you were more “n” (or something else)?

I ask because I can’t tell from this whether you and Carroll had a little bit of a romantic relationship earlier this year, almost had a romantic relationship, talked/joked about dating but never took it there, or whether everything about your attitude, living situation, “lifestyle,” etc. was entirely in your head and she had no idea (or she had some idea but it never got spelled out). People don’t forget the time they confessed a crush and got turned down, so there’s no pretending that didn’t happen, I’m just trying to figure out where “start” is.

Also, you keep talking about Carroll’s (possibly assumed?) feelings for you but mostly not your feelings. Except right here: “To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her.” A-ha! Eureka! Start there, sit with that, work with that. What do you feel and what do you want from Carroll now. Not “what you would be sort of okay with settling for” or “what you would possibly consider” or “what you could make work if you just knew for sure what she wanted.” What do you most want to happen now. If you’re going to risk rejection or  making things slightly weirder than they already are between you before they resolve into the eventual right shape, at least you can know that you’re acting from a place of integrity and honesty with yourself.

Once you’ve got your feelings…”under control” isn’t the right term, let’s go with…admitted? It’s decision time. Awkward or not, there’s no “clarifying” Carroll And Her Feelings without talking to Carroll about her feelings. Depending on what you want, there are plenty of scripts:

  • “Carroll, would you like to go on a date with me on (day) and (time) (and yes it is a DATE date.)” Maybe you don’t have to decide everything about the future with this person, maybe you can take it one date at a time and try.
  • “Carroll, I know when we talked before I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but I have changed my mind. Would you still be open to that?” If she took the risks of speaking up last time, it is definitely 100% your turn now.
  • “Carroll, buddy, friend, I feel like there’s some joke that I’m the subject of but not quite in on. Am I imagining that? Mind letting me in on it?” If you just want to stay friends but you want to clear up the strange vibe you’re picking up on, this is the way. If you want to be with Carroll, this is not the place to start.

Friendships can survive awkward crushes that don’t quite go anywhere, as long as everyone is honest and kind and keeps their senses of humor. If you want to be with Carroll, ask, try, risk, be vulnerable, put it out there. If you don’t want to be with her, especially if you’ve already rejected her, the kindest thing to do is probably let this subject drop. stay pleasant and friendly, let her have her comic asides with friends, and put your energy into other friendships while the Good Ship Feelings About Carroll rights itself after passing through a few rough straits.

That’s the heart of my advice: Start from what you feel and what you want, and don’t work so hard to manage or predict other people’s feelings. 

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Hello gentle friends, it’s time for that thing where we treat the things people typed into their search engines to find this place as if they are questions in their own right.

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

Then we begin the no-context guessing games and assumptions!

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

If this person is talking to babies, kitties, puppies, or other actual baby cute things, this is extremely okay, let the man babble!

If this person is talking to a fellow adult in a baby voice, and you are that adult, and you presumably don’t enjoy this, my suggestion is to be very direct: “What’s going on with the baby voice? I don’t like it, please stop.”

Bonus: Ask A Manager has advice for how to deal with people using baby voices at work (because of course, someone was using a baby voice at work).

2 “Ex asks ‘are you still angry with me?'”

This one keeps coming up, so here are some discussion questions for whoever needs them.

Are you still angry? What’s the worst thing that happens if you say “yep, still angry”? Did this person ever actually apologize? Why are they bugging you about this, exactly? And why now? And how interested are you in discussing a relationship that you’re not in anymore?

You don’t have to keep working on past relationships, and you’re allowed to find whatever intersection of unfiltered honesty and “ugh, what will get you to go away and stop asking me this” that works for you.

3 “I’m so sorry, but my boyfriend has forbidden me to communicate with you.”

What in the what now?

Please allow me to make the argument that “my boyfriend forbids it” is not a good enough reason to stop communicating with someone you want to be communicating with. If you don’t want to be communicating anymore, that’s a good enough reason on its own, though I do get that sometimes “another dude has priority here” is the only thing that makes a certain kind of annoying dude actually go away.

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

5 “How to change a person with disgusting hygiene?”

You were probably looking for this, but in case this was a more general query:

You can’t change other people. You can ask for what you need, you can tell them what you need, you can ask them to take steps to give you what you need, you can break it down in detail like “Please take a shower, brush your teeth often, and wear clean clothes on days you know you’re going to see me,” you can inquire if there is something preventing them doing this and see if it’s something you can help with, you can teach kids to do this stuff if you’re a parent, but ultimately it’s up to them. You can care about people, you can’t do their caring instead of them.

6 “My neighbor wants to be friends, but she makes me uncomfortable, what to do.”

It never feels great to have this conversation, but when someone is trying really hard to be part of your life and your desires around that are mismatched, sometimes you have to balance whether it’s kinder to avoid/dodge/fade on them them and hope they eventually get the hint or whether it’s kinder to speak up with something like “You’re a good neighbor, and I can tell you’re trying hard to be a good friend to me, but I don’t want to [spend more time together][join your book club][connect on social media][buy your kids’ school fundraising crap][help you with your cat rescuel][be friends]. I know this is awkward, and I’m so sorry, but can we just go back to being friendly acquaintances, and I’ll see you around the ‘hood when I see you? Thank you for understanding,” and then move on with your life.

There’s no blanket answer for this kind of thing or guarantee that any of it will go smoothly, some people take direct rejection well, some people eventually get hints, some really don’t do well with either direct refusals or the soft no, reasons work on reasonable people and give unreasonable people something to try to fix or argue with. People often claim they “just want to know why” or “just tell me!” but so often, like every sentence with the word “just” in the middle of it, those things don’t necessarily make anybody feel better.

I’ve had to be the person who gives the “Hey, this is the tenth thing you’ve invited me to, and that’s so kind but I know I’m probably never going to make it, it’s okay to just stop asking!” talk and the one who realizes after far too many times that what seemed like a sincere offer to “totally hang out sometime!” meant never, the “sometime” was actually “never.” It’s confusing and weird because human connection is confusing and weird, nobody wants to be the Bad Guy or find out they were being  a nuisance. Anyway, sometimes what’s kindest is being kind to yourself and setting the boundary where you need it to be. If you’re sure you don’t want to be friends with a person who “makes you uncomfortable,” don’t be! You do get to decide who you invite into your life.

7 “What to do with a boyfriend that is trying to protect you but constantly lectures you.”

Tell him “If you don’t stop acting like Professor Dad, I’m going to dump you. No more lectures!” 

When he starts lecturing, leave the room! Go home!

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

There is a short story by Claire Humphrey about the fallacy that protecting someone means controlling them, with a content note for mentions of domestic abuse and serial killer stuff. I constantly think about adapting this story into a film.

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

Like, do you mean, asking them to take a vacation: “Fergus, you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, time to take a break, buddy!”

Or asking them to go on vacation…with you? But…why? You didn’t use the word “friend,” and vacation time is AWAY FROM WORK time, so…I would start smaller if you want to become better friends with this person. Lunch. Coffee. After-work drinks. Small hangs outside the office before disappearing to a destination. 

If you meant asking a coworker if you could tag along on THEIR vacation, that’s a hard no from me.  You either have the kind of friendship where they invited you already or you should let them goooooo. Speaking of which, I never press for updates, but I would dearly love to know what happened with all of this if possible.

9 “Friend gets mad if I don’t invite them to every outing.”

Here’s a possible script:

“Friend, sometimes I want to see you, and sometimes I want to do things alone or with other people. I need you to accept.”

If you set a boundary and someone gets mad, let them be mad, you’re not doing anything wrong, punishing you around something like this is so controlling and not okay.

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

Leave your students alone. Do not treat your students – including your former students – like your personal dating pool, ever. And definitely don’t come to me to be validated about that. No.

Discussion Note: Everyone can keep their anecdotes about the one time this really worked out happily for somebody somewhere to themselves. Sometimes if you’re a happy exception to a rule, your happiness has to be enough for you. It’s not evidence in an argument to move where the rule goes, especially given how often people who flout this rule are abusing their power, and how rarely even the worst offenders are held accountable for that.

11 “What can I do about a neighbour that calls me a pervert and tells me to stay away from his kids.”

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

  • You’re being targeted by bigots. Are you some variety of queer and your neighbors are big ol’ homophobes, by chance? Or are you neurodivergent in some way and your neighbors are being ableist bullies? Sadly not unheard of, and the query has the ring of that going on.
  • There’s some other neighbor hostility thing going on (lawn care, parking, trash bins, noise complaints, they leave their dog out in all weather and you called animal control on them, or, your dog constantly poops in their yard, idk what it is, but if you think about it you probably do) and it’s escalated to nuclear levels with this kind of accusation,
  • You’re doing something creepy that is making your neighbor reasonably concerned about your behavior (if this is the case you almost certainly know what it is, so, stop it and get some help please).

Mentally I’m moving forward with “the neighbors are the problem here and the person searching for this is not the bad guy” scenario, here are some possible smart moves that don’t actually depend on knowing exactly what’s happening.

Mandatory: Have zero further interaction with these neighbors, especially the kids. Leave them be. There’s not one thing you could say to anyone in that house that would de-escalate such a risky and high-stakes situation. Don’t apologize, explain, clarify. Don’t even wave to them. Give them no ammunition. If one of the kids kicks a ball into your yard, the parents can come get it or it can rot there, not your problem.

This is incredibly not fair especially if you’ve done nothing wrong, but sometimes protecting yourself means disengaging and de-escalating from people who are bad for you. Plus being able to truthfully say “Once they made it clear how they felt about me, I never contacted them again” can be a shield down the road if things get even worse.

Additional Possible Steps: 

Document your interactions with these neighbors. This can be brief: Dates, times, who was there, what happened, what was said. When did this start? Was there some kind of inciting incident? Is this really about something else? If this thing escalates you’ll want this record. Screencap any texts, emails, or messages you’ve exchanged, the NextDoor thread where it all went awry, anything that shows the history of the relationship with these people.

Tell people close to you what’s going on. This is an incredibly stressful situation, right? Again, through the frame of “the neighbors are the problem,” if you’re being harassed by a bigot or bully to this degree, what else might these people do?

This whole kind of thing thrives on secrecy and shame, so telling people ‘Look, my horrible neighbors accused me of some gross stuff and it’s incredibly humiliating and scary but I don’t want it to be a secret ’cause I need your help and support, especially if this all escalates,’ is one way to fight back. Make your friends aware of the situation and the history with these neighbors. Lean on people: Counselors, community, friends, family.

Heck, if you’re friendly with other neighbors, make the ones you trust at least basically aware of the situation – “Just so you know, I’ve been having a strange conflict with ______, they called me _______, I’m trying to give them a wide berth and hoping it all dies down, but if you hear some weird stuff, that’s why.” The rumor mill is gonna do what it’s gonna do anyway, if you’ve done nothing wrong you don’t have to flee or hide from it.

I’ve been watching a lot of Killing Eve lately and one thing I’ve noticed about Eve’s character is that, for a supposedly bright and perceptive lady, she is EXTREMELY BAD at informing people around her about necessary information and DANGEROUSLY OVERCONFIDENT in her ability to handle situations by herself. “I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my secret problems” is TV logic, the kind that creates plots like “I have a mutual crush on a terrifying assassin, how can this all be as dangerous and messy as possible?” vs. helpful real-life logic, which is what you need. Resist the impulse to hide and keep this all secret with everything you’ve got.

Tighten up your privacy and security. This is where you Google yourself from a private browsing window and think about the truly awful question, “How could an extremely hostile person who knows where I live possibly use this information against me?” This is where you lock your social feeds down, this is where possibly you quickly search for your neighbor’s social profiles (adults only, probably do not search for their children by name under any circumstances) and specifically block those people from accessing any of your feeds (Facebook, etc.) This sucks so bad and it’s completely unfair but it’s the smart thing to do so I’m telling you about it. Also consider blocking/locking out any mutuals you share if those people are not completely trustworthy.

This is also where you think about physical security and safety. Doors. Locks. Gates. Pets (don’t let your pets go where these people can have access to them). Cars. Packages. Lights. Motion-sensors. Window blinds/drapes/shades. Routines. Who has keys? Maybe nobody but you should have keys for now.

If this escalates at all, seek expert legal advice where you live. If your neighbor is unfairly harassing you with accusations like this, and you sense they might escalate things, get an expert, tell them everything that’s been going on, and let them help you. A lawyer can talk you through scenarios like, well what happens if they involve law enforcement or try to get you fired at work or do other harassing things? Trust your gut if you think these are people who will never let a grudge go or have a pattern of escalating conflicts.

Keep living your life. I’m hoping that as horrible as this is it was a passing, “Classic Unoriginal Rote Bigotry” sort of remark and not something more specifically and violently targeted, but who the hell even knows right now. (Holy crap is that a depressing collection of words.) This got pretty long for a drive-by query but I’d rather see someone take something like this very seriously and implement some filters and precautions and not need them if the alternative is leaving themselves open to more harassment and danger.

Moderation Note: We’re not Internet Detectives and can’t possibly solve this situation for what’s actually happening or give people legal advice in absentia. If you’ve been the target of something like this from bigoted/homophobic neighbors in the past and have practical tips to share, that would be useful. I’d ask people to not try to exhaustively detail all the possibilities.

12 “How to invite yourself to stay at someone’s house out of state.”

This is one of those areas where, either you know that you have that kind of relationship with the person, where “I’m coming to your area on [dates], is there any chance I can take advantage of your guest room or sofa for a few days?” is a perfectly appropriate question and everybody knows that “nope, sorry, that won’t work” is a perfectly appropriate answer or you don’t.

The wording of the request matters less than the strength and nature of the relationship. “Mind if I crash at your place during [week]?” vs. “Is your guest room open to visitors next month” vs. “Will trade some free babysitting and chef skills for space on your basement sectional” vs. “Hey Grandpa do you still keep the key to the lake house in the mouth of the fish? Mind if I head up that way this weekend?” matters less than whether you feel comfortable asking this person about this in the first place. Ask or don’t, consider also that you won’t lose anything by making a plan B for if they say “no.”

13 “How to handle jealous husband as female musician.” 

How stressful! Possible script if this were a scene in a movie:

“Dude, being a performer means that sometimes I get attention from people who want to flirt or who have crushes on me. I try to have good boundaries about that and be friendly without encouraging people or crossing any lines, but engaging with fans, even really enthusiastic ones, is part of the job and it’s not going away. Their feelings about me are not my fault or my problem to manage, nor are they something I need to apologize to you about or account for. And yeah, sometimes I’m going to wear ‘sexy’ outfits on stage or for photo shoots. It’s part of the brand, plus I like wearing them.

You knew what this was when we got together, I’ve never cheated on you and I don’t plan to change that, but it’s time for you to accept me and my job. You either trust me not to cheat on you or you don’t. If you trust me, stop [describe the behaviors – hovering/accusing me of cheating/being a jerk to my bandmates/being a giant hostile weirdo about it]. If you don’t trust me, we should think seriously about ending our marriage. I’ll hate to lose you but I can’t keep living with you being so mean and suspicious all the time. I’m not submitting to surveillance or constant checkups or soothing your feelings every time another dude looks my way.

Please think about it, talk it over with friends/a therapist/people you trust and tell me what you want to do. Just know that I’m not having this fight with you ever again. We have to put this to rest.”

Jealousy happens, not always rational, not always controllable. It’s the behaviors and reactions to that jealousy that are under our control, and it’s okay to ask people to get those under control if the alternative is living your life around their unfounded fears!

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

Don’t accept them. In the moment you can say “That sounds awesome, but I can’t join you. If you give me a little more notice next time, I’ll see what I can do. Have fun!” 

Tell people who are close to you who you hang out with a lot what’s up: “Hey, I’m a planner and I like to schedule things in advance/I need a lot of notice so I can get the night off from work/find a babysitter/budget my introvert energies/get a ride/set aside enough $, so I can’t always say yes to last-minute invites even when I’d like to see you. Thanks!” 

15 “I dreamt my ex invited me and his ex girlfriend in his house and had sex with us at different intervals what does it mean.”

Are you joking? Your true destiny has been revealed! Call them at once!

Or, just possibly, your brain’s hard drive was sorting through some old footage the other night and decided to show your sleeping self a movie that would push a couple of buttons real hard (maybe the ones marked “horniness” and “emotional stuff”?) and the dream isn’t necessarily meaningful in itself.

I never want to say that dreams aren’t important. I am a meticulous, vivid, immersive dreamer and I often remember my dreams upon waking. I can tell I’m anxious about something when I spend my nights waiting tables in a restaurant where suddenly I’m the only one working and a bus full of old people has just pulled up and I can’t stop until every one of them is satisfied, or I’m taking the final exam for a class I never signed up for but am unable to drop, or worse I’m TEACHING a class where I am totally unprepared and have no idea what the topic even is but the room is full of students looking expectantly at me and there is something on the white board that might help but try as I might I can’t read what it says. I have had recurring bad dreams about seemingly innocuous people from my life who turned out to be unsafe down the road enough times that I know to pay attention or at least ask why a person is suddenly showing up in my brain as the Devil. Those I’ve loved and lost visit me in dreams all the time, sometimes it’s Beadie, full of purrs and intense stares, and my childhood pets show up too, and we all walk together through a vast forest. Sometimes it’s my Grandma, red-nosed from drinking her single glass of rosé, destroying me at Rummy. And yup, sometimes I’m back in one of those situations, pressed close against some hot and confusing person in an encounter that I thought I’d deleted from the directory long ago but I clearly didn’t empty the Trash folder since my dream brain’s impressions are shockingly faithful to actual events.

My dreaming self isn’t the boss of me, she’s more of an observer, so if I happen to carry a strong memory of the night’s jumble of images forward into the day I always find it interesting but not necessarily instructive, in a “data isn’t the same thing as information” sense.

What do you think this dream means, if anything, and where is it pointing you in terms of what you need and desire? That’s probably what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is time to celebrate the mostly-monthly ritual of rounding up the snippets that people typed into search engines to find this place and answering them like questions.

Please enjoy this jazzy bittersweet tune about lost love and memory (When April Comes Again, sung by Mel Tormé).

 

1 “How to get over a long distance crush.”

The good news is you won’t run into them everywhere you go.

The bad news is that many of us carry a little device in our pocket that lets us see what our crush is up to at any moment of any day, and sometimes there are settings on that device and its various applications that give us a little ping when our crush has posted a new photo of themselves looking cute while they live life without us (or some other fascinating snippet of information). We are also able to respond immediately to any communication.

It’s time to stop monitoring them and haunting their feeds. Starve the crush by muting/unfollowing/filtering/turning off notifications. Then throw yourself into something local to where you live, with new faces or old friends, something that absorbs you, perhaps something where your convenient crush-monitoring device is best turned off and tucked in a pocket or a drawer. Unfollowing/disengaging is how you help time and absence do their work.

2 “What someone really means when they say they aren’t taking sides?”

They definitely aren’t taking your side.

They want to keep hanging out with everyone involved in the conflict.

They would prefer not to be a sounding board for your grievances with whoever is on the other side.

3 “Is it rude to invite someone to someone else’s party.”

If you know for sure the host is a “The more the merrier!” person or the invitation says “Bring anyone you like!” and it’s not a formal, invitation-only, sit-down fancy affair, then: Probably not rude! Just indicate when you RSVP – “Yes, I’ll be there, and I’m bringing [Name] FYI, so, 2 adults.” 

However if you’re wondering if it’s rude you probably don’t know the above things for sure, so, checking in with the host first can be a good idea. “I’d love to come to that, is it okay if I bring [Name]?” I’m reminded of the time I invited a few friends who overlapped with a message board community over for my birthday and one of the people announced it in the community chat. Hellooooooooooo, way more people than I’d cooked for, showing up unexpectedly to my home address for a party where I’d already invited everyone I actually liked! (RUDE)

4: “Ask vs. Guess Culture”

The previous question is a good case study for “Ask” Culture vs. “Guess” Culture , right? Here’s the great Metafilter comment that explained it succinctly. And I made a post about it forever ago, in the context of “What Are Advice Columnists Even For?”, but I rethink my assumptions about it all the time.

For the “is it rude to bring someone to someone else’s party” situation: 

“Ask” Culture = It’s okay to ask, it’s also okay to say “no,” which means asker must be prepared to take “no” for an answer. Someone who prefers this way of operating is more likely to say “Go ahead and ask the host, it’s not rude!” 

“Guess” Culture = People don’t ask unless they’re pretty sure the answer is already yes, so asking a host if it’s okay to bring someone to an event creates an implied pressure to say yes. Someone who is more comfortable in a “Guess” culture would be more likely to wonder, “What did the invitation say? What are this person’s parties usually like? What are the accepted rules in the social group around parties like this?” 

One is not necessarily better than the other, tight-knit communities who have ways of checking on each other and caring for each other that let everyone save face have their extremely strong points, though I have a lot of thoughts lately about how hierarchies and systems replicate themselves by being “Guess” (where it helps to know a lot of “unwritten” rules and have “cultural fit” to function there and where asking gets riskier the less relative power you have in the situation or b/c you mark yourself as an outsider). I think about this a lot in terms of social class, disability, neurodivergence, expectations around ‘civility’ and ‘norms’ in political power structures, and also when I think about “traditional” families and cultures where elders have authority and sway. If you’re not supposed to defy the elders, where does that leave people when the elders are the problem?

These aren’t necessarily rigid dichotomies or mutually exclusive states. I lean “Ask” as an adult, but I find “Guess” habits and assumptions in myself all the time (“Everyone already knows how to do x….“Jeez, read the room!” ). I find it fascinating when I find resistance in myself to the idea of just asking a question (for example, see the case of Party Smeagol). However you were raised and whatever you prefer, it’s good to know about other modes of operation, since you might need to adapt to the other in certain situations.

5 “When people ask me how my weekend was I prefer not to answer.”

This situation is what the words “Fine, and yours?” was invented for.

It is the quickest, most boring, expected way to complete the social circuit and get off the topic of your weekend without making it weird.

“But what if my weekend was NOT fine, Jennifer?” Idk, you just said you didn’t want to talk about it. ‘Fine’ = “Nothing to report, ask me no further questions.” If that super does not work for you, try “Nothing interesting to report. And yours?” 

If I casually ask how your weekend was, and you refuse to answer the question at all, or get all Why would you ask me that?” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” I’m gonna wonder about you and your weekend a whole lot more than if you’d just said “Fine.” Were you doing crimes? Are you secretly a sexy international spy?

6. “Roommate lives in basement suite and when I have company comes up uninvited.”

First I’d want to know “basement suite” as in separate apartment or as in basement room in the same house (y’all share a kitchen & other common spaces). The first is more of a neighbor problem, the second is more of a roommate problem.

As a bedrock principle, if I’m home in my house, and a party is happening in my house, I also get to be there, right? That’s probably the default setting? But if my upstairs neighbor is having people over, I do not assume that I am invited to that unless she knocks on my door or leaves me a note to say “Come up for a drink!”

But it’s negotiable, even when it’s a roommate situation. Part of living in shared housing is finding a way to give other people the illusion of space and privacy even when there is no actual space or privacy. There’s a lot of room between “We do everything together!” and “I’m gonna have 3 work friends over for a four-player game, can I claim the living room for myself that night?” You just have to talk about it and actually spell it out, preferably from the beginning. “What do you want to do about having people over – especially if there are times when you want it to be just you and your friends? Can you give me a heads’ up if that happens so I can make other plans or know to give y’all some space?” 

It’s harder to interrupt an established pattern, and probably the person’s just hearing people upstairs and thinking, “Cool, I wonder who’s here?” You can still ask, though. Do it with plenty of notice before the next event. “Can we work something out about having people over? I definitely want you to join us sometimes, so can I text you and invite you specifically when that is? But other times, when I just want to have a few specific people over, is it ok to just give you some notice so you don’t plan on using that space? And then you can do the same?” 

It will be awkward because who wouldn’t hear that and wonder if they’ve ever been actually welcome to anything, ever? The best way to reassure the person is probably to give them lots of notice when you are doing stuff where you want them to hang back, and to actually, enthusiastically invite them sometimes.

7. “I’m not a relationship type of person.”

If this describes you, no worries! You’re far from alone! Find each other! Kiss, or, equally likely, don’t! There are lots of labels and spaces where this will make total sense and you will be welcomed without question.

However, the context that *I* usually encountered that phrase in the wild was from people who would then start doing stuff like showing up at my place and/or calling every single day, wanting to spend tons of time together doing relationship-y activities, expecting a ton of time, kissing stuff, attention, listening to and supporting their hopes and dreams, accompanying them to family gatherings and life events, and acting in a way that is indistinguishable from “being in a relationship”…because we had a relationship, it was  just one where they also wanted to keep all their options open and remind me constantly not to ever need or expect anything from them.

Which is why I would suggest clarifying for yourself: Are you “not a relationship-type-of-person,” or do you not want a relationship with a specific person under these circumstances? Then you can be the right kind of honest.

8. “Should I be jealous my husband watches Game of Thrones.”

I mean, he’s watching it instead of what? You? Killing Eve? I love Killing Eve, but that’s what the DVR is for.

If you can hang out for three more weeks and this one’s gonna resolve itself. Or the jealousy will still be there, in which case, it wasn’t the show, which recently has been about 90% grimy, exhausted people laden down with Ikea fur rugs hanging out in shadowy corridors having feelings at each other and stabbing screaming zombies in almost total darkness (& I say this as an enjoyer). There are possibly easier ways to enjoy Adult Content.

Got GoT opinions/theories/spoilers/a burning need to communicate how deeply disinterested you are that you’re dying to share in the comments? Kindly zip it or better yet, come find me on Twitter.

“I never understood the fuss about…” BALEETED.

I’VE BEEN READING THIS FUCKING DRAGON TALE SINCE 1997, LET ME HAVE THIS.

Three more weeks.

Yes, I realize the querent’s husband might not be all the way caught up on the show, thank you.

THREE MORE WEEKS.

9. “How to know if a socially awkward girl likes me?”

Ask her: “Are you flirting? I think you might be flirting but I can’t always tell.”

“Is this a friend-date or a date-date?” 

Or if you like her, tell her. “I like you a lot. Want to go on a date sometime?” 

She is the only person in the world who knows the information you seek.

10. “Would you make fun of or appreciate an apology letter 20 years later?”

It really depends on what the person is apologizing for. I’d like to think I wouldn’t ever make fun, but then there’s the time a few years ago that someone apologized to me deeply and at length for “breaking my heart” back in high school and I was like, “You did?” High school ended in 1992. My heart is fine.

Some people really do appreciate stuff like this. It heals a wound to know that the person who hurt them feels remorse, that they changed. Others really, really don’t. After 20 years, they’ve moved on, and now they have to think about it again and possibly deal with the feelings of the person who harmed them?

I think for best results the “better late than never?” apology crowd should be really honest with themselves: Am I doing it for the other person or am I doing this for me? Can you be brief, clear, take responsibility for what you did and said, and then leave it in the other person’s hands without expecting a response?

A letter is good because you drop it in the mail and let it go. Consider also that a letter is potentially very creepy because the recipient is now wondering how you found out where they live and if you’re gonna show up there. Find the least intrusive way you can to reach them.

11. “Reaching out to an old ex on her birthday.” 

Smooth. I notice you didn’t use the word “current friend.” As in #10, above, just be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this and what you’re hoping for, ok? And know that the the ex just deleting whatever it is is 100% a possibility, and be cool with that possibility.

12. “Decline last minute work.”

Script: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ve already booked that time slot. Is your schedule flexible at all? I could take on something after [date]. Otherwise, good luck finding someone.”

Bonus: If it’s a client or employer you really, really like, and you know people who might be able to help who are looking for work, connect them!

To the client: “Would it be okay if I shared this with a few people who do similar work in my network?”

To the colleague: “Client X just asked me to take on a project, and I’m booked. Would you like me to put you in touch?” 

Check before sharing people’s contact details. It’s just good practice.

13. “Why in a relationship would one partner line up friends to insult the other partner?”

Signs point to the partner who recruits friends to insult someone they claim to love being both really mean and having mean friends. Sorry, you might be surrounded by assholes!

14. “Helping your ex through your break-up.”

My first thought when I read stuff like this: BUT YOU BROKE UP. IT’S NOT YOUR JOB.

I can think of a few legit good ways to help an ex with a breakup, assuming this is a “Farewell good person who was, alas, not right for me” breakup and not a “Never contact me again you controlling shitlord” breakup, are you ready?

  • Have good boundaries for yourself. If you need space and time to get over the relationship, be honest about that and don’t set yourself up to be your ex’s Chief Consoler. If you know you don’t want to ever get back together, don’t dangle that option. Don’t dump someone and then lean on them as your favorite listening ear. Ex-sex can be a fine, healing, understandable human activity, but there are times when you know it’s a bad idea and is going to make the other person have an even harder time detaching. You ceased already, so desist!
  • Be a little thoughtful about how you use social media. Don’t air this person’s private heartbreak everywhere, wait a hot second before you go all #FinallyFree #AtLast #TrueLove with your brand new beau, it’s cool to stay friends with people you met as a couple but maybe give your ex priority in their oldest friends at least until the dust settles, give them a heads’ up if you’re going to be at the same event.
  • Be really fair and kind about money and property. Return their stuff to them promptly and without drama, don’t make them ask or hunt or wait for it. Did someone relocate to be with you, or could someone use a grace period of NOT having to pay half the rent on a place they’re getting booted out of while also coming up with the money for a new place, can you afford to ease the transition for this person a little without stinting yourself? Then do it. If you still have to share living space for a while, be respectful about bringing new dates around.
  • Don’t write to their advice column under a fake name and ask for advice on wooing your new crush.

These tips are from my own experience and aren’t absolutes, you’re not necessarily doing it wrong if you have a different style, helping out financially isn’t always possible (and isn’t an obligation), and all bets are off if the other person was a jerk! But those are some ways to possibly be nice, and none of them involve nursing someone through their breakup with you! You broke up! You get to stop working on this person’s problems and life!

Thanks for joining us for this fun feature. If you would like Daniel & Henrietta content, they are SPACED OUT on catnip right now.

Hi Captain!

My fiancé (they/them) and I (she/her) recently bought a house. My little sister (she/her) also lives with us. It’s awesome.

We throw parties, where people drink (sometimes a lot – fiancé and sister are college students, I’m a few years older) and hang out. We’re planning on implementing a house rule where people have to agree how much they’re planning to drink when they get to the house, and they’ll be cut off once they reach that limit. None of us really mind having our friends come and hang out and get very drunk, but I especially get upset by the whole “oh I’m only going to drink one or two” *cut three hours ahead; they’re obviously sauced and doing another line of shots*, or the good old “stop me if I’m going to drink too much” “you’ve reached your limit, stop drinking” “no I don’t want to” – mostly because that used to be me, and it’s why I don’t really drink anymore.

Do you have any scripts about how to let people know about this change in house rules? I want people to take it seriously, but also not feel like we’re shaming them. One strategy we’ve considered is presenting it as ‘my fault’ (due to my history) because the people who this is most aimed at are my little sister’s friends, and a couple of my fiancé’s, so maybe that way it would seem a little bit less personal and more of a good guest thing vs. a ‘my friend thinks I have a drinking problem’ thing.

Also, do you have any scripts for then enforcing that rule? I’m pretty comfy being the ‘bad cop’, but I’m less sure how to respond when a firm ‘No’ (and then taking and hiding the bottle) doesn’t work – for a lot of my fiancé’s friends, in the worst case scenario, we’d just kick them out and call a lyft; but some of my sister’s friends don’t live that close so they come down for the weekend and stay on our couch, so when they get drunk and petulant the options are slightly fewer, and tend to be things like ‘call it a night and send everyone home’ which tends to feel bad. We’re hoping that the more explicit boundary agreed upon while sober will nip a lot of that in the bud, but would still like some fall back scripts.

Thanks!

No-Irresponsible-Fun-Allowed

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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.

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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Hello! This morning I am voting, picking Henrietta Pussycat up from the vet from her spay, and then I’m answering short questions this afternoon. Review of how it works:

  • Patrons can submit questions at this thread (Advantage: More than 280 characters).
  • Anyone can submit questions anytime via Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday. Please use the hashtag, my mentions are busy enough that I might miss it without.
  • Deadline for questions for this week is noon, Chicago time, Friday, Nov. 2. If a question comes in after that, I try to include it next time.
  • I answer as many questions as I can between noon & 2pm. If I think something is too much/too big for the venue, I’ll tell you and we’ll figure something else out.
  • I’m asking people not not submit questions about abuse & sexual harassment & violence in these short answer threads.
  • I’m also suggesting that you redirect your U.S.-election related anxieties and energies here. Our fears and our feelings are real, but there is stuff to DO right now. Let’s DO THE STUFF, to the best of our abilities. We can process later.
  • Comments open when everything is posted.

Q1: “Ahoy, Captain! I’m constantly asked about my British accent, but I’m not British! I had seven years of speech therapy as a child with articulation problems, and my voice has some quirks that sound a little more British than American. I’m white, so “But where are you really from?” comes from curiosity rather than racism, but meeting new colleagues/students/dental hygienists is awkward enough without suddenly becoming hyper-aware of my speech. Any advice on redirecting without getting self-conscious? Also, since it isn’t an accent, it’s more perceptible sometimes than others, and I worry that people will think I’m (inconsistently) faking an accent to sound smart/exotic. (oh Cthulhu).”

A1: First, a PSA: I’m glad you mentioned racism, because white people definitely need to to stop quizzing nonwhite people (and/or people with “foreign” accents) about where they are “really” from. If you doubt me, please watch this video and remember that even if you think you have good reason to ask/you are just being kind/like, you studied abroad in their country and you want to talk about it with them/you went to school with someone with the same last name/you want restaurant recommendations, you are contributing to a pattern that really and truly wears on people and they have no way of knowing that your interest is benign. If someone’s national or ethnic background is something they want to share with you or something that’s important to your interactions, trust that they will do it on their own in their own way. Stop expecting them to play “guess my background!” on demand to satisfy your curiosity.

Now to your question, a fellow Patron in the question thread had a great suggestion:

“I get that a lot (Australian with a not-very-strong accent which people read as fairly randomly either American or English). I say ” *light laugh* just Australian, but I get that a lot!” The “I get that a lot” smoothes over the awkwardness. People just… when they notice a not-normal thing it introduces a spot of discomfort and they need an excuse – any excuse will do – to slide past it. (this assuming you want to do a softening and smoothing not a dead-eyed shutdown) Some small portion will continue on with “yeah, it really doesn’t sound Australian!” – a “yeah i dunno why!” is usually enough to get us to move on to a less-boring topic. My general tone is that it is one of the mysteries of my life that people say this to me. My subtext is “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t worry, you’re not alone, a lot of people share your hallucination!” “huh, weird!” Like… they’re seeing the dress as black and blue when it’s really white and gold. Very normal, not correct, just one of those things.”

I sometimes say “maybe I watched too much TV as a kid!” but that’s cause most Australian TV has American accents, I guess that won’t work for you. Some other mildly self-deprecating but dismissive thing. But not a humble brag, just, actually self-deprecating counters the risk of being seen as pretentious (I’m not sure how likely that is, and how much it’s just a worry, but either way hopefully it will help you worry less about it hopefully). Could you say “I had trouble learning to speak when I was little, so my accent ended up a bit weird!” (not sure how comfortable you are using a rough childhood situation as a glib comment, but I think it would be effective – gives a “reason”, is clearly not pretentious] [I suspect your self-consciousness about it is because of the articulation lessons – but actually quite a lot of people get this, for no particular reason]”

“I get that a lot!” + a subject change is perfect. I think this is also one of those things where people will take their cues from you – If you act like it’s a big deal, people will think it’s a big deal and be curious, but if you play it off and change the subject, most people will let it go and the ones who can’t or won’t are the ones making it weird.

Q2: Ahoy Captain. We’re getting a divorce, an amiable one, but… how do we tell our friends? Do we just put it on Facebook or what is normal procedure?

A2: I don’t know if there is a usual procedure (this would be a good marketing niche for greeting card designers, right? “We loved celebrating our wedding with you, now it’s time to celebrate our divorce, which will be final on [date]”). I’ve seen people make a Facebook announcement and didn’t find it strange, though to me it seemed like it was a late step in the process and the people involved had already spread the word a bit to friends & family. The downside of social media announcements is comments, like, people you went to elementary school with weighing in all “but you were always the perfect couple!” or “marriage takes work!” so if you do go that route think about your filters and moderate heavily.

This is where the extrovert/heavily networked people in your family and friend group come in handy, right? “Hey, talkative friend who knows everybody, X and I are getting divorced. It’s amicable and mutual, and we want to spread the word a bit but not have 100 awkward conversations where people tell us how surprised they are. Can you be our buffer about this – spread the word, and DON’T tell us about people’s weird questions and feelings? Thanks!” 

Q3: My good friend has a spouse who I’m friendly with but not as close to. I’m happy for them to attend things that I plan with my friend, and for big group stuff I invite them individually and am fine with either coming alone. But for smaller group stuff I want the spouse only if the friend is coming. I have zero problem with the spouse being there with my friend, but I don’t have the closeness where I want them alone as 1/3 to 1/6 of the group. I like them but it changes the dynamic. Is there any kind/polite way to communicate “This invitation is for you; it’s fine if your spouse comes with you, but they’re not invited to come alone”?  

A3: I have five suggestions:

  1. Script for overall discussion is probably “I like [Spouse] so much, but sometimes when I’m inviting you to a really small event I want it to be just us, so can you check with me first esp. if I don’t send them their own invite?” Also, think very carefully about whether you want to have an overall discussion or just handle it event by event, esp. since the consequences might be you get neither of them if both are not welcome.
  2. Be future-oriented, as in, change up how you do this in the future, don’t ask people to answer for the past (unless you want to make everyone feel unwelcome).
  3. If you’ve been inviting spouse through the friend, start separating it out and making sure they each get their own email or text or addition to the event page for things when they are both invited. Use your subject lines constructively – “Sal & Sally, you’re both invited to …” “Sally, you’re invited to…”
  4. Be clear and consistent – “Would you like to join me for X on [date]? It’s a tiny group this time, so no +1s or spouses, let me know by Friday.” “Wanna go to breakfast with me? Just us this time.” And then be consistent, like, if this person’s spouse can’t come maybe yours and other people’s don’t either.
  5. Sometimes this goes down easier as gender-segregated events – “Just us gents this time” – so if that’s useful to you, use it.

Q4: “What are your thoughts on Dylan Marron’s ‘Conversations with People Who Hate Me’?”

My thoughts are “this literally is the first I’ve heard of it” and I had to Google it to even know that it was a podcast. Since this comes up every time: I don’t listen to podcasts generally so the chances I’ve listened to or even heard of your favorite one are extremely tiny. I hope you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) it exactly as it deserves?

Q5: “What are some of your favorite friend-date activities for spending 1:1 time together?”

A5: Tonight I’m going to Commander Logic’s house to play Scrabble. Chances of wine/cheese/giggling are high.

I like sharing meals together. I like going to concerts and movies and the theater and readings. I like having people over for cozy couch time. Anywhere you can talk & catch up for hours (and eat!) I’m probably pretty happy.

Q6I’m 46, cis, het and female (she/her). I’m trying to get back into online dating after I had a panic attack over it last year. My major hobby/vocation/extra curricular activity is MMA—weapons, wrestling, boxing. It’s a huge part of my life. I’m pretty good at it (20 years now, I better be).

Mentioning it in dating profiles goes badly, I find, but I feel really disingenuous concealing it since it flips people out. Any thoughts on a good way to approach this?

A6: Anyone who is gonna be a good match for you is gonna be at least, AT LEAST, agnostic about your favorite thing to do with your free time. Like, the baseline here is “Hrmmm, I don’t know anything about that really, but how cool! What do you like best about it?” and you should actively weed out anyone who is weird about it.

Maybe look at it this way: You’re not auditioning for people to like some generic version of you, you’re trying to narrow down the people who can hang with who you really are. When a dude reacts badly to learning you are a skilled badass lady fighter, it’s not because you failed some audition. It’s because he is not cool enough for you. Keep looking.

Q7: How do you know when it’s time to switch mental health professionals? I’ve been with the same therapist for seven months now, and I feel like progress hasn’t been great, but I’m not sure how to determine if I need to let this process take more time, whether it’s because I’m not doing what I need to do, or whether it’s because the therapist/treatment aren’t working for me.

A7: Well, this is something you can talk about with your therapist, and pretty frankly, too: “I’m not making as much progress as I’d like to be, do you think there’s something we could be doing differently with our sessions/do you think there’s something I could be doing more aggressively between sessions/do you think it would be beneficial for me to try working with someone else/can we check in about what progress has happened since we started working together and revise our plan?” 

And if you feel like you can’t bring this up, that’s telling detail. Talking about how you work together is part of the work. More info on how to tell what works here.

Q8: I belong to a professional organization. This past year I have joined a committee for an in-person event that will be held in the next month. Only a few of the committee members are able to attend the actual event (which is to be expected) and a lot of the committee work is creating session descriptions and finding speakers. Our committee chair left the committee last month when they changed jobs, as they are no longer in our niche area. Their departure did put us in a bit of a bind as we found out that not all sessions had speakers arranged, although it has all been worked out at this point. For me personally, this added a lot of stress. I guess my question is, how do I answer questions about their departure? This event isn’t huge and their absence will be noticed, especially as I will be subbing in for a couple of speaking parts. I don’t want to bad mouth them, or make it a dramatic telling, but at the same time, I am not sure I am up for making it a happy happy story of them moving on. Especially since they told me to let them know if I had any questions immediately following their departure, which I did and which they completely ignored. Should I just mentally compartmentalize the bad personal aftertaste this has given me? 

A8: If y’all haven’t already done this as a committee, draft some kind of announcement or statement about the person leaving and make sure the news is out there. And then use that statement to guide and inform how you answer questions from people. I really feel for you being left in the lurch by this person, but I encourage you to think about the message you want to send about the organization and the event (wanting attendees to be engaged and excited) vs. your personal feelings about all of it, which might be best saved for close friends (venting at the bar) and fellow committee members (private discussions about how to fill the gaps this person left and take some of this off your shoulders).

To that end, what if you said “Departing Person left some big shoes to fill, and this last month I grew to *truly* appreciate how much work they’d done recruiting speakers in past years.” + then turned the conversation toward what you’d like this member of the organization to do? For example “If you’re looking to get more involved in conference planning, the committee could always use x, y, z” or “We’re really looking for more speakers who can talk about x, y, and z topics” or “This is my first time running this solo, if there’s something I’m overlooking, please tell me!” or “We don’t have quite enough session moderators, any chance I can get you to jump in?” 

Nobody can undo the stress you’ve been under, but orienting yourself (and your membership) toward action is gonna be the best medicine, I think. Good luck, may it all go smoothly!

Q9: Captain, as a creative and hard-working person, do you think that it better to have a more-cool role on a less-cool-overall project, or a less-cool role on a more-cool-overall project? Each project has thousands of people in it and lasts over the course of many years. I could be happy doing either but am definitely more excited professionally for cool-role-project. It also comes with a little less money that would have a non-dealbreaking but also non-negligible lifestyle impact.

A9: I don’t have an answer, just questions:

  • Which project sets you up to have the most options in the future?
  • Which project sets you up to learn from people who will help you level up the most?
  • Do you have some ongoing creative practice that’s just yours, that can sustain you either way?
  • Then, do a gut check. Flip a coin. If you had to abide absolutely by the coin flip (you don’t, but pretend with me), how do you feel about that?

Q10: I’ve been desperate for years to start doing more creative work but when a good idea moves me I become too manic to focus and can only daydream, and when I’m not manic I feel totally immobile and unmotivated. I feel like my peers are lapping me while I stay still and every cool idea I have will die with me (if it doesn’t show up in someone else’s work – although I was greatly comforted by something in the archive about that being a good sign of sorts haha). Mostly I just feel rotten about myself every time a cis white dude, specifically, gushes about his cool project – stuff by not those dudes (esp. games, comedy, YouTube) helps me, but I still feel like I’m a windbag with nothing to contribute and I only think I “deserve” a voice to spite bigger windbags, when ideally I would be lifting up, entertaining, maybe collaborating once I get over my fear of and aversion to that. I know I should seek mental health care (been feeling pretty shit for a decade) and I know timed exercises/750 words/NaNo and the like sometimes make me feel better, but nothing has made the process of actually sitting down and bringing an idea to an acceptable level of completion seem less insurmountable. Any strategies? 

A10: I’m definitely not immune to this feeling. A lot of people want tips and suggestions to see if they can bypass the process of “finish stuff, send it out, then make new stuff” or make it easier somehow and, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t. No matter how, like, insightful we get about our process or how much we plan out elegant projects, eventually we will have to reckon with “finish a thing, send it out, make a new thing.”

Some stuff that might help:

Yes, take care of your mental health. I got diagnosed with ADHD a few years back and it helped so much, both in giving me tools and strategies and also helping me let go of some of the shame and self-recrimination that was not motivating in the least. Whatever you’ve got going on, having a trained pro guide you through both your goals and your list of “shoulds” (the stuff you’re using to beat yourself up with) isn’t a bad idea.

Give yourself a License To Suck. A writing teacher literally did this for a class I’m taking, it’s printed on a business-card sized thing and we can carry it in our wallets. It’s a reminder that people aren’t born with mastery, and if it’s worth doing it’s worth sucking at it for a while in order to get better.

Take a class or otherwise find community that gives you permission to generate a lot of first drafts, break projects down into manageable chunks, work with supportive peers, build in accountability and a schedule. If you’re going to suck, suck with other people who are also trying.

Try going for volume over quality for a while. That’s what NaNoWriMo is good for, right? Process, practice, volume, non-judgment. If you struggle with perfectionism and you have lots of stuff going on, this way no project has to be the one perfect project. Check out the parable of the pots. Also, see this from Ira Glass.

Test ideas and themes in different mediums. One of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered said the most important thing to me at the end of film school, when I took a memoir writing class with her: “Not every good idea you have wants to be a film.” She also introduced me to the practice of reading/telling stories out loud for audiences, which led me to nonfiction writing, which led me here.

How freeing was that? SO FREEING. Sometimes my ideas are movies but they can also be essays or poems or this advice blog that ate my life in the best possible way. Maybe your unfinished short story is languishing because it wants to be a short film. Maybe your novel wants to be a painting. Maybe you’re really a photographer. I don’t know! Maybe you don’t, either.

Q11: Do you have any words of wisdom for an amateur writer doing #nanowrimo2018 ? I seem to have written myself into a corner and I’m not sure how to get out. (This will be my 11th win if I finish again this year, but I’m not feeling it at the moment.)

A11: It would be okay if you didn’t do it or didn’t finish this time. It would be okay if you used this year to revise one of your old efforts instead of writing something new (maybe take an old piece and shift the setting or the POV character?). If you do do it and stick with it, the habit and the process will reassert themselves and the ritual of writing will probably start to feel better even if you’re not inspired. It will probably be more fun if you find other people to cheer you on.

Q12: I’m in the early stages of a relationship. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and tiny hearts with our initials. I know this stage doesn’t last forever. At some point there’s chewing with your mouth open and dirty socks and more real and less lusty head over heels. I don’t have any good relationship models in my life. How do I enjoy the good parts without worrying so much about what’s to come? (He’s a good person. There is no but there. I like what we are building together.)

A12: Versions of this question keep coming up. The answer is always the same:

Relationships aren’t a test you can study for and get an “A” by doing the most work. So use this anxious energy about the relationship that you’re feeling as a reminder to shore up the other areas of your life. Strengthen your friendships and family relationships and make sure you’re not losing track of the other people you love. Make sure that your career & education & creative pursuits & hobbies are doing what you want them to. Spruce up your living space. Revisit your plans & daydreams about the future. Get your health checkups and dental cleanings. Spend some alone time, don’t feel like you have to be with this person every single second. Your romantic relationship is just one part of your life, and the more secure and happy you are as a person, the better set up you’ll be to make good decisions about your love life, even if that decision is “keep enjoying this!”

Q13: Hey Captain, Happy Friday! I was wondering if you have any tips for building personal discipline and a better work ethic? I have heard, all my life, that I seem to phone things in, that I’m capable of better than what I give, that I project laziness that comes across as disrespect, etc. This has come from my family, teachers, employers, (ex-)partners, etc. And, they’re not wrong – I tend to stop at “adequate” but don’t go the extra mile to be excellent in most aspects of my life. I’m a single parent with a super-demanding job and always feel like I’m running on fumes, but know I could do at least a bit better! Help?

A13: Hrmmmmm….these sound awfully like all the messages I grew up with, the ones that rebounded inside my head literally since forever, endless jokes about having “She had so much potential” engraved on my gravestone, and totally discounting all the stuff I was doing and had actually done in favor of the ever-expanding list of what I should be doing. It’s taken some mental health diagnoses and ongoing mental health treatment and the practice of years to stop automatically playing those mind-loops.

Do you want to be doing “more” and if so “more of what”?

Are we sure these people are right about you? Are you sure they aren’t saying “Hey, even your ‘phoning it in’ version of this is pretty good and we resent that about you.”

And if they are right about you, is that really so bad? You parent your kid. You hold down a demanding job. Your kid is alive and happy and your work gets done, right? So what even is this “more”?

Have you talked it over with a therapist? Because that’s where I’d start.

Q14: My job offers professional development funds (yay!). The past few years, I’ve used some of that money for membership in a local professional organization that I’ve often felt lukewarm about. (I was a member briefly after grad school, then discontinued my membership, and rejoined in 2016.) What are some helpful considerations in thinking about renewing (or not)?

A14: Considerations, in no particular order:

  • Is this the only organization in this field or is there another one (even if it’s not as local) that would be a better fit?
  • Are you fully utilizing what’s available within the organization? Maybe look back at their programs and see if there’s something there worth taking advantage of.
  • Are the problems with the organization fixable and do you feel like volunteering with the organization to shape it more to your needs?
  • Is there something else you’d rather do with that money? [A conference, a class, an investment in reading material]
  • It’s not your money, so why not? Are there upsides to belonging (networking, being able to list it on your resume)?

Q15: How much talking in class is too much? She/her, non-traditional student in a “caring profession” – my cohort is 90% female. Most classmates seem shyer to speak. My speaking enthusiasm level is Hermione-Granger-with-Undiagnosed-ADD. When I wait for someone else to go, sometimes the prof will impatiently jump in, which is frustrating because I *want* to have a lively discussion. I’m worried peers judge me for taking up space. I’m worried I might *be* taking too much space. Should I talk less? Worry less? Can I focus on some concrete way to support my peers? 

A15: There’s a lot of room between being This Fucking Guy and being that lifesaver active student who is not afraid to talk during class discussions. Your self-awareness about this makes it less likely that you’re a problem, but if it’s making you anxious it’s probably worth checking in with your professor, like, “I want to be active in discussions but I want to make sure I’m not talking over other students, any feedback/can we agree that you’ll tell me if you think I’m overdoing it?” 

If I’m a teacher of a discussion-based class and only one student is ever talking, I’d be looking for ways to mix it up, like, asking a question and having smaller groups chew on it together and then present back to the bigger group, or asking a question for discussion and then giving students a few minutes to write down their thoughts before we talk about it. Really, it’s your teacher’s job to manage the whole vibe of the room, and if there are points for class participation you’re not doing it wrong by participating actively!

The “writing it down” strategy has worked for me when I have had to speak with students who do have (documented) ADHD or just a tendency to blurt things out – “It’s great that you’re so engaged and you have a lot to say, but you interrupt me and other people sometimes, so can we try a thing where when you have a thought or a question you write it down and then wait until I pause for questions to ask it?” You might try that as a strategy for yourself sometimes if you’re worried that you’re being too much – instead of speaking out loud, write whatever it is down in your notes, and write down the things that other people say, too. You still are having the insights, right?

Another strategy (both for moderation and participation) is to make sure you’re amplifying and responding meaningfully to the things that other people say. “Going back to the question Sylvester asked…” “I’ve been thinking about the point that Sylvie made…” If your peers know that you are paying close attention to them when they do speak up, hopefully it will encourage them to keep going.

Q16: Some good friends recently told me that I apologize A LOT and take responsibility for things that are outside my control or not really an issue. My instinct was to apologize for apologizing, so it seems my friends were accurate in their assessment. 🙂 Anyhow, do you have any scripts on how to redirect this tendency in my own head and out loud? What do I say if I feel bad that something didn’t go as planned or I was less than perfect without constantly saying “I’m sorry”? (This wouldn’t apply to situations where I really am in the wrong – but if that happens, I would want my apology there to have some weight and NOT be just a reflex)

A16: Yes, I do have suggestions:

1) Practice restating apologies as expressions of gratitude.

“I’m sorry I forgot to return your book sooner” => “Thanks for lending me the book!”

“I’m sorry I’m such a bummer tonight, I’m really feeling down” => “Thanks for hanging out with me and listening.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t had much time to hang out lately” => “Thanks for being so flexible with my schedule, I’m so glad to see you!”

2) In electronic communications, type them out when you make the draft but build in time to edit and erase before sending. If I didn’t do this, literally every email I sent would start with “Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.” I decided to stop automatically apologizing about this a few years back and I think it was a good choice. It took me as long as it took to respond to the email, in many cases I’m not actually sorry, and I wanted to stop perpetuating the standard that all emails require immediate response or that women must always pre-apologize in life.

Q17: Maybe more of a crowd-sourcing question – techniques/hacks/systems for doing things (think stretching, at-home physio, etc.) that I need to do but find boring and, while not painful, a pain? 

A17: The Pomodoro Technique (adapted to good advantage by Unfuck Your Habitat as “20/10s”): Set a timer for the length of time that you want to do the annoying thing (like, 20 minutes, but really whatever you want, you can start smaller, you’re the boss of you). Do the annoying thing knowing that there is a hard end-time. Then take a timed break to do something enjoyable (10 minutes). Reset as necessary until the stuff is done.

Someone in this community recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book about habit forming, Better Than Before, and with the caveat that she has some personal thoughts about body image & eating that I don’t share, I’ve personally found it really useful. Like, I enjoyed it at the time, but I think about it waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often now than I thought I would when I was reading it. The biggest takeaway was that people have different tendencies about what motivates them, and if you can figure out yours you can kinda hack your habit-forming  – like, some people really benefit from having a buddy to do hard stuff with or someone to be externally accountable to, some people are just great rule-followers and the fact that it’s a rule makes it hard to deviate, some people really need to know why a thing is happening so constantly connecting the new habit to the why (“If I do my physical therapy exercises I can get strong enough for that sex position I like again”), etc.

Q18: Not the most serious question but I just got engaged (yay!) And what on earth is it about weddings that makes everybody have An Opinion?? On everything??  

A18: The intersection of family, tradition, culture, marketing, and shit we’ve grown up seeing in movies and on television is a powerful one. Congratulations! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were lifesavers.

Q19: Scripts for talking to bosses about mental health? I see a therapist twice a month and I don’t know how to explain the absences, or my occasional depressive episodes (less frequent now, yay!)

A19: If the Affordable Care Act did literally nothing else, the mandate that all health plans must cover mental health services the same way they cover any other health concern is a world-changer. Now the culture has to catch up. Until it does, disclosing mental health stuff at work is sticky, because there still is stigma, and once you disclose you can’t un-disclose. Fortunately, Alison at Ask A Manager has a great primer on this. With her advice in mind, one script might be “I have a recurring medical appointment twice a month” and no more information than that. Another one might be “I have depression. It mostly doesn’t affect work (beyond needing to check in with my counselor twice a month), but I’m having a depressive episode and need to treat it more aggressively right now, which means… [specifically what you need – time off, an adjustment to the workload, a quieter work space, a more flexible schedule].”

Q20: “My friends Alex and Pat recently had a huge falling out due to a seemingly trivial issue. Tomorrow at a wedding will be their first time around each other since the fight. Is there anything I can do help keep the peace since I’ll be interacting with both?”

A20: The bad news is the good news: There is literally nothing about their conflict that is your job to worry about. Say hello to both of them, have a great time, don’t bring any of it up unless they do. If they do, try changing the topic to “what a lovely wedding it is.” Only in case of emergency, like they re-start their argument in a way that would be noticeable to other guests or the people getting married, should you do anything (in that example, the doing something might be “ok, why don’t you both get some air!”)

Repeat after me: Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Q21: I’m at a point where my old friend group is “cycling out”. I’ve made some new acquaintances through my weekly activities that I’d love to bring up to friendship level (e.g. inviting them out), but sometimes feel shy. I’d love a script/advice on this.

A21: Remember, the best invitations have a specific time and date and place attached and you’ll have less anxiety if you invite them to a specific thing than if you mention “coffee sometime” and then wait forever for “sometime” to be real. When you’re ready to take the plunge, be specific and ask: “Wanna grab a drink after rehearsal next week?” They may not be free that day, and they may not want to get closer, but almost nobody who goes to a weekly social hobby is going to think you did something wrong by asking or find it weird, at all. Give making plans a couple tries before you give up. If you ask three times and nobody bites (and nobody suggests an alternative), let it go for 3-6 months before bringing it up again. Somebody’s gonna be very glad you asked.

Q22: Hi! recently ended 8-year relationship. didn’t live together, but work together, have creative projects together. Breakup wasn’t mutual: I instigated. Tips for how to be kind and make space for myself to move on? Do I need to end creative partnership too?

A22: Here’s all the post-breakup advice for being nice to yourself.

I don’t think you can make assumptions either way about what happens to the creative partnership now. I think you have to ask the person what they want to do, see if it aligns with what you want to do, and make the decision that’s right for you. What would you do if the collaboration needed to end? Do some research and protect your work.

If you’re reading this and you have a creative collaboration with a friend or romantic partner, I want you to stop, drop, and put something in writing about who owns the work and what happens to it in case you decide to go your separate ways someday. Do this even if nobody is making any money from the work. Do this even if you have no problems or thoughts of ending the friendship or the working relationship because a fair agreement negotiated now, while you like each other, is a huge favor to future-you if something shatters here.

Ok, that should be something for everyone. ❤