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Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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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. ❤

Hello! Late start today – Commander Logic & I went out for pancakes.

Here’s the deal:

Patrons can submit questions at this link. 

Anyone can submit a question on Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday (please use the hashtag, my mentions are a messsssssssss and I don’t want to lose you).

Since I got a late start, questions close at 1pm instead of noon. I’ll answer as many questions as I can between 1 and 3pm Chicago time.

Comments open when everything is posted.

I posted this on Patreon and I’ll post it here: I am pretty much at my limit with questions & moderating discussions about sexual violence, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. I’ve said most of what I can say in other posts, I don’t really have anything new to add, I do not want to tackle this stuff in this short, rushed format, sprinkled in and among other topics, and I especially can’t do it this week in these United States of America. If you need resources, they are out there. My wall, I have hit it. Thank you so much for understanding. ❤

Here is a kitten:

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Henrietta Pussycat trying to clean my arm.

Here is a pile of kittens:

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Daniel Striped Tiger on top of Henrietta Pussycat, trying to eat her head.

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Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!

To ask a question, patrons can post to this thread and anyone can reach me on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which point I’ll answer as many as I can between then and 1pm.

Comments are open! So many great questions! Thanks everyone.

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How it works: Patreon supporters can use the thread there to submit questions, everyone else can use Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which time I’ll answer as many as I can until 1pm

Discussions open after I’m done with the questions. These are fun to write.

Q1: I (she, feminine pronouns) work in the same industry as a close friend. Networking is a huge part of excelling and getting your work noticed. My friend, who I genuinely love, has blacklisted/ comprehensively gone off an astonishing number of people (male and female) in the industry, and she continues to speak very negatively of them whenever their names are mentioned. She experienced a lot of bullying growing up, and I don’t doubt that some of these industry people have behaved genuinely badly towards her. However, I have seen her decide to never speak to industry people (some of whom were also close friends) because of things that seem very minor or even completely subjective (for example, different texting styles or infrequent communication between projects). She gets very upset if I do not support her by cutting off these people, too. It’s getting to the point where I am not sure how to navigate this. For example, I just completed a very successful project with two people whom she introduced me to, but since then, she has decided never to speak to them again (to be clear, not over anything big like bullying or sexual harassment but because she thought the guy was giving off potentially flirty vibes – I read the email in question and it did not seem flirty to me). I’d like to work with them again, but I’m really worried about how she will respond. She’s already unhappy because I was invited to participate in an event with two other people she dislikes (because they didn’t want a close friendship with her but were otherwise perfectly friendly and professional). I didn’t even know they were involved until I’d agreed to participate! I don’t want to invalidate her experience, and I don’t want to work with assholes, but when she takes offense so easily and so often, I’m not sure how to proceed. I don’t want to be best friends with all these people – I just want to get my work done! She is otherwise a fantastic, very supportive friend. Advice + scripts for moving forward would be much appreciated!

A1: This sounds a lot like the letter Alison and I tackled together at Ask A Manager a few months back.

I appreciate your clarification that your friend’s dislike is not based on abuse or bullying or other #MeToo stuff, and is more about small interpersonal frictions or dislike. We all know that the same person can treat two people very differently, so I appreciate your thoughtfulness about that.

Say you do tell your friend about your plans to work with these folks she doesn’t like, and she complains about them a lot and seems to expect you to…what? Ditch working with them? Take on her grudge as your own?…I think it’s worth trying scripts like:

“Ok, I get that you don’t like them. What are you asking me to do?”

Like, get it in the open. Is she venting or is she expecting you to actually quit gigs or not accept any invitation that involves people she doesn’t like?

See also:

“Wait, are you asking me to not work with people that I work well with so far because you don’t like working with them?”

“I get that you don’t like _____, but you’re not the one that has to work with them. I don’t want to invalidate your experiences but I also need to cultivate my own professional network, even if it means working with people you aren’t fans of sometimes.” 

“You should absolutely work only with people you respect and get along with. But what you look for in a collaboration isn’t necessarily the same as what I look for. I don’t need to be friends with people in order to work with them.”

“I always appreciate the heads up when a situation might get sticky, but I also appreciate the chance to form my own network and my own working relationships with people. Sometimes it feels like you expect me to take on every grudge you have as my own, and I don’t know what to tell you.”

Hopefully she’ll hear you. If you love and value this friend, I also suggest finding some Not Work topics of discussion.

Q2: I work at a university with an (apparently) amazing staff benefits package. Thing is, all my coworkers are permanent salaried employees, and I’m an underpaid temp worker. My contract keeps getting extended & I fully believe that they really will make it permanent sometime (soonish? hopefully?), but university bureaucracy is a nightmare. In the meantime, what do I do when my coworkers complain about not being able to use up their vacation time and I struggle to pay bills when the office closes for July 4? Do you have any scripts/methods for not raging when they talk about scheduling free massages & eye checkups?

A2: As an adjunct professor who recently had a tenured colleague complain to me about not knowing quite what to focus on during his upcoming paid sabbatical, my answer to this is:

FUCKED IF I KNOW

You could try silence, or “hrmmm, interesting” + ye olde subject change.

You could try “Oh, paid vacation time, that sounds like a pretty good problem to me! Let me know how that all works out.”

But really…

Fucked if I know.

Q3: What are you reading this summer?

A3: I’m reading EVERYTHING this summer. Thanks to library extension and being a fast reader and a little more free time than I get during the school year, I probably read a book about every three days.

Sunday I finally finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky (I’d been saving it) and then immediately started re-reading The Fifth Season. 

Last week I devoured The Changeling by Victor LaValle (this needs to be a TV series ASAP, it’s just so visual and well-plotted and suspenseful) and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Right before that I read Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Circling The Sun by Paula McClain. And Mark Oshiro’s debut, Anger Is A Gift, which destroyed me and would be a great companion to The Hate U Give for YA books about right now.

I read all the Tommy & Tuppence books by Agatha Christie, in sequence. Michelle MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has me rethinking sliding glass doors.

I got some romance in there: T. Kingfisher’s The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine made me rethink sexy paladins. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole should 100% be adapted for the screen.

Last night I started The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s fun. Soon I’ll dive into Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

Reading is the best.

Because this has come up before in book threads: I’m not a book blogger or book reviewer, and I’m sure everything I’ve listed here should get a trigger warning or content note for something. I read very fast, I read for my own fun, and I literally do not keep track of what might be upsetting to other people. This is a list of what I am reading, not what you or anyone should read. If something here catches your eye but you’re worried about potential triggers, please read someone else’s reviews before you dive in.

Q4: Any tips for dealing with shame/guilt about not being disciplined enough? I’m coming off a hellish couple of months of constant travel/public speaking/work events, and although it was great for my CV, it was really difficult and I’m feeling burned out. Now I just want to laze around the house and watch Parts Unknown, but I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of all of the projects that I want to do but aren’t urgent. It’s also making my envy of other colleague’s success much worse. I’m aware I’m being too hard on myself but am not sure how to move past thinking about it as a self-discipline problem.

Parts Unknown is wonderful and we’ve watched a fair bit of it ourselves this past month (The Houston episode is especially beautiful and seems like everything Bourdain was trying to do or say). And I’m glad you mentioned that show specifically, because it is a literally a show about stopping to smell the flowers and drink beers with people and look at the world.

You need breaks. You know you need breaks. So what if you gave yourself a defined period, like, three weeks, to just indulge in your breaks, read widely, catch up on TV and naps, etc. and then after that you’ll dive back into working on projects? That way you can tell the little “should” voice inside that you have a plan to get back to work.

The reason I say three weeks and not one week is that you need to trick your mind a little, like Marmee in Little Women when she said “fine, don’t do your chores, do whatever you want” and Beth was back to dusting in like, three days.  One week isn’t enough time. Two is probably about right. That third week you’ll be actually a little bored with yourself and hungry to get back into a working routine.

Another suggestion: During that three weeks, disconnect from whatever medium keeps shoving your colleagues’ successes in your face. Who gives a shit what they’re doing? Their work doesn’t take anything away from yours.

Now go and RELAX.

Q5: What do I say in a first message to parents after 2+ years of minimal contact & a mental health breakdown last year that is continuing? I know I’ve disappointed them but I don’t really want to get into that or my mental health.

A5: This first message isn’t going to be the only message, right? So it doesn’t have to do All Of The Things. It doesn’t have to make up for lost time. It just has to communicate some version of “Hi, are you still there? I’m still here.” 

People make fun of greeting cards for being trite (personally, I clutch my chest anytime I need to buy one and see that some of them are SEVEN WHOLE DOLLARS now), but sometimes trite gets the job done. Pick out a greeting card in the general “thinking of you” genre or a postcard with a cool image on it, scrawl out a short message, and send it. See what comes back.

Also, I think it would be helpful for you to avoid starting with “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Maybe you are sorry, maybe you aren’t, maybe you aren’t the one who owes apologies, maybe no apologies are owed. Sorries are for later, if ever. Start with “Hi!”

I hope things get better for you real soon. ❤

Q6: I recently started my first full-time, after-college job, and it’s great. I firmly believe that I would not be here without your blog (and Ask a Manager!). Thank you so much. My question is, now that I have actual, functional health insurance (where the deductible isn’t so high that I can’t imagine actually scheduling anything) … how do I go about finding a primary-care doc and/or a dentist? My EAP has set me up with a short-term therapist for now, so huzzah for that, but I think I should probably schedule some checkups / cleanings / whatnot, and I don’t know where to start.

A6: Congratulations on the new job.

Your health plan almost certainly has a website, and that website has a “find a provider” function to help you locate people who are in network. For a primary care doctor in the USA look for both “primary care” and “internal medicine” as specialties. You could also ask nice coworkers who are on the same health plan, “Hey, I need to pick a primary care doctor and I’d like to find one close to the office – anybody know someone great?” Then pick one, make an appointment, and see how it goes.

I’ve also used apps like Zocdoc successfully. You enter all your stuff, and your health insurance info, and they match you to doctors who are taking new patients in your area.

I’m sure you can master these logistics, is part of this about not knowing which doctor to choose? I like seeing female doctors, I have better luck with young ones, I like asking them about Health At Every Size or at least people who can roll with “Yup, I’m fat, so, what would you do for a thin person with the exact same symptoms?” I like doctors who are close to public transit and close to work/home or other places I go regularly, so I factor all this in when I’m looking.

And then there’s good old trial-and-error. You’re not married to the first one you pick.

Q7: So, this may be too big a question for the short answer session, but I’d love some tips on becoming less selfish. The problem is on the surface I seem to others like a kind and generous person – I donate lots of time and money to charity, would rather get gifts for others than buy stuff for myself, take the time to listen when others are down, etc. However, I’m doing these things either to give myself an ego boost (i.e., I love to see a friend’s big smile when I’ve found the perfect gift) or because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t (i.e, helping coworkers when they seemed stressed due to heavy workloads). Even when I help others basically anonymously (such as giving money/food to the homeless) I’m doing it to give myself a warm fuzzy feeling. I feel awful that I am basically using other people this way but don’t know how to change my mindset.

A7: This sounds like a self-worth problem rather than a “doing generosity wrong” problem to me – have you ever spoken to a therapist about feeling like you’re using people when you do nice things for them? Is doing your best to be a kind person really a reason to beat yourself up? Maybe dig into that with a trustworthy pro.

The other practical solution that comes to mind: Volunteer for a cause in a way that connects you to an organization and community over a longer-term, so you are working on an issue in concert with other people. Let the community and the work sustain you.

Q8: Do you have any general guidelines/tips to help someone decide whether or not they should pursue therapy?

A8: Well, I think most adults could use a look under the emotional hood at some point in their lives, so if you’ve never tried it and you think you might benefit from it and you have access to it, why not try it? You could always stop if you don’t get anything out of it.

There is one kind of letter that I get over and over again that is almost universally a signal for “Stop, drop, and try therapy!”

That letter starts with “Ever since I was a child…” and then includes many many many details about childhood, family history, and things from the past that the Letter Writer thinks might be relevant to the current problem.

Then the current problem is something that could be solved with “Break up!” or “Maybe you could host Thanksgiving at your house instead?” and I am not making fun here – in most cases there is a pretty simple solution that feels genuinely impossible to the Letter Writer because the past is so much with them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that the coping mechanisms that they developed to survive whatever happened in the first 500 words or so of their letter are things that are not helping them function now.

Therapy’s good for that. It lets you excavate all that past stuff in a safe way. It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life. It helps you tell new stories about what you want to do and what you need.

Q9: Partner & I don’t want homophobes at our wedding but we have lots of “disagree w/ the lifestyle” people in extended family. How do we find them out & not invite them? Have 50 conversations w/ people who don’t think they hate me but actually do? Scripts?

A9: Here’s one possible way to handle this:

Make a list of the people you want to be at your wedding. Not “because faaaaaamily” or “because mom will be mad if I don’t invite all the cousins” but the list of people whose faces you’d be genuinely happy to see that day. Are any of the known, vocal homophobes on that list? Cross them off.

Then invite the rest of the list.

If anyone left on the list of people you really want to see on your wedding day is secretly homophobic, they’ll self-select out. Or they’ll show up and they’ll behave themselves. Not a win, exactly, but maybe a draw?

If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, gives you shit about leaving off homophobic relatives, have a united front: “Wow, it’s so weird that you’d want us to invite someone who has said so many ignorant and terrible things about queer people to our big gay wedding.” “Well, Granny has made it pretty clear that she disagrees with our ‘lifestyle’, so why would we invite her, exactly?” 

Your wedding doesn’t have to fix your family, or their attitudes. It also doesn’t have to settle every old score with perfect fairness.

Congratulations, I hope it’s an awesome party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward:

Please help captain! (I really struggled getting my letter to around 400words – there is a lot more detail if you need it 😊)

My brother-in-law ‘Hector’ is 36 and ‘Agnes’ is his first ‘girlfriend’. I’d known Agnes for a few years before setting her up with Hector– she’s now 40 and her only previous relationship was when she was a teenager.

Over the years I’ve known her she had displayed a lot of questionable behaviour e.g. stalking guys she was interested in, obsessively stalking old friends on social media and do things like go through people’s drawers and medicine cabinets and take photos which she’d share with her mother. I’d overlooked these things as she was fun company (apart from the strangeness) and I don’t have that many friends.

So basically I set my dysfunctional brother in law up with my dysfunctional friend and now I’m suffering consequences, and now it’s affecting Christmas.

My husband and I alternated Christmas – one year at my parents and the next at his. Agnes now refuses to spend Christmas day at his parents’ as she ‘has a niece’ (her ‘weapon’) and so spends every Christmas day with her family. She hates my in-laws – she refuses to let them into her house whilst she is there, and sulks whenever she is in a room with them.

So, 2 years ago my husband and I decided to host Christmas, either on Christmas Eve, or Boxing Day (thereby letting her spend Christmas day with her family). This worked well. However, this must have been going too well (as Agnes lives off drama) and so when I asked about Christmas (at this point we were relatively close and messaged each other every day) she told me that it was all arranged and that she and Hector were spending Christmas Eve with her family and that they had made arrangements to go to the in-laws on 23rd December.

I replied saying that I was upset that my husband and I were not asked. Since then I have not heard from her (this was back in August).

My husband and I have since decided to go ahead as we would have done, and are hosting on Christmas Eve –we invited Hector and Agnes, and the invitation was declined. However, I’m still upset and brooding about this. If she’d have just said ‘oh my sister has invited us to a meal on Christmas Eve’ I’d have given options and worked around her on the dates – but the fact that they’d just arranged it all without us… just hurts.

I was hoping for a script or some advice on how to handle this difficult relationship going forward?

Many Thanks

Regretful matchmaker

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Hey Team Awkward,

This is a quick one. 

I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!

That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.

So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way. 

Thanks in advance,
Awkward Alcoholic 

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