Archive

Manners

Dear Cap’n Awkward!

I have a weird one, I’m hoping you might have some insight. I had a not great childhood, a turbulent teenagehood, and then spent my entire 20s with an abusive husband and a major drug problem. I got out when I was 30, did years of therapy, got clean, got stable, and now have been in a great relationship for a few years.

So what is my problem? Well, here’s the thing. I don’t have opinions about a lot of things and it’s really starting to wear on my BF as the years go by. I grew up very poor, and then of course when you’re a giant dope fiend, you’re not spending your money deciding on what couch to buy, or where to go for dinner, or… And my ex made it clear that my opinion didn’t matter, even when he asked for it first. So I guess the first 30 years of my life, I was trained/training myself not to have opinions on things because why bother?

And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?

Not Even Sure How to Sign This

Read More

Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

Read More

It’s time for the monthly ritual where I answer the questions that people typed into search engines to find this place.

1 “I have a crush on a guy who treats me badly.”

Crushes can be fun, but unlike what you’ve seen on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and every other show/movie/comic, love doesn’t turn assholes into acceptable boyfriends. My recommendation: Fantasize darkly about dirty-hot-hate-sex with him at your leisure, but save your actual affections and time outside your head for people who are kind to you.

Now more than ever we must hold the line and not waste our time with charismatic assholes.

spike

Admire my cheekbones from afar. Do not waste your precious life trying to turn me into an acceptable person to date.

2 “Talk about sexual relation first time.”

There is a site called Scarleteen. It is a national treasure, and while it was built so that teenagers could get non-judgmental, scientifically accurate, kind and sensitive sex advice, adults should read it, too. This topic is covered amply in their archives and forums.  The creator of the site, Heather Corinna, wrote a book called S.E.X. It’s great. They also have volunteers who answer questions confidentially.

While we’re on the topic, here are some other good books about sex:

Probably more recommendations in comments.

In the movies, sex just, like, happens. People stare at each other intensely and then grab each other and kiss and suddenly clothes are off and it’s all seamless and softly lit.

In real life, it’s important to talk about things with the person you plan to have sex with, especially when one or both of you is new at it. Everything from what consent looks like to “What are we gonna do about contraception (if that’s an issue in your pairing) and safer sex?” to  “I think I’d like it if we….” to “Definitely please do not ever….” to “That doesn’t feel good, please stop!” to “That feels really good!” Real life sex is awkward, and vulnerable, and that’s part of what’s great about it. Get thee to Scarleteen.

Happy talking! And everything that might come after!

3 “Working with the person you had an affair with now its awkward.”

Aw, buddy.

Without knowing the particulars (relative power structure in company, how it ended, what the feelings were and still are, how much time it’s been, did anybody know, what was the fallout, how much each person respectively likes/needs this particular job, etc.), some smart steps that you can control might be:

  • Keep your distance. You probably work in somewhat close quarters, which is how the whole thing started in the first place, and you can’t fix that or at least fix it right away, but you can start to mentally work on keeping your distance. Stop keeping track of the other person – their moods, quirks, likes, dislikes, what they ate today, who they talk to, where they go, reading their horoscope, etc. Stop fixating on them. Use the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to distract yourself, if necessary, or just say to yourself , “We broke up, it’s not my business, la la la” when you find yourself getting obsessed.
  • Step up your professional game at work. Pay attention to the “little things,” like tidying your workspace, paying attention to dress & grooming, making sure you’re on time every day, being reliable & correct in your communications, keeping your boss updated on your projects, keeping small talk with coworkers very light and not revealing of personal life. I don’t think there is shame in crying it work – it’s a natural human response to stress and anger, and we shouldn’t be as dismissive of it as we are as a culture – but if you’re someone who is trying to keep an intra-office breakup private, try to do your crying in private. Put your best foot forward, even if you don’t feel like it right now. If you look to others like you have your shit together, it can sometimes help you keep your shit together.
  • Polish that resume. Look for another job, or an assignment in another department. I know, it’s not fair that you should have to leave your job, but it might be the simplest way to cut the cord of awkwardness. Join a networking organization for your profession if there is one. Make some new connections. Take a class and boost your skills in something. Maybe you feel like you can’t or don’t want to leave your job right now, but reminding yourself that you have options can’t hurt. Anything that reminds you of your own value is gonna feel good right now.
  • If there is stalking or harassing behavior of ANY kind, document & report it if you can. Whatever happened happened, but you don’t deserve to be terrorized or retaliated against professionally.
  • Give it time. Like the pain of all breakups, this too shall pass.

4How to break up your daughters gay relationship.”

Try these search terms instead:

“How do I show my daughter I love her and accept her?”

“How do I stop being a homophobic asshole?”

 Okay, speaking of affairs:

5 “What do you say to a married man’s wife who you have an affair with when she confronts you?”

Start with “I’m really, really sorry” and DO NOT try to justify or explain. The aggrieved spouse has probably saved up some things to say, so, just listen while they speak their piece. You don’t have to answer questions – “You should ask your spouse about that” is a good script if you start getting an interrogation, and if at some point you gotta end the conversation say, “I’m so sorry” again and refer the person back to their spouse, like, “I’m so sorry, I hear you, I know I hurt you. I don’t have answers for you, you should talk to (spouse) directly about this.

There’s nothing GOOD you can say, so, focus on not making it worse.

6 “Husband doesn’t believe his mother hates me.”

What if you said, “You don’t have to believe me, but when we’re around your mom and (this specific behavior) happens, I do need you to (defend me/shut it down/back me up/leave with me).

Focus not on the emotion (she hates you) but on the behaviors (the specific things she does that hurt your feelings or annoys you), and give him an idea of how he can best support you when those specific behaviors arrive. Choose your battles, and do what you can to minimize time with her. Annual Reminder: Nobody HAS to go home for the holidays.

7 “What to say in a Xmas card to a sister you did not talk with in five years.”

“Merry Christmas! I hope you’re doing well. Here’s [email/phone/the best way to contact me], can we catch up sometime in the new year?”

Take the pressure off to come up with something eloquent. This moment is literally what greeting cards are for – short, non-emotionally-charged communications. Give her a way to contact you and then leave it in her court. She’ll call/write or she won’t.

8 “Boyfriend does no chores and never wants to spend his free time with me.”

You could dump the boyfriend and get a cat. It wouldn’t do any chores, but least the cat would be cute and hang out with you sometimes.

male-model-cat-1

9 “Happy birthday to a friend you had a misunderstanding and now friends again.”

Say/Text/Facebook Wall: “Happy birthday!

Do you really want to rehash the misunderstanding? In someone’s birthday greeting? No. You don’t. Bake them a normal cake, not a shame-cake, and be glad that you mended fences about whatever it is.

10 “Boss upset I quit and I feel guilty.”

Your boss will get over it. Or they won’t, but you won’t work there anymore, so you don’t have to care.

11 “How to start the baby conversation with partner.”

“Partner, I’m thinking a lot about having a baby, and I’m pretty sure I want to start that process soon, with you. What do you think about that?”

Or, “I’m pretty sure I don’t ever want to have kids, so I wanted to see how you feel about that.”

Full disclosure, here’s how this conversation goes in my house:

We hang out with Commander Logic’s freaking adorable smart amazing children, aka, The Gateway Babies.

Spouse: “Someday, you know, my/our kids will….”

Me:

Repeat for a few weeks.

Me: “You keep mentioning these kids that will be doing stuff someday. Are these real kids or hypothetical kids?”

Spouse:

Me: “So, hypothetical. Ok.”

Spouse: (lots of stuff about parenthood and money and anxiety)

Me: (corresponding anxiety-brain-vomit)

Me: “If you really want kids, I’ll have your kids! I’ll have kids with you.”

Spouse: “That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.”

Me: “It’s what I got. I can be happy either way.”

Both of Us:

Me: “Talk again in six months?”

Spouse: “Sure. Good talk, everyone.”

12 “What does it mean when a guy tells you ‘I cant ask you to wait for me’?”

It means, “don’t wait for me.” You have been or are about to be broken up with.

13 “A guy likes and comments on everything on Facebook stalker.”

You can: Set your posts using privacy filters so he can’t even see them.

You can: Unfriend his annoying ass.

You can: Block him so he can’t even know you exist on Facebook.

When/if…okay probably when…he contacts you through other channels to ask “Are you okay?” or “Did I do something wrong?” here’s your script:

“I wasn’t enjoying our online interactions so I stopped them.”

Monitoring a person’s every online breath is stifling and creepy. You don’t have to tutor him as to why.

14After party with my former students sex stories.

twitchy

No.

15 “My toddler seems lonely but I hate playdates and playgroups.”

From what I understand from my friends who are parents of young kids, EVERYONE HATES PLAYDATES. The other parents hate it as much as you do. They are going through the motions because they want their kids to have friends and be socialized. They are something you suck up and do until you find some other parents that you a) can stand to be around while the kids are very small and drop-off/self-play isn’t possible b) can trust with your kids as they get older so you can take turns dropping off the kids and getting a few hours to yourself.

Do you have a co-parent? Can they take some of the play-date and play-group pressure off? Like, if you both hate that, can you take turns sucking it up for the sake of the kid?

Can you find more structured stuff – craft things, a local children’s museum, story time at the library, swim/dance classes – that allow your kid to interact while you check out and read your phone in the bleachers?

You’re a good parent because you’re noticing your child’s loneliness. You’ll do the right thing. And this won’t be forever.

Hi Captain!

Longtime reader, very rare commenter but I think you generally give excellent advice so I’m giving it a shot. I’ll try to keep this relatively brief – I’m having an existential problem surrounding life milestones, etc. I’m 25 and have generally been pretty successful in my life – I’ve been academically successful, I have a law degree and a good job, and I have a really good group of friends, most of whom have been in my life for many years.

What I haven’t had is a whole lot of romantic relationships. This is generally fine with me. I really value my personal space and don’t generally crave the kind of constant companionship that comes with serious relationships. I’ve dumped people for “liking me too much” (ie, coming on too strong, wanting a kind of closeness I wasn’t comfortable with, etc). I’ve had one relationship that I would classify as “semi-serious” with a much older man that I met several years ago (we are still close and sometimes physically involved but not currently “in a relationship”). This relationship used to cause me a lot of emotional pain but I’m at peace with it now and don’t consider it a source of stress in my life. Additionally, I am kind of wary of men (I haven’t been raped or abused, fortunately, but have had the same experiences as a lot of women – sexual harassment, etc, lots of friends who are survivors) and am generally not one to give men “benefit of the doubt” when I’m uninterested or uncomfortable.

The problem is, certain family members seem to consistently insinuate that I need to “fix” my dating life. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning that I eventually might be interested in marriage/kids, which has apparently given these family members permission to ask about why I’m not dating, give unsolicited advice about my dating life or lack thereof, and critique the way I interact with men. These family members did not approve of my previous relationship (and I understand why, although it’s truly none of their business) and seem to be motivated by a desire to see me “move on” from it. I always feel like they’re trying to tell me there’s something wrong with me for not being all that interested in dating; I’m also a pretty private person and don’t tend to talk about people I casually date/am interested in.

I’m at an age where a lot of my friends are in serious relationships and some are married, and the pressure is starting to get to me. Eventually, a relationship would be nice. I love kids and would like to have some of my own someday. But I need to do it on my own timeline, when I’m comfortable, when I figure out what I want and what I need. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m not bisexual. Scripts like “I don’t want to talk about my dating life/relationships” have only been interpreted as an invitation to “push” harder from these family members, and this lack of respect for my boundaries seems to be fraying my familial relationships that are really important to me. I want to be close with my family but I’m also an adult and need people to mind their own business, and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?

Best,

Single and Stressed (she/her)

Read More

Dear Captain Awkward:

The academic institution where I work has a counseling center, and offers appointments for staff members at a slightly discounted rate (they’re open for the public, not just people connected to my institution). I’d been seeing one of the counselors there for a little over a year, though I’d make appointments week by week; I didn’t set up a standing one or anything. Well, my last appointment was set for mid-November, but she had a sick kid and canceled, and I said I’d get back to her about rescheduling and well, now it’s 10 months later……
I’m not seeing anyone else, and though I think maybe I should it’s just hard to start. and it’s hard to want to go back to my original counselor. [ I’m not sure we had the same goals, and I’m not sure if that’s okay. Like do the client’s goals always trump, or should I be listening to her cause she’s the expert?]

Anyway, all that aside, I see her a few times a week pass my office, and I feel bad for just stopping and not saying anything and it’s not a bridge I want to burn, but maybe it’s fallen down now? Can I send an email? What should it say? Just, “sorry I ghosted, but I’m okay-ish”? Or “I just haven’t been able to make the time/financial/emotional commitment this year”? “i hope you found someone else to make up that income”?
Don’t know how to end
(Female pronouns for both me and my counselor)

Read More

Hi Captain,

I realize my problem isn’t as serious as other letters you’ve answered, but I figured I should try writing anyway since I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it.

I was friends with someone I’ll call “Oakley” from elementary school through high school. It was very rare for my parents to allow me to hang out with friends, so I really only got to spend time with Oakley if I was in one of their classes. The lack of contact outside of school didn’t exactly cultivate a deep friendship, and I didn’t keep in contact with them after graduating even though we only live a few miles apart.

This past weekend, my mother ran into Oakley’s mother at a movie theater, and they talked about getting together for lunch in the near future to catch up. I’m worried this catch-up-lunch is going to end with an obligation for me to hang out with Oakley.

I have nothing against Oakley personally, it’s just that: 1) School wasn’t a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t a great time either, and I imagine it being at least a little painful to have to reconnect with any part of it. 2) While I remember Oakley fondly, they’re essentially a stranger now, so what’s the point? And 3) I have no interest in socializing with *anyone.* (I made more “friends” in college and the following internships/jobs, but I avoided spending time with them outside of those contexts. I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.)

I already asked my mother not to set up any “play dates” between me and Oakley (she was surprised and said it was a good thing I told her). I’m not sure what else to do or what she could say if Oakley’s mother brings it up. Any thoughts or advice?

(Note: I realize Oakley might not be interested in seeing me at all either. I’m just imagining a worst case scenario where Oakley’s mother tries to reconnect us.)

Read More

Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

Read More