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It’s time for that thing we do, where we use the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they were questions.

First, as is traditional, a song:

Lyrics here.

1 “How to encourage husband to make friends.”

The subtext runs deep with this one, does it not? Like, where is problem originating? Is husband lonely and wanting to branch out socially and doesn’t quite know how? Is the husband treating the querent like his entire social world/cruise director/people-ing facilitator? (It happens). Is the husband fine being not very social but the querent is feeling squashed or mismatched here? (It also happens.) Did he ask for help?

I guess I would say that finding Our People is a lifelong project but Our People should not themselves be our projects. If the husband wants to make some more friends, he presumably has all the same resources that other people use to meet each other (MeetUp, hobbies, pubs, churches, sports, community theater/music, trivia night, political activism, volunteering) and all the modes of communication & social media people use to get in touch with friends from other phases of life at his disposal.

If a spouse wants to be supportive of this friendmaking effort, doing what you can to make sure there is time & money & space available for what he does want to do (“Sure, we can have a couple people over for dinner this weekend!” “Sure, go have fun! I’m gonna do my own thing tonight!” “Sure, I’ll be the designated driver, text me 20 minutes out and I’ll pick you up. Can you do the same for me on Thursday?” “Go ahead and take that art class on Saturday mornings, we’ll find the money.” etc.) is a pretty good place to start. Otherwise, he’s gotta take the lead and do the work, he’s not a toddler that you arrange play dates for or a dog you drop off at doggy day care. Also, in this process, make sure you don’t neglect your own friendships & social connections. These don’t all have to be shared.

2 “He just moved closer and now I want to break up.”

It happens. It sucks. I’m telling a story about it in Chicago this Friday.

With proximity, you have information that you didn’t have before. Be compassionate, be honest, be free.

3 “Breaking up because geography.”

Sometimes that’s a really good reason.

4 “Is it selfish to break up with my boyfriend bc I want to experience other people?”

Breaking up before the “experiencing other people” part might be the best order of operations if that’s what you want to do. I’m sure that’s not an easy decision, but what if you could make decisions about what you want without calling yourself names in the process?

5 “captain awkward how to dump someone”

Quick review:

  • You can have a face-to-face conversation, you can use a phone call or a text or a letter if that’s what you need to do to be safe.
  • Communicating your decision is more important than explaining your reasons. You don’t have to build an airtight legal argument that they agree with to leave someone.
  • Own the decision. “I’ve decided to break up.” “My feelings have changed.” “This is the right decision for me.” 
  • If they ask for reasons, that’s ok – that doesn’t make them bad people! – but you’re not a management consultant pointing out flaws in their operation, maybe you don’t have to list the complete list of their liabilities for them in a vulnerable and hurtful moment. It’s okay to say “You didn’t do anything wrong, but my feelings changed and I know I would be happier alone.” 
  • Don’t pressure the other person to stay friends with you and don’t feel like if you say “ok yes let’s be friends” that you’ve made an ironclad agreement that can never be revisited. Friendship is its own unique thing, not a holding pen for all the people we don’t want to kiss.
  • Have an aftercare plan for yourself – something where you get alone time, or see friends or family, and have space to feel sad or relieved or whatever it is you feel.
  • If they need comforting about the breakup, you don’t have to be the one who fills that role.

6 “Hi dad mom died sex”

Whatever word association game is being played here, I want out.

7 “Mum got angry at me but idk why and she wont tell me or even talk to me.”

Check out #5, here, re: The Silent Treatment.

There’s no fair way to play this game your mom is playing, so, DON’T TRY. If she won’t tell you why she’s mad, give her a wide berth. Let her silence be a gift to you instead of the abusive burden she intends. She has choices about how to communicate with you. She is making a bad one.

8 “How to tell friends you can’t afford to go out for expensive dinners.”

“I’m on a tight budget right now and I can’t afford to eat out so much, but I’d love to spend time with you. Can we do [something cheap or free] instead?” More here and here.

9 “My grandparents hate my tattoos.”

Your grandparents are entitled to their opinions but not to be jerks about it.

You are entitled to do what you will with your own body.

Sometimes a cheerful “well, good thing it’s not your body!” response works to cut down on the comments, and sometimes the sincere discussion works, i.e. “Grandparents, given that it’s my body and the tattoos are already here and not going anywhere, what are you hoping for when you comment on them that way? Do you really want our relationship to be about these tattoos you don’t like, or could we find a way to just be kind to each other?” 

10 “I’m scared my parents are gonna catch me stealing their Adderall.”

Well, yeah! Stealing another person’s prescription medication is illegal and wrong. It’s dangerous for you. It’s bad for them – your parents have that prescription for a reason, and if you’re stealing their pills they aren’t getting the medication they need. If you need evaluated for ADHD and to possibly be on your own medication, then ask your parents to help you do that. But stop stealing their drugs, please!

11 “Am I a selfish bitch for wanting more money?”

What if you could name the things you wanted without calling yourself mean names?

12 “Hinting that you want to get invited to someone’s house.”

Hinting doesn’t work. Try inviting these people to your house if you want to spend time with them, and if it really is about being inviting to something in particular just say it: “Next time you’re all playing badminton while wearing fancy hats, if you have room for me I’d love to join you.” Then withdraw. You’ve said your thing.

13 “Best response to someone who is seeking for a relationship from you.”

Hands down, the truth about what you want is probably best.

14 “Are grandmas always right about your gender?”

Not if their ideas about your gender conflict with what you know to be true about yourself!

15 “Why is my mom mad at me for taking a better job?”

IDK, but she’s not the one who has to work there, so your opinion is probably the important one here.

16 “How do you get your husband to set boundaries with his parents?”

He may or may not ever learn to do this and you can’t control that. So, you set boundaries with him, and with yourself. Basically “Husband, your relationship with your parents is yours to manage, but this is what I need from you to be happy and okay, so if your parents cross certain lines, I’m going to speak up and/or absent myself and let you deal with it.” 

17 “My boyfriend is always counseling me.” 

“Hey dude, if I want a therapist I’ll hire one.”

“Hey dude, if you want to be a therapist so bad, go be one!”

“Hey dude, even if you were a therapist, you couldn’t be my therapist, so stop.”

“Stop.”

18 “Best friend wants to be roommates but she’s too messy.”

Tell her “Friend, I love you so much, but I don’t want to cross those streams. I think we would stress each other out a lot if we lived together.” It doesn’t have to be a judgment on her, just, people will be happier living with people with similar definitions of clean when they are signing up to share housing. Knowing this about yourself is a good thing, decide accordingly.

19 “How to friendzone a guy you led on.” 

First step, RETHINK EVERYTHING ABOUT HOW YOU ARE DESCRIBING THIS. If we rewrite your whole question to “I wasn’t sure how I felt about this person, so I flirted with them, but now I’m pretty sure I just want to be friends, how do I let them know” we remove all the sexist assumptions that you owed your friend a certain outcome here.

Maybe try “I know we’ve been talking/flirting/kind of considering getting involved romantically, but I’m only interested in being friends.” 

Then, stop flirting (it’s the kind thing to do), and give the person a little space to process and decide if they want to be friends, too. You are not being mean when you do this, you are giving them true information that will help them make a good decision about what to do next. Friendship is not a consolation prize or a holding pen where we herd the people we don’t want to make out with, it’s its own valuable thing.

20 “What should I tell him I’m doing this weekend.”

A) Whatcha doing this weekend and B) Is it something you want him to know?

It’s the difference between “Oh, I’m busy with this and that, you know” and “I’ve got family coming into town, here is our detailed itinerary of fun!” and “I didn’t schedule anything in particular, why do you ask?” and “I’m going to the art museum on Friday, wanna join?” All are perfectly acceptable answers.

21 “Best response to ‘what are you looking for’ on Tinder.”

What are you looking for?

  • “I want to go to the comic book store and we’ll each pick out a comic for the other person.”
  • “I want to put on old soul records and make out a little bit but keep pants on at least the first time we meet up.”
  • “I want to come to your house and pretend that we’ll watch a movie.”
  • “I want to eat pancakes at midnight and talk about books.”
  • “I want to vanquish you at Scrabble.”
  • “I want to have one awesome night of no-strings-attached sex and then probably never see you again.”
  • “I want some cuddles and some good conversation but I’m not really about Teh Sex. Any fellow aces out here?”
  • “I want to throw a two person dance party in my basement, please bring disco ball.”
  • “I want to eat tacos and fuck.”
  • “I want to fall in love someday and not pretend that’s not what I’m after.”
  • “I want to play Dungeons & Dragons, but, you know, sexy.”
  • “I want to recapture a night from 1997, where we go see The English Patient and then close down one bar after another until we end up watching the sun rise from your car parked outside my house. I will provide costumes.”
  • “I need a cool extrovert to be my date to this swanky event and help me make small talk.”
  • “I need henchmen for my world domination plans, please submit application.”
  • “I’ve always wanted to build a pillow fort and then spend a whole Saturday in it in my pajamas. U up?”
  • “I signed up for this nonrefundable blacksmithing class with my ex and now I don’t want to go by myself. Any recently broken-up people out there want to learn a cool skill with me?”
  • “I never dated before and I want to try it out.”
  • “I’m in your city for the weekend for a work trip and I’d love it if someone who lives here would show me around. Can I buy you dinner at your favorite local spot?”
  • “Look this theater subscription isn’t going to use itself.”

What if instead of trying to find something that would be widely & generally appealing, you just got really specific about what you would actually like to do with a couple of free hours in the company of a new person?

22 “Can you pay someone in blood?”

No. Ew.

Wait. What did you buy on Vampire eBay?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halp, Captain.

I’m a 36 y/o (pronoun indifferent, she/her is fine) in need of advice or maybe just encouragement/permission.

So, the reader’s digest version is that I’ve pretty much always identified as bisexual, but am realizing that i really want to be with women.  So, i guess I’m thinking that I’m actually more like a full on lesbian rather than bi? The wrinkle with this is that i’m coming up on my ten year anniversary to my husband, who is a Good Dude.

Here’s the long version.  In high school I realized I liked girls.  I came out as bi to my parents and my friends, but, really, I was focused on girls, and my friends from that period would probably have described me as a lesbian.  When i pictured the future, I pictured it with a woman. I presented as pretty butch, even experimented with binders and things, although i’ve never really struggled with any sort of gender dysphoria, just sometimes clothes fit better without boobs.  Or so I tell myself, but maybe that’s something else I need to explore.

Anyway, a couple of heartbreaks and dating false starts with women found me in college and desperately lonely.  I had better luck getting romantic attention from men, so i shrugged, said, “well, I did say bi-sexual, didn’t I?” and started looking to men as romantic partners.  I started dating a guy in my art program in college, and found that we had a lot in common, were great friends, and had the same values and goals and stuff. We weren’t a perfect match, but who is, right?  I’ve always struggled with making friends, and here’s this great awesome friend, who I totally love. Then, of course, life happened. Realistically, I was probably about to break things off, but then Hurricane Katrina.  I was living in New Orleans with my parents, we lost our house, i lost my job and ended up resettling in central louisiana for a profoundly miserable year. Eventually, i moved to Illinois and in with my boyfriend who had since graduated and gotten a job teaching art.  What else was I gonna do, right?

First year living together was rough, but things got better and we got our routine down.  It’s a routine that involves me doing a lot of the emotional labor of the relationship, which probably does add a layer to my discontent.  Anyway, eventually we got married, and i had doubts throughout the engagement, but i’ve always been pretty conflict averse and just didn’t know how to exit.  Also, I tend to get stubborn and don’t like to be wrong, and I’m definitely carrying some weird vicarious baggage from my mom’s unhappy marriage and divorce (I wasn’t even born! May parents have been happily married my whole life! How did i get this hangup about how I would definitely never marry the wrong person and repeat my mother’s mistakes. As I write this I now realize that I have some unexplored issues about my mom.  Thanks, sobriety).

So now, here we are, nearly ten years later, and we just bought our house a little over a year ago (which was a huge step for us and something we’ve put a lot of work into together).  In many ways, we are closer than we’ve ever been, we have become better about being honest with each other and about our mental health concerns, and I can honestly say my husband is the best friend i’ve ever had, and has positively impacted my life in many many ways, and in a lot of ways, i’m happier than i’ve been in years, like, ever in my adult life, maybe.  

But:

I finally confronted my problems with alcohol last year and am going on for eight months of sobriety.  Now that i’m not numbing myself, the ways i’ve changed and accommodated myself to fit this relationship have been kind of a gut-punch for me.  My queerness has become kind of a secret (not through any pressure from him, it just feels weird to be advertising all the other people i’m potentially attracted to when i’m married, and i live in a conservative enough community that i don’t want to put him in the position of explaining my sexuality if i’m too “out”).  I also have the typical bi-girl in a hetero relationship feeling like i’m appropriating a label if i proclaim my love for the ladies too vocally. I have a lot of guilt about being able to pass as straight and feel like that excludes me from the lgbt+ community, which was a big part of my life in high school/college.

Bound up in all of this, is that i live quite a distance from my parents in New Orleans, and clearly, if we split, I could move back to Louisiana and be closer to my parents who are beginning to have some age-related health issues.  Also, let’s be honest, if I want to be gay, New Orleans is a pretty good spot for it. Sometimes I think about asking my husband to move back to Louisiana with me, or at least closer, because he has occasionally said things that would imply a willingness to entertain the idea (he’s a plant nerd and the long growing season and weird bugs appeal to us both), but when I picture including him in that life change, it makes me cringe, which is, I guess, a pretty good indication of what I want to change.

So, i’m not miserable.  I have a good life and a good partner.  Leaving would kind of screw him over (i’m the primary breadwinner, he’s struggling with some depression, he’s on my insurance, blah blah shitty us healthcare system, plus, now we have this house to deal with).  We bought our dream home together and he’s put so much work into it. We have a mini-farm full of tiny little fruit trees that he planted for me! We go on weightlifting dates and car shows together! He watches terrible 90s anime with me!  He grows the spiciest peppers evar! He’s dealing with some stuff right now, things will get better!

But, he’s allergic to cats and crowds, he doesn’t like the smell of eggs, we never have sex and when we do it’s pretty lackluster.  We are terrible at talking about our problems. Oh yeah, and he’s Not A Girl.

But what if all of this is just some kind of overboard reaction to relatively new sobriety?  What if it’s the first manic episode of heretofore undiagnosed bipolar disorder? What if I start dating girls and find out I don’t like it?  What if I ruined a good person’s life by not being honest with myself? Do i just have to live with my mistake forever? How miserable do i have to be to make this change?  I know that if I do decide to end this, I will probably be the bad guy, and I will definitely lose most of my friends, so that’s not ideal.

It’s also just embarrassing, because it’s not like I had any trouble embracing my sexuality.  I’ve known I liked girls since I saw Linda Hamilton doing chin-ups in Terminator 2. I think I just lucked into a good enough companion and went, okay, this is fine, I can live with this, and I can, BUT, could I have more?  I don’t want to make a decision right now. I think i need to sit with my epiphany for a bit and make sure that it’s not just a matter of feeling empowered by new sobriety and fitness. Because maybe(?) that will let me confront some of the other things that make me unhappy in my life, and then i will have the confidence to be more vocal about my sexuality and sexual identity, and make some changes within my marriage.  

Anyway, any advice you may have is appreciated, especially any advice from anyone who’s been through a similar situation, whether you left or stayed.  

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I (35F) have been with my boyfriend (36M) for sixteen months now. We met online and I moved with him after roughly two months. He has led me to believe that he would propose marriage in the time frame of two or three months. He told me this roughly six to eight months ago.

I have been annoyed and angry for the last two months. I love him, but if he is not ready to propose, then why am I here? I cannot ask him to marry me anymore then I could sprout wings and fly. I have given myself a pretty strict mental deadline. Past this date, I end the relationship and start looking for someone else. I love him. I admire him. He loves me. He is very wonderful, caring, and smart. It would devastate me to lose him, but I would hate myself if I stayed in a relationship that did not progress. I would hate knowing I pressured someone into proposing to me. I need to know that he wants to spend his life with me. Points that may not matter:

  • I know some people have a terrible time dating, but I had a lot of fun dating.
  • He pays for my health insurance and our last trip to visit his family.
  • I contribute financially and clean pretty much 95% of the time.
  • Our families love each of us and love the idea of us for each other.
  • There is pressure on both sides for us to marry soon.

Am I doing the right thing? I need to judge people on what they do and not what they say. My walk date is precariously close.

Thank you.
Confused and Sad

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Time for the monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Before we get to it, it’s Pledge Drive Time! Twice a year, winter and summer, I interrupt our usual programming to remind folks that fun stuff like the Search Terms posts and the Friday short answers are funded by my kind and generous patrons and readers who support the site via PayPal and other ways. These donations allow me to keep the blog ad-free, invest substantial time in maintaining the community, reading the mailbox, and moderating comments, devote time to answering questions and writing new content, pay guest writers, and keep us functioning as an independent site. This year I’m trying to pull back on teaching and be a full-time writer, and your support is necessary and much appreciated for the care and feeding of me & my family. Please make a donation or become a patron if you can. Every little bit helps. (If you can’t afford to, don’t worry ’bout a thing, I’m glad you are here and reading.)

As is traditional, let’s begin with a song to set the mood. Lyrics here :

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would you like to read about nice people with good problems today? Good! Me too!

Hello Captain,

This question may fall under “general conversation skills,” but as I haven’t seen it on the blog, I’m writing. My spouse and I are both academics, in the same discipline. Her career is hitting some bumpy spots (high teaching load, few publications, not a great institution) whereas mine is going gangbusters (low teaching load, books & articles, awesome institution). That’s stressful, but we’re working it out (we have a distance situation, to compound things). What is really challenging is a conversational pattern we’re falling into, where talking shop feels like an emotional minefield. And our work involves a lot of our respective personal identities and time, so it’s hard to avoid discussing.

The fuller picture: I prefer “talking” about my area of expertise in writing. I avoided talking about it in grad school with my peers, really dislike Q&A at conferences, and kinda work alone, except when I read with other people (my work is pretty textual). My wife likes to talk in person, at conferences, and over post-conference dinners, and she likes to puzzle through ideas out loud. I often don’t want to, though I will–but she can tell that I’m not into it, and it makes her sad. Sometimes I feel like she’s talking a lot, and not listening to my desire to stop, change conversation, or to tell her that I just don’t know (and am not interested in figuring out the issue at the moment).

But she has expressed feeling not only sad, but feeling like my reticence is a signal that her work isn’t good, that I don’t respect her, and so on. But that’s not true–she’s awesome! And in fact, despite some outward success, I have the “imposter” feeling lots of academics do, and I feel unintelligent when she talks about things I don’t know, and I bet it translates into a defensive tone, or dismissal. I sometimes share stuff, too, but it’s more “hey, I read this cool thing” or “I got this article done,” and not a give-and-take. Sometimes we can manage, like if we trade things we’re writing, or have a very clear focus. But casually bringing up work often turns into hurt feelings and an argument.

One more piece of (perhaps not relevant) info. Despite being in the same area, we work differently. She agreed the other day that I would not be the person she would normally seek out to chat about her work, because of our methodologies and focus. But we respect each other’s work–though given our conversational patterns, she doesn’t feel like I respect hers.

We do pretty good communicating elsewhere, I think, but this pattern is starting to get embedded, and I don’t want to hurt her. We’ve talked about just not having work be a shared topic of conversation, but that feels like cutting off big parts of ourselves.

Help?
(Masculine pronouns)
Not good at catchy sign-offs

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Happy Thursday! I hope you are having a great week so far. I wanted to ask your opinion on how to best handle my husband when he gets angry and upset and how I can better help us move towards having a happier marriage.

Some background: My husband and I are pretty nostalgic, and we both enjoy reminiscing on past things (I feel like I tend to be more in the present, but just because I think that doesn’t mean that is true). We met in college and hit it off. We had a great group of friends who we keep up with and we both got jobs about an hour away from our hometown/college town. The trouble is, he seems like he’s been upset ever since graduating. I totally get that, as school was a lot of fun and it was great being able to learn so many things (we are both engineers) and meet different types of people.

Fast-forward to now. We got married in 2012. Our marriage isn’t the greatest, and we usually do things on our own around the house and do not spend much time together. He constantly pines for the college days and constantly complains about how much things have changed and how people disappoint him and how much he hates his job. Both he and I are pretty selfish people who suffer from anxiety and depression, and I constantly feel like I’m forced to do things for him and on his schedule to try to keep him happy.

My husband likes to unwind after work, and his unwinding time got so long that I would find other things to do. I got involved in a dance class where we live now which has allowed me to make friends and to keep in shape. My husband has been watching a lot of youtube and complains about how he feels he is getting fat. Neither of us are super great at keeping up with the house, however I feel like I am the one who usually ends up cleaning and taking care of those type of things. He also likes to complain that when I go to dance (I am currently a competitive dancer, so I dance 2 days a week) I am out of the house for much longer than I really am, and that all I do revolves around dance. I do not feel like this is true, as I constantly skip events and I have drawn back on how involved I was in comparison to when I first started. I have made lots of friends with this activity and it’s a great social outlet for me. I do not want to quit, but he keeps dropping ultimatums. Of course, he doesn’t have his own hobby, aside from watching TV and reading the news, and neither of us have a hobby that we share.

Since my husband is so set on his college days, he is very attached to that group of friends. Unfortunately, since they do not live close by, we do not see them nearly as much as we did (why would we? We don’t live a mile away anymore!). When we do make plans to see them, whether it’s last minute or no, my husband expects me to drop everything to make it happen. He will not visit with them on his own, as he says that it’s important that I’m there to share the experience with him. I have trouble believing this because I feel like he usually tries to police my behavior in front of them and gets upset when I do not act the way he wants me to. We have tentatively gotten involved with some work friends in our area, but he is always on edge about doing things with them, and if any event conflicts with a change to see college friends, he always chooses the college friends.

He is very in touch with his emotions, however he is not very good at reflecting on himself. He has a bad habit of talking about heavy issues through emails at work, while he doesn’t like to discuss things at home. Sometimes he can lay it on thick and really tear into my personality and how awful of a person I am and how much I am hurting him (I get called names pretty consistently). This sometimes has a really bad effect on my attitude and makes it really hard to mask at work. Other times I’m able to ignore it and get on with my day, only to have him write to me the next day that I didn’t have time for him and he feels neglected.

I am a very active person, and I feel like I have no support in this marriage. I cannot talk to my parents or his parents about this, to save face. I feel like I am constantly changing my plans to suit his needs and wants only to get yelled at about it all later on, or to be told bluntly everything that is wrong with my personality and my thought process. It’s an extremely negative environment and I am having a lot of trouble handling it. Unfortunately, for the last 5 or 6 years, it’s been a weekly occurrence. I started seeing a counselor, which has helped a little, but it’s a process that will take a long while.

I have also read a LOT of relationship articles and books to try to understand how he feels and things that I can do to change it. (I’m not trying to make myself out as a “holier-than-thou” type of person, even though I am sure that’s exactly what I’m doing, but I would like to illustrate that I am trying). None of it seems to be making a difference, and it’s really difficult to make myself continuously try when nothing seems to work at all. I get discouraged and I don’t want to keep trying.
Both of us are too lazy to divorce and I’m (relatively) Catholic, so I don’t think that’s something I’d want to do in the end anyway.

Just would like someone else’s perspective. If this email is ignored, I totally get it, as you’ve addressed issues like this a lot. Also, my apologies for being such a poor writer.

Sincerely,

Worn out

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