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I had family in town this weekend so got behind on these, hopefully you enjoy them! The questions were submitted here, there will be a July session later in the month.

Q1: When I’m walking down the street with friends who love dogs, they love to interrupt our conversations with screams like “OMG LOOK AT THAT DOGGO!” I end up awkwardly replying with something like “oh yes, nice dog” or “wow, it has three colors,” without managing to quite mirror the friend’s enthusiastic tone. Do you have any suggestions for replies that might make these interludes more satisfying without involving totally faking enthusiasm I do not feel? (she/her/hers)

A1: Once I was on the beach with a close friend and we both lost our minds at a scene of family cuteness that was unfolding in front of us and then realized: She was looking at the baby. I was looking at the puppy. Neither of us had really even clocked the other small cute being.

I guess my question is, why do you feel like you need to mirror their enthusiasm or fake it? Your friends can be very excited about dogs, you can be the friend who is not so hyped about dogs and who indulgently waits out Dog Excitement Time. Probably you will forever be slightly annoyed by the interruptions in your conversations, probably you will say nothing about this because the world is hard enough without policing the joy of people who get very excited about dogs. Dogs will be fine without your affirmation, dog-people will stay excited about dogs, so carry on with your dry “Oh, was that a dog?” natural human reactions, there’s no need to pretend!

Q2: I recently split up with my husband of fifteen years. We went to the same writing program in college, and always connected over books, writing, art (etc.). His opinions on same have always been strong and strongly expressed, which made me shrink as an artist & art-lover to fit into whatever space he wasn’t taking up (which wasn’t much). How do I rediscover my own taste and reclaim my former identity as a writer? Thanks! (she/her/hers)

A2: What a necessary and hopefully extremely fun project, truly one of the great rewards of breaking up with someone unsuitable is reconnecting with your own pleasure and tastes. Let me throw a couple of ideas at you, and, while could always take classes and workshops, you might need a real break from that right now, so I’m going to suggest NON-class/writer’s group/formal structure with an authority figure-type-things, ok?

  • Anything you enjoyed and learned from during your time with this person is still yours, you don’t have to disavow all of it if you don’t want to. You get to still have your favorite breakfast place and bar and vacation spot if you want them, too. You were there in your story when you found these things, they aren’t his.
  • Repeat after me: There are no guilty pleasures only pleasures. Read all kinds of genres meant for all kinds of audiences, don’t stick to what you’ve thought of as Important and Prestigious and Serious right now. When teaching first year film students in their very first moviemaking class, I sometimes did an icebreaker where I asked them to list five “desert island” movies, and I didn’t want their “coolest” or “impressive” movies, I wanted to know the ones they watched over and over again, the ones that comforted them when they were sick, the ones that remind them of particular people and memories, the ones they can quote every line, the ones that made them dress up as the characters for Halloween, the ones that will always make them stop if they see it on TV flipping channels. We’d get GREAT lists, the class would know more about each other’s frame of reference, but something important would be discussed, too, which is, there’s a reason you wanted to do this with your life, don’t let anyone talk you out of loving what you love. Hold onto the things you love, and add new things to that love, don’t feel like you have to “upgrade” your personal art friends that got you through to right now.
  • The Artist’s Way is a classic for a reasons, the morning pages, “artist dates,” and thought exercises are a good guide-map to getting unstuck and working out some things. Some people react very badly to the sincerity and “woo” factor but I think that’s part of the magic, like, nope, you’re gonna be a BIG OLD DORK about your art for a while, now make a puppet of your inner critic and tell it to fuck off.
  • Go back in time. What’s the last thing you were reading right before you met your ex? What are some things you loved as a child and very young woman? Revisit them.
  • Go sideways. What are mediums that your ex had no expertise on or interest in? What are things you can experience live where you live (music, dance, theater) and immerse yourself in a room and a performance and a community? Try out a theater subscription, dig through your old mix tapes. Cleansing.
  • Go visual. Part 1: Collect images that speak strongly to you – could be photos (even ads), film stills/screenshots, photos of paintings over the course of a few months. Part 2: Choose your 5 favorite ones, and find a way to print out or cut out color versions of them and hang them on a wall. Part 3: Once you have them up, look at them and see if they have anything in common – common motifs, themes, colors, subject matter, spaces, what do they remind you of, what feelings come up, what senses come up. Repeat this periodically. What’s changing? What’s the same? (I used to do this in groups and have the other students walk around and write what they observed on blank sheets of paper under each group of photos. It always went somewhere very cool, maybe try this with a few artist/writer friends?)
  • No career advice right now, just process. Follow Shaula Evans, (http://shaulaevans.com/) she gives the best prompts and questions, always something that makes me think and want to revisit my own work. See also Jami Attenberg’s 1,000 words of Summer project, where subscriptions are full but archives are there and you can jump in any time. Or play with The Storymatic. You’re just playing for a while, the stakes are low.
  • Write down a list of 10 art projects you might do, include things that are totally silly and “would never work.” Your wildest dreams. Your pettiest revenge. Your most self-indulgent fantasy. Revisit this often. The “that’s ridiculous” stuff will sound more and more likely the longer you do this, if my personal “ha, nobody will ever make a movie like this!” notebook from grad school is any indication.
  • Take something you wrote before and remake it as something else. Does it have to be a short story or could it be a poem or a radio piece or a play or a puppet show. What changed? What stayed the same?

That should hold you for a while!

Q3. I love my wife a lot, and I love “general” intimacy and being physically close to her. However, I find I’m not as interested in sex with her any more. We are poly and both have a healthy sexual relationship with other partners, but for whatever reason, I’m just not turned on by her like I used to be, and I don’t know what to do about that.

A3: I have a few thoughts:

  1. Has your wife noticed/is she bummed out/also disinterested in the home front and happier to get laid elsewhere for a bit? Has something changed in your overall situation that’s contributing stress? What does she think is going on?
  2. Every person I know in a long-term relationship who is still having good sex on the regular puts it on the calendar in some way. I think we just reach a point where ‘being spontaneous’ or ‘being in the mood,’ just doesn’t carry it (“You’ll still be here tomorrow, right? Maybe I’ll be in the mood then!”) and we have to make a little more effort to make it happen. Are you and your wife getting over-scheduled with other commitments and is this a time/effort/energy thing?
  3. When you do do sexy stuff with your wife, can you try making it “all about her” for now, whatever that means to you? (Getting her off and letting her fall asleep after without any pressure to reciprocate, focusing on things you know she likes, reading/watching sexy stuff you know she likes). Obviously check in with her before you launch some SURPRISE! WE’RE DOING SEX YOUR WAY! campaign, but I would imagine a turned-on lady with a lot of gratitude for being made to feel awesome is probably a pretty exciting lady to be around.

Be gentle with yourself and with her, hopefully that gives you some starting points to figure out if this is a temporary slump or a tectonic shift.

[MODERATOR NOTE: I don’t let polyamorous folks slide into questions about monogamous partnerships run amok with “well, have you heard the good news about polyamory?” so definitely we’re not doing the reverse. If your comment about this was deleted, this is why. Thank you!]

Q4: What’s your advice for “how to be on time” when I have 1) executive functioning problems 2) trouble task-switching 3) the kind of depression that tends to get me “stuck” and ruminating right when I need to leave 4) irrational anxiety about that ONE LAST THING that needs to be done before I go? I know there’s lots of advice on this but not a lot that isn’t shamey + understands mental health.

A4: This is one of my constant struggles, and it’s probably going to be a life-long struggle for me, even with lots of medication and support and self-awareness and life-hacks. First, I hope you’re treating your depression, anxiety, and executive function stuff to the extent you can, and my suggestions are not substitutes for medical care. Second, these aren’t meant to be comprehensive solutions or cover every eventuality, but there are a few things that help me do better with time:

I have magical thinking about time. To fight this, when I put an event in my calendar, like, “Meeting, 3pm” I also calculate the necessary travel time & route & directions & cost (+ add 20-30 minutes to that for good measure), and schedule a separate event called “LEAVE FOR [EVENT]” and set up associated alerts. It’s not perfect but sometimes redefining a thing from “I have an appointment at 3pm” to “If I want to take public transit, I need to be on the 1:55 pm 78 bus ($2.25 + $.25 to transfer), otherwise I have to get a Lyft by 2:30 ($12-$14), hey Siri remind me at 1:30 to get ready” does a better job. It’s harder to do the necessary breakdown when I’m already stressed and worried about being late, so doing it right when I schedule the thing helps break it down and incentivizes the earlier, cheaper departure time.

My laptop is a trap. Do you have a trap? I love my computer, it’s how I know literally all of you, hello! If I am honest with myself, I will not “just’ read a few emails and answer them and oh look, here are some comments to moderate and read. I will get sucked all the way in and task-switching will be very, very hard. So if I’m trying to get out the door at a certain time, especially in the morning, once I start getting ready, I probably can’t flip open my computer. What is the YOU-trap between you and getting ready or between you and heading out the door? Can you recognize it and neutralize it?

What is the “why.” Feelings, especially depressed/anxiety feelings aren’t the BOSS of me, but they are information. If I’m avoiding/dreading/procrastinating about heading out the door for something, why? Why am I going to this thing in the first place? Why am I choosing to go, do I have a choice, what do I hope will happen there, what am I expecting to enjoy, who will I see, what am I afraid of, what am I not looking forward to? Am I over-committed and need to say yes to fewer things? I know for years of dealing with depression and anxiety that sometimes I truly can’t go to a thing but also sometimes it just feels like that and I will be quite glad once I’m there so it’s worth pushing through. I also learned that I should stop saying yes to specifically social events I feel “maybe” about in the first place.

Sometimes making a note of the feeling helps me do the thing anyway. Sometimes reframing “I have to” things as “I want to/I am choosing to” things helps (not always possible, but worth a try, I think). Shame is useless. It really is. I’m not 100% at being on time but I don’t walk into every room pre-apologizing for myself anymore.

[MODERATOR HAT ON: If you are an organized person who does not struggle with timeliness, exactly zero of your “just lay your clothes out the night before and just put your keys in a findable place” are going to help. We know that stuff, that stuff is useful, but for us there is no “just,” it’s still hard. Requesting input from fellow time-strugglers only.]

P.S. A few great people I follow on the topic of #ADHD specifically and executive function generally: Dani Donovan, Eryn Brook, and Elise Kumar.

Q5: I have a friend (Zelda), who goes through one trauma after another (all genuine problems). Nobody wants to say anything to her because she’s having a hard time because of *latest disaster*.
How much leeway can you give someone because of something like this (it’s been YEARS, and it’s always something) and what to do when she e.g. forms a new social media group with all but one member of our friend group? (she/her/hers)

A5: This is one of those questions where I can tell there is a GIANT back-story here. I’m going to try to answer this without judgment of you or Zelda or even trying to guess what’s going on. I think it’s time for you to take stock of a few things:

  • Do you want to be friends with Zelda anymore?
  • Do you specifically want to be in these social media groups with Zelda from now on? (Are you the person who was left out of the new group? Does “Hey, did you intentionally exclude (mutual friend), what’s that about?” get this done?)
  • Assuming you want to stay friends, where would you most prefer to interact with Zelda (online, offline, occasional catch-up lunches or go to the movies, text, phone, sending funny postcards in the mail?)
  • Is Zelda asking people for specific help with these crises or is it background noise – everyone’s sharing what’s going on with them, and this is what’s going on with her? Is it that you’re unsure what she’s asking for/why she’s sharing whatever it is? (“Hey Zelda, are you just venting or is there something specific you need someone to pitch in on today?”) Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help (and people think sharing the problem is the same as asking for help), sometimes it is just venting and the person doesn’t want help or advice, she just wants people to know what’s going on, when in doubt, ask!
  • Is the “Nobody wants to say anything to her” thing a “Nobody wants to say anything to Zelda about [certain specific unwanted/unpleasant behaviors] because she’s usually in the middle of a crisis” problem?

Assuming you come out of that thinking process still wanting to be friends with Zelda, you could try a couple of things:

  1. Maybe these online groups aren’t your jam and you can take a break from them.
  2. If you’re feeling some trauma fatigue, maybe you’re not ‘process trauma’-friend at this time, maybe you’re ‘do gentle nice fun things’-friend right now. If that’s the case, think about what occasional pleasant low-commitment hangouts you might want to invite Zelda to that are within her bandwidth and where the subtext isn’t “you are a disaster and I am here to help you.” Think: lunch, Saturday breakfast, free night at the art museum, a matinée you’ve been wanting to see, the cat cafe, a nice walk outside. Does changing the venue change the vibe?
  3. If there’s some conflict or behavior you need to talk with Zelda about, if “everyone’s” been keeping quiet about it for a long time and getting steadily more annoyed, keep in mind that Zelda doesn’t know it’s a longstanding problem. So be gentle, specific, and treat it like the first offense – one that you quite reasonably expect her to reasonably respond to – and speak for yourself (not the whole group). I’ve observed ____, what’s going on there?”“I need you to ___.” 
  4. Related discussions. Good luck.

Q6: I love your dating profile suggestions! Do you have any wisdom for folks looking for friends on apps like Bumble BFF? (she/her)

A6: Thank you! This is the first I’m hearing of this service, which sounds pretty neat. I’m not sure I have any advice that that would be different from the dating profile suggestions: Be very honest, vivid, and specific about who you are, don’t try to appeal to the widest possible audience (you don’t want ALL POSSIBLE FRIENDS, you want friends who match you), look for reciprocity and matching enthusiasm levels, and seek out the people who make you feel safe and good.

It’s probably harder to reject people who don’t really match you when there isn’t the same obvious”I felt no attraction/spark” answer to fall back on, but friendship has a spark, too, so pay attention to that. You can have a pleasant time with someone and not want to be best friends.

Q7: How do I talk to newer friends about the depressive episode I’m currently working my way out of? I haven’t had one in years and have made new friends in that time. They know intellectually about my depression (I am pretty candid about it) but hadn’t seen it in full flow until this year. I tend to isolate during them and am afraid I scared new friends off. (she/her/hers)

A7: You’ve been here before, which I think will help you think about why do you want your new friends to know (duh, they’re your friends, they’d want to know what’s going on with you) and what do you want them to know (“My depression flared up and I’m in a slump right now, what that looks like for me is ______”) and what do you want them to do (“My tendency is to isolate so I might not be up for big group things or super-keen to make plans, but it helps me when friends do ________.”) Giving your friends something to do and telling them what depression means & looks like specifically for you will help let them know what they’re in for. I hope you start feeling better soon.

Q8: I came out to my family as trans a year ago and they took it poorly but not extremely so, normal I guess. Though they’re using my new name/pronouns they haven’t apologized, it hurts. I avoid phone-calls/meetings and send postcards instead. We were never close – there’s not a good relationship to fall back on. I don’t want to cut them off but this is exhausting. What are my options to try and move on? (he/him/his)

A8: I’m so sorry it went down this way, you deserve better. And the postcards are smart, a way to keep the channel of communication open but not demand any immediate reaction. If you need to stop with the postcards and stop working at this in general, that’s okay, they have choices about what to do here, phones, email, and the post office work both ways, they can reach out to you if they want to. Can you throw your energy into friendships and community who are supportive and accepting and put this burden down for now?

If you want to make a last-ditch try (either now, or after you’ve taken a break from trying), if you’ve never sent them to the PFLAG site for some reading material you might do that (though definitely vet whatever specific links you’re sending yourself), and you might also say, “Hey, I want to be closer to you and figure out how to have an adult relationship, but I’m having a hard time with it. I’m so glad you use my name and pronouns, but I’m still raw from some of our early conversations around coming out. It would mean a lot to me to hear an apology about [be specific], is there a way we can clear the air?” Is it a “real” apology if you have to ask? I don’t know, but if you need it maybe you need it, and maybe they’re also flailing and trying to figure out what to do. Also, it’s come up before, but are there cousins/aunts/uncles who are supportive? Our families can seem like monoliths but they are made of people.

My friend (codename: Lieutentant Trans) wrote a guest post here long ago, and he has some wisdom for you, I think:

“Relationship essence can be boiled down to three qualities: presence, support, and approval. I think we often seek approval first, or even second, but the reality is it almost always comes last, if it all. With my parents, I learned I didn’t need their approval to have a relationship with them: we can still learn to accept each others’ presence and support. Now, the support will be limited during the periods of learning acceptance, so things will still be draining for those of us seeking a close relationship with parents, when one day you will reach a point of exhaustion, you no longer will want to focus on what’s not working, you don’t want to beat your head against the wall any more…

…And while your father might be ignorant about queer counterculture, he knows as well as you that you don’t have a relationship, that you are not close. What you need to determine is if he also wants to go beyond what you currently have. If so, spend time focusing on positive interactions, things you have in common. Talk about food, the weather, start following his favorite sports team, tell him about TV shows you’re watching. I’m not suggesting swallowing or ignoring the bad parts, I’m emphasizing work on building up the good (and mundane) parts with just as much as energy as you use on the bad parts.”

Basically: Find very mundane, non-loaded ways to interact and be present and see if that helps push the fraught history further back in time and gives room for something else to grow. I hope it gets better. But they might never be the parents/family you really needed, and you can definitely stop working at it for a while if you need a break.

Q9: I’m trying to reconnect with some of my busy and/or geographically scattered friends. I could use some words to remind myself that people are unlikely to mind one “hi, I miss you, here’s what I’m doing, how about you?” or “you suggested hot chocolate, how about a week from Thursday?” I started okay, then got stuck after the second person didn’t answer. (she/her/hers)

A9: It’s good that you’re doing this and most likely your friends (who are not a monolith, they are separate people) do not mind this at all and are in fact grateful! Keep trying for a bit, and then stop working at the people who don’t respond (though make allowances for mental health stuff and accessibility), and enthusiastically make plans with the people who do. I especially like your style of inviting people to specific things on a specific day (where they can suggest an alternative if they can’t make that thing), and inviting them along to a thing you’re doing anyway where it would be great if they could join you but it’s not the deciding factor. You can also add gentle RSVP deadlines in – “I’m trying to buy tickets by Monday, can you let me know by Sunday night” – and stack invitations – “[Reliable mutual friend whose attendance you’ve already secured] and I are going to take some books/knitting/crosswords/board games to x centrally-located cafe/bar between y and z o’clock on [date], drop in and have a drink with us if you can?” 

Don’t build your whole schedule around these things happening until you get affirmative commitments, remember that things didn’t get “scattered” overnight and they won’t get un-that way overnight, so I think you’re doing everything right, and it’s just going to take a little while.

P.S. If your friends have small kids, bring the party to them.

Q10: Many forms of self-care for anxiety are distractions from that anxiety (listening to music, etc). But sometimes I’ve found that I’m anxious about a solvable problem, and “distraction” types of self-care end up just being procrastination; I actually feel better after I do the thing I put off. Tips on knowing yourself or your anxiety well enough to know the difference between anxiety you need to just wait out vs act on? (they/them)

A10: I personally hate most meditation and “mindfulness” strategies and other calming down techniques, they only ever stress me out because now I’m probably Breathing Wrong on top of everything else, and I generally feel better when I convert my anxiety into action. (Especially around political stuff, where anxiety is a reasonable reaction to a situation, and “what can I dooooo” a matter of urgency (see the series of Half-Assed Activist posts).

I also (touched on in today’s Q4) started tracking feelings along with tasks and schedule stuff. If a task keeps rolling over from previous day’s to-do lists, or I’m having a hard time motivating to go to a specific thing, what are the feelings going on here? What am I avoiding? Is it something that absolutely has to be done or can I just admit I’m never doing this totally optional thing I thought I was going to do and delete it from my “should” list?

I think distraction works best when you’re stuck somewhere that you can’t leave, or where you can’t take action about whatever it is. You’re stuck in traffic or it’s taking forever to de-plane. You’re at work and obsessing about something happening at home or vice versa, or you can’t get started on the thing that’s making you anxious until you clear some other tasks first. Or, you’re at a party and there’s no house dog or cat to quietly pet in a quiet room. Then yes, breathe differently, listen to music, look at cute animals, brew a cup of tea, play a little Tetris on your phone, repeat “We’re not IN traffic, we ARE traffic,” whatever those temporary calming mechanisms are that work for you, bring it on!

From there, one possible test for you to try with your anxiety, if distraction isn’t working, when you’re in an anxious mood, maybe do a thing (anything) and see if it helps? I know UFYH often suggests setting a timer for 5 minutes and decluttering or cleaning 1 tiny surface as a starting point. There’s also this great post about Breaking The Low Mood Cycle where taking action even when you’re not in the mood can sometimes get you to the mood.

That’s all for this week (though there is now bonus content on schedule + to-do lists + feelings, thanks for the great questions!

 

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

Let’s find out!

Hello Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Hi there! You are now Letter Writer #1211!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

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

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What in the what now?

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

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

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

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

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

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

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

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

Here’s a possible script:

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

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

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

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

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

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

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

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

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

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

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

Additional Possible Steps: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

:Captain Awkward Opens Mailbox:

:Captain Awkward Stares At Mailbox:

CONGRATULATIONS, ALL YOU BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE GETTING MARRIED SOON.

Let’s talk about some stuff I know about weddings. This is probably my one wedding-related post for at least the remainder of 2019. I’m going to try to hit all the bases I know how to help with. If you don’t see your concern addressed, comments are open.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your family.

Your wedding invitation list does not exist as a communication device to convey exactly who you like best and how much you like (or don’t like) someone in your family or social circle. You can leave the homophobes, Nazis, and child molesters off the guest list and you don’t have to explain yourself. Here are scripts for anyone who wants to pressure you about this:

  • “Eh, we’re not that close.”
  • He knows why.” (CN: childhood sexual abuse)
  • “But he’s a Nazi. It’s not that complicated.”
  • “Everyone will live if this one person is not at one party.”
  • “[Relative] and I do have a problem, and that’s our business. It’s not your problem to solve, so please stop trying. If you keep pressuring me about this, my problem is going to be with you. Surely you don’t want that, so let’s change the subject.”
  • “You’re going to have to drop this topic, forever.”

My general recommendation is “Invite someone or don’t, avoid half-measures,” “I want to invite X but also control and head off everything about how they behave that day” or “I want to invite X on the condition that we work out everything that is fraught and stressful between us during wedding planning, a fraught and stressful process in itself” is a setup for stress and failure. If this person sucks and makes you uncomfortable? You can not invite them. If the stress of not inviting them is greater than the stress of just giving in, consider that you can invite them and plan to give them a wide berth. There will other guests, brides & grooms are in demand, maybe don’t think of it as “Many hours trapped with this difficult person and our unresolved issues,” think of it as “I’ll spend a quick few minutes of  accepting congratulations from someone I don’t like so much before I get distracted with someone else.” People say weddings are a blur and they are right, it’s actually a challenge to slow down and pay attention to every single person, so let the blur work for you! But it’s my strong opinion that half-measures are doomed.

This is because you can’t change people or fix them. People in your family who annoy you will go right on annoying you on and after your wedding day. You can sometimes create buffers against jerks but you can’t control them, and the things that are fucked up in your family will still be messy at your wedding. Sometimes people can rally and behave themselves for one photo op, I hope that’s the case, sometimes people can surprise you with how decent and loving they can be even if things are messy in the relationship, but if they don’t, nobody at your wedding will blame you. Your guests just want to be happy for you and with you, everyone’s related to at least one total asshole, one story-topper, one person who laughs at their own jokes, one person who can’t hold their liquor. Your guests know the deal and they don’t expect you or anyone else to be perfect!

Your wedding (esp. your wedding party, if you have one) doesn’t exist to fix your friendships, either.

People can be great friends and shit bridesmen and groomsmaids. What is it that you want your wedding party to do? Who in your life that you love is best set up to do what you need them to do? Do you need a wedding party at all? It’s possible that charming, loyal, delightful friend who would give you a kidney but can’t be trusted not to kill a succulent in their care is not the one you want as your logistical XO for a complicated affair, but maybe you want them around anyway for Dionysian hilarity. Set people up to succeed.

“Be in my wedding party?” is an invitation, not a command. So be respectful and up front about budget & time commitments. Let “So sorry, I can’t, but I’d love to celebrate as a guest!” be a good, happy, loving answer when it is the honest answer. Also, don’t expect people to read your mind if there’s something you want them to do, you might have a playbook in mind but it’s far from universal, so spell it out! Help people make a good decision, help people give you what you want and need.

Friends/Family of engaged people: You’re allowed to answer “Will you be in my wedding?” with “Theoretically I’d love to but can you spell out what that looks like for you so I can make sure I can follow through?” before committing. You can say no and you can resign from being in a wedding party. Will it affect your relationship with the person who asked you? Probably? Yes? You still don’t have to go broke or tie yourself in knots to meet impossible tasks. This is one of those times to check in with yourself and give an enthusiastic, committed, excited YES or a NOPE, SORRY. Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between or make it a constant negotiation.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your (or anyone else’s) body.

You are lovable and beautiful at the weight you are now and with the personal style you have now. You can obviously use your wedding attire to experiment and play with different looks – ROCK ON, FANTASY GOTH UNICORN PIRATE QUEENS OF THE WORLD – but you do not have to become a different person to take up the space marked “bride” or “groom.” “I don’t plan on losing any weight” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say to people who expect you to starve and sculpt and spray and disguise your body.

For people nervous about being photographed and looked at in a way they aren’t usually, one thing that helped me was taking lots of selfies and having friends take lots of casual photos of me in the months before my wedding, so the whole act of photography was normalized, and my view of my body and face was normalized for me. I also talked to my photographer about this, telling him “I get anxious with a lot of posed photos, can we knock those out and then you can shoot documentary style so I don’t have to stop and worry about it”‘ and he was like “YES” and it worked out great. Be kind to yourself and your body, ok?

Be kind to other people about their bodies, too. “I want you to be in my wedding, but only if you change your weight, get rid of your piercings and tattoos, and modify everything about your face and body so you look more like the other people” = a crappy invitation! Either work WITH your most punk rock friend to find something that they can flaunt as they are, or ask someone else to pose beside you in photos. 

“I want you to be in/at my wedding, but only if you cover up how queer/trans you are” is an abomination. Do not do this. YOUR SHITTY OLD RELATIVES WILL FUCKING DEAL, they can tamp down their prejudices for one day, and if they can’t, they should be disinvited. Like, if the mere reminder that queer people exist is upsetting enough to kill Grandma, I gotta consider that it was just her time to go.

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix your romantic relationship with your intended spouse.

Problems and doubts that exist before you get married will exist after you get married. They don’t just solve themselves, you have to solve them, together, you have to trust this person to solve them with you in a transparent way. Nobody gets magically better in bed, better at money, better at household chores, better at communication b/c a wedding ceremony happened. “I do all the household chores now, but after we get married it will naturally become 50/50” is 100% magical thinking. People change slow if they change at all, they almost never do it for you or another person. If your church or officiant has some kind of premarital counseling, take advantage of it. If not, bring on a couple’s counselor. Work this stuff out now, while everyone is hopeful and invested.

Wedding planning can be an interesting crucible to see how you execute complicated things as a team. If you’re arguing a lot about party planning details, if your intended spouse cannot be trusted to handle wedding planning tasks without tons of input and work from you or if they won’t let you take charge without micromanaging? ABORT & REGROUP. I’m not talking about joint discussion and budget and planning to make sure you’re on the same page, I’m not even talking about never arguing (Is rice a grain or a seed?), I’m talking about a situation where you end up having to check on a fellow adult and do all the work yourself and you’re constantly bummed out because the person who is supposed to be on your team is the one adding stress to your life. Either you need practice letting go of control or your spouse needs to show more ability and follow-through or y’all need more clarity between you, either way, figure this out before you legally combine all your money and your stuff with this person.

If you can’t be a united front about wedding planning stress, postpone the party, seek counseling, work out the issues between you. You need that person to be on your side and they need to be on yours. You need to trust them and they need to trust you. If you don’t have that, abort!

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix everyone’s feelings.

Planning a wedding means making decisions. Not every decision is going to make every person in your life happy. You have to decide anyway.

There is literally no guaranteed way to deliver news that someone doesn’t want to hear “without offending them,” “without hurting their feelings,” “without making it awkward,” “without upsetting them.”

There is no script, there is no font, there is no “I’m fat and gay and poor and also I don’t like your church or your country club or Grandma’s veil so we’re taking this whole wedding thing in a totally different direction from the one you imagined your child would follow someday, but I’m so happy and I hope you can be happy for me, and if you can’t, keep it to yourself ’cause this is the plan anyway even if you don’t like it!” singing telegram that can control how someone will feel about or react to news they don’t want to hear. It doesn’t exist. I can suggest wording for scripts, I can cheerlead you, but I can’t make your relatives feel a certain way about your decisions or make the especially difficult ones behave themselves this one time. It’s out of my hands the same way it’s out of yours. Other people are gonna say, do, feel what they’re gonna do. Your job isn’t to manage that, it’s to act with integrity, make decisions, and communicate those decisions with integrity and let the rest be what it is.

If you say “no” as politely as you can or make some other decision and someone has feelings about it, but you know that you’ve made the right decision for you, it’s time to stop trying to anticipate or manage or soothe their feelings away. People get to feel their feelings. They don’t get to be assholes to you. You get to set boundaries about how much you want to or can absorb their feelings. You get to tell people “Ok but this is what we decided,” use the “Sorry you feel that way, I know that this is what’s right for me, you’re very loved and important to me so I hope you’ll be able to celebrate with us on the day” non-apology and then put the thing to bed. 

Consider that people who use your happy life events as an excuse to pressure, berate, blame, or try to control you or otherwise unload a bunch of negative feelings in your direction are marking themselves out as people who deserve minimal information and can expect to forgo any expectation they might have had of reasonable discussion. These people get put on an information diet, they get an invitation in the mail (if they get invited at all), they get a blanket “Oh, thanks for the input but we already decided that,” they get no more discussions of decisions that are in process, only communication of decisions that have been made jointly by you and your future spouse.

Invitations aren’t commands and traditions are not commandments. 

Invitations aren’t commands. At a certain point, someone’s attendance or non-attendance is more about “do I gotta rent u a chair or no” than it is about anything else. People have their own reasons for not being able to travel or show up. Try to celebrate with the people who can make it, the ones who did make it. It’s okay to be very sad if someone won’t join you, but to me, that’s an invitation to connect with them in other ways and make sure they know you’re important to them and that you love them in long-term ways over time (and vice versa), not a time to exert pressure. I’ve missed my share of weddings b/c it was “awesome party vs. rent/food/health.” My good relationships stayed good, even when I missed the celebrations. The ones that apparently demanded choosing unaffordable travel over my own well-being have drifted, and I don’t think that being one of many faces in the crowd on a certain day was the thing that made the difference. If it did? We’re going to have to live with that. I still made the right decision for me.

If someone elopes, trust that they had their reasons. Are you happy for them? Then be happy for them knowing that you’ve got the next 60+ years to be happy for them. You weren’t Left Out of anything, it wasn’t about you.

Traditions – which I recently saw defined as “peer pressure from dead people” – can be beautiful and important but they aren’t everything. They can be remixed and adopted selectively in a way that works for you. Nobody has to walk anyone down an aisle. Consider that anyone who tries to pressure you (“But you have to have _________ kind of food/drink/tchotchkes/toast/dance/bouquet toss/level of fanciness/a white poofy dress/church ceremony/decoration”) is free to have exactly what they like at their own, personal wedding. Their fantasies about what weddings are supposed to be like are not binding rules for you. If traditions are stressing you out and causing a lot of arguments, “Why are we even doing [tradition]” is a great question. Maybe it’s time to list out all the traditions in the families of both spouses, and opt into them one-by-one as it suits you instead of accepting a template.

You’re also allowed to enthusiastically embrace what’s traditional, there is no need to reinvent everything with the right amount of Pinteresting “authenticity.” “Parents/grandparents, I have no idea what I’m doing, what is the usual thing our family does about weddings, lay it on me!” can be a relief. Probably nobody is immune from the pressures of tradition, family dynamics, marketing or the Wedding Industrial Complex, you don’t have to make everything a life-or-death negotiation with The System to show how original you are. Templates can be incredibly useful!

If you are a lady-person marrying a man-person, people will expect you to have tons of opinions, fantasies, and be doing all the work. They will project all kinds of cultural bullshit onto you, and you probably can’t escape the maelstrom entirely, but you don’t have to accept it. The phrases “Oh, thanks for the suggestion, I’ll run it by my partner in case they have something specific in mind,” and “Ask partner, they are handling the food & music” can be a godsend. Also, YMMV, but sometimes reminding myself that planning a single party was not the sole creative act of my adult life and that said party did not have to communicate Who I Am Both As A Bride And A Woman, Plus Honor Everything About Two Families Including Honored Traditions And Exact Markers of Social Class, Especially Considering That I Create Other Stuff And My Chosen Medium For Expressing My Creative Vision Is Generally Not Napkin Colors was a healthy perspective-resetter.

Weddings cost money. How much & what you spend it on is up to you.

Even if you elope, the license and ceremony still cost some money. If you want to have other people there, you gotta budget, since throwing a celebration that is comfortable and enjoyable for guests costs at least some money. “We’re going to the courthouse and then for brunch after” = you still gotta think about stuff like accessible bathrooms, climate control, comfortable seating, all that stuff.

It’s okay to want a big fancy party, don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly or you’re breaking Feminism or whatever. It’s also okay to want to be rustic and keep it simple, but consider truthfully whether your frail elderly relatives want to go camping in the woods with you. I reject shaming on both ends of the frugality spectrum, the “How dare you not have an ice sculpture on a yacht named after the diamond mine your grandparents left you” crowd and the “Well, I wove my own wedding dress out of cobwebs and gasoline-soaked rags I picked out of the trash over a series of months, unlike all the shallow, basic people who spent more than $3.50 on their crass, inauthentic parties which could never match my unique and perfect love” crowd are equally irritating in my opinion. Especially since the “Our relatives made manicotti and we chilled in the back yard with some beer and soft drinks” weddings and “There was a swank catered affair at a historic site, everyone looked amazing!” weddings I’ve been to all run together as “awesome weddings where people I love married someone they loved and we celebrated!” in hindsight.

Don’t let anybody shame you about doing what you can afford and what will make you happy or set you up to compete about this, okay? I know I’m more in the “it’s one party, not your whole relationship or life” camp, but it is an important occasion if it’s important to you, please don’t let anyone shame you about caring about a big deal event in your life. Especially given the sexist double-bind of “You must execute this perfectly, female human” and “You’re a selfish trivial asshole for caring about a thing your entire culture is pressuring you to execute perfectly” is a real one. I want to empower people to push back against expectations like this and outright evade them, but I’m not going to pretend that they don’t exist or that they didn’t affect me.

It’s great when families offer to pay for weddings, it can be such a lovely, generous gift, as long as you know that money with strings attached – money that is dangled as an excuse to control and abuse you – is very expensive money. You know best if this is the kind of money your family usually offers you, chances are if it’s how they’ve offered money in every other circumstance before, your wedding isn’t going to change that. You’re allowed to accept the money and still do what you want with your wedding, you’re allowed to negotiate compromises as you can, please consider how important “Big Dream Wedding” vs. “Thanks But No Thanks, I’ll Handle It Myself” is to you. Giving an abuser the power of the purse is going to take a toll on you. Is it worth it? 

Wrap-Up Recommendations

Vendors who work on weddings professionally can roll with dysfunction, they do it all the time. Coordinators, planners, and photographers can be buffers, they know all about directives like “Spouse’s parents divorced, so while we want one or two shots of both parents + newlyweds, you should also photograph them separately.”  Ooh, also, it’s easier to take a few giant group shots that include some of your not-so-favorite relatives or your sibling’s shitty date that you hope to never see again and dispatch them to the bar or buffet while you whittle things down to smaller, specific groupings than it is to constantly be like “you, you, NOT you.” Be strategic, let any pros you’ve hired help you, they’ve heard it alllllllllllllllllllllll before.

If you have questions about specific wedding etiquette or traditions beyond “Be nice to people and don’t try to manage everyone’s feelings,” good news! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were great resources for me, a person who had no idea what I was doing and who was not rich or particularly attached to traditional weddings. If you don’t know about them, now you do. 

Comments are open, bring us your wedding grievances, bring us your wedding sanity-savers, bring us your tales of things you worried about that went just fine in the end, bring us your disasters – planned & unplanned – and how you handled it all. If you sent me a recent wedding question and do not see anything here that answers your specific issue, these comments are open for you to get some peer support, too!

Now, before we go, say it with me, all together:

Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix you, your intended spouse, your relationship, other people’s feelings, your body or anyone else’s bodies, your entire relationship with money, capitalism or the concept of parties, your friends, or your family.

You can have a great day with imperfect people at an imperfect celebration where compromises and mistakes were made, and still have all the love and happiness in the world in your married life. Marrying a great person surrounded by loving people at an awesome party is pretty fucking great, not gonna lie, but I hope there are many more happy days, lots of kinds of happiness in store for all of us, including all the Awkward Future Spouses in Awkwardland.

Moderation Reminder: Please review the site policies if you’re new or if it’s been a while, and keep comments constructive, kind, briefer than the entire blog post, and on-topic. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out since it comes up every time we talk about weddings, there is nothing quite like a person who goes out of their way to type “I don’t see what all the fuss about weddings is about” in a comment field on a thread about weddings to make their unique and special brand of nonchalance stand out, especially when there are so many things on the internet to performatively not care about! Don’t spend all your Not Caring on us, kind stranger! Maybe someone out there is discussing their favorite TV shows and they need to know that you don’t even have a TV, or you can chime in with the full details of exactly how much you hate a book you’ve never read when someone is pleasantly discussing it with people who have. :-p ❤ ❤ Kisses!

Edited To Add:

  • Commenters, you’re knocking it out of the park today.
  • I can’t believe there was no “Weddings” category on the site before, but I’ve made one and done my best to add old posts to it to help with searching for more specific dilemmas.
  • Here’s a link to the “brochure”-style program Mr. Awkward and I made for our wedding, which we folded in thirds and put on chairs inside mugs our friend acquired from thrift stores. Yay for free clip art! Yay for telling people how things are going to be so they know when they’ll get fed and when it’s time to go home!
  • Here’s us in the middle of getting married & right after, fat, happy, and surrounded by the best people. Click to embiggen.

 

 

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve met somebody lovely and we’re getting married in the summer. (My pronouns: she/her, my fiancee’s: they/them) I’m thrilled to celebrate with all my family and friends…except one person.

My uncle has mainlined Fox News for longer than I’ve been alive and has selected me, his queer, liberal niece, as a prime audience for his rants. He’s also an aggressive alcoholic who has sent me crude conservative memes on Facebook.

If it were just me involved, I’d probably invite him and assign somebody to make sure he couldn’t make trouble (or have too many drinks). But I’m marrying a Latinx immigrant, exactly the sort of person he spent my entire childhood ranting about. Our wedding is going to be catered by a taco truck. I don’t want him to say something horrible to my fiancee’s family.

I can’t invite him. My father is lecturing me on forgiveness. My mother is brokenhearted and fears this will cause a rift in the family which can never be repaired. My uncle is a proud man and will quite probably never forgive me. But the whole point of a wedding is that I’m starting my own family – and I refuse to have our first day as family marred by somebody who hates the very idea of my future in-laws.

I’m not always a forgiving person but I think this is a very reasonable boundary. Am I wrong? Is there compromise to be had? And how do I stand it throughout the months until the wedding, fighting this invitation fight over and over again with everyone my mother recruits to talk to me about it?

-Wish We’d Eloped

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Dear Captain:

I (she/her) have been with my partner (he/him) for a few years now, we live together, everything is fine and dandy, except for one thing. We’re both in our 30s, and recently the topic of engagement and marriage has come up. I’d really like to eventually, and he really doesn’t. Our relationship is good, and I know nothing would really change in the practical sense if marriage was a thing that would happen, but even so I can’t help feeling sad about marriage being off the table.

When there is marriage-related things on tv or I walk past a jewelry store I get weepy and sad now and feel like I’m not good enough for my partner, even though logically I know that’s not actually true. Sometimes friends or family ask when/if we’re getting married, and I don’t know how to respond since I don’t want to sound like I’m just throwing my partner under the bus by saying “I want to but he doesn’t so ask him about it”. My parents are getting on a bit in years so even if my partner would change his mind some years down the road, them not being there for it is a real possibility.

Obviously some of it is cultural/gender specific (old unmarried spinster=bad, etc), but on the other hand, being “chosen” by somebody, having that promise to stick with each other and having a ring to symbolize that is important to me, as well as doing the ceremony part (even if it is small) in front of other people to make it “official”, and I don’t know how to let go of that. We’ve talked about why it’s important to me and my partner knows that I’m not happy about it, but that’s all. If they ever did propose, I’d want it to be because they truly want to, not because I somehow sadded them into doing it out of guilt or pity, so I’ve been trying to keep my feelings to myself as much as possible. At this point he might think that wedding-related stuff gives me the runs since I always have to go to the bathroom if anything related to it comes up on tv or whatever (but surprise, I’m not actually doing a poop, I’m doing a cry).

I’m a bit stuck on how to deal with my own feelings about the whole thing without feelings-dumping on my partner, I guess? I’m on the autism spectrum, so I try to be as conscious as I can about not saying something out of line, but I really don’t want to mess a good thing up by making a hen out of a feather. Any advice about how to manage my feelings/clueless askers in a mature way would be great, but if not, permission to be sad about something that feels like a silly issue is fine too.

Regards, Hapless and Ringless

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Hi Captain,

My boyfriend of 2 years and I recently moved across the country from my hometown (and all of my friends and family). He moved there for a job after grad school. For me, this move was leaving everything I knew behind, for him, it was just another move to a place he really wanted to be.

I was on board with moving, but knew it would be hard for me, as I’m really close to family. I was clear with him, before anything with the move was in motion, that I would feel better having a more concrete commitment (aka at least being engaged) before we made such a big move and that I knew it was probably silly, but something I cared about. We discussed it, talked a lot about our mutual vision of a future together, etc. He said he understood where I was coming from, but he was struggling with timing (we were/are simultaneously dealing with his mother’s estate on the opposite end of the country, which includes clearing out and selling a house she spent 30 years in). I understood, but was also frustrated.

The move happened faster than expected. We’ve been here for almost 3 months. I’m feeling lonely, missing friends and family, and in a job I’m not thrilled about. This is all compounding with the fact that there’s still no ring. I tried ignoring the feelings, but things came to a head and I explained how I was feeling (through tears, unfortunately). He assured me he’s ready to be engaged, wants to marry me, blah blah, but listed reasons for not moving forward, like not knowing where to start with ring shopping (he offered to shop together and has apparently forgotten about the discussion, as it hasn’t been brought up again and was ignored when I mentioned going). It makes me feel like an idiot for uprooting my entire life for someone who seems like they won’t commit. On the other hand, we bought a house together, talk about getting married/having kids/etc., so I’m aware that there are commitments already in play.

Part of me knows I should be content with that and the fact that it will happen, but a bigger part of me can’t take this “someday” timeline. I also don’t want to keep bringing it up and feel like I’m forcing an engagement. I know I’m probably leaning toward the unreasonable end of the spectrum, but I’m really struggling here (and the constant barrage of holiday engagement announcements and takeover of engagement ring ads on every social platform I use isn’t helping). Any advice on either getting over myself and my timelines or helping him understand how much this is really tearing me up inside? I love him, and I’m not ready to leave if I don’t get a ring tomorrow, but I’m starting to feel resentful and I know that’s not fair to anyone.

Thanks for your time!

Ring Ads in my Nightmares

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