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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A3: I have five suggestions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some stuff that might help:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A14: Considerations, in no particular order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A16: Yes, I do have suggestions:

1) Practice restating apologies as expressions of gratitude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, that should be something for everyone. ❤

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

Here’s the deal:

Patrons can submit questions at this link. 

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

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

Comments open when everything is posted.

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

Here is a kitten:

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Henrietta Pussycat trying to clean my arm.

Here is a pile of kittens:

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

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Hello!

I’m sorry, this is complicated. I am in my late thirties and have fallen in love for the first time in my life. We have been in love for a year. I believe he is the love of my life, which I have never believed about anybody, and he believes that I am his. He still lives with his ex-wife and their three children. This made me hesitant at first, but we have been so open, honest and intimate that I trust him.

His ex-wife suffers from depression which renders her unable to work, unable to care for the children, and unable to take care of household tasks. They have been living together, divorced, with him taking care of her and the children for several years. He does not like this, but believes it is best for the children. I am happy to live separately and I don’t want kids of my own, and I trust him, so I am fine with that situation.

However, his ex-wife is hoping that he will eventually come back to her. When we fell in love, he asked me to keep our relationship secret for a while, wanting to wait for when she was on an uptick so that he could break the news to her that he is seeing someone. He is also wary because one of the kids has explicitly said that he does not want his parents to date anyone else (although he hasn’t said that in the past year). So I agreed to keep us secret until the right time.

The other day, he came to me absolutely shaking, like he had just walked away from a plane crash or something. He told me that he tried to take up with his ex that he would like to start dating other people. His ex had a complete breakdown and told him that if he dates anyone else, she will move out and have the kids every other week. He couldn’t let that happen, partly because he can’t bear to be without his kids so often and partly because she won’t care for them when it is her turn. He was also panicking too much from her breakdown. So he promised her that he would not date anybody else.

Now he is asking me to keep our relationship secret for 10ish years, until the kids are grown. He feels extremely guilty for asking me this, and says he understands perfectly if I don’t agree to it, but he seems to think it’s the best option for the situation. I don’t think it’s good for the kids for a parent to keep such a huge secret from them, but that’s not my call to make. I also think this is preventing his ex from moving on with her life and her love life, but that’s also not my call to make. Having a secret relationship for 10ish years sounds horrible for both of us, and of course there is the risk we will be caught. I think his solution is terrible, but I don’t have a better suggestion. Does anyone have a better idea?

Sincerely,
A person with a she pronoun

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Hello friends! It’s that time, where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions. It’s a good way to check in with people’s preoccupations on a large, anonymous scale and it’s usually pretty fun.

First, as is traditional, a song:

(Lyrics at the YouTube link)

Also I know I used this one last year, but it came up when I was looking and I love it so:

Ok! We’ve got witchy autumn-themed music cued up, so without further ado:

1 “How to know if a girl wants to hang out?”

Say the words “would you like hang out with me” & include a specific place, day, and time in your invitation. If she says no & does not suggest an alternative time/day/venue, like, “Can’t make that, but I’d love to get together – can we do x instead?” and never follows up with her own invitation, she does not!

2 “What to do when your friends tell you to date someone you dislike and they dislike your crush.”

For the first person (the one you dislike): “If you like him so much, you date them.” 

For the second person (the one they dislike): “You don’t have to date them!” 

3 “What does it mean if my brother in law keeps saying flirty comments and trying to touch me in front of his brother which is my boyfriend?”

It means your brother-in-law is a creep & a sexual predator who is trying to groom you to put up with this. It’s okay to yell “gross, don’t touch me!” or “ew, why would you say that!” or “Nope!” and leave the place where he is and also avoid him forever, like, “Nope, I don’t want to hang out with your creepy brother, hard pass.” Like, you can make a giant stink and insist that this never happen again. Also, I DEEPLY question why your boyfriend doesn’t step in or stick up for you since this happens in front of him. Have you discussed it with him? Because it might be time to avoid the whole creepazoid family.

4 “How to send an email asking if anyone has dietary restrictions?”

In your email about the gathering/event, say “Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

I also like it when invitations say “The tentative menu is x, y, and z – please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

People who have dietary restrictions are pretty used to this and will have no problem responding.

5 “He criticizes my clothes.”

Is he the boss of you or your closet? Criticize his fallacy that you care about his opinion about that.

6 “Reaching out to an ex boyfriend after many years.”

Why? Self-awareness about why you’re reaching out and low expectations for what you’ll find when you do will make this much easier than it might otherwise be.

7 “How do I know my best friend is not cheating on me?” 

Is your best friend not allowed to have other friends?

I saw this and then….whooo boy: 7a “My friend is overly possessive of me and wont even acknowledge anyone else as my friend.”

Friendship is not a pie. You’re allowed to have multiple friends, people who try to isolate you from others do not have your best interest at heart, and if this friend won’t honor that you’ll need to end that friendship.

8 “My boyfriend wont let me eat.”

Yeah, that’s a “get yourself safe & away from him” situation. You’re the boss of your own food. Please keep yourself safe.

9 “What to do when your boyfriend doesn’t shower.”

If your partner’s hygiene grosses you out, it’s okay to be very blunt, like, “I notice you don’t shower, what’s going on with that? Please take a shower when you know we’re going to see each other.” “I don’t want to have sex/be close to you when you haven’t showered, please take care of it.” 

10 “How do you tell your spouse of 50 years that they need to shower better.”

“Babe, I need you to be more thorough when you shower – you’re missing some spots.” 

You may have to get realllllllllly specific about which spots. In 50 years you’ve had to have survived some awkward conversations, what’s one more?

11 “Why does my daughter continue to pick undesirable men?”

I don’t know! Assume she’s getting something out of the relationship that you can’t see, assume she has different priorities from you about what desirable even is. Then, remind her that you love her, try to keep an open mind, emphasize her choice & her agency in her romantic decisions, keep lines of communication open, try to hang out with just your daughter sometimes (vs. having both of them at everything). If the dude is actually awful, this will help her find her way back to you. If he’s a decent person but just not who you would choose, this will help you keep a good relationship with your daughter while you give him a chance to change your mind or everyone waits out the inevitable breakup.

12 “My children want to live with my rich in-laws instead of me.”

There is clearly waaaaaaaaaay more story here.

13 “Guy said maybe in the future meaning.”

Not now, i.e., don’t make any life plans around this guy.

14 “When relative distances from you do you try to contact or leave alone.”

If I know the source of the conflict or if things seem really out of the blue, I might try one time to address it – “Everything ok?”

But also, in families, not everyone has to like everyone, sometimes we get along better with some breathing room & space. Am I sure that the distance is about me, specifically (and not something stressful in their lives they’re dealing with) & does it all need to be resolved right now or can I trust that a little time will work it out?

15 “My boyfriend won’t watch a show with me.”

Not everyone has to like or watch the same entertainments. Let it gooooooooooooo.

16 “Doesn’t want me to meet his friends to take it slow.”

Hrm….

“Taking it slow” can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

Wanting to hold off on introducing someone new to your friends because you’re not sure yourself whether this one is a keeper can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

If someone you’re dating says “Let’s take this slow!” aka “I really like you but I’m not fully-committed yet and I’m taking my time before I decide that (& so should you!)” then it’s a signal to adjust your expectations accordingly, like, slow down your own commitment/investment level, slow down introducing him to your friends & family, slow down on future talk, remind yourself to put some time & love into the other people in your life & not disappear into New Couple! mode, & maybe don’t delete that dating profile just yet. Also, let the person who said they wanted to take it slow do more of the work of staying in touch, planning dates, etc. Like maybe it’s a prelude to a rejection, or maybe it’s an opportunity to give yourself permission not to do much or any work around this person right now. They’re taking it slow! No worries, you’re busy with your own thing and will check in when you have some time!

Also trust your instincts and trust what you want! If you feel like you’re being hidden away & compartmentalized from your person’s actual life, or he’s all “take it slow” about meeting friends but really clear about wanting all your time/fidelity/attention/commitment, if something feels unbalanced or unreciprocated, maybe trust that itchy feeling that made you Google this and pull back entirely. People can fall in love at different speeds, people can also string you along because they like your attention and they’re incapable of managing the whole “when I said I was single I meant I was separated and by separated I mean I’m still very much married and I promise I’ll tell her soon and anyway that’s why nobody can know about you, but we’re still having sex tonight, right?” discussion and order of operations like an ethical & trustworthy adult.

17 “Don’t want to spend Christmas with disabled step daughter.”

Listen, your holiday plans are your own – spend them how you want. Also, this phrasing does not make you sound awesome, so, probably it will be a huge relief to your stepdaughter if you just go on a cruise somewhere with her parent/your spouse or better yet with your family of origin or some good friends!

18 “I ghosted someone and now he’s sending letters to my house.”

Yeah, that’s creepy. Safety experts advise communicating directly with the person one time to say “I’m not interested, please stop contacting me,” using a medium where you can document that you said this (text, email), to remove plausible deniability from the situation. Then, never respond to any communication again, the logic being that if someone sends you 100 letters and you respond to say “I told you not to send me any more letters!” you’ve taught them that it takes 100 letters to get your attention so next time they’ll send 101. Every time you engage with the person after you tell them to stop, even if it’s yelling at them to leave you alone, it’s like buying yourself a few more weeks of stalking behavior because they are getting that little jolt of attention they wanted. The hope is that if you starve them of all attention & feedback they’ll lose interest.

Additionally: Tell other people in your life what’s happening and ask them (esp. any mutual friends) not to engage with the dude or give him any information about you, tighten up your social media visibility (block him everywhere if you haven’t yet, be mindful of sharing location data & photos online, he’s almost certainly monitoring whatever he can find), check on your locks/make sure you close your windows when you go to bed or leave the house, save all the letters in case you need to show them to law enforcement, vary up your routine & commute.

19 “How do you get your neighbor to quit asking for stuff.”

Say “no” every time they do ask, be very selective about when or if you answer the door, even make it clear – “I can’t/won’t help you with that, please stop asking.” 

20 “What to do when your new boyfriend is a slob.”

People change slow if they change at all, and you can’t make them do it.

Use that information how you will. Either find someone who is more compatible with you around cleanliness & hygiene stuff, choose your battles & speak up about the stuff that affects you, at risk of him not taking care of whatever it is and outright deciding “hey, I don’t wanna change the sheets more and I don’t wanna be criticized about it, I’m out!,” decide that you will probably never share a household and that’s okay, or learn to love the mess. He is a new boyfriend and you have the choice to be like, whoa, you have the best smile and we like all the same books, but I don’t think this is for me.

21 “I can’t stop cheating on my boyfriend.”

You actually can, so let’s rephrase this: “Something about my relationship with my boyfriend is not working for me and I am unhappy with him, so I keep cheating on him instead of breaking up or talking whatever it is over, but I’m also afraid of losing him or hurting him so I keep delaying the inevitable.” 

Feelings happen and they don’t always happen at convenient times or in the right order.

Let’s take feelings out of it for a second and talk about safety. If you’re sexually active, if you agree to have a monogamous relationship with someone and they trust you to hold to that agreement, and you’re also secretly having sex with other people, you are messing with consent. You are not allowing your partner to make informed decisions about their own sexual health and risk tolerance. That is a really shitty, violating, possible health-destroying thing to do to someone and it’s in your power to not do that anymore.

22 “When mothers barge in son’s room to find him wanking.”

Look, I know this is most likely a random porn search, but I grew up with a family who were pretty terrible about closed doors and privacy, so let me take this opportunity to say:

  1. KNOCK.
  2. WAIT FOR AN AFFIRMATIVE ANSWER BEFORE YOU TOUCH THE DOOR AGAIN.

Kids are people, people need privacy and respect, if it’s not a life or death situation (like someone is not literally bleeding, exploding, flooding, or on fire) you can fucking well knock and wait 30 seconds for everyone to get their britches reaffixed. You want little kids to learn to knock & wait for an answer before they interrupt you, you want your older kids to have respect and privacy and feel safe where they live, so, be the change (and the knocking) that you want to see in the world.

23 “Captain awkward cries all the time”

I cry a normal amount of crying + 20% if it’s a sad movie or if unlikely animal friends are involved somewhere or if it’s the part of the book where little girls send letters to their heroine about how they want to be astronauts someday. I also cry if someone is mean to me or someone I care about, if someone is unexpectedly nice to me, and….[censored for politics].

24 “Feel guilt quitting job manager asking me to come back.”

Good news, you don’t have to go back.

You can say “Oh manager, it’s so great to know you value my work, but this is the right decision for me. Thanks for asking, but no thanks!” 

And like, it’s good to keep things cordial with former workplaces if you can, but once you stop working there you do not have to respond to every communication you get. Once the question’s been asked and answered, you can ignore future requests.

And hey, if you decide you want to go back, this seems like a great time to ask for wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more money than you were making before!

25 “Husband supporting his adult children behind my back.”

Assuming “support” = financial support, yikes. Married couples need transparency & honesty about financial stuff. Maybe this is one for couple’s counseling and/or talking with a financial advisor to make sure that your shared savings & financial priorities aren’t being neglected and to dig into why he didn’t feel like he could tell you. Ya’ll need to open all the books and spreadsheets and accounts and air everything out, down to the penny.

One way to possibly handle this (after a full accounting/disclosure and some deep discussions) is to make an agreement going forward that X amount of money (the majority) goes toward your shared financial priorities & living expenses and Y (much smaller amount) of money gets split equally between each spouse to be spent/saved/invested as they wish without consulting the other, so if he wants to throw his monthly Y budget to his adult kids that’s up to him, you can still be confident that your savings & expenses are being handled and also have your own discretionary funds. It doesn’t remove the problem completely (I sense that the querent’s ideal amount of support for the adult children is zero dollars and no cents) but it does remove secrecy and lies.

 26 “Good headlines for dating profiles.”

  • “I’m shy and weird and nice.”
  • “Let’s eat cheese and do witchcraft.”
  • “Evil genius seeks henchmen for world domination scheme.”
  • “Winter is coming (Come hang out in my sweet blanket fort).”
  • “I just got divorced, everything sucks, wanna make out?”
  • “Let’s both put on a clean shirt and leave the house tonight.”
  • “Yes…and? Comedy/Improv dork seeks a willing player.”
  • “I promise I will never make you come to my improv shows.”
  • “My perfect date involves documentaries and crying.”
  • “Let’s canvass for the midterm elections and then fuck!”
  • “Severely allergic to cats, lilies, and people who ‘love to debate for fun.'”
  • “I like tacos, heist films, and books about space travel.”
  • “Let’s compare shoe collections (I wear a size 8).”
  • “Hold my hand during scary movies?”
  • “Weatherwax in the streets, Ogg in the sheets.”
  • “Ok basically my fantasy is to meet someone who wants to learn how to fence and then we’ll have duels and say witty, cutting remarks laced with sexual tension, who’s in?”
  • “My version of dating is to be really good friends who snuggle (a lot) and kiss (sometimes/a little) and do other sexy stuff (maybe/never). Who’s with me?”
  • “I express myself only in GIFs, memes, and rap battles.”

Be specific! To me, the secret isn’t to appeal blandly to the maximum number of possible people, the secret is to communicate your specific brand of weird in the hopes of attracting same. It’s okay to have fun with it, especially if the whole dating site seems like one big “I’m a chill relaxed normal person who likes to work hard & play hard, I have sanded off as many of my rough edges as I could before appearing on your app screen, I’ll break the news about the bagpipes and the family curse later, please swipe right!” avatar of the same person.

That’s all for this month. Live Chat/Short Answers return Friday 9/28 (I’m doing them 2x a month instead of every week, which I think I told Patreon but didn’t necessarily announce here), here is a kitten photo to tide you over:

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Daniel Striped Tiger (L) and Henrietta Pussycat (R) are two soft brown tabby kittens who are best friends and excellent sleepy snuggle buddies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Captain.

I need some help. And some peace and quiet. My husband has what appears to be a vendetta against silence. First of all, he’s a talker. He tells me stories about his day, about his co-workers about whatever political thing happened that day. He goes into extreme detail about his favorite hobby that I have only a passing interest in. Mostly, that would be okay. I like to hear about his day, and I can tolerate some political talk (but not much). Except he isn’t done.

He reads me entire articles or Reddit threads on his phone. Sometimes he finds them so funny, he’s laughing too hard to read them, and makes me read them, even if I say I’m not interested. In fact, he does the first part even if I say I’m not interested either. He’ll start reading a thread to me, and I’ll request he not, a couple of times now by saying “if I wanted to read the whole article, I’d go read it” That makes him grumpy. I admit I read him the occasional funny comment or picture, but never every comment in a topic. It’s just overkill.

It doesn’t help, probably, that we have a toddler who himself is a source of endless noise, but he’s two, so even playing by himself envolves lots of noise, which is to be expected. I tolerate that much better than the endless chatter from hubs.

It’s getting to the point I dislike being in the same room with him for very long. Even if he’s not talking to me, he’s watching videos on his phone, with the sound all the way up. He does this even while lying in bed, winding down to sleep. Sometimes he keeps talking when the lights are off and I’m actually trying to sleep. I once got so fed up I asked him if he ever shuts up. It was mean, and I felt bad, but he finally did and I went to sleep. He was fine in the morning and continued with his usual way.

Disenganging doesn’t really deter him. I can say “that’s nice” and “oh cool” for hours. I can straight up say nothing, and he keeps going. Is there a nice way to say “Sorry honey, I missed that actually important thing you said because I ignore almost everything you say because you say a lot of everything”? If I say I need time to myself, he has before grumped that I never want to spend time with him.

I should note, that I don’t think it’s an emotional labor thing. I’ve watched him to the same thing to male friends of his, as well as in group settings. He’s just always got so much to say.

Thank you,
About to buy stock in ear plugs
(She/her)

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Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!

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

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

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