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Mental Health

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been dating this guy (he/ him) for about the past 5 months. Things are for the most part truly wonderful; there are various stresses about upcoming job changes and moves, but he’s really one of the best people I know, and we seem to be pretty damn good together.

I am struggling with being upset if I propose doing something together and he replies ‘no thank you, I would rather be alone tonight.’ I want to figure out a way to find this less distressing. Head-wise, I know all the sensible things: he is a person who needs alone time; he acts like a person who really likes me; different people can want different things in a given moment and that’s just fine. But I am still getting more upset than I would like to. I don’t want to keep having these un-fun nights over something that seems (even to me!) to be so small. Do you have any advice?

Thank you for your time- I’ve been reading CA for a long time, and it’s been very important to me.

I think five months in is probably right on schedule to have a little moment of BRAND NEW LOVE IS DEFINITELY AMAZING, BUT ALSO NORMAL BORING LIFE STILL EXISTS adjustment. Not a crisis, just a little reminder from the universe that all the New Relationship Energy (NRE) that’s been created during the stay-up-all-night-kissing-and-talking phase of dating isn’t a magical perpetual motion machine that rescues you from mundanity, boredom, or loneliness.

Ideally, we could find a way to help you mentally reframe “not hanging out with me tonight” as something other than rejection. You know that your guy doesn’t mean it as a rejection, wanting to be alone sometimes isn’t a rejection, rejection is a subtext that your jerkbrain is adding to the situation. Can you stop describing it thusly and see if that helps, at least a little bit?

More practically, it sounds like what he’s turning down are fairly last minute invitations (“tonight”). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong by issuing those, but I do think there is some work you can do to mitigate the “Hanging out with you, Lover!” vs. “SAD EVENING ALONE” dichotomy that’s happening if he declines. Namely, next time you’re ready to text him to invite him out, think of 5-10 other things you could do with a free evening to yourself.

For example:

  • Crafts, hobbies, creative projects.
  • Writing cards and letters or having Skype dates with far-away friends or family.
  • Movies, theater, concerts, lectures in your area.
  • A quiet restaurant, a book, a table for one, and thou.
  • Inviting friends to hang out with you instead.
  • Stuff that makes your body feel good, whether that’s exercising it or anointing it with various unguents.
  • Errands: They gotta be done sometime.
  • Boring but necessary household shite what needs caught up on.
  • Things you’ve been putting off for “when you have time.”
  • Taking a class.
  • Volunteering somewhere.
  • Dressing the house-pets up in costumes and taking photographs of them to send to your favorite advice blogger.

Before you ever met this dude, what did you do in your life that made you feel awesome? It’s time to reconnect with those things. If you start to make the list and it’s like “Wait I can’t really think of anything” then, well, that’s a project right there. Remind yourself that this dude is just one nifty facet of your nifty life and you have lots of options for how you spend your evenings. Then, if you want to invite him to do something, send that invite. If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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Dear Captain,

I am a 4th year PhD student in a STEM subject and I feel that everything has gone off the rails, in part because my adviser and I don’t communicate well. I will try to be brief- there is a lot to unpack.

I started my PhD at 23 without a Masters, so I knew it would be challenging, and I came in with a pretty huge chunk of imposter syndrome. I was hoping my adviser would be a lot more hands-on than he has turned out to be, and without any kind of structure (other than “here’s what our current grant is, do something related to this”) I have struggled to find my footing and push my way forward. I struggle with anxiety/depression that leave me paralyzed when I feel I don’t have direction, and have been left largely to self-direct in a vacuum. Consequently, I have made a lot of mistakes and fallen flat on my face a lot. All of that is on me to fix, and I have a therapist who is helping me build better habits and address these issues. I know it is within my capability to finish this PhD, even if I feel I’ve wasted a lot of time and I’m no longer certain what I’ve been doing is what I want my question to be. I achieved candidacy, so I’ve managed to keep pressing forward despite my own mistakes and some systematic failings in my program. (They want us to finish in 5 years and I have felt very rushed by their demanding schedule, even though no one has managed that yet. I didn’t push back on this schedule until I slammed into a deadline I wasn’t prepared to meet. Consequently I had to re-do my proposal defense, in part because of our communication issues.)

My adviser is a major source of difficulty for me. A year and a half into my PhD (after I had just sat for my first set of exams), he told me that I was “falling behind”. He couldn’t really articulate to me what that meant, apart from suggesting I put in more lab hours on the weekends. It hasn’t gotten a lot better from there. His criticism is always framed with a lot of judgment and personal attacks- for example, when telling me that I don’t do well speaking off the cuff, he told me that I sounded like Donald Trump. He’s also told me multiple times that he doesn’t know if I can make it through my PhD (including the day before my second proposal defense.) He has high expectations but I don’t ever feel they’ve been clearly articulated to me, and all I get from these conversations is the sense that I’m not meeting them. He’s also a bit temperamental, and I find him very difficult to read, so it’s easy to make him irritable without even realizing that you’ve done it until he chews you out. The problem with his criticism is that there are often valid pieces mixed in that I need to address- pointing out that I’m struggling to frame my work properly is valid and helpful. Saying that he can’t visualize how I’m going to be a successful scientist is…not. Admitting to him that I have been struggling has not gotten me a lot of support either- when I said I struggled with the second proposal defense and became really depressed, he told me maybe now wasn’t the right time for me to be doing this. Several times he has framed his criticism with “and other people think this way too” without elaborating on who or in what context. I honestly don’t know if he knows what he says comes across as hurtful/abusive/manipulative, or if he thinks he’s being supportive. I also don’t think it matters which he intends, since the effect is the same.

Captain, I’m aware that this sounds like a terrible toxic relationship. But I love the field I work in, and it’s a small enough field that if I can’t repair this relationship with him, I don’t know that I will be able to continue having a career. I do want to finish school. I don’t want to quit, or be thrown out, but he’s hinted multiple times that he’s unsure of my capabilities and that maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. I know I need to be more confident and assertive and I need to be proactive in pursuing ideas instead of checking every decision with him. I think that’s what he WANTS me to be doing, even if his criticism sometimes makes it hard to feel safe to do so. My resources for who I can talk to about this are thin, and every time I try to think of what to say it mostly sounds like “I know I’m screwing up, but he’s really mean, ok.” The other graduate students are supportive, but I don’t know how to draw on my committee for support right now or how to approach other faculty for mentoring. Particularly when it seems like he’s talking about me behind my back and telling them I’m not doing well. Sometimes I feel so completely lost in this mess that I don’t even know what I want help with any longer, except that I just want help, and to feel supported. Which I don’t think he’s capable of giving.

How do I begin to fix this communication issue? He is not going to change at this point in his career (he’s a significantly older white male, I’m a young woman etc.) I am not going to quit or give up. I don’t care if he likes me as a person any longer, but I do care about my career, and his potential impact on it. I want to make it to the end of my PhD and do a good job. How do I tell him that a) I understand his critiques and respect his opinion on my shortcomings, but that b) the way he frames them makes it difficult to implement them and makes me feel…anxious? Upset? Furthermore, how do you tell someone (who is known for expecting people to read his mind) that his expectations for what he wants aren’t very clear? What can I say to him to get a better idea of what he expects from me, without offending him? I’ve tried to approach the “what do you need from me to help you help me” angle, and tried to get more regular communication going, but for some reason or other it falls apart. I’m willing to try again, but I have to have a clear idea of how to make it stick and how to approach him constructively. Right now I just don’t.

Any help would be appreciated! Thank you so much, Captain. I’m sorry this got so long.

Sincerely,
Very Tired Graduate Student (She/Her)

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[Hello everyone, Captain Awkward here. I saw the list of resources for people that can’t access therapy right now that Tiffany compiled on Twitter and hired her to write it up for us as a companion to the post on how to access low-cost counseling in the US and Canada.  If you have additional resources that have helped you please feel free to share them in comments. -CA]

2017 has been quite a year to say the least. But in the midst of all the global upheaval, I’ve also noticed a trend of more people willing to talk about mental illness, and also seek out solutions for mental health care. I’ve seen a lot of conversations surrounding this topic on social media. As someone who has dealt with clinical depression for most of her life, it makes me glad to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles and needs. However, it seems the supply for low-cost, accessible mental health services is yet to catch up with the demand, particularly in the United States. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of resources (mostly available online) for those who have trouble accessing therapy at the moment. While there’s no substitute for actually talking one-on-one with a professional about your problems, hopefully these resources will get you on the right track to mental health.

1. Recovery International: This organization was founded in the 1930s by a psychiatrist who was ahead of his time, Dr. Abraham Low. Recovery International is a program based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that teaches participants a way of overcoming limits imposed by depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. The result is the ability to lead a more functional, peaceful life. Recovery International holds in-person meetings all over the United States (and some in Europe). They also hold online chat and video meetings. Each meeting is lead by a volunteer well versed in the Recovery International method.

Cost: Each meeting is donation based, so you can give what you can. You also might want to purchase one of Dr. Low’s books at some point, which are reasonably priced.

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Also known as ACT, this psychotherapy technique focuses on accepting and re-framing the things in your life that cause you suffering instead of trying to avoid them. ACT teaches you to embrace pain as a normal part of the human condition, therefore freeing yourself from the trap of always trying to avoid it. A great book to pick up on ACT is “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Steven Hayes and Spencer Xavier Smith. It’s an award-winning book that comes very highly recommended.

Cost: See current price on Amazon.

3. Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance: The DBS Alliance was founded as a safe place for those with depression and bipolar disorders to share their experiences and receive support. DBSA offers online support group meetings where you’ll find peers that “assist, encourage, and enable each other in helping themselves.” There are also support meetings for friends and family of people with mood disorders, and one specifically for young adults.

Cost: Donation based, so give what you can if you find the meetings helpful.

4.  7 Cups of Tea: An on-demand emotional health and well-being service available online and via downloadable app. Their main offering is anonymously connecting people one-on-one with trained “listeners” to talk about whatever is on their mind. They also have moderated chatrooms and message boards. You can also follow a 7 Cups path, which consists of small, actionable steps you can take each day to improve your mental well-being.

Cost: Free to join, free to chat with listeners and participate in discussions. They also have paid services available, such as chatting with a licensed therapist and customizing your 7 Cups path.

5. Pacifica: This app gives users daily tools for managing stress, anxiety and depression. They offer self-help paths designed by psychologists that give you actionable steps to take each day. You can also track your mood throughout the day, track activities like sleep and exercise, set daily challenges, and use the guided relaxation techniques. Pacifica also offer a peer-to-peer support community where you can connect with like-minded users.

Cost: Free to download and use most services. Upgraded services start at $5.99 USD per month.

6. Sip and Om Podcast: Plenty has been said about the benefits of meditation for people who suffer from mental and mood disorders. It can help to tame a racing mind, lower stress levels, and help you sleep better at night, among other things. If you want to dive into meditation, the Sip and Om podcast hosted by Mary Meckley is a great introduction. Each week she has a different meditation theme, such as stress, depression, and self esteem. She also features different herbal teas that you can drink for health.

Cost: 2 week free trial, cheapest plan is $14.99/month after that. 

7. Headspace: If you prefer an app over a podcast to meditate, then Headspace is a great way to dive in. The ten-part introduction series is perfect for beginners or those returning to meditation. If you like it, they have an extensive library of guided meditations for you to subscribe to.

Cost: Free to download, free introduction series. Access to full meditation library starts at $12.99 USD per month.

8. Samaritans: A secular non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom that offers users a way to correspond with trained counselors about whatever troubles them. You can email or call Samaritans around the clock, no matter where you are in the world. They’re committed to offering a listening ear and never being pushy or judgmental. Every conversation is confidential.

Cost: Free.

9. Sleep With Me Podcast: Getting to sleep at night is a big issue when your mind is always racing. That’s why I love the Sleep With Me Podcast. Each episode features the host Scooter telling a boring bedtime story meant to take your mind off of whatever might be troubling you. The team at this podcast is really dedicated to helping listeners get a good night’s rest. If you like it, there’s an archive full of over 500 episodes to choose from.

Cost: Free

10. Therapy For Black Girls Podcast: There’s a strong stigma around mental health in the black American community, and black women and girls in particular really suffer because of it. Hosted by the very likeable Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Therapy for Black Girls is just like hanging out with a good friend and discussing mental health in a down-to-earth way. Whether dealing with mama issues or getting through a breakup, Dr. Joy’s comforting counsel is really a breath of fresh air.

Cost: Free

11. Mood Gym: This online interactive self-help program provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) training to help its users prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have over 1 million users all over the world, and it’s completely anonymous and confidential. Each lesson is easy to digest. The exercises and quizzes give you practical ways to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can improve on your mental health day by day.

Cost: $39 AUD for 12 months (about $30 USD)

12. RAINN Sexual Abuse Hotline: RAINN is America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. If you’ve suffered from sexual abuse, whether recently or not, you can contact them around the clock by phone or chat. Volunteers are trained to listen in a nonjudgmental way and also to help you find more resources if needed. RAINN also leads sexual assault prevention programs and works to improve public policy on sexual violence. You can find more information on their website.

Cost: Free.

13. Scarleteen: Sex and relationships can be difficult territory for young people to navigate. That’s why Scarleteen offers online chat and SMS services for teens and young adults who need guidance on any and everything related to sex and relationships. They also have messageboards and an advice column where you can submit your questions. While they can’t help directly with issues related to anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, they can offer guidance on this very important part of everyone’s life.

Cost: Free.

14. Kooth: This is an online service designed for UK youth under the age of 18. On Kooth you can chat with an online counselor, read articles written by young people, interact with an online community, and even keep an online journal. Kooth has been recommended by school counselors and others who work on young people’s behalf.

Cost: Free.

Remember that not all of these options may work for you, but if you find one or two that do work, then you’ll be much better off. Just check them out one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I wish you all the best in your journey towards greater mental well-being and a more fulfilling life.

Tiffany is a freelance writer and online marketing consultant from Southern California. She has a passion for using her writing to help both people and great businesses grow. If you’re in need of an experienced freelance writer, you can see her ghostblogging portfolio here.

Video description: The Bangles cover Big Star’s September Gurls in Pittsburgh in 1986.

It’s time for the monthly thing where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are actual questions. This feature is generously funded by Patreon supporters.

1 “How to stop a neighbour and hubby putting me down every time I walk past
.”

Ugh, your husband is being a giant asshole, and it’s time to tell him straight up to knock this behavior off. “Stop doing that. It’s rude, disrespectful, and it hurts my feelings.” If he won’t, you’ve got Husband-problems more than you have Neighbor-problems.

2 “What does it mean when a girl says focusing on school right now after you say your feelings
.” 

It means she did not enthusiastically say “Yes, I feel the same way, let’s definitely date each other!” It means she’d rather focus on school than go out with you. Interpret it as “No.”

3 “Anonymous STD notification letter.”

National treasure website Scarleteen recommends InSpot  for sending an anonymous e-card and has a good how-to guide on doing this kind of notification. Australia has a service called Better To Know that lets you notify partners of possible Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) anonymously via text or email. In both cases, you enter info, the person gets a message that lets them know that they may have been exposed to an STI (+ there’s a way for you to enter which ones) and should get tested. There’s a good roundup of similar services in this article.

If you’re feeling blue and alone in this, the Netflix show formerly known as “Scrotal Recall” (now renamed Lovesick) is a romantic comedy about a man who must notify past sexual partners about possible chlamydia exposure.

If you don’t want to go anonymous, a simple text or phone call that says “Hey [Sex Friend] I recently tested positive for ________. You should get checked out, too” is a very kind and ethical thing to send. The more we all remove stigma and shame around STIs, the better job everyone can do taking care of ourselves and each other.

4 “My boyfriend mom prophesied that we are not meant to be together.”

Translation: Your boyfriend’s mom does not want you to be together.

What do you and your boyfriend want?

5 “When some knocks on door and says the Lord compelled them to stop and talk to you.”

Translation: The someone wanted to stop and talk to you.

What do you want?

6 “How to decline a neighbor asking us over

.”

“How nice of you to think of us, but no thank you.”

7 “What to do when your friend sets you up on a blind date and the guy’s interested in her.”

Acknowledge the awkwardness, have a good laugh together, tell the guy “good luck, dude, tell her how you feel and maybe we can avoid this sitcom nonsense next time” and go home with your dignity. You didn’t do anything weird.

8 “Should you invite girls of interest to your party

.”

Throwing a party is a great reason to invite someone that you might be interested in romantically over. That person can meet your friends, see your place, everyone can see how everyone gets on together, you can get to know each other better without having it be a DATE date, etc. Why not?

Now, girl(s) plural is an advanced move, but again, why not?

9 “What do you do when your daughter owes you money and is not paying you back but takes vacations and spends a lot
.”

Ugh, this is a hard one. Here are some steps for dealing with friends and family members who are not good/prompt/conscientious about paying back loans,

a) Assume that you won’t ever be repaid. Take whatever steps you need to shore up your own financial well-being so that you’re not depending on that money. If you do manage to collect it it will be a happy thing.

b) Ask the person to repay you what they owe. If you bring up fancy vacations or their other spending they will get automatically defensive, so skip that part in your request (even if it is relevant to the issue). Why skip it? You don’t need the story about how she bought the tickets long ago or how they were really a gift from a friend and you don’t want to give her a reason to feel judged and aggrieved (even if judgment is warranted). The vacation money is spent. It’s not coming back. She knows that you know that she knows that she owes you money. Just be simple and direct and ask for what you need:

Script: “Daughter, you still owe me $______. When can we expect repayment?” or “Daughter, you still owe me $_______. Can you repay me by (date)?” Brace yourself for the wave of defensiveness and excuses that is coming. Do not, I repeat, do not get into the details of her spending or her excuses or reasons. Just repeat the question. “Okay, so, when can you get the money to me?

c) Don’t lend this person any more money. You may or may not ever get the money back, but you can definitely control whether you lend them more. You now have a lot of information about how they’ll behave when you lend them money and you both have a hard, awkward lesson. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior here, and “I’m sorry, Daughter, I don’t feel comfortable lending you money since you didn’t pay me back” is a situation your daughter created, not you.

I hope you get a good result. Also, general thought, if you are going to lend money to friends or family, it’s a good idea to put something in writing: How much, what it’s for, when & how will it be paid back. Your script can be “Let’s just write it down so we all know what the agreement is and I never have to bug you about paying me back.

10 “Etiquette of peeing when surfing.”

We are people of action and lies do not become us: In the unlikely comedy of errors that lands me on an actual surfboard in an actual body of water, there is no way on earth my enthusiastic and prolific middle-aged bladder is gonna be able to wait until I swim to shore, find a land-based bathroom, and peel off my wetsuit in time to pee decorously in a toilet. This seems like a “it’s a big ocean” and “that’s between you and your wetsuit” issue to me, but maybe an actual surfer has insight?

11 “How to make girlfriend move out to Colorado.”

You do not make. You ask, and then she either moves or she doesn’t.

12 “I have to leave the Midwest or I will die but my husband thinks it’s all in my head.”

Ok, this seems like a REALLY specific situation and we are DEFINITELY missing context here but what if I said “Even if it were in your head, is your need to go so great and so urgent and so necessary that it’s worth going alone, even if that’s a difficult & sad decision?”

13 “Dating female academic awful
.”

It certainly can be, since the prospect of relocation is always hanging over the whole deal.

14 “He said he wants to do his own thing and maybe see other people.”


Translation: “I am planning to see other people and have less energy/focus/time/interest for a relationship with you.”

It’s a prelude to a breakup, possibly one where “he” either wants you to be the bad guy and actually do the breaking up or where he’d like you to stick around in his life but in background/low-priority mode.

15 “My 23 year old son looks so unattractive, but he won’t shave or cut his hair
.”

[Bad Advisor] Well, it’s definitely 100% his job to make sure his face and body look attractive and acceptable to you, his parent, at all times so definitely be sure to bring this up as often as possible! Your concern, constantly expressed, will only bring you closer together as a fellow adult human strives to please you in all things, including and especially the hair that is growing on his personal face and body where he lives and you do not.

Also, to be on the safe side, hide all of your copies of the musical about this very question, lest he get ideas about fur vests, naked dancing or protesting the Vietnam War.

It is not only your business but your duty to set this young man straight. [/Bad Advisor]

16 “What does it mean if you ask for a guy’s phone number and his response is he is antisocial
.”

He did not want to give you his phone number, or, if he does/did, he is warning you that he doesn’t want to actually hang out. Try again, another dude, another day.

17 “Fucking past due invoices.”

Fucking the worst.

18 “Girlfriend of 11 years is leaving me
.”

Wallow. Fuck Around. Do The Thing.

Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to yourself.

(Or not, as it suits you).

19 “Angry that my husband allows his parents to come whenever they want
.”

This would make me angry, too. His family may have a drop-in culture or agreement and expectations, but you do not, and therefore the family that you and your husband make together does not. There are several conversations/actions that need to happen if they haven’t already (and maybe they have and need to happen again):

a) “Husband, I want your folks to feel and be welcome in our house, but to make that happen I need some advance notice. Please ask them to call first and ask if we’re free, and please check with me before you say yes.” 

b) “In-Laws, I really want you to be and feel welcome in our house, but I need more advance notice than you’re accustomed to providing. Just dropping by, even when I’m happy to see you, really stresses me out. I know this is different from how you do things in your family, but I need you to call first and ask if I’m free or if now is a good time. Thanks!” 

c) “Husband, I know I’m somewhat ‘changing the rules’ on your family, but I really need some consideration here. Back me up.” 

d) When they just drop by anyway and your husband isn’t home try: “Oh, too bad this isn’t a good time, I’m just stepping out” + LEAVE (go to the library or run errands or something, just take a drive around the block on principle). Btw if they have keys and are in the habit of just letting themselves in, put the chain on when you’re home alone. Teach them that you won’t drop everything because they came over.

e) When they just drop by anyway and your husband is home, “Oh, too bad, this isn’t a good time, I was just about to take a nap” + HIDE (in your bedroom with the door shut  – keep books handy – and let him do whatever work of entertaining them). Risk seeming unwelcoming and unfriendly. You ARE unwelcoming…to people who invite themselves over.

This didn’t start overnight and won’t go away overnight but in my opinion it’s a battle worth picking.

20 “How to agree a girl for fucking if she dislikes doing it.”

Find someone else to fuck. Someone who likes doing it. Someone who enthusiastically likes doing it with you.

What the fuck, people.

21 “Got an apology from my ex after 15 years
.”

That had to feel weird.

Whether this was welcome or unwelcome contact, there’s one important thing you should know:

It doesn’t obligate you to do anything or feel anything or re-open any kind of contact with this person. If you want to talk to them, ok? You could say “Thanks for the apology, I forgive you and wish you well” if that is true of how you feel.

But if you’d rather let the past stay in the past, you can 100% delete the weird Facebook message or whatever and go on with your life.

22 “Did the date go good or bad?”

This is a great question. You can’t control whether another person will like you, so after a date ask yourself:

  • Did I enjoy myself?
  • Was I relaxed and comfortable with this person?
  • Could I be myself around this person?
  • Did the conversation flow?
  • Did I feel like the other person was on my team, helping the date go smoothly and laughing gently at any awkward moments? Or did the awkward silences turn into awkward chasms on the edge of the awkward abyss?
  • Did the other person seem at ease and comfortable with me?
  • Was the actual time we spent together fun/enjoyable/comfortable/pleasurable?
  • Was it as good as spending time alone doing something enjoyable or with a good friend or do I wish I’d just spent the evening at home?
  • Was I bored? Checked out? Apprehensive?
  • Was it easy to make plans?
  • Do I feel like the person was listening/paying attention/engaged?
  • (If kissing is a thing you’re interested in) Can I picture myself kissing them?
  • Am I looking forward to hanging out again?
  • Were there any red flags?*

If the date went well for you, where you enjoyed yourself and felt good, ask the person for another date. The rest is up to the other person.

If you can get in the habit of checking in with yourself about your own comfort and enjoyment levels during and after dates, even a “meh” date can be useful because you’ll know more about yourself and what you’re looking for.

*Bonus list of some of my personal First Date red flags from back in the day when I bravely put on clean shirts and lip gloss and met strangers from the Internet for drinks:

  • Was the person I was meeting generally congruent with the person presented on the dating site and during any prior conversations? If you’re “single” on the dating site and suddenly “planning to get divorced btw we still live together and no one at work knows we’re separated so I’d appreciate your discretion” when we meet, if you’re 28 in all your dating site photos and 58 in person…it was not going to work.
  • Did the person monologue the whole time?
  • Did I feel like I was monologuing the whole time at someone who just shyly stared at me and nodded? (The Silent Type is a great type and it may be your type but experience tells me it was not mine).
  • Did I feel like I was an unpaid nonconsensual therapist while someone shared everything about their life?
  • Did the person constantly talk about their ex & exes?
  • Was literally everything they said a complaint about someone or something?
  • Were these complaints at least funny and entertaining?
  • In these complaints was nothing ever their responsibility? Was it just a long list of Ways I Have Been Wronged By Others with a subtext of Surely You Have A Duty To Not Disappoint Me Like Everyone Else Has (Now That You Know My Tale of Woe)?
  • Ugh, mansplaining, especially politics or philosophy, how movies get made, the “authenticity” of whatever food we were eating, the makeup & history of the neighborhood where I lived and they did not (for example when I failed to pick the “most authentic” taco place in Pilsen or Little Village), telling me why everything I liked was actually overrated.
  • Talking during movies. No.
  • Taking me to some sort of performance and then critiquing how much it sucks into my ear in real time. No.
  • Overfamiliarity, over-investment. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my son, he’s going to love you!” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing innuendo & sex talk too soon, like, “I just got a new bed, it’s very comfortable, you’ll have to come test it out with me later heh heh.” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing it with the touching. If dinner and a movie remind me of how my cat likes to constantly crawl all over me and make annoying biscuits everywhere it’s too much touching!
  • Negging of all sorts, especially “I don’t usually date ________, but you seem really cool.” (Bonus Nope!!!!! if the blank includes fat people, feminists, “women who seem really smart”)
  • Constant contact, expecting constant texts/calls/emails before we’ve even met in person, all up in my social media biz, “liking” every single photo/comment going back through the archives. It feels good to be seen and not so good to be surveilled.
  • Neediness  – We literally just met, so, surely there is someone else in your life who can drive you home from dental surgery or hold your hand while you put your dog to sleep or fly home with you to your father’s funeral or weigh in with you about whether you should accept this job offer? (All true stories of actual things actual men wanted me to do after a few emails and one hour-long bar or coffee date). I will move mountains to take care of people I love, when, you know, I have had a chance to figure out if love them.
  • Casual, “ironic” sexist or racist comments, dropping code sentences like “I hate all the political correctness these days, I feel like I can’t say anything.
  • Bringing your feature screenplay to the date for me to read.

Your Mileage May Vary, as the great saying goes. My list doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I may have had stuff on there that is not necessarily a problem in itself or not a problem for you, or where there are exceptions to be made (I did drive the guy home from dental surgery as a human favor for a fellow human being, I just didn’t date him more) or that are just differences in styles and interest levels. It’s not meant to be universal and it’s about compatibility with you vs. any one thing being Good or Bad.

I’m including the list because I developed it over time by paying attention to what made me feel good, comfortable, safe, relaxed, happy, excited and what made me feel the opposite.I stopped asking people “Is this normal/cool/okay thing when you date?” and started asking “Am I good with this?” and “Am I delighted by this?” Those experiences (and the decision to be picky about second and third dates) helped me avoid some entanglements that would have been fleeting at best and draining at worst, and it helped me know “Just Right” when I saw it.

We focus so much on the auditioning aspect of dating – Am I good enough? Does the other person like me back? – that our own comfort and needs and pleasure can get lost right when we need them most. It was a good date if you enjoyed yourself and felt good and did your best to be kind and considerate. It was a bad date if you didn’t enjoy yourself. Whether a good date will lead to another one is up to more than just you.

 

Video: Snappy dance music, Polish soccer, what’s not to love?

It’s that time again, when we answer the things people typed into search engines like they are questions.

1. “Dating a Midwestern man”

High probability of at least one of these things going on: beer, cheese, beards, & warm, burly hugs. What’s not to like?

 

2. “My crush doesn’t make a move even though I feel we have chemistry. Why?”

There is literally one person on earth who can answer this question for you. (Hint: It’s your crush) If you like this person and feel like you have good chemistry, why aren’t you making a move?

 

3. “friendsporn???” 

??? If this is porn based on the 1990s TV show “Friends,” HARD PASS.

If this is you trying to make porn with your friends, make sure you have clear consent –  like “signed release-forms!” clear.

4. “How to sabotage someone’s teeth.”

Teeth are useful and important. Please don’t do this.

5. “Girlfriend is over emotional and oversensitive.” 

Better break up with her and find someone with your exact level of cool, logical detachment!

6. “I impregnated a girl whose parents and mine are not in good terms please am confused what do I do?”

Be kind to the ‘girl’ in this situation and ask her what she wants to do about it all. She’s the one carrying the heaviest load here.

7. “How to knock your fucken dad out because he is a fucken asshole.”

You know I’m gonna suggest “no violence” but the phrasing of this made me laugh and reminded me of the fan-generated ad campaign for this brand of liquor that’s popular among my Chicago dirtbag friends:

malort

Image = ad for Jeppson’s Malört with a photo of the bottle and the text: “Tonight’s the night you fight your dad.”

(Don’t drink this, it’s repulsive)


8. “He blocked me and I have no way to contact him.”

Yes, that is the general idea.

9. “My weight loss captain.”

Is piloting another ship, far from here.

10. “How to get rid of my son’s girlfriend before he goes to college.”

You don’t.

Look, I get it on some level. At my teaching job I see a lot of college students who spend more time Skyping and texting with their sweethearts back home than making friends and engaging fully in their classes or campus life. We, who are older, want to say “You have your whole life to be in love and only a limited time to be in college, so seize this opportunity with both hands!” But your son gets to decide who he loves, and any move you make to separate them will probably only drive him away from you. Let them be. If it’s true love, it will shine through no matter what you think or do about it. If it isn’t, The Turkey Drop will take care of it on its own without any help from you.

11. “Very dangerous when girls chews dicks of boys for serious.”

Much dangerous, many serious.

Reminds me of this video I saw once. Video description: Comedienne Ellie Kemper plans to give the worst head ever.

 

12. “I love my boyfriend but my mother doesn’t like him because he is abusive, what do I do?”

As reasons not to like someone go, that’s a super good one. What’s the worst that could happen if you listened to your mother?

13. “Estranged friend’s mother died should I reach out.”

Think about whether a grieving person who doesn’t talk to you anymore would find a card or email or text comforting or intrusive right now. Is your desire to reach out right now about them or about you?

 

14. “If someone texts a message when drunk is this the truth?”

“In vino veritas” the saying goes, but there are so many caveats here! If you’re looking at drunk texts for proof of something that’s important to know, why don’t you try asking the person about it when they are sober?

15a. “How to defend yourself when caught with the wife of a married man you dating.” & 15b. “I fell in love with a married guy and I’m not really into apologizing.”

Sometimes these things just go together like magnetic poetry.

#15a: If you mean how do you defend yourself physically, leaving the situation as soon as possible seems like a good idea?

If you mean how to defend yourself verbally, maybe…don’t? What could you even say? “I’m dating your husband! I have really good reasons that I think you’ll want to hear about right now!”

#15b Is this the new “I’m not here to make friends?”

16. “When she won’t watch the shows you like.”

Watch them by yourself or with friends who do like them?

People can have good love without overlapping pop culture tastes, as long as everyone is respectful.

17. “Is there any point visiting someone in mental hospital?”

If the person is allowed to have visitors and wants them, and you can make the time, visiting can be a great thing. It can be so isolating in the hospital and seeing a familiar face of someone who loves you can be such a lifeline. Keep it light, let the patient guide the conversation.

18. “Neighbor won’t answer doorbell.”

If I’m not expecting someone and I don’t smell smoke or hear screaming, I don’t answer the door. Your neighbors might feel the same. Try calling, texting, emailing, or slipping a note under the door with whatever you wanted to tell them.

 

 

 


 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I did not grow up in a house that did conflict- I joke (but not really) that I wish my parents had fought in front of their children. Because there was never an emphasis on healthy conflict, all conflict equals bad conflict. While I feel that I can talk to my dad about issues, the real problem is my mom.

When my mom calls (every day/every other day), I go through a nerve wracking thought process. If I don’t pick up the phone (because I had a long day, because I don’t want to talk to her or anyone), she’ll become more and more anxious and escalate communication attempts. I find myself yelling to the phone, ““What do you need!?!” as it rings and before picking up. If I do pick up the phone, immediately she’ll ask, “What’re you doing?” in a tone that implies I’m doing something bad. When she calls, it’s rarely about anything time sensitive or an emergency- it’s mostly just to chat.

If she calls when I’m in traffic, and I pick up the phone and say I can’t talk, I’m dealing with driving, her tone is disappointed. However, sometimes driving is the best time to call her, because I can say that I’m home now so I have to go.

For example: I had a very busy day at work. My mom texts me a general “How’s your day going?” type of text. Nothing time sensitive, not an emergency. I see the text and ignore it because I’m in meetings all day and don’t have the brain space to deal with it right then. That evening, I go to a bookclub that my mom and I are a part of. She sees me, and immediately has a wide eyed expression, and exclaims, “Didn’t you see my text? Why didn’t you answer???” Then I have to reassure her that I was busy all day, and besides, I would see her that night.

Recently her most passive aggressive text: She posted in the family text chain, “Any recommendations for a Pandora running station?” at 5:00pm on a Sunday evening. No one responded that night, and the next morning, she posted, “Thanks fam!”

I feel that I’m good about getting back to her- I usually respond to a text within a couple of hours, and never more than 24 hours.

I’ve seen her and my dad every weekend for the past month (which is way too much in my books, but it included some family event things). When I’m at their house with my brother and sister, I find myself constantly making sure that she doesn’t feel neglected or teased. If she feels that we are not bonding as a family as she’d prefer, she lashes out and becomes mopey and angry.

I’d like to not go full nuclear and destroy the relationship, but I’m tired. I’m tired of constantly checking my phone, because if I miss a call I’m going to hear about her anxiety and how much she freaked out. If I miss a text and don’t respond for a couple of hours, I’ll get a “You ok??????” type of text and escalating from there.

What I really need: a way to tell my mom that her constant need for contact and communication is too much. Basically my mom has no chill and low boundaries, plus a heaping dose of mother anxiety. Help me!

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