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Overthinking It

Hello all!

You can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) until 11 am Chicago time today. I’ll answer as many as I can before 2pm.

Holiday and non-holiday related questions are okay, with following parameters:

  • I’m not answering questions about abuse in this short answer format.
  • I think we’ve covered just about every flavor of “How do I deal with my [politically difficult] relatives over the holidays?” in past posts & discussions.

Looking forward to your questions!

Q1 Hello! My job is pretty horrifying right now – they outsourced our team and we both therefore have new jobs but they haven’t actually hired anyone to do our old jobs yet. We hopefully (hopefully!) start training replacements soon after a series of delays and false starts including our entire role being forgotten when planning replacements. I’m doing OK but my friend/coworker is obviously burning out and she’s getting increasingly snippy and rude with me. How do I extend her grace when I’m fighting my own burnout too? Can I talk to her about this somehow?

A1: Oh yeah, time to talk to her! It might be as direct as “Look, I know you’re really stressed out, but do you realize how much you’re snapping at me? Are you okay?” or as general as “Hey friend, I know everything is so stressful at work right now, can we talk about how we’re going to get through our ridiculous workload for the rest of the year? Let’s make a plan.” 

Q2: I’d love another list of what you’ve been reading recently!

A2: I finally read Gaudy Night and loved it. Trying to read some of the other Sayers, verdict so far is “Gaudy Night > Harriet Vane Books In General (will def read all of these, only one left) > Not Harriet Vane Books (eh, these probably aren’t my thing unless I happen across them in a B&B somewhere someday, they’re not bad but I only care about Harriet, Miss Murchison, Miss Climpson, and sometimes Bunter).

Additionally in the past month: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, The Apple Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed, Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, All of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.

If you don’t know about Library Extension for Chrome, I’m here to tell you the Good News About Library Extension for Chrome. Search for a book on Amazon or Goodreads or other book searchy site and it will tell you if the book is available (+ how many copies and in what format – hardcover, audio, e-book, etc.) at your local library*. Since I have a Kindle, I click, click, click and then it’s like “free books reading all the time yay.”

*If they participate. If they don’t, you can suggest them!

Q3: I find a fellow volunteer somewhat difficult. We have the same goals, but they typically seem irritated with everyone and often complain about how people aren’t doing enough or doing it right. I’ve taken on more with our group partly because they needed a break, but it bothers me when they prod me to do things with the same speed and in the same way they would. (I have a job; they’re retired). I’d be fine stepping down and letting them be fully in charge, but there are policies about not having the same nominal leader for too long a stretch. I’d like advice for dealing with their conversations about who’s doing what wrong and with my own sense of being micromanaged.

A3: This is a difficult one. I suggest an informal, in-person conversation where you say some version of “I know you care so much about [cause] and I really respect your experience and hard work, but you stepped back from running things b/c you needed a break and I need some time to grow into the leadership role and fit it around my full-time schedule. Change is always awkward! Can we agree to check in with each other once a month to make sure we’re all on task, but skip these frequent reminders? It isn’t helping me get to things faster, and I’m feeling micromanaged.” 

They’ll say some stuff, listen to it, don’t argue, thank them for the conversation, and then [this is key] do what you were going to do anyway, even if they do nudge you all the time. Like, it’s okay to filter their emails to a box you check once every week when you’re calm & caffeinated. It’s also okay to set that as a clear expectation, like, “Saturday mornings are when I go through my inbox and deal with [cause]-related stuff, if you don’t hear back from me right away I promise I’ll get to it on Saturdays.” And then follow-through with that schedule. If you’ve been responding right away to every little thing, you’re sort of training the person to expect that you will respond right away to every little thing.

Advanced diplomacy: After the initial conversation, I want you to make a list of things where you do actually need this person’s insight and also a list of things you can safely delegate to them. Every month, during your check in, make a point to ask their advice about something (even if you already know what to do, maybe you’ll get something useful and at worst you’ll make them feel useful). Also, feel free to delegate stuff to them! You have a full-time job, they don’t, they want to do the work, so it’s within bounds to say“I’m not going to be able to get to x as quickly as you’d like – can you take that on for me?” 

Q4: I have a full week off work at the end of the year. How do I politely decline social invitations from people who know I have time off and no plans? I need that week to recharge, don’t want to fill it up with social plans.

A4: Invitations are not commands, so, try “Oh, thanks for thinking of me! I’m really trying to schedule nothing that week so I can rest and recharge. I’ll let you know if that changes and I can make it after all, but for now don’t count on me!” 

It’s okay to be enthusiastic about having down time! If people try to insist on you joining them for whatever after being told something like that, they’re the ones being weird.

Advanced reciprocity and kindness around social plans making: Do keep track of who invited you to stuff and got turned down, and when you’re feeling more social, invite them to do something with you in the New Year. It’s your “turn,” and it will send the message that you really like them and that it was just about scheduling.

Q5: My dear friend is in the late stages of getting her undergrad degree at a primarily online (but not entirely) state university program (not-for-profit school) and has just now found out that some of her credits from a previous school didn’t transfer over into whole courses, so it sets back her graduation date. It sounds to me like her assigned advisor isn’t very helpful or knowledgeable. She is not in the same state as the school and it’s not possible for her to visit campus in person to try to get anything straightened out. What would you recommend as a path of escalation around an academic advisor?

A5: If your friend can pull together all the documentation she can about the courses she took (course descriptions, syllabi if possible) and the equivalent courses at her current institution – whatever she thinks will make the case that the courses should transfer – that’s a good starting point. It can take some time to pull this together, but it can’t hurt.

Then she can try the advisor once more, with questions like, “What is the process for appealing a decision about transfer credits? Can I have detailed feedback as to why certain classes didn’t transfer? What documentation does the school need? (’cause oh look, I have some!) and if the advisor can’t really help, try asking them directly: “Ok, thanks so much. If you can’t sort this out for me, who do you suggest I talk to?” Be very polite, ask questions, be persistent, follow up every conversation with an email outlining what y’all talked about. After that, it really depends on her program. A professor she gets along with very well might have ideas, the department’s admin (someone you should ALWAYS make friends with) might be able to sort it. When/if she does escalate it around the advisor, she’ll probably do better if she doesn’t complain about the advisor (that person is gonna work there lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng after your friend has graduated), phrase it more like “Advisor helped me as much as they could, but I still have some more questions and they suggested you might be able to help. Are you the right person to talk to?” 

I’d also suggest that your friend prioritize her list of transferrable courses privately, like, know which ones are “these MUST transfer, I am not fucking taking that class again” and “Eh, if I had to go over some of this material again to get to the classes I really wanna take it wouldn’t kill me” so there can be some negotiation. Best of luck to her!

Q6: Very difficult question, only vaguely related to the holidays in that I want to read some more books between now and the end of the year. Where should I begin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? In chronological order of the events in the books? Or is there another book in the series that is an especially good entry point?

A6: I started with the “Young Miles” omnibus, (which starts with The Warrior’s Apprentice) shoved into my hands by my friend L. one New Year’s in Massachusetts and then shoved into other people’s hands by me, and it was fun as hell. Then I went back and read Cordelia’s Honor (two books about Miles’s parents and how they got together). I think if you swapped the order there – Cordelia’s Honor & then the Young Miles books – you’d love that, too, because CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.

Q7: I’ve been having a hard time at work since the beginning of September, for various reasons. Right now I’m slammed at work, which is likely to be the case for a while (I expect/hope that things will settle down by the first full week in January, but probably not sooner). I already have a vacation planned and have been making an effort to be diligent about self-care, including paying attention to sleep, eating well, and exercising a little more than usual to help with stress. I love the short answer chats and am grateful for any advice or wisdom you have for how to get through an extra-busy time!

A7: You’re doing great with the self-care stuff, that’s good news!

This is what helps me, a person with ADHD who has a limited attention budget that must be respected because when it runs out it runs OUT: Rituals at the beginning and end of each work day. This list is definitely for office-y type stuff, I don’t really know what you do, but that’s where a lot of my experience is:

  • Beginning of the workday: DON’T LOOK AT YOUR WORK EMAIL YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT. EMAIL IS A TRAP. (Social Media/Twitter/News etc. is also a trap. NO CLICKY.)
  • Instead, take 15 minutes and look at your to-do list/Make or remake your to-do list.
  • What’s the most important/biggest priority/takes most attention on that list? What are your deadlines?
  • What are a few small quick things that you could do and cross off quickly (to give a sense of momentum and accomplishment).
  • Are there a few things that, if you did them, you could call today a “win” and let everything else be extra credit?
  • Great, you’re doing great. Now, block out your day a bit and make specific time slots for reading/answering emails, any meetings or calls, when you want to work on big important thing vs. knock out a few small things, breaks. Over time, if you do this daily, you’ll hopefully start being able to match tasks for when you have the right energy for them. For example, I know I have the best zone of concentration between about 8 am and 2 pm, so whatever is most important to do that day should be done then.
  • Set a timer for 30 minute chunks (or whatever focused time interval is useful to you).
  • Cool, now you can look at your emails (in the time slot for “read emails”, right after your “review to-do list” time slot) and see if there’s anything else you need to consider. Sometimes emails will be really important, but for me, looking at them/answering them/reading them before I know how I want to use my day is a trap. I need to make a plan and then adjust as necessary.
  • Get your stuff done to the extent you can. Your plan will change. You will get interrupted. It’s okay. The plan is a safety net, not something to beat yourself up with.

20 minutes before the end of your workday, STOP. 

  • Look at your to-do list. Cross things off it. Look at what you did!
  • If you have to track your time in some way, this is a great time to enter your timesheet. It can’t pile up, you’ve got your schedule and list right there.
  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Don’t think about it too much, just make note of what didn’t get done today and if there’s anything specific you need to prep for, like, “dress nice, client lunch” – You’ll do your thinking in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Tidy up your work area. Make sure computer files are saved correctly (with descriptive names, in the right place on the server, so other people could find/use them if necessary), put loose paperwork in folders (you can label this shit with a post-it note, just, organize it and put it away if you can, you’ll be less stressed out if you don’t have a chaos pile when you come in tomorrow morning).
  • GO HOME, YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD, YOU CAN STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK NOW.

I hope that helps. I used to think I was “too busy” to stop working and organize myself and it was a lie.

Q8: I’m about to start a new job. I’m 28 and have had several jobs since college where it just wasn’t clear what i was supposed to be doing or where my boss was upset with me for something they never clearly articulated. I know the people I’ll be working with pretty well but i want to start on the right note. How do i ask for expectations to be clearly defined from day 1 and keep lines of communication open?

A8: First, check out the answer about daily rituals, above. I think it will ground you to have some kind of daily practice.

Second, presumably you’re going to have some kind of training period where people tell you what to work on and you observe and get the lay of the land. Keep the job description from when you applied handy. This training period is where you figure out which parts of the job description are real and what secret other work is part of your job.

Third, if possible, carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. If you go into your boss’s office or walk up to them to get instructions, bring the notebook. Your boss tells you to do something, or how to do something, or who to talk to, write it down. Someone gives you feedback about something you did, write it down. If you have questions, write them down. (Ask them, but also, write them down and the answers, too). You discuss something over the phone with a client or supplier? Make a note of what you agreed on. Write it down. It gives you something to do with your face and your hands and it helps you keep track of things. “Hold that thought, let me get my notebook.” 

Fourth, consider a ritual for weekly check-ins with your boss. (This can also be useful for people who need to “manage up” or for bosses who have no freaking idea what you do). You’re new, so it’s expected that you’ll want to check in a lot.

One way it could work:

Mondays, make your to-do list (as you understand it) and share a short version of it with your boss, by email if possible, though it’s possible to do quick status meetings, too. “Hi Boss, hope you had a nice weekend. This week it looks like I’ve got x, y, and z on my plate. Anything else I should focus on?” 

Thursdays, last thing before you leave for the day, send an update email, like:

“Hey boss, x is all set. For z I’m still waiting for approval. Whenever you have notes on the draft of y, I’ll knock out the edit! Anything else we need to knock out before the end of the week?

The Thursday email is also where you could say stuff like “So sorry, x took much more time than we initially budgeted, y and z will have to wait until next week. Is there one I should prioritize?” 

IMPORTANT STUFF:

  • BE BRIEF. Detailed to-do lists are for you. Have mercy on your boss’s eyes, time, inbox.
  • Your boss might not say much about or even answer these emails. That’s okay! This isn’t like school where you get a grade & feedback on every single thing you do. You’re giving the boss a general sense of what’s getting done and the opportunity to course-correct if they have different priorities.
  • If your boss doesn’t get why you’re doing this or it feels a little needy to them, try saying “I don’t want to make more work for you – don’t need you to do anything or even respond, unless you want me to do something differently – This keeps ME organized.” If they really don’t like it, don’t do it obviously. Instead, use your detailed to-do lists as a record of what you’re up to for yourself, give them quick verbal status updates as necessary.
  • If you work different days of the week, extrapolate. Assuming a 5-day weekday workweek, I say do these check-ins on Thursdays (vs. Friday) for several reasons: 1) If there’s something urgent, you still have a workday to work on it. 2) Don’t set up the expectation or the habit or even the idea that you or others would be thinking about work over the weekend. Some companies and industries do expect you to be thinking about work all the time, but that doesn’t mean that impetus has to come from you!
  • Over time, this will create a written record of what you actually work on. You’ll be able to see how much and what you accomplished, what you spend the most time on, where the friction points are, when your boss alerted you to different priorities. Also, should something go wrong, like, it’s performance review time and your boss has a different idea of what you should be doing, you’ve created a structure and the documentation to say (way more politely than this), “LISTEN, BUDDY, I CHECKED IN WITH YOU EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR, IF YOU WANTED SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT AT LEAST 104 SEPARATE TIMES.”

The version you’d say out loud is more like “Are the weekly status check-ins not working for you? Is there some other system you’d like better?” 

Good luck! People want you to do well and want to help you do well, mostly, I think.

Q9: My partner has to go on a work trip somewhere not very fun for Christmas – New Year’s. So I’m on my own. Don’t wanna see biological family because reasons. Do you have suggestions for how to spend solo holidays?

A9: Off the top of my head:

  • Is it possible for you to get a change of scene and travel somewhere, too?
  • Eat/drink/watch/do things you like but your partner doesn’t particularly like. I’m sure your partner is lovely, I’m also decently sure that sometimes you compromise about how you spend your time when another person is involved.
  • If you’re a “HOLIDAYS, YAAAAAAY!” person, check out all the free craft fairs, concerts, museum talks, plays, singalongs, etc. that tend to accumulate at this time of year.
  • If you have time off, and friends have some time off, can you catch up with them informally/not at peak HOLIDAY times, like, Boxing Day Brunch.
  • Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.

Q10: There’s a lot of family dysfunction behind this question, but for a short question…. my parents in general treat myself and my sister like they are still authority figures and sometimes literally says things like we are children (we are in our 40s and have professional jobs). When we visit they literally says things like “turn off the lights before you go to bed”, “don’t forget to lock the door”, “help your mom with the dishes” [which I always do], “do you know how to get yourself a snack? [mom mentions about 5 possible snack items]. I have tried sarcastic replies and saying things like “I am not 5 years old”. No help. Any other suggestions?

A10: They are not gonna change. They really aren’t. Like, sometimes it is worth having the “Hey, did you raise me to be a functional adult or not?” talk (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk) and sometimes it isn’t.

So what you need is, absolute eye-rolling solidarity with your sister, very clear boundaries about what they have authority about in your own life & decision-making when you’re not in their house (i.e. zero authority), and the words “Ok Mom” “Okay Dad” said with as much humor as you can manage when you can manage it and “I don’t know, I might literally die if you didn’t show me how to make snacks, Mommy!” when you can’t.

Finding something you do have in common with each parent as adults can’t hurt in the “making new memories and patterns to push the bad ones down” process, but yeah, they’re gonna remind you of this shit literally forever, sorry.

Q11: I work at a college library and it’s Stressing Time around here. Any tips from you or readers on how college staff can support students who are struggling? What do you wish your library had available (supplies, food, events) during finals season? Thanks!

A11: I think my institution brings in puppies for students to pet from some kind of shelter or volunteer organization, and it’s pretty popular.

What I think students could most USE during final students are 30 minute “Hey, buddy, you’ve procrastinated on that essay and now that you actually have to do it you have no idea where to start, it’s okay, grab a cookie and let’s take you through three basic ways to find sources” orientations, maybe in very small groups. Or “Ask A Librarian” office hours where they can get individual help. Like a safe, friendly, no-shame redux of that stuff they should have come to at the beginning of the semester but did not. Publicize it through professors – “Could your students use a quick research strategies refresher?” – Maybe even collaborate with profs in certain subject areas to help students walk through that section of the library.

IDK, I teach a lot of students who come from under-resourced high schools that have no library, no librarian, who don’t know what’s available or even where to start, and I’ve long ago learned not to assume about what they know. I’d LOVE to send them to something like “Ok, you found 10 books/articles about your paper topic and you don’t know which one to read first and you don’t have time to read all of them. That’s okay! Let’s look at the bibliographies real quick – Is there a book or article that all or many of the books mention? Great! Start there!” 

I love libraries and librarians. You’ll do something great, I know.

Q12: I broke up with a dear friend over the summer who is a lovely person, but spent ~2 years ignoring/not responding/declining requests to hang out. I’m starting to do that thing where I wonder if it was the right decision. Logically, I think it was the right thing, but emotionally I’m still hurting, especially since she was a pillar of Team Me and I really need those pillars right about now (I’m going through the end of my degree program and dealing with marital problems; we’re not breaking up, but there’s a lot of work to do and it’s triggering all kinds of “well, I don’t really deserve love/affection/sexual attention anyway” self-talk). And I’m starting to worry that other dear friends will “abandon” me the way that she did. My question is: what are some scripts I can tell myself to re-write this story in my head? Right now I’ve got “everybody leaves” playing in an eternal loop, with the occasional “you’re not good/lovable enough” jumping in as accompaniment.

A12: It sounds like the friend broke up with you, not that you broke up with them, is that correct? Either way, it’s natural to miss people who were important in your life in a stressful time, even if the relationship has run its course. So first step is to stop beating yourself up for having feelings. You can’t outrun or outthink feelings, sometimes the most you can do is identify & name them, like, “Oh, I’m having anxiety that my other friends will ditch me the way ___ did” and then sort of triage them, like, “Do I have to do something about this feeling right now or can I just let it be.” 

Other practical suggestions:

  • Can you vomit out some of the worry in a journal? Write letters to the absent friend of the things you would normally like her help with? Get as angry as you need to with work, spouse, absent friend in a private, low-risk way?
  • When the “I’m not good enough” thoughts intrude, could you try speaking to yourself and your feelings the way you would to a good friend, and try to be as gentle with yourself as you would with that person? It takes practice but this can really help.
  • Can you make some plans with the other dear friends in your life that are about pleasure (not necessarily about support/venting, though some of that will happen, more about relaxation and/or knocking out tasks with a buddy). Think low-key, low-commitment, treating yourself (“let’s grab breakfast and get some holiday shopping done, let’s get our nails done, I grabbed this massage Groupon, can I treat you? I want to see your face and I need to schedule some breaks from school/work”). 

In combination, having the outlet for free form venting and feelings and shame and weirdness can reassure you that you’re not just, like, feelingsbarfing everything on your friends, and having the friend-dates to look forward to will give you some bright spots and rewards for doing the hard work. I hope things get better soon, and congrats on finishing your studies! Everything is hard, but you’re working hard and you deserve to be nice to yourself. 

Q13: Doing the art/dayjob thing but it’s the dayjob part giving me grief. Working with a job coach but I’m still stuck. 29 with a thin resume. Graphic design is a dud but I have no other skills. Failed at teaching and STEM. How do I figure out my career and set myself up for success?

A13: Let me point you at three resources and once piece of wisdom:

  1. Recent thread about a process for figuring out what you want/what you’re good at/where the middle of that Venn diagram is. 
  2. Commander Logic’s guide to becoming unstuck.
  3. Heather Havrilesky’s beautiful piece this week, about art and shame
  4. It is okay if what you do for money does not match up with your deepest self – for the next little while, possibly forever. All your favorite artists had day jobs, most did not match their field of endeavor. 

Q14: What toys and treats have your kitty kids, present and past, absolutely gone nuts for? I want to give mine a great “Kitmas!” 

A14: This thing is the most-loved thing in our house.

We can be upstairs in another room and hear them play with it for HOURS. Literally hours. 

Rainbow tunnel is also pretty darn great. See below:

Henrietta lounging inside the Rainbow Tunnel. 
Daniel being all Coraline in the Rainbow Tunnel. (He was so tiny!)

Daniel loves all toys that can be carried in the mouth (crinkly balls, catnip mice, etc.), and sometimes he will push toys under the bedroom door when it is closed to try to entice us out. It is the best. Henrietta likes a wand toy with feathers at the end. They both love the Cat Dancer, which, you can’t beat that price! Beadie also loved any wand toy, any crinkle-ball, but her most-loved thing ever (like, it might be her actual soulmate) was a pet-safe heating pad. 

Q15 Do Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger and Henrietta (Kim Wexler) Pussycat have any holiday-themed costumes and may we see pictures?

A15: No, they did their 60 seconds of costume duty for 2018 at Halloween. Halloween 2019 is another year! All the catnip and treats! Sixty seconds or whenever they figure out how to take off hats (which are tied very loosely). 

 Q16: How do I avoid the topic of my job hunt/being recently let go? I straight up don’t want to discuss anything about it (and I’m hoping I have something in place) but it’s tough.

A16: I’m so sorry. You don’t have to tell people about it at all, if you don’t want to and it’s not public knowledge. You can also say, straight up, “Oh, it’s still kinda raw, I don’t want to talk about it at all right now, especially since we’re celebrating!” + change the subject to something you do want to talk about. Non-assholes will follow your lead. 

Q17: How do I handle being burned out on my chronically ill partner’s health talk? I know she doesn’t get a break but sometimes I just can’t handle getting hourly updates on organ functioning, and I feel talked over a lot of the time.

A17: This is so hard. Keeping in mind the principle of “comfort in, dump out,” does she have a counselor or other safe outlet where she can vent about health stuff at will? There’s a great site called Chronicbabe for young women with chronic illness, there might be other communities like that where she can find not only solace but solidarity.

Does she have all the support and help she needs to manage the condition, and is it time to revisit some of that (incl. perhaps involving professional carer), like, “Hey, the frequency and severity of these episodes seems to be escalating, is it time to revisit your care plan?” Can you make a structure where there are certain times of day that you both check in about health talk and give each other your full attention? 

Having as much support in place as possible will make it easier (not easy, but easier) to say, “Hey, love, did you realize you’re talking over me right now? I want to support you, but I am tuning out from some of these real-time detailed updates. I don’t want to tune out from you, can you give me an idea of what you’d like me to say or do when you tell me x?” It’s possible that they don’t need you to do or say anything, but they do need to say whatever it is, if that makes sense.

Q18: What do you recommend for a family member whose need to be “helpful” turns “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” into “Go buy me the thing we were talking about, even though I don’t know if I want or need it yet”?

A18: Try Oh, what a nice gesture, but I don’t need x – please don’t buy things without checking with me, I’d hate for you to spend money on something I can’t use.” 

Advanced Halping Evasion: Consider an information diet around this person – it sounds like even mentioning or brainstorming about a problem you need solved sends them into Helper Mode, try not even mentioning stuff you’re thinking through in this vein to them for a while and change the subject to other topics. 

Q19: My d&d group used to drink&play but 1 guy is now sober&requested dry games in May. Happily did. Last game someone asked, got his ok& brought wine. I wasn’t there, but I want to check in w him &support but we’re newer friends. And he did say it was ok? scriptplz?

A19: You weren’t at the game, so maybe how you go about checking in depends on how you know about the wine. I would assume he did say it’s okay unless you have reason to know otherwise, so maybe try saying “Hey, I saw that _____ asked if they could bring wine last time. I just wanted to check in with you again – I think the switch to sober games has been good for us and I’m happy to keep that in place forever. If you want us to keep that as an absolute rule going forward, it’s okay! You don’t ever have to say yes to wine if you’re not comfortable, and I’m happy to remind people not to mess with it.” 

Just be kind and direct and treat him like the expert on his choices. 

Q20: NaNoWriMo has happened, and it’s been great for me to iron out some problems with my WIP.
But…I was way below my word count thanks to procrastination. Not so bad in itself, but I lied to my partner about it almost daily. What do?

A20: No one’s reading this WIP but you, right? At least not until it’s done, whatever that means. This was a fun thing you did to motivate yourself. So, examine why you felt the need to lie about a fun, optional thing that was between you and you, and then come clean!

Q21: Productive response for when ppl keep doing & apologising 4 smth w no behaviour change? This just pisses me off.

A21: Good recent discussion of apologies here

I guess my question is, what would happen if you showed how pissed off you are? 

“You keep saying that, but the behavior doesn’t change, so, apology not accepted.”

My other question is, how much access do you want to keep giving this person to the part of your life they keep fucking up at? You can wipe the slate clean and still remember what was on it and act accordingly.

Ok, that’s all for this week! Comments are open, with the caveat:

  1. BE KIND. If you can’t be kind, be quiet? We’ve had some real unpleasant ableist and victim-blaming bullshit lately and I don’t care for it. Site policies are here if you need a review
  2. I’m about to skive off for the rest of the afternoon and have lunch and see a movie with Mr. Awkward, so moderation will be haphazard. If your stuff gets trapped I will release it this evening. 

Dear Captain,

There’s a guy, let’s call him Ted, who I’ve known for about 15 years and hasn’t been in a relationship during that time but sometimes pursues them, always with much younger women. His feelings are never reciprocated and that’s partly because Ted comes across as…well, a bit creepy and patronising towards women in general. Ted is in his mid fifties and his latest crush is Julie, who I’d guess is in her mid thirties.

Ted came to me really upset, asking for advice about Julie. He thought they were getting on well and had had lots of lovely chats but she suddenly ghosted him and stopped replying to his texts, unfriended him on Facebook and, in Ted’s words, “snubbed” him elsewhere. He continued trying to contact her because he didn’t know what he’d “done wrong” and really wanted to send Julie a message apologising for it. He also admitted he had posted FEELINGSPOETRY on his Facebook. Gentle questioning revealed that yes, this was indeed just before she unfriended him, gosh, what a coincidence. (Ted: “I don’t think she could have known it was about her. It was all abstract and metaphorical.” Me: “Oh Ted. She knew.”)

The advice I gave Ted was: don’t approach Julie, don’t contact her in any way unless she contacts you first and if she doesn’t, respect her need for space. Do not apologise if you don’t know what you did, because then she’ll feel obliged to accept an apology she doesn’t want because you probably didn’t do anything that needs an apology. Also, stay away from her social media and distract yourself with hobbies. Julie probably realised you had feelings for her that she didn’t reciprocate; here’s why that can be frightening when it’s a woman being pursued by a man, especially a significantly older man.

After our chat, Ted cheered up and said he would definitely take my advice. But days later he went on Julie’s Twitter and sent her a message saying how upset he was, that he felt awful about whatever he’d done to upset her and that he’d got advice from me about it. I was pretty angry he’d told Julie I’d given him advice while doing the exact opposite of what I advised him. I don’t really know her so don’t feel comfortable approaching her, but she and I have a lot of mutual friends and while I’m not bothered if she thinks I give terrible advice I don’t want her to think I’ve been encouraging men to harass her. We all spend a lot of time at the same very male-dominated events and I want Julie to feel safe and feel other women have her back. I haven’t spoken to Ted about this but if he’s going to use me as an excuse to do shitty things by pretending it’s because I advised him to, I really would like to nip that in the bud before it starts spilling over into our group of mutual friends and making things really awkward. Any advice for dealing with this?

Thanks,

Reluctant Advisor (she/her)

PS Just to add, in case it’s relevant: I was once one of the much-younger women he pursued, although that was a long time ago.

Read More

Hello Awkward Friends!

Today I’m going to try to knock out as many short questions as I can about the holidays, celebrations, togetherness.

Readers can submit short questions at the designated thread on Patreon (advantage, more than 280 characters) or on Twitter (advantage, free for all!) before noon Chicago time today. Twitter folks, please use the hashtag #awkwardfriday so I can find it easily – my mentions can get overwhelming. I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 3PM, comments will open when everything is posted.

Also, feel free to condense/recycle something if you’ve already sent it to the inbox, let’s get as much holiday discussion as we can out of our system today!

Some past holiday discussions of note:

Also, would you like some family photos? There is me, well-wrapped in blankets, some extremely asleep kittens (6 months old, more like cattens), Daniel cleaning poor Henrietta when she had to wear her cone, post-spaying, and Mr. Awkward at Uncle Julio’s, where, thanks to y’all, we took him and all the friends who visited him while he was in the hospital for dinner last week.

daniel licking hen Captain Awkward in blankets Daniel and Henrietta sleeping Jeremy at Uncle Julio's

Questions are in. Let’s begin.

Q1: Hi Captain,

I hate the holidays. My mom passed away close to Thanksgiving in 2015, her side of the family is very small (one grandmother and one aunt, that’s it); my dad, who I’m low contact with, has 24+ relatives in the “immediate” family. My fiancé has no blood family that he’s in contact with; his best friend’s family is his “second family” and I know I’m “welcome” but I’ve had some disagreements with the matriarch and oldest son so I don’t want to go there. All this leaves me feeling pretty isolated, and I just want to fast forward through all of it and come out in spring when I don’t feel like I’m drowning. What can I do to just get people to leave me alone until after the New Year, when my seasonal depression/grief/feeling of being completely isolated ends?

A1: Hi there! What if I told you that you’re allowed to hate the winter holiday season and you’re allowed to spend the next month or so however you want? What if I told you that it’s okay to be sad, to feel zero holiday cheer, and to participate in literally none of it?

With the caveat that you probably won’t get people to stop wishing you happy holidays or inviting you to their celebrations, (invitations are not commands and there’s no good way to pre-empt people out of doing something they think is nice), you can absolutely react to all greeting and invitations with “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but no thank you. I’m planning to keep things very quiet this year/I’m really looking forward to some quiet time. Let’s catch up in the New Year!” 

You don’t have to explain or elaborate (you can if you want to, “I’m still grieving for my mom and I just need to bow out of celebrating until I feel ready,” but you don’t have to). It’s okay to let your fiancé run interference with his family, too.

Be very gentle and nice to yourself.

Q2: Tips for being disabled during the holidays? Somedays I just can’t get in the spirit of things either because I’m too sad or because my pain is too bad to leave the house, and people get really weird about it.

A2: Look at your calendar, budget your energies according to what you know you can enthusiastically and realistically do, pace yourself, build in lots of downtime, be really kind and gentle to yourself.

Connect with the parts of it you really connect with. If you are religious, find a way to pray and observe seasonal rituals that you can do. If there are family members or friends you really want to celebrate with, save up your spoons to make visits with them count. If the best part is the music or the decorations or the food, find a way to treat yourself a little.

With people who want you to do more than you can take on, try scripts like “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to make it” or “Cool, but I’m keeping things really quiet this year” or “I wish I could join you for that but my body has other plans” or “Yes, I’m sad I won’t make it, too!” and let people be weird if they’re gonna be weird. You didn’t cause the weirdness. This also seems to be a good time to revisit your family’s traditions and see if there are things that could make stuff more accessible to you, like:

  • “I know we always go to X on Christmas Eve, but could I persuade you to do Y instead? That’s so much easier for me to get to.”
  • “I want to come but I won’t be able to drive home afterwards, could I get a ride or is there an extra bed where I could stay?”
  • “I can’t come out, but I’d love it if you brought me a piece of pie afterward. Can you stop by?”

You can’t avoid sad feelings by planning for them ahead of time, but you can make peace with your own needs and boundaries and do your best to take care of yourself.

Q3: Ack, I’m pretty sure the answer to mine is in the comments section somewhere. . . I’m looking for chipper scripts to shut down/side-step family members’ feelings about me spending Thanksgiving and Christmas alone.

A3: Noticing a trend here! With repetition comes mastery, right?

I’ve spent Christmas alone (except for smol cat) more than once as an adult, and each time, not gonna lie, IT WAS GLORIOUS. I’ve been the only person besides the driver on a Brown Line CTA train. I’ve stopped for a drink at a country & western dive bar and listened to a Willie Nelson marathon on the jukebox. I’ve made myself a special meal, where everything on the plate is my favorite food and all the leftovers are miiiiiiiiiiine. I’ve gone to the movies by myself. I’ve caught up on laundry. I’ve re-read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (a personal Christmas Eve tradition going back to childhood). Especially during the bustle of a busy semester and when I lived with roommates, those quiet reflective days alone were like a balm to the soul.

Try “I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration!” and let people’s feelings be whatever they are. Try “I’ll miss you and be thinking of you, of course, but I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration.” Don’t explain or justify – if your relatives don’t understand the solitary joy of a quiet holiday, you don’t have to convince them or make them feel differently about it.

Q4: My aunt. MY AUNT. She has a long and ever-increasing history of making Islamophobic and racist remarks (but that kind of low-key racist that can be excused as ‘oh, just doesn’t know any better’, which is SUCH a nonsense excuse). My father just told me over lunch that he and my mother have invited her to Christmas dinner. On one hand: I understand that this is the only relative my mother talks to, and that she would otherwise spend Christmas alone, and that mom feels guilty. On the other hand, my mother has a great history of excusing problematic behavior in order to keep the peace and ‘not ruin dinner’, and I have zero intention of indulging racist commentary about headscarves, and significantly less than zero intention of letting my kids see me letting racist and Islamophobic commentary slide (it’s unacceptable AND a horrible example to set. 2 reasons!). What’s a good script for telling my mom in advance that I’m willing to behave if she’s civil, but that I’m 100% willing to engage in an argument, and am 100% willing to pack up the kids and go home if needed, in a way that’s not… quite… that confrontational?

A4: RACIST. COMMENTS. RUIN. DINNER. Not people pushing back against them.

What if you tried being pretty up front about it ahead of time? “Mom, Dad, I’m really looking forward to seeing you this year. I hope you’ll help me out and let Aunt know beforehand to keep her racist comments to herself, I’m in no mood to listen to it and I won’t have that kind of talk around my kids. I’d hate to have to go home.” 

“Oh, she just doesn’t know better”  – “Hrmmmm, well, it’s time she figured it out, and if you don’t talk to her about it before dinner, I’ma have to do it AT dinner, and that doesn’t sound fun for anyone.” 

You don’t have to go to this dinner, at all, and you can use that –“I don’t wanna fight with Aunt, but if it’s a choice between dreading/ white-knuckling through one of her outbursts and being treated like I’m the problem or staying home with the kids in our jammies, I guess we’ll just have to see…maybe it’s better if we just skip it this year and you an Aunt can catch up without worrying about us!”

Let’s be real: There’s no fixing Aunt, there’s no overnight fixing of a longstanding family dynamic, there is no escaping conflict, there is no amount of being reasonable and cool and diplomatic ahead of time that will stop this from becoming a train wreck, but you can be clear with your own boundaries and you can ask your Mom & Dad to be good hosts to you. Your mom has known her sister her whole life, she can make one phone call along the lines of  “Look, I’m really excited to see you Thursday, but just wanna remind you there’s no politics talk at my table – if you make ignorant remarks again and chase off the grandkids, I’m not gonna be pleased.” Aunt can feel any way she wants about it, she can grumble all she wants, as long as she behaves herself.

Q4a: Dear Captain,

I noticed that my dad, your stereotypical middle-aged, cis, straight white guy has a habit of reprimanding others in a patronizing and belittling way. For example, the other day during lunch with my grandma, she said something and he shut her down by gesturing towards his/her mouth and saying – as if she was 4 yo and misbehaving – that he’s “sure you remember it’s not polite to talk while you have food in your mouth”. (Btw, you could completely understand her. She had a little food in her mouth but pushed it to the side, as you do when talking before completely swallowing everything.) It’s less that he wants to be helpful and remind people of etiquette and more some kind of power-thing. He does similar things to me (and other women, but rarely any men, if at all). Any scripts for constructive ways of saying “Dude, we’re all adults, I’m sure you’re happy I’m visiting and want it to stay that way?”. I’m having a hard time coming up with any because it’s been like that since I was little when I used to freeze and later I just didn’t visit. If there’s a good resource/guide on how to deal with stuff like that, please let me know. Thanks!

A4a: Great question! I sorta covered this in the Buzzfeed post from a couple years back:

. “Is that what you’re wearing?”

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: "I liked your old glasses better," or "That coat looks like you slept in it," or the always delightful "Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?" Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It's never a fun ritual, but the comments didn't mean "you suck" so much as "you belong to us but you don't quite match what I remember" in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

After a grueling and expensive journey where your fellow airline passengers definitely probably created entire new strains of the flu as they coughed directly into your open mouth, you arrive at your ancestral home. Before you can even finish hugging everyone and pour a glass of eggnog, your ancestors descend to dissect your appearance and life choices: “I liked your old glasses better,” or “That coat looks like you slept in it,” or the always delightful “Would it kill you to shave/put some lipstick on/put on a hat/take off your hat?”

Comments like this used to take me straight back to feeling (and acting) like a surly teenager. Once I realized that it was a ritual, like a pack of wolves welcoming a pack member back with butt-sniffing and a wrestling match, it got easier. It’s never a fun ritual, but the comments didn’t mean “you suck” so much as “you belong to us but you don’t quite match what I remember” in the language of repressed New England people who are terrible at feelings.

The quickest and easiest way through a random and unsolicited critique is to respond briefly and as neutrally as you can:

• “Huh.”

• “Nice to see you, too.”

• “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll think about it.” (It’s true, I did think about their opinion for a few seconds before continuing not to care.)

• “I did sleep in this coat; airport floors are cold.”

If someone really is crossing a line and hurting your feelings, or won’t stop saying mean stuff, try this:

• “Wow.” Use a strong, pointed tone and follow it with a really long, awkward pause.

• “Really?”

• “I’m confused. What is it that you want me to feel or do when you say something like that?”

If the conversation devolves from there into how sensitive you are and how you can’t take a “joke,” strongly consider going back to the airport and taking the next flight out. Somewhere warm, somewhere people aren’t jerks to you.

You’re not gonna change your dad, or get him to understand that this is sexist and rude, but you aren’t a little kid anymore and you are absolutely allowed to “Cool story, bro” him and give zero attention to the content of his critiques. “What a weird thing to say, Dad. Sorry, Grandma, we interrupted you. What were you saying, again?” 

Q4b: Hi Captain, could you give me a mantra to repeat to myself when my mom makes unnecessary, critical comments over Thanksgiving? Past experience has taught me to expect maybe five unpleasant, judgy comments over stupid little things over the course of a two or three day visit, and has taught me that ignoring them is much, much more effective than talking to her about them. Thanks!

A4b. I’m tacking this onto the above – It’s okay to say “Hahaha thanks for the constant feedback, Mom, it never gets annoying” to her out loud or inside your head.

Q5: Hi Captain! I (they/them) am a first year student in an intense graduate program. Due to some mental health stuff, there’s a good chance I will have to repeat this semester but still be able to graduate on time. I am paying for this on my own but my family has a lot of bad opinions. I find out Tuesday whether I have to rearrange my schedule and my family keeps asking. I would like to have a nice Thanksgiving with my cousin and friends without my mom screaming over the phone (I live several states away). Do you have any suggestions for ways to sidestep the conversation until after the holiday? Is this even a fair thing to do? Thank you so much for all of your help!! 

A5: You are allowed to put your family on a total information diet around the topic of grad school, through the holiday and beyond. “Not sure yet, thanks for asking!” or “Still working it out, but my research is so interesting, let me tell you about it!” or “I’m pretty sure we’ll find a good solution, thanks!” + a subject change, or “Mom, I’m trying to enjoy the holiday, I don’t have any answers for you and I’m getting tired of explaining & being yelled at. I’m gonna hang up now and try to de-stress.” Your mom will probably not take it well, but she can’t really force you to do anything and it’s okay to let her wear herself out. Also, since you mention “mom screaming over the phone,” you might want to put your mom on a communication schedule and stick to it.

Hope everything gets back on track for you soon!

Q6: Hi Captain! It’s the first time my husband and I are hosting both sets of parents on Christmas day. My in-laws love to buy vast quantities of gifts (especially now there are our 2 children, their grandchildren, in play). My parents are more likely to buy 1 or 2 gifts per person. My Mum has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, or less generously, she often says hurtful and patronising things, especially when other people’s ways of thinking do not match her own. Should I give her a heads up about the number of presents that are likely to be brought by my in-laws? I feel if she is forewarned she may be less likely to blurt out something disdainful about my in-laws’ generosity. Or should I just stop overthinking it and leave well alone?

A6: If you want to, it’s not weird to say “Oh yeah, Husband’s family does presents a little differently than we do, it can be kind of overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it” to your mom before the gathering, but I think your last question is a good one: What’s the worst thing that could happen if your mom blurts out something rude in the moment vs. how much grief are you buying yourself ahead of time by bringing it up now? “Aw, Grandma says funny things sometimes! Who wants pie?” is a survivable situation.

Q7: This is related to but not precisely covered by the “Got Any Great Holiday Plans With Family?” question. I love Christmas. My family loves Christmas. It’s always been a big family get-together/holiday. Here’s the catch: I live at least 2000 miles and an international border away from my family of origin, all of whom expect me to do all of the work of staying in touch. I’ve lived in my new country for nine years now, and the only one who made it to my wedding was my mother and the only one who has visited since then…is also my mother.

I realize travel is expensive, that’s why I haven’t made it home in several years. But none of the rest of my family (father, stepmother, two siblings, two grown nieces, and their partners and children) have even *tried*. And so I’ve given myself permission to stop trying. I refuse to keep putting all the effort in and getting none of it back. But It’s hard, and it makes me more sad at the holidays than I’d prefer to be. I don’t want to pretend everything’s fine, but I also don’t want to harsh anyone else’s holidays and I’m struggling to figure out how to balance those two desires. So I guess I just need help figuring out how to hold my sadness and ask for help from my local loved-ones without dwelling on it and harshing everyone else’s holidays.

A7: I don’t have answers really, more sympathy/commiseration. It’s okay to be sad that you can’t see your family this year, you’re not ruining others holidays by having feelings.

As for future celebrations, can you ask your family for financial help so you can travel more reliably, like, “It’s cheaper for me & spouse to come there than it is for all of you to come here, so as my holiday present can the family make a joint travel fund so I don’t have to miss every Christmas? I can’t always swing it on my own.” That specific thing might not be workable, but I know it came up during my own wedding planning, where my mom was grumbling about the cost of extended family having to buy plane tix to Chicago and I was like “Cool, every time I’ve seen these people since 1992 it’s because I bought a plane ticket, I don’t feel bad asking them to do it one time and if they miss it they miss it.” There is an idea that because you’re the one who chose to go away, it’s on you to bear all the costs from now on, and maybe you can start to push back on that gently. Since your mom is the one who still makes the effort and you’re close to her, can you be really frank with her about how you feel?

Q8: Hi Captain, I hope it’s not too late to submit. My dad is a recovering alcoholic and has recently relapsed. I checked him into a recovery facility last night. He thinks if he gets through the withdrawal symptoms, here won’t need any more treatment. The family disagrees, but since it was a voluntary check in, he can check himself out when he wants. Before all this, he planned a Thanksgiving getaway for our family (including my brother and his family and my mom, though they’ve been divorced for years). I want to cancel the trip, to emphasize that recovery is the priority and he’s an important part of the family and the trip shouldn’t happen without him. My brother thinks we should go and let this be a natural consequence of his drinking again. Captain, I’m not asking for a solution, that’s too big. I am hoping you and the commenters can share some wisdom or ask some of your important probing questions so we can come to a decision. Thank you.

A8: If your family would benefit from some time away together, even if some of it is sad time, it’s okay to go on the trip. If you don’t feel up to the trip or think it’s right to go on the trip, it’s okay to not go on the trip. Your dad is where he needs to be and hopefully there will be a good outcome. It’s okay to take care of yourself/yourselves.

As for a framework: Canceling the trip vs. going on the trip isn’t going to teach your dad any lessons. The consequences or intended message won’t really reach him. It’s okay to ask him his opinion about the trip and tell him yours- “We hate to go without you, but we want to be all together and have a change of scene, and nothing’s refundable anyway” vs. “We’re gonna cancel and do it right when we can do it with you”  – but honestly, neither path will really be a factor in his recovery or relapse. Part of having a loved one with an addiction problem is learning to disengage from magical thinking re: “There’s something I can personally do that will make him stop drinking” and “That thing I did or didn’t do is what caused him to drink.” It’s the illness, not you. It’s his illness, not you. This is one of the hardest lessons in the world and I’m so sorry that it’s the one your family’s got right now.

Q9: Hi Captain,

I’m looking for ways to keep my cool during the holiday season. I live with my parents which means that just walking away from drama is not really a thing I can do. My entire family has different political beliefs from my own which causes great tension and then my mom always bites off more than she can chew around the holidays and takes the stress out on everyone else. On top of all of that I discovered last week that my immediate family has kept a group Facebook chat for months if not years where they can make fun of people who share my political ideologies in general and occasionally me in particular so I’m REALLY not happy with any of them and even though I confronted them about the group chat they think everything is fine. I know there is going to be way too much snapping and stress in my home environment which is guaranteed to make me stressed and snappish even if I don’t have any reasons on my own to be that way. I can hide in my room a lot but when I am forced to be around everyone for the Holiday meals and such I would like a plan so that I don’t just start screaming at people.

A9: Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh to all of this. There’s no fixing the situation, right? This is about enduring.

Operation: Be Out As Much As Possible

  • Got local friends who you can hang out with as much as possible?
  • Except maybe on the actual holiday when things tend to be closed, is there a way for you to be at the public library/coffee shop/the public pool? Do you enjoy walks/runs/bike rides? What free local events are going on, and can you haunt literally all of them: poetry readings, gallery shows, choir concerts. Food bank need volunteers? Here you are, ready to help! “Sorry, can’t chat, got to get to the annual poinsettia judging contest.” 
  • Is it possible to a) help your mom with holiday workload by b) being the person who runs errands and is out of the house as much as possible?
  • I realize not everyone can do this – disability, access to car/driving/energy levels – but if you can, be the person who runs out for milk/batteries/wrapping paper/to drop stuff off at the post office.

Operation: Hide In Room Except For Meals

  • Got online friends you can vent to/text with as much as possible?
  • Got enough books/shows to binge/comics/games/coloring books to last you?
  • Got comfy pants?
  • Got some snacks that don’t make a mess?
  • Ready to go to bed early and sleep late?
  • Ready to just give off an aura of being really tired/antisocial? And when people are like “oh look, it’s the ghost, we thought you were never coming down!” say “yep, that’s me!” and then go back to your room.

Operation: Focus On The People Who Suck The Least 

At mealtimes, sit down and spend time with people you actually like (Hint: often that’s little kids, if any are around). Let the other people be background noise. They know what you think about the events of the day, you know what they think, you’re allowed to be very bored by it all and not engage if they try to pick arguments with you.

That’s what I got. It’s a “grit your teeth and get through it, hopefully you’ll at least read some good books” situation. You’re not alone.

Q10: My family makes buying gifts for me into a lot of work/guilt. Saying “you’re so nice but I don’t need anything” doesn’t take. I’ve sent wishlists, charities, still this morning was told “you are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been.” Help?

A10: I tend to respond to attempts to characterize me with agreement instead of the expected argument, like “You have no sense of humor!” gets a “I guess not!” So, what if “You are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been!” gets “I guess I must be! I’ve already told you I don’t need or want anything, so give me a present at your own risk, I guess!” 

Q11: How to tell your mother you don’t want to go home for Christmas, not because of any drama, but because of the life admin involved? 

A11: Sometimes works better to phrase it with what you will be doing – “I’ll be staying put this year, I can’t travel right now.” 

Q12: Is it appropriate to ask for a gift that is what the person does for a living? (when they have first asked you what you want for Christmas) 

A12: I lean toward “Inappropriate!!!!!!!!” but obviously context varies wildly depending on what they do for a living and what your relationship is. If you think it might be something they’d be okay with, like, they’ve offered in the past or mentioned doing whatever as a gift for other people, you can build the question of appropriateness into the question – “Hey, you wanted to know what I want for Christmas this year. Is it okay to ask for _______? Please tell me if that’s out of bounds!” 

I think a lot of my “inappropriate!” reaction comes from how many stories I hear about people vastly underestimating how much time and effort is at stake when they ask their friends & family for freebies. It’s not just the time or $ value of the gift, it’s the extra gut punch of “You really have NO IDEA what I do and NO RESPECT for it, do you.” So tread carefully.

Q13: Fiancé’s parents divorcing. I think dad’s creepy (mix vague allegations re: others, vibe). Planned T-day w/ them before divorce progressed. Now dad’s hosting, w/ minor celebrating w/ mom. Can I/how do I avoid T-day w/ dad and still get the parts w/ mom?

A13: Well, their plans changed (in a big way), so can yours!

I think you should be honest with your fiancé, first of all – “I don’t want to go to your Dad’s. I’d rather just go to your mom’s.” “I’m not comfortable around your Dad, I don’t want to go there.” 

The key is, his dad is still his parent, and this sounds like a really messy time, so give him space to still go himself if he wants to, like,“If you want to go to your Dad’s solo, I totally understand, why don’t you do that and then I’ll catch up with you when it’s time to go to your Mom’s.” And you can straight up say – “You can give your Dad whatever excuse you feel comfortable with.Tell him my plans changed, tell him I’m not feeling well, tell him whatever. I find him creepy, but you don’t have to have that fight with him on my behalf right this second. He’s your dad and you’re the boss of what relationship you want to have with him.” 

There’s no comfortable way to manage this (creepy vibes and allegations make things uncomfortable, divorce is uncomfortable) so be honest and stick to what you feel safe doing.

Q14: I’m a die-hard Potterhead who is also disgusted by Johnny Depp as a person + extremely disappointed in JK Rowling for defending him. The activist side of me says to boycott the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but the Gryffindor fangirl wants to go. Thoughts? #awkwardfriday

A14: I don’t tell people what to watch or not watch.

Consumption is not the same as activism (credit to Trudy, of Cinemacked the best thinker I know about this stuff, who, now that I’ve cited her, please do not @ her with fandom opinions, she doesn’t care and she gets more than enough traffic from people who want to argue).

Boycotts are coordinated, organized, ongoing, collective actions of many people toward a common goal (not one person forgoing a ticket to something). Knowing that the powers that be won’t notice, will you notice enough that it will trouble you? That’s your choice.

I watch & enjoy plenty of problematic stuff made by problematic people in a problematic world, and I don’t even pretend to have a consistent framework about this. There are certain artists and artworks where I can shove the bad stuff down in favor of what I enjoy about it, and certain ones I can’t. I want to make a Hollywood and media landscape where we don’t have to keep looking at and making excuses for abusers and misogynists on screen, but I’m also not willing to personally undertake the cultural asceticism that “If you enjoy something that a bad person worked on, you are proving that you don’t care about the bad thing they did, in fact, YOU THINK THE BAD THING THEY DID IS ACTUALLY GOOD” requires. That’s not my ethical mindset and I won’t pretend it is. It’s okay if it’s yours, I admire it, even, but I won’t argue about it with you. Is that a function of my privilege? Yep. Am I gonna watch Teh Thronegames to the last ridiculous dragon-y frame with the last hair extension blowing in the wind, drunk, on Commander Logic’s couch? Also yes.

Sorry to leave you with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but like, go if you want to, don’t go if you don’t want to. In my opinion, you’re not just as bad as Johnny Depp, you’re not personally enabling him, you’re not trying to override other people’s ethical choices about whether they see the film.

That’s all for today! Comments are open, though be warned: If you try to make me moderate “detailed Harry Potter fandom wangst,” I’ll burn the thread to the ground. Happy holidays!

It’s time for that mostly monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

First, as is traditional, a song:

Now, the terms!

1 “Captain Awkward is fat”

Fuck yeah I am!

2 “Is it weird to feel lonely in a relationship of 6 months together”

It’s not weird, or, at least, it’s not necessarily unusual. It’s not that the attraction or the romance is lessening, necessarily, it’s just that the initial rush of compatibility and chemistry (sometimes called New Relationship Energy)  that brought you together is recalibrating itself. To me, it’s a sign that it’s time for questions.

  • Do you feel lonely because you’re not sure yet that you can relax and be vulnerable with this person?
  • Do you feel lonely because you got really wrapped up in this person and you need to reconnect with your friends and family and non-couple social life for a bit?
  • Do you feel lonely because you were expecting that a romantic relationship would make it so you never felt lonely anymore but you’re realizing that’s not actually true? (Everyone gets lonely sometimes, even partnered people, I think).
  • Are you having questions about longer-term compatibility? (This is a very good time to re-evaluate that).

3 “How to get rid of a Facebook stalker”

Looking for this?

4 “Is he into me quiz adults”

Here’s the quiz:

Question 1: Did you ask him if he’s into you?

Question 2: What did he say?

5 “Someone invited themselves to my house. How do I say no?”

“Oh, that won’t work for me. Let’s do _____ instead.” 

The ______ can be a lot of things. “I’ll let you know when it’s a good time.” “I’d rather meet you out somewhere.” “Oh, no thank you, I’m not interested.” 

6 “My elderly neighbor keeps coming down unannounced.”

Just ’cause someone knocks it doesn’t mean you have to let them in, though it’s hard to put that into practice with someone you know when they live in the same building and they know for sure that you’re home and you were raised to be polite to old people. Maybe try this: “Neighbor, these unscheduled visits really don’t work for me. I don’t want to be rude, but I really don’t like to be interrupted or to have people just drop by. Please text or call in advance and ask if it’s a good time to talk.”

P.S. You can ignore the texts/respond only when it’s convenient.

7 “Why doesn’t my boyfriend want me to masturbate?”

Better question: Why does your boyfriend think that he gets a say in your relationship with your own body?

8 “I’m divorced – should I give my 20 yo money to buy my Christmas gifts or should my ex?”

Hrrrrrmmmm.

I think you might want to set expectations around holiday gift giving for your kid so that you ask for a few things that are very, very affordable for a 20-year-old. (For example, my mom asked for “slippers, booty style” for years – she was happy to get ’em, I was happy to afford ’em). And if you want other things/more expensive things, buy them for yourself.

If both you and your ex routinely give your dependent offspring spending money, maybe a mutual/joint bump up of that spending money around the holidays is a good idea, like, here’s some extra $ for your allowance so you can get holiday gifts for people (people, plural, people, in general), and both of you throw in the same amount.

I don’t think your ex necessarily has to buy Christmas gifts for you by proxy through your child of voting age, and if you set that expectation, you’re gonna be disappointed and also throw things off-kilter in the relationship with your child.

9 “55-year-old boyfriend of 5 months says he isn’t on dating app but I know he is.”

What happens if we rephrase this as “My boyfriend of 5 months doesn’t tell me the truth about using a dating app” and work from there? Time to think seriously about whether you have compatible expectations around exclusivity and whether you want to be with someone you have to monitor because you don’t trust them to tell you the truth.

10 “I’m not good with relationships, how do I help my daughter do better than me.”

Without knowing more details, maybe start here:

  1. Take very good care of yourself. Figure out how to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself and pursue your own well-being and happiness in relationships and out of them. It’s not too late for you to do this work!
  2. Be honest with yourself and with her about the pressures & messages you’ve faced that prompted you to stay in bad relationships and to value “relationships” as something separate from and above your own well-being.
  3. Push back against cultural messaging like “all relationships take work” and “you need to have romantic partnership in order to be normal/happy” or “romantic love is the most important thing” and the idea that there is something wrong with being single when you encounter them in the wild. For example, if you watch TV together, talk about the healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics that you see.

11 “Sister owes me money being difficult about repayments.”

In my experience, three things can help here.

Thought Experiment #1: What’s the worst that could happen if you never get the money back? Like, she definitely owes you the money and she should absolutely repay you and not make it difficult, but if you knew right now you would never get the money back, how would it affect your finances and how would it affect how you interact with her?

Thought Experiment #2: Given the answer to #1, would it stress you out less to make the money a gift? If you can afford it, would it give you a feeling of control back to say “Listen, I don’t want to fight about this anymore, please consider that money a gift, and when you’re in better financial straits, you can make the same gift to me or someone else.” 

Listen, I know it’s counterintuitive, but sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money and if you can afford to make a one-time “the slate is clean” decision it might be less stressful for you. If you go this route, don’t lend her any more money or pick up the tab for something expected to be paid back in the future.

Thought Experiment #3: You need the money back and you don’t want to make it a gift. Then here you go! (link is long post about not letting a person off the hook about money).

12 “Husband’s sister wants him to leave me.”

Time to figure out if this is a sister-in-law problem (like, setting boundaries and giving yourself permission to not be anywhere she is or put up with rude behaviors from her) or a husband problem (like, he’s actually considering leaving you and blaming it on her or otherwise allowing her to make trouble in your marriage). She’s entitled to her feelings but she’s not really entitled to make those feelings your problem. Hope your husband is solid and this works out the way you want it to.

13 “Do I really love my partner if am hurting her/him?”

People can feel love and say the feel love and still make bad decisions/do bad things. Sounds like it’s time to stop doing the hurtful things, however the feelings shake out.

14 “Am I wrong to confront my bf’s ex?”

You might be perfectly justified, but take a look at question 12 above or a couple of threads from a while back and ask yourself, truly, is this an ex problem or a boyfriend problem?

To what extent is he inviting in or enabling whatever is going on?

Are you the right one to put a stop to it or do you need him to do it?

Will confronting the ex get the result you want (will the person listen to you, will it just escalate things)?

15 “How can you answer if asked ‘how you view relationships’?”

Since that’s such a strange way of phrasing that question, I’d guess the person has an answer they are looking for or a way they view relationships that they are dying to tell you/someone about. Dates are not job interviews, so I would have almost no qualms about saying “Hrm, interesting, not sure I know how to sum that up in a general way right now – Is there a specific example you’re wanting to hear about, or a way you view relationships that you’d be willing to tell me about?” and kicking this right back to them before I even tried to answer.

16 “How to approach a co-worker about BDSM?” 

Newp. Nope all around. Hard pass. Do not do this, unless you’d like a long strange trip to human resources.

Why I am so sure about this:

It’s not “a co-worker, who I happen to be dating/involved with,” it’s just “co-worker.” If you were already talking consensually about sexy stuff with this person, you’d have the “Hey, so have you ever tried or wanted to try [specific sexy stuff]?” conversation and the descriptor you used would be “gf/bf/partner” or some variant of.

If this were a sex club or dungeon or other BDSM-friendly or -adjacent environment, where “Hey, so, ever want to get together outside of Sexy Work and do [Fun Sexy Work Stuff]?” was remotely part of the accepted dynamic, that would be reflected somehow in your search term, Kinky Friend. It just would be.

Alternate suggestions!

  • Go find your local BDSM community and go to a munch and meet some folks who might like what you like.
  • The internet has sites like FetLife where you can find people specifically into BDSM.
  • Mention your interests in your profile on other dating sites, see who responds positively.

Follow your kinky heart/other parts! Just not at work.

17 “Co-worker keeps asking ‘am I alright/okay’?”

Assuming you’ve said “Yep! Fine here!” at least once and it’s still happening, try this:

“Co-worker, you keep asking me that. Is there a particular reason?”

They’ll say some stuff, and that will tell you if they are noticing something off about you (if your behavior has changed, like “You are being really irritable/forgetful/behind on your work/spaced out/off lately,” that’s good information even if you’re feeling normal/fine), and it will give you an opening to say some version of “Ok, good to know. If I need help with anything, I promise I’ll ask you, but for now I’d like you to stop asking me that question.” 

18 “My husband refuses to let my daughter get birth control.” 

Well, you’ve got some decisions to make, and one of those decisions is whether you will support your daughter in taking care of her body and her health in the way she decides is right for her (even if that means going around your husband), or whether she’ll have to figure out something on her own that she has to keep secret from both of you (with all the attendant risks).

I have no chill about this. Your husband isn’t the boss of other people’s bodies. If your kid is of age to have sex and to ask for birth control, she’s of age to do that responsibly and safely, so please make sure she is informed and protected, ok?

Also, I don’t like encouraging people to lie to their spouses or their parents, but when someone with power over you threatens your safety and bodily autonomy, you do not have to disclose your private health decisions to them. I think you owe your daughter more here than you owe your husband.

Periodic reminder of the greatness of Scarleteen goes here.

19 “Telling people I’m not having Thanksgiving this year.”

Keep it simple and do it soon. Notify the usual suspects and say some version of “I know I usually host, but I’m not able to/I need to make another plan/I won’t be in town/hosting doesn’t work for me this year. I wanted to let you know ASAP so you/we can make another plan.” 

You don’t have to have another complete plan ready to go in order to not host btw, which is why “so you/we can make another plan” has both “you” and “we” options.

20 “Boyfriend getting cold feet about moving in together.”

LISTEN TO THE FEET (OR THE COLDNESS OF THEM).

THE FEET/THE COLD ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU.

It’s very stressful to make what you think is a mutually exciting romantic plan and then have one of the people involved start expressing doubts.

In your shoes, hearing that my partner had cold feet about a joint living situation, I would stop all plans to move in together until this was worked out, for real. I would do nothing irrevocable or expensive or that involved signing legal documents until everyone was very sure about what they wanted to do next. I would ask questions like:

  • What’s giving you pause?
  • What do you want to do?
  • What would set your mind at ease?
  • What is our plan if we do move in and we’re not happy? (Ask this anyway, even if everyone is really excited!)

I’d ask the questions and  listen carefully and lovingly to my partner’s concerns and see what makes sense for the relationship, sure, but with my own housing and financial security uppermost in my priorities. Like, when someone says “I know I said I wanted to live with you, but I don’t think I’m ready yet” that is reminder for you to think in terms of what is best for you, just you, and make sure your housing situation will be stable and good. Maybe compromises can be had? But please make sure you have contingency plans that are just about you, and please trust me that living alone is better (and cheaper, soooooooooo much cheaper) than moving in and having to uproot yourself a few months in because you’re living with someone you can’t really plan on or count on. Or somebody who hides problems until they are very big problems. Maybe a happy solution awaits! Cool! Wait until everyone is sure!

Not all romances benefit from cohabitation, the best time to figure that out is before you move in together, and it’s good that this person can be honest with you even if it feels awful right now.

BELIEVE THE FEET (AND THE COLD).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Community. Mr. Awkward is improving and we’re starting to talk about release either later this week or next week. Thanks so much for the kind words and the Uncle Julio’s.

Shall we tackle a question?

Hello Captain!

I’ve got a sort of weird question for you. How in the world do you accept an apology without letting the other person off the hook? All I really know how to do is either say it’s fine (indicating it wasn’t a big deal/they didn’t do anything wrong), or continue to act mad about it even though all I am is deeply hurt.

Here’s the situation. I have a friend that often works conventions for a vendor she knows/likes a lot. They needed people last minute to join them for a con this past weekend. I happened to know another friend who enjoys conventions of this sort, so I asked her to come with me to fill the numbers for the booth. Literally all we would have to pay for is food and our transport. We were both totally stoked to be going, since people we really admire were going to be there, and it was kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity. I also thought it might be a good opportunity for her, since she has been unable to find a job for several years now, and if they like you at this booth it could evolve into other opportunities. So I took off work, she got a ride to my apartment, and we took the train to the con.

The trip up was kind of stressful, mostly because it was stupidly early and friend stresses about things a lot more than I do, and then stressed more when I did not also feel/exhibit signs of stress (because I honestly didn’t see what there was to stress about). Then, when walking to the hotel, she was constantly walking waaay ahead of me and not keeping to my slower pace (I’m not in the best of shape, and I’d torn my feet up in new boots previously so it hurt to walk. And there was no reason to hurry-it was 6am and we weren’t needed anywhere until after 9) then excused it with “that’s just how I am”. Which, fine, not a big deal.

But then she met a friend at the con she hadn’t known would be there. (Not someone I had known before). So she wanted to hang out with him instead. Ok, cool, makes sense. I’ll just do my own thing. But when I was hanging out with her when he wasn’t around/ available she was just… not kind. Like, I was helping her find an autograph session and we had to climb under a metal barrier at one point, as we had gotten in the wrong line. Said barrier fell and hit me on the head, hard, stunning me. She tried to put it back and snapped at me when I didn’t jump to help her (because I was seeing stars). I still have a bruise at the base of my skull where it whacked me.

After the signing, we agreed to meet up to go for food before we needed to be back at the booth. But when she showed up, her other friend was there too. And they wanted to go about a mile away for food, which I pointed out that my battered feet couldn’t take, especially not if we were going to go, eat, and get back to the booth to help at closing time (we had worked the morning, so had the afternoon off). I was also developing a killer headache and just wanted to stay in the general vicinity of the booth. Friend and her friend ditched me without a second thought.

I ended up going back to the hotel alone for some down time before we were to meet the rest of the crew for dinner. She came in and I told her about my head hurting. She apologized for snapping at me and ditching me, which I said was ok.

Fast forward to the trip home. She’s stressing again, and snaps at me several times while getting to the train. Then she orders me to a certain seat (several seats away from hers, but it’s a fairly packed train and these were the only two where we wouldn’t have to have someone in the seat next to us). After the train starts moving, she texts me apologizing for bossing me around.

I texted back that I understood, but not to do it again because I don’t appreciate it. Now, I feel weird. Should I have just said it’s ok? Because it’s not, not really. I feel vaguely abused and hurt. I didn’t asked her to come to be bossed around, ditched, and yelled at. She’s apologized for part of her behavior, but not all of it. My head still hurts, and I feel like a lot of the joy I had at coming to this con has been taken away by this and other instances of her inconsiderate behavior. I’m sad and hurt she felt ok treating me this way. On the other hand, she did apologize for some of it. So I should just let it go and swallow my hurt with a smile.

My question is, in the future, how can I accept an apology like hers, which isn’t for everything that upset me, while not making it sound like it wasn’t a big deal and everything is ok now? I’m also worried I upset her with my response asking her not to boss me around again. She said she was just trying to help me find a seat, after all. Was I ok in setting that boundary? Or should I have just said I understood and it wasn’t a problem?

Thanks for your time, and I hope despite all the bad in the world right now you’re having a wonderful day

-overly emotional and exhausted (she/her)

Read More

Hello! It’s time to answer a bunch of short questions on a Friday. Here’s the thread from last time and here’s 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, Oct. 12. 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.
  • Comments open when everything is posted.

Since we were talking so much about fashion this week, here is a kitten hate-modeling his shark Halloween costume:

danielshark.jpg

Getting the feeling Daniel Striped Jason Mendoza Tiger does not want to be a shark.

danielsharksad.jpg

Shark-bonnet available on Etsy should you also want to make a portrait series called “Resignation.”

Here is another kitten hate-modeling her Halloween costume:

henriettapirate

The Dread Pirate Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat. Hat available from this Etsy seller should you wish to also photograph “Betrayal” in its truest form.

Hint: If you rub catnip all up inside the hats it buys you 45 more seconds of photography, for a total of 90 seconds before they rip the things off and bite them.

Looking forward to your questions! These are really fun to do and I love how much ground we cover.

Q1: My partner and I have been long distance for years, and it’s going to be more years. I love them very much but I feel so lonely. It’s like being single but only the bad parts. I’m also really into someone else. How do I know whether to stick with it or leave?

A1: If you’ve ever read this blog before you know I think you can have strong feelings of love and loyalty for someone and still decide that they aren’t a person you can create a happy, stable life with.

Whenever I get a “I’m torn between two partners” or “How long should I stay in this situation” question my automatic suggestion is to daydream about what you want your life to look like (where do you want to live, do you imagine sharing that home with a partner, what do you want money to be like, do you want to have kids, how do you want to spend your time, are you doing everything you want to with your education and career, what are your friendships & family relationships & social life like). Does staying in your relationship as it is make you feel more confident and happy about your life and your plans for your life? A lot of times we use the question of romantic relationships & where it’s all going as an excuse or a barrier to doing stuff we need to do for ourselves, or as a reason to put things off for someday.

Q2: Any tips for a single straight lady trying to motivate herself to do online dating in Trump’s America? It may be that I spend too much time on Twitter, but I’m having a hard time remembering “not all men.”

A2: If a straight single dude of voting age is in the USA right now and he’s not doing everything in his power to turn out the vote* for the midterms so we have some hope of putting a check on some of the worst of it, why should he even get to make eye contact with you in the next 27 days? (*Or some other concrete form of activism)

Ask me again after November 6.

Q3: Happy Friday, Cap’n! How do I handle coworkers cutting their nails and flossing in the office? I’m a contract worker at a small company, and I’m the youngest there and conflict-avoidant (she/her pronouns). Two coworkers do this, one being the president of the company! My desk is in the hallway and they both have offices. I don’t think I can ask this of the president, but I once asked if I could close my other co-worker’s door while he cut his nails and he seemed genuinely surprised it bothered me. Should I keep doing that? Can I also tell him “hey, I would prefer if you washed your hands before handling equipment we are both touching after you floss?” Please send help!

A3: This is one of those “yep, this is gross and people should really do this in private” questions but also one of those “choose your battles” and “your relative power to these people matters, esp. since you’re a contractor” questions.

Like, you’re correct that the company president isn’t gonna make it a priority, and it could damage your relationship to even bring it up.

As for the other coworker, who expressed surprise when you closed his door, did he start closing his door himself after that or does he keep right on going as if it never happened? I think “Hey, could you wash your hands between flossing and touching equipment?” is a reasonable ask if this is a situation that keeps cropping up, but I can’t promise you it will be friction free for you. They think what they’re doing is normal and you’re the weird one.

Sometimes it helps to present it as a personal quirk and own being The Weird One, like, “It’s my weird quirk, just can’t stand the sound!” or “I know it’s my weird quirk, but I really can’t watch anyone floss.” “Yep, I’m super touchy about it, appreciate your help, thanks!” Are you able to absent yourself from the situation until it’s over, like, “Oh is it nail-clipping time? I’ll be back in a bit” and use that time to take a tea break?

Q4: I moved near my aunt & uncle about a year ago (I’m in the city, they’re just outside in the suburbs) and since then they’ve been incredibly generous toward me. They know I’m essentially living paycheck-to-paycheck (I’m a recent grad) and since they don’t have any children and are fairly well-off, they’ve been doing lovely things to help me out such as taking me out for nice meals, helping me buy bulk groceries, gifting me beautiful older pieces of furniture and even offering to sell me one of their cars for a very discounted rate once my trash car kicks the bucket (likely to happen soon). I house sit/watch their cat for them when they’re out of town, but I want to do more to pay them back for their generosity. They’ve been such a help to me this past year and show no intention of stopping. I try to invite them into the city and treat them for dinner, but my uncle always gets to the check first and insists on them paying! I know they can afford to do all these great things for me, and they want to, but if you or the commenters have any ideas on how else I can express my appreciation, I welcome suggestions!

A4: First, trust that it is their pleasure to do nice things for you. Second, because they know your finances and are in a position to pick up the check, they’re not gonna let you pay for things like dinner out. Which leaves you with:

  • Spend time with them!
  • Send periodic nice handwritten thank you card when they buy you groceries or do something else nice for you!
  • Keep watching their cat & house sitting!
  • Next time you house sit, right before they come home, take an hour to dust the place well and vacuum the floors and otherwise tidy things so the place is fresh and welcoming. Maybe even buy some flowers.

Q5: My first marriage was to a jerk, and is thankfully over. My current sweetie is delightful, and plans to propose soon (this is not speculative, I’ve been included in ring consultations with the jeweler, etc.) BUT my ex proposed on October 22… scripts for asking that he not propose on/near that date? I don’t want the new memories tainted by the last mess.

A5: “I don’t want to ruin any ‘surprises’ you have planned, but can you give me a sense of timing, and if possible, can we do the ‘surprise!’ in November?”

Q6: Occasionally (maybe once every few weeks) my mom will leave a comment on one of my posts or send me a message phrased as a curt, abrupt demand instead of a request. For example, she commented “Ingredients please!” on a photo of my lunch, or texted “Show me your new apartment!” a few days after I had moved. We had not been talking about my new apartment. I cannot express how much this annoys me and puts me on edge. Do you have any scripts for setting and enforcing a boundary around this in a mature and loving way, when I can’t even quite articulate to myself why it annoys me so bad? I don’t want her to stop asking me things altogether, but I very much want her to stop talking to me like I’m the computer on Star Trek.

A6: “Did you mean that as a question?” “Mom, why are you talking to me as if I’m Alexa?”

Q7: No question for you, but Daniel is sooooooo cute!

A7: He’s a total sweetheart. I can’t believe they’ll be 6 months at the beginning of November.

Q8: Applying for a university teaching job. The ad says that they encourage applicants with career interruptions for parental leave, do I point out my career interruption with that cause? Or stick with the strategy of avoiding all hints of family?

A8: It’s great that the institution is encouraging this. In your cover letter, I would make the strongest possible case for yourself based on your credentials, accomplishments, and experience and if you address this, somewhere toward the end/in the paragraphs where you talk about being excited to work with them, compliment them for making explicitly family-friendly practices (WHICH ARE HUMAN BEING-FRIENDLY PRACTICES, LET’S BE CLEAR) part of their recruiting. Best of luck!

Q9: Etiquette Q: When you have guests helping clean up dishes, who gets to say how to load the dishwasher? Defer to the guests because they’re guests helping out, or defer to the host, because it’s their dishes/dishwasher? 

A9: Let it be written and spoken, unto the furthest corner of the land:

If you are hosting dinner guests who offer to help clean up, and you care enough about how the dishwasher is loaded that you would even consider offering verbal instructions in this case (vs. waiting until they’ve left to privately rearrange it yourself), because you are unwilling to let even one load be run with the “wrong” configuration, then you should commit now and forever to a lifetime of doing the dishes your damn self.

And if you are a dinner guest who is helping clean up after a party, and you wish to instruct or correct your hosts on the way to load their dishwasher, I hope you like eating alone for the rest of time (because this is what you deserve from now on).

May the Kindly Ones be gentle with you and with us all.

Q10: Hi there. This question is from a Twitter mutual with her permission. She’s been skipping a particular class due to whispered racist comments by classmates being traumatizing, and wonders how to explain this to her prof.

A10: How awful for her! She should go to office hours and tell the prof what happened, but first she may want to check the school handbook’s language on racist harassment and at least identify the administrative office that handles complaints about this on campus.

It would help if she’s documented who, when, what was said, who also heard it, and anything else about context. Document = written the details down somewhere with a date attached to it.

She should also go into the meeting with an idea of what she would like the professor to do about it and not assume that they know what to do next. Does she want her seat moved? Does she want a way to make up material she missed those days and to have those absences excused? Does she want the offenders talked to or disciplined? Does she want an alternative way to complete the class?

If the professor has been trained in teaching at all (big if!) they may not have been trained in what to do about this. We all get handbooks with harassment policies when we’re hired and sometimes those get updated, but that’s it – students can’t depend on professors having been trained to deal with situations like this. It’s unfair and fucked up, but it’s where we are, so knowing that can help your friend get the most from the meeting. It also means she should document the discussions she has with the prof at the meeting in case she needs to follow up with the school because the prof’s solution was “grow a thicker skin” or some bullshit.

I hope it goes well. Nobody should have to deal with that behavior from classmates.

Q11: A teenage relative recently moved in with my partner and I. She’s a pretty cool kid who is unable to live with her mother because of Reasons. I think we’re doing all right with the basics: warm bed, meals, inclusion, listening. But as a person with zero experience as parent/guardian, what might we be forgetting about? Are there legal, administrative, financial things that need to get sorted? Or just really simple things that not everyone thinks of? She’s shy about asking for things from us, understandably. I’d also really appreciate hearing from commenters who are parents, or who changed homes in their teen years. 

A11: I’m hoping commenters have detailed insight here – the first thing that comes to mind is yes, there are definitely legal things to sort out, like making sure that you have legal standing as her guardian (in case of emergency) and that the school also has you documented as such.

Q12: Ahoy, Cap’n! I have a middle school level dating question even though I’m (she/her) an adult in my early 30s. I’ve been seeing a GREAT guy for the past few weeks – so kind, funny, witty, distinctly not an asshole, great conversationalist…we get along like peaches and cream. And I feel physically drawn to him! But unfortunately, he is bad at The Stuff. I want to kiss him! But when I do, it’s just…not pleasant. Sometimes it verges on actual discomfort. I don’t know what to do with this. It makes me particularly fraught given that I had been dating another guy not too long ago that was the best, hottest, easiest sex of my life – and truth be told, I miss it. I know this new guy doesn’t have a lot of experience, so I’m very sensitive to hurting his feelings/pride/whatever about this, but I just can’t continue with the bad kissing, I like kissing way too much. But I also like HIM as a PERSON and that is really important to me too. Is this something that can be discussed gracefully and maybe even improved over time? Or is this just a fundamental incompatibility? What do?

A12: Sometimes we seem to luck out with a partner here & there whose instincts match what we didn’t even know we needed and it just all happens wordlessly and it’s accidentally just right (what Erica Jong famously called “the zipless fuck”). Well, we luck out until we move on to a new partner and find we don’t have the practice or skills to say “not so much pressure, more like this!” When you’re feeling discomfort during any sexual/romantic activity, you gotta be able to put the brakes on and redirect! Nobody has to be a “bad” kisser or sexy stuff partner for a thing that was really hot that one time to be not so hot now, or for somebody’s knee to get in a weird position. We’ve all got bodies, bodies are weird, and  “not so much with that, let’s try this instead” has to become part of everybody’s vocabulary, both to say and to hear!

We all start somewhere. This guy isn’t experienced, so, you are his experience and you can be a good one. Maybe try saying “Can I show you how I really like to be kissed?” and then take the lead and demonstrate. And be specific: “I really like when you put your hands here.” “I really like to go slow.” “I really like this much tongue/not that much.” 

One of my favorite early-dating memories with Mr. Awkward was the night we created a hilarious catalogue of purposefully terrible kissing and gave it all names – “The Dentist,” “The Somnambulist,” “The Prober,” etc. He and I had excellent baseline kissing compatibility, but giving names to the stuff we didn’t like helped confirm what we did. I offer this up to you as a fun kissing game.

Q13: We see so many examples of bad relationship modeling on the big/ small screen. Any examples of movies or TV that do relationships right? The Addams Family? The Santa Clarita Diet? What else?

A13: This is a great question that someone should compile (and get paid) to write as a Buzzfeed or Bitch or Bustle pitch. T’Challa & Nakia?

IDK, while I love The Addams Family, to give you an idea how much this is not the criteria that I use to guide my personal escapist viewing consumption, the last two movies I watched were A Star Is Born (the new one, maybe someday I’ll get ‘Shallow’ out of my head but not today) and Three Colors: White (I don’t want to spoil it, but married people gettin’ revenge on each other is definitely a theme).

Q14: Hey Cap! It’s a year since I broke up with my exhausting ex! What’s some good music to add to my “I Am So Angry At Men” playlist? Thanks lots!

A14: I have recent experience that Tori Amos’s Precious Things will make the men very quiet and the women all sing along when you do it at karaoke: “I WANNA SMASH THE FACES/OF THOSE BEAUTIFUL BOYS/THOSE CHRISTIAN BOYS AIEEEEAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

Q15: My (long distance) partner is planning on moving over early next year and we’re planning on moving in together. I think I’ve figured out how to support him in building his own local social groups through your other blog posts but I’m wondering if you have any tips on how I can remind myself to step back and not try and do this for him. I know I’m going to need time to maintain my own social network and because I’ll be working and he’ll be at home job hunting I know I’ll feel bad if I’m out and he’s alone some evenings too!

A15: Hi, I do have tips on that, because you are talking about a move that hasn’t even happened yet and you’re already doing emotional labor about whether another adult person will make his own friends! Is he doing anything about this, like, seeing what groups & activities meet his own interests in your area? Also, what does he do with his free time/hobbies/sports/interests now? (I ask b/c how social he tends to be is unlikely to change).

What you can do is nurture and invest in your own social life, of which he is part but not all.

What you can do after he moves is make it clear that you’re glad he’s here and plan time with him, invite him along to some things, but also make it clear that you want to do your own thing sometimes, and keep doing those alone- or friends- things that make you happy.

And if he’s lonely, he can make some friends or find social stuff to do!

Until he does stuff, do zero stuff! (And maybe not even then!)

That’s all for this week, happy weekend, happy commenting, happy dressing your pets in costumes. Comments are open. Moderation will be light over the weekend, as usual, so if something gets stuck in the spam trap don’t panic – I’ll set it free as I can.

This letter contains emotional abuse of people, potential physical harm of animals (now stopped/interrupted/not ongoing/the animals are ok for now!, but still I know some people can’t safely read about that), and enough WHAT THE FUCK that you’ll need a comfy chair and a cold washcloth, at minimum.

If you want the teachable moment without reading the whole story, here it is: When a romantic partner wants you to do something that is terrible for you to make life easier for his ex-wife  the lady he’s very much still married to and choosing to prioritize, 1) SAY NO! 2) RUN AWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

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