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Overthinking It

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

First, as is traditional, a song:

Lyrics here.

1 “How to encourage husband to make friends.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 “Breaking up because geography.”

Sometimes that’s a really good reason.

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

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

5 “captain awkward how to dump someone”

Quick review:

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

6 “Hi dad mom died sex”

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 “My grandparents hate my tattoos.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 “Are grandmas always right about your gender?”

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

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

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

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

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

17 “My boyfriend is always counseling me.” 

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

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

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

“Stop.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking for?

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

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

22 “Can you pay someone in blood?”

No. Ew.

Wait. What did you buy on Vampire eBay?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Captain!

I (she/her/hers) and my friend (also she/her/hers) recently applied for the same job. Our experience and relation to the position are so similar that for all I know, they flipped a coin to decide who got it. We interviewed back to back, and before I could even send a rallying message of something like “No matter what happens, I’ll just be happy if one of us gets it!” or that kind of thing, I received an offer. Everything happened very fast, but this job was much needed, and I am very happy for the positive changes this will mean for me in what has otherwise been an incredibly challenging year.

The problem is… I don’t think my friend will have the same positive attitude that I would had the roles been reversed. Sure, a little jealousy is reasonable, but she has been… a LOT, in past situations that are similar (for example, she more or less cut a friend out of her life when said friend received an assistantship they both applied for – admittedly their friendship was already in rough terrain, so that was the nail in the coffin). I’m hoping our strong friendship will be enough to counter what I suspect will be a big emotional reaction for her? But… you know.

I haven’t spoken to her about it yet, and don’t know if she even knows yet (but I suspect she does, as our industry is small, and to make matters worse, her partner’s job was adversely impacted as part of the restructuring of the company to even make this new position possible).

How do I: maintain a good relationship with her; not let her sadness/whatever make me feel guilty about getting something I deserve; and even approach the topic?

– Just as Qualified (and apparently a little more?)

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Hello, it’s on!

Patrons can submit questions here (advantage: 1st dibs, more words). Anyone/Everyone can submit on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday), questions close at noon Chicago time, I answer as many as I can and update as I go between noon and 1pm. Whatever I don’t have time for gets held over for next week. Comments open once everything is posted.

This is also the last day (for a while, at least) that I remind folks about supporting the site. You can become a patron or send a donation anytime, of course, but these biannual reminder drives really help me be able to plan out nice things! One of these nice things: I’m officially hiring a graphic designer and a proofreader/formatter to put the finishing touches on an e-book of previously-published columns called #ThisF-ing Guy (And How To Avoid Him), so I can make it available before the end of the year. Thank you so much for all the support so far. This site is a labor of love, but it is labor, and it feels so great to be able to say “I run a fan-supported advice website.”

Cue the jazz flute which, I confess I started out including as a humorous homage to the NPR and WGBH-Boston pledge drives of my youth and my middle-school bad flute playing, but then I ended up listening to a crapload of jazz flute on YouTube this week, and now I’m like “JAZZ FLUTE IS AWESOME, MOAR JAZZ FLUTE PLEASE.” Proving that irony will lose out to sincerity every damn time.

Let’s begin: Talking to the neighbors about misbehaving kids, KITTENS, ADHD and learning to take compliments, bickering family/feeling bad about interacting with family, crushes (it’s okay to just ignore them!), when do you know if couples’ counseling is working, how to therapy, when to say ‘I love you’, drop-in houseguests, parents who want you to be their therapist, compliments that aren’t compliments.

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Hi Captain,

You know how there’s a coping mechanism of putting stressful or damaging thoughts/memories in an imaginary box and closing it until you feel ready to deal with them? I have two literal boxes of potentially upsetting artifacts, and I don’t know what to do with them.

Condensed backstory: My parents had a very long, acrimonious, complicated divorce throughout my elementary school years (age 6ish-11ish). I’m an only child. I haven’t had contact with my father in about 25 years.

I have very few memories of this time, and what I do remember is vague and blurry, with brief instances of clarity. For example, I remember that part of the custody agreement at one point was that my father could never be alone with me in a bedroom or bathroom. I remember locking myself in my bathroom and refusing to go with him and the cops being called. (I was an intensely obedient child, so this was almost indescribably outside my normal scope of behavior.)

During these years, my mom recorded everything. She wrote pages and pages documenting everything every day and, I think, recorded (and transcribed?) family therapy sessions. She kept all of this in a couple of boxes in a spare room until she downsized to a condo several years ago. At that point, I ended up with the boxes. I don’t remember if she asked me to keep them or if she told me to or if we even had a conversation about it at all. (My relationship with my mom is quite complicated, and I don’t see a path to having a productive conversation with her now about this.)

I was lucky enough to have friends who agreed to keep these boxes in their storage space for me for a few years, but I’ve since moved states. Now, these boxes are in my home. I don’t know what’s in there, and I don’t feel emotionally ready to unpack them right now. I’m afraid of seeing what’s inside — both the content and the framing of it. I’m also afraid of blindly tossing them out. Keeping them unopened in my space has been a workable temporary solution, but it’s beginning to wear on me.

Am I tying myself in knots for nothing? Am I tying myself in knots completely appropriately??

Thanks so much for your time and perspective,

Living with Literal Baggage
(she/her pronouns)

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There’s a really interesting conversation about narcissism that popped up in a comment thread yesterday that made me think harder about the “Don’t offer diagnoses for people based on letters or internet comments” rule we have here and I’d like to expand on it.

At length.

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How it works: Patreon supporters can use the thread there to submit questions, everyone else can use Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which time I’ll answer as many as I can until 1pm

Discussions open after I’m done with the questions. These are fun to write.

Q1: I (she, feminine pronouns) work in the same industry as a close friend. Networking is a huge part of excelling and getting your work noticed. My friend, who I genuinely love, has blacklisted/ comprehensively gone off an astonishing number of people (male and female) in the industry, and she continues to speak very negatively of them whenever their names are mentioned. She experienced a lot of bullying growing up, and I don’t doubt that some of these industry people have behaved genuinely badly towards her. However, I have seen her decide to never speak to industry people (some of whom were also close friends) because of things that seem very minor or even completely subjective (for example, different texting styles or infrequent communication between projects). She gets very upset if I do not support her by cutting off these people, too. It’s getting to the point where I am not sure how to navigate this. For example, I just completed a very successful project with two people whom she introduced me to, but since then, she has decided never to speak to them again (to be clear, not over anything big like bullying or sexual harassment but because she thought the guy was giving off potentially flirty vibes – I read the email in question and it did not seem flirty to me). I’d like to work with them again, but I’m really worried about how she will respond. She’s already unhappy because I was invited to participate in an event with two other people she dislikes (because they didn’t want a close friendship with her but were otherwise perfectly friendly and professional). I didn’t even know they were involved until I’d agreed to participate! I don’t want to invalidate her experience, and I don’t want to work with assholes, but when she takes offense so easily and so often, I’m not sure how to proceed. I don’t want to be best friends with all these people – I just want to get my work done! She is otherwise a fantastic, very supportive friend. Advice + scripts for moving forward would be much appreciated!

A1: This sounds a lot like the letter Alison and I tackled together at Ask A Manager a few months back.

I appreciate your clarification that your friend’s dislike is not based on abuse or bullying or other #MeToo stuff, and is more about small interpersonal frictions or dislike. We all know that the same person can treat two people very differently, so I appreciate your thoughtfulness about that.

Say you do tell your friend about your plans to work with these folks she doesn’t like, and she complains about them a lot and seems to expect you to…what? Ditch working with them? Take on her grudge as your own?…I think it’s worth trying scripts like:

“Ok, I get that you don’t like them. What are you asking me to do?”

Like, get it in the open. Is she venting or is she expecting you to actually quit gigs or not accept any invitation that involves people she doesn’t like?

See also:

“Wait, are you asking me to not work with people that I work well with so far because you don’t like working with them?”

“I get that you don’t like _____, but you’re not the one that has to work with them. I don’t want to invalidate your experiences but I also need to cultivate my own professional network, even if it means working with people you aren’t fans of sometimes.” 

“You should absolutely work only with people you respect and get along with. But what you look for in a collaboration isn’t necessarily the same as what I look for. I don’t need to be friends with people in order to work with them.”

“I always appreciate the heads up when a situation might get sticky, but I also appreciate the chance to form my own network and my own working relationships with people. Sometimes it feels like you expect me to take on every grudge you have as my own, and I don’t know what to tell you.”

Hopefully she’ll hear you. If you love and value this friend, I also suggest finding some Not Work topics of discussion.

Q2: I work at a university with an (apparently) amazing staff benefits package. Thing is, all my coworkers are permanent salaried employees, and I’m an underpaid temp worker. My contract keeps getting extended & I fully believe that they really will make it permanent sometime (soonish? hopefully?), but university bureaucracy is a nightmare. In the meantime, what do I do when my coworkers complain about not being able to use up their vacation time and I struggle to pay bills when the office closes for July 4? Do you have any scripts/methods for not raging when they talk about scheduling free massages & eye checkups?

A2: As an adjunct professor who recently had a tenured colleague complain to me about not knowing quite what to focus on during his upcoming paid sabbatical, my answer to this is:

FUCKED IF I KNOW

You could try silence, or “hrmmm, interesting” + ye olde subject change.

You could try “Oh, paid vacation time, that sounds like a pretty good problem to me! Let me know how that all works out.”

But really…

Fucked if I know.

Q3: What are you reading this summer?

A3: I’m reading EVERYTHING this summer. Thanks to library extension and being a fast reader and a little more free time than I get during the school year, I probably read a book about every three days.

Sunday I finally finished N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky (I’d been saving it) and then immediately started re-reading The Fifth Season. 

Last week I devoured The Changeling by Victor LaValle (this needs to be a TV series ASAP, it’s just so visual and well-plotted and suspenseful) and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Right before that I read Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and Circling The Sun by Paula McClain. And Mark Oshiro’s debut, Anger Is A Gift, which destroyed me and would be a great companion to The Hate U Give for YA books about right now.

I read all the Tommy & Tuppence books by Agatha Christie, in sequence. Michelle MacNamara’s I’ll Be Gone In The Dark has me rethinking sliding glass doors.

I got some romance in there: T. Kingfisher’s The Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine made me rethink sexy paladins. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole should 100% be adapted for the screen.

Last night I started The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s fun. Soon I’ll dive into Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

Reading is the best.

Because this has come up before in book threads: I’m not a book blogger or book reviewer, and I’m sure everything I’ve listed here should get a trigger warning or content note for something. I read very fast, I read for my own fun, and I literally do not keep track of what might be upsetting to other people. This is a list of what I am reading, not what you or anyone should read. If something here catches your eye but you’re worried about potential triggers, please read someone else’s reviews before you dive in.

Q4: Any tips for dealing with shame/guilt about not being disciplined enough? I’m coming off a hellish couple of months of constant travel/public speaking/work events, and although it was great for my CV, it was really difficult and I’m feeling burned out. Now I just want to laze around the house and watch Parts Unknown, but I’m having a lot of trouble letting go of all of the projects that I want to do but aren’t urgent. It’s also making my envy of other colleague’s success much worse. I’m aware I’m being too hard on myself but am not sure how to move past thinking about it as a self-discipline problem.

Parts Unknown is wonderful and we’ve watched a fair bit of it ourselves this past month (The Houston episode is especially beautiful and seems like everything Bourdain was trying to do or say). And I’m glad you mentioned that show specifically, because it is a literally a show about stopping to smell the flowers and drink beers with people and look at the world.

You need breaks. You know you need breaks. So what if you gave yourself a defined period, like, three weeks, to just indulge in your breaks, read widely, catch up on TV and naps, etc. and then after that you’ll dive back into working on projects? That way you can tell the little “should” voice inside that you have a plan to get back to work.

The reason I say three weeks and not one week is that you need to trick your mind a little, like Marmee in Little Women when she said “fine, don’t do your chores, do whatever you want” and Beth was back to dusting in like, three days.  One week isn’t enough time. Two is probably about right. That third week you’ll be actually a little bored with yourself and hungry to get back into a working routine.

Another suggestion: During that three weeks, disconnect from whatever medium keeps shoving your colleagues’ successes in your face. Who gives a shit what they’re doing? Their work doesn’t take anything away from yours.

Now go and RELAX.

Q5: What do I say in a first message to parents after 2+ years of minimal contact & a mental health breakdown last year that is continuing? I know I’ve disappointed them but I don’t really want to get into that or my mental health.

A5: This first message isn’t going to be the only message, right? So it doesn’t have to do All Of The Things. It doesn’t have to make up for lost time. It just has to communicate some version of “Hi, are you still there? I’m still here.” 

People make fun of greeting cards for being trite (personally, I clutch my chest anytime I need to buy one and see that some of them are SEVEN WHOLE DOLLARS now), but sometimes trite gets the job done. Pick out a greeting card in the general “thinking of you” genre or a postcard with a cool image on it, scrawl out a short message, and send it. See what comes back.

Also, I think it would be helpful for you to avoid starting with “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch.” Maybe you are sorry, maybe you aren’t, maybe you aren’t the one who owes apologies, maybe no apologies are owed. Sorries are for later, if ever. Start with “Hi!”

I hope things get better for you real soon. ❤

Q6: I recently started my first full-time, after-college job, and it’s great. I firmly believe that I would not be here without your blog (and Ask a Manager!). Thank you so much. My question is, now that I have actual, functional health insurance (where the deductible isn’t so high that I can’t imagine actually scheduling anything) … how do I go about finding a primary-care doc and/or a dentist? My EAP has set me up with a short-term therapist for now, so huzzah for that, but I think I should probably schedule some checkups / cleanings / whatnot, and I don’t know where to start.

A6: Congratulations on the new job.

Your health plan almost certainly has a website, and that website has a “find a provider” function to help you locate people who are in network. For a primary care doctor in the USA look for both “primary care” and “internal medicine” as specialties. You could also ask nice coworkers who are on the same health plan, “Hey, I need to pick a primary care doctor and I’d like to find one close to the office – anybody know someone great?” Then pick one, make an appointment, and see how it goes.

I’ve also used apps like Zocdoc successfully. You enter all your stuff, and your health insurance info, and they match you to doctors who are taking new patients in your area.

I’m sure you can master these logistics, is part of this about not knowing which doctor to choose? I like seeing female doctors, I have better luck with young ones, I like asking them about Health At Every Size or at least people who can roll with “Yup, I’m fat, so, what would you do for a thin person with the exact same symptoms?” I like doctors who are close to public transit and close to work/home or other places I go regularly, so I factor all this in when I’m looking.

And then there’s good old trial-and-error. You’re not married to the first one you pick.

Q7: So, this may be too big a question for the short answer session, but I’d love some tips on becoming less selfish. The problem is on the surface I seem to others like a kind and generous person – I donate lots of time and money to charity, would rather get gifts for others than buy stuff for myself, take the time to listen when others are down, etc. However, I’m doing these things either to give myself an ego boost (i.e., I love to see a friend’s big smile when I’ve found the perfect gift) or because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t (i.e, helping coworkers when they seemed stressed due to heavy workloads). Even when I help others basically anonymously (such as giving money/food to the homeless) I’m doing it to give myself a warm fuzzy feeling. I feel awful that I am basically using other people this way but don’t know how to change my mindset.

A7: This sounds like a self-worth problem rather than a “doing generosity wrong” problem to me – have you ever spoken to a therapist about feeling like you’re using people when you do nice things for them? Is doing your best to be a kind person really a reason to beat yourself up? Maybe dig into that with a trustworthy pro.

The other practical solution that comes to mind: Volunteer for a cause in a way that connects you to an organization and community over a longer-term, so you are working on an issue in concert with other people. Let the community and the work sustain you.

Q8: Do you have any general guidelines/tips to help someone decide whether or not they should pursue therapy?

A8: Well, I think most adults could use a look under the emotional hood at some point in their lives, so if you’ve never tried it and you think you might benefit from it and you have access to it, why not try it? You could always stop if you don’t get anything out of it.

There is one kind of letter that I get over and over again that is almost universally a signal for “Stop, drop, and try therapy!”

That letter starts with “Ever since I was a child…” and then includes many many many details about childhood, family history, and things from the past that the Letter Writer thinks might be relevant to the current problem.

Then the current problem is something that could be solved with “Break up!” or “Maybe you could host Thanksgiving at your house instead?” and I am not making fun here – in most cases there is a pretty simple solution that feels genuinely impossible to the Letter Writer because the past is so much with them. It’s not their fault, it’s just that the coping mechanisms that they developed to survive whatever happened in the first 500 words or so of their letter are things that are not helping them function now.

Therapy’s good for that. It lets you excavate all that past stuff in a safe way. It helps you be the adult in your own life instead of the hurt child in somebody else’s life. It helps you tell new stories about what you want to do and what you need.

Q9: Partner & I don’t want homophobes at our wedding but we have lots of “disagree w/ the lifestyle” people in extended family. How do we find them out & not invite them? Have 50 conversations w/ people who don’t think they hate me but actually do? Scripts?

A9: Here’s one possible way to handle this:

Make a list of the people you want to be at your wedding. Not “because faaaaaamily” or “because mom will be mad if I don’t invite all the cousins” but the list of people whose faces you’d be genuinely happy to see that day. Are any of the known, vocal homophobes on that list? Cross them off.

Then invite the rest of the list.

If anyone left on the list of people you really want to see on your wedding day is secretly homophobic, they’ll self-select out. Or they’ll show up and they’ll behave themselves. Not a win, exactly, but maybe a draw?

If anyone, and I mean ANYONE, gives you shit about leaving off homophobic relatives, have a united front: “Wow, it’s so weird that you’d want us to invite someone who has said so many ignorant and terrible things about queer people to our big gay wedding.” “Well, Granny has made it pretty clear that she disagrees with our ‘lifestyle’, so why would we invite her, exactly?” 

Your wedding doesn’t have to fix your family, or their attitudes. It also doesn’t have to settle every old score with perfect fairness.

Congratulations, I hope it’s an awesome party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?