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Hi Captain,

About five years ago I discovered that if I didn’t want someone in my life, I had the ability to say “Nope!” and walk away, even if that person was faaaaaaaaaaamily. Since then, I’ve exercised this option four times with family members, never lightly but without regretting the decision either.

Three of the four family members were people I did not have a good relationship already who exhibited patterns of incredibly inappropriate, harmful behaviour (with myself and other) and showed zero insight or awareness into why their behaviour was awful. I feel safer and happier with these people out of my life.

The fourth was…. different. A beloved cousin turned out to espouse absolutely terrifying, hateful beliefs, the kind that conjure up associations with white supremacist groups. I don’t know what the hell happened there (it came up on Facebook one day, it’s definitely not something my cousin talked about when we still lived in the same city several years ago), but living three timezones away and having no regular means of contact with this person, I didn’t feel able to intervene. After trying to challenge these beliefs and getting a response that *I* was the one who wasn’t seeing clearly and if I just would read these various resources I too would see the light and understand [insert horrifying white supremacist conspiracy theory garbage], I bailed. I cannot countenance having any more contact with this person. According to my mother, my cousin is sad and confused by my reaction and subsequent blocking on Facebook. I am agog.

Anyway, none of these estrangements is likely to resolve, ever. I’m okay with that (sad about the beloved cousin, but I can deal). The challenge is what next? My grandmother is having a milestone birthday in a few months, and I’m already planning to avoid the group celebration (which will have 3 of the 4 in attendance) and do something special with her one-on-one (mercifully living out of town makes this possible with minimal awkwardness–I’m just not “available” that day!). Which will disappoint her, but hopefully not too much. My mother is supporting me completely, but she also wonders what the hell I’m going to do about things like funerals, which is something that will very likely come up within the next few years at my grandmother’s age.

Also, what do I tell people? When I was first contemplating just making a brief appearance at the birthday party and then bailing, my mother agreed but also asked me for scripts for how to handle the resulting awkwardness, and I honestly blanked on anything but, “[Child] loves their Granny but doesn’t want to be around Aunt/Uncle/Cousin”, which seems… undiplomatic, to say the least. And not helpful at dispelling awkwardness when the rest of the family are unlikely to be sympathetic to my reasons (very “but faaaaaaaaaamily”).

At least with my dad (estranged family member #4), I feel much freer to say “He’s a shitty person and I’m glad he’s out of my life forever”. But with the extended family members, it feels like I’m not allowed to judge them or be open about why I don’t want to see them. I feel good about my boundaries, but weird about the on-going awkwardness of having them. Help?

-Stranger in an Estranged Land
(they/them)

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Hello Captain & Community!

The short version of my problem is: I am never going to have children. My mother refuses to accept this.

The long version is as such: Since the age of eleven, I’ve had a mystery medical condition. My mother has never accepted its existence. While I’ve never been explicitly told “You CANNOT have children” because of the condition, multiple doctors have told me many variations of “It will be VERY DIFFICULT for you to SAFELY have children.” Even if I wanted kids, which I do not, I would be looking at adoption, considering the circumstances.

I am now 26. I have recently finished grad school and am just starting out; I am currently living with my parents. I have one sibling; she is 31. My nephew was born a little over a year ago. My mother has since gone grandbaby-crazy.

My mother has a habit of offering unsolicited advice on all subjects and getting angry and retaliating if it is not followed. At every available opportunity, she lectures me to make career decisions centered around giving birth to and raising children. She also criticizes my long-term boyfriend (behind his back) about his salary and social standing (“he doesn’t make enough for you to not work!”) while simultaneously pressuring me to settle down and procreate because “the clock is ticking.”

When in front of my (huge, nosy, omnipresent) extended family, I let these comments slide because I value my privacy and displaying anything but familial respect gets the whole family involved. (Spoiler alert: they’ll agree with her). In private, I try to address it with her. Whenever I explain my medical reasons for not having children, it’s like she’s never heard them before. She refuses to acknowledge any problems exist and accuses me of lying when I cite to her specifically which doctors have said what and when. On the rare occasion when she “humors me,” she tells me that I “should be doing everything possible, no matter the expense” to correct the problem immediately, which just isn’t possible. I’ve let the “even-if-I-could-I-wouldn’t” component alone so far since I suspect that would start a never-ending argument. I am afraid that if I keep standing my ground like I have been, she will retaliate. I am exhausted. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Enough Already

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

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

1. “Dating a Midwestern man”

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

 

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

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

 

3. “friendsporn???” 

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

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

4. “How to sabotage someone’s teeth.”

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

5. “Girlfriend is over emotional and oversensitive.” 

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

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

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

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

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

malort

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

(Don’t drink this, it’s repulsive)


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

Yes, that is the general idea.

9. “My weight loss captain.”

Is piloting another ship, far from here.

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

You don’t.

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

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

Much dangerous, many serious.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sometimes these things just go together like magnetic poetry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. “Neighbor won’t answer doorbell.”

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

 

 

 


 

Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Slainte, Captain!

I have a weird family question that I couldn’t find an answer to, so I turn to you.

I’m 30 years old, raised by my mom and my stepdad. Hopefully brief context: my stepdad and I have never got along. There were many instances of emotional abuse – he’s the kind of guy who would excitedly volunteer to tell me when I was in trouble because he delighted in bringing me bad news, and was jealous enough of my relationship with my mom that he would come up with chores for me to do whenever he caught me sitting and talking or reading with her. There were also a few occasions of drunky physical abuse; I got slapped and thrown around a fair bit. He’s still incredibly rude to me a lot of the time, which is why we don’t really talk. They live in another state and that’s the way I like it.

By contrast, my relationship with my mother is… good, but problematic. She is the strongest, classiest, most brilliant and brave woman I’ve ever known, and I practically worship her, but I also know that I can’t be around her and retain my adulthood at all. She loves me ferociously but spent most of my childhood pushing me away. “Love me from afar!” was her favorite line. We can talk for years about books, movies, history, science, ideas… but I cannot tell her things that matter to me, because she will either ridicule them or simply tell me, “Oh, honey, you know I don’t care about that.” Yes, she actually says exactly that.

So! Here’s my issue:

Every time I talk to them on the phone (usually about twice a month for an hour or more – my mom and I LOVE to talk) one or the other of them will say something like, “Do you think we were good parents?” I never know how to answer that question. I don’t think they were great parents, but at this point, there’s nothing they can do about that, and they’re not likely to agree with a lot of my criticisms anyway. Answering that question honestly would ultimately involve me DEFENDING my memories of neglect and abuse. I’m happy with my life now; I have a family I love and I am finally discovering the person I want to be. Why make both them and me feel like crap when it doesn’t really matter now?

But it keeps coming up. They won’t stop asking, and I hate comforting them about it when I can’t feel genuine doing it. How can I make this question go away without opening up a whole can of emotional nonsense when my life is finally getting better?

Thank you for your time!
Loving From Afar (she/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain,

For nearly two years I have been rolling around in the same low-level but wearing problems like a pig in my own muck, and it’s got to the point where I think I’m the problem – in two ways. One, I keep having the same problems over and over, and not managing to change, so it’s got to be at least partly me. Two, in the specific instances at the moment, being unhappy is making me act like an asshole. I feel like the villain in my own life – every time I read a book with an antagonist, I think ‘Yeah, I have that fault’. Basically, I feel stuck in my own head and trapped by circumstances and I simply don’t know what to do or how to make a decision about it.

I am in a relationship with a very decent, lovely man, Rob, who is the father of my 18-month-old daughter, Lila. Lila was unplanned – Rob and I had been together just 10 months, lived in different towns and he knew he didn’t want kids (I was undecided). He changed his mind immediately she was born and is a devoted dad now. He does so much: cooking, cleaning, his share of the childcare, gardening, making things for the house. He moved in with me two weeks before Lila was born. The house is mine but since we’ve been living together we’ve got a joint account and split everything. Rob is also supportive of me wanting to change career and of my pursuing my childhood ambition to write.

Rob wasn’t my usual type and some of the things that attracted me to him were (I see in hindsight) things that weren’t like my ex (e.g. not criticising the way I ate or sang). I’d recently become more healthy and fit than I’d been for a long time and felt really good. Our relationship was based a lot around food, sex and big physical challenges in those early days.

Since having Lila, a lot of that has changed. Rob always had a lower sex drive than me and I was not always as understanding of that as I should have been (instead feeling rejected). Since I got pregnant our sex life has disappeared. In the last year we’ve had sex maybe once. He has many (undoubtedly true) reasons for this – to start with, he was shocked by becoming a father and thinking his life was over; then he was exhausted from having a newborn and dealing with my depression; now he thinks we need to spend more time together so he feels a connection, and feels I would rather spend time on my phone than with him (this is sometimes true – I feel like we don’t have that much in common or interesting to talk about, and get frustrated with our conversations – if I’m 100 per cent honest, I don’t feel intellectually challenged by him). But I’ve felt very rejected and ‘I still find you attractive’ is not convincing when not backed up with any actions (even hugging is rare, and the only kissing is a peck goodbye in the morning).

We do things together as a family at weekends, but not really the same outdoorsy things we used to. But we take Lila out a lot together – to the woods, to model steam train exhibitions, to farms, camping, to see grandparents or friends. And we host games nights at our house or have friends for dinners. We only rarely do things just us though.

We argued a lot after Lila was born – not immediately, but it started after several months. It goes in phases – we can get along OK, doing the routines, but if certain topics get brought up, arguments flare into volcanic force with breathtaking speed. Some of the resentments run deep on both sides and we don’t seem able to address them. And the worst thing is, neither of us seems to have any self-control once the floodgates are down, and we argue in front of Lila (who is now 20 months).

Rob actually proposed just under a year ago. I feel awful because although I didn’t pressure him, he knew I wanted my mum (who’s terminally ill) to be at my wedding. Immediately he proposed, it felt wrong to me, in a visceral way. I said yes – we were on vacation and had been happily making our 5 year plans the night before, it was romantic and I was cowardly. But then I think subconsciously I started pushing at the pressure points of the relationship after that. We starting arguing more and I started distancing myself more.

Rob isn’t perfect and he’s said some pretty mean things to me in arguments – that I’m pathetic, useless, to just ‘take pills’ for my depression (despite my stated personal preference for counselling and two doctors’ opinions to the same effect), saying when asked why he’s with me that he loves ‘the old me’ and knows I can be kind and lovely etc. (he means emotionally/mentally, not physically – I’m the one who can’t come to terms with my post-partum look, although his lack of desire for me doesn’t help).

Where I’m unhappy, I am acting out and am often unfair. Sometimes I am so childish in my emotions and reactions (although Rob can be too, and he loses his temper easily). I’m also selfish and feel I’m using him. When I’m depressed, I get lethargic and he ends up doing more than his fair share of chores. I feel really torn. On one side, staying together would be the optimum outcome for Lila (assuming we can have a healthy relationship), and for us too, even if just in terms of sharing her growing up and not having to split time to see her. Also, Rob wouldn’t be able to buy a house on his own, finances would be tighter for us both (probably also not helping Lila down the line), I may have to go back to work full time (I’m currently part time) and we don’t want Lila in childcare 5 days a week. So if it can work, I want it to. And I don’t know if it is just my attitude getting in the way, that I need to commit more. But small things seem to take so much effort. I don’t know if that’s because I’m depressed, or if my depression has partly stemmed from the situation. I’ve also started stupidly romancing in my head about someone I barely know but who showed a flicker of interest in me. Rob is a great guy – loyal, kind, generous.

On the other side, something doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to go without sex. Sometimes I’m so frustrated that I want an affair – although I wouldn’t actually do it, I hate that the thought even pops into my head. I don’t feel we have enough intellectual common interests or ground. We don’t ever agree on even films to watch. We do have some interests in common, but I worry I’d be bored sitting on a sofa with him in 20 years’ time. But I have a history of ‘grass is always greener’-ing, and maybe I’m just jinxng the relationship all by myself? I don’t want Lila to grow up seeing an unhealthy relationship. And without him, my life will be a lot harder and any career change (I really hate my job) or creative/social time would be much less likely. There’s no guarantee I’d find a more fulfilling relationship so maybe I should try and make the best of things. But then I feel bad for using him. One of my pragmatic practical friends said we should just keep going for now until Lila is a bit older, but that has its issues too.

These counter arguments have been rolling in my head over and over for more than a year now and I’m exhausted and no nearer to knowing what’s best.

Rob says he wants to make it work, but I secretly feel maybe it’s just because he wants to see Lila all the time and because of the house situation that he’s trying. We never seem to change, however often we mean to.

Sorry this has gone on and on and waffled. But any clarity would be welcomed.

Sincerely,

The villain in my own life

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