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Dear Captain Awkward

I (she/her) am having some issues with my father’s partner (also she/her). I don’t know how much of my discomfort and dislike of the woman stems from the adolescent area of my brain screaming “you’re not my mother, you don’t get to tell me!” and how much of it is legitimate and may be tackled or minimised.

A little context – my mum died 11 years ago, when she was 59 and I 26, from cancer. A couple of years after that, my dad met Cersei and hit it off. She was also recently widowed, they were each still in love with their spouses but willing to explore a new relationship together. So far, so happy. It’s now a number of years later and it seems like they’ll be together until death does them part (but with no suggestion of marriage being on the cards – a fact of which I am quite thankful).

Here’s the rub, though – Cersei will make every situation about her, and will make it clear that a) no-one has ever suffered like her, and b) your suffering is nothing. A recent example; I have been diagnosed with moderate-to-severe hearing loss. This is a very emotional thing for me. I’m 37 and have no family history of hearing loss, it’s pretty frightening that I’m going to be wearing hearing aids very soon. Cersei’s response was two-fold. First – “Oh, I should probably get my hearing checked too, I’m forever asking people to turn the TV up!” (Great! OK! Fine! I’ll tell you where I went, the test was free. Go forth and get your testing done.) Secondly – “I don’t think your hearing’s that bad. You can hear everything I’m saying.” Stop. Stop right the fuck there. You haven’t seen my hearing deteriorate over the last 3-4 years from jokes about “wow, your hearing’s lousy!” to friends saying “no, seriously, I am concerned about your hearing, for it is lousy.” You don’t know how much detail I miss in conversations, you don’t see me struggling to hear the TV and trying to avoid switching subtitles on for everything (my husbandface finds them distracting) and FUCK OFF do you get to minimise what is a very frightening situation because I can hear you clearly in an enclosed space when you are sitting 2 feet from me with no background noise.

My usual tactic is to be quite abrupt. “I don’t think your hearing’s that bad” – “Yes, it is. It really is, and here are examples of how bad it is.” My dad will step in and tell her to rein it in when people are getting visibly frustrated with her but she will then laugh this off all cheerful – “Oh I’m in trouble again!” – and I know that it’s going to happen again next time.

Captain, it’s got to the point that I avoid seeing my dad if I think Cersei is going to be around. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him, but I don’t want to spend more than a couple of hours with her at a time because I know that I’ll get angry and try to keep my cool, I’ll be upset by what she’s said this time for days after, and I won’t actually enjoy seeing my dad.

Is there a way that I can get her to self-moderate more? (Possibly not, she’s in her 60s, and what’s that saying about old dogs and new tricks?) Is there a way I can teach myself to react less? Do I need to just stop telling my dad anything significant that’s happening in my life, on the assumption that telling him is akin to telling her?

Please help!

– Desperate and Going Deaf

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Hi Captain!

I’m 24 years old, and next year I’m undergoing the “consecration of virgins” ceremony from Catholic tradition, where essentially I agree to give up romantic attatchments and “marry” myself to God, like halfway to being a nun. I’m very excited about this, and have already started plans for the ceremony, including dresses and rings and whatnot. Hurray for future fancy clothes day! \o/

My problem is with my family. None of my family are invited to the ceremony – I haven’t even told them that I’m undergoing it. I’m keeping the ceremony strictly in-faith, mainly because of the “woo” factor, but my family aren’t Catholic, and while my family are subscribed to the Big Man In The Sky idea, they’re not sold on the more “woo” aspects like divine intervention or godspousery. While they can believe what they like, freedom of faith and all that jazz, I’m not comfortable handling the spiritual disbelief of half my guests at my “wedding”. There’s also complicated history between us which I don’t want encroaching on what is a really important day for me. But I know they’re going to be hurt if I don’t invite them, and I feel horribly guilty about it, especially since this’ll be the closest thing they’ll get to a big white wedding for me!

How do I explain to my family about my upcoming “marriage” and why they’re not invited?

Thanks!

All The Lace

(ps: although I know you probably wouldn’t do this, I just want to make it clear that I’m not interested in any advice on finding “real” datemates to have a “real” marriage ❤ )

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Welcome to the re-activation/remixing of “Short Answer Fridays,” where patrons of the site have first dibs for getting short questions answered. I broke it up into two parts, I’ll post the rest this weekend.

Q1 Scripts for when my mom talks about how she looks like a slob, or how she is such a lazy wretch because her house is a wreck (spoiler, it looks a million times better than mine). Or should I just grit my teeth and let it go, always an option. Love your work. Thank you for doing it. (she/her/hers)

I am allergic to self-deprecation in others (my own is another story), I strongly dislike the bonding ritual of putting yourself down as a gambit to get the other person to try to convince you that you’re great, and one way I deal with all of it is to playfully agree with the person. So I would go with “Ha mom, you’re right, what a dump!” or “Sure mom, you’re a slob, everybody knows!” 

I keep my tone light, I laugh, I change the subject as soon as I can because I don’t want to give it a ton of attention, the message is “I’m not playing this game with you.” I think these conversations are more between the other person and themselves than anything to do with me, so who am I to take a side?

Other people have luck with “Stop saying mean stuff about my mom you big jerk!” or sincere talks like “Why don’t we try saying only nice things about ourselves for a change” or “If you’d like some compliments or reassurance you can just ask, you know.”

Or there’s always Mr. Awkward, who’s 95-year-old friend often grouses about looking old and Mr. Awkward answers, deadpan, “Well, good news, Scoop, you don’t look a day over 96.” 

More questions after the jump.

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Hi Captain!

Low stakes question here regarding the delicate situation of my housemates’ generally lovely parents. I live in a house with several people, including a couple with two kids who are also my landlords (the couple, not the kids). I’ve been here for five years and I love it! The situation is wonderful, the dynamic is relaxed and positive, and we’re all on the same page re: cleaning, respect, visitors, whatever. The couple (I’ll call them Fred and Joe) will sometimes invite Joe’s parents to stay and look after the kids while they go on vacation, a situation which we are all generally fine with.

However, I am becoming increasingly annoyed that Joe’s parents completely take over the house when they are here. For example:

1) Joe’s mother has a predilection for cleaning, rearranging and reorganizing the house. I’ll come home to find dishes reorganized, things put in different places, etc. I realize she is trying to be helpful, and I don’t mind (and am in fact grateful) for the fridge to be cleaned or the shelves dusted, but I find it annoying to open a closet and find things completely reordered. It’s my stuff too, not just Joe’s — though I have to say, even if it were just me, and MY mother came and reorganized things without asking, we would have words!

2) Things get loud, especially in the mornings. Loud talking, Facetiming, playing with the kids (it’s a big house and usually Fred and Joe move the kids away from the bedrooms in the mornings so others can sleep), etc. I work late and have a night-owl schedule. I have a white noise machine and ear plugs, but last night the noise in the morning was loud enough that I woke early anyway. I addressed this once and it briefly improved things, but time passes and maybe they forget…?

3) They don’t seem to realize that I am an actual member of the household and not a guest of their son. For example, I left a note out to inform everyone that my friend was coming to stay for a few days. They insisted that I call Fred and Joe to ask permission. I believe Joe’s father’s exact words were, “Please text Joe — it’s not my house, so I can’t say yes or no.” Captain, I’m a grown woman who pays rent, utilities, and groceries at a home I’ve lived in for years. I realize not everyone can be privy to a group dynamic of which they aren’t a member, but is it weird that I find it deeply insulting that they, who are themselves guests in the place where I live, are treating me like a child? Am I being oversensitive here?

I’d like to find a way to preemptively deal with these things, either internally for myself or externally with Fred, Joe, my other housemate, and Joe’s parents, without causing friction for anyone. Joe’s parents are actually really nice people, and I’d like to have a cordial relationship with them. I also don’t want to jeopardize the dynamic of the house. What do I do? Do I just put up with this because they are only here a few times a year (though it is usually for a week or more)? Do I say something? If so, to whom, and how? What do I do preemptively and/or in the moment? If they were my parents it would be one thing, but they aren’t. I realize this is low stakes, and maybe I should just deal and try not to be around much, but it feels shitty to be made to feel this way in my home, however well-meaning they are.

Thanks, Captain! Love your site and look forward to your take.

Signed,
The dog treats are on the low shelf for a reason kthx
(she/her)

P.S. As of the time I’m writing this, Joe’s mother has moved the Tupperware to the place SHE wants it for the SECOND TIME THIS WEEK — after I moved it back to its home *again*. Please help.

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“Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to give this book to my mother. To present it to her as a precious gift over a meal that I’ve cooked for her. To say: Here is everything that keeps us from really talking. Here is my heart. Here are my words. I wrote this for you.” – Michele Filgate, Introduction, What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence

I just devoured this essay collection curated by the wonderful  Michele Filgate (whose title-essay about her mother’s refusal to believe her about childhood sexual assault at the hands of her stepfather is in the book) and it’s really good. There are love and appreciation stories aplenty, though many essays cover seriously harrowing ground around mental illness, addiction, emotional abuse, and other kinds of abuse without holding back. It’s not a light read, is what I am saying.

I feel like almost every piece in the book maps to a letter that someone has sent to my inbox about how to say the unsayable thing, how to know when it’s time to let go, how to tell your own truth, how to dig into the past without letting it define you, how to set boundaries, how to see a parent as a separate person who existed before you, how to honor the gifts our mothers give us and be honest about the poisoned apples they sometimes pass on. I kept highlighting as I went because I knew that some Letter Writer somewhere needed to see that sentence, see themselves on that page. “Mother Tongue,” Carmen Maria Machado‘s chapter about estrangement is one of the best things about that topic I’ve read. Some quotes from that essay:

“Whenever I saw her, she found some way to let me know that despite my accomplishments, I was failing. ‘You need to learn to make better choices,’ she told me, though what choices they were, she never specified. Besides, all I could hear was, ‘I wish I’d made better choices.’ And I couldn’t help her with that.”

“A reader might think that this is, obviously, a kind of misplaced parental anxiety and love. And they might be right. But I felt like I was losing my mind. There was no trust, no affection, no listening, just ignorant micromanagement. It felt like I was existing in a parallel universe, where everything I’d just done with my life, everything I was doing with my life, hadn’t made any difference at all. I was a kid again, useless. Nothing was mine–not my time, not my schedule, not my choices.”

I’ll stop before I accidentally re-publish the whole thing. If you spent Mother’s Day curled up in a ball because of a difficult relationship and/or if you have a letter hanging out in my queue about this topic, this might be a healing book for you. ❤

I’m working on a book proposal for a collection of essays, so I’m on a tear of reading essay collections of late. Here are some other collections I couldn’t put down:

  • Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which is an essay collection about race and politics and identity in America AND a memoir about family and love and being from a particular place in the Midwest AND a chronicle of how the music we love carries our dreams and tells our stories, how the music brings us back to particular moment in time, how it helps us remember and see. It’s a fucking stunner.
  • Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel which is, among many other things, such a love letter to the teachers who taught him to write. Chee has an essay in the What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About collection as well.
  • JoAnn Beard’s The Boys Of My Youth (I discovered her work through the outstanding 1996 essay The Fourth State of Matter which, if you are unfamiliar, could use a content note for everything from “school shooting/gun violence” to “dying pet” but it’s one of those pieces that says EVERYTHING and never lets go).

No comments, as I don’t really like debating about the books I read in my free time, I like what I like and you like what you like, but since people always want to know what I’m reading, here’s some of what I’m reading. I hope you’re reading things that speak to you!

Finally, I just got an advance copy of Jessica Pan’s “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come: One Introvert’s Year Of Saying Yes” in the mail, I’ll update here when I’m done since I think “What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year?” is a question that lots of us might like to see answered, if only vicariously and from a very safe distance.

Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Best,
Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

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If it’s not obvious why from the subject line, we’re putting this post behind a cut so people can choose whether to engage further. FYI there are mentions of past assaults and predatory behavior in addition to describing sex offender registries and designations. Upsetting stuff, though the LW is doing a good job with an impossible situation.

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