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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, 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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Time for the monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.

Before we get to it, it’s Pledge Drive Time! Twice a year, winter and summer, I interrupt our usual programming to remind folks that fun stuff like the Search Terms posts and the Friday short answers are funded by my kind and generous patrons and readers who support the site via PayPal and other ways. These donations allow me to keep the blog ad-free, invest substantial time in maintaining the community, reading the mailbox, and moderating comments, devote time to answering questions and writing new content, pay guest writers, and keep us functioning as an independent site. This year I’m trying to pull back on teaching and be a full-time writer, and your support is necessary and much appreciated for the care and feeding of me & my family. Please make a donation or become a patron if you can. Every little bit helps. (If you can’t afford to, don’t worry ’bout a thing, I’m glad you are here and reading.)

As is traditional, let’s begin with a song to set the mood. Lyrics here :

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Parenting in these Interesting Times is pretty awful sometimes.

It’s also incredible and brings me more hope than nearly anything else has in the last 3 years, though.

My husband and I have three kids. They’re 12, 9, and 8 years old and we’ve been open and honest with them since they were born. We’re both white, and we have worked to raise them with knowledge of their privilege as well as helping them understand anti-racism (instead of “colorblindness”), sexism, and homophobia since a very young age. White families especially need to teach our kids about these things because the wider culture isn’t going to do it for us. We’re “the norm” and it’s unacceptable for us to just let our kids grow up assuming that’s fine.

Our parenting goals have been to respect our kids as autonomous human beings while balancing that with their safety and others’ autonomy. In practice, this means that my kids don’t have to hug people they don’t want to hug, but they had to sit in carseats even if they threw a tantrum. They can choose when to use their screens or read or play outside, but they do have limits that they have to respect.

We aren’t perfect parents by any means. I struggled with undiagnosed, unmedicated postpartum anxiety when they were young and yelled more than I should have. We get frustrated because kids are frustrated and kids are FRUSTRATING! But our parenting priority is treating all kids like the autonomous human beings with fundamental rights that they are.

Which brings me to… today. The Interesting Times I mentioned above. The creeping tide of fascism. Our subculture of xenophobia and jingoism that got put into power by a long process of undemocratic and treasonous gerrymandering and the subjugation of democratic rights.

This is a toughie when you’re talking to sweet, innocent toddlers and preschoolers and idealistic elementary students and sarcastic but still idealistic middle schoolers and high schoolers who just realized their education was false and the democracy (and teachers and pastors and authority figures) they believed were wrong at best, or much worse – liars.


However, there are a few ways to make these discussions a bit more fruitful as a parent, aunt/uncle, or any other loving caregiver.

The first, and the most important for every single age group:

Welcome kids’ emotions and feelings and hold them together with the kids in a safe space. Kids who feel like strong emotions that are coded as negative are “bad” or otherwise unwelcome won’t be open with you. Tears and yelling and anger and hurt and grief are all completely normal and okay – and feeling them with you there for support will mean the kids will learn they don’t have to repress themselves.

For toddlers and preschoolers:

Use the Mr. Rogers method of looking for the helpers. Children at this age desperately need to feel safe with their caretakers. It’s incredibly easy to talk to kids this age about stuff like sex (make it simple, use the correct words for body parts, talk about consent, and discuss it pretty clinically), but discussing death and state-sanctioned kidnapping is REALLY SCARY.

A toddler or preschooler needs to know that they are safe and their parents have the power to keep them safe. Even if it’s not technically true these days (especially if you’re a person of color or an immigrant!), and even if it feels incredibly unfair to get to say “we’re citizens so we are safe” – keep kids’ hearts safe while you’re talking to them about the news. “The government is doing some things that harm these families and the kids and parents are being kept apart right now. This isn’t something that’s going to happen to you, and we and all the other adults we know are working hard to make this better for all the people in trouble. We’re giving money and we’re protesting and we’re making sure new people are put into the government. But it IS terrible, and we’re angry and sad about it. We love you, and we want these kids to have their parents back with them as soon as possible because they love their kids just as much as we love you.” 

For elementary students:

These kids can understand a lot more about the difficulty of pushing back against the government than younger kids can. My kids started learning about the Civil Rights Era in school, and by 2nd grade they were learning about Ruby Bridges being screamed at by white adults and MLK getting assassinated. This varies based on school system. My kids are in Chicago Public Schools where they don’t whitewash it as much as many places do, but I still had to do some “homework” with them about the way people teach this history and how it whitewashes MLK and erases the contributions of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Speaking to kids about how we are working hard to improve the people in charge of our country by protesting, voting, donating, etc. is crucial, as is bringing kids to protests and letting them see you living out your ideals. Stand up to family members who are saying hurtful things, “Uncle John, I don’t feel comfortable with you saying that, especially in front of kids. Please be respectful of us.”

Make yourself available to questions the kids have even if they’re scary or upsetting to you. If you can’t answer questions because of your own anxiety or similar mental health struggles, find a trusted adult who can help them. (In my family, my anxiety acts up severely about school shootings, so I refer the kids to my husband when they want to have those discussions.)  Ensure the kids feel like their concerns are important.

Helping kids have something to do to help will help them feel secure AND help them learn activism. Kids can:

  • Make protest signs
  • Help look up charities for your donations
  • Write letters to elected officials
  • Help you call elected officials (call your favorite “family values” politician and tell them your 5th grader has something to say and enjoy the guilt trip!)
  • Look up youtube videos about stepping in when people are being bullied. Non-violent conflict resolution is a great keyword here.

For middle and high school students:

These kids are learning sarcasm and humor and often need reminding that empathy and love and friendship is not uncool. They can do everything the elementary kids can, and they need the same reassurance that little kids need, but they can also start to make their own choices about when to step in. They need to practice how to stand up for people with marginalized identities, how and when to go to an authority figure, and how to stand up to their friends.

You’re not going to be able to teach all of these things but you’re going to be their soft place to land while they practice living out their values. You’ll give them ideas, support them, sometimes maybe march angrily into the principal’s office if they’re treated poorly by authority figures – and you’ll answer their tough questions. Practicing telling the truth when they’re little is so crucial because 1) you’ll have more practice and will feel less awkward and 2) they’ll trust you to tell them the truth and they’ll know you won’t laugh at them for whatever they ask.


The big takeaway to all of this? Teaching kids about difficult topics doesn’t have to be a miserable slog. Kids are smart, interesting, invested human beings who want to make their world a better place. Help them figure out how to do it by giving them ways to take ownership of the world they live in, and help them understand that parents all over the world want nothing more than to protect their babies and children. We can all help, but pretending nothing is going on is going to do kids a major disservice in the long run.

 

Leah Chibe is originally from northern Michigan but has been living on the south side of Chicago for 15 years with her husband and, eventually, kids/dogs/a biergarten in the backyard. She is currently in seminary working to become a Lutheran chaplain. She can be reached at @LeahChibe on Twitter.

Moderator Note from Captain Awkward: 

Could we keep the discussion on this thread for parents of kids under 18, by parents of kids under 18 today? If you don’t have the problem of trying to explain world events to kids right now, cool! This is not your catch-all drive-by politics-feelings-thread. Thank you.

Hello!

I had a kid about two years ago, and as a result have developed a much closer relationship to my mother-in-law. (I’ve been married to her son for eleven years now.) In many ways, this is great! She is a smart, serious, get-shit-done kind of person who was the first woman to do some cool civic stuff in her home city, and I have a lot of respect for her along multiple vectors. But. She is so goddamn judgmental. This has lately been directed at “Relena,” my soon-to-be-sister-in-law, who has some health issues and isn’t super skinny, as my MIL and I both are.

While staying in my home for the past week, MIL has suggested that maybe Relena’s constellation of health issues are because of her weight, that she can’t adequately manage her own diet (by which I mean what food she feeds herself, not a weight-loss plan), that exercise would fix her pain, and, most egregiously, that maybe she has made up her issues for attention because she resents the time her parents spend caring for her younger sister, who has Down syndrome. (I was so sincerely shocked by that one that it took me a moment to pull my thoughts together, and by the time I did my husband was already shooting it down with extreme prejudice.)(Captain Awkward note: WHAT. THE. HELL.)

My husband and I dispute these things point by point, as they happen, and often, in the moment, she’ll listen. When we say sentences like, “well, she’s had surgery for complications due to her rheumatoid arthritis, I think walking for long periods definitely hurts her” or “I think she naps so much because severe fatigue is one of her symptoms, not because she’s lazy” she seems to really hear what we’re saying–it’s like a lightbulb goes off, and you can kind of see her going “oh, of course.” But then Relena will do one thing my MIL doesn’t like (say, eat chicken nuggets instead of salad for lunch, or decline to go on an outing with us that involves lots of physical activity) and she’s got it backwards again: maybe Relena’s in pain because she doesn’t exercise? Maybe her health issues are caused by [trendy current thing that’s almost certainly already been explored by her and her doctor]? Some-long-sentence-that’s-basically-the-equivalent-of-but-is-Relena-trying-though? As if she could “try” her way out of an autoimmune condition she’s been battling since her mid-20s. MIL never says these things to Relena’s face, though I’m sure Relena’s aware of her disapproval. I think all of this is exacerbated by the fact that she doesn’t like it when her son “neglects” to exercise, or eats a diet that’s more frozen pizza than greens and salmon, or would rather play video games than take a nature walk, and she still kind of hoped that he would someday marry a woman who would inspire him to suddenly be the person she always wanted him to. But weirdly, instead he’s choosing to marry someone who likes him how he is and shares his interests???

Is there a better way we can shut this shit down? My MIL already knows that my husband and I don’t agree with her, and she’s taken to preceding her remarks with “not to be negative, but” or, after we’ve offered (a relatively gentle!!!) correction, “I wish people wouldn’t think I was that way, I don’t mean to be.” [With “that way” usually meaning judgmental or mean-spirited, WHICH WHAT SHE’S SAYING IS.] I’m very intimidated by my MIL, and our closer and more positive relationship is a relatively new and fragile thing, but the idea of building it on the blocks of criticizing Relena grosses me the fuck out. My husband usually handles her pretty well when he’s present, but when it’s just me I tend to disagree once and then ignore her until she stops. When it’s just she and I especially, there’s some weird forced teaming with the subtext of us as thin/active/socially acceptable, and Relena as not. I feel like I’m being too passive in Relena’s defense. I’d love it if anybody could rec some books on invisible and/or chronic illnesses written specifically at people like my MIL. I’d also like a script for “please stop talking to me about Relena’s body and health, the way you fixate on her choices and her physical appearance is unkind and what you say is usually untrue*, and BTW you make me trust you less with my son every time this happens, because someday he will also make choices and possibly own a body that you ain’t gonna like.”

Thank you,
Zechs
(he/him, but my MIL definitely thinks I’m her increasingly butch daughter-in-law and that’s unlikely to change lol)

*once she suggested to Relena that she start a food diary and somehow that had never come up with her doctor and it turned out to be helpful and now anytime MIL has a concern trolly suggestion it’s back to, “well you never know, after all it’s a good thing I gave her the idea of a food diary.”

PS: My husband and I are already trying to change the culture of group hang-outs away from “long walk and a picnic in the arboretum” and more to “let’s see a movie” so it’s not just always Relena having to opt out.

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