My teenager has informed me that their father told them he plans to mail me jewelry for Valentine’s Day. Their father and I have been divorced for nearly a decade and a half and I’ve been in three committed, long-term relationships in that time. I have less-than-zero interest in my ex-husband romantically (or even platonically) and while I am able to be polite/civil with him, I am quite looking forward to the day I no longer have to take his calls. He is not a nice person. (He was abusive during our marriage, used custody issues to punish me, treated our children poorly, etc. etc.)
Since he heard that I had to leave my most recent long-term relationship quite hastily for safety issues, he’s been acting far too friendly over the phone. A few months ago he told me that I’m the only woman he’s ever really loved and said he thinks we should still be together, which I responded to with “You know, life moves forward and though my path has been rocky, I’m happy with where I am now, thanks. Gotta go.” Ever since that revelation from him, I’ve made it a rule to do my best to keep any calls very short and to the point, if possible, and I always try to shift any conversations that get personal back to talking about the children we have in common.
That tactic recently backfired, leading to my teenager getting frustrated with me for talking about them with their father at all. I had told their father that they were feeling very anxious about college decisions and I’d been trying to help them feel less pressured and he turned around and told them I said they were being a “word-I-would-never-use” about going to school and that they need to stop being “that-word” and get their “expletive” together. Ugh. (I did let him know, through text, that what he did there was not okay and that was not what I meant by support, etc., and he did apologize to them eventually.) So, now since the “talk about our kids” topic no longer works, if he texts, “Hey, do you have time to talk?” I ask him if he has something pressing to discuss, as I’m quite busy, and it’s usually “No, just wanted to chat,” so I tell him I’m too busy to chat. If he calls, it goes to voicemail and I decide whether or not it’s appropriate to call back based on the content of voicemail.
Since I’ve been brushing him off, he has been reaching out to my teenager more than ever. They hate talking to him, but feel guilty not talking to him sometimes. During recent calls with them, their father told them that he really thinks we should have stayed together as a family, etc. It makes my teenager really frustrated and uncomfortable that all he seems to want to talk about with them is me and how he wishes we were still together.
I’m so irritated with him for the way he is treating me and my teenager, but not surprised, as he’s never been one to respect people’s boundaries.
[Don’t know if this is relevant or not, so I’ll add it just in case: He is in a relationship with a woman who is really kind and sweet (and a nice buffer/ally for my teenager when they visit their father), but who recently moved out of his house after having lived with him for about a year. His overly-friendliness started before she moved out. His behavior would be frustrating no matter what, but it’s even more exasperating that he’s doing this while in a relationship with another woman, no matter how rocky it may be.]
So… what do I do when he inevitably mails me jewelry? It makes me queasy just thinking about opening the box. Do I mail it back? Say thanks but no thanks? I don’t want him to get the idea that it is okay or in any way desirable for him to send me romantic gifts. Thankfully, he lives hundreds of miles away so I don’t have to worry that he’ll drop by with the gift. (Fingers crossed. Don’t want to jinx it.)
Over the years since our divorce I haven’t pushed back too hard or spoken my piece about his bad behaviors since he kept custody issues pretty contentious for some time and I never wanted anything to be misconstrued and come back to bite me. It’s been hard to break out of walking on eggshells with him and taking the step I noted above to let him know how he hurt his teenager with the nasty comments about their college fears felt good, but was terrifying.
(If you have some scripts for my teenager, too, for when their father starts up with his pining for me thing during their phone calls or laying on any other guilt trips that would be wonderful.)
It is time for the return of the feature where we answer things people typed into search engines to find this place as if they are questions. Obviously we are missing details and nuance and the larger story. (That’s what makes it fun).
First, as traditional: music with the month somewhere in the song.
Second, the “questions.”
1 Wife refuses to take birth control.
The opposite/other angle of this post! Everybody’s the boss of their own body and your wife doesn’t have to put anything in hers that she doesn’t want to. So, if you are a person who can have the possibly-results-in-babies brand of sex with said wife, and you don’t want to risk making babies, I recommend the following steps to control your controllables:
Talk to your wife honestly about what you want out of your life and your relationship. (Babies…never? Babies…but not yet?) and listen to her. Maybe she wants babies more than she wants you, and that’s sad, but giving her a chance to make an informed choice about that is the most loving thing you can do.
2 “Mistake of loving a man who does not love himself.”
“How can you love anybody else if you don’t love yourself?” is the axiom, right? It’s one of those things that seems logically sound, but I’m not sure it is. I think it’s possible to love other people even when it’s hard to love yourself, I think sometimes that loving other people is how you teach yourself to love yourself (Like, “wait, would I let someone treat [person I love] the way I’m treating me?”), so I’m not always one to make “love yourself, then others” the absolute order of operations.
Given that, how does this man treat YOU. How are his behaviors toward YOU. What kind of care does he take of YOU. Is he good and kind to the people in his life? If he doesn’t love himself but he’s good to you, maybe you can work with that (though it’s up to him to figure out how to be better to himself, not you to make that happen).
3 “My best friend had a baby and I can’t stand little kids.”
Here are your choices:
Learn to “stand” your friend’s kids, at least a little, the way someone had to learn how to “stand” you when you were a tiny human.
Don’t, knowing that you and your friend will grow apart.
If you Just Can’t with kids and babies, I believe you and I don’t want to fight with you. You can’t. So, don’t! Just, I strongly believe that decision will have consequences for your friendship and you should know what they are. The kids won’t always be little, but your friend will probably always remember if you disappear from her life when she has a child or treat her child like it’s something she inflicted on you. Friendships can grow and outlast big changes, and it’s possible to balance time with small kids with solo friend time, so I hope the people looking for this can realize kids are just humans and they live here, too.
4 “My friend never wants to go out anymore now that she has small kids.”
Good timing! A common problem! Small kids can’t be left alone, “cool” venues and outings are wasted on them, and babysitters are expensive (like, mentally add $40-80 to every planned outing you want your friend to do and see if you still expect them to cheerfully do it). For years, Mr. Awkward and I have followed this program for brand new parent-friends:
Set a day and time. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight before naptime can be the best time (maximum quiet) or the worst time (the longer they sleep, the worse the diaper situation when they wake).
Show up to friend-parents house with food or makings of something hearty and large, a casserole or stew with strong leftover potential.
Parents leave house, go see matinee.
Awkwards keep baby alive and prepare large food thing.
Parents come home, we all eat.
Baby goes to bed.
Parents & Awkwards stay up, watch stabby television that needs parental guidance warnings, drink booze, play games with complicated rules and swears!
Awkwards go home, leaving a clean kitchen, alive baby & parents, and a fridge full of leftover stew behind.
EVERYBODY STILL HAS FRIENDZZZZ.
Alternately, parent-friends like to go out sometimes without their small kids, but sometimes you gotta alternate which parent you’re gonna entice out of the house because someone’s gotta stay behind (or spend $40-$80).
I’m still sticking with “It hurts when people who usually acknowledge your birthday forget” and “If you are an adult who wants something in particular to happen on your birthday, please tell people! Please help them give you what would make you happy.”
6 “Getting husband to buy flowers”
Look, it’s the old “I don’t just want flowers, I want my spouse to want to buy me flowers ‘just because’ without being asked” problem, like, I know, we all want small acts of romance and kindness, but you married that person, the one who could clearly use some verbal reminding about flowers, so:
Do you want flowers, or, do you want to be married to someone else?
Legit either way, I guess? If asking “Would you surprise me with flowers once a month or so? It would make me so happy if you did that sometimes, even a really inexpensive grocery store bunch!” seems more difficult than divorce, you know your own life best. For example, I’m not gonna tell you you have to stay with the person who sees a direct request for a small happy-making thing as an opportunity to argue with you, so if you tell them they are like “it’s not really a surprise, now, is it,” and therefore “there’s no point” to doing a tiny thing that you told them would make you happy, leaving you both “without flowers” and “vaguely wrong for even mentioning them.” If you’re married to WELL, ACTUALLY, THEY’RE JUST WASTEFUL USELESS DEAD PLANTS, AND ALSO, I WAS PLANNING TO ‘SURPRISE’ YOU SOMEDAY BUT YOU RUINED IT FOREVER BY ASKING Guy, here you go. Be happy and free!
But I don’t think it’s a happy path to expect love to involve a lot of mind reading and then setting up little tests for each other to (probably) fail. There probably are some “I simply love to surprise people with flowers out of the blue!” people on earth, but there are way more of the “Yay, I am happy to buy some flowers sometimes, I knew that was a thing Some People liked but not that My Person liked it so much, this will be fun, I’m glad they asked!” people. And we will bring you flowers sometimes, if you ask.
7 “How to ask for financial assistance from my uncle.”
Weirdly, this search term comes up EVERY SINGLE TIME I look at my search terms, but I have never (as far as I know) answered it.
:DRAMATIC SOUND EFFECT:
My suggestion would be be very direct, specific, and get to the point. A mad lib:
I hope you are well.
Would you be willing and able to help me out with finances for [Reason you need the money]. The estimated amount I would need from you is [$$$$.$$. And yes, name the exact number, and name the maximum/most you would actually need right here, don’t underplay it to get someone to say yes with the expectation you can go back for more later], and I would ideally need it [when and how you need it paid, all at once, over time, once a year for x number of years, etc. Lay it all out clearly.].
[At this point, clarify whether you intend this to be a gift or a loan, and if it’s a loan, when and how you realistically expect to pay it back. Also offer to put any loan terms in writing].
Please let me know if you can help, I appreciate it so much.
In my experience, people can tell when you’re about to ask them for a favor, the more time you spend psyching yourself up to ask or pretending you contacted them for some other reason or overselling the thing, the less respectful it actually is in the end and the more the person will want you to get to the point. If it’s worth asking, ASK. Make it very easy for the person to know what they are saying yes or no to.
Good luck, Niblings of Earth!
8 “Calling sister a slut.”
Don’t. I frown upon this. I don’t think it’s a word you get to apply to other people, or use as an insult.
9 “Why does your fiancé keep his toxic father in his life?”
I don’t know. Lots of reasons: Loyalty, nostalgia, they think they have to, hope for a different ending, a little bit of a relationship feels better than none, having a toxic parent feels better than having no parents, not ready to let go/give up.
I’m a big fan of letting people make their choices about their own relationships while also setting boundaries about how much a toxic person is allowed to annoy/inconvenience/hurt/alarm YOU. Abusive people tell their victims what to do and how to feel, who they can and can’t have in their lives, and they are generally terrible at boundaries, so one way to counteract (not undo, unfortunately, but thwart) their abuse is to say “Babe, you can have whatever relationship with your dad you think is right for you, you’re the boss of all that! If you want to take a break from seeing him, I support you – I don’t think you have to let him into your life just ’cause he’s family if he doesn’t treat you right, and I also know that I don’t feel comfortable around him, so I’d prefer to not spend much time with him, if any. But it’s really up to you, if you want to see him, please do. This is where my boundary is, so you know.”
10 “How to tell my step dad my biological dad is walking me down the aisle.”
Obviously this is a glimpse of a longer, more complicated tale. Without knowing that tale, I’d say some guiding principles are 1) Assume nothing about who is ‘supposed to’ do what at a wedding and assume nothing about your stepdad’s likely expectations around that, ’cause he may not have any? and 2) When you talk to him about it, do it in terms of asking what you WOULD like him to do at your wedding.
Stepdad…knows…you have another dad? So, if it’s overall a good relationship, maybe instead of treating this like bad news that you’re breaking, you could say to Stepdad, “StepDad, I’m gonna have BioDad walk with me down the aisle, will you escort Mom, and then all three of you can stand there with me for the ‘who presents this person to be married?’ part?” (The truth of your relationships/relative affection for all/any of these people will be what they are even if they all stand with you for that moment).
I would also think about when/how you decide to communicate this depending on the relationship and how far away your wedding is. Depending on your aisle, the “walk down the aisle” is literally a few seconds and a photo-op, does the question of it need to hang over y’all for months at a time or is it something that can be sorted at the rehearsal, with a breezy, “Okay, you’re over here with me, you’re with Mom, glad all my Dads can be here, let’s do this thing, yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyy, so happyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!! (+ i.e. I’m getting married tomorrow and I goddamn dare someone to pick a fight with me about this)!” attitude. The benefit of delaying this decision (or at least delaying communicating it): If a grown-ass man/dad figure is likely to get angry/punish you/act super weird and possessive about who is walking you down the aisle at your wedding, you always have the option to walk yourself down.
11 (plus) “How to say you want a relationship on dating apps?”
“I’d like to date people who are cool with at least the notion of getting married and having kids, ideally within the next decade. As fun as it is to bait and trap a series of reluctant, relentlessly single people into a lifetime of domestic partnership they never wanted, why not work less hard at this and just admit from the get go that we’d really like to fall in love someday, with someone?
Looking over my inbox, there are lots of brave folks who want to meet new people to smooch (or emphatically Not Smooch) in 2019, so I adapted some of them into personal ads below. If you see your letter sort of adapted here (there are definitely composites), please know: I SEE YOU and I LOVE YOU and I WANT WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOU and I hope you will a) laugh b) feel seen and less alone c) feel like you can ask for whatever you really and truly want from your precious beautiful life, for real, just please say the thing you need even if it’s oddly specific or seems hopeless. Someone else is gonna see themselves here in what you wrote to me, and they may not be exactly your type/single/geographically feasible/into you, but you are not the only one who feels the way you do, I promise you.
Please enjoy (and freely copy/adapt) Some Highly Specific Dating Profiles I’d Like To See In 2019:
FRIENDS FIRST FER SURE: “I think I’m a demisexual,which means I like to get to know people for a very long time before the idea of any sex is on the table. I’d love to fall in love and have sex and all of it someday, but I need to take all of that verrrrrrrrry slow, which can make being on sites like this pretty frustrating: Frustrating for you as you wait to see if I’ll bang you someday and frustrating for me (as I wait to see if I’ll bang you someday, as meanwhile I fall in love with my friends one by one). Any fellow sexual snails/turtles/other slow-moving-but-completely-adorable creatures out there want to go on some dates with me? As friends?”
ACES IN (MEAT)SPACE: “I am asexual and looking for fellow local asexual people to meet and maybe snuggle with sometimes without pressure to do anything else about that. There has to be someone else on this app who is like ‘I think I want a romantic partner someday but not exactly in the way that most people mean that, so how do I even do this without it being soooooooooooooooo exhausting’, right? Everyone I know who identifies as ace is online and farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr away. They are wonderful, but a girl can’t live by Tumblr alone, so follow the ACE-beacon I’m flashing in the sky. I’ll buy the first bubble tea.”
I AM YOUR WILLING SEXUAL HOUSEPLANT: “I’m an extremely horny, mildly kinky, bisexual polyamorous graduate student with a long-distance fiancé and almost no free time, looking for someone who wants to have a really fun sexy date ideally once a month, preferably every third Thursday between 3pm and 12 am (no sleepovers, I have an early class the next day) as well as a standing invite to the regular 2nd Sunday metamour community potluck and D&D game. Who else has a totally crap schedule and would like the occasional hot make-out session with someone smart and nice and low-maintenance, especially someone who will not give you sad puppy eyes when you return to your research for weeks at a time? P.S. HARD NO ‘people who just love debating.'”
LET’S FIGURE THIS WHOLE DEAL OUT: “I’ve never dated anyone before, and at 28 I wanna go on some first dates but I don’t really know what I’m doing. What if we figured this out together? Let’s go dutch, do inexpensive fun things in the city, and not have too many expectations or preconceptions. Who’s with me? Maybe we’ll fall in love, maybe we’ll just help each other feel less weird about being alone and not really knowing ‘how’ to do this awkward thing everybody but me seems to already know how to do.”
MILD AGORAPHOBIA AND EXTREMELY CUTE CATS: “Listen, it’s winter. It’s cold outside. I want to meet you! But I have a low-level anxiety disorder that makes it so that don’t want to leave my house more than I have to. What if we met up in public/with other friends around for safety reasons and after that we could skip right to “friends/dating for 1 year mode” where everybody wears very comfy clothes, you bring over books and craft projects or whatever you like doing, I make us soup or order delivery, we sit under warm blankets and watch good (or bad) television together? If sex & love follow, great? I’d probably be up for that? And I could come to your house sometimes, I guess? I just…I don’t want to go ‘on dates.’ I like to be at home, which I promise you, is as cozy and welcoming as it can possibly be.”
NOT YOUR ______- 101 TUTOR. “I need to meet some fellow Gen-X queer and transgender POC lovelies who have figured at least some of their personal bullshit OUT. No disrespect to the newbies (I love y’all so much, but I just can’t right now), I need the people who ‘came out’ at least a decade ago, the ones who either figured out how to have a relationship with family or who wrote those jerks off. (I’m not playing the ‘No, where are you *really* from?‘ game with your Grandma ever again. I’m from Maryland.) Please also be… not a white person (I love…some…of you…so much, but I can’t right now), and please have a political agenda beyond making sure rich white Republican men who don’t give a single shit about the rest of us can claim each other on their taxes. If you have a therapist, great, if you’re on your 10th therapist, EVEN BETTER. I know I sound like a buzzkill but I promise I am a creature of joy and light (and really great shoes) and I swear we will have the BEST TIME. I’m just very tired of teaching unpaid impromptu Intro To The Local Scene workshops to the beautiful children and hungry to meet some grown folks. Let’s go to concerts and sit down in actual seats like God and my aching knees intended!”
EQUAL PARTS HOPE AND RESENTMENT ABOUT HAVING TO BE HERE: “I’m divorced. You’re divorced. We both have kids. We did not think we’d ever be doing this dating thing again, we’re not sure we want to, but we’re starting to think that sometimes it would be nice to have someone smile at us, laugh at a joke we told, do a small nice thing for us again (and appreciate the reverse), or have an adult conversation. Does any of this sound good? Happy to schedule around custody stuff, I’ll save my ‘terrible ex’ stories for ‘not the first date’ if you will!”
GRANDMA. SCHOOLTEACHER (RETIRED). BASS PLAYER (NOT RETIRED). “I may be old but I’m not dead. Swipe left if you think what’s playing on ‘the oldies’ station sounds like ‘that racket’ your adult kids used to play before they all moved out. Swipe right if you want to go to shows and confuse the young.”
It’s 2019. New year! New plan! Stop trying to be open to every possible person, stop worrying about what’s “normal,” you don’t want every possible person, you aren’t for every possible person, you are who you are and you want what you want. Own. It. The good responses will be better, the crappy ones will have to try harder (and at least be more entertaining), and maybe some of the people who are just gonna bore you or waste your time will pass you by.
Thanks so much for this blog! I read most of the archives during a recent overnight hospital stay and it really helped keep me entertained. I (she/her pronouns are fine) was a year away from completing my dissertation when my body rebelled. I have two very large liver adenomas, larger than the doctors have seen before. Thankfully my parents live in a city renowned for its hospitals and took me to consults. I had to immediately go on medical leave in September but was hoping to return in the spring. Unfortunately the adenomas are extra stubborn. I’ve had two embolization procedures and I’m in for another two before the surgeon can operate (one of them is in a really risky place and she could hurt me if she tried). With the extra hospital time, she recommended that I extend my leave, so I did.
Everyone congratulated me on how well I’m handling things, but I don’t feel that way. I feel constantly fatigued, I’ve been in a lot of pain, I feel like I’m losing my identity as a scholar and I’ve been living with my parents during the week in case one of these stupid things ruptured. I’ve had to spend a lot of time away from my wife, which has killed both of us. Luckily the surgeon says I should be safe to go home for longer periods now. I’m just wondering how I stay afloat. With a massive surgery looming in May, applying for summer jobs is now unlikely. My father has been helping me financially and I am so grateful. I’m just depressed. I’m done with hospitals, needles and the whole mess. I’m even getting depressed over stupid things like getting denied for a credit card. I feel like I’m a drain on everyone around me and I can’t even contribute academically anymore. I’m writing a 3500 word paper for a big conference in April and even that is a struggle.
My advisor has told me not to worry about the dissertation unless I feel completely up to it, but I would feel better if I could bang out a chapter draft. Therapy would probably help and I was seeing someone before this went down but she wasn’t very effective and then I’ve had to spend so much time in my parents’ city that I haven’t been able to go to appointments anyway. I am also on medication and have been since I was 16. I know that what I need to do is be nice to myself and for the first few months I could do that, but now I’m having trouble. Thanks for everything you do.
My quirky, genius, self-centered, deeply insecure, pathological boundary pushing mother took my 5 year old “out” without telling me while we were visiting over the holiday.
I didn’t know where he was, he was in his pajamas (it was 40 degrees out), she did not have a jacket for him. She did not have a *carseat* for him. I ran around her house and yard in a panic trying to find him before my sibling suggested she might have him. She wouldn’t answer my texts or calls but did answer when sibling called her, she said she would drive slowly on surface streets (so it’s totes fine!), and that she was coming right back. My dad worried I would over react and send her into a depressive episode.
When I asked my 5 year old about it he said he wanted to tell me before they left, but she seemed mad when he suggested it, so he thought he should just do what she said.
So husband and I decided she’s so fired she can’t ever be unsupervised with our kids, and probably we won’t stay at their house anymore. But setting this hard of a line puts awkwardness on my (mostly) rad dad, and some amount of awkwardness on the rest of the family who think I’m taking it too far.
I did tell her “Never Again” and “I Can’t Possibly Think Of Every Boundary That Needs Setting” and “I Don’t Know How To Feel Safe With You Around My Kids”. She says she’s very sorry and just that she didn’t want to deal with the logistics of taking kid out for an adventure. She says she didn’t realize my anxiety was that limiting (spoiler, I don’t have an anxiety disorder). When I said if something happened to my kid while with her that “would be the end of our relationship” she said she didn’t realize the stakes were so high. But Captain, the stakes are absolutely that high.
I don’t think I’m over reacting, but am I over reacting? Or is my mom the most fired? Can we just decide never to stay there again and let the chips fall? She does a many rad things but they don’t cancel frequent Super Bad Judgment Boundary Smashing. Can I still accept gifts from her that don’t smash boundaries? Why does my mom suck this hard?
You can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) until 11 am Chicago time today. I’ll answer as many as I can before 2pm.
Holiday and non-holiday related questions are okay, with following parameters:
I’m not answering questions about abuse in this short answer format.
I think we’ve covered just about every flavor of “How do I deal with my [politically difficult] relatives over the holidays?” in past posts & discussions.
Looking forward to your questions!
Q1 Hello! My job is pretty horrifying right now – they outsourced our team and we both therefore have new jobs but they haven’t actually hired anyone to do our old jobs yet. We hopefully (hopefully!) start training replacements soon after a series of delays and false starts including our entire role being forgotten when planning replacements. I’m doing OK but my friend/coworker is obviously burning out and she’s getting increasingly snippy and rude with me. How do I extend her grace when I’m fighting my own burnout too? Can I talk to her about this somehow?
A1: Oh yeah, time to talk to her! It might be as direct as “Look, I know you’re really stressed out, but do you realize how much you’re snapping at me? Are you okay?” or as general as “Hey friend, I know everything is so stressful at work right now, can we talk about how we’re going to get through our ridiculous workload for the rest of the year? Let’s make a plan.”
Q2: I’d love another list of what you’ve been reading recently!
A2: I finally read Gaudy Night and loved it. Trying to read some of the other Sayers, verdict so far is “Gaudy Night > Harriet Vane Books In General (will def read all of these, only one left) > Not Harriet Vane Books (eh, these probably aren’t my thing unless I happen across them in a B&B somewhere someday, they’re not bad but I only care about Harriet, Miss Murchison, Miss Climpson, and sometimes Bunter).
Additionally in the past month: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, The Apple Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed, Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, All of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.
If you don’t know about Library Extension for Chrome, I’m here to tell you the Good News About Library Extension for Chrome. Search for a book on Amazon or Goodreads or other book searchy site and it will tell you if the book is available (+ how many copies and in what format – hardcover, audio, e-book, etc.) at your local library*. Since I have a Kindle, I click, click, click and then it’s like “free books reading all the time yay.”
Q3:I find a fellow volunteer somewhat difficult. We have the same goals, but they typically seem irritated with everyone and often complain about how people aren’t doing enough or doing it right. I’ve taken on more with our group partly because they needed a break, but it bothers me when they prod me to do things with the same speed and in the same way they would. (I have a job; they’re retired). I’d be fine stepping down and letting them be fully in charge, but there are policies about not having the same nominal leader for too long a stretch. I’d like advice for dealing with their conversations about who’s doing what wrong and with my own sense of being micromanaged.
A3: This is a difficult one. I suggest an informal, in-person conversation where you say some version of “I know you care so much about [cause] and I really respect your experience and hard work, but you stepped back from running things b/c you needed a break and I need some time to grow into the leadership role and fit it around my full-time schedule. Change is always awkward! Can we agree to check in with each other once a month to make sure we’re all on task, but skip these frequent reminders? It isn’t helping me get to things faster, and I’m feeling micromanaged.”
They’ll say some stuff, listen to it, don’t argue, thank them for the conversation, and then [this is key] do what you were going to do anyway, even if they do nudge you all the time. Like, it’s okay to filter their emails to a box you check once every week when you’re calm & caffeinated. It’s also okay to set that as a clear expectation, like, “Saturday mornings are when I go through my inbox and deal with [cause]-related stuff, if you don’t hear back from me right away I promise I’ll get to it on Saturdays.” And then follow-through with that schedule. If you’ve been responding right away to every little thing, you’re sort of training the person to expect that you will respond right away to every little thing.
Advanced diplomacy: After the initial conversation, I want you to make a list of things where you do actually need this person’s insight and also a list of things you can safely delegate to them. Every month, during your check in, make a point to ask their advice about something (even if you already know what to do, maybe you’ll get something useful and at worst you’ll make them feel useful). Also, feel free to delegate stuff to them! You have a full-time job, they don’t, they want to do the work, so it’s within bounds to say“I’m not going to be able to get to x as quickly as you’d like – can you take that on for me?”
Q4: I have a full week off work at the end of the year. How do I politely decline social invitations from people who know I have time off and no plans? I need that week to recharge, don’t want to fill it up with social plans.
A4: Invitations are not commands, so, try “Oh, thanks for thinking of me! I’m really trying to schedule nothing that week so I can rest and recharge. I’ll let you know if that changes and I can make it after all, but for now don’t count on me!”
It’s okay to be enthusiastic about having down time! If people try to insist on you joining them for whatever after being told something like that, they’re the ones being weird.
Advanced reciprocity and kindness around social plans making: Do keep track of who invited you to stuff and got turned down, and when you’re feeling more social, invite them to do something with you in the New Year. It’s your “turn,” and it will send the message that you really like them and that it was just about scheduling.
Q5:My dear friend is in the late stages of getting her undergrad degree at a primarily online (but not entirely) state university program (not-for-profit school) and has just now found out that some of her credits from a previous school didn’t transfer over into whole courses, so it sets back her graduation date. It sounds to me like her assigned advisor isn’t very helpful or knowledgeable. She is not in the same state as the school and it’s not possible for her to visit campus in person to try to get anything straightened out. What would you recommend as a path of escalation around an academic advisor?
A5: If your friend can pull together all the documentation she can about the courses she took (course descriptions, syllabi if possible) and the equivalent courses at her current institution – whatever she thinks will make the case that the courses should transfer – that’s a good starting point. It can take some time to pull this together, but it can’t hurt.
Then she can try the advisor once more, with questions like, “What is the process for appealing a decision about transfer credits? Can I have detailed feedback as to why certain classes didn’t transfer? What documentation does the school need? (’cause oh look, I have some!)“ and if the advisor can’t really help, try asking them directly: “Ok, thanks so much. If you can’t sort this out for me, who do you suggest I talk to?” Be very polite, ask questions, be persistent, follow up every conversation with an email outlining what y’all talked about. After that, it really depends on her program. A professor she gets along with very well might have ideas, the department’s admin (someone you should ALWAYS make friends with) might be able to sort it. When/if she does escalate it around the advisor, she’ll probably do better if she doesn’t complain about the advisor (that person is gonna work there lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng after your friend has graduated), phrase it more like “Advisor helped me as much as they could, but I still have some more questions and they suggested you might be able to help. Are you the right person to talk to?”
I’d also suggest that your friend prioritize her list of transferrable courses privately, like, know which ones are “these MUST transfer, I am not fucking taking that class again” and “Eh, if I had to go over some of this material again to get to the classes I really wanna take it wouldn’t kill me” so there can be some negotiation. Best of luck to her!
Q6: Very difficult question, only vaguely related to the holidays in that I want to read some more books between now and the end of the year. Where should I begin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? In chronological order of the events in the books? Or is there another book in the series that is an especially good entry point?
A6: I started with the “Young Miles” omnibus, (which starts with The Warrior’s Apprentice) shoved into my hands by my friend L. one New Year’s in Massachusetts and then shoved into other people’s hands by me, and it was fun as hell. Then I went back and read Cordelia’s Honor (two books about Miles’s parents and how they got together). I think if you swapped the order there – Cordelia’s Honor & then the Young Miles books – you’d love that, too, because CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.
Q7: I’ve been having a hard time at work since the beginning of September, for various reasons. Right now I’m slammed at work, which is likely to be the case for a while (I expect/hope that things will settle down by the first full week in January, but probably not sooner). I already have a vacation planned and have been making an effort to be diligent about self-care, including paying attention to sleep, eating well, and exercising a little more than usual to help with stress. I love the short answer chats and am grateful for any advice or wisdom you have for how to get through an extra-busy time!
A7: You’re doing great with the self-care stuff, that’s good news!
This is what helps me, a person with ADHD who has a limited attention budget that must be respected because when it runs out it runs OUT: Rituals at the beginning and end of each work day. This list is definitely for office-y type stuff, I don’t really know what you do, but that’s where a lot of my experience is:
Beginning of the workday: DON’T LOOK AT YOUR WORK EMAIL YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT. EMAIL IS A TRAP. (Social Media/Twitter/News etc. is also a trap. NO CLICKY.)
Instead, take 15 minutes and look at your to-do list/Make or remake your to-do list.
What’s the most important/biggest priority/takes most attention on that list? What are your deadlines?
What are a few small quick things that you could do and cross off quickly (to give a sense of momentum and accomplishment).
Are there a few things that, if you did them, you could call today a “win” and let everything else be extra credit?
Great, you’re doing great. Now, block out your day a bit and make specific time slots for reading/answering emails, any meetings or calls, when you want to work on big important thing vs. knock out a few small things, breaks. Over time, if you do this daily, you’ll hopefully start being able to match tasks for when you have the right energy for them. For example, I know I have the best zone of concentration between about 8 am and 2 pm, so whatever is most important to do that day should be done then.
Set a timer for 30 minute chunks (or whatever focused time interval is useful to you).
Cool, now you can look at your emails (in the time slot for “read emails”, right after your “review to-do list” time slot) and see if there’s anything else you need to consider. Sometimes emails will be really important, but for me, looking at them/answering them/reading them before I know how I want to use my day is a trap. I need to make a plan and then adjust as necessary.
Get your stuff done to the extent you can. Your plan will change. You will get interrupted. It’s okay. The plan is a safety net, not something to beat yourself up with.
20 minutes before the end of your workday, STOP.
Look at your to-do list. Cross things off it. Look at what you did!
If you have to track your time in some way, this is a great time to enter your timesheet. It can’t pile up, you’ve got your schedule and list right there.
Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Don’t think about it too much, just make note of what didn’t get done today and if there’s anything specific you need to prep for, like, “dress nice, client lunch” – You’ll do your thinking in the morning when you’re fresh.
Tidy up your work area. Make sure computer files are saved correctly (with descriptive names, in the right place on the server, so other people could find/use them if necessary), put loose paperwork in folders (you can label this shit with a post-it note, just, organize it and put it away if you can, you’ll be less stressed out if you don’t have a chaos pile when you come in tomorrow morning).
GO HOME, YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD, YOU CAN STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK NOW.
I hope that helps. I used to think I was “too busy” to stop working and organize myself and it was a lie.
Q8:I’m about to start a new job. I’m 28 and have had several jobs since college where it just wasn’t clear what i was supposed to be doing or where my boss was upset with me for something they never clearly articulated. I know the people I’ll be working with pretty well but i want to start on the right note. How do i ask for expectations to be clearly defined from day 1 and keep lines of communication open?
A8: First, check out the answer about daily rituals, above. I think it will ground you to have some kind of daily practice.
Second, presumably you’re going to have some kind of training period where people tell you what to work on and you observe and get the lay of the land. Keep the job description from when you applied handy. This training period is where you figure out which parts of the job description are real and what secret other work is part of your job.
Third, if possible, carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. If you go into your boss’s office or walk up to them to get instructions, bring the notebook. Your boss tells you to do something, or how to do something, or who to talk to, write it down. Someone gives you feedback about something you did, write it down. If you have questions, write them down. (Ask them, but also, write them down and the answers, too). You discuss something over the phone with a client or supplier? Make a note of what you agreed on. Write it down. It gives you something to do with your face and your hands and it helps you keep track of things. “Hold that thought, let me get my notebook.”
Fourth, consider a ritual for weekly check-ins with your boss. (This can also be useful for people who need to “manage up” or for bosses who have no freaking idea what you do). You’re new, so it’s expected that you’ll want to check in a lot.
One way it could work:
Mondays, make your to-do list (as you understand it) and share a short version of it with your boss, by email if possible, though it’s possible to do quick status meetings, too. “Hi Boss, hope you had a nice weekend. This week it looks like I’ve got x, y, and z on my plate. Anything else I should focus on?”
Thursdays, last thing before you leave for the day, send an update email, like:
“Hey boss, x is all set. For z I’m still waiting for approval. Whenever you have notes on the draft of y, I’ll knock out the edit! Anything else we need to knock out before the end of the week?
The Thursday email is also where you could say stuff like “So sorry, x took much more time than we initially budgeted, y and z will have to wait until next week. Is there one I should prioritize?”
BE BRIEF. Detailed to-do lists are for you. Have mercy on your boss’s eyes, time, inbox.
Your boss might not say much about or even answer these emails. That’s okay! This isn’t like school where you get a grade & feedback on every single thing you do. You’re giving the boss a general sense of what’s getting done and the opportunity to course-correct if they have different priorities.
If your boss doesn’t get why you’re doing this or it feels a little needy to them, try saying “I don’t want to make more work for you – don’t need you to do anything or even respond, unless you want me to do something differently – This keeps ME organized.” If they really don’t like it, don’t do it obviously. Instead, use your detailed to-do lists as a record of what you’re up to for yourself, give them quick verbal status updates as necessary.
If you work different days of the week, extrapolate. Assuming a 5-day weekday workweek, I say do these check-ins on Thursdays (vs. Friday) for several reasons: 1) If there’s something urgent, you still have a workday to work on it. 2) Don’t set up the expectation or the habit or even the idea that you or others would be thinking about work over the weekend. Some companies and industries do expect you to be thinking about work all the time, but that doesn’t mean that impetus has to come from you!
Over time, this will create a written record of what you actually work on. You’ll be able to see how much and what you accomplished, what you spend the most time on, where the friction points are, when your boss alerted you to different priorities. Also, should something go wrong, like, it’s performance review time and your boss has a different idea of what you should be doing, you’ve created a structure and the documentation to say (way more politely than this), “LISTEN, BUDDY, I CHECKED IN WITH YOU EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR, IF YOU WANTED SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT AT LEAST 104 SEPARATE TIMES.”
The version you’d say out loud is more like “Are the weekly status check-ins not working for you? Is there some other system you’d like better?”
Good luck! People want you to do well and want to help you do well, mostly, I think.
Q9: My partner has to go on a work trip somewhere not very fun for Christmas – New Year’s. So I’m on my own. Don’t wanna see biological family because reasons. Do you have suggestions for how to spend solo holidays?
A9: Off the top of my head:
Is it possible for you to get a change of scene and travel somewhere, too?
Eat/drink/watch/do things you like but your partner doesn’t particularly like. I’m sure your partner is lovely, I’m also decently sure that sometimes you compromise about how you spend your time when another person is involved.
If you’re a “HOLIDAYS, YAAAAAAY!” person, check out all the free craft fairs, concerts, museum talks, plays, singalongs, etc. that tend to accumulate at this time of year.
If you have time off, and friends have some time off, can you catch up with them informally/not at peak HOLIDAY times, like, Boxing Day Brunch.
Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.
Q10:There’s a lot of family dysfunction behind this question, but for a short question…. my parents in general treat myself and my sister like they are still authority figures and sometimes literally says things like we are children (we are in our 40s and have professional jobs). When we visit they literally says things like “turn off the lights before you go to bed”, “don’t forget to lock the door”, “help your mom with the dishes” [which I always do], “do you know how to get yourself a snack? [mom mentions about 5 possible snack items]. I have tried sarcastic replies and saying things like “I am not 5 years old”. No help. Any other suggestions?
A10: They are not gonna change. They really aren’t. Like, sometimes it is worth having the “Hey, did you raise me to be a functional adult or not?” talk (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk) and sometimes it isn’t.
So what you need is, absolute eye-rolling solidarity with your sister, very clear boundaries about what they have authority about in your own life & decision-making when you’re not in their house (i.e. zero authority), and the words “Ok Mom” “Okay Dad” said with as much humor as you can manage when you can manage it and “I don’t know, I might literally die if you didn’t show me how to make snacks, Mommy!” when you can’t.
Finding something you do have in common with each parent as adults can’t hurt in the “making new memories and patterns to push the bad ones down” process, but yeah, they’re gonna remind you of this shit literally forever, sorry.
Q11:I work at a college library and it’s Stressing Time around here. Any tips from you or readers on how college staff can support students who are struggling? What do you wish your library had available (supplies, food, events) during finals season? Thanks!
A11: I think my institution brings in puppies for students to pet from some kind of shelter or volunteer organization, and it’s pretty popular.
What I think students could most USE during final students are 30 minute “Hey, buddy, you’ve procrastinated on that essay and now that you actually have to do it you have no idea where to start, it’s okay, grab a cookie and let’s take you through three basic ways to find sources” orientations, maybe in very small groups. Or “Ask A Librarian” office hours where they can get individual help. Like a safe, friendly, no-shame redux of that stuff they should have come to at the beginning of the semester but did not. Publicize it through professors – “Could your students use a quick research strategies refresher?” – Maybe even collaborate with profs in certain subject areas to help students walk through that section of the library.
IDK, I teach a lot of students who come from under-resourced high schools that have no library, no librarian, who don’t know what’s available or even where to start, and I’ve long ago learned not to assume about what they know. I’d LOVE to send them to something like “Ok, you found 10 books/articles about your paper topic and you don’t know which one to read first and you don’t have time to read all of them. That’s okay! Let’s look at the bibliographies real quick – Is there a book or article that all or many of the books mention? Great! Start there!”
I love libraries and librarians. You’ll do something great, I know.
Q12: I broke up with a dear friend over the summer who is a lovely person, but spent ~2 years ignoring/not responding/declining requests to hang out. I’m starting to do that thing where I wonder if it was the right decision. Logically, I think it was the right thing, but emotionally I’m still hurting, especially since she was a pillar of Team Me and I really need those pillars right about now (I’m going through the end of my degree program and dealing with marital problems; we’re not breaking up, but there’s a lot of work to do and it’s triggering all kinds of “well, I don’t really deserve love/affection/sexual attention anyway” self-talk). And I’m starting to worry that other dear friends will “abandon” me the way that she did. My question is: what are some scripts I can tell myself to re-write this story in my head? Right now I’ve got “everybody leaves” playing in an eternal loop, with the occasional “you’re not good/lovable enough” jumping in as accompaniment.
A12: It sounds like the friend broke up with you, not that you broke up with them, is that correct? Either way, it’s natural to miss people who were important in your life in a stressful time, even if the relationship has run its course. So first step is to stop beating yourself up for having feelings. You can’t outrun or outthink feelings, sometimes the most you can do is identify & name them, like, “Oh, I’m having anxiety that my other friends will ditch me the way ___ did” and then sort of triage them, like, “Do I have to do something about this feeling right now or can I just let it be.”
Other practical suggestions:
Can you vomit out some of the worry in a journal? Write letters to the absent friend of the things you would normally like her help with? Get as angry as you need to with work, spouse, absent friend in a private, low-risk way?
When the “I’m not good enough” thoughts intrude, could you try speaking to yourself and your feelings the way you would to a good friend, and try to be as gentle with yourself as you would with that person? It takes practice but this can really help.
Can you make some plans with the other dear friends in your life that are about pleasure (not necessarily about support/venting, though some of that will happen, more about relaxation and/or knocking out tasks with a buddy). Think low-key, low-commitment, treating yourself (“let’s grab breakfast and get some holiday shopping done, let’s get our nails done, I grabbed this massage Groupon, can I treat you? I want to see your face and I need to schedule some breaks from school/work”).
In combination, having the outlet for free form venting and feelings and shame and weirdness can reassure you that you’re not just, like, feelingsbarfing everything on your friends, and having the friend-dates to look forward to will give you some bright spots and rewards for doing the hard work. I hope things get better soon, and congrats on finishing your studies! Everything is hard, but you’re working hard and you deserve to be nice to yourself.
Q13:Doing the art/dayjob thing but it’s the dayjob part giving me grief. Working with a job coach but I’m still stuck. 29 with a thin resume. Graphic design is a dud but I have no other skills. Failed at teaching and STEM. How do I figure out my career and set myself up for success?
A13: Let me point you at three resources and once piece of wisdom:
It is okay if what you do for money does not match up with your deepest self – for the next little while, possibly forever. All your favorite artists had day jobs, most did not match their field of endeavor.
Q14: What toys and treats have your kitty kids, present and past, absolutely gone nuts for? I want to give mine a great “Kitmas!”
Daniel loves all toys that can be carried in the mouth (crinkly balls, catnip mice, etc.), and sometimes he will push toys under the bedroom door when it is closed to try to entice us out. It is the best. Henrietta likes a wand toy with feathers at the end. They both love the Cat Dancer, which, you can’t beat that price! Beadie also loved any wand toy, any crinkle-ball, but her most-loved thing ever (like, it might be her actual soulmate) was a pet-safe heating pad.
Q15 Do Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger and Henrietta (Kim Wexler) Pussycat have any holiday-themed costumes and may we see pictures?
A15: No, they did their 60 seconds of costume duty for 2018 at Halloween. Halloween 2019 is another year! All the catnip and treats! Sixty seconds or whenever they figure out how to take off hats (which are tied very loosely).
Q16: How do I avoid the topic of my job hunt/being recently let go? I straight up don’t want to discuss anything about it (and I’m hoping I have something in place) but it’s tough.
A16: I’m so sorry. You don’t have to tell people about it at all, if you don’t want to and it’s not public knowledge. You can also say, straight up, “Oh, it’s still kinda raw, I don’t want to talk about it at all right now, especially since we’re celebrating!” + change the subject to something you do want to talk about. Non-assholes will follow your lead.
Q17: How do I handle being burned out on my chronically ill partner’s health talk? I know she doesn’t get a break but sometimes I just can’t handle getting hourly updates on organ functioning, and I feel talked over a lot of the time.
A17: This is so hard. Keeping in mind the principle of “comfort in, dump out,” does she have a counselor or other safe outlet where she can vent about health stuff at will? There’s a great site called Chronicbabe for young women with chronic illness, there might be other communities like that where she can find not only solace but solidarity.
Does she have all the support and help she needs to manage the condition, and is it time to revisit some of that (incl. perhaps involving professional carer), like, “Hey, the frequency and severity of these episodes seems to be escalating, is it time to revisit your care plan?” Can you make a structure where there are certain times of day that you both check in about health talk and give each other your full attention?
Having as much support in place as possible will make it easier (not easy, but easier) to say, “Hey, love, did you realize you’re talking over me right now? I want to support you, but I am tuning out from some of these real-time detailed updates. I don’t want to tune out from you, can you give me an idea of what you’d like me to say or do when you tell me x?” It’s possible that they don’t need you to do or say anything, but they do need to say whatever it is, if that makes sense.
Q18: What do you recommend for a family member whose need to be “helpful” turns “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” into “Go buy me the thing we were talking about, even though I don’t know if I want or need it yet”?
A18: Try “Oh, what a nice gesture, but I don’t need x – please don’t buy things without checking with me, I’d hate for you to spend money on something I can’t use.”
Advanced Halping Evasion: Consider an information diet around this person – it sounds like even mentioning or brainstorming about a problem you need solved sends them into Helper Mode, try not even mentioning stuff you’re thinking through in this vein to them for a while and change the subject to other topics.
Q19: My d&d group used to drink&play but 1 guy is now sober&requested dry games in May. Happily did. Last game someone asked, got his ok& brought wine. I wasn’t there, but I want to check in w him &support but we’re newer friends. And he did say it was ok? scriptplz?
A19: You weren’t at the game, so maybe how you go about checking in depends on how you know about the wine. I would assume he did say it’s okay unless you have reason to know otherwise, so maybe try saying “Hey, I saw that _____ asked if they could bring wine last time. I just wanted to check in with you again – I think the switch to sober games has been good for us and I’m happy to keep that in place forever. If you want us to keep that as an absolute rule going forward, it’s okay! You don’t ever have to say yes to wine if you’re not comfortable, and I’m happy to remind people not to mess with it.”
Just be kind and direct and treat him like the expert on his choices.
Q20: NaNoWriMo has happened, and it’s been great for me to iron out some problems with my WIP. But…I was way below my word count thanks to procrastination. Not so bad in itself, but I lied to my partner about it almost daily. What do?
A20: No one’s reading this WIP but you, right? At least not until it’s done, whatever that means. This was a fun thing you did to motivate yourself. So, examine why you felt the need to lie about a fun, optional thing that was between you and you, and then come clean!
Q21: Productive response for when ppl keep doing & apologising 4 smth w no behaviour change? This just pisses me off.
I guess my question is, what would happen if you showed how pissed off you are?
“You keep saying that, but the behavior doesn’t change, so, apology not accepted.”
My other question is, how much access do you want to keep giving this person to the part of your life they keep fucking up at? You can wipe the slate clean and still remember what was on it and act accordingly.
Ok, that’s all for this week! Comments are open, with the caveat:
Today I’m going to try to knock out as many short questions as I can about the holidays, celebrations, togetherness.
Readers can submit short questions at the designated thread on Patreon (advantage, more than 280 characters) or on Twitter (advantage, free for all!) before noon Chicago time today. Twitter folks, please use the hashtag #awkwardfriday so I can find it easily – my mentions can get overwhelming. I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 3PM, comments will open when everything is posted.
Also, feel free to condense/recycle something if you’ve already sent it to the inbox, let’s get as much holiday discussion as we can out of our system today!
Also, would you like some family photos? There is me, well-wrapped in blankets, some extremely asleep kittens (6 months old, more like cattens), Daniel cleaning poor Henrietta when she had to wear her cone, post-spaying, and Mr. Awkward at Uncle Julio’s, where, thanks to y’all, we took him and all the friends who visited him while he was in the hospital for dinner last week.
Questions are in. Let’s begin.
Q1: Hi Captain,
I hate the holidays. My mom passed away close to Thanksgiving in 2015, her side of the family is very small (one grandmother and one aunt, that’s it); my dad, who I’m low contact with, has 24+ relatives in the “immediate” family. My fiancé has no blood family that he’s in contact with; his best friend’s family is his “second family” and I know I’m “welcome” but I’ve had some disagreements with the matriarch and oldest son so I don’t want to go there. All this leaves me feeling pretty isolated, and I just want to fast forward through all of it and come out in spring when I don’t feel like I’m drowning. What can I do to just get people to leave me alone until after the New Year, when my seasonal depression/grief/feeling of being completely isolated ends?
A1: Hi there! What if I told you that you’re allowed to hate the winter holiday season and you’re allowed to spend the next month or so however you want? What if I told you that it’s okay to be sad, to feel zero holiday cheer, and to participate in literally none of it?
With the caveat that you probably won’t get people to stop wishing you happy holidays or inviting you to their celebrations, (invitations are not commands and there’s no good way to pre-empt people out of doing something they think is nice), you can absolutely react to all greeting and invitations with “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but no thank you. I’m planning to keep things very quiet this year/I’m really looking forward to some quiet time. Let’s catch up in the New Year!”
You don’t have to explain or elaborate (you can if you want to, “I’m still grieving for my mom and I just need to bow out of celebrating until I feel ready,” but you don’t have to). It’s okay to let your fiancé run interference with his family, too.
Be very gentle and nice to yourself.
Q2:Tips for being disabled during the holidays? Somedays I just can’t get in the spirit of things either because I’m too sad or because my pain is too bad to leave the house, and people get really weird about it.
A2: Look at your calendar, budget your energies according to what you know you can enthusiastically and realistically do, pace yourself, build in lots of downtime, be really kind and gentle to yourself.
Connect with the parts of it you really connect with. If you are religious, find a way to pray and observe seasonal rituals that you can do. If there are family members or friends you really want to celebrate with, save up your spoons to make visits with them count. If the best part is the music or the decorations or the food, find a way to treat yourself a little.
With people who want you to do more than you can take on, try scripts like “Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to make it” or “Cool, but I’m keeping things really quiet this year” or “I wish I could join you for that but my body has other plans” or “Yes, I’m sad I won’t make it, too!” and let people be weird if they’re gonna be weird. You didn’t cause the weirdness. This also seems to be a good time to revisit your family’s traditions and see if there are things that could make stuff more accessible to you, like:
“I know we always go to X on Christmas Eve, but could I persuade you to do Y instead? That’s so much easier for me to get to.”
“I want to come but I won’t be able to drive home afterwards, could I get a ride or is there an extra bed where I could stay?”
“I can’t come out, but I’d love it if you brought me a piece of pie afterward. Can you stop by?”
You can’t avoid sad feelings by planning for them ahead of time, but you can make peace with your own needs and boundaries and do your best to take care of yourself.
Q3: Ack, I’m pretty sure the answer to mine is in the comments section somewhere. . . I’m looking for chipper scripts to shut down/side-step family members’ feelings about me spending Thanksgiving and Christmas alone.
A3: Noticing a trend here! With repetition comes mastery, right?
I’ve spent Christmas alone (except for smol cat) more than once as an adult, and each time, not gonna lie, IT WAS GLORIOUS. I’ve been the only person besides the driver on a Brown Line CTA train. I’ve stopped for a drink at a country & western dive bar and listened to a Willie Nelson marathon on the jukebox. I’ve made myself a special meal, where everything on the plate is my favorite food and all the leftovers are miiiiiiiiiiine. I’ve gone to the movies by myself. I’ve caught up on laundry. I’ve re-read The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (a personal Christmas Eve tradition going back to childhood). Especially during the bustle of a busy semester and when I lived with roommates, those quiet reflective days alone were like a balm to the soul.
Try “I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration!” and let people’s feelings be whatever they are. Try “I’ll miss you and be thinking of you, of course, but I’m really looking forward to a quiet celebration.” Don’t explain or justify – if your relatives don’t understand the solitary joy of a quiet holiday, you don’t have to convince them or make them feel differently about it.
Q4:My aunt. MY AUNT. She has a long and ever-increasing history of making Islamophobic and racist remarks (but that kind of low-key racist that can be excused as ‘oh, just doesn’t know any better’, which is SUCH a nonsense excuse). My father just told me over lunch that he and my mother have invited her to Christmas dinner. On one hand: I understand that this is the only relative my mother talks to, and that she would otherwise spend Christmas alone, and that mom feels guilty. On the other hand, my mother has a great history of excusing problematic behavior in order to keep the peace and ‘not ruin dinner’, and I have zero intention of indulging racist commentary about headscarves, and significantly less than zero intention of letting my kids see me letting racist and Islamophobic commentary slide (it’s unacceptable AND a horrible example to set. 2 reasons!). What’s a good script for telling my mom in advance that I’m willing to behave if she’s civil, but that I’m 100% willing to engage in an argument, and am 100% willing to pack up the kids and go home if needed, in a way that’s not… quite… that confrontational?
A4: RACIST. COMMENTS. RUIN. DINNER. Not people pushing back against them.
What if you tried being pretty up front about it ahead of time? “Mom, Dad, I’m really looking forward to seeing you this year. I hope you’ll help me out and let Aunt know beforehand to keep her racist comments to herself, I’m in no mood to listen to it and I won’t have that kind of talk around my kids. I’d hate to have to go home.”
“Oh, she just doesn’t know better” – “Hrmmmm, well, it’s time she figured it out, and if you don’t talk to her about it before dinner, I’ma have to do it AT dinner, and that doesn’t sound fun for anyone.”
You don’t have to go to this dinner, at all, and you can use that –“I don’t wanna fight with Aunt, but if it’s a choice between dreading/ white-knuckling through one of her outbursts and being treated like I’m the problem or staying home with the kids in our jammies, I guess we’ll just have to see…maybe it’s better if we just skip it this year and you an Aunt can catch up without worrying about us!”
Let’s be real: There’s no fixing Aunt, there’s no overnight fixing of a longstanding family dynamic, there is no escaping conflict, there is no amount of being reasonable and cool and diplomatic ahead of time that will stop this from becoming a train wreck, but you can be clear with your own boundaries and you can ask your Mom & Dad to be good hosts to you. Your mom has known her sister her whole life, she can make one phone call along the lines of “Look, I’m really excited to see you Thursday, but just wanna remind you there’s no politics talk at my table – if you make ignorant remarks again and chase off the grandkids, I’m not gonna be pleased.” Aunt can feel any way she wants about it, she can grumble all she wants, as long as she behaves herself.
I noticed that my dad, your stereotypical middle-aged, cis, straight white guy has a habit of reprimanding others in a patronizing and belittling way. For example, the other day during lunch with my grandma, she said something and he shut her down by gesturing towards his/her mouth and saying – as if she was 4 yo and misbehaving – that he’s “sure you remember it’s not polite to talk while you have food in your mouth”. (Btw, you could completely understand her. She had a little food in her mouth but pushed it to the side, as you do when talking before completely swallowing everything.) It’s less that he wants to be helpful and remind people of etiquette and more some kind of power-thing. He does similar things to me (and other women, but rarely any men, if at all). Any scripts for constructive ways of saying “Dude, we’re all adults, I’m sure you’re happy I’m visiting and want it to stay that way?”. I’m having a hard time coming up with any because it’s been like that since I was little when I used to freeze and later I just didn’t visit. If there’s a good resource/guide on how to deal with stuff like that, please let me know. Thanks!
The quickest and easiest way through a random and unsolicited critique is to respond briefly and as neutrally as you can:
• “Nice to see you, too.”
• “Thanks for your opinion, I’ll think about it.” (It’s true, I did think about their opinion for a few seconds before continuing not to care.)
• “I did sleep in this coat; airport floors are cold.”
If someone really is crossing a line and hurting your feelings, or won’t stop saying mean stuff, try this:
• “Wow.” Use a strong, pointed tone and follow it with a really long, awkward pause.
• “I’m confused. What is it that you want me to feel or do when you say something like that?”
If the conversation devolves from there into how sensitive you are and how you can’t take a “joke,” strongly consider going back to the airport and taking the next flight out. Somewhere warm, somewhere people aren’t jerks to you.
You’re not gonna change your dad, or get him to understand that this is sexist and rude, but you aren’t a little kid anymore and you are absolutely allowed to “Cool story, bro” him and give zero attention to the content of his critiques. “What a weird thing to say, Dad. Sorry, Grandma, we interrupted you. What were you saying, again?”
Q4b:Hi Captain, could you give me a mantra to repeat to myself when my mom makes unnecessary, critical comments over Thanksgiving? Past experience has taught me to expect maybe five unpleasant, judgy comments over stupid little things over the course of a two or three day visit, and has taught me that ignoring them is much, much more effective than talking to her about them. Thanks!
A4b. I’m tacking this onto the above – It’s okay to say “Hahaha thanks for the constant feedback, Mom, it never gets annoying” to her out loud or inside your head.
Q5:Hi Captain! I (they/them) am a first year student in an intense graduate program. Due to some mental health stuff, there’s a good chance I will have to repeat this semester but still be able to graduate on time. I am paying for this on my own but my family has a lot of bad opinions. I find out Tuesday whether I have to rearrange my schedule and my family keeps asking. I would like to have a nice Thanksgiving with my cousin and friends without my mom screaming over the phone (I live several states away). Do you have any suggestions for ways to sidestep the conversation until after the holiday? Is this even a fair thing to do? Thank you so much for all of your help!!
A5: You are allowed to put your family on a total information diet around the topic of grad school, through the holiday and beyond. “Not sure yet, thanks for asking!” or “Still working it out, but my research is so interesting, let me tell you about it!” or “I’m pretty sure we’ll find a good solution, thanks!” + a subject change, or “Mom, I’m trying to enjoy the holiday, I don’t have any answers for you and I’m getting tired of explaining & being yelled at. I’m gonna hang up now and try to de-stress.” Your mom will probably not take it well, but she can’t really force you to do anything and it’s okay to let her wear herself out. Also, since you mention “mom screaming over the phone,” you might want to put your mom on a communication schedule and stick to it.
Hope everything gets back on track for you soon!
Q6: Hi Captain! It’s the first time my husband and I are hosting both sets of parents on Christmas day. My in-laws love to buy vast quantities of gifts (especially now there are our 2 children, their grandchildren, in play). My parents are more likely to buy 1 or 2 gifts per person. My Mum has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth, or less generously, she often says hurtful and patronising things, especially when other people’s ways of thinking do not match her own. Should I give her a heads up about the number of presents that are likely to be brought by my in-laws? I feel if she is forewarned she may be less likely to blurt out something disdainful about my in-laws’ generosity. Or should I just stop overthinking it and leave well alone?
A6: If you want to, it’s not weird to say “Oh yeah, Husband’s family does presents a little differently than we do, it can be kind of overwhelming if you’re not prepared for it” to your mom before the gathering, but I think your last question is a good one: What’s the worst thing that could happen if your mom blurts out something rude in the moment vs. how much grief are you buying yourself ahead of time by bringing it up now? “Aw, Grandma says funny things sometimes! Who wants pie?” is a survivable situation.
Q7:This is related to but not precisely covered by the “Got Any Great Holiday Plans With Family?” question. I love Christmas. My family loves Christmas. It’s always been a big family get-together/holiday. Here’s the catch: I live at least 2000 miles and an international border away from my family of origin, all of whom expect me to do all of the work of staying in touch. I’ve lived in my new country for nine years now, and the only one who made it to my wedding was my mother and the only one who has visited since then…is also my mother.
I realize travel is expensive, that’s why I haven’t made it home in several years. But none of the rest of my family (father, stepmother, two siblings, two grown nieces, and their partners and children) have even *tried*. And so I’ve given myself permission to stop trying. I refuse to keep putting all the effort in and getting none of it back. But It’s hard, and it makes me more sad at the holidays than I’d prefer to be. I don’t want to pretend everything’s fine, but I also don’t want to harsh anyone else’s holidays and I’m struggling to figure out how to balance those two desires. So I guess I just need help figuring out how to hold my sadness and ask for help from my local loved-ones without dwelling on it and harshing everyone else’s holidays.
A7: I don’t have answers really, more sympathy/commiseration. It’s okay to be sad that you can’t see your family this year, you’re not ruining others holidays by having feelings.
As for future celebrations, can you ask your family for financial help so you can travel more reliably, like, “It’s cheaper for me & spouse to come there than it is for all of you to come here, so as my holiday present can the family make a joint travel fund so I don’t have to miss every Christmas? I can’t always swing it on my own.” That specific thing might not be workable, but I know it came up during my own wedding planning, where my mom was grumbling about the cost of extended family having to buy plane tix to Chicago and I was like “Cool, every time I’ve seen these people since 1992 it’s because I bought a plane ticket, I don’t feel bad asking them to do it one time and if they miss it they miss it.” There is an idea that because you’re the one who chose to go away, it’s on you to bear all the costs from now on, and maybe you can start to push back on that gently. Since your mom is the one who still makes the effort and you’re close to her, can you be really frank with her about how you feel?
Q8: Hi Captain, I hope it’s not too late to submit. My dad is a recovering alcoholic and has recently relapsed. I checked him into a recovery facility last night. He thinks if he gets through the withdrawal symptoms, here won’t need any more treatment. The family disagrees, but since it was a voluntary check in, he can check himself out when he wants. Before all this, he planned a Thanksgiving getaway for our family (including my brother and his family and my mom, though they’ve been divorced for years). I want to cancel the trip, to emphasize that recovery is the priority and he’s an important part of the family and the trip shouldn’t happen without him. My brother thinks we should go and let this be a natural consequence of his drinking again. Captain, I’m not asking for a solution, that’s too big. I am hoping you and the commenters can share some wisdom or ask some of your important probing questions so we can come to a decision. Thank you.
A8: If your family would benefit from some time away together, even if some of it is sad time, it’s okay to go on the trip. If you don’t feel up to the trip or think it’s right to go on the trip, it’s okay to not go on the trip. Your dad is where he needs to be and hopefully there will be a good outcome. It’s okay to take care of yourself/yourselves.
As for a framework: Canceling the trip vs. going on the trip isn’t going to teach your dad any lessons. The consequences or intended message won’t really reach him. It’s okay to ask him his opinion about the trip and tell him yours- “We hate to go without you, but we want to be all together and have a change of scene, and nothing’s refundable anyway” vs. “We’re gonna cancel and do it right when we can do it with you” – but honestly, neither path will really be a factor in his recovery or relapse. Part of having a loved one with an addiction problem is learning to disengage from magical thinking re: “There’s something I can personally do that will make him stop drinking” and “That thing I did or didn’t do is what caused him to drink.” It’s the illness, not you. It’s his illness, not you. This is one of the hardest lessons in the world and I’m so sorry that it’s the one your family’s got right now.
Q9: Hi Captain,
I’m looking for ways to keep my cool during the holiday season. I live with my parents which means that just walking away from drama is not really a thing I can do. My entire family has different political beliefs from my own which causes great tension and then my mom always bites off more than she can chew around the holidays and takes the stress out on everyone else. On top of all of that I discovered last week that my immediate family has kept a group Facebook chat for months if not years where they can make fun of people who share my political ideologies in general and occasionally me in particular so I’m REALLY not happy with any of them and even though I confronted them about the group chat they think everything is fine. I know there is going to be way too much snapping and stress in my home environment which is guaranteed to make me stressed and snappish even if I don’t have any reasons on my own to be that way. I can hide in my room a lot but when I am forced to be around everyone for the Holiday meals and such I would like a plan so that I don’t just start screaming at people.
A9: Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh to all of this. There’s no fixing the situation, right? This is about enduring.
Operation: Be Out As Much As Possible
Got local friends who you can hang out with as much as possible?
Except maybe on the actual holiday when things tend to be closed, is there a way for you to be at the public library/coffee shop/the public pool? Do you enjoy walks/runs/bike rides? What free local events are going on, and can you haunt literally all of them: poetry readings, gallery shows, choir concerts. Food bank need volunteers? Here you are, ready to help! “Sorry, can’t chat, got to get to the annual poinsettia judging contest.”
Is it possible to a) help your mom with holiday workload by b) being the person who runs errands and is out of the house as much as possible?
I realize not everyone can do this – disability, access to car/driving/energy levels – but if you can, be the person who runs out for milk/batteries/wrapping paper/to drop stuff off at the post office.
Operation: Hide In Room Except For Meals
Got online friends you can vent to/text with as much as possible?
Got enough books/shows to binge/comics/games/coloring books to last you?
Got comfy pants?
Got some snacks that don’t make a mess?
Ready to go to bed early and sleep late?
Ready to just give off an aura of being really tired/antisocial? And when people are like “oh look, it’s the ghost, we thought you were never coming down!” say “yep, that’s me!” and then go back to your room.
Operation: Focus On The People Who Suck The Least
At mealtimes, sit down and spend time with people you actually like (Hint: often that’s little kids, if any are around). Let the other people be background noise. They know what you think about the events of the day, you know what they think, you’re allowed to be very bored by it all and not engage if they try to pick arguments with you.
That’s what I got. It’s a “grit your teeth and get through it, hopefully you’ll at least read some good books” situation. You’re not alone.
Q10: My family makes buying gifts for me into a lot of work/guilt. Saying “you’re so nice but I don’t need anything” doesn’t take. I’ve sent wishlists, charities, still this morning was told “you are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been.” Help?
A10: I tend to respond to attempts to characterize me with agreement instead of the expected argument, like “You have no sense of humor!” gets a “I guess not!” So, what if “You are the hardest person to spend money on and always have been!” gets “I guess I must be! I’ve already told you I don’t need or want anything, so give me a present at your own risk, I guess!”
Q11:How to tell your mother you don’t want to go home for Christmas, not because of any drama, but because of the life admin involved?
A11: Sometimes works better to phrase it with what you will be doing – “I’ll be staying put this year, I can’t travel right now.”
Q12:Is it appropriate to ask for a gift that is what the person does for a living? (when they have first asked you what you want for Christmas)
A12: I lean toward “Inappropriate!!!!!!!!” but obviously context varies wildly depending on what they do for a living and what your relationship is. If you think it might be something they’d be okay with, like, they’ve offered in the past or mentioned doing whatever as a gift for other people, you can build the question of appropriateness into the question – “Hey, you wanted to know what I want for Christmas this year. Is it okay to ask for _______? Please tell me if that’s out of bounds!”
I think a lot of my “inappropriate!” reaction comes from how many stories I hear about people vastly underestimating how much time and effort is at stake when they ask their friends & family for freebies. It’s not just the time or $ value of the gift, it’s the extra gut punch of “You really have NO IDEA what I do and NO RESPECT for it, do you.” So tread carefully.
Q13:Fiancé’s parents divorcing. I think dad’s creepy (mix vague allegations re: others, vibe). Planned T-day w/ them before divorce progressed. Now dad’s hosting, w/ minor celebrating w/ mom. Can I/how do I avoid T-day w/ dad and still get the parts w/ mom?
A13: Well, their plans changed (in a big way), so can yours!
I think you should be honest with your fiancé, first of all – “I don’t want to go to your Dad’s. I’d rather just go to your mom’s.” “I’m not comfortable around your Dad, I don’t want to go there.”
The key is, his dad is still his parent, and this sounds like a really messy time, so give him space to still go himself if he wants to, like,“If you want to go to your Dad’s solo, I totally understand, why don’t you do that and then I’ll catch up with you when it’s time to go to your Mom’s.” And you can straight up say – “You can give your Dad whatever excuse you feel comfortable with.Tell him my plans changed, tell him I’m not feeling well, tell him whatever. I find him creepy, but you don’t have to have that fight with him on my behalf right this second. He’s your dad and you’re the boss of what relationship you want to have with him.”
There’s no comfortable way to manage this (creepy vibes and allegations make things uncomfortable, divorce is uncomfortable) so be honest and stick to what you feel safe doing.
Q14: I’m a die-hard Potterhead who is also disgusted by Johnny Depp as a person + extremely disappointed in JK Rowling for defending him. The activist side of me says to boycott the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but the Gryffindor fangirl wants to go. Thoughts? #awkwardfriday
A14: I don’t tell people what to watch or not watch.
“Consumption is not the same as activism” (credit to Trudy, of Cinemacked, who, now that I’ve cited her, please do not @ her with fandom opinions, she doesn’t care and she gets more than enough traffic from people who want to argue).
Boycotts are coordinated, organized, ongoing, collective actions of many people toward a common goal (not one person forgoing a ticket to something). Knowing that the powers that be won’t notice, will you notice enough that it will trouble you? That’s your choice.
I watch & enjoy plenty of problematic stuff made by problematic people in a problematic world, and I don’t even pretend to have a consistent framework about this. There are certain artists and artworks where I can shove the bad stuff down in favor of what I enjoy about it, and certain ones I can’t. I want to make a Hollywood and media landscape where we don’t have to keep looking at and making excuses for abusers and misogynists on screen, but I’m also not willing to personally undertake the cultural asceticism that “If you enjoy something that a bad person worked on, you are proving that you don’t care about the bad thing they did, in fact, YOU THINK THE BAD THING THEY DID IS ACTUALLY GOOD” requires. That’s not my ethical mindset and I won’t pretend it is. It’s okay if it’s yours, I admire it, even, but I won’t argue about it with you. Is that a function of my privilege? Yep. Am I gonna watch Teh Thronegames to the last ridiculous dragon-y frame with the last hair extension blowing in the wind, drunk, on Commander Logic’s couch? Also yes.
Sorry to leave you with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ but like, go if you want to, don’t go if you don’t want to. In my opinion, you’re not just as bad as Johnny Depp, you’re not personally enabling him, you’re not trying to override other people’s ethical choices about whether they see the film.
That’s all for today! Comments are open, though be warned: If you try to make me moderate “detailed Harry Potter fandom wangst,” I’ll burn the thread to the ground. Happy holidays!
I had a falling out with a friend and do not want to try to repair the relationship. I am wondering what I owe this former friend, in terms of an explanation for why things have gone cold between us.
This friend and I are members of a parenting social group. “Amy” and I have kids the same age, and everyone has been friends for 4 years. Our kids are still too young to have 100% independent friendships, so if your kids decide they like each other? It requires the parents facilitating the relationship and means the parents sort of have to become friends, too.
I’ve come to realize that Amy isn’t the type of person I’d pick as a friend for myself. While she has several great qualities, she can also be very rude, cheap, thoughtless, and insensitive. If you point out “Hey Amy, what you just said/did was rude, cheap, thoughtless, and/or insensitive”, she’ll respond “I’m from Europe. That’s just how Europeans are”, which seems like a bullshit excuse to me. Sometimes she’ll even excuse her behavior immediately after she’s done something thoughtless. So, she *knows* she’s done something out of line, but she’s preemptively telling you to get over it, because Europe.
I’ve been ignoring her periodic rudeness for the sake of the kids’ friendship until recently. Last week, she made an insensitive comment about my kid and told me that her kids didn’t consider my kid to be a friend. Which sucks, because my kids *did* consider her kids to be friends. I don’t think “my kids don’t like yours” is a temporary, little-kid-moodiness thing, where they say they aren’t friends one day and then back to being friends the next. She totally meant that her kids disliked mine and have for a long time. Which is confusing, because if your kids don’t like my kids, why the heck are you inviting us over to play and for multiple kid parties every year? Why do you extend us invites and accept our invites? What’s that all about, Amy?
Since telling me that her kids don’t like mine, Amy has been extra friendly with me, texting me, liking alllllll my posts on social media, and generally buttering me up in ways she never has before. She texts to see if we want to come over (No), how we are feeling (Fine), do we want to meet at the park? (Can’t), are we coming to her kid’s birthday party next week (No, thank you). She knows something is up, and will eventually ask why I’ve distanced myself.
Do I owe her an explanation? I’m 100% done with the relationship at this point. I don’t like her, her kids don’t like mine, so there’s pretty much nothing keeping us together, in my opinion. The “Good Girl” part of me feels like I should explain why I have put distance between us, but I know that she’ll just blame the whole thing on me not understanding Europeans and try to “fix” things by shoving her kids at mine via more play dates. I don’t know what her motivation is for wanting to keep this non-friendship going, and I don’t care to find out. I’m done.