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Rants

Patrons of the blog have sent in short questions. Surprising nobody, I have written answers between “medium” and “epic.” This is Part 1 of 2, the rest will come later in the week.

In this batch: A friend is ghosting me to my face at work, I want to reconnect with a friend I accidentally ghosted, my downstairs neighbors complained to me about walking too loud, I need my partners to be more/differently supportive about depression and anxiety, and I’m about to burn out at work, will it kill my career if I take time off?

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Hello, it’s the monthly feature where patrons of the site can ask short questions.

Q1: Thanks to years of reading your blog I finally learned how to call out -isms when they happen! But now I’m stuck at the next hurdle, where people who get called out are so mortified they go into an over-the-top apology loop and keep it up until the apology gets more annoying than the original transgression. Do you have any scripts for when people go way too hard on the apologies after being corrected? (she/her/hers)

A1: INTERRUPT!!!!

I know, we’re taught that interrupting is always rude & wrong, but honestly, it’s so useful at times, like when you ask someone to stop doing something and they take it as an opportunity to process all of their feelings about whatever it is at you. Thanks, Stu, it was so fun to experience your misogyny at work, now, bonus I get to be your personal sexism therapist, translator, and Interpreter of All Women, ooh goody! So glad we had this talk!

Multiply that by infinity for white people who freak out when we are reminded that a) racism exists and b) racism isn’t a bone in our bodies and isn’t about our personal intentions or goodness. Robin DiAngelo coined the term “white fragility” to describe this phenomenon, and says that the “splutterings,” (extreme defensiveness, shouting, crying, disbelieving people about their lived experiences, compulsively shifting the topic to historical events (politicians who remind everyone “I marched with Dr. King!” when asked about racism now) or unsolicited non sequiturs about how cool we are about race stuff serve a purpose that isn’t just the personal shame of getting something wrong or cognitive dissonance at the magnitude of white supremacy and injustice.

“These splutterings ‘work,’ DiAngelo explains, ‘to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy.’ She finds that the social costs for a black person in awakening the sleeping dragon of white fragility often prove so high that many black people don’t risk pointing out discrimination when they see it. And the expectation of “white solidarity”—white people will forbear from correcting each other’s racial missteps, to preserve the peace—makes genuine allyship elusive. White fragility holds racism in place.”

These overshares, even when the person is sincerely upset and ashamed, have a structural, ritual purpose. Ever ended up apologizing to someone who actually owes you an apology, but when you asked them to stop doing whatever it is that hurt you, they get so upset that you feel bad about saying anything in the first place and pressured to comfort them…about the bad thing…they did… to you? Yeah. Like that. But on a grand, national, and global scale.

So where does that leave us?

If you mess something up, and we all mess up sometimes, I think one good practice is to do whatever we can to not dwell on ourselves in that exact moment. Whatever our intentions were, we said something that hurts. Our feelings of shame and worry that we messed up can be real, but they aren’t THE immediate problem. Being corrected isn’t about our personal epiphany or learning to be a better person (that can wait!), it’s about stopping the harmful behavior with minimum fuss and adverse impact, and making a commitment to get it right going forward. Apologize, correct the behavior, and move on. From this piece on accidentally using the wrong pronouns:(bolding mine):

You are talking about someone who goes by “he/him” pronouns. “She is a great student. I’m sorry, I meant to say he is a great student. He’s been reading all of the assignments very thoroughly and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.” You don’t have to make a big deal out of your mistake or draw a lot of attention to it. You mostly need to fix it. You might have a follow up conversation with the person you referred to incorrectly to apologize or see if there’s something else you can do to correct it moving forward besides doing better. Making it a bigger deal in the moment is not necessarily helpful and could be harmful unless that’s what the person who was incorrectly referred to wants. Depending on the situation, you might be worried that people think you aren’t friendly towards transgender people because you made a mistake, but generally it’s good to avoid making the situation about you and your intent. A good way to show you are friendly is to get it right in the future and to act upon some of the other guidances you may find through this website or other resources.

Critique is an investment in the relationship. If someone is taking the risk of telling you you messed up, it doesn’t mean “YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON WHO EVER LIVED, PLEASE DIE NOW” it means “I care about this and I’m trusting you to get it right.” If you feel awful and embarrassed, that’s normal, just, those feelings are for you to take to your journal or a therapist, not to process in real time with the expectation that the person you offended will hang out and help you do it.

Anyway, dear Querent, here’s your shame-spiral interruption script to adapt into your own words as the situation demands.

“Hey _____, let me interrupt for a second. These conversations are awkward for everyone. I appreciate the apology, and as long as you [do the good thing/stop doing the bad thing] from now on, we’re good.” 

Interrupt. Translate their apology into a promise for better action in the future. Keep Awkwarding.

Q2: I recently joined a beer and philosophy meetup. I enjoy the group and the discussion, except for one person. Her comments are often neither brief nor relevant, with her talking as much as everyone else combined and going on tangents that don’t connect to the topic. She seems to be friends with the organizers and while they’re otherwise great, they don’t seem interested in reining her in; is there anything I can do? (she/her/hers)

A2: Since you’re new and she’s a regular, this is tricky. Almost certainly you’re not alone in feeling as you do about this person, but you don’t know who your allies are and if you complain about her to the wrong folks you will come across as the jerk.

One tactic I might try is suggesting that the big group break into smaller groups for discussion, maybe switch/rotate every 10-15 minutes, or chew on a question in small groups and have each group report back to the big group at the end. “Can we break into smaller groups next time? I love hearing from everyone and talking about the work, and with the big discussion circle we sometimes only get through a few people.” 

You can also channel group discussions with aggressive “Yes, And!” action. You don’t have to let her finish every paragraph. Wait for a pause or the end of a sentence and then speak up and throw the discussion ball to someone else in the group. “Interesting point, Alex! Phil, weren’t you talking about how ___________ leads to _________ last week? Do you think this is the same sort of question?”

That way you’re not interrupting to talk over her, you’re including other people in the conversation. Be strategic and choose someone talkative if you do this, the shy quiet people will not catch your ball and it will go right back to her.

Q3: What are your favorite ice breaker/ getting-to-know-you questions? Spouse and I trying to get out and build a bigger community. I’m not great at spontaneous chat with new people and would love a few more conversation starters to add to my bank beyond the not-great “what do you do?” (She/her/hers)

A3: Commander Logic, enthusiastic connector, has been going with “What are you nerdy about?” of late, and having great results with it. She is also great at asking people for recommendations for local things and getting them talking about their neighborhood. “Do you have a favorite bakery or coffee joint?” “If you ever have out of town guests, what’s a place you love to take them?” 

I try to think about both context and subjects that are low stakes but that people have strong opinions about. You’d be surprised at how well “What is your favorite sandwich?” at an event where people are eating, people get very excited about sandwiches.

The “what five objects would someone use to summon you” or “what would create an irresistible You-trap, like, if you walked by this place on the street you’d have to go in and check it out” threads that go around sometimes on social media are pretty good stuff.

I don’t like “Would you rather ____ or _____?” questions or “Let’s generate some debate!” type questions for this stuff, I like questions that get the person to tell me a story about themselves. If you celebrate, what’s the best Halloween costume you ever saw/wore? What was your first ever job? Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a kid? What’s a word that you knew what it meant but never knew how to pronounce? If the universe could give you back one lost item, what would it be? When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?

Q4: I’m slowly pulling myself out of a Depression Hole where one of the biggest problems has been executive functioning. (Got a therapist, working on the medical side.) My issue is that I have a ton of deep seated shame from a childhood filled with notes sent home for missing homework assignments, getting yelled at for being late, etc. How do I avoid the shame spiral/impostor syndrome around ordinary mistakes? (She/her)

Hi there, friend! When I got diagnosed with ADHD in my early 40s on top of the anxiety & depression, there was a giant period of grieving. What would my life be like if I hadn’t been struggling so long with all the “little things” that add up to so many unfinished “big things” and so much avoidance and disorganization?

You asked how you can avoid the shame spiral/imposter syndrome around ordinary mistakes, and the answer is, you probably can’t avoid/prevent/control your feelings. That’s not a thing we can do, even though it’s a thing that people desperately want to do.

What I think we can try to do (thanks, therapy!) is practice ways of feeling the feelings without letting them sink us. On a certain level, feelings are just information. We can have the feelings, observe the feelings, name the feelings, make a note of the feelings, and make decisions about what, if anything, we want to do about the feelings. We can have compassion for ourselves about them, we can hold space for them, and maybe they don’t have to be the boss of us all the time.

One thing I do is make note of feelings that come up when I’m trying to plan my day or my week. Is a task getting moved day after day without getting finished? What are the feelings about that? It’s not magic, I still struggle with executive function stuff despite medication and therapy, but it does actually help me to know, if I’m avoiding or dreading something, why? And sometimes I’m able to say, hey, Buddy (my internal monologue is addressed as Buddy), it’s obvious that you’re procrastinating about that, so do you actually want to do it or not? What’s going on here? And that’s enough to help me get to the “I will feel better once this is done” place and get that little nugget of momentum and satisfaction from crossing it off the list.

Those narratives built in childhood about how “lazy” I was hurt really bad, and changing the narrative to, I wasn’t lazy, I just had a different brain that made it harder to do certain kinds of things, has been a process. The past affects us, but we can’t undo it, so what do we want to do with today? May your process be healing.

Q5: My friend has a bad habit of complaining to me about stuff that they know stresses me out, pausing mid-rant to say “sorry, I know you don’t like hearing about this stuff” and then continuing right on again. For Reasons I don’t want to shut them down completely, but how can I ask them to A) dial it back and B) stop apologizing when they have no intention of stopping? (she/her/hers)

A5: This is a hard one, because I think at a certain point you are going to have to shut one of these rants down so that the discomfort this person is making you feel is returned to sender. Boundaries have three steps: Deciding where your boundary is, telling the other person where it is, and then enforcing it.

This could mean interrupting one of the rants:

  • “I’ve told you I don’t like hearing about this stuff, so, let’s not do this today, ok?”
  • “We talked about this. Please find a different sounding board for ____.” 
  • “I’m sympathetic, but I’m really not up for this today.”
  • “I need you to check before you go into download mode, and I need the answer to be actually meaningful, so, not today.”
  • “Hashtag gentle reminder, hashtag please vent to someone else about stuff like this and hashtag but please come back when you want to go get ice cream.” 

And it could mean, when the fauxpology comes, holding up your hands and saying, “You always apologize, but you never actually stop doing the thing, so, can we not?” 

And it could mean that the conversation is cut short and things get very awkward and you feel enormous pressure to just give in and let it happen. But it sounds like you’ve been perfectly clear (they know you don’t like this and they do it anyway), so probably this person needs to feel the full “This is what ‘nope’ feels like” effect at least once. I can’t think of a gentle, more subtle “dial it back” way that you didn’t already try.

Whether you put this into practice or not is up to you, I just want to emphasize: It’s not mean to to tell someone ‘no’ inside a friendship.

Q6: What’s something romantic I can do for my husband serving in Afghanistan? I send him random silly stuff and we can chat and Skype and text. I’m not feeling very creative. We’ve been married nearly 20 years. (I am she/her/hers husband is he/him/his)

A6: Have you and he ever written paper letters to one another? There’s something about a tangible object that you can carry with you, something that can be read and re-read, something written quietly and intentionally to the person that has a magic to it. Maybe find a list of questions like these (not necessarily these exact ones, adapt to your purposes) and trade answers on paper over time? Could you read the same book together and have a long-distance book club (or each pick out a favorite book to assign to the other person to read) and talk about it?

Readers, what kinds of things keep you connected in long distance relationships?

Part 2 is coming.

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve met somebody lovely and we’re getting married in the summer. (My pronouns: she/her, my fiancee’s: they/them) I’m thrilled to celebrate with all my family and friends…except one person.

My uncle has mainlined Fox News for longer than I’ve been alive and has selected me, his queer, liberal niece, as a prime audience for his rants. He’s also an aggressive alcoholic who has sent me crude conservative memes on Facebook.

If it were just me involved, I’d probably invite him and assign somebody to make sure he couldn’t make trouble (or have too many drinks). But I’m marrying a Latinx immigrant, exactly the sort of person he spent my entire childhood ranting about. Our wedding is going to be catered by a taco truck. I don’t want him to say something horrible to my fiancee’s family.

I can’t invite him. My father is lecturing me on forgiveness. My mother is brokenhearted and fears this will cause a rift in the family which can never be repaired. My uncle is a proud man and will quite probably never forgive me. But the whole point of a wedding is that I’m starting my own family – and I refuse to have our first day as family marred by somebody who hates the very idea of my future in-laws.

I’m not always a forgiving person but I think this is a very reasonable boundary. Am I wrong? Is there compromise to be had? And how do I stand it throughout the months until the wedding, fighting this invitation fight over and over again with everyone my mother recruits to talk to me about it?

-Wish We’d Eloped

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Hello Captain,

I’ve got a few older women in my life who keep talking to me like I’m one of their kids. It’s either unsolicited advice or outright orders in a snotty tone. One of these women volunteers at the same place I do. She orders people around constantly, is generally rude and condescending, and from what I can tell she’s a ‘missing stair’ that people don’t stand up to. She’s not in a position of power, though you wouldn’t know it from how she acts.

I know I do look young but I don’t look that young – and even if I did, I don’t think that’s excuse to treat people the way she does. I’m 34, professional, and the organization has been super happy that I’ve come on board. From what I can tell, she doesn’t know anything about my credentials or my background and she doesn’t care. I’ve heard some stories but I wasn’t prepared to handle it myself. My own mother hasn’t talked to me like that since I was ten. I’ll admit I don’t love being ordered around, and I bristle when people don’t acknowledge the hard work that other people are putting in. From what other staff has said, she’s definitely alienating people with her behavior.

Tonight was the first time that I worked with this woman for a long event, rather than interacting with her at meetings. I’m still relatively new, so I didn’t feel comfortable confronting her. I plan to let the agency know my experience (and that if I didn’t care so much about what they do, I would have left on the spot), but do you have any good scripts for telling her to knock it off without making the situation worse?
Thanks!
Here for the good cause, not your condescending remarks

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Content note: There are mentions of suicide later in this post and also some very US-specific political stuff.

I promise not to turn this blog into an all politics, all US health-care policy all the time site, but this couldn’t be more important or personal to me. I could not in good conscience neglect the platform that this site and this community has given me to speak. Thank you for reading.

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So I’m dicking around online this morning, and a friend shared some theories about a show she’s been watching (with spoilers amply warned for) and an invitation for friends who are also watching to discuss. Other people who watch the show weigh in and are happily trading theories and easter eggs and everything is fine until…

BEHOLD

THE CONTENT-FREE INTERRUPTER(S)

kool-aid-man

A janky homemade Kool-Aid Man bursts through a wall.

“I haven’t gotten around to watching that yet.”

“I watched the first episode but didn’t like it.”

“It really doesn’t seem like my thing.”

“I never really got the appeal.”

Let me translate all of those for you:

“Hello! I have literally nothing to add!”

twitchy

Eye-twitch.

I’ve written before about how tedious I find Geeky Dominance Displays where “I am a fan of X, do you also like X?” gets answered with an automatic”No, X sucks, let me tell you the reasons!” or “Cool, let me download everything I know about X into you and truly test your knowledge to see if you are a Real Fan!” Those conversations can suck but at least everyone is, like, engaged?

Nobody having a fun discussion of a thing they are intensely watching was waiting for you (not YOU-you since y’all are pretty great Internet Discussers, but, General Internet You) to weigh in just to tell us that you don’t know anything about it. It’s okay if you haven’t watched whatever it is – there’s no pop quiz! There are also no extra points awarded for class participation.

If someone in an online discussion asks you specifically if you’ve seen something or like something (you’ll know when, because they’ll use your name), then of course answer truthfully. And as a default, if you want to talk about something you haven’t seen or suspect isn’t your thing…

…maybe…

…I don’t know…

…you could…

…start with a question…?

Such as: “I haven’t watched it/I suspect it’s not my jam, but what did you like about it?

It is also okay to scroll on by casual conversations your friends about things you don’t like or care or know anything about! Your silence can be its own beautiful communication of your lack of interest! Find (or start) a separate discussion of the things you care about!

Maybe it’s also my 53-day-and-counting USA election hangover, but we’ve also got to kill the “I didn’t bother to read the article you linked but I am going to argue extensively about what I suspect is in it + unrelated matters I have opinions about” comment. If you care enough to type, care enough to read.  If you didn’t care enough to read, maybe you don’t care enough to type. See how easy that is? It’s okay if you don’t have time to read everything your friends post. It’s okay! No need to weigh in on something you haven’t read and don’t know about. Tell your friends and family and let’s make this beautiful Internet 10,000 times less tedious.

Crankily yours,

Captain Awkward & Family

P.S. Awkward Spouse would like to send out a special message to people who review online recipes like this:

This recipe is terrible! I substituted every ingredient with a different ingredient, cooked it for a different length of time using a different method, and followed not a single instruction. It didn’t turn out at all! One star!

Spouse:

thank-you-for-your-input

Sherlock slamming the door on Anderson with the text “Yes, thank you for your input.”

 

 

 

P.P.S. Awkward Cat also says Happy New Year, or, what she would say if she cared about years or internet comments, or anything at all.

Beadie

A tiny black-and-white cat with huge eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend and me have been planning to find a place together for 6 months now. He’s an amazing guy, he’s smart, funny, he understands most of the things I say, I always felt like he was a very reliable person and I know him for 8 years now. We’ve only been together for a little more than a year though.

I’m 35 and while I’ve got my own place and I’ve been working for a while, I haven’t been able to save anything so far. Only very recently has my income gone up enough for me to be able to afford things. My boyfriend is 27 and he inherited a lot of money years ago. Before we started having a relationship he used a good share of that to take a year off from work. The rest he started using when we started meeting. He blew a lot of money on clothes and since we don’t live in the same country on flights and transport. As did I.

In September 2015 we decided to move in together summer 2016. I told him I may not have the money to fix my old place and move things over to his country and pay half the rent and a deposit at the same time. He said he’ll cover it, whatever it takes. Since then I’ve been saving.
Sometime last year he ran out of extra money. He said he wanted to save in 2016. It’s April now and he hasn’t saved a cent. He said he wanted to sell some personal belongings but that hasn’t happened either. Additional money from his birthday (that was left after buying what he really wanted) was instead invested in a Kindle because he took up reading.

I handed in my resignation and my boss and me are currently looking for someone to fill my spot. By the end of July I’ll be jobless and would need to move in with either my mom or his mom if things don’t work out. We need to find a place for the end of June.

He says he’ll save enough in the next 2 months and it’s all going to be okay. I told him I’m extremely worried and he said he can’t do anything but reassure me that we’ll be fine right now. I really want to trust him, but this is my life and I’m starting to think he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing or he doesn’t do well with money or maybe he just doesn’t really want to commit. Mentioning his leftover birthday money simply got me a “Am I not entitled to use my birthday money as I please?”.

In the past 8 years I’ve never seen him not commit to things he wanted to do. He is very high on my list of people I would absolutely rely on, but this situation scares the shit out of me.

Sincerely,
Really-Scared

Dear Really Scared:

I recommend that you un-quit your job ASAP and do whatever you can to secure your own financial well-being. More to follow.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a young lady of 23 years old. I am a supervisor at my job and make decent money. I have my own apartment which I acquired and pay for completely on my own.

My boyfriend of 2 years lives with me. I love him dearly. When we moved in together we made an agreement. Since I work 50+ hours a week, he would do the house work. He agreed. I admit that I’m a bit of a clean freak. My mom is OCD and so I’m used to a very clean house.

It’s been a couple months now. He doesn’t clean.

I used to write down specific things on our white board for him to do (because else he wouldn’t do anything???) and I talked to him about it. I asked him if he needed the direction or if it felt like I was micromanaging. He responded that he liked it and would appreciate it if I continued to do so. So I made a list for the week, made it simple and not over the top trying to keep in mind my cleaning standards, and made it easy by narrowing it down to a room a day (apartment isn’t very big). That way it’s less work for me, and he knows exactly what is expected.

He still ignores it. I find this extremely frustrating and disrespectful. He doesn’t currently work or go to school. I tried to explain to him my frustration, explaining that when he doesn’t clean it is upsetting to me because of a. Our agreement and b. I feel he is disrespecting all that I have worked so hard for. I clean when I’m home, I clean on my days off. Everyday when I get off at 11pm I make dinner and I also make breakfast. This isn’t too big of a deal because I like to cook. But if I’m cooking and cleaning and paying, I find myself wondering why he lives with me?

Whenever I bring up our agreement and explain that I’m starting to feel frustrated he always turns it around on me for some other injustice I have done him.

Please help, I feel like I’m babysitting and micromanaging, even if he doesn’t. Which is also something I have tried talking to him about.

How can I help him understand that I don’t want to be his mom and direct him all the time? And how do I explain to him the importance of chores because the direction he has asked for is not helping?

Thank you,
I’m not that bad of a neat freak

Dear I’m Not That Bad Of A Neat Freak:

I think the only way your boyfriend will “understand” any of this is if you ask him to move out. More to follow.

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