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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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Dear Captain Awkward,

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.

Help, please!

(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.)

Thank you!

My pronouns: she/her

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Hi Captain!

I live in a largish city and participate in fairly distinct professional and hobbyist circles. Every so often – maybe once a month or so – I meet a new person in one of them, who will swear up and down that they have seen me before, or that they have met me before, or that they know me from somewhere. But I’m pretty sure that they haven’t met me! I have a good memory for faces, and I’m quite sure that I have never met this person in my life. I know I’m not infallible, but I’m really, really sure.

It’s kind of weird and I’ve started using it as a way of knowing when I need a haircut – if I maintain my usual style well, it’s a little more distinctive.

My usual response to this is to politely but firmly insist that I don’t know them, because I don’t want to play that game of ‘where do I know you from’, where the other person lists all kinds of possibilities, knowing that it will never lead to a satisfying answer. I usually say “I think I just have that kind of face”, which is my actual current working theory about this. This seems to be sad and off-putting for the other person though, who is some perfectly reasonable stranger who shares at least some common interest with me, who I probably would like to get to know better, and here I am doing a thing that sort of shuts the social situation down and doesn’t leave the other person a way to get to know me. (I realize that sometimes folks will use this as a pickup line, but this doesn’t seem like that kind of situation.)

How can I politely disabuse someone of the notion that they know me from somewhere, without coming off as totally unfriendly? It’s awkward and I want to take the awkward away without pretending that it is possible that I may have shown up to a stamp-collecting meetup two years ago or something.

Also, if any of my doppelgängers are reading: perhaps this is good advice for you too, and I’m very sorry for any inconvenience I may be causing you.

Thanks,
Generic-looking white lady in her late thirties I guess
pronouns: she / her / hers

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Hi Captain,

My boyfriend of 2 years and I recently moved across the country from my hometown (and all of my friends and family). He moved there for a job after grad school. For me, this move was leaving everything I knew behind, for him, it was just another move to a place he really wanted to be.

I was on board with moving, but knew it would be hard for me, as I’m really close to family. I was clear with him, before anything with the move was in motion, that I would feel better having a more concrete commitment (aka at least being engaged) before we made such a big move and that I knew it was probably silly, but something I cared about. We discussed it, talked a lot about our mutual vision of a future together, etc. He said he understood where I was coming from, but he was struggling with timing (we were/are simultaneously dealing with his mother’s estate on the opposite end of the country, which includes clearing out and selling a house she spent 30 years in). I understood, but was also frustrated.

The move happened faster than expected. We’ve been here for almost 3 months. I’m feeling lonely, missing friends and family, and in a job I’m not thrilled about. This is all compounding with the fact that there’s still no ring. I tried ignoring the feelings, but things came to a head and I explained how I was feeling (through tears, unfortunately). He assured me he’s ready to be engaged, wants to marry me, blah blah, but listed reasons for not moving forward, like not knowing where to start with ring shopping (he offered to shop together and has apparently forgotten about the discussion, as it hasn’t been brought up again and was ignored when I mentioned going). It makes me feel like an idiot for uprooting my entire life for someone who seems like they won’t commit. On the other hand, we bought a house together, talk about getting married/having kids/etc., so I’m aware that there are commitments already in play.

Part of me knows I should be content with that and the fact that it will happen, but a bigger part of me can’t take this “someday” timeline. I also don’t want to keep bringing it up and feel like I’m forcing an engagement. I know I’m probably leaning toward the unreasonable end of the spectrum, but I’m really struggling here (and the constant barrage of holiday engagement announcements and takeover of engagement ring ads on every social platform I use isn’t helping). Any advice on either getting over myself and my timelines or helping him understand how much this is really tearing me up inside? I love him, and I’m not ready to leave if I don’t get a ring tomorrow, but I’m starting to feel resentful and I know that’s not fair to anyone.

Thanks for your time!

Ring Ads in my Nightmares

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Good morning Captain,

I have a really nice problem that I could use help with, which is: how do I send professional compliments?

I work in a healthcare-adjacent field, which is a pretty tough and thankless job 99% of the time. Because absolutely no one is here for the money, I frequently encounter workers, from my own organisation and others, who go above and beyond their work duties and pull off some truly incredible feats in the name of getting a good result for our clients.

I want to make sure that people are being professionally recognised when they do an amazing job, but I’m not sure how to go about this in a way that’s not boundary-crossing or weird. My own organisation has a clear internal process for passing along feedback about other employees via our team leaders, which is great, but when I encounter awesome people from other organisations, how can I best communicate to their bosses that they are great and valuable employees that should be given All The Money and Praise?

Thanks!

– In Need Of An English-to-Corporate Translation

Dear Corporate-To-English,

For everyone considering doing this: Be only positive in your message about the person, if you have critique or suggestion about the company or their services uses a separate message. Also, consider being non-specific beyond “great service,” especially if you sense that this person’s talents mean they are working around/beyond the company’s red tape, since you don’t want to get them in trouble (or find your sweet deal is subject to extra scrutiny).

With that said, I think there are a few ways I can think of to do this that should be pretty simple & straightforward:

1. The organizations’s general mailbox or contact form from their website.

If they do identify a compliments/complaints/customer feedback person, use that address obviously, but the person who has to fish out whatever’s in the general mailbox has to read a lot of gripes, make their day with a positive note!

“Dear ____, this is just a note to say that Melissa in your Amarillo, TX branch gave me fantastic service today. She is always so friendly and knowledgeable and she makes my job so much easier. Best wishes, Your Name/Job Title/Organization.” 

2. A letter on your company’s letterhead to the company’s CEO or head of customer/client services. 

Are you Kind of a Big Deal? Send something like this (or get your Big Deal Boss to send it) to the other Big Deals:

“Dear _____,

Please accept my thanks for your company’s wonderful service around [issue], especially the diligent work of [person] in [department], whose knowledge/attention to detail/great attitude/problem-solving skills/kindness/thoughtfulness/attention to customer needs makes [Your Company] the first place we turn when we need [X kind of goods/services].

Looking forward to many more years of working together, thank you for having people like [Great Person] on your team!

Sincerely,

Big Deal/Title]”

Something about paper makes it all more official-seeming.

3. Social media. 

“@Company, thank you so much for the wonderful service today, the client services rep in your Gary, Indiana office is a customer service star!”

4. Ask the person you want to praise directly how to do it.

Especially if it’s someone you interact with a lot, through work: “You are doing such a wonderful job, is there any quick way to let your company know how much I appreciate it?” 

5. Do those ridiculous surveys sometimes if you can. 

Not specifically for you & your professional contacts, LW, but in general: When retail/food service workers give you those “fill out a survey and maybe win a prize” spiels with your receipts, or your cable installer, etc. asks you to fill out an online survey about their work, if you loved what they did consider taking two minutes and doing the thing. If the person is asking you about it, there’s a high chance it makes a difference for them.

Other suggestions, readers?

 

This letter came in last week, and a lovely blog reader who will now be known as “The Girl Sparky” helpfully volunteered to tackle the “sudden unemployment” part of the question. Her answer is below the letter/the fold.

Here is my (Jennifer, Captain Awkward’s) one additional suggestion to her beautiful post, dear Fed Up Fed:

Consider emailing or calling your coworkers and getting them together for a pot-luck of some kind. 

Back in 2003, when I was in the first year of my graduate program, our financial aid did not come in until Week 13 of a fifteen-week semester. I lived in the same city as the school and already had housing/friends/a romantic partner in Chicago, but a lot of the students relocated here without that and had to live for several months and undertake an expensive art form without knowing when the money would come through and without having anyone local to turn to. In addition to pulling out all the 2-for-1 Subway coupons in the Chicago Reader every week and being Sandwich Buddies between classes, another thing the group did was to gather informally at the apartment of one of us who had a big, centrally-located place (with no furniture in it)(but that’s another story)(good for dance parties!). People would bring “a food” or “a drink” with them. Cheap vodka worked well, we’d mix it with the seemingly unlimited supply of V-8 that this student could “borrow” from his Aunt’s nearby storage room and a little hot sauce (“So we don’t get scurvy!” was the joke-that-was-not-really-a-joke), the cooks among us would turn whatever random groceries were on offer into a few hot dishes – spaghetti, big pots of ramen dressed up with a little green onion, baked mac & cheese with frozen broccoli in – and we’d sit on milk crates and dance and tell stories and Not Starve for one more week.

Some of those people are lifelong friends, and some are not, but if anybody from that cohort knocked on my door right now and needed a hot meal and a couch and a shower and some V-8 (to avoid scurvy!), I would open the door, if only because of what we shared that year, because of how we got each other through it.

If what you’re feeling right now is LONELY, Fed Up Fed? Maybe your coworkers are, too, and maybe there is some warmth and light to be found in a couple of those magical cheap-ass giant pizzas from Aldi in the living room and something silly on TV and a no-obligation jar by the door where if people have a few $ they throw it in and together you take care of each other a little, and you take turns making sure the jar goes to the food pantry or to the coworker who needs a little help to get through the week.

That might not be possible or comfortable for you, so I offer it as a suggestion only, but if you’ve been demurring out of pride or worry about crossing those professional lines, I’d just say: We need each other. It’s okay to need each other.

I’ll let The Letter Writer (The Fed Up Fed) and The Girl Sparky take it from here.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her/hers) am one of the hundreds of thousands of government workers who is currently furloughed. I am very fortunate to be in a place financially where I can survive missing/late paychecks, and I am also very fortunate to know that I will be getting back pay, unlike contractors (which include all custodial and food service staff). I have a supportive partner, and several friends who are also furloughed. In many ways, I’m very well situated right now.

But, this is taking a major toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I do not do well with unstructured time, and my ideal level of social interaction is having people around me making some noise, and having short interactions throughout the day (ie: working in an office). I also am happiest when working on discrete, manageable tasks that build to a larger goal that has a purpose I support. The shutdown has destroyed this for me.

I’ve scheduled activities and left the house every day. I’ve taken advantage of the many free things my city has to offer. I’ve signed up for volunteer opportunities that use the skills I use at work (still waiting to be called back about those). But I’m finding myself in tears, feeling utterly miserable, and knowing that ideal solution–going back to work–is entirely out of my hands (I don’t even have a Member of Congress to call!). I love my job, so I’m not ready to give it up yet and look for another one. But I want to stop being miserable. And people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.

Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Thanks,
Fed Up Fed

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Here is #1168: “Is it unreasonable to want your friend to feign polite interest in your interests?”

Hey Captain,

I (she/her) have a close friend (he/they) who I’ve known for going on six years now. We originally met through real life things and bonded over having similar fandom-adjacent interests, although over the last few years our interests have diverged a bit.

Here’s the thing. When we hang out, they talk a lot about whatever they’re interested in at the moment – currently, it’s a bunch of bands. They’re really dedicated to these bands – like, to the point of going to multiple of their gigs all over the state, getting tattoos in the bassist’s handwriting, etc. – and while I personally have no active interest in these bands, I’m glad they’ve found something they like. I listen to my friend talking about them a lot whenever we hang out (which isn’t very often – maybe once every two months) and ask polite questions. They are aware that these bands are not in my wheelhouse, but even though it’s not my passion, I think part of being a good friend is showing polite interest in things your friends like.

However, when it comes to things I’m interested in – currently a Kpop group, a podcast, and my almost-finished medical degree – my friend changes the subject ASAP and doesn’t bother to ask a single question. I understand not wanting to hear hours and hours of talk about Korean awards shows or C-sections or whatever, because I know my interests are quite niche, and I do try to pick stories or topics which have more mainstream appeal and not ramble on too much, but I feel like I can only talk for a minute or two about things I like before the conversation swings back to my friend’s bands again. I’m not asking for them to be fascinated by my obsessions in the same way I am, just for them to return the same courtesy I extend to them – i.e. feigning polite interest for five minutes.

Also, when they don’t just hate my interests for no particularly good reason, they have some excuse about why they hate the thing I like so much they can’t bear to politely make conversation about it for five minutes – like, “someone I hate likes that podcast, so even though I haven’t listened to it I refuse to hear anything about it because now I associate it with this person”.

It’s hard for me to find other topics for me to talk about with them, since I don’t have much time for anything in my life at the moment other than my degree and my interests, and my friend won’t talk about politics or anything else that’s not, like, related to their life or interests.

This is a relatively small problem, but I’m not sure if I’m overreacting/have unreasonable expectations, or if this is genuinely something rude. I know it’s edging into Geek Social Fallacy territory, but I’m not asking for my friend to also be obsessed with my obsessions, just to be polite about them in the same way that I’m polite about their obsessions (which again, don’t interest me)! I like my friend a lot, and I don’t mind hearing them talk about their stuff because it’s nice to hear someone be passionate about something, but this (perceived?) lack of reciprocation is beginning to make me feel very neglected and unappreciated. We both have plenty of other friends, so it’s not like either of us desperately Needs the other person, but I would be sad to lose this friendship.

Should I say something about this to my friend? Should I just suck it up and accept that all our conversations will be primarily about their interests? Should I begin fading out of this friendship?

Thanks,

I Just Want To Be Asked One Polite Question

We’ll call this #1169: “My friend could replace me with a chatbot.” 

Hello!

Long-time reader, thank you so much for the good work you do!

I have a non-neurotypical friend, who I became more close to after he had a falling out with one of his friends. We have a lot in common, including intersectional stuff. He has mentioned being non-neurotypical, and has problems gauging social cues. I have a lot of friends in the same boat. I only mention because it means I try to be more patient with him.

Months back, I noticed that he never asked me anything about myself, and when I’d try to talk he would go off on (only semi-related) ranty, negative monologues. It’s exhausting, and hard to get him to stop, to the point where I have to be careful what I talk about. I was second-guessing the energy I was investing into the relationship, so I carefully used my words about monologue-ing. He apologized, and improved.

Still though, he never says anything positive. We could be having the best time, in the coolest place, and he’d still find something that offends him. I’d be ok if we were discussing genuine hurts, but it’s usually things that don’t affect him at all. Or things that affect me, but not him, but I have to manage his reaction. I’m open to listen to venting (especially important things), but it’s like venting is all he does.

He rarely asks how I am. When he does (twice a month?), I mostly get grunts, or distant/neutral ‘huh.’ Not once, not ever, has he asked follow-up questions. Captain, I’m not boring! He just seems to stop listening. I probably know every detail of his life but I’d be surprised if he knows anything about me, but he’s usually the one to seek me out.

Lately I’ve been avoiding my favourite online videogame because he jumps online as soon as I do, and I don’t always have the energy to hear (negative thing) about (abstract thing). This week, I politely, light-heartedly disagreed with him on a neutral topic, and he stopped talking to me for about 20+ minutes, while playing the game in such a way that guaranteed we’d lose.

So – my experience is that he has improved when I’ve asked him to. But, I’m so drained. My question is: should I have brought up the negativity & the seeming lack of interest in my thoughts on things when I asked him to stop monologuing? Do I bother mentioning that it’s really not cool to ruin someone else’s game? Should I tackle this all bit by bit? Should I throw in the towel?

Thank you for any insight!
From, An Increasingly Tired Human

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