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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a recurring problem in my living situation (and relationship) that never seems to get resolved.

It might sound silly but it causes quite a bit of tension in my otherwise happy twosome…
I work two hours away from home which involves a long daily commute and means dragging my tired self home at 7.30pm at the very earliest. Anyone who works this way will understand that there is little time for much else other than dinner, a tv show and a shower before it’s time to get to bed and do the whole thing all over again. Luckily, I love my job.

My partner works 15 minutes from our house alongside his two very best friends. Sometimes, this gets on his last nerve but generally he has no problem spending that much time with them. One guy in particular will sit on after work at our place for the entire evening. He’s still there when I get home late and tired.

The problem is my boyfriend expects me to sit, smile and socialise until this guy decides to go home. They are usually stoned and my boyfriend hasn’t bothered to think about dinner (I find myself buying and making it most weeknights). On nights like this I become enraged but silent and he says I’m selfish not to be more welcoming to his friends. TIMING, dear TIMING!!!

Usually, this friend just talks to my boyfriend as opposed to me anyway but if I try to disappear until he’s gone home, I’m the SheDevil!

I feel that because he gets so much free time with his buddies (sometimes he goes to their houses… I am all for this!!) he could just give me a reprieve from their bro-time in my place. Give my head peace!!

Any thoughts?
Am I a SheDevil?
Cranky Co-habiting Commuter

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Dear Captain,

This seems like a very minor thing to be asking for help with, I know. But I feel like even if there’s no solution to my “problem”, getting the input of a bunch of neutral parties (particularly neutral parties with solid understandings of boundaries) would make me feel better, and if you feel like this letter is a waste of time you can just delete it, no harm done.

I do not own pets, for a number of reasons. I feel like it shouldn’t matter, but in case it does, in no particular order those reasons are: 1) My husband is deathly allergic to cats/dogs. 2) My husband very explicitly does not want pets even if he wasn’t allergic. 3) I have had pets in the past and found that no amount of wanting to be a good pet owner changes the fact that I am not a good pet owner (I am not patient, consistent, or stable enough). 4) I am an extremely high strung (or anxious) person, and being in a constant state of panic (did pet just eat something they shouldn’t have!? Is pet sick!? What if their collar slips off while I’m walking them!? If I go to a dog park, what if pet runs away and I can’t catch them!?!) would be awful for both me and the pet. 5) I’ve now lived for a couple of years with no pets, and oh my goodness, I have learned to love not having fur everywhere so much.

I have 2 adult sisters, who have 2 dogs each. They are very much the “this dog is my baby” sort of people. They consistently ask me to care for their dogs while they go on vacation (which happens several times a year each). Years ago, I almost always acquiesced. When I moved in with my husband, however, I mostly stopped agreeing to pet-sit. I cannot bring the dogs to my place because my husband is allergic, so pet-sitting always requires driving 30 minutes across town, several times a day, or straight up living at their house for however many days they’re gone. In addition, these dogs are not well trained. The dogs are extremely food aggressive, they get into fights, they beg, they jump on people, they destroy furniture, etc. etc. etc. Hiring a professional would be too expensive, they say, although I also feel like part of the problem may be that a professional would not accept caring for aggressive dogs.

I have made it clear that I do not want to pet-sit. But they keep asking, piling on the guilt any time I say no. I am, at this point, known for being a terrible, selfish sister because I won’t take care of their dogs. I do not work, so they point out that they’re willing to pay me, and I have plenty of free time, so there’s no reason I can’t pet sit for them. I have turned them down several times this year, but yesterday my sister came over to “catch up and chat”. Turns out, that was just an excuse to ask me in person to pet sit for 4 days while she and my other sister went to Vegas together for a holiday vacation. She knew I wouldn’t be able to say no in person, and she was right. Now I am pet sitting next week. I guess I have a few questions for you and your commenters: Am I in the wrong for turning them down just because I do not want to pet-sit, when they’ve offered to pay me and I do have the free time ? Obviously I and my husband are pretty biased and think I shouldn’t have to regularly take on responsibilities because someone else has pets, but it seems like every pet owner we know disagrees and thinks we are just selfish, lazy people. (As a side note, I have no problems helping them with non-pet related things; I regularly edit resumes and help with landscaping projects and help decorate for parties, so it’s not like I’m refusing to ever lend a hand with anything.) Are there any scripts you could recommend for saying ‘no’ to favors for family, especially when saying no means potentially ruining major plans for them? And finally, is this just a thing I need to get over and stop being annoyed at (people are always going to ask for favors you don’t want to do, and you’re always going to be considered the bad guy if you turn them down, too bad, so sad, stop complaining)?

Thank you so much for your time,
Not a Willing Pet Sitter

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Hi Captain!

I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while and it’s really helped me with getting better at Using My Words. This is a pretty low-stakes question but I thought it was definitely one for a university professor. (Sorry if professor isn’t the right term, I’m not American.)

I’ve been doing fine at uni for several years but I’ve recently hit a mental health roadblock. The process of getting (free) therapy is painstaking but I’m finally on a waiting list, so yay! However, it’s greatly impacting my studies. For the first time, I am taking half my classes online, and so I’ve never met my professors and can’t geographically organise to do so.

So my question is, how do I complete procedures like requesting extra time on assignments, when it has to be done entirely via email? I feel so awkward having to explain the “reason for extension” and not sure where the line between TMI and not enough info is.

Some bonus! advice about how to generally communicate with professors via email would also be appreciated. Do I say “hi” or “dear”? Can I ACTUALLY email them if I don’t understand something? Sometimes I wish there was an ettiquete rule book I could follow because I’ve ended up avoiding any communication and struggling in class as a result.

Thanks so much, Captain! And a huge thank you for just running this blog, because I really do love reading it.

Over-thinking Emails

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Dear Captain,

My sister and I need some help with a potential situation this Christmas. My mother’s extended family has Christmas at her house every year on Christmas day and my sister and I usually stay with my parents in the days leading up to Christmas.

However, at Thanksgiving we ran into a situation. My cousin Amy’s husband Dan is demonstrating inappropriate behavior. In the past, he has come up and hugged us without asking or anything like that which we have dealt with by staying away from him. However, at Thanksgiving he thought it was funny to flick his lighter on and hold it under my sister’s arm. When she told him to stop, he did it again. She told him to stop a second time and he did but then he tried to hug her like he hadn’t just attempted bizarre act against her. I am apparently the only one who saw this and I got us out of there quickly. I mentioned it to my parents but as far as I know, no one has done anything about it.

In the past, anytime we have said something against any type of behavior, everyone shrugs it off as harmless and “he was just playing.”

We know we are going to be sharing the same space with him for a couple of hours on Christmas day, do you have any advice on what we can do?

Thank you,

Worried Sister

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m Luke from #728. (The Solo family is fine, no worries.) I got a lot of mileage out of the suggested scripts then and I find myself in need of some completely unrelated scripts now.

I am not usually a dating-type of person. I’m not anti-dating. I’m dating agnostic, if you will. But I’m over 30 and don’t date and get a lot of “Your biological clock is ticking, dear” from *everyone* because hell is other people. Anyway, a dude I’ve known forever asked me out and we went on a handful of dates over a three-month period. I thought we were fine! Spoiler: We were not fine.

I have a dog named Crybaby. I mostly call her “Babe” or “Baby.” This has never been a problem before, because why would it? But this dude came over to pick me up for a date and went off on a four-and-a-half minute MAXIMUM VOLUME FEELINGSBOMB in the middle of my kitchen about how calling the dog “Babe” was disrespectful to him (??), calling her “Baby” was disrespectful to our future children (!!), and disrespecting him and our future children was disrespectful to his mother (?!?!). I just stood there and stared over his shoulder at the clock on the wall until he finished blowing up. Then he walked out, slammed the door, and got in his car.

I got a baseball bat, dialed 9-1 on my cell, and stood at a window with my thumb hovering over the “1” until he drove away. Apparently, I was supposed to run after him and apologize? I changed into sweats, gave Crybaby a treat, and ate a pint of ice cream for supper because that was upsetting.

The problem is, my entire family knows his entire family. My dad and his dad and his uncles all belong to the same hunting club. My sister and his cousin are besties. Our grandmothers go to the same church. I am in a book club with his mother. My options seem to be (a) quit society and move to a cave and eat worms, or (b) spend the entire holiday season explaining why I won’t return this dude’s calls *at Christmas*. I don’t want to eat worms! I want to strike a balance between “He doesn’t like my dog so he’s dead to me” and leaning into the other person’s space and saying, “He stood this close to me and SCREAMED LIKE THIS for four minutes because he doesn’t like my dog’s name.” This is so bizarre. I am at a loss. If you could suggest any kind of scripts for this clusterfudge, I would very much appreciate it.

Thank you,

Luke

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Dear Captain,

This problem is tough to describe without getting perilously close to breaking the “no diet talk” rule, but I’m hoping I’m describing it neutrally enough that you can still help: my mother (almost 60) has a lifelong obsession with “health”, and it’s getting worse, and I’m worried what will happen if I don’t try to get her to stop.

What I mean is that she maintains a near-constant focus on exercise, severe calorie restrictions, and self-imposed rules around what foods she won’t eat. [Additional details available, but I don’t want to get sidetracked with diagnostics.] In the past, I’ve tried not to worry — she’s an adult and she gets to decide what she puts in her body. But the last few years, things have gotten more intense:

1) She externalizes it A LOT. “Health” is all she talks about. She uses her restrictions to dictate what my father eats, and where and what we can eat whenever we’re together. Holidays are really stressful — trying to meet her requirements, hold these constant conversations, AND eat any actual food myself (I have no dietary restrictions) makes meals absolutely exhausting. (And, OF COURSE, meals are the focal point for my family’s socializing.)

2) Her ideas about health are increasingly fringe. She reads pseudoscience blogs, and is constantly repeating “facts” she’s found (“Actually, skipping meals occasionally is good for you”). Recently she switched to a naturopathic “doctor” who ran a barrage of unnecessary blood tests in order to sell her his line of supplements. This feels like REALLY dangerous territory to me — financially, physically, mentally.

I have two younger siblings (we’re all early 30s), and they’re also concerned. We’ve tried, over the years, to enlist my father’s help, but he refuses to hear any “criticism” of her. We’ve tried to talk directly to Mom about it, but — well, we’re not good at confrontation (conflict TERRIFIES ME, because even the slightest wrinkle can turn into a blowout), so we just end up hinting and laughing nervously (“Maybe you shouldn’t listen to EVERYTHING that doctor says, haha!”) before changing the subject.

To be clear: she has no allergies, no sensitivities, no chronic illnesses. Anxiety runs deep in the family, but she refuses to see a therapist (I suggest it frequently, as a good hygiene practice). I’m sure her behavior is coming from a desperate fear of aging, and I feel for her. But I’m worried about how this obsession will play out as she gets older and her health DOES change.

I guess I’m writing you now because a holiday visit is looming and I’m either going to spend it miserably, silently tamping down my frustration yet again, or completely losing my shit. How do I get her to see that her “interest” is actually an unhealthy obsession?

Signed,
Please Mom Just Eat Something
(she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) have been dating this guy (he/ him) for about the past 5 months. Things are for the most part truly wonderful; there are various stresses about upcoming job changes and moves, but he’s really one of the best people I know, and we seem to be pretty damn good together.

I am struggling with being upset if I propose doing something together and he replies ‘no thank you, I would rather be alone tonight.’ I want to figure out a way to find this less distressing. Head-wise, I know all the sensible things: he is a person who needs alone time; he acts like a person who really likes me; different people can want different things in a given moment and that’s just fine. But I am still getting more upset than I would like to. I don’t want to keep having these un-fun nights over something that seems (even to me!) to be so small. Do you have any advice?

Thank you for your time- I’ve been reading CA for a long time, and it’s been very important to me.

I think five months in is probably right on schedule to have a little moment of BRAND NEW LOVE IS DEFINITELY AMAZING, BUT ALSO NORMAL BORING LIFE STILL EXISTS adjustment. Not a crisis, just a little reminder from the universe that all the New Relationship Energy (NRE) that’s been created during the stay-up-all-night-kissing-and-talking phase of dating isn’t a magical perpetual motion machine that rescues you from mundanity, boredom, or loneliness.

Ideally, we could find a way to help you mentally reframe “not hanging out with me tonight” as something other than rejection. You know that your guy doesn’t mean it as a rejection, wanting to be alone sometimes isn’t a rejection, rejection is a subtext that your jerkbrain is adding to the situation. Can you stop describing it thusly and see if that helps, at least a little bit?

More practically, it sounds like what he’s turning down are fairly last minute invitations (“tonight”). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong by issuing those, but I do think there is some work you can do to mitigate the “Hanging out with you, Lover!” vs. “SAD EVENING ALONE” dichotomy that’s happening if he declines. Namely, next time you’re ready to text him to invite him out, think of 5-10 other things you could do with a free evening to yourself.

For example:

  • Crafts, hobbies, creative projects.
  • Writing cards and letters or having Skype dates with far-away friends or family.
  • Movies, theater, concerts, lectures in your area.
  • A quiet restaurant, a book, a table for one, and thou.
  • Inviting friends to hang out with you instead.
  • Stuff that makes your body feel good, whether that’s exercising it or anointing it with various unguents.
  • Errands: They gotta be done sometime.
  • Boring but necessary household shite what needs caught up on.
  • Things you’ve been putting off for “when you have time.”
  • Taking a class.
  • Volunteering somewhere.
  • Dressing the house-pets up in costumes and taking photographs of them to send to your favorite advice blogger.

Before you ever met this dude, what did you do in your life that made you feel awesome? It’s time to reconnect with those things. If you start to make the list and it’s like “Wait I can’t really think of anything” then, well, that’s a project right there. Remind yourself that this dude is just one nifty facet of your nifty life and you have lots of options for how you spend your evenings. Then, if you want to invite him to do something, send that invite. If he declines, give yourself permission to feel bummed out for a minute (beating yourself up for having a feeling doesn’t really neutralize the feeling). Then pick one of the things from your list and do it. Do it deliberately, intentionally, with good will and good faith, and see if you start feeling better.