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Dear Captain Awkward,

I participate in a small sport, with several branches. I am both a referee and a ‘player’ in this sport. (If you see any inadvertent clues as to the sport, please could you edit them out?)

At the club where I practice, lots of people know that I referee, and often ask me questions about the rules. I don’t mind these questions, and enjoy answering them, it’s part of why I love being a referee, and part of what has helped me become one of the country’s (UK) most senior referees in one branch of the sport.

In one of the smaller branches, I’m actually getting quite good – in fact I’ll be representing my country at a world championships later this year. This is my first time at an international event, and unsurprisingly, I have ramped up my practice.

My problem is when I have gone to the club to practice, and other club members start asking me questions. It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.

How can I politely let people know that they have crossed the line from a welcome short question and answer into an imposition? Especially when the line is crossed quite quickly. I want to end the conversation as soon as possible while still making it clear I’d be happy to answer short questions in future? This is complicated slightly by the fact that I’m an introvert with extreme shyness, and anxiety. And having to tell someone no feels like confrontation to me and brings my anxiety right up! Also, these people are my friends, and answering questions starts off as a nice way to interact with people I like.

On a slightly extended note (feel free to edit this out if you prefer), an example was this weekend. I was pretty tired after going for a run first thing, and then spending all morning at practice. I had broken for lunch and was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse. A Lady from the club started asking me questions about the new dress code, and I replied with a sensible answer. But she kept asking the same question “could I wear this, could I wear that”. I felt like I had to keep answering. I did walk away, when I was too tired to keep standing, and had actually gone and sat down on the other side of the clubhouse but she followed me and started asking what local competitions would be suitable for her daughter. I said outright several times that I didn’t know about junior competitions, but she kept on asking and asking and asking. Captain, I was soooo tired, and this was my lunch break! I just wanted her to go away. This is an extreme example, as the lady in question doesn’t pick up on social cues very well, so I might need something more pointed for her.

Thank you for your lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading since I discovered it a few weeks ago.

All the best,
Trying to Practice (she/her pronouns)

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Oh Captain! My Captain!

Hi there, and thanks for running such an awesome blog. I have a question about schedule management and how to (politely) avoid overcommitting myself.

I’m a pretty busy person – I work 4 days a week, but seem to fill my time around this without much effort! I always have a project on the go, I seem to generate quite a bit of life admin (finances, doctors appointments, keeping my house nice, etc.) and I try to stay healthy and alive (lots of sleep, cooking at home, exercise, etc.). I live in a big, buzzing city where there’s always something fun to do and good people to do it with, and I’m non-monogamous, so I have 2 partners I see weekly, plus some ‘comets’ who zoom in and out of my life at various intervals.

Right now, my schedule is mostly dashing from one thing to the next, always worrying about how I’m going to fit everything in, be a good partner/friend/family member/employee and take care of myself as well. I don’t like this – it’s fine on occasion, those days happen – but I mostly want to feel like I’m not letting people down or making people feel like I’m squeezing them in around the rest of my life.

I try not to overcommit, but find it hard to know how to say no to social invites/suggestions for hanging out when 1) the people inviting me are lovely and good company and 2) I don’t have a reason to say no. I’m not busy that day, I just don’t want to say yes to a party or hanging out 3 weeks in advance because I get to that week and find that my calendar is full, getting enough sleep will be a struggle, I won’t see partners/close friends and none of my mundane (but fairly important) self care will get done.

Is there a script for saying no without sounding like a dick? Especially when someone lovely contacts me saying ‘We should hang out more, how about a drink sometime?’ I’d love to say yes, I know we’ll have a good time hanging out, but I’d rather leave that time open for closer friends, partners, personal projects and even a little spontaneity! I don’t want to come across like an asshole who thinks they’re too busy and important to make new friends (and apologies if that’s how I’ve come across in this e-mail!) – I just want to save most of my energy for the people already in my life, who are very important to me. And a little for myself 🙂

Thanks,

Not A Dick, Just Busy
(She/her pronouns)

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Hi, Captain!

I’ve got a nice, awkward, many-years-running situation for you!

So when I was in my early 20s, I dated someone I shouldn’t have dated, whom I’ll call Dean. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…and I was 23 and had very little relationship experience. Partway through the relationship I relocated to a major city for grad school, and took the opportunity to break up with him. However, after a few months and some insistance from him that surprised me (because he’d always been so passive), he moved to be with me again. We lived together until I got interested in polyamory, met what would become my community (and next partner), and then broke up in slow motion over an agonizing year, during which I dated my new person openly, Dean planned to move out of state, and we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable.

Context: this person was a functioning alcoholic, a burnout artist type, and most of the time treated me very well (still the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever met), but see above re: the manipulative sex, and manipulative behavior in general that usually amounted to refusing to take a strong stance on anything, but guilting me if I did. Even now, close to 20 years later, it’s hard to explain exactly how that relationship (mal)functioned, and even when I’d been through a year of living with him while wanting nothing more than to be officially broken up, I was still sad when he left, and he still wanted to stay friends.

For a while we weren’t in touch, but over the years he started sending me cards and pictures again, letting me know how his life was going, and so on. More recently, he’s also been texting me, and a couple months back we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in (it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have). His texts often have the flavor of his self-styling as a “comedian,” which means that at times they say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean” as directed to me, but is testing the waters as to whether they’re generally funny. (They’re not.) He and I used to be massive fans of Bill Hicks and other edgy comics; these days I look back at that material and find a lot of it horrifyingly offensive. So the texts go back and forth between expressions of “gee life sucks, but you were a great part of it so I keep in touch with you,” and weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.

In short, Dean and I are just as poorly matched now as we ever were, but I get the strong sense that he was closer to me than he had been to almost anyone, and that even now, I’m one of the few people he genuinely cares about. On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.

When I spoke to him last, I told him my dad had died, and he expressed genuine regret; they’d been close, possibly because my dad was a similar kind of fuckup. He expressed the desire to come to his memorial when I had it, and in the same breath said he’d understand if I didn’t want him there, which I appreciated.

But the whole thing is just so sad at this point. I feel like encouraging him by inviting him to the memorial, seeing him again, etc., could make him start contacting me more regularly and sucking my time and energy in a way I’ve found really unpleasant in the past. On the other hand, am I a jerk? I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad, then starting the cycle over again. We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young, but I have to admit that that me isn’t someone I love being reminded of, and that person isn’t someone I felt knew or understood me well at all.

Thoughts?
Recovering Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Taker

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Dear Cap,

I am an insecure introvert with a big ol mouth and the occasional attitude problem. I’ve worked a lot on being more careful with what I say and keeping work relationships more professional than personal. Then I switched to teaching.

Teaching, as I have found, builds a kind of in-the-trenches bond with your fellow teachers. My school is a ton of twenty-somethings, so there’s lots of engagements and weddings and baby showers. In fact, I was on bedrest with my first pregnancy and they got together an insanely generous amount of money to help me out without even having a shower. I really feel close to a lot of these people. But I still don’t get invited to any of the outside-of-work social events. There was a teacher who got married today and I saw a post on Instagram of a group photo of a bunch of my coworkers together all dressed up and having a blast. I really felt hurt.

On the one hand, I take a lot of during-the-day work time to be by myself and recharge from the stress of the job, plus I never go out after work (even before the pregnancy) because I’m just a homebody and I like to be at home with my husband. So it isn’t unreasonable to think that maybe people assume I don’t really do work friends at any level higher than Facebook. On the other hand, it’s her freakin wedding! I absolutely don’t want to cost someone money, or be a pity invite, because of my insecure feelings about being left out. Same for the several other events this has happened with.

Mostly, I just hate this feeling of “Oh so they don’t like me and I’m awful” combined with a new fear that staying home/my family being a large part of my social life is going to leave me without meaningful relationships outside my family. Now that’s kind of stupid because my best friends have been with me since elementary school, but three out of four have moved away and the one left in town… we are both total homebodies and are really horrible about getting off our butts and planning to do things together!

So my big question is, how do I manage these left-out feelings without letting them negatively affect my work relationships? My corollary question is, is it normal to suddenly be this worried about maintaining relationships and worrying that I’m a selfish person because I’m not very social?

Thanks for giving me some of your time,
Everyone Is Hanging Out Without Me

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Hi Captain,

I have a friend of 20 years who got married a few years ago to a man who has a total lack of boundaries. Their marriage coincided with a lot of bad things happening in my life (horrendous breakup and various other life circumstances), so when I relocated back to my home state I started seeing a lot of them. I’m an introvert, but at that time I really needed to have some people in my life, so it was nice to reconnect with my friend and get to know her husband.

Flash forward a few years and her husband is obsessed with me and considers me a really close friend. He doesn’t have many friends of his own and it’s easy now to see why- he’s intense, demanding, and expects a lot. As in, he sulks if I don’t visit with them for hours every weekend. If I tell him no or I’m busy, he makes catty remarks about it the next time I see them, and tells me he cares about me more than any of my other friends would.

It’s really gotten to a point where I’d rather avoid them both entirely than deal with him. I miss my friend, but I don’t even get to see her without him around because he gets mad and jealous if she does “too much” without him, especially if I’m involved. Surprise of all surprises, he also dominates the conversation 100% of the time, leaving me almost no time to just connect with my friend. All they do is fight and complain about each other, which is exhausting. And if they don’t fight, they pat themselves on the back about it.

What I’m struggling with is guilt- I love my friend, and I do care about her husband. But I’ve reached a point where I am angry and resentful and feeling suffocated and possessed. How can I draw boundaries when I want to maintain a relationship with my friend and they’re a package deal?

Signed,
Third (and fourth) Wheel

PS I’m single, there’s no way any significant other I would have would enjoy this behavior. not that it matters because I don’t either.

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It’s that time of the month where we treat the search strings people typed in as actual questions.

Before I dive in: The trip to France was wonderful. We ate all the foods and saw all the arts and drove many kilometers and met lovely France-based Awkward folks who had excellent ice cream recommendations. I think it took Mr. Awkward a whole day before he was like “How do we move here forever?” and once he saw Lyon, where we tragically only had one day, he was actively in “No, seriously, let’s live here” mode. My favorite place we stayed is here. If you can go to Normandy, go, and let Vincent and Corinne envelop you in their hospitality and cook for you.

Came home to this:

onyou

The top half of my face visible above a black and white kitty stuck to my neck like velcro.

Sometimes it’s this:

onyou2

Same Jennifer, same black and white kitty, only this time I’m on my back and she’s on my shoulder/face.

As for this month’s theme song, I love Prince and I still feel his death last year pretty keenly. There was only one song this month could be:

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Hello Captain, 

      Thank you for reading my question. I´ll try to be quick. I have an issue with my MIL correcting my table manners and grammar. If I say something like, ¨I did it on accident…¨  She will insert, ¨BY accident – geeze aren´t you the English teacher?¨   Or ¨I spoke with the server and they said…¨ and she will say, ¨SHE said. Can you not count?¨   When eating, I think I eat well enough, I chew quietly, make polite conversation, put my napkin on my lap, but she jumps in with these rules that 1- I don´t know about and 2- I don´t think are important. For example, when I eat meat, I will cut a few bite sized pieces and then set my knife down and eat those pieces. I guess the rules say you´re supposed to cut only one piece and then eat it and cut one more? And I know the RULES say you´re supposed to keep one hand in your lap, but I feel like that might be more suited for a formal wedding dinner than trying to eat and wrangle my toddler at an Applebees! 

       I think you can guess that my MIL and I don´t get along, and there are lots of issues that we have worked through (sort of) through the years, and we don´t see her that often, and I´m pretty easy-going so I can ignore most things with a ¨huh, I´ll think about that.¨ However, this little issue drives me up a wall. 

       A few friendly discussions about the changing and adapting nature of the English Language and table manners have gone nowhere except to an argument. If I gently ignore it or say, ¨I´ll think about that…¨ she remembers and pounces on me the next time I make the same ¨mistake.¨  

      I guess this is the hill I´m willing to die on. I´m not going to watch every word I speak around her, and I´m not going to try to remember every (outdated) table manner etiquette she barks at me. She does the same thing to my husband, except after a lifetime of doing so, he already follows the grammar rules and table manners she has said.  When she says something like this to me, he will say something like, ¨Mom, we´re just chatting about the weather, let´s just relax instead of trying to police how people talk.¨   But MIL ignores him, or says, ¨I wasn´t talking to YOU, I was talking to PAULA.*¨

    Is there anything to be done about this situation?  Should I suck it up and take one for the team? I feel like ultimatums are a bad idea…. Do I just keep excusing myself to the bathroom?  What do you think?

 Possible other issues –

MIL lives alone. 

She never speaks sharply to our child.

Thank you for any advice you have, I appreciate your hard work and can´t wait until my child is old enough to start reading and navigating friendships because I will send them directly to your site!

Best,

Paula

*fake name

Dear Fake Name Paula,

Let me state for the record that I do not give ONE SINGLE FUCK about how many bites one should cut off one’s food before taking a bite or how many bites other people cut off their food before they eat it because I do not monitor the plates of my fellow adults. Nor do I monitor & correct their grammar.

I have two strategies for you:

1. Refuse to engage:

MIL: “…Can’t you count?”

You:Anyway, like I was saying…” or “Okay. So, to continue…“- continue to speak like she didn’t say anything to you. Be the not-giving-a-shit you want to see in the world. This is a good strategy for when you just don’t have the energy to get into it.

2. Check her, loudly and directly:

MIL: “Why do you cut your food like that? The RULE says you’re supposed to cut off only one bite at at a time!”

Past You: “Sure, but when I’m eating with a toddler it messes up my rhythm and this is easier so I can actually eat my food and feed the kid.”

2017 You: “STOP monitoring how I eat.”

Make eye contact with her. Raise your voice a notch. Make it awkward. Do not argue her point. Just tell her to stop it. Use the voice you use when you tell your toddler not to run ahead or touch a hot stove. Practice with a friend if you need to.

MIL: “Didn’t you mean ‘she’?”

Past You: “No, I meant ‘they,’ which has a long history of use as a singular pronoun…”

2017 You: “STOP correcting how I speak.”

You’ve asked her to stop doing the thing. You’ve explained yourself. You’ve tried to see it from her point of view. You’ve tried sucking it up and ignoring it. It’s not working, so, tell her to knock it off! If she continues, repeat yourself. Make it clear that you don’t care if it’s awkward and it makes a scene. Make it clear that it is a really annoying behavior that she needs to knock off right now. Oh, and the first time will be the hardest time. She will get it if you stay consistent.

I’m sure she has a long story about how she just CARES about you and is TRYING TO HELP. This is a weird dominance display and she can learn to control it around you the way she doubtless does around countless other people in her life that she doesn’t see as reflections of herself or people she can boss around. You got this.