CN: brief mention of sexual assault
It’s time for that mostly monthly tradition where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.
First, as is traditional, a song:
Now, the terms!
1 “Captain Awkward is fat”
Fuck yeah I am!
2 “Is it weird to feel lonely in a relationship of 6 months together”
It’s not weird, or, at least, it’s not necessarily unusual. It’s not that the attraction or the romance is lessening, necessarily, it’s just that the initial rush of compatibility and chemistry (sometimes called New Relationship Energy) that brought you together is recalibrating itself. To me, it’s a sign that it’s time for questions.
- Do you feel lonely because you’re not sure yet that you can relax and be vulnerable with this person?
- Do you feel lonely because you got really wrapped up in this person and you need to reconnect with your friends and family and non-couple social life for a bit?
- Do you feel lonely because you were expecting that a romantic relationship would make it so you never felt lonely anymore but you’re realizing that’s not actually true? (Everyone gets lonely sometimes, even partnered people, I think).
- Are you having questions about longer-term compatibility? (This is a very good time to re-evaluate that).
3 “How to get rid of a Facebook stalker”
Looking for this?
4 “Is he into me quiz adults”
Here’s the quiz:
Question 1: Did you ask him if he’s into you?
Question 2: What did he say?
5 “Someone invited themselves to my house. How do I say no?”
“Oh, that won’t work for me. Let’s do _____ instead.”
The ______ can be a lot of things. “I’ll let you know when it’s a good time.” “I’d rather meet you out somewhere.” “Oh, no thank you, I’m not interested.”
6 “My elderly neighbor keeps coming down unannounced.”
Just ’cause someone knocks it doesn’t mean you have to let them in, though it’s hard to put that into practice with someone you know when they live in the same building and they know for sure that you’re home and you were raised to be polite to old people. Maybe try this: “Neighbor, these unscheduled visits really don’t work for me. I don’t want to be rude, but I really don’t like to be interrupted or to have people just drop by. Please text or call in advance and ask if it’s a good time to talk.”
P.S. You can ignore the texts/respond only when it’s convenient.
7 “Why doesn’t my boyfriend want me to masturbate?”
Better question: Why does your boyfriend think that he gets a say in your relationship with your own body?
8 “I’m divorced – should I give my 20 yo money to buy my Christmas gifts or should my ex?”
I think you might want to set expectations around holiday gift giving for your kid so that you ask for a few things that are very, very affordable for a 20-year-old. (For example, my mom asked for “slippers, booty style” for years – she was happy to get ’em, I was happy to afford ’em). And if you want other things/more expensive things, buy them for yourself.
If both you and your ex routinely give your dependent offspring spending money, maybe a mutual/joint bump up of that spending money around the holidays is a good idea, like, here’s some extra $ for your allowance so you can get holiday gifts for people (people, plural, people, in general), and both of you throw in the same amount.
I don’t think your ex necessarily has to buy Christmas gifts for you by proxy through your child of voting age, and if you set that expectation, you’re gonna be disappointed and also throw things off-kilter in the relationship with your child.
9 “55-year-old boyfriend of 5 months says he isn’t on dating app but I know he is.”
What happens if we rephrase this as “My boyfriend of 5 months doesn’t tell me the truth about using a dating app” and work from there? Time to think seriously about whether you have compatible expectations around exclusivity and whether you want to be with someone you have to monitor because you don’t trust them to tell you the truth.
10 “I’m not good with relationships, how do I help my daughter do better than me.”
Without knowing more details, maybe start here:
- Take very good care of yourself. Figure out how to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself and pursue your own well-being and happiness in relationships and out of them. It’s not too late for you to do this work!
- Be honest with yourself and with her about the pressures & messages you’ve faced that prompted you to stay in bad relationships and to value “relationships” as something separate from and above your own well-being.
- Push back against cultural messaging like “all relationships take work” and “you need to have romantic partnership in order to be normal/happy” or “romantic love is the most important thing” and the idea that there is something wrong with being single when you encounter them in the wild. For example, if you watch TV together, talk about the healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics that you see.
11 “Sister owes me money being difficult about repayments.”
In my experience, three things can help here.
Thought Experiment #1: What’s the worst that could happen if you never get the money back? Like, she definitely owes you the money and she should absolutely repay you and not make it difficult, but if you knew right now you would never get the money back, how would it affect your finances and how would it affect how you interact with her?
Thought Experiment #2: Given the answer to #1, would it stress you out less to make the money a gift? If you can afford it, would it give you a feeling of control back to say “Listen, I don’t want to fight about this anymore, please consider that money a gift, and when you’re in better financial straits, you can make the same gift to me or someone else.”
Listen, I know it’s counterintuitive, but sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money and if you can afford to make a one-time “the slate is clean” decision it might be less stressful for you. If you go this route, don’t lend her any more money or pick up the tab for something expected to be paid back in the future.
Thought Experiment #3: You need the money back and you don’t want to make it a gift. Then here you go! (link is long post about not letting a person off the hook about money).
12 “Husband’s sister wants him to leave me.”
Time to figure out if this is a sister-in-law problem (like, setting boundaries and giving yourself permission to not be anywhere she is or put up with rude behaviors from her) or a husband problem (like, he’s actually considering leaving you and blaming it on her or otherwise allowing her to make trouble in your marriage). She’s entitled to her feelings but she’s not really entitled to make those feelings your problem. Hope your husband is solid and this works out the way you want it to.
13 “Do I really love my partner if am hurting her/him?”
People can feel love and say the feel love and still make bad decisions/do bad things. Sounds like it’s time to stop doing the hurtful things, however the feelings shake out.
14 “Am I wrong to confront my bf’s ex?”
To what extent is he inviting in or enabling whatever is going on?
Are you the right one to put a stop to it or do you need him to do it?
Will confronting the ex get the result you want (will the person listen to you, will it just escalate things)?
15 “How can you answer if asked ‘how you view relationships’?”
Since that’s such a strange way of phrasing that question, I’d guess the person has an answer they are looking for or a way they view relationships that they are dying to tell you/someone about. Dates are not job interviews, so I would have almost no qualms about saying “Hrm, interesting, not sure I know how to sum that up in a general way right now – Is there a specific example you’re wanting to hear about, or a way you view relationships that you’d be willing to tell me about?” and kicking this right back to them before I even tried to answer.
16 “How to approach a co-worker about BDSM?”
Newp. Nope all around. Hard pass. Do not do this, unless you’d like a long strange trip to human resources.
Why I am so sure about this:
It’s not “a co-worker, who I happen to be dating/involved with,” it’s just “co-worker.” If you were already talking consensually about sexy stuff with this person, you’d have the “Hey, so have you ever tried or wanted to try [specific sexy stuff]?” conversation and the descriptor you used would be “gf/bf/partner” or some variant of.
If this were a sex club or dungeon or other BDSM-friendly or -adjacent environment, where “Hey, so, ever want to get together outside of Sexy Work and do [Fun Sexy Work Stuff]?” was remotely part of the accepted dynamic, that would be reflected somehow in your search term, Kinky Friend. It just would be.
- Go find your local BDSM community and go to a munch and meet some folks who might like what you like.
- The internet has sites like FetLife where you can find people specifically into BDSM.
- Mention your interests in your profile on other dating sites, see who responds positively.
Follow your kinky heart/other parts! Just not at work.
17 “Co-worker keeps asking ‘am I alright/okay’?”
Assuming you’ve said “Yep! Fine here!” at least once and it’s still happening, try this:
“Co-worker, you keep asking me that. Is there a particular reason?”
They’ll say some stuff, and that will tell you if they are noticing something off about you (if your behavior has changed, like “You are being really irritable/forgetful/behind on your work/spaced out/off lately,” that’s good information even if you’re feeling normal/fine), and it will give you an opening to say some version of “Ok, good to know. If I need help with anything, I promise I’ll ask you, but for now I’d like you to stop asking me that question.”
18 “My husband refuses to let my daughter get birth control.”
Well, you’ve got some decisions to make, and one of those decisions is whether you will support your daughter in taking care of her body and her health in the way she decides is right for her (even if that means going around your husband), or whether she’ll have to figure out something on her own that she has to keep secret from both of you (with all the attendant risks).
I have no chill about this. Your husband isn’t the boss of other people’s bodies. If your kid is of age to have sex and to ask for birth control, she’s of age to do that responsibly and safely, so please make sure she is informed and protected, ok?
Also, I don’t like encouraging people to lie to their spouses or their parents, but when someone with power over you threatens your safety and bodily autonomy, you do not have to disclose your private health decisions to them. I think you owe your daughter more here than you owe your husband.
Periodic reminder of the greatness of Scarleteen goes here.
19 “Telling people I’m not having Thanksgiving this year.”
Keep it simple and do it soon. Notify the usual suspects and say some version of “I know I usually host, but I’m not able to/I need to make another plan/I won’t be in town/hosting doesn’t work for me this year. I wanted to let you know ASAP so you/we can make another plan.”
You don’t have to have another complete plan ready to go in order to not host btw, which is why “so you/we can make another plan” has both “you” and “we” options.
20 “Boyfriend getting cold feet about moving in together.”
LISTEN TO THE FEET (OR THE COLDNESS OF THEM).
THE FEET/THE COLD ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU.
It’s very stressful to make what you think is a mutually exciting romantic plan and then have one of the people involved start expressing doubts.
In your shoes, hearing that my partner had cold feet about a joint living situation, I would stop all plans to move in together until this was worked out, for real. I would do nothing irrevocable or expensive or that involved signing legal documents until everyone was very sure about what they wanted to do next. I would ask questions like:
- What’s giving you pause?
- What do you want to do?
- What would set your mind at ease?
- What is our plan if we do move in and we’re not happy? (Ask this anyway, even if everyone is really excited!)
I’d ask the questions and listen carefully and lovingly to my partner’s concerns and see what makes sense for the relationship, sure, but with my own housing and financial security uppermost in my priorities. Like, when someone says “I know I said I wanted to live with you, but I don’t think I’m ready yet” that is reminder for you to think in terms of what is best for you, just you, and make sure your housing situation will be stable and good. Maybe compromises can be had? But please make sure you have contingency plans that are just about you, and please trust me that living alone is better (and cheaper, soooooooooo much cheaper) than moving in and having to uproot yourself a few months in because you’re living with someone you can’t really plan on or count on. Or somebody who hides problems until they are very big problems. Maybe a happy solution awaits! Cool! Wait until everyone is sure!
Not all romances benefit from cohabitation, the best time to figure that out is before you move in together, and it’s good that this person can be honest with you even if it feels awful right now.
BELIEVE THE FEET (AND THE COLD).
Hello! This morning I am voting, picking Henrietta Pussycat up from the vet from her spay, and then I’m answering short questions this afternoon. Review of how it works:
- Patrons can submit questions at this thread (Advantage: More than 280 characters).
- Anyone can submit questions anytime via Twitter – @CAwkward, #awkwardfriday. Please use the hashtag, my mentions are busy enough that I might miss it without.
- Deadline for questions for this week is noon, Chicago time, Friday, Nov. 2. If a question comes in after that, I try to include it next time.
- I answer as many questions as I can between noon & 2pm. If I think something is too much/too big for the venue, I’ll tell you and we’ll figure something else out.
- I’m asking people not not submit questions about abuse & sexual harassment & violence in these short answer threads.
- I’m also suggesting that you redirect your U.S.-election related anxieties and energies here. Our fears and our feelings are real, but there is stuff to DO right now. Let’s DO THE STUFF, to the best of our abilities. We can process later.
- Comments open when everything is posted.
Q1: “Ahoy, Captain! I’m constantly asked about my British accent, but I’m not British! I had seven years of speech therapy as a child with articulation problems, and my voice has some quirks that sound a little more British than American. I’m white, so “But where are you really from?” comes from curiosity rather than racism, but meeting new colleagues/students/dental hygienists is awkward enough without suddenly becoming hyper-aware of my speech. Any advice on redirecting without getting self-conscious? Also, since it isn’t an accent, it’s more perceptible sometimes than others, and I worry that people will think I’m (inconsistently) faking an accent to sound smart/exotic. (oh Cthulhu).”
A1: First, a PSA: I’m glad you mentioned racism, because white people definitely need to to stop quizzing nonwhite people (and/or people with “foreign” accents) about where they are “really” from. If you doubt me, please watch this video and remember that even if you think you have good reason to ask/you are just being kind/like, you studied abroad in their country and you want to talk about it with them/you went to school with someone with the same last name/you want restaurant recommendations, you are contributing to a pattern that really and truly wears on people and they have no way of knowing that your interest is benign. If someone’s national or ethnic background is something they want to share with you or something that’s important to your interactions, trust that they will do it on their own in their own way. Stop expecting them to play “guess my background!” on demand to satisfy your curiosity.
Now to your question, a fellow Patron in the question thread had a great suggestion:
“I get that a lot (Australian with a not-very-strong accent which people read as fairly randomly either American or English). I say ” *light laugh* just Australian, but I get that a lot!” The “I get that a lot” smoothes over the awkwardness. People just… when they notice a not-normal thing it introduces a spot of discomfort and they need an excuse – any excuse will do – to slide past it. (this assuming you want to do a softening and smoothing not a dead-eyed shutdown) Some small portion will continue on with “yeah, it really doesn’t sound Australian!” – a “yeah i dunno why!” is usually enough to get us to move on to a less-boring topic. My general tone is that it is one of the mysteries of my life that people say this to me. My subtext is “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t worry, you’re not alone, a lot of people share your hallucination!” “huh, weird!” Like… they’re seeing the dress as black and blue when it’s really white and gold. Very normal, not correct, just one of those things.”
I sometimes say “maybe I watched too much TV as a kid!” but that’s cause most Australian TV has American accents, I guess that won’t work for you. Some other mildly self-deprecating but dismissive thing. But not a humble brag, just, actually self-deprecating counters the risk of being seen as pretentious (I’m not sure how likely that is, and how much it’s just a worry, but either way hopefully it will help you worry less about it hopefully). Could you say “I had trouble learning to speak when I was little, so my accent ended up a bit weird!” (not sure how comfortable you are using a rough childhood situation as a glib comment, but I think it would be effective – gives a “reason”, is clearly not pretentious] [I suspect your self-consciousness about it is because of the articulation lessons – but actually quite a lot of people get this, for no particular reason]”
“I get that a lot!” + a subject change is perfect. I think this is also one of those things where people will take their cues from you – If you act like it’s a big deal, people will think it’s a big deal and be curious, but if you play it off and change the subject, most people will let it go and the ones who can’t or won’t are the ones making it weird.
Q2: Ahoy Captain. We’re getting a divorce, an amiable one, but… how do we tell our friends? Do we just put it on Facebook or what is normal procedure?
A2: I don’t know if there is a usual procedure (this would be a good marketing niche for greeting card designers, right? “We loved celebrating our wedding with you, now it’s time to celebrate our divorce, which will be final on [date]”). I’ve seen people make a Facebook announcement and didn’t find it strange, though to me it seemed like it was a late step in the process and the people involved had already spread the word a bit to friends & family. The downside of social media announcements is comments, like, people you went to elementary school with weighing in all “but you were always the perfect couple!” or “marriage takes work!” so if you do go that route think about your filters and moderate heavily.
This is where the extrovert/heavily networked people in your family and friend group come in handy, right? “Hey, talkative friend who knows everybody, X and I are getting divorced. It’s amicable and mutual, and we want to spread the word a bit but not have 100 awkward conversations where people tell us how surprised they are. Can you be our buffer about this – spread the word, and DON’T tell us about people’s weird questions and feelings? Thanks!”
Q3: My good friend has a spouse who I’m friendly with but not as close to. I’m happy for them to attend things that I plan with my friend, and for big group stuff I invite them individually and am fine with either coming alone. But for smaller group stuff I want the spouse only if the friend is coming. I have zero problem with the spouse being there with my friend, but I don’t have the closeness where I want them alone as 1/3 to 1/6 of the group. I like them but it changes the dynamic. Is there any kind/polite way to communicate “This invitation is for you; it’s fine if your spouse comes with you, but they’re not invited to come alone”?
A3: I have five suggestions:
- Script for overall discussion is probably “I like [Spouse] so much, but sometimes when I’m inviting you to a really small event I want it to be just us, so can you check with me first esp. if I don’t send them their own invite?” Also, think very carefully about whether you want to have an overall discussion or just handle it event by event, esp. since the consequences might be you get neither of them if both are not welcome.
- Be future-oriented, as in, change up how you do this in the future, don’t ask people to answer for the past (unless you want to make everyone feel unwelcome).
- If you’ve been inviting spouse through the friend, start separating it out and making sure they each get their own email or text or addition to the event page for things when they are both invited. Use your subject lines constructively – “Sal & Sally, you’re both invited to …” “Sally, you’re invited to…”
- Be clear and consistent – “Would you like to join me for X on [date]? It’s a tiny group this time, so no +1s or spouses, let me know by Friday.” “Wanna go to breakfast with me? Just us this time.” And then be consistent, like, if this person’s spouse can’t come maybe yours and other people’s don’t either.
- Sometimes this goes down easier as gender-segregated events – “Just us gents this time” – so if that’s useful to you, use it.
Q4: “What are your thoughts on Dylan Marron’s ‘Conversations with People Who Hate Me’?”
My thoughts are “this literally is the first I’ve heard of it” and I had to Google it to even know that it was a podcast. Since this comes up every time: I don’t listen to podcasts generally so the chances I’ve listened to or even heard of your favorite one are extremely tiny. I hope you enjoy (or don’t enjoy) it exactly as it deserves?
Q5: “What are some of your favorite friend-date activities for spending 1:1 time together?”
A5: Tonight I’m going to Commander Logic’s house to play Scrabble. Chances of wine/cheese/giggling are high.
I like sharing meals together. I like going to concerts and movies and the theater and readings. I like having people over for cozy couch time. Anywhere you can talk & catch up for hours (and eat!) I’m probably pretty happy.
Q6: I’m 46, cis, het and female (she/her). I’m trying to get back into online dating after I had a panic attack over it last year. My major hobby/vocation/extra curricular activity is MMA—weapons, wrestling, boxing. It’s a huge part of my life. I’m pretty good at it (20 years now, I better be).
Mentioning it in dating profiles goes badly, I find, but I feel really disingenuous concealing it since it flips people out. Any thoughts on a good way to approach this?
A6: Anyone who is gonna be a good match for you is gonna be at least, AT LEAST, agnostic about your favorite thing to do with your free time. Like, the baseline here is “Hrmmm, I don’t know anything about that really, but how cool! What do you like best about it?” and you should actively weed out anyone who is weird about it.
Maybe look at it this way: You’re not auditioning for people to like some generic version of you, you’re trying to narrow down the people who can hang with who you really are. When a dude reacts badly to learning you are a skilled badass lady fighter, it’s not because you failed some audition. It’s because he is not cool enough for you. Keep looking.
Q7: How do you know when it’s time to switch mental health professionals? I’ve been with the same therapist for seven months now, and I feel like progress hasn’t been great, but I’m not sure how to determine if I need to let this process take more time, whether it’s because I’m not doing what I need to do, or whether it’s because the therapist/treatment aren’t working for me.
A7: Well, this is something you can talk about with your therapist, and pretty frankly, too: “I’m not making as much progress as I’d like to be, do you think there’s something we could be doing differently with our sessions/do you think there’s something I could be doing more aggressively between sessions/do you think it would be beneficial for me to try working with someone else/can we check in about what progress has happened since we started working together and revise our plan?”
And if you feel like you can’t bring this up, that’s telling detail. Talking about how you work together is part of the work. More info on how to tell what works here.
Q8: I belong to a professional organization. This past year I have joined a committee for an in-person event that will be held in the next month. Only a few of the committee members are able to attend the actual event (which is to be expected) and a lot of the committee work is creating session descriptions and finding speakers. Our committee chair left the committee last month when they changed jobs, as they are no longer in our niche area. Their departure did put us in a bit of a bind as we found out that not all sessions had speakers arranged, although it has all been worked out at this point. For me personally, this added a lot of stress. I guess my question is, how do I answer questions about their departure? This event isn’t huge and their absence will be noticed, especially as I will be subbing in for a couple of speaking parts. I don’t want to bad mouth them, or make it a dramatic telling, but at the same time, I am not sure I am up for making it a happy happy story of them moving on. Especially since they told me to let them know if I had any questions immediately following their departure, which I did and which they completely ignored. Should I just mentally compartmentalize the bad personal aftertaste this has given me?
A8: If y’all haven’t already done this as a committee, draft some kind of announcement or statement about the person leaving and make sure the news is out there. And then use that statement to guide and inform how you answer questions from people. I really feel for you being left in the lurch by this person, but I encourage you to think about the message you want to send about the organization and the event (wanting attendees to be engaged and excited) vs. your personal feelings about all of it, which might be best saved for close friends (venting at the bar) and fellow committee members (private discussions about how to fill the gaps this person left and take some of this off your shoulders).
To that end, what if you said “Departing Person left some big shoes to fill, and this last month I grew to *truly* appreciate how much work they’d done recruiting speakers in past years.” + then turned the conversation toward what you’d like this member of the organization to do? For example “If you’re looking to get more involved in conference planning, the committee could always use x, y, z” or “We’re really looking for more speakers who can talk about x, y, and z topics” or “This is my first time running this solo, if there’s something I’m overlooking, please tell me!” or “We don’t have quite enough session moderators, any chance I can get you to jump in?”
Nobody can undo the stress you’ve been under, but orienting yourself (and your membership) toward action is gonna be the best medicine, I think. Good luck, may it all go smoothly!
Q9: Captain, as a creative and hard-working person, do you think that it better to have a more-cool role on a less-cool-overall project, or a less-cool role on a more-cool-overall project? Each project has thousands of people in it and lasts over the course of many years. I could be happy doing either but am definitely more excited professionally for cool-role-project. It also comes with a little less money that would have a non-dealbreaking but also non-negligible lifestyle impact.
A9: I don’t have an answer, just questions:
- Which project sets you up to have the most options in the future?
- Which project sets you up to learn from people who will help you level up the most?
- Do you have some ongoing creative practice that’s just yours, that can sustain you either way?
- Then, do a gut check. Flip a coin. If you had to abide absolutely by the coin flip (you don’t, but pretend with me), how do you feel about that?
Q10: I’ve been desperate for years to start doing more creative work but when a good idea moves me I become too manic to focus and can only daydream, and when I’m not manic I feel totally immobile and unmotivated. I feel like my peers are lapping me while I stay still and every cool idea I have will die with me (if it doesn’t show up in someone else’s work – although I was greatly comforted by something in the archive about that being a good sign of sorts haha). Mostly I just feel rotten about myself every time a cis white dude, specifically, gushes about his cool project – stuff by not those dudes (esp. games, comedy, YouTube) helps me, but I still feel like I’m a windbag with nothing to contribute and I only think I “deserve” a voice to spite bigger windbags, when ideally I would be lifting up, entertaining, maybe collaborating once I get over my fear of and aversion to that. I know I should seek mental health care (been feeling pretty shit for a decade) and I know timed exercises/750 words/NaNo and the like sometimes make me feel better, but nothing has made the process of actually sitting down and bringing an idea to an acceptable level of completion seem less insurmountable. Any strategies?
A10: I’m definitely not immune to this feeling. A lot of people want tips and suggestions to see if they can bypass the process of “finish stuff, send it out, then make new stuff” or make it easier somehow and, you can’t. I can’t. We can’t. No matter how, like, insightful we get about our process or how much we plan out elegant projects, eventually we will have to reckon with “finish a thing, send it out, make a new thing.”
Some stuff that might help:
Yes, take care of your mental health. I got diagnosed with ADHD a few years back and it helped so much, both in giving me tools and strategies and also helping me let go of some of the shame and self-recrimination that was not motivating in the least. Whatever you’ve got going on, having a trained pro guide you through both your goals and your list of “shoulds” (the stuff you’re using to beat yourself up with) isn’t a bad idea.
Give yourself a License To Suck. A writing teacher literally did this for a class I’m taking, it’s printed on a business-card sized thing and we can carry it in our wallets. It’s a reminder that people aren’t born with mastery, and if it’s worth doing it’s worth sucking at it for a while in order to get better.
Take a class or otherwise find community that gives you permission to generate a lot of first drafts, break projects down into manageable chunks, work with supportive peers, build in accountability and a schedule. If you’re going to suck, suck with other people who are also trying.
Try going for volume over quality for a while. That’s what NaNoWriMo is good for, right? Process, practice, volume, non-judgment. If you struggle with perfectionism and you have lots of stuff going on, this way no project has to be the one perfect project. Check out the parable of the pots. Also, see this from Ira Glass.
Test ideas and themes in different mediums. One of the best teachers I’ve ever encountered said the most important thing to me at the end of film school, when I took a memoir writing class with her: “Not every good idea you have wants to be a film.” She also introduced me to the practice of reading/telling stories out loud for audiences, which led me to nonfiction writing, which led me here.
How freeing was that? SO FREEING. Sometimes my ideas are movies but they can also be essays or poems or this advice blog that ate my life in the best possible way. Maybe your unfinished short story is languishing because it wants to be a short film. Maybe your novel wants to be a painting. Maybe you’re really a photographer. I don’t know! Maybe you don’t, either.
Q11: Do you have any words of wisdom for an amateur writer doing #nanowrimo2018 ? I seem to have written myself into a corner and I’m not sure how to get out. (This will be my 11th win if I finish again this year, but I’m not feeling it at the moment.)
A11: It would be okay if you didn’t do it or didn’t finish this time. It would be okay if you used this year to revise one of your old efforts instead of writing something new (maybe take an old piece and shift the setting or the POV character?). If you do do it and stick with it, the habit and the process will reassert themselves and the ritual of writing will probably start to feel better even if you’re not inspired. It will probably be more fun if you find other people to cheer you on.
Q12: I’m in the early stages of a relationship. Everything is sunshine and rainbows and tiny hearts with our initials. I know this stage doesn’t last forever. At some point there’s chewing with your mouth open and dirty socks and more real and less lusty head over heels. I don’t have any good relationship models in my life. How do I enjoy the good parts without worrying so much about what’s to come? (He’s a good person. There is no but there. I like what we are building together.)
A12: Versions of this question keep coming up. The answer is always the same:
Relationships aren’t a test you can study for and get an “A” by doing the most work. So use this anxious energy about the relationship that you’re feeling as a reminder to shore up the other areas of your life. Strengthen your friendships and family relationships and make sure you’re not losing track of the other people you love. Make sure that your career & education & creative pursuits & hobbies are doing what you want them to. Spruce up your living space. Revisit your plans & daydreams about the future. Get your health checkups and dental cleanings. Spend some alone time, don’t feel like you have to be with this person every single second. Your romantic relationship is just one part of your life, and the more secure and happy you are as a person, the better set up you’ll be to make good decisions about your love life, even if that decision is “keep enjoying this!”
Q13: Hey Captain, Happy Friday! I was wondering if you have any tips for building personal discipline and a better work ethic? I have heard, all my life, that I seem to phone things in, that I’m capable of better than what I give, that I project laziness that comes across as disrespect, etc. This has come from my family, teachers, employers, (ex-)partners, etc. And, they’re not wrong – I tend to stop at “adequate” but don’t go the extra mile to be excellent in most aspects of my life. I’m a single parent with a super-demanding job and always feel like I’m running on fumes, but know I could do at least a bit better! Help?
A13: Hrmmmmm….these sound awfully like all the messages I grew up with, the ones that rebounded inside my head literally since forever, endless jokes about having “She had so much potential” engraved on my gravestone, and totally discounting all the stuff I was doing and had actually done in favor of the ever-expanding list of what I should be doing. It’s taken some mental health diagnoses and ongoing mental health treatment and the practice of years to stop automatically playing those mind-loops.
Do you want to be doing “more” and if so “more of what”?
Are we sure these people are right about you? Are you sure they aren’t saying “Hey, even your ‘phoning it in’ version of this is pretty good and we resent that about you.”
And if they are right about you, is that really so bad? You parent your kid. You hold down a demanding job. Your kid is alive and happy and your work gets done, right? So what even is this “more”?
Have you talked it over with a therapist? Because that’s where I’d start.
Q14: My job offers professional development funds (yay!). The past few years, I’ve used some of that money for membership in a local professional organization that I’ve often felt lukewarm about. (I was a member briefly after grad school, then discontinued my membership, and rejoined in 2016.) What are some helpful considerations in thinking about renewing (or not)?
A14: Considerations, in no particular order:
- Is this the only organization in this field or is there another one (even if it’s not as local) that would be a better fit?
- Are you fully utilizing what’s available within the organization? Maybe look back at their programs and see if there’s something there worth taking advantage of.
- Are the problems with the organization fixable and do you feel like volunteering with the organization to shape it more to your needs?
- Is there something else you’d rather do with that money? [A conference, a class, an investment in reading material]
- It’s not your money, so why not? Are there upsides to belonging (networking, being able to list it on your resume)?
Q15: How much talking in class is too much? She/her, non-traditional student in a “caring profession” – my cohort is 90% female. Most classmates seem shyer to speak. My speaking enthusiasm level is Hermione-Granger-with-Undiagnosed-ADD. When I wait for someone else to go, sometimes the prof will impatiently jump in, which is frustrating because I *want* to have a lively discussion. I’m worried peers judge me for taking up space. I’m worried I might *be* taking too much space. Should I talk less? Worry less? Can I focus on some concrete way to support my peers?
A15: There’s a lot of room between being This Fucking Guy and being that lifesaver active student who is not afraid to talk during class discussions. Your self-awareness about this makes it less likely that you’re a problem, but if it’s making you anxious it’s probably worth checking in with your professor, like, “I want to be active in discussions but I want to make sure I’m not talking over other students, any feedback/can we agree that you’ll tell me if you think I’m overdoing it?”
If I’m a teacher of a discussion-based class and only one student is ever talking, I’d be looking for ways to mix it up, like, asking a question and having smaller groups chew on it together and then present back to the bigger group, or asking a question for discussion and then giving students a few minutes to write down their thoughts before we talk about it. Really, it’s your teacher’s job to manage the whole vibe of the room, and if there are points for class participation you’re not doing it wrong by participating actively!
The “writing it down” strategy has worked for me when I have had to speak with students who do have (documented) ADHD or just a tendency to blurt things out – “It’s great that you’re so engaged and you have a lot to say, but you interrupt me and other people sometimes, so can we try a thing where when you have a thought or a question you write it down and then wait until I pause for questions to ask it?” You might try that as a strategy for yourself sometimes if you’re worried that you’re being too much – instead of speaking out loud, write whatever it is down in your notes, and write down the things that other people say, too. You still are having the insights, right?
Another strategy (both for moderation and participation) is to make sure you’re amplifying and responding meaningfully to the things that other people say. “Going back to the question Sylvester asked…” “I’ve been thinking about the point that Sylvie made…” If your peers know that you are paying close attention to them when they do speak up, hopefully it will encourage them to keep going.
Q16: Some good friends recently told me that I apologize A LOT and take responsibility for things that are outside my control or not really an issue. My instinct was to apologize for apologizing, so it seems my friends were accurate in their assessment. 🙂 Anyhow, do you have any scripts on how to redirect this tendency in my own head and out loud? What do I say if I feel bad that something didn’t go as planned or I was less than perfect without constantly saying “I’m sorry”? (This wouldn’t apply to situations where I really am in the wrong – but if that happens, I would want my apology there to have some weight and NOT be just a reflex)
A16: Yes, I do have suggestions:
1) Practice restating apologies as expressions of gratitude.
“I’m sorry I forgot to return your book sooner” => “Thanks for lending me the book!”
“I’m sorry I’m such a bummer tonight, I’m really feeling down” => “Thanks for hanging out with me and listening.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t had much time to hang out lately” => “Thanks for being so flexible with my schedule, I’m so glad to see you!”
2) In electronic communications, type them out when you make the draft but build in time to edit and erase before sending. If I didn’t do this, literally every email I sent would start with “Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.” I decided to stop automatically apologizing about this a few years back and I think it was a good choice. It took me as long as it took to respond to the email, in many cases I’m not actually sorry, and I wanted to stop perpetuating the standard that all emails require immediate response or that women must always pre-apologize in life.
Q17: Maybe more of a crowd-sourcing question – techniques/hacks/systems for doing things (think stretching, at-home physio, etc.) that I need to do but find boring and, while not painful, a pain?
A17: The Pomodoro Technique (adapted to good advantage by Unfuck Your Habitat as “20/10s”): Set a timer for the length of time that you want to do the annoying thing (like, 20 minutes, but really whatever you want, you can start smaller, you’re the boss of you). Do the annoying thing knowing that there is a hard end-time. Then take a timed break to do something enjoyable (10 minutes). Reset as necessary until the stuff is done.
Someone in this community recommended Gretchen Rubin’s book about habit forming, Better Than Before, and with the caveat that she has some personal thoughts about body image & eating that I don’t share, I’ve personally found it really useful. Like, I enjoyed it at the time, but I think about it waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often now than I thought I would when I was reading it. The biggest takeaway was that people have different tendencies about what motivates them, and if you can figure out yours you can kinda hack your habit-forming – like, some people really benefit from having a buddy to do hard stuff with or someone to be externally accountable to, some people are just great rule-followers and the fact that it’s a rule makes it hard to deviate, some people really need to know why a thing is happening so constantly connecting the new habit to the why (“If I do my physical therapy exercises I can get strong enough for that sex position I like again”), etc.
Q18: Not the most serious question but I just got engaged (yay!) And what on earth is it about weddings that makes everybody have An Opinion?? On everything??
A18: The intersection of family, tradition, culture, marketing, and shit we’ve grown up seeing in movies and on television is a powerful one. Congratulations! Offbeat Bride and A Practical Wedding were lifesavers.
Q19: Scripts for talking to bosses about mental health? I see a therapist twice a month and I don’t know how to explain the absences, or my occasional depressive episodes (less frequent now, yay!)
A19: If the Affordable Care Act did literally nothing else, the mandate that all health plans must cover mental health services the same way they cover any other health concern is a world-changer. Now the culture has to catch up. Until it does, disclosing mental health stuff at work is sticky, because there still is stigma, and once you disclose you can’t un-disclose. Fortunately, Alison at Ask A Manager has a great primer on this. With her advice in mind, one script might be “I have a recurring medical appointment twice a month” and no more information than that. Another one might be “I have depression. It mostly doesn’t affect work (beyond needing to check in with my counselor twice a month), but I’m having a depressive episode and need to treat it more aggressively right now, which means… [specifically what you need – time off, an adjustment to the workload, a quieter work space, a more flexible schedule].”
Q20: “My friends Alex and Pat recently had a huge falling out due to a seemingly trivial issue. Tomorrow at a wedding will be their first time around each other since the fight. Is there anything I can do help keep the peace since I’ll be interacting with both?”
A20: The bad news is the good news: There is literally nothing about their conflict that is your job to worry about. Say hello to both of them, have a great time, don’t bring any of it up unless they do. If they do, try changing the topic to “what a lovely wedding it is.” Only in case of emergency, like they re-start their argument in a way that would be noticeable to other guests or the people getting married, should you do anything (in that example, the doing something might be “ok, why don’t you both get some air!”)
Repeat after me: Not your circus, not your monkeys.
Q21: I’m at a point where my old friend group is “cycling out”. I’ve made some new acquaintances through my weekly activities that I’d love to bring up to friendship level (e.g. inviting them out), but sometimes feel shy. I’d love a script/advice on this.
A21: Remember, the best invitations have a specific time and date and place attached and you’ll have less anxiety if you invite them to a specific thing than if you mention “coffee sometime” and then wait forever for “sometime” to be real. When you’re ready to take the plunge, be specific and ask: “Wanna grab a drink after rehearsal next week?” They may not be free that day, and they may not want to get closer, but almost nobody who goes to a weekly social hobby is going to think you did something wrong by asking or find it weird, at all. Give making plans a couple tries before you give up. If you ask three times and nobody bites (and nobody suggests an alternative), let it go for 3-6 months before bringing it up again. Somebody’s gonna be very glad you asked.
Q22: Hi! recently ended 8-year relationship. didn’t live together, but work together, have creative projects together. Breakup wasn’t mutual: I instigated. Tips for how to be kind and make space for myself to move on? Do I need to end creative partnership too?
I don’t think you can make assumptions either way about what happens to the creative partnership now. I think you have to ask the person what they want to do, see if it aligns with what you want to do, and make the decision that’s right for you. What would you do if the collaboration needed to end? Do some research and protect your work.
If you’re reading this and you have a creative collaboration with a friend or romantic partner, I want you to stop, drop, and put something in writing about who owns the work and what happens to it in case you decide to go your separate ways someday. Do this even if nobody is making any money from the work. Do this even if you have no problems or thoughts of ending the friendship or the working relationship because a fair agreement negotiated now, while you like each other, is a huge favor to future-you if something shatters here.
Ok, that should be something for everyone. ❤
Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!
To ask a question, patrons can post to this thread and anyone can reach me on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which point I’ll answer as many as I can between then and 1pm.
Comments are open! So many great questions! Thanks everyone.
Submit questions on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) or on Patreon before noon Chicago time today.
I’ll answer as many as I can between noon and 1pm, with comments turned on once the post is up.
Thank you, this was fun to do last week.
Q 1, a holdover from last week: “Hi Captain! I’m starting at a prestigious med school this fall. I know that I’ve worked really hard to get here, but my parents have long been psychologically undermining me and won’t stop now. Any tips on resisting their signals and trusting my competency?”
I think it’s time to examine how often you talk to these people, and why, and what information you give them about your life. Maybe it’s time for your parents to become “occasional greeting cards/passing pleasantries”-level people, where you aim for a series of mostly pleasant surface-level interactions and the goal of not escalating things from your side or making anything worse than it already is. Give yourself permission to leave a conversation or an event if they say mean things, give yourself breaks from being in contact at all, give yourself permission to edit the details of what you tell them about your life. After all, they can’t comment unfavorably on something if they don’t know about it, and if they wonder why there is distance between you, hey, you’re busy with med school!
Even when it’s necessary to protect ourselves and liberating to acknowledge the truth about what’s happening, it is very painful for emotional abuse survivors to acknowledge the gap between how parents should act (loving, supportive, proud) and how they are actually acting. So please shore up your other support systems and reach out to friends, possible mental health support, mentors & other members of Team You, so that you do have people you can confide in and count on to be supportive, loving, and proud.
Q2: “A question… scripts for negotiating with debt collectors and related financial entities, with a side order of bypassing and shutting up brainweasels that shriek YOU ARE BAD FOR NEEDING TO DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE…?”
I was a broke grad student for a very long time and I have had to deal with debt collectors before. it’s the worst! I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!
Some things that have helped me:
First, I found out everything I could about my rights and their practices.
Second, I never, ever, ever talk to them on the phone. I don’t verify shit for their records. I definitely don’t give them contact info for friends or family if they are trying to use me to hunt down someone else. I also do everything in writing. The first time one calls I ask “Can you send me something in writing? I have no way of knowing that you are who you say you are, and I don’t talk about sensitive financial matters over the phone.” They will do everything they can to try to pressure you to stay on the phone, so just repeat that like a broken record and then hang up.
In the USA anyone attempting to collect a debt is required to verify their authority to collect the debt in writing, usually within 30-45 days. I also document everything: The firm, the name of the person, the date, everything they say. After that request for things in writing, I create a contact for them and then block the # on my cell phone.
There’s more practical stuff at that link.
As for the shame aspect of it, your shame is useful to debt collectors. It is not useful to you. I assume that you are a conscientious person who generally tries to pay what you owe, and that if you’re not paying something it’s because you can’t. Even if you were careless or “lazy” in some way, I would still think you deserved food, shelter, health care, leisure time, and good things in life because you are a human being.
I’m going to tell the truth about something that I was very ashamed of once upon a time: When I moved out of my ex’s place in 2011, I had less than $300 in the bank and no computer, and the breakup & move came in the summer when I didn’t have adjunct work. I was lucky in so many ways, I had a friend moving out of her place to get married, and she had paid up the rent for a few months. I had community, as in, the very first Captain Awkward Dot Com pledge drive bought me a computer and put food on my table. Other friends hooked me up with freelance work. But it was grim for a minute there, and during that time I stopped being able to pay off a credit card from grad school. That $150/month minimum payment wasn’t doing anything to bring down the overall balance, it was like throwing money down a hole. It basically came down to eat & have health insurance? vs. pay this bill. So I stopped paying it and eventually it got sent to collections.
Let me be *completely* honest, in case it might help someone: Also during that time, I had a bunch of automatic payments for bills, student loans, etc. coming out of my bank account, and while I did my best to stop/re-organize them, I didn’t act in time and I bounced some payments. When I couldn’t deposit enough money to cover them in my bank account within a few days, my banker helped me temporarily suspend my account. We didn’t want to close it with a negative balance, because it could have meant I might not be able to open another bank account for a period of years, but this temporary fix stopped any payments from going out or through while keeping the account technically open. That meant I couldn’t use an ATM or debit card until I had had a positive balance and no shenanigans for six months, and I had to do all my financial transactions in cash or in person at the bank or by paying bills at currency exchanges. It sucked and was terribly inconvenient, though it made me very, very careful with money and reversed some lazy habits I had accumulated.
Back to the unpaid credit card balance! Down the road, I settled it for a nominal amount of money, about 10% of the total balance. There were credit report consequences (my only credit card now is a secured card with a $500 limit, tbh I like it that way b/c it means I can never go into bigger debt again) and tax consequences (companies can write off bad debt as a loss for tax purposes, but individual people have to claim the difference between the total balance owed and what we settle for as income), and bill collectors calling, but otherwise nothing bad happened to me. I wish I’d just had the money to pay the whole thing off without a fuss, but since I didn’t, I made the best choice for myself out of some bad options. There’s a reason they call it unsecured debt, and I wasn’t going to harm my health to pay something that the credit card company had written off without a thought.
People can judge all they want or think I should have made better choices, but fact is most financial advice that exists is for people who are already pretty secure and comfortable and there weren’t a lot of resources I could turn to. Like, sure, “have a budget and stick to it!”, but how do you budget 0$? Also, I personally find most money-saving “tips” to be completely exhausting and depressing.
I dug out of the hole. It took time. I would like to never go back there, but I know it’s always possible, so I will give any moralizing or shame that serves the interests American financial industry at the expense of my safety & survival a hard fucking lifetime pass, and I hope you can do the same.
Possibly helpful reading: Joon Madriga’s Rising: Money Strategies for the Broke, The At Risk, and Those Who Love Them, Poorcraft by C. Spike Trotman, Money Drunk, Money Sober by Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan, Hand To Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado.
Forgive all student loans! Universal health care! Solidarity! Bread AND roses!
Q3: “I recently held a phone interview w/ an applicant who was an ideal candidate on the phone, until the end when they said “I’m glad it was a phone interview b/c you can’t tell I didn’t shower.” They are asking why they didn’t get the job. Do I tell them?”
A: Even if that was THE dealbreaker, I wouldn’t tell them that. Especially not in an email.
At most I’d say “We just found someone who was a better fit for the job. However, I really enjoyed speaking with you and you have some great experience and skills, so can I offer a piece of advice for your job search? I’m sure you were joking at the end of the call when you mentioned not taking a shower, but you might want to avoid jokes like that in future phone interviews and err on the side of being more formal. Good luck with everything and thanks again for taking the time to apply and speak with me.”
This is our daily reminder that there’s a real fine line between “nervous person who makes a bad joke that doesn’t land” and “weirdo with no filter.”
Q4: Through a charity program, I am putting a teenager in a foreign country through private school. She was 12 when I started, she’s 16 now. She seems like a nice kid and I’m happy to do it. But she found me on Facebook recently and chats me regularly. She wants to know about my spouse (I’m a lesbian) and my family (I’m minimal contact with parents who were abusive) and my dog (thank God, that one’s easy).
I am happy to write the checks, but I’m not really looking to be her penpal. She seems to live in happy traditional family and doesn’t get the hint that I’m not and doesn’t seem to have the “don’t Facebook chat adults with six questions in a row about their personal lives” cultural understanding that American teenagers have.
So… how can I not be an asshole here?
A: You could most likely remove her ability to contact you on Messenger, right? Maybe give her an email address instead, so there’s less expectation of immediate responses, and you can answer or not more at leisure.
There’s also always “Oh, so nice to hear from you, but I don’t have time to chat, so don’t be worried if I don’t respond. Hope school is going well!” and then, well, not answering. I think it’s easy to forgive or overlook her initial enthusiasm, and chances are it will die down over time, especially if you are slow to answer.
Could you hook her up with a website that’s more geared toward international penpals for teens? “Since you like chatting so much, would you like to find people your own age to talk with?” Related: A pretty delightful short documentary about this.
Failing that, what’s wrong with “Oh, I don’t have a spouse right now. If I did, it would be another woman“, “I’m not close to my parents, sadly,” or just sticking to dog topics? Those are pretty routine small-talk sorts of questions (and in fact form the basics of early language learning texts) and it’s okay to answer them in a perfunctory way. See also: “Ooh, so many questions! Well, here’s a picture of my dog, for now. Sorry I can’t chat, but have a good day at school.”
Q5: “I was wondering how best to establish a social event for work people. I would like to invite some of my colleagues socially, maybe make it a regular thing. The wrinkle: It needs to be outside my home and right now the number is small, so I wonder what happens when everyone declines. Also what if I stumble upon some unknown animosities between the people I like? Any advice welcome and thanks for getting back to me :)”
Start with a one-time thing, make sure it’s something that would be enjoyable for you to do, and then secure one reliable colleague who will show up before you make the general announcement so you know that it won’t just be you.
Pick something preferably inexpensive, close to work, and inclusive (at minimum make sure the venue is accessible to any & all disabled folks on your team, think about whether drinking/alcohol is a thing your team handles safely and enjoyably).
Then issue the invite: “Reliable Colleague and I are going to try axe-throwing after work next Thursday, from 5:30-7:30 pm, at [venue]. Anyone want to join us? RSVP by [day] so we can schedule enough axes.” Then send a reminder when you need the final head count.
If people reply and can’t make the first thing, or suggest something else, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should change your plans. “Sorry that you can’t make it this week, we’re going to try to make this a regular thing though, so maybe next time.” “Our heart is really set on axe-throwing this week, but we want to make a regular Thursday night thing, so let’s go to the tapas place the following week. Want to plan that with me?” One way to get me to stop planning anything (and to secretly hate you) is to be a person who doesn’t plan anything but who craps on every plan that other people come up with.
If people have animosities toward each other, you don’t have to fix that, but as host you do have to make expectations about behaviors clear and smack down anything that’s inappropriate or mean. One rule could be “Ok, a 5 minute limit on work venting, this is supposed to be fun” or “To keep this fun and light, please don’t say anything about people who aren’t here that you wouldn’t say to them.”
Give it some time to get into a groove, and good luck.
Q6: Hi Cap! It is that time in my early 30s when old friends who disappeared into 5+ year relationships have broken up & now suddenly want friends again. Advice for navigating friendship renewal when the reason old friend & I haven’t been in touch is because they chose to disappear? In all cases so far I would have been thrilled if friend got in touch to resume friendship at any prior point but I am bitter as soon as I find out friendship-renewal attempt is on heels of new singleness. (with the male examples, am giving benefit of the doubt that they aren’t trying to hookup) (this may be naive but we’ll see)
A: Two things come to mind:
- Let them be the one to make the effort/the plans, and don’t necessarily put a lot of effort into juggling your schedule to fit them in. See them when it’s fun/interesting to you now, not out of obligation to the past.
- Seriously limit your role as post-breakup-shoulder-to-cry on, and if they try to take advantage of you in this way, definitely address it: “Hey, you kinda disappeared from my life when you started dating X, and it’s great to have you back, but that doesn’t mean I want to process the last 5 years with you. Let me be your fun-going-to-the-movies friend for a while, and we’ll see if listening-to-my-problems friend still lives here.” Especially for heterosexual dude friends who might be looking to hook up or get a lot of free emotional labor (or both).
That’s all for today, thanks for the great questions, comments are open.
I’m a single straight cis woman. Some time ago I joined a new hobby group, and it’s been great! There are lots of men in the hobby group and a number of them have asked me out on dates. This isn’t the problem – I appreciate people who take the chance to ask me out outright and I am good at turning them down politely but firmly when I’m not interested.
My problem is with the people who clearly appear to be romantically interested in me, but instead of asking me on a date they just kind of weirdly hover around me. For example, they might suddenly take an interest in all of my Facebook posts, even when they have nothing to do with our shared hobby. Or they might just keep starting chats with me online. They might also try to engineer hangouts that are very clearly stealth dates, or they might focus all of their attention on me even when there’s a whole group of us and we are all doing the hobby together. I find this very off-putting but I don’t know how to address it. Since nothing is explicitly being said I feel somewhat paralyzed in these situations and tend to just act friendly but also kind of evasive in hopes that they will get the hint, but this doesn’t always work. Is there a more effective way I can deal with this?