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Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Almost a year and a half ago, while I was in tenuous material circumstances myself, my partner of less than a year got sick. One minute they were having a biopsy and the next minute they were fresh out of what turned out to be cancer surgery. Shocked, I didn’t have the presence of mind to prevent post-surgery on my couch from turning into living on my couch. 

Frustrated with my overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of epic shitty circumstances (which also later turned out to include partner’s mental health crash-and-burn), and failing to get caretaking support from their family, my community, and whatever social safety net ostensibly exists for someone like my now-ex,I started aggressively pursuing work. 

I struck a deal with my friend to  help with their small online business. Working for them for the past almost year has allowed me not only to  address my recent and childhood traumas in therapy, but also to enroll in a course to learn their trade.

They offered me partnership, I took it. We’ve been splitting the revenues, but have yet to finalize our partnership agreement.

So here is the deal: my prospective business partner also struggles with chronic and mental illness. Sometimes getting them to do any work even on a flexible timeframe is like pulling teeth. Right now, the money coming in is by-and-large from a combo of their old work and my current work.

I am torn.

They extended a hand to me when I desperately needed it, and they really did help give me space to heal. Having experienced mental illness and loved someone who has mental illness, I have a hard time writing them off just because they’re difficult to work with. They were so patient with me when there were some days, and some weeks, when I just couldn’t work.

On the other hand, I *did* do a lot of work. I went to therapy, I got my ex off my couch, I revived their business, and I invested in professional development education which will empower me, if I choose, to work on my own. After everything I just went through, and from where I stand now, I am seriously balking at formalizing my commitment to this person who is reliably unreliable about doing anything besides paying me.

What should I do? 

So Burnt Out (She)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure whether I’m being ungenerous or this really is rude; hopefully you can help!

I’ve been with my firm for a long time; longer than most of the staff. I have a ton of institutional knowledge, and am the in-office expert on several specialized processes. Between that and my love of teaching, I find myself giving a lot of little tutorials and helping to troubleshoot issues, and it’s generally really great!

However.

I get interrupted. A lot. I know my explanations can get fairly detailed (out of necessity!), but I don’t think it’s right to interrupt someone whose day you’ve disrupted, and more often than not it’s to ask a question that I was actively addressing. It should be noted that these are people stopping by my desk, not emailing or calling with their questions.

The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well. I’ll explain the format something needs to be in, and they’ll interrupt with “Well actually, it needs to be an excel document” when I just said it needs to be a *.csv. Because it needs to be a *.csv. I had one guy do this on his first day, as I was explaining something to a neighboring employee!

I don’t know how to make this stop. There’s a huge expectation that I be friendly and polite, but I want nothing more than to tell them “You’re clearly not interested in learning. Please leave so I can work,” and forward them a link to a search engine (and possibly a muzzle). I try not to let these interactions spoil my day, but they sometimes get me so bent out of shape I cancel my evening plans so I can decompress angrily at home.

Possibly related: despite my experience level, I’m relatively young, and even younger-looking. I’m also a woman. My older coworkers seldom pull this nonsense, and neither do women my age. Men my age are not just the worst offenders; they’re they only offenders. At this point I kind of dread every new male hire under 40. I don’t want it to make this a sexism thing, but it really does seem like one.

What do I do to stop the interrupters?

Sincerely,

Wishing they would fall in a Well, Actually

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If you’re here because you saw my talk on constructive criticism at work at GOTO Chicago yesterday, welcome! I really enjoyed meeting so many of you and I’m interested to adapt the talk to make it more applicable. Thank you for letting the weird art kid come play in your sandbox. Edited to Add: My slides and video should be available through the conference site soon, but you can also access a pdf here if you like: PeepasGOTOMay1 [/Edit]

I’m going to be thinking about Erin Horáková’s essay about the collective retconning of Captain Kirk for a while. Disclaimer: I am a mere Padawan learner in the lore of Trek, so your comments about the details of the episodes and the character might go over my head. Things I really love:

  • Her portrait of Kirk as quite a lovely, thoughtful, dutiful person (vs. the “Chest Manbeast:Ultimate Rebel” he’s become a shorthand for) made me want to go back and watch.
  • The idea that the Boring Guy You Meet At Bad Parties is part of “a vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely.”
  • The discussion of Dickens and Helen Keller and Norman Rockwell and the way stories get updated and remanufactured to erase their radical roots and ideas. We love a truth-teller and a rebel and a hero, as long as their radical acts are safely in the past and can have the edges sanded off for the “nation-building, heritage-canonising costume drama adaptations.
  • This sentence:Robinson Crusoe is a dull, badly-written, racist pile of shit (and it’s “the first novel” like I’m Romy and it’s my high school reunion and I invented the post-it note).” I don’t know you, Erin Horáková, but I think I like you.
  • And finally, this:

“Thus it becomes a matter of reclaiming texts via attentive reading. In the post-truth world, attention is a skill. Reading is a skill. We must vigilantly listen to the hum of the currents of power running through texts and their interpretations, to actions and their spin. We must insist upon reality in order to meaningfully and morally do the work of relativistic interpretation: there are four lights, for fuck’s sake. We do have to have stories, and so we need to be able to see them. It’s important both to add marginal voices to canons and conversations and to protect the marginal elements already there from conservative erosion, for the sake of accuracy, artistic quality, and politics. We need to have access to their resources and to be able to use our own, not to host within ourselves an enemy that occludes all we see, that drains the progressive potential of everything we have access to. What good things we have done ought to be preserved. There are histories of resistance, large and small, that we ought not to lose; that we cannot afford to lose.”

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Hi, Cappy! I recently discovered your column and am so grateful for it. You’re amazing and helpful!

I really could use some situational advice, but it’s a long and complex story, sorry!

I’m a single parent of a 1st grader. Child support basically doesn’t happen.

3 years ago I was (thankfully) laid off from my research position. I’d worked hard after grad school to achieve success in an almost exclusively male-dominated and competitive field, but it was hard to raise my daughter working the crazy hours and with the amount of travel required for my job.

As a result I returned to school for graphic/web design; a field I thought would provide me with a more flexible schedule, increased job opportunities and potentially more money. I started a two year program at a technical school, with tuition and childcare 100% paid for by government benefits.

Enter “Donny”. Donny was a friend who was a neuroscientist at the University I’d attended and worked at. Despite having very different values, he had become a trusted friend. Romantic interest in Donny = 0. Divorced and childless, he is middle aged. He seemed kind and supportive when I really needed that. He was also the only positive male role model that my daughter had. He was not very involved in our lives at this point.

Donny started a tech company outside of his university position and became wealthy enough to retire from the University this year. He has a low emotional IQ, lots of anxiety and few friends. However, Donny loves my daughter and dotes on her. I don’t think he has ever said “no” to her. I’ve never had weird “vibes” about his relationship with my daughter. She was like the daughter he’d always wanted.

Back to me. Two years ago, after finishing year 1 of my program, Donny convinces me to drop out of school and work with him at his tech company instead. He says I am wasting my time at school and that he, the wealthy and successful entrepreneur, would teach me “real-world skills” and his special coding “secret techniques” from start to finish. He told me people would pay lots of money to learn his secret and that I was lucky he was willing to share this very profitable knowledge with me. He started paying me to do small projects, such as writing copy and some print work for his company. I was thrilled, thinking I was embarking on a new, lucrative and fulfilling career.

Fast forward to a year ago. Donny has stopped sending me any work but continues to pay me a barely livable wage each month to essentially do nothing. Projects are always just over the horizon but wind up “falling through” at the last minute or he doesn’t have the time to teach me anything because it’s a rush job, etc…. I make barely enough to cover my bills most months, but through decreased spending, I can still live check to check. I am ridiculously busy parenting (with no breaks), trying to stay organized, maintaining/improving my small house so my daughter has an un chaotic place to live, and being involved with my daughters activities while occasionally making stuff, but I have no social life (unfortunately that often goes along with single parenthood). I would like to make more money, but confess I am also enjoying the opportunity to be there for my daughter since I am her only family and her whole world. We are very close.

Donny continues to point out how rich he is, but keeps my pay at poverty level. He is also increasingly manipulative and controlling with his money, even believing he is entitled to having input in decisions I make about my and my daughters life, parenting, my house, friends, etc. He is by nature condescending and a master mansplainer. I ignore him and avoid confrontation because after 3 years of rarely seeing my daughter I still feel lucky to have this opportunity.

A month ago I ask Donny for more money for the first time because bills are mounting. I know I need to start a job search, but have been putting it off because —what the hell do I do now?

Donny tosses out a figure 33% higher than I’ve been getting monthly. He says he could even pay off my student loans “if he wanted to”. (They are not getting paid because I don’t make enough to pay them.) He tells me to send him the amount I owe and he will pay them off because he “doesn’t want the government to play any role in my life” which sounds generous, but is actually paranoid and a little conspiracy- theory ish. I send him the figure and he ignores me. All three times. I don’t rock the boat, but never even get a response. When that month’s check arrives its less than the amount he’d promised. I don’t say anything, feeling grateful to get anything at all, but irritated that he has changed the amount without mentioning it.

This months check was even less, back to the original too-low amount. I finally tell him (at 11:30 at night, probably sounding crabby) that it is hard for me to budget when I don’t know how much money I will be getting. At the first sign of what he perceives as questioning him or “conflict”, Donny flips out and says he could easily pay me more money but that he wants me to “work for it” by doing sales for him, which I’ve been clear from day 1 that I was 1) not good at and 2) not interested in doing or I would have pursued a sales career.

Then starts the classic rhetoric all single Moms hear: that I CHOSE to be a single parent and that I CHOSE to have a baby with that person, that my current situation is all my own doing. Followed by hinting that I am lazy and that I need to take “personal responsibility” for my predicament. He then drops a bomb by asking “how long am I going to do this?” I get mad and remind him that I was halfway through my degree which was PAID for and that I had wanted to finish, but that he was right, it was my fault that I had believed his promise to train me and give me work, which he not followed through on in 2 years. So now I have no money and no skills– nothing but some extra time to be a good parent to my daughter.

Then Donny says “I wanted you as a partner, but now Im not so sure,” which had failed to ever be mentioned to me. Apparently I had no say in that either. I got mad and told him not only do I not have time for any relationships, but that we have nothing in common, which we don’t- he voted for the One Who Is Not to be Named -not to mention a hearty “no thanks!” to all the boundary-crossing behaviors I put up with like never knocking but just walking into our house unannounced and at varying degrees of earliness to keep me guessing I guess. Locking the door makes him crabby. I have tolerated these behaviors because 25 years ago he emigrated from a culture where personal boundaries are not a priority, so I thought I was being understanding.

I have not heard from him in 6 days now when normally I get multiple texts per day. I assume he is pouting and will contact me with reasons why I am an ungrateful and overall crappy person. I actually feel enormous relief at not being scrutinized or controlled but am frightened for my financial situation.

What I want to know is: was it wrong of me to go along with this arrangement for so long? What if he contacts me and wants to continue this arrangement for more money? I intend to secure my own employment temping or something, but I am really regretful that I didn’t complete my education. Donny has been really generous, but at this point I feel so manipulated and disrespected that I don’t know if a can have any sort of friendship with him, whether he continues to pay me or not. He will see me as ungrateful and leaving because the money dried up.

I have been very appreciative and grateful and thank him constantly for his generosity, but it never seems to never be enough. He tells me I should just “be a good parent to my daughter,” which I am. I and my daughter make things for him and involve him with my daughters activities, but it’s still not enough. He is feeling under appreciated but doesn’t actually know what he wants. Donny has done a lot for us and I don’t think his behavior is conscious. I believe he is emotionally stunted for some reason. However, i cannot handle any more controlling and condescending bullshit. I am also aware that I am equally to blame for my situation. My motive was wanting to be able to be a good Mom for my daughter, no matter how short-lived. Finally, Donny was the only male figure in our lives my daughter could depend on, but I also don’t want to set a poor example by being manipulated and controlled by Donny.

Scripts for what to say to conflict- averse Donny if and when I hear from him would be greatly appreciated!

-Master Builder of Gilded Cages

she/her pronouns please, he/him for Donny

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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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This is a guest post from a kind Patreon contributor who took on the “Advice Columnist For The Day” mantle. I meant to post it ages ago and never actually hit “Post”, so, apologies for the oversight b/c it’s a very good read.

Hi Captain!

I just graduated college a few months ago and I’m having trouble finding my way into the real world. I have a decent amount of experience for a new grad, I think. I’ve had jobs doing work relevant to my STEM field, I completed a 7-month-long thesis, and I had a leadership role in a club. While my GPA was not amazing (mental illness dragged me down the past two years), it’s definitely not bad and I know for a fact I was good at my major.

All that stuff should make me feel confident about my job search. Instead, I’ve sent out two applications in three months. I am absolutely petrified of job hunting. Clicking on online job postings sends me into a panic spiral. My heart races when I open up my resume.

Over the years, I’ve tried to be kind to myself about not “living up to my potential.” I try to remember it’s not that I suck, but that my depression/anxiety/maybe-ADD/etc. has its thumb on the scale. But that leads to terror that I’ll always be bad at the basic skills I need to survive on my own and I’ll just crash and burn out in the real world. I was a mess at school. What if the stress is too much for me? And my references, who saw me fall apart at school. How do I communicate with them about my job search when I’m still so mortified? Not to mention the nauseating thought of all the emotional, mental, and literal capital I’m going to have to spend up front settling into a new job, a new home, a new city (I’m job searching near some beloved family a state away).Every time I try to think past one issue, another comes up. The whole topic is a big ball of fear in my mind now.

Consistent treatment for my mental health has been difficult due to moving back and forth from school all the time, but I have a great doctor working with me on medication and I’ve finally found a therapist in the area. My question for you and your amazing commenters is: How do you do the terrifying thing? What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear? And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with something you “should” be able to do?

Thanks,

Paralyzed

(she/her pronouns)

Dear Paralyzed,

Congratulations on your recent college graduation! I am honoured that the Captain opened the opportunity for recruit awkwardeers to be the advice columnist for a day, and I very much wanted to answer your letter because it really, really speaks to me. I know from my own experience how hard it is to be in college while living with an illness and I am genuinely proud of you.

Often, the questions we ask are not to the answers we are looking for, but I don’t want to neglect your actual questions, so here goes:

*How do you do the terrifying thing?*

There are two ways that work on their own, but best in combination: you make yourself less terrified and you make the thing less terrifying.

*What tools do you use to move forward when you feel paralyzed with fear?*

You wiggle a little if you can. If you can’t, figure out what you need in order to wiggle a little. A snack? A nap? A hug? Go and get the help and support you need to wiggle a little. If you manage to wiggle a little, be really proud of yourself. Next time you feel paralyzed, and wiggling a little is okay and you feel adventurous, wiggle a lot. Great job! Maybe next time around you can move sideways a little, and then you do that, and so on, and then maybe you realize that you can move forward, or maybe you realize moving forward is not what you want at all because there’s a wall ahead, and then you try and find a door, or realize you want nothing to do with that wall and walk around it until you find something that you want to move towards.

*And how do you hold off the self-loathing when you struggle with
something you “should” be able to do?*

You take yourself seriously, you give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and you focus on being kind to yourself and getting better.

Let me start elaborating on the last point, to take yourself seriously. If you’re too sick to find a job right now, you are too sick to find a job right now. It’s okay. It happens. If you feel too scared browse job listings, you *are* too scared. Don’t beat yourself up about it! Take yourself seriously; if you can’t do it, no one can tell you you should be able to do it. Don’t tell yourself that either. Take your experiences and your life seriously. The job you don’t have right now is not “the real world” — your world is very much real. You
live in the real world already! If you aren’t well enough to do what you want to do, your job is to do everything you can do in order to get better. For instance, if you think you should be browsing job offers, and you can’t because it upsets you so much, be actively kind to yourself. Prepare your favourite meal. Go for a walk. Meet a friend. That’s not procrastination; it’s taking care of yourself and it is and will always be your number one job. If you don’t think you will be well enough soon to find a job you like, apply, interview,
start and have a regular income, make a plan for what you will do instead (e.g. stay with family for some time) Having to find a job when you *have* to because the money is running out is a lot more terrifying and less likely to succeed. Recovering from mental illness is a full-time job and while many people don’t have the luxury to treat it as such, there is absolutely no obligation to work full-time while you’re at it if you can avoid it.

Taking good care of yourself also means facing your anxieties. Not overcoming them, not battling or suppressing them, the first step is facing them. What is the ball of fear you’re experiencing made of? You mention settling into a new job, a new home, a new city. Take a big sheet of paper (or, if you have, a journal) and make three columns, one for each category. Are they still one big ball of fear, or three smaller ones? Pick the one that you think will be easiest for you to think about. What issues do you think you will be experiencing? What exactly are they? How do they look like? Can you put them into words? If you can, write them down into that category. If you have any energy left, think about how you might be able to tackle it. (E.g. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to find a place to live that I can afford.” — “I could ask [person I know in city that I want to live in] if they have
an idea in which part of town I could look for something suited to my budget”). The ball of fear consists of strands, that, when untangled, become more definite, and better to approach than an indefinite big knot.

While you’re at giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, give yourself permission to want what you want. (Poetry time! Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”). What do you want? (If there’s nothing you want but nothingness, it is your job to create the circumstances that the you who went to college and graduated, who worked on the side in STEM-related jobs, and was captain of a club, who did all those amazing things gets the possibility to come back if she wants.)

If you had a guaranteed income that covered all your needs, what would you do? For instance, it took me a year and a half of self-loathing to realize I wasn’t finishing my thesis because I wasn’t remotely as interested in Green Economy in India as I pretended to be, and that graduating with a degree in South Asian studies would not let me be the physician I had never admitted to myself I wanted to be. I don’t have the resources to start anew and go to med school, but I mentioned that to my thesis advisor and she suggested a new topic for my thesis. This new topic let me write a long chapter on the medical aspects of an issue relevant to my subject, and that helped.

If what you want is to find a job and nothing more, try and reframe. Try not to think of it as “I’m job-hunting”; a job is not an elusive animal, the rare quetzal you might hear but rarely see, impossible to keep alive in captivity. A job is like a pair of pants. You might never find the one that fits you perfectly and stays with you until old age. There are those pants that fit quite well, others that are a favourite for some time that you throw out once you’re over them, those that you try on and discard right away, and so on. It’s perfectly fine to get a cheap pair to make do while you shop around for something more durable. It’s perfectly fine to wear corduroy even if you’ve been a jeans type of person all your life. If you can, start to find something that will do for the moment. If on a day you feel well enough to maybe start an application, tell yourself (better, write it down) beforehand what you will do, such as “Today, I will spend ten minutes thinking about how I’m going to list the things I did at previous job that I liked. I will write down two bullet points.” The more specific the better. Set a timer. Don’t even open your CV; write it by hand or into a different file. If that was something you could do: great job! You are done for the day and you can return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering. If that’s something you could not do: commend yourself for trying! Return to your main job of taking care of yourself and recovering, and set a smaller goal the next time.

When you start to feel better over time, and more daring, but postings or your CV still petrify you, find something you can do instead. Is there a job fair near the place you
are looking for a job? Could you go and just hang out for a bit? Do you know people who work at companies you’d like to work at that you can ask about how they got that job and what they can recommend? Can you call HR at a place you’re interested in, introduce yourself and ask if you have a shot at applying? Don’t set out to buy the perfect pants. Allow yourself to not go for the one perfect gig. Go window shopping! Find something you might like and try it on. Give yourself time to figure out what you like first, and when that happens — it will, slowly — the terrifiedness will waver and wane. Once you think you’re up for sending out applications that will require communicating to your references, send them a short note. (I’ve never lived in a part of a world where references are a thing, so I’m not completely sure about that; the framework I nicked from https://captainawkward.com/2012/12/20/410-how-do-i-tell-old-professional-contacts-about-my-recent-name-change-now-that-i-need-a-reference/.
Comments welcome).

Dear Reference,

I hope things are well with you! + Some comment about a topic you
talked about, your thesis, your favourite class, a thought you had
etc.

As you may have realized I was not well during my last two years at
school. I am a lot better now and am setting out to apply for jobs. I
will be interviewing for some jobs in [field]. Would it be okay if I
listed you as a professional reference?

Best
Not So Paralyzed Anymore

Lastly, I recently stumbled onto a small project that sifted through the research on what makes a job good for people individually as well as globally. They also evaluated the research on how to get a job, andI like what they came up with.(I am not in any way affiliated with this project). Basically, they recommend that if you apply for a job at a place where you’re not already known, add a “pre-interview project” to your application. A pre-interview project is something that you wrote/designed/came up with that relates to what they do and could be a valuable contribution to their work. If a pre-interview project is something you can see yourself doing, instead of starting with looking at job postings at an organization or company, you could browse through their internet site, read up on their projects/publications/whatever it is they do and think about whether that’s something you’d like to contribute to, and how you’d like to contribute to it, and maybe even sketch your idea. This will give you a better feel for whether it’s worth applying, and gives you an edge if you do apply. If you can’t come up with anything, that might just mean that it’s not something you want to contribute to and that would be alright too, because you’re taking yourself seriously. Keep on doing that, give yourself permission to feel what you feel, and be kind to yourself.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Signed,

Your friendly street medic

Readers, how do you steel yourself to do the hard things?