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Dear Captain,

My question today is about academia and/or job opportunities and being single. I am a PhD candidate in a Very Good University in the US, and I will be on the academic job market in a year. I have a very good publication/presentation/committee/topic situation, so I should be doing fairly fine. However, my field is totally dominated by men, mostly from quite conservative countries/cultures. It’s even worse in industry (I have work experience pre-PhD and an internship).

Now, I am absolutely sure I don’t want to get married or have a cohabiting partner or “serious” relationship of any sort. If anything, I identify with relationship anarchy. I am happy like I’ve never been, and I feel like I’m thriving and my best self arises when I am alone and free. I do have many short and long romance stories with like-minded folks who are in the same line of thought, but I don’t have or want any “boyfriend” in the sense that other people seem to want me to have (focused on dating – getting engaged – moving in – marrying).

Usually, in academic conferences, in the informal networking events, or in my department, I get asked when I will be on the market, and if I prioritize going back to my country or staying in the US, this kind of things. I think it’s all fair game and I am thrilled some Big Names in the field show interest in me! But sometimes they ask things such as “will you have a 2-body problem?” or “well, eventually you’ll want to marry, right?” or “our school is in a city with plenty of young men!”. Or more bluntly “how come you are not married yet?” (my age – early 30s – is not a secret). I know those (mostly old, mostly men, mostly conservative) professors may just be trying to be nice(?), but I can tell by the way they look that I don’t fit in what they think is “a good woman” or “a normal person”.

I have told some (younger – some younger than me) professors in my department that I don’t want to marry and they all reply condescendingly “you’ll change your mind!” But they are not the ones who’ll make my hiring decisions (although they’ll write me letters of recommendation) and so I am not that much concerned. What about those from other schools who may want to hire or not hire me a year from now when I am on the market? When I have 5-minute interactions and they ask me topic/advisor/ideal placement/marital status. Should I tell them “I don’t want to marry” and out myself immediately as not-their-idea-of-good-woman? Should I tell them “oh I haven’t found anyone yet” and then lie (or risk that someone will try to set me up – it’s happened before!)? Should I just smile awkwardly and say “I don’t know!”? I also feel that, when I say I don’t want to marry, the person in front of me thinks I am lying. What if I tell them “no, I don’t want to marry, but I do want to have kids and I am very well informed about sperm banks and adoption agencies”. Will this kill forever all my job opportunities because of the single mother stigma?

It’s all a paradox, because they don’t like women because of the whole marriage and maternity thing, but they don’t like it either when women don’t conform to their standards of womanhood (wifehood?).

How can I navigate this? I do want to have a good academic placement but I want to know who won’t be supportive of my lifestyle to avoid their departments. But also, you know, academia is sometimes hard and there isn’t much choice of placement for a candidate. So at this point I mostly want to say something that won’t close all the doors but will make my point clear enough.

Any help will be welcome! Thanks so much!

Future Professor Badass

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I had a bunch of travel in July and never got that month’s version up. So, here’s another round of that thing where we answer people’s search engine queries like blog questions.

1 “Awkward coworkers who wont get hint

.”

Hints don’t work. They just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless people to splash around in while you get more and more frustrated. If you want your coworkers to understand or know something, you gotta say it, as briefly and directly as you can.

2 “Is it bad to break up with someone after a day

?”

It’s no fun for anyone to break up after a day, but it probably beats the alternative of continuing to date somebody you don’t want to be with and lying to them about it for more days. You get to change your mind! Do the kind thing and tell the other person now.

3 “Should you notify your estranged father of your wedding?”

I would say that if you’re estranged from your dad, you certainly don’t owe him an invitation or an announcement. If you do want to tell him, I would also keep my expectations very low about what he’ll do. Weddings and funerals and baptisms don’t fix the stuff that’s wrong in families (& often exacerbate it), so what are you really hoping will happen if you give him this news? I wouldn’t count on any of it happening.

Weddings are one of those things that really show it when “cherished fantasy of what a parent should be and do” and “actual parent” don’t match, and I’m sorry that a happy occasion is causing a new sting of grief for what was supposed to be.

4 “What to do if hubby abuses because of MIL?”

Ouch, what a gutpunch.

Whatever your mother-in-law has done or whatever she is like, your husband is still abusing you. Until he stops, gets some help, apologizes, and changes the behavior, it’s your husband’s fault and his responsibility, and offloading the blame or an explanation onto his mom doesn’t change the fact of what he’s doing. I hope you can talk to someone about getting yourself to safety. Here’s the number for the USA National Domestic Violence Hotline.

5 “What does it mean if a guy says I have a girlfriend at the moment.”

It means some version of “not you, not now.”

6 “My husband thinks I should work out more.”

Lots of people should probably work out more and wish they worked out more. Lots of people should also stop telling other people what to do with their bodies. Do you want to work out more? When and if you do, that’s when you’ll work out more. You are the boss of you.

7 “An sms to a boyfriend who treats you like shit.”

A. “Bye! We are broken up now. Leave me alone.” B. “New phone. Who is this?

8 “Why does my husband get mad when I touch myself.”

Who knows? Insecurity? Mistaking marriage for ownership of you & your body?

What I know is that you are the boss of your body, including your sexual relationship with your own body. You don’t owe your husband an accounting of your solo activities. They are none of his business.

9 “While using a dating site should you be upset seeing someone you’re talking to off the site.”

On the one hand, the people in the dating site don’t live in the site, hanging upside down like bats at OkCupid headquarters to sleep at night, and it is quite possible to encounter a potential date-friend in the wild. Sometimes the world can be very small.

The “upset” part comes from, how does everyone handle it when it happens? Do they act weird and overly familiar and talk loudly about where they know you from, like it’s your kid’s parent-teacher conference and the teacher is like “Kid, you didn’t tell me your mom was a babe! I totally swiped right on her!“? Or do they say “Hello, nice to see you” and act calm and relaxed and safe? That’s all good information to have.

Or, do you feel like they are trying to figure out where you work and live and hang out and you get a stalker-y vibe from it, like they were seeking you out, trying to run into you? That would make me pretty upset.

10 “I live in a condo and a neighbor constantly knocks on my door. How do I tell her to stop?”

Neighbor, please stop knocking on my door, let’s save that for emergencies where something is on fire or flooding or bleeding. If you need to reach me otherwise, please leave a note or use my email and I’ll get back to you when I can.” #hintsdontwork

Then, you don’t always answer the door, and if you do, jerk the door open and say “What’s wrong?” because you’re expecting an emergency.

11 “My boyfriend said he can manage my appearance.”

Your boyfriend appears to need a mannequin or Real Doll or a Barbie he can outfit as he pleases all the livelong day, and you appear to need a different boyfriend.

12 “My boyfriend is depressed and takes everything out on me.”

Depression is not your boyfriend’s fault.

Taking everything out on you is a choice he is making. Do you want to stick around to be mistreated?

13 “How do I make friends for my husband.”

If your husband wants friends, suggest that he try Meetup.com or take a class or find a hobby group or play a fun sport or volunteer somewhere. Then let him do 100% of the work of following through with that.

14 “I love my professor how do I know her feelings?”

I asked her her feelings and she said that she doesn’t love you back. She wants you to enjoy her class and learn a lot from it and then go and have a great education and happy life.

15 “Dating a married man is hard. You cannot call him.”

It is known. If things like “regular calling” and “not sneaking around behind someone’s back” are important to you, consider the non-married as your dating pool.

16 “Can you masturbate if your roommate is deaf?”

Back to school time! It’s not all study tips and deals on extra-long twin fitted sheets, is it?

Masturbation is great and you should totally do it sometimes! However, if you share a bedroom with a roommate, wait until your roommate is not home to rub one out, ok? It’s just polite.

17 “Is it ok to just stop at a person’s house without calling first?”

But…you could call? “Hey friend, I’m in the neighborhood, any chance you’re home and want to hang out for a bit?

If you want to know if you have a “just drop by!” relationship with someone, here are three indicators:

  • They’ve told you to just “drop in, no need to call!” using words.
  • They also drop by your house.
  • You’ve asked “Is it okay if I just drop by sometime?” and they’ve enthusiastically said “Yes! Any time!”

Even if those three things are true…I would still call or send a text. Again, why wouldn’t you? Are you being chased and need a quick place to hide?

18 “Can a girlfriend influence your teen son to be a bad person?”

I’m sure it’s possible? And if your teenage son is acting like “a bad person,” it might feel better and be really convenient if there is someone else to blame for all of it who isn’t your precious-sweet-angel-baby-boy?

But, again, if your teen son is acting like “a bad person,” then he is making choices to do bad things, and I think any conversation you have with him needs to not displace his choices onto the girlfriend. Focus on his behaviors and the choices he is making, please. Don’t buy into the narrative that how he behaves is the fault of others’ influences, and don’t let him do it either. He’s responsible for his behaviors, and no girlfriend (or parents) can influence him to act like a jerk without his participation.

19 “New boyfriend who makes you feel sad.”

“Hey New Boyfriend, I like you a lot but since we’ve been dating I feel sad all the time, so let’s break up.”

20 “Can I date an insurance agent?”

Pro:

Insurance agents need love too!

Con:

Your insurance agent is at work and he/she has to be that nice to everyone. So I wouldn’t like, replace online dating sites with calling insurance agencies for fake quotes or anything.

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Are you there, Mayhem? It’s me, Captain Awkward.Image description: Dean Winters as “Mayhem” from the Allstate Insurance commercials. He is a white man in a suit slumped in the back of a very damaged car covered in seat stuffing.

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Thanks to everyone who donated via  PayPal or Cash.me or became a Patreon supporter this week and throughout the year. You help me devote time to answering questions and comment moderation while keeping the site ad-free, and Patreon especially has changed my life by giving me a steady & predictable income. Here’s to 1,000 more letters!

thewrongway

Image description: Book cover for The Wrong Way To Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra, with a very vivid & colorful model of a human heart on a light blue background.

If you’re done reading the wonderful and hilarious We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and looking for something else to read, my friend’s Megan’s essay collection The Wrong Way To Save Your Life comes out today.

I can’t celebrate her book launch (and my 17th anniversary of moving to Chicago!) in person today ’cause my alter-ego Captain Cinema Professor Jennifer is in Los Angeles for the University Film & Video Association conference. Megan has written about the exact material I’m presenting this week, if you’re interested and want a “worlds collide!!!!!” moment. A version of the same essay is in the book with the title “Stand Here To Save Lives.”

My UFVA presentation Wednesday morning might be mostly me reading aloud from Casting Call Woe and @Femscriptintros and then screaming HOW DO WE UNFUCK THIS? at the other film professors.

(Not really, I made a PowerPoint with hardly any swears and I have some specific ideas about how to unfuck this shit incorporate diversity and inclusion organically into first-year production classes).

Whatever happens, I’ll have a little imaginary Megan Stielstra on my shoulder saying “That sounds like a story, you should write it down” and looking at me with the world’s kindest eyes.

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

What do you do if your significant other thinks that you will go no where with your dream?

My boyfriend is a well known, local photographer. He does mainly fashion photo-shoots and is honestly, very talented at what he does.

I’m newly, discovering modeling. I had tried it before when I was younger; but, it didn’t workout since I had acne. I didn’t get my face cleared until I was almost 30 (ancient in modeling years). But I enjoy my hobby. I have discovered this new passion of mine. Walking on the runway feels great and I get a lot of compliments on my walk! People want to book me for shows, work with me in photos and I even try their new designs! Its very exciting.

I even came up with a concept for a photo-shoot. I made a head-piece, found a makeup artist, made sure to communicate how I want the lighting and am going to see my idea come into fruition. I would have never believed, I could bring that many people together to make an image. But, I can!

It all sounds great… but, my boyfriend doesn’t believe I’ll go anywhere. He’s made so many comments about the photos we’ve done together. He’s literally told me, “You’re not Naomi Campbell,” and he’s even tried to hide a photo-shoot he was doing with a couple of models from California… saying, “You would only be jealous of their careers.” And then invited me to hold the lights.

I have no idea what to do. I told him, I’m not jealous of anyone, but the fact that he got nervous about telling me was odd. I honestly, thought it was because he was going to flirt with them; not because “You’ll be jealous of their careers.”

I’m not sure where he would get a comment like that in the first place? And I’m tired of him trying to put me down with his harsh criticism. He told me, he would say things like that, because he works in a an industry where its normal for people to say those things… However, he’s had a TON of other photo-shoots and has never told anyone else these things? I guess, I don’t understand.

I know, he doesn’t believe I will walk in New York Fashion Week. He’s reminded me that I’m 5’7″, on a daily basis, saying he’s just giving me a “Realistic perspective.” But I never asked him. I also, didn’t even have that as a goal… I just, honestly like what I’m doing. Its inspired me to create things, to try new adventures and meet new people.

My heart is kind of broken because he’s the one person, I thought, would believe in me. Or at least, be proud of me…. instead, all I get is “You’re not Naomi Campbell.”

I told him he could no longer take my photos. We can no longer work together. And I have no time to doubt myself. I work a full-time day job. I have shows booked until November and I want to plan more things! There should be no time wasted on being self-conscious.

We have talked about this issue a lot over the last few days and we worked out some resolutions we are both happy with; along with boundaries of not working together anymore…

But there is still this pain, knowing that he doesn’t believe I can do this. I tell myself, I never needed anyone before, why would I still want his approval?

What should I do?

Half of me, thinks that we can still be together despite this. Because I am quite old, it’s too late to walk the New York runways. I wouldn’t even qualify for them at my height. He has a point…

But there is that other part of me, that still wants to continue. That never wants to place a ceiling on my passion… And that part, is extremely hurt, the love of my life wants to give me a “reality check.”

Thanks in Advance,

The Independent Model

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Hello, nice readers! Let’s take the intensity down 10,000 notches today.

Hey Cap’t!

I’ve been scouring the Captain Awkward archives for advice regarding my current work predicament and couldn’t find an answer so I’m writing to you for your help. Any advice would help!

I’ve been at my job at a small private consulting firm (less than 10 people total) for about a year now and even though I’m not happy, it’s a good stepping stone for my career and it helped me get away from my toxic family situation after I graduated with my Master’s degree. Recently however, things at work have been getting out of hand. My boss (D) keeps bringing in his kids (8 and 4 years old) EVERY DAY to work during the summer and they’re very disruptive. It’s hard for me to concentrate when they’re around and my anxiety goes through the roof (neck spasms, nausea, etc), which hinders my work productivity even further. It’s gotten to the point where I have to take sick days because the nausea and the anxiety get so overwhelming that I can’t go into work. 

I feel bad because D is a single father; however, he can afford a nanny/daycare for his kids. The older one actually goes to camp in the mornings but then D picks him up and brings him back to the office in the afternoons. I brought up my concerns with our secretary and she told me that it’s a touchy issue with our boss. He knows that bringing in his kids is an issue and other people have brought it up to him but he refuses to do anything about it. She speculated that it could be that since this is his company, he feels that he can bring in his kids whenever he wants to or that because he’s going through a custody battle with the younger son’s mom, he wants to demonstrate to the courts that he does take care of his sons by bringing them to work even though he doesn’t attend to them and leaves it to everyone else to deal with them. He has even dropped off his sons and left when people in the office were leaving to go to lunch without asking anyone to watch them.   

It’s frustrating because I don’t have D’s ability to “block out” his sons’ disruptive behavior and to be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of kids in the workplace. If this job mentioned that I’d have to deal with kids on a regular basis as a condition of employment, I probably wouldn’t have accepted it. 

I do work outside but it’s been so hot (upper 90s) lately that I don’t want to deal with heat stroke (it’s happened to me before and it wasn’t pleasant). I’ve also started to looking for jobs elsewhere because I can’t keep tolerating this at the expense of my health but it’s difficult because I don’t have a lot in savings. I’m planning on talking to my supervisor as well on how to best approach this topic with my boss but besides that, I don’t know what else to do.

Please help!

Sincerely,

Not a Workplace Babysitter

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Dear Captain,

I am desperately in need of some scripts. In November last year, my aunt launched an online women’s magazine. My aunt is a very rich lady, she doesn’t have a job, so she decided to focus on this project. It was a cool idea, based in some feminist principles, so when she asked me if I could translate the articles from our native language to English I was happy to accept the job.

The thing is, I considered it just that- a job. I’m a college senior, I have about a million things to do on any given day, and translating is time-consuming. She doesn’t really see it that way though- she thinks of it more as a “family favor”, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that I have other things to do and gives me ridiculous deadlines. Like, sending me an article at midnight and expecting it to be done the next morning. Or figuring I’d finish a 10 page text in two days or so. We’re close, she knows I have issues with asserting myself (I have BPD and boundaries are a real problem for me), and i have tried mentioning that I can’t really work like that, that she needs to organize things better so I have more time, etc. And she always agrees but then keeps doing it!! It has gotten so bad that I almost feel like she’s pushing my limits, or doing it on purpose because it’s easier for her to impose a ridiculous deadline on me than the people she has writing the articles (herself included).

To top it all of, she doesn’t really pay me… she paid me twice since November. And quite a small amount of money too (I had gotten 300 dollars total for eight months of work now, and what would, by word count, be charged at least ten times as much on a minimal rate). She also likes to try and pin other work on me- illustrations (because she thinks I’m creative!), photos, article writing…I’ve reluctantly done some of it, for no extra money.

She has this plan for me to translate A BOOK during the summer (she already decided that I’ll need about two weeks for that. Two weeks! For a book!) and I feel like I have to say something before I’m expected to slave over that instead of relaxing a bit after graduation. Though I would probably agree to it if I knew I’d get paid a fair amount and have a more realistic time-frame. She’s my aunt, and I don’t want to insult her or seem unappreciative, but I’m getting a bit desperate and I really need to sort this out somehow. Do you have some advice for me?

You don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU don’t want to seem unappreciative? YOU think that YOU’RE the unreasonable or unappreciative one?

My sweet summer child, no.

It’s time for a meeting with your Auntie where you do the following things:

  • Present her with an accurate count of how many hours you’ve spent on this project.
  • Invoice her for those hours at a real-world translation rate. All of them. Every single hour and piece of “extra” work.

IF you want to keep working with  her on future projects, you 100% need to create a written agreement that includes, at minimum:

  • A defined scope of work and rates. Translation costs $x, photography & graphic design costs $Y, generating original content costs $z.
  • A budget of hours/week that you will spend on the project.
  • A defined invoicing and payment schedule
  • Guidelines about your working hours, frequency of communications, and turnaround times for work (with a HEFTY rush fee for rushed turnarounds). Set business hours, like, 10 am – 6pm, and after 6pm any emails or requests will be answered tomorrow. Her expectations about turnaround times are completely ridiculous.
  • A contract start date and end date, say, per project or for a period of 1 year. There is always the option to extend or contract for additional work, but by ending the first contract at one year it gives you a chance to renegotiate – raise your rates, re-budget your time.
  • Good starting resources: The Freelancers Union, The Freelancer’s Bible

Here’s a script for starting that conversation:

Auntie, I love working on your projects, but now that we’ve been at this a while, we need to more clearly define the project and my position here.”

If she balks at putting stuff in writing, “Auntie, putting things in writing protects everyone. That way the expectations are clear. I really can’t keep working without a contract.

If she suggests that you are ungrateful or suggest AT ALL that your rates are too high or that your totally 100% reasonable requests are in any way unreasonable, BAIL FOREVER. Literally, “Okay, Auntie, I understand if that won’t work for you, good luck finding a professional to help you, I’ll happily transfer all the files I have over to you and that person”(You will transfer them…as soon as she pays your entire invoice).

Other scripts, for the day-to-day times when she agrees to something and then tries to bulldoze you:

Sorry, that won’t work for me. I can have it for you by ____.” Then stick to that deadline. If she’s unhappy, she can hire someone else.

If that feels mean or like you’re the one introducing conflict to the situation, try to think of it as educating her. In my experience as a freelancer, a lot* of (rich) people like to start businesses without really knowing what is entailed. They want the title of “Editor in Chief” or CEO without spending the money to pay professionals or do the work to set up professional practices, and they are used to getting their way. It can create a toxic environment very quickly if it’s not checked. If she’s not purposely taking advantage of you (doubtful, but let’s do a thought experiment), she needs to know the actual costs of translation, graphic design, and editorial services so that she can make good decisions and keep her business viable. Your labor is valuable and essential to what she’s doing, so, she needs to pay you for that. Her money isn’t a gift or a treat or a generous indulgence she’s bestowing on you, it’s payment for your work.

She might try dangling the idea of money or a promotion to a full-time job down the road to get out of paying now. If she sees this as a joint project that you are creating together that she wants you to take over in the future, then, cool, she should treat (& pay) you like a creative partner. But that doesn’t mean she’s off the hook for the work you’re already doing. Your labor is a routine business cost. She better pay you, and if she won’t, find another job that will pay you, and let her figure her own shit out on the free market.

In Solidarity!!!

*#notall, of course, but one way to determine the difference is “Can I have an honest conversation about pay, hours, and other business matters with this person?”

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

This is a weird problem, but in my workplace, there’s an office phone that’s shared by everyone–though usually it comes down to me and one other coworker who spend the most time in this area. She’s started leaving these obscenely thick, full-facial-imprint layers of makeup on the phone. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t appreciate getting it all over my sleeves or my face if I absentmindedly reach over to answer the phone–plus, you usually can’t see the layer of makeup until you’ve picked up the receiver and it’s too late. The backside of the phone looks fine–it’s the part that’s actually in contact with your face that’s a disaster zone. I’ve been just wiping the phone off every so often, but it’s only gotten worse, and frankly, I’m tired of cleaning up after her facial mess. It’s just gross.

I tried to be tactful and casually ask if she’d spilled something on the phone, but I’m pretty sure she had no idea what I was talking about and may have come to the conclusion that someone had gotten Cheeto dust on the receiver. At that point, I had to bail out of the conversation because I was having trouble keeping a straight face. I’ve talked to other coworkers, but no one seems to know how to deal with her. She’s got a history of overreacting to the smallest things, and we’re trying to do this without upsetting her. Help!

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