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Hello everyone! I’ve tweaked the format for short answer question submission (explainer for how it works is here) for these posts to keep the number & scope of responses manageable and to better guard privacy. Here’s this week’s batch of answers. Thanks to all who submitted and helped me try out the new system, I learned a lot.

Q1 Any advice on how to compliment a longtime friend in his late 20s on his intentional emotional growth without sounding condescending? I can tell he’s worked hard in the last year to become more confident, vulnerable, and considerate! So far I’ve said, “I can tell you’re in a really good place,” but I want to honor the work I can tell he’s done, you know? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)

A1: I think “I can tell you’re in a really good place” is a wonderful way of putting it, why not leave it there for now? “I’m so glad you’re my friend” or “I’m so proud to be your friend” or “You’re so good at ____” are always in season.

If you want to say something more, try asking a question: “You seem like you’re in such a good place these days. How are you feeling/How are you doing/What are you excited about right now?” If he wants to tell you about some of the changes he’s been making, you can make more specific affirming noises then.

Sorting out our own emotional well-being is its own reward. Your friend is happier. You are happier in his company. Honor his work best by enjoying its fruits!

Q2: Hey Capt.! I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to! But as a late-twenty-something its a bit demoralizing. Not to mention my mother still treats me like a kid. Any tips on keeping my spirits up? Negotiating boundaries (no I will not go to church)? Not feeling like a loser for living at home at nearly 30? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)

A2: Hi there! This is probably a good time to remind folks that US culture is really big on the idea that moving away from home and establishing one’s own household is the sole path to becoming a ‘real adult.’ On an individual basis that might be a necessary path for some of us to breathe and thrive (it certainly was for me) but it’s far from universal. Cultural traditions, disability, care-taking, and financial realities keep lots of “real” adults close to home, not to mention that there are people who like living with their parents.

It’s okay if you prefer living away from home, it’s okay to feel upset at having to move back there, it’s okay to want to go back to having your own household again, but freeing yourself from the “I”m such a loser” framework frees others from harmful, often ableist messages, too. If you can’t do it for yourself right now, could you try for the sake of other people? The good news is that you’re already practicing reframing this – “I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to!” – so keep doing that as you tell the story to yourself and others. “I had some financial setbacks, thankfully my parents are able to put me up.” 

There is advice on some more practical concerns in another past post:

“Be nice to your parents.  As weird as it is for you to be home, it’s also weird and awkward for them to have an adult child back in the nest.  Be extra considerate about chores.  Volunteer for things before you are asked.  Cook dinner.  Wash up.  When they give you “helpful” (annoying) advice, say “Thanks, mom, I’ll think about it.”  Even if it’s wrong, you’ll think about it, right?  Don’t pick fights, sulk, or punish them for your circumstances. Thank them for being a port in a storm for you. Take a lot of long walks away from home to give them space and privacy from you.  Make effort to seek out their company and do stuff with them – board games, cards, renting movies, taking a walk after dinner.  Ask them about their days. Treat them like adult humans who you like and not necessary evils.”

It’s harder to treat someone like a kid when they are actively participating in the household like an adult. See if you can mentally convert some of the things that were rules in childhood (like a curfew) into consideration for others (“I won’t be home for dinner tonight and I’ll text if I’ll be later than 11:00 pm.”)

As for church, and other boundaries you want to set, consider how much of setting a boundary is about having confidence in your own integrity and your own needs. You don’t want to go to church, your mom wants you to go, as long as saying “no” won’t jeopardize your immediate housing security (sadly not something everyone can count on), she can ask as many times as she likes and you can say “Mom, thanks for asking, but I don’t want to go to church. I can have lunch ready when you get home, though!” “Mom, I know church is really important to you, and I respect that, but I also know that it’s not for me, so, no thanks! Enjoy the service!” every time. If she yells at you or gets really upset? That’s her choice. You still don’t have to go, and you might be able to go a long way by modeling the behavior you expect in return. 

People often think the next step is to convince her to stop asking, but you can’t control that, and you can’t fix her feelings. What you can do is to be consistent with what you said you’d do (not go to church) and experiment treating this like a recurring caring and friendly invitation that you’re politely declining vs. a primal fight for autonomy (which on some level? It is) and seeing if your mom adjusts with some time. Mine did, I hope yours does too.

Q3. I’m so exhausted all the time, and it feels impossible to get all of my responsibilities done. Whenever I have a free moment, and try to change gears to something relaxing or fun, my partner always seems to be nearby, asking me to grab things for them or take them to a myriad of stores… and by the time I’m done, it’s time for bed. I feel trapped in an endless, exhausting cycle. Pronouns: they/them or he/his. 

A3. Hi there! I must congratulate you. So few words, so many overlapping and interconnected issues, namely:

  1. You’re exhausted all the time,
  2. You have too many responsibilities for the energy & time you have and you’re overwhelmed,
  3. When you do have some down time, your partner jumps in to schedule things and ask for help,
  4. When this happens, you don’t say no.

My suggestions for starting points or processes for addressing the exhaustion/overload piece of this are:

  1. Consider a medical checkup, esp. if exhaustion is new or has grown significantly recently.
  2. Consider tracking where your time goes for the next a week or so, without judgment or attempts to optimize things. DON’T BE FANCY. No shiny new productivity tools or or tips or hacks or apps (how would we even know which one to recommend or apply without knowing what the issue is). I’ve had good luck with a simple grid with days of the week and times of day (downloadable template) and a pencil or pen. Another even simpler way is to end your day by making a list of all the things you did. Nobody’s gotta look at this but you.
  3. Block out 2-3 hours about 2 weeks from now (after data collection) where you can be totally alone and quiet and unreachable. Libraries are good for this. Bring your filled-out grids, some blank ones, some ways to make notes.
  4. What does the data tell you? (Past insights when I’ve tried this:  Commuting and eating take up actual time/I should stop pretending I’m ever going to get up at 6:00 am/My lowest-paid/lowest reward freelance client was taking up way too much time, time to either raise rates or quit)
  5. Consider at 5 -10 possible ways you might be able to address the overall “too much on the plate” situation. Discard anything that smacks of “work smarter, not harder” or beating yourself up for not being able to do everything on your list. Keep wishes & daydreams.
  6. Sort your list. What’s one step you could reasonably take in the next 24 hours? Is anything looking juicy and quittable? What’s the worst thing that could happen if certain tasks remained undone, or got deleted from your workload?
  7. Use a fresh time grid as a planning template for the week ahead, block out obligations and things you want to do. Can you start to see ways some of this could work better? Or maybe everything is still bullshit but you can see the shape of the bullshit a little more clearly? Great! That’s enough for right now. Treat yourself.
  8. See if you can keep this going and check in every two weeks: A free hour, thinking about what you need & want to do in the week ahead, brainstorming actions & next steps, treating yourself. Repeat. My hope is that you’ll slowly regain a sense of control.
  9. Important: Probably nobody is ever going to give you time to think or plan, certainly not most employers, so you’re going to have to wrest it for yourself and guard it carefully against interruptions. People are going to be very quick to offer hacks/tips/tricks (The Pomodoro Method! Habitica! Bullet journaling! Morning pages!) and those can be useful tools but they are not a substitute for an overall process for setting boundaries around your time and giving yourself permission – this 1 hour every week, this 15 minutes at the beginning and end of every workday – to think about your life and how you want and need to live it.
  10. You may want to share your process with your partner, especially as you go, or invite them to try it out, too, but consider focusing on yourself at first, with your own schedule & priorities uppermost.

Now, here are some questions I suggest asking yourself/your partner/the situation:

  • Is your partner able to do these errands alone? If not, what alternatives exist (find a delivery service, ask someone else they know)?
  • What happens if you say “No, I’d rather not do that today, can it wait?” or “I need to close my eyes for half an hour, can I come help you then?” or “Mind handling the shopping on your own today?” Not to argue (“You always jump on me the second I get home!”), but, neutrally, as if this is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask (because it is). If you have a habit of always agreeing to help when your partner asks, is it silly that they’d develop an expectation that asking isn’t a big deal?
  • Because you are so busy in other parts of your life, do you think your partner is trying to cross the streams of spending time with you AND getting all the errands done? What are your partner’s “busy” levels compared to yours? (I can easily imagine a situation where one person coming home from work is ready to wind down for the day and someone who has been home all day is like, “You’re here! Let’s get this party started!” aka “Life with kittens.”)
  • Can you both agree to interrupt that pattern, by setting aside clear blocks of time for errands/household stuff and relaxing/date stuff?

Best of luck in finding a way to be more intentional about how you spend your days and your dates.

Q4: Some neighbours (idk who) have a cat, Bob. He liked to hang in our backyard (stressing our indoor cats to the point of peeing on a bed) until we enclosed it ($$$) Now he sits on the mesh and fights my 14yo cat through it. This week I got close enough to Bob to read their tag + phone number. I didn’t text them at 2am (last fight) What do I say, and when? Pronouns: she/hers

A4: Maybe the next time “Bob” drops by for a fight, you can snap a photo with your phone, or shoot video if you can. Then you could text the number and say “Hello, neighbor, this is [Name] at [Address.] Is this your cat, Bob? He really likes to drop by and bother my cats at night. Any way you can keep him in at night?” 

Recommendations:

  • The first time, wait until the next morning/a decent hour before you text.
  • Keep in mind that this person didn’t know about your expensive problems with Bob before this moment, they don’t have the same buildup of upset feelings. Start friendly, and focus on what is happening NOW and what you would like to happen NOW/IN THE FUTURE.
  • Keep expectations low. You’re probably not getting reimbursed for anything expensive you did to your yard. What you might get is “Can you keep Bob inside at night?” or “Hey, if Bob is being loud/disruptive, howabout I text you and you can come collect him?”
  • This vet I turned up in my Google search had some interesting suggestions.
  • I know nothing about where you live or what laws & rules about animals are like there. You should research the rules where you live and talk to people in your neighborhood. That way, if a direct request to Bob’s person doesn’t work, you can maybe find good next steps.

Moderation Note for this one: I rarely post anything about animals and animal welfare – Nicole Cliffe correctly calls this “the third rail of advice column work”- and this is why: People get very concerned about animals (a fine quality!), and sometimes also get very unrealistic ideas about what it is possible to do in regard to someone else’s animal in a way that crosses over into vigilantism or the fallacy  that the questioner is OBLIGATED to trap/steal/save Bob from his owners (an upsetting quality!). Unfortunately, “Bob” might just be an annoying quirk of this questioner’s neighborhood, and they may not have much recourse. If you’ve successfully convinced a neighbor to be more proactive about a cat situation, tell us about that! Catnapping fantasies or unfounded legal advice: No.

Q5: Whether I’m teaching my college class or explaining board game rules, people often forget small things I’ve already explained. Nbd, shit gets complicated, I clarify the thing if they ask. However, my anxiety spikes when they respond, “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!! HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW??” Correcting them seems like punching down, so I just smile and apologize and stress. Do you have any better ways to deal if/when this happens to you? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A5: If you’re pretty sure that you are covering whatever it is adequately, it might help if you think of a strange “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!” reaction (vs. a simple request to repeat or review the information) as someone else’s anxiety (or other feelings-reaction) flaring up at you. Their feelings are real, but that doesn’t mean you caused them, or that their feelings are the primary thing you need to address. What’s happening is more about them than it is about you.

It still feels weird/upsetting in the moment? But maybe knowing/reminding yourself of that can help you get some distance?

In response, you don’t have to correct them, but you certainly can. And you can stop apologizing, which I think is one thing that is stressing you out. Try being very neutral and factual, like, “I did cover that at the beginning, but it’s okay to go over it again. What’s tripping you up?” 

Another thought, teacher-to-teacher: When I get the same student questions a lot, or the same part of the instructions is breaking down for people, it’s usually a sign to either create & make available or edit a written version students can refer to.

Q6: My ex is fine but definitely Ex-For-A-Reason. Occasionally they’ll reconnect and it’s great! Eventually For-A-Reason shows up and I’ll cut contact. This happened recently and I handled it well, but I’m sad to gain/lose that connection again (for good, I’m done playing emotional yo-yo). Logicbrain knows I miss idealized ex, I’m not close to many people, and I’m generally lonely (but working on it!). I did good/regret nothing, but what do I do with feeeeeeeeelings? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A6: There’s no shortcut with feelings, sorry, friend. You feel them for a while, you be nice to yourself, you give it a lot of time and space, you redirect your attention to parts of your life that are satisfying. More detailed instructions here.

Q7: I have a friend that I wish was a small-doses friend, who I instead spend an evening a week with; we take a class together and take the same train home after. I’m getting frustrated with her for invading my space, through no fault of her own. How do I manage my feelings and maintain a friendship with her when I find her annoying sometimes and see her 1000% more than I wish I did? Pronouns: she/her/hers

A7: How long does the class go? I ask because time will take care of this problem pretty soon, right? And when the class is over you can take a break. In the meantime:

  • Who do you like in the class, who makes you look forward to it? Time to quietly branch out, make sure you meet and work with some other people during class time?
  • Make a list of reasons you like this person and a list of things you enjoy talking to her about. On some train rides, ask her about those safe, enjoyable topics. Choose to engage.
  • On other train rides, could you try saying “Hey [friend], it’s been a super long day, I need to put headphones on and tune out on the way home, can we chat next week?” thank her for understanding, and grab some quiet time. Sometimes people need quiet, it’s okay to ask!

Q8: I know you’re married to a great dude after having a not-so-great history with some dudes in the past. Do you have any advice on how to feel okay and safe dating when it seems like every small thing is a red flag and every expression of intimacy is terrifying? I don’t want to override my body’s fear signals but I also don’t want to be alone forever. Already in therapy. Pronouns: she/her/hers

A8: Hi! During the winter in 2012 when Mr. Awkward luckily crossed my path, I was trying to rid myself of certain habits like sleeping with people right away, being afraid to disappoint people, or letting my essential homebody nature and inertia steer the ship too soon.

Chicago winters are harsh, liking a variety of cosy indoor activities isn’t wrong, and yet, I wanted to stop living this Marilyn Hacker poem. I wanted to stop recreating cycles of “Hi, you seem nice and like you can carry on a conversation!” followed by “Let’s imprint on each other sexually!” followed by “Eh, just come over, I made soup!” followed by either “Hey bro, don’t you have your own apartment to go to?” or “Welp, I guess you’re my boyfriend now, I can work with this.” Maybe it was time to change something up.

What I had going for me then:

  • I wasn’t new at online dating – the novelty had definitely worn off, and I had learned from some earlier mistakes.
  • We teach what we need to learn – advising others  here had helped me re-examine my own history in a gentle light and helped me articulate what I wanted.
  • I liked my life, I liked my apartment, I liked my friends, I liked my work, I liked myself, I liked being alone. This empowered me to be very, very picky.

Again, thanks to the writing I did for this site, I did put some pretty specific guardrails in place. Seven years later I can’t say for sure how much was instinct and how much was deliberate, but this is what I tried at the time:

  • Small Doses. I scheduled first dates with new people on weeknights.Why this worked for me:
    • Dates like “Want to grab some tacos after work Tuesday?” kept things centrally located, low-key, and inexpensive. If I’m already out of the house for work, no need to fight inertia or put on a special shirt!
    • “School nights” gave me ironclad reason to wrap things up early, limit or skip drinking altogether, and avoid the whole idea of going home with somebody or inviting them home with me.
    • It kept weekends free for hanging out with friends (who I already knew I liked) or enjoying time alone. If I liked someone enough to want to book up a Saturday, that was good information.
  • Slowing Down. I scheduled first dates few and far between, and after each first date, I tried to give myself some time to decide about whether I wanted another one. For example:
    • At the end of a date, I tried to say stuff like “It was really nice meeting you, thank you for coming out” instead of “Sure, let’s do this again sometime!” so I could sleep on it.
    • Before making another date, I thought about what I wrote in all the dating answers on here: Is this person as cool as my friends? Am I excited to see them again and get to know them better? Was the actual time we spent on the date fun, comfortable, relaxing? Am I at least contemplating [kissing stuff]? Were there any red flags (more on this below)?
    • Unless the prospect of a second date made me want to say a wholehearted “Yay!!!!!!!!” it was a No thank you.” And I straight up cancelled/reversed on some things if I caught myself trying to talk myself into the idea of someone.
    • If I did like someone and want to have a second or third date, I waited a long time before inviting them to my home or doing any home/cooking/cosy OR sexy stuff. Not because that’s bad (cosy evenings at my place are awesome!) but because I personally didn’t want to lapse into that mode of least resistance right away.
  • Safety and Congruence
    • Basic Safety Stuff: I met people in public places that were easy to get myself to and from. I told friends where I was going. I asked people for real names. I did at least a cursory Google search, and left that info with friends, too. I made a Google Voice number to keep my cell number private. I texted my check-in person when I arrived on the date and when I got home.
    • Intermediate Safety Stuff: I gave myself permission to bail pretty immediately if something didn’t feel right, especially if I sensed someone was a jerk or being untruthful.
      • One time a man looked at least 15 years older than his profile photo. Another man had a very different body type than he did in photos. It wasn’t that they were unattractive in person, or that I expected movie stars, but I did expect…congruence? Honesty? Self-awareness? Whatever was going on, it wasn’t my issue to dig into, so I excused myself pretty quickly and sent some extremely awkward “Look, I can’t help but noticing you look really different from your photos. Since you look fine just as you are, I hope you’ll post some recent photos before you try this again! But the discrepancy is so jarring to me, I’m just not comfortable” messages through the app when I got home.
      • Someone whose profile said “divorced” whose story morphed into “I finally told my wife I wanted to separate last week and we are still going to be roommates for a while, is that a problem?” on the actual date? = MARRIED, WHAT YOU ARE IS MARRIED, SIR. I wish that person well, I don’t think they were evil (esp. since they ‘fessed up right away when we met), I know this shit gets complicated and expensive sometimes, but I had made it clear in my profile that I didn’t want to mess with married people or anyone with an ongoing committed romantic/emotional/legal entanglement, and someone who thought they could override that or worm their way around it was not for me. Let me have informed consent, or leave me alone.
    • Sorting “Red Flags”: Dealbreakers vs. Incompatibilities vs. Questions. These are/were some of mine, provided as examples. Yours/other people’s will be different
      • Dealbreakers (Red Flags): Untruthful. Mean to the waitstaff. Brings feature screenplay to our date expecting me to give notes on it. Mansplains my job to me. Takes “no thanks” as an invitation to negotiate: (“Come on, have another drink”). Keeps trying to push the level of intimacy higher than is comfortable, talks explicitly about sex a lot or keeps bring the conversation back there even when I don’t participate or change the subject. Talks during movies. Hipster racism (which is still racism!) or casual misogyny (totes misogyny!). Negs/Backhanded compliments. Handsy, grabby, a space invader.
      • Incompatibilities (Orange Flags): Mistakes first date for therapy session, downloads a ton of sensitive/personal info on me, overshares. Conversation has no flow, I either feel like I’m performing, I’m expected to be the audience, or it’s an interrogation. Explains jokes to me. Is weird about “who pays” – either insists on paying for everything despite me holding out money, or pulls out a calculator. Every story is a rant or complaint. Making plans is difficult, requires way too many texts, person has no suggestions of activities or places to meet, lots of “I don’t know, whatever you want to do is fine!” Crosses the enthusiasm/evangelism line, i.e. If we’re on a date and you like something a lot, it’s probably fun to listen to you talk about it, even if it’s not my thing! But if you start insisting that I must like a thing, too, or telling me how much a thing I like sucks, I will endeavor to never touch any part of your body with any part of my body. Also here? “I’m not attracted to them/just not feeling it, not sure why” and “Our investment/enthusiasm levels are mismatched somehow.” 
      • Questions (Yellow Flags): Only people from their lives they mention are exes/sex partners, no mention of friends or family. Evasive answers to questions like “where did you grow up.” Any serious topic of conversation gets deflected with jokes (which, it takes one to know one, but what are we evading/avoiding?) Gaps in their story, long silences that aren’t comfortable silences.

Dealbreakers/Red Flags meant something about this person was pinging my radar where it comes to safety and/or integrity.  I didn’t want to go out with them again, and I probably would prefer not to see again in this life. As soon as I sent the “hey thanks for coming out, I don’t think we’re a good fit but I hope you meet someone great” message, I tended to block them on the dating app. And, since I had some good friends who were using the site at the same time as me,  I also sent out a few “Hey, watch out for this username, he’s pushy as hell” warnings.

People who seemed to be kind & doing their best but were just incompatible with me got filed as “Nice enough, but not for me!” Someone didn’t have to be a bad person to be a mismatch for me & what I wanted. Realizing this, and putting into practice by saying “No thank you!” to spending more time with people – even when they were very, very nice people, even when I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings – was an incredibly powerful and healthy realization for me.

If what I had after a date were questions AND I really enthusiastically liked the person, I might give things a little more time. I didn’t need people to be cheerful or have perfect lives, and I was definitely okay with someone being reticent about painful or uncomfortable topics or a little shy (especially when meeting a stranger for the first time)(especially in contrast to people who wanted to dump all their baggage on me). If we had a second date and something still didn’t feel right? I’d know what to do.

I don’t know where to stick this in the bulleted list, but it’s another important lesson of that time: I didn’t try to convert incompatible date-people into friends. New friendships were and are for people who goddamn delight me, where I feel strong connections and enthusiasm, not an awkward dumping ground or collection plate for people I didn’t want to have sex with because I couldn’t bear to say “You’re nice, but no.” 

That’s a lot of text, right? I swear at the time, in practice, it wasn’t that complicated. All these rules/practices were about knowing myself, giving myself permission to want what I really wanted and set boundaries with myself about that.

What happened was:

I went on a bunch of first dates over the course of 6 months or so. Those ranged from “Oof, awkward” to “Eh, fine” to “Whoa, that person is a catch! He’s wonderful! But not my catch!”

I went on no second dates.

Then I went on one great first date.

And a great second date.

And all my guardrails/checks-and-balances were important because they were a reminder to myself to slow down and pay attention.

And they were a reminder to let myself enjoy things, to appreciate how good things could be. Because I felt safe, seen, respected, loved, appreciated. Because things were easy. Because I could be vulnerable. Because things matched.

So I married that one.*

I hope that helps.

Let’s do this again sometime!

 

 

*I realize this makes it sound like we got hitched on the third date. No. We got married about 4 years after we met, though I knew that it was likely/probable within a few months of meeting.

P.S. I wrote some stuff about compatibility around living space/household stuff that fits in with the whole red flags/dating someone new/is this for me? discussion here (#7).

Good morning Captain,

I have a really nice problem that I could use help with, which is: how do I send professional compliments?

I work in a healthcare-adjacent field, which is a pretty tough and thankless job 99% of the time. Because absolutely no one is here for the money, I frequently encounter workers, from my own organisation and others, who go above and beyond their work duties and pull off some truly incredible feats in the name of getting a good result for our clients.

I want to make sure that people are being professionally recognised when they do an amazing job, but I’m not sure how to go about this in a way that’s not boundary-crossing or weird. My own organisation has a clear internal process for passing along feedback about other employees via our team leaders, which is great, but when I encounter awesome people from other organisations, how can I best communicate to their bosses that they are great and valuable employees that should be given All The Money and Praise?

Thanks!

– In Need Of An English-to-Corporate Translation

Dear Corporate-To-English,

For everyone considering doing this: Be only positive in your message about the person, if you have critique or suggestion about the company or their services uses a separate message. Also, consider being non-specific beyond “great service,” especially if you sense that this person’s talents mean they are working around/beyond the company’s red tape, since you don’t want to get them in trouble (or find your sweet deal is subject to extra scrutiny).

With that said, I think there are a few ways I can think of to do this that should be pretty simple & straightforward:

1. The organizations’s general mailbox or contact form from their website.

If they do identify a compliments/complaints/customer feedback person, use that address obviously, but the person who has to fish out whatever’s in the general mailbox has to read a lot of gripes, make their day with a positive note!

“Dear ____, this is just a note to say that Melissa in your Amarillo, TX branch gave me fantastic service today. She is always so friendly and knowledgeable and she makes my job so much easier. Best wishes, Your Name/Job Title/Organization.” 

2. A letter on your company’s letterhead to the company’s CEO or head of customer/client services. 

Are you Kind of a Big Deal? Send something like this (or get your Big Deal Boss to send it) to the other Big Deals:

“Dear _____,

Please accept my thanks for your company’s wonderful service around [issue], especially the diligent work of [person] in [department], whose knowledge/attention to detail/great attitude/problem-solving skills/kindness/thoughtfulness/attention to customer needs makes [Your Company] the first place we turn when we need [X kind of goods/services].

Looking forward to many more years of working together, thank you for having people like [Great Person] on your team!

Sincerely,

Big Deal/Title]”

Something about paper makes it all more official-seeming.

3. Social media. 

“@Company, thank you so much for the wonderful service today, the client services rep in your Gary, Indiana office is a customer service star!”

4. Ask the person you want to praise directly how to do it.

Especially if it’s someone you interact with a lot, through work: “You are doing such a wonderful job, is there any quick way to let your company know how much I appreciate it?” 

5. Do those ridiculous surveys sometimes if you can. 

Not specifically for you & your professional contacts, LW, but in general: When retail/food service workers give you those “fill out a survey and maybe win a prize” spiels with your receipts, or your cable installer, etc. asks you to fill out an online survey about their work, if you loved what they did consider taking two minutes and doing the thing. If the person is asking you about it, there’s a high chance it makes a difference for them.

Other suggestions, readers?

 

This letter came in last week, and a lovely blog reader who will now be known as “The Girl Sparky” helpfully volunteered to tackle the “sudden unemployment” part of the question. Her answer is below the letter/the fold.

Here is my (Jennifer, Captain Awkward’s) one additional suggestion to her beautiful post, dear Fed Up Fed:

Consider emailing or calling your coworkers and getting them together for a pot-luck of some kind. 

Back in 2003, when I was in the first year of my graduate program, our financial aid did not come in until Week 13 of a fifteen-week semester. I lived in the same city as the school and already had housing/friends/a romantic partner in Chicago, but a lot of the students relocated here without that and had to live for several months and undertake an expensive art form without knowing when the money would come through and without having anyone local to turn to. In addition to pulling out all the 2-for-1 Subway coupons in the Chicago Reader every week and being Sandwich Buddies between classes, another thing the group did was to gather informally at the apartment of one of us who had a big, centrally-located place (with no furniture in it)(but that’s another story)(good for dance parties!). People would bring “a food” or “a drink” with them. Cheap vodka worked well, we’d mix it with the seemingly unlimited supply of V-8 that this student could “borrow” from his Aunt’s nearby storage room and a little hot sauce (“So we don’t get scurvy!” was the joke-that-was-not-really-a-joke), the cooks among us would turn whatever random groceries were on offer into a few hot dishes – spaghetti, big pots of ramen dressed up with a little green onion, baked mac & cheese with frozen broccoli in – and we’d sit on milk crates and dance and tell stories and Not Starve for one more week.

Some of those people are lifelong friends, and some are not, but if anybody from that cohort knocked on my door right now and needed a hot meal and a couch and a shower and some V-8 (to avoid scurvy!), I would open the door, if only because of what we shared that year, because of how we got each other through it.

If what you’re feeling right now is LONELY, Fed Up Fed? Maybe your coworkers are, too, and maybe there is some warmth and light to be found in a couple of those magical cheap-ass giant pizzas from Aldi in the living room and something silly on TV and a no-obligation jar by the door where if people have a few $ they throw it in and together you take care of each other a little, and you take turns making sure the jar goes to the food pantry or to the coworker who needs a little help to get through the week.

That might not be possible or comfortable for you, so I offer it as a suggestion only, but if you’ve been demurring out of pride or worry about crossing those professional lines, I’d just say: We need each other. It’s okay to need each other.

I’ll let The Letter Writer (The Fed Up Fed) and The Girl Sparky take it from here.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I (she/her/hers) am one of the hundreds of thousands of government workers who is currently furloughed. I am very fortunate to be in a place financially where I can survive missing/late paychecks, and I am also very fortunate to know that I will be getting back pay, unlike contractors (which include all custodial and food service staff). I have a supportive partner, and several friends who are also furloughed. In many ways, I’m very well situated right now.

But, this is taking a major toll on my mental and emotional wellbeing. I do not do well with unstructured time, and my ideal level of social interaction is having people around me making some noise, and having short interactions throughout the day (ie: working in an office). I also am happiest when working on discrete, manageable tasks that build to a larger goal that has a purpose I support. The shutdown has destroyed this for me.

I’ve scheduled activities and left the house every day. I’ve taken advantage of the many free things my city has to offer. I’ve signed up for volunteer opportunities that use the skills I use at work (still waiting to be called back about those). But I’m finding myself in tears, feeling utterly miserable, and knowing that ideal solution–going back to work–is entirely out of my hands (I don’t even have a Member of Congress to call!). I love my job, so I’m not ready to give it up yet and look for another one. But I want to stop being miserable. And people telling me how much they’d enjoy time off and a long-term vacation isn’t making it easier.

Do you have any tips for dealing with this?

Thanks,
Fed Up Fed

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Hi Captain,

I (she/her) am 39 years old and haven’t had a real friend since I was 23. Due to numerous instances of abandonment and rejection before and since, I’ve developed a form of Social Anxiety where I panic whenever I think someone important to me might, well, abandon or reject me. I’m working on this with a lot of self-help and meditation, but I need some help with my current situation.

Two years ago, I met a guy my age at work, who is very successful, a young executive at our very large, you’ve definitely heard of it company. Upon discovering that we have a lot in common, and I was struggling with a miserable job situation at the time, he quickly became my mentor, and from there, we’ve become friends.

Here’s where it gets weird. Despite the fact that we talk about deep, personal, obviously non-work related subjects, including things like God, anxiety, self-doubt, spiraling down into dangerous depression, etc., he has refused to meet me outside of work. These deep meaningful conversations occur in 30 minute scheduled meetings once a month in his office. He won’t even give me his personal cell phone number, using his work mobile instead. (P.S. it’s not because I’m a married woman and he’s a married man. We had that conversation. Also, most of my invitations have been for us to do things with our spouses in tow, and my hubby is fully supportive.)

Background on him, he was formerly a soldier in Iraq, and his best friend was killed there. It messed him up pretty bad, and he did go to therapy. He has stated he has no friends (and supposedly he likes it that way). I suspect he erected these walls to protect himself from ever experiencing that kind of pain again. I think he is struggling because I’ve managed to get through his defenses, and he cares about me. He always genuinely appreciates me being a good friend- checking on him when he’s sick, sending him goofy memes to cheer him up when he’s stressed out (which has been a lot lately), etc. The verbal and written work/life barrier has been thoroughly crossed. He just won’t cross the physical work/life barrier.

Anyway, it’s been taking him longer and longer to say no when I invite him out, and it’s obvious to me that responding to my invitations causes him tremendous anxiety. It’s like he really wants to say yes but talks himself out of it. At our last meeting, after turning down my latest invitation (with a “probably not” following a full week of deliberation), he said that he was now willing to meet outside of work, but it has to be something really small, like lunch (which is impossible with his schedule). So far I haven’t found anything small enough, and he’s made no suggestions.

Because of my anxiety, every time he tells me no, I freak out and spend a day or two crying, unable to sleep, etc., until I’m able to get a handle on the negative thought train and shut it down. I’ve considered giving up on him numerous times, but I can’t do it because he gives excellent advice, I feel so comfortable talking to him, he understands my pain, he makes me feel good about myself, basically I need him to talk to, and I feel like he needs my help too. Everyone needs a friend, and I might be the only person persistent enough to keep trying with him, BECAUSE of my anxiety. And he’s SO CLOSE now. Admitting he would go out was huge. But I’m also frustrated and tired of the roller coaster ride of emotions (as is my husband.) To make matters worse, I turn 40 in two months and all I wanted was to be surrounded by friends, but I can’t even get one friend and his wife to go somewhere fun for an hour and have dinner after. I’m having a hard time staying positive. What should I do?

-Best Friend by Default

Dear Best Friend by Default,

I preserved your email subject line, for the most part. There is…a lot…going on here, and I am going to try to be as gentle and helpful as possible, and I am going to turn off comments (you…do not…want to read them, trust me), but I do not think you are going to necessarily like anything I am going to say.

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Dear Awkward,

I work at a nonprofit and am the only staff member who manages our +1,200 volunteers.

My ex-husband worked with a therapist for years prior to our divorce. The ex was violent, cheated on me, and was verbally abusive. At one point when things were really messy his therapist sought me out at a public event to encourage me to get STI testing because of my ex’s unprotected contact with sex workers.

3 years later, his therapist has just begun volunteering at my place of work. I feel sickened at the thought of working with someone who reminds me so much of this ex and knows so many personal things about me. What, if anything, can I do? Should I disclose this situation to my boss?

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Hello all!

You can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) until 11 am Chicago time today. I’ll answer as many as I can before 2pm.

Holiday and non-holiday related questions are okay, with following parameters:

  • I’m not answering questions about abuse in this short answer format.
  • I think we’ve covered just about every flavor of “How do I deal with my [politically difficult] relatives over the holidays?” in past posts & discussions.

Looking forward to your questions!

Q1 Hello! My job is pretty horrifying right now – they outsourced our team and we both therefore have new jobs but they haven’t actually hired anyone to do our old jobs yet. We hopefully (hopefully!) start training replacements soon after a series of delays and false starts including our entire role being forgotten when planning replacements. I’m doing OK but my friend/coworker is obviously burning out and she’s getting increasingly snippy and rude with me. How do I extend her grace when I’m fighting my own burnout too? Can I talk to her about this somehow?

A1: Oh yeah, time to talk to her! It might be as direct as “Look, I know you’re really stressed out, but do you realize how much you’re snapping at me? Are you okay?” or as general as “Hey friend, I know everything is so stressful at work right now, can we talk about how we’re going to get through our ridiculous workload for the rest of the year? Let’s make a plan.” 

Q2: I’d love another list of what you’ve been reading recently!

A2: I finally read Gaudy Night and loved it. Trying to read some of the other Sayers, verdict so far is “Gaudy Night > Harriet Vane Books In General (will def read all of these, only one left) > Not Harriet Vane Books (eh, these probably aren’t my thing unless I happen across them in a B&B somewhere someday, they’re not bad but I only care about Harriet, Miss Murchison, Miss Climpson, and sometimes Bunter).

Additionally in the past month: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, The Apple Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed, Hand To Mouth: Living In Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, All of the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart.

If you don’t know about Library Extension for Chrome, I’m here to tell you the Good News About Library Extension for Chrome. Search for a book on Amazon or Goodreads or other book searchy site and it will tell you if the book is available (+ how many copies and in what format – hardcover, audio, e-book, etc.) at your local library*. Since I have a Kindle, I click, click, click and then it’s like “free books reading all the time yay.”

*If they participate. If they don’t, you can suggest them!

Q3: I find a fellow volunteer somewhat difficult. We have the same goals, but they typically seem irritated with everyone and often complain about how people aren’t doing enough or doing it right. I’ve taken on more with our group partly because they needed a break, but it bothers me when they prod me to do things with the same speed and in the same way they would. (I have a job; they’re retired). I’d be fine stepping down and letting them be fully in charge, but there are policies about not having the same nominal leader for too long a stretch. I’d like advice for dealing with their conversations about who’s doing what wrong and with my own sense of being micromanaged.

A3: This is a difficult one. I suggest an informal, in-person conversation where you say some version of “I know you care so much about [cause] and I really respect your experience and hard work, but you stepped back from running things b/c you needed a break and I need some time to grow into the leadership role and fit it around my full-time schedule. Change is always awkward! Can we agree to check in with each other once a month to make sure we’re all on task, but skip these frequent reminders? It isn’t helping me get to things faster, and I’m feeling micromanaged.” 

They’ll say some stuff, listen to it, don’t argue, thank them for the conversation, and then [this is key] do what you were going to do anyway, even if they do nudge you all the time. Like, it’s okay to filter their emails to a box you check once every week when you’re calm & caffeinated. It’s also okay to set that as a clear expectation, like, “Saturday mornings are when I go through my inbox and deal with [cause]-related stuff, if you don’t hear back from me right away I promise I’ll get to it on Saturdays.” And then follow-through with that schedule. If you’ve been responding right away to every little thing, you’re sort of training the person to expect that you will respond right away to every little thing.

Advanced diplomacy: After the initial conversation, I want you to make a list of things where you do actually need this person’s insight and also a list of things you can safely delegate to them. Every month, during your check in, make a point to ask their advice about something (even if you already know what to do, maybe you’ll get something useful and at worst you’ll make them feel useful). Also, feel free to delegate stuff to them! You have a full-time job, they don’t, they want to do the work, so it’s within bounds to say“I’m not going to be able to get to x as quickly as you’d like – can you take that on for me?” 

Q4: I have a full week off work at the end of the year. How do I politely decline social invitations from people who know I have time off and no plans? I need that week to recharge, don’t want to fill it up with social plans.

A4: Invitations are not commands, so, try “Oh, thanks for thinking of me! I’m really trying to schedule nothing that week so I can rest and recharge. I’ll let you know if that changes and I can make it after all, but for now don’t count on me!” 

It’s okay to be enthusiastic about having down time! If people try to insist on you joining them for whatever after being told something like that, they’re the ones being weird.

Advanced reciprocity and kindness around social plans making: Do keep track of who invited you to stuff and got turned down, and when you’re feeling more social, invite them to do something with you in the New Year. It’s your “turn,” and it will send the message that you really like them and that it was just about scheduling.

Q5: My dear friend is in the late stages of getting her undergrad degree at a primarily online (but not entirely) state university program (not-for-profit school) and has just now found out that some of her credits from a previous school didn’t transfer over into whole courses, so it sets back her graduation date. It sounds to me like her assigned advisor isn’t very helpful or knowledgeable. She is not in the same state as the school and it’s not possible for her to visit campus in person to try to get anything straightened out. What would you recommend as a path of escalation around an academic advisor?

A5: If your friend can pull together all the documentation she can about the courses she took (course descriptions, syllabi if possible) and the equivalent courses at her current institution – whatever she thinks will make the case that the courses should transfer – that’s a good starting point. It can take some time to pull this together, but it can’t hurt.

Then she can try the advisor once more, with questions like, “What is the process for appealing a decision about transfer credits? Can I have detailed feedback as to why certain classes didn’t transfer? What documentation does the school need? (’cause oh look, I have some!) and if the advisor can’t really help, try asking them directly: “Ok, thanks so much. If you can’t sort this out for me, who do you suggest I talk to?” Be very polite, ask questions, be persistent, follow up every conversation with an email outlining what y’all talked about. After that, it really depends on her program. A professor she gets along with very well might have ideas, the department’s admin (someone you should ALWAYS make friends with) might be able to sort it. When/if she does escalate it around the advisor, she’ll probably do better if she doesn’t complain about the advisor (that person is gonna work there lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng after your friend has graduated), phrase it more like “Advisor helped me as much as they could, but I still have some more questions and they suggested you might be able to help. Are you the right person to talk to?” 

I’d also suggest that your friend prioritize her list of transferrable courses privately, like, know which ones are “these MUST transfer, I am not fucking taking that class again” and “Eh, if I had to go over some of this material again to get to the classes I really wanna take it wouldn’t kill me” so there can be some negotiation. Best of luck to her!

Q6: Very difficult question, only vaguely related to the holidays in that I want to read some more books between now and the end of the year. Where should I begin in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga? In chronological order of the events in the books? Or is there another book in the series that is an especially good entry point?

A6: I started with the “Young Miles” omnibus, (which starts with The Warrior’s Apprentice) shoved into my hands by my friend L. one New Year’s in Massachusetts and then shoved into other people’s hands by me, and it was fun as hell. Then I went back and read Cordelia’s Honor (two books about Miles’s parents and how they got together). I think if you swapped the order there – Cordelia’s Honor & then the Young Miles books – you’d love that, too, because CORDELIA IS THE FUCKEN BEST.

Q7: I’ve been having a hard time at work since the beginning of September, for various reasons. Right now I’m slammed at work, which is likely to be the case for a while (I expect/hope that things will settle down by the first full week in January, but probably not sooner). I already have a vacation planned and have been making an effort to be diligent about self-care, including paying attention to sleep, eating well, and exercising a little more than usual to help with stress. I love the short answer chats and am grateful for any advice or wisdom you have for how to get through an extra-busy time!

A7: You’re doing great with the self-care stuff, that’s good news!

This is what helps me, a person with ADHD who has a limited attention budget that must be respected because when it runs out it runs OUT: Rituals at the beginning and end of each work day. This list is definitely for office-y type stuff, I don’t really know what you do, but that’s where a lot of my experience is:

  • Beginning of the workday: DON’T LOOK AT YOUR WORK EMAIL YET IF YOU CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT. EMAIL IS A TRAP. (Social Media/Twitter/News etc. is also a trap. NO CLICKY.)
  • Instead, take 15 minutes and look at your to-do list/Make or remake your to-do list.
  • What’s the most important/biggest priority/takes most attention on that list? What are your deadlines?
  • What are a few small quick things that you could do and cross off quickly (to give a sense of momentum and accomplishment).
  • Are there a few things that, if you did them, you could call today a “win” and let everything else be extra credit?
  • Great, you’re doing great. Now, block out your day a bit and make specific time slots for reading/answering emails, any meetings or calls, when you want to work on big important thing vs. knock out a few small things, breaks. Over time, if you do this daily, you’ll hopefully start being able to match tasks for when you have the right energy for them. For example, I know I have the best zone of concentration between about 8 am and 2 pm, so whatever is most important to do that day should be done then.
  • Set a timer for 30 minute chunks (or whatever focused time interval is useful to you).
  • Cool, now you can look at your emails (in the time slot for “read emails”, right after your “review to-do list” time slot) and see if there’s anything else you need to consider. Sometimes emails will be really important, but for me, looking at them/answering them/reading them before I know how I want to use my day is a trap. I need to make a plan and then adjust as necessary.
  • Get your stuff done to the extent you can. Your plan will change. You will get interrupted. It’s okay. The plan is a safety net, not something to beat yourself up with.

20 minutes before the end of your workday, STOP. 

  • Look at your to-do list. Cross things off it. Look at what you did!
  • If you have to track your time in some way, this is a great time to enter your timesheet. It can’t pile up, you’ve got your schedule and list right there.
  • Make your to-do list for tomorrow. Don’t think about it too much, just make note of what didn’t get done today and if there’s anything specific you need to prep for, like, “dress nice, client lunch” – You’ll do your thinking in the morning when you’re fresh.
  • Tidy up your work area. Make sure computer files are saved correctly (with descriptive names, in the right place on the server, so other people could find/use them if necessary), put loose paperwork in folders (you can label this shit with a post-it note, just, organize it and put it away if you can, you’ll be less stressed out if you don’t have a chaos pile when you come in tomorrow morning).
  • GO HOME, YOU DID WHAT YOU COULD, YOU CAN STOP THINKING ABOUT WORK NOW.

I hope that helps. I used to think I was “too busy” to stop working and organize myself and it was a lie.

Q8: I’m about to start a new job. I’m 28 and have had several jobs since college where it just wasn’t clear what i was supposed to be doing or where my boss was upset with me for something they never clearly articulated. I know the people I’ll be working with pretty well but i want to start on the right note. How do i ask for expectations to be clearly defined from day 1 and keep lines of communication open?

A8: First, check out the answer about daily rituals, above. I think it will ground you to have some kind of daily practice.

Second, presumably you’re going to have some kind of training period where people tell you what to work on and you observe and get the lay of the land. Keep the job description from when you applied handy. This training period is where you figure out which parts of the job description are real and what secret other work is part of your job.

Third, if possible, carry a notebook and a pen everywhere. If you go into your boss’s office or walk up to them to get instructions, bring the notebook. Your boss tells you to do something, or how to do something, or who to talk to, write it down. Someone gives you feedback about something you did, write it down. If you have questions, write them down. (Ask them, but also, write them down and the answers, too). You discuss something over the phone with a client or supplier? Make a note of what you agreed on. Write it down. It gives you something to do with your face and your hands and it helps you keep track of things. “Hold that thought, let me get my notebook.” 

Fourth, consider a ritual for weekly check-ins with your boss. (This can also be useful for people who need to “manage up” or for bosses who have no freaking idea what you do). You’re new, so it’s expected that you’ll want to check in a lot.

One way it could work:

Mondays, make your to-do list (as you understand it) and share a short version of it with your boss, by email if possible, though it’s possible to do quick status meetings, too. “Hi Boss, hope you had a nice weekend. This week it looks like I’ve got x, y, and z on my plate. Anything else I should focus on?” 

Thursdays, last thing before you leave for the day, send an update email, like:

“Hey boss, x is all set. For z I’m still waiting for approval. Whenever you have notes on the draft of y, I’ll knock out the edit! Anything else we need to knock out before the end of the week?

The Thursday email is also where you could say stuff like “So sorry, x took much more time than we initially budgeted, y and z will have to wait until next week. Is there one I should prioritize?” 

IMPORTANT STUFF:

  • BE BRIEF. Detailed to-do lists are for you. Have mercy on your boss’s eyes, time, inbox.
  • Your boss might not say much about or even answer these emails. That’s okay! This isn’t like school where you get a grade & feedback on every single thing you do. You’re giving the boss a general sense of what’s getting done and the opportunity to course-correct if they have different priorities.
  • If your boss doesn’t get why you’re doing this or it feels a little needy to them, try saying “I don’t want to make more work for you – don’t need you to do anything or even respond, unless you want me to do something differently – This keeps ME organized.” If they really don’t like it, don’t do it obviously. Instead, use your detailed to-do lists as a record of what you’re up to for yourself, give them quick verbal status updates as necessary.
  • If you work different days of the week, extrapolate. Assuming a 5-day weekday workweek, I say do these check-ins on Thursdays (vs. Friday) for several reasons: 1) If there’s something urgent, you still have a workday to work on it. 2) Don’t set up the expectation or the habit or even the idea that you or others would be thinking about work over the weekend. Some companies and industries do expect you to be thinking about work all the time, but that doesn’t mean that impetus has to come from you!
  • Over time, this will create a written record of what you actually work on. You’ll be able to see how much and what you accomplished, what you spend the most time on, where the friction points are, when your boss alerted you to different priorities. Also, should something go wrong, like, it’s performance review time and your boss has a different idea of what you should be doing, you’ve created a structure and the documentation to say (way more politely than this), “LISTEN, BUDDY, I CHECKED IN WITH YOU EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR, IF YOU WANTED SOMETHING DIFFERENT YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT AT LEAST 104 SEPARATE TIMES.”

The version you’d say out loud is more like “Are the weekly status check-ins not working for you? Is there some other system you’d like better?” 

Good luck! People want you to do well and want to help you do well, mostly, I think.

Q9: My partner has to go on a work trip somewhere not very fun for Christmas – New Year’s. So I’m on my own. Don’t wanna see biological family because reasons. Do you have suggestions for how to spend solo holidays?

A9: Off the top of my head:

  • Is it possible for you to get a change of scene and travel somewhere, too?
  • Eat/drink/watch/do things you like but your partner doesn’t particularly like. I’m sure your partner is lovely, I’m also decently sure that sometimes you compromise about how you spend your time when another person is involved.
  • If you’re a “HOLIDAYS, YAAAAAAY!” person, check out all the free craft fairs, concerts, museum talks, plays, singalongs, etc. that tend to accumulate at this time of year.
  • If you have time off, and friends have some time off, can you catch up with them informally/not at peak HOLIDAY times, like, Boxing Day Brunch.
  • Find a ritual of kindness to do, like, write to your old teachers/mentors and thank them.

Q10: There’s a lot of family dysfunction behind this question, but for a short question…. my parents in general treat myself and my sister like they are still authority figures and sometimes literally says things like we are children (we are in our 40s and have professional jobs). When we visit they literally says things like “turn off the lights before you go to bed”, “don’t forget to lock the door”, “help your mom with the dishes” [which I always do], “do you know how to get yourself a snack? [mom mentions about 5 possible snack items]. I have tried sarcastic replies and saying things like “I am not 5 years old”. No help. Any other suggestions?

A10: They are not gonna change. They really aren’t. Like, sometimes it is worth having the “Hey, did you raise me to be a functional adult or not?” talk (in my case it’s the “I moved out in 1992, sorry, if your toilet handle needs a complicated set of jiggling motions after each flush for the last 20 years, maybe fix it instead of yelling at me for not having the knack?” talk) and sometimes it isn’t.

So what you need is, absolute eye-rolling solidarity with your sister, very clear boundaries about what they have authority about in your own life & decision-making when you’re not in their house (i.e. zero authority), and the words “Ok Mom” “Okay Dad” said with as much humor as you can manage when you can manage it and “I don’t know, I might literally die if you didn’t show me how to make snacks, Mommy!” when you can’t.

Finding something you do have in common with each parent as adults can’t hurt in the “making new memories and patterns to push the bad ones down” process, but yeah, they’re gonna remind you of this shit literally forever, sorry.

Q11: I work at a college library and it’s Stressing Time around here. Any tips from you or readers on how college staff can support students who are struggling? What do you wish your library had available (supplies, food, events) during finals season? Thanks!

A11: I think my institution brings in puppies for students to pet from some kind of shelter or volunteer organization, and it’s pretty popular.

What I think students could most USE during final students are 30 minute “Hey, buddy, you’ve procrastinated on that essay and now that you actually have to do it you have no idea where to start, it’s okay, grab a cookie and let’s take you through three basic ways to find sources” orientations, maybe in very small groups. Or “Ask A Librarian” office hours where they can get individual help. Like a safe, friendly, no-shame redux of that stuff they should have come to at the beginning of the semester but did not. Publicize it through professors – “Could your students use a quick research strategies refresher?” – Maybe even collaborate with profs in certain subject areas to help students walk through that section of the library.

IDK, I teach a lot of students who come from under-resourced high schools that have no library, no librarian, who don’t know what’s available or even where to start, and I’ve long ago learned not to assume about what they know. I’d LOVE to send them to something like “Ok, you found 10 books/articles about your paper topic and you don’t know which one to read first and you don’t have time to read all of them. That’s okay! Let’s look at the bibliographies real quick – Is there a book or article that all or many of the books mention? Great! Start there!” 

I love libraries and librarians. You’ll do something great, I know.

Q12: I broke up with a dear friend over the summer who is a lovely person, but spent ~2 years ignoring/not responding/declining requests to hang out. I’m starting to do that thing where I wonder if it was the right decision. Logically, I think it was the right thing, but emotionally I’m still hurting, especially since she was a pillar of Team Me and I really need those pillars right about now (I’m going through the end of my degree program and dealing with marital problems; we’re not breaking up, but there’s a lot of work to do and it’s triggering all kinds of “well, I don’t really deserve love/affection/sexual attention anyway” self-talk). And I’m starting to worry that other dear friends will “abandon” me the way that she did. My question is: what are some scripts I can tell myself to re-write this story in my head? Right now I’ve got “everybody leaves” playing in an eternal loop, with the occasional “you’re not good/lovable enough” jumping in as accompaniment.

A12: It sounds like the friend broke up with you, not that you broke up with them, is that correct? Either way, it’s natural to miss people who were important in your life in a stressful time, even if the relationship has run its course. So first step is to stop beating yourself up for having feelings. You can’t outrun or outthink feelings, sometimes the most you can do is identify & name them, like, “Oh, I’m having anxiety that my other friends will ditch me the way ___ did” and then sort of triage them, like, “Do I have to do something about this feeling right now or can I just let it be.” 

Other practical suggestions:

  • Can you vomit out some of the worry in a journal? Write letters to the absent friend of the things you would normally like her help with? Get as angry as you need to with work, spouse, absent friend in a private, low-risk way?
  • When the “I’m not good enough” thoughts intrude, could you try speaking to yourself and your feelings the way you would to a good friend, and try to be as gentle with yourself as you would with that person? It takes practice but this can really help.
  • Can you make some plans with the other dear friends in your life that are about pleasure (not necessarily about support/venting, though some of that will happen, more about relaxation and/or knocking out tasks with a buddy). Think low-key, low-commitment, treating yourself (“let’s grab breakfast and get some holiday shopping done, let’s get our nails done, I grabbed this massage Groupon, can I treat you? I want to see your face and I need to schedule some breaks from school/work”). 

In combination, having the outlet for free form venting and feelings and shame and weirdness can reassure you that you’re not just, like, feelingsbarfing everything on your friends, and having the friend-dates to look forward to will give you some bright spots and rewards for doing the hard work. I hope things get better soon, and congrats on finishing your studies! Everything is hard, but you’re working hard and you deserve to be nice to yourself. 

Q13: Doing the art/dayjob thing but it’s the dayjob part giving me grief. Working with a job coach but I’m still stuck. 29 with a thin resume. Graphic design is a dud but I have no other skills. Failed at teaching and STEM. How do I figure out my career and set myself up for success?

A13: Let me point you at three resources and once piece of wisdom:

  1. Recent thread about a process for figuring out what you want/what you’re good at/where the middle of that Venn diagram is. 
  2. Commander Logic’s guide to becoming unstuck.
  3. Heather Havrilesky’s beautiful piece this week, about art and shame
  4. It is okay if what you do for money does not match up with your deepest self – for the next little while, possibly forever. All your favorite artists had day jobs, most did not match their field of endeavor. 

Q14: What toys and treats have your kitty kids, present and past, absolutely gone nuts for? I want to give mine a great “Kitmas!” 

A14: This thing is the most-loved thing in our house.

We can be upstairs in another room and hear them play with it for HOURS. Literally hours. 

Rainbow tunnel is also pretty darn great. See below:

Henrietta lounging inside the Rainbow Tunnel. 
Daniel being all Coraline in the Rainbow Tunnel. (He was so tiny!)

Daniel loves all toys that can be carried in the mouth (crinkly balls, catnip mice, etc.), and sometimes he will push toys under the bedroom door when it is closed to try to entice us out. It is the best. Henrietta likes a wand toy with feathers at the end. They both love the Cat Dancer, which, you can’t beat that price! Beadie also loved any wand toy, any crinkle-ball, but her most-loved thing ever (like, it might be her actual soulmate) was a pet-safe heating pad. 

Q15 Do Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger and Henrietta (Kim Wexler) Pussycat have any holiday-themed costumes and may we see pictures?

A15: No, they did their 60 seconds of costume duty for 2018 at Halloween. Halloween 2019 is another year! All the catnip and treats! Sixty seconds or whenever they figure out how to take off hats (which are tied very loosely). 

 Q16: How do I avoid the topic of my job hunt/being recently let go? I straight up don’t want to discuss anything about it (and I’m hoping I have something in place) but it’s tough.

A16: I’m so sorry. You don’t have to tell people about it at all, if you don’t want to and it’s not public knowledge. You can also say, straight up, “Oh, it’s still kinda raw, I don’t want to talk about it at all right now, especially since we’re celebrating!” + change the subject to something you do want to talk about. Non-assholes will follow your lead. 

Q17: How do I handle being burned out on my chronically ill partner’s health talk? I know she doesn’t get a break but sometimes I just can’t handle getting hourly updates on organ functioning, and I feel talked over a lot of the time.

A17: This is so hard. Keeping in mind the principle of “comfort in, dump out,” does she have a counselor or other safe outlet where she can vent about health stuff at will? There’s a great site called Chronicbabe for young women with chronic illness, there might be other communities like that where she can find not only solace but solidarity.

Does she have all the support and help she needs to manage the condition, and is it time to revisit some of that (incl. perhaps involving professional carer), like, “Hey, the frequency and severity of these episodes seems to be escalating, is it time to revisit your care plan?” Can you make a structure where there are certain times of day that you both check in about health talk and give each other your full attention? 

Having as much support in place as possible will make it easier (not easy, but easier) to say, “Hey, love, did you realize you’re talking over me right now? I want to support you, but I am tuning out from some of these real-time detailed updates. I don’t want to tune out from you, can you give me an idea of what you’d like me to say or do when you tell me x?” It’s possible that they don’t need you to do or say anything, but they do need to say whatever it is, if that makes sense.

Q18: What do you recommend for a family member whose need to be “helpful” turns “Thanks. I’ll think about that,” into “Go buy me the thing we were talking about, even though I don’t know if I want or need it yet”?

A18: Try Oh, what a nice gesture, but I don’t need x – please don’t buy things without checking with me, I’d hate for you to spend money on something I can’t use.” 

Advanced Halping Evasion: Consider an information diet around this person – it sounds like even mentioning or brainstorming about a problem you need solved sends them into Helper Mode, try not even mentioning stuff you’re thinking through in this vein to them for a while and change the subject to other topics. 

Q19: My d&d group used to drink&play but 1 guy is now sober&requested dry games in May. Happily did. Last game someone asked, got his ok& brought wine. I wasn’t there, but I want to check in w him &support but we’re newer friends. And he did say it was ok? scriptplz?

A19: You weren’t at the game, so maybe how you go about checking in depends on how you know about the wine. I would assume he did say it’s okay unless you have reason to know otherwise, so maybe try saying “Hey, I saw that _____ asked if they could bring wine last time. I just wanted to check in with you again – I think the switch to sober games has been good for us and I’m happy to keep that in place forever. If you want us to keep that as an absolute rule going forward, it’s okay! You don’t ever have to say yes to wine if you’re not comfortable, and I’m happy to remind people not to mess with it.” 

Just be kind and direct and treat him like the expert on his choices. 

Q20: NaNoWriMo has happened, and it’s been great for me to iron out some problems with my WIP.
But…I was way below my word count thanks to procrastination. Not so bad in itself, but I lied to my partner about it almost daily. What do?

A20: No one’s reading this WIP but you, right? At least not until it’s done, whatever that means. This was a fun thing you did to motivate yourself. So, examine why you felt the need to lie about a fun, optional thing that was between you and you, and then come clean!

Q21: Productive response for when ppl keep doing & apologising 4 smth w no behaviour change? This just pisses me off.

A21: Good recent discussion of apologies here

I guess my question is, what would happen if you showed how pissed off you are? 

“You keep saying that, but the behavior doesn’t change, so, apology not accepted.”

My other question is, how much access do you want to keep giving this person to the part of your life they keep fucking up at? You can wipe the slate clean and still remember what was on it and act accordingly.

Ok, that’s all for this week! Comments are open, with the caveat:

  1. BE KIND. If you can’t be kind, be quiet? We’ve had some real unpleasant ableist and victim-blaming bullshit lately and I don’t care for it. Site policies are here if you need a review
  2. I’m about to skive off for the rest of the afternoon and have lunch and see a movie with Mr. Awkward, so moderation will be haphazard. If your stuff gets trapped I will release it this evening. 

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?”

Hrrrrrmmmm.

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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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?”

You might be perfectly justified, but take a look at question 12 above or a couple of threads from a while back and ask yourself, truly, is this an ex problem or a boyfriend problem?

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.

Alternate suggestions!

  • 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).