Dear Captain Awkward,

I should probably start off by saying that I come from a culture (one of many) where family ties are super close, and family members getting into your business is acceptable and if you complain about it you’re ungrateful and aggressive.

I am now going to be working in another country (my country of birth) for the summer, and my aunt and grandparents are also here, staying in their home. I’m living alone (hallelujah) in another apartment, but i go over there once in awhile to see my grandparents.

However, something very strange is happening. I’ve been on my own pretty much, or trying to be. My aunt, however, decides to accompany me back to my dorm whenever i leave their home, even though I do not ask her to do this. She also decided, unilaterally, that she would accompany me to meet the person I’m working for. So she came in and SAT IN THE MEETING, and she did all this at the speed of light, totally ignoring my attmepts to divert her and giving me no chance to say hey, maybe you don’t need to be here. The job is acutally an internship and has been in the works, and this was not my first impression on the person I’m working for, so I’m not as mortified as I would be. The interviewers are also from the same culture, and appeared to understand the dynamics of the situation, for which i’m thankful.

That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that on the way back, as we went our separate ways, she told me that I needed to be more independent. I had no idea how to respond, besides “uh, i’m perfectly capable of being independent, except when you all foist yourselves into things that don’t concern you.” This is a common pattern in my family – be overbearing and steamroll people, then proclaim that they are too dependent and can’t live on their own and NEED the intervention of people constantly trying to dictate things to them.

What i’m wondering is…..what on earth do i do here? If i object to their meddling it’s considered rude. If I accept their “help” without comment, they use it against me to claim that I need their help, when i never asked for it. What. The. Hell.

Signed,

Trapped in a Feedback Loop

Dear Trapped in a Feedback Loop:

I want to introduce you to my favorite word right now and it’s not “no” or “wow” or “really?” as you might suspect. It’s “okay” and I’ve found it useful whenever someone is projecting something onto me that isn’t really about me at all.

Family Member: “You really need to be more independent!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “If you don’t listen to my intrusive advice, terrible things will happen!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried that my stream of anxiety about you will actually come into being!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried our family won’t see it as a ‘real wedding’ if there is no religious aspect.” (True story, y’all)

“Okay.”

It’s a different version of “Sure, I’ll think about it!” where you will think about whatever it is (and then not do it if it doesn’t suit you). It’s a non sequitur/feigned agreement way of saying “I heard you and I am not particularly ruffled by your concerns but I also don’t want to fight with you.” It doesn’t work in every situation, but try it out and see what happens. Sometimes it stops the conversation in its tracks because there just isn’t any place to go from there.

Another way to deal with the “You need to be more independent (while I totally undercut your independence at every turn)” Auntie is to ask her what she means. “Auntie, I’d love to be more independent. Can you help me understand what you mean by that?” She’s not gonna gain sudden self-awareness about how her intrusion on your job meeting or walking you home every single night conflicts with that wish, but it might help to know her specific concerns and get an idea of her point of view about everything. Don’t argue with her when she answers you even if what she says is very unfair, just hear her out and tell her you’ll think about what she suggested. Then, over time (not during that particular conversation, just, when another intrusion comes up organically in a specific situation), gently and inexorably refer back to that conversation. “Auntie, I’ve really taken to heart your advice about being more independent, and I’d like to handle work meetings by myself.” “Auntie, you’re very kind to escort me home, but for the sake of being more independent, I’d like to go by myself tonight. Thank you!” Think of it as boundaries-Aikido, where you are channeling her aggression away from yourself. In that sense, the “Be more independent!” advice was a gift she gave you to help you start gently maintaining your boundaries. It gives you a way to say “Thank you, but thanks to your excellent guidance,  I got this!” and carve out some space in a constructive way rather than lapsing into a teenaged-sounding “QUIT SMOTHERING ME!” (even if that’s legitimately how you feel around these folks).

She will not disengage quietly, so know going in that it will probably take many attempts. Go slow and avoid ultimatums to the extent that you can.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I was just fired after less than a year at a toxic job. I was vomiting from anxiety on a semi-regular basis… it was awful.

My team and peers were amazing, but my relationship with my manager was terrible. After months trying to fix it, I began seeing a new psychiatrist and taking new meds just to manage the anxiety that it caused.

The circumstances surrounding my firing are also extremely shady. I feel so traumatized by the experience that the thought of working again fills me with panic. It will be a while before I can rejoin the workforce.

Needless to say, I’m extremely distrustful of Former Manager and have no desire to ever see or interact with him again. I’d still feel that way even if I had quit.

I’ve blocked both him and his SO on LinkedIn/Facebook. However, I’d really like to see my former coworkers again when some of this blows over. They’re awesome and were devastated by my departure. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a get-together and they seem interested, which is exciting!

Hosting an event is perfect: I have control over the attendees, and Former Manager is NOT on the list. But I don’t have any control over events hosted by others, and this fills me with dread. Coworkers are already planning at least one summer event.

I don’t want to flake out on them, but I rampantly avoid confrontational situations and I’m terrified of seeing Former Manager. It’s not a big group, so I can’t fade into the crowd. They also like board games, so “just don’t interact with him!” isn’t an option.

I could try to determine if he’ll be there in advance, but it’s hard to ask without making things weird or divulging inappropriate information. He’s still their manager; if I say I can’t be around him it could sound unprofessional or even impact their work relationship.

So, let’s say I go to an event and he’s there – I can’t give him the cold shoulder. I’m also terrible at doing the “neutral, yet disinterested” treatment. I always think I can, but then my stupid politeness kicks in and I treat the person like an old friend or even smooth over their awkwardness. This happened even when I worked for him.

How can I navigate this situation, particularly since my anxiety here is so fresh and I’m feeling very avoidant? I don’t want to dodge the group completely – I’d like to maintain these relationships – but I’m so afraid that my manager will be there!

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

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Hi;

I came across your column when I was looking for guidance as I have nowhere else to turn. I have twin nephews on my husband’s side. His eldest sister was always awkward to me ,and her husband is plain rude, unless he gets a few drinks in him. These two are the nephews’ parents. I have tried and tried over the years to reach out to them, as family is very important.

It is always awkward being in their presence. When one of my nephews was 4, he straight out told me he didn’t like me. That’s OK, he was four. Fast forward to now, the kids are in their early 20s. I reached out over the years to them and my sister in law to get cold and awkward reception. Holiday time is especially uncomfortable at my house when they come over. Last year, one nephew lied and told us their newborn was sick, so they couldn’t make it. They also didn’t bother to thank us for the cards and gifts for the child. I tried reaching out to them on Facebook, and sending them and one of their fiancées a friend request. One by one ,in a matter of minutes, my friend requests were deleted, and their settings were made so that I could not attempt another request. I was deeply hurt.

We were invited to the wedding of one of the nephews, but it was out-of-state, and we were going to be in another state, househunting.my husband sent them a message on Facebook wondering why they did this to me. One of the nephews very coldly said “it’s not something I can discuss on Facebook.” My husband said “you can call me and we’ll discuss it.” One of the nephews willy-nilly said to his mother “it’s just Facebook”.The call never came. Fast forward to last night, I was looking at wedding pictures that mutual friends posted and saw that all three flat out blocked me. I was downright crushed. I really thought family was family. I told my husband I don’t want any of them in my house, and if you wants to see them he can go visit them. I have done nothing wrong to them, but it hurts to be hated so much, that they would oust me like that. And it looks like the twins do everything at the same time-they, along with the now wife, made it impossible for me to friend request, and altogether they blocked me.

At a sister-in-law’s funeral around Thanksgiving last year, the wife went over to hug me and make small talk ,one of the nephews still there smiling while the other nephew sat across the room and ignore me the entire time.my husband shrugged it off and said he’s not losing sleep over it so why should I. Well, he’s not the one that had his feelings hurt. He’s not the one who’s obviously hated and can’t figure out why.he told me no explanation they could give to him would be acceptable, anyway, so just move on. But I am the type of person needs to grieve before I can move on. And I started to heal, and the figurative wound ripped open when I saw that I was blocked last night. I am so embarrassed over this. The nephews blocked me, but not the wife. She just has a shaded so that I couldn’t friend her. I’m wondering if I should just block her. I just felt like venting. Maybe this could help someone,maybe someone has words of wisdom for me.

Thank you,

P.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I reached a major professional milestone that I have been working towards for seven years in college and while working. (Not an unusual amount of time.) My colleagues and I received our results simultaneously. Less than half of us were successful (also not unusual). We’re around the same age, but I am not close to them. I sat quietly within view of them congregating near my desk to discuss, but felt it was not my place to interject much disappointment with my good news. I am sure they did not want to put me on the spot (often we wait to be told rather than ask unless you’re close).

I emailed a few colleagues and texted my family/friends. My family wanted to know what I was doing to celebrate, and I had nothing to report. My three local friends were not available. My colleagues were also unavailable to grab a drink or fancy dessert. My boss encouraged me to leave early, which I was reluctant to do, so I took a break to have dessert at a café. By myself.

As the news spread this week, folks urged me to make extravagant purchases, plan trips, and eat and drink copiously to celebrate. No one offered to join me. Usually there is a happy hour to mark the results, but if there was one I wasn’t informed/didn’t overhear.

I made plans with a friend for today, but she canceled shortly beforehand due to an unavoidable problem with her apartment. All local friends are now unavailable for two weeks. My family lives out of state.

Tangentially, when I first saw my results, I didn’t really feel anything. When I completed the previous step, my success was a huge surprise, and I clearly recall my astonishment and delight. This time, I felt more confident when finished, but I didn’t feel the relief that I remember from before. After the long wait for results, I was expecting/hoping for relief and joy, but neither manifested.

I told colleagues who asked that I felt excited but a little anxious because “I’m already behind with studying!”

There is another optional step that will take at least two more years, possibly much more. Due to company policy, short of a medical exception, I am not allowed to take a break (though I may stop permanently) and must continue these assessments twice a year. This accounts for 400-600 hours of commitment annually outside of work. Most colleagues have made or are making this commitment, and it’s standard for my industry. I am told the previous step was the most challenging. I had a rough couple of months preparing, being very focused but also easily upset.

This process requires lots of my non-work energy. I find group studying to be less productive. I am also a lifelong introvert. (I would even say I’m aggressively introverted.) I engage socially with colleagues/friends once-ish per week outside work in “off” study times, less when I am studying. I often initiate. I try not to turn down invitations because I receive few, and I usually have a good time. I also have lunch with a few people and socialize at work. The folks I started with aren’t in my office anymore, and the group I tested with all started together later. My closest friends live in different states, so I see them rarely. I would rather have a pelvic exam than have to meet/befriend strangers.

tl;dr I didn’t react appropriately to amazing news. Instead I felt sad, empty, and isolated. I am not sure if the root of this is the milestone itself—what have I really achieved? My daily role has not changed, and I am not truly finished, so I must again begin the grueling cycle of preparing for the next assessment. Or were my feelings influenced because I didn’t have an outlet to celebrate and that was disappointing?

So my questions are: 1) How can I better nurture my friendships when I have these responsibilities and this introverted temperament? I feel like my emails go largely unanswered and engagements cancelled as often as not. What can I do differently? I have been told I am a good, supportive friend, and people ask for email updates (without reciprocating), but I feel like Team Me is largely second string, and it’s not my right to demand anything of anybody, while gentle requests for support are not taken seriously. And 2) How can I be more excited and positive about this accomplishment? I am afraid I am focusing too much on the friend-related disappointment or the difficult steps ahead. I want to savor this, but I seem not to know how.

She/her is fine.

Sincerely,
Finally a Professional

Dear Finally A Professional:

Congratulations on achieving (whatever it is). It makes total sense that the achievement would feel anticlimactic since so much work on this particular goal remains ahead of you. You’re in the middle, and it still feels like the middle.

You sound to me like a person who needs a break, a short trip to visit someone close to you, and an ongoing local pleasant, low-pressure outlet for companionship.

Could you get a massage? It sounds like you can afford a nice treat, and the catharsis of being rubbed and kneaded until some of the tension leaves your body might help right now. It sounds like your shoulders are up around your ears. See if someone can help you (physically, at least) drop them down a peg.

Could you spend a little time thinking about your career & life goals? Maybe jump on a journaling habit? Are you happy and excited about where all this testing and studying is leading you? Can you think of some people in your field who you admire, who do the most interesting and relevant and useful aspects of your profession? Is there a way to add something that really interests you to your current job duties? Does your company have an opportunity for you to job-swap with another department,  cross-train in another role, or transfer to an office (maybe one that is closer to your favorite people)?

Could you take a day off from work to take a long weekend to visit one of your far-flung friends or family? Why not throw some clothes and a book you’ve been meaning to read in a bag and hop a train to see a friendly face? You need a change of scene and to be in a room with someone who loves you. Combine the “celebration of milestone” with “short break” and “refilling your friendship well.” And don’t gently hint at it – ask/tell. “Old Friend, I would love to see your face this weekend. If I make it into town for a day or two can we meet up for brunch or dinner?” “Friend, I want someone to celebrate this big work deal with. If I hop the train this Friday, can we meet up for a drink?” It’s okay to flash the “Hey, I need you!” symbol in the sky. If travel doesn’t work, institute a Skype date or a long gossipy phone call. Email isn’t working, social media isn’t working, gently holding back isn’t working, and you’ve been trying so hard not to impose on anyone that you’ve started to disappear. It’s okay to say, “Friend, I’m a little lonely right now and I need you.” Vulnerability connects us as much if not more than celebrating achievements. You’re allowed to want that and ask for it.

These are three pieces about nurturing friendships among adults that I really like:

My Mother Showed Me How To Hit The Jackpot, by Kate Harding. (You might cry when you read this). I have a group of far-flung friends who make the effort to get together in one place at least once a year, and it is the best. If you can’t visit a friend now, can you try to plan a trip with a few people?

Friday Night Meatballs (about hosting a regular get together, which seems like a weird thing for an introvert to do, until you realize that you control every aspect of it and then kick people out of your house at a set time). To implement: Pick a day, gather your three local friends together at your place, and feed them. “I’m celebrating finishing [MILESTONE], please come join me.“If you enjoy it, try doing it once a month. Every now and then invite someone new and get to know them better.

How Do I Make Friends In My Late 20s, Ask Polly. An excerpt:

“This is the downside of living in a gigantic country like the U.S.: You move away for college, you move away for work, you move away because you meet a great guy or girl, and one day you wake up and you’re 2,000 miles away from anyone who knows you really well. For someone who’s faintly allergic to small talk, who can never quite hit that lowest common denominator of casual chattiness, who can never quite manage to burble happily about the weather and the news and those cute shoes and the new restaurant down the block, making brand-new friends sounds about as appealing as a trip to the podiatrist.”

Sound like you?❤ She’s got some wisdom in there about connecting with people different from you and looking for things to like about people. I know, you said the thought of befriending strangers is literally The Worst. But your distant-yet-beloved network isn’t really doing it for you right now, nor are your work colleagues, nor is the thought of pouring yourself into hundreds more hours of studying. What could you do that is fun (maybe a physical activity of some sort, something that gets you into your body or your hands or your senses in some way) AND gets you out of your office AND out of your house AND into proximity with other people once a week? Join a choir. Try something new, something you don’t have to be good at, or reconnect with an old hobby. Meet a couple of new folks where you live. You don’t have to befriend them, you just have to show up and give it a chance. You need an outlet and a change of pace. I know you hate this advice, but making friends at multiple stages in life is a skill and sometimes there is no substitute for pleasant proximity to other people (even people who don’t necessarily have anything in common with you on the surface) when you’re trying to find your way back to having community.

  • Treat yourself.
  • Take a small break.
  • See or at least call a friend (be vulnerable).
  • Do something new that connects you to others, even if it’s just the shared work of petting puppies in the animal shelter.
  • Give it time and be nice to yourself.

You’re not weird for feeling this way, and you’re not alone. I hope your friends come through and that you find a place that reminds you that you belong.

Much love,

Captain Awkward

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I couldn’t find anything like this in your archives, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for advice.

I’m a 23 year old woman and I’ve never been in a relationship. It just doesn’t particularly interest me, and I identify as an aro-ace and I feel satisfied by all my platonic relationships. I have dated in the past, which has clued me in to things I like and don’t like, and I’ve also come to realise that dating people I don’t know makes me really uncomfortable with the thought that they will want things I don’t.

During school, my friends told me that a guy at a party had been hardcore flirting with me and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve been messaging him on and off since and we’ve gone on two dates, and I don’t know him well enough to want to go on more – I want to know him as a friend before we try more dates. The problem is, one of my friends is meddling to try and push me into a relationship with him, and I just want to run the other way. Despite not hanging out in five years of school, she’s asked me twice in two weeks to hang out and if I decline to save money, changes plans conveniently so that I don’t have to pay anything. I know she’s meddling, and another friend has admitted as such. All she’s doing is making me want to duck my head and hide – the more she pushes, the less I want to know this guy at all.

I don’t know how to tell this guy that I want to know him as a friend before we progress without hurting his feelings, and I really need to tell my friend to stop meddling because it makes me really anxious and uncomfortable, but I have no idea how. Do you have any advice or scripts that might help?

Thanks,
Happily Single and Being Pressured

Dear Happily Single:

Be blunt and let them know where you stand. It’s actually the respectful, friendly thing to do. You can do it!

“Friend, stop meddling. I will work things out with this guy in my own way and at my own pace. You’re driving me bonkers right now and making me feel pressured and annoyed. Knock it off!”

“Guy, I like hanging out with you and I’d like to maybe be friends. I don’t think I want to go on any more DATE-dates for the time being, though I will let you know if that changes. Is that cool?” 

“I’m happy being single.” (Repeat as necessary, to the point where the conversations become very boring because you default to saying this every time the topic comes up). “But won’t you give him a chance?” “I’m happy being single.” “But he was flirting with you!” “Cool. I’m happy being single.” “I just want you to be happy.” “Good! I’m happy being single.” “But I thought you liiiiiked me.” “I do like you as a friend. I’m happy being single.” “I just want to help you.” “But I don’t want help. I’m happy being single.”

You already know what I’m gonna say: I’m happy being single.

Guy and Friend(s) will feel whatever they feel. Maybe Guy won’t be interested in hanging out just as friends. Maybe Friend(s) will deny their meddling or be offended that you don’t want them to do more of it and be miffed for a while. Maybe they will get it and apologize and stop pressuring you. You can’t magically prevent people from doing stuff that annoys you, but you can have a conversation where you let them know how you feel about it. Stop silently accepting their annoying behavior. You are not “being mean” or “causing trouble” by stating your needs and boundaries. 

You got this!

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

Met this girl through her uncle, have known her for
Over 20 months, we’ve met a couple of times, nothing much happened, but used to keep ourselves updated over texts, she asked me out for dinner or lunch a couple of times, I had important things to address at that point of time, nor was I sure about my feelings towards her, it’s been six months since she moved to Australia for her education, that’s when I realised she’s the one, i’m not active much on social media, don’t keep my profile updated, and I did confess to her about me liking her, she said it was overwhelming but she isn’t into anyone now and wishes to focus on her career and has a lot going on her plate now, and since then she says she’s busy with all her things back there, but i see she’s got a pretty happening life making new guy friends and isn’t as busy as she’d told me that she is, with all her assessments and assignments, according to her social media updates, when I’m back here in India, wasting my time thinking about her, she’s back in town but hasn’t kept me informed, got to know this through social media too, and I have no idea what she thinks about me, because the moment I told her I like her, she tried avoiding, when I stopped completely she checked on me a couple of times by leaving me texts and when I replied acting like nothing ever happened, I feel she’s brushed me off, saying she’s got her semester exams going, and is currently in town meeting all her friends here, and we’re twenty years old, please do not ask me to refer a forum!😛 Thank you.

Regards,
R.

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