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Dear Cap,

I recently graduated as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). The entire time I was in school I always felt that I didn’t deserve the grades I got, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and didn’t know enough. But I kept passing with some As but mostly Bs (a failing grade in this program is anything less than a 75). I had 3 clinicals in 3 different settings for a total of 17 weeks and got high marks in all of them.

I got my first job in a nursing home, which was my favorite setting out of all my clinics. I apparently made such a good impression on the rehab director that she cancelled her other interviews and offered me the position 45 minutes after my interview. On my first day I trained with a seasoned PTA. This PTA’s caseload had some of the most difficult patients I’d ever seen; people that couldn’t follow directions and resisted me during the treatment. By lunchtime I was in tears because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was doing a bad job. I tried to quit but the rehab director encouraged me to go home and think about it. I came back the next day and asked to not go around with that PTA, to be given a small caseload of simple patients and to go out on my own. I had a good day and was told I did well. That was a Friday. By Sunday night I was having a panic attack (I have a long history of anxiety/depression which had been well controlled with medication for many years). I woke up Monday, had a panic attack and quit.
Now I have zero confidence in myself and I don’t know how I can take another job if this is how I handled my first one. The entire time I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was bad at the job. Choosing another career is not an option. I don’t know how to become more confident or at least fake it until I make it. The only advice I’ve gotten is “go see a therapist”, but I have no job or income. How can I be successful in this career when I don’t believe in myself?

-Zero
(Pronouns: she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My mom has always been something of a worrier. Anxiety runs in our family. But recently, there’s been this special, specific little anxiety bundle my mom’s been trying to hand me and my brother recently, like a cat leaving a mouse on a doorstep. I don’t know what to do with it!

The situation: my brother is currently living an (for our family) unconventional life. He graduated college, and then instead of getting an office job (like I did, and like my parents have), he’s pursued his creative projects and he got a job at a coffee shop to pay the bills. I think this is just fine. To me, this is the part of his artist’s journey where he struggles to pay the bills as he makes art in his shitty apartment. Not fun, perhaps, but sort of a necessary preamble to greatness. My mom has made it clear that she Does Not Get It. She says it’s not that she disapproves, she just doesn’t understand. She is a very smart lady and the struggling author/artist is a pretty robust cultural touchstone, but she keeps seeking clarification on “what exactly is he doing with his life” in these really hurtful ways.

She has done this same thing multiple times: She has a conversation with her friends about what my brother does for a living. They say something to the effect of “I don’t get it.” Or, “What is he doing, really?” Or, “But why?” My mom then relates this conversation to my brother under the guise of “Let’s figure out a way to explain what you’re doing to my friends, together.” Which – why? Why do your friends need this rock-solid grip on what your son is doing with his life? Also, he’s in his mid-twenties, supporting himself, on his own. Why does she need her friends to weigh in at all on what is, currently, a pretty successful story? She has pulled similar “help me figure out what to tell my friends” about my current state of un-marriedness to my boyfriend. When I told her “we’re happy with the way things are right now,” she seemed genuinely relieved, as though I had given her a script that she (A SMART LADY) could not think of. She hasn’t brought it up again, but my brother’s “I’m following my creative pursuits and figuring things out” script has not stuck quite so well.

Do you have any scripts for what I can say to just make her stop with the “my friends said” nonsense? Or any insight on why she’s doing this in the first place?

Signed,
I Do Not Want Your Mangled Anxiety-Mouse, Mom

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So… Not sure if this fits under relationship advice or under the “how to be a regular human being and not a lizard person” category. I’ve been seeing this guy for the last 10 months. He is great, but I’m the first person he’s actually gone out with since ending a long, traumatic and when we met he said he wasn’t looking for commitment. I was fine with it, but then we kept seeing each other and I started falling hard and wanting more – to actually be able to look forward to things and not just treat every encounter as “oh, this could or could not have happened, what random happenstance”.

The thing is, although he’s said he’s in love with me and wants to try being with me, he’s still unable to make plans. If he says “see you saturday”, that doesn’t mean we will definitely see each other saturday, but rather that when he said it it sounded like it might be a nice idea. Come saturday, though, he might decide to go do something else entirely and fall off the grid whilst I’m waiting to hear from him. As someone who has a limited amount of energy for social interaction and a few anxiety issues, I treat planning as something serious. If someone says “see you saturday”, I expect to hear from them saturday. Now, I realised he comes from a different perspective and it’s better to check things on the actual date and not count on them as solid plans, but it still wears on me a bit.

It’s like..Though I know plans could change at any moment, things happen, feelings change, life is unpredictable… And if he changed his mind I would try not to hold him against it… I still feel like I need a plan? Even if it’s not ironclad, just knowing that right now there is a more likely outcome or a desired outcome would make me feel more secure? Does that make sense?

Also, he’s seemed a bit distant lately (still texts almost every day, actually came to see me and brought medicine and food over because I have a cold – but left after sex saying he needed to go home and we MIGHT see each other later… or, you know, not) and I’m not sure if it’s just my insecurity or indicative or something a bit more worrisome. Anyway, my point is: despite thinking of several reasons to work around it (“the distance is all in my head” and “who needs plans anyway”) I keep feeling a bit neglected and anxious. I’m thinking of ending things, not because I want to – I love the guy and he seems to care for me back – but because I think I handle being lonely better when I’m alone and it might be less stressful.

I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he says he’s like this in general, not just with me and there is no point in treating plans as solid because the future is such a changeable thing. So, how do I make peace with being in the moment and stop worrying bout unreasonable things? If there is no ironclad future, how do you stop yourself from having expectations? And how to manage a schedule with someone who doesn’t believe in plans?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m newly single, and getting back into dating. I went on a date last night with a guy I met on OKC. We met up at a bar, and he seemed cute and smart, and as we talked it seemed like we had lots in common! But about twenty minutes in, it seemed clear he wanted to do the touching-kissing thing. I had just met this person, and I wanted to get comfortable around him before I let him put his hands on my body (even though he was cute and promising!). So I was sitting kinda sideways and he was sitting facing me, legs apart, physically accessible, etc.

He said something like, “You’re very guarded. I’m in the restaurant business and we read people quickly and I can tell that you’re very guarded.”

I felt weird, but there was this voice in my head saying, “You never let yourself just flirt and have fun!” So I sat facing him and let him touch my leg, and we kissed and had drinks, and the conversation was good! And we had a lot in common! And he was a good kisser!

Then he told me about a male friend of his in the military who got falsely accused of rape. Apparently the guy was going down on the woman, and she told him to stop, and he didn’t. She made a rape accusation and then later said she was lying.

So this guy (my date) said, my friend didn’t penetrate her—it was just oral sex! She didn’t physically resist! She made that accusation about three other people! She said she was lying!

I was thinking, 1. That was rape. 2. Wouldn’t be surprised if three other guys also didn’t listen when she said to stop, because that isn’t uncommon. 3. Women retract these accusations under pressure all the time. Warning lights are going off in my head. But I didn’t want to get into a fight about rape with a stranger. So I redirected the conversation.

Then after a while he said “I would really like to kiss you in a place other than here.” I took this as “I am ready for you to invite me to your place now.” I was caught off guard. So I said, “I don’t think I’m ready to sleep with you yet.”

So he said saying, 1. I just want to make out! I never said anything about having sex! 2. We should do this soon because the attraction is here now and if we wait it will fizzle out. 3. Are you worried about being a slut? I feel pressured and uncomfortable. He asks what’s wrong. I say, 1. You told me about how you think things that are rape are not rape. 2. Now you are pressuring me to take you home with me.

He was immediately horrified. He started saying “Calm down! Relax! You shouldn’t be so anxious!” I felt more and more uncomfortable. Finally we parted ways. I went home and sobbed. I have no idea why. I think I missed how easy it was between me and my ex, and now it’s like, ahhh, weird dating is my new reality!! Plus I just felt sooo uncomfortable.

My questions are, 1. Is it weird that I really don’t like being touched or kissed within 20 minutes of meeting someone? I Is that what’s expected these days? It happens to me a lot. I think everyone is reading Neil Strauss and think they have to “kino escalate” immediately.

2. Is there a script I can use when someone tries to touch me before I’m ready? One that is friendly?

3. I’m looking for my next meaningful relationship, ideally, but I wouldn’t be against having a fling. But I feel my idea of “casual sex” and most guys’ is different. Mine = we go out! We flirt! We go to art galleries and museums! We have sex sometimes, once we’re ready! But not very often / we date other people. Theirs = I expect sex immediately when we meet, and thereafter whenever I text you even if it’s 2AM, I expect you to come over and service my needs.

Does anyone have experience expressing what their idea of casual sex is and guiding the other person’s expectations toward that, provided casual sex is something they want too? I feel like what happens is I run into this “We must have sex right now!!” expectation and then I flee.

And finally, 5. Should I have calmed down? Was I overreacting about this guy’s creepy rape story? Intellectually I don’t think so, but there is a loud voice in my head saying “You ruin everything by overreacting all the time!!”

Thanks for your thoughts!

Awkward Dater

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Dear Captain Awkward (And Awkwardeers),

I’ve been in a fantastic relationship with my partner for a few years now. He’s incredibly supportive of my mental health, and

Kinky and Healthy are two different - but not mutually exclusive - things

Not an effective fighting strategy.

complements my personality perfectly. However, and this may seem a silly concern, I’m worried about the fact that we never argue. Basically, I’m concerned that this might mean that we aren’t communicating well enough.

We have had disagreements, but usually that happens when I say something that’s concerning me and he agrees with whatever I’m saying. It’s not really an argument because he quickly turns around to my way of thinking. Or, less often, he would air an issue and I would see it as reasonable and agree to help fix it. And for a while, this was great! I felt that our relationship must be going amazingly because we never argue!
But the thing is, I’m now sort of scared about what will happen if we ever do fight. Because when we haven’t even really had any of the little arguments, who knows what will happen if we end up in a big argument? Because surely it can’t always happen that we just agree with the other person’s opinion. What about when we have to start making big decisions like whose job dictates which city we live in? Whether we have kids?
And I’ve noticed that I’ve started avoiding conflict because it’s got to a point where I’m scared of The Fight. The Fight seems to me to be this big inevitable thing looming that sooner or later we both have to deal with… and I don’t know how I’ll handle The Fight. So sometimes, I don’t mention things that upset me because I don’t want to lead to a fight. And that means I’m kind of bottling up grievances which I know full well isn’t healthy. We have an amazing relationship, but I’ve always thought that good relationships were about dealing with the bad as well as the good, and what if it takes us years to realise that we can’t handle the bad?
It’s not like everything’s been sunshine and roses. As I mentioned earlier, he’s been great with my mental health, but that means that he does the majority of the housework, as well as working, and although I’m working hard to be able to contribute more, it’s something that definitely hangs over me. I think the guilt from knowing that he basically just cares for me a lot of the time also means that I’ve stopped talking about things he does that sometimes upsets me, because I feel like I don’t deserve to be unhappy with anything he does when he’s great and supportive and puts so much time, and effort, into making our home a safe place for me. As well as trying to avoid The Fight. And I feel like, hey, I’ll have forgotten the bad thing he said tomorrow, so why argue about it now? It’s probably just me being over sensitive anyway, right? But what actually happens is that it still hurts tomorrow, just feels too late for me to bring it up, so just gets added to the pile of Things That Hurt Me. 
(Note: the things he says aren’t generally actually nasty things but just things that are badly worded and hurt my feelings. For example: “you’re looking beautiful today! I think that dress makes you look thin” and like I’m certain he means well but I’d rather be able to accept the fact that I’m not thin rather than feel like his image of me on beautiful rests on his image of me as thin, y’know?)
Basically, how can I call him out on things that make me sad at the time? I kind of need a method to use when usually I’d just lose my nerve and stay quiet because I’m now kind of really fearing conflict. 
And what if The Fight does happen and we end up having a big argument, either now or in the future? How will I be able to convince myself that this isn’t the end of the world and that our relationship has the potential to survive that, when so far it’s been built on a foundation of mostly harmony and agreement? I feel like we’ve been constructed by all our friends as The Couple Who Never Fight, The Perfect Couple, and I’m scared of realising that we’re not.
~~Conflict Avoidant

This is the last day of the Summer Pledge Drive, where I post the links for making a (non-tax deductible) gift  through PayPal or  via Dwolla.  Your generosity so far has been amazing and I am so humbled and pleased with the outpouring of support. A new computer will be within reach when this one goes. I will be able to pay down some debt and have a little bit of an emergency fund. And, I bought a ticket to see Janelle Monae at the Vic on October 21. Yes, YOU made it possible for me to see my dream show with my dream artist. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These two letters are representative of many I have gotten in the inbox over the past few years, and I think a lot of you will recognize yourselves somewhere in here. I think I finally have a way to frame this discussion that is maximally reassuring and honest. Please allow me to suggest some background reading before you dive into this post: The Dirty Normal on Attachment Styles.

Hey Captain!

I have a male co-worker who I am friends with outside of work. A few months ago, his wife’s work schedule changed and since then my husband and I have been hanging out with my co-worker and his wife “Clara” frequently. I like them and they’re good people, but his wife is the kind of person I enjoy best in small doses; I am shy and reserved, she is very outgoing and can be overbearing. 

Lately Clara has been inviting me to do stuff with her 2 or 3 times every week. Usually it’s a 6+ hour event with a group of 3 other girls. She frequently talks about how close we are and how great it is that we’re such good girlfriends. The thing is we’re not that close yet. We’ve only been hanging out for a few months and I actually am much better friends with their husbands & boyfriends, all of whom are my co-workers (I work a heavily male-dominated engineering field).

I do like these girls, I appreciate being included in these plans, but it’s just too much! So, I’ve started to decline every third invitation or so. The problem is, Clara bends over backwards to accommodate me. If I say I can’t make it, she’ll suggest 3 other days. When I decline those, she’ll try to squeeze the event in between my morning rock climbing club meetup and my date night, for example. I find this very stressful because she obviously is trying hard to include me and I end up having to refuse the same invitation 4 times! I can tell it hurts her feelings when this happens.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I definitely want to cultivate more female friendships in my life, but I feel like I’m being forced into some kind of weird Sex In The City fantasy of Clara’s instead of the more casual way I prefer friendships to form, where different people make the plans every time instead of one person being the Designated Event Coordinator.

How can I kindly get Clara to back off a bit without burning bridges?

Thanks,

I’m Not Carrie Bradshaw

Dear Not Carrie:

This is a “classic” advice question that perfectly fits the paradigm of many questions we have around here:

Dear Captain Awkward:
A person is making me uncomfortable and doing stuff that violates my boundaries.
How do I stop them without hurting their feelings or making them feel uncomfortable?

And you guys are all so nice, and kind, and considerate, and working so hard to be fair to the other person! But the fact remains, if the behavior is making you uncomfortable, things are already uncomfortable. Often to the point that you might have to scorch the earth of the relationship if whatever it is keeps continuing, but you’re still looking for a way to let the other person down easy. There is a perception that speaking up for boundaries is somehow introducing conflict into a situation, or at very least, escalating it in an unkind way, like, everything was fine until you spoke up for your needs and now you made it weird.

So I’d like to perform a bit of a mind flip.

  • When your shoulders are going up around your ears…
  • When you are spending a lot of time strategizing about how you deal with a person. “I will accept every third invitation…
  • When you are avoiding someone you are theoretically supposed to be friendly with…

…things are already uncomfortable enough to speak up about them.

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Dear Captain,

I’m in a very happy long term relationship. The biggest problem we face is we’re both introverts, and have some social anxiety along with it. It’s hard to make friends, but we’re trying. We’re very geeky, so we’re trying to get involved in geek spaces.

Next comes the big hurdle, we have diet issues. He has really bad food allergies, and I’m vegetarian. At home we’re fine, we can work around our issues, but…

Social gatherings almost always involve food. We barely eat out anymore because it’s not worth the risk of being so sick afterwards. The local cosplay group meets inside a pizza place, the local crafting group meets at a BBQ place. Going to someone’s house means feeling like entitled jerks for having to grill them on labels and cross contamination, or hoping they’re cool with us packing our own food.

There’s a cosplay meet-and-greet at a con coming up, at a restaurant where we can tell ahead of time nothing’s going to be safe. Is it rude to request it be held on the patio if that’s an option?

What are some scripts for turning down food invitations? Is there a polite way to suggest social gatherings that don’t take place somewhere that could kill him? Right now we’re both so worried about coming across as Entitled Jerks that we tend to just avoid all the gatherings that involve food, which means we don’t get out much at all. We want to make friends, but we also don’t want to get Frequent Flier points at the ER. How can we compromise?

We’re already learned that saying the specifics of the allergy means people will generally lecture us that there’s no way whatever food could contain that allergen, even if we already know it does, so it’s best to stay vague when declining invitations.

Healthy Hermit

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