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Dear Captain Awkward;

Hello! I am 48 years old, pronouns she/her, and having trouble with my parents, specifically, my mother and her hoarding. My mom is trying to give more stuff to me than I can handle, and the lever she pulls to make it more painful is, “but it was your grandmother’s.” if I take everything that falls into this category, my home will be a literal shrine to my grandmother, and that’s spooky.

A year and a half ago, I quit working full-time to take care of my parents. For various health-related reasons, they couldn’t care for themselves anymore. They are due to move into a retirement community in about six weeks. My mom’s hoarding problem has been Bad since the 90s, and worsening since. They can still use normal sanitation (toilets, trash cans), my mom can bathe and groom herself when she wants to, they have clean bathrooms available, my mom can prepare meals and do laundry, as long as I’m there at least three days a week to clear her clutter away from high-traffic areas.

My father’s mother was a nearly perfect person. She was a perfect hostess, wife, mother, friend, volunteer, grandmother, great-aunt. Everyone who knew her loved her. She was always generous with time, effort, money, support. I look a lot like her, and apparently a lot of my mannerisms are similar.

My father’s mother died when I was 23. I went into a spiral of unhealthy behavior for about ten years after that, but managed to pull myself out.

When I was growing up, my mother’s mother died when I was about five, and my father’s mother filled that void for my mom. When my dad’s mom moved into a retirement community, we inherited most of her furniture. When she died, we inherited the rest of it. My mom developed a fascination with antiques and ceramics, and a bad shopping habit. She started volunteering at her church thrift shop (as my grandmother did), and brings home stuff every week, unless I’m there to stop her from doing it.

My husband and I moved into a new house, to take on the responsibility of having my brother (who has autism) move in with us. My mom feels that “part of the deal” is that I will take her furniture and collectibles, most of which were my grandmother’s. This “deal” feels like I’m taking on all the physical and emotional responsibilities that my grandmother did in the past: being the family maternal type who does all the physical and emotional labor, creating the perfect home, etc.

So, now, “but it was your graaaandmother’s” is an argument that’s applied to everything from the armchair upon which she stitched the needlepoint cushions, to warped Tupperware from the 1950s. It’s bad enough that my mom thinks she should save everything (jars, twist ties, junk mail, anything) and re-use it, because my grandmother was always thrifty. My grandmother wasn’t a hoarder. She used the same wrapping paper for Christmas every year, she had a “waste not, want not” mentality, but that was an exception to a general rule.

I’m already getting therapy for my own hoarding tendencies. My husband gets exasperated with how slowly I sort out a box of stuff, but I have practice getting rid of things that I don’t need, and I’m getting to be good at it. I like making a box or bag of donations on a Saturday or Sunday morning, taking it to a donation center and going for brunch at the diner afterwards.

The rock-and-a-hard-place moment happened a week or so ago. I said that I regretted not being able to develop my own taste. That made her really mad. I have said to my mom that I need to make my own living environment look the way I like it to be. I’ve said that I need to make my home comfortable on my own time table. These statements made her angry. She expects that I will furnish and decorate my home with my grandmother’s things, in my grandmother’s style. She wrote me an angry email saying that I have no taste, that I need to develop an eye, and that someday I would come to realize that my grandmother’s furniture was better than anything else out there. When I asked my mother about it, she pretended it wasn’t a big deal and laughed it off.

If I accept all of the stuff that my mom is pressuring me to take, my house will look like an overloaded furniture store from the 1920s, with framed family photos on every wall and surface, and my grandmother’s wedding dress on a mannequin. I don’t want to live in a shrine or museum.

Behavior, rather than stuff, is an issue here too. Because of my dad’s health issues, he behaves like a child most of the time. If I treat him like how his mother would treat him, we get along fine (i.e., “sure, you can have another cookie before your nap.”), but if I treat him like a daughter, he gets angry, My mom needs me to indulge her rather than give her structure, i.e., “we don’t have to fold the laundry, you can take a nap.” I think they expect me to take care of them as my grandmother took care of others.

I miss my grandmother every single day, and no objects will change that. I’d rather remember her for the things she did and said, rather than the things she bought and kept. I’d like to move on with my life and do new things.

So, how do I say to my mom, “please stop expecting me to be Grandmom?”

Thanks for your time and consideration.
Sincerely,
Shackled To Heirlooms

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Hello Gentle and Attractive Readers!

I’ve got a mix of very cool and very weird stuff to announce.

COOL: I’m working with Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary to get a series of book projects into the world. CaptainAwkward.com-based books. Essay books.

WEIRD: Tomorrow I am having a minor surgical procedure to hopefully take care of “Guillaume,” the giant uterine fibroid tumor who has been stealing my life force. I am very excited to get to the bottom of a long medical mystery involving nine-day periods, having to pee all the time, and many many many invasive and expensive tests but I’m also going to taking it very easy for a few days.

COOL: We’re hosting a very excellent guest blogger this week. Meet Lenée!

Here’s her bio: Lenée is a fat, Black, queer femme who lives in Philadelphia. She’s a lover of Black music, Steven Universe, true crime, and doing the electric slide whenever possible. A new plant mom, Lenée writes on occasion and usually tweets as @dopegirlfresh.

Here’s the story: Lenée and I know each other from Twitter, where I could not tell you exactly what first brought us together or when. Did I come for her wise, compassionate, and knowledgeable writing about mental health, race, politics, bodies, sexuality, feminism, and pop culture and stay for the jokes? Wherever it started, it turned into one of those lucky social media friendships where you enjoy someone’s feed and then you exchange a few cautious bread crumbs like you’re in the first half of that Emily Dickinson “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?” poem -and then suddenly it’s like this [a loose adaptation & extreme distillation of a years-long process]:

“You seem like you don’t suck! A rarity on this hellsite!”

“You also…don’t suck? Novel indeed!”

“I saw you have some weird body stuff going on. Wanna talk about it?

“Yeah DM me”

“Ok we’re friends now just so you know <3”

“Obviously <3”

A few weeks ago Lenée tweeted something about wishing she could take over my site for a week and I knew I was gonna be out of commission early this month so we hatched a plan. She wrote a series of posts for the site and I’ve scheduled them to go up while I’m recuperating. Comments will be off [you lot are wonderful but I wouldn’t let anyone do this without backup] but we’ll have an open thread  to close out the week when I’m back at my desk.

One benefit of collaboration is seeing how other people approach the work you do. I didn’t assign her questions, I just let her at the unfiltered inbox for a few days, and it was fascinating for me to see what she would choose. I’m very happy with the results and I hope you’ll enjoy reading her perspectives as much as I did.

P.S. ALSO COOL: I’ve been meaning to link to this excellent “Ask A Fuck-Up” column on “closure”  forever now, here it is, I think Brandy nailed what makes it so hard to let go of someone.

There you go. If that’s not enough to tide you over and you need jokes, here’s a (no spoilers) recap I wrote of every episode of Queer Eye on Patreon  which should be public by now. Be sweet, see you all soon I hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Captain and Company!

About a year and a half ago I had my primary outbreak of genital herpes. It was excruciating, both physically and emotionally, but I’m finally starting to pick up the pieces and feel like myself again. I’m starting to feel like I maybe want to date again, finally (yay), but I’d like to be prepared for the inevitable awkwardness of telling a hypothetical partner about the herpes. It’s an awkward enough conversation to have when you don’t have anything communicable. Herpes isn’t the biggest deal as far as STIs go, but it isn’t kittens and rainbows, either. Being honest has always been important to me, but it’s even more important to me now since the person I got it from wasn’t– between telling me he’d been tested, that he’d tested negative over six months after my outbreak, and that he’d show me his test results, there was certainly a lie. Herpes doesn’t happen spontaneously, and his test results never materialized. So I really, REALLY want to be open and honest about it.

I’m not really super into PIV sex, but I really like to cuddle, and sloppy, sexy makeouts are fun! And low-risk, if pants stay on, which I kind of want them to until I’m sure that the person I’m making out with is someone I can really trust and connect with. I’d really like to be able to bring up the conversation waaaay ahead of time, and to maybe talk about the kinds of things I do and don’t want to do, and how to manage the herpes and be safe and really, to give the other person a chance to really decide about whether they want to have fun sexy times with me. I know this sort of thing probably just takes practice and will always probably be awkward, but do you have any ideas about how to have that conversation? Any advice for minimizing stammering and embarrassment during it?

In herpitude,
Dental Dams Are Your Friends

Hi Dental Dams. This is Elodie Under Glass here. I am so sorry that this happened to you, and so happy that you are getting better.

I am really glad that you wrote in. You sound like you’ve already got your feelings well in order, which I admire. And you’ve opened up a great new topic to tackle: STDs.

When the good Captain offered me the chance to answer your question, I was initially super-excited because it’s a really, really good question – but also pretty nervous, because immediately I was like “I am unqualified to answer this question, for I have rarely negotiated sexytimes/STDs with strange men!”  followed by realizing that this question, like all questions, runs far deeper than that.

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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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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have had a very complex life in the last couple of years. I have gone from having a fairly normal life in regards to health and then I went on dialysis. Since that point I now have a kidney transplant.

My girlfriend currently has a really hard time wrapping her mind around the changes in lifestyle that I have to live. She almost finds my precautions somewhat unbearable.

What should I do? She also makes fun of my situation or lightheartedly jokes about it.

Unfortunately they don’t offer empathy transplants.

Was your girlfriend with you since before the changes? Because I would imagine that watching a partner go through dialysis and a kidney transplant would make it sink in that 1) Hey, you could have DIED 2) Following your doctors’ recommendations carefully is  serious business. If she met you after the changes, maybe the seriousness of it hasn’t really sunk in. Which isn’t an excuse, but it gives you a place to start in deepening her perspective.

If you want to try to make things work with this person, I think there is both a Big Serious Talk to be had and some day-to-day scripts.

The daily script is, when she makes a joke, to say something like “Whoa, that really hurts my feelings.”

After you say that, be quiet, and listen to what happens next. There is going to be a very awkward moment, and it is not your job to smooth it over – the awkwardness is the way that you get to the resolution. If she stops, apologizes, and changes her behavior, that’s a good sign. If you’ve been putting up with the jokes for a while, it may take a few tries for it to sink in – you are subtly changing the “rules” of how the relationship works and some people don’t get it right away. You can openly acknowledge the rule change with “I know I usually let it go, but….” or “I know you mean that as a joke, but….” when you say things like that, it really hurts my feelings. Can we find another way to talk about x issue?

If after saying that her jokes hurt your feelings, she doubles down on the joking, or starts justifying why it’s okay for her to make jokes that hurt your feelings, she is pressuring you to ignore your healthy routines, she calls you “too sensitive” and tells you to “toughen up,” or for whatever reason the conversation ends with you apologizing to her for bringing it up and being upset, here there be Evil Bees.

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I’m in grad school for creative writing. It’s hard. Right now, I’m taking three classes, which means that I’m reading 500-plus pages a week, in addition to commenting on my classmates’ writing and producing a poem every week. Plus, I’m teaching a basic composition course for struggling writers, and a literature course (for the first time ever), so I’m writing lesson plans and grading essays for nearly 60 students. AND I work ten hours a week to supplement my stipend enough to buy things like toiletries, books and the occasional beer on a Friday night. Also, I need to clean my apartment and do laundry and run errands sometimes. And in addition to all of THAT, I’m expected to participate in meetings, go to outside lectures, and attend all the readings by my classmates and visiting writers. And I WANT to, because oh my god I love school. School is the best thing ever. I work my ass off and I LOVE IT. This is not really about grad school.

Millay

What people think an MFA is like.

Except it kind of is. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes, among other things, crushing migraines and extreme fatigue. And there’s no cure for it, because ovaries, ew. Mostly, I manage. But there are days when I can barely drag myself around, and did I mention all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing? Sometimes I can’t do it all. Sometimes my whole body feels like a bag of wet sand that I’m not strong enough to lift. Sometimes I have to lie down and rest before I die. So I miss the reading, or the lecture, or the lunch meeting.

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Back when we changed the format for submitting questions, I strongly encouraged people who were currently experiencing a crisis to call a hotline or helpline and talk to a friendly person rather than wait for me to sort through the bulging email box and get to their question. The questioners who wanted help  composing their suicide notes, the questioners who had possibly just been sexually assaulted and wanted me to tell them if they really had been, the questioners who were literally holding ice packs to their faces in the aftermath of partner violence were definitely 100% Above My Pay Grade. It was unhelpful and dangerous for them to wait; it was overwhelming for me to try to run a crisis hotline out of my email.

The excellent PFC Marie pointed out that the prospect of calling a hotline was daunting and wouldn’t have necessarily occurred to her when she was in crisis mode, and suggested that we find someone who had worked on one to demystify the process. Thankfully, one of our community members stepped forward. Their experience is obviously not universal to every kind of hotline/helpline, but hopefully it will help people feel less nervous about picking up the phone. Hopefully other volunteers will weigh in and give a diversity of experiences and what to expect. The poster has asked to remain anonymous for this post, which is kind of the point of hotlines when you think about it.

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