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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m a grown-ass woman who has been through a few cycles of therapy that have (along with medication) helped my stress, anxiety, and ADHD. I’ve gotten to a point where I am financially self-sufficient, comfortable in my life and community, and blessed with a strong friends network. I’m not in a relationship and have no desire to pursue one. I’m ok.

Now I’m at the point where therapy always screws me up. It’s time to talk about setting long term goals. And…I don’t know what my long term goals are.

I’ve tried career counseling and I run into the same thing. I’d like to make more money. I can list things I’m good at. I don’t understand how to translate those into a better or different job and when I try to articulate this people tell me I have a lot of options and it depends on what I want to do. And there is nowhere to go from there. I have been at the same job for 12 years with no advancement even though as far as I can tell I am dependable and do good work. (I’ve applied for other positions in the same organization and never gotten one, and my precise job description is not one that transfers to another field or organization).

It seems like trying to do something else professionally is within my reach — a general overview of my accomplishments is greeted with ‘oh there are plenty of ways to use that’ but everything misfires at the point of ‘what do you want to do?’ ‘Oh I’m willing to try lots of [soft skills, writing and communicating, etc]’ ‘But what do you want to do?’ Very quickly I feel like a fool.

This doesn’t just apply to my personal life but creative work (writing, blogging) etc. The thing is I’ve been involved in some extremely fun and fulfilling projects and organizations but they always seem to result from serendipity. They’re not things I can ‘complete or ‘sell’ in the long term. Occasionally I’m jealous of people who have creative success or large audiences but generally speaking I don’t want the payoff enough to do it.

Basically, I’ve never had long term goals in my life and I don’t know how to start now. I don’t know WHY to start now, I just know that when I talk to my therapist in a couple weeks, I will cry and feel bad because I don’t have good answers (or I will make some shit up that I don’t really want to do.)

PS this has nothing to do with lockdown, I’m actually less stressed out working from home than I have been for a long time, and even before the economy tanked I felt the same about planning the future.

-Not Ambitious and Why Should I Be
(She/her)

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Hello! It’s Monday!

I wrote a piece for Vice about how to ride out quarantine when it means moving back in with the same people you wrote to me for advice about “surviving” holiday visits with.

It’s a good match for Miss Conduct’s column this week: “My daughter’s ‘useless’ boyfriend is sheltering in place with us: Help!”.

I love Robin’s take:

“Start assigning chores and asking him to pitch in financially. The fact that you didn’t do so before hasn’t created some sort of precedent barring you from ever doing so — a fallacy people often subscribe to. Nor does it mean any blame needs to be placed for past behavior.

And then let. It. Go. Stop thinking of this man as your daughter’s future husband. You will go crazy thinking about the future too much. He’s not your son-in-law right now. He’s a foxhole buddy, hunkered down with people he clearly feels wary of. Your goal should be to create and maintain sufficient structure for all of you to share space and resources equitably for however long this lasts. That’s it. That’s enough.”

Are some people being really bad guests and roommates during lockdown? Oh yeah. However, one person’s “useless” is another person who offered to help and was told “No! You’re a guest!” and didn’t know that there was a magic number of times he had to offer and be refused before he was allowed to help or another person’s “I’m going to go hang out by myself and give everyone some privacy.” As stated earlier, you can wait a long time for someone to both notice what you need and actually do it, so if you need something done, ask and be very, very specific.

My piece is part of Vice’s very good (independent of my own contributions) How To Stay In series, which has everything from how to handle being alone right now, ideas for safe socially-distanced date nights, how to structure your days when time has no meaning, how to talk to a partner about the future of your relationship when the future seems like a nebulous concept, and the excellent “What To Do When Everyone Needs Support But You’re Only One Person” that :checks inbox: NINETEEN of you need to read immediately. ❤ I especially like the concept of a “care budget” where you figure out what you need to be OK and function first and then figure out what you can do for others.

Are your roommates not taking the pandemic seriously? Here’s how to try to talk to them. One thing I’m noticing in the inbox is that if you are the stickler roommate (I would be the stickler roommate) your roommates might be sort of displacing their worry and anger at not being able to go out and do things onto you, like you are the barrier to their enjoyment of life, and I think this sucks a lot and it’s okay to push back. “You can’t go on ‘just a little weekend trip’ to visit your parents because there’s a contagious illness that makes people drown inside their lungs, not because I’m being mean. It’s okay to be mad – I’m angry too – but it’s not okay to take it out on me or blame me!” 

Wondering why video chat therapy kinda sucks and how to make it better? (No lie, I took a break from therapy for a few weeks because I could not handle any more talking about feelings in a format that I baseline find exhausting. I’m back in this week, but I’m glad I took a break to reset).

Looking for ways to hang out with friends on Zoom beyond “how…are…you” or “just catching up”? Several people wrote in about this and the answer is: You might need time limits & structured activities.

I’m going to write about this one more, but I want to put Brandy Jensen’s excellent Ask A Fuck Up answer here while I’m thinking about it: “How Do I Figure Out What I Want In Life When Every Day Feels The Same?” :chef’s kiss:

Finally, who wants to look at cats? Click to enjoy some of Daniel & Henrietta‘s recent antics in Tweet-thread form.

troublemint twins

The Troublemint Twins, who turned TWO YEARS OLD this week.

Comments are open. I’d like to know:

  • What is one link or online resource you have personally found helpful in processing pandemic manners, self-care, and/or interpersonal conflicts this week? (No medical advice or “medical” advice or medical “advice,” please).
  • Please keep it to one link per comment (the spam filter and your moderator’s eyes will be happier) and please tell us a little bit about why you chose it.
  • Not everything will be useful to everybody, but before you start an argument with a fellow poster about why something won’t work or isn’t useful, consider sharing something you personally find useful instead. Thank you!

Hey Captain!

I (she/her) really appreciated your response to Miserable In Quarantine. My partner (he/him) and I are fortunately getting along better than ever. It’s nice to remember that we are friends first with all this extra time. Even with (especially with) all this extra closeness, my partner and I totally agree with the importance of alone time. Here’s the rub: we have young kids. Five years old and two years old. They are delightful but they are also small yet loud bundles of need. So for one of us to get that coveted alone time, the other has to be on kid time.

Here’s an example: let’s say partner has six hours of meetings in a row. I’m with the kids, keeping everyone alive. He comes downstairs after work is done, genuinely says thank you and acknowledges my labor of caring for our kids. Then he asks if he can go for a run. I look at him like he asked me to walk on lava. I need some alone time! I’ve had a little monster attached to my boob most of the day! But I also realize, work calls are not alone time. Phone meetings are the worstttttt. He also needs time to recharge and be a human. There’s so little time in the day to give each other what we need, and we are floundering a bit. We are both committed to making sure we each get work time and self-care time, but sometimes commitment doesn’t make up for the logistical challenges to quarantining with young kids.

We recognize we are super fortunate and privileged to have this be our big issue during COVID-19. But I also believe that in order to sustain the mutual aid we’ve been doing, we have to make sure that we take care of ourselves as well. You’re so good at hacks and systems for dividing housework fairly and compassionately. Any tips for those of us stuck at home with sweet little bundles of need?

Thanks,

Please stop touching mommy for two minutes

Hello, (Please Stop Touching) Mommy!

I asked two of my favorite moms to weigh in on your question, and before I post their suggestions I will offer several observations about co-habitation & co-parenting conversations that the pandemic has made clearer and more urgent.

People often write to me looking for the one big meta-conversation they can have that sets up the parameters for How The Relationship Should Work From Now On so they can skip over the annoying day-to-day conflicts. Surely, we can both Outline Our Needs and Agree To A System for How This Should All Go, and once we do that, Nobody Will Have To Be Hurt Or Feel Weird Again! It’s so efficient!

Please know that I love everyone who thinks like this, I see you, I get you, I AM YOU. There are some people and some relationships where this kind of thing works – “Let’s agree to the big picture so the small picture will be easier!” – and when it does it’s so very lovely! Agreeing to ground rules and setting clear expectations is a useful skill, it gives everybody a starting point and a chance to be heard, it’s a useful project for figuring out how compatible people are, and trying it probably won’t worsen anything that’s already bad.

And yet!!!!!!!! (There’s always a yet) I also know without a doubt that there are people and relationships and topics where this approach 100% doesn’t work and might never work. You can have the big picture conversation, everybody can nod and agree, and you’ll still have to sweat some or a lot of the small stuff some of the time. The guy setting fire to his toilet paper in the office bathroom was never going to notice or respond to a general review of policies or guidelines, passive-aggressive notes (“Can we all remember not to create fire hazards in the office bathroom, thanks so much! 🙂 🙂 Cheers!!”), or the horrified and shocked faces in the neighboring cubefarm every time he needed to move some product. It was always going to take someone saying, “Hey you – SPECIFICALLY YOU – Do! Not! Light! Things! On! Fire! In! The! Bathroom!” every single time he does it until it stops or it happens enough times that he’s fired.

It’s easy to laugh at ol’ T. P. Burns in the office loo or think of all the ways that we are not like One Single Pancake Guy, but truly, stress doesn’t generally make people better at noticing things, and it’s even harder to extrapolate and apply knowledge to future behaviors, especially if – theoretically – all one’s extrapolation energy has been temporarily re-routed to catastrophizing worst case scenarios in an endless anxiety loop.

By which I mean, if you’re waiting for your partner to notice that you need respite from kids or waiting for a housemate to notice that a household task is piling up, you might wait a long time, and you’re probably going to have to ask, poke, gently remind, etc. even if you think you already had a good system going, even if you thought the other person got it, even if you think it should be obvious, even if in the other person’s shoes you would definitely notice and step up in that moment. If you’ve been stewing for a while about an ongoing thing, that’s valid, I believe you that there’s a reason for it and I recognize and honor your frustration. But it’s possible the other person doesn’t know about the psychic debt they accrued during the lengthy brining process and stewing-time for full grievance marination, and that their clock starts (and restarts) whenever you tell them it’s a problem.

If you’re usually the non-noticer in your household for whatever reason, no judgment, no shame, this is a great time to work harder on specifically that skill. At very least, if somebody you live with asks you to handle something, a) Probably…do…the thing? b) Do it between “now” and “soon” so they don’t have to keep reminding you? c) See what happens if you mentally add “from now on” to the request even if they didn’t say that, and act accordingly, by which I mean, do that thing/make that your task from now on unless you hear otherwise? d) Consider thanking them for telling you instead of resenting them for “nagging” you? e) Just, like, own the fact you’re not always on the ball about x and that reminders are necessary sometimes? f) If hairs are to be split, split them in the direction where you pick up more of the slack? Cool? Cool.

If you’re the designated noticer, I think that both the kindest, and the most productive way to handle this with people you like and love is to 1) be very direct about what you need to happen right now 2) without attaching the baggage of the past and what should definitely have happened there, to the extent you can manage that, and 3) experiment with not assuming that each request will automatically carry over to the future, like when you cancel the weekly exercise class you optimistically put in your online calendar back in January and the app helpfully asks if you want to cancel all future events and you pretend that you don’t, every week, literally forever. If you want a thing to happen from now on? Say “from now on.”

When I said “the most productive way” I meant: The way that has a chance of getting the person to do the thing you want them to do with the least friction or delay.

If you feel that Exasperated Parent Voice coming on in reference to another adult, like “An adult should know by now that ____” or “We’ve talked about this already, they should have learned by now!” you might not be wrong about what should be happening (toilet paper + fire = a general no-no even before it was legal tender for all debts public and private) and it’s okay to have a feeling about that, but – and I cannot emphasize this enough – when whatever should be happening isn’t happening, sometimes it’s a hierarchy:

  1. I need X to happen
  2. I need Y to realize that X should happen
  3. I need Y to realize that X should happen without me telling them or having to remind them
  4. I need Y to realize that X should happen without me reminding them, do X on their own, and also I need to express my feelings about Z
  5. I need Y to realize that X should happen, process Z feelings, and also repeat this reliably in the future without conflict or work from me.

What we generally want  – both practically and deep in our souls – is #5, all the time, always #5, the best number on this list is #5.

I am not a parent but I have 12+ years teaching adults to do complicated things with a steep learning curve and expensive, breakable equipment, and it is from that experience that I say: With the best of intentions on every side and every skill you possess, you can tell a person something that they deeply want to know, show them what to do and how to do it, give them many resources, references, and examples about how and what and why it’s important, remind them how and what and why and when, and then send them off to execute all of it on their own and it can still not quite take.

When that happens, shame, blame, exasperated reminders of what should have happened, “But how could you not knowwwwwwwwww,” “Come on, it was on the syllabussssssssss!” actually do literally nothing to change it. What sometimes changes the dynamic is going back to #1, breaking it down to the smallest next step, keeping expectations VERY small and VERY gentle, and trying to build up again from that.

Is it wise to build a permanent committed interdependent life with somebody where, you need #5, would be cool with #2-4 a lot of the time because nobody’s perfect or a mind reader, but with this person you feel like you always have to go back to #1, downgrade your expectations, and start negotiating again from scratch, especially when applied to the daily tasks of domestic life? No! Abort! Nobody is that sexy! (Letter Writer, fortunately this is not you, but it is definitely for some people in the Inbox.)

Does that mean you always have to be chill and never express frustrated feelings? Also no! Sometimes the answer to “do you want this to get done or do you want to be mad” is emphatically BOTH, and maybe exactly how pissed off you are is important information.

But when “please just get it done, preferably now (and from now on)” is the priority for survival or well-being, the gentle parent-voice, the one that uses lots of encouragement for good stuff and avoids shame, is the one you want, not the one that makes you secretly worry that you’re turning into your [most critical parent].

My inbox, my experience, and every single instinct I possess are all speaking with one voice about this kind of thing these days, and that voice says:

1) Yes, a global pandemic requires resetting lots of things, and the perceived value and gendered division of household labor and caregiving has got to be one of them.

2) Deep, involved, meta-conversations about How Should Our Relationship Work From Now On? and What Is The Platonic Ideal of Co-Parenting? can drain more energy than they save in the long run, or more accurately, drain more energy than everybody currently has budgeted in the short-run, and also become a magnet for all the upset and anxious feelings swirling around. With that in mind, a conversation you want (specifically you, Letter Writer) in your toolkit can be as simple as interrupting your husband’s runward trajectory, saying “Actually, can you pause your run until after dinner, I have got to hand you this baby for at least 30 minutes or I’m gonna freak out, thank you.” 

If you do that, probably what will happen is you will hand your partner the baby, and he will run later. And you may have a great bigger-picture conversation using the guide our guest posters outlined below about, hey, let’s figure out how to rebalance this load.

But also, you might have to renegotiate some of it every single day even if the big conversation goes great, if that makes sense, like some days he will definitely remember that it goes Work, Give Partner A Kid-Break, THEN Run and some days he might go on autopilot, some days you may schedule it all out and then his work will be extra sucky and he’ll be like “Please, please hang in for 1 more hour and then hurl the baby in my direction as you go to the room with the door that shuts, I got u, but I MUST run this off” and it’s not ’cause he doesn’t care or he secretly hates you or deep down he thinks it’s not really his job or because you didn’t Make It Clear Enough. Yep, it’s a deeply gendered issue, and yep, one can be both a Tool Of The Wretched Patriarchy and A Pretty Good Dude, and yep, until The Revolution comes sometimes you gotta take it one day – and one specific thing that needs to happen right now – at a time.

I will now turn you over to Actual Moms.™ First up is Mikki Kendall, code name @Karnythia, author of Hood Feminism and Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For Their Rights, gorgeously illustrated by A. D’Amico.

Mikki says:

It’s great that your partner thanks you, but your partner also needs to recognize that he doesn’t get to extend your workday in order for him to decompress immediately after work. If he wants to get off work and take a run? This is why jogging strollers were invented. Or taking turns on who gets to take a run first at the end of the workday. Because frankly caring for kids is work too, and your alone time should not be sacrificed because of 6 hours of meetings. He got to talk to adults (however ridiculous because honestly most meetings should be emails) while you dealt with breastfeeding and whining and neediness. He can spend an hour with at least two parts of that, and then take a run after you have a chance to take a break.

5 & 2 are super challenging ages, but only if you don’t start making them do some things without you! Five is a great age to be expected to play with your two year old sibling long enough for either parent to go to the bathroom or make a call. 5 & 2 are old enough to be assigned some chores too. Like sorting laundry or picking up toys. Bigger chores can be done together to keep them busy and engaged when they are awake (I actually cannot stress this part enough because so much of what you’re describing sounds like the kids aren’t doing as much for themselves as they could be) and kids will not fall apart if they are expected to contribute and then entertain themselves quietly in a room.

And yes, they get restless being inside all day. So, a dance party to tire them out mid-afternoon so that they will nap. My favorite trick, when our kids were little and January was a deep freeze that meant no time outside, was to get those glowsticks that you snap, turn off the lights and throw a baby rave in their bedroom with all of their favorite songs on a loop. I would cheat and put snacks & drinks in unspillable containers to minimize the need to leave the party. Finish up with a trip to the potty and wind down with softer music (and those lavender scented candles/sprays if that’s your bag) and you buy yourself an hour or two of afternoon nap. Do not spend nap time on chores. Spend nap time on yourself, whether that is eating a meal in peace or a shower or just staring into space, treat that break as sacrosanct.

Also, honestly now is a wonderful time to consider weaning your toddler. It sounds like you are consistently touched out and there is no reason to sacrifice your own emotional health in this way when you can start taking back your body. Yes, even from your child who loves to nurse but doesn’t actually need to do it to access good nutrition. You need to be kinder to yourself in general and gift your family the wonderful experience of doing more to take care of themselves without relying on you for literally everything. Also, though I don’t know your partner’s work environment, he’s going to need to step up and push back on this back to back meeting expectation whenever he can, because honestly no one should be subjected to 6 hours of phone calls during a pandemic.

Thank you Mikki! Your books are great and everyone should read them.

Next up is my dear Commander Logic:

CommanderLogic (she/her) reporting for duty. My kids are 5 and 7, MrLogic has a job that a) he can work from home and b) earns enough to support the family, and I am currently unemployed and therefore fully responsible for remote teaching the kids. We are lucky as HECK.

Letter Writer, you don’t say if you are also trying to work; it sounds like you have a similar situation to me. Lucky as it is, it’s still FRIKKIN’ HARD. There is a reason I did not choose teaching as my profession. There’s a reason that, even when I’m seasonally unemployed, we still pony up for childcare and camp and stuff. I love my children, but I am a better mom when I have some time entirely to myself. Right now, as I’m writing this, my 5yo is asking me “What should I doooooo?” while shooting down every option I give him, and my 7yo is trying to wheedle me into making a snack for her that she has known how to make herself for 2 years. They’re the best, but they are a lot.

When my first kid was first born, I had three months of paid maternity leave, and MrLogic and I had a biiig discussion about this:

  • Kids are a FULL-TIME job (and then some)
  • Keeping house is ALSO a FULL-TIME job
  • One (1) job is also a FULL-TIME job
  • And I could handle about 1.5 jobs.

In talking it over, we planned for when we were both employed (sooo much daycare money, y’all), and we planned for when one or the other of us was out of a job. It looks the same no matter who is the stay-at-home parent.

When your partner asked if he could go for a run, it’s the SAME as if, after his marathon of calls his boss had said “Oh, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind one extra 2 hour presentation?” You are working. It is a job that we HIRE and PAY (not enough) for: teachers and nannies and babysitters and housekeepers and therapists and cooks (through the magic of takeout) and and and.

I suspect that it wouldn’t have been so bad if at the beginning of the day, your partner had said he wanted to go for a run after work. You could have planned! You wouldn’t have been expecting the sweet release of Not Being In Charge at that time! You could have said “Yes, that’s fine if you’ll watch the kids right now while I go [do what you want].”

Your time is equally valuable to his. You have a workday. You need to not be at work sometimes, too, and it’s even harder for you because right now your work IS your home.

You and your partner sound like a good team, so this isn’t necessarily an argument, so much as a series of questions you need to talk through:

  • Do we agree that childcare and house management are two full jobs? (I MEAN OBVIOUSLY, but asking the question makes it a discussion instead of a lecture)
  • How do we schedule those jobs to give us both some downtime?
  • What would each of you want if your roles were reversed?
  • Is there a way to create a kid-free zone in your home? That either of you can use?
  • How do we create time for just the two of us together?
  • What are the rules of downtime?

If you’re both trying to work, there’s additional issues:

  • How do we schedule so one of us is the on-call parent for half each day?
  • What do we do if we both have a critical meeting at the same time?
  • What are the rules that your kids (may) understand about “I’m working”?

Early on in the lockdown, I was making lunch for everyone, and MrLogic watched me for a minute and said, “I feel really guilty that you’re making me lunch and doing all the kitchen stuff on top of teaching the kids.” And I said, “Well, this is my job right now, and I do it so you can do your job, so it’s ok. But DO PLEASE keep feeling guilty, and make dinner this weekend.” And he did. He’s really good at it.

Thank you Logic and LogicHaus!

Fun fact, MrLogic is the Dungeon Master for our weekly D&D game (now remote) and the NPCs all sound like he’s reading us a storybook and doing All The Voices, Dad-Style, and it’s just the best. My character doesn’t really like killing things, especially intelligent beings (D&D is so goblinist!), so I keep asking everyone and everything we meet its name both because I think it helps with persuasion and because once you Have A Name maybe we don’t have to have Teh Violence, and it’s very fun to make him have to brainstorm names on the fly, which is how you get an entire squad of bugbears named Steve, Other Steve, and Steves III-V (who we did NOT kill, though there was some unfortunate wounding). ❤

Letter Writer, I hope somewhere in there is a framework to hang these conversations on and get yourself some respite. You sound like a great mom and partner and I’m glad things are going mostly okay. You also get ❤ emoji.

There is literally no way I  – a non-parent – am moderating a parenting discussion on these internets in the year 2020 even without heightened pandemic anxieties, so, Awkward out, and ❤ emojis for all.

Rachel Miller is at VICE today getting an important thing out on the table: “The Answer To All Your “Social Distancing Loophole Questions is ‘No.‘”

“But what about my Really Good Reason that I Must go out/gather?” you may be asking.

Good news, it’s covered in the piece!

“Are there exceptions to this rule? Of course. There always are. But an inconvenience is not an exception. And my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.”

If you’re not safe at home, if you have an essential job and must leave, if you are needed by someone in an emergency capacity, if you are the designated grocery shopper/prescription picker-upper/errand runner in your family or friend group, if you have a medical appointment that has to be in person…then take care of yourself and your business. The dog needs to go to the bathroom several times a day, so, mask up and walk your dog. I believe you about what you need. But a personal exemption pass does not exist. The virus doesn’t grant them, nor does my inbox. If you need to go out then you need to go out. If you need a reality check, check in with a close friend or someone else you trust. You don’t need to tell me about it and ask for an internet permission slip.

Consider that people continually proposing and asking for exceptions in public, on social media  – what friend-of-blog Jake refers to as “Edge-Case Bob” behaviors – are doing harm by giving cover to the folks who are looking for excuses. This is not a time for brainstorming all the ways that a rule might not apply to you, not really. It’s a time for brainstorming how to take care of yourself and your loved ones and your community within the rules, and making the necessary exceptions small and quiet.

I’ve been getting media requests since my Vox piece and since being a source for some  L.A. Times pieces by the excellent Jessica Roy (“How To Help Your Marriage Survive Coronavirus,” and “Coronavirus Social Distancing Etiquette“) and a lot of them are about looking for loopholes or about talking to neighbors, family, community members who are Doing It Wrong. Here’s my blanket statement about that:

You can control you and people in your immediate household that you have responsibility for (i.e. parents are in charge of their own kids). You can wear a mask. You can limit your errands and be respectful to retail workers. You can stop hosting and attending gatherings.

You can often influence people you know well who will listen to you. (Revisit one strategy here). When someone invites you to a gathering? You can say “No, and also, wtf are you doing?” You can combat misinformation, spread good information, and do what you can.

You can ask strangers who are endangering you to take precautions. “Hey, my dog needs more time to finish her business, can you walk on the other side of the street and I’ll take this one.” “Can you back up at least six feet while we’re waiting in line?” If they won’t do the right thing, the one thing you can control is you, so if it comes down to it, then YOU move. You move to where you are safer, and let them do their thing.

If you didn’t know your neighbors before this, the place to start getting to know them is offering mutual aid & cooperation, not policing. The police are not The Manager.

“I’m going to the store, can I get you anything – I’ll leave it on your porch” is a start of a relationship with a neighbor. “I’m happy to get your mail when I get mine and leave it outside your door so you don’t have to take the stairs, will that work?” is a good favor to offer to a neighbor with mobility issues. “I have an extra mask that doesn’t fit me right, maybe it will fit you? I’ll leave it on your doorknob.” From there maybe you can have the “I’ll text you when I finish my laundry so we don’t both have to be in here at the same time” conversation or the “Wait, are you having people over? That’s really not safe!” conversation. If your Next Door and other neighborhood social media communities aren’t about “How do we help each other through this, what do you need and how can we get it to you?” then either turn them into that or delete them.

It was always violent and dangerous for white people to call the cops in non-white neighborhoods and communities. That danger multiplies when a) people are stressed the fuck out and b) when prisons and jails are a petri dish of Covid-19 cases. We need our neighbors OUT of the jails, don’t put more inside! Every time I say this somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they *had* to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob? If it’s not an immediate life-or-death emergency, and you feel weird having a potentially awkward or high-conflict conversation with a neighbor, one way you can make it 10,000 times less weird is to NOT add someone with a gun to the equation. People on my block had family gatherings Easter weekend and it sucked because I know that people can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus, but what I can control is staying in my own house so that’s what I did. If we didn’t know each other before this, me coming on like the voice of White Lady Manners Authority isn’t getting it done!

(While we’re here, if you are not in an actual prison right now, then your quarantine experience is literally nothing like prison. Find a different simile, say two Hail Marys and donate to your local community bond fund. Thank you.)

I’m the kind of asthmatic where a common cold can turn into bronchitis can turn into torn cartilage in my ribcage and tests for pneumonia because anything remotely respiratory likes to root deep into my lungs like kudzu and flourish there. I’m gonna be inside like a little cosmonaut until there is a vaccine & reliable treatment; my doctor said “think in terms of a year, though really it takes 18-24 months to get a vaccine out and the virus will mutate the whole time.” I am honestly terrified of getting sick – I know pretty definitively that it will not go well. I’m terrified of Mr. Awkward getting sick, or of us spreading it to each other. My continued life depends on the essential workers and the friends who brave outside to bring us supplies, and I’m cycling through all possible 197 stages of grief about the prospect of probably never moving through the world in an uncomplicated way again, contrasted with the guilt of being one of the people lucky enough that I can stay at home. I’m having “Ok so if I die, please_____” conversations that aren’t theoretical. So this isn’t one of those days where I can be “strong” or encouraging or lift people up, and I’m sorry. I don’t know what the new normal looks like. I literally can’t remember what “okay” feels like, will I even recognize it if it shows up again?

What I do know is that trying to hold onto the old normal for ourselves at the expense of others’ safety means a dangerous magical thinking. As Rachel Miller writes:

“Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.

And as a professional-etiquette-and behavior sort-of-person, I echo this part pretty strongly:

I hope that people’s questions about “good” behavior during this pandemic will soon begin to shift to ones rooted in the assumption that we’re committed to social distancing, public health, flattening the curve, and not getting others or ourselves sick. What should I do with all the beans I bought a month agoWhat should I do about this crushing loneliness I feel when I can’t see people IRLShould I flirt with the roommate I’ve developed a crush onShould I cut my own bangs?

But if you know, deep down, that your question is just a fresh rephrasing of, “May I be granted one (1) exception to the CDC recommendations in order to be a little less uncomfortable because I think my needs are more important than others’?” The answer is no. Someday the answer will be yes. I’d say I can’t wait for that day, but I can, and I will—because it’s right and we must.

And that’s what it comes down to, in the end. I would trade so much suckitude if it meant that all of you could still here in the world with me when I finally can go back outside. And those are the stakes we’re playing for, we are fighting to keep precious, irreplaceable people and the people who love them in the world, we are fighting against the overwhelming and pervasive pressure to reclaim some past idea of normal in exchange for some “acceptable” number of deaths.

To that I say: Masks on, full hearts, might lose, fight anyway. 

Hi Captain,

(I’M SORRY THIS IS SO LONG I’M SO BAD AT TL;DR’ing)

I’ve (she/her, 26) been with my partner “T” (he/him, 29) for close to a year and a half. The first year of our relationship was almost completely smooth sailing and we were both pretty sure we’d found The One. We used to joke that the “honeymoon phase” hadn’t ended for us yet.

Around a year in, we started to hit a rough patch related to our relationship being non-monogamous (but that’s not what I plan to talk about in this email). We started going to couples therapy. I was satisfied with that solution and felt good and hopeful about being able to solve the bumps we’d been going through.

Somewhere around then, T and I happened to be on a day trip to visit old friends of his several states away in VA – where he used to live before moving to NYC (where we both live now). While on this trip to VA, a friend of T’s basically begged him to move back there and take his old job back. I suggested that we move to VA. He often speaks of that job quite favorably and only moved to NYC to achieve a personal goal for himself. I have been unhappy in NYC for a while now and am VERY ready to leave. Despite the bumps in the road, I was confident we were on a good path to get through them. Moving several states away with T felt exciting and like a comfortable leap for us to take. We already spend 5-6 nights a week together here and its basically as if we already live together. He agreed and over the next month or so we began to seriously put our moving plans in motion. We found an apartment in VA and signed a lease for June 3, 2020.

Jump forward about 3 months and we are now quarantined together for going on 4 weeks now thanks to COVID-19. Things have been…..bleak. Both T and I are newly out of jobs. We both have pre-existing mental health issues and are now…..both incredibly depressed. I am struggling big time with the fact that T now seems to have no capacity (/interest?) for affection, romance, etc to me. We’ve been fighting a fair amount (which in the first year of our relationship was quite uncommon). When we aren’t fighting we’re usually sitting on opposite sides of the couch or lying in bed next to each other doing separate activities. We aren’t having sex, we are barely even cuddling. I have to ask him for hugs, kisses, sex (which gets turned down), ANYTHING and I’m starting to get insanely resentful. I don’t remember the last time he did something nice or thoughtful for me “just because.” I’m at the point where I’m doubting my feelings for him and starting to doubt the impending move too. I should note that I’m also quarantined at his apartment (I have my own apartment but my roommate has COVID – its not safe for me to go there or bounce back and forth between both places) and there are no signs of the quarantine being lifted so it seems that I can look forward to another month or 2 here, receiving the same treatment. I am miserable.

I have told T that I need more verbal and physical affection from him. He has been receptive to me voicing my needs but also told me that his mental state is focused on keeping himself afloat and not feeling suicidal so he has very little bandwidth for me. He also says “I’m just not really good at the type of romance you’re asking for.” (I asked him if we could do one nice thing for each other per day and if we could tell each other something we appreciate about each other each night before bed.) While I understand his struggles with mental health, this sucks. I am a person who needs affection and romance from my partner and sometimes I want to not be the one initiating it. I’m happy to model that affection and romance I’d like to receive….for a while. After a while of it not being reciprocated I start to get resentful, sulky, and stop wanting to put the effort in myself.

No idea if I can take 2 more months of this. I don’t even know if I want to move with him now. I feel incredibly emotionally neglected. I’ve asked for what I wanted and haven’t gotten it. I know I need to be sensitive to his mental state during an unprecedented and incredibly stressful time, but I also need to feel like my partner loves and appreciates me. What conversation should I be having with T about all this? Should I still be trying to save the relationship and have my needs for affection met.. or should I be ending it and cancelling the move? Do I need to adjust my expectations and be more sensitive to him?

Please help me

Miserable in Quarantine

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Hi,

I live in an area that is under a shelter-in-place order due to COVID-19. A few of my friends have been inviting me to activities that violate the order. My go-to excuse (and the truth) has been bringing up that I live with a high-risk individual, so I’m going to stick to the shelter-in-place order. Thing is, the invitations are still coming, and sometimes with encouragement along the lines of “none of us have symptoms” or “I have hand sanitizer so you’ll be fine.” Any advice for turning down these kind of invitations once and for all while also keeping friendships intact?

Thanks! (she/her)

Hello! Thank you for your timely letter.

Mr. Awkward made something for you over the weekend in honor of his sister, an ICU nurse who can’t stay home. Samuel. L. Jackson is also on the case.

I wrote this (full of scripts) for Vox  last week. Please allow me to respond to all the people who have dug up my personal email to express their indignation since:

1. My editor assigned the story to be about younger adults trying to get through to their parents and grandparents, because that is a thing that is happening. If they had assigned me the story targeting young people or “everyone, everywhere,” I would have written that one.

Me: “X is a problem, here’s what you can do about it.”

My Inbox: “But what about Y? Why are you IGNORING Y?”

Logic: “Weirdly, both X and Y can be problems at the same time.”

Good news, everyone: The suggested scripts & strategies in the piece can probably be adapted for people of all ages, since I wrote “You can be asymptomatic but still spread it to other people, so I’m erring on the safe side” not “You A BABY-BOOMER AND YOU ALONE can be asymptomatic ONLY OLDER PEOPLE, NOT YOUNGER PEOPLE, DON’T READ THIS OR LISTEN but still spread it to other people HAHAHA ONLY THE OLD, so I’m erring on the safe side DON’T READ THIS, YOUNGS.”

2. If you are staying at home, good! Also, maybe this doesn’t apply to you and you are not being personally called out and you do not have to personally let me personally know?

3. “You said ‘stay inside‘ but our GrEaT NaTioN has MaNy AcREs of wILdERnesS and NaTIOnal ParKS which are technically oUtSiED

Ha, you really got me there! Question: Can you get back and forth to one of those without stopping along the way for gas, food, beverages, bathroom breaks, or needing to interact with any staff of anything anywhere? P.S. Life comes at you fast.

Also, I got enough emails with this specific take that I have to ask: Was there a meeting? Or a club? If so, please unsubscribe me from your newsletter.

4. Fully half of you are writing from Florida where your politicians have decided to imitate the Mayor in JAWS. I promise I was not the one keeping beaches open where you live, so if you’d like to yell at someone who was, here is your governor’s contact info. I know you know how to write indignant emails, so, get going! Or, maybe he will find video easier to digest.

If I sound upset it’s because I am. I haven’t lost anybody I personally know as of today,, but people I love are sick, and death is creeping in inexorably around the edges of my circles and making itself at home there. I want to live. I want you to live. I want everybody’s most dipshit friends and family members of all ages to live. I even want the people in power who say “relax, don’t panic, go out and have fun” when they mean “keep spending money, STONKS! may depend on it” to live, okay, yes, it’s mostly so I can see them tried at The Hague for their crimes against humanity, but I still want there to be a tomorrow for them. There are things that we can do to stem the tide, so let’s fucking do them already.

Which is why I say, bluntly, Letter Writer, the longer your friends stay addicted to magical thinking, the more people are put at risk and the longer all of us will have to stay inside. Their justifications are bullshit:

So my recommendation for you is, if polite demurrals aren’t working, maybe…don’t be polite about it anymore? Like, at all? “No, I’m not coming, also WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” Stop trying to figure out the nice way to say it, don’t watch your tone, forget hints. You can’t be serious.” 

You may get your “let’s put the social in social distancing with game night, at my place!” buds to reconsider their behavior. You may make them so angry that they keep having gatherings but don’t invite you to things anymore. Your job is not to soothe them or smooth it over, your job is to live through this. I know you want to keep your friendships intact, but to do that, you and they and everyone they know needs to actually be alive. Probably 99% of the time I am of the school of “my personal life choices aren’t a comment on yours, live your life, Friend, I’m not doing this At You” but this is an exception. You can’t control what your friends will do, but you can absolutely refuse to validate it, enable it, or pretend it’s okay.

I know my fellow country-people are hardcore bright-siders who think “overreacting” is the worst thing a person can possibly do and whose favorite activity is to debate about the exact correct level of reaction one should have to every possible stimulus, but let’s risk it this one time, okay? Experts are saying: REACT.

If they’re wrong and I’m wrong, I’d love to be wrong, being wrong would be the absolute best-case scenario, we can celebrate how wrong I was and how silly all the scientists were together someday when there’s a vaccine and a reliable anti-viral, i.e. the next time I will be able to safely leave my house. We can stand uncomfortably close, lick each other’s faces, and rub our sticky hands on all the railings and lampposts we see, I’ll show you my quarantine birdsnest hairstyle and babysit everyone’s children so y’all can go on dinner dates.

Until then!!!!!!!!: Be the weird mask person and hard core shut-in you want to see in the world, without apology.

Hi Captain,

My mother and I have always wanted different frequencies of interaction. After I moved out for university, at a holiday party my mother announced the only gift she ever wanted from me was daily phone calls – even her friends were incredulous. She tends to call any hour of the day, hitting redial up to a dozen times if I don’t answer. Calls can be about anything, from “are you free tonight” to an extended vent session about my father or brother (who still lives at home). No call has ever been an emergency – I found out my father broke his wrist a week after it happened, via Facebook, despite my mother and I talking in-between.

Over the last few years, I’ve become better at enforcing manageable levels of communication – proactively calling her on weekends for a chat, making up vague excuses, explicitly saying I won’t answer/call back unless I’m free. This had the side effect of every conversation starting with how I’m too busy and don’t prioritise family. After the first few hour-long complaints, it’s now usually only a throwaway comment per call.

With COVID-19, we’re all under Shelter-in-Place. Now she knows I’m not busy and she wants the daily calls again. Additionally, she wants to use them to teach me her native language. Even if I didn’t find daily calls with my mother draining – daily phone calls that require homework and family/diaspora guilt?

I know we’re in anxious times and we should all reach out and connect with each other. I am also worried about my parents – my father is likely high risk, my brother maybe so, and my mother is a healthcare worker (not frontline, but still in a hospital).

I’ve tried suggesting using a language app/online course and having weekly conversation practice – no dice. I’ve tried suggesting weekend catch-up calls without the homework, but then comes the guilt. We text occasionally with pictures of the garden, but that doesn’t cut it. Digital game nights and Netflix-parties are also out.

I’m tired and stressed and I want to connect with my mother – but not at the expense of my own mental health. Suggestions? Scripts?

– At home doesn’t mean on-call (she/her)

Thank you

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