Tag Archives: speaking up

Oh Captain My Captain;

I rent a room in a house with a pretty nice family, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. They’re very friendly and open, their eldest son and I share a lot of interests, and they aren’t really judgmental, though they are very vocal about their political views and beliefs, they know I don’t get involved in that sort of stuff and seem to respect my space as far as that’s concerned.

The problem is respecting space as far as everything else – I do my part around the house, cleaning bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, laundry, helping care for their 19 year old cat and doing pretty much anything I can to make myself useful. My landlords, a married couple, also have two of their adult children living with them because finances suck for everyone except the elderly rich, which we are not among. Their kids, even though they are adults, are still very close to their parents and depend on them for a lot, and basically come off as young teens in a lot of ways. The main problem seems to stem from the fact that, although I am not one of their kids, because I’m younger than their kids they seem to feel the need to parent me.

Whenever I get anything in the mail, they want to know what it is, who it’s from, if it’s a package they want to hover over me and see what it is, who I ordered it from, how much did it cost, was it made in the USA? They have come in my room without permission several times, always ask me when I will be at work, how many hours I’m getting, what I’m paid, if I go out somewhere that isn’t work related where did I go, did I buy anything there? I can’t bring home so much as a single shopping bag without being interrogated or having it pawed through and my purchases commented on, along with how I dress, where I work, basically everything I do. They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!

I’m a very private person, and I hate discussing money with anyone, particularly when it’s really none of their business, and I really don’t want my every purchase judged and pawed through. I am one of those people that doesn’t want to talk about my day, I don’t want to talk about what happened at work or if I got a raise or if I bought lunch or something. I don’t like talking to people in general, but I try my best to at least be nice. It’s started creeping me out a lot that I can’t walk anywhere near the door with my keys without getting an interrogation on where I’m going, who I’m going with if anyone, what I’m buying, et cetera. If they had to drive me places, yeah, fine, I could understand them needing to know my work schedule or if I needed to go buy stuff or something, but I have my own car and drive myself everywhere so there is no reason they need to know any of this stuff. They also try to include me in their family events, even big holiday stuff like Christmas or Thanksgiving, even when they’re super loud and generally not the kind of thing I’d go within a hundred miles of if I didn’t live here, but when I live in the same house it’s kind of hard to avoid without it being painfully obvious that I’m avoiding it, particularly since I’m not social and generally don’t go anywhere other than work.

They seem to have semi-adopted me as one of their own kids, which is kind of problematic on it’s own, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Do you have a way for me to politely tell them to back off and stop questioning me about everything I do? I intend to move out soon, so I’ll have my privacy again eventually, but until then I’d like to get back at least a bit of privacy while I live here, without making things tense or possibly making them angry. They are a very close-knit, openly affectionate, rather loud kind of family, so I’m not sure they can even understand that no, I don’t really want to take part in all the loud, boisterous family stuff they do because I’m just not that kind of person. I like my quiet and privacy, and I would like to get some of that back.

Any ideas?


Not Their Kid

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Dear Person,

My friends have gotten into the habit of calling me by a nickname, which would be wonderful if they had asked first, but otherwise I’m okay with it. The problem comes when they introduce me to people using that nickname, leading those people to think that it’s my real name and so they use it too. So now I have a dozen people all calling me by a nickname and I can’t help but flinch inwardly when they use it. I want them to call me by my actual name but I don’t know how to tell them that and I don’t know how to broach the subject of not introducing me with it to my friends either. To be quite honest, I’d prefer a few of my friends to stop calling me by it too but I don’t know how to tell them to stop without making them feel bad about it. I’m also worried that bringing it up at all will be disregarded or made fun of because to them it’s just a name and doesn’t have any meaning while to me it means a whole frakking lot. Is there any way to fix this?

There is a way to fix this. There is no way to do it without risking making your friends feel bad.

But right now, YOU feel bad. Because having someone consistently mess up or diminish your name is dehumanizing.

And how your friends feel about misnaming you is firmly under the heading of Their Shit To Deal With On Their Own Time. Embarrassed? Sad you didn’t correct them before? Justified and wanting to argue that what they do is ok? Whatever they feel, it is not your problem, and it will pass soon.

This is important, and it’s important that you give yourself permission to speak up about it!

So, the way to do this is to wait until one of them uses the nickname, and say “Hey, that reminds me. I’d prefer to go by (Actual Name) from now on, thanks.” And when they introduce you to someone new, hold out your hand and say “Actually, my name is (Real Name). (Nickname) is just a nickname that I’ve been trying to get out from under.”

If they ask why, or make a big deal about how you didn’t say anything before, they are derailing. Don’t offer any explanation. Explanation implies that this is up for negotiation. “Whatever, don’t worry about the past, just, in the future, call me (Actual Name) and everything will be cool. Thank you.”

This offers an interesting and useful test for new people that you meet. Cool new people, the kind you want in your life, will immediately switch to your actual name and make a conscious effort to use it. Douche-y new people, the kind you don’t want in your life, will see your name as a vulnerable spot and start poking it by using the nickname.

With your old friends, give it a little bit of time to sink in – habits die hard – but if people consistently misname you, switch to a boundary enforcement strategy of one correction + leaving (or asking other person to leave) conversation if things don’t improve.

#471 and 2 below the jump.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

Over the years, I have written any number of scripts to talk to my boyfriend about having children. The newest one, the one I came up with today goes like this: I want to have a child, and I need for us to make a plan that starts now and ends with me having a baby.

The problem is that I cannot remove this padlock that is on my tongue. I have written and not delivered so many scripts. Some of them I discarded because they were unfair, and because there is no reason to approach this with any kind of score keeping tally of just how patient I have been waiting for this, or which of our friends already have kids, or a list of facts about fertility or why now is a good time. I have set myself deadlines before. I have so many wasted opportunities, waiting it seems for the perfect setting and moment for this conversation to happen, or letting these moments pass while I try and fail to loosen my tongue.

The script once would have been: We need to think about having children before my dad loses his sight and can’t see them and my mom is too weak to pick them up.

Last September it was: I need for you to talk to me about making a family, or let me know that you are still far from ready so I can go home to take care of the one I already have.

Now it is too late for both those scripts; I lost my mom seven months ago. She was sick, but it was unexpected. I’ll never be able to have my mom in the delivery room, or staying with me the first few months, to call with all the little everyday questions that come up when learning how to take care of a new little person. I’ll have my dad, but I know it will also be hard for him to know how much she wanted this for me and that she is not here to see and experience it.

All this is not what I want to put on my boyfriend. This is the situation, and any part of me that would consider blaming him for taking all those things away from me by delaying this kids talk is too busy blaming myself for being selfish in general and leaving home in the first place. I don’t blame him. If things had happened differently, well then things would be different. And in the end, I know that this is the situation and I must live in this version of reality, not all the ones with paths I could have taken, or circumstances that could have turned out differently.

I know how hard it will be for me to be pregnant and have a child without my mom, but I am ready for it. I know all the ways in which I could improve my health, my relationship and my life before bringing the disruption of a child into it. I know that grief is a huge part of my life right now, and will not be forever. But, I also know more than ever now that there is no perfect world I can create. All we have is this, this imperfect world with these holes in it. I feel ready to try it, and I don’t want to wait any longer. I can make plans, and imagine the story and plan for a happy ending, but I can’t say the first words. I don’t know how to find the gumption to start. Can you help me?

I know by the way, I really do know, I need to call the counseling service whose number I’ve been carrying around for all these months. Maybe if I can send this letter, then maybe I can pick up the phone. And maybe then I can speak.

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The Hulk

The Hulk is my patronus.

We’re going deep into the Jerkbrain today, so let’s start with nice things that I love.

First, a safe-for-work, short animated film, Address Is Approximate. It’s so simple and beautiful, and it punched me right in the heart (in a good way).

Next, Holly’s post about Consent Culture:

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.  Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to.  Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then.  Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine.  (As someone with weird food aversions, I have a special hatred for “just taste a little!”)  Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

 I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general.  Cut that shit out of your life.  If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right.  Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along.  Accept that no means no–all the time.

…It’s good to practice drawing your own boundaries outside of the bedroom, too.  It can be shockingly empowering to say something as small as “no, I don’t want to sit with you.”  “No, you can’t have my phone number.”  “I love hugs, but please ask me first.”  It’s good practice for the big stuff.  Simply learning to put your mind in the frame of “this person does not want me to say no to them, and they will resist me doing it, but I’m doing it anyway” is a big, important deal.

Go read the whole thing, obviously. She lays out a beautiful case that boundaries make life better and sex better, and that there are a lot of small things we can do to make the world better for each other. She also sets us up beautifully for today’s question.

El Capitan!

I hope perhaps you might have some advice — or the crowd might — on how to stop being obnoxious. See, I’m pretty laid-back up until someone does something crummy to me. For instance! Once a dude forgot about a date with me, and when he remembered, went snowboarding anyway. Objectively douchey, but that’s not the problem — the problem is that once someone does a thing like that I WILL NEVER FORGET. I will obsess over it, picking at what happened like it’s a scab. I will quite likely resent them and want them to suffer, up till I forget who they are. Which does happen — bad memory — but takes too long to achieve. Leaving scorched earth behind doesn’t work that well in a smaller community as I’m likely going to have to interact with these people in the future. Or at least I’d like to interact, in a nice blasé way, and with none of the perpetual RAWWWWWWWWWWWWR that goes on in my head (and sometimes escapes my lips). It’s embarrassing to feel so strongly about stupid things from the past. I don’t want to lose the Dignity Game. Also, it’s tiring to keep the perpetual motion hamster wheel of resentment going in my head. It takes up so much space in there, which could be better used by remembering fun sex or something.

So! The question is: How the hell do I stop my brain from going over this stuff? How do I turn it off, or retrain myself? I’d like to keep my feathers unruffled, and stop embarrassing myself.

Yours sincerely,
Shut Up, Brain

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Love ruins all bachelor crime-fighting duos eventually.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been living with my roommate for a few years now, and we’ve been good friends for much longer than that. He’s basically family. And in the last two months, he’s started dating this woman. He seems happy, and I am very happy for him. I like her a lot. (Honest, I do!) But I don’t really like living with her. It’s not what I signed up for, and she is here six nights out of seven, and she doesn’t have an inside voice, and we only have one shower, and and etc. I haven’t said anything, because it’s a pretty new development and I don’t want him to think I have some problem with her, or with him being happy; and also because I am pretty sure that the second I say something is the second he says, “well, find your own place.” He owns the place we live in; I just rent a room for dirt-cheap because he has a soft spot for me. And he’s right: If I have a problem, I can easily move out. I’m a grown-up. But I like living here, in this place, by my friends, with my roommate. I realize all good things must come to an end, and we’ve had a good run and maybe it’s just Time To Move On, but I figured I’d see what you think. Maybe there’s a really awkward conversation we can have that will help for a while!

Two Roommates (for the Price of One)

Dear Two Roommates:

As I read this, it makes me want to apologize to my former roommates Z. and R. for the time that Intern Paul basically moved in with us for a year. At the time, he lived out in the suburbs and it was a long commute to my place and also to work (which was a short, easy commute from my place).  They were awesome about it and never made him feel unwelcome.

If you can ride it out for another month or two, you might find that things naturally settle down into a more comfortable routine.  Or they might not – she might live with lots of roommates and your house might be the more private and comfortable of the two, and since you haven’t voiced any concerns they might think that they are not bothering you.  Or, sadly for your roommate, it may not last and they might break up. Too soon to tell.

Since you recognize that by virtue of ownership your roommate has more votes in how things go in your house, and you’re prepared to move out, if necessary, you have to decide which conversation is more awkward:

1.  Hey, I’m so happy for you and I really like your GF, but having an extra person here so much of the week is a big adjustment for me.  Is there a way you guys could take it to her place once or twice a week?

2.  After months of quietly stewing and resenting you, I’ve decided to move out because your girlfriend is here all the time (or for some polite made-up reason), but I never mentioned it to you before now or gave you a chance to do anything about it (or to decide if you want me to stay or leave) because you looked so goddamned happy and also because I am a giant coward.  Bye!

Choose your own adventure!  Assuming that the solution “automatically read my mind and stop doing the annoying thing that annoys me” is off the table, how would you want your roommate to handle things if the situation were reversed?  If it is time for you to go your separate ways, it seems that your long history of friendship deserves a discussion and a mutual decision.