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Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

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Hi Captain,

I went to university to be a screenwriter and, as i’m sure you know, it’s not exactly an easy industry to break into (especially if you’re female – ‘old boys club’ indeed). A couple of years ago (late 2013-ish) I went to a casual networking event with a couple of classmates and met a television writer (let’s call him Dale) who’s at least in his early to mid 40s. I was 20 years old at the time.

Dale and I exchanged email addresses and I sent him a copy of the television pilot I’d written and then we met up for a late lunch/early dinner shortly after so I could get his notes/pick his brain about his career/networking etc.

Fast forward to 2015. We’ve met up maybe once or twice a year at most since then, always to talk about writing stuff. I was planning a trip to LA last year too so I asked him for some tips on networking etc because he spends a lot of time over there. He kept complimenting how I looked and offered (multiple times) to let me stay with him at his place in LA and one point even to fly me out on his own dime to stay with him when I jokingly complained about how expensive my trip was going to be. He’s also invited me to a number of parties with him and his and other middled aged male friends and has texted me subtly suggestive sexual things in the past(it’s always him initiating the conversation).

At the end of December, I asked to meet up with Dale one last time because I needed a professional reference letter for a program I was applying to.

We meet up, Dale stares at me really suggestively the entire time and makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable with some of his comments about my appearance and then when we leave (it’s night time by this point) he refuses to let me walk to the train station by myself and puts his arm around my shoulder and gets really close to me without asking. He did eventually take his arm away and finally left me alone when we reached the train station (not before getting into my space again and kissing me on the cheek).

I stupidly ignored my intuition and also because I figured it was worth putting up with a bit of creepiness if it meant i could get some solid career advice and a reference letter. I stopped replying to his emails and his texts and just the thought of seeing him again gives me intense anxiety. We both live in the same city and I’m terrified I’ll bump into him somewhere.

Dale still keeps contacting me and clearly cannot take a hint even though i have not replied to a single one of his messages since late December. He refused to respect my boundaries or even stop to consider that I, as a female in my early 20s, have no desire to sleep with or date someone his age (especially considering i’m not even interested in dating men period).

How do I get him to leave me alone? Every time I see a new message from him I feel sick to my stomach.

Sincerely,

Majorly Creeped Out

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Dear Captain, et al, and Awkardeers,

I have searched the archives and not seen anything like my current conundrum.

Cliffnotes: Former partner at the law firm where I am an associate, Jim, left the firm last year. We worked together for approximately a year, during which time he took lengthy FMLA absences. I haven’t spoken to him in the year since he left unless he dropped by the firm to see the senior partner about something. I had heard a rumor Jim was into BDSM, but gave it very little thought. (Whatever floats your boat, no skin off my nose).

Cut to last Friday. He Facebook messaged me asking if he could ask me a question. I thought it would be firm-related, so I said sure. He said nevermind. Two days later, a mutual friend (Sharon) asked if I’d be interested in entering a D/s relationship with Jim. She made the request at his behest, she said. Sharon described it as, “You let someone pamper you and you belittle them.”

I’m not into BDSM, but in my opinion that’s not the issue. This is such a breach of boundaries and professionalism that the more I think about it the angrier I get. We are not friends, we don’t interact socially, and he leaped over several levels of personal intimacy even making the request. Even though Sharon said “Nothing sexual,” to me that’s still a request for intense intimacy.

So, to the question. Do I say something to him? I interact with him professionally now and then. Do I tell him this was inappropriate, rude, and objectifying, or do I write it off and hope it never comes up again? (I told Sharon to tell him “No.”)

– I’m Not Yer “Queen”, Pal

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Hi Captain,

I’m a twenty something female working in a retail job where it’s NECESSARY to work as a team. In the six months I’ve been at my job, I’ve built especially great rapport with a few people. The man henceforth named Paul is one of them. Paul is a year younger than me. Most of our dynamic has been sarcastic banter, punctuated by some more serious conversations about a wide variety of topics. After about two months Paul asked some questions about my opinions on romance related topics (we were off the clock and out in a group with coworkers), and I answered in the context of the happy/trusting/loving relationship I have with my boyfriend of 4 years. Paul seemed surprised to hear about him.

I later brought up one of Paul’s questions I didn’t feel I answered well, and he got extremely flustered and changed the topic. A week later he told me that he struggled with feelings for a coworker at an old job for a year or so before he really stopped having feelings for her, and he regrets that it took him that long to deal with an unrequited crush. Since he told me about that, he hasn’t brought up anything even remotely related to romance.

I’m pretty damn sure that Paul has a crush on me. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate either in or outside the workplace, and since describing that old crush has not brought up romance in any context (that was nearly 3 months ago). It doesn’t get in the way of our work, most of the time we still execute the sarcastic banter/serious topics conversations without a hitch.

But I definitely feel like there’s a weird feelings stalemate. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship. But given that we work together that’s not an option, and I don’t know what’s appropriate. I feel bad because I get the sense that he’s doing everything he can to keep the feelings off my radar since that story. If he were creepy I’d tell a manager, and if the fact that we get along didn’t make our job way easier and more enjoyable it would be an unwelcome but simple task to freeze him out. Ultimately I just want to be able to work and occasionally hang out with this guy in group settings without the sense that he’s experiencing heartwrenching crush feels half the time I laugh at his jokes. Is there even anything to do, Captain?

-Midshipman Awkward Sauce

Dear Midshipman!

:salutes:

You’re an empathetic person, so you are putting yourself in his shoes and wanting to make things better, but you can’t fix this for him. Short answer: Say nothing, it will get better soon. “Paul” is actually handling all of this very well, in my opinion, and it would be a mistake to stage-manage his feelings or pry further into them.

He most likely did have a crush on you, he figured out that it would not be requited, and he bailed out just in time before telling you about it beyond an oblique reference to a past situation. Of course he feels awkward, he’s got all these feelings and he can see how very close he came to 1) asking out a coworker and 2) macking on someone who he knows is happily coupled up. I think it speaks to him being a good person that he pulled back when he did. You can help everything get less awkward by being your same basic amount of work-friendly to him and letting him save face. In my opinion, he won’t thank you for addressing it directly: Imagine someone else peeling off a scab that’s on your body, and that’s pretty much what it will feel like for him if you bring it up before he does.

For now, return the text of your interactions to normal relations, ignore all subtext unless it does get angry or creepy or unless he sheepishly confesses, “I was developing a crush on you and that’s why I’ve been acting kinda weird lately” at which point you say “Aw,  knew *something* was up, but I didn’t want to make you more uncomfortable. So you know, I really like working with you and I’d like us to be friends, and I’ll follow your lead on that.” 

Dear Captain,

About two years ago, I was hired to work at an awesome but small non-profit. I spent my first year in a low-end administrative position that quickly became mundane. However, after taking on additional projects and consistently showing my skill and desire for more intensive work, I received a huge promotion to a development position. I now answer directly to the CEO, and things are going pretty well. I just brought a new donor on board, and everyone is singing my praises.

However, a huge mess of awkwardness has arisen.

The woman who held the position before me had years of experience in writing and development. She had a VERY good salary (from what I hear) and was close friends with the CEO. However, her performance was less than stellar. In an entire year in the position, she never brought a donor on board and failed to document most of her contacts. Because of this, the organization asked her to resign early last year. Since I took over eight months ago, I have been trying to fill in the informational gaps. In some cases, I’ve had to start from scratch.

Now, this woman had a list of potentials she was trying to develop, and my CEO (still hung up on how “experienced” she was, IMO) wants me to pursue them. However, I do not know (because of the utter lack of documentation) what the other woman’s relationship to these entities were, and some of them appear to be real long-shots. So now the CEO is asking me to CALL THE TERMINATED EMPLOYEE and ask! I’m so uncomfortable with this request, you have no idea. When she worked here, I was just a low-level associate. Now I’m supposed to tell her that not only have I taken over her old job, I want access to her contacts, too?! It seems insulting. I’m thinking about telling my boss that I just can’t do it. It’s not just an affront to her pride, but also to mine. What do you suggest?

Sincerely,

Too Appalled to Call

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A big guy touches a little guy who shrinks away and says "No Touchy!"

Captain Awkward,

I just found your blog an hour ago, and haven’t really found anything fitting my situation.

I have a creepy friend I already turned down in no uncertain terms when asked on a date. I don’t see him often, only every few weeks at work. But he touches me – every time, the whole time. Too-long hugs, rubbing my back, touching my arm, sitting next to me instead of across from me in the cafeteria, and the most uncomfortable of all – saying I love you every time I say something slightly witty or funny. When I used to go after work for food with him and others, he would always pay for my meal. First time I literally did not have enough money for a meal. Every time after he would sneak talk to waiters, or steal the bill from my hand. When I told him I did not like him paying for my food, movie ticket etc, that it made me feel very uncomfortable, he waved it off, saying he was raised this way (What?).

Yesterday he crossed some line in my head. I said goodbye, I need to clock in, and you should go home since you’re off. He followed me outside to the clock in area and just kept hanging out there even though I was technically working. I realized then, he isn’t going to get a clue, and I do not want him to follow me around, touch me, or pay for my food. Ever.

Unlike similar situations I saw you answer, I’m not making excuses for him, I don’t care to keep his friendship if he doesn’t stop acting like this, and while I do think he is just terrible at reading clues I also know he does not touch other girls – or guys – as often or … creepily … as he does to me. He seems very nice, we’ve worked for the same company over two years, but I wouldn’t say I know him well enough to keep making excuses. I Do Not like his touch, and WILL tell him to stop.

I need advise on HOW to tell him to stop. He didn’t catch the subtle clues of shifting away from him, never initiating any contact, and tensing up whenever touched. I don’t care one way or another about losing this “friendship” but I do care about how this future conversation will get around to the rest of my co-workers, and how THAT will interfere with doing my job and the social situation there.

I am sick of worrying that he will be working the same shift as me, and need help on how to say something without being my normal blunt-edging-into-mean-self.

Desperate for advice,

Stop Touching Me

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Greetings Captain!

I’m having a hell of a time trying to decide what to do with my life. I would like a career that suits me, but the problem is I have no real skills.

Some backstory: I graduated with my BA in 2011 from a small school that no one has ever heard of. My degree is basically useless and no one takes it seriously. After attaining my BA, my passion for the subject is virtually non-existent. I tried everything I could think of to get started in my career at that time: internships, networking, attending conferences, etc. Nothing worked. I would like to go back to school, but after having such a negative experience with my current degree, I’m terrified that it will happen to me all over again. This is going to sound pretty weird but, if I went back for a second degree, I’d probably go for a law or film degree. I am very passionate about both subjects.

Unfortunately, I’ve had many people tell me that going back to school is a horrible idea. They are probably right because I would have to pay for everything out of pocket again (I’ve never been eligible for any grants or scholarships despite graduating on time with honors.) Something keeps pushing me to try though. I’ve visited numerous colleges over the past few years, I even got close to going back for my master’s. But every time I am about to pull the trigger, I freeze up and the doubt creeps back in. I fear that maybe I just don’t have what it takes anymore.

My only bankable skill is my ability to communicate with just about anyone. This led me to take on retail/sales jobs for eight years which I hated immensely. My current job is very demanding and I work 50-60 hours a week, but I am NOT going back to retail. I would love to just start over somewhere new and have no issue with relocating. However, my fiancé’s career here has really taken off and we can’t leave just yet. Besides, where would we go?  I live paycheck to paycheck now because I don’t have the qualifications for a better paying job. I doubt I could attain a better job elsewhere until I have more education/experience.

So I guess my ultimate question is this: what skills have helped you the most in your life? What would you recommend to someone who is super lost and doesn’t know how to continue? What steps should I take to build up my qualifications? How did you decide which steps to take in your life that have led you to a successful career?

Sincerely,

Mad (that I have no) Skills

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