Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

Dear Dreading Dance Class,

I’ve gotten a lot of “how do I tell someone they smell” and a lot of “how do I deal with this awkward dance partner” questions that I haven’t answered yet – thanks for this question that lets me combine both!

You don’t have to dance with him (or with anyone that you don’t want to) and if his turn as your partner gets a “No thank you/Not this time/Oh, sorry, I need to use the rest room/catch my breath/make a quick phone call” for now while you work up to talking to him about it, that’s okay. This is as true for The Dance Partner Who Never Stops Talking, Too Much Perfume Lady, and The Brotherhood of the Traveling Hands as it is for Febreezio The Fragrant.

Ideally dance teachers and studios should communicate ground rules for class and issue periodic reminders, for example:

  • Dancing means getting really close to people, so we expect that you’ll wear clean clothes and freshen up before class. Don’t forget to brush your teeth/use breath mints, too.
  • Everyone sweats when they dance so please remember to blot/mop yourself up occasionally – handkerchiefs or bandanas are useful for this!
  • Please avoid strong cologne or perfume due to allergies.
  • We like everyone to dance with everyone else and feel welcome, but you can refuse to dance with anyone or sit a dance out for any reason. If someone doesn’t want to dance with you, or sits out a dance, don’t take it personally – in 5 minutes you’ll have a new partner.
  • If you feel like someone is dancing too close here is how you signal that!/Here is how you signal or ask for permission to dance closer.

Of course, posting general “for everyone” rules definitely don’t magically solve the issue. We all know that Sylvia-in-your-office-who-cuts-a-sliver-out-of-each-of-the-free-cookies-in-the-break-room definitely doesn’t think she is the problem when the office manager sends out the “Please can everyone just take the whole cookie from now on? You don’t have to eat the whole thing, but it’s gross when they’ve all been handled and look like there are bites out of them” emailThe office manager needs to send the email and have a “Sylvia, could you please stop doing that” talk.

When you join a scene or a hobby or a workplace or any social enterprise, certain expectations come with that (There is no talking in the Diogenes Club). If Febreezio doesn’t already know that “It’s okay if you are a naturally sweaty person but dancing close to people means doing what you can to manage your sweat”/”Your usual hygiene game is not cutting it for this level of close contact and physical activity” someone in that scene – you, or the teacher, or another old hand – is doing a kindness if they tell him directly as soon as possible. Communicating those expectations is not persecution.

He will definitely not enjoy the conversation and not feel good! Nobody likes to get told that they stink! It’s embarrassing! But it will also be wicked embarrassing if everyone suddenly needs to take an urgent phone call when it’s their turn to dance with him.

If you want to have the conversation, pull him aside privately (not on the dance floor) and try this script:

Hey, X, can I talk to you real quick about something awkward? Great.

I’d love to dance with you sometime, but I’ve noticed you don’t smell so great today and you don’t mop up when you get sweaty. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?

Casting it as a thing you’ve had to deal with personally can help:

“When I first started coming to dance classes I definitely underestimated how sweaty I’d get. I needed to raise my deodorant game for one thing, and I also realized I needed to bring a clean shirt with me to change into between work and coming here. I’ve noticed you having some of the same issues. Can you make sure to freshen up before next class, and bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up sweat?”

Whatever you do, keep it short and treat it like a normal, reasonable request that you think he will want to follow in order to make you more comfortable as a dance partner.

If you talk to the teacher about it, try:

X is new here, and I’ve noticed that he doesn’t smell so good or mop up when he sweats, so I don’t want to dance with him. I don’t want to hurt his feelings and I want him to have fun and be included here. Can you speak to him about it or do you have suggestions for how to approach it with him?

The teacher should take him aside and say something like:

We’re very glad you’re here, but I’ve noticed* some issues with body odor and sweat today. Please take a shower, use deodorant, and please make sure you’re wearing clean clothes before you come to dance lessons next week, it’s part of being a good dance partner. Also, bring a handkerchief or bandana with you to mop up if you get sweaty.” 

Notice the list: Clean clothes, shower, deodorant, bandana to mop sweat. Now is not the time for vague euphemisms like “be more aware of hygiene.” Either the guy doesn’t know he smells, or he does know but he doesn’t have a good practice to make it stop. You’ve come this far into Awkwardtown, might as well be specific and tell him what exactly you’d like him to do.

As for your worries about driving him away from dance class forever, let’s get some perspective: What if a therapist did recommend for him to come here? What if he is really really really nervous about dancing? What if he comes straight from working a really physical job and doesn’t have time to shower and this is his only outlet for exploring the pleasure of dance? What if it’s a medical issue? What if these are his only clothes what if the closest washing machine and shower are 10 miles away from his house and uphill both ways?

Is that really your baggage to take on?

Isn’t it also patronizing to project all of those possible explanations, excuses, and reasons onto other people? After all, he is an adult man who signed up for and attends a dance class, so isn’t it likely that he can:

a) Take steps to clean himself up before doing a social activity (See Jimmy’s trunk full of wet wipes on this week’s Better Call Saul)?

b) Experiment with and adjust his hygiene strategies if it is in fact a medical issue?

c) Handle 5 minutes of awkward conversation about it?

d) Make choices about how he deals with uncomfortable feelings, whether that’s “Clean up a little better so I can enjoy dancing” or “flee forever…too mortifying…ack?”

When someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable, it’s very easy to get lost in diagnosing all the reasons they might do it. Compassionate people try to walk in the other person’s shoes, and it’s even more pronounced when you factor in how relentlessly women are socialized to protect men’s feelings. But if you avoid a difficult conversation with someone who is making you uncomfortable because you can’t stop worrying about the reasons or stop generating possible excuses for them, it won’t help the person or solve the problem. It will just put you through a lot of emotional labor without making a single thing better for anyone.


*Important: If you are ever a peer or an authority figure who has to deliver embarrassing news to someone, and if it can possibly be avoided, don’t start with “We’ve had complaints” or “Everyone talked about this and we think ____” or “Some people have suggested that you…” I understand the temptation to displace the awkwardness onto the anonymous authority of the group, but it just makes it worse for the person and also risks derailing the conversation with “Who complained?” “What exactly did they say?” The first time you have the conversation with someone, let them save a little face by not making it them vs. the whole group or the whole world. You’re already here delivering the awkward news, so use your “I” statements and own the problem.

Appendix: I’m not a dancer but as a teacher and a manager and a dater and a person with a body, this has been my approach Private Conversations About Smells (And Other Body Awkwardnesses).

Case Studies #1-???: Conversations With Stinky College Students

Odor/hygiene problems are almost always co-morbid with the student falling behind academically, so that’s usually my angle.:

Me: “You’ve been missing a lot of class/You didn’t turn in your last assignment. What’s going on?

If The Stink has crossed to a Truly Problematic place, then I add: “Also, is really awkward and I hate to put you on the spot like this, but I’ve noticed that you don’t seem like your usual self in class lately – you don’t smell good/your clothes aren’t clean – is everything all right?

As you can imagine I find out all kinds of stuff, from “I live in a homeless shelter” to “I don’t know how to do laundry and I’m too embarrassed to ask” to “Showering wastes crucial earth resources and deodorant is just a conspiracy from Big Pharma to make us CONFORM!” … to depression, grief, sexual assault, and other really hard stuff, so I never, never assume what the problem is.


  • Obviously, deadline re-negotiation and referrals to many campus resources for the hard stuff.
  • For the “Oh, Buddy” Freshmen: “Have you Googled ‘how do I do laundry?’ “No” “Maybe try that? Oh look, here’s a couple of tutorials” “Ok!” “Cool, I don’t want to smell you next week.” “LOL, you got it.”
  • For the “I’m stinky FOR THE EARTH, DEAL WITH MY RIGHTEOUS STENCH” student I’ve had luck with “I get that but if I can smell you from here it’s gotten out of hand for what’s okay in a small classroom or working on a film crew in close quarters. Can you research some environmentally-friendly solutions or schedule the weekly bath for right before my class? I’d sure appreciate it.”

Case Studies: SexyTimes Stink! 2000-present day

Brevity and directness are kindness:

  • I’d very much like to put my _____ on your _____ or your _____ in my _____ but I think you/I/we both need a shower first.
  • Oof, it’s a little funky down here. Can we pick this up after a shower? Awesome.

If you’re close enough to someone that you’re going to put your ______ on their ______, then you’re close enough to say “Bodies are gross sometimes, let’s agree to take mitigating measures.

Case Studies In Which I Was A Manager Of Someone With Awkward Hygiene Stuff

Script/Mad Lib:

“Hey, this is awkward and I hate to put you on the spot, but [you don’t smell good][you aren’t wearing clean clothes to work][you’re probably not aware but when you lean over in that top your whole chest area and bra can be seen (true story!)][that white shirt is see-through please wear an undershirt][there is some other specific thing about your hygiene or physical aspect that is giving me cause for concern].”

If appropriate:

“Have you noticed that, too? That’s not like you at all, so…[Is there anything going on we should know about][Have you had a medical checkup lately][Visited a dentist to talk about that?][Do you need a couple of days off to catch up on Life Stuff like laundry?][Need to make a Target run for something that doesn’t have holes in it before our client meeting?]”

As with students, people who had difficult life reasons got referred to whatever resources could be had, and everyone got a “Hey, this is informal right now – I just wanted to check in with you and talk about it before it becomes a real issue. Please [do the stuff we talked about][take a few days to get it together][take another look at the dress code and let me know if something is unclear or seems impossible] and it will go back to being a non-issue.

By way of contrast, here’s a story about what not to do about The Stinky Guy:

Case Study: The Saga of The Smelly Hippie Guy I Shared An Office With For A Year In The Late 1990s Before I Had Therapy/When I Was Still Terrified Of Conflict

Me: :Agonizes for months about whether to say anything:

Him: :continues to stink:

Me: :Complains about him to everyone who would listen…except him.:

Him: :keeps it funky:

Me: :Tries to get my office moved: :Have a choice of sticking with stinky-but-quiet guy or sharing with a lady I hate who never stops talking: 

Me: :polls my work friends at length re: The Noise or the Funk?:

Me: (sigh) :inertia + Funk:

Him: :wavy stink lines come off him sometimes:

Me: :executes a complex series of trades with everyone in the office until I am his Secret Santa: 

Me: :gives THE GIFT OF TINY FANCY MAN-SOAP & DEODORANT: (We travel a lot for our work so this can be played off as “I got you some awesome travel supplies!”)

Him: “Sweet! Thanks! Hahaha! Are you saying I stink?”

Me: “Hahahaha no. No. Hahahaha. No. Why would you think that?

Him: “Right on!” :gift disappears into desk drawer:

Also Him: :rocks on with his funky self:

Me: :Periodically checks his desk drawer to see if the soap package has been opened or moved:

(It hasn’t moved)

(It never moves)

Him: “I’m going to start biking to work, is it cool with you if I have my bike in here?”

Me: “Sure!”

Me: :buys a scented candle and moves it slowly closer to him each day when I burn it:

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “Reminder: No candles or open flames in the office.”

Me: :buys a carved wooden incense burner and some incense from a street vendor down the block. For some reason tell him that I got it on an international trip:

Him: “I like this incense you brought back!”

Office Manager: All Staff Email: “No incense, either! No fire at all!”

Me: :sprays Glade:

Him: “Ugh, could you not spray that stuff? It’s full of chemicals.”

Me: “Oh…ok.”

Him: “Yeah, and also I just can’t stand the way it smells.”


giphy (13)

.gif of John Krasinski saying “Oh my god” and pouring wine.

Another month goes by. It’s my turn to take over our department’s “Word of the Week” email. It’s a fun game so I’ll describe it for any office workers reading: Junior staff would secretly take turns picking an unusual word and gaining bragging points by using the word as much as possible in meetings and office communications throughout the week. Points were awarded based on sophistication and correctness of usage, frequency of use (more points for being the seventh person who says “I think we’ve crossed…the Rubicon… here” in the same meeting than for being the first), whether we could say it without laughing, whether we could make the one Cool Boss who has caught on to the game laugh or (better yet!) use it, and (best of all) whether we could make the expression catch on widely among senior staff.

My words that month: noisome, malodorous, putrescent, fetid.

Him: :adopts some kind of all-rotten egg, all-compost lunch routine:

Also him: :keeps on reekin’ on:

Another month goes by. It’s almost a year to the day that we started sharing an office. In summer. In Washington, D.C. aka SWAMPY MCHUMIDPLACE.

Me: :Walks into our office and gags because it smelled like old socks have been dipped in ball sweat, wrapped around road kill, and slow-roasted over a dung fire:

Me: “DUDE, it’scoolthatyoulikebikingtoworkandeverything but it is getting RANK in here. THERE ARE SHOWERS ON THE TOP FLOOR OF THE BUILDING, PLEASE USE THEM!!!! Or bring a change of clothes with you. OR SOMETHING.”

Him: “Whoa!”

Me: (small voice) “I’msorryIdidn’tmeantoyell”

Me: (small voice) “But you stink.”

Him: :smells his own pits: “Wow yeah I am kinda stinky today. Sorry.”

Me: (almost a whisper) “Not just today.”

Him: “There are showers?”

Me: “Yeah! Top floor.”

Him: “Is there a code or a lock or anything I need to know about?”

Me: 7-2-0-1#

Him: “Sweet! I’ll bring a towel with me tomorrow.”

Me: “And…every day?”

Him: “And every day.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Him: “No worries! I hope this wasn’t bothering you all this time?!?”

Me: “Hahahaha…no, of course not. All good. Just…clean yourself.”

Him: “Got it.”

Me: “MaybethatsoapIgotyouisstillinyourdesk?

(It was)

(I had checked 2 days ago)

Him: “GOT it.”

Me: “OkI’mgoingtolunchnow…bye…can I bring you anything back…”

Him: “All good…”

Me: “Ok!”

Him: “Seriously, Jen, it’s all good.

Me: :goes to lunch, brings him back a cookie and a brownie and a coffee:

And lo, he did take regular showers, and behold, a bike makes a pretty good good rack for holding a damp towel, and indeed, when his towel started to get funky I said “Hey time to wash that towel, yeah?” and he smelled it and said “Good grief, yes, I’m sorry!” and we never spoke of it again.

Letter Writer, your conversation with this dancing guy is going to be easier than that, right? Right.






summer_jackel: (Default)

Which OC speaks a dead language?

His language is not dead, but in the city it may as well be, so distant are all of its speakers. Valerai fervently hopes that they remain that way, but she will always miss them.

Seljai, she thinks every morning at the time she once opened her mind to daily prayer: be alive, be full of joy, be far, far away from this place.

And in the city, she speaks his language to her hounds. “Beautiful ones, sleek wind-chasers, little piece-of-the-sky hounds," she speaks to them so that she does not forget his language, so unlike any other she ever learned. The long softness of its syllables, the gentle rising and falling of its cadence, the neat definition of its structure comfort her, soothe her aching when she misses him and all that she has lost.

Everyone assumes Valerai is speaking her own language, or nonsense-syllables; and if she becomes aware of this, she does not correct them. She does not speak of him, does not wish to invoke him here; but she will not forget his language, for it is not dead, and, somewhere, neither is he.

Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and just love it! Your answers and the community here are both awesome. So thanks. My question is really tough and I’m afraid your answer is going to be “there is no actual compromise possible here.” But I’m going to try.

My husband and I were both raised as extremely religious Catholics. When we were dating (courting??) we both agreed that we wanted to have lots of kids, like a dozen, and homeschool them all. Over eight years of marriage, we’ve both changed a lot. We’re both a lot more liberal and our kids are going to public school. After the third kid, we both agreed that we no longer wanted to have any more kids. But, being Catholic, there are only two allowed solutions: NFP (natural family planning, also known as Vatican Roulette), and total abstinence. We did that for a miserable year and a half and then, predictably, got pregnant with our fourth.

I cannot describe how horrible this has all been to me. Four kids is A LOT OF KIDS, especially given that the oldest is only seven. I loathe being pregnant with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. All of them have been high needs. I haven’t slept well since 2009. My husband is exhausted too; he cried like a baby when he found out we were having the fourth and I believe he is still depressed about it four months after she was born.

And I no longer see any point to this punishingly difficult lifestyle since I am no longer Catholic. Between kid 3 and kid 4, I did a lot of studying and am now entirely agnostic. My husband was really upset by my deconversion and mostly prefers not to talk about it at all. He’s become a lot more skeptical about his faith, but he does think it’s true and it worries him to think I might be going to hell. Meanwhile I now think that birth control is definitely the greatest thing since indoor plumbing.

Our birth control method now, given that NFP so obviously does not work, is abstinence. Every couple of weeks my husband can’t stand it anymore so we have non-PIV sex. Only there is zero communication about this. I think his perspective is that, if he’s got to “sin,” at least he’s not going to make it worse by premeditating it. The problem is that it’s obvious both of us want to take it further and I know from experience how hard it is to think clearly when you’re horny. I am terrified that sooner or later we’re going to get pregnant again. I cannot, CANNOT go through pregnancy again; I get the shakes just thinking about it. Meanwhile our sex life is completely screwed up from the NFP and then the whatever-this-is we’re doing now, so that neither of us is really enjoying it that much and we both kinda feel like roommates. It sucks and the thought of doing this till menopause is awful.

I want to go on birth control. He doesn’t even want to discuss it. He told me some time ago that if I did go on birth control, he’d continue to feel obligated to never have sex again because contracepted sex is a sin. I don’t want to do something unilaterally if it truly would upset him, but on the other hand I feel like his religion will make it impossible for him ever to agree to it, even if he WERE okay with it, because that would implicate him in the “sin.” So I can’t find out how he really feels about it. And then there’s the money issue … we don’t have insurance and all the really effective birth control methods are pretty expensive. With his cooperation we could easily save up the money for it in a couple of months, but since I’m a full-time carer for the kids, I don’t have much in the way of my own separate money. And it’s not like a couple thousand dollars are sitting around in the bank right now for me to just take and use … even if I would feel okay unilaterally spending that amount of money, given that normally all major purchases have to be okayed by both of us. And I have almost no one in my life who isn’t fanatically Catholic, certainly no one I could call on to drive me home from getting my tubes tied.

What, dear Captain, would you do? Can you help me come up with a script for “seriously, we need to actually TALK about what we’re doing and your Catholic guilt and denial are not helping”? I have been quietly waiting for the past two years or so for him to come around, but he hasn’t, and I feel our disastrous fourth pregnancy is my fault for agreeing to rely on the broken fire escape that is NFP instead of going behind his back and somehow getting an IUD. Yet I still hesitate to make such a big decision unilaterally; I’m equally scared to tell him (and face his hurt feelings) or not tell him (and have a big whopping secret looming over my head). And of course there are the practical issues.

Thanks for reading my lengthy novel,

Offred (Just Kidding) (Mostly)

Hi “Offred” (No Joke!):

When spouses don’t agree about birth control…the person with the greatest pregnancy risk gets to use birth control if they want to. If you were my friend and you wanted an IUD and your husband didn’t want you to have an IUD, I’d have you at that appointment today*, so I’m not sure that asking what I would do is the most helpful thing for you. Still, I’m really glad you wrote, so, hi!

This shouldn’t a surprise, but I’m firmly in the “Can the Pope get pregnant? No? Could any of the men who have ever been responsible for deciding and promulgating this doctrine (i.e. the literal Patriarchy) get pregnant? Mostly…not?? Can your husband get pregnant? Really unlikely? Do any of these people live in your body? Then their opinions about this are not the most important opinionscamp.

This doctrine in particular is one of the reasons I personally broke with the church. I respect people’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and their right to factor religious faith into those decisions. I also believe those rights stop at the borders of your own body, so I don’t respect the way this doctrine has made life harder for countless women and people who can get pregnant, and I don’t respect the Church’s political activism around making contraception harder to access. If you wanted a nuanced, neutral, “Well, religious doctrine is super important too, so, tread carefully!” answer, I’m 100% not your lady.

The good news is, enough Catholic families (I’ve seen numbers as high as 98% of sexually active practicing Catholic women have used contraception) are going to church and then also quietly going to the doctor and locking their birth control stuff down that I’d bet *someone* in your community would drive you wherever you needed to go (and/or trade off rides in the future). They’re just being quiet about it the way you are being quiet about it because they don’t want to wake the Patriarchy. The “everyone else does it” argument probably isn’t going to convince your husband, but I think it might help you to remind yourself that facts and precedent are on your side.

You are the only adult in your family who can get pregnant. To me, that makes you the only decider about whether you want to be pregnant and what steps and trade-offs you are willing to make to prevent pregnancy. The teachings of your husband’s church and his worries about sin and his hurt feelings do not outweigh your human right to make this decision for yourself or obligate you to keep gestating an Adorable Gift From The Vatican! every couple of years. You can love your kids without wanting more of them. You can love God without wanting more kids. You can love your husband and still draw a line about this. He can have unsettled feelings about this, but you have a right to bodily autonomy and a right make your own decisions about your own ethics and religious beliefs.

You say that this issue has been on the table for two years while you wait for him to come around. (Not incidentally, that’s two years during which you had an unplanned pregnancy that made you miserable). If you wanted to give him one more chance to “come around,” here’s a possible script:

Husband, I don’t want to get pregnant again, and I want to be able to have sex with you without that risk, so I am going to get an IUD** as soon as possible. I’ve done some research and the device and insertion will cost $X, so we need to start putting $Y aside from the household budget to pay for it. Until that’s handled, I don’t want to have any penetrative sex. I know you are uncomfortable with this decision, but this is the right decision for me and I need you to be on my team right now.

He’ll have some stuff to say and maybe some weird feelings about it. You can get the IUD anyway. 

Things might get really weird between you for a little while.You can get the IUD anyway.

He may try refuse to help pay for it. You can get the IUD anyway. Planned Parenthood and other organizations offer free or sliding-scale birth control. In searching for “free birth control” I also found this clinic locator. Chicago has this absolute treasure of a sliding-scale women’s health center, maybe there is something like this near you? Incidentally, one partner using finances to control another’s medical decisions or refusing to pay for the other’s medical care is not okay.

Your follow-up script can be “I’ve prayed about it, I’ve thought about it, and I need to do this to take care of myself. If you are uncomfortable, I understand, I’ve really tried to respect that and to give church-approved methods a chance, but it’s not working for me and my mind is made up.”

Warning: He may try (out of guilt, a desire for control, a desire for The Last Word, who knows) to keep having penetrative sex with you while you save up. THAT IS NOT OKAY. It is also the reason that you need the IUD. If you think this might happen, it’s also an argument for unilaterally and quietly taking care of it on your own. It sucks to keep secrets in a marriage and I understand why you don’t want to. I also think that unreasonable people who don’t give you a safe way to tell them the truth don’t get to be outraged if you choose to quietly prioritize your own safety.

Your husband doesn’t really want more children. He also does not want to commit to only non-penetrative sex forever (Exhibit: Baby #4). He doesn’t want to “sin” by using contraception, but he’s not the one who is going to get pregnant. Does he want to be scot-free of this particular “sin” so badly that he’s willing to risk your health, your life, your economic well-being (Four kids under 8 and no health insurance for you?? How did y’all pay for your pregnancy and delivery? None of my business, really, but that sounds REALLY, EPICLY HARD!!!???!!!)? Is he willing to risk the trust and closeness of your marriage to get what he wants?

There is a compromise possible here, it’s called: “You get the medical care you want and need, and he agrees to handle his complicated feelings about that without making them (literally) your problem to carry.”

Look at it this way: You getting an IUD inserted doesn’t obligate him to have sex with you. If penetrative sex with a woman on birth control is really and truly too much of a sin for him to even contemplate, then he has the option of continuing with the non-penetrative kind of sex once you are on birth control so that his conscience will be 100% clear. Does that sound like a deeply unrealistic path for him? YES, OF COURSE IT DOES THAT’S WHY YOU HAVE THIS PROBLEM (AND A FOURTH BABY).

If he can’t be on your team about this,  I do not think you are a bad person or a bad wife if you quietly take care of yourself around this and present him with a fait accompli. You don’t need his permission. Family money is your money, too. Ideally spouses would make these kinds of decisions together, but when the chips are down, the person with the pregnancy risk gets to make the final call.


Jennifer Women’s Rights Are Human Rights, Abortion Is Necessary Healthcare, and Planned Parenthood Is A National Treasure Captain Awkward Leigh Peepas

*If you live in or near Chicago, email me?

**Substitute whatever birth control method you and your doctor choose, including tubal ligation.

Moderation Notes: I do not want to moderate a discussion about this today. If the Letter Writer wants community input or to find a local-to-her-ride-to-the-clinic, the forums at might be a good place for that discussion.

summer_jackel: (Default)

Which OC is very good at what they do, but nobody is really sure what it is that they do?

Lial, at Rosegarden, did everything—a little of this, a little of that, whatever needed a pair of skilled hands. It was only required that she did this very well.

Posted by JenniferP

Edited to Add: WE DID IT! YOU DID IT!

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Hello friends! Some kind folks have sent me messages like this this week:

Hi Captain,

This isn’t exactly a question, but more of a problem with your site. I know that you have ads to support things and whatever, but recently, video ads have been pulling me down the screen, and no matter how much I try to scroll back up, it keeps pulling me down to the ads, so it becomes difficult to near-impossible to actually read your posts. I don’t know if this is something you can fix, but I thought you should be aware that this happens, and I didn’t know how else to let you know. I didn’t want to derail the comments section with technical difficulties. Thanks, and have a great week!

Thank you for alerting me! I am also running into this – every time I post a new entry, it wants to show me a video ad before I can read my own stuff that I just wrote on my own website. RUDE.

This is unacceptable behavior, and I know it’s made me click the back button when I’m reading other sites.

Unfortunately, I alone cannot fix this – I am not the one controlling the ad placement or how they behave and I haven’t been able to successfully screencap anything. I will alert, but you can also help me.

What I suggest:
  • Screencap the issue if you can.
  • Describe and report the issue here  (ad support) or here ( support).
  • Those links are also good if you ever see something offensive. Which ads display for you are targeted regionally and using cookies, so I won’t necessarily ever see what you see.
  • If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, please let me know immediately. We are one of the most-read blogs on the platform and that should count for something.

Personally I find that as the ads get more intrusive and take up more screen real estate, the financial reward for letting WordPress stick them all over the site has seriously diminished and the way that ad revenue is reported and delivered has gotten less transparent and less frequent. I do depend on revenue from the site, but that doesn’t have to be AD revenue. In other words, if my Patreon goes over $2000/month this summer, I’ll turn them off in a heartbeat and keep them off as long as we stay above that threshhold. We’re so close!

Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain!

My problem is one that I imagine is very, very common, but I’ll start with a little background on my specific situation.

I recently started going to therapy for some pretty serious self esteem issues that had led to me isolating myself for a long time. Up until this year I hadn’t been to a non-family social event – including just one-on-one hangs – in over five years (and even before that it was pretty rare).I’ve made a lot of progress over the last few months; I have a few good friends that I can go out with and all in all, I have learned how to get better about relentlessly judging myself during and after every social interaction.

But even after all this (successful!) work, there’s one aspect that I just can’t seem to crack, even with my wonderful therapist, which is the possibility of a romantic relationship. It has been ten years since my last relationship (I’m in my early30s) and I haven’t been on so much as a date since then. While I was in my hermit state I vacillated between “I don’t really want a partner anyway” (a big fat lie) and “You’re not worth a relationship.” Basically the idea of being involved with someone in a romantic way seemed to be something that just wasn’t in the cards for me, ever. I always pictured myself alone.

Now, though, that I’ve started being around people socially, it’s starting to seem…not so insane. Like maybe it’s not out of the realm of possibility anymore, at least not when I think about it in an abstract way. But when it comes to a practical way – joining a dating site, talking to guys at social events, whatever – I can’t seem to break that bubble of “Why even bother? Who would want to be with you?” Even just writing this part of the letter made me feel embarrassed and silly.

There’s one important thing at play here that I haven’t mentioned yet: I’m fat. [details of weight redacted by Captain Awkward, per the site policies] I just can’t stop thinking of my weight (and looks in general, to a lesser extent) as my #1 defining characteristic.

It’s pretty easy to draw a straight line directly from media portrayals to my issues in this area. A fat girl talking about sex is almost always a punch line, a character for everyone else to make “ew, gross” faces about. Despite intellectually knowing better, I’ve internalized this message. For instance, occasionally I’ll use Tinder when I’m bored or feeling optimistic about the future (but mostly bored), and one time I ran across a co-worker. What should have been a “haha isn’t this awkward” moment sent me into a complete meltdown. I was *mortified* that this co-worker might think that…I don’t know, that I thought someone would be attracted to me? It was ages (like, literally a year and a half) before I could be around this extremely nice co-worker without wanting to crawl under the table and die. I couldn’t even talk to him.

So that’s basically where I am. This feeling that, no matter how funny or kind or interesting I am inside, it doesn’t even matter because my outside is so unappealing. I get so sad thinking about how no one will ever look at me and think, “Oh, she’s pretty, I’d like to get to know her”.

How can I start to escape the “overweight=unfuckable, unfuckable=unlovable” cycle?

-Want To Make The Rockin’ World Go ‘Round (She)

Dear Rockin’ World,

It sounds like your weight gain in recent years has become a “load-bearing repository” for the massive social anxiety you’ve been dealing with. In other words, it’s become the big “unsolvable” problem that you can displace anxiety onto and blame for current unhappiness. Maybe reframing it that way can help you tackle it with your therapist? (Thank you, Letter Writer #963, that is such an excellent concept).

Our culture brutally hates fat people, and that’s not going away any time soon. So, your struggle is real. You can’t control whether a particular person will find you attractive, whether a total stranger will decide to police your food in the lunch line today, whether your doctor will decide that your [actual illness or injury] can be magically solved if you lost a few pounds, or the death-by-a-thousand cuts of weaponized fatphobia and fat hatred in the world. But that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily doomed to an unhappy or lonely life, or to feeling this way about your body forever. The struggle is real, but you don’t have to struggle alone, and it doesn’t have to feel this hard forever.

Here are some resources that help me with body acceptance. They might help you?

Shapely Prose (not active as a commenting community or being updated by the site owner, but the archive is a treasure trove of writing). Start with The Fantasy Of Being Thin, which refutes the idea that a happy life is something you can have “someday, when you’re thin enough to deserve it.” Also check out the FAQ to help refute common tropes and concern-trolling arguments that fat-shamers throw out all the time. The site’s creator, Kate Harding, also wrote a book with the awesome Marianne Kirby. This blog probably wouldn’t exist without Kate, Sweet Machine, FillyJonk, Dear Aunt Fattie, and the other babes of Shapely Prose, so, thank you.

Hanne Blank’s Big Big Love and The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide To Exercise (And Other Incendiary Acts). Overall thesis: Love and sex and exercise are there for you, should work for you (to make you feel good) and you deserve the best of all of those things and should never have to accept less.

Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD and the HAES community. Want to see some peer-reviewed scientific research about approaches to nutrition and exercise that actually improve health outcomes for people? Overall thesis: Study participants who learned to eat in a way that felt right to them and move their bodies in a way that was fun and sustainable to them without the stated goal or pressure of weight loss had better health outcomes than similar groups who exercised and restricted calories with the goal of losing weight. You can also check out The Fat Nutritionist.

Wear Your Voice, especially Dear Virgie‘s advice column and their Style Crush archives. The Establishment also has some great work here. Save Ijeoma Oluo’s piece You Don’t Have To Love Your Body for a rainy day when you’re just not feeling it. Worth noting: The connection between fat acceptance, fat activism, and unapologetic intersectional feminism is not a coincidence, y’all.

Retrain Your Eye

You’re absolutely right that media and popular culture don’t show enough images of fat women, and that when they do we’re all holding our breath waiting for either the punchline or the moment when a fat woman “doesn’t know she’s sexy” until heterosexual love magically teaches her about her own self-worth. (barf emoji) Your anger at that is a good sign that your self-preservation and bullshit-detecting skills are working.

If you can’t yet see the beauty in your own body or in other fat bodies, that’s okay, but it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. We’re surrounded by stylish, aspirational images of thin women, but we can also look at beautiful, stylish, aspirational images that celebrate lots of different kinds of bodies. Three of my personal favorite fat-shion sites right now are: Gabifresh, Lu zhiet an (I bought this dress after seeing it there and even though we have very different bodies it looks AWESOME), and Garner Style. One reason I really like Marianne Kirby (in addition to her rad glasses and shoe collection and generally excellent writing and witty human kindness) is that we’re the same height and roughly the same dress size so if something looks good on her it will probably look good on me. As you scout out plus-size fashion blogs, if you find someone with a similar body shape and style vibe looking awesome, that can be a jolt to your self-esteem…even as it shocks your wallet.

Here are some other things you can try and control:

  • Practice saying only nice things about your own body. If that’s too hard at first:
    • Take note of how often you find yourself saying mean things about your body. Can you interrupt the behavior?
    • What cool thing can your body do? Did it carry you all over the place today? Did it get some really good sleep last night?
    • Think about who is watching & listening when you say mean things about your body. Your “uncomfortable and embarrassed” weight is someone else’s aspiration.
  • Practice saying only nice things about other people’s bodies. When you see strangers out in public, try a little mental exercise where you wish only good things at them and look for things to compliment instead of criticize. Stop looking at people, yourself included, as a compendium of “problem areas” to be “minimized.”
  • When people around you devolve into body-hate or body-snark, stop them. You can fight against the idea that women have to talk about food as “sinful” or engage in ritual self-shaming as a bonding exercise.
  • Try out self-portraiture as self-care. Normalize your own face and your own body for yourself over time. Read about this here.
  • When you’ve got more confidence, pay it forward. Share articles about fat acceptance or gorgeous images of fat folks. Tell the fat people in your life that they look great. Delete or shut down body-policing comments from family or Facebook friends. Be the person who shuts down diet-talk at lunch with co-workers.

Even with all the resources I’ve read and all the work I’ve done over the years, I will never lie to you and tell you that I feel 100% glowingly happy with my own fat body all the time, every day. I will never lie to you and tell you that being fat in a culture that hates fat people doesn’t affect my self-image, my interactions with people, my physical comfort (ugh, airplane seats), my economic situation, or my health ( new doctor anxiety, anyone? “Hello, new physician, I see that I will have to remind you that I am a human being, AGAIN.“). I will never tell you that I didn’t sometimes accept shitty sex and a shitty substitute for love because I didn’t think I deserved anything better. I will never lie and say that being happily coupled-up doesn’t make this all easier for me right now than it does for someone who is unhappily single, or that I don’t have an easier time of things being white, cis-gendered, and hourglass-shaped. I’m not going to pretend this blog or this post is the most radical or progressive or forward-thinking or political manifesto that needs to happen for fat acceptance; it’s a start, only a start.

Here’s what gets me through:

  • This is the only body I’ve got. I can fight with it or I can make peace with it. I choose, mostly, to make peace.
  • My life is happening now, not someday. I let go of the fantasy of being thin and stopped waiting for someday.
  • I found community and great people who inspired me and who taught me how to love myself better (See all the many links above, and let’s pour one out for LiveJournal’s fatshionista community). When I can, I try to pay that forward.
  • I did the work of retraining my eye and doing what I could not to make the world worse for other people (by body-snarking, picking apart celebrity images, talking about diets).
  • I set and enforce a lot of boundaries with people who cannot be trusted to help me feel good about my body. There are some people who are not in my life anymore, or who are “small doses” people, because of this.
  • When I get down on myself, I try to imagine what I would say to a friend who was feeling this way. I hear my former (great) therapist’s voice a lot: “Could you try to be a little bit gentle with yourself around this?
  • I give it time, and many fits and starts. When I fall off the body-acceptance wagon, I have a process for getting back on. Sometimes that has to be enough.

Bonus practices, since you’re thinking about dating, specifically:

When I had my best/most happy/least sucky run of online dating after many years of trial and error, here are some things that helped me weed out the jerks and prioritize the cool people:

  • I used realistic photos that showed my body size in my dating profile and unapologetically self-identified as fat. Just say no to using only “flattering” face pics and then putting yourself through the dread of being “outed” as fat on the first date!
  • I only responded to people whose photos I liked. I didn’t try to talk myself into being attracted to someone if I didn’t like how they looked. Some people don’t like to fuck fat women, that’s cool! I wasn’t looking to fuck smokers or dudes with ponytails, and that is my personal subjective choice that I get to make. We’re both allowed to scroll on by, or “swipe left” as the kids these days are saying.
  • Any dude who made any weird comment about my size, either fetishizing it or “You’re not that fat” or “Um, exactly how fat are you?” or “You’re fatter than women I’m usually attracted to but you’re so cool I gotta make an exception” got a “Hey, thanks but no thanks.”
  • I like fat chicks, they try harder” = BLOCKED WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.
  • Anyone who said “So you are some kind of feminist, huh?” = BLIZZOCKED.
  • Ditto for guys who listed 10,000 super-cool books and bands and movies and artists they liked that were all created by and for white men. You just don’t happen to like any art by women? That’s cool, you continue to like whatever books you currently like, and I, a woman artist and writer, will continue to prioritize dudes who like some art by women.
  • Anyone who wanted me to do a lot of emotional labor up front – like, we’ve been on one date, why are you constantly g-chatting me about your family issues, or sending me texts that just say “Hey…” like I’m supposed to entertain you…just…no.
  • People who started their message with picking a “playful” argument or correcting me.”Your Hulk-ku was hilarious, but actually to be a real haiku it would have to be…..” Don’t know about you, but I find mansplainers completely unfuckable.
  • People who were pushy about wanting sex but not good at making plans or communicating = NOPE. (Casual sex has its place and I have had my glorious share of strictly physical encounters, but a guy who couldn’t text me back about whether we’re having drinks tonight after all in a timely fashion was not sending me encouraging messages about how fun sex would be).
  • Boring dudes who didn’t seem like they were interested in anything. “I’m looking for a partner-in-crime.” “I like to live life to the fullest.” “On a typical Friday night I’d be…hanging out.” “My mom says I’m funny.” My dude, even my enemies concede that I’m funny sometimes. These gentlemen were no doubt very nice and plenty interesting and someone will really like them, but we were not for each other. I needed “Big Weirdo seeks Big Weirdo for talking about Weird Stuff.
  • If the prospect of spending an hour with someone wasn’t as fun as if I’d spent the time with friends or alone, I didn’t go on a second date with that person. And if dating started to bum me out or take too much energy or feel like a chore, I took a break from it to focus on hobbies/work/school/art/friends/family/all the many vectors of love and companionship in my life.

You, a woman who is fatter than she’d like to be, can be picky. You don’t have to respond to everyone who writes to you. You can prioritize “shallow” things like attraction when making decisions about who to write back to or meet. And you are never obligated to put up with shitty treatment from some dude who thinks he’s granting you some giant favor by “overcoming” your body size to be with you. Weed That Guy out of your dating pool as soon as you possibly can.


I bet you’re pretty darn nice to look at! I bet lots of people see you and think that they’d like to get to know you. That doesn’t mean you fit the dominant beauty standard or that any person or people in particular will like the way you look or that your feelings about yourself are automatically invalid, but there are lots and lots and lots of ways to be nice looking. Lots of ways.

I bet your coworker was also embarrassed about the Tinder thing, but not because of not being attracted to you or not thinking you had a right to be there, just, it’s awkward to get mutual visual confirmation that a coworker is on Tinder. Your coworker was also taking a “Hey, I think maybe someone would be attracted to me?” risk.

I bet that if you can retrain your eye, find some solidarity, go slow, be gentle with yourself, and be picky, you’re gonna have a great life. At any size. At every size.

Sending you all the love and baby donuts, my lovely.


Moderation Notes:

  • What I’m hoping will happen with this discussion: People who have made some peace with their bodies will recommend resources and practices that work for them in maintaining body acceptance in a hostile world.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, give the Letter Writer weight loss advice if you wish to keep commenting here.
  • Do not tell us your weight, your size, your diet, your personal exercise regime, “healthy” recipes you eat. If you simply must talk about that stuff, behold, the rest of the internet lies open, ready and waiting to absorb this information.
  • Clothing sizes are tricky. “The dress in this photo is size ____/that site has clothes that go up to size ___” is useful information. “I am a size ____/I used be a size ___/I want to be a size ___” is not okay.
  • Well, you may be fat, but at least you’re not disabled.” NO. NOT OKAY. 
  • Some people/I personally am attracted to fat folks!” Okay? That can be good and true information, like, there is a ton of data that suggests that fat people are not doomed to die alone. Exhibit A:

Image Description: Wedding photo of Captain Awkward & Mr. Awkward looking fat and happy, outdoors in fall, near a cabin called The Little House of Glencoe. Old-School LJ Fatshionista Info: Dress = Modcloth, Size 4X (purchased on clearance, a sadly discontinued style), shoes = Camper (E-bay, also discontinued style, sorry), Cardigan = 3X, Lands’ End (probably still available in some form). Photography by the great Eric Lipe

But that doesn’t negate either the cultural messages or the Letter Writer’s feelings, so, make sure your encouraging comment doesn’t sound like a Note From A Boner.

Thank you in advance.

Edited To Add: I started reading fat acceptance and fatshion blogs 10 years ago, so the resources that come to my mind as ones that helped me reflect that. There are beautiful and active communities on Tumblr and Instagram and Twitter and elsewhere online still doing this work. If you are one of these wonderful people, self-promotion and self-linking in comments is a-ok. All I ask is that if your blog *does* mention specific weights other stuff that is not allowed in our site policies, please tell us so people can make an informed choice, for example: “I put my actual weight in all my posts so people can get a realistic idea of what that means, visually.








summer_jackel: (Default)
Sweet, this is a bit of Rosegarden I needed to write eventually anyway. It fits into Lial's early emancipation sequence.


Which OC wears hair accessories?


Lial stepped out onto the staff balcony, into the sun, and the net of tiny crystals worked into her long hair seemed to ignite into pale-yellow fire. Her white robe was of the simplest cut, but Zela blinked at the unlikely marvel that she’d made of her already eye-catching tresses.

Zela realized she was staring, returned herself to appropriate distance, but didn’t grudge signing ‘impressive’ into their shared context. Valerai was still staring, but in a different way, her expression a thoughtful, head-cocked perplexity not at all unlike the wolfhound standing quietly beside her, as though trying to understand rather than admire what she was seeing.

The jeweled net worked part of Lial’s hair into an interlocking spiral that began at her temples, made a tight coil down the back of her neck, and spilled in scintillation down her back. A faceted stone of clear yellow glittered at her brow. It was the same bright, clear yellow as her eyes, and it was to this Valerai looked askance.

Lial’s usual regal distance had a different quality as she stared calmly into the middle distance, her expression an absence framed by the intricate crystals, and Valerai scrutinized her in the way her dog sniffed the air, trying to understand.

“Will it impress the audience?” She spoke with the inflection of one who had been taught late how inflection was meant to work in human language. In-city formal, and now Zela thought she understood the Yls-vel accent—God.

“Ought to,” shrugged Zela. “Hey Valerai, you’re staring. Nice hair. Come on, we’d better get out there.”

Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain Awkward,

Almost a year and a half ago, while I was in tenuous material circumstances myself, my partner of less than a year got sick. One minute they were having a biopsy and the next minute they were fresh out of what turned out to be cancer surgery. Shocked, I didn’t have the presence of mind to prevent post-surgery on my couch from turning into living on my couch. 

Frustrated with my overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of epic shitty circumstances (which also later turned out to include partner’s mental health crash-and-burn), and failing to get caretaking support from their family, my community, and whatever social safety net ostensibly exists for someone like my now-ex,I started aggressively pursuing work. 

I struck a deal with my friend to  help with their small online business. Working for them for the past almost year has allowed me not only to  address my recent and childhood traumas in therapy, but also to enroll in a course to learn their trade.

They offered me partnership, I took it. We’ve been splitting the revenues, but have yet to finalize our partnership agreement.

So here is the deal: my prospective business partner also struggles with chronic and mental illness. Sometimes getting them to do any work even on a flexible timeframe is like pulling teeth. Right now, the money coming in is by-and-large from a combo of their old work and my current work.

I am torn.

They extended a hand to me when I desperately needed it, and they really did help give me space to heal. Having experienced mental illness and loved someone who has mental illness, I have a hard time writing them off just because they’re difficult to work with. They were so patient with me when there were some days, and some weeks, when I just couldn’t work.

On the other hand, I *did* do a lot of work. I went to therapy, I got my ex off my couch, I revived their business, and I invested in professional development education which will empower me, if I choose, to work on my own. After everything I just went through, and from where I stand now, I am seriously balking at formalizing my commitment to this person who is reliably unreliable about doing anything besides paying me.

What should I do? 

So Burnt Out (She)

Dear So Burnt Out:


giphy (12)

Image description: Animated .gif of Shirley, Britta, and Annie from Community smiling and giving a thumbs-up.

Also, don’t sign that thing yet. Balking at it is a healthy sign that you are taking care of yourself.

In my opinion, before you sign anything:

You need…a vacation of at least a week where you take care of nothing or no one but you.

You need…to schedule periodic breaks for yourself through the end of the year so that you can take care of yourself. Put your winter holiday plans on the calendar. Put a brief September or October getaway on the calendar. Hell, you’re the boss, so put “I don’t work on Fridays over the summer” on the calendar if that can be done reasonably. Ask your business partner to do the same thing. “Let’s schedule some breaks so that we can stay on top of the work without getting burnt out.

You need…to explore your field and investigate where you fit in. Maybe work with a career coach or mentor (who is not your business partner). Maybe set up some informational interviews with people who do the kind of work you do. See if there is a MeetUp or professional organization related to what you do. Join them. Attend events.

This is a project of a few months where you figure out what you really want to be doing with your professional life longer-term. This is where you also remind yourself that you have options and this partnership is just one of those options. This research will help you negotiate and make decisions from a position of strength.

You need…to hammer out some things with your business partner before you make a final decision.

Unspoken agreements, unwritten rules, and assumptions are morale-killers, partnership-killers and business-killers. Creating a partnership means putting things in writing and spelling them out so that the boundaries and rewards are clear. If things are not clear between you, either in general or in the current contract, then it’s time to make them more clear.

Reminder: I am not a lawyer or expert in how business partnerships work, and this is not legal advice. You should have your own attorney look at anything you sign before you sign it. This advice is meant to help you think through what you need from any partnership to make it function well for the specific actual people in this actual situation. Maybe these are discussion questions that you work through, maybe these go into a memo that gets added to your agreement. Make sense?


  • What is your business partner’s best-case scenario for how this will all work? Have they spelled out a vision for how they want the firm to operate long-term? Is this congruent with what you want?
  • Is your role going to be that of managing partner, where you are responsible for setting deadlines and “getting them” to do the work on schedule? Is this structure spelled out (and rewarded)?
  • What are the expectations of how many hours/week or month each partner will work? What are the expectations of quantity and quality of work output?
  • What accommodations do you need in a flare-up of your respective illnesses? Can you agree that during these times there is a protocol to follow?
  • What are the terms if either of you needs time off or a lighter workload for medical reasons? What is the plan should one or either of you become unable to work for a significant period of time? Is there a structure in place for one partner taking a leave of absence? What short-term and long-term disability insurance can the company put in place for both of you?
  • Even when things are good, what’s the plan for each of you to take adequate time off in the course of the year, to recharge and avoid burnout? Are there times of year when it’s ok to wind the business down or take turns taking longer breaks to pursue other interests and opportunities?
  • Is there a continuing education budget so that you can both keep your skills sharp?
  • What are the terms for dissolving the partnership if you decide to seek another opportunity later?

How you both answer these questions doesn’t have to look like how any other business would answer these questions, as long as whatever you agree is transparent and it works for both of you. You don’t have to build your business based what theoretical non-mentally-ill people “should” do in the same situation. 

Think of it this way: This person built a business that sustained themselves all this time and that was able to grow to sustain you when you needed it. They are not your couch-living-ex! That doesn’t mean you owe this person continued service or that you need to hitch your wagon to their star forever, and you definitely shouldn’t continue working there if you don’t want to. But this is in no way an automaticSheesh, here I am, the unwilling caretaker, AGAIN” situation. You don’t have to accept this role, and you certainly don’t have to accept it without negotiation. If you can have some honest conversations, you have a rare opportunity to build a business together that builds in accommodations for burn-out and for people with mental illness from the start.

For example, instead of having a situation like you have now, where you feel like you’re the one keeping things afloat without recognition or an end in sight or a safe way to talk about it, you could decide to have a “Hey, partner, I notice you’re having trouble meeting deadlines right now.  Are you all right? Do we need to activate Article 11?” conversation, where Article 11 is:

  • Ill partner takes a couple of days off, as soon as possible, to regroup and start whatever medical care is necessary.
  • Other partner helps triage their work so they are doing only what they can and what is necessary for them to do, at reasonable deadlines.
  • The company budgets to bring in a temporary assistant to handle admin & billing issues and to take non-essential things off the collective plate.
  • After a certain time period (2-3 months?) you agree that it’s time to discuss adding an additional staff member to the company full-time or making some other accommodation.

Obviously, I am making this up out of my head as an example of what you could negotiate in my beautiful fantasy about what a business that actually intentionally accommodates people with mental illnesses could look like. Adapt whatever is useful for you.

A script for the conversation could be, “Hey, before I sign these papers, I think we need to talk more about the way we set up our business so that it works for both of us. You were so wonderfully able to accommodate me when I was dealing with [sucky life situation], and I want to be able to accommodate you the same way now that you’re dealing with [sucky life situation]. Can we hammer out a structure that will help us stay profitable and grow, maintain parity in our workloads, and make this really sustainable for us as a company and as human beings?

See also: “Hey, I know I still haven’t signed the papers. My bandwidth for doing xyz work is being exceeded right now, and I need some help brainstorming a way to handle that before finalizing our agreement.

Or, “You’ve been having trouble with deadlines lately, and I am feeling overwhelmed and close to burnout. I need some time off next week. Can you step in?

You don’t have to sign the papers, ever.  If your time of working with this person is done, it’s okay to decide that, and telling them is a kind thing to do so they can make good decisions about their business. “I’m so grateful for all you’ve done, but in practice a partnership arrangement isn’t working for me and I’d like to [go back to freelance at $xxxx rate][strike out on my own][stay on until I find another job][be hired as a project manager at $xxxxxx salary][help you hire someone before I start new job on (date)][wind down my projects].” 

If you don’t feel like you can raise these questions with this person, factor that into your decision. (i.e. Do not partner.)

If you raise these things and the answers are vague, defensive, full of expectations that you should be grateful for all they’ve “given” you, factor that into your decision. (i.e. Do not partner.)

If you taking time off for a even a week is impossible because you can’t trust your partner to keep things on an even keel while you’re out, factor that into your decision. (i.e. …)

If you honestly feel you’d be happier and do better if you strike out on your own, factor that into your decision. (Hence…)

Partnership and collaboration involve risk, and vulnerability, for both people. Can lovely, generous, imperfect you and this lovely, generous, imperfect person risk a little more to have the conversations that would make the things you do together not just work, but sing? I can’t help wondering. That doesn’t obligate you, but I can’t help wondering.

If you’re going to build a business, build the business you want to work in. You’re going to do and be great, whatever you decide.

summer_jackel: (Default)
A piece of story! But not of 'Rosegarden.' This bit will come in the third part of book 1, 'Lady and Huntsman.' Currently, I plan to divide it into 3 parts, with 'City of Beasts' being third.

This scene should be one of the first introduction to the vayans (assuming the reader has not already read Rosegarden, which will be finished first) and almost certainly the first use of vayan perspective.

I apparently needed to write some average human/vayan interaction out there, to contrast with the less average situation I'm working on now in 'Rosegarden.'

The silent air became electric. The vayans were perfectly still, weight forward on their heavy, curving hands, long, razor-crested necks held tall and stiffly forward, bristling. )
joreth: (polyamory)
Every year, Atlanta Poly Weekend ( holds a charity auction where items are auctioned off and all the proceeds to go a local Atlanta-based charity called Lost-n-Found Youth ( for homeless LGBTQ youth. I didn't really have the time this year to build new presentations, so instead of being a speaker (although I will be available to discuss any of my past presentations and I will have materials and handouts from old presentations), I decided to make something for the auction.

This year, I am donating a one-of-a-kind chain mail necklace and earring set, hand-crafted by me. Made of black and white-silver chain mail in a Byzantine rope pattern with "floating bead" diamond design, it features real Swarovski crystals in the shapes of hearts and bicone beads, using my own infinity-heart design of a floating infinity in front of a solid crystal heart.

I make and sell the Byzantine Floating Bead necklace and earring sets but this particular color pattern and pendant set does not exist in any of my commercial offers and it will not. I also do not offer the infinity-heart pendants in any color on any of my products for sale - I save this particular pendant design for my own personal jewelry and even I don't have it in this color pattern.

I designed it to be as color-neutral as possible so that it would match any outfit. If I were to sell this set in my jewelry store, it would retail for $50 because of the handmade work and the unique pendant design. I hope I can bring a good price to the auction to help our local charity.

So please start saving up now for June! Remember, 100% of the proceeds goes to the Lost-N-Found Youth charity in Atlanta, GA through the Atlanta Poly Weekend 2017 conference, hosted by the Relationship Equality Foundation.

If you would like to commission me to make some chain mail or wire elf ear jewelry, my Etsy shop is

Full Floating Bead Byzantine necklace and earring set in a clear plastic case with white foam insert for storage and travel. Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

Closeup of the floating bead and infinity-heart design of the necklace and earrings.
Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

Closeup of the floating bead connection used to join the 3 Floating Bead Byzantine diamonds.
Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

Closeup of the Floating Bead Byzantine diamond and infinity heart pendant.
Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

The Floating Bead Byzantine necklace with infinity-heart pendant around the "neck" of a dressmaker's dummy.
Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

Artistic shot of the Floating Bead Byzantine necklace and earring with infinity-heart pendants.
Retail price for complete set $50. Up for auction at Atlanta Poly Weekend to support the Lost-N-Found Youth charity.

Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain! All names have been changed to protect the guilty. Sorry this is long, but the backstory is rather necessary.

I’m a 45 year old pansexual poly woman. I’ve been with Wolfie since I was 18, married him at 23, and had two sons with him, who are now both out of the house. We’re also kinky, both dominants. I met Jon through a kink website, and while our relationship started as purely D/s play partners with friendship, we’ve fallen in love over time. Jon wears my collar. Wolfie’s known about the relationship with Jon from the beginning. Wolfie and Jon get along really well. Over the last four years, Jon and I have gotten much closer. And he confessed last fall that he wants to marry me when Wolfie dies.

Wolfie’s ten years older than me, so he’s 55, and while I knew demographics suggested I’d outlive him, it’s another thing to have it brought home to you when you’re still feeling young. He smoked for most of our marriage and well before, has worked a lot of physical jobs, gotten in a lot of fights, and…. the outcome is congestive heart failure, COPD, arthritis in all his joints, and diabetes. He’s on disability. I could wake up to him dead in bed beside me tomorrow, to put it bluntly. As it is, I’m pretty sure he won’t make it to 60. He is not trying to manage his conditions. He is in total denial of all of this. As far as he’s concerned, he has about thirty years of happy retirement to look forward to.

I had been going down (it’s an hour drive, we live on opposite sides of a large metropolitan area) to see Jon for the weekend once a month for about eight months of 2016/17. Jon developed a drinking problem last fall, and in the course of his achieving sobriety, I spent a week with him on a couple of different occasions, and that blew away any reservations we had about our eventual future. We also grew close enough, and our relationship deepened enough, that I now view myself as having two primary partners. We three decided that Wolfie and I should come down to Jon’s place and spend the weekend, unless Wolfie was busy, in which case he’d drop me off or Jon would come get me and Jon and I would have the weekend alone.

Well, I’ve done two weekends with Jon alone, and one weekend with Jon and Wolfie, and Jon said to me that Saturday night, “Next weekend, I’d rather have neither of you come than both of you come.” And I understood why. Wolfie likes to be the center of attention. He has needs. Actually, he has NEEDS. It’s hard for him to get up and down, and the arthritis makes it hard for him to stand very long at all. And he has no wind, so he gets out of breath at the slightest exertion. So it’s, “Get me a glass of tea. Get me the ketchup. Pick up the fork I dropped. Help me on with my shoes. Take my socks off.” He also needs to be the most important man in my life, flattered and reassured constantly. It honestly feels like having a child hanging off me. When I’m at home, it even interferes with the housework and cooking; he wants me to be right there within view.

This is newish behavior. He’s never been the same after the hospitalization in 2015 when they found out he had congestive heart failure and drained 30 pounds of fluid. He’s King Baby all the time now. It’s interfering with his relationship with his sons, and it’s building up a lot of unhappiness in me. Needless to say, our sex life is non existent. I have my time with Jon as a safety valve…. 50 or so hours where I get to be a beloved and adored adult woman with her own needs and desires sweetly catered to, and then back to the rest of the week of caregiving for someone who never says “Thank you.” I can stand it, because I don’t have to stand it for another five years, even. He’s already showing signs of the heart failure getting worse.

I know that I should hold a firm boundary with him about my weekends with Jon. But if I am firm about this, he will get tremendously hurt, yell, and start talking about how maybe he should go talk to a lawyer about a divorce. I don’t want to divorce him. I love him, and have loved him, for more than half my life. It matters to me to be beside him when he goes. And while Wolfie knows (we did have this conversation last fall) that Jon wants to marry me someday, so “he doesn’t have to worry about me”, he’s not willing to do some other things that need to be done. I’d like him to write down the stories about his firearm collection so his sons can have them, for example. I’d like to clean out the basement. And I can’t talk about this stuff because he’s totally in denial.

So how do I hold my boundary without destroying my marriage or damaging my other relationship? And how do I cope with the denial without going insane?

Thanks in advance to all.
The Lady Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

That’s a lot to sit with right there, Perplexed Lady. Let’s sit with it together.

I. The Five Year Plan

If Wolfie did in fact have “another thirty years of happy retirement to look forward to,” that’s a good thing, right? The two of you, growing old together, you staying on as the loyal caretaker and wife, visiting Jon on the odd weekend, forever, for the rest of your lives? That’s what you want! Yaaaaaayyyy!

I can stand it, because I don’t have to stand it for another five years, even.”


My dear Lady Perplexed, it sounds like part of you is waiting for Wolfie to die so that you can both be the loyal, loving wife who stood by him until the end and then finally be happy and start over with Jon.

Meaning, you are one burned-out caregiver, having not-uncommon-burned-out-caregiver thoughts that are very ugly and guilt-inducing when dragged out into the light in front of strangers. These thoughts borne of grief and stress are not the whole of you, or your love, or your relationship, but they are something you should pay attention to. Think of them as canaries in the coal mine of your happiness.

If you’re committed to being there for Wolfie as long as you need to be there, then you need to make your day-to-day life sustainable and not just live for those weekends away.

To do this, at minimum, you need:

  • Time to yourself. You need your weekends with Jon, and you also need a certain amount of time to exercise, read, rest, recharge, take care of your own health, and hear your own thoughts without interruption.
  • People to talk to who aren’t Wolfie or Jon. Friends, a counselor, an online support group. Fellow kinksters and/or kink-aware professionals who will understand your situation. People you aren’t sexually involved with, people who don’t have a vested interest in your choices. You can’t do this alone.
  • Help with caregiving. Caring for someone full-time is a job. The people who do that job do not do it 24-7 and they don’t do it for people they have complicated emotional and financial ties to. You need help.
  • Time with Wolfie that isn’t just about you caring for him. Is it time for a return to Date Night, even if that looks like ordering in and watching a favorite movie or playing games together? Can you ask him to take the lead in thinking about something you could do together that week?

Would you be this committed if you knew he’d be around longer? Is it possible for you to have a happy and rewarding life soon, or now, inside this marriage? Those are questions I can’t answer for you. Let’s stick to the minimum today.

II. Standards & Practices

I think you and Wolfie need a professional caregiver to come in at least some of the time and I think you need this now. Wolfie is going to resist this, and you need to do it anyway, in part because a professional caregiver will have boundaries. S/he will enforce boundaries with Wolfie and model expectations for you.

True story: My grandparents were in their 80s, living at home, and my mom helped sign them up for Meals on Wheels. Finally, my grandma wouldn’t have to cook three meals a day and could get a little bit of a break. Except my Grampa [“King Baby” is a great term, btw] complained constantly about the food: he hated it, wouldn’t eat it, it was the worst ever, it was disgusting, why was she putting him through this, couldn’t she just cook? My grandma was not a gourmet, y’all. Canned vegetables heated in the microwave, a lot of Campbell’s soup, a lot of sandwiches, Spaghettios, franks & beans, fish sticks, the odd casserole — Trust me when I say that the switch to Meals on Wheels wasn’t like being married to Ina Garten one day and living out of a campus vending machine the next. Anyway, she made so much friction about it that it became “easier” just for her to do all the cooking.

After she died, Grampa asked my mom if he could have the Meals on Wheels again. “But you hate it!” my mom said. “No, I love it!” he said. “Then sign up yourself! Here’s the number!” she said. She was (rightly) furious. When it could have given her mom a respite from cooking, Grampa wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted to be fussed over and waited on, specifically by Grandma, or it didn’t count. We had a running joke in our family, where, whenever Grampa came over I’d set the table with every possible utensil, textile, and condiment I could think of next to his plate, because he would always, no matter what, without fail, request something that wasn’t on the table. Not this kind of mustard, the other kind. Not this knife, another one. Not this kind of napkin, one of those dish towels. Tablecloth on the table? Could he have a placemat, too? Did we have any mint jelly, by chance? My brothers and I would take bets about what it would be, something, anything, to get either me or my mom (never my dad or brothers, hrmmm, strange) to get up and fetch it for him and fuss over him. He did this to my Grandma at breakfast lunch and dinner for 60 years, which explains the other family “joke” at mealtimes: “Grandma, sit down! We’re not going to start eating until you sit down! We don’t need anything, just eat!” He’d trained her to never, ever let herself get settled into her chair.

A professional caregiver can help Wolfie with things he can’t do himself. Someone like an occupational therapist can help him find workarounds so that he can do more things himself. Neither of these people will treat a dropped fork like a crisis that requires an emotional performance of homage. Wolfie probably won’t like that, especially at first, but the more he can do for himself the better he will feel, and your relationship will be healthier for it.

III. Summoning The Cavalry/The Story Of The Guns

Call your sons. Tell them some stuff and ask them for some stuff.

  • “Son/Sons, y’all know that your dad is not in good health right now?”
  • “We’re doing our best, but he needs a lot of care, and I need a respite sometimes. Can I count on you for some help with this?”
  • “Specifically, I’d like you to each take a turn, one weekend a month, of being ‘on call’ for him so I can get away for a day or two and recharge. Sometimes that could just mean giving him a call or dropping by to see if he needs anything, but I hope you’ll spend some quality time together, too.”
  • “I know, it’s really hard to think about him getting older, but it’s time to get honest about this as a family. I need some help here, and I want him to tell you the family stories while he still can.”
  • “Thank you, this will help me a lot. Let’s figure out a schedule together. Love you.”

I know, geography might not be in your favor, I know, everyone is busy and it might not work every weekend, I know, he might need more intense care than a phone call or dropping by, so, okay, what can be done? Your sons might say no, which, okay, it’s their decision and their loss. If you haven’t already asked, it’s time to ask.

See also: Call Wolfie’s other family members and friends to help you. Call them so that you don’t burn out. Call them because chronic illness is lonely and depressing and isolating and this is a way to fight that, for both of you.

IV. Fuck Cleaning The Basement

Ever quit a job, and as soon as you give your notice, your boss dredges up a million projects that were never really a priority before but now they simply must be finished before you go? Like, two years of neglected work that is now supposed to be magically completed in two weeks? Wishful thinking and denial in the face of impending absence takes many forms.

If Wolfie has trouble putting on his own socks, how’s he gonna clean out this basement, exactly?

We die in the middle of the things we didn’t finish. Five years or five minutes or five decades from now, Wolfie will die in the middle of something unfinished, too. Denial won’t stop it coming. Acceptance won’t, either. In his shoes, you would want to do everything you could to wrap things up as cleanly as possible for him for when you’re gone, but you’re not the boss of his (possibly) impending death and how he faces or doesn’t face it. Can we really judge him if he needs to believe it will come “someday, a long time from now,” out of the blue, a complete surprise? Could anything be more common, more human, than that wish?

So, you have limited time and energy and you need to budget them. Save your Difficult Conversation Units for the essential stuff and for stuff that improves your quality of life now. For example:

  • Do you both have updated wills, medical directives, and the insurance you need in place in case something happens? (We owe this work to our spouses, even if it sucks to think about, so this is worth pushing).
  • Can you get the periodic respites from caregiving you need now, be they weekends with Jon or the freedom to be in a different part of the house for a while? (You need this, so, push for it).
  • What caregiving assistance can you hire, or access through your community? Now? In the future, especially if he deteriorates more? (You both have a right to draw on whatever resources and safety net you can).

If you’re looking for avenues to practice acceptance and letting go, the basement is probably going to stay how it is until you decide to clean it. If your sons don’t ask for the stories behind the guns, they might not ever get them.

We die unfinished.

V. Calling The Bluff

Next time you plan to visit Jon, tell Wolfie that you’re going alone from now on.

Him: “But we talked about me coming along.”

You: “I know, but I really need a little time away to recharge. I’ll see you Sunday.”

Him: “But how will I ____ without you?”

You: “Son 1 (Englebert) and Son 2 (Humperdinck) said they’ll drop by for a bit and keep their phones on this weekend, so call if you need them.”

Him: “But I need someone with me all the time.”

You: “Okay, then let’s call [Caregiving Agency] and set that up.”

Him: “But I need youuuuuuu!”/”If you loved me, you’d ______.”

You: “Love, I need this break. This isn’t a negotiation – I’m going solo.”

Him: “But I came last time and I thought it was a really good weekend. Do you and Jon not want me there?/You’d rather be with Jon than with me/Was this Jon’s idea?”

You: “I need these weekends to unwind and relax, and it’s hard for me to do if you’re there, too. It’s not a competition, please don’t make it one.”

Him: [yelling]”Well, maybe I should call a lawyer and see about getting a divorce!!!”

You: “Wow! A divorce would make me very sad, because I love you, and I don’t want that at all. But if you’re ready to divorce me because I need a couple of days to myself, I can’t stop you. It doesn’t change the fact that I still need that time.”

Four suggestions/things to remember:

  • Own the decision. Jon was the one who said “come alone or don’t come” (good job with boundaries, Jon!), but in your conversations with Wolfie you should own the decision and express it in terms of what you want/need/have decide.
  • Keep the conversation narrowly focused. The topic is “Solo Weekends With Jon: I Need Them” not “Mortality: It’s Looming. Any Thoughts?” or “Don’t Worry, When You Die, Jon Will Give Me The Cherishing I Deserve.”
  • Wolfie has choices about what he does about his feelings and how he treats you. If he wants to renegotiate the terms of your relationship, he can talk to you about that. If he has sad or lonely feelings he can call a friend or write a poem. You are not responsible for everything he feels or for ignoring your own needs to only cater to his.
  • Setting a boundary only works if you enforce it. If you give in and stay and let a fight derail your plans, you’ll teach him that threatening you and making a big stink works to get his way. On the other hand, he can only really make this threat once with any credibility. If he doesn’t back it up with action, you’ll know it’s just a bluff to manipulate you. (If you think he really would divorce you over this, then you need a lawyer and a plan for protecting yourself financially if that really were to happen.)

VI. Minding the Ps and Qs 

There are people who think that good manners are things you put on for company and that with family, bluntness is closeness. There are people who think that good manners and observing a few formalities like “please” and “thank you” are even more important when you live in close quarters. Mixed marriages occur all the time, and sometimes you need to say say “habits and upbringing be damned” and negotiate which kind of family you want to be.

Being sick is exhausting, and Wolfie probably has little energy left over for asking nicely when he needs something. There are times when a terse “Come help me!” has an extra layer of “Being vulnerable and asking for help sucks, and I am trusting you to come help me without needing a lot of negotiation or a performance of gratitude on my part.

But if the terseness or rudeness or constant catering to him is wearing you down, ask for something different. Save the conversation for when he’s not in a crisis mode and for a request that isn’t urgent. Maybe a script could be:

Wolfie, if you say ‘Come help me!’ or just yell my name from the next room, I’ve been reading that as ‘Emergency! drop what you’re doing and come right now!’ It’s not sustainable to do that all day, every day. If something is not an emergency, can you try making it sound less like a command? With a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’ attached?

He may grumble, or not understand why you need this – “I shouldn’t have to thank you for everything you do, you’re my wife!” – try saying “No, but it would make me really happy if you did it sometimes, when you’re able. Can you try?

Y’all are kinky and have made polyamory work for you for years, so I bet you know how to negotiate a lot of tough things. Try negotiating this the way you would that? With humor, and trust? “This isn’t a scene, so, ‘Get me a glass of tea’ isn’t gonna fly, Lord Domly Pants.



That’s the sitting time I’ve got today. I hope you can take some of the pressure off, get some boundaries in place, and figure out what you want and need from the next five years and beyond.

Edited To Add:

  1. The more the Letter Writer updated, the more it became clear that this is a highly untenable and emotionally abusive situation, where every one of her needs comes in second to Wolfie’s. Get the foot surgery. Call in every resource you can…FOR YOU. Call social workers, doctors, and think about talking to a domestic violence hotline or counselor. Even if you can’t call it “abuse” yet, even if it hasn’t crossed over into hitting or whatever your threshhold is, I think a kind, trained person who will believe you and connect you with resources can be really helpful right now.
  2. The comment discussion has grown beyond what I can reasonably moderate. Thanks to all who left helpful, respectful comments. Discussion closed as of 5/22.




Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

I am an adult (early 30’s) child of two wonderful people who are going through some turbulence in their marriage–that thing of having an empty nest/rediscovering each other/discovering they have communication issues that have just been sitting there for 30+ years and are now blowing up. They’re going to get counseling, which hopefully is step one of getting this all resolved, but in the meantime, I need some advice about navigating things with my mom. We live in different parts of the country, but we are on very good terms with one another, and talk on the phone a couple of times a week.

The current problem I have is that my mom calls me to vent about how hurt and despairing she is about her marriage, how my dad unintentionally really got under her skin or triggered her PTSD (she grew up in an abusive home). I should clarify that neither she nor I think that my dad is abusive; he just sometimes doesn’t understand what’s wrong or how to fix it. He gets hurt that she’s mad at him for reasons he doesn’t understand, then she gets hurt that he doesn’t understand, which restarts the spiral, etc. etc. etc. And then I get to hear all about the fight and how upset she is. The fighting is not constant, but it cycles around from time to time, and when it happens, it’s pretty intense.

She has been talking to me about this stuff for years–starting from when I was honestly probably still too young to deal with it–and it is super, super hard for me. I love, like, and respect both of my parents, and it feels like a punch in the gut to hear about them hurting each other, especially because I know they both deeply love each other and are trying to do right by each other. I don’t want to deny my mom the basic emotional support that friends show each other when going through a rough time. But when she talks about her marriage, it’s so hard for me, because that’s my dad. I guess for this part I feel like I need to get better at either a) not getting so rocked when we talk about this, or b) asking my mom to leave me out of it in a way that won’t absolutely crush her–especially in light of the fact that it’s been going on so long.

So that’s the current problem; the potential future one is that my mom has floated the idea of leaving my dad if things don’t get better, and she would want to come move in with me. She is disabled–still pretty independent, but unable to work, and living on her own would be a real struggle. My other sibling is kinda flaking out on the world right now and is not an option; my mom’s side of the family is the reason she has PTSD and is therefore also not an option. And as much as I love (and like!) my mom, and as much as I’d love to live in the same state again, it hurts so much to think of her moving in with me because of leaving my dad. And it would substantially disrupt my life to accommodate her. It’s not completely unworkable–but man it would be hard. If my dad died–or abused her or cheated on her–I would take her in a heartbeat with no complaints and no hesitation. But knowing that she was staying with me because she and dad gave up on each other feels very different. I worry about what it would do to my relationship with my dad. I worry about what it would do for my financial and living situation. If she decides she would be happier living with me, well, maybe she’d be right–but I’m pretty sure I’d be less happy, and I’m not sure she’s done the math on that, and I’m not sure how to tell her without making her feel rejected.

They’re adults, and are not beholden to me, so I know that pulling a “think of your (grown) children” talk would be beyond inappropriate. But–it would directly affect me. And of course I want them to work it out. I can’t tell where healthy boundaries end and selfishness begins here for me.

I guess the biggest underlying struggle I have is that I am my mom’s closest friend, and the person she trusts most in the entire world. I know this because she has told me so, repeatedly–starting when I was probably a bit too young for that to be entirely cool. And as much as I am grateful that she believes I love her and like her, it kinda scares me to be the only one she really trusts. She’s recently been seeing a therapist (thank GOD–seriously, that took years to talk her into), so I am no longer the only person she talks to at all, but I’m still the one she trusts most.

Practically speaking, I am almost certainly her only option for somewhere else to live, and I’m not sure there’s much to be done about that. Emotionally speaking, I am the only one she’s fully willing to lean on–and I feel like that part is not quite so inevitable, and also not spectacularly healthy, but I don’t know how to fix it without being really devastating to her.

Again, I love and like my mom so, so much, and I’m willing to knuckle down and do the right thing even if it’s costly to me–but I also don’t want to be shouldering burdens that I shouldn’t be taking on.

Any advice/scripts are greatly appreciated.

Boundary-Challenged Adult Daughter

Dear Boundary-Challenged,

It’s good when parents and their adult children have cordial and friendly relationships with each other, but whenever I hear “My daughter is my best friend” from a parent it gives me the same sketchy wary feeling as when an employer says “We’re like a family here!” or a romantic partner says “You’re the only person who can ever understand me.” Like, what is missing here that you’re projecting this whole other type of relationship onto what you have? Parents are not the same thing as friends. Whether the bond is strong and loving or not, there is too much primal history and power imbalance between parents and children to make “friendship” be the thing they have with each other. In this vein, it is really not cool to make your child the sounding board for marital woes and issues with the child’s other parent! It was super-NOT COOL of her to do that to you when you were a kid! Children are not here to soothe and repair their parents’ emotional landscapes!

So, you’re right, it’s time to get out of the middle of your parents’ marital crisis. Your scripts, when you choose to deploy them, are:

  • Mom, I know I’m changing the rules on you, but I need to set a boundary: I’m really uncomfortable with how much of our time we spend talking about Dad and I am going to start changing the subject when the topic comes up!
  • Mom, I’m sorry that things are so hard for you and Dad right now.” + [Subject Change]
  • “I don’t want to be your sounding board about Dad anymore.
  • Mom, that’s as much Dad-talk as I can handle today.
  • Mom, I would tell Dad the same thing if he wanted to talk to me about you: I am not the right person to process this with.

Recombine and repeat as necessary. Be gentle with her and yourself and give it time. This dynamic didn’t happen over night, and it will take multiple attempts to make the boundary stick on both sides. At the beginning, strive for 2-3 gentle subject changes and then, if the subject won’t stay changed, end the conversation for that day. Do your best to start again fresh the next time you talk to her; you don’t want to punish her for past failures to change the subject, you want to encourage and guide her toward a new normal.

If you’re not in the habit of maintaining boundaries with your mom, guess what, it’s really hard to get started. There is such a weight there, and it can’t be shed overnight. If she has a really painful reaction to being told “no,” it’s probably gonna hit you like a ton of bricks at first, and you’re gonna want to do anything to comfort her in that moment (shredding your fragile boundaries all to hell). Keep repeating this to yourself: The first time is the hardest time. Every time after that will be at least a touch easier, because you will have survived the first time and you know you will both survive the next time. Whatever you do, don’t neglect your own emotional support resources – Trusted friends as sounding boards, maybe a counselor of your own – as you learn to put this into practice.

When your mom brings up coming to live with you, this could be your script:

Mom, if you eventually decide that living away from Dad would make you happier, you should take steps to do that. But coming to live with me is not an option right now, and I need to tell you that so that you can explore all the options that might be open and make the best decision for yourself.

In a true emergency, you’d find a way to take her in. Absent that emergency, let’s interrogate the idea that you’re her only option. In case of a divorce, your mom’s housing situation and the splitting of financial assets would be a part of the negotiations between your parents. The solution the courts arrive at might not be ideal for her, but I don’t think think you have to accept your mother’s framing of this as your problem until a lot of stuff that is outside your control (and outside the realm of stuff you should have to control) is resolved. There are a lot of miles before that bridge needs crossed.

Sometimes good people who love each other can want and need really different stuff from a relationship. You don’t have to solve her marriage, her housing situation, or her feelings about having limits set in order to have and set those limits.

So, it’s okay to set a boundary for what you can handle and to redirect her toward someone who could actually help (like her counselor, who can help her sort through her history and the feelings she’s having)(who might also know a social worker)(who might be able to set her up with a stable housing situation or brainstorm other solutions).

She won’t like hearing “no” from you, it’s true. Her feelings will be hurt. But just like you are not solely responsible for her marriage, or her future housing situation, you aren’t solely responsible for how she handles disappointment or the steps she takes to find support and healing in the world. It’s part of the job of being a parent to set these kinds of boundaries and protect your kids from having to function as your emotional pillars. She grew up in an abusive home, true, and probably didn’t have good models for doing this, true, but she made a lot of choices to be a better parent to you than the ones she had and she has choices about what she does, here, too. If you say, “Mom, for my own sanity, I gotta set a limit on being the Secret Keeper Of The Order Of Your Marriage To My Other Parent,” her saying “I hear you, I’ll try to do better not to put you in the middle between me and Dad” is one of those choices. You’re not a bad daughter if you keep steering her toward that choice.





Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure whether I’m being ungenerous or this really is rude; hopefully you can help!

I’ve been with my firm for a long time; longer than most of the staff. I have a ton of institutional knowledge, and am the in-office expert on several specialized processes. Between that and my love of teaching, I find myself giving a lot of little tutorials and helping to troubleshoot issues, and it’s generally really great!


I get interrupted. A lot. I know my explanations can get fairly detailed (out of necessity!), but I don’t think it’s right to interrupt someone whose day you’ve disrupted, and more often than not it’s to ask a question that I was actively addressing. It should be noted that these are people stopping by my desk, not emailing or calling with their questions.

The worst is when people interrupt me to “correct” me on something I know extremely well. I’ll explain the format something needs to be in, and they’ll interrupt with “Well actually, it needs to be an excel document” when I just said it needs to be a *.csv. Because it needs to be a *.csv. I had one guy do this on his first day, as I was explaining something to a neighboring employee!

I don’t know how to make this stop. There’s a huge expectation that I be friendly and polite, but I want nothing more than to tell them “You’re clearly not interested in learning. Please leave so I can work,” and forward them a link to a search engine (and possibly a muzzle). I try not to let these interactions spoil my day, but they sometimes get me so bent out of shape I cancel my evening plans so I can decompress angrily at home.

Possibly related: despite my experience level, I’m relatively young, and even younger-looking. I’m also a woman. My older coworkers seldom pull this nonsense, and neither do women my age. Men my age are not just the worst offenders; they’re they only offenders. At this point I kind of dread every new male hire under 40. I don’t want it to make this a sexism thing, but it really does seem like one.

What do I do to stop the interrupters?


Wishing they would fall in a Well, Actually

Dear Wishing,

You’re being interrupted in two crucial ways: 1) Your workday is being interrupted by requests for training or clarification and 2) You’re being verbally interrupted by the people who interrupted you in the first place. Fortunately, there are a few strategies that come to mind that could make the interruptions less frequent and less annoying.

The Big Picture: In your shoes I might think about how valuable the institutional knowledge you have is to the company and how much of your job description involves being interruptible. Before the next performance review or meeting about your work with your bosses, it might be worth jotting down some notes about topics like:

  • Is the stuff you know about how to do those processes written down somewhere? When was it last updated?
  • Is there a budget or room in the schedule for you to develop training materials and process manuals to make sure it’s all written down and kept updated?
  • Is all of this training and explaining part of the job description you were hired to do? What percentage of your time do you think you spend training new employees or reviewing procedures? Has your salary or job description evolved to include this work?
  • Is there work you are supposed to be doing that gets sidelined when you need to train people?
  • Is there a training department and staff who could take some of this off your shoulders or loop you in in a structured way?

Depending on what your notes end up looking like, they may lead to a script for your boss, something like:

“In the past year I’ve spent about 30% of my time on-boarding new hires and teaching [processes]. I think it’s an enjoyable and important part of my job, and I think it’s valuable to the company because of [reasons]. I’m bringing this up now because I would like this work recognized when it’s time for promotion and compensation.

I’d also like your support in [making this a more visible and consistent part of my job, with title and $ to match][supporting a collaboration with the Training Department to document & deliver this information, so I won’t be the only source of this information in the company][putting in place a better structure when people have requests for training, so my other work isn’t interrupted][giving me an office with a door so I can have more privacy and quiet to concentrate on my other work][whatever specific thing you want your manager to do that’s both good for the team and for you].”

Basically, if it what you do is important, it might be too important to happen in this ad hoc way, and you can show some initiative while you create a structure that will give you more control over the situation.

The Smaller, Quotidian Picture: How to deal with the day-to-day drop-ins while you work on your bigger plan?

To Fight The Daily Kind Of Interruptions, Make (& Enforce) “Office Hours.”

Here’s how to get started:

  • For the next week, if you don’t already, start keeping track of how you use your time each day. Don’t prescribe or change anything at first, just observe & record.
  • See if there’s a specific time or day when requests for explanations & interruptions tend to pick up.
  • Also record if you are getting the same question or kinds of questions from more than one person.

After that week or few days of observing, try this:

  • When you first get to work in the morning, look at your to-do list and block out time in the day for each thing you have to work on. For example let’s imagine a 9-5 workday at an imaginary company. Say you have a day that looks sort of like this:
    • 9-9:15 – Organize the day (fun to cross a thing off right at the start)
    • 9:30-10 – Emails, meeting prep, anything urgent
    • 10 -11 am – Conference Call
    • 11 – 11:30 – Answer emails (in between messing about about on the internet reading blogs & stuff)
    • 11:30 am – 1 pm – Work on a specific deliverable, like a document or a specific bit of code or a presentation [whatever you make or do].
    • 1 – 2 pm Lunch
    • 2 – 2:30 – Back from lunch, catch up on emails (& world events)
    • 2-4:30  – Keep working on [whatever you make or do].
    • 4:30-5 – Back up your work, send anything that needs to go out by day’s end, let your team know where things are, get organized for tomorrow.
  • In your daily schedule, is there a good time (or at least a better time) to answer questions or train people on stuff? Carve those times out (draw a box around them, add gold stars, whatever, only you are looking at this right now) as your Office Hours. Those are the times where you can best respond to emailed requests for information or make some time to talk somebody through a process.
  • Start re-directing people who drop by to email you their questions and use the times to set their expectations for when you’ll answer:
    • “Hey Tad, can you email me your question? I’ll take a look and let you know what’s up by 2:30 today.”
    • “Biff, happy to help, but I’m in the middle of something right now, send me an email?”
    • “Greg, send me an email now and I’ll come find you after lunch if  we need to go over it together.
  • Over time, reset their expectations (and your expectations, which might be even harder) that it’s somehow “easier” if you just stop and cater to them immediately.

People may get impatient when you start doing this. They don’t want to do the work of composing an email and defining their question, they want you to “just fix it.” But they can survive not having everything they want when they want it. If you’re consistent and you follow up well, and you make reasonable exceptions for urgent/deadline situations, they will adjust. They will look up the answer. They will a ask someone else. They will email you, and if you don’t answer immediately, they will take a walk around the block or work on something else until you get back to them.

If you think it will cause real friction, or if for whatever reason you think it’s a good idea to loop your boss in, say: “Hey, I noticed I was spending a ton of time every day walking people through processes, I’m trying to channel those requests a little better so I can focus on [urgent stuff][your boss’s priorities].”

You aren’t doing anything wrong or mean or rude if you do this! You’re still gonna help people out, and you’re still gonna be friendly and helpful when you do, you’re just going to redirect the requests slightly so that you can:

  • Prioritize – Is their stuff more urgent than the other stuff you’re working on? Maybe Trey’s question can wait until you meet your own deadlines that day.
  • Document – How many questions *are* you getting in a day? A week? A month?
  • Document, Part 2: Could the email you sent to Chad last week also answer the issue for Bryan, Ryan, Ross, and Chase this week? Are those emails and documents you send in response to their questions the seeds of documentation and training materials to use in the future (or when you take a vacation)(or get a better job someday).
  • Categorize & Strategize – “Hey team, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how to export the TPS reports properly as a .csv this week. Anyone who needs a quick review, meet me in the conference room at 3:00 today and we’ll spend 15 minutes on it. BYO caffeine.”

Methods For Thwarting The Manterruptions*

  • Assume good faith…the first time. “Did you mean to interrupt me?” “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt me, but…”
  • Call it out.Hey, you asked me this question – can you let me finish the sentence?
  • Spell it out. Wait until they stop, or, interrupt them right back. “Hey, I realize this is complex and detailed. Why don’t you email me and I’ll send you the step-by-step.”
  • Spell it out & call it out…for repeat offenders.Hey, I don’t think you realize this, but you keep asking me questions and then interrupting me when I try to answer them. What’s going on with that?”
  • Tap out. Jared comes to ask you a question and Jesse “Well Actually” jumps in like the big goddamn hero of work procedures? Harness his manthusiasm! “Thanks, Jesse why don’t you walk Jared through it!” Then, if possible, throw your headphones back on or go get a glass of water from the kitchen and leave them to it.
  • Wait them out. When Chaz and Jaxx interrupt you, stop engaging. Turn back to whatever you were doing before they interrupted you, or, stare at them and make a wicked awkward pause that gives them the opportunity to realize they interrupted you…again. Make them be the ones to say, “Whoa, sorry, I interrupted you. Please continue.

None of these strategies are mean or rude or unprofessional. People can and will adjust, so, try them out and see if it gets better.

*Alternate Theories Of The Crime & Moderation Notes:

Women interrupt people, too!” Yep! White women interrupt women of color. Older women interrupt younger women. Richer women interrupt those they perceive as poorer women. Also it is factually true that men interrupt women more than they interrupt each other and they do it way more than women interrupt men. The Letter Writer said this was the case where she works and she thinks gender is a factor in the interactions, and the research bears it out. Want some examples? 1 Even female Supreme Court justices get interrupted all the damb time 2 Seven Studies That Prove Mansplaining Exists. In conclusion: People interrupt people when they think they have more power and status and can get away with it. Gendered and other power-based interruptions are rude and oppressive and we all need to be more aware of it and do our best to nip those tendencies in themselves. Failing to name what it is out of a sense of false equivalency doesn’t solve the problem.

But sometimes I interrupt people and I can’t always help it” Hello, my fellow enthusiastic ADHD-fast-flowing-ideas-sort-of-people! This isn’t a post specifically about us! We interrupt people sometimes! We also recognize that interrupting can be really annoying, and we work on not doing it to people so much! If someone in our workplace tried to get us to stop interrupting so much, that would be cool, right? Ergo, if you want to talk about this specific kind of interrupting, the forums at might be a good place for that.

What if the problem is that the LW talks a lot or too slowly or includes a lot of irrelevant information and her coworkers are just trying to get to the point?

Well, her coworkers could email her then?

With all sincerity, I say this from painful & valuable personal experience as the hybrid of A Person Who Likes Explaining Stuff In Detail & TANGENT MAN, TANGENT MAN, DIGRESSES WHENEVER A TANGENT CAN:

If you find you get interrupted all the time, especially in conversations with peers (age group peers, gender peers, same level at work peers & other situations where a gender or power imbalance is not an identifiable factor), and it’s happening with a lot of different people and not just that one or two really talkative friends you have, I think it’s worth a gentle look at your own communication style.

Are you Treebeard, telling people about the whole history of the forest when they asked for one tree? Are your stories “all middle“? Are you dominating conversations when it comes to your favorite topic? Are you over-justifying because you grew up in a house where “No thanks” wasn’t allowed so you include 99 reasons along with every need or preference? If so, it doesn’t mean you’re an awful boring person and people secretly hate you! Or that you need to change your whole personality! I am all of these sort of people sometimes and I manage to be an okay amount of likeable. If this sounds like you, too, try to consider that interruptions can serve as valuable feedback, reminding you to tighten up your explanations and pay a little more attention to give and take.

For the Letter Writer, you say you know “your explanations can get a little detailed sometimes.” If you want to test out if this is part of the problem, try asking the person asking the question “How much detail do you need?” before you launch in.

joreth: (polyamory)

Just a tiny bit late, but this month's episode is out! One of these days, I will plan my episodes to have better timing with milestones. This movie is perhaps not the movie I would have wanted to mark my 2-year episode. But here is Episode 24 none-the-less!

Content Note: This review contains the sardonic use of ableist language & possibly sex-negative sex worker language intending to mock the sorts of writers who use "crazy" as a scapegoat and their poor depiction of mental illness as well as their obviously one-dimensional and low opinion of sex work.

I am using the language to describe what the *writers* of these sorts of behaviours think and by using these words, I am intending to show my disapproval and contempt for this viewpoint in my tone. I apologize if my intention does not come across or if readers are unable to read or listen because of the language.

Posted by JenniferP

Dear Cap’n,

My husband has suffered depression for the past 15 years. It has taken many opportunities for a healthy and positive life from him in that time. He has gone back to school several times, trying to find his passion and came up dry every time. The last degree he got, he started at the age of 28 and as in mechanical engineering. He graduated at 31. He is from Europe and a culture which is very emotionally repressed. He moved to Canada to be with me. After a few months, he got a job using in engineering only to discover that it was not his passion either, despite being a natural problem solver and passionate about the workings of machines and systems.

He was a kind of non-actor for much of his life and the entirety of our relationship. All responsibilities of a couple fell to me; money, friends, planning for the future. All of this should have been red flags, but I come from an abusive home where I had to take on caregiving for my parents and siblings, so it came naturally to me to overcompensate. He said at one point that he didn’t want to worry about the future because he couldn’t be bothered.

In the first year of our marriage, he decided he wanted to switch careers again and move us to a farm where we could pursue self-sufficiency and work for ourselves. Neither of us has a background in farming or self-sufficiency, so he took six months out of his career to intern on an organic farm 200 km away while I continued to work so that we would be able to bu a farm. The farm wasn’t the best; it was very disorganised, and he always complained when I visited that the work was too hard. When he got back to the city, he took a temporary job as a waiter. During this time, I continually confronted him about his depression and seeking help. See, he didn’t understand that he was barely functional as an adult. He didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t cook for himself, didn’t manage his appointments or health. Again, that was all left to me to do for him. He went days without bathing or getting up from the couch. We used to have a joke about him changing from his “night jammies” into his “day jammies” and then back into his “night jammies.” Haha, I know, but I’m just a wife, not a psychiatrist. When he did pursue his interests, he didn’t engage. All of it looked like depression to me.

I begged him to address these issues, and upon threat of leaving, he finally did. His psychiatrist said he was one of the most emotionally repressed people she’d ever met and that he should try and address depression with medication and therapy. To his credit he did. His family was very harsh, particularly with regards to expressing emotion. He also went to a prestigious boarding school, where alumni graduate to run prominent corporations or hold political office (that’s why parents send their sons there), so I think he may have been taught that he was being set up to measure up to unattainable standards. In the years since his diagnosis, he has gone off his meds a few times without the guidance of a therapist or doctor because “he feels better and doesn’t need them anymore.” I told him that not even psychiatrists on antidepressants could make that decision for themselves, and he certainly isn’t able to either. Especially when every time he does go off them, he reverts to his depressed and helpless self.

Something that has always been a thread through his depression is a concern with environmental destruction and climate change. That is certainly one of the motivating factors with wanting to be self-sufficient. He and I do all that we can and has been suggested to reduce our carbon footprint: we’re vegan, we recycle, we cycle when we can, we don’t buy a lot of new stuff and always try to buy second-hand. We live rurally, but even then our cars are old, used and fuel efficient models. Where we live is in a housing bubble right now, so we rent a small house, but we have plots in the community garden. We hope to build an Earthship/sustainable house when things cool down and are learning about that now.

However, he is obsessed with conserving even more, to the extent that it is affecting his mental health and mine. If I fill the kettle up too much, even by half a cup of water, he’ll scold me for wasting energy. He refuses to believe that running a dishwasher is more water and energy efficient than hand-washing dishes, even though our energy efficient washer is far more efficient, many times over. He refuses to throw anything out, even if it’s broken or hasn’t ever been used because “that’s wasteful.”

Moreover, his concern about climate change never manifested as any activism nor action of any sort. He never raised money for environmental causes, nor went to marches or demonstrations before he met me. We have attended a few animal rights, and pro-immigration demonstrations, but those were from my research and at my request and it even took a lot of convincing to get his to those. In fact, for this all-consuming concern about climate and the environment, he doesn’t do much, except stay at home and be depressed. Which to me implies that it’s more about the “being depressed” than it is about the issue.

I think he has chosen these issues as a “load bearing depression repository” for him. Climate change and environmental destruction are these huge, complex issues that may take many years, if not our entire lifetimes to be resolved, if ever. They will always be there to feel shitty about, so if he claims that he is depressed about them, then he doesn’t have to face how he feels about himself.

I’m not discounting the seriousness of these issues, nor that they could be a factor in his depression. We should all be concerned and it *is* fucking depressing, but his depression hurts both of us, and I refuse to let it take more away from him than it already has. I confronted him about this again, because it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health, but he assured me that “he knows his depression better now” and it’s not about that (he has also gone off his meds again independently).

Last time I told him that I couldn’t live with him obsessing over the kettle or the dishwasher and letting such small things affect our relationship. He says he will never be able to do that; he will always be concerned with it. He implies that when I overfill the kettle or use the washing machine to preshrink fabric *for the clothes I make myself* I am not concerned about these issues, which is complete bullshit. He says I gave him an ultimatum, which I did. But I have tried, Lord have I tried, to reason with him.

I struggled with anxiety for many years myself, but the delightful “generalised” kind, now with added panic attacks. I know that I will never “know my anxiety” enough to think I have it licked. Indeed, anytime I’ve had that thought, I’ve realised it’s a red flag to check in with what is really going on because a mental illness’ “job” is to separate us from those who care about us and will use any method possible to get us alone with it.

How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?

Can’t Get Any Greener (female pronouns)

Dear Can’t Get Any Greener:

For the entirety of your marriage you have cooked and cleaned and financially supported and cajoled and begged and emotionally labored and thrown your life into upheaval so that your husband could get to the bottom of his depression and “find his passion.”

And now you can’t even do the fucking dishes or make a kettle of tea without him criticizing how you do it. Strange how he has made his concern for the environment line up 100% with monitoring and controlling you to the point that he begrudges you every drop of water you use in your house. 

You have already said everything, and tried everything and ended up here. You already know what you need to know about your husband. Whatever his good qualities, he is kind of a passive dude, bad at taking care of himself, and he exerts himself only under extreme pressure from you or when he can offload the effort and costs onto you. If love and loyalty and trying hard were enough to fix this, it would have been fixed already. You can care about people but you can’t do their caring for them.

If I knew a way to make him a) stop his selfish behaviors at home and b) engage more proactively in his own life, I would tell you. There is nothing to say. What could we say? Not everyone gets to follow their passions in life 100% of the time? Sometimes you just have to go to work and do your best by your family even when you’re not feeling it? Depression sucks and requires long-term boring maintenance and treatment and sometimes it will be bad and sometimes it will be better?Depression isn’t excuse to treat the people in your life like crap? There is more environmental activism on heaven and earth than the kind that maximally inconveniences and annoys your spouse?

If I knew the words that would help you leave him forever – to bathe or not bathe, as it pleases him, to work or not work, as it pleases him, to follow his passions as it pleases him, to put only the exact true one correct amount of water in the kettle – I would say them to you now. If this were a fairy tale, I would write the secret inside an enchanted mushroom and wrap it in a magic handkerchief that you could carry with you through the tasks and trials ahead.

We have 900+ posts on the site and probably half of them contain some variation this question (Praise Sheelzebub!):

If nothing changed about your relationship, and you knew it would stay just like it is now, how long would you stay? 

1 more year?

5 more years?

10 more years?

How many more years can you pour into this man who pours so little back into you, who thinks even the water you consume would be better saved for “The Earth?” (as if you are not of the Earth and on the Earth, as if you are undeserving of water, as if he gets to decide that.)

You’re worried that he won’t make it without you, but he will. If you leave him, he will suffer for a while and try to get you to come save him and then he will fucking figure it out. He will get some kind of job, or make some friends, or “live off the land.” He will find a shelter or a food bank or move back in with his parents. He found you, didn’t he? He will find someone else, somewhere else, and he will survive.

If you’re not there yet, or ever, that’s okay. You are the boss of you!

In the meantime, it’s time for a therapist…for you. Unpack the ways your parents groomed you to put up with this man. Unpack ways to separate his choices and behaviors from his illness. Treat your own anxiety with the seriousness and care that it deserves. (If he wants to get therapy, great, but put the energy you’d spend cajoling him there into going yourself.)

In the meantime, it’s also time to push back hard at his policing behaviors. “When you do the dishes, you can decide how to do them. When I’m washing them, back off.” “You are not the boss of the kettle.” “I don’t want to hear it.” “Your constant harping on me makes me feel bad. Stop it.

He’ll be like “BUT DON’T YOU CARE ABOUT THE EARTH?” and you can say “I do care about The Earth and hey, that’s not a stick to beat me with. It’s not a competition and nobody designated you Chief Earth Carer in our house. Back off.

Interrupt him. Shut it the fuck down. You do not have to just take this.

And don’t try to dig into to his depression when you push back at him. As you point out, you’re not his psychiatrist, you’re his wife. And you’re not just his wife, you’re a fucking human being who gets to exist in her own house without being constantly monitored and picked at. Address the behaviors. If he has sad feelings because you are standing up for yourself, those are his job to deal with. He cannot save the planet by controlling you. That’s not how any of this works!

When you’re ready, if you’re ready, the time for threatening to leave will be over. You tried that already, he rallied just enough to get you to stay, and then reverted to form. If you decide to leave, skip to the part where you say “I’m leaving you” and then do it.

To my eye, you have done everything you can humanly do to make your marriage work, and it’s actually working perfectly…for him…as long as you are willing to comply with his ridiculous requests and subject yourself to his control the next time he wants to find a new “passion” and make you pay and pay and pay and pay for it. It must have worked for you sometimes on some level or you wouldn’t have stayed so long. That’s okay! That doesn’t make his bad behavior your fault! Just, there’s a reason you included the entire history of his behaviors in your letter. You sound exhausted. The costs are adding up, and you are not a selfish person if you want to get as much from your marriage as you give.

Or, to put it another way, your selflessness will never fill up his empty places, but his selfishness can drain you dry. You deserve a happy life that isn’t dominated by this guy’s needs. You deserve a garden of your own, and enough water to nourish it.



Posted by JenniferP

Details from your host, “Cat,” who self-describes as “a regular lurker:”

Hello, Awkwardeers in Atlanta! I am going to try hosting a meetup in Decatur, in the Decatur Square, from 3:00 – 4:00 pm, on Sunday, May 21.

You can get there on MARTA rail: get off at Decatur station, take either exit, and turn 180 degrees and go up (the square is directly overtop the station). There are many shops around the square selling food, there are some public port-a-potties, and public bathrooms in the library across the street.

I will be sitting at one of the tables underneath the trees. I have a long brown braid and glasses and a rainbow plush Cthulu toy. I will be sewing or other crafting, but no crafting project is required: bring a book or pokemon go or whatever you enjoy and come and say hi.

Rain Location: Rain location will be inside Java Monkey coffeehouse, across Church street and to the left as you come out the church street exit of the Decatur MARTA station.  Accessible entrance is through their outside patio.  


In other news, it tickles me that Cthulu has become an unofficial symbol of Awkward Meetups everywhere, especially since I enjoy a game of Arkham Horror as much as the next nerd and I’ve recently read Cherie M. Priest’s very fun Lizzie Borden-Meets-Lovecraft novels, Maplecroft & Chapelwood. If you have a high tolerance for tentacles and other unnameable horrors from the sea, vivid descriptions of smells, and are looking for some creepy summer reading, you could do much worse.

Posted by JenniferP

Dear Cap,

I have an issue with one set of my grandparents – my mom’s dad and stepmom.

Backstory: my mom is a single mom. My dad never paid child support. My sister’s dad pays child support, but for a year or so there he didn’t, and he pays a lot less now than he used to. She’s not careless with money, but we’ve lived paycheck to paycheck my whole life.

A few years ago we were living with her boyfriend and his kids. He’s kind of an idiot, and my mom was very unhappy and wanted to leave him. Financially, this was almost impossible. So she asked these grandparents if they would loan her some money – loan – to help her out, and make it easier to leave this guy. As it was, when she finally decided to leave him, the only place for us to go that she could afford was to live with my other grandparents (her mom and stepdad) in their spare room. These grandparents heard my mother’s request for a loan – the only time she’s ever asked them for money, by the way – and said no. And then asked why she needed money, and to tell them what it was she spent all her money on. As though she was secretly hiding some habit, or was a compulsive shopper, or something – as though she couldn’t be poor just because she was supporting two kids on her own. My mom was very upset, and that was that. They didn’t give her a penny.

Fast forward to now. I was talking to this grandma about the car accident I was recently in. She asked if I’d gotten a settlement yet, and I explained no, my lawyer wants to wait until I’m done with treatment. And she said that she hopes I’m wise about my money if I get a settlement. “You don’t have to spend every single cent like your mom does whenever she gets money,” she said to me. And I said nothing. I didn’t want to start something. So I kept quiet, and she went on and said she just hopes I make better choices than my mom has.

Captain, I’m tired. I don’t enjoy spending time with these grandparents. They’ve always been kind to me but they don’t treat my little sister well. They said this shit about my mom. And when I was in my car accident? They called after they found out, and I didn’t hear from them again for weeks. This was a bad accident – my car was totaled, I had a concussion, bruised ribs, back stuff – and I’m a poor grad student. My mom told them I’d been hit with a lot of bills right away and if they could, I could use some money. My other grandparents sent me money, aunts and uncles – fuck, tumblr friends sent me e-giftcards. Radio silence from my grandparents – not even a ‘how are you feeling?’ text. It stung. And now these comments about my mom?

But since “family is the most important thing,” I feel like I have to keep trying, I have to go to visit them and call them. I know I can’t cut them off.

I don’t know if I should tell my mom about what my grandma said, and I’m worried the next time I talk to them they’ll say similar stuff to me. Advice on how to handle this?

Defensive Daughter

Dear Defensive Daughter,

I wish you speedy healing from your accident.

As for your grandparents, and for other readers who are struggling with strained and exhausting family relationships right now, there is a middle ground between “Work Hard To Maintain A Relationship At Any Cost To Yourself” and “Cut These People Out Of Your Life Like A Dodgy Lesion (And Deal With The Flood of Guilt And ‘But Faaaaaaaamily’ Friction).”

That middle ground is…

Take A Break From Trying To Fix It.

Phones work both ways. Roads work both ways. Kind words of encouragement can be sent both ways. The people in our lives have choices about how they treat us. If you’ve been doing all the work of keeping a difficult relationship going, earning only stressful interactions for yourself, what if you gave yourself the summer off?

You don’t have to make a permanent decision about what to do going forward.

You don’t have to make the relationship different from what it is.

You can give yourself permission to stop trying so hard to connect. 

You have enough information to know that money + your grandparents = no help/not enough help/judgment/lots of ugly strings attached. You also know that your mom is willing to swallow a lot of pride and eat a lot of shit from them in order to survive and take care of you.

Summer is almost here. What if you spent that time focused on healing, being nice to your mom, and to cultivating a good relationship with the relatives who have come through for you?

What if you didn’t call your grandparents or visit them for a while? If they call you, you can make five minutes of small talk. If they don’t, you can enjoy the break from stressing out about them. You don’t have to tell anyone that this is your plan. No big decisions, no big announcements, just, stop taking initiative where they are concerned.

Not to punish them, not to make a point, not to teach them a lesson (they 100% won’t learn that lesson and you’ll waste precious energy) but just…hey, they stress you out, and they aren’t very nice to you, and you don’t need that extra stress of trying to please them or prove something in your life right now. You don’t have to grind yourself up on the expectations of these people. You don’t have to fix the unfixable thing right now.

There’s no need to pass their words on to your mom. It will only hurt her feelings. But you don’t have to keep it a secret, either – if they lay into your mom for how you haven’t been in touch, you could tell her, “Grandma said some mean things to me about you and our family and I took a little break.”

Additionally, next time your grandparents say crappy stuff about your mom, you can be ready for it and in a better headspace to deal with it. “Wow, Grandma, that’s a really mean thing to say about Mom, and it also happens to be totally untrue. Everything Mom did when I was growing up was to keep us safe and take care of us, even when times were very hard for her. I don’t like hearing you talk about her that way. I’m going to get off the phone now, goodbye.”

If you say this to your Grandma, the story may become about how rude and ungrateful you are, which, so what? Her opinion of you can’t possibly be lower than your opinion of her right now, and the world will not end if you fail to respect your elders when they act like jerks. Her statements about your mom say more about her than they do about your mom. You could use that as a script, too: “Grandma, the mean stuff you say about my mom says far more about you than it does about her. Let’s change the subject now.” Also, good job for recognizing that being kind to you but mean to your mom and your sister does not equal “My grandparents are kind people.”

If you do decide to take a break from dealing with them, every few months you can re-evaluate and see if the break is a good idea for you. If you miss them, you’ll know what to do. If you don’t miss them at all, that will be good information, too. Periodically, if you’re feeling up to it, and you want to or as a favor to your mom if you think they’ll bug her about it, spend a few $ to let the Greeting Card Writers of Earth deliver some generic pleasantries in their direction.

About Greeting Cards: Do not underestimate these commercial feelingsdelivery services! A card from my Great Auntie Aura with $5 tucked in it when I was in college was a deeply loving gesture. I know she worked very hard to find the perfect cheesy poem and that $5 was a week’s treat for her passed directly to me with the instruction to “Spend it on a little something for yourself, kiddo.

You could send the same exact “Thinking of You” card with the exact same cheesy poem for reasons of “I am dutifully observing the forms and trappings of connection to substitute for actual connection” or “I am generously leaving a door open between us though my expectations are lower than sea level” and your grandparents would not know the difference. They’ll just think “Yay, postal mail that isn’t a bill!” and you’ll be good for another 6 months.

Whatever you decide, you’re allowed to take a break from worrying about these people. You’re allowed to do the bare minimum. You’re allowed to put your energy into the family relationships that nourish you back. You’re allowed to make this easier on yourself.



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