It’s time to answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions.
Here is a seasonal jam by The Avett Brothers:
Lyrics are here.
1 “I can’t stand going to my friend’s house because she smokes inside.”
Legit! I have a very hard time with smoke (asthma trigger), the same way cat-allergic friends have a hard time hanging out in the kitten palace. Sometimes it’s possible to hang out for a little while at my lovely smoker-friends’ places with the aid of my inhaler (used both pre-emptively and refreshed periodically), sometimes it’s not. Sometimes my friends can hang out at my place for a little while with the help of Zyrtec, sometimes they can’t, and/or we need to cut the visit short. Nobody holds it against anyone (we all get to set our own risk tolerance, especially when it comes to breathing, and we all get to make our homes primarily serve ourselves). It’s okay to invite the friend out and generally try to meet in places other than her home.
2 “My sister has changed so much I don’t even know her anymore.”
What if you could let go of who she used to be, or how you imagined she was?
Pretend you just met her. Look at her like a friendly stranger might, someone without any baggage or history where she’s concerned. Try to spend some enjoyable time with her, find out what she’s interested in now, find out what you might have in common now.
Look for reasons to enjoy her company, be proud of her, look for things to be curious about and praise. If she’s unkind to you, or just an asshole, that’s different, obviously, but what if you started from a place of kindness and curiosity?
Sometimes I wish we could all do this with all of our family members.
3 “Tidying Up hard to understand her accent .”
As someone who has studied multiple languages and taught ESL to kids and adults, I have recommendations, though I should say up front that these suggestions require the ability to see the screen and read and I’m not sure what to recommend for people with visual impairments.
If you want to watch a TV show and you have trouble parsing the performer’s accent, try this:
- Turn on the captions/subtitles.
- Remove other distractions (don’t try to watch it in the background while you keep one eye on your phone or sorting your mail or whatever). You’re going to have to pay closer attention.
- Get used to the idea that you might not catch absolutely every nuance the first time. You can rewind if necessary, rewatch if necessary.
- Stick with it for a few episodes. It’s very likely that it will get easier the more you listen and watch. You’ll pick up the cadences of speech better, and you’ll have more context clues, you’ll get to know the performers/presenters body language/facial expressions over time.
If you try that and it doesn’t get easier, maybe the show is not for you. Try the book instead, or find something else to watch.
Moderation Note: Kindly refrain from cluttering the comments section with complaints/criticisms/feelings/
4 “Can’t wear anything too “fancy” or my boyfriend gets mad .”
I have an idea, let’s look at pretty outfits and imagine what we might wear to a “I dumped that controlling jerkass” party.
Maybe something from the Vivienne Westwood ’94 collection?
5 “Flowers on dick.”
6 “sexual favors”and “free rent” “massachusetts”
Well that’s wicked specific.
7 “My boyfriend expects me to eat from his squalid kitchen .”
Well, what happens when you say “I’m not comfortable with that?”
I meant to add this to the “red flags & compatibility when meeting new people to date” discussion at the end of this post last week but I forgot, so I’ll add it here:
Visit each other’s living spaces – after you feel safe/comfortable being alone with someone before you commit to an ongoing relationship. Are you comfortable there? Do you feel welcome? Can you relax? Is what you see (smell/feel) congruent with the person you’re getting to know and what you want?
“This person’s living space upsets me” vs. “What if they can’t help it?” is a well-covered discussion topic on the site. I am not interested in judging people, blaming people, diagnosing people, excusing people, shaming people, setting these conflicts up as moral contests. I am interested in giving everyone permission to factor how a current or potential partner keeps their living space into decisions about comfort and compatibility.
Back in grad school I made a short film about a laundry pile achieving sentience. It wasn’t a documentary due to biological impossibility…for now…but let’s just say my real-life hamper did all its own stunts. By contrast, my dad, the world’s tidiest man, can sense when you are close to finishing a soda. He hovers while you take your last swallow, pounces before you can put the can down on any surface, rinses it to restore factory settings, and ferries it gently to its rightful place in the garage, where his complex recycling system made up of 12 distinct bins and barrels awaits. He is an extremely good match for my mom, who prefers to maintain all surfaces in a state of surgical sterility.
A date who preferred my parents’ “we keep the correct vacuum cleaner for each room in a closet in that room” lifestyle would have looked at my MFA in chore avoidance and thought: “Nope! We would make each other miserable!” This is fine! We would! I would gross him out, he would remind me of my dad and send my shoulders up around my ears!
Maybe the boyfriend in the search string will clean his kitchen. Maybe he’ll get dumped ’cause he won’t. Maybe he’ll be the one who breaks up because the querent made him feel judged and uncomfortable. Maybe they’ll decide to live happily ever after on takeout and prepackaged things. Fine! This is all fine!
In no universe will I ever recommend anything resembling “Since some people struggle with housekeeping, love probably means swallowing your discomfort along with whatever they cooked, no matter how unsanitary you find it.” Serious incompatibility around housekeeping stuff is a recipe for intense stress and conflict, you’re allowed to have preferences, needs, and choose a lower difficulty setting for yourself and your relationships.
8 “Why does my boyfriend treats his daughter like his wife.”
9 “Niece hates me for no reason.”
She has a reason. It may not be a good reason, it may not be a reason you’ll ever get to the bottom of, but it exists even if it’s only her opinion.
When I sense someone doesn’t like me, and I can’t think of a plausible reason for the conflict, and “Hey, have I done something to upset you?” doesn’t work (either b/c I asked and didn’t get a good answer or I don’t feel comfortable enough to even ask), I try to give the person a lot of space, be polite and keep it light when I do have to interact, and see if time either mellows the situation or gives me more information.
10 “BF’s ex-girlfriend warns me about him how do I respond .”
Do you actually need to respond? Do you need to respond to her?
In your shoes, I might say something very non-committal to her, like, “thanks for telling me, I’ll think about it.” It’s such an unusual thing to do that (in my opinion) it’s probably worth thinking about for a few days before you either act on it or disregard it.
What’s the worst thing that could happen if you do nothing about what she said? (Don’t respond, don’t address it with your boyfriend, brush it off).
What’s the substance of the warning? Is she trying to warn you about abuse? Have you noticed any red flags?
What’s in this for her? What reason would she have to lie? Like, is she trying to get you to break up with the boyfriend so she can be with him again, or to create trouble for him? Or is she trying to warn you to GTFO for your own safety?
Your answers to those questions will most likely point you in the right direction.
11 “Housemate comments on everything I do.”
Right now what comes to mind is:”What are you, the narrator?”
12 “What does it mean when someone reacts to a minor little comment that bothers them with a barrage of made up hurtful things to hurt the other person? ”
Nothing good! Consider how much time you want to spend with someone who does this (if any).
13 “I feel like I am a burden on my therapist .”
This is probably worth mentioning to your therapist. Consider also that your therapist gets paid for the time they spend with you, most therapists have some choices about who they take on as a client, and you’re just one of many clients they see. It is unlikely they are thinking about you (as a burden or otherwise) as much as you think about them.
14 “How often to go to someones house.”
I love literally any excuse to make a chart.
Happy Valentine’s Day to those who celebrate, happy “day before half price candy” for those who don’t. Be excellent to yourselves and each other.
I read Lane Moore’s book of essays “How To Be Alone (If You Want To And Even If You Don’t)” in the past few days and a) I loved it b) I couldn’t stop highlighting things from it.
Starting on the first damn page:
“There’s a very particular sort of no-man’s-land that comes with having alive parents who are technically there, could technically take you in if you really needed somewhere to go, but if you went there, you wouldn’t be any safer than anywhere else.”
I will share some more quotes here and they will probably be very random but they were all things that made my brain go: HI! and HELLO! and I LOVE YOU AND ALSO ME AND ALSO EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE WORLD!
On the “the Friend Zone”:
“In my experience, most queer women—and heterosexual women, for that matter, because women absolutely have crushes on guys who don’t see them that way—don’t get as pissy as some heterosexual dudes get about the Friend Zone. The Friend Zone, while not always ideal, is still a goddamn gift, and really, the definition of true love. If you love someone, or even just care about them, as you claim to, you don’t mind the Friend Zone at all, because sure, fine, you don’t get to French them and stuff, but you get to know them and be close to them and hear all the dumb things that run through their minds and all the brilliant things that they don’t even know are brilliant.”
On crap dudes who think their hobbies are the same as your career:
““Oh, cool. I’m in finance, but I also play a little guitar,” he said, in the way that square professional dudes always say to artistic girls.”
On narratives that tell you women can fix shitty dating partners if they try hard enough:
“And one lady at work said her husband was horrible to her for three years until she nursed him back to health and now they’re soul mates. And let me just say, lady at work, keep that shit to yourself.”
“If you see a woman who is working super hard to become who she’s meant to be and to achieve the things she wants to achieve, and you have nothing to add to her life or to give back to her in any way, please just leave her the fuck alone.”
“It’s like training a dog not to shit all over your house, but instead you’re training yourself not to be with someone who shit all over your life.”
On parents/raising ourselves:
“I know I loved all those fictional characters because I was a wild, inquisitive, messy-haired little creature who asked too many questions and loudly questioned her neglect and abuse, definitely not the agreeable living doll my parents seemingly had in mind when they decided to have a child.”
“It is so important to know we can hold our relatives, especially our parents, accountable. That regardless of “the best they could do,” if you were not fed or protected or held or shown affection and love and attention, if you did not feel safe, then their best was not good enough. It just wasn’t. And you are then free to do what you want with that information. Maybe that means you don’t talk to them anymore, or you talk to them like you would a coworker who used to steal your lunch from the fridge—with distance and hesitance, but you are allowed to choose your own safety and well-being over the comfort level of someone who did not properly parent you.”
“Still, it is very commonplace for abusive or absent parents, once their (technical) child grows up and becomes successful, to suddenly become Proud Parents! Because they know they can claim you as Theirs now and everyone will believe them.
“It will never occur to these people that you became the person you became despite them. That you, magical, wonderful, holy shit wow you, took the bag of rotting maggots they gave you and turned it into Disneyland.”
“So if you raised yourself, and you’re reading this, I am so proud of you. You raised a hell of a kid.”
On rewriting our stories:
“Sexual assault is not your “my first time” story if you don’t want it to be. Some creepy age-inappropriate piece of shit driving you to an underpass doesn’t have to be your first-date story if you don’t want it to be. Count what you want. You can’t change what they did, but you can change your landmarks. It’s not a rewriting of history.”
On what writing is for:
“I’m able to write things people want to read, and not only read like passive clickbait, but things that resonate with people and make a difference to them—the only kind of writing I ever gravitated toward, and the only kind of writing I ever wanted to do.”
I’m turning off comments for two reasons: 1) today is a writing day not a reading-the-internet day and 2) there is a shitty thing that happens here and on social media whenever I say I like a book, people feel compelled to tell me that they don’t like it or what they think is wrong with it. I don’t need people to like the same books as me but it does actually literally ruin my day sometimes when people see that I am enjoying something and decide to drop whatever they are doing to try to talk me out of it.
Maybe this book is a book you were waiting for. I don’t know. It was a book I was waiting for. I am working collecting/pitching my own essays in book form and it was one of the books (like my friend Megan’s book, and Sam’s book) that made my own book feel more possible, more necessary, like I have permission to be messy and say anything I want.
I’ve got a few older women in my life who keep talking to me like I’m one of their kids. It’s either unsolicited advice or outright orders in a snotty tone. One of these women volunteers at the same place I do. She orders people around constantly, is generally rude and condescending, and from what I can tell she’s a ‘missing stair’ that people don’t stand up to. She’s not in a position of power, though you wouldn’t know it from how she acts.
I know I do look young but I don’t look that young – and even if I did, I don’t think that’s excuse to treat people the way she does. I’m 34, professional, and the organization has been super happy that I’ve come on board. From what I can tell, she doesn’t know anything about my credentials or my background and she doesn’t care. I’ve heard some stories but I wasn’t prepared to handle it myself. My own mother hasn’t talked to me like that since I was ten. I’ll admit I don’t love being ordered around, and I bristle when people don’t acknowledge the hard work that other people are putting in. From what other staff has said, she’s definitely alienating people with her behavior.
Tonight was the first time that I worked with this woman for a long event, rather than interacting with her at meetings. I’m still relatively new, so I didn’t feel comfortable confronting her. I plan to let the agency know my experience (and that if I didn’t care so much about what they do, I would have left on the spot), but do you have any good scripts for telling her to knock it off without making the situation worse?
Here for the good cause, not your condescending remarks
Dear Here For The Good Cause:
You were raised to be polite to old/older people, correct? I was, too (my mom worked in eldercare, I was around ’em a lot, not just the ones from my own family).
I also worked in customer service long enough to know that some old people, especially “little old ladies,” are evil incarnate.
I think being polite to older people is generally a good practice.
I think being polite to EVERYONE is generally a good practice.
I think that the politeness someone shows to people with less status/power/age/experience/perceived “importance” than they have says as much or more about them than how they engage their elders.
Follow the golden rule. Say please and thank you. Be kind. Start with assuming best intentions. Don’t make life harder for someone who is clearly having a hard time. If you are able-bodied, give up your seat on the subway. Look for common ground and reasons to be kind. Remind yourself that we’re all carrying our own burdens. Try to keep in mind that responding to rudeness with more rudeness can escalate a situation instead of defusing it.
These are good working practices to have in place! These are good guidelines for a functioning society! Who doesn’t want to make the world a more pleasant place, model compassion and consideration, and do our part to not add to the world’s suffering?
These lessons can also fail us in some important ways. They can leave us defenseless against people who are operating in bad faith. Predators. Abusive people. Assholes. The Skeksis kleptocracy that is systematically destroying the public sphere and the commons of the United States of America.
Because what happens sometimes is that someone is rude or downright harmful to you, and you endure it and model respectful behavior like you were taught, and then the other person keeps going and doubles down. They don’t stop it, they won’t stop it, until their victims remove themselves from the situation or until someone (maybe you, maybe the manager, maybe an institution with greater power, maybe someone they respect more, maybe voters, maybe a general strike, maybe a trebuchet, I’m just spitballing here) supplies consequences that they actually give a shit about. It doesn’t help that our culture is drowning in stories where the crusty old Ebenezer Scrooges of the world are just one act of human kindness away from a total change of heart. Consider that not every rancid old person gets haunted into an epiphany in enough time to help the people who get harmed when they commit their sunset years to being wrong about everything.
My lovely letter writer, you are a volunteer, you are not dependent on this organization and this lady has no power over you. That is not always the case (for example, if she treats staff this way and they are afraid of professional consequences if they engage her directly, in my experience the people who behave like this are almost always friendly with someone on the board and/or wealthy enough that nobody wants to tell them to fuck off). So I suggest that you document this lady’s behavior for the organization and make it clear that you care about their mission but you might not be able to volunteer anymore unless they can assure you that they will not subject you to abusive behavior from a fellow volunteer. You can make it clear in your letter that you assume this person provides some value to the organization and you hope they can find a way to best use her skills, but you’d prefer not to staff any future events where she will also be. Be drippingly polite and constructive, but also name exactly the things she said and did.
Hopefully they’ll do the right thing. If they don’t, that’s a choice they are making.
In the meantime, if you do encounter this lady again, and she is rude again, consider saying:
“DO NOT speak to me that way again.”
And walk away from her for the remainder of the event. There is likely something important that needs doing on the other side of the room.
There are gentler strategies, like asking questions (“Did you mean to speak to me like you would a badly-behaved house pet? I don’t enjoy it, let’s keep our conversations professional.”) but honestly those kinds of interrogations or corrections are for people who like her.
There are alternate scripts for expressing displeasure succinctly: “Wow.” “Really?” “Is that how you speak to everyone?” “Yikes!” at your disposal. Do what works for you. I generally prefer to keep my cool, even when people are being jerks. This is an honesty zone, so let me say honestly that this is less about having a compassionate nature or wanting to be the bigger person than it is about being afraid of how far I’ll Hulk out if I let myself get started. This is an honesty zone, so let me also say: There are multiple occasions where I have exhausted “polite” and “nice” and finally told people to back the fuck up and take no for an answer and that last thing was the only thing that worked to make the situation better. Bullies are bullies, whether they are 6 or 96.
If she does apologize or change her behavior, be gracious. If she doesn’t, it literally has nothing to do with you. It’s not your fault, or yours to fix. If she thinks you’re “difficult”/rude/mean/a “bitch”…so what? You don’t care about her opinion of you and you KNOW she is awful. She isn’t going to melt because someone decided to stop catering to her bullshit for 30 seconds.
Also know: She will not have a change of heart as a result of this encounter. She might leave you alone from now on, though. Sometimes that’s the victory we get.
Let’s respect our elders. Let’s also stop the abusive ones in their tracks.
P.S. If you’re a volunteer coordinator at an organization, it is your responsibility to train volunteers and make sure they are not behaving badly when they’re representing your organization. If someone tells you a fellow volunteer is being abusive, “that’s just her way” is not cutting it.
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 16th February, 12pm onwards.
Bad book swap! Please bring any book you don’t want (cover illustration too purple, book has too few dragons, etc.), and take away a book other people don’t want. Or just come and chat with us!
The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Green Bar (go up in lift 1, sadly not as musical as lift 7).
Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map
I have shoulder length brown hair and glasses, and I will bring my plush Cthuhlu, which looks like this:
The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.
The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/
My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com
(March meetup will be the 16th.)
Dear Captain Awkward,
My teenager has informed me that their father told them he plans to mail me jewelry for Valentine’s Day. Their father and I have been divorced for nearly a decade and a half and I’ve been in three committed, long-term relationships in that time. I have less-than-zero interest in my ex-husband romantically (or even platonically) and while I am able to be polite/civil with him, I am quite looking forward to the day I no longer have to take his calls. He is not a nice person. (He was abusive during our marriage, used custody issues to punish me, treated our children poorly, etc. etc.)
Since he heard that I had to leave my most recent long-term relationship quite hastily for safety issues, he’s been acting far too friendly over the phone. A few months ago he told me that I’m the only woman he’s ever really loved and said he thinks we should still be together, which I responded to with “You know, life moves forward and though my path has been rocky, I’m happy with where I am now, thanks. Gotta go.” Ever since that revelation from him, I’ve made it a rule to do my best to keep any calls very short and to the point, if possible, and I always try to shift any conversations that get personal back to talking about the children we have in common.
That tactic recently backfired, leading to my teenager getting frustrated with me for talking about them with their father at all. I had told their father that they were feeling very anxious about college decisions and I’d been trying to help them feel less pressured and he turned around and told them I said they were being a “word-I-would-never-use” about going to school and that they need to stop being “that-word” and get their “expletive” together. Ugh. (I did let him know, through text, that what he did there was not okay and that was not what I meant by support, etc., and he did apologize to them eventually.) So, now since the “talk about our kids” topic no longer works, if he texts, “Hey, do you have time to talk?” I ask him if he has something pressing to discuss, as I’m quite busy, and it’s usually “No, just wanted to chat,” so I tell him I’m too busy to chat. If he calls, it goes to voicemail and I decide whether or not it’s appropriate to call back based on the content of voicemail.
Since I’ve been brushing him off, he has been reaching out to my teenager more than ever. They hate talking to him, but feel guilty not talking to him sometimes. During recent calls with them, their father told them that he really thinks we should have stayed together as a family, etc. It makes my teenager really frustrated and uncomfortable that all he seems to want to talk about with them is me and how he wishes we were still together.
I’m so irritated with him for the way he is treating me and my teenager, but not surprised, as he’s never been one to respect people’s boundaries.
[Don’t know if this is relevant or not, so I’ll add it just in case: He is in a relationship with a woman who is really kind and sweet (and a nice buffer/ally for my teenager when they visit their father), but who recently moved out of his house after having lived with him for about a year. His overly-friendliness started before she moved out. His behavior would be frustrating no matter what, but it’s even more exasperating that he’s doing this while in a relationship with another woman, no matter how rocky it may be.]
So… what do I do when he inevitably mails me jewelry? It makes me queasy just thinking about opening the box. Do I mail it back? Say thanks but no thanks? I don’t want him to get the idea that it is okay or in any way desirable for him to send me romantic gifts. Thankfully, he lives hundreds of miles away so I don’t have to worry that he’ll drop by with the gift. (Fingers crossed. Don’t want to jinx it.)
Over the years since our divorce I haven’t pushed back too hard or spoken my piece about his bad behaviors since he kept custody issues pretty contentious for some time and I never wanted anything to be misconstrued and come back to bite me. It’s been hard to break out of walking on eggshells with him and taking the step I noted above to let him know how he hurt his teenager with the nasty comments about their college fears felt good, but was terrifying.
(If you have some scripts for my teenager, too, for when their father starts up with his pining for me thing during their phone calls or laying on any other guilt trips that would be wonderful.)
My pronouns: she/her
Your ex is being ridiculously manipulative. He’s trying to use your teenager as his unwilling wingman. He’s putting the idea of the Valentine’s Day gift out there as bait so it can hang over you with dread and he can get off on the suspense: Will you confront him about it before it arrives (giving him an opportunity to blow up at your teenager for spilling the beans) or will you wait until you get it (giving him an opportunity to get all offended about having a gift thrown back in his face, giving him an opportunity to renew his sad, gross courtship)? He’s using a gift on purpose so he can claim he intended to be nice and make you have to push through all the socialization you and other people have received about being gracious receivers of gifts.
He’s testing this new line of backchannel communication with you he thinks he’s opened up via your teen (a strategy known as triangulation) because it gives him multiple strings of blame and control to pull if it all goes wrong. His ultimate stated “win condition” is y’all getting back together, but if he can force you and the rest of the family to center him and his feelings, that’s a win of another kind, and if he feels like he has an excuse to blow up at someone when it doesn’t work, that’s a win for him, too.
This is what’s so frustrating, right? If you ignore it, he wins, if you call him on it, he wins, because a) he thinks all attention is good attention as long as it’s your attention and b) he doesn’t give a shit about protecting your kids from manipulation and you do.
All is not lost. There are three pretty solid tools for dealing with manipulative people. You can use them and you can teach them to your kids. They are:
- Remind yourself of the facts.
- Don’t let triangulation work.
- Be consistent and boring.
Fact: You don’t want to get back together with your ex. No matter what he gifts you with or throws at you, it’s never happening. He will try everything he can to drown you in feelings or distract from this fact, but as long as you know for sure that you’re done with him, the facts are on your side. He can send a troupe of dancing peacocks to your house bearing the crown jewels, he can hire a plane to skywrite his feelings over your house, and your answer will be the same: “I prefer not to.” As long as you know this, you don’t have to explain or convince anyone of anything. You’re never getting back together. His feelings, his efforts are just theatrics. They have no actual power.*
*This isn’t always the case in abusive/manipulative relationships, of course. You think he’s unlikely to escalate to physical violence and threats, and I’m glad. If you still shared a house with him, if you thought your life or safety was in danger from him, it wouldn’t change the facts (you don’t want to be with him) but it would change the power calculus in that you might have to use subterfuge or be less direct about confrontation until you could safely remove yourself from his proximity and reduce his power. You already went through this when you left the first time, and you are going to be the absolute best judge of what is safe now.
GOOD NEWS: You’re already good at keeping your interactions boring. You were so smart to start screening your ex’s calls and never, ever having Time To Chat. Keep doing that. Keep all communication about the kids about mundane logistical topics, and consider taking everything to text or email for a good six months or longer. It has the advantage of creating a documentation trail of the things he says to you (useful if things escalate or get weirder) and it also allows you to filter and respond to things selectively, when it’s convenient for you. Look into or review resources about parallel parenting (where after a contentious divorce or split, the parents work on communicating as little and as neutrally as possible.) Consider that the weirder he makes communication for you, the less access he gets to you. He’ll adjust accordingly (making things less stressful) or he won’t (and you’ll interact with him even less, making things less stressful).
Defeat triangulation by only responding to things your ex says directly to you. Just because he tries to put your teen in the middle it doesn’t mean you have to leave the kid there! Messages or trial balloons your ex tries to send through your teen won’t work if you are consistent about only responding to his direct communication.
Since you don’t want to make your teen feel responsible for this in any way (either to pass messages on OR to feel like they have to keep them a secret to protect you), a gentle hand is in order. You could try asking questions – “Did Dad ask you to tell me about [whatever it is] or did he ask you to keep it a secret?” – but that can turn into an interrogation pretty quick depending on your kid and how your ex has primed them. Maybe try a script like this:
“Hey buddy, thanks for telling me, that must have been kind of an upsetting thing to hear from your Dad!
I hope you know that I want you and your Dad to be able to talk about whatever is comfortable for you, and you don’t have to worry about me or protecting my feelings! Grownup stuff can be complicated, it’s not your job to help us figure it out. You can tell either of us to stop talking about something if it makes you feel weird.
Anyway, after 15 years, one thing I’ve learned about your Dad is that if something is really important for me to know, he’ll tell me about it himself. So I’m not going to even worry about it until he does. Sound good?”
If your ex tries to feel you out to find out if your teen is passing on his messages, you can answer that pretty directly: “Oh yeah, weird, Teen mentioned something about that. I figured you were just blowing off steam. I told them not to worry about it and if it was that important, you’d just tell me yourself. I mean, you’d never actually try to get our kid to be your wingman, right? That’s just silly!”
I know you’re feeling a lot of dread right now and you want to head this Valentine’s Day gift thing off at the pass, but honestly, if you haven’t spoken to your ex about this already I’d use this as an opportunity to test out the “don’t respond to anything except direct communication” strategy. This thing isn’t real until it arrives or he mentions it. Whatever the gift is (I’m picturing something from the Two Butts Stuck Together line, personally), today is February 10th and it’s already in the mail. To bring it up now risks putting your teen in the crosshairs of your ex’s anger and blame. Your ex is very capable of skipping over the facts (you don’t want any presents from him and you don’t want to get back together) to blame your teen for ruining his doomed gambit somehow. If it helps, think of your ex as a Scooby Doo villain – “It would have worked if not for those meddling kids!” – Laugh at the image, and then protect your kids.
Some strategies for dealing with this (and future) awkward gifts:
First things first: An unwanted gift obligates you to nothing. Once it’s in your possession, it’s yours. You can accept it, refuse it, regift it, sell it, or set it on fire.
The giver can feel some kind of way about that, and your ex specifically can probably manufacture infinite grievances out of whatever you do, but the facts are the facts: You don’t love this dude or want to be with him. If he wants to send you gifts, that’s not your fault or your problem.
You can rip the bandaid off. Send it back. Send a text or a note that says “WTF is this supposed to be? I don’t want it” or “Nope!”
When he bugs you about it, try “I didn’t want it so I sent it back. Is there something that would spell it out for you more clearly? Cool, let me know and I’ll do that.”
We talk about “returning awkwardness to sender” a lot here, how often do you get to literally do that.
Alternately, you can make logistics & time work for you. You’re dreading this package’s arrival right now, but as soon as it’s “supposed” to arrive the dread and anticipation are all his – Did you get it? Did you like it? Is it working? Should he say something? Should he wait?
And one sent through US Postal Mail? Generally, as long as you don’t open whatever it is (it must remain Schrödinger’s unwanted pendant made of butts that is somehow also an angel), you can refuse delivery. You don’t have to sign for things (it’s earrings that looks like a bunch of rear ends stuck together, not a subpoena) and you don’t have to ever pick packages up from the post office. It will most likely get sent back to him or wherever he ordered it from…eventually.
And, no worries if you do open it or sign for it, you can still most likely return it to the vendor. He gets a refund, you don’t have it in your house anymore.
And if it lives in the trunk of your car for the next 9 months or collects dust on the mantel in the lobby of your apartment building for the rest of time because you keep forgetting to take it to the post office to ship it back, oh well! You get to do whatever is most convenient and comfortable for you.
Your line when he asks about it could be “Oh, was that from you? I wasn’t expecting a package, so I figured it was a mistake. Did you know that if you don’t open the package, they send it back where it came from for free?”
If he reminds you that he told the teenager? If you can bring yourself to joke about it, do so. Sunlight and humor disinfect.“Oh, right, Teen mentioned that, but I thought it was a joke! You weren’t serious about sending me a piece of jewelry in the mail, right? WTF would I do with something like that? LOL, next time just send it directly to the Museum of Broken Relationships, it will save on the shipping fees.”
Whatever you do, please don’t worry about finding the perfect solution. As far as your ex is concerned, any choice that isn’t you fainting with desire and gratitude is the wrong one and a reason to punish or harass you. If he acts like a jerk, it’s ’cause he’s a jerk, not because of whatever you did or didn’t do. He will likely try to claim that you owe him something (money, time, attention, hassle). Resist this framing. Don’t argue with him or give him attention. Be boring, stick with facts: “I didn’t want it so I sent it back.” He can wrangle with the postal service until the rest of time, it’s not your problem.
Make him do all the work. As discussed, this gift doesn’t exist until it arrives or he tells you about it directly, and it doesn’t mean anything until your ex spells it out, in words.
Maybe this is just petty of me, but if he tries to put you on the spot, I want you to make him say it. Like, ask: “Wait, you sent me a Valentine’s day present? Why?” and see if he’ll own up.
If he tries the “you’re the only woman I ever really loved and I think we should still be together” line again, it’s an opportunity to be direct.
“I thought I made it clear the last time you brought this up that I don’t feel the same way. You seem confused about that, so let me say it again: I don’t feel that way about you and I don’t want us to ever get back together. I want to do a good job parenting our kids. That’s it. What can I say so that we never have to talk about this again?”
Prediction: He is too much of a coward to risk this amount of directness, so he’ll either try to gaslight you that he never meant it That Way (it was just a general statement of regret at how things worked out with you, he wasn’t actually trying to get back together, how can you be so conceited, you misunderstood him, can’t he send you a simple present, etc.) or he’ll try a “I can’t help how I feel” gambit.
The gaslighting is a win for you, strangely enough. If he tries to pretend it was all a mistake and backtracks in order to save face, let him! You can say “Oh, it was all a misunderstanding? I’m so relieved! Hahahaha! Close call! Thank goodness, let’s put this embarrassing episode behind us and never speak of it again!”
The “I can’t help how I feel” strategy is a little harder to deal with because he might try to stack more feelings on top of the first in an attempt to wall you in with them. You don’t give a crap about his feelings, so, if he goes with this strategy, think of it as a dare. He doesn’t think you’ll have the guts to squish his feelings if he can make the pile deep enough. But you totally can! The way around this is to remember the facts (You don’t want him) and also remind yourself that he has a variety of appropriate choices about who he can talk to about his feelings: a therapist, a friend, a pastor, his actual girlfriend, the other people in the line to buy movie tickets, his diary, his telephone psychic. It doesn’t have to be you, it definitely should not be his kids!
If he goes with this tack, try: “Let me stop you there – I don’t feel the same way about you, and it’s never gonna happen. If this is really bothering you, maybe you should talk to a counselor about it. In the meantime, let’s agree: No more discussion about this, and definitely no more gifts!”
GIANT ROMANTIC GESTURES that try to do an end-run around the desires and feelings of the person you are trying to romance are doomed. So doomed.
I hope that solves it, to the extent situations with people like this can be solved. You can’t control this guy’s feelings or what he does about them, but I think you can actually do a lot to interrupt the cycle of dread and the cycle of rewarding this behavior and see if he adjusts.
Empower your kids. You asked for scripts for your teenager, and I have some. If they can pull it off, humor goes a long way, since there’s nothing like the scorn of an adolescent to wither the romantic inklings of an adult.
- “Dad, if that’s how you feel, you should talk to Mom directly. I’m not getting in the middle of the two of you!”
- “Dad, are you trying to make me your wingman? GROSS.”
- “If you’re going to keep talking to me about Mom like this, my allowance is going to need a boost to cover the Years of Therapy”
- “If I like someone I pass them a note between Trig and Chemistry. Maybe try that?”
- “Dad, don’t you have any friends to talk to about this? Maybe ones who could talk you out of the whole thing? I’m your kid, not your therapist!”
- “Yaaaaaayyyyyy just what every kid wants to think about: Their parents boning. Thanks for scarring me for life!”
- [robot voice]”BEEP BEEP BOOP BOOP SYSTEM SHUTTING DOWN GROSS ADULT FEELINGS OVERLOAD”
- [for younger kids] “Quit being silly, Daddy!” or “Ew, that’s grownup stuff!”
As discussed earlier, one goal of the scripts is to make talking about you with your kids very boring for your ex, to teach him that they won’t really engage or take him seriously on this topic. And more important than any particular script is empowering them to tell their dad they don’t want to hear about this, empowering them to change the subject with him, and empowering them to get off the phone if they want to. “You don’t have to talk to your dad on the phone every time he wants to, you know.” “You can get off the phone if someone is making you uncomfortable; I do it all the time – sometimes texting is better!”
I hope this lessens your anxiety about this somewhat. You are clocking everything about this situation correctly, you totally have your ex’s number, and it sounds like you are a great mom. May your February 14 be completely uneventful and free of wearable butt-sculptures!
P.S. I left the part in about your ex having a girlfriend (Maybe? They’re still together but she moved out?) in the letter but left her out in my scripts for you, and that was completely deliberate.
If he’s trying to win you back behind someone else’s back, that’s gross, but everything about the situation is already gross. In your shoes, I’d stick with “Whoa, but I’m not interested in you that way” and I wouldn’t mention her at all. The point isn’t that he’s potentially cheating on somebody, the point is that you wouldn’t date him again if he were the last man alive. Mentioning her – “Does your girlfriend know that you’re sending me Valentine’s Day presents?” – allows him to manufacture more drama from the situation, like, maybe if he were single, you’d go for it, or “Ladies, ladies, please don’t fight!” Don’t let him ego-stroke by setting this up as a situation where he’s torn between two women. He’s not. She’s halfway out the door, you don’t even remember where the door is. If you did, a key that is also a diamond-encrusted ass-cluster has zero chance of unlocking it.
Here is my distinction between the two:
A gift is a tangible reminder that someone is thinking of another person even when they are not physically present. It's a symbolic manifestation that someone really sees another person right down to their core. A gift represents what the gift giver perceives about the recipient. A gift says "I see you, I see who you are as a person, and the thought of you is present with me even when you're not around, and here is a physical symbol of your presence in my life and how I see you so that you will know every time you see this that you are seen and considered and loved."Some people exhibited surprise that the 5LL theory could be confusing, and I had some examples of how messy it can be when "theory" meets "reality":
Acts of Service are physical or emotional acts of labor that are intended to ease another person's trouble, their responsibilities, their obligations. They are an action that says "I see you and I wish to share your burdens to make more time and opportunity for you to experience joy and to have a partner on this portion of your journey".
A surprising number of people have a very hard time figuring out their own LL, or their partners' LL, or what category a particular thing fits under.
I mean, even Franklin has trouble with the 5LL theory - he keeps insisting that all these other, specific things are their own Language, rather than dialects that fall under one of the 5 umbrellas because he doesn't seem to see their connection.
For instance, he insists that "co-creating" is its own LL, whereas I think it's a dialect of Quality Time, because the point of QT is to build shared experiences together. That could result in a number of different outcomes - building a shared history, building shared memories, building shared in-jokes and language, or literally building *things* like co-writing books or co-hosting podcasts.
People also don't realize that "co-gaming" falls under Quality Time, if they think that QT means you have to be staring soulfully into each other's eyes for a couple of hours at a romantic restaurant or something. But 2 (or more) people sitting in the same room, basically ignoring each other and doing their own thing can be a form of QT for introverts, people on the autism spectrum, and others who value the idea of allowing someone into their "off-stage" space, when they don't have to "perform" or "entertain" anyone and can be their shoes-off self.
Sometimes Acts of Service and Gifts can overlap, such as when I bake and then give away my baked goods. So the basic concepts can be easy to grasp, but when you start to really dig into the subject, things get a little messier, as most human endeavors that we try to box up neatly tend to do.
I remember my mom getting so angry that I didn't want what she cooked for dinner or that I whined about being hungry because food wasn't ready yet that she told me to make my own damn dinner. And I remember her getting upset when I started doing exactly that, because I was now eating at different times and not having our family meal together.
Because she was first unappreciated and then a failure for not keeping her family "together". And I didn't understand at the time the external and internalized pressures she had on her to do it all, to be it all, and how my separation from the dinner table played into all of that.
I don't live with my partners because I can't deal with exactly this kind of default separation of roles that *everyone* I have ever been with falls into, even if they happen to make some kind of exception somewhere (maybe he cooks, but I'm still the household manager, or something).
But even living separately, I still have to remind partners that I need to eat, I still have to *ask* for their help instead of them offering to help with anything that isn't a "manly" chore, I still have to remind them when we haven't spent time together or we haven't had "romantic" time together like dates, and I often have to plan the dates.
And forget "vacations" together - I am the travel agent every single time or nothing gets planned and I don't get to do things that I want to do because it doesn't occur to them to plan anything or ask for my input. I've had exactly one partner who did this - who asked me if he could plan something for me, to take some of the responsibility off of my shoulders, who asked for my parameters and then just ran with it.
I'm told that they're just so easy-going that they don't really care what we do, as long as we're together. And THAT'S PART OF THE PROBLEM. They can't see how the responsibility falls on their women partners by default, or that we might have different priorities so that we *need* them to start caring about what we do together.
That's great that you don't care. However, *I* might want to do something with the fact that we're in a town I've never been in and I'm spending a lot of money to be here, so seeing nothing but the inside of a hotel room kinda defeats the purpose of taking *this* trip to *this* place.
So maybe y'all can do the Googling to see what there is to do around here, and maybe y'all can suggest some activities that you think I might enjoy, and maybe y'all can pay attention to the clock instead of me having to wake up early enough to get y'all out of bed, fed, dressed, and out the door in time to do the activities when they start?
And, again, maybe some people don't do *all* of the things - really only one of my partners is actually less of a morning person than I am, but somehow I still have to get myself up in time to make sure that they aren't distracted by something else and we leave late when that's one of my own weakest areas and maybe I need someone else keeping *me* on track for a change?
Anyway, now I'm rambling. Point is, even among "enlightened", "feminist" men, this is still a problem.
I was a young girl when I realized there was a hierarchy in my home. Chores were designated by gender. Blue jobs for my brother, and pink jobs for me. Mom did the cleaning, cooking, and most everything needed to make our house a home. Dad mowed the lawn, fixed the cars, and played with my brother and I until he could barely keep his eyes open. An amazing Father.
It took me a long time to understand why my Mother scowled at my Dad when the three of us entered the house after an incredible summer night digging in the sandbox.
That realization came fast and furious once I had kids and a marriage of my own.
As latchkey kids raised in the seventies and eighties, my brother and I were expected to do our chores and start dinner before our parents got home from work. Every day it was the same. I spent my time tidying up the house, cleaning the kitchen, and starting dinner. Usually, spaghetti, because it was the easiest thing for me to cook without burning the house down. Okay, so this one time I almost burned the house down, everyone makes mistakes. Lesson learned.
While I domesticated myself, my brother would either mow the lawn, take out the garbage, or... come to think of it, there weren't a lot of blue jobs that needed daily attention. I noticed my workload was different, perhaps even harder at times, but I was the girl, and it was what was expected of me. There were multiple days I spent bickering with my brother because I was having trouble handling my workload. I still remember thinking, I just want his help. I felt like I was drowning and couldn't do it all on my own before our Mom got home. Why was this my responsibility just because I am the girl?
This same scenario played out in my marriage many years later.
It was in those moments I realized his chore list seemed a little heavier in physical weight but much lighter in actual duties.
Nevertheless, I didn't rebel. I didn't speak out, complain, or say anything. I didn't know it to be different, or wrong. But I did know without a doubt if I did complain I would be met with resistance. I might indeed be labelled, crazy. A nag. I had heard it all before. The word 'nagging-bitch' had no trouble spilling from my Grandfather's lips while my Grandmother waited on him hand and foot.
I had spent my whole life watching the women in my life carry the weight of the entire house on their backs while men sat back and watched them do it. It was normal, expected.
A Grey Cup party filled with food my Mother made became the norm, while the men sat in front of a football game expecting more. More beer, more food, more work. More take, more take, more take. No give.
My Mom was a goddess, and in my mind's eye, she could run the world. She was already running my world, beautifully.
Somehow, I knew at that young age, I wanted to be just like my Mom. She was spectacular to watch. She could do/and did everything to keep our house afloat. My Dad by her side, supporting her every step of the way, but mostly from the couch.
From my Father's spot on the sofa, tangled in his legs I would watch my Mother drudge over the dinner I'd half-prepared. Still dressed in her silk jumper, her purse barely placed on the kitchen table, she stood over a chocolate brown stove while the three of us indulged in the newest episode of M*A*S*H.
Every once in awhile I would notice her glance through the butler's window in our kitchen to catch a glimpse of her family. Sometimes she would yell, and I would wonder why she seemed so angry. Sometimes she would pour a glass of wine and drown us out. Sometimes she would smile so big her eyes would fill with tears stained by love. All the time. Every single damn time -- she made my entire family a sit down dinner fit for a King. Not a night went by that woman didn't feed our family whole real food. She is my super-hero.
I have an amazing Father. I do. He is strong, forgiving, loving, accepting, and, what has always stood out about my astounding Dad; is he speaks of equality, freedom, and humanity in almost every sentence that leaves his prophetic mouth. However, he was brought up in a generation filled with misogynistic values. Taught to be served by his wife. Doesn't that sound stupid -- "served by his wife". I am literally shaking my head as I am writing the words. He learned it from his Dad, my Grandpa.
It's no one's fault, except maybe the patriarchy, I grew up in a misogynist's world. Back in those days, things were different. My parents were instruments of their generations belief systems, and the belief systems of generations before them.
We can, and need to change this. The mentality of women "doing it all" is not only propagated by males, but females alike. Our belief systems insinuate that the Mom should endure the burden of household chores. This is wrong and unfair.
When I was growing up, both of my parents had full-time jobs. Careers, in fact. My Mother was a successful Bank Manager, yet when she arrived home she still cooked and plated my Father's meal. No one did that for her. She did it with love, she wanted to take care of him, but regularly she was exhausted. No less tired than any man in her position. Yet she was assumed to come home and feed her family. Expected to clean "her" house, only to be told she wasn't worthy of the title on the deed. Sometimes she wanted her husband to take care of her. To plate her meal, or fold her laundry. Most times she wanted to be respected and appreciated. This I know because I have lived my Mother's life. I have catered to the men I love. Not with regret, but often with repugnance.
I now know why my Mom grimaced at my Father when he spent "his" time playing in the dirt with us, especially after a hard days work in uncomfortable heels and constricting skirts. It was her time too. Perhaps she wanted to be the good guy. The "Dad" out in the yard getting dirty. Maybe, she didn't want to cook another meal. Instead, play catch with her babies on a soft summer evening. Maybe she didn't want to do anything at all but simply sit on the couch with her babies tangled in her legs.
I want to smash the patriarchy for allowing me, my mother, and all women to believe were not capable of doing it all, without being labelled. That we were and are crazy for resisting our overburdened and under appreciated workloads. When in fact we were and often still are, doing everything, to keep our houses afloat. Making homes.
We can change our world for the better if we allow our preconceived notions to change. Not just for women and men, families. Marriages. And, most importantly our children, and our children's children.
It is time men stop telling the women in their lives they are crazy. It's not crazy to be exhausted. It's not crazy to voice fatigue. It is not crazy to ask for help. It isn't nagging when a woman pleads with her husband to clean the toilet or help around the house. She shouldn't have had to beg him to clean his mess in the first place.
Women aren't crazy; they are tired. They are tired of picking up after everyone in their lives. Women are angry they have gone unappreciated for so long. Women aren't assholes because they are finally using their voice.
Stop calling women nags and bitches. Start doing your job as their partner so they don't have to complain about the shit you don't want to do. This isn't about men helping women to run the house, it's about men actually seeing that it isn't only a woman's job.
If I learned anything from my superhuman Mother, it is:
"I can do it all, but all of it is not mine to do.”
And I feel that I have cultivated a space and enough armor that I can share these things publicly to make this lesson.
Other people who are not cis-men can contribute their own stories of alteration if you want to, but I'm not asking anyone to share this vulnerability in public. Because that's what this is - many of these alterations are protective behaviours and rely on the typical willful ignorance and deafness that men have towards women's emotional labor.
What I don't want is for cis men to tell me their own stories of altering themselves for women. Everyone makes changes to accommodate the other people in their life, sometimes willingly, sometimes coerced. This is a personal illustration of a gendered trend, and I don't want to get sidetracked with Not All Men or But Men Too. I also don't want cis men to express more surprise at the efforts I or other women go to. At this point, nobody on my friends list should be surprised by these kinds of things - not knowing specifically what any given woman does, sure, but that we do it? Not any more.
So if you are surprised, I don't really want to hear yet again how blind men are to all the work that women do to manage men's emotional reactions. That is part of the problem.
I also don't need to hear criticisms or anyone suggesting that the alterations were not necessary, that I was overreacting, or that I shouldn't have to do this with all men. Because you have no idea what the consequences for not altering are and also because fuck off.
I have to always cut the loaf of bread served at restaurants before dinner, and I have to do it discreetly.
I do this because I've dated too many guys who just mash the entire loaf by grasping it too tightly and using too much weight on the knife, and they grab the loaf first, ruining it for everyone else.
I do it myself because I've learned that suggesting a different way of cutting bread (as a person who used really soft bread loaves in my demonstrations as a cutlery salesperson) hurts their feelings and they respond angrily to the implication that they are not master bread slicers nor master knife wielders (whereas, I actually am).
So I just grab the bread first as if I'm really hungry (and my love of bread is usually well known), slice it about halfway, and take 2 of the slices for myself, leaving the rest of the slices for anyone else at the table who wants them. Somehow, they don't seem to notice that as a commentary on their slicing abilities.
I have learned to not ask to drive the car when I share a vehicle with a man who has access to his car. Doesn't matter if we're dating or not. I LOVE driving. I take great pride in my driving. I suffer anxiety on the scale of mild to panic attack when I'm not the driver.
And yet I do not request to drive, because I've learned that it's not worth the fight that comes from asking *the wrong man* to allow me to drive.
I've also learned how to have a panic attack silently and to hide the fact that I can't always look out of the window when I'm in the passenger seat. Because then I have to do emotional labor, placating them that it's not because they're bad drivers, but because I'm "broken" in this way.
I never leave the house unarmed. I have had to pull a knife on 3 separate occasions in my life to warn off aggressive men - only one of whom was amorous.
I have learned how to go out alone even though I'm terribly shy because I've had so few romantic partners who are willing to do the things that I enjoy doing. If I want to go out in public with a romantic partner, it has to be for things that he enjoys, not for things that I enjoy. So if I want to do things that I enjoy, I have learned how to do them alone.
And I have learned how to deal with the feelings of loneliness that always accompany these outings without showing them "too much" to my partners because then I have to do more emotional labor in comforting them about how "hard" it is for them to do the things that I like. For some reason, it's always a challenge, it's always difficult, it's always a sacrifice for them to do the things that I like, so my complaints about feeling lonely, feeling neglected, and feeling dismissed turn into soothing them about how much pain and hardship they're under when they accommodate me.
Sometimes they will insist that I do their things and not understand if I don't like them or not see how their feelings of rejection aren't comparable to mine when they don't like my things. Sometimes they will be fine with me not accompanying them to their events, and then use their acceptance of me not attending their events as leverage in the arguments of why I shouldn't feel hurt when they don't attend my events. And occasionally they actually don't have any interests outside of the home or us or the relationship, so if we don't go do my things, we just stay home and do nothing.
Even if I can drag them to an event that I like, they will inevitably take out their phones and ignore the thing that is the reason I want to be there and the thing I am trying to share with them, so sometimes I'd rather they not be there anyway.
I have developed a rather annoying habit of cutting people off and speaking over them because I've found that it's the only way I ever get to say anything when men are talking.
I tend to treat the men in my life like helpless blind people, becoming hyper aware of the space that they take up, and very gently, physically guiding them or maneuvering myself in such a way as to manipulate their own movements, to prevent them from having the sorts of accidents that so many men have - walking into people who will not get out of their way, walking in front of people because they don't notice other people are there, blocking aisles and walkways, stepping on toes, hitting people with overly large gestures, etc.
I stand between them and other people so that their large gestures can't reach the other people. I hold their hand when we walk so that I can tug on it and hold them back from barreling into the street in front of cars just assuming that the cars will stop for them. I take shopping carts from them so that they won't park them in the middle of the aisles. I lean towards them when we walk so that they will be forced to veer to the side when other people are sharing the space and they would otherwise insist on maintaining their trajectory, forcing everyone else to go around them or bumping into people as if they didn't even see those people blocking their path.
I started holding my romantic partners' hands (back when I still did not like displays of affection - more on that below) just to keep them from sprinting ahead of me when we walk together. No matter what speed I walk, men keep walking ahead of me, and then complain that I'm always trailing behind.
So I hold their hand and tug on it when they go too fast.
Now that I have a knee injury to blame, I can get men to stop and wait for me when they get a significant distance ahead, and most will no longer complain about my slower speed, but the only way I can get many men to *pace* me is to hold their hand and then literally hold them back.
(Meanwhile, I have never walked with another woman or non-binary person who didn't automatically adjust their pace so that we walked together unless there was a significant reason, like a power imbalance, or someone was racing ahead to catch something for the slower people in the group, like a door or a vehicle that was about to depart. Dancers, however, I'm discovering, are much better at keeping pace with their companions, regardless of gender, which shouldn't be surprising given the spatial awareness and the automatic body-matching that dancers do.)
I thought I disliked physical affection entirely because I did not realize at the time that all physical affection I'd had up until that point was entangled with displays of possession. I didn't know why I didn't like physical affection, just that I didn't. So I refused all physical affection except for sex in private.
It took until my mid 20s to figure out that I did actually like physical affection, and to deliberately use a relationship (with his agreement) to work on this. And, not only did I actually like physical affection, but it's one of my Love Languages, and because I had been denying it to myself for so many years, I was touch-starved, even with an active sex life.
To this day, I still have issues with instigating physical affection and from disentangling it from sex, so I am still touch-starved.
I stopped living with other people. Even though I don't make enough money to afford to live in a "safe" neighborhood, or in a building that isn't literally falling down around my ears, I choose terrible places to live because that's what I can afford on my single person's income.
I stopped living with other people because I can't handle being the Household Manager. Project Management is a full time, upper level position. I don't have the energy to do it as a second (or third) job, to do it without pay, or to do it in relationships that are not supposed to be business relationships.
And I have never had a romantic relationship with a man that didn't put me in this role by default. So I minimize it by making my living and sleeping space my own and not subject to Managing other people. I have other reasons for wanting to live alone as well, but I have tried cohabiting in the past in spite of those preferences, and it's the Household Management problem that made me alter my behaviour and stop living with partners.
I have started asking questions that I already know the answer to because I see men around me doing the wrong thing, they won't ask what the right thing is, and they ignore me when I tell them what the right thing is or they get upset with me for correcting them, and then I have to go behind them and fix it.
So when a supervisor comes along, I ask "wait, what am I supposed to do here?" or "how is this done?" or whatever, where the man in question can hear so that the boss can tell me within their earshot the "correct" way to do something, that I already know.
And I HATE that it makes me look like I know less than I do. I'm wicked smart, and I pick up on things quickly. But I have to look like I'm still a beginner at shit because men won't listen to me, so they waste my time and theirs and we all end up doing double the work.
Dunno, ask them.
"But what are they trying to say when they..."
Dunno, ask them.
"Would my partner like it if..."
Dunno, ask them.
"What is my partner thinking when they..."
Dunno, ask them.
Dunno, ask them.
"But they won't tell me!"
That's your answer then.
Nobody can read your partner's mind for you and translate what they're thinking. I don't care what that psychic with the neon sign says, nobody can do that. The only answer you're going to get is from your partner.
Silence is an answer. Probably not the answer you want, but it's an answer. If you have outright asked them, in no uncertain terms, to explain themselves, and they blatantly, clearly refuse to tell you, then you're asking the wrong question.
The correct question in this case is "can I remain in a relationship with someone who cares so little for me and this relationship that they won't communicate with me even with direct questioning?"
And that's a question only you can answer. Nobody in a forum or online group can answer any of these question for you. You have to ask the person you need the answer from, either your partner, or yourself.
“Oh you’re poly?! Are you dating lots of people? Tell me about your partners!”
"So, how many partners do you have, then?"
Well, I've been in a seriously long-term, low-key toxic relationship with the Entertainment Industry. It takes up most of my time and it interferes with all my other relationships, but I just love it.
Ballroom dancing is my secondary. I don't get to see it very often, but it's a wonderful change to my regular routine - I dress up, I go out, I get to forget all the daily grind stuff, and I come home all excited and giddy from the endorphins, and often a little too sore to walk straight.
I also have a pretty exacting Dom named Costuming. Every so often, Costuming decides to cut in and make me service it with long hours spent on my knees on the floor or bent over a table with a variety of textiles and a box of sharp pins. Everything else gets put on hold until I've completed the tasks that Costuming sets out for me.
My husband and other romantic and sexual partners have pretty well adjusted to being long-distance with all the others taking up so much of my time. I think things are working out, in spite of the challenges.
Tell us about YOUR partners! Use the hashtag so we can see all the diversity of #poly relationships! You can also just tell me in the comments if you want.
#polyamory #polyamorous #OpenMarriage #OpenRelationships #ConsensualNonMonogamy
Uh, well, maybe how you treat them, for one thing. This might actually require you to keep putting in effort into your relationships because there's no point at which you've "won" and you're done.
But for another thing, nothing. There is nothing to keep our partners with us or to stop them from breaking up with us. Nothing at all. Because if there was something preventing people from breaking up with us, THAT WOULD BE COERCION.
Which is a consent violation.
If your partners are not with you because they actively want to be with you every single day, then you're duin it rong. Your partners can leave you. Your partners can die. There is nothing in the universe guaranteeing your relationships.
Now accept that and appreciate every day that you *do* have with your partners for the gift that it is, not the prize that you are owed for having completed the appropriate levels and making it to the castle.
I mean, it can be emotionally challenging to figure out how to celebrate romantic holidays when one has multiple partners - who is going to be left out by not getting the fancy dinner on that exact day? So subvert that by sending the partners off and take your metamours out instead. Or go out with everyone all at once, and have the one-on-one dates *all* on some other day so that nobody gets The Day but everyone does.
Send a card to your metamour telling them how much they mean to you. Buy your partners and metamours jewelry that has room for more-than-one like mom- or dad-jewelry with birthstones. Turn a mono-centric, commercial holiday into a celebration of non-mono relationships with very little extra effort - just take your metamours into consideration and prioritize them instead of your romantic connections for this one day.
And what about metafores? Those former metamours who are basically still family even though you no longer have a mutual partner? Those people who, in some cases, are "the best thing I got out of my relationship with our partner was you"? Why not spend this day appreciating their place in your life, a place they might not occupy had it not been for a partner who is no longer in the picture? Send them a "glad you're in my life" card or FB post too!
Me, personally, instead of Valentine's day, I'll be celebrating Villaintine's Day by wishing my metamours and metametamours a happy Villaintine's Day and possibly scheming with my Villaintines, as good Villaintines ought to do.
#MadEngineer #Chaosbunny #KillerOfDreams #TheOutsideContractor #HarbringerDestine #VillaintinesDay #SinglesAwarenessDay #NeverTooEarlyToStartPlanningWorldDomina
Me: I hope everyone who says that gets that trait and their partners dump them for it.
SP: OMG that's so mean! How could you say that?! You're an awful person to wish that on anyone!
Me: So, let me get this straight, you think being dumped over this issue is cruel and painful and you don't want it to happen to you?
Me: So... you gonna rethink your position then on dumping someone else over it?
SP: No way! I couldn't handle it if I had a partner like that!
Me: Either it's totes cool to do, and therefore I didn't say anything mean at all, or it IS cruel, in which case you shouldn't be so cavalier about wanting to do it to other people and the punishment fits the crime here.
SP: No it's totally unfair for someone to dump me over something I would dump them for and you're a big meaniehead for hoping that will happen to me!
Me: Yes, I am a big meaniehead for wanting people to feel consequences for harming others and for those consequences to be knowing what it feels like to be the person being harmed. That's exactly what I am.
#MySuperAntiHeroNameWouldBeRetribution #hypocrisy #NoSenseOfIrony #ButIHonestlyWouldDumpSomeoneForAcquirin
I went for a visit last month, and Dad obsessively watched talking heads on TV just so he could get all worked up and rant about the Orangutan-in-Chief. I forget what we were actually talking about, something to do with immigration, probably, and he threw out something like "except I'm not in favor of Sanctuary Cities..."
So I cut him off and told him that I fully support them. He sort of snorted and started to defend his position when I cut him off again to say "all that a Sanctuary City means is that they won't turn them over to ICE if they're not actually in the process of committing a crime."
So my dad just kinda stopped and said "that's it?"
And I said "yep, that's it, it just means that we don't call immigration on people who aren't breaking the law."
And he said "oh, well, if that's all it means..."
I think that my dad might actually be a raging liberal, if he only had the issues explained to him factually, instead of with fearmongering propaganda. He was raised his whole life by a racist "nice man" - someone who took care of his employees and loved his family, but still refused to attend his son's wedding because his son was marrying a spic. He watches American news sources. Even the Democrats believe the propaganda that the Republicans have been spreading about Clinton for decades because nobody bothers to actually explain this shit.
Even the name "Sanctuary Cities" makes it sound like we're offering hiding and protection from people fleeing the authorities. When the only thing it really means is that the various branches of law enforcement and public service aren't going to do each other's jobs for them. The cops and emergency medical personnel are not immigration, and are not going to tip off immigration if they come across someone not doing something harmful to society.
This has been proven to show lowered rates of crime in POC neighborhoods, increased cooperation with law enforcement to help lower said crime, and increased use of social services like medical treatment early on when problems are manageable and affordable, rather than later when they get expensive.
Shocking, but apparently when people don't fear deportation (whether they're actually here "illegally" or not) from authorities, they're more willing to cooperate with authorities.
As a kid in school, if we got punished for "tattling", what possible motivation would we have for reporting trouble? When the bullies knew that we'd be in just as much trouble as them for telling on them, they were able to bully with impunity. When rapists know that women will face scrutiny, disbelief, and sex-shaming for reporting them, they feel safer in assaulting more women in more contexts and in more ways.
My dad, who watches CNN and other news outlets (that aren't Fox) about 8 hours a day (until "the game" comes on or his favorite house hunter show starts), didn't know this, and didn't really think too hard about what a "Sanctuary City" was. All he knew was something something illegals something crime something protection.
Which is why it's so important that we have those uncomfortable conversations with our family when we can, and keep talking about it publicly, and use whatever privileges we have (white, male, cis, straight, etc.) to talk to others in our peer groups on behalf of those who don't have a voice.
My dad was simply uninformed, and he was uninformed *from his not-conservative news sources*. He married a WOC, whose parents were immigrants and never did learn English. And yet he still had a problem with "Sanctuary Cities", because he didn't really understand what they were or how they affected people.
I just wish I had the same success when talking to my parents' best friends, the wife of whom is also a WOC and even still has her accent (my mom lost hers as a child), and yet they're so conservative that my father put a moratorium on anyone discussing politics with them at their anniversary party, because he wants to continue being friends with them and not have anyone fight at their special day.
When even the centrists in the room say "just don't bring up politics with THEM", you know they have to be pretty far Right.
I've had 2 dysphoric driving episodes recently that are making me think that I really need to get the hell outta Dodge soon whether this whole Canada thing pans out or not.
The first was last week when my car tanked and I had to drive my RV to work because gas for the RV is still cheaper than calling Lyft.
I was driving home from my retail shift, so it was about 10 PM-ish. My car hasn't had a working radio for almost as long as I've owned it (maybe 10 years now?), so I've been listening exclusively to my iPod in the car for much longer than most people (because cars weren't easily converted to be able to listen to iPods at first).
But I actually like listening to the radio. I don't like commercials, but I like keeping up with what's new in the music scene in several genres. So, since I drive alone and there's nobody else to annoy, I just channel surf to avoid commercials. Since I haven't had a radio in so many years, I have a tendency to listen to the radio whenever I rent a car or have another car with a working radio, even though iPods are ridiculously easy to hookup to a car system these days.
So I was driving home in the RV, late at night, listening to the radio and channel surfing when I came across a '90s rock station. I'm extremely susceptible to music. It immediately, noticeably, affects my mood, whatever is playing. Because of that, I have specific playlists that I've carefully curated for driving with no songs that will make me angry or anxious, because I used to race cars until I rolled mine down a hill, so I need music to keep me calm while I'm driving.
I'm on the interstate, with no traffic (for once), surrounded by darkness, the streetlights whipping by, sitting up high in the seat and hauling 5 tons of metal and fiberglass behind me, listening to rock from the era of oversized flannel shirts and Doc Martins with really short skirts, and I'm instantly transported to October, 2000.
In October of 2000, I climbed up into my 1979 skoolie - a converted school bus into an RV - and set out across the country and away from home for the first time. I was sad and hopeful and more than a little terrified. But mostly I was excited. For a few minutes in October of 2018, I considered just not turning off the interstate at my exit, just keep on driving north, and see where I end up. And I was sad and hopeful and more than a little terrified, but mostly I was excited.
To realize that I was not, in fact, driving my old skoolie and I was not in my twenties with my whole adulthood still ahead of me and that I was not leaving for an epic adventure across the country was such a disappointment, it was visceral. It was so strong that I'm feeling crushed by it again now, just remembering it.
But for that moment, with Steven Tyler screaming out at me from the speakers, I loved the road again, which the various city governments in Central Florida seem determined to teach me to hate with their piss-poor planning and reconstruction.
God I LOVED to drive! I still do, but there was a special quality to being 23 and on a road trip and leaving home to start an independent life that isn't like any other driving experience, even other pleasant ones like vacation road trips.
And I felt that same exhilaration tinged with that curious broodiness and loneliness that teenagers in Gen X seemed to take on as though we owned that feeling and nobody else would ever feel it again or ever did before.
Grunge rock brings that broodiness on for me, the way that Air Supply brings on the depression from the '80s I was in when I was being bullied and thinking that nobody would ever fall in love with me because I was so ugly and weird. Like I said, music affects me. But I digress.
Exhilaration tinged with loneliness edged with hopefulness, just as I felt in 2000, driving my ancient old school bus across the country with nobody but my sweet, possessive little kitten, frightened of the noise and the heat of the big engine. I was right back there, in that time, in that moment. I half expected to hear her distinctive squeaky meow behind me, as if to complain that we had been driving long enough and it's time to make the loud noises stop and curl up together to sleep.
Arriving "home", usually a relief after working a retail shift, was disappointing instead.
Then there was today.
I had a gig in a town 2 hours away, so I got a motel room over there for a few nights and I drove home today. Every time I think about returning to the place where I live, the word "home" pops into my mind out of habit as the word to use for the place where one lives, but then my mind corrects itself "this may be where you live, but this isn't home".
Every time. Every time for the last 18 years. I have never once thought of this place as home, even though I have used the word to label my dwellings as "home".
So, I had to drive "home" today, and the usual voice in my head made its usual objection that I mostly ignore. But part of all this construction on the roads have given them a lot of false altitude changes. Florida is basically a flat swamp, but as we drain the swamps to make room for more parking lots and McMansions and hotels, we cart in more "ground" from other areas, and we get a few rises in the roadways that like to pretend that they're hills.
As I topped one of those rises, something about the combination of literal heat waves and smog in the air, and probably my perpetual homesickness, made a mirage. I crested the pseudo-hill, and my brain insisted that the horizon was not the flat blue of the Florida sky, but the faint grey, blue, and white of a snow-peaked mountain range, so far away that I could only barely distinguish it from the surrounding crisp California sky.
This is something that I've only seen in a desert state, where there are miles and miles and miles of flat land surrounded by miles and miles and miles of mountains. Everywhere else I've been has either been just flat with no mountains, or hilly and mountainous with no flat vistas far enough to create mirages. And the air has to be crisp and dry too, in order to create that illusion and allow you to see that far into the distance at all.
There is a confluence of circumstances where the mountains are so tall and yet so far away, that you really can't see them, but you can. Sometimes they're actually below the horizon but optical illusions bend the light and make a reflection of them appear to float above the horizon. But sometimes they really are just that tall and the surrounding area is just that flat.
They turn a different color at that distance, with the atmosphere doing the weird things that it does, so it's almost more like someone put a layer of celluloid with the picture of a mountain on top of the horizon but turned down the transparency so that you see more of the horizon and sky behind it than you see of the mountain itself.
I crested that hill and my brain insisted that there was one of those transparent mountains right in front of me where the road cut a swath out of the surrounding skyscrapers and buildings and trees.
And it didn't matter how many times I told my brain that Florida doesn't have mountains, let alone snow-capped ones, and that this was a memory, not real, I couldn't make that mountain go away. I had to look away from the horizon and only when the view changed angles did the illusion finally break.
My dad was hinting about me coming home for Christmas this year. I haven't done that in several years. I have mixed feelings about holidays with my folks. But I just came back from a trip there in September, and I was out there twice last year - once for my own wedding in August and once for my sister's wedding in October. And I'm getting really tired of traveling when what I really want to be doing is *moving*. I'm also especially tired of spending money that I could be saving up to move.
What I didn't tell my dad is that I also don't really want to go home because it's getting harder and harder to leave and come back here. Every time I get off that damn plane in California, and I see those mountains in the distance, and I open the door to the outside and I breathe the thin, dry air instead of choke on the feeling of being smothered by a wet blanket, my brain screams at me "NOW WE ARE HOME!"
I feel like Adam's mom, in Blast From The Past, where Christopher Walken built a bomb shelter underneath their house that was an exact replica of their real house except underground and the family got trapped down there for 30 years and they finally got out and Brandon Frasier's character built another exact copy of their house but on top of a hill surrounded by empty land, and Christopher Walken just kind of sniffs and says "it's just like the bomb shelter" and Sissy Spacek is standing on the back lawn admiring the sunset that she hasn't seen in 3 decades and she turns back towards the house and throws open her arms and says "No, THIS is different!"
Everything here is kinda the same as there - we have houses and restaurants and things to do, and a lot of those restaurants and things to do here I really enjoy and I think we might even have more of them or better ones than back home - but back home is *different*.
And it's different in a way that my brain and my heart feels as a sunset over a lightly wooded field on top of a hill surrounded by hills after having been locked in a basement for 30 years different.
Most of the time, when I feel dysphoria over my surroundings, it comes as a kind of surreal realization that I'm living in a TV show, because the palm trees and ocean views and the 348 days of blue skies and bluer water and fluffy white clouds are what the rest of the world watches in movies and travel destination shows but nobody actually *lives* there, right? Except I do.
But this week, my dysphoria is different. I'm no longer here, in Florida, in this reality TV train wreck of a state. I'm on my way out or already gone. I need that to be my reality before my brain finally cracks and convinces me that it *is* reality when it's not.
Hello everyone! I’ve tweaked the format for short answer question submission (explainer for how it works is here) for these posts to keep the number & scope of responses manageable and to better guard privacy. Here’s this week’s batch of answers. Thanks to all who submitted and helped me try out the new system, I learned a lot.
Q1 Any advice on how to compliment a longtime friend in his late 20s on his intentional emotional growth without sounding condescending? I can tell he’s worked hard in the last year to become more confident, vulnerable, and considerate! So far I’ve said, “I can tell you’re in a really good place,” but I want to honor the work I can tell he’s done, you know? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)
A1: I think “I can tell you’re in a really good place” is a wonderful way of putting it, why not leave it there for now? “I’m so glad you’re my friend” or “I’m so proud to be your friend” or “You’re so good at ____” are always in season.
If you want to say something more, try asking a question: “You seem like you’re in such a good place these days. How are you feeling/How are you doing/What are you excited about right now?” If he wants to tell you about some of the changes he’s been making, you can make more specific affirming noises then.
Sorting out our own emotional well-being is its own reward. Your friend is happier. You are happier in his company. Honor his work best by enjoying its fruits!
Q2: Hey Capt.! I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to! But as a late-twenty-something its a bit demoralizing. Not to mention my mother still treats me like a kid. Any tips on keeping my spirits up? Negotiating boundaries (no I will not go to church)? Not feeling like a loser for living at home at nearly 30? Thanks! (Pronouns: she/her/hers)
A2: Hi there! This is probably a good time to remind folks that US culture is really big on the idea that moving away from home and establishing one’s own household is the sole path to becoming a ‘real adult.’ On an individual basis that might be a necessary path for some of us to breathe and thrive (it certainly was for me) but it’s far from universal. Cultural traditions, disability, care-taking, and financial realities keep lots of “real” adults close to home, not to mention that there are people who like living with their parents.
It’s okay if you prefer living away from home, it’s okay to feel upset at having to move back there, it’s okay to want to go back to having your own household again, but freeing yourself from the “I”m such a loser” framework frees others from harmful, often ableist messages, too. If you can’t do it for yourself right now, could you try for the sake of other people? The good news is that you’re already practicing reframing this – “I recently had to move home with my parents due to financial reasons. And I know that I’m lucky to be able to!” – so keep doing that as you tell the story to yourself and others. “I had some financial setbacks, thankfully my parents are able to put me up.”
There is advice on some more practical concerns in another past post:
“Be nice to your parents. As weird as it is for you to be home, it’s also weird and awkward for them to have an adult child back in the nest. Be extra considerate about chores. Volunteer for things before you are asked. Cook dinner. Wash up. When they give you “helpful” (annoying) advice, say “Thanks, mom, I’ll think about it.” Even if it’s wrong, you’ll think about it, right? Don’t pick fights, sulk, or punish them for your circumstances. Thank them for being a port in a storm for you. Take a lot of long walks away from home to give them space and privacy from you. Make effort to seek out their company and do stuff with them – board games, cards, renting movies, taking a walk after dinner. Ask them about their days. Treat them like adult humans who you like and not necessary evils.”
It’s harder to treat someone like a kid when they are actively participating in the household like an adult. See if you can mentally convert some of the things that were rules in childhood (like a curfew) into consideration for others (“I won’t be home for dinner tonight and I’ll text if I’ll be later than 11:00 pm.”)
As for church, and other boundaries you want to set, consider how much of setting a boundary is about having confidence in your own integrity and your own needs. You don’t want to go to church, your mom wants you to go, as long as saying “no” won’t jeopardize your immediate housing security (sadly not something everyone can count on), she can ask as many times as she likes and you can say “Mom, thanks for asking, but I don’t want to go to church. I can have lunch ready when you get home, though!” “Mom, I know church is really important to you, and I respect that, but I also know that it’s not for me, so, no thanks! Enjoy the service!” every time. If she yells at you or gets really upset? That’s her choice. You still don’t have to go, and you might be able to go a long way by modeling the behavior you expect in return.
People often think the next step is to convince her to stop asking, but you can’t control that, and you can’t fix her feelings. What you can do is to be consistent with what you said you’d do (not go to church) and experiment treating this like a recurring caring and friendly invitation that you’re politely declining vs. a primal fight for autonomy (which on some level? It is) and seeing if your mom adjusts with some time. Mine did, I hope yours does too.
Q3. I’m so exhausted all the time, and it feels impossible to get all of my responsibilities done. Whenever I have a free moment, and try to change gears to something relaxing or fun, my partner always seems to be nearby, asking me to grab things for them or take them to a myriad of stores… and by the time I’m done, it’s time for bed. I feel trapped in an endless, exhausting cycle. Pronouns: they/them or he/his.
A3. Hi there! I must congratulate you. So few words, so many overlapping and interconnected issues, namely:
- You’re exhausted all the time,
- You have too many responsibilities for the energy & time you have and you’re overwhelmed,
- When you do have some down time, your partner jumps in to schedule things and ask for help,
- When this happens, you don’t say no.
My suggestions for starting points or processes for addressing the exhaustion/overload piece of this are:
- Consider a medical checkup, esp. if exhaustion is new or has grown significantly recently.
- Consider tracking where your time goes for the next a week or so, without judgment or attempts to optimize things. DON’T BE FANCY. No shiny new productivity tools or or tips or hacks or apps (how would we even know which one to recommend or apply without knowing what the issue is). I’ve had good luck with a simple grid with days of the week and times of day (downloadable template) and a pencil or pen. Another even simpler way is to end your day by making a list of all the things you did. Nobody’s gotta look at this but you.
- Block out 2-3 hours about 2 weeks from now (after data collection) where you can be totally alone and quiet and unreachable. Libraries are good for this. Bring your filled-out grids, some blank ones, some ways to make notes.
- What does the data tell you? (Past insights when I’ve tried this: Commuting and eating take up actual time/I should stop pretending I’m ever going to get up at 6:00 am/My lowest-paid/lowest reward freelance client was taking up way too much time, time to either raise rates or quit)
- Consider at 5 -10 possible ways you might be able to address the overall “too much on the plate” situation. Discard anything that smacks of “work smarter, not harder” or beating yourself up for not being able to do everything on your list. Keep wishes & daydreams.
- Sort your list. What’s one step you could reasonably take in the next 24 hours? Is anything looking juicy and quittable? What’s the worst thing that could happen if certain tasks remained undone, or got deleted from your workload?
- Use a fresh time grid as a planning template for the week ahead, block out obligations and things you want to do. Can you start to see ways some of this could work better? Or maybe everything is still bullshit but you can see the shape of the bullshit a little more clearly? Great! That’s enough for right now. Treat yourself.
- See if you can keep this going and check in every two weeks: A free hour, thinking about what you need & want to do in the week ahead, brainstorming actions & next steps, treating yourself. Repeat. My hope is that you’ll slowly regain a sense of control.
- Important: Probably nobody is ever going to give you time to think or plan, certainly not most employers, so you’re going to have to wrest it for yourself and guard it carefully against interruptions. People are going to be very quick to offer hacks/tips/tricks (The Pomodoro Method! Habitica! Bullet journaling! Morning pages!) and those can be useful tools but they are not a substitute for an overall process for setting boundaries around your time and giving yourself permission – this 1 hour every week, this 15 minutes at the beginning and end of every workday – to think about your life and how you want and need to live it.
- You may want to share your process with your partner, especially as you go, or invite them to try it out, too, but consider focusing on yourself at first, with your own schedule & priorities uppermost.
Now, here are some questions I suggest asking yourself/your partner/the situation:
- Is your partner able to do these errands alone? If not, what alternatives exist (find a delivery service, ask someone else they know)?
- What happens if you say “No, I’d rather not do that today, can it wait?” or “I need to close my eyes for half an hour, can I come help you then?” or “Mind handling the shopping on your own today?” Not to argue (“You always jump on me the second I get home!”), but, neutrally, as if this is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask (because it is). If you have a habit of always agreeing to help when your partner asks, is it silly that they’d develop an expectation that asking isn’t a big deal?
- Because you are so busy in other parts of your life, do you think your partner is trying to cross the streams of spending time with you AND getting all the errands done? What are your partner’s “busy” levels compared to yours? (I can easily imagine a situation where one person coming home from work is ready to wind down for the day and someone who has been home all day is like, “You’re here! Let’s get this party started!” aka “Life with kittens.”)
- Can you both agree to interrupt that pattern, by setting aside clear blocks of time for errands/household stuff and relaxing/date stuff?
Best of luck in finding a way to be more intentional about how you spend your days and your dates.
Q4: Some neighbours (idk who) have a cat, Bob. He liked to hang in our backyard (stressing our indoor cats to the point of peeing on a bed) until we enclosed it ($$$) Now he sits on the mesh and fights my 14yo cat through it. This week I got close enough to Bob to read their tag + phone number. I didn’t text them at 2am (last fight) What do I say, and when? Pronouns: she/hers
A4: Maybe the next time “Bob” drops by for a fight, you can snap a photo with your phone, or shoot video if you can. Then you could text the number and say “Hello, neighbor, this is [Name] at [Address.] Is this your cat, Bob? He really likes to drop by and bother my cats at night. Any way you can keep him in at night?”
- The first time, wait until the next morning/a decent hour before you text.
- Keep in mind that this person didn’t know about your expensive problems with Bob before this moment, they don’t have the same buildup of upset feelings. Start friendly, and focus on what is happening NOW and what you would like to happen NOW/IN THE FUTURE.
- Keep expectations low. You’re probably not getting reimbursed for anything expensive you did to your yard. What you might get is “Can you keep Bob inside at night?” or “Hey, if Bob is being loud/disruptive, howabout I text you and you can come collect him?”
- This vet I turned up in my Google search had some interesting suggestions.
- I know nothing about where you live or what laws & rules about animals are like there. You should research the rules where you live and talk to people in your neighborhood. That way, if a direct request to Bob’s person doesn’t work, you can maybe find good next steps.
Moderation Note for this one: I rarely post anything about animals and animal welfare – Nicole Cliffe correctly calls this “the third rail of advice column work”- and this is why: People get very concerned about animals (a fine quality!), and sometimes also get very unrealistic ideas about what it is possible to do in regard to someone else’s animal in a way that crosses over into vigilantism or the fallacy that the questioner is OBLIGATED to trap/steal/save Bob from his owners (an upsetting quality!). Unfortunately, “Bob” might just be an annoying quirk of this questioner’s neighborhood, and they may not have much recourse. If you’ve successfully convinced a neighbor to be more proactive about a cat situation, tell us about that! Catnapping fantasies or unfounded legal advice: No.
Q5: Whether I’m teaching my college class or explaining board game rules, people often forget small things I’ve already explained. Nbd, shit gets complicated, I clarify the thing if they ask. However, my anxiety spikes when they respond, “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!! HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW??” Correcting them seems like punching down, so I just smile and apologize and stress. Do you have any better ways to deal if/when this happens to you? Pronouns: she/her/hers
A5: If you’re pretty sure that you are covering whatever it is adequately, it might help if you think of a strange “BUT YOU NEVER SAID THAT!” reaction (vs. a simple request to repeat or review the information) as someone else’s anxiety (or other feelings-reaction) flaring up at you. Their feelings are real, but that doesn’t mean you caused them, or that their feelings are the primary thing you need to address. What’s happening is more about them than it is about you.
It still feels weird/upsetting in the moment? But maybe knowing/reminding yourself of that can help you get some distance?
In response, you don’t have to correct them, but you certainly can. And you can stop apologizing, which I think is one thing that is stressing you out. Try being very neutral and factual, like, “I did cover that at the beginning, but it’s okay to go over it again. What’s tripping you up?”
Another thought, teacher-to-teacher: When I get the same student questions a lot, or the same part of the instructions is breaking down for people, it’s usually a sign to either create & make available or edit a written version students can refer to.
Q6: My ex is fine but definitely Ex-For-A-Reason. Occasionally they’ll reconnect and it’s great! Eventually For-A-Reason shows up and I’ll cut contact. This happened recently and I handled it well, but I’m sad to gain/lose that connection again (for good, I’m done playing emotional yo-yo). Logicbrain knows I miss idealized ex, I’m not close to many people, and I’m generally lonely (but working on it!). I did good/regret nothing, but what do I do with feeeeeeeeelings? Pronouns: she/her/hers
A6: There’s no shortcut with feelings, sorry, friend. You feel them for a while, you be nice to yourself, you give it a lot of time and space, you redirect your attention to parts of your life that are satisfying. More detailed instructions here.
Q7: I have a friend that I wish was a small-doses friend, who I instead spend an evening a week with; we take a class together and take the same train home after. I’m getting frustrated with her for invading my space, through no fault of her own. How do I manage my feelings and maintain a friendship with her when I find her annoying sometimes and see her 1000% more than I wish I did? Pronouns: she/her/hers
A7: How long does the class go? I ask because time will take care of this problem pretty soon, right? And when the class is over you can take a break. In the meantime:
- Who do you like in the class, who makes you look forward to it? Time to quietly branch out, make sure you meet and work with some other people during class time?
- Make a list of reasons you like this person and a list of things you enjoy talking to her about. On some train rides, ask her about those safe, enjoyable topics. Choose to engage.
- On other train rides, could you try saying “Hey [friend], it’s been a super long day, I need to put headphones on and tune out on the way home, can we chat next week?” thank her for understanding, and grab some quiet time. Sometimes people need quiet, it’s okay to ask!
Q8: I know you’re married to a great dude after having a not-so-great history with some dudes in the past. Do you have any advice on how to feel okay and safe dating when it seems like every small thing is a red flag and every expression of intimacy is terrifying? I don’t want to override my body’s fear signals but I also don’t want to be alone forever. Already in therapy. Pronouns: she/her/hers
A8: Hi! During the winter in 2012 when Mr. Awkward luckily crossed my path, I was trying to rid myself of certain habits like sleeping with people right away, being afraid to disappoint people, or letting my essential homebody nature and inertia steer the ship too soon.
Chicago winters are harsh, liking a variety of cosy indoor activities isn’t wrong, and yet, I wanted to stop living this Marilyn Hacker poem. I wanted to stop recreating cycles of “Hi, you seem nice and like you can carry on a conversation!” followed by “Let’s imprint on each other sexually!” followed by “Eh, just come over, I made soup!” followed by either “Hey bro, don’t you have your own apartment to go to?” or “Welp, I guess you’re my boyfriend now, I can work with this.” Maybe it was time to change something up.
What I had going for me then:
- I wasn’t new at online dating – the novelty had definitely worn off, and I had learned from some earlier mistakes.
- We teach what we need to learn – advising others here had helped me re-examine my own history in a gentle light and helped me articulate what I wanted.
- I liked my life, I liked my apartment, I liked my friends, I liked my work, I liked myself, I liked being alone. This empowered me to be very, very picky.
Again, thanks to the writing I did for this site, I did put some pretty specific guardrails in place. Seven years later I can’t say for sure how much was instinct and how much was deliberate, but this is what I tried at the time:
- Small Doses. I scheduled first dates with new people on weeknights.Why this worked for me:
- Dates like “Want to grab some tacos after work Tuesday?” kept things centrally located, low-key, and inexpensive. If I’m already out of the house for work, no need to fight inertia or put on a special shirt!
- “School nights” gave me ironclad reason to wrap things up early, limit or skip drinking altogether, and avoid the whole idea of going home with somebody or inviting them home with me.
- It kept weekends free for hanging out with friends (who I already knew I liked) or enjoying time alone. If I liked someone enough to want to book up a Saturday, that was good information.
- Slowing Down. I scheduled first dates few and far between, and after each first date, I tried to give myself some time to decide about whether I wanted another one. For example:
- At the end of a date, I tried to say stuff like “It was really nice meeting you, thank you for coming out” instead of “Sure, let’s do this again sometime!” so I could sleep on it.
- Before making another date, I thought about what I wrote in all the dating answers on here: Is this person as cool as my friends? Am I excited to see them again and get to know them better? Was the actual time we spent on the date fun, comfortable, relaxing? Am I at least contemplating [kissing stuff]? Were there any red flags (more on this below)?
- Unless the prospect of a second date made me want to say a wholehearted “Yay!!!!!!!!” it was a “No thank you.” And I straight up cancelled/reversed on some things if I caught myself trying to talk myself into the idea of someone.
- If I did like someone and want to have a second or third date, I waited a long time before inviting them to my home or doing any home/cooking/cosy OR sexy stuff. Not because that’s bad (cosy evenings at my place are awesome!) but because I personally didn’t want to lapse into that mode of least resistance right away.
- Safety and Congruence
- Basic Safety Stuff: I met people in public places that were easy to get myself to and from. I told friends where I was going. I asked people for real names. I did at least a cursory Google search, and left that info with friends, too. I made a Google Voice number to keep my cell number private. I texted my check-in person when I arrived on the date and when I got home.
- Intermediate Safety Stuff: I gave myself permission to bail pretty immediately if something didn’t feel right, especially if I sensed someone was a jerk or being untruthful.
- One time a man looked at least 15 years older than his profile photo. Another man had a very different body type than he did in photos. It wasn’t that they were unattractive in person, or that I expected movie stars, but I did expect…congruence? Honesty? Self-awareness? Whatever was going on, it wasn’t my issue to dig into, so I excused myself pretty quickly and sent some extremely awkward “Look, I can’t help but noticing you look really different from your photos. Since you look fine just as you are, I hope you’ll post some recent photos before you try this again! But the discrepancy is so jarring to me, I’m just not comfortable” messages through the app when I got home.
- Someone whose profile said “divorced” whose story morphed into “I finally told my wife I wanted to separate last week and we are still going to be roommates for a while, is that a problem?” on the actual date? = MARRIED, WHAT YOU ARE IS MARRIED, SIR. I wish that person well, I don’t think they were evil (esp. since they ‘fessed up right away when we met), I know this shit gets complicated and expensive sometimes, but I had made it clear in my profile that I didn’t want to mess with married people or anyone with an ongoing committed romantic/emotional/legal entanglement, and someone who thought they could override that or worm their way around it was not for me. Let me have informed consent, or leave me alone.
- Sorting “Red Flags”: Dealbreakers vs. Incompatibilities vs. Questions. These are/were some of mine, provided as examples. Yours/other people’s will be different
- Dealbreakers (Red Flags): Untruthful. Mean to the waitstaff. Brings feature screenplay to our date expecting me to give notes on it. Mansplains my job to me. Takes “no thanks” as an invitation to negotiate: (“Come on, have another drink”). Keeps trying to push the level of intimacy higher than is comfortable, talks explicitly about sex a lot or keeps bring the conversation back there even when I don’t participate or change the subject. Talks during movies. Hipster racism (which is still racism!) or casual misogyny (totes misogyny!). Negs/Backhanded compliments. Handsy, grabby, a space invader.
- Incompatibilities (Orange Flags): Mistakes first date for therapy session, downloads a ton of sensitive/personal info on me, overshares. Conversation has no flow, I either feel like I’m performing, I’m expected to be the audience, or it’s an interrogation. Explains jokes to me. Is weird about “who pays” – either insists on paying for everything despite me holding out money, or pulls out a calculator. Every story is a rant or complaint. Making plans is difficult, requires way too many texts, person has no suggestions of activities or places to meet, lots of “I don’t know, whatever you want to do is fine!” Crosses the enthusiasm/evangelism line, i.e. If we’re on a date and you like something a lot, it’s probably fun to listen to you talk about it, even if it’s not my thing! But if you start insisting that I must like a thing, too, or telling me how much a thing I like sucks, I will endeavor to never touch any part of your body with any part of my body. Also here? “I’m not attracted to them/just not feeling it, not sure why” and “Our investment/enthusiasm levels are mismatched somehow.”
- Questions (Yellow Flags): Only people from their lives they mention are exes/sex partners, no mention of friends or family. Evasive answers to questions like “where did you grow up.” Any serious topic of conversation gets deflected with jokes (which, it takes one to know one, but what are we evading/avoiding?) Gaps in their story, long silences that aren’t comfortable silences.
Dealbreakers/Red Flags meant something about this person was pinging my radar where it comes to safety and/or integrity. I didn’t want to go out with them again, and I probably would prefer not to see again in this life. As soon as I sent the “hey thanks for coming out, I don’t think we’re a good fit but I hope you meet someone great” message, I tended to block them on the dating app. And, since I had some good friends who were using the site at the same time as me, I also sent out a few “Hey, watch out for this username, he’s pushy as hell” warnings.
People who seemed to be kind & doing their best but were just incompatible with me got filed as “Nice enough, but not for me!” Someone didn’t have to be a bad person to be a mismatch for me & what I wanted. Realizing this, and putting into practice by saying “No thank you!” to spending more time with people – even when they were very, very nice people, even when I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings – was an incredibly powerful and healthy realization for me.
If what I had after a date were questions AND I really enthusiastically liked the person, I might give things a little more time. I didn’t need people to be cheerful or have perfect lives, and I was definitely okay with someone being reticent about painful or uncomfortable topics or a little shy (especially when meeting a stranger for the first time)(especially in contrast to people who wanted to dump all their baggage on me). If we had a second date and something still didn’t feel right? I’d know what to do.
I don’t know where to stick this in the bulleted list, but it’s another important lesson of that time: I didn’t try to convert incompatible date-people into friends. New friendships were and are for people who goddamn delight me, where I feel strong connections and enthusiasm, not an awkward dumping ground or collection plate for people I didn’t want to have sex with because I couldn’t bear to say “You’re nice, but no.”
That’s a lot of text, right? I swear at the time, in practice, it wasn’t that complicated. All these rules/practices were about knowing myself, giving myself permission to want what I really wanted and set boundaries with myself about that.
What happened was:
I went on a bunch of first dates over the course of 6 months or so. Those ranged from “Oof, awkward” to “Eh, fine” to “Whoa, that person is a catch! He’s wonderful! But not my catch!”
I went on no second dates.
Then I went on one great first date.
And a great second date.
And all my guardrails/checks-and-balances were important because they were a reminder to myself to slow down and pay attention.
And they were a reminder to let myself enjoy things, to appreciate how good things could be. Because I felt safe, seen, respected, loved, appreciated. Because things were easy. Because I could be vulnerable. Because things matched.
So I married that one.*
I hope that helps.
Let’s do this again sometime!
*I realize this makes it sound like we got hitched on the third date. No. We got married about 4 years after we met, though I knew that it was likely/probable within a few months of meeting.
P.S. I wrote some stuff about compatibility around living space/household stuff that fits in with the whole red flags/dating someone new/is this for me? discussion here (#7).