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Hasb Oct 14
MzHeather

Greetings, it is the time for the periodic tradition where I answer search strings people typed in as if they are questions. 

First, I want to share a few links – Here I am at Vice, writing about family arguments, and I also want to call attention to S. Bear Bergman’s recent post there: How To Support Someone You Care About If They’re Stuck At Home With Bigots. Several/many of you have written for tips on how to help someone who is far away, and stuck in situations where what you can do is very limited, and I’m grateful to S. Bear for such a practical and supportive guide. 

Next, as is traditional, a seasonal song (Lyrics at the link, though this is one of the least-deep pop songs of all time, basically: What month is this, again? What are feelings, even?)

Onward, to the Search Terms!

1 “Family talks about my weight even though I’m not fat.”

Hello, it’s not cool to make weird overly-familiar and judgmental comments about people’s bodies, and this is true for absolutely every body, of every size and shape. Absolutely none of my suggestions for shutting this down involve protesting, “But I’m thin, actually!” even if that’s true of you. Instead, try:

  • “Commenting on my body is off limits; my weight isn’t up for discussion.” Make it boring, be a broken record. 
  • “Huh, let’s try a thing where we say only kind things about other people’s bodies.” 
  • “Yikes. That probably sounded better inside your head, and the next time you can’t stop checking out my [body part] you should probably leave those thoughts there.” 
  • When they camouflage their bullying as concern for your health, try: “Hmmm, if I ever have to start relying on you for medical advice, we should probably rent a backhoe and dig a whole row of graves, this family is doomed.” 

If you’re consistent and really boring, and you don’t give your family the traction and attention they’re clearly angling for, they might learn to stop bringing it up over time , but even if they don’t, it can be important for you to practice not putting up with their comments in silence. 

Never explain your body to anyone who isn’t 1) yourself b) your doctor when said information would actually help sort out some specific concern, and never apologize for your body to anyone, including clinicians. ❤

2 “Friend trying to set me up with a woman I’m not attracted to.”

This is tricky because you never know what a matchmaker with poor boundaries will repeat back to the other person, so listing reasons *why* you are not attracted risks hurting the feelings of the one person in this scenario who is not pressuring you to go on a date with her.

Start with “Thanks for the thought, but no. I prefer to find my own dates” and if that doesn’t work, try “Look, I am never going to call this person or go on a date with them, take ‘no’ for an answer please.” Make it about the friend and their behavior, not the person they’re setting you up with, if that makes sense. 

3 “I want to break up with my girlfriend but I don’t want to lose all her friends.” 

Oh man, this is a tough situation because it is entirely possible that the friends that you met through a partner will choose to prioritize their ties to that partner in the event of a breakup. Part of being a cool ex-partner is accepting that gracefully, like, “I hope we’ll stay friends, and I would really love to keep hanging out with people like [name] and [name], but if you want to take some space I promise to follow your lead. I’m not going to insert myself into every group event with your people.” (I’m living in a pre-pandemic liminal space where group get-togethers are a thing, indulge me, thank you)

For best results, make a clean, honest break where you own your feelings (“I’m so sorry, my feelings have changed and I don’t want to be a couple anymore.”) DON’T be a cheater, and DON’T pursue people in the immediate brunching circle as romantic partners. The better you treat her, the better your chance of staying in with them. 

I also suggest separating the idea of “you and your girlfriend have some mutual friends that you’d like to hold onto” from “you want to keep ties with your girlfriend’s whole social group” as much as you can. You inviting one or two of the people in your girlfriend’s circle who you really like and have stuff in common with to hang out from time to time is one thing. If they really like you, if you’re destined to have your own friendships with them, re-inclusion in the wider group will probably happen organically over time as you and your ex create a new normal, hopefully as friends yourselves. 

Insisting on remaining part of the whole group, especially using her friends as your personal shoulder to cry on or making them do a whole “I don’t want to pick sides, so I’m going to pick your ex’s side by inviting them to absolutely everything” number on your girlfriend is going to make all of that much harder. You can show you have good boundaries by maintaining good boundaries, like, “Oh, I don’t like to talk about ex when she’s not here, especially with mutual friends” and showing that you understand why she might not want you around all the time. 

I should disclose that *I* am a *serial* friendship-via-exes accumulator, to the point that one time an ex brought me as a date to a wedding with his college circle and one of his oldest friends from college screamed, “THANK YOU FOR BRINGING HER BACK TO US!” across a crowded wedding reception as she hurtled toward me, hugging arms engaged. (Thank you to this person for being pretty much the poster boy for good ex-ing and sharing some of the loveliest people on earth with me!) 

Searcher, this seems like a really good time to a) break up b) show that you can be a mensch about that process c) shore up your friendships, family relationships, and other supportive ties that don’t depend on her. Strength and courage! 

4 “How to get rid of a FB stalker in a few words.” 

I can do even better than that, as pressing the “block” button requires zero words.

If you still have to deal with the person in meatspace (work, family), and they demand an explanation, “I wasn’t enjoying our online interactions” or “Huh, I trimmed my feed way back to include only people I’m very close to/people I’m able to engage with on a daily basis” can work, but really, that’s also too much work. Blocking or unfriending someone on social media isn’t cryptic or confusing, and demanding “Why did you block me on FB (after I stalked you)?” kind of answers its own question. 

Sometimes I block people because of my own impulses:  I need a reminder not to engage or argue, or I want to keep liking them and probably the less I interact with all of their most racist high school friends the more possible that is.

There are lots of ways to keep in touch with people you want to be in touch with, so please, follow (and normalize following) your heart, your affections, and your pleasure at least as much as you hit the “follow” button in all areas of life. Life is too short to suffer social media attentions from people who annoy the shit out of you. 

5 “Sex with cosplay Darth Vader”

As long as it’s consensual, do whatever, and I mean whatever,  freaky stuff gets you through! 

6 “My girlfriend has pictures of her past boyfriends.”  

If your girlfriend is pulling these photos out every day for a retrospective slide show and comparing you unfavorably to her exes? Yes, probably weird! 

If they’re in an album, box, or on an old hard drive somewhere, and the person dragging them into the present is you, that’s 100%, always and forever, a you-problem. 

I have photos of everyone I’ve spent lots of time with, it’s not particularly meaningful, though it is part of my history that I’m allowed to hold onto and archive any way I choose. Anybody who seeks to erase all evidence of a partner’s romantic history (or worse, does the erasing themselves) is showing some serious red-flags. Let it go! 

7 “How do friends naturally transition into relationships?” 

How it happens in stories: Two friends are on the run from evil forces and they have to stop for the night and there’s

Only.

One.

Bed.

Alternately, they are on the run from evil forces, and one of them gets wounded and the other cleans the wound with a white cloth dipped in a bowl of water, which is how they finally know: We’re in love! 

How it happens in real life: At a certain point, one friend says to the other friend, “Me and you, babe, how about it?” and the other person says “Sure, let’s try it” because they have similar feelings of love/attraction, then when they try it, it’s really good and makes them happy, so they keep going.

If you want to tag your real life with some hot “friends-to-lovers” action, your most likely path lies through saying some version of “I am having a feeling, are you perhaps also having that feeling?” out loud to the person and seeing what they have to say. It only ever looks effortless/”natural” from the outside; trust that even in the slowest of burns, somebody somewhere made an explicit move or finally said the thing out loud. 

8 “Why would a boyfriend say he would never physically hurt you?”

In my experience, including nine+ years of writing this website and reading extensively about abusive relationships, those words tend to come out when said boyfriend has done enough emotional and verbal harm to cause fear and alarm, and he’d like you to stop “overreacting” to that fear in a way that makes him look bad and feel bad (by responding realistically to the harm he has done, by say, crying, or expressing trepidation), by issuing a reminder of how afraid he could make you, if he really wanted to. 

Nobody says “You know I would never hit you, right?” or “Why are you crying, it’s not like I physically hurt you?” unless the option of physically harming you has crossed their mind, and been rejected…for now. Oh, what a heroic man, He Who Would Never Actually Lay A Hand On You, what a high bar for romance! Ugh. No. If this is a sentence that’s being said aloud in your relationship, please visit LoveIsRespect.org from a secure/private browser and start the process of getting free and safe. ❤

9 “Feeling left out from boyfriend’s med class hangouts.” 

Hrmmmmmm, obviously I don’t know the whole story here, but if you’re not a fellow student in said medical school class, his hangouts with his colleagues sound like a series of the perfect windows of time for you to do something social with your friends, family, hobby group, or other social connections. 

Expecting your boyfriend to *introduce* you to colleagues, and to invite you along as a date to periodic functions and where everyone else is bringing partners/roommates/friends is quite reasonable, when it’s safe to have those again, and if he’s keeping you entirely secret and never letting you even meet anybody he works with, yes, that’s weird! 

But outside of that, if you’re expecting to regularly crash a partner’s work happy hours and informal study sessions (or even weirder, work Zoom socials) I think some expectations could use re-setting. Your boyfriend is going to need study partners and friends to get him through a really intense, taxing, and specialized program of study, and if he’s not enthusiastically inviting you to tag along to every interaction, it’s time to either talk about what’s really bothering you (Is he getting a suspicious case of The Mentionitis about somebody in particular, or doing something where jealousy of his behavior is a reasonable reaction?) or leave him entirely to it while you do your own thing.

10 “My partner wants to move in together, and I don’t.” 

Blanket advice: Listen to your gut and do not combine households until you are both sure and downright enthusiastic about the process. Here is a past post that runs through many of the conversations, including conversations about finances, that might help you make a good decision. 

I don’t often give financial advice (due to bona fides like “See what I did there? Probably do the opposite!”) but I want every undecided couple or reluctant roommate who is on the fence about moving in with someone but who is tempted by the “splitting rent will save so much money!” argument to at least run all the numbers for how much it costs to un-combine households before signing any paperwork.

If you were legally stuck paying half the rent for a lease on a place you don’t want to live anymore for several months, plus coming up with a new security deposit and new rent for your new place, plus whatever it costs to hire movers/put things in storage/replace household items, plus you have to negotiate all of that with someone who may or may not be on your side about anything anymore, what does that cost, and from what you save by splitting rent, could you put enough money aside as a just-in-case from the start?

If you don’t end up needing these funds to move out, then you’ve got a lovely wedding or honeymoon or emergency/vacation fund. If you do end up needing it? Take it from the person who left a bad relationship with less than $300 in the bank and had to crowd-fund stuff like “food” and “second-hand laptop so I can write things, then buy food” and “getting all my stuff + my cat in same apartment as me, also, cats need food” within the last decade: Betting your financial well-being on someone you are madly in love with is hard enough, doing the same with you aren’t jazzed about living with from the start is in no way cheaper than whatever going-it-alone alternative you’re considering. 

11 “What to say if you don’t work and someone asks what you do” and “How to tell people why you don’t have a job?” 

Greetings to (probably) my fellow U.S. denizens, where this is one of those introductory “small-talk” questions that we are probably never getting rid of, because for us, saying “______ is my career, the thing I do that people pay me for, what’s yours?” is fundamental to how we place ourselves and each other.

(Note: I didn’t say it was good, it’s definitely classist/ableist, just for starters, I said it was culturally ingrained and therefore probably never going away in my lifetime.)

Since the question is so common, and since it is presently so common to either not have a job at all or have far too many, it probably pays to think of some ways to respond that let you be honest, let you normalize your actual experiences and a variety of possible experiences, and makes it as easy and comfortable as possible for you to answer. 

If you are a fellow Advice Blogger, and you don’t want to give life advice or explain “what are blog?” to your brand new acquaintance/every Lyft driver you meet, may I suggest “Oh, I’m a freelancer” and “What do you like to do when you’re not [doing whatever this is]?” as a redirect, brought to you by All The Times A Stranger Mistook Me For Their Personal Backseat Therapist in the BeforeTimes™*. 😉

If you are looking for work, especially a specific kind of work, why not put a friendly new acquaintance’s curiosity to work for you? “I trained as a librarian, I’ve just been laid off from a corporate archiving and information job, so if you hear of anyone who needs a lot of text and information organized, send them my way!” 

If you have four jobs that somehow still don’t add up to a reasonable standard of living, “What do I do? What day is it? Tuesday, oh, today I’m a grocery store clerk, tomorrow I’m a fitness instructor, and the rest of the time I write corporate newsletters and do childcare for my neighbors, howabout you?” Just say whatever it is! 

If it’s more comfortable, you can both ask AND answer the question in terms of “What’s keeping you busy nowadays?”

For example, “On good days I work in the garden, and I’m also trying to pick up Czech as a second language, but most of the time I have to take it easy for my health, howabout you?”

 

Some people will both get it and respond to your prompt in kind with their interests and hobbies, and I think that by far the majority of people who ask this question simply want to know, or are performing what they know to be a routine, polite cultural exchange. They are not interested in every detail, and they are not asking questions like this in order to embarrass you or drive a sharp stick directly into your sore spots. This means, on the whole, that they will take whatever answer you give them in stride and take their cues from you about how to respond.

If you run into one of life’s nosy exceptions, remember, you don’t owe anyone a happy, simple, or expected story about your life, but you also don’t owe them justifications or apologies for who you are. If someone says “No, I meant, like, what’s your job?” as if this were not obvious in the question from the start, you get to decide how much you care about either impressing or informing them about economics, disabilities invisible or visible, and the like, and it’s  completely up to you whether you say “Right, you asked about my job, and I told you what I actually do with my time, was that not clear?” or “Job? I don’t have one at present, but that’s what keeps me busy nowadays, howabout yourself?” versus just looking expectantly at them until they ask a better question or saying “Well, nice talking with you, anyway!” and getting on with your day. 

*Honestly, at this point in the pandemic, I miss my weekly “20 minutes with a random stranger” rides, “Hey is it okay if I play you my mix-tape” (Always!), unprompted syphilis test results tossed over the back seat, scrapbook of dash-cam photos of notable passengers, “I’m thinking of leaving my wife…and finding someone just like YOU, what do you think?” and all. 

Moderation Note: 

Comments are open! Since it’s been a while, I’ll remind people to review the site policies, specifically:

  • Please keep it kind, constructive, and in service of the question-askers, which includes today’s theoretical askers. How does your comment help someone wrestling with this question?
  • Re: Question 1, diet talk and naming specific weights or body sizes, even if it’s meant positively/as compliments, are prohibited on the site. 
  • Please don’t write long essays as blog comments. If you’ve got a lot to say about something, it’s okay to write everything up at your own web-space and throw us a link and a few sentences to describe it so interested people can follow you there for deeper discussion. 
  • When threading replies to a specific commenter, it’s very helpful to throw their username in your reply so it’s clear – “@Username, building on your point…” 
  • The spam filter often eats legit comments, which I release as fast as I can, and I check at least several times a day as long as there is an open discussion. If your post gets eaten, wait 24 hours – I’ll fish it out (or, if it’s shit, I’ll quietly delete it and save you the embarrassment). You don’t have to keep posting to say that your comment got eaten, I’m on the case! 🙂 

Away we go! Thank you for reading. 

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