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Hello Captain,

Apologies in advance for the length- I (33F) have been with my boyfriend for just over 4 years, living together for the last 6 months in a house I purchased about one year ago. Our relationship has always been a bit…volatile, at least to my standards. I am someone who prefers harmony in the relationship and if there is a conflict, I prefer to talk it through calmly to find a resolution.

My boyfriend (44M), however, seems to be acclimated to a different kind of conflict management- he gets very defensive and dismissive of my feelings when there is an issue, and our disagreements turn into what I call “rants” on his part, where he gets very cyclical and repetitive in trying to make his point and does not let me get a word in edgewise. Any attempt on my part to jump in and explain my perspective or clarify an assumption he has made is seen by him as me arguing back, which further aggravates him and perpetuates the rant cycle. When he gets upset, even if I don’t say a single word back, he will repeatedly continue to bring up the issue until he talks himself out (usually an hour, give or take). He speaks disdainfully, at times sarcastically, and raises his voice during these rants. My response when being spoken to this way is usually to cry, which ends up further frustrating him, and he says I am like a child crying all the time and I need to grow up, let him blow off steam, or get mad back and tell him to f*** off and call him out on his s*** when he gets that way, instead of crying. I have explained that it is just my body’s natural reaction to the stress of being yelled/ranted at, but he doesn’t seem to care or understand.

Many of our conflicts are a result of something insignificant, and the fight becomes about larger overall relationship issues or he starts criticizing my personality. For example, just this morning, we went to a nearby trail to take our dog on a walk. He parked and then wanted to move the car to a different spot on the trail, but first pointed out another dog he wanted me to notice. I saw the dog, then commented that we should drive to where we were planning to walk. He somehow took that comment as me criticizing him for staring at the other dog, which started a rant that turned into him talking about how he doesn’t care what other people think if he stares, how I need to stop telling him what to do, how he is a grown man and no one needs to tell him anything. He brought my race, gender, and specific personality into it, asking when I would just “chill out” and stating that I am so uptight and too sensitive all the time because I am a particular race and am a woman. I pointed out to him that my original comment was more along the lines of “cool, I saw the dog, now let’s get going to our own walk” and here he was bringing up all these other points. He just continued ranting- I have found it is impossible to reason with him when he is escalated like this. We ended up just going home afterward, with me being upset the rest of the day.

After the rants, most of the time he prefers to not apologize or discuss it, and just wants to pick back up as if nothing happened. It usually takes me a day or two to get back to “normal” since his remarks are often hurtful to me, make me feel bad about myself, and like my point of view is not heard or cared about. I have explained this many times, but he can’t see the impact it has on me and just gets irritated that I am being too “sensitive.”

I suspect he has undiagnosed adult ADHD, which also plays into our relationship (he is quite scattered, needs lots of stimulation/caffeine, drives a bit recklessly changing lanes quickly without pre-planning and while using his cell phone, forgetful, leaves items and clutter all over the house without realizing it, constantly interrupts when I am speaking to point out something unrelated “squirrel!” And tells me I should not get upset but should just let him interject then get back to what I was saying, says and commits to things without following through much of the time, inattentive even after I repeat myself multiple times…). This results in me doing most of the “adulting” (chores, finances, mental and emotional labor, organization) so admittedly I do find myself getting exhausted and complaining or criticizing him for not pulling his own weight, which I think he overreacts to. I feel like this all just keeps perpetuating the cycle of him getting irritated and going on a rant, which happens at least twice a month on average.

Are we just incompatable due to different styles of communication and conflict resolution? Do I need to do more to help him manage his issues and feelings? He certainly seems to think so, he mentions that I just need to not “trigger” him or tell him anything to upset him, and largely blames me being uptight, too sensitive and too critical for his behavior. Others in his family are also very outspoken and have a “short fuse” so it might be part of his personality? I am having a difficult time figuring out if I should continue to work at this relationship. During times that he is not upset, we get along well and manage a fair partnership even factoring in the inattentiveness on his part. It’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. I just feel like I need an outsider’s perspective and thoughts, because much of the time I end up feeling like it is all my fault. Thank you for any insight you can give me.

Exhausted and Confused

Dear Exhausted and Confused:

Dump. Him. 

Please, dump him. 

I can’t make you dump him, obviously, but oh my god, DUMP HIM. 

You ask if you should keep working on this relationship, and “do more,” per your boyfriend’s request, “to manage his issues and feelings.” I wonder, what “work” would that even be?  This guy turns walking the dog on a crisp fall day into an entire ordeal, flips the fuck out because you did not fully appreciate his dog-spotting, and then he turns it all into a story where supposedly you are too sensitive and need to get better at letting things go?

I mean…what? 

You mention that he’s like Jekyll and Hyde. Sounds familiar, and I can link you to past posts from the #ThisFuckingGuy hall of fame all day, because you are far from alone in falling in love with a man a little bit older than you, someone with a lot of opinions and thoughts, someone who can probably keep up his end of a conversation about neat books and music and the state of the world, a communicative man who seems refreshing when you think of all the texts you’ve received from men in your peer group that just say “Hey…” 

You are also far from alone in waking up one day and realizing that this man is “interesting”  the same way those M.C. Escher prints people hung on their dorm room walls in the 90s were interesting: They represent closed, impossible systems, and once you see the trick it’s like, oh hey, those stairs don’t actually go anywhere, howabout that.

Your boyfriend was forty years old when you met. He is forty-four now. This is how he is: Mean, condescending, dismissive, sexist, racist, entitled, and a bad driver. Expecting you to handle all of the household finances and chores, tiptoe around his feelings, and apparently sit with an eager, placid smile on your face while he blames you for all of his own negative feelings, to prove that you are just the right amount of sensitive to cater to him in all things.

This is how he is. (Spoiler: Jekyll and Hyde are the same dude.) 

ADHD, if present, certainly makes emotional regulation and keeping up with household chores and bills harder, but look, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 40, and yet somehow I never handed the people in my life a giant stack of paperwork, cleaning tasks, and weird feelings and said “Here, handle this for me, while I’m mean to you about it.” Can we just marvel for a moment at how big one’s sense of entitlement would have to be in order to behave that way? Being kinda scattered and the other things you mention? Possible ADHD symptoms. A man turning to the nearest lady with “Hey, run my life for me. Wait, no, not like that!” is most likely plain old boring patriarchy and personal selfishness at work. The two can exist simultaneously in the same host.

Let’s talk about what it means to be “too sensitive” when it’s used the way your boyfriend uses it, as a pattern that normalizes cruelty and indifference to cruelty. 

When he rants at you and yells at you, and you don’t like it, and you react by getting visibly upset, and then he yells at you for being too sensitive, what is happening is real-time victim-blaming. He hurts your feelings, then robs you of the right to feel those feelings (such as righteous anger), quickly erases his own problem behavior from the narrative, and, for the grand finale, he turns his actions into something that has you auditing your reactions, like, shit, am I just feeling feelings wrong? I’m sorry! 

This is a pattern that normalizes cruelty and indifference to cruelty. Re-casting all your reactions he doesn’t like as automatic overreactions, and making you fear the possibility of overreacting so much that you stop reacting at all, allows jerks like your boyfriend to reframe almost *any* behavior they do as being normal and reasonable, and any anger you feel as automatically misplaced and wrong. If you accept the idea that it is you who are too sensitive (vs. Hangry McRantybeans, Chill-Dog-Spotter-At-Large), it means accepting a world where being mean to a weeping person and calling them a baby is just a perfectly reasonable, normal, routine things one does every day and would be perfectly fine, if only everyone would just “chill out” about it. 

But what if being mean to a crying person is actually…not…the obvious, reasonable path of least resistance?

Imagine you and I are hanging out in person, masked up, outdoors, obviously, and I’m petting your dog, obviously. We’re chitchatting away, and without meaning to, you say something that hurts my feelings and I start to cry. What would you do next? First instinct.

I’m guessing, most likely, you’d stop doing whatever you were doing and check on me. “Are you okay? Did I say something wrong?” 

And I’d say something like, “You had no way of knowing, but that really hurt my feelings.”

Again, what would you do next? First instinct.

I’m guessing here, but most likely, you would apologize to me for whatever you said. Even if you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, even if what you said was pretty innocuous and wouldn’t hurt your feelings or be a widely-known conversational danger zone, you would see that I am upset, so I imagine you’d say something like “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize.” 

And after that, you might even check on me again, right? We probably wouldn’t pick up our conversation until you were sure I was okay to continue. “Are you sure you’re all right?” 

And, dig this, what if the thing that set me off WAS really weird? When you said “What a beautiful maple tree,” what if  I said “How could you, don’t you know my grandmother was kidnapped and eaten by maple trees?” and burst into tears, you’d probably be like, “Um, I didn’t…? know that…? Actually?????,” and find yourself regretting this entire interaction, but before you backed away slowly you’d probably check your pockets and see if you had any tissues.

You’d do this because 1) even if we stopped sharing a frame of reference, something was clearly freaking me out, and 2) it costs nothing and actually feels pretty good to do your best to be kind and gentle when you can see someone is suffering. Shutting up is free, being nice is easy, and doubling down on insulting people and trying to make them feel worse about themselves takes way more effort than either of those things. 

You and I are complete strangers to each other, and yet, I am pretty confident that you would show me at least this amount of care and thoughtfulness if we found ourselves in one of these scenarios.

So why doesn’t someone who supposedly loves you show that kind of care to you? 

When your boyfriend rants at and insults you, getting upset to the point of crying seems like a pretty reasonable reaction to me. Even if it were unreasonable – WHICH IT IS EMPHATICALLY NOT – but even if it were? After four years together your boyfriend has enough experience to know that it is a predictable reaction: “When I rant like this, it makes my girlfriend cry.” 

He is from a Yelling Family, sounds like, lots of us come from those, it happens, and yet he has a ton of information that demonstrates that you neither enjoy nor wish to adopt his family’s exact way of arguing. His available choices for building a family with you include decisions like, “Hey, even if yelling is my first instinct, I should really strive to be more gentle with her,” or, “Wow, where did my girlfriend learn to handle conflict so calmly? She’s wonderful, and maybe I have something to learn here.”

So why does he think his shitty family habits have the automatic right of way in your house, and that you are the one who must adapt? When he yells at you to “get mad back and tell him to f*** off and call him out on his s*** when he gets that way, instead of crying” he is saying that changing yourself, making yourself as mean as he is, is the “adult” path, but the thought of him changing his behavior to be kind and measured like you never crossed his mind. Chill dude you’ve got there. 

Making your fights all about your supposed sensitivity (as if sensitivity is a bad thing, a framing I do not accept) locates the blame for the way he is treating you in you, and also locates possible solutions to this problem as things that you must work on (somehow). It normalizes a pattern where his upset feelings are all your fault and your upset feelings about his behavior are also all your fault, and it lets him skip right past any accountability for or even acknowledgement of his own actions. If he can get you busy thinking it’s your fault and looking for things you can fix about yourself, you may forget that he’s an asshole long enough to have a nice little lull between the fights he picks with you, and string those lulls into the idea of a relationship that works most of the time.

“Look what you made me do” is classic abuser-logic, but this kind of gaslighting goes even further, by neatly excising the part where the perpetrator did anything at all. It is ricocheting through our politics and our cultural discourse as well as our interpersonal and family relationships, and it moves along existing lines of power and structural oppressions, which is why it is not accidental that your boyfriend brought race and gender into his most recent rant. Women are routinely called too sensitive, uptight, and told to get a sense of humor whenever they do not laugh at men’s unfunny jokes, whenever they do not center, cater to, and pamper the feelings of men, and whenever they do not make automatic excuses for any harm that men do to them. If women mention a man’s bad behavior at all, the immediate prompt is to look for ways to explain and excuse it – Oh, his family is like this, that’s probably why, or he has something diagnosable going on – and look, I have got to grab my megaphone for a sec: 

You can be from a mean family!

You can have a panoply of diagnosable shit going on!

And you can still be expected to generally a) not be an asshole and b) be accountable for the way you treat other people! One very common difference between assholes and not-assholes is that when not-assholes discover the people they love are sensitive to something, they do their best not to make whatever it is harder.

Digging into the root reasons someone is behaving like an asshole only matters if the asshole does something with that information, and by “does something” I mean:

Step 1: Yo! Asshole! Stop doing whatever asshole stuff brought you to this epiphany! “Hey, stop harming me!” “Whoa, not so fast, I need to figure out why I’m harming you so you can feel bad for me about that.” No! Stop doing the thing! You can dig into your complicated psychological scars on you-time!

Step 2: Apologize, account for, and make amends for the specific harm you caused to the person or people you harmed to the best of your ability, while centering the needs of and consent of the person who was harmed (i.e. just ’cause you want to apologize real bad doesn’t mean the person has to stick around and hear you out, sometimes not being an asshole anymore has to be its own reward.)

Step 3: Do your best to not repeat the harm. 

Step 4: Be self-aware and accountable on an ongoing basis. Since we’re talking ADHD for a minute, yes, my fellow Distractables, it’s probable that we will forget to grab milk at the store again in this life, even though the person we live with reminded us to get some. Making a mistake is usually not the end of the world or a sign that we are terrible people, as long as we 1) say “sorry” and 2) facilitate the earliest acquisition of milk. If you screw up and then you’re like “Wait, why are YOU so obsessed with dairy anyway, this is your fault really, or probably SOCIETY!” at the person whose milk you forgot, then sorry, we’re right back to petulant asshole territory. 

It is okay to make mistakes, to struggle, and to need a little understanding at times, but it is impossible to apologize, make amends, and grow from your mistakes if you refuse to name them and if you continually displace responsibility onto the people around you. To be clear, your boyfriend isn’t actually working on any of the the things that make him moody, abrasive, and hard to live with, instead, he’s blaming it all on you leaving the whole problem on your desk like it’s the cable bill. But it’s not your fault he’s like this, and it’s not your project to fix him. You seem very competent, but you can’t self-actualize for someone else, even if you wanted to. The kind of “work” on yourself it would take to slog through a lifetime with this man means both excusing his repeated bad behavior and dulling your own emotions and authentic human reactions to the point that it just doesn’t matter what he says anymore because you probably weren’t listening anyway. 

This is why I say: DUMP HIM. Please dump him, as soon as you can safely do so. Even if he were committed somehow to working on himself to save the relationship, the most likely outcome is that he will do just enough to keep you around and then revert to exactly how he is now. Another completely likely outcome is that he will take SO FUCKING LONG to go about it and also make you participate in and coax him through every moment of his “growth,” down to recapping his therapy sessions to you in full and expecting you to admire and praise him each time he could have called you a baby but heroically didn’t. No! Nyet! Nay! Nein! You’ve already put in four years of this, you are exhausted and blaming yourself for his repetitive, racist, sexist tirades and I beg you, read up on sunk cost fallacy and GO. You are not a one-woman-asshole-rehabilitation sanctuary! You are a super lady with other shit to do, and your own fabulous growth to see too! 

If you’re ready to skip ahead to breaking up, I strongly suggest making some sort of safety plan first, especially since you live together. Here are some resources: 1) Safety planning when you live with the person 2) Safety planning with pets 3) Protecting digital privacy

Hopefully he’ll be reasonable and get gone ASAP after you say “This relationship isn’t working for me anymore and I am breaking up with you.” Hopefully you will never need any of these resources. But you live together, he is volatile and mean to you, he has a lot of access to you and your life, and if he wants to be petty and disruptive on his way out of it, he has lots of ways to do that, and lots of ways to linger and make the project of finding him new housing and getting him out into your problem (the way he does with everything else). I also suggest looking at the tenancy laws near you, so you can be maximally protected if he decides to become a “Well, actually, in our jurisdiction, as my landlord you must give me X months of written notice” pain in your ass. 

Think through how and when you will break the news, do you want friends and family standing by to support you so you’re alone with him as little as possible, do you want the dog to be at a friend’s place for a couple days, what is your proposed timeline for him leaving your place and what are the ground rules until he does, are you willing to give him some money to facilitate the process (you are not responsible for setting up his new life, he survived forty years on the earth before he met you, but sometimes the cheapest way to pay for stuff is with money). Think it through. 

If you’re not there yet, I understand, this is a lot! While you chew on the prospect of breaking up, there are a few things you can try to make your home life less contentious. They aren’t mean, they don’t escalate conflict, and they’ll either work, and he’ll ease up, or you’ll get confirmation pretty quick that this is totally unfixable. 

Recommendation One: Point of order, recommendation One is DUMP! HIM!, so even though this part has only three recommendations, we’re automatically starting with #2. 

Recommendation Two: You said that he rants at you when you argue with him and he rants at you just as much when you’re silent, as he makes up versions of what he thinks you’ll say and then punishes you for those.

I wonder what he’d do if the next time he started in, you left? “Look, you’re obviously emotional right now, and I don’t feel like having this conversation with you while you’re yelling. I’m going to go for a run/a drive/walk the dog/do some errands/take a bath/shut this door and have some quiet time, we can talk when you’ve had a chance to calm down.”  You don’t have to say all that or inform him first, but you can. 

If you think he’d escalate even more, use your judgment, you know him and yourself best! If he won’t let you leave the room, that’s a scary escalation and an indicator that it is in fact GTFO time, and whatever keeps you safe moment to moment is the right move, including fake-complying with him while you make your plan. But maybe this is worth testing. You’ve told him you hate being yelled at, so what happens when you remove yourself from the situation? “Oh, I can’t talk to you when you’re like this, I’m going to step out for a bit.” What if part of being the grownup that he is so sure he is and that you are not is deciding that nobody is allowed to yell at you in your own damn house?

Recommendation Three: Tell somebody who knows you and who you trust exactly how bad things are at home. Do not try to tough it out alone or spackle over the cracks.  I think you’ve been carrying a lot of this alone for far too long. I’m glad you told us, now tell the person you would call if you needed somebody to come get you in the middle of the night, no questions asked.

Recommendation Four: Another thing you can do that doesn’t require any buy-in from him is to reclassify the things he says in your mind while he’s saying them. He tends to call you a baby when he is throwing a tantrum, he tends to insist on his extreme adult maturity when he is making you handle his bullshit in some fashion, he tends to accuse you of oversensitivity and needing to chill out when he’s the one foaming at the mouth because a random poingle went by and you didn’t say “Oh, great honey! Good job noticing! Yeah!” In other words, he’s projecting all over the place. 

So, time to play Opposite Day quietly, inside your mind. He says “You just need to chill out!” = SOMEBODY here needs a nap and a juice box, and it’s not you. He says “You’re just a baby who needs to grow up!” = Hmmm, I wonder how many times you’ve done both his bills/chores/paperwork/administrative tasks and your own this week/this month/this year. What if you counted all of these tasks up while he talked at you?

As a catch-all, re-watch The Big Lebowski together and then mentally channel The Dude whenever your boyfriend says something mean to you: 

(After you dump him you can make this clip the ringtone associated with his number on your phone.)

You will get free of him when you are ready, but the process starts as soon as you reject the absurd idea that this tedious motherfucker gets to be as mean to you as he wants and you are somehow causing it and/or are lacking in some way if you do not enjoy that. This is not your fault, you are super great, and even if you were a literal walking exposed nerve who had to be transported in a special magic bubble because you were so sensitive, I would fight anyone who was mean to my weird little dendrite buddy about that.  

In closing:

No chill,

Captain Awkward


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




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. 


Hey Cap!

I feel like this could go here or to Ask A Manager but I thought here might be better because a lot of this stuff is both personal and professional? Who knows.

Because of COVID, I’ve been transferred temporarily to a different assignment in my company. I’ve been working on this for several months and I still have a few more to go but I’m at my wit’s end.

My team is about 10 people and 1 supervisor. This is not an easy team — the people who tend to be good at the super-niche work that we do also tend to be control freaks, stubborn, and detail-oriented to the point of decision paralysis. (And yeah, I’m one of them — I’ve just got about 15 years more experience than the rest of the team and a lot of therapy, so I’m aware of my neuroses and try to navigate that stuff, which has somehow led to me becoming the Team Diplomat.)

Anyway. I am a domestic violence survivor, which I think is important for context, and I have a Very Loud, Entitled, Angry Man on my team. Angry Man believes he’s better at my job than I am and that I’m not as smart — and it’s true I’m not the brains of the operation, but that’s not why I was chosen for this, they picked me because I’m focused and good at getting stuff done, whereas with a lot of the rest of the team (ESPECIALLY Angry Man), they don’t actually finish anything because we spend hours and hours bickering about philosophical details that don’t actually matter to the work.

Anyway, Angry Man is really, well, angry about the fact that I was asked to be in charge of some aspects of this project that fit with my career expertise and really believes that he deserves that job and can bully me out of it by just being really mean and critical of me all the time and making it clear he thinks I’m incompetent. (Our corporate culture is much improved from when I started, but some people still attach a LOT of importance to being able to claim “I am in charge of a thing.”) He undermines me constantly — like, redoing my work behind my back when I have a day off and presenting it to our boss as the “finished product” when actually his version broke a bunch of things that were perfectly fine before.

My boss is a very mild-mannered person who I do not think knew he was going to be in charge of a team — I’ve known him professionally for many years and, much like me, he’s not the kind of person who seeks out leadership positions and feels very uncomfortable telling people what to do. My team walks ALL OVER HIM.

At least 4-5 times in the last two weeks, Angry Man has screamed at or been overtly hostile to me in front of our entire team as well as in smaller meetings for things that were like… nothing, we’re talking “I asked him for clarification about something to make sure I understood and he yelled at me and accused me of trying to undermine him in front of the entire team.” My boss’s response was to say “hey this doesn’t have to be contentious,” but he has never told my coworker or anyone else that it’s not okay to act like that. Angry Man apologized to me *once* after he screamed at me in front of 10 people, but he insisted on doing it in private on the phone so there would be no record that he acknowledged having done anything wrong.

I feel sick. I don’t want to be on the team anymore because I’m afraid of him. (Bonus: I’m trans and various people on the team misgender me at least twice a week no matter how many times I correct them but I think a lot of that is the environment — when people can only hear my voice, they make assumptions, so I get it, but it still stresses me.) I had a brain injury a few months ago that required me to get enough rest so that my brain can function but I can’t sleep because I’m so scared of my inbox and how messed-up it’ll be in the morning. But I love my temp boss and I love the work I’m doing and some of my teammates are great and also I keep telling myself it’s only a few more months.

I’m thinking about approaching my regular boss about going back to my old job if I can — my regular boss and I are very close, he’s a mentor to me, so even if that’s not an option at this point, he might have good advice. But if I leave the team early, I blow my only chance of getting promoted for the first time in like 9 years (tldr office politics in my regular department) and boy do I need the money.

I feel like I need to stay for my own career but I also need to protect myself and I don’t know how. My boss doesn’t help, even though I’ve explicitly said that I feel unsafe and that I can’t communicate with Angry Man, especially when we disagree (which is a lot, because the way he feels about me seems to be that I could say “water is wet” and he would aggressively get in my face and tell me I was wrong and stupid about something so obvious). I feel like if I go above my temp boss to his bosses, things are going to get worse for my boss and not necessarily better for the team. I would cheerfully let Angry Man be in charge of my processes and fuck them up all on his own if he wasn’t being such a bully about it and constantly implying that I’m too stupid to be in charge of anything — I care about getting shit done, not the ego boost of being in charge.

I guess what I’m asking is how do I survive the next few months? How do I protect myself, given that it’s very unlikely that any of the bosses will do anything about it? I’m at the point where I can’t sleep from the sheer anxiety and my brain can’t heal fully because of it. I’m normally really good at compartmentalizing but COVID and being home all the time means I can’t separate work life from home life at all.

Literally any advice would be so much appreciated. I feel totally lost and I have no backup for what’s happening.

Thanks so much,

Fucking Sick of Angry Men

Dear Fucking Sick,

I bet Alison has some strategies for “managing up” and around a horrible team member, but I’ll do my best!

The first thing I want you to do is to institute some self-care rituals and support:

Don’t go it alone. Loop in a therapist or counselor, blow up the phones of your employer’s Employee Assistance Line, and/or ask a good friend to be your work-feelings-buddy, whatever it takes to get someone in your life who knows your confidential history of abuse and medical issues and who can help you manage the ongoing stress of dealing with this. You need a friendly voice that says, consistently: “This behavior is not okay, this is not your fault, it’s not fair that you have to bear the brunt,” as well as someone who can help you make a safety plan and also plan for staying on track with your career. 

Don’t “tough it out.” Talk to your medical team. This is harming your health, take it seriously! (This is code for: I am not a doctor but I know that there are meds that help people sleep and manage anxiety spikes, maybe your doctors can advise you about that.)

-Yes, a safety plan. This isn’t a domestic or relationship issue, but several readers have mentioned getting assistance with workplace stalkers and bullies via hotlines in the past. From what I can tell, all your interactions now are over the phone or the computer, which is fortunate, but online abuse is real abuse, and it’s extra-worrying to me that he is escalating his tirades and singling you out. Given that the Venn diagram of “Work Screaming Guy” and “Guns Are My Soulmate Guy” has some overlapping circles, talking through some worst case scenarios and what you might do about them can be a way of regaining a sense of agency, even if (hopefully) you never have to use them. Above all, pay attention to your gut, pay attention to where anxiety and stress become actual fear, and let your self-protective instincts do their job of caring for you. Others may paint your caution as overreaction, so when you start to doubt yourself, please come back here and re-read this: You are reacting to a hostile, volatile man who is targeting you, who obviously does not care about social norms like “grownups + work = no screaming?,” and who is savvy and in-control enough to use the phone to avoid creating digital records. If this seems like an overreaction, please remember that you get to react when someone showers you with hostility. 

Protect your time and attention. Think about creating a filter for ol’ Stabby McForkineye’s messages and emails, where they bypass your main inbox and go to their own special folder, which you check once or twice a day, at set intervals. You cannot control his bad behavior, but it can sometimes help regain a sense of control to set a timer and intentionally engage for 10 minutes, get it over with, then take a planned break to regroup, and work all of that into the flow of your workday when it suits you rather than living in dread because you don’t know when or how the interruption will come.

Protect your time and space. You are working from home because of the pandemic, and if you’re like most people, this means you’re probably working more and longer than you did when you had to factor in commute times and when work had a physical location. Working from home + verbal abuse at work = verbal abuse coming home with you. No wonder you don’t feel safe and can’t sleep! 

Do whatever you can to leave work at work and reclaim your evenings and weekends for yourself. Make clear start and end times for yourself, don’t look at work communications after hours, and create some decompression rituals to transition yourself from work-time to you-time at the end of each day: Get out of your work chair, and maybe don’t sit in it again until tomorrow. Sing a song while you turn off all your notifications and close your browser tabs for the day. Change your shoes and cardigan, like Mr. Rogers. 

You may feel tempted to alert your boss or your team to this development, and explain your boundaries and plans to set expectations, but in my experience, this is a trap. Reset expectations by doing what you need to do. They might not even notice, and if they do, “Oh, I was busy, but I’m here now, what’s up?” needs to be good enough. 

Consider all your options. I recommend anyone experiencing ongoing job issues to take a little time this weekend to update your resume and materials, make a list of all your professional contacts, look at what other positions are out there at competitors, and make a stab at a contingency plan for leaving this place in your dust. Sometimes economic realities mean the devil we know is the devil we’ve got to dance with for now, but not always. Lovely Letter Writer, you are a seasoned professional who is good at your job, and maybe someplace else will let you DO your job instead of unfucking a thorny H.R. nuisance for them. 

Yes? Good? Take care of you. Now I’m going to switch into Business Mode. 

So, congrats? I guess? on being the Team Diplomat. People often tell me that I’m diplomatic, and it’s true; I trained as a diplomat at War Criminal Finishing School (where apparently Kirstjen Nielsen committing serial crimes against humanity gets her euphemized as “prominent” on the home page). Being diplomatic doesn’t mean “peaceful” or “good at human-ing,” it means  understanding the levers of power and how to most effectively yank on them, and it means approaching problems from a perspective of what is the most strategic, efficient, and least expensive way to get what you need, and if that turns out to be the most peaceful way, great!  Strategic communication also applies in art school, where there’s a difference between showing ten hours of raw real-time documentary footage of an event or a complete recitation of everything that happened versus crafting an edited story that distills the facts and creates the case for what’s most interesting, important, and true.

I try to use my diplomacy powers for good, unless I’m playing Ultimate Werewolf, and I think this is one of the times it’s the right fit for the job. All the ways this guy’s behavior intersects with your history as an abuse survivor are true, but true is not the same as convincing. The convincing corporate case for yeeting this guy into [the sun’s cleansing fire][the WholeManDisposal van][the unemployment line][someone else’s problem in someone else’s department] involves drawing a direct parallel between enabling volatile, abusive, hostile behavior in the workplace and losing money. 

Isn’t this what all the “The #MeToo movement has gone too far”/”Cancel Culture is the REAL oppression” stuff where prominent, famous people sign embarrassing open letters about how they are being “silenced” is really about? A bunch of media companies and personalities are in the process of realizing, hey, it used to be cheaper for us to keep “talented” assholes around, quietly fire all their victims, and punish anyone who spoke up for being “difficult,” but if audiences decide to rudely stop paying money to be entertained by  assholes, and talented, bankable, non-asshole creators decide to rudely stop accepting the pact where having a career means spending  90+ hours/week surrounded by assholes,  it might eventually affect the bottom line. It was always wrong  to enable bigotry, misogyny, and serial abuse in the workplace, but now it threatens to be expensive, maybe downright unprofitable, and the people who feel entitled to stay permanently rich and serially abusive are huge mad about it. 

Re-traumatizing abuse survivors and jeopardizing their recovery from serious medical conditions by letting abusive coworkers scream at them (and misgender them!) without interruption should bother your company and should be enough on its own for them to want to do something about it, but in my experience, the case that this aggressive behavior is affecting your mental and physical health or reminding you of past trauma isn’t persuasive to the same minds who brought us “the pre-existing condition” as a macabre way to offload responsibility of care for people by blaming everything that happens to them on who and what they are. You say to them, “I’m an abuse survivor,” and they automatically think “Biased! Too emotional!” and you say to them “I’m recovering from a serious injury” and they think “Are you even supposed to BE here?” I know and you know that that’s bullshit, ableist bullshit, and that your survivor-early-warning system is an asset, not a liability, but in diplomacy, perceptions of power can matter as much as actual power. Besides, you’ve told your boss how this is affecting your health and your productivity, and nothing’s changed, so it’s time to try a different way, to temporarily and strategically locate your power elsewhere.

A toxic coworker like yours, Letter Writer, is costing you sleep, but he’s also costing your employer time and money, and that’s where you build your case. Everyone who buys into the “Guy who throws tantrums on the regular is obviously a genius rock star who gets to treat other people like shit, don’t be so emotional about it” calculus fails to calculate what else is lost – the brains drained, the time sucked, and that’s before we get even to the costs of stuff like lawsuits, severance packages, enforcing NDAs, and recruiting and replacing your staff every time they flee the toxic culture. If your company wants to roll out a Welcome, Assholes! banner, that’s their decision, but maybe you can help them reckon the cost. 

With this in mind, whether or not you submit real timesheets, I want you to create an unofficial separate time sheet for yourself at work, and in addition to stuff like “billable hours” and “admin,” I want you to track exactly how much of your working time is consumed with a) strategizing how to work around, placate, and appease this coworker b) redoing and correcting his bad work c) listening to him “philosophize” about the work d) listening to him scream at you and then suffering through his non-apologies and d) having your day hijacked by the stress of all of the above. 

I also want you to create a document to track his scary yelling outbursts, including the ones from the past few weeks. Keep it brief, factual, and corporate-friendly: Date, time, context (“Weekly strategy meeting”), what did he say and do, who else was there, what did they do or say in response. Add the attempts you’ve made so far to discuss this with your manager, same deal: When, who was there, what was said or done. Screencap and save copies of hostile communications, and make sure your written replies to him are professional and pristine. 

Now,  I want you to take the data from the timesheet as well as the energy from the timesheet into future interactions with this guy and future interactions with your managers and mentors about this guy. He’s not “hurting your feelings,” he’s not keeping you up at nights, he’s not triggering your PTSD  – I mean, he obviously is, but for work purposes, for diplomacy purposes, if it turns out that “an estimated twenty percent of your productive time and your team’s time” every week is spent fixing this guy’s mistakes and managing him, that’s expensive.

It’s annoying and stressful when he hijacks your work, ruins it, and presents it as his, but if every time he does this it means that you lose 2-3 days or “x number of (hu)man-hours” scrambling to document and fix the errors and rebuild what he broke, that’s something that can be quantified and accounted for in your team’s project management system, and it can be the thing that turns discussions with your manager away from “mediating a ‘contentious’ personality conflict” and toward “mitigating a serious and quantifiable performance issue.”

And a lot of that can be handled in writing, as you email your boss or post in the Slack channel, which creates a record, and a lot of it can be handled in your role as team lead for certain aspects of the work, as in, “We were scheduled to deliver X deliverable on Y date, but until the bugs that [Problem Coworker]’s last update created are resolved, we can’t move to the next stage. Manager, can you tell the client we’ll be late, and [Problem Coworker], can you get to work on making a, b, and c changes and let me know when they’re ready for me to review? If you need help, I guess we can pull [Bystander 1] and [Bystander 2] in to help you, since we can’t move ahead with [Deliverable A] until this is fixed. Thank you!” 

That’s honest, professional, and constructive on paper, but everyone can see the “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, specifically you, wait, not you” between the lines, and that’s perfectly ok. He IS screwing up and slowing all of you down. Maybe if every time he does it ends up in writing, and if he is assigned to clean up his own shitpile, he’ll be more “detail-oriented” about his work instead of crawling up your ass at every opportunity.

I know, I know, it’s “probably just easier if you fix it yourself” and since you know he’s going to be an asshole about it, why antagonize him further, but seriously, what if you didn’t fix it every single time? What if he had to fix it, what if your team had stop what they’re doing to fix it with him, what if every delay he caused was rolled right back to his doorstep where it belongs?

You’re a team leader, for certain parts of this project, so use those powers! He’s going to rage and undermine you no matter what you do, so you might as well antagonize him in a way that works better for you. Think: Stricter version control and approval protocols, where files are secured while you’re on leave so he can’t alter them, and if he squawks about it, you shrug and say, “Let’s try it my way this time. See you next week!” Think: Working it out with your manager that nothing that comes from him is ever, ever final, so when he tries this again, your manager can say “Oh, thanks, but I only want to see things after Letter Writer has approved them, so until they’re back from leave, why don’t you focus on [YOUR ACTUAL WORK]. Thanks so much!” 

I’m going to get to meetings in a moment, but I don’t think you should talk on the phone with this man anymore, especially not without witnesses. If you absolutely must speak on the phone for work purposes, try, “Oh, let me loop [manager or colleague] in real quick so we don’t have to say it twice.” Otherwise, put all of your instructions and necessary info in writing and direct him to respond the same way, so you can engage at your convenience and not at Mr. Flying-Spittle-Is-Just-How-I-Share-My-Logical-Thoughts’s mood. 

Great, let’s talk about meetings. My strong opinion is that if someone is screaming at work while other people have to listen to and or watch them scream, that’s a very bad work meeting, and whoever is running the meeting is very, very bad at their job. It’s also a sign that y’all are probably having too many meetings that are too long and too unstructured, and that future meetings need a clear time window and moderator with authority to say  “Interesting point, Gregothy, but that’s not on our agenda.”

It is your manager’s job, their literal job, to interrupt this shit, communicate clearly that it’s unacceptable, check in with the people being yelled at to see if they are okay and make sure they know it’s unacceptable, and document it for HR. Everyone’s always so worried about possibly overreacting to bad behavior, when the problem is that they fail to react to it at all, letting it escalate from a small, fixable problem into an unmanageable, unsafe one. Honestly, the very first time this guy Hulked out at work it should have required a whole series of annoying and tedious conversations with various supervisors in the vein of, “We’re very concerned about you, are you all right? You’re behaving so strangely. Also, hey, while we’re here, let’s review some company policies and expectations around professional behavior. Oh, by the way, I’ve signed you up for this 10-part coaching series on effective communication, and oh yes, it is extremely fucking mandatory. Also, before I forget, definitely please copy me when you send an apology to [everyone you screamed at] so I can add it to the file, and I’d appreciate it if you make a habit of double-checking your work before you pass it on for review, it really wastes time when we have to backtrack.” 

 You may be limited in how much you can control how your team’s meetings go, but it may be worth a try with your boss. “Can we try to limit meetings to 20 minutes, stick to an agenda, and stop enabling, um, ‘strong personalities’ to hijack them?” is a reasonable request to make of your manager. 

If your boss is no help (a likely scenario) what if there were ways you could limit your exposure to Yelling Guy without asking for anyone’s permission or counting on them to intervene? 

I want you to close your eyes and imagine your usual meeting situation, on video chat or conference call, where the recent yelling incidents have occurred. Take some deep breaths, and imagine that the next time Angry Guy starts screaming at you, you’re allowed to just...leave. 

You could say something, first, like, “Oh, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment” or “You seem pretty worked up, why don’t you send me an email when you’ve had a chance to calm down and organize your thoughts” or “Let me stop you there – Bystander Coworker didn’t get to finish their thought, please continue, Bystander!” 

But you don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to confront him or even alert him. Mute yourself, then mute the audio and/or video so you can’t hear him while you stand up, and GO. Go get some water, check the mail, move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, cuddle the dog, do some stretches and squats, water your plants, text your best friend, scroll your Twitter, or do any number of things that are not “sit there and let an adult man scream at you for what we are pretending are work purposes.” 

I know it’s scary/”rude,” but is it really impossible? Will you receive electric shocks or a spanking or have to go without dinner if you get up from your work-chair? Is he saying anything that’s important to getting work done? Is he saying literally anything that couldn’t be resolved by you checking back in 20 minutes to see if he’s still ranting, at which time you could say, “Oh, sorry Jim-bastian, I had to step away for a moment, can somebody catch me up real quick or is it time to move on to [next agenda item]?” 

On a really bad day, make a game of it: “Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Say again?” and see how many times you can get him to repeat his nonsense. His behavior is absurd, so let it get as absurd as he insists on making it. As long as you double-check that your video is off, probably no one will ever know if one day you take your lumpiest, least functional sock from the reject pile, glue some googly eyes on it, and have it mime his rants while he’s talking. 

If you’re thinking, “oh, I couldn’t possibly do that,” I understand. On a personal level, when someone is screaming at us, and we have a history of getting screamed at, it’s really hard, and really scary, to break through the “freeze” impulse and switch into “flight” mode. Plus, you’re technically at work, where we’re conditioned over a lifetime to “be professional,” which sometimes means “silently comply with abusive behavior for the sake of the shareholders, and collectively pretend that really weird shit isn’t actually happening for the sake of the abstract concept of politeness, a thing we totally value, except when That Guy is talking.” 

But what if you can actually…leave? Disconnect? Disengage? My internet connection dies four times a day, my apartment absorbs all cell phone signal, my cat Daniel loves to jump on my laptop during a Zoom and show all the nice people his butthole right before he accidentally disconnects me or closes my browser, or I have to get up for a second and buzz a delivery person in since they all know that I work from home and will let them into the lobby even if the package isn’t mine. You’re human, humans need bathroom breaks or to sign for their neighbor’s Fedex package or to find out what that crash was when the cat knocked something over, and if your coworkers notice that your connection gets dodgy or your bladder gets full consistently every single time Angry Guy has one of his turns, so what? 

They won’t call him out for behaving like a toddler without a juice box, so why would they call you out for your mysterious and convenient connection interruptions? Oh, they don’t like sitting there and being expected to pay attention during someone’s tantrum? And Angry Guy doesn’t like lip-boxing with your empty chair? Weird, maybe somebody should do something about that, oh crap, sorry, your neighbor’s knocking and she usually doesn’t knock so maybe there’s an emergency, her dad’s been getting confused and wandering off lately, and you can’t remember what you did with your mask, anyway, you’ll be right back and you’re excited to hear what creative solutions they’ve come up with. 

If your manager, who won’t go to bat for you with an obvious bad actor, is going to call you out, make him do it. DARE HIM to do it. This too is diplomacy, the part where cards go on the table, and in your hand are things like:

  • “Oh yes, I’m definitely tapping out of meetings whenever he screams, is it that obvious? But…surely you don’t expect people to sit still for verbal abuse at work?” 
  • “You should know, I’ve started documenting Angry Guy’s outbursts for H.R. I’d rather not have to waste time with all that, but if he’s not going to stop on his own, and you’re sure your hands are tied, it’s probably time to kick this up a pay grade or two, wouldn’t you agree? Especially since this month alone he’s set us back at least a week, if not more, from meeting our deadlines.” Your manager is very nice, I know, you like him, I know, but he is failing you, big time. If you go this route, think of it less as “getting him in trouble” and more as “giving him one last opportunity to do the right thing for a change.” 
  • Depending on the laws where you live (a mixed bag, sadly), it’s pretty interesting that Angry Guy is repeatedly targeting the transgender person on your team, and incredibly interesting that your manager is allowing him to do that unchecked, and also quite intriguing that your other coworkers also just let it happen. What are the words I’m looking for? “Hostile work environment?” Expensive words!

Look, I don’t know if any of these things will make things better, you might just get “differently awful,” in which case, definitely get in touch with your former boss and your old team and see what you can work out and how expensive you can make it for the company so that you can eat nice things. But also, for your own safety, health, sanity, stress level, and career, please find ways to stop complying with, excusing, and subjecting yourself to this man’s bad behavior within the parameters you’ve got now. He’s a villain, but he’s not a SUPER-villain, he’s a mean, sad, small man and chances really are that you won’t melt or die if you tune him the fuck out 90% of the time, squeeze out whatever 10% of usefulness he’s got where you can, and generally get on with your days. 

❤ and luck to you. 




Hi Captain!

My sister (she, 26) got engaged a few weeks ago to her best friend (yay!!!!!!!!!!) and asked me (he, also 26) to serve as her Man of Honor. I am beyond excited for her and the groom and am so thrilled to take part in her special day. However, I’m worried my family’s anger about me being a trans man will overshadow her celebration.

Some backstory: my sister and I are incredibly close but it took a while for us to get here. She’s adopted and experienced difficulties I was fortunate not to have. Since we’re the same age, our emotionally abusive parents always compared us and espoused subtle white savior narratives. For the past 10+ years, I’ve been doing work on myself to be a better sibling. We’re now in a great place and support each other with family bullshit.

Last year, I came out as a trans man. My sister is the absolute best ally. However, my mom blew her top and staged a week-long “gender intervention” while I was visiting my aunts, uncles, and grandmother. It was…. A LOT but I got through it with the help of friends, my amazing fiancé, and mental health professionals. The ordeal was also difficult on my sister because my mom would say things like “Aren’t you happy you’re the good/favorite daughter now?” Both parents and the extended family vent to her about me despite me asking them not to.

Flash forward to now: My mom saw a gift from my sister asking me to be her Man of Honor with my chosen name on it and had a lot of crapinions at my sister, who almost disinvited her from the wedding. Captain, this wedding isn’t until October 2021! My family doesn’t know I’m on T, am legally changing my name, and am having top surgery within the year, Our childhood church in a conservative state (where she’s getting married) is very homophobic. What scripts do you have for me to diffuse situations so my life doesn’t overshadow her wedding? I offered to present as a woman but my sister declined. I’m considering writing a letter to my family (for disability reasons, phone is a poor medium and I live 2,000 miles away) but I don’t know if it would make this an even bigger deal. I greatly appreciate your amazing blog and all your help!!!

-Trans Twin

Hi Love!

Thanks for your question. This is a tough situation and one, unfortunately, that I have heard come up many times in my work as a gender therapist and coach.

Captain Awkward has a fantastic (and very thorough) post about a similar situation with lots of great advice and scripts that you can check out here:

In addition to echoing all of Captain Awkward’s advice in the post above, here are a few more points and ideas to consider.

First, your sister sounds amazing! What an incredible gift to have a sibling who really and truly has your back, sees you for who you are, and accepts you. As an adopted child myself with an emotionally abusive parent, I get how rough that can be. However, your parent’s shitty behavior towards her is not on you. You are doing all you can by doing your own work to show up as the best sibling you can be. You don’t have to make up for your parent’s mistakes and it doesn’t seem like she expects you to. In fact, you two seem like you are a united front against behavior that crosses your boundaries and it’s great to have someone who really “gets” what your parents are like to commiserate with.

From everything you’ve said in your letter, it sounds like your sister would be happy to work with you to figure out how you can make the wedding be the best possible experience for both of you and I want to lean into that. She is the Bride, after all, and everyone knows that people will go to great lengths to make the Bride happy.

I’m curious why it feels like your needs would be a burden to her. She has already demonstrated that she has your back by naming you as her Man of Honor and setting boundaries with your mother. I imagine if the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t think twice about wholeheartedly supporting her and making your wedding as comfortable as possible for her.

I know that you fear that you will ruin her wedding because of your family’s reactions to your trans-ness and that you want your sister’s wedding to go off smoothly and for her to really enjoy her special day. I want that for her too. Here’s the truth: If your family or anyone else at this wedding has told themselves a story that you “ruined” the wedding simply by showing up as yourself, then it is just that: a story they are telling themselves. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions to your identity and any actions they may take as a result. If your presence ruins their experience of the wedding, makes them angry, or drama happens because someone says something hateful or discriminatory, that is on them, not you. You are literally just existing.

I want to name that going back to your familial church in a homophobic state can be a triggering thing for many folks. Religious trauma is real and damaging and simply being back in that environment might kick up some things for you. Be gentle with yourself.

Minimizing the likelihood and impact on you of any potential hatefulness is absolutely the goal. And I imagine your sister would agree that you deserve to have a good day as well and wants you to be able to celebrate with her without worry.

Captain Awkward makes some great points for thinking through if you want to send a letter to some family members before the wedding and what you might want to say in the linked article above. If it feels like it would take some pressure off of you to let some family members know beforehand so that you don’t have to see their first reaction, then go for it! Remember that you are allowed to set boundaries in the letter for how you’d like them to respond and what sorts of questions/responses are and aren’t ok. If I were in your shoes, I’d also enlist your fiancé to read any responses before you do so they can weed out anything that would only harm you before you have to see it.

I hear you on there likely being physical changes that are very noticeable to family members and the fact that you are going by a new name and pronouns might be a sticking point for some folks. If it were me, before going to the wedding, I’d make some decisions about boundaries. Are you willing to be called by the wrong name and pronouns by some people or do you want to correct people? Would you like your partner, sister, friend, etc. to correct people? What sorts of questions are you willing to answer and which ones are you not? What sort of comments and behavior are you willing to put up with?

If someone crosses a boundary, how do you want to handle it? Do you want to speak up, walk away, take a break and talk to a friend?

There are no right answers here. Sometimes keeping yourself emotionally safe by not getting into a verbal altercation is the most authentic thing we can do, even if it’s painful in other ways. And at other times, our mental health demands that we speak up, even if it’s uncomfortable. Ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you.

Here are a few other things to consider to make this the best experience possible.

  • Build your army before you fight the war. Meaning, get your support system on lock and on call before the event.
    • Ask for your sister’s support. Bride powers are **real!** Take advantage of them. The linked article above has some great scripts for asking your sister to contact a few key friends or family members to loop them in on the situation and ask them to use your correct name and pronouns and perhaps whisk you away for a drink or a quick walk before great Aunt Gertrude gets too far into her line of questioning. Know who these people are and maybe have a code word or signal ready when you need an escape route.
    • Bring a date if possible. You mentioned a fiancé, so I’m making an assumption that they are going with you to the wedding. If so, have a chat before about if and how you’d like them to step in. If not, ask your sister if you can have a plus one who can run interference. See the linked article for more tips on this.
    • Put your friends on call. Let them know you might be calling or texting them.
    • Schedule a therapy session as soon after the wedding as possible to process the experience.
  • Gamify it. Make a personalized Bingo board of all the shitty things that could happen at the wedding and mark them if they do. Figure out what treats you get if you make a Bingo. Loop your fiancé and friends into it. Sometimes all we can do is laugh at how ridiculous people are being.
  • Bookend it. Make sure that your tank is full and you’re feeling good before the wedding by front-loading things that fill you up and make you feel seen and connected to people who love you. Set up friend dates, pleasurable things, and things that make you feel like yourself for right after the wedding to refill your tank.

On a broader note, I’m curious if the thought of “My trans identity is a burden to others” is a thought that comes up for you in other situations as well. I’m wondering if a part of you believes that you are responsible for other people feeling discomfort simply because you are existing as your most authentic self. And that it is your job to make yourself smaller and more digestible to make others more comfortable. If so, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Like Captain Awkward said in the previous article, you and your identity are not a burden.

Discomfort is not harm. Let me say that again. Discomfort. Is. Not. Harm. In fact, I don’t know any needed social revolution that didn’t make people uncomfortable. Expanding our view of gender beyond the binary and beyond what we were assigned at birth challenges folk’s fundamental views about the world. And that’s a good thing. That’s how progress is made.

PS-I think you’re magic. Don’t forget it.


Hello everyone, 

I am very excited to announce that Rae McDaniel is going to be answering 1-2 questions each month on the blog between now and the end of 2020.

I first “met” Rae when working on the Vice piece about family holiday stuff, and they were both a complete delight and full of quotable phrases. We never managed to actually grab drinks during the Chicago winter, but we’ve stayed in touch and they’ve volunteered to take on some posts.

Here’s their bio:

Rae McDaniel, MEd, LCPC, CST (They/Them) is a Gender and Certified Sex Therapist who works with folks feeling anxious and lost about a transition they’re experiencing in sex, gender, sexual identity, or relationships. Rae also provides consultation & training for professionals and organizations wishing to uplevel their knowledge and expertise in these areas. Rae is the founder of Practical Audacity, a Gender & Sex Therapy group practice in Chicago, Illinois and GenderFck, an online group coaching community for transgender/non-binary folks who want to transition with less suffering and more ease. Rae holds a Master of Education in Community Counseling from DePaul University in Chicago and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Illinois. Rae graduated from the University of Michigan’s Sexual Health Certificate Program with specializations in Sex Therapy and Sexuality Education and is a Certified Sex Therapist through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists.

Rae is available to answer questions related to: transgender/non-binary identity, expression, & transition; queer relationships and sex; queer entrepreneurship. 

A trained expert who knows real stuff! Yes!

To direct a question specifically to Rae, write to the usual place and add “For Rae” somewhere in the topical subject line so I can easily collect them in batches. They’ll choose something to answer, write their response, and run it by me for edits/formatting before it goes live for now while they get the hang of WordPress, etc. Since I’m sure demand will be high, I’m also hoping to do at least one “short answer” session/discussion/roundtable with them before the end of the year.

Welcome, Rae, and thanks again for joining us. 

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