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Deleted user

Dear Captain Awkward,

Can you jolt me out of my feelings of sadness and worry with some wisdom about friendship and favours?

Over the years I’ve helped out a bunch of friends by catsitting for their fur babies while they were on vacation. I’ve taken care of cats on more than one occasion for no fewer than seven different friends during my 20s. And sure it was fun and I got to play with their kitties and stay in their houses when I was poor and living in shared housing the rest of the time. It was, however, still a favour. I took long train rides to cities where I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t afford to go out. I filled other people’s cupboards with food because they didn’t leave me anything to eat, despite the fact that they weren’t paying me. I lugged my laptop across town and made four-hour return trips to collect forgotten textbooks. I followed very specific cat-care instructions anxiously and accurately. I once had to pay over two hundred dollars for a locksmith because of a misunderstanding with an owner.

And now it’s ten years down the line, I share my partner’s flat and I finally adopted my own cat. I adore her, but she’s had a hard time and is simultaneously painfully timid and starving for affection and attention. She cries and sometimes wets the sofa when left alone for more than a few hours and follows me absolutely everywhere. We’ve booked a weekend away six weeks from now and I emailed around to see if anyone could look after her for three nights (half as long as most of the gigs I did for them in the past). Crickets. I finally heard back from one friend suggesting I book a paid service that’s organized like Airbnb, i.e. a stranger would come stay in the flat and look after her. There don’t seem to be that many checks involved in this service. Captain, I’m so worried about what to do with my anxious, loving little cat and I’m so upset and frankly angry that nobody is willing to help me in the way I helped them. They’re not young, hungry for space and single, sure, but even though I was those things when I looked after their pets, I was also going to quite a lot of trouble and inconvenience to help them out. None of them has kids and some of them are married couples, meaning surely one of them could spend a weekend staying in the flat (which is extremely comfortable and in a really nice area of one of the world’s most popular cities for tourists) taking care of my beloved cat? How should I feel and what should I do?

Thank you,

My cat is sad and so am I!

Hello My Cat Is Sad,

I’m glad you asked for a jolt, because otherwise, I do not think you would necessarily love what I have to say.

In my 20s, when I or one of my friends needed to move apartments, lots of friends would get together and help the person move. We’d carry boxes and furniture, load and unload the truck, and eat pizza and beer, assuming that the labor and effort would be paid back, or forward, someday, somehow.

Starting sometime in my 30s, if I need to move, I hire movers. If friends are moving and need help, I might help with collecting cardboard boxes for them, and even with packing or unpacking as I can, and I might kick in money for movers if the person needed funds, but my days of carrying other people’s futons up and down stairs – and asking friends to do the same for me – are over. Bodies and expectations have changed, where, even if I wanted to move heavy objects, I physically can’t. Life is different now.

Expectations about what constitutes a pleasant getaway are also different with age. (Youth Hostels in my 20s: I can sleep literally anywhere! Adventure! Instant, incandescent, temporary friendships! Making out with the continent of Australia, one horny backpacker at a time! Youth Hostels now: AHAHAHAHA NO, also I’m 47, so I would be the one making it weird if I tried to stay in one.) The kind of cat sitting you’re asking for isn’t the “Neighbor, can you drop by once a day and make sure the bowls are full and the box isn’t gross?” sort, which is an easy favor to trade now and then. You’re asking someone to move into your place for three nights to look after a continuously crying cat who pisses on the furniture if her person leaves for more than a few hours. [sarcasm]Sounds relaxing! What a great way to take advantage of nearby tourist attractions in between bulk applications of noise-cancelling headphones and Nature’s Miracle on one of the precious long weekends of summer! [/sarcasm] You may have been willing to do this kind of thing in your 20s, and you can certainly ask if anyone would be willing to do it for you now, but if your friends tell you they are unwilling, your best bet is to believe them about that and make another plan.

Fortunately, you have options, and here are five off the top of my head:

1) Call your vet and see if they will board her for the weekend for a fee (this can be especially useful for pets who need regular medication).

2) Call your vet and see if they can recommend a pet sitter or service, sometimes vet clinic front office staff do pet-sitting as a side gig or know people who do. Just, generally, call your vet and tell them what’s happening, they can probably help with both the separation anxiety issue and the litter box rebellion.

3) Investigate the service your friend recommended for you and its competitors, read reviews, and find one with a good professional track record that gives you the ability to screen people to your comfort levels. Perhaps a willing, conveniently-located stranger who is being paid (and who might be in their 20s and psyched for a weekend away from housemates) is a better option than an unwilling friend (who is also a complete stranger…to your cat).

4) Change your vacation lodgings to a pet-friendly place and bring a disposable litter box and food with you.

5) Or, postpone your trip until you and your cat have worked on the separation anxiety a bit more and/or you find reliable, trustworthy cat care. Welcome to having a pet! Your new vacation-planning order of operations is “figure out pet care, THEN book expensive/non-refundable things” as long as this wee beastie is in your life.

It’s understandable that you’re somewhat disappointed, it sounds like you did do a lot of cat-related favors back in the day. Verily, this whole thing might make you re-evaluate how willing you are to do inconvenient favors for certain people in the future, which sounds to me like an extremely healthy impulse for you overall.  It’s normal and good to want reciprocal friendships, but “I never set boundaries before, so you are a bad friend if you have them now” isn’t the way to get there. In future, if you’re only doing a friend a favor because you expect a quid pro quo, then negotiate that outright: “I can do x for you, and in exchange, someday, and that day may never come, I may ask you to do some cat-sitting for me.” If, as with Letter Writer #1339, what started out as a favor needs some adjustment, then either re-negotiate it until it feels like a favor or stop doing it. Otherwise, treat favors like any other gift: Something you gave away because you wanted to, something that isn’t yours anymore.

Even if something is technically owed, people just generally respond poorly to guilt trips and self-martyrdom. If you enthusiastically agreed or volunteered to do favors for people, and neither mentioned all the snags and extra costs incurred nor set clearer expectations at the time (“I’d be glad to, but can you cover my train fare and food during the stay?”), then offering decade-old hassles now up in a friendship expense report or lien for back friendship taxes isn’t going to make a persuasive case. You don’t get credit for all the stuff you could have said or asked for but didn’t. Even the credit monitoring bureaus have a seven year cutoff for holding old debts against people. 

I also strongly advise against pointing out that your friends “could” do it now if they really wanted to by virtue of not having kids. I don’t have children, it doesn’t mean that my free time is free to other people until proven otherwise, and that doesn’t change even if I like them very much and if they’ve done nice things for me in the past. If you didn’t want to do all that stuff back then, you could have said no, just like your friends did now, because the important part, the actionable part, is the part where they don’t want to, and there’s just no way that pushing past that in the way you’ve described plays out well. Imagine actually having the following conversation:

You: “Can you watch the cat from ___ to ____?” Them: “Sorry, no.” You: “But I spent $200 on a locksmith in 2013 and never told you about it.” Them: “Oof, really? I had no idea. Why didn’t you say something then?” You: “So can you watch the cat?” Them: “Sorry, still no. Do you want the name of a service?” You: “But I journeyed for many hours to take care of your cat, and had to go back when I forgot textbooks.” Them: “That was really nice of you! But if you hadn’t wanted to do it I would have found someone else.” You: “So you’ll watch her?” Them: “Was I not clear? I’m not going to watch her, but good luck finding someone who can!” You: “But you could if you wanted to, it’s not like you have kids or anything.” Them: “I don’t have kids, but if I did, and you didn’t want to babysit them, I’d find someone who did. So again, sorry, can’t help, but here’s a service that might!”

Your friends aren’t doing what you wish they would do, but they are sticking to pretty reasonable boundaries and giving you timely, honest information so that you can make the best possible plan. I hope you can find a reliable solution, have an excellent vacation, and find a happier and much drier co-existence with your tiny pee terrorist.

For a hot second I was almost tempted to open comments to see whether the “Child-free people aren’t your TaskRabbits” outrage or pet care optimization advice (what Nicole Cliffe correctly calls “the third rail of the internet”) would melt it all down sooner, but no, comments are extra closed, and please also refrain from emailing me tips about coping with litter box problems, cat anxiety, recommendations for Feliway and calming treats, pet sitting recs, and other highly specialized, extremely localized, and easily-searchable cat care tips. “But urinating outside the litter box could indicate a serious medical problem!” Yes, which is why it is the first thing that comes up in literally any search engine about the subject, and why I used the words “call your vet” repeatedly in the post. We don’t diagnose strange people via the Internet, we’re definitely not making exceptions for pets we’ve never met, and I will not pass on any tips to the Letter Writer, no matter how well-meaning.

Thank you, I love you, please enjoy some recent photos of Henrietta Kim Wexler Pussycat and Daniel Jason Mendoza Striped Tiger, who are three years old as of last month:

Deleted user

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I recently moved to a touristy beach town. It is expensive to live here. My daughter’s husband is a professional and flies here to work in this town for a two or three days a month.

He makes very good money. We welcomed him to stay with us but here is the problem. He is a moocher. He never offers to buy food, he expects to drive my car for free and very seldom mutters a thank you. He is taking advantage of our hospitality and we are tired of his ungratefulness. We would like him to contribute in some way like buying food or taking us out to dinner or some sort of appreciation. He can certainly afford it.

We are retired and on a fixed income. We are saving him hundreds of dollars by providing a free room, free car and free food. How do we handle this?

Thank you for your advice.


You are allowed to tell your son-in-law that you’d appreciate grocery money, to have the car returned with a full tank and a thank you if he takes it out, and whatever else you need to turn these periodic visits from him into something that works for you. 

“[Name], it’s nice seeing you when you come into town, but we’re on a fixed income and we can’t afford to cover the groceries, fuel, and other expenses. From now on, are you able to chip in $X ahead of time to cover your stay?” 

You are allowed to change up all or part of the previous arrangement. “You’re welcome to the guest room, but we’ll need the car most days, so probably plan to rent one.” 

If you’d like a nice dinner out, then say that: “When we go stay with family, we generally take our hosts out for a nice dinner to say thank you. Would you be up for treating us to something like that?” 

You are also allowed to say, “Oh, that won’t work for us” from now on and leave him to make his own hotel and rental car arrangements. Search your heart: Is your honest preference that he stay elsewhere from now on when he’s in town without your daughter? Then go with that. (Do you even like this guy?) 

I suggest having him stay elsewhere for at least the next visit as a way to reset things between you. “I know you usually plan to stay with us when you’re here for work, but we’re taking a little break from hosting anyone, I wanted to let you know so you can make other plans.”  Don’t set it up as a  lesson he’s supposed to learn absent an actual conversation, though. If he asks why, or even if he doesn’t, tell him: “These visits are taking a financial toll on us in a way we didn’t expect, and we’ve started to feel a little bit unappreciated, so let’s take a month off and reset the parameters so it works for everyone.” 

Then tell him what you’d like to be different from now on.”Can you ask before using the car, and remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’?” Some families operate on the pretext that they are so close that they don’t need to say please or thank you or ask permission for stuff, “company” manners are reserved for people outside the family. In some families, the parent-figures pick up the check no matter what (on pain of death/severe disapproval), and he might be from one of those. He married into your family, he’s on your turf, so he needs to adjust to how you do things.Whatever guests “should” do, he isn’t doing it, and he’s not going to magically intuit something different if you don’t tell him. There is no extra credit for gritting your teeth and faking that everything is fine when someone is making you mad. If you want things to change, you must say something. 

The One Weird Trick I can offer up is a reminder that your grudge clock has been running for a while now, but if you’ve never raised any of these concerns to him before, your son-in-law doesn’t know. If you’ve “welcomed” him to stay in the past, and never raised any issues, how would he know? He might be an entitled cheapskate, he might be a generally good guy who is just a little oblivious about this and has been taking you for granted, the proof will be in what he does when he knows for sure what you need. If you want to stay constructive and give him the best possible chance to do the right thing, be very specific and clear about what you’d like to happen from now on, and then restart the clock. Once he knows better, does he do better? Be prepared to give a gentle reminder now and then until you find a new normal that works.

If that new normal is that he explores your beachside town’s many hotels on his work trips, expenses it all come tax time, and everyone likes each other better for it? That’s still better than what’s happening now. 

P.S. Strong congrats to this Letter Writer for looking for ways to handle it directly with the son-in-law and not making it something your daughter has to mediate. 

P.P.S. I thought I recalled writing something for people who live near tourist destinations and need to manage the influx of entitled houseguests, here it is for anyone needing a general review. 

Deleted user

Dear Captain Awkward or associate,

Firstly, thank you so much. I’ve devoured your page in the past two weeks. I’m currently scrolling down in the archives, way back in 2015 at the moment. I’ve seen, and benefited from, my main problem being answered on your forum several times. Maybe this is a twist on it, I hope it is so I’m not wasting your time. Whether you answer or not, thank you so much for reading!

I (she/her) have been suffering the past few years from friends who drain me. Not the exciting roller-coaster kind, but the ones I say “yeah we should hang out sometime!” only to find myself being messaged every few days or weeks with potential hangs. In the past it has taken me some time to realise this pattern, or I have realised they drain me but figure it’s best to just try to space it out as much as possible and who knows, maybe sometimes when I need a friend it’ll be good to coincide both of our needs. Well, I have learned that when the chips are down and I try to hang out with friends like this, I come out the other side feeling absolutely exhausted, trampled all over, and furious. I might sound a bit cocky about myself, but I can say that I’m sociable and fairly good with people. The problem is that people assume it’s no effort, and then they make it extremely hard for me to ask for what I want.

They overstay their welcome, they don’t listen to me, or they listen to me too much and require far too much engagement. They extend the hangs beyond what I originally wanted. They essentially push the boat out. I can’t stand rudeness or awkwardness, and I can’t stand when I know somebody is uncomfortable and I could make it better, so what I do with these friends is I spend the entire hang emotionally spackling over their awkwardness or rudeness. Then my friend leaves the hang feeling like “wow that was so much less awkward than usual” whereas I’m absolutely wrecked from doing all of the social heavy lifting. I’m a mostly extroverted, and these friends seem to take my sociability for granted and never seem to consider how their words and actions affect me. One of them recently asked to try on a shirt I own to check out the colour on her, then she marvelled at how big it was. She, the tiny friend, and me having always been very open about my weight insecurity. It offended me but because she’s very chatty and requires everyone to be super honest and open all the time, I decided I didn’t want the hassle of trying to explain this to her, especially when I can’t accuse her of deliberately trying to make me feel bad.

Well, I recently did an admirable thing. I began slow fading from these friends. The tiny friend who was rude about my shirt has tried multiple times to meet and every time I have been busy. I feel good because I think she’s finally gotten the message. I’ve started slow fading from a male friend who I do not believe will ever get the message, judging by how he still thinks other friends who have faded on him are best friends. I’d feel bad, but the last time we hung out he spent three hours telling me everything about a girl who’d recently turned him down, including some personal stuff I doubt she’d want shared, and INTERRUPTED ME every time I tried to change the subject, or tell him about the date I’d been on the night before. I initially had guilt about this new tactic, but I read a lot of your stuff and I think the executive decision I made will be a very healthy one in the long run.

I was feeling great. Enter Amy, an old college acquaintance. She recently moved to my city and messaged me asking if I would be around some day to hang out. I was cautious, because I remembered her sometimes being rather a lot, but I also hadn’t reminisced about our old college class in forever and I suppose with her being new to the city and me being so active on social media, it would be rude for me not to reply. We went for a walk one day after I got off work. She was okayyyyy. Very shrill and a little bit rude to the staff in the cafe where we got a hot drink before the walk (not mean-rude but didn’t say thanks, interrupted them, talked to me very loudly inside the shop). On the walk itself, she was okay but she doesn’t really let me away with anything. If she thinks I’ve said something odd she like SHRIEKS. I feel very exposed in public with her being so loud. She wants to catch each other up on our old college friends. I am interested in everyone she brings up, genuinely, and try to remember the ones I can’t remember etc. When she orders me to think of someone I have any updates on, and I bring someone up that she didn’t know much/doesn’t care about, she loudly interrupts, telling me that she doesn’t care about them. I survive the walk but decide to keep my distance.

Since then she’s asked me three times to hang out, and I’ve said I was busy each time. Until today, when she messaged me that she has reservations for a table for two at a restaurant two weeks from now and will I join her. I really felt like I had to say yes, because she told me she had nobody else at all to go with. She also booked me two weeks in advance! I wish I’d said I was busy. I asked if I could bring my other friend, who had privately agreed to be a buffer, but she said “well only if you’re absolutely sure that they’ll come because I’m not going to call and ask for another seat at the table if she’s going to cancel!” so I just dropped it. I get that she’s being practical, but I don’t feel that we’re close enough for the way that she is comfortable speaking to me. Now I’m dreading the hang, and really just annoyed at myself. I feel I took one step forward then two steps back. I was exhilarated and hopeful about my future and now I just feel bogged down again. I’ve done this to myself, but I have been told that I’m her only social connection in this city. I wish I could talk to my therapist but she’s on maternity leave, and I do feel healthy in every other aspect of my mental health, but I’m just angry with myself and feeling powerless.

I’d love some advice, if you have any to give. If not, I feel better having even written to you, so thank you very very much for that! And thanks for everything you’ve already written on your site, I have been linking articles to my good friends left, right and centre since I discovered your page.

Love and lots of respect,

People Assume I’m a Golden Retriever When Really I’m a Bit Like a Sensitive Cat

Hello, Sensitive Cat: 

Thank you for the kind words and entertaining visual in subject line, now immortalized in the post title.

Surprised Pikachu meme with caption text: "That was not fun. Let's definitely do it again sometime!"

Now, down to business.

Text Amy right now, and cancel that fucking dinner. “Amy, I’m so sorry, but I’m going to cancel dinner. It was nice to catch up about old times the other day, but I’d rather not get together again. Good luck settling into the new place.” 

There’s no perfect way to tell somebody a thing they don’t want to hear, so don’t procrastinate or get caught up in trying to convince her to feel okay about it. Amy will feel bad when you cancel, and you will also feel bad because it sucks to let someone down. This is not avoidable, but it will pass, and then you will be free, because “we hung out once and it didn’t go well, let’s not do it again” is an excellent reason to not be friends. Amy’s lack of other friends to go with is an Amy problem, but she’s new in a town full of beautiful strangers, some of whom might find her bluntness or whatever charming. Restaurants let you sit and eat while you read a book.  She will be sad, mad, whatever, but she will figure it out. You are not her sole shot at fancy food or human companionship.

Cancel the dinner. Send the text. Do not reply. Unfollow/unfriend/block her everywhere the second you send the message. Don’t be friends. It can be that simple. 

I’m serious. Stop reading, come back when you’ve cancelled that dinner with Amy. She needs to figure out another dinner date, and you need a practical reminder that the world won’t end if someone you don’t like ends up not liking you. It’s good that you are learning more about what you need from friendships, so use that knowledge before you write in two years from now: “Dear Captain Awkward, I have this one bridesmaid, Amy, from college, btw we’re also roommates who run a business together…”

Once you’ve cancelled, it’s time to radically redefine what makes a person “social and good with people” and “polite.”

Because “friend” is not a word for “everyone you vaguely know and don’t actively hate who isn’t family or a romantic prospect.”

Because saying “Yeah we should hang out sometime!” and then getting mad at people who take you at your word isn’t more polite than“Thanks for thinking of me, but no.”

Because it’s not a crime for people to like you more than you like them and not be able to tell the difference between feigned enthusiasm and the real thing. It’s not their fault that you have porous boundaries! 

Because faking friendship with people while barely holding in a volcano of unexpressed fury can be a lot of things, none of them pleasant or particularly “polite.” 

Because being an extrovert who recharges in the company of other people doesn’t compel you to seek out all other people, including crappy ones. 

Because life is too short for this NiceGirl™ shit where seeming  polite is more important than being honest, kind, or happy. 

Sensitive Cat, you are simultaneously giving these people way too much power (“I really felt like I had to say yes”) and zero credit. Why would you assume that other people want to spend time with someone who dreads their company? You are trying so hard to prevent anyone from ever feeling even a little bit bad that you are fostering situations where you are guaranteed to feel bad, and setting up dynamics where people invest in a relationship with a pretend version of you. “I couldn’t stomach disappointing you for 5 minutes, so I’ve decided to disappoint me/you/everyone, forever!” How…???…is that better???? Consider that you owe people a version of courtesy that doesn’t come at the expense of integrity. 

You’ve recognized the pattern and made some progress, and The Slow Fade isn’t mean. I generally think it’s fine to stop initiating or accepting plans with people you don’t gel with anymore and see what happens, sometimes the drift is mutual. However, when you’re trying to fade, and the other person keeps dutifully trying to do Good Friend stuff, then it’s a kindness to set them free from chasing you. Once you’ve canceled on Amy, you could respond to Tiny Friend’s last invitation. “Sorry, I know I keep declining plans, but I haven’t felt much like hanging out. Howabout I get in touch when I’m up for it?” “When I’m up for it” could be never, it could be in a few weeks when you decide you miss her or have the bandwidth to talk about what upset you, this doesn’t have to be ironclad.

Now, a person getting that message might reasonably wonder if they’ve done something to upset you and ask about it. Awkward, yes. Disastrous? No. A deliberate attempt  by your friend to test your resolve and will to live? Also no. Asking is a way of showing care, as is telling the truth.“Well, to be honest, I didn’t have much fun the last time we hung out, and the way you kept making fun of ‘my enormous shirt’  really hurt my feelings.You know I’m sensitive about body stuff!”  

Maybe Tiny Friend will sincerely apologize, maybe you’ll take a little break from each other, maybe you’ll figure out if there’s anything repairable. Maybe she’ll get super upset and mean, or be like “Fine, let’s not be friends then!” and stomp off, which…okay? When you are trying to leave a relationship, don’t chase after people when they do you the favor of leaving first.

Lately there has been a whole series of Letter Writers who are extremely anxious about disappointing others and getting overwhelmed socially. And lots of people who don’t actually like their friends. I suspect it’s partly free-floating anxiety looking for a new vessel, partly “wait, how do I people again?” adjustment, and partly because habits of people-pleasing are taught, through families, and through cultural, racial, and gender expectations. Just, generally we are just not good (collectively speaking) at teaching certain people to say a direct “Oh, no thanks!” and certain other people to accept this with “No worries, thanks for telling me,” with a healthy shared expectation that everyone will merrily continue on with their lives.

Letter Writer, there is a reason you learned to handle things this way, probably somebody ( or a lot of somebodies) in your life taught you lessons like “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything” in ways that rooted and metastized in your brain. You’re not the only adult who has had to learn how to say simple, obvious things (“Thanks but I don’t want to have dinner”) while suffused with the imaginary fear – or very real memory – of being punished for having needs. If persistent dread around “low stakes” stuff like declining dinner invitations from people you don’t like is fucking with the quality of your life and your ability to have authentic relationships, then take it seriously, and take advantage of any therapy resources you can access. (I can’t say whether *you* meet clinical criteria, but I can say that social anxiety is a common, treatable thing; maybe it doesn’t have to be this hard.)

In the meantime, I mentioned the other day that a former therapist gave me an assignment to help me break habits of over-scheduling myself. Letter Writer, if you’re willing, I think an adaptation of this might level up your skills in the area of not over-scheduling yourself…specifically with people you don’t actively enjoy hanging out with. 

Step 1: For the rest of the summer, make your default answer to social invitations some version of “Thanks for asking, let me check my schedule and get back to you.” “I don’t know, I need to check my calendar. When do I need to get back to you?” 

Automatically give yourself a 24-hour buffer before you say yes or no. You need to interrupt that people-pleasing impulse that prompts you to agree to everyone’s face and seethe later.

Step 1A: Overall, try replacing “We should definitely hang out sometime” with something that doesn’t get you into so much trouble. “It’s so nice to see you! You look great!” “Got any good travel coming up?” “Let’s hang out sometime” is not an invitation, but there are lots of other ways to say something pleasant. Find some.

Step 2: Actually check your calendar. 

Step 3: Much more importantly, check your feelings. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being “Ecstatic, can’t wait” and one being “I’d rather do laundry, at least then I’d have clean laundry” how much do you want to go to this thing with this particular person? 

Your feelings and enthusiasm levels, not theirs. Not “Oh, but they’ll be disappointed.” Not “Oh, but they don’t really have other friends.” Not “Oh, they’ll think I’m mad at them.” Not “I owe them because they made plans last time.”

If this is too hard, try flipping a coin, heads you MUST go, tails you absolutely CAN’T go, and check your feelings again. Do you feel relieved? Filled with dread? Excited? Can you translate that into a number between 1-10? Can you roll a d10? (You do not have to obey the coin toss or dice, it’s just a device to force you to make a decision about the feeling). 

Step 4: Use your feelings-score and your calendar to make a decision.

9-10 and a good fit with the calendar? Accept with pleasure.

6 and below = decline, no matter what the calendar says. If the answer is not “Hell yes!” then default to no thanks! Don’t try to talk yourself into shit you don’t enthusiastically want to do. There’s plenty of “maybe” to work with in the 7-8 range.

Step 5: RSVP and practice not over-explaining or compulsively apologizing. I noticed a pattern in your letter of using “Sorry, I’m busy” to deflect, like you have to actually be busy or else you’re not allowed to decline any invitations, but you’re not a deli counter who has to serve the next number no matter what. Instead, replace telling people what you can and can’t do (which might prompt them to suggest solutions) with information about what you will do: “I wanted to let you know I won’t be there, sorry.” “Thanks, but that won’t work for me.”  

Step 6: Is really Step 1, again. If you say no to an invite, and the person immediately suggests an alternate day or plan (which is reasonable, polite thing for them to do, especially if they do not know you have only been pretending to like them!)  don’t panic! You’ve built in a buffer for yourself where you don’t commit to anything until you’ve checked both your calendar and your feelings, so do it again. “I’m not sure. Let me double-check and let you know.” 

Step 7: If somebody you already feel sort of “meh” about asks you to do stuff several times in a row, and you make excuses every time, and you do not feel motivated to initiate plans of your own in the interim, then it’s probably past time to replace “Oh, sorry, I can’t, I’m busy, another time?” with “Thanks, but no.” 

Step 7a: When you run into situations like this, unfollow/mute/snooze this person’s social media and deploy filters so they aren’t all up in yours. 

Step 8: Can be done anytime, in any order. When you arrange hangouts, prioritize only people you adore who make you feel extremely great. If that means you see the same delightful, beloved faces again and again, and that a lot of your outer-acquaintanceships drift? Good! Let go of the idea that you need to be fair about where you spend your time and affections, and resist the notion that if someone invites you someplace you must automatically reciprocate, regardless of whether you actually want to see them. 

Step 9: Re-adjust and re-calibrate, a lot, and give it time. Changing habits is really hard! You had a setback when Amy came along, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over. These steps are meant to help you practice changing patterns that are making you unhappy, you can come back to them again and again when you need and disregard them completely when you don’t. 

I think that’s enough homework for one summer. We can save the part where you practice interrupting dudes who mistake you for their on-call therapist right back another time, but also, did you know that you could delete that one guy’s phone number and close off your social media connections right now, today, for the low, low price of absolutely free? 

So, we’ve had a rash of these questions, and it’s been fun to sink my teeth in and try to get to the bottom of it,  but this is the last “parties/awkward social hangs/friend vs. acquaintance anxiety” answer for a good while. There are tons of steps here and in the archives for practicing the art of no and cultivating the friendships you want to keep. It is okay to be friends with people you like a whole lot and to avoid people who make you feel bad. It is okay to outgrow friendships that don’t work for you, and nobody has to be evil for this to happen. It is not mean to set limits with friends you really like. 

It is impossible to do these things without ever making anyone feel bad. There is no secret magic incantation where you both act on stuff thats’s bothering you and guarantee that nobody else is bothered. However, the solution is not for you to sign up to feel bad forever, as if your long-suffering, accommodating, avoidant, secretly-furious nature is some gift to other people. It isn’t a gift to them, it’s terrible for you, plus, other people will never, ever give you credit for all the times you stayed silent that they didn’t know about. Good people (however irritating or incompatible with you) do not want you to fake friendship with them or tie yourself in knots to withstand their company. The only people who want you to never disagree with them or have any needs are assholes, i.e. people who are guaranteed to never give you credit or appreciate you about this! It is a losing game. 

If planning supposedly fun things is stressing you out beyond belief, you might need a therapist to unpack why. If your existing friendships are more about habit than they are about affection, you might need to seek new ones. If your existing friends punish you for having needs and make you feel like you have to swallow your tongue in order to be accepted, you should definitely seek new ones. None of that is easy, but it is profoundly worth doing, especially if the alternative is perpetually faking it… for fear of disappointing people… who make you feel bad. Life. Is. Too. Short. for this NiceGirl™ shit where seeming  polite is more important than being honest, kind, or happy. It’s time to find a way to stop faking it, and I think I’ve spelled out pretty much everything *I* know about how for the time being.  

Deleted user

Good Morning,

This post was originally on Reddit but for several reasons the mod didn’t approve of my question so I’m sending it off you you, Captain.

I belong to a Theatre Company that has had some shakeups in the last year. There was an issue with a man who allegedly had relations with a minor, and then the woman who had the party where the minor was given alcohol. They were both discharged from the company.

Now, the remaining millennial friends of the people in question want to get rid of the “old people”, and make the community theatre a SJW protest theatre.

The first member of this company was a woman who went on FB bemoaning her personal life, saying that she can’t have happy relationships because she’s bi-racial. In actuality, she’s a tall awkward woman who lacks some social graces and makes poor decisions. After a rehearsal one night, she got drunk and blabbed about how she had some action with a guy in a convention parking lot and how hairy this guy was in bed. I posted in her open thread that perhaps it would be in her best interests not to air her dirty laundry in public, because she might lose respect from some people, make other people laugh at her behind her back, and make people think that she is a whiner. Well, one of her friends, who I’ll call “Kelli” responded to me, calling me a virtue signaler, and berated me for my actions. In the past, I’ve counseled and listened to this first woman when she was depressed, and also the same with Kelli when they fell upon hard times.

The second one was also involving Kelli and her BF, as they were going to attend a BLM meeting in Boston. Being white, I recommended some tips from a friend of mine to have them have bail money, a lawyer on speed dial, and in a joke to have good medical insurance in case the protest got violent. Kelli then again told me to mind my own business, even though they changed their minds and didn’t go.

The third instance was with a friend who I’ll call Stan: Stan was co-directing a play with an experienced director named “Jane”, who I’ve directed with. I gave Jane first billing in all the promo materials. Stan’s wife Lani did the same but did nothing for their show yet took first billing and took all the credit. Well, I asked Stan if it might be courteous to give Jane first billing because he is the intern director and it would be polite and respectful. Again, Kelli busted out again to me with virtue signaling accusations. I did apologize to Stan, and he total got where I was coming from.

So, AM I THE jerk for caring about my friends and trying to prevent any drama in the theatre company?

Thank you for any and all insight.

Hello there and thanks? for your question? 

I can’t lie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. “Allegedly,” “SJW” and “virtue-signaling” scattered among a  series of incoherent tales of All The Times I Was The Best At Feminisms, Not Like Those Unappreciative B-words probably doesn’t add up to both of us having a good experience here. You do not seem to be a regular reader of this website, and I don’t know where you got the notion that I run the Am I The Asshole? Reddit Court of Appeals. If the good moderators of that community decide you might be too much of a jerk to even post there, who am I to disagree? 

And yet, I’ve been humming this song all week as I answer variations in the classic advice column genre “Dear Captain Awkward, who is more right here and why is it me?” from people who feel unappreciated by the other people in their lives, and your letter has helped me articulate a single guiding principle: 

When people don’t appreciate or reciprocate things you go out of your way to do for them, the first step toward rebalancing the equation is: Stop doing the things. 

Stop putting effort into things that make you resentful and unhappy and that other people don’t appreciate. Definitely stop doing things people have told you outright that they don’t appreciate. Let go of your end of the rope. Be free of the effort, the inconvenience, the bad feelings of resentment. Relinquish the illusion that “I’m only doing this for your own good because I care so much” is a gift to other people, when it’s more about your need to prove your importance.

You can’t control how other people will feel or what they’ll do, but you can control the part where you stop, so, stop. 

The rest of this post will be a list of things to stop doing and suggestions for what to do instead. 

Stop working on theater that doesn’t interest you.

Now that they’ve cleaned the house of some creeps, it sounds like your theater company is going in one artistic direction and your interests lie in another. People outgrow artistic collaborations all the time, so maybe find some like-minded souls and create theater that you won’t describe with open contempt. Theater still has tons of parts for the aging white man, juicy roles that were just waiting for you to grow all the way into your type, so dream big and trust that your “Glenngarry Glen Ross 2: The Glengarriest” or “13 Ballistic Blokes” is still out there. 

Stop focusing all your social and friendship energies on your theater company and pursue (or rekindle) ties and interests where you won’t be so tempted to cross all of the streams all the time. Friends your own age who make you feel appreciated and who don’t need you to Know All The Things At Them are where it’s at. 

Stop  “listening” to the personal problems of young women in your theater. It seems to make you very angry and resentful, and your “wise, benevolent mentor” persona sort of falls apart if you dredge up all the stuff they told you in confidence (mental health issues, sexual history) every time they don’t behave in a way you approve of.

If you sense someone is about to cry on your shoulder in a way that you’re uncomfortable with, it’s fine to say “Oh, wow, that sounds rough, I hope you figure it out” and go home before they get into all the “dirty laundry.” 

Stop assuming that someone wanting help with one thing has invited your input on everything. If I ask you to install my towel rack today, it doesn’t mean you can let yourself in tomorrow and mess with my garbage disposal, and it doesn’t mean you get to speak to me and about me any way you like for the rest of time and expect me to be grateful. You say that you’re older than many of these people, which means you have more experience than they do with some things, but it doesn’t mean you know more than they do about everything, and it especially doesn’t mean you know more than they do about how to run their own lives. 

Stop trying to be the resident Black Lives Matter protest expert. “Being white, I recommended …”   Being white, if someone tells you your “joke” is kinda racist and unwelcome, your best bet is to say, “I’m sorry,” and then stop talking for a while, because the likelihood is that you know less about whatever it is, not more. 

About the series of “virtue signaling” feedback you’ve received, my read is that multiple people are telling you that they perceive your contributions as insincere and unwelcome attempts to score points. If you want to be involved in discussions about race, gender, and other social justice topics, find another role besides “Eminent Sage Who Explains Stuff To Other People And Gleefully Points Out Perceived Inconsistencies.”

Howabout “Earnest Newcomer Who Listens Far More Than He Speaks” for a change? A throwback to your ingenue days, to be sure, and possibly a stretch, but are you not such stuff as dreams are made on? You’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t try.

Stop giving advice unless you’re asked. Interpret “Was I asked?” extremely conservatively.

“But how can I tell for sure if someone’s asking when they post things publicly for all the world to see?” you may ask, and I will gladly break it down. 

  • Are there question marks and key words like “Advice needed:” or “Can anyone help me with ____?” No = Then keep scrolling. Mentioning a problem or a feeling does not equal wanting feedback about it. 
  • Are there question marks and did they mention you by name? “[Name], do you happen remember where we got the thingamajig?” No = Keep scrolling. 
  • Do you have the specific experience and knowledge they are asking for? Skinny people, you do not know where to buy fat people clothes, “I just get my jeans from the thrift store for $3.00” is not a transferrable experience. If you visited Chicago once, I’m glad you liked it, but you do not know the best thin-crust pizza joint in my far-from-downtown neighborhood. PC users, you do not know where to find the best Mac thingamajigs and vice versa, and that is okay, you don’t have to know everything, but also, hush.
  • Know your history. Does giving advice to this person tend to make them bristle and cause an argument? Has this person told you that your advice, jokes, etc. are unhelpful and unwelcome in the past? After what you’ve described here, I think you can safely assume that “Kelli” and your other young colleague are all set for the rest of time, so stop advising them, period. 

I say this from the heart as someone who had to channel my “But I can help!” impulses into a whole decade-long Thing: People generally need you to be kind and treat them like authorities on their own lives way more than they need you to be informative or “right” at them. If someone wants your advice, they can ask. If you don’t weigh in on a general ask, and the person decides they want your advice after all, they can always find you later. Whereas, if you weigh in constantly where your advice is unwanted, you will come across as a patronizing ding-dong. Stop. 

Especially stop advising your colleagues about professionalism and “public” perception of their private behavior.

You mention that you’ve directed shows toward the end of your letter. Theater is a small world, as you know, and if I were in a position to hire or recruit theater directors in your area, and I saw you respond to a younger colleague who opened up about how race plays into her personal dating woes on her personal social media page with something that can best be summed up as It’s not your race, sweetie, it’s your personality,” calling her post “dirty laundry,” and issuing threats that she’ll “lose respect from some people (i.e. you), make other people (also you) laugh at her behind her back, and make people (you again, I’m pretty sure) think that she is a whiner”  as well as finding ways to bring up her body and sexual history when relating the episode later?

Yeah, good luck directing sock puppets in your laundry basket after that, ’cause I wouldn’t let you near a rehearsal room. 

Stop defining ‘DRAMA’ as ‘something other people create when they don’t listen to me and love what I tell them.’ 

If you want to reduce interpersonal conflict in your theater company, then start with your own contributions. 

Stop bringing up things people told you in confidence when they’re talking about something else. Stop inserting yourself into conversations that aren’t about you.

Stop mixing up people’s personal lives (including their problems) with their artistic contributions, and let their public reputation be their own affair. Conversely, if you think a colleague  is being inappropriate by sharing sexual stuff and commenting on a sex partner’s body during theater work time, then say so: “Whoa, too much information!” But don’t save it up and marinate it so you can toss it back to them in an unrelated venue. 

Pro-Tip: Between years of teaching and advising students and doing this job, I encounter lots of people when they’re just learning how to behave in certain environments and/or at low points in their lives and need a friendly ear, and one way I try to handle that trust and responsibility is to not bring up every mistake they’ve made or vulnerable thing they’ve ever told me whenever I interact with them. 

Stop concern trolling, by which I mean, the shady practice of pretending to be worried that “other people” will think a bunch of mean stuff about someone as an excuse for you to say all the mean stuff you think.That is classic Iago shit-disturbing behavior. Knock it off. 

Stop resurrecting zombie arguments. I had a hard time parsing – or caring about, to be frank – the dispute about theater billing, and I’m a film person, not a theater person, but I feel pretty sure that “How to properly credit creators in theater” is a question whose answer does not solely depend on who is the most right about what y’all threw together last time. If you want to be constructive, research professional billing practices and draft a consistent policy so nobody ever has to fight about it again. 

Stop having any online arguments with any people in your theater company. In fact, I suggest that you interact with them as little as possible online from now on. Unfollow their personal feeds, meaning you won’t see anything they post unless you are tagged. Keep your digital interactions with them focused on artistic collaboration and promoting shows. When mixing the personal and the professional is clearly not working, take a break! 

Verdict: The stories you tell about yourself are very consistent, in that almost none of these arguments would exist if you minded your business, so if an Asshole must be crowned to complete the ritual, congratulations on this sparkly tiara that spells out “BLESS THIS MESS” in rhinestones. You got the part. :bangs gavel:

However, that doesn’t have to be permanent. If you can stop doing most of the things that the people around you have failed to appreciate, I predict an immediate improvement in your own peace of mind and a collective sigh of relief from your fellow players. Break a leg out there! 


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