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Valerie L

Hi Captain,

SHORT: A friend invited me to stay in their newly-purchased under-renovation home until my govt benefits started and I would be able to secure housing. I promised to look out for the house since they wouldn’t move in for a couple months and do some of the remodeling myself as a handy-person in exchange, though they insisted I didn’t have to do anything. Then a few weeks after I moved in they want me out.

I don’t know how to respond. I feel like they are going back on a promise. A big one too, since I have nowhere to go, and spent $800 moving my boxes of belongings there since I can’t do heavy lifting myself. On the other hand, it IS their home and they have say over it. Our arrangement is unofficial.

In the interest of self preservation I want to ask to stay, and I was really tempted to argue and get angry since this isn’t what they promised and it’s devastating to me personally. I don’t know how to do this though. How can I have this hard conversation? Is there a way I can bring up their promises without sounding entitled to their property and kindness?

LONG: This friend recently came into unimaginable wealth and so bought the home. They have an anxiety disorder so significant that at one point in their life they essentially couldn’t do anything at all. While it seems handled now, they get easily overwhelmed. I help project manage the renovation by making phone calls and scheduling, as well as maintaining a Trello list of all the tasks needing to done and notes on progress. They can’t do those things themself without breaking down. I also gave them homeowner 101, demoed walls, did small electrical work, and advised on what in the 90 year old home was worth restoring or better to replace, since century homes are a hobby of mine. All this to say I’ve been trying to make myself worth it. They aren’t living in the home, they’re still in a rental unit while they wait for the big renovations to be done. They’ve decided they want to move in the next few weeks, saying they want all of their house and they don’t want a roommate.

I explained to them when they originally extended the offer it can take a year or more to get disability benefits. I’ve done that once every two weeks as well, since they constantly ask if I’m done yet. I won’t even get another conversation with my lawyer until the end of the month, much less progress on the case. It’s a really complex and long process, nothing will speed it up.

Additionally, I’m neurodivergent and notorious for missing things during interactions with people. I only know what you tell me literally and directly. I know about nuance and stuff, but I have to insist most people be as literal as possible with me because I miss it if you’re not my lifelong friend or a book. This friend is similar, but not nearly as bad. in the couple months I’ve lived there, they often think they’ve literally said something and in fact never did, and then get upset with me for ignoring what they (never) said. I try not to get too frustrated because i can’t keep a handle on it. I like them and I’m grateful for the housing and I don’t want to ruin it with flaws I know I have.

I don’t think it needs too much explaining. There was a promise made, I warned them of the timeline, they OKed everything, and now they’re not OK with everything and have given me a deadline, no matter how it will turn out for me. I’m upset that their own shortsightedness or whatever this is is going to have me on the street if I don’t talk to them. What do I do?!


Give me whatever witty name you want haha

PS: I’m aware of legal routes, but I want to explore the interpersonal first, since we’re friends in an informal arrangement.

Hello there Witty Name and OH NO!  That is so stressful.

Let us pause for a not-at-all-brief public service announcement: One of the most common questions in my inbox has to do with informal housing relationships that have outlived their utility.

  • “I want to get my own apartment when our lease is up, but I know my roommate won’t be able to afford the rent here on their own, how do I tell them?”
  • “My brother started crashing with us in 2020 when his college went fully online, which was fine, but why the heck does he still live here?”
  • “I want to break up with my partner but I’m afraid that they have nowhere to go and will be homeless. But I want them out!”
  • “My roommate’s partner is here 6 nights out of 7, hogs the common spaces and the bathroom, but doesn’t pay rent or bills.”
  • “I started living with my friend/let my friend move in but it’s not working. How do I hang in until our lease is up/break the news?”

Witty Name, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that most of the letters about this are from the person with relatively more negotiating power in the situation: The leaseholder/homeowner, the person who wants to do the breaking up, the person with the means to leave, which is not the same as your situation at all. But they do have the common problem of, “Housing is human right, not a commodity, what the fuck*” and “We agreed to something that was supposed to be temporary, didn’t put it in writing, and didn’t discuss an end date or contingency plan when we made the arrangement, and now we’re fucked.”

*Seriously, at least half of my inbox would become moot if people could afford to stop living in incompatible and downright abusive situations.

My overall PSA is this: When mixing friendship, family, and/or romance with money and housing:

1. Put it in writing. “But we’re faaaaaaamily/close friends/in love we shouldn’t have to…”  Ummmmmmmmmmm, maybe so, BUT CLEARLY MANY OF YOU DO HAVE TO, so do it. “Let’s just spell the details out now so that everybody’s protected in case of emergency and we never have to fight about it.” 

If you ask to put things in writing, and the other person resists, strongly reconsider sharing living space with them at all for any length of time.

2. Assume nothing. Put all of it in writing. Money, bills, chores, maintenance, meals, guests, all of it. If one person is providing labor like cleaning, babysitting, or home repair in exchange for reduced housing costs, spell out costs for supplies, an hourly rate, deadlines, reasonable working hours, etc. so that things are fair and balanced.

3. Include an end date from the start so everybody knows where they stand. If your intention is not to have someone move in forever, convert “Come stay with us until you get back on your feet” into “We’re happy to host you for up to two months [or whatever period you honestly, enthusiastically want to host the person] while you look for work and new housing, let’s check in at the one month mark and see where things are at.” If you’re the one moving in, and nobody suggests and end date, you can propose one of your own. “I think I’ll need to stay for _______ amount of time, is that possible? Let’s check in around _______ to make sure everything’s still cool.” 

You can always negotiate an extension if that’s what truly needs to happen, but I promise you, I PROMISE YOU, everyone will be better off if “temporary” is clearly defined from the beginning.

4. Make – AND DISCUSS – a contingency plan for what happens if things aren’t working and somebody needs to move out sooner than planned. Do this right at the beginning, when everybody maximally likes each other and has high hopes for everything going to plan. If you never need to refer back to it because everything is smooth sailing, great! But if you do need it, it will protect everyone.

Witty Name, hello, let’s get back to your specific situation, aka “Great….thanks? ….For the advice,? We did exactly none of that, so what now?”  You are in a time-sensitive, high-stakes negotiation and I want to help you navigate it as much as I can with what we’ve got.

First, I suggest that you assume you will actually have to move out on the date your friend told you and plan accordingly. Direct the bulk of your energy, any remaining money, time, and other resources to the urgent project of finding a new housing situation.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of things you could do: Make a list of any other friends and family who might be able to put you up for a while, loan you funds, store your stuff, or let you use their address for mail. If you’re already working with a social worker or other govt. benefits expert/agency on securing benefits, call them and tell them you are losing your housing in a matter of weeks and see if there are any emergency funds or programs available. Your lawyer’s office may know some places to call. (I believe you that there is no way to speed up the legal process you’re in, but there might be programs or bridge funds that you don’t know about and an expert in disability benefits might.) “Emergency housing assistance” + “Your location” are going to be useful search engine terms for you. Look also for house-sitting and pet-sitting (where you stay in the person’s house) jobs. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere it’s summer now and everyone is trying to go on vacation, so there might be more demand than usual. You urgently need to Not Be Homeless, so start there.

Stop all work on the house. On principle, pour no more energy into a living space you are being evicted from. Also, you literally don’t have time. Communicate with your friend/landlord as little as possible for the time being, and when you do be brief, polite, and non-committal. “Hey, got your text, I need a few days to think things over and plan, talk soon.”  Don’t send FEELINGSTEXTS.  The illusion that everybody is still friendly is useful right now.

Next, if you think you might have legal avenues, find a local pro-bono landlord/tenant attorney or legal clinic and talk to them about your options. Because the arrangement is informal, you might not have a lot of room to maneuver, but there are sometimes rules about eviction lead times and notice that may buy you a little more time. I know you want to try to work things out directly with this person before invoking the legal system, and that’s admirable, but if a lawyer thinks that you have no legal recourse, you ideally want to know that before you try to talk it over with your landlord.

Do not tell your landlord that you are talking to a lawyer. Do not threaten legal action. Do not brainstorm aloud about legal action. Talk to an actual lawyer, privately, and then either take legal action if that’s appropriate and your least worst course of action, or don’t.

Now, I want you to total up all of the time you spent working on your friend’s house (planning time, training time, admin time, handy-person time,) as well as any supplies you paid for. “Pay” yourself the going rate for this kind of work where you live and add it up. I don’t want you to *say* or show this number to your friend right now, I just want you to know what it is. How much would they have had to pay someone to do what you did? How does it stack up against market rental rates where you live? While we’re doing math, how much money would get you & your stuff moved into a temporary housing situation for say, three months? Write these numbers down.

Worst-case scenario planning, researching your options, checking into legal avenues, doing math: Check. Let’s talk about how to approach your friend once you have more information in front of you.

This is one of those situations where, you can be right about everything being unfair, but being right doesn’t cancel out power imbalances and other facts of the situation. Whatever you agreed, whatever “should” be happening right now isn’t happening, and it’s essential to accept that and deal with what is actually happening.

The facts are: Your friend owns the house and – for whatever reason! –  doesn’t want you living there anymore. I’m sure the labor you offered was a big help to them, but something about that exchange or situation is not working for them, to the point that they are willing to go back on their agreement and pretty much nuke the friendship from space in order to bring it to a close. Their reason might honestly boil down to “I thought this was going to work and then realized it’s not working,” which, is shitty and puts you in a terrible position, but that doesn’t make it untrue. I believe that you spelled out everything from the start, but your friend asking you every couple of weeks “When are you going to get your benefits/move out” indicates to me that they never planned on having you be there for a whole year, and there is pretty much zero chance that you’ll get them to let you live there indefinitely now that they’ve asked you to leave.

My thinking is, if you can accept that they want you out, and plan with all your might for that outcome, you may be able to negotiate for other things that will help you with Project Don’t Be Homeless. What you actually ask for is going to depend a lot on the specifics of your research and contingency planning, but the best and most realistic possibility I can think of is asking for direct financial assistance. You said they recently came into “unimaginable wealth.” So would they be able to give you a lump sum that would set you up for at least a few months in a safe rental? Sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money, and it sounds like money would solve everybody’s problem here.

Strategically, I would not present this as “You owe me for all the work I did and for screwing me over!,” more like, “I understand that you want me out by ______, but to make that happen I need at least _______ to put down a deposit on a place and move my things again. Can you cover those costs for me?”

In your shoes, I would assume that asking this person for money is a one-time thing, and therefore would ask for the biggest lump sum that would actually be enough, with extra padding for them to negotiate downward and still cover your essential costs (vs. trying to ask for just a little here, just a little there). Remember the calculations about how much it would cost for the services you provided for free? Make what you ask for bigger than that number, but don’t actually say “you owe me” while it’s still a “friendly” request for “help.” If they acquiesce, they are basically paying you to leave without a fuss, so ask for what would help you just get the hell out of there with little or no fuss.

If asking for money fails, then your legal and other research will come in handy as you figure out what to do next. I wish I had more “fix the situation so you can have what you initially agreed to” options, but I really don’t. Your (soon-to-be-extremely-former) friend wants you to leave and has the power and resources to get you to leave, so your best path is to work out how you can take care of yourself given that reality. Processing exactly what happened and why, mourning the friendship, and feeling all the feelings are a project for when you’ve got a safe roof over your head. It sucks. I’m sorry.

I’m wishing you all the luck.

Valerie L

Hello everyone!

So now the weather is a bit better I’m moving the meetups back to outdoors, as that allows as many of us as possible to attend safely. So, here we go:

25th June, 1pm, Hyde Park.

Please bring your own:

  1. Picnic blanket or similar
  2. Any folding chairs etc. you may want to use
  3. Food and drink for yourself
  4. Masks unless you’re exempt
  5. Crafting things if you want
  6. Umbrella, waterproofs etc. if needed

Please email me at the below to say you’re coming.

No RSVPs via any other method accepted – e.g. no text messages, no comments here, no facebook likes, etc. Please make sure you email me.

Please make sure you also update me if you RSVP yes but later can’t come.

I will email the confirmed people with a map link to show the exact location in the park, and I will have my plush Chthulu which looks like this:

Other things to bear in mind:

  1. Please make sure you follow social distancing rules. This particularly includes respecting people’s personal space and their choices about distancing.
  2. We have all had a terrible time for the last two years. Sharing your struggles is okay and is part of what the group is for, but we need to be careful not to overwhelm each other or have the conversation be entirely negative. Where I usually draw the line here is that personal struggles are fine to talk about but political rants are discouraged, but I may have to move this line on the day when I see how things go. Don’t worry, I will tell you!
  3. Probably lots of us have forgotten how to be around people (most likely me as well), so here is permission to walk away if you need space. Also a reminder that we will all react differently, so be careful to give others space if they need.

The park has public toilets available, but last time the queues were extremely long. The fee is 20p by contactless payment. They are claimed to be fully accessible but I didn’t manage to find full confirmation sorry.

I will cancel this meetup if government guidance changes or if the weather is truly prohibitive, so keep an eye on this space.

kate DOT towner AT gmail DOT com

Valerie L

Personal News: I haven’t been feeling so hot the past few weeks, but good news, my pesky uterus and its fibroid passenger “Guillaume” are going to come out within the next several months. YEETERUS AT LAST.

Content Note: Brief mention of kink in the question. If you’re a child and/or the concept of D/s relationships irks you, skip this one.

Dear Captain,

I (they/them) am in a D/s relationship with a trans woman (she/they) involving mutual service dynamics, and one aspect is me being her “guard dog.” I very much enjoy being the protector, and love to be called her guard dog and such things, but sometimes when I really do need to protect her, I fail to do so. Being brave in terms of investigating noises or taking on situations that scare her is one thing, but I am really useless when it comes to helping with conflict. For example, if someone is transphobic to her in public, I often completely freeze up or say something really milquetoast in response. I am just completely filled with shame that in so many situations where I could actually help her, I’m a useless lump instead.

I am working on being braver and taking baby steps to being more assertive and standing my ground when it’s safe to do so, but it feels like I’m not really making much progress. And, any time I fail, it completely tanks my self image and for a long time afterwards, hearing her call me her guard dog just feels horrible. She doesn’t hold it against me, and she isn’t trying to call me out, but in the aftermath I just can’t help but feel like I’m a pathetic armchair warrior, playacting like they’re brave but hiding anytime things get real.

What can I do to get better at being brave and blunt in the moment? How do I learn in my bones that it’s okay to rock the boat when someone has tried to throw someone overboard? And in the meantime, how do I handle the shame and feeling like I don’t deserve her praise or the title of guardian?

–Big Bark, No Bite

Dear Big Bark,

Good news: Assertiveness in the moment is a skill and a habit that can be practiced and learned over time.

Medium news: If you didn’t grow up with the knack, it takes time and practice to unlearn old habits and social dynamics and acquire new ones. You’re not alone in freezing up during high conflict situations, and it feels hard to push back because bigots (and the misogynist, homophobic and transphobic racist culture that we’re all swimming in) makes it hard to push back.

Bigots assume that most people in the dominant group secretly agree with them, and they rely on pressuring anyone who doesn’t agree with them to remain “polite,” “calm,” “neutral,” “civil,” to “prove you’re the bigger person,” to “rise above it,” to “not get emotional,” or “ruin the occasion.” Everything in quotes in the prior sentence is a code for “STAY SILENT AND COMPLIANT AND DON’T REACT.” Bigots want to be able to say and do whatever hateful stuff they want and treat anything less than total compliance, welcome, and praise as proof that they are being persecuted by rude and uncivil forces. *Any* negative reaction from a non-bigot will be treated as an overreaction, as they try to turn attention away from the vile shit they said and blame you for ruining everyone’s fun when you don’t enjoy it. Does that make sense? You’re always going to feel “rude” when you respond to bigotry because bigots thrive by defining any opposition to their violent views and behavior as your faux pas, and the rest of the culture has been conditioned to police “possible rudeness” harder than outright eugenics as long as the horrible person never raises their voice.

Responding to a rude, transphobic remark can be as simple as saying a word or two: “Wow.” “Not cool.” “Yikes.” “Really.” “Yuck.” “Gross.” “Shame on you.” “That’s unacceptable.” “Awkward!” “How embarrassing.” “What an odd thing to say out loud.” You don’t have to be snappy, slay them with your wit, explain yourself, deliver a footnoted treatise on why it’s wrong, or debate with them (almost always a trap). It doesn’t have to be perfect, eloquent, or suave as long as you say or do *something* that indicates that you’re not okay with whatever is happening. Practice speaking up, practice dealing with the flood of pressure and weird feelings that rises afterward, and practice being very kind and gentle with yourself. It’s a process, but if you keep at it you’ll find your own style over time. If that style is more on the “milquetoast” end of things, but you are consistently able to express dismay and disapproval when you encounter bigotry? Then you’re probably doing great!

It’s not always safe to respond, especially for more marginalized people, and you (both you the Letter Writer and you the Reader) are going to be the best judge of when walking away quietly or other de-escalation tactics are necessary to avoid violence Just know that whenever you are able to say something back to a bigot, you are doing four very important things:

  • You’re returning the awkwardness to sender. The bigot is the one who ruined everyone’s good time with their asshole remarks, you’re not making it weird by responding. [Remind yourself/bystanders of this by re-stating the facts of what the bigot said and did. “Oh, yes, I realize my ‘tone ‘is quite strident, but I’m not the one who casually suggested a genocide at Book Club.”  “Why are you more okay with [the exact horrible thing they said] than with me reacting to it? Weird!” ]
  • You’re removing the bigot’s plausible deniability that their views are acceptable and that “everyone” agrees with them.
  • You’re signaling to any nearby marginalized folks and fellow non-bigots that they’re not alone here.
  • Even if there is no one else there to notice and nobody is on your side, by speaking up you are standing firm in your own integrity. This too takes practice!

These four things are true and important whether or not the bigot ever “learns a lesson.” It’s unlikely that anyone – especially a stranger in a public place! – changes their horrible views just because you made the right snappy comeback at the right time.

Now, Letter Writer, I want to delve into the specifics of the relationship a tiny bit here.

If you’re being asked to do something as part of a kinky exchange, and attempting that thing is consistently making you feel awful, then it’s probably time to renegotiate things with your partner. “Can we talk about ways we can both show up for each other and push back against transphobic interactions in public? The ‘guard dog’ role isn’t working for me and I keep freezing up. Can we take that out of the whole package for the time being and focus on [stuff we both enjoy]?” 

You don’t enjoy this particular aspect of your relationship. That is not a failure on your part, and that is a good enough reason to change it. If it’s not working for you, then it’s not working, period.

That doesn’t mean you should stop speaking up altogether when you and your partner encounter transphobes in the wild. Standing up for your partner the way you would do for a friend, a stranger, or heck – yourself! -is still going to be a good idea for all the reasons stated above, and it’s still a good idea to practice and learn. But I think it will work better if the two of you are a team about it, and if your partner’s safety and agency around this isn’t outsourced to you under pressure of performing a certain way. Sometimes you speak up and they back you up, sometimes they speak up and you back them up, experiment! But overall, I suggest that you untangle the assertiveness skill-building from the kink for now, remove pressure, and see how you do.

Valerie L

Hello, it’s time for the periodic feature where I answer the search strings that led people here as if they are actual questions, no context, all snap judgment! 

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, partly because the more I do them, the more the same search terms come up in my search terms as a self-reinforcing cycle. But I finally have enough of a new batch, so, here you go. 

First, as is traditional, a song: 

Technically it is already May, but you know me and deadlines. ;-p

1 “Is it right to return gifts after a breakup?”

This really, really depends. Once given, a gift belongs to the recipient, and it’s probably good to assume that nobody can really obligate or force anybody to return a gift. Exceptions to this are such stuff as first year law school exams are made on. 

Still, off the top of my head, I can think of many examples where offering to return a gift or asking for it back is reasonable, even if it’s not technically owed, and even if the person might refuse. Say, Person A is planning to break up, but Person B doesn’t know and buys a very expensive gift, or gives A an irreplaceable family heirloom, or books a (non-refundable) vacation or big ticket event together. Person A can’t be compelled to give whatever it is back, but we invest in relationships differently when we assume they’ll last, and if Person B had had the same information Person A did they wouldn’t have given the gift. In that case, asking “Can I please have my Grandma’s antique harpsichord back?” doesn’t make Person B a jerk. 

Or, say you break up with someone who gave you lots of things, and now you want all of it out of your house. If the stuff is useful and/or valuable, and you’re still on good terms, giving your ex the right of first refusal before you sell, donate, or regift it *might* be a nice thing to do. But if it’s still useful and valuable, and you want to keep it and plan to use it, then keep it! It was a gift. 

If you’re the gift-er, and you want to ask for something back, treat it as what it is: An ask. If you’re the gift-ee, and you know in your heart of hearts that giving something back is the most ethical and kind thing to do in a given situation, then you know what to do. But there’s no one rule to rule them all. 

2 “Is it disrespectful for a friend to invite themselves on a family trip?”

I love phrasing like this, because it highlights both the uses and limitations of manners and concepts like “disrespect.” 

Is it rude for people to invite themselves places? Sure, maybe, sometimes. I recently read an epic Reddit story where a lady planned and paid for a romantic getaway with her husband, told him explicitly “No, your Mom cannot come with us” after she tried to invite herself along, showed up at the airport on the day, saw her mother-in-law standing there with a bunch of suitcases anyhow, and turned around and went home. I do not think that marriage is long for this world. But there are also many relationships where saying, “I’ve always wanted to ____, can I tag along next time you go?” is a question and “Sure!” The more the merrier!” or “Not this time, but let’s plan our own excursion” are possible answers. 

Much more importantly, do you feel annoyed when people invite themselves along to things you’ve planned? When a specific person invites themselves along for a specific trip, do you wish they hadn’t asked, and do you want to tell them “no”? Are you more compatible friends with people don’t invite themselves along? If so, an “impartial” “yeah, that’s rude” judgment from an Etiquette Authority might help you feel more justified in saying no, but the part that really matters is the part where you don’t want to because that’s a good enough reason to decline.

3 “Feeling not good enough for not being married.”

I hate this for you. The toxic pressure to get married by a certain age or milestone or else you’ve failed is the cause of so much misery in the world. How many people are grinding away in absolutely miserable relationships with someone totally wrong for them because they’re afraid of being single? I don’t know your gender, but when I think about how much of young women’s time, energy, and ambition is wasted on feral cishet dude rehabilitation because of pressure to find The One, it makes me want to scream. 

Look, you may be a total asshole, but it’s far likelier that you are pretty great, perhaps downright terrifyingly amazing. If you do in fact want to get married someday (not a given for everyone), the fact that you haven’t met and connected with someone who is compatible enough with you –someone “good enough” for you — isn’t a sign that something is wrong with you. You just haven’t met anybody worth giving up being single for. You haven’t met anybody where the timing and geography and sheer luck of the draw all worked out. Or, more accurately, you haven’t met anyone like that yet. 

This is an encouraging book: It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, by Sara Eckel 

4 “Best answer for ‘why are you not in serious relationship?'” 

“I haven’t met anyone I like more than I like being single.” “I’m incredibly picky.” “I might someday if I were to meet the right person, but it’s not a goal I have.” “I was in one, but it didn’t work out.” “I’d love to be in one, any ideas on how?” “I’m aromantic, so, not really my thing.” “I’ve already dated all the [people of my orientation] in a 100 mile radius, and they’ve all paired off with each other.” “No clue. Why do you ask?” “Ha, hilarious question, Aunt Nosy! Why are you ________?” [Insert topic she is sensitive about.]

The best answer is almost always going to be whatever is true for you in that moment. Don’t play guessing games about what the person asking this wants to hear, or try to do that job interview thing where you try to rebrand all of your greatest weaknesses as “Oh, I just can’t stop myself from being a team player with meticulous attention to detail who loves to work hard and play hard in fast-paced environments! My problem is that I just love working Too Much!” 

5 “If someone ask you can you be my fuck buddies*? what is an answer?”

A. “Yes, I’d/*We’d love to, at least in theory. Can you tell me more about what you have in mind?” 

B. “Thank you, but no!” 

The truth will either set you free or get you laid. 

6 “I tell an experience and that person tells me theirs.” 

Sharing a story in response to a story can be a very powerful way to communicate empathy and solidarity. “I’ve been there, you’re not alone!”  When there is a respectful peer relationship where everybody trusts that they’ll both be heard and get their say, cooperative story swapping is awesome! 

It can also be really alienating and frustrating when you run into a Story Topper (“Oh, you think that’s rough? Let me tell you about the time something even more dramatic and interesting happened to me!”) or it feels like the other person spent the whole time you were talking thinking of what they wanted to say instead of actually listening to you.

What’s acceptable really depends on the specifics of personality, relationships, and power differentials, but I think you can almost never go wrong with asking people what they need before you weigh in on their story or share one of your own: “Are you wanting advice, a sympathetic ear, a distraction, or something else?”  “Oh, I dealt with something similar, do you want me to tell you about it?” 

It’s also why pauses, check-ins, and resets are so useful. Derails happen, but they don’t have to be permanent. If sharing stories is lively and the mic is truly bouncing back and forth between you, then, great! [Frankly, this is why hanging out with fellow ADHD-ers is so relaxing. Excited “Ooh, ooh, that reminds me!”  interruptions and jumping around to topics three hours or three weeks later is fine, no worries that we’re accidentally steamrolling each other.] On the other hand, if a person tells you something and stops participating when you tell them something in return, it’s a very good sign to change course: “Sorry, I got carried away for a second, your situation reminded me so much of something that’s been on my mind. Please, can you tell me more about ______?” 

If you feel like you’re being talked over, try something like “Oh, thanks for sharing that, but can we go back to my situation for a minute?”  [The dear Commander Logic can say this with words and also with her eyes. ;-)]

7 “Partner insists on lingerie and no socks in bed, controlling.”

I wish this were about your partner wanting to wear lingerie all the time and skip the socks, we could just be like, “Rock on with that, buddy! You’re the boss of you!” and get on with our day. 

That said, you are the boss of you and you should wear what makes you comfortable.If you loved wearing elaborate lingerie, you’d wear it all the time of your own accord. If your partner would stop pressuring you, you’d probably be way more into some occasional dress-up.

Unfortunately your partner has left you no choice: From now on, every time they pressure you about lingerie, add one more of these to your wardrobe and roll on this fetching homage to the Baba Yaga’s hut each night so you can make a quick getaway. 

8 “The guy you are dating his home is disgusting and dirty.” 

I suggest that you do not spend time in environments that you find “disgusting.” It’s either your place or no place.

If the relationship gets more serious, I suggest that you do not combine households with someone who is incompatible with you around cleanliness and housekeeping, unless you plan to sign up for a lifetime of resentment, arguments, “nagging,” weaponized incompetence, and having to clean everything yourself. 

It’s okay to like someone, love someone, be attracted to someone, think someone is a good & worthy person, have empathy for reasons they struggle, and still have standards and dealbreakers about what you need to be happy. Love conquers sometimes; the strict vegan and the carnivore, the ace and the hornivore, the atheist and the devout, the tidy and the un-, and assorted Mays, Decembers, cops, robbers, grasshoppers, ants, nightingales, and larks pair off sometimes and have lasting, happy relationships sometimes. My theory is that when it works it’s because all parties know that they’re signing up to play on Hard Mode and go in with eyes open about what that means. 

So take a good, long look, and remember: People change slow, if they change at all. Don’t bet that they’ll do it for you. 

Comments are on for a change, because, what the heck? Sometimes I really miss all of you. ❤  The spam filter remains as hungry as ever, so if your comment doesn’t show up right away, it probably got sucked in. Don’t worry, I’ll be checking the thread periodically over the next few days and I’ll liberate it as soon as I can. 


Valerie L


I (35, she/her) have one baby and another on the way. I am exceptionally tired these days and expect to be similarly fatigued for the next, oh, 4 years or more. Anyway, I have had to be intentional about my bandwidth and have been ruthlessly cutting out anything that seems optional. I am running into the following issue with my in-laws: we just have two totally different cultural conceptions of time. I should mention: I am white and my husband is not. I was raised in a family where there were distinct start and end times and a high value placed on punctuality. Everyone in my family shows up exactly when they say they will, and this is my preferred way of operating. I bring this baggage to the whole operation, and I am aware of that.

My husband’s family is very loose with time. They will not commit to when, or even sometimes if, they are coming over at all. I have tried to view these as two different and yet totally valid ways of being but for holidays and baby events like birthdays and Trick or Treat, etc. it is just killing me. I do the majority of planning and execution for these events. I buy the food, plan the menu, cook everything, and do the majority of set-up and clean-up plus any Holiday Magic for the baby such as shopping, wrapping, decorating, ensuring the house is clean and all the guest rooms are made up nicely, etc. I do this so the baby can have nice holiday traditions and memories, I am aware I could do nothing at all and order a pizza and lock the doors, but these were fun, magical things for me and I like for her to experience them alongside the people who love her. It is worth a little (not a ton) of extra hassle to me to ensure she gets to do these things.

We always host because for me, as the only ones currently with little kids, it is just easier to have everything happen here. That way, I don’t have to lug everything to two different sides of the family, tiring out the baby and stressing me out. I can be sure she will get a decent nap in her own bed, has a high chair to eat, a play area where I don’t need to watch that she isn’t jabbing a fork into a socket, and our dog will not spend all day alone and have accidents, etc. I can also avoid showing up at 2 for something that isn’t actually HAPPENING happening until 8pm or having one side of the family angrily waiting on us when the other side makes us late. As added fun, they each live about an hour-plus in the opposite direction of one another.

We do holidays open-house style wherein I typically will have some sort of low-effort breakfast or snack available for anyone who comes early and then a dinner in the early evening. Lately, I’ve been more and more tired and am finding that having this “come whenever” policy is the worst because:

1. I have to have enough food for everyone who *might* come, which is not only expensive but also time-consuming to make so much and then end up having to store/freeze/etc. Having tons leftover and no one to send it home with can almost double my cleaning time because I have to find places to store everything or freeze it in portions etc.

2. It’s impossible to do anything because “so-and-so says she’s 10 minutes away” can mean 10 minutes or two hours and sure, I would wait 10 minutes for her but I can’t wait 2 hours, the food is getting cold and/or the baby wants to open her presents etc. It’s always tense and frustrating because it’s always “Just 5 more minutes and then we can start!” and somehow without fail whenever we start without anyone they walk in literally 2 seconds after I finally give up and are peeved that we didn’t wait for them.

3. My own family are not exactly angels, they get frustrated *with me* and also the Whole Situation when they are sitting around waiting for someone and have at times shown their displeasure vocally. Sometimes they are sick of waiting and leave before dinner or whatever and then are icy to me afterwards for “choosing” the people who “couldn’t even bother to tell you if they were going to show up” over them.

4. When husband’s family sometimes don’t come at all despite saying they were going to, they always want a Birthday or Holiday 2.0 wherein I usually have to do the whole shebang over again or travel to them the next weekend after I just kicked my own ass doing the whole thing the first time. My husband is maximally sympathetic to this and always says we should do it despite me NEEDING that next weekend to get my life back together.

5. I am frankly tired and introverted and a FULL DAY of people showing up at anytime, no warning, and needing to entertain them is nightmarish for me, I get no downtime and no breaks to enjoy the day myself. We just did Easter and I have one photo of the day, in the morning before anyone arrived, and no memories at all of the baby’s day. I am hormonal and pregnant and dramatic but I cried when I realized.

I have talked to him about how this impacts me, but he says it’s just cultural, they will never ever change, and that this is who they are. I do believe that but as the one who is having the majority of the difficulty here, I really do think we as a nuclear family could do this better or have each other’s backs to establish some better boundaries to ensure I don’t end up exhausted and recovering for days afterwards. I am pregnant, I have a toddler, and I work full-time so I don’t have a ton of bandwidth.

Any thoughts on how we can do this better?

Hello, I am exhausted reading this!

I have opinions and recommendations. Many of those involve getting your husband to do his share of hosting & family wrangling, but one principle extends through all of it:


Right now, while the baby is a baby, and will only vaguely remember how much Holiday Magic there is, it is time to scale the hell back on all of this. Plan a holiday or two you celebrate just as a nuclear family without inviting the whole clan and without schlepping anywhere. Outsource a lot of the work when you host. Order the pizza, already!


I think you’ve been smart to try to do things Open House style, where people can drop in and out as they wish. But it is time to prioritize the people who actually show up, not the ones who might. Yes, there are some cultural issues at play here, but your husband married you, meaning that your joint celebrations don’t have to 100% match his family’s expectations and habits for the rest of time. When you are on your parents’ turf, let their culture take the lead. When your husband’s relatives host something, go with their flow. For example:

  1. If you drive, take separate cars or make plans around trains/buses/rideshares. That way you can show up in the afternoon with the baby, visit for exactly as long as you feel like it, and then head home when you are ready, freeing your husband up to stay however long he wants. Plan snacks/your own mealtimes so you don’t get hangry waiting for things to get underway. As a pregnant woman and new mom, you have both a duty to yourself and the authority to make your own schedule right now. Use it! “Lovely to see you all, I need to get this one home and into her jammies. Have fun!” 
  2. Plan on dinner being at 8:00 and roll up at 7:00 or so. You know by now that this is how things tend to go, so there is no reason to wait around for hours in advance. Nobody in his family is going to hassle you for being “late,” and if they do, you are free to openly laugh at them. “Hahaha, really? I’ll keep that in mind!” 

But when you host things at your home, with all the work that entails, it’s time to make it work for you. You have four years of experience that tells you that there’s no way to make everyone happy, so at least make yourself a little bit happier than you are now!

What happens if you decide, for the rest of 2022, you are having exactly one [Insert Holiday] celebration,. If you host, that’s it, that’s the one. If you don’t host, consider alternating celebrations with the various sides of the family vs. running yourselves ragged or making plans that require some to wait and others to show up on time and thereby setting everyone up for a bad time. I know there is probably a ton of pressure for everyone to SEE THE BAAAAAAABY right now, but as the baby’s parents, you have a lot of power to dictate how and when that happens. You do not have to see every relative or every set of relatives on every single holiday. It’s okay to invite just one set of in-laws some of the time, to see some people on Holiday Eve and others on Holiday Day, and it’s okay for you to miss events now and then. You and your husband might also have better luck seeing smaller groups of your various family members more frequently in more casual settings so there isn’t so much pressure for big events to be the be-all and end-all.

Before you host the next event, hash out what’s most important to you. Is it to have everybody together under one roof? Is it to decorate the place up and serve really great, special food as a treat for yourselves and your guests? Is it to make sparkling memories with and for your kids? Is it to catch up with relatives you don’t get to see very often? If you know your priorities, you can adjust your plans so you’re getting more of what you actually want. For example, if party photos are important to you, but it’s been too chaotic  for you to get good ones, maybe hand your camera off to someone who reliably shows up and has a decent eye, and ask them to take some for you. This can be a great job for teen & 20-something cousins and for shyer folks who are happier when they have something tangible to do, and it also means that you can be *in* more photos.

When you plan the next event, you could try making the schedule explicit in the invitation, and include an end time:

“We’re hosting [Holiday] from [time] to [time] on [date]. Doors open at [time]. Meal served at [time]. Cake/Presents/Etc. at roughly [time]. Baby has nap at [time], so if you plan to see her, come before then. Doors close at [time]. Let us know by [date] if you can make it so we have enough food. Can’t wait to see you all!”  

Make the total window smaller than you usually do. Say, 4-6 hours or so instead of The Entire Day, and based around one meal-time, not All of Them, Question Mark? The more open-ended you are, the less important it is that people show up at any specific time, the more the “whenever” feeling perpetuates itself. If it doesn’t matter when people show up, and they know you’ll come to their planned thing the following weekend, why should anybody adjust anything? I know you are trying to be maximally flexible, but consider that a lunch/brunch with a set start and end time frees people up to make their own evening plans and frees you up to nap with your feet up in an empty house once everyone has gone. 4-9 pm drinks/dinner window gives everyone the whole early part of the day to do other stuff. Breakfast to ??? is WAY TOO LONG an interval for people-ing!

At least 24 hours before any event, mentally convert any and all “maybes” to “no” and assume they aren’t coming. Make a generous amount of food for the people who said they were coming, which will leave a much more comfortable amount of leftovers, and don’t be afraid to ask people to bring a dish of something to share or storage containers for taking leftovers home with them. If a swarm of unconfirmed people do actually show up after all, welcome them with enthusiasm and let that go down in history as The Time You Ordered Supplemental Pizza And Nobody Died Of It. Treat it like a good, happy thing that they were able to come vs. “You’re late, again.” If people are jerks to you about not waiting for them to start things, it’s as good a time as any to say, “I’m so glad we were able to see you after all!!!!” and give ZERO apologies.

Schedule breaks for yourself. Every 2 hours of hostessing requires 1/2 hour of quietly feeding the baby and/or handing the baby to a willing grandparent and putting your feet up for a minute. Speaking of schedule, your baby has one, and it is the boss of you for the forseeable future. Use it! “Oops, gotta get the little one down for her nap.”

Then, deputize your husband to deal with *way* more stuff than he usually does.

  1. Party leftovers are your husband’s job now. He can figure out how to send them home with people, how to store them, all of it. Stackable deli containers where all the vessels use the same lid are your friend. 😉
  2. When invitation emails or messages go out, your husband should call the matriarchs/chief social directors of his side of the family and explain: You’ve both decided to switch it up for this holiday. The times on the invitation are real. If they want to eat/see the baby/hang out, it needs to happen roughly between Start Time and End Time. He is not about to let his pregnant wife throw a 12-hour party right now (not to mention TWO parties, what the entire fuck), and he’d appreciate help in spreading the word. If someone says they can’t commit to that, he can say, “Okay, we’ll be so sorry to miss you, but maybe next time!”  
  3. Your husband always has the option of asking his parents and important family members what would work for them while also advocating for your needs. “Mom, I know we all like to keep things open-ended, but I’m trying to make things easier on [Letter Writer]. She loves seeing you, and she puts so much work into these things. Is there some time window or way that we could arrange things that would make it easier for y’all to commit and reduce some of the ‘ am I cooking for 12 people or 60’ anxiety for her? How did you figure this out with your in-laws when you first got married?”  He may not get a good answer, but it’s not all on you to brainstorm new ways of accommodating his relatives and hope you’ll hit on the right one.
  4. Once the event starts, both of you can put your phones down. He can stop answering the influx of “I’m on my way!” and “We’ll be there in 10” texts, and he can definitely stop relaying that information to you in real time. If he must answer, he can say, “Great to know, drive safe!” and then move on with what you already planned. Y’all decided that lunch was at 2pm, so eat lunch by 2:30 at the latest, and whoever joins you, joins you. Stop postponing stuff for people who aren’t here! Definitely stop doing it because of magical time estimates!
  5. If his relatives are affronted because everyone didn’t wait for them to arrive, let them be affronted, and let your husband handle it, and let him wait on them! “Relative, we’re so glad you’re here!  We didn’t want the food to get cold, so we started eating already, but I’m happy to fix you a plate.” “Relative, so good to see you!  Sorry you missed the baby, she just went down for her nap and there is no way on earth I am going to wake her, but let me get you something to drink.” 
  6. When the scheduled event end-time comes, say goodbye to everyone and take yourself to bed or otherwise off the clock. YOU ARE GESTATING AN ENTIRE HUMAN. YOU NEED SLEEP. If people want to linger, your husband can play host if he wants to, and it’s his job to see them out the door and make sure you have some peace and quiet. Everyone can still have fun without a command performance from you.
  7. If your husband’s relatives miss the celebration and want Holiday 2.0 the next weekend, HE IS WELCOME TO GO OR TO HOST THEM. HIMSELF. ALL BY HIMSELF. He could bring last week’s leftovers and your daughter to their houses and hang out with them there as long as he wants to. Or, he could host at your home while you nap in comfort at your parents’ house or in sweet solitude at the fanciest nearby hotel you can reasonably afford and the expectation that you will return to a clean, quiet house. Up to him! I’m not throwing a second party for your relatives who didn’t come to the party I just threw” is beyond reasonable as a boundary.
  8. Your husband wants and expects you to accompany him to every celebration on his side of the family, and the only real way to break this cycle is if you stop going sometimes. There can be a strong pull in families to have every single person present at every single event or else it’s “ruined,” but personally I think one of the benefits of family is that you’re going to be related to each other forever so nothing has to be solved right now. Will everyone still love everyone a month from now? Yes? Great! “It’s cultural.” “This is who they are, they’ll never change.” “Okay! But I could really use some down time after last weekend, so I’m going to sit this one out. Blame it on your pregnant wife!”  

I don’t really believe in using invitations to try to teach people lessons or communicate anything besides “We’d like to see you, please come,” so I don’t expect that any of your respective relatives will “learn” anything about punctuality vs. flexibility if you and your husband change things up a little. Arguments about whose culture is better and who is technically being “rude” at any given time are also incredibly unproductive, in my opinion. “Punctuality” vs. “A relaxed open door policy for family” are different value systems, and it’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act where they collide. Fortunately, boundaries aren’t really about getting other people to feel or behave differently, they are about carving out what you need and making decisions that preserve your own comfort and sanity. In this situation, the way you defend and maintain those boundaries isn’t based on proving who’s more right, it’s based on “I’ve figured out that this is what I need, thanks for understanding, I’m really looking forward to seeing you!” As long as you’re choosing to host, you can make a few more choices to make all of that easier on yourself.

tl;dr stop this madness and do so much less

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