Captain Awkward is my favourite blog right now, and it’s reaching heights of internet popularity that are awesome (because more people get to read the Captain and co-bloggers’ fantastic advice) but also mean that there’s a lot of newcomers to the blog who are wondering about Jedi hugs, evil bees and FEELINGSART. So here’s a first attempt at a Captain Awkward glossary for the uninitiated, in no particular order:
Letter Writer. The person who wrote in to Captain Awkward.
Also, OP (Original Poster)
(see also House Full of Velociraptors)
A bad or abusive situation, particularly one that in retrospect it seems impossible to understand why you stayed in it for so long.
(from an awesome comment on abusive relationships by Marie, quoted in its entirety, because it’s too good to edit)
Oh man, it really does feel that ridiculous when you look back on it. You watch one of those horror movies, and the sinister voice says, “LEAVE NOW” and the characters are like “What was that? I’m sure it was the cat. Everything’s cool,” and you’re like HOW CAN YOU BE SO STUPID the house actually told you IN WORDS that it didn’t like you and you’re all me and this house, BFF.
And then you remember your ex-husband who was like, “You’re fat and ugly and I hate you” and you were like “Even though he hates me and told me so, that is just how he shows love. I should live here forever, we are so happy,” and now you can’t make fun of bad movies without thinking about serious social issues.
Of course in this particular horror movie, the cabinets open and shut and the sinister voice says “LEAVE NOW MORTAL” and you’re like, sure, okay, I’m out of here, and then blood comes out of the windows and the house says “WAIT I WAS HAVING A BAD DAY” and you walk back in the house and it says “BECAUSE YOU’RE UGLY” and bees come out of the ceiling, and you leave again and the house is like “NOOOOOO WAS IT THE BEES? I FILLED THE BATHTUB WITH FLOWERS” and you get in the bathtub and the house is like “FLOWERS MADE OF DESPAIR HA HA HA.” Abusive relationships: they are this dumb (in retrospect).
I don’t think there is a language that expresses “I don’t like you” more clearly than the one abusers all seem to share, and yet, when it hits our ears, that “I don’t like you” somehow turns into “I can’t leave or they would be sad.” Even though they can’t seem to stand you, and have told you so, repeatedly. Because maybe we did something to make them not like us? And that somehow means we’re obligated to hang out with somebody who doesn’t like us? Until they like us again? Even though they seem to hate every fundamental part of our personality? And yet they don’t want us to leave, even though they hate us fundamentally? Because that makes sense, right, all the time I am hanging out with people that I hate, and feeling sad if they are not around to annoy me. No. The house wants you to leave. It is full of bees. If it didn’t want you to leave, it wouldn’t be full of bees. It would be full of you.
(see also House of Evil Bees)
Suppose you had a lovely friend who had a partner named Fictional. Your friend loves Fictional SO MUCH, and really wants a life with him. However, Fictional has a bad habit of breeding and hoarding velociraptors. Their shared apartment is filled with the funk of lizard loving and raptor pee, and is a minefield of *literal* anklebiters. Your friend is allergic to velociraptors, nobody will visit them, and the whole affair is terribly uncomfortable.
You meet Friend for coffee, while Friend cries into a hanky, nose all red from the raptors. “You’ve got to do something about the velociraptors,” you say, and Friend just sniffles.
“Maybe it’s a medical condition,” Friend says doggedly. “Fictional had a very difficult childhood and he hates talking about giving pets away. If this is the price of admission then I will pay it. And anyway, it’s not really so much of a problem, having disgusting laundry and a cramped style.”
“Velociraptors are not really a price of admission,” you say, “For one thing, they’re socially unacceptable, and for another, they are seriously cramping your love life.”
“FRIEND,” you say suddenly, “THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOUR HOUSE IS FULL OF MOTHERFUCKING VELOCIRAPTORS. IF YOU DON’T SPEAK UP THEN YOU WILL ONLY GET MORE VELOCIRAPTORS.”
A terrible boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other who psychically drains the life out their partner, but who somehow retains a mystifying hold over the partner, possibly due to the partner wanting to see the good in them.
Your friend is dating Darth Vader. Let me explain:
“Luke, your dad is totally evil.”
“There’s good in him. I’ve felt it.”
“Luke, he blew up a planet just to make a point.”
“There’s good in him! I’ve felt it!”
“Luke, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he severed your hand. From your arm. He cut it off.”
“Dueling to the death is just how we relate. You wouldn’t understand it. Now that we both have prosthetic robot limbs, it’s only brought us closer together.”
“Luke, he lured your friends into a trap so that he could murder them in front of you. We had to be rescued by Ewoks. It was embarrassing.”
“Yeah, that was pretty bad, I admit! But there’s good in him! I’ve felt it!”
And then Luke is risking his own life to carry Darth Vader out of the Death Star before it explodes so he can look up on that swollen purple face and experience one shining moment of real connection that would justify everything he’s invested in this completely dysfunctional relationship and he’s like “See? IT WAS ALL TOTALLY WORTH IT!” and even R2D2 is like “Whatever, the Ewoks are having a dance party, and I just can’t talk about this with you even one more time. Have fun with your collection of Ghostly Jedi Father Figures.”
To give someone an African Violet = to end a friendship that has run its course or which no longer meets your friendship needs.
Unfortunately while our culture provides many scripts for breaking up with romantic partners, it has no template for ending friendships. There should be a ritual.
“Dear Friend, please take this African Violet as a symbol of the close and wonderful friendship we once shared. Please enjoy it in good health, and if you are having a problem or just want to chat, please call someone else from now on.”
A seemingly small gesture which shows that someone cares for you.
I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.”
A Godzilla of rage that forms when you have legitimate grievances and no outlet for your anger. If properly trained, very useful.
You’ve got a case of a Rageasaurus. And that is perfectly okay. Rageasaruses, like border collies, are high-energy, high-maintenance pets that can absolutely wear you out. And this Rageasaurus of yours is very badly trained. It will run circles around you and destroy your furniture and distract you from your work, which is to say, your life. It will color your interactions with others. But you are not – NOT – a weak coward for having it in your life. Ref, this is an understandable creature. I don’t want you to beat it with a big stick any more. There’s a reason for this Rageasaurus. I would like you to understand that.
This ‘saurus was formed from a big soup of emotions and fuckery, and it carries your feelings around in its mouth like an old chew toy.
The Rageasaurus does not understand why you insist on returning to people who have wounded you, and who poke the wounds with a stick, and deny the hurt they caused you. That’s why you may find your emotions becoming uncontrollable around this situation, and why you’re interpreting that as self-betrayal. (Those bottled choky tears you might be getting after hanging up the phone, and you maybe don’t know why? Your Rageasaurus knows.)
An offering of comfort which will not trigger people who do not like being touched or hugged. Also suitable for long-distance/virtual hugs.
Here is a nice story. At my gram’s funeral, a longtime family friend brought his small son, who was just waking to the wonders of Stars Wars and also was going through a period of not wanting to hug. The friend brought his son to me for a hello, and encouraged him to give me a “Jedi hug.” “I’m hugging you with my miiiind!” said the little boy, encircling air with his arms.
It was in fact just the kind of hug I wanted, and I told him so!
Overwhelming emotions and the urge to act on them. May be deployed as a FEELINGSBOMB (see below), or as FEELINGSMAIL or FEELINGSART .
The desperate attempt you make to get rid of these feelings is to perform a FEELINGS-ECTOMY.
Updated to add: see also this comment on the origins of FEELINGSMAIL below.
An explosive outpouring of feelings/emotions that may have devastating effects on bystanders. May be sent as FEELINGSMAIL.
These questions don’t go away even when you do “achieve” whatever-it-is. This is not comforting, or maybe it is in a dark back-handed sort of way: If you were to finish your dissertation right now, or if you were to know exactly the day you will finish, the next question would be “So, have you found a full-time job yet? When do you think you will?” So you have that to look forward to (by which I mean dread beyond the telling of it).
Most of the time your relatives just genuinely want to know what’s up with you, and they are asking out of kindness and curiosity – they’ve figured out what the next sort of “leveling up” looks like for you and they are rooting hard for you to do it. The part where that sets off a previously unexploded FEELINGSBOMB of your own struggles with whatever it is and/or inner monologue of judgy self-criticism when you just wanted to get away from all that for one single day and hang out and drink egg nog…is completely accidental.
Feelings for someone. In the pants area. Lust, basically, but also used more widely for having romantic feelings for someone.
So be armed. His pantsfeelings will come up again eventually, and you can say “I’m sorry, I thought I explained this before, but I’m not interested in a romantic or sexual relationship with you.” And he will ask “whyyyyyyyyyyyy?” and you will say “That’s not something I can probably ever really explain to your satisfaction. I really need you to accept that as a final decision, and I will feel so much less awkward if we can change the subject now/give it a few days or weeks to become less awkward.”
When your brain acts against your best interests, possibly due to chemical reasons or social conditioning that is hard to break.
I am not a mental health professional of any kind, so nothing I say here is a substitute for dealing with your depression as the serious health issue that it is. Your brain chemistry is being a jerk.
From creepy staring at the object of one’s affection up to and including proposing marriage to them while critiquing their family and then being put out when you’re turned down. But mostly the creepy staring.
And before you go “Oh, god, are you a crazy person? Who acts like that?” (Which, dude, I know, and it’s possible that some of those letters are still out there and someday I’ll be, I don’t know, accepting an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and some dude I had a crush on in 9th grade will be like “Hey internet, here’s the obsessive stalker mash note she snuck into my Latin book one time!”), I’ll tell you who acts like that.
Fitzwilliam Fucking Darcy, that’s who acts like that. Only the supposedly totally dreamy main character of what became the boilerplate for every romantic comedy ever. Let’s review:
- Creepy staring? Check. To the point where my friends and I refer to it as “Firthing,” as in, “And then he sat down at the next table, but I could tell he was still totally Firthing me, so I had to leave.”
- Becoming tongue-tied when the object of affection is close by, and masking emotions by either studiously ignoring or acting like a dick? Check.
- Becoming overly invested in the relationship, where a couple of stilted conversations + dancing that one time = WE HAVE A MEANINGFUL CONNECTION? Check.
- Cornering the person and vomiting out your feelings? Check.
- Putting it all in writing? Yeah, that too.
The part of you that desperately wants to be liked, but also thinks you aren’t likeable.
You and I are geeks, my friend. And what geeks are good at doing is 1) learning how to do stuff (reading, research, finding ‘how to” information, following directions) 2) reasoning through and applying what we’ve learned across many situations 3) constructing consistent and logical arguments, 4) extrapolating, 5) applying principles of justice and fairness to things that are subjective and unfair, like other people’s feelings, and 6) over-thinking and over-investing in interactions with others because sometimes we are lonely and starved for affection and approval so we latch onto scraps when they come our way, which freaks people out so they avoid us, leading to a horrifying self-perpetuating cycle of hope, obsession, and rejection that resembles Smeagol arguing with Gollum on some moonlit rock on the way to Mordor.
We joke a little bit about Party Smeagol around these parts, because Smeagol is so pathetic and gross and he will do a weird dance if given the tiniest scrap of affection and we don’t want to be like him: constantly hungry and ruled by that hunger. If anyone knew how gross and hungry we were, how could they ever love us? So we let our inner Gollum smack Smeagol around. “Stop being so pathetic, Smeagol. They don’t REALLY like you. Go ahead. Ask them if they really like you and see what they say.” The problem is, if you turn every act of kindness from your friends into an emotional audit of your relationship and an opportunity to abase yourself and indulge your jerkbrain’s belief that you are not lovable – “Are you really sure you want to make me that sandwich? Like, really really sure?” – it IS tiresome and distancing.
The part of you that loves and cannot be told not to love until it is ready to do so.
So there you are, all shaggy and embarrassing bounding toward your person wagging your tail and doing that adorable thing you do where you pretend that you’re not going to hand over the ball you’re carrying in your mouth and your person doesn’t even want your stupid ball and then the leash of reality yanks you back. That part of you is the purest and best and truest part of you, and you can’t really turn it off. It’s just going to love for a while.
I say this because it’s really fucking frustrating to try to talk yourself out of having a feeling or beat yourself up for having a feeling at the same time you’re having the feeling. So just have the feeling. Just be the Golden Retriever of Love. You’re not stupid for feeling it, you’re not a bad person, you didn’t do anything wrong. You just feel what you feel, and you’ll feel until one day you stop, and you can’t decide when that is, so don’t even try.
Something that, while not necessarily bad in itself, is not right for you. (Except for these pants. These are never the correct pants.)
You know how sometimes when you try on pants, they just don’t look good on you? Or they don’t feel good on you? They aren’t necessarily bad pants, they are just not quite right for you, and if you buy them you will never really wear them, or when you do you’ll always be pulling them out of your buttcrack or wearing tunics to cover the resulting muffin-top and telling yourself they will fit if you lose or gain 10 pounds, as if there is something wrong with you and not the pants.
Back away from the pants.
The pants are not right for you.
This boyfriend is ill-fitting pants. (Trousers, if you speak the Queen’s English).
There are occasions where you should Fuck That Lady and occasions when you should probably not Fuck That Lady. See if you can spot them. Now a popular gameshow. Feel free to play along at home.
Yes friends, it’s time once again for America’s favorite game show “DON’T FUCK THAT LADY!” where confused boys must decide between their better judgment or the irrepressible urges of their groin. And here’s the host of DON’T FUCK THAT LADY, Intern Paul!
Let’s see, first we have a lady who has no sense of boundaries or personal time. In fact, things were so bad that you broke up, moved away, and ignored all of her calls in order for her to get the message. Do you know what women call men who berate them with endless phone calls, have “boundary issues”, but “still love them”? Stalkers! And even if this woman is just a person who is blissfully unaware of the concept of personal space, you’re still doing her a disservice by remaining in contact with her. I would wager that she thinks the phone conversations with you are a gateway to getting back together, when in reality you seem to be keeping her in your back pocket just in case you feel like it down the road. Do both of yourselves a favor and end contact for awhile. Oh, and…
DON’T FUCK THAT LADY!
Intimidatingly awesome. The Awkward Army, obviously.
Welcome to the SECRET ORDER OF THE TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING, Letter Writer. I love you so hard right now, you don’t even know.
Listen, my young Padawan, you are doing everything exactly right, and to describe your awesomeness as somehow “intimidating” is a very…Rich from Marie Claire kind of move. You don’t need to slow down for other people, you need to find other people who can keep up with you. Every now and then a random online dating site dude will tell me “Wow your (sic) kindof (sic) intimidating” and I usually respond with “Wish I could say the same about you!” DELETE BLOCK REPEAT.
Go forth and intimidate the bonerz off of people who see strength and confidence as intimidating, because you are TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING. You may wither bonerz of the unworthy with your steely gaze, but the good news is you will create desire in cool, fun, smart worthy men who actually like women.
That’s my starter for ten. What have I got wrong? What have I missed? Tell me in comments!
Updated to add (7/1/13):
It’s okay to have a relationship/dating deal-breaker. Such as discovering someone is a secret hoarder.
If you start dating someone and the first time they take you home you discover that there is a Hoard…maybe…just leave? Even if you like them. Even they seem like a good person and blah blah blah cognitive difficulties blah blah. LEAVE THE HOARD. IT IS OK TO LEAVE THE HOARD. It is ok to dump someone just because they are a hoarder. ”I’m sorry, I do really like you, but I can’t get involved with a hoarder and I can’t spend time in your house. Sorry this didn’t work out.” The early stages of dating are for figuring out whether you want to get more involved in each other’s lives. People who hoard obviously have some serious issues going on and need a lot of compassion and professional help. They may have many, fine, awesome qualities (they’d have to or you wouldn’t have gone home with them). That compassion doesn’t have to come in the form of you moving yourself and your Sympathetic Vagina into the hoard with them!
For hoard you could easily substitute a current drinking problem, drug problem, gambling problem, a history of abusing romantic partners problem, a colorful arrest record, a chronic mental illness that is not being treated, really bad financial management skills. Any problem that is not being actively addressed and that makes you go “Oh shit, do I really want to be involved with someone that has that much crap going on?” is fair game. Wait, did I say it had to be severe and horrible? No. Dealbreakers take many forms. “Does stuff that annoys me.” “Not good in bed.” “Has stupid political opinions.” “Mama’s boy.” “I don’t like his smell.” “Inattentive.” It’s okay to be picky. You don’t have to be fair about where you bestow your heart and your time and attention.
The way that people often end up making accommodations to an unsatisfactory/dangerous/irritating situation rather than dealing with the actual source of the problem, and may eventually start to see working around the problem as the only way to handle it and blaming those who don’t know the workarounds.
Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it? Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it? “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”
Some people are like that missing stair.
People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his “special requirements,” that they didn’t feel like there was an urgent problem in their community. They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.
I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair. Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?” Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.
Gavin de Becker’s 1998 book The Gift of Fear is often recommended and referenced at Captain Awkward. The book is an excellent and empowering read, and several concepts from the book are often referenced at CA, such as his list of survival signals (i.e. things to watch out for):
Forced Teaming – creating a “we’re in the same boat” feeling in order to build premature trust. Relies on social pressures that mean rebuffing this approach feels rude.
Loan sharking/Kind sharking – doing someone an unsolicited favour in order to get them to feel indebted to the person doing the “favour”. Even if you have accepted the favour, you still don’t “owe” that person anything, particularly not access to your body, your time or your affection.
Charm and Niceness – de Becker suggests that you think of charm and niceness as an ability/strategy employed by someone in a social context, rather than an inherent “good” trait (“this person is trying to charm me” rather than “this person is charming”). People can be nice… right up until the point where they aren’t.
Typecasting – very similar to “negging”, in PUA (Pick-Up Artist) terminology. Making a derogatory remark in the hopes that you will be compelled to try to prove you are not the sort of person they are typecasting you as, e.g. “I bet you’re too proud to accept help from a man” from someone who wants you to accept his help, so you accept his help to prove that you’re not “too proud”.
Too Many Details – people who are lying or trying to convince you of something often supply too many details, as their story does not ring true to them. They add too many details to make the story sound more credible.
Unsolicited Promises – promising something without being asked in order to convince you of their intentions. de Becker points out that an unsolicited promise is a sign that you are doubtful about what is being suggested, and can be a useful reminder that you are unsure. He recommends that you ask yourself, “Why does this person feel the need to convince me?”.
Discounting the word “No” – goes hand in hand with ” ‘No’ is a complete sentence” from “The Art of ‘No’“. de Becker points out that refusing to recognise the word “no” is a red flag for a predator. No is non-negotiable. In de Becker’s description, the worst thing you can do is give a series of weakening refusals, culminating in giving in – the person has now learned that your “no” can be negotiated into a “yes” with enough pressure.
A caveat: de Becker’s chapter on domestic violence is often questioned at CA as to whether the author has a personal blind spot about domestic violence, having grown up in a violent household. I recommend reading this comment thread for a fuller discussion of de Becker’s chapter on DV.
The people you gather around you to support you, who are on your side and want what is best for you. Can be friends, family, professionals – whatever the situation requires – and includes yourself (you are the Founding Member of Team You!). For advice on how to build Team You, see this post.
The CA tagline. The original concept is something we tell small children – instead of hitting or fighting, use your words to articulate what’s wrong. In the context of CA, don’t expect someone to be able magically infer how you’re feeling – tell them. Don’t spend your time looking poring over someone’s communication to you like you’re trying to crack the Enigma code – if you don’t know how they feel, ask them.
From the Captain (explaining this in a far clearer and more concise way than I have above):
When in doubt, use your words. Don’t infer; ask. Don’t hint; say.
When you dislike someone so much that anything they do, no matter how minor or inoffensive, annoys you beyond any rational level.
You are right on with what I call “bitch eating crackers.” It comes from one of those retro graphic memes “when you already don’t like someone everything they do is annoying ‘look at that bitch eating crackers like she owns the place.’” When I realize I’ve reached ‘bitch eating crackers’ with someone I try to take a step back and figure out which behaviors are actually the problem and drop the rest.
Offering what looks like love or affection, but without any actual substance to it. Explained below by Badger Rose much better than I could ever summarise it!
The best metaphor I’ve come up with for that situation is… it’s like filling your hummingbird feeder with Sweet’N’Low. Which is a terrible thing to do for a lot of reasons (not least of which is, wtf, why would you do that?), but the big one is that the sweetness draws the hummingbirds and they’ll drink from the feeder to get that sweet taste. But hummingbirds crave sweet nectar not because they like sweet taste because they need the energy in sugar to power their superfast wings and their oversized-for-their-bodies hearts.
Sweet’N’Low *tastes* so much like what they need that they’ll gravitate to the feeder and drink it dry. But it doesn’t actually have any sugar in it, so they starve. They glut on sweetness and still starve.
The person who offers you the actions of affection without the content of affection, the form of love without the meaningful substance of love, the shape of care without actual caringness? The people who play the I care, no wait I don’t, no yes I do, but no, but maybe yes, games? They’re filling their bird feeder with Sweet’N’Low. You can’t live off it. You may like the way it feels. You *will* like the way it feels because it’s engineered to be sweet. But it’s just going to starve you in the end.
An expression of defiance and anger in face of abusive parenting.
During one of my parents’ many violent fights, which resulted in many, many broken household things, I stepped on a piece of glass that sank almost two inches into my heel. It was a serious wound; that spot of my foot is still incredibly sensitive, thirteen years later. I’m incredibly lucky I didn’t sever a tendon. My mother saw me hopping to the bathroom, leaking copious amounts of blood onto the pale grey carpet, and lost it – because I was staining the carpet. (She later blamed me for their having to replace the carpeting, because “Kitchenchantress bled all over the carpet like an idiot.”) I needed stitches, but she refused to take me to the hospital. I had to call friends who lived 90 minutes away to come and take me. I was pale, faint, and shivering by the time they arrived. Good times.
All this to say that I truly understand where you’re coming from. I’m still very raw from my upbringing, as this comment probably illustrates. I offered Jedi hugs below, but I think we need a Jedi hug circle, lol.
And you know what? Fuck the carpet, man!
A person in the shape of a parent, but who fails to provide any of the basic love and support that a child needs to thrive.
Taken from an (in)famous psychological experiment in which baby monkeys were given one of two “mothers”, one made of wire which had the food they needed to survive, and one covered in cloth but didn’t have milk. The babies with the cloth mother that they could cuddle up to did much better than those with the wire mothers, who became traumatised and depressed by lack of contact, demonstrating the need of infants for comfort and contact.
Oh, Maternobot — I know her well. I actually refer to mine as the Wire Mother (referring to the Harlow experiments on baby monkeys — that’s the least distressing article I can find about it.)
Absolutely awful and abusive in private and around “faaaaamily,” seemingly solicitous, giving, and self-sacrificing whenever she was performing in front of an audience. My high-school best friend thought I was terribly mean and ungrateful when I talked about my mother, until she witnessed her slapping me in the face for eating a spoonful of cookie dough. The Wire Mother puts on a GREAT act.