How Do I Avoid Romance With Someone Who Is Manipulating Me?

There’s this woman who has a crush on all the people who’ve helped her, including me. I want to be supportive of her gaining independence and self-confidence (we’re all in our early 20’s), but I don’t want to be romantically entangled with someone who so easily clings to her “saviors.” I don’t even want to be a savior, I want to be a friend. Some of the other people she’s had a crush on have also expressed worries about dating her or even saying no to her, but none of us are really willing to push her out entirely. She’s kind of emotionally manipulative. How do I extricate myself as a romantic potential/savior without causing too much harm to any of the above people?

Hopefully, 
Anti-Stockholm Syndrome

Dear Anti-Stockholm Syndrome:

You have described this person as clingy, emotionally manipulative, and someone who cannot hear the word ‘no’ without making this a big problem for everyone.

Declining a romance with her makes sense, but when you say you want to be ‘friends’ with her, I find myself wondering why.

It sounds like you feel sorry for her, and that you feel a little trapped with her in your life — neither of which is a good basis for a friendship.

You are not obligated to be friends with anyone, no matter how much they need. They have to offer something to the friendship, as well, and it sounds like this person is not in a position where she can do that right now.

But you have three things working against you:

  1. Your age,
  2. the gender your were raised as (readers: I know she was raised as female)
  3. your kindness.

I have been where you are myself, not-coincidentally when I was in my early 20s.

I think adults in their 20s are fresh from being scared, confused, and sometimes miserable kids, and we remember so well the feeling of unrequited love, feeling deeply insecure and maybe clingy, feeling hurt and rejected. If someone is in pain, it’s hard to just walk away.

But here’s what you probably should do: push her out into ‘acquaintance’ category in your life, as quickly and carefully as possible.

And yes — if she starts to freak out when she senses you doing this, you may have to push her out entirely. I know — we were all pushed out at one time or another. I know — you don’t want to be a bad person.

But I wonder if she’s thought about whether or not she’s being a bad person by manipulating everyone around her and refusing to ever take no for an answer?

Your gender training is also working against you: no matter how enlightened our parents, no matter how smart we may be, no matter how feminist and queer and educated and gender-variant, we have had society at large grinding at us. We’ve been taught not to say ‘no.’ We’ve been taught it makes us cold and mean and heartless. We are supposed to say ‘yes.’

And to say ‘no,’ whether in word or in deed, can sometimes be really really difficult to do.

Those first few times you say ‘no’ are a fucking agony, I’m not gonna lie.

So this is what I suggest: start with a small ‘no.’

Try a wordless ‘no,’ like not responding to a text or a phone call right away — or at all. A firm but quiet ‘no’ like declining invitations to things without a fevered list of excuses or explanations. Just: “Sorry! I can’t make it.”

A ‘no’ to spending time in her presence if you aren’t enjoying it, by simply standing up when she’s got you feeling trapped and saying with no apology or explanation: “Well, I think I’m going to make it an early night.”

(And if she’s in your space, standing up and saying: “Well, it was good to see you,” and REFUSING TO SIT DOWN until she leaves.)

You can back slowly away and turn her into a vague acquaintance without a big dramatic breakup scene if you keep up with these small ways of saying ‘no.’

And if she winds up demanding some sort of long emotional processing of what is going on, you can quietly but firmly say ‘no’ to that. You can. It is hard, but it is possible.

I wish that I’d known so much earlier that I didn’t owe anyone my time, affection, sex, or friendship — and that keeping energy-drains like her out of my life would be the best gift I could give to myself.

You owe her nothing. You owe yourself peace of mind.

This is not fun stuff, but unfortunately learning to deal with people like her is going to be a skill that you’ll need to use for a long time.

(So if you don’t do this perfectly, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re going to get a lot more chances. There are lots and lots of folks like her out there.)

Good luck! Saying ‘no’ is going to be a really useful skill for you for the rest of your life. I’m still working on it myself, but it gets easier every time.

This letter appeared originally in bitterempire.com on July 23, 2015.

How Do I Cope With Sexist Microaggressions At Work?

I work with someone who, I am sure, thinks of himself as a “nice guy.” He regularly addresses women in late middle age as “young lady,” including me (we are both in our mid-50s). He thinks he is being gallant. I would really like to help him to understand that this is a microaggression, but I don’t want to make things hostile.Any suggestions?

Thanks, 
Not A Young Lady

Dear Not a Young Lady,

For those reading this who think this is no big deal: this is a big deal. Calling middle-aged women ‘young lady’ in a gallant fashion says the following things:

  • I am going to compliment someone who is obviously not young ‘young,’ because your only worth is based on being young.
  • The reason your only worth is based on being young is that being young makes you attractive.
  • Being attractive to men is the only reason women exist.

He is also saying that anyone past the age of 19 (which is STILL pushing it for using ‘young lady’) cannot be attractive, because middle-aged women are categorically unattractive.*

What really, really enrages me about these situations is this: HE is he one creating a hostile climate with his condescending sexist bullshit, but because he’s doing so from the comfortable position of power and privilege he holds, you’re the one who has to worry about ‘making things hostile.’ Because men like him are so accustomed to just waltzing through the world being condescending assholes to people without ever having to face any consequences. So when you DO call them on their shit, they genuinely feel attacked out of the blue.

Make no mistake: I am not telling you not to worry about this and to just tell him off. You have to do this dance because you live in a very real world in which women have to deal with sexism in delicate and anxious ways or face very real repercussions. If you do not get fired for “creating a problem,” you will at the very least have to deal with his huffy “how dare you call me on my adorable gallantry” poutyface making things uncomfortable for weeks or months.

So. I’m going to give you specific advice that makes me want to hurl but will hopefully get the job done.

But for the record: I PROTEST. I think it should be as unthinkable to pull this crap as it would be to say “nice tits,” and I’m sure this gallant fellow would never dream of saying THAT.

Here’s how I suggest dealing with him when he pulls this crap on you:

Laughing. “Young?” you say. “Honey, I’m probably older than you and I’ve earned these gray hairs. You may call me ‘distinguished madame.’” Make it a joke; look haughty.

If he persists (and I’m guessing he will), you can say: “No no no! We’re about the same age, and if I’m a young lady you must be a young man and let me tell you — neither of us are.”

Or, if you are desperate and he appears to be a bit sexually uptight: “You’d better never say that to a woman unless you’re giving her a good spanking.” I like to do this sort of thing to men who are sexually uptight because then every time they start to say whatever dumb shit they were going to say, they blush and run away.

If you keep making him uncomfortable every time he says it, he will eventually knock it off.

Now.

If he says it to customers? Other coworkers?

You can go the earnest route: whispering to him, “You know, I think you don’t mean for that to come across as condescending at all, but that woman with the AARP card didn’t seem to like that very much,” or: “You know, a lot of us associate ‘young lady’ with being scolded by our parents or teachers!Did you notice she laughed sort of uncomfortably?”

You will notice that none of my advice is at all educational. It is all pointed at just making him shut the fuck up.

There is a reason for this.

Any man who, in 2015 and who is younger than, say, 80, that continues to say this to women and doesn’t notice us wincing and gritting our teeth and rolling our eyes? He has no interest in being educated. And as a passionate advocate for saving one’s energy and breath, I say dood’s already a lost cause.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on July 16, 2015.


*It is also shitty to call young women ‘young lady’ as it reminds them that no one in the entire universe takes them seriously in case they had forgotten this for a fraction of a second.

How Do I Handle My Kid’s BFF’s Judgmental Mother?

How do I handle my kid’s BFF’s mother? I’m having an issue and I can’t figure out how to approach it. My kid will confide in her BFF, and the BFF will tell her mom– all of that is fine. Then the BFF’s mom will join me in a group of chatting parents and will bring up what my daughter said. Often what she brings up is some months-old complaint my daughter had about me, and I find myself explaining a conflict we had ages ago, that 1) we had already worked through and 2) is no one’s business.

I could ask her to approach me privately, but I don’t want to talk to her about this stuff at all. The issue from her side is that she believes I am not sufficiently responsive to my kid’s feelings/thoughts/desires, and therefore suck as a parent, and somehow it’s her job to point this out to me. In public.

Our kids are very fond of each other, and I don’t want this issue to mess that up.Ideas?

Thanks, 
Seeking Ideas

Dear Seeking Ideas:

First of all, I am sorry that your kid’s BFF’s mom is a total fucking asshole. Really and truly. What a horrible position for you to be in. Here’s the thing: this woman is a shitty, shitty person. She’s an insecure, judgmental, snarky bully. Now, like all bullies, she is depending on your desire not to make a scene so that she can continue to berate and judge you. In public. She is probably also depending on your desire not to make waves because your kids get along so well.

The good news is that anyone hearing this who is a decent person (and she is NOT) is judging her for her total assholery. Not you. So please rest easy on that point.

And the only response to someone who is depending on you not to make a scene is to make a scene. Not to pull her aside privately. Do it in front of everyone. It does not have to be a huge scene. It can be very small and chilly.Your region will probably dictate how ape-shit you can go on her.  I also suggest you do the ‘broken record’ technique with her, as I assume she will continue on for at least a few more sentences.

First, you look truly pissed off and say: “Excuse me?” As if you cannot believe your ears. And when she continues, you say: “Really?” Again, hands up: shaking your head at her total lack of regard.

And when she continues (and she will), you say dismissively: “Thanks for your input, I guess,” and change the subject abruptly, maybe even laughing a little at her astounding rudeness. Do it again and again. When she realizes that you are not going to fall all over yourself trying to explain your personal business to her in front of other people but instead are going to point out her rudeness, she will eventually give up.

Now this is the most important part of my response: she is also preying on your fear that you’re a bad mom. You fear this, right? Like all women do?

Well, you aren’t.

A bad mom would not allow this friendship to continue; she’d just tell her daughter to stop playing with that kid who tells her mom everything. But you are valuing your daughter’s friendship over your comfort. This woman thinks she’s a bad mom, too, which is why she is doing this: trying to deflect her desperate conviction that she is a horrible mother onto someone else.

Most of us really aren’t horrible mothers, but our society tells us so constantly in large ways and in small by setting up unrealistic expectations of what a mom should be involving lots of naturally-dyed and hand-decorated cookies you deliver to your kids’ St. Paddy’s Day celebration during your weekly volunteer stint at her school after negotiating a make-or-break deal at your fancy job someplace.

So say it to yourself, like a mantra: “I’m actually a pretty good mom. I’m a damn good mom. Sometimes, I’m even a GREAT mom.” And if you believe it yourself, really and truly– you will not be as bothered by the busybodies of this world who are trying to puff themselves up by making you feel small.

P.S. Fuck her. Seriously WTF

This letter appeared originally in bitterempire.com on July 9, 2015.

What’s Your Advice For Educating My Ignorant White Gay Male Peers?

I’m a gay man in my 40s with some friends who have a big case of white gay privilege. When we talk about other parts of the LGBT community, there’s a lot of eye-rolling if the subject is anyone other than a white gay man (and they still think that bisexuals “just haven’t chosen a team yet”). I chalk up some of their resistance to being dismissive of “those crazy kids.” What’s your advice for educating them to have a more nuanced understanding of how people identify and express themselves, especially if it’s not one of the well-known categories?

Thanks, 
Ignorance isn’t Bliss

Dear Ignorance isn’t Bliss:

So here’s the thing.

The divide between white gay monogamous guys and the rest of us is actually real, you know?

I mean, for a lot of these guys, they’re only one more piece of legislation (ENDA) away from feeling like they’re pretty squared away. So what if it was transgender women punching out cops at Stonewall? Why should I feel obligated to them? So what if bisexuals have the worst health outcomes of anyone in the LGBT community and feel completely left in the cold? So what if trans women of color are in terrible physical danger every damn day? What do they have to do with me?

They’ve got theirs, they’ll get more, and they’re good. Double white male income. Kids if they wanna. White picket fence and 2.5 cars and a house in Lavender Valley.

These guys — these comfortable, smug, privileged guys who don’t actually care about civil rights or solidarity — are going to keep laughing and being douches, and I heartily encourage you to stop being friends with them. Do not waste thirty damn seconds of your precious life trying to help them learn anything.

Fortunately, there aren’t as many guys like them as it seems. Most gay guys I know, like you, genuinely feel solidarity with the rest of the queer community, at least when you make them talk honestly about it. But it seems like more people fall into the Uneducatable Category  because of three things:

  1. Peer pressure,
  2. intellectual laziness, and
  3. cowardice.

The way you educate — or at least discomfort the comfortable — is that you figure out which of these three things is motivating the guy who is sneering  (after filtering out the Log Cabin Republican who truly thinks some people are just better and deserve all the things.)

Peer Pressure
Folks who function due to peer pressure are just insecure people who want to fit in and be cool. (Or they’re having an insecure day). So, you pressure them back. People in their 40s, for instance, are terrified that we are old and out of touch. So you laugh at someone for being old and out-of-touch. “Did you just use the word ‘tranny?’ What are we, trapped in 1997?” or: “Really? You want people to pick a gender or pick a partner? Oh, honey. Do you need me to help you with all those confusing buttons on your phone?”

The nice thing about responding this way to peer pressure is that you can quickly and with humor point out he’s being an asshole and that not everyone in the room agrees with him. Even if the guy you are calling out isn’t shamed, other people who are listening will fear being seen as old and out-of-touch, and they’ll take note of it and maybe STFU the next time they want to say something like this.

Intellectual laziness
This is the one I find personally really frustrating: lazy statements like “Oh, just stay the way you were born” or “there are only two sexes: male and female, deal with it.” Luckily, the way to handle this is very straightforward. You can call them on it: (“Sounds like you have put about as much thought into this issue as you did into picking that outfit!” or maybe worded a little nicer), and then you can calmly talk to them about it. Offer them resources or phrases to google like ‘intersex,’ and be an earnest nerdy educator – provided they actually say they want to learn more. Make fun of them a little for being lazy, if you feel you can do that in a socially acceptable manner.

Cowardice
Cowards are afraid, right? I mean — we’re all afraid. But cowards are the ones who give into their fear. They think the kids these days are cooler than they are, and edgier, and more queer (they are, actually. All of those things. Sorry man but the kids are awesome). They’re afraid the world they thought they understood is changing. (It is — or at least our understanding of it). They are afraid to give up their privilege or to become aligned with people they think are freaks and weirdos or silly or laughable. They are afraid of being laughed at and so they laugh first. They mock first. They cling desperately to the privileges they have.

And I’m going to be really honest: I don’t know how to deal with cowards. I have a gut feeling that we need to help them to feel brave, but the only way I know to do that is by being brave myself: being willing to look stupid. Being willing to earnestly educate (as long as I’m not wasting my time). By showing them that there can be some people who won’t sneer to get along, who protest even when we risk being seen as buzzkills, who try to make people see what is right in front of their faces.

So maybe just keep doing that.

Fight on, brother. I’m glad you’re on my side.

Resources:

  • So many people I know who didn’t seem to get trans stuff at all have watched Barbara Walter’s piece on transgender kids and have changed overnight.
  • The Genderbread Person, furiously banned from sex ed curriculums by stupid parents everywhere, is a really great simple layout of terms and ways to understand the spectrum of gender identity, physical sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression. (UPDATED: this is version 3, after lots of input!)
  • The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid helps people to get that sexuality is not a fixed, unchangeable state for most people — it updates the Kinsey Scale to incorporate the passage of time.
  • Left off of the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid is asexuality, which you can learn about more at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.
  • Here are, regrettably, a bunch of truly depressing statistics about trans women and the violence they experience from Mother Jones.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on July 30, 2015.