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Rule Explainer: Why We Don’t Diagnose People Through The Internet


There’s a really interesting conversation about narcissism that popped up in a comment thread yesterday that made me think harder about the “Don’t offer diagnoses for people based on letters or internet comments” rule we have here and I’d like to expand on it.

At length.

This rule has been in place almost from the beginning of the site, and it was more instinctual than anything else. I’m not sure I even knew the word “ableism” in 2011 (I had lots of embarrassing opinions and ignorant spots if you look back on it), I had internalized a lot of stigma about having mental health diagnoses but hadn’t really thought about what that meant for, like, setting up a culture. But I’d been a member and lurker in many, many internet communities in the past so when I set up this one I was trying to discourage annoying behaviors that didn’t seem to help anybody.

For example (and I poke fun because I love):

Original Poster: “Here’s an interpersonal problem I’m having with someone in my life. They are doing x and y things that I don’t like, I’ve tried explaining how I feel and asking them to stop and it’s not working. What do I do now?”

DiagnosisHero: “Well, it sounds to me like they might just be bipolar.”

 ThreadJacker #1: “Yes, my sister is bipolar, let me tell you about my grievances with her!”

BipolarBraveheart: “Well, I’m bipolar, and I don’t do x and y. And how do we know the person is bipolar anyway? That seems like a random thing to say.”

ReliablePedant: “Can I get a cite for that? Also, the plural of anecdote is not data.”

Bipolar Braveheart: “Dude, I know, but I was just speaking from experience.”

ReliablePedant: “I’m not a dude.”

BipolarBraveheart: “You’re right, I’m sorry. But anyway, I was just speaking from experience – like, if the OP wanted to hear from someone who actually is bipolar – that x and y are not related to that.”

DiagnosisHero: “But I solved this person’s Life Equation for x and y! Easy-peasy. I am right!” :high-fives self:

Diagnosis Sidekick: “You are so right!”

ThreadJackers 2-infinity: :ill-informed ableist venting about people they know who might be bipolar:

BipolarBraveheart: “K, that all went well and definitely reduced stigma around a mental illness that I deal with every day. I’m so glad I outed myself to a bunch of strangers. I’ll definitely probably keep reading and commenting here. :(”

TiredModerator: “Guys, can we keep it cool and not throw the word bipolar around? Words have meaning.”

ReliablePedant: “If words have meaning, why did you address us as ‘Guys’ when all of us are most certainly not guys.”

TiredModerator: “I just meant it as a figure of speech, you know, to include both men and women, like, hey you guys. It’s just an expression, I didn’t mean anything harmful by it. But you’re right, I’ll try to be more inclusive from now on.”

Many, Many People Who Have Been Lurking Until Now: “Moderator made a mistaaaaaaaake. Moderator made a mistaaaaaaake! Let’s list all the other unfair times the moderator made a mistaaaaaaaaake!”

Many Other People, Sensing An Argument: “I’m a woman and I just don’t see the problem with ‘guys’, do we need to be so politically correct?”

TiredModerator: “Yeah, we do. Also, this thread is closed.”

Me: …

So…what is the OP supposed to do with that?

Say the Stopped Clock of the Internet is actually right this time and the person doing the annoying stuff to the OP actually is bipolar. What does that even mean? Which version of it do they have (there’s more than one!)? Are they medicated/treating it or not? Do they even know they have it? Is there a “what to do when someone is bipolar at you” checklist somewhere? That applies to this exact situation? And if so can I get a cite?

Being right about the source of someone’s problems isn’t even close to the same as helping them deal with their problems. But so many people get hung up on trying to be right a the expense of everything else. How many times have we seen this scenario play out in an advice-giving community or discussion?

Original Poster: “This person I know is harming me.”

The Internet: “Gotcha. Well, let’s figure out why they might be doing that and, most importantly, reasons it might not be all their fault. Here is our diagnosis!”

Original Poster: “Ok, I would love to have an explanation for that, actually, but, they’re still doing the thing?”

The Internet: “Sure, but we explained why!” :high-fives self:

Original Poster: “Cool, thanks, I guess I’ll try harder to be more understanding.”

I mean, look at this question (& very good answer) from a recent advice column. The Letter Writer is doing all of the above, just, to herself. Her boyfriend is being a total jealous and controlling ASSHOLE and her question is literally “should I try to help and understand him more?


Butterfly Guy Meme, where he sees “abusive partner being abusive” and asks “Is this just their anxiety talking?”

Related, b/c the Letter Writer in that link also has her own anxiety stuff going on, I’ve also seen this version play out more than once:

Original Poster: “This person I know is harming me.” + details

The Internet: “Gotcha. Well, let’s figure out why they might be doing that and how it might not be all their fault.”

Original Poster: “Ok, I would love to have an explanation for that, actually. Thanks!”

The Internet: “We’ve got the answer, and it’s: They might be (drum roll)… autistic.”

Original Poster: “Huh, I never thought about that before. I’m autistic, and it’s never made me like, hurt people. Wait, am I accidentally hurting people, by being autistic around them? Crap, I don’t want to do that, I’m really sorry!!!”

The Internet: “Yep, autistic people are the worst!” :high-fives self:

Original Poster: “Ok, sorry everyone.”

The Internet: “Apology accepted!” :gives self finger-guns:

Original Poster: “But…hey…while I’ve got your attention for a minute…that person is still harming me? And it’s cool that we know why, but how do I get it to stop?”

The Internet: “Haven’t we established that the things autistic people do to you are not really their fault, but the things that happen to autistic people probably are all your fault? WHAT WILL SATISFY YOU, JEEZ.”

Also The Internet: “We’re pretty sure that by complaining about what this almost-certainly autistic person is doing to you, you are kinda oppressing people with autism.”

Original Poster: “So you’re saying…the problem is…me?”

The Internet: “Not you! Just people who are like you, except for when it’s not their fault, which mostly it is, but it’s really hurtful and mean when you point that out. You know, stigma and all that. You should probably just ignore it.” :actually attempts self-fellatio:


The habit of randomly and lazily assigning every instance of bad or abusive behavior to a diagnosis creates a dangerous and cruel pattern of automatically associating abusive behaviors with these diagnoses, and in some cases even defining these diagnoses according to a set of abusive behaviors. This association, not to mention the sheer amount of misinformation, increases stigma for neurodiverse people or mentally ill people, who we know are far more likely to be the targets of violent and abusive behavior than the perpetrators. This shitty shorthand makes it harder for us to seek and access treatment, speak honestly about our experiences, be believed or taken seriously when we do have problems, and generally function in the world. Stigma isolates and kills people. Assuming bad behaviors can only be the result of pathology infantilizes people and removes their agency and responsibility for their actions, while letting bad operators keep right on operating.

Let’s look for a sec at the current debate about gun violence in America, where even quite reasonable people will start casually throwing around the idea of creating terrifying national registries for mentally ill people, but totally dismiss the idea of using background checks to limit gun sales to people with a history of domestic violence which actually is an indicator of possible escalation of violence (and has the advantage of identifying people who have definitely committed at least some violence in the past). I mean, we know some reasons for the second thing (cops have extremely high rates of domestic violence and many of them would fail if we made DV a barrier to carrying a gun)(which, is like, even more reason to do it) but we also know that if mental health pros had to report people who seek their help to a national registry of mentally ill people in case one of them might someday want a gun, a lot fewer people would seek help out of fear of what else could be done with that label and that registry.

It also…I mean…hrm….how to say this…

You can be mentally ill and/or neurodivergent in some way and still know a lot of stuff about some stuff. When people write about “the mentally ill,” MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE CAN READ IT JUST LIKE REGULAR PEOPLE. We contain fucking multitudes, and if you’re not doing your homework on the facts or including us in how you talk about us, you are a) getting it wrong b) doing harm c) embarrassing yourself. I mean, I don’t know about you but for me there’s nothing quite like taking a bunch of meds and working super hard on keeping your shit together just so you can try to live through the day, doing your level best to be kind to everyone, and then being told over and over by uninformed people: “You’re probably the reason assholes are!”

So the “No internet diagnoses!” rule is partly to reduce stigma and misinformation and partly, selfishly, to make sure we don’t constantly come off like a buncha embarrassing jerks that hurt people.

What came up in yesterday’s discussion: Does prohibiting diagnoses or directly associating abusive behaviors with things like “narcissism” erase the fact that people with mental health diagnoses can be abusers, too? What about the victims of people who were abused by people who do have a recognizable and classifiable set of attributes and the ways that abuse was exacerbated by those attributes? It’s been a while since we’ve had an example, so:

Original Poster: “This person in my life is mistreating me. What can I do?”

Commenter1: “My dad is a narcissist and he used to the exact same stuff to me. Here’s how I deal with narcissists….”

Commenter2: “Remember, we don’t diagnose people! The OP didn’t say that the person has Narcissistic Personality Disorder for sure!”

Commenter1: “But I think my dad really is a narcissist, and besides, this tool really works when you’re dealing with someone who acts like that.”

Who’s right here?


Story time! Once upon a time (by which I mean for several long tedious years) I was talking to my therapist about a particular family relationship and how to fix it and how to stop feeling so full of dread and guilt about it. By serendipity, I picked up a book that had a checklist in it in a local bookstore. I devoured fully 50% the book while standing in the bookstore, then finally bought it and went to a nearby coffee shop and read the rest. Then I read it again, at home, this time with a pencil in hand. The next time I went to therapy, I brought the book and that checklist, partially checked off, to my therapist. He read it, mouth opening, and asked “may I write on this?” and he checked off the rest of the things on the list for me and handed it back. And we were like “whoa” and “this explains SO MUCH” and “whoa” and “I know” and “no, really, it explains so much” and “shit, what now.”

The relative in question is someone I love so much and don’t want to hurt and they might literally die of embarrassment if they knew I was writing about this to an audience of (checks stats) approximately 1.2 million monthly readers. (Shit.) There is some real badness there in our history together, but I do accept that they were just a flawed person doing their best while also carrying a lot of their own pain (they could probably fill out a telephone book of similar checklists about one of their own parents) and literally none of my writing about this now is to shame them or get back at them. It’s just me telling the truth, which I am allowed to do about my own experiences and memories.

Just…the book and the list and the behaviors truly applied to the situation. It helped me name what was happening, it gave me a language & framework for dealing with the situation with 95% less blame and shame, and it gave me tools to readjust my expectations and to set boundaries so that I could have a kinder and more functional relationship with this person, which is the only thing I wanted. And which I think we have done, and I’m so very glad of it.

That book and the ways I ended up managing that relationship (including taking up residence in the Fuck-Its) informs a lot of the advice I give on the blog about setting expectations low, reminding yourself that engaging with people is a choice (and that they have choices, too), “reasons are for reasonable people, don’t fall into the trap of explaining yourself to people who just use your reasons as openings to argue with you,” sometimes you do just have to leave the room or hang up the phone or go low- or no-contact, you can’t fix your family, you can’t control how people will react but you can keep advocating for what you need, you may deserve an apology but you might never get one so don’t grow old waiting, so much stuff about gaslighting and how it works (like, when the person is gaslighting you b/c their idea of themselves can’t begin to handle a true accounting of what they did, and how debilitating and awful that can be when interacting with them means that sometimes you have to stop telling the truth) etc. – a ton of this site’s Greatest Hits are informed by recovery strategies for surviving, specifically, narcissistic abuse.

I say this for the people who are here from online communities that specifically support narcissistic abuse survivors: You’re not imagining it if the stuff I say sounds very recognizable, there’s a reason those communities and this one have a lot of overlap and that y’all link to my stuff all the time, and I get why sometimes you’re like “Just name it already!”

A few things about that:

  1. Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and narcissism (as a set of behaviors) are two different things. People with NPD get diagnosed because they are suffering and seeking treatment, and that designation should be about helping them feel better and lead happier lives. People who get called narcissists on message boards (or with checklists like the one I used in the book) are being labeled in absentia by people who are trying to understand or heal from the damage they do. Should these things even be described by the same word? Are we talking about a diagnosis vs. a label? Idk? Someone smarter than me should sort this out?
  2. Ripped from the headlines example: Does the current 45th US President have Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Who knows. That’s between him and his doctor. Does he exhibit a completely recognizable set of behaviors (being totally incapable of apologizing or admitting mistakes, constantly mentioning his electoral college totals and inauguration crowd, constant lies and gaslighting, for starters) that sends everyone who has survived time with a narcissist screaming into the night with recognition? Yep. Would reading up on narcissism help people understand and process some of the firehose of totally bizarre shit and obvious lying that’s happening in our news cycle? Also yes. Do I care about him as a person receiving treatment and feeling better about himself? Newp! Do I need the harm that he’s doing to stop? On an existential and global level? Fuck yeah.
  3. When we get lazy and confusing about equating these two things (the diagnosis and the label) does it hurt mentally ill people and increase stigma? I’m pretty sure this is a yes.
  4. If I’d given the book on narcissism to the person in my life to try to discuss it with them, would they have agreed that’s what was the problem? Almost certainly not. In fact, it would have made the whole thing worse because it would have changed the argument from what I needed to happen to is this narcissism. The book wasn’t about them or for them or to help them, it was for me. The book for them (if they sought it out, ever) would be a totally different book.
  5. In the hands of an abusive person, does assigning a diagnosis to their shitty behavior give them ammunition for dodging responsibility and for demanding sympathy and work from their victims? Sadly, yes.
  6. This ain’t Reddit. This is a different community with its own rules. and it has reasons and responsibilities for existing beyond supporting survivors of a specific cluster of behaviors.
  7. Therefore, I’d rather risk omitting labels than risk increasing stigma. Fortunately, the label-specific communities are out there for the finding. The behaviors themselves are still bad without the label and the tools for working with it can still work without the label.

Am I done listing reasons for this rule? Not even half my friends. Pour yourself something cold and delicious and get comfortable for the part where I want to stop the pattern of centering the psychology of bullies more than we care about their victims right in its tracks. (Here’s where I name-check Sydette aka BlackAmazon who you often will find yelling on Twitter: “Ok but how are we taking care of the people who were harmed by xyz thing in the news?” She has given me so much LANGUAGE for things I knew but didn’t understand yet and I love her.)

Are you good? Sitting comfortably? Hydrated?

Even if internet stranger diagnosing could be accurate and didn’t cause stigma, it would still be a bad idea. As soon as we distract ourselves from the harm the victim is experiencing and transfer that attention to trying to figure out the psychology of the perpetrator …who we conveniently don’t have access to and can’t question …we start leaving the victim behind. Because as soon as we start talking about a diagnosis, we start talking about a possible patient. This is because diagnoses should serve and help the patient, not everybody around the patient. And people who deliver diagnoses to patients should be people who are trusted and tasked with caring for that patient, with the informed consent and participation of that patient. And even if we, a bunch of internet commenters, actually were all doctors who diagnose such things, our ethics would still prevent us from diagnosing someone we’ve never met. And even if we were doctors who could prove our credentials and we improbably stumbled on the right answer and we decided to bypass the ethics and we could equip the bully’s victim with a bunch of literature about the bully’s conditions…

Why the fuck

did anyone decide

that the most important thing

a victim of bullying could do

is to understand

and take care of

the mental health

of the person who is harming them? 

Why is it even a thing we think people should do? Like, at all?

Why are we trying to solve the life problems of the person who didn’t write in?

And why do we think that’s the work of our community, to the point that people know the rule about diagnosing and we still have to remind everyone (including myself!) not to do it?

I have a theory about why (you knew I had a theory):

We are addicted to redemption narratives.

We are especially addicted to stories where mean bad boys are reformed by the love and loyalty of a good lady who sees through their abuse to their true naked vulnerable heart and works really hard singlehandedly to keep the relationship going. Industries upon industries rise and fall on that one. But we like all kinds of redemption narratives and we like them a lot more than we like inconvenient ones where we have to think about victims, harm, or reparations.

One source of this addiction is “The Prodigal Son” story from the Christian Bible. Which, depending on where you live in the world, you don’t have to believe in or follow or even have ever read that book and its stories for it to have a profound influence on your culture and the stories it tells. It’s one of those sticky stories that sticks to things.

And right now we’re stuck with it.

The bare bones version: Rule-following brother was cool all along? That’s just what they should have been doing, no big deal. Rule-breaking jerk brother suddenly decides to be a little bit cool for five minutes? LET’S THROW A PARTY! Rule-following cool brother is like, hey, wait a second here, where’s my Not Being A Jerk party? Story: Yeah, you are great and everything, but let’s really appreciate this other person’s shiny new momentary coolness for a second. Cool brother: Ok, I guess. :continues following rules:

The story itself, as it’s intended to be read, is of course much more complicated and beautiful than that. The wayward son in the story has returned home of his own volition, he apologizes, he is not repeating the bad behaviors, he asks permission to return, and doesn’t think he’s entitled to anything special. The welcome he gets is a gift, freely given. The message is: Fairness is good, but kindness is much better, and we can afford to be kind. We love you and you’re still in this family even if you fuck up sometimes.

Beautiful, right?

So, is it petty to point out that his bad behavior in the story is “I was irresponsible with my inheritance” and not “I serially raped and harassed my coworkers for decades” or “I molested a bunch of the kids in my pastoral care” or “I beat the shit out of my wife behind closed doors” or “I swindled a whole bunch of people on the TV” or other crimes with actual living breathing victims?

Victims fuck up the parable, my friends. If Prodigal Son used to beat up the other brother every chance he got when they were growing up, does that brother still have to shut up and enjoy the party and rejoice and be glad his abuser is back in the fold? Are we still like “I know you never hurt anyone, but your brother temporarily, as far as we know, stopped hurting people, and he stopped squandering his money and that is really the most important thing! Stop moping and pass the hummus!” 

I just want to give that son, the not-Prodigal one, a hug so bad. Especially since I keep meeting him again and again in the letters I get here, in families and social groups where someone is mean and the answer is “just ignore him” or “get over it, already.” “Forgive him.” “Invite him to the wedding.” “Keep the peace.” “We’re a faaaaaaamily.” “The Earth Needs That Water, Besides, He Has Depression.” “What if it’s just Asperger Syndrome?

Somewhere in the game of telephone that became our cultural meta-narrative, this lovely little story was reforged into something where, if you are a certain kind of person and you abuse and bully other people, you don’t really have to apologize for abusive things you did, we as a community don’t have to have a reasonable expectation that you will stop doing those things, you can still be a repulsive entitled dangerous ass-boil of a person, but if (on the off chance you actually get caught) for one shining second you act like you might sort of try to do better, if you can make a case that you might not have completely meant it, if you can choke out some lip service that sounds even vaguely like “I’m sorry…”

We skip straight to the part where throw you the goddamn party.

We start writing articles about how soon you can “rehabilitate your career.”

We talk about your addictions, your struggles, and we endlessly diagnose the reasons that might have made you behave like you did, literally anything that might not be “asshole made series of asshole free will asshole decisions, hurt others.”

And then we tell your victims that they can pretty much suck it.

We don’t always use those words, we just indicate to your victims that it would be really cool if they could forgive you already since their anger is really slowing down the Redemption Party Planning Committee’s balloon purchases. We write extensive thinkpieces about what a bummer it is that being reminded that you raped somebody or molested your kid is preventing us from enjoying your movies the way we’d sure like to.

We talk about how your victims should be more civil to you and about what you did to them. We indicate that if they aren’t, it might be a teensy weensy bit all their fault if you backslide and harm them again.

And, as if that’s not enough, we remake the story about what you did to your victims into a hero’s journey tale about your human potential, your contributions, your reputation. And then we tell that bullshit “He was an asshole, but he might change” story like it’s the only fucking story in the world. Please know that if I ever have a show or a podcast where it’s just me punching films I hate in the face, I’m starting with As Good As It Gets, or, While Crowdfunding Medical Expenses In The World’s Richest Country Is Indeed Grotesque, The United States Health Care System Is So Broken That Before GoFundMe A Waitress Married Her Repulsive Shitlord Stalker Out Of Desperation/Gratitude And Somehow This Was An Award-Winning Romantic Comedy: A Rant In Infinity Parts Where I Cover Likenesses of Jack Nicholson In Pig’s Blood Or Menstrual Blood Whichever Is Handiest At The Time.

And if your victims break ranks and they ask someone for help, we make that story about you, too, about how you probably didn’t mean it, there must be some other explanation, about how you’re a good person “deep down,” maybe there’s a diagnosis that will explain it. We become these victim-blaming second-guessing management consultants that no one hired or needed.

Well, fuck that. We don’t have to do that here.

If you write to me for help because someone is bullying you, I, Jennifer Captain Awkward Rodham Leigh Peepas, do not give a single fuck if your abuser gets into Heaven someday or how they feel about their lives or what possibly caused them to behave this way or if they are a good person at some imperceptible deep down “Schrödinger’s Good Intentions” level. If you want to forgive them someday, great, do it for you. Save all that for after the harm is over and you are safe.

If you can tell me about their behaviors and actions, I will do my best to help you stop, mitigate, or avoid the ones that hurt you.

And I will sure as fuck not let your story become your bully’s story, or expect you to put down what you’re carrying and pick up their burdens. I will not try to explain their behavior in a way that has you convinced you just need to try harder or be more understanding or do more work. I will not try to make their theoretical rehabilitation and redemption into your project before you’re allowed to say No and Stop and Leave Me Alone.

I don’t need to know any of their reasons for being unkind to know that you deserve to be treated with kindness.

Call it an attempt at a less-annoying and repetitive comment section, call it “don’t get hung up on a side quest, we’ve got plenty of Goblins to fight right here,” call it avoiding stigma and fighting ableism, call it a search for accuracy and precision, call it basic medical ethics for non-medical experts, call it centering victims, call it an interrogation of redemption narratives, call it what you want.

Just, do not try to diagnose internet strangers in my comments section please and thank you.


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organizing an all-men beach weekend for coworkers, is gossip beneficial at work, and more

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It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I organize an all-men beach weekend for my coworkers?

I work at a bank branch of about 17 people, nine of whom are male. I’m considering inviting all the guys in the office for a weekend at the beach. We all get along and enjoy golfing, and think it could be a fun weekend. I wouldn’t be advertising it around the office because this would be a “guys weekend,” but since all the guys in the office are being invited, I’m anticipating the women in the office hearing about it and causing some drama.

Am I overthinking this because of the office culture we live in today, or is there a specific way that I should approach this? No work is going on during the trip, so no “deals” are being made. We are simply hanging out. The simple fact is that us guys are all pretty friendly towards one another and enjoy each other’s company. We’re all on the same career path and no one officially answers to or manages the other. Thoughts?

Yeah, it’s likely to be a problem. There’s a long history of women being excluded professionally through informal all-male social networks, where men are included in networking and business conversations in off-hours social settings without women. You have to understand that history to understand why, even if you 100% don’t intend this that way, it’s likely to have echoes of that to people. (Especially with the golf, by the way, as that was a traditional way women were excluded. Golf and strip clubs.)

Don’t be part of that, and definitely don’t be the person who organizes it. At a minimum it’s going to look really bad, and you may end up causing real issues in your office, as well as making people above you question your judgment.

And if you’re really friends with all the men in the office and none of the women, it’s worth thinking about why that is, since in a group of 17 people, that’s not likely to be a random quirk of statistics.

2. Do I need to gossip in order to hear insider info about my job?

I’ve always felt strongly about not gossiping at work, but I’ve noticed recently that the people who gossip know much more about what is going on with the company than I do. They knew ahead of time about the state of the company, possible layoffs, and upcoming changes when I was blindsided. Is it possible that engaging in gossiping is a social investment to open you up to being told more insider information?

There are different types of gossip, and I wonder if you’re grouping all in together when you shouldn’t. The bad kind of gossip is when gossip about other people that’s unkind and/or no one else’s business (like gossiping about someone’s sex life) or that’s based on nothing more than idle speculation (“Jane has been out a lot lately, I bet she’s job searching”). But there’s also good gossip — positive thoughts that you wouldn’t mind getting back to the person you’re talking about (like how much you like working with Jane or what impressive feedback you’ve heard about Bob). And then there’s sharing work-related information, which seems to be the type of thing you’re talking about. That’s not usually gossip — that’s talking about what’s going on with your company and in your industry.

It’s true that people who engage in bad gossip are often going to hear the work-related info too, because they’re talking to people a lot and having free-floating conversations and it’s more likely to come up for them than for someone who limits how much they talk to others. But you don’t need to engage in bad gossip to hear this kind of thing — you just need to build relationships with people and make a point of talking to them informally and being open to tangents. I would focus there and see if it changes the type and amount of information that flows your way.

3. Awkward text exchange with a boss-turned-friend-turned-boss

I work in higher education, and I have a situation with my boss I would love some help with. I worked for “Amanda” for a few years, and while she was my supervisor, we had a friendly but professional relationship. Our team was only part-time student workers and us, and we worked together very closely. After I left to complete my PhD, she and I became good friends, regularly meeting for brunches and happy hours, along with a few other former employees. We also texted/emailed regularly. A year and a half later, the person who took on my old position resigned, and Amanda hired me back. At the same time, our team of two became a team of three with the addition of a new full-time staff member, “Gina.”

In the year since my return to work, I felt like Amanda and I were balancing friendship and the supervisor/employee relationship well, though I will admit I did impart a little more distance given her status as my boss and the addition of Gina to our team. My return to the office also coincided with Amanda falling out with one member of our brunch group, so our out-of-office hangouts also largely died out (though we do sometimes get a drink or dinner with Gina after work events). I still see her former friend regularly on my own (which she knows about), but she and I talk about work and our personal lives every day and spend a great deal of time together, so I haven’t really made an effort to schedule alone time outside of work with her.

Last week, she and I had a late-night text conversation that started about a work-related thing, but then devolved into her telling me how much it hurt her that we are no longer friends. She had clearly been drinking, and tone of her texts was rather inappropriate (a close friend who read the texts described them as “insecure high school mean girl”). I was very taken aback by them, and tried to explain that I still thought of her as a friend but that I was trying to navigate a rather muddled personal/professional relationship. I also said I didn’t want to create an environment where Gina might feel excluded. She replied by saying that it made her very sad, but I made it clear how I felt and she’d “just deal with it.” I said I was going to bed but that we should talk about this in person at some point, and she stopped replying.

The next day I just opted to pretend it never happened unless she brought it up, which she didn’t. Her behavior in the office has been more or less as usual, though she has been a bit more distant and on occasion snippy with me. Other than her boundary issues, she is a really great boss and we work well together. I’m not sure if I should bring this up with her, or let it lie unless she brings it up herself. Do you have any advice?

I wouldn’t bring it up. It’s possible that she’s embarrassed by the conversation (or even that she doesn’t remember the details, depending on how much she’d been drinking). As long as she’s treating you more or less the same, I wouldn’t bring it back up again and risk further awkwardness with little gain.

If she does start treating you oddly though, or if you see additional signs that the (necessary) change in your relationship is causing issues, then you might be stuck having to discuss it. I’d approach that as “hey, I’ve tried to be really thoughtful about how we navigate social boundaries now that you’re my boss, and I know that’s inherently weird since the nature of our relationship has changed a couple of time now, but I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of it.” If you model an approach that’s pretty matter-of-fact that of course things had to change, she might take her cues from you, even if she does feel weird about it. (And it’s pretty normal for either of you to feel weird about it at times! It is weird. That’s okay.)

4. Asking about raises when you’re being hired

I’ve been in my current position (as a librarian at a university) for almost five years. I’ve had one performance-based raise (which are an exception at my institution) and no adjustments for cost-of-living increases. No one on staff has gotten a cost-of-living raise in many years. Thanks to the fact that I’m about to be getting paid effectively *less* than when I started, I’ve started applying for new jobs. When should I ask about the frequency of cost-of-living raises in the hiring process? Or is that something I should assume will happen and it would be weird to ask about it?

You can ask once you have a job offer and are negotiating salary. In that context, you can say, “So that I know what to expect in the future, can you tell me how you typically handle salary increases? Do you have set periods for offering merit raises or cost-of-living adjustments?”

5. Explaining company acquisition on a resume

How does one handle a company acquisition on a resume? I worked at Company A for three years until September 2017, at which point they were acquired by Company B. I immediately began looking for a new job and did not include Company B on my resume, but would explain the situation during a phone interview. I was employed with Company B through January 2018. When my new job did a background check, I had to disclose the information anyway, and felt like I was lying since I didn’t expressly include it on my resume.

What’s the best way to handle this? Should the new company become its own line item, or can I keep the job as one entry, and note that Company A was acquired by Company B in Sept 2017?

It doesn’t need to become its own line item. You can do it this way:

Company A, September 2015 – January 2018 (acquired by Company B in fall 2017)

organizing an all-men beach weekend for coworkers, is gossip beneficial at work, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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#1120: The Creepy Guy In The Friend Group, Revisited: Four More Geek Social Fallacies

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Content note: After the jump I mention Rape Threats Dudes Have Sent Me for saying what I think about creepy dudes.

Dear Captain,

Over the past several years I’ve drifted to the periphery of a friend group where one member is a sexist creep. I immediately found him slimy and pushy and off-putting upon meeting him, but gave him the benefit of the doubt because he’s my friend’s brother — and then learned that he’s heavily into PUA bullshit and was pretty much being awful on purpose. It was a few years into my friendship his sister that he started hanging out with everyone, and as he’s spent more time with the group, I’ve spent much less. (Not just because of him, but he’s definitely one reason.) There’s only one friend I’ve explicitly discussed this with, and he’s sympathetic when we talk privately, but I don’t get the sense Mr. Plumed Fedora experiences much pushback at all from anyone in the group — including me, which is also something I’m really struggling with — when he casually complains about “feminazis,” creeps on every woman he encounters, etc.

Recently an opportunity came up to maybe spend more time with the group and I was kind of excited about it but… I truly loathe this guy and resent the amount of time I’ve already spent with him. Is there a good way to say “Your brother/friend is a misogynist and I don’t want to be around him, no offense”? Should I suck it up? Continue fading out? Finally learn to stop avoiding conflict?

M’lady Nay


Did you know that this post about what to do about the creepy cude in the friend group is the most-read, most-linked, most-discussed post here, ever, even six years later?

Did you know that men still email me about it sometimes to tell me I’m a horrible person who probably deserves to be raped, six years later? Like “if you think that’s what rapists act like or think everyone is probably a rapist you should probably get raped” x 1000, and it’s like, “Hey Rapey Robert/Death Threat Dave/Threatening Thomas/”Ethics In Gaming Journalism” Greg, nice Pepe the Frog avatar you’ve got there, thanks for the feedback. I definitely don’t think every man is a rapist, but is there any part of your email that isn’t proving my point about what potential rapists act like?” 

(I don’t actually write back) (I used to get really scared by these emails but I don’t anymore)(I usually assume it’s happening because some woman in their friend group finally got fed up and finally told them “read this, because you are being this dude”  and now the dude’s gotta find someone new to take it all out on because he can’t act like a butthole at Trivia Night anymore, so they choose me, in which case, KEEP ROCKING, AWESOME PEOPLE! If these assholes are feeling consequences for what they are like, you are doing something right.)

You’re doing just fine with “your brother/friend is a misogynist and I don’t want to be around him, no offense” script! I also laughed at your email subject line: “this is probably like three different Geek Social Fallacies” I think it hits all five, personally, and you’ve inspired me to define some more, so, well done, good work, thank you.

When the people in your social group inevitably say “He’s not that bad” or “But faaaaaamily!” or otherwise try to defend hanging out with him you can say “Maybe he’s not that bad…to you. If you still want to hang out with him, that’s okay, I’m not your boss, but I know I’ll be happier staying away from places he’s going to be. Let me know if you want to do something one-on-one, though, ’cause I really like you.” 

One thing that can be empowering in You versus The Group (+ This Fucking Guy) situations is to take more initiative in spending time with the people you want to see. Be more of a planner, and invite people to hang out one-on-one, or in smaller groups. Mix a few of the cooler people with friends you know from other social circles. If you’re proactive and you’re controlling the invite list, you can have more fun at your events, and you can also push back on people who try to insist on including Creepy McGee. “When it’s your event you can invite anyone you want. X and I don’t get along/You know I find him creepy/I wanted a misogyny-free evening, so, nope!” 

Sometimes you have to make it clear that it’s a smaller/more selective invite list, especially if the group has the “we all do everything together/all are welcome” vibe for their usual hangouts, so, be specific when you make the invitations. “I’d love to have a few people over for a dinner party, I’ve only got the 5 chairs so please RSVP, and sorry, no +1s this time.” Do the inviting off of Facebook or other social media, too, vs. creating events that anyone can see or add people to.

Ok, let’s talk about group situations where someone says something gross and nobody pushes back on it. Maybe there’s a really awkward silence for a second, but your friend is probably used to smoothing things over for her brother, and it doesn’t really register with the offensive person at all.

Creeps and misogynists (and racists, and other people you don’t want at your parties) don’t respond to hints. They operate under the assumption that everyone secretly agrees with them and is just “too triggered” or “too politically correct” or “too sensitive” (or whatever the code word that we are too much of is today) to “say what they’re really thinking.” Silence, hints, a strategically raised eyebrow, people quietly flashing side-eye around the circle, etc. just gives them a pool of plausible deniability to keep right on pooping into. And if the people around them are pretty conflict-averse, or (understandably) afraid of becoming a target or provoking them further, or (understandably) afraid that no one will stand up for them or (understandably) afraid that other people secretly agree with what the asshole is saying, or (understandably) are worried that everyone really likes the asshole and will side with them (cough…Chris Hardwick…cough) it just perpetuates the thing where The Asshole can say horrible things and not really get called on it, so he keeps saying asshole things to try to provoke a reaction and then sort of revel in his power when nobody stops him.

This is the wrong social feedback loop and sometimes you just gotta be the one who fixes it.

Even if it doesn’t convince the asshole. (It probably won’t).

Even if other people don’t stand up with you. (They might not).

Even if it’s scary and the night is “ruined” once you say something. (It was already ruined, for you.)

Even if you lose your temper or it comes out garbled or you shake or your voice shakes or you cry. (It might.)

Even if the people you like in the group are mad at you for not enabling the creep…and them…in putting up with misogyny. (It’s possible.)

I truly think in my heart of hearts that it will be good FOR YOU to have spoken up.

And I think there are some additional Geek Social Fallacies at play in the world, and we urgently need to find some ways to deal with them.

Edited to Add: If you’ve never heard of the Five Geek Social Fallacies before, read that link! It’s one of several extremely useful posts out there in the world about “Hey, why do people who we know behave badly still get to hang out in all our spaces and ruin all our parties and social groups?” Another great one one is The Missing Stair. [/edit]

GSF #6 “Calling out bad behavior makes you just as bad as the person who was doing the bad behavior.” 

It takes many forms:

“I know Dave keeps grabbing your ass when you walk by, but you didn’t really need to yell at him like that! How is he supposed to learn if you can’t even be polite?” 

“Punching Nazis might turn totally normal people who definitely didn’t have any problematic beliefs before this moment into Nazis!” 

“I know Uncle Carl said some racist things at dinner, but how do you expect him to learn if you can’t sit silently while he does that? Don’t you want to be civil?” 

“When you call creepy men creepy it hurts their feelings and makes them more likely to be creepy.” 

There are so many versions and offshoots, like “People who believe and do evil shit aren’t evil deep down, and if you just patiently explained it to them for long enough they would stop being so evil!” or one that is starring in my inbox right now “Jennifer, when you use swear words don’t you know that you discredit your entire argument? I won’t be reading your blog any more (but I will send you a 1000-word email about your blog…the one that I don’t read and definitely won’t be reading anymore… at least once a week…for the rest of time…btw you should probably get raped)” 

The people who indulge these GSF want you to fight bad behavior by….being quiet about it and letting it continue? What? That can’t be right.

In the most generous interpretation, people who indulge in this fallacy don’t know what to do about the awful (racist, misogynist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, possibly violent, etc. etc.) sentiments and behavior, so they freeze. Maybe they feel bad and guilty for not saying something themselves. Less-generously-but-depressingly-possible, maybe they agree with the horrible things that were said and feel embarrassed about that, like, shhhhhhhhhh, don’t turn our dogwhistle into a regular whistle, it’s embarrassing!

Whatever their reasons, what GSF #6 Fallacy Holders do is to immediately silence what you are saying (“That was sexist, stop it”) and ignore what the other person was doing ([insert repulsive words and/or behaviors here]) in order to make “but you said it wrong!” the territory of the argument. They want the discomfort that the awful person introduced into the situation to stop, but they incorrectly locate the source of their discomfort in the person who resisted it, and then they try to pressure that person into being silent so everyone can go back to being comfortable.

Everyone except the person who was hurt by the asshole’s words or behavior, that is. They are fine with your discomfort (as long as you are quiet about it).

GSF #7: “I can tell if someone is A Good Person or not based on whether they’ve been nice…to me.”

From the serial killer who was “always a polite, quiet neighbor” to the abuser who can keep their temper just fine around friends, bosses, & strangers but “totally loses control!” only when it comes to their victims and only when it won’t have legal consequences or make them look bad to others, to the person who is probably a pillar of his church community, but won’t let a pregnant woman use the bathroom if she’s the wrong race, everyone needs to understand this and understand it quick:

People can selectively be nice to the people whose opinions they care about and who they don’t want to harm. And predators consciously groom and choose people around them to be their defenders and spokespeople, the exact same way they groom their victims.

A lot of what you personally experience as “kindness” or “he’s a great guy!” from a misogynist is really about power and what they can get away with. 

For example, at my first post-college job, the creepy senior employee who ogled me all day, made up reasons to force me to have to come to his office, offered me rides home every day and (when I refused) followed me home in his car, driving slowly next to me while I walked, begging me to get in the whole time, and then parked across the street from my house for hours at a time, etc. was VERY friendly and gregarious in the office. He was a churchgoer with many framed Bible quotes in his office, he wore sweater-vests, he talked like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons. He often bought lunch for the whole office and brought baked goods from home. Nobody believed me about his weird behavior, they believed him when he said he was just concerned about my safety walking alone (in broad daylight, in Georgetown which if you don’t know is an extremely wealthy college neighborhood that is policed within an inch of its life), and they laughed at me for having “a crush” on him. Long after I quit, they finally believed he was not so nice when he embezzled a whole bunch of money, tried to frame a young Somali refugee who worked there for what he did, and disappeared without a trace with tons of their money, though! An expensive lesson, for everyone.

I think geeks/nerds are especially susceptible to GSF #7 because so many of us have been ostracized or bullied as kids. We hunger for kindness, so when One Of The Cool Kids shows us that kindness it’s even more precious and harder to let go of. If someone tells you someone who has always been nice to you is not actually that nice, consider for a second that you don’t know everything about them. What if we could learn expensive and uncomfortable lessons much earlier, by saying “I believe you, let me see what I can do” to the victim of the bad behavior and “Hey, I like you a lot, can you knock off doing that gross thing so I can keep liking you” to the perpetrator? If someone you like is behaving badly, you probably couldn’t have prevented it, but could you at least not become their flying monkey after the fact?

Could we reverse the current of social pressure that teaches victims not to speak up so that awkwardness flows toward perpetrators?



GSF #8: “If you show emotion about a topic, your argument is invalid.”

We could also state this one as “If you are personally affected by the thing that is up for debate, you are biased, and that is Somehow Bad.” Others have written about it in the context of South Park, where being a secret Nazi is hilarious but caring sincerely about something is the real problem, and deserving of ridicule.

What a crock of shit.

Fortunately, Melissa McEwan wrote about this double-bind so beautifully in her piece, The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck:

“There are the occasions that men—intellectual men, clever men, engaged men—insist on playing devil’s advocate, desirous of a debate on some aspect of feminist theory or reproductive rights or some other subject generally filed under the heading: Women’s Issues. These intellectual, clever, engaged men want to endlessly probe my argument for weaknesses, want to wrestle over details, want to argue just for fun—and they wonder, these intellectual, clever, engaged men, why my voice keeps raising and why my face is flushed and why, after an hour of fighting my corner, hot tears burn the corners of my eyes. Why do you have to take this stuff so personally? ask the intellectual, clever, and engaged men, who have never considered that the content of the abstract exercise that’s so much fun for them is the stuff of my life.

There is the perplexity at my fury that my life experience is not considered more relevant than the opinionated pronouncements of men who make a pastime of informal observation, like womanhood is an exotic locale which provides magnificent fodder for the amateur ethnographer. And there is the haughty dismissal of my assertion that being on the outside looking in doesn’t make one more objective; it merely provides a different perspective.”

I think about this “lady emotions are dumb, man logic is superior!” fallacy all the time as I watch thousands of young men who would describe themselves as Extremely Logical People become viscerally enraged at a Star Wars movie they didn’t like. It’s kinda funny, but when those same men harass female performers off social media because they didn’t like the movie, it’s suddenly not funny at all. Like, let’s sit with the absurdity of what they are doing for a second. As the primo target audience for Ocean’s 8, I personally think it should 100% have been directed by a woman and that the James Corden insurance investigator part should 100% have been played by Rene Russo in a reprise of her Thomas Crown Affair role (and also that character should be “Lou”/Cate Blanchett’s ex-lover) but I’m not suggesting”let’s all go tell Gary Ross & James Corden they should get raped every day until we have JUSTICE Lololo1!!!” (Like, I know I am joking about a terrible terrible thing so in all seriousness, please, please do not ever do that, it’s just a fucking movie. Go write some hot fan fiction where Cate and Renee do crime and borrow each other’s wardrobes and then email me the link to that fan fiction).

Feelings are just one kind of information. Experiences are extremely informed sources of information. They are not the only information, but they aren’t not-information, either? They have a part to play.

What if we acted like the the people most affected by something/who have the most at stake/who have the most to lose/who have been the most fucked over by the status quo are the center of where our caring should go and the primary experts on what would fix things, but on like, a national or even global level? And what if caring for them was way more important than our “objective” debates about what they need and deserve?

In the meantime, the idea that “your emotions and your experiences with a thing make you uninformed and unqualified to talk about it, but my emotions (that I have renamed ‘logic’) and my lack of experience with a thing make me more informed and qualified than you” is a brand of bullshit that I will be fighting until my dying day, one really really long blog post at a time.

Will you join me?

GSF #9: “The most important thing to think about when speaking up about injustice is what will *convince* the other person to be on your side.” 

As in, when someone mistreats you or others, convincing them not to and converting them to thinking as you do and educating them endlessly, in real time, on demand, on their schedule (whether or not they even want to be convinced), with complete and selfless empathy for why they feel as they do and why they said what they said is your sole, immediate responsibility, more important than your own feelings, safety, ethics, the safety or comfort of anyone nearby or anyone in the world who may be affected by what they did, regardless of how much energy or will you have to do it or how likely they are to be convinced.

For GSF #9 holders, it’s not enough for you to say “Hey, knock it off there buddy,” or “If you’re going to say stuff like that, I need to be elsewhere, byeeee,” NO! You must convince them…OR NOTHING. (i.e. be silent). You must convince them, gently, kindly, with perfect grammar and spelling and no icky emotions like anger at what they did or fear for what they might do, you must make them feel GREAT and WELCOME in your space or else you are letting your whole side down and it will be YOUR FAULT when they do and say awful things.

I think there is enormous value in trying to change hearts and minds and that is the long game, the work that will never stop.

But it’s not the only thing I value. Sometimes what I value is making the bad thing stop and stop right fucking now. Sometimes what I value is making consequences for people who do or say the bad things – there are people who persuasion will never reach, but who might understand power or social disapproval or the risk of being disinvited if they behave badly. Sometimes what I value is protecting myself and other people from the harm that they do, and the hearts and minds of assholes can be their own fucking business.

Sometimes I’m just a human being whose supply of fucks to give runs low and I lose my temper. Oops?

When a gross dude in a literal or metaphorical fedora is like “Hey Sweet Tits want to come over and see my Ayn Rand tattoos? I can explain them all to you, at length and in detail” or “Your hysteria over the coming erosion of reproductive rights is just wasting everyone’s time with dumb ‘identity politics’, why don’t you calm down pay attention to the Really Important Stuff (i.e. stuff that I care about)” and you are like NO and also GROSS and also I WILL NOT CALM DOWN, SIR, I DO BITE MY THUMB AT THEE, PERFORCE, YOU ARE LUCKY I DO NOT MAKE YOU MEET ME WITH PISTOLS AT DAWN…

…and people are like “Calm down why are you being so mean/emotional/hysterical, you’re going to lose the argument unless you maintain perfect detachment at all times

…those people are also sort of saying “I…I mean some people… are looking for an excuse to agree with your tormentor, please don’t give me…I mean them… one by having embarrassing tears or acting angry about what they are doing! If they aren’t convinced, and if I…I mean some people…end up joining their side, it will be all your fault when I/they do!


…I don’t know…

…this may sound weird…

But maybe they were never really gonna be on your side, and what they think isn’t the most important thing in the world?

…And maybe it’s important that you say something back even if it isn’t going to be the one true magical thing that convinces someone not to be a misogynist anymore? That perfect thing that, don’t forget, you must somehow express with perfect politeness and grace?

Maybe it isn’t your job to convince that person, especially not right then in that moment. Maybe you are not their Basic Humanity Tutor. Maybe today isn’t your turn to be the Asshole Whisperer. Maybe speaking up is about something else entirely. Maybe it’s sufficient just to name their actions for what they are so that other people can recognize them, and it’s not your job to fix every asshole that you meet.

Maybe you’re doing it for YOU and as a way to remove plausible deniability that everyone agrees with them and to reassert POWER in the social spaces you occupy regardless of whether these people are ever convinced or even can be convinced. (Like maybe holidays don’t belong to your most racist and loudmouthed relative and you do not have to quietly retreat from having a family because he can’t shut the fuck up for one day (but you are expected to “behave yourself, Young Lady”).

Maybe it would be ok if you “made a scene” or whatever they’re using today as “the worst thing you could possibly do” in order to police your feelings and reactions down to a size that can let them stay comfortable with the unfairness of the world.

Maybe it’s just the right thing to do even if it isn’t easy or comfortable and even if it won’t convince one single soul.  And, in the good words of my beloved ride-or-die Goat Lady, as pertains to some current political discussions:

“Yknow I get that some people are really uncomfortable with confrontation but ima need those folks to just go back inside and keep their heads down instead of pretending they have some kind of precious moral high ground because they don’t want offend fascists.”

If you can’t speak up, if you’re afraid to speak up, if you are uncomfortable speaking up, if you’ve never spoken up before and you don’t know how to start, okay? It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be still learning. Do what you have to do to survive from one moment to the next. But do not act like silence is something to strive for and like breaking it is the real faux pas when people’s survival is on the line. I see you.

So again, maybe someone’s horrendous and abusive views and whatever straw-man-dressed-in-red-flags strategy the people who wish you would just shut up already erroneously think will ultimately convince people to stop having those views is not even remotely the standard for measuring what you should do when they hurt people.

My lovely Letter Writer M’Lady Nay, how this translates practically to you and your specific letter (vs. me venting literally every internet argument I am currently having feelings about), is this:

It’s okay to not want to go to things where you know a misogynist creep will be coddled and apologized for. “I love playing Betrayal At House On The Hill, I hate being hit on by some creepo I’ve already told to leave me alone 17,000 times, gotta skip it” is a totally reasonable worldview.

And if you do end up at one of those things where this dude will be, and he says or does one of his awful things, it’s okay to say “Gross” or “Try that again with a little less misogyny this time” or “Nobody here wants to fuck you, just stop it and hang out like a person, or the best imitation of one you can pull off, ok?” or “DO NOT TOUCH ME” or “Well, that was a rape-y thing to say, time for one of us to leave. I vote that it’s you.” or “What the fuck, dude?” or “We put up with you because we like your sister. Behave yourself for her sake, or go the fuck home (for her sake), but DO NOT say that creepy shit to me again” or “Oh gee, look at the time, it’s creep-o’clock and I will turn into a pumpkin if I don’t get out of here.” Or “I don’t like what you said just now.” Or “Wow” or “That makes me really uncomfortable” or “Please desist at once, kind sir” or or or or or or or or or or or or.

And when someone says “Come on he was only joking” you say “But it wasn’t funny” and when someone says “Geez, you’re way too sensitive” you say “Yes, I’m very sensitive and I also hate rape jokes, thanks for noticing” and when someone says “God, grow a sense of humor already!” you say “Yes, I will grow a sense of humor and I will fertilize it with the ashes of unfunny men. TO THE BARRICADES, SISTERS! FOR THEMYSCIRA!”

Or you know, whatever comes to mind. My scripts are always gonna work better in your own words.

And when they come for his sister, or his sister feels pressure to defend him because she’s (understandably) afraid they’ll come for her, you say “You are lovely! But your brother is acting like a sexist jerk. If he’s uncomfortable when people don’t like that, maybe he should knock it off. You are not responsible for him and you do not have to defend him. By which I mean, stop defending him, it’s not your job when you didn’t do anything wrong.”

Your voice might shake. Your awesome comeback might come out garbled. You might get talked over by people who are afraid to do what you did. You might stand there alone, while all these people you want so bad to like and believe you let you down.

Maybe…say something anyway?

Say something especially if you have privilege relative to the people who are being targeted. Creepy men who automatically discount what women say listen more when their male friends say “Not cool, bro.” White people who say racist stuff desperately want the social approval and compliance of fellow white people, and when you refuse to give them your compliance and good opinion, it fucking shatters them. Good. Keep doing it.

Here is the secret, the cheat code, the truth: The people you know who are good at speaking up in tense situations probably didn’t start out that way. It is a habit and a skill that you can develop with time and practice. The more you do it, the more you feel like you can do it. And the more you do it, the people who can’t be trusted not to carry water for creeps and assholes will show themselves, making them easier to avoid in the future.

I’m not gonna lie, that can hurt real bad, it can cut you to the bone.

And there may be times you cannot safely speak up, without the threat of violence. In those cases, you are going to be the best judge of what you can safely do. Think of it as “living so you can fight another day” and don’t let it slow you down too much.

But also, the more you speak up, the more the other people in the room who don’t agree with the asshole will seek you out and back you up and start to find their own voices. Someone in that room has been waiting for someone to say “‘Feminazi?’ Really? Are you a time traveling Rush Limbaugh intern here to teach us about hackeysack and jam bands? Get the fuck out of here with that shit, man.”

Maybe they’ve been waiting for you the way you’ve been waiting for them, wondering “Is it just me?” And maybe today is the day you get together and start to fix it.

This hope is why I do what I do.


Captain Awkward






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15 days ago
"I will grow a sense of humor and I will fertilize it with the ashes of unfunny men" new bio
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how do you deal with freelancer terror?

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I meant to make this an “ask the readers” question as per my new Thursday tradition, but I started writing just a short response to it and then it got longer and longer. So it’s not quite that anymore, but hopefully readers will weigh in as well.

I’m an avid reader of your blog, even though I haven’t had a standard office job in about a decade. I’ve been a freelancer/independent contractor all that time, in a competitive, creative industry. My work is fascinating and fulfilling; working at home on my own time maximizes my strengths while minimizing my professional weaknesses; and I’m happier doing this than any other kind of work I’ve ever tried. I’m nearly 50 and have worked in four different professions, so I’m glad to have found the right track for me.

But the one big downside is the uncertainty. I hate not knowing when work will come, or precisely what money will be coming in at any given time. (My quarterly taxes are an exercise in amateur soothsaying.) This means that when I have multiple offers, I take them all and work myself ragged. Then I tell myself I won’t do that again—and I hit a brief dry spell, which fills me with financial terror. Sometimes it feels easier to be a workaholic than to deal with the anxiety. Budgeting only gets me so far, as my income varies widely, and quarterly taxes therefore become a huge variable. (In my best year I made mid-six-figures; in my lowest year, mid-five-figures. At the start of each year, I have only a rough idea where I’ll be on that continuum.) I bought a house I can make payments on even at the lower end of my range—but it’s the not knowing that drives me batty. I can’t stop thinking that this is the year it all falls apart. Sometimes I think of getting a day job again, but I never did any better at that than my lowest earning freelance year, and I genuinely love the work I do.

I would love to hear your advice (of the other readers’) for dealing with freelancer job anxiety, particularly in creative fields. Unless it’s just “Xanax.”

Yes to Xanax.

For years, I dealt with this by taking on as much work as I could humanly do, which meant that I was often working nearly all of my waking hours and rarely seeing friends and family — and was still living in fear that it could all change in an instant and I could be penniless and homeless. It sucks to live that way! (Your line “Sometimes it feels easier to be a workaholic than to deal with the anxiety” captures exactly how I felt.)

I eventually decided that there’s a certain point where one has been successful enough at one’s chosen work that it’s reasonable to trust that you’ll continue getting work and it’s okay to turn things down and make room in your life for non-work things, and it’s so much better … but I still always have that fear in the back of my head, and maybe all freelancers always do.

The best thing to soothe that fear that I’ve found: savings. In your good years, pile all that extra money into savings. Then you can look at your finances and tell yourself things like, “If I stopped getting any work tomorrow, I could still live just fine for X years/months, and that would be plenty of time to find a regular job if I needed to.”

That doesn’t mean that you have to live at the income level of your worst year, but I’d look at what you make most years, and then live around that level (while keeping things like your mortgage payment affordable for your worst years too, as you’ve done).

Also: Have a plan! You keep thinking that maybe this will be the year it will all fall apart. It probably won’t, but who knows, maybe it will be. What would you do if that happened? Gaming that out and knowing that you have a plan in case that happens will probably help you feel more comfortable.

I also think one of the hardest things about working for yourself is that there’s no ceiling on what you can make. You could potentially earn way more than you ever could at a normal job. So even if you’re making enough, you have to wonder if you should spending more time working so that you earn even more (to safeguard yourself against future leaner times, or just because you love money, or whatever). But that’s how people end up working around the clock — so at some point you have to decide what else you want from your life, and how you want to balance that against the money piece.

Readers who work for yourselves (or have in the past), what’s your advice?

how do you deal with freelancer terror? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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27 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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Avoiding hour creep: get your work done and still go home at 5PM

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You want to work 40 hours a week, you want to head home at 5PM, but—there’s this bug. And you’re stuck, and you really need to fix it, and you’re in the middle so you work just a little longer. Next thing you know you’re leaving work at 6PM.

And before long you’re working 50 hours a week, and then 60 hours a week, and if you stop working overtime it’ll hit your output, and then your manager will have a talk with you but how you really need to put in more effort. So now you’re burning out, and you’re not sure what you can do about it.

But what if you were more productive?

What if you knew how to get your work done on company time, and could spent your own time on whatever you wanted?

You can—with a little time management.

Some caveats

Before we get to the actual techniques you’ll be using, some preliminaries.

First, these techniques will only work if you have a manager who judges you based on results, not hours in the office. Keep in mind that there are many managers who claim they want a 50-hour workweek, but in practice will be happy if you do a good job in just 40. I’m also assuming your company is not in constant crisis mode. If these assumptions are wrong, better time management won’t help: it’s time to find another job.

Second, these techniques are here to help you in day-to-day time management. If production is down, you may need to work longer hours. (And again, if production is down every week, it’s time to find another job.)

Finally, for simplicity’s sake I’m assuming you get in at 9:00AM and want to leave at 5:PM. Adjust the times below accordingly if you start later in the day.

Taking control over your time

Since your problem is time creep, the solution is hard limits on when you can start new work—together with time allocated to planning so future work is more productive.

Here’s the short version of a schedule that will help you do more in less time:

  1. When you get in to work you read your checkpoint from the previous workday (I’ll explain this in a bit).
  2. Until 3:30PM you work as you normally would.
  3. After 3:30PM you continue on any existing task you’re already working on. If you finish that task you can start new tasks only if you know they will take 15 minutes or less. If you don’t have any suitable tasks you should spend this time planning future work.
  4. At 4:45PM you stop what you’re doing and checkpoint your work.
  5. At 5:00PM you go home.

Let’s delve deeper so you can understand what to do, and why this will help you.

End of day → start of next day: checkpointing

In the last 15 minutes of your day you stop working and checkpoint your work. That is, you write down everything you need to know to get started quickly the next morning when you come to work.

If you’re in the middle of a task, for example, you can check in “XXX” comments into your code with notes on the next changes you were planning to make. If you’re doing planning, you can assign yourself a task and write down as much as possible about how you should implement it.

This has two benefits:

  1. Next morning when you get to work, and even more so after a weekend or vacation, you’ll spend much less time context swapping and trying to remember where you were. Instead, you’ll have clear notes about what to do next.
  2. By planning your work for the next day, you’re setting up your brain to work out the problem in the background, while you’re enjoying your free time. You’re more likely to wake up in the morning with a solution to a hard problem, or have an insight in the shower. For more about this see Rich Hickey’s talk on Hammock Driven-Development.

No new large tasks after 3:30PM

By the time the afternoon rolls by you’ve been working for quite a few hours, and your brain isn’t going to work as well. If you’re in the middle of a task you can keep working on it, but if you finish a task you should stop taking on large new tasks near the end of the day. You’ll do much better starting them the next day, when you’re less tired and have a longer stretch of time to work on them.

How should you spend your time? You can focus on small tasks, like code reviews.

Even more importantly, you can spend your afternoon doing planning:

  • Take vague tasks and write down the details and sub-tasks.
  • Investigate potential solutions.
  • Research new technologies.
  • Try to understand the underlying causes of problems you’re seeing come up again and again.
  • Think about the big picture of what you’re working on.

In the long run planning will make your implementation work faster. And by limiting planning to only part of your day you’re making sure you don’t spend all of your time planning.

Going home at 5:00PM exactly

There’s nothing inherently wrong with spending a few more minutes finishing something past 5:00PM. The problem is that you’re experiencing hour creep—it’s a problem for you specifically. Having a hard and fast rule about when you leave will force you not to stay until 6:00 or 7:00PM.

Plus, sometimes it’s not just a few minutes, sometimes you’ll need more than that to solve the problem. And a task that will take two hours in the evening might take you only 10 minutes in the morning, when you’re well-rested.

In the long run you’ll be more productive by not working long hours.

A recap

Here’s a recap of how you should be spending your day at work:

  • 9:00AM-3:30PM: Start by reading your checkpoint notes from the day before so you can get started immediately, then work normally.
  • 3:30PM-4:45PM: Continue on existing task, if you’re finished then transition to small tasks and planning.
  • 4:45PM-5:00PM: Checkpoint your work, then leave your office.
  • 5:00PM-…: Whatever you want to do.

There’s nothing magic about this particular set of rules, of course. You will likely want change or customize this plan to your own needs and situation.

Nonetheless, since you are suffering from hour creep I suggest following this particular plan for a couple of weeks just so you start getting a sense of the benefits. Once you’ve taken control over your time you can start modifying the rules to suit your needs better.

Is your job taking way all your personal time and freedom? You can succeed as a software engineer without working crazy hours.

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34 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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Cameron Esposito’s “Rape Jokes”

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her brilliant one-hour standup special about sexual assault, stream free or purchase to support RAINN

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37 days ago
Melbourne, Australia
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1 public comment
38 days ago
I love Cameron Esposito (and Rhea Butcher).
37 days ago
Young Caramel has outdone herself, this is so good
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