Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Background check: I just accepted a great job offer. The only problem is that it’s contingent on a background check. I used to be a sex worker. I fudged on my resume by saying that I was a “freelance artist.” Now that the company is going to do a background check, I am very worried about what they will find. My job history is not inaccurate—I did do art commissions and other freelance projects while I danced—but I am worried that they will discover my past and rescind the offer. What should I do?
A: I don’t think the fact that this prospective employer is conducting a background check necessarily means you need to be unduly anxious. Presumably you’ve only listed references you actually did commissions for, so if they were to contact anyone whose information you gave them, they would simply learn more about your artwork. What you’ve described isn’t “fudging”—you did do freelance artwork. If it would make you feel less anxious, you might consider getting in touch with your references to make sure they’re up-to-date on what you do and don’t want them to discuss if they receive a call. Good luck, and I hope you get the job.
Q. Fighting fair: “Jim” and I have been together for a year, and we have a problem: When he and his ex fought, they would call each other “f-cking idiots,” and he thinks this is how couples fight. I’ve made it clear that I won’t accept him telling me to “shut up,” or calling me “ridiculous” and “an idiot.” I’ve tried telling him that we can argue without being mean and that I’ve felt scared several times when he’s been angry. (He’s never hurt me, but he looks out of control and throws things around.)
When I’ve explained that his comments make me doubt myself and my worth in our relationship, he has belittled me. He says that I should brush it off since angry people say mean things, and that he’d never get affected by anything I said in a similar circumstance, so why was I crying? He’s also said he’s hurt that I don’t trust him enough to not be afraid when he throws things (I am a woman: of course I get scared). At the same time, he’s expressed relief that I don’t act like his ex when I’m angry. I don’t know what to do. He is a kind and supportive person, but he becomes someone else entirely when he’s angry. How do I get through to him?
A: I don’t think that you can. You’ve been clear, you’ve been honest, you’ve been calm, you’ve made specific requests, you’ve explained how his behavior makes you feel, and he has not only dismissed but belittled you repeatedly. I don’t think Jim is “a kind or a supportive person.” He regularly calls you an idiot, throws things, and claims that you’re hurting him by expressing fear when he throws things—a truly remarkable attempt to blame you for his bad behavior. He also attempts to blame his ex for his behavior, even though he knows perfectly well that this isn’t how all couples fights.
You deserve to be safe, and this man has made it clear that he is not committed to your safety, that he doesn’t care about your feelings, and that he doesn’t respect your boundaries. Your assumption that you can “get through to him” if only you could find the right way to express yourself assumes that he’s acting in good faith and doesn’t really want to hurt you. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that he’s not going to stop. If you can, please find a trusted friend you can share some of this with, and develop a plan for leaving.
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Q. Roommate peed on my couch: I live in a house with four roommates: three dudes and, including me, two women. I have my own room next to my roommate “Nick.” Last night, I woke up at 3 a.m. to the sound of my door opening. While I didn’t have a direct view because of the weird layout of my room, I could see what happened in the reflection of a window: Nick walked into my room, completely naked, and peed on my couch. I was horrified and lay in bed, frozen, until he finished peeing, turned around, and left.
I’m really hoping that he was sleepwalking or drunk, but maybe this is just a thing he does? Once I got over the shock, I got out of bed, stripped the cover off of my couch, threw it into the laundry, and cleaned everything up. I didn’t want pee to soak into my couch cushions or my carpet.
How do I confront Nick? Is it unreasonable to ask him to buy me a new couch? (I have technically destroyed the evidence, so maybe I am just out of luck.)
A: You haven’t “destroyed the evidence,” you’ve washed the cover of your couch. It would not be reasonable for you to leave the couch as-is until you next got the chance to speak to Nick. You confront him by saying, “Last night you peed on the couch around 3 in the morning. [Pause for horrified apology.] I’ve washed the cover, but I’m not sure if it’s set into the cushions or not. If it has, let’s talk about the most convenient way for you to replace it.”
Q. Fake closet: I am a man. Recently, I was having lunch with a female colleague when she brought up her “partner.” I naturally took that as an invitation to bring up my partner in conversation as well. My partner is female—we’re not married, so I don’t typically refer to her as my wife. When I mentioned my partner, my co-worker’s eyes lit up and she warmed to me substantially. As we were heading back to work, she started referring to her partner as her wife. For some reason, I didn’t reciprocate—I just kept referring to my partner as my partner.
I’m not a native English speaker, but it’s been explained to me that this could be construed, among other things, as an attempt to stay in the closet. In a ridiculous display of self-consciousness, I haven’t been able to bring myself to tell my colleague that I’m not gay and that my partner is, in fact, a woman. I’m not entirely sure how to approach this: She might not even have thought that I was gay in the first place. Heck, I could have misread that shift in her attitude toward me altogether. It feels as though I’m turning this into something bigger than it needs to be, but the longer I wait to come out of the “not gay” closet, the more duplicitous I feel. What’s your take?
A: I think if you’re feeling this level of stress and self-consciousness about it, then it will feel a lot better once you get the chance to set the record straight. That doesn’t mean you have to make an announcement, just find a way to work in a female pronoun the next time you mention your partner to this particular co-worker.
Q. Unseeable, potentially cancerous mole: Over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with taking care of my (very fair) skin. I’m not a medical professional, but I have learned a lot about skin lately, and I took anatomy and physiology in college. The other day while riding the bus, I noticed a mole on the scalp of the man sitting in front of me. The man was balding, and the mole was just on the edge of his hairline, in a spot where he probably would never see it unless he was looking for it. It could definitely have been potentially malignant.
I thought about saying something to him, but he got off the bus before I had the chance to think through what I would say. Since this was on my regular commute, it’s possible that I could see him again. Should I say something, or is that a terribly rude intrusion into someone’s personal medical situation?
A: I think the key here is that you’ve developed a bit of an obsession when it comes to your own skin. The fact that this man “probably” couldn’t see a mole that “definitely could have been potentially malignant” doesn’t quite seem to rise to the level of requiring outside intervention.
Q. Re: Roommate peed on my couch: I just want to say that I once had a friend who had had two separate boyfriends pee on her record collection, in the middle of the night, in two unrelated incidents. The second one was not aware that the first had done this in the past. Neither remembered doing it. Both thought he had gotten up in the middle of the night and peed in the toilet. As I recall, the conclusion her friends drew was that it had something to do with the layout of the place and the record collection was in a kind of alcove or corner that reminded them of a bathroom. Both men had been drinking fairly heavily before bed and were thought to be in a kind of stupor. Is the letter writer’s room next to the bathroom? Or in some other way parallel to it?
A: There have been a lot of letters to this effect speculating about whether the guy had been drinking at the time. Which is fine, I suppose, but whether or not he had been drinking, he still peed all over the letter writer’s couch and needs to pay for a replacement if it’s ruined.
Q. Drunk mess: I have been dating a person for a few years on and off. I also struggle with alcohol abuse. A few months ago, I had what I consider to be a rock-bottom moment: I showed up quite drunk to a dinner date with my partner and behaved awfully, then broke down and laid out a plan to get sober. The next day, I checked into a detox and have been sober since. That night, my partner told me they loved me, and after they left they told me they would see me soon.
Fast forward to last week. We have been texting regularly and amicably, but I have not seen my partner since this drunken incident. I reached out to ask why, and I was told that my behavior had been unacceptable, and that they are very reluctant to see me again soon, if ever. I feel awful, and I have apologized over text (though I would like to do so in person). I am working on my issues. I want to reconcile, but am faced with a partner who is apparently sickened by me. I fully own my responsibility in causing this rupture. Is there any way to salvage the situation?
A: I think the best way to salvage this situation is to continue to focus on your sobriety. I wish I could tell you that getting sober will also fully repair the relationships you damaged while you were drinking, but that’s just not the case. If your ex doesn’t want to reconcile, then the best thing you can do is accept that. You can still work on your issues, stay sober, and live your life on a fundamentally different basis whether or not your ex ever decides to see you again.
Q. I hate my new job: I have been at my company for 23 years and have worked my way up the ranks to reach a certain position. I liked my job. I developed certain skills and was very good at my position. That position has recently changed entirely, and I now find myself hating my job.
My hours have changed, so I have to come in two hours earlier. The computer system that the company has adopted now requires me to come in at 4 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Everything I do now requires 10 steps where it used to take two, and I recently got transferred to a new store where everyone has a negative attitude. To top it off, the store is located where I started, where I grew up, and where I have a lot of bad memories from childhood. I find myself in tears of frustration nearly every day.
I want to quit. I find myself on the verge of walking out at least once a week. My question is: Should I? I make a pretty good buck, but I could survive a pay cut. I have a bit of a cushion and would be OK until I find another job. I don’t know if I can take the stress and the negativity anymore. It is physically and mentally draining. I can’t talk to my managers, as I don’t really know them. From what co-workers say, the store manager can be a jerk and has contributed to others quitting. The last person who was in my job quit because of similar issues. What should I do?
A: It might be worth having a final conversation before deciding to move on. You can certainly talk to your managers about this despite not knowing them, I think, especially if you’ve been with the company for over 20 years and are on the verge of quitting already. If it goes nowhere, you can still quit. That said, if you’re constantly thinking about quitting and on the verge of tears, and if you’re able to weather the loss of income and believe you’ll find another job relatively easily—go for it, and give your notice.
Q. Re: Unseeable, potentially cancerous mole: My uncle got really lucky when a stranger suggested he might want to get a mole checked out. He had no idea, and the doctor said it could have been much worse if left untreated. This is not the only story I’ve heard along these lines. On the other hand, my father-in-law has a bad-looking skin growth that is perfectly harmless. I think the key might be how sure you are that the mole really is something to worry about.
A: It’s worth posting one of these because of course there are always those few stories of “a stranger on the bus pointed out [X] and saved someone’s life.” If you do say something, letter writer, and it ends up helping somebody out, please let us know!
Q. Close to home: My husband and I are recently married. We live in an expensive housing market; rents are high and home prices are higher. We make ends meet, but we’re years away from being able to purchase a home and are waiting to have children for mostly financial reasons. This weekend, my in-laws approached us with an offer. They intend to sell their current, paid-off house, and they will use that money to give us a down payment if we agree to either live on the same property (a two-house type situation) or very nearby (like the same block).
This is a generous offer, but my husband and I both feel very conflicted. There are interpersonal issues about boundaries, as well as legal and financial issues that I’m possibly not even considering. I don’t even know where to look for answers! Should we take them up on the offer? How much room do we have to set conditions? Do we need to speak to a lawyer, or will a real estate agent know the best way for us to do this if we say yes? Help!
A: This is a very generous offer with some very big strings attached. If you can see any potential downsides to living in either the same building or on the same block as your in-laws, I think you should default to “Thanks, but no thanks.” If your in-laws want to dictate where you can live with the money they give you, they might also have a few opinions about how you should live—how often they should be able to visit, whether they should let themselves in your front door, how you should redecorate, etc.
Q. Re: Happy anniversary?: If a stranger tracked me down on Facebook and said they had found a wedding invitation from my parents’ wedding 60 years ago, I’d be creeped out. Maybe someone else wouldn’t be, but I would be. Tracking down the daughter seems really invasive.
A: It does feel, to me at least, like it’s in the same category as the letter writer who wanted to warn a stranger about a possibly malignant mole—it seems like it has much more to do with the letter writer and their assumptions than it does with anyone else.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! See you here next week.
From the Archives
“After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve decided to divorce my wife of five years. All we did was fight, and we had little in the way of sexual intimacy. The problem is that my soon-to-be ex-wife just had a baby a few weeks ago.”
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