Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone! I hope everyone’s boss/spouse/stepsibling/neighbor’s cat/childhood best friend who’s about to get married is in a good mood today. Let’s chat!
Q. I should come clean, right? I’m going to front-load this question, otherwise you’ll think my tone is unfair to my brother. For reasons known only to a 30-year-old man-child, he stored nearly 20 grand in $100 bills in an oversized teddy bear he won at a fair. (A small amount of it is old crumpled money, probably from when he was a teenager. The rest is bank-fresh money, probably from when he was going to divorce his wife, before they resolved their differences. So he was a tightfisted idiot on top of everything else. I would send it all to my sister-in-law, but she’s got a temper and I don’t need my brother sleeping on my couch.)
The reason I know about this is that Mom is moving to Portland with her new partner. My brother made promises to come and help pack things up and to claim anything he wants from the house, but he never followed through. In the end, Mom and I cleared out his old room, boxed up anything that looked important, and donated the rest. Luckily I was struck with an urge to be a jerk and hauled the teddy bear upstairs to be the star of a “Don’t you wish you’d come to help like you said?” photoshoot. I found the money.
I should tell him, right? He’s been quietly losing his entire cool as he tries to work out what we did with his childhood bear, without having to admit why. (The money is currently in the safe at my shop.) On the other hand, it’s $20,000 he stuffed up a bear’s bottom. He deserves a bit of panic over this, right? And for what it’s worth, I love my brother—but 20 grand in a bear! He’s a tit.
A: The degree of your brother’s “tit” status aside, your attempts to punish him for his lack of follow-through by letting him think he’s just lost $20,000 are probably not the most effective way for you to work out your frustrations toward him. It’s probably not super smart to store the bulk of your savings in a teddy bear, nor to leave said teddy bear in someone else’s house that you know is about to be sold, but that’s not really your problem to solve. Your brother doesn’t “deserve” to panic right now just because you’re annoyed he didn’t help your mom move in with her new partner. If you’re angry with him, or generally resentful about his attitude toward life, figure out a constructive and clear way to share your feelings with him. Hiding the bear and letting him think he’s out 20 grand is—well, it’s not a lot more mature than hiding 20 grand in a bear. Give your brother his money.
Q. Not abandoned: I’m an 18-year-old guy who was adopted and raised by two amazing women. I had a great childhood, and my moms are the most awesome, supportive parents I think anyone could wish for. It came up in a discussion with some friends at college recently that I was adopted (most people assume that anyway), and this girl in our friend group, “Jane,” excitedly told me, “I’m adopted too!” Then she started trying to bond with me over what she insists on describing as “adopted kid things.” She listed stuff like “never belonging” and “growing up with lies” as amongst these “adopted kid things.” I did my best to be sympathetic but obviously couldn’t agree that I related. Since then, though, she brings it up a lot, often in groups, saying absolute garbage like, “Every adopted kid knows what it’s like to feel abandoned and rejected.” No, we don’t! I keep politely disagreeing with her, but it’s like she doesn’t hear it or believe me. And she’s infected some of our other friends with it, who have since made sympathetic comments as though they think I had some sort of difficult, even traumatic childhood. I didn’t! It was fine! I hate this idea that adopted kids are all rejected and troubled by not knowing our biological families. My birth mother was in a very traumatic situation, and I wouldn’t have wanted her to feel she had to raise me. I am grateful for my adopted family. I appreciate Jane has obviously had a terrible time with her family, but I am starting to get upset every time she (and now some of our friends) uses terms like “real parents” and pushes this narrative on me that just isn’t true for me. Is there anything tactful but firm I can say to her and our group to stop these comments? I’m aware I must have had a more privileged childhood than Jane did, and that she seems desperate for someone to bond with over her sense of abandonment, so I don’t want to seem obnoxious and insensitive. But I feel like I’m betraying my moms every time I fail to correct some comment about not having a “real family,” and it’s just getting upsetting and stressful. Please advise on how to handle this kindly!
A: In the long run, I do not believe you and Jane are destined to share a close, vital friendship, and I think you can prioritize spending time with your other friends in the group, as well as other social circles entirely, over spending time with her. It’s also not at all unusual to drift away from the friends you make in your first semester or two of college, so if you’d rather just start giving her a wider berth instead of having a complicated conversation about the differences between your experiences with adoption, that’s fine too. But if you want to take Jane aside and let her know what you told me—that you’re so sorry about her painful family history, but you’re uncomfortable hearing her refer to your adoptive parents as not your “real family” and would appreciate it if she would stop making comments suggesting that you’ve been rejected and abandoned—try this: “I’ve tried speaking up in the moment when you say these things, but that doesn’t seem to be working, and I thought I’d ask you directly to stop referring to my biological mother as my ‘real parents’ or telling me that I’ve been abandoned. Is that something you can do?” You can also enlist your other friends and tell them you’ve noticed they’ve picked up some of the terms she’s been using, and that you’d appreciate if they didn’t try to describe all adoptive families in the same way.
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Q. Not on social media: I’ll keep this very simple. I do not have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. I very much dislike social media. In many ways it is the opposite of my personality, and to put it quite frankly I do not see a use for any of these channels in my life. I am very content with my life both socially and professionally. Explaining this to my family or to a date is a whole different ball game. Let’s leave dating aside and look at my family. A few weeks ago I was at a family dinner, and my cousin, who is about two years younger than me, goes, “So you don’t, like, have any social media?” Giving me a Mean Girls–esque reaction that would make Regina look like a damn fairy princess. Little did I know that my aunts, uncles, the whole clan look at this as some sort of social deficiency. This could not be more clear than when my aunt will say “Let’s take an Instagram pic,” and then the inevitable tagging and uncomfortable looks in my direction.
On many an occasion I have a good laugh about these twits in my family—and it is a free country, so Instagram away if you want. However, I have noticed the reaction that people give me when I say “no” to the social media question. Am I not taking this seriously enough, and does it make me seem arrogant?
A: I don’t know whether it makes you seem arrogant! I’ll take your word for it that your cousin’s tone made her question seem judgmental (based on your description of the moment, it sounds like the two of you might have a somewhat fraught history); my instinct would be to remain cheerful and noncombative around your family re your Instagram use, unless they go out of their way to bring it up over and over again. You could always be in the family picture and then ask someone to text it to you so you could have a copy of the same group shot.
It’s certainly rude if people hound you about not being on social media, but I think that generally it’s unusual enough in 2019 that you should expect a certain degree of surprise when you tell someone for the first time. It might help to have a little stock explanation prepared so you’re not just hitting them with a flat “no”—something along the lines of “I really prefer to maintain my relationships in person” or “I find them too distracting,” rather than “I don’t see a use for them in my life,” which might imply that you think everyone else is frivolous for using social media. (Which you very well might, but if you don’t want to come across as arrogant, you should probably keep that to yourself.)
Q. Update—Re: I should come clean, right? Fair enough. I did actually call him after I emailed you, so he’s been reunited with his bear. I would have told him before that, but I thought, I’ll make him ask. Then he didn’t ask, and … I guess sometimes you just need to write it down until you can see you’re being a bit of a dick.
He’s still an idiot, though.
(For the record he has no good reason for the bear-bank, he just stuffed money in and felt good his wife wouldn’t get it apparently. He actually left me the bear.)
A: I’m so glad that you gave him the bear back! I definitely agree that it was a baffling choice, and I can understand why you occasionally feel frustrated by his behavior. I just don’t think holding the bear in reserve was going to resolve any of those issues. You did the right thing; I hope you enjoy the free bear!
Q. Got a package and it appears as if sender forgot to add something: I recently had a heart transplant. The support I have gotten has been unbelievable. An old colleague of mine sent me a card. The card was in a cushion mailer, not an envelope. The card states, “I know this isn’t much, but I hope you can do something for yourself, I know the financial burden must be tough.” There was nothing else in the package. Just a beautiful card. How do I handle this?
A: Running this column sometimes makes me more suspicious than I’d otherwise be, because there’s a part of me that suspects your old colleague is counting on you to assume a check just fell out of the cushion mailer and that you’ll feel too embarrassed to say anything, or to be so overwhelmed with support from everyone else that you don’t notice. But I may be wrong! Either way, I think it’s fine to say something, in part because (if it was truly lost) your former colleague should inform his bank to stop payment on the check. “Thank you so much for the card. It meant so much to me to hear from you. I’m a little embarrassed to mention this, but nothing else came with it. I thought you should know so you could tell your bank to stop payment on a check in case that’s what the financial reference was about.”
Q. Re: Not abandoned: I think you can say to your friends if they start talking like you were abandoned, “Everyone experiences something differently. My childhood was extremely nurturing and happy. I’m sorry Jane had a bad childhood and felt abandoned, but I never felt I lacked family in any way. My adopted experience is very different from hers.” It’s helpful to couch it in these terms so it doesn’t negate Jane’s truth but points out it’s not All Adoptees’ Truth.
A: That’s a great balance, I think, because Jane’s pretty young and clearly had a traumatic upbringing, and I want to extend her a little slack for being overeager to bond with another adoptee by trying to force connections that just aren’t there. I hope she realizes at this point that she can acknowledge her own very real trauma without claiming everyone who’s ever been adopted feels the same way about her family of origin and can find appropriate places/people to share her hurt with.
Q. The surprise expensive stag-ette: I’m attending a destination wine-getaway stag-ette in two weeks in another state (note: I am not a bridesmaid). The bride requested the destination, and nearly all of us are flying in. Last night I received an email from one of the bridesmaids providing an itinerary and advising everyone attending (four bridesmaids, four additional friends) that we should pay her $575 for the “hard costs” of the weekend, which includes an expensive wine tour and our share of the bride’s flight and hotel. I wasn’t expecting these costs and was never asked or told about them when I signed up. I’m trying to decide what to do. The extra costs mean that in order to attend I would have to cut back on some other important goals (i.e., cutting another tentatively planned trip with my boyfriend when we don’t go away very often). If I back out now, I lose the $500 I paid for the flight and likely strain some friendships, so I’m planning on attending (and, ultimately, paying the $575), but I want to let the friend who planned this stag-ette know that her not telling me this earlier has put me in a hard spot. This is also the first of likely many weddings with this friend group, so I’m looking forward and hoping to prevent this from happening again with future stag-ettes. What do I say to this friend/bridesmaid without ruining a) the stag-ette weekend and b) my friendships?
A: I think it’s fairly traditional for bridal showers, bachelorette parties, et al. to include the bride’s share of whatever gets used/reserved/consumed in everyone else’s bill, so I can understand why the rest of the attendees have been asked to cover her lodgings. I agree, however, that the additional expensive wine tasting should not have been scheduled before checking in with the other guests, and that you certainly need more than two weeks’ notice to be able to decide whether or not you could afford that on top of a $500 plane ticket. You are well within your rights to say that’s not within your budget and that you’ll only be able to contribute toward the bride’s accommodation on such short notice. Don’t let the pressure of “This has to be an amazing stag-ette weekend” convince you that you have to keep forking over cash for the most expensive add-ons.
Q. Lazy at work: In the past couple of months, I’ve been feeling increasingly worse at my job. I basically do the bare minimum to meet deadlines but not much else (in fact, I’m writing this note to you while I’m sitting at my desk). The problem is, nobody seems to notice, and I even get praise for the work I do. This makes me feel lazy, especially knowing how much time and effort other people put into their jobs. I’ve talked to my manager about needing more responsibility, and she tells me I already have too much on my plate and that I’m being hard on myself when I’ve admitted that I feel like I’m not doing enough. And projects that I have put tons of time and energy into get lost by the wayside, so I don’t have much motivation to try to do more projects on my own. I have a master’s degree in this subject and used to feel intellectually curious, but I’m feeling lately that this line of work is simply wrong for me. Or is this just how work is? I don’t have too much work experience to compare it to (I’m 30 and have only been in the workforce for about five years). I put in a lot of hours here too, and I feel like my time could be better spent, but I also need a job, and my job searches have so far not been fruitful.
A: I don’t know whether most people in your position would agree that your particular workplace encourages lower-than-average productivity, but I think it’s important that your boss is currently signaling that either you have unreasonably high expectations for yourself and you need to lay off the pressure, or that it’s the culture of that particular office to stick to the bare minimum and you need to stop making everyone else look bad. Certainly I think that it’s wise to stop trying to come up with side projects at this job, at least, since you know from experience that someone or something always makes you abandon them. If you know pretty conclusively that this is not the kind of workplace you can be happy at long-term, and you’re not already using some of your free hours at work to apply elsewhere, you certainly have my permission to (discreetly) conduct some of your job search while you’re in the office.
But if you otherwise enjoy your work and your colleagues, and you’re only feeling like you don’t belong in this line of work out of a mistaken belief that you have to be maximally productive every hour of the day in order to be a good employee or a worthwhile person, then I’ll echo your boss and encourage you to cut yourself some slack.
Q. Re: Not on social media: You’re looking at this all wrong. You’re not too nerdy for social media, you’re *too cool* for social media. So cool that you don’t need to be told you’re cool with hearts and retweets. I think you just need to change your perspective on this. Every time your family tries to goad you into it, pretend you’re Stephanie Tanner in the “bad girls” bathroom and they are trying to goad you into smoking that cigarette. You’re too cool for cigarettes, Stephanie!
A: I think that might be useful if the original poster were feeling really self-conscious or suddenly doubted their decision, but since they’re worried about coming across as arrogant, I think leading with an attitude of “I’m too good for something that’s pretty common” is likelier to alienate the people they’re hoping to conciliate. But if their family members are being irritating about the subject and constantly raising the issue, then yes, I think it’s fine to adopt a slightly bored tone and say, “Are you guys still hung up on this? I love you, I don’t care about Instagram, let’s take a family picture and I’ll keep it in my photo roll and look at it the old-fashioned way.”
Q. Re: Not on social media: The way you wrote your letter suggests that, yes, to an extent, your decision to abstain from all social media may present to others as more than just a neutral choice and that you may frame your decision when you talk about it to others as something that lends you a degree of superiority. (If you’re wondering, describing your family as twits for engaging in social media strongly suggests that you aren’t entirely blameless in this whole thing.) But even being generous and assuming that you aren’t lording your choice over others, the plain fact is that, for good or for ill, social media is an integral part of more and more people’s lives every day. Neither you nor anyone can unring that bell, and so you’re going to have to make peace with the fact that deliberate nonengagement with this facet of modern life will be seen as deviating from the norm because, well … it is. Of course, you don’t have to put up with people being actively hateful or rude to you about it, but if people express genuine bewilderment at your choice, that just goes with the territory of bucking a social norm.
A: I’m pretty much in agreement here! Of course, the OP’s family may very well be a bunch of twits, or at least have sort of twittish tendencies, but if someone’s just doing a sort of shocked, sort of playful “Whoa, you don’t have social media??” they may not intend it pointedly. It’ll still probably start to feel boring, since you’ll get variations on the same reaction a lot, but that’s what having the stock answer is for.
Q. I hit a child with my car and have no choice but to sue his parents: I was driving and hit a 5-year-old child. I was not charged, as there was no speed or alcohol involved—he ran out onto the road while his mother was momentarily distracted. He was left with severe and permanent disabilities. I was a couple of days away from starting a new job but couldn’t work because I was in so much shock. I get panic attacks at the thought of driving and it’s difficult to even be around children. I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I know I need help, but I have no insurance and can’t afford it. I was told I need to sue the parents of the child to get a payout from their insurance, which would then pay for my treatment. On one hand, I desperately want some kind of psychological treatment. But the thought of suing the parents at the worst time of their life—that seems like pure evil. What would you do in my situation?