8 Ways to Destroy Someone with OCD this Holiday Season

If you’re entertaining in your home this year, there are many reasons why you might want to utterly destroy a guest with obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the technical differences between a frenemy, a nemesis, and a cousin who drives you to murder with a turkey baster are beyond the scope of this article, all are bound to show up at your door this holiday season, and one of them might have OCD. By taking the words of Sun Tzu to heart, and learning these actionable techniques, you can deal with that person.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

OCD comes in many forms, and this guide is not meant for all of them.
But if you know your guest has OCD, and you know that their OCD intersects with germaphobia or health anxiety, you need not fear the result of this holiday season.

Greet your guest at the door

Holiday collage of Christmas lights, mixed nuts, and rolls with colored sprinkles.

Start off on the right foot! Or rather, the right hand, where you keep a great deal of germs. A hearty hug or a handshake is the perfect way to warmly welcome your OCD guest into your home while also saying, “Nothing is safe for you here.”

This one is especially great if your guest is female! No matter how many gender norms we see fall by the wayside, the norm at gatherings of friends and family is still to hug women while men shake hands. If you are warm, effusive, and sweater-wearing, you can hug everyone.

Once you’ve mastered the basic greeting, next year you can pull out of the hug and cough demurely. Something is going around!

Make space for everyone

Do you need to make space on the table for another side dish or for another guest’s plate? Does your OCD guest have a cup full of water that they’ve been sipping from? This is a two-birds-with-one-stone situation, like when you have multiple turkeys and kill them yourself with the molded plaster “Welcome to our home!” tile that you scooped up from the walkway.

Wait until your OCD guest glances in your direction. Then pick up their cup by the rim–the part they drink out of–and move it two feet or so.

Remember, don’t pick the cup up by the base; this method is less effective less of the time, and you should make sure you know your guest is suitably sensitive before trying it.

Take more mashed potatoes

Curses, you’ve run out of mashed potatoes! You scoop up more potatoes, but they are hearty and thick, and they stick to the spoon. Don’t panic; you can get out of this situation with subtlety and panache, and you can destroy your OCD guest at the same time.

Now, do you have the serving spoon in hand? Clunk the spoon onto your gravy-swirled plate. This action will free your desired serving of potatoes, while also leaving a subtle seasoning of your mouth-germs on the spoon, which you should then stick back into the nursing-home-yellow casserole dish.

Burn those holiday calories

Going for a post-meal walk or run either to burn off some calories or for a good reason? For convenience, place your sneakers soles-down on the table before you sit down to put them on. Make sure it’s not a side table, an end table or a coffee table: you want to use the kitchen or dining room table.

This will send a clear message: “All the germs from every public restroom I’ve walked in with these shoes are now on the table where we eat!”

Keep up your dental hygiene

Is your guest staying over? You have a great opportunity here! Make sure they’re around when you brush your teeth, and do the following: squeeze out your pea-sized ball of toothpaste, scrape your wet, used toothbrush over the opening of the toothpaste tube to get the paste off, and hand your guest the tube. Make sure to tell them, “All set! Here you go!” in your cheeriest holiday voice.

Make holiday cookies

You’ll want to get the kids involved with this one! The smaller and more heartless they are, the better!

Even though flax is a flawless egg substitute when it comes to cookies, make sure you use raw eggs in your cookies. After you’ve rolled out your cookies and put them on trays, but before you wash your hands and tidy up, make you sure touch a lot of things. Chairs, doorknobs, and refrigerator handles are great options which are all in close proximity of your kitchen.

If you really want to be a maverick, combine this with the next tip.

Put out the guest soap

You know those shell-shaped soaps that sit ambiguously in their dish, making guests fret over whether they’re supposed to use them or not?
Don’t use them. That kind of holiday anguish is old-school, and definitely not on-trend. These days, there’s a better way: have bars of moisturizing soap at every sink, and turn off your hot water. The slippery, difficult-to-rinse nature of the moisturizing soap draws out the oft-repeated hand-washing process of your OCD guest, making it as long an excruciating as possible.

Keeping your hot water off ensures that if your guest needs to wash hands multiple times—and they will, if you’re following these tips!—their fingers will be too numb to unwrap presents or pretend to eat your dubious food.

Share some comfort and joy

Is there a flu going around? Has your guest expressed concern about the flu, or about the sick children you invited because child germs are different from adult germs? Remember to make vague comments about upset stomachs, then assure your guest that it’s indigestion.

Does your guest think the meat seems undercooked? Make sure you dismiss this silly concern! Even if you used a meat thermometer, even if the pink occurs naturally in that cut of meat, even if you’re an experienced cook, don’t say any of those things. Don’t explain how you know the meat is fine. Simply say, “there’s nothing to worry about.”

Remember that dismissing legitimate concerns isn’t holiday gaslighting; it’s sharing comfort and joy.

As Sun Tzu said, that’s what the holidays are all about.

Dead electronics and the serious writer

I consider it one of my good qualities that I hang onto my electronics as long as possible. In part, this is because I want to do as little as possible to contribute to an industry that destroys the planet and uses questionable labor practices*. I buy refurbished most of the time. I repair things when I can. I tolerate screen issues that literally make other people gasp in horror and ask if my computer is going to be ok. (It’s not. Oh, it’s not, it’s not, but you are so sweet and innocent, we can pretend that a repair will be possible.)

A laptop with a screenful of aggressive static
My laptop has been in several low-budget horror films.

Anyway, this is normally a good thing. But sometimes it lands me in a situation in which my two vital electronic tools go on the fritz at the same time.

My phone shuts off randomly, many times per day, while still at 90% power, sometimes dying in an endless loop of battery deaths. It’s kind of like this:

I must have died one thousand times. The goth in me will never not love this song, and the copyeditor in me will always question if I want to leave that double negative in the final draft.

My laptop will act completely normal and then lines of static will burst across the screen and defibrillate my eyes. It’s kind of like this:

Yeah, I posted this song like a month ago. It’s still awesome.

Anyway.

Everything breaking at once sucks.

It’s also a strategy.

Or rather, it’s part of a strategy.

I’m keeping my overhead low.

Times are always tough economically for artists and freelancers, so define the sort of lifestyle you want to live, budget for your expenses, and draw the line between what you will and won’t do for money.

And remember: If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.

“Do what you love!” cry the motivational speakers. But I think anybody who tells people to do what they love no matter what should also have to teach a money management course.

“Do what you love” + low overhead = a good life.

“Do what you love” + “I deserve nice things” = a time bomb.

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

Keep Going came out recently, but this is a strategy I’ve been living for a few years now. It’s intertwined with the fact that I work part-time in large part to make sure I’ll be able to do my writing. These two parts of my Master Plan are so inextricably linked that I had to cut an entire post’s worth of material about what it’s been like to give up the only full-time job I’ve had in my life.

The Alone in a Room With Invisible People podcast aired two episodes on perfectionism, in which they also discussed the concept of making financial trade-offs to gain more time to do what you really want with your life. In this case, writing.

It’s not that I have any more time than you. It’s that I spent my time specifically doing these things. I have made sacrifices in my life to sit down–and I have less money, less security– we have less security, we have more worries because of our sacrifices. In order to help me do what I want, like we did for him. And people don’t understand. They just think, “Oh, you’re lucky.” No.

Rebecca Galardo, the Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast, Episode 56: Perfectionism–First Draft

In the podcast, Rebecca goes on to talk about having less stuff, and less nice stuff, than other people, and not being able to go out to bars or shopping with friends all the time because of her commitment to writing. We live in a time and place in which it’s possible to live on fairly little money, and end up with way too much stuff (Hi, Dollar Store!), but that’s besides the point.

The point is about making choices. Trade-offs.

In one of my earliest posts, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils, I wrote about not making other people justify the things they own:

If someone prefers physical books to ebooks, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have a smartphone, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have internet access at home, don’t make them justify it.
If someone doesn’t have GPS and, to all appearances doesn’t need it, don’t make them justify it.

It doesn’t matter if they are poor, or old, or technologically illiterate, or made a choice that you don’t understand and don’t give a shit about. Don’t make them justify that they don’t own an item, just like you wouldn’t make them justify not owning designer jeans or not owning a home aquarium or not owning a BMW*.

Kris Bowser, Paper, Flip Phones, and Anvils SELF QUOTES ARE SO CLASSY

I wrote the above quote right around when I came up with my Master Plan. The idea of making trade-offs and not compromising on my dreams and goals was one and the same as my reasoning for not upgrading my phone, my car, and my laptop until I absolutely needed to.

I had a flip phone until December 2016, and I got a ton of shit for being a Luddite (even though I design websites!) because people didn’t understand the nature of the choice. I upgraded only when the smartphone choice became pragmatic as well as shiny, like a unicorn with a sensible rain coat.

We don’t have a microwave either. Same deal. That, too, was a choice.


One night at my old job, when I was training a fellow security guard, he brought in his new computer, an $1100 HP laptop. Awesome graphics card! Fast processor! Huge hard drive! Tons of RAM! Can make paninis and will sing you to sleep while gently stroking your eyelids with delicate little machine hands!

What did he do with this awe-inspiring machine?

He watched Youtube videos and typed Word documents, two things you can do on absolutely any computer.

In other words, he could’ve saved $900 if he’d taken a few minutes to think about what he’d actually use the laptop for. That’s all it comes down to: taking a little time to think.

Who are you? What do you do? Will the new shiny thing help who are you and what you do?

I’m Kris. I write. I go outdoors. I try to take care of my family, even though I’m only about three-quarters of a functional person.

Between the first draft and these final paragraphs, I upgraded my phone. It’s not as important to my writing process, but I don’t want to be left at the mercy of its treacherous battery if I’m out hiking and get some kind of injury.

I find myself examining my new phone’s case and screen protector over and over again to make sure they won’t betray me after I finally spent the money to upgrade.

And the laptop? The laptop is like the terminal cancer patient who is given one month to live, and lasts another ten years. Or, more literally, one year. I’ll replace it as soon as I can’t write on it because writing is what I do.

This is what it means to make trade-offs for for my work.

It’s not about asceticism; it’s about an honest accounting.


*To put it diplomatically, which I probably shouldn’t do.

The Judgmental Advice Column: Friends and Movie References

Dear Judgmental Advice Column,

I have a friend who hasn’t seen as many movies as I have and doesn’t watch everything I watch on Netflix. We get along great otherwise, but they don’t get my references.

I feel like I’m always explaining things like who Pauly Shore is and which Ghostbusters movie had the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Usually, I have to clarify that it is not, in fact, “the Pillsbury Doughboy or the Michelin Man or something.”

As extreme as it sounds, this person hasn’t even seen every single sitcom of the eighties and nineties.

The mental exhaustion of this is taking its toll in every area of my life, as unlikely as that may seem.

Please help, Judgmental Advice Column.

Sincerely,
Baffled Buff

We can’t cross every bridge together, though we may try. Some bridges are meant for trains and not humans.

Dear Buff,

At times like this, it’s worth nothing that we all have our differences. If all our friends were exactly like us, what would be the point of having friends? Our beauty is in our diversity.

That said, there’s something you need to remember:

If someone hasn’t seen a movie that you like, it says everything about them as a person.

I used to have a friend–let’s call him Ted, which is also Ted Bundy’s first name–who enjoyed the 90s sitcom Step by Step, but didn’t know that Suzanne Somers was in Three’s Company many years before. As you can imagine, this was a horrifying and difficult situation to be in.

I was younger then, and didn’t handle the situation well. It’s still embarrassing to admit that I told him, “You should check out Three’s Company sometime. It’s a classic.” I wince writing this, thinking of how I said nothing to speak out against Ted’s cultural ignorance.

So, here’s my advice to you, Buff:

Don’t listen to this person’s flimsy excuses about not having time or money. Don’t let them fool you with some claptrap about “reading books” or “going hiking with my brother.”

Ask yourself, if the situation were reversed, would you let them say those things to you?

Remember that age is a common excuse for people like this. Only you can say how much leeway you can give this person for having been born ten years before or after you, or for not having lived through the exact circumstances that led you to see each and every movie you’ve seen.

If they haven’t seen that show you always forget you already told them about, remind them that it’s on Netflix. If Netflix has removed the show from their catalog, that is a regret they will have to live with the rest of their life. In this case, you could show them compassion.

But if they say they “still haven’t seen” A Very Important Movie, well, why not? Ask. It might be difficult, but you need to be the one to bring this issue to the light.

Another thing to consider, Buff, is that communication and respect are the foundations of all relationships. You can’t respect someone who uses the wrong preposition when quoting a movie.

You need to correct their misquotes, and let them know that this behavior is not ok with you.

But ultimately? This speaks to the sort of person who can’t be bothered to memorize an entire movie, absorb all the trivia from its IMDB page, and then watch every single other movie that those actors had even a two-second cameo in.

You can do better, Buff. You say this person is your friend, but you shouldn’t have to debase yourself by explaining your references to tertiary characters in Punky Brewster like some kind of animal.

I can’t say if they are beyond redemption–that falls to you alone. But if this person doesn’t remember the names of all the actors who played the Brady Bunch kids…

If they’re incapable of even distinguishing the Ninja Turtles from one another after having only watched the show sometime last century, as if telling apart identical cartoon turtles named after Italian painters isn’t something we all have to do every day…

You may need to think about what, exactly, your common ground is with this person.

You may need to excise them from your life.

You can always replace a friend the way Suzanne Somers was replaced on Three’s Company.

Best of luck, Buff.

Your friend,
Judgmental Advice Column

Read and listen to “A Cold Glow”

The Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast recently announced that they will be doing their second annual Halloween Special, and you know what that means!

It means that I just remembered I never bothered to post about the fact that my story “A Cold Glow” was one of the flash fiction pieces included in last year’s episode. I have a history of doing this.

Yes, that is my “handwriting.”

You can listen to it here. “A Cold Glow” plays at 24:25, but if you’re in the mood to overload on Halloween flash fiction, this episode is filled with all types of Halloween stories. Case in point: “A Cold Glow” is a sci-fi story about a kid on a space station who butts heads with the station’s computer in his quest to carve a jack-o’-lantern.

I forget how many other stories are in the podcast, but I had a lot of fun listening to a bunch of them last year while driving out to various Halloween adventures. Werewolves, witches, vampires, hauntings–they’re all present and accounted for.

The text version of the story will have a permanent home here.

We’re a month-and-a-half out from Halloween, and this post is scheduled for Friday the 13th. Works for me.

Nine reasons to cut your own hair (besides saving money)

Haircutting shears, thinning shears, haircutting razor, comb

I perpetrated my first DIY haircut one night in my college dorm, in the grubby common bathroom. Some kind of hair-demon possessed me and whipped me into a frenzy that would not allow me to sleep or focus on anything else until I had less hair on my head. Instead of putting off the haircut until a more convenient time, making an appointment, or at least doing a quick internet search to learn what to do, I grabbed some hair from the center of my head, pulled it out to my nose, and chopped it off with what I assume were not actual haircutting scissors.

Only then, I realized my mistake and took to the internet. I forget if I Googled, or LiveJournaled, or possibly even went on AOL Instant Messenger, which hung on with the strength of the undead for many years after AOL itself became a clownish relic of the 90s. All I remember is that I told my friend Bonnie about the weird little hair-fangs hanging down my forehead, and Bonnie said, “Come over. I can fix it.”

This was accomplished with a great deal of mediocre pizza.

The lesson I took from my screw-up wasn’t that I should be patient and let a professional take care of things for me: it was that I should learn the skills Bonnie had.

I’ve now been cutting my own hair for fourteen years, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. My worst mistakes now have nothing on the hair-fangs of 2005.

People often cite money as a reason to cut your own hair. Do the math! Think of how much money you’ll save! Money has been a motivating factor for me, but after years of DIY haircuts, I’ve found other reasons as well. Here are a few to consider:

You are not a telepath.

How many people have a story about asking the stylist to “just take off an inch” and ending up with a drastic haircut? You can describe something to a stylist in detail, and you can bring pictures, but it’s hard not to lose something in translation. This happens even with pictures because a haircut on someone else must be translated to your own hair and head shape.

I’ve gotten more accurate with my descriptions since I started cutting my own hair. The last time I had a professional haircut, three years ago, I described what I wanted so well that I was disappointed: she gave me the exact cut I would’ve given myself at home.

You have long hair.

If you have long hair, you also have large margin of error. I might be biased (as a short hair person since the age of twelve), but I don’t see much point to hair more than half a foot past your shoulders. Nothing after that is going to change how you look. The hair around your face has more impact than ends trailing down your mid-back to your butt.

Every inch of hair you have beyond that “just past the shoulders” point adds to your margin of error. Unless you truly love the feeling of a ponytail long enough to tie your shoes with, consider the extra length to be breathing room.

Or an easy haircut.

Again, this applies to long hair, or at least long hair cut to a single length, no bangs, no layers. It also applies to a straightforward buzzcut. If you have an easy haircut, why not give it a shot?

Be a fearless badass.

Fearlessness liberates you, and cutting your own hair is a safe way to practice it. I’ve heard people who jumped out of a plane say how exhilarated and free they felt after finally doing it.

That’s nice. I’m still not jumping out of a plane.

I have a number of anxiety problems, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. I overthink everything. I don’t need my hair to be yet another area of my life that’s ruled by anxiety. Eff that noise–if I find myself over-worrying about my hair, I chop it off.

Satiate the hair madness immediately.

Even if you don’t cut your own hair on a regular basis, if you learn how to, it’s always an option that’s available. Such as if you are possessed by the same hair madness I had that night in college and need to cut your hair immediately in the middle of the night.

Cut your hair in stealth.

Last year, I decided to go back to a pixie cut. I had grown out my previous pixie into an undercut with a long top–too long, falling onto my shoulders. In pictures, I don’t look like myself. The hair demon, it turns out, was part of me all along. Twist!

I didn’t want the “You cut your hair!” attention that a sudden, drastic haircut brings, so I decided I would cut little bits at a time and stretch the haircut out over several months. Usually, this meant setting a timer for three to five minutes, and cutting off just a bit before taking a shower.

Only three or four people noticed until I made it past the one-year mark, made a mistake, and buzzed off a bunch to even it out.

Part of the reason I did this was also as a learning experience. I hoped that by cutting less at a time, I might better learn how to deal with some of the awkward, in-between lengths. The stealth haircut (also known as the slow haircut) worked out well in that regard too.

I learned that if you only cut a small section at a time and don’t like the result, it’s easy to see where you went wrong.

Express yourself.

If you wake up one morning and you’re not in a “having this stupid lock of hair on the side of my head” kind of mood, you can snip that thing off. When you cut your own hair, your haircut is more directly tied to your self-expression. Hair becomes another art form to explore. Your haircut can be a reaction to how you’re feeling. You can put away parts of your personality and bring other ones up front for awhile.

Avoid small talk.

Are you too awkward to have a stranger cut your hair? That’s been my experience for most of my life. Cut your hair by yourself, cut the small talk.

Then you can free the rambling, singing deranged person you keep under that awkward exterior.

Increase your independence.

Despite the fear so many people have, cutting your own hair is like anything else where you have the option of calling a professional versus doing it yourself. I’ve changed my own oil, jumped a battery, and replaced my car’s door handle with some help from youtube.

If I wanted, I could do all my own oil changes myself. But I have a small, low car, and it’s a hassle to get under there. Also, considering the cost of oil itself, I’m not saving an enormous money by passing that job off to someone else.

And ultimately, even after learning all the benefits of cutting my own hair, I’m more clear on when it makes sense to call a professional. Sometimes, you want to take advantage of how much easier it is for someone else to blend the hair on the back of your head. Maybe you like having your scalp touched. Maybe you want to get the fuck out of your apartment. Maybe you’ve calculated how many hours of your life it costs to make the money to get the haircut, and the haircut makes you happy enough that you don’t care. Or you hate cutting your own hair the same way many people hate vacuuming, and you especially hate cleaning hair scraps out of the bathroom sink.

For many years, my treat to myself on my birthday was a professional haircut.

There’s an attitude many people have that cutting your own hair is basically the equivalent of a sloppy chainsaw murder, especially if you’re a woman and your hair is supposed to be your crowning glory. I don’t like the assumption that you shouldn’t cut your own hair because you’ll fuck it up, and that you need to hand the job over to someone who’s had the proper training because under no circumstances should you ever set foot outside with a less than perfect haircut.

I don’t like the assumption that you shouldn’t cut your own hair because you’ll fuck it up, and that you need to hand the job over to someone who’s had the proper training because under no circumstances should you ever set foot outside with a less than perfect haircut.

Even worse is the assumption that you can never learn to cut your own hair; hairstylists are not human beings who attend schools, start out knowing nothing, and learn through reading and practice. They’re, like, mythical spirits of hair, and you can never learn to do what they do.

Those attitudes are willfully disempowering people.

Instead of looking at DIY haircuts with fear, it should be seen as another area where we have a choice. There’s a world of difference between choosing to call a professional, and being helpless to do anything but call a professional.

That’s a Kris Problem: when others refuse to use my gender-neutral name

Out in the world are others who have experienced the same social annoyances I have, like being asked if I’m sure I don’t want any dessert or being told to smile. The great proliferation of internet blogs almost universally ensures that I can find those people, learn from them, and feel less alone. I can realize why something bothered me, see how someone else solved it, or see how they chose to accept it. But there’s one social problem I’ve never seen anyone else write about.

What do you do when you’re a Kristin who goes by Kris, and others revert your name to Kristin the instant you find yourself in a grouping with a Christopher who goes by the phonetically identical Chris, supposedly to avoid confusion? What do you do when others refuse to use your chosen name the instant someone who ranks higher in the patriarchy shows up?

The name Kris written in varying sizes and styles over acrylic paint.

As a child, I signed all my drawings KRIS, written in capital letters that took up the entire back of the paper. I knew Kris was my name before I knew Kristin was. One day, at either daycare or Sunday school, I drew my picture, flipped it over, and wrote KRIS in my enormous, wavering crayon lines. When I took it home at the end of the day, I noticed the teacher had written “Kristin” in the upper right corner, in tiny, ballpoint penmanship.

Kristin is my full name. Kris is my name. But after that, I knew to go by Kristin at school.

Fifth grade was a year that even now, I remember being one of the best in my life. I had lived an entire decade, made it to the top of the school, and collected enough Lisa Frank stickers to trade with my best friends, who were all in the same class as me that year. High on the power of a ten-year-old, I took a bold stand: I wrote “Kris” at the top of a worksheet. Then I did it again. I didn’t stop.

I asked the friends who didn’t already call me Kris if they could do so.

One of them told me, “I can’t call you Kris. It’s a boy’s name.”

This, of course, is not actually true. It’s not even uncommon for Christines, Christinas, and Kristins* to go by Chris/Kris, although I didn’t meet any others until I was an adult. My grandmother and my aunt, both named Crystal, went by Crys at times. Since I called them “Grandma” and “Aunt Crystal,” the fact that they had the same name as me didn’t sink in until later. So when my friend said Kris was a boy’s name, it felt true.

My name was short and boyish, and I wasn’t supposed to use it. I was like Nancy Drew’s friend George. And we all know that George is the awesome friend because no one remembers the other one.

I was Kris.


I’ve wondered how no one else on this internet has this problem, or at least how no one has written about it. Or if they have written about it, why it’s been so hard for me to find.

There are several conditions that must be in place for the Kris problem to occur. You need:

  1. A female first name with
  2. a gender-neutral nickname, which
  3. is actually used by males as well, and
  4. is common enough that males and females (and those of varying gender identities) will encounter each other.

Which is to say, I thought that loads of people must have experienced this, but it may not be a common problem at all. Most other Kristins I’ve met go by Kristin. Who else has this problem? Jessicas who go by Jess? Danielles who go by Dan? Samanthas who go by Sam? I’ve only known one female Dan and one male Sam. But I’ve known loads of Chrises.

Here’s a scenario I’ve experienced repeatedly in group settings:
“I’m Josh.”
“I’m Ashley.”
“I’m Chris.”
“I’m Kris too.”
“Uh-oh, there’s another Kris.”

At this point, the meddling Josh or Ashley will propose a solution before a problem even comes up: “Well, you can just go by Kristin.” I don’t know why it falls to the Meddling Ashley to do this, but that’s the pattern. It’s never the other Chris.

This has happened at school, at more than one job, at family gatherings, and with friends. It’s happened even when my presence in a group predates the other Chris. Wherever there are Chrises, this has happened to me. The irony isn’t lost on me: I kept my name when I got married, but I’m constantly giving up my name.

Aside from my partner, no one is really aware that this happens. It’s a textbook example of a micro-aggression.

And aside from my boldness in fifth grade, it took me years to get to the point at which I decided to casually, if the moment was right, ask for people to call me Kris after they had already been calling me Kristin for quite some time.

I’m introverted and non-confrontational, so even something like “Hey, can you call me Kris? I’d really prefer it.” felt like a huge stand.

But my own personal, inner victory, the fact that I had asked at all, has most often been swept away by the responses I get. The typical response is for my request to be ignored.

Second place goes to: “Oh, but I’m so used to calling you Kristin.”

I don’t hate the name Kristin. Sometimes, in a particular mood, or when I’m at the DMV, it’s how I refer to myself. My parents call me by both names.

But the more I’m called Kristin after requesting Kris, the more the name irritates me. That’s because it’s not about the name itself; it’s about the blatant disregard, sometimes after repeated requests, that this is not what I want to be called. It’s someone talking to me while looking into another’s eyes. It’s being smeared like so much dry erase marker across a board.

That’s a Chris problem, Kris.

It’s much rarer for anyone to put in the effort to change what they had been calling me. But when someone does make the effort, even if I’m still Kristin about half the time, the feeling of being smeared disappears, replaced by the warmth and knowledge that I have been seen and heard.


When I worked occasional Thursday mornings at my old security job, I would come in as the sun rose. An hour later, a short, slim woman with sharp eyebrows would come in to help patients. A former librarian, she stored baggies of peanut butter sandwiches in her glove compartment the way others do granola bars.

Her name was Chris.

A few hours after that, another woman would come in. She was also small, with glasses and bobbed hair, and a sort of jovial matter-of-factness about her.

Her name? Also Chris. Now there were three of us.

We compared root names: two Christines and a Kristin. No one said, “Maybe you should go by Kristin,” or “You should go by Christine.” We made cheesy jokes about being a club, and laughed when someone said “Chris,” and three people turned around.

Never, in any situation with multiple female Krises and Chrises, has a Meddling Josh proposed that someone stop going by Kris.

We simply deal with any small confusions that arise because they aren’t actually a big deal.

I’ve observed in groups with two males of the same name that it isn’t an issue there either. Everyone gets used to Mike and Mike, or adds extra information to the contentious name. Then you have John One and John Two, Big Steve and Little Steve, Alex K. And Alex F., or Proper Dave and Medium Dave in Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather. It’s possible that John Two, Little Steve, and Alex F. have some simmering resentment over their names. But I’d rather be Kris Two, Little Kris, or Kris F. because that would mean someone listened to me. Even though my last initial isn’t F.


Here are some measures I’ve learned to take:

  • Introduce myself as Kris. Not even, “Hi, I’m Kristin. I go by Kris.” People who don’t know the name Kristin don’t call me by it.
  • Have my partner be a spotter, pointedly refer to me as Kris, and correct people.
  • Don’t assume that anything is a big enough hint. Don’t assume that using my preferred name online is a big enough hint. When I finally joined Facebook, I thought that using the handle “Kris Bowser” would be a hint. I thought that owning krisbowser.com would be a hint. But I’m sensitive to this, and apparently, it’s not a big enough hint.
  • Don’t even assume that setting your chosen name in 64-point Garamond on your wedding invitations–normally a full name kind of space–will be a big enough hint.

But I’ve learned to turn those outwards too:

  • Pay attention. Call people by the name they introduce themselves as.
  • Take a hint. Don’t assume that someone is typing their name a certain way for no real reason–assume it was a choice.
  • If someone asks to be called another name, give it a shot. Try. Don’t say I’m too used to the first name, as if I’ve never had to adapt to something in your life before.
  • Don’t assume a name is someone’s preference just because I hear others using it. Ask.

And don’t assume it’s not a big deal. You don’t know how strongly someone else holds their name preference, what it signifies, or how it empowers them.