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#257: Does having my awesome career mean I have to lose all of my relationships?

Dear Captain Awkward,

Here is my problem. I made a bunch of friends when I was in my 20s. Then, when I was 30, I went back to school to finish my BA, and because my GPA from my first round of college was so very low I told all my friends I was going to have to really concentrate on school because I had to get all As in order to raise my GPA up high enough to qualify for the professional program I wanted to attend after school. (Long, tangential story about the GPA – please accept that I really did need to get all As.)

I spent three years as an undergrad, then two years as a grad student, then one year in the professional program, and now I am finishing my first year in my new career. I love my career. I love my job. It is everything I ever wanted. I was also highly successful at school, was published, got awards and fellowships, and basically rocked academia.

My friends all left. I didn’t have time to maintain my friendships, but I had assumed we were all adult enough that they would understand why I wasn’t around as much and would still invite me to do things with them once I was free again. This hasn’t happened. I now hear about all the crafting circles I’m not invited to, the dinners, the fun events, etc. I have hinted and then pointedly told people I’m available again and even though they all swear they’re still my friends, I don’t get the invites.

I don’t regret school – I was terribly bored and got minimum wage at my pre-degree jobs – but I do regret not having spent more time with my friends even though realistically I did have to spend all that time studying. My old friends no longer have time for me.

And then there’s my boyfriend. He’s sweet, kind, loving, awesome, communicative, not afraid of feelings, and everything a girl could ever want. He totally supported me (emotionally and financially) through six years of school and has been my chief cheerleader for fifteen years. However, during the first year of grad school I gained over 100 pounds very quickly due to stress (yes, I am going to the gym, and yes, I have seen the doctor). He loves me very much, but now I look different and he had a hard time reconciling my new look with our relationship.

We didn’t have sex for several years. He loves me and is in love with me but is not attracted to me. I love him and am in love with him and am attracted to him. We tried couples therapy and for a variety of reasons, that didn’t work. (Too expensive, I hated the therapist, etc.) He also got tired of waiting around for me to become available, so he started playing World of Warcraft and made a whole bunch of new friends I don’t know.

Now I am trying to make new friends. I am being myself. I was always told, “be yourself, and eventually you will find someone who likes you.” Unhappily, the stress of school and getting basically 120 semester units of straight As has given me an anxiety disorder in addition to the fat and has made me rather introverted. No one seems to want to be my friend and I feel stress in group settings, so I lose my cool easier and quicker during parties.

The last new friend I made had a party two years ago that I was invited to. There, at the party, outside in her back yard, her conservative next door neighbor insulted me and my chosen profession openly and to my face. I got upset and argued back (and politer, too!). Then I went into her house and sat on the couch, angry and trying to calm down. My friend’s wife came in and told me that their neighbor had been really great and accepting to them and they didn’t want any trouble. I haven’t been invited back to any parties.

It always seems to happen this way – I am at a gathering of people, some friend of a friend says something horribly offensive, and I say something back and then I am no longer invited. (And I’m talking really bigoted things, too, like “all Muslims should die.”) I am too uptight, too self-righteous, too impolite, too emotional, and way, way too blunt. And I can’t take a joke. My new friends don’t stay friends for very long.

So now I’m at a point where my boyfriend is in a hotel room with another woman. She’s a WoW friend who is not local, and she’s flown out here to visit all her friends in the area. He volunteered to pick her up at the airport and put her up at a local hotel for two nights because she’s his friend and he’s awesome. He is staying the night – he got her last night and won’t be home til Monday. They’re spending the day with WoW friends. He swears up and down that they’re not a couple and not having sex and he is a very truthful man – but he also tends to apologize instead of ask permission. (All of this was arranged and then I was told about it, for example.) He doesn’t understand why I don’t trust any of this.

At the risk of sounding whiny, I feel very alone. I am lonely. Being myself doesn’t seem to get me anywhere. I don’t know how to make real friends and I’m not sure I ever did know how. I love my job, but all my friends there are work friends – none have invited me over or have come over in response to my invites. I worry that I’m losing my boyfriend of 15 years because I’m no longer good enough. My self-esteem is in the toilet and I wonder if choosing school and a great career was worth all of this. I think the problem is me, and I know that can’t be entirely true, but I wonder to what degree it is true.

Help?

No More Friends

PS – folks, please don’t ask me to go to the gym or suggest the endorphin benefits of exercise or say I’ll somehow magically solve all my problems if I lose weight. I’ve heard all that and I’m trying to and I really don’t want to be fat-shamed.

Dear No More Friends:

Let’s start with your postscript. We’re not the fat-shaming sorts around here. Done and done.

I’m really sorry you’re feeling these relationships slip away from you. Let’s deal with the old friends first, and some assumptions:

  • I had assumed we were all adult enough that they would understand why I wasn’t around as much and would still invite me to do things with them once I was free again.”
  • “I have hinted and then pointedly told people I’m available again and even though they all swear they’re still my friends, I don’t get the invites.

I’m sorry, while your friends may in fact have been very supportive of you following your dreams, it’s unrealistic to expect that you could disappear from their lives and still maintain the same place in the social circle (automatically invited to everything!) when you returned. Whatever awesome stuff you’ve been doing (and it does sound awesome), they’ve been doing equally awesome stuff, or differently awesome stuff, or not-so-awesome stuff, and I sense this idea that you went away and changed your life completely but expected that they stayed the same and were maybe waiting for you a little bit?

I realize that the changes are hurtful and that you can know rationally that your friends will have moved on somewhat and still feel excluded. But if you’re approaching this from a standpoint of seeing all of those sewing circles and dinner parties as things you SHOULD be invited to and AREN’T and how they OWE YOU, that chip on your shoulder is going to be visible in your interactions. Guilt and entitlement don’t make you a more exciting party guest. Also, hinting never works, and blanket “You should invite me to stuff from now on, probably?” probably won’t work, either. You have to get more specific about connecting.

Here’s a small challenge for you. Call up one of your old friends, the one you like the best and who you think is the most supportive and welcoming, and say “I haven’t seen you in a while and I’d love to catch up. Can I take you out to breakfast this weekend or next?” Go to breakfast. Have a good time. And here’s the “challenge” part: Ask her about her life. Talk about old times. See what you have in common now. Do you still laugh at the same stuff? Is she easy to hang out with, or is it awkward and forced? Do NOT mention your hurt feelings and your wishes to be invited places. Do not have any agenda beyond “seeing my old friend who I like and want to reconnect with,” eating delicious pancakes, and having a good Saturday morning.

If you have a good time, and things are not awkward and forced, keep inviting her to stuff, about once a month or so. Maybe reach out to 2 or 3 other people from that group and try the same thing. Yes, it feels like you’re courting/dating your friends a little bit, but IF there is still a genuine connection with them and IF you can find things in common and enjoy each other now, that effort you put into making them feel good and letting them know you’re interested in them individually as humans (and not as gatekeepers to a group you feel excluded from) is going to pay off for you. They are going to start including you in things because you obviously like each other’s company and you are making an effort to be a part of their lives and not because you guilted them into it. Give this a lot of time, like 3-6 months.

If things are weird and stilted? If it’s impossible to make plans? You’ve learned something sad but valuable: You and these friends have truly moved in separate directions. You can wish them well and stay in touch on a superficial level, but they aren’t your people anymore. Tell yourself “At least I tried,” grieve for them and move on.

Now let’s talk about your Uncomfortable Party Persona. I, and a lot of readers here, TOTALLY FEEL YOU about being at a gathering and then someone says something awful and we feel like we have to speak up about it and all the air gets sucked out of the room and maybe people will blame us for “drama” and “trouble” when really it’s the unbelievable racist/sexist/homophobic/downright genocidal thing that the other person said that caused the trouble. I don’t want to tell you to not speak up, and you probably don’t want a group of friends who say terrible things to you and then expect not to be called on it anyway, but since this has happened more than once and is actively interfering with your happiness I do have a couple of suggestions.

  • Some people, especially Geeks, are allergic to “trouble” or “drama” and will go so far to avoid any sense of conflict that they will cruelly police people for disagreeing and stating that disagreement, and there is this unwritten rule that hangs over everyone’s heads. If you feel like this is the kind of group you’re involved with, really modulate your statements and tone of voice. Don’t get drawn into an argument, just say in a calm tone, “I’m sorry, I disagree with that, but I’d prefer not to have an argument (this is your offering to the Household God of We Geeks Are So Enlightened That We Never Argue). Can we change the subject (back to a fun thing)?”  
  • Even when the other person says something really horrible, you don’t have to “win” the conversation or prove them wrong. You did the right thing in that one case by disagreeing politely and removing yourself from the conversation as quickly as possible. But I think it helps to recognize that, like it or not, there is a hierarchy at work here. “My neighbor who I have to live next to forever and want to stay on his good side” vs. “The person I just met.” As the New Guy, if there is conflict surrounding you, people will be quicker to see you as the problem (even if you’re right on the merits). If you can tell yourself “this person is being a jerk, but I’m choosing not to fight with him and choosing to say ‘Hmmm, interesting’ and then go get some dip” you gain some power back.
  • I’m NOT saying don’t stand up for yourself or just let horrible statements go and never challenge them as the price of friendship. A group that’s infected with “All Conflict = Drama and THAT IS BAD” and “She who raises her voice is automatically in the wrong” sounds exhausting to hang out with, so you’re probably not going to want to spend a lot of time with these people as a large group anyway. But if you can ride out a couple of gatherings without getting into an argument you may gain some social currency as “a cool person who can hang” and figure out if any of the group members are Your People. More importantly, it will help you break this pattern you feel like you have going on to know that you can choose to engage.

As far as finding new friends, think about a) volunteering somewhere with a strong social justice agenda, b) taking a class in something totally fun that you’re not already good at, or c) finding a regular activity through Meetup.com. That gives you a set activity, out of the house, doing something you like, with new people who may become friends, in a totally low-pressure situation.

I’m also going to recommend that you revisit therapy (not couples therapy – get someone just for you) when and if it’s possible for you. You’ve got a lot of emotional stuff going on and a lot of big changes going on your life, and having someone you can vent to will help you manage your stress levels. Think also about using a paper journal or a site like 750 Words to write daily “morning pages.” That’s a good ritual I use when I’m feeling down. It helps me just vomit out anxieties in a safe place so I can get on with my day.

Now, your relationship stuff made me really sad, because I think you’re spot on to think the whole “We’re staying in a hotel together all weekend but not in a sexy way” thing is fishy. Men and women can be just friends, sure, absolutely. I myself have shared hotel or floor or guest-bedroom space with dude-friends in a totally platonic, not-sexy way many a time! But this is still fishy. You know why? Because you know this guy really well and if your spidey-senses are tingling and telling you that it’s fishy, or at least borderline fishy, like it-used-to-be-fishy-but-isn’t-anymore or isn’t-fishy-yet-but-is-about-to-be, it probably is. Or, at least worth a conversation along the lines of “I trust you, and want you to have a good time with your friends, but I still felt really alone and weird about the idea of you staying in a hotel with another lady all weekend. Can we talk about that?” I see you making all this effort to be the cool, non-jealous girlfriend when really you are jealous and not cool, and maybe getting in touch with some of that anger and anxiety will be healthy. I really, really hope you don’t have to have a conversation involving the words “We didn’t mean to, it just happened” this coming week, because that conversation also involves the part where he created the circumstances where it was very easy for things to just happen. Gah.

So, I know you’re probably WAY unready to hear this and in the midst of feeling lonely and adrift friendwise it may actually induce panic, but…

What if you broke up with the guy who doesn’t really want to have sex with you and who spends all his free time playing World of Warcraft (rarely an aphrodisiac, in my personal experience) with shiny new friends?

I’m not saying you *should* break up.

I’m not saying it’s impossible that you’ll work it out – he sounds like he’s been willing to do anything and everything to keep the relationship going and maybe you can figure out a way to reconnect with each other sexually, though going years without sex is not a good omen, even without fishtastic out-of-town guests.

But I think your low self-esteem has put you in the mindset that he is GREAT and you are FAT and that somehow makes you UNWORTHY (as if bodies never change in a long-term, let’s-grow-old-together type of relationship) so I have to ask…is he making you feel great right now? I know he supported you through grad school and you feel gratitude for that, but is he treating you how you need to be treated right now? Some journaling and talking with a therapist on the subject of “My relationship: What do I want and need from it, and am I getting those things?” is in order. Because you deserve to feel good. You deserve to feel good right fucking now.

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47 comments
  1. Stephanie said:

    Thank you, Captain Awkward for the link to 750 Words – what a neat idea!

  2. maggie said:

    LW, my first thought was “But why not invite Old Friends out??” That is probably more likely to get socializing. And also then you don’t have to deal with friends-of-friends.

    While this is not exactly the same, I have gone many, many years without really making friends, for various reasons. I went 3 years without meeting anyone in my current city (and having moved there didn’t even have any old friendships). But now I’ve joined a few things and I’m making a concerted effort to socialize. It is an effort, for old friends or potential new ones. It takes a while.

  3. Empathy to the LW.

    Also, thank you to Captain Awkward for the 750 Words link.

  4. Oh, NMF, I’m so sorry to hear that stuff is so difficult for you right now.

    If the doc you mentioned has confirmed that the weight is not endocrine weirdness, then congratulations! You belong to a highly evolutionarily-favored group: those who can create more reserve energy stores in times of stress. (I am also a member of this group.) In the big picture, the kind where the scale is measured in millennia, this is actually a really good thing. In the small picture, where the scale is measured by day-to-day life, it sucks. But I find it helpful to keep that in mind that there is a REASON I gain weight when I’m stressed, and it’s not that I’m a big fat lazy fatty with no willpower.

    The Captain’s suggestions about reconnecting with your friends are spot-on. It’s going to take time and patience. And therapy is awesome. I think everyone who can afford it should go.

    As far as being the person who reacts to That Guy/Lady at parties, that’s a really hard line to walk. I don’t like to let things pass unchallenged: if the offensive comments are about me, I don’t like being insulted. If the offensive comments are about somebody else, part of being a good ally is leveraging my privilege. So I end up having to choose: swallow shit, or ruin the whole evening? Something that is surprisingly helpful with this is digging through the back archives of Miss Manners. (Or getting one or more of her books from your local library.) She has lots of suggestions for dealing with rude, bigoted comments.

    Most of her suggestions fall into two categories: icy or naive. Icy would be things like “Really” or “I beg your pardon” or “I disagree” or “That’s rather insulting.”

    Naive is, in my opinion, way more fun. It’s where you take everything they say literally and respond with earnest confusion or distress. “All [members of your profession] are [insult].” “I don’t understand — why would you think that?” Or, “All Muslims should die.” “But that’s terrible! Why would you want that? Almost a quarter of the world’s population are Muslims!” Etc.

    A third way is the Jay Smooth approach. You’re not saying that they, personally, are a bad person, but they need to know that the thing they just said sounded awfully racist/sexist/homophobic/whatever, and they should be careful about that or people will think that they really are that way. It’s a time-honored classic.

    • Oh, I love the “naive” track.

      • Erika said:

        I’ve used the naive trick to great success, not only for bigots but just plain bitchy people. It’s second in my book to the “kill them with kindness” technique. After all, if people just see you being sweet and pleasant and the other person gets progressively nastier, who are they going to side with?

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the links and specific advice, which is spot on. I don’t like to let bad shit go without saying *something* back, like “WOW” or “What do you mean by that?” or “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, could you say that again?” but I’ve got a lot of choices as to how I respond, and sometimes “do I really want to pick this fight, right here, right now?is the winning strategy.

    • cairea said:

      Seconding the Miss Manners tactics, and just reading Miss Manners in general. As a person who also gets the social anxiety and for whom ‘augh, but THOSE people are being rude and awful and why are OTHER people putting up with it’ comes up a lot (I’m lower management in a book store, with co-workers who are all Geeks and all the attendant Social Things that come up in a tightly-knit group of geeks who have mostly all known each other for years but aren’t really or exactly friends) reading Miss Manners books helped me figure out that an awful lot of things that my social circles over the years reacted to as rude and unreasonable were in fact not so, and also gave me scripts for dealing with the situations that were so upsetting for me.

    • Britt said:

      I’ve used naive to spectacular effect many a time. There’s something about making someone either repeat or try to explain a totally offensive statement that can *really* bring home to them how offensive it is without you having to be all finger-pointy in a way that might catch you flack with friends who are of the “just be cool” type. It’s also really useful in business situations where you really have limited options about HOW you respond without jeopardizing a sale/a meeting/etc.

    • Eclairity said:

      Jay Smooth did a follow up to that video that was fantastic and hilarious where he mentioned that the feedback he got from people was that that approach didn’t work about 90% of the time. Try googling Jay Smooth TED talks. Worth the ten minutes.

  5. Anxiety doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If you’re anxious and upset, it’s because something is wrong. This doesn’t mean that your boyfriend is homg going to sleep with that Chaotic TittyRaptor She-Elf or whatever.* It means that you aren’t feeling great about it.

    Super extra good luck on rebuilding your friends circle! Also perhaps trying Finding your People in other ways, broadening your social circle a bit? OkCupid? Valuable and rewarding Online Friends? (We are the best of friends because we are pre-selected to be awesome.)

    Just don’t feel guilty about becoming a more Awesome You, even if you’ve lost a few people in the process. When you have something valuable and precious in your life – be it a wonderful love, or a demanding career, a dependent child, or just a really invested interest in brushing your hair – you are going to have to spend some of your time on that, at the expense of Always Being Available to People Who Want You. Surprisingly, the people who want you to be Always Available (The First Priority Remix) HATE being told that they’re not actually your first priority, and there is a distinct possibility that there are some people you just won’t get back into your circle. I know it hurts. It doesn’t really stop hurting. But the people who stick around, who make an effort to reconnect, who are busy themselves but love making time for you, are the ones who are worth it.

    But anyway, whatever it is, the valuable thing in your hands is more important than a lot of things. It is more important than being filler at someone else’s racist party. It doesn’t even need to be that special: it’s important inherently, because it is something you love. Hold onto it with both hands. Never feel guilty about it. Treat it like your heart.

    If it fills your hands up so much that you can’t hold anything else for a while, more luck to you! (Perhaps people who love you can even help you carry it!) But if people in your life are saying things like “Ugh, look at you, always carrying that THING. Throw it away, you fat boring slob, I want you to hold MY thing and your hands are always FULL OF STUPIDER THINGS” then the only thing I can really advocate is employing your inherent magical ability to delete unnecessary people from your life. Good luck carrying your valuable thing. I am very glad that it makes you so happy.

    * this is what WoW is right

    • JenniferP said:

      I love this comment, especially this: “But anyway, whatever it is, the valuable thing in your hands is more important than a lot of things. It is more important than being filler at someone else’s racist party.

      • oh jeez Captain now I have all the twitterpated feels <3

  6. SherryH said:

    First off, LW, congrats on your awesome career and having the chops to put into the schooling that got you there. You knew what you wanted, you figured out what you’d have to do to get there, and you got it done. You are awesome. but, as you say, it’s taken a toll on your relationships.

    I think the Captain and others have given you good advice on renewing ties with your friends and making new ones. I’ve got nothing better to offer there. Same for the party situation, except – maybe it’s the people or the particular parties, and not you. Parties are no fun for me – maybe try finding a situation where you’re working or doing things with someone and not standing around making small talk.

    I am concerned about your relationship with your boyfriend. You say that the two of you haven’t been intimate in a long time, and he says that he’s no longer attracted to you as you are. Well, that’s a problem, and it may not be one you can fix. (I don’t think losing weight is the answer. I suspect that if you did, he’d find another reason to pull back.) He’s spending the weekend, not just with this girl in a hotel room, which may be something, may be nothing, but with a group of friends he’s gotten very tight with, doing something you’re either not into or not invited to. It sounds to me as though he’s pulling away, consciously or unconsciously. Maybe he feels you pulled away first, or misses the old you, or he’s changed too and isn’t willing to acknowledge it.

    I think you all are going to need some help piecing things back together, if that can be done. Not the therapist you went to before, the one you didn’t click with. But maybe try to see if another couples counselor will work out better, or maybe go to solo counseling and see if you can put together some strategies for renewing friendships, making new friends, and making your relationship with your boyfriend work OR making a clean and amicable break.

    I hope things work out for you.

    • Britt said:

      I don’t think losing weight is the answer. I suspect that if you did, he’d find another reason to pull back.

      I had this thought, as well. If he’s not attracted to you now because you gained weight (which is so not the end of the world, I promise, LW), what happens when you get wrinkles? Or a hair cut he doesn’t like? Or things start to sag because time and gravity just DO THAT? Or you have a child and your body changes in any of the myriad ways that can cause?

      I’m not saying dump him unequivocally, but the fact that he’s not attracted to you and you haven’t been intimate in a long time seems to tell me that there is some major stuff going on that needs to be untangled if you decide that you do want to try and make the relationship work that doesn’t actually have a whole lot to do with your weight.

      • This! I was a bit on the boyfriend side of the dynamic in a relationship I was in once – I was in a city far from my family and personal support network, and I kind of pulled back in that relationship and used “I’m not interested in sex with you because of [reason]” as justification, though [reason] was just something concrete I could say so I wouldn’t have to get drowned in my confusing feelings and have to try to figure out what REALLY wasn’t working for me.

        I wouldn’t call it a ‘training wheels breakup’, but I definitely was trying to see what I could see from the point of view of me-as-me and not me-as-half-of-this-relationship, which was also very much 100% of my identity at that point.

        I also played a ton of WoW – that game is very good for dissociating with a imperfect reality you feel stuck in.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          The best thing MrFirpa ever told me, back when I was still in my gain/loss/gain/loss cycle, was “I always find you sexy, regardless of what form you choose to take.” That is awesome a) because he phrased it like I’m a shapeshifter, and that makes me grin every time, and b) because he does, and it’s true. He finds me sexy when I’m skinny, when I’m fat, when I’m a complete mess. I could then trust that he’d find me sexy when I was pregnant, when my hair went gray, when I got a bunch of wrinkles, if I lost a leg, and so forth and so on. That’s when I knew that this was my guy.

          That, LW, is what I expect for everyone: a mate who will find them unbearably sexy regardless of what form they choose to take. If your guy isn’t doing that, something is wrong. Either he’s incapable of dealing with you changing your form, in which case this is so totally not your problem and you deserve better, or he’s using this as an excuse for some other problem, in which case this TOTALLY IS NOT YOUR PROBLEM AND YOU DESERVE BETTER because goddamn, that’s low. Not having sex with you and hinky sleep-overs in hotel rooms with WoW girls are exactly the red flag you think they are. Something is very wrong.

    • Emma said:

      I want to second the recommendation for trying more couples counseling – I have never been a fan of individual therapy for myself (and yes, I have tried multiple therapists at different points in my life) but I found couples counseling incredibly helpful. Part of what I liked is that my couples counselor gave us little exercises to do every week. Just doing them was a great way for me to feel like I was working on the problem, and I felt affirmed that my partner also wanted to work on it. Maybe try a therapist that feels actively participatory?

      If money is an issue, you can actually get insurance to pay for it sometimes, if your therapist diagnoses you with an adjustment disorder, which basically means you have trouble dealing with something in your life and is meant to be temporary. Sometimes adjustment disorders aren’t covered, because therapists use them for lengthy divorce counseling, and insurance companies don’t want to pay for it. But since you have a fabulous job now, it might be worth checking to see if it comes with fabulous benefits.

  7. All really good advice above. But the one thing that no one brought up is hobbies. Do you have a hobby you love? If not, is there any sort of hobby that sounds like fun to you?

    Hobbies are great because (1) they are intrinsically fun and rewarding if you find one you like and (2) they provide an excellent way to meet new people in contexts with a built-in topic of conversation that is automatically of mutual interest. This makes it a really low-pressure way to meet new people for friendship and more.

    And I bring up new people because it sure sounds to me like you are not enjoying the people around you right now–your former friends and your boyfriend–and those people are not giving you the kind of positive affirmative emotional and intellectual feedback you need and deserve. Maybe those people just aren’t in a position emotionally and intellectually to appreciate the changed you? Sometimes when a person changes in fundamental ways, other people with pre-existing relationships can’t or won’t adapt. But new people who meet the changed you by definition don’t have this baggage.

  8. case-in-point said:

    LW, you rock. I just want you to know that. Finding a dream and grabbing onto it with both hands to the exclusion of almost everything else in the world is terrifying and brave and absolutely amazing. Add that to your pro-you self-esteem mantra, you are exceptionally brave. I hope that, if you’re considering possible volunteer social outlets, you’ll consider mentoring other young ladies who could maybe use a dose of your courage.

    I also just wanted to say, don’t look at your weight as a source of trouble in your relationship. It may be a contributing factor, but it’s not the whole story as to why your boyfriend is pulling away. It’s easy to blame the weight because it’s physical and therefore easy to point to and easier than digging through the emotional muck that’s entered your relationship, but it’s not the whole story. It’s also easy for your boyfriend to point to as a reason why he doesn’t feel fully invested in your relationship when it’s more likely to be a whole lot of nebulous feelings and since the weight happened during the origin of change, it’s easy to attribute the nebulous feelings to the physical changes rather than the emotional ones. But it’s more likely to do with the fact that you brought these monumental changes in your life along with not being available for so long– but these changes coincided with the weight change and even though attributing his feelings to your weight is a dick move, he probably feels less of a bastard than if he said, “you changed your life and made it better and I liked it better when you were bored and HERE and focused on me rather than this career thing of which you speak.”

    I feel badly for you that you’re having relationship troubles and friend troubles. But I think a lot of the fixes for that are going to be on you. It’s an unfair expectation to think that you can check out of your interpersonal relationships for a year or several and have your people feel hurt by that– even if they’re able to understand why and that it had nothing to do with them, it still hurts. I think though, that a bit of effort now can go a long way. Invite your people to do things with you and acknowledge their hurt. Make an effort to get to know them again. You may have to throw a few parties yourself before you’re back on the regular social circuit. Don’t just show up to other people’s parties and other people’s invitations, throw parties and invite people out. Make sure, especially right now while friend patterns aren’t well-established to make your relationships reciprocal. That goes for your boyfriend too. I get you’ve been together for 15 years, but is it possible that during your stressful time getting yourself established that perhaps you’ve taken him a bit for granted? Ask him out on real honest to goodness dates and see if you still actually like each other.

    Also, on the subject of your boyfriend. I get that you’ve been together for a very, very long time and that he’s supported you both emotionally and financially through a difficult time. That doesn’t give him license to behave badly and not have you call him on it. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be together forever or that you should feel guilty if you don’t want to be. Your roles in the relationship changed when you went back to school and they’re changing again now that you’re done. I think you’ll both need to be a little bit patient with each other through the changes, but it’s also worth re-evaluating and putting a little bit of extra effort into things for 6 months to a year and see where that gets you.

  9. Agnes said:

    LW, first, congratulations! You succeeded immmensely at a huge, difficult, life-altering commitment! That’s no small feat. You paid a price for it, and the captain’s and everybody else’s advice is awesome. I have no such good advice myself, but I really feel for you (I just finished 2 years of grad school myself).

  10. “Here is my problem. I made a bunch of friends when I was in my 20s. Then, when I was 30, I went back to school to finish my BA, and because my GPA from my first round of college was so very low I told all my friends I was going to have to really concentrate on school because I had to get all As in order to raise my GPA up high enough to qualify for the professional program I wanted to attend after school.”

    You may have inspired me to try to acquire your problem. I have the first part of the problem (desire to do stuff requiring degree, also VERY BAD GRADES from when I was young) but not the second part. My friends all think I’m great! Unfortunately it’s hard for me to sustain friendships with them because I kind of hate myself and feel really useless all the time.

    So, not that this really helps you, but just thought it might be nice, if you’re feeling down, to know that someone out there is looking up to you right now and thinking “I want to be like that someday!”

    • Katie said:

      Seconded!

    • Jeman said:

      ¡Thirded!

  11. Eden said:

    You’ve spent so much time developing your education and your career, now it’s time to develop your relationships. I second the get-a-hobby recommendation – preferably something like community theater or a book club or a team sport or something that is inherently social and causes you to interact with and meet new people (my favorite type is roleplaying games, but I recognize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea).

    As for your boyfriend – take some time off, together. Even if you can only go away for a weekend, get away somewhere where you guys can be alone together and hopefully reconnect. I’d also suggest not jumping right back into PiV sex off the bat – just start fooling around again, no expectations about where it will lead, no pressure on either of you to perform.

    Also, I had a phase where I was bitter and resentful that the people I wanted to hang out with didn’t invite me anywhere cool. The thing is, you can’t hold something like that against people. No one is obligated to invite you anywhere. Letting yourself get upset over it, or resenting the people you want to be friends with, will not help. Work on presenting yourself as the sort of person other people want to hang out with. Cultivate the friendships which are available to you, and discard the ones which aren’t working.

  12. Seph said:

    LW, congrats, you did it!! You are awesome!!!

    I’ve moved twice in two years, and I do agree that hobbies/clubs can be great places to make friends. As a shy person I find it easier to talk to people when I’m doing something rather than randomly making awkward small talk.

    But. I feel like the advice to ‘just join a club’ should always, always be given with the following caveat in 57-point bold italic all-caps sparkletext: IT WILL TAKE ~ 6 MONTHS to start making real friends from a club/hobby/activity. IME, that’s about how long it takes to reach the tipping point from ‘interchangeable new person’ to ‘one of the gang.’

    How many people take a deep breath and go to a few meetings where folks are polite but not really friendly and welcoming and think, ‘this doesn’t work,’ or worse, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ It sucks so much when you’re feeling painfully alone, but making friends really does take time.

    • NessieMonster said:

      huh, I really like that you pointed out that being a member in a club can take up to/around 6 months to become part of the gang. I’ve been doing Jiu Jitsu for about 9 months now and have been feeling really part of it for the last three or four. The guys in the club are good acquaintances now. Not friends I’d invite back to mine or that I’d have a deep and meaning ful with but we rock it on a night out and it’s fun being sat in the pub with them after training. The other advantage of Jitsu is doing something really active for four hours a week. I am so much stronger than I was and I can just about do 10 good press-ups. :D

      Getting past the initial meetings/activities awkwardness and become part of the group is probably best achieved by making sure it’s an activity you really enjoy for its own sake, so that you’re getting something good out of it while you’re slowly making friends and establishing yourself.

      Best of luck LW while you find your new people. And it’s blimmin awesome that you’ve got a career you love and excell at. I love that you said this: “I love my career. I love my job. It is everything I ever wanted.” I want to have this three years down the line. Don’t forget that you achieved this. It’ll help give you confidence when you’re meeting people. There’s something engaging and inspiring about a person who’s doing what they love :)

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Oh, I loved jiu-jitsu when I took it in college! It was so much fun, and we’d hang out in the pub after. Mainly because after being thrown around a room for the night, we’d need something to dull the ache, lol!

      • I’ve been taking bellydance for about 2 years now and I have really gotten to know some of the girls from the studio. I would probably get to know them better if I put more effort into going to events and things. (Alas.)

        But it’s been really great for me, good exercise in a size friendly environment, and a great community.

        • KL said:

          This is really nice to hear! The gym I’ve just joined offers bellydance classes, and I skipped the first 9-week intro course out of social anxiety, but you’ve inspired me to sign up for the next one!

    • withywindling said:

      It’s true. Friends-making is a process, and a fairly long one. I think it probably would help to view it somewhat akin to the process LW took to succeed in their chosen career. LW put in the work and the time, and careered it up a notch. Effort + time can also = friendship.

    • Tallulah said:

      Thank you so much for saying this about the six-months thing. I think it is true, but hearing someone else say it makes me feel like so much less of a failure.

  13. solecism said:

    Kudos for the drive and self-discipline to get the career that you wanted and love! I feel your pain. I too have walked away from friendships to pursue adventures in school and workplace–some relationships eventually recovered, some drifted into friendly acquaintance, and some melted away like morning mist. You made difficult choices, but you found a new love, so don’t regret chasing your dream.

    The reality is that most of us are pretty self-absorbed and tend to stay in our comfortable orbits. The problem is that from the asteroid belt of your friends circle, you now look less like a fellow rocky body in the same patch of vacuum on similar vectors and a lot more like a comet with an eccentric orbit that passes through but never really stays. The forces of attraction and the frequent collisions that made you all part of the same asteroid belt just don’t apply to you at this time thanks to the passage of time and distance. To change your friends’ orbits is going to require the application of energy to attract those rocky bodies, to shift their trajectories, to make room for you too. And there’s no guarantee of success.

    The Captain’s advice is excellent as always. Keep in mind that reconnecting with your friends is more likely to be successful the less you disturb their orbit in order to accommodate you. Help out with some routine, or at least go to them to hang out. Offer to bring the tasty food/beverages with you.

    Also, I have no idea what the situation is with your friends’ circle, but 20s to 30s entails marriages, births, divorces, buying houses, climbing the career letter, etc. for many people. And each of those major life transitions often entails significant changes in the people and relationships who are prioritized because it’s a lot harder to connect with people who cannot comprehend much less share your problems. People with small children tend to not hang out as much with child-free friends anymore, certainly the night life of new parents disappears over the event horizon of a black hole. People in long-term relationships often gravitate to other couples (or whatever appropriate configuration, but I gotta tell ya, the math gets close to impossible once you go from a two-body to three-body problem). Grieve those changes and find your new people following the other excellent suggestions. There’s gotta be a comet convention somewhere.

  14. Britt said:

    LW, you have done something terrifyingly amazing in taking hold of your future the way you have and going after your education and career. That is immense and something to be proud of. Unfortunately, it means you’ve changed. That’s not a bad thing! It’s just what happens sometimes. You went off and did this huge thing. Be proud!

    Now, that said, I think what others have mentioned about thinking about the fact that sometimes people just change in different ways over time and are no longer really compatible is spot on. Going through years of intense education and a big career change is a HUGE life change, and the people who were your friends weren’t a part of that because of the way you prioritized your time. You’re essentially strangers who happen to have some shared history at this point! I think it might help you feel less stressed about the whole situation if, rather than feeling like you have to win back your old friends and it’s some sort of fraught audition situation, think of it as ALL of you figuring out whether you even connect and have enough in common to want to be close again. It’s something you get to evaluate and consider as much as they do.

    It might be time to do that same evaluation with your boyfriend, as well. It’s hard and scary, I’ve been in very much your shoes so I get that, but sometimes relationships change. You’ve been through a lot and changed, and so has your boyfriend too by virtue of supporting you through all that, and it sounds like maybe you’re both feeling like things have drifted but are scared to admit that. A relationship ending doesn’t make it (or you!) a failure, so I’d encourage you to do some real soul searching about what you really want and whether you feel like you stand a reasonable chance of getting it from this relationship.

    I guess bottom line, try and remember that all choices have consequences, and it doesn’t mean you made a wrong choice somewhere along the line just because you’re facing a side-effect to making TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING progress for your own future.

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      This is pretty much exactly the comment I wanted to write. Fact. So instead I’ll just point vigorously upward and say THIS!!!! and then add:

      People change! I’m not friends with most of the people I was friends with in my twenties, simply because I changed, and they changed, and sometimes we didn’t like each other as much (or it was a one-sided not-liking-as-much, ouch), or we didn’t have as much in common anymore, or the thing we had in common is no longer of great importance to one/both of us anymore, etc. etc. etc. The friends I still have, have shifted in orbit as regards to me; there are a few who remain close and will probably be stuck with me for life, if we’re lucky, but a bunch of them have turned into the kind of friends where we invite each other to parties sometimes but we no longer have that talk-every-day / hang-out-every-weekend kind of friendship. It’s okay.

      The only difference between my situation and yours is that I had free time in which I made different friends and had time to have those relationships grow up and become something I could hold onto when the other friends drifted away, or I drifted away from them. Lord knows, it is not because I am just that much more charming or better at parties (I have been in your situation A LOT at those parties) or some such. You are clearly awesome! You grabbed onto a dream and kicked ass and you won! You did it! You’re an inspiration to me, I tell you that right now.

      So the timing is bad, and right now you are trying to re-evaluate all these relationships and try to patch things together or figure out if it’s even worth it, and you don’t have new relationships to cling to, and all the people in your life are ones that are being distant and weird at you and making you think the problem is you. But it’s not you: it’s timing. That’s all.

      So this is going to suck for a while, but it will get better! The Captain’s advice is wise, and good, and you will get through this. The friends you still can connect with, you will reconnect with. The new people you’ve met who seem pretty cool, will turn into casual friends in a few months and maybe good friends after that. You will have support again. That’s another reason to get a good therapist lined up, just for you: you need somebody on your side, someone to support you, while you get your personal relationship program rebooted.

      As for your boyfriend… same thing, same odds. This could be broken, or it could just need some repair. The WoW hinky hotel hijinks do not bode well, however, and I really do not think well of, or trust, anyone who uses your body changes as an excuse for why the sex isn’t working. Just. Ugh.

      • Britt said:

        Yup yup yup. Time and a therapist you gel with will heal this particular wound, at least. It’s gonna be oogie for awhile, in all likelihood, but there are good things on the other side.

  15. xenu01 said:

    LW, I know that the advice to break up with your man is just as unwelcome as advice to go to the gym, but I need to tell you- for years I was at max a size 12 and never let a man see me without my makeup on. Now I’m sized out of regular stores, only wear makeup for work and have a man who has been known to pluck a hair out of my CHIN (OMGOMG FACIAL HAIR) and laughs when I fart in front of him.

    My man met me when I was a pretty (insecure, ill without knowing it, but thinner! and photogenic!) twenty-four year old who never went more than a month without having her eyebrows waxed. And yet, nearly five years later, he and I have more awesome sexytimes, because we love each other and are comfortable with our bodies. One thing I know is that he never ever stopped (or had trouble) desiring me because my body changed. And if he had, well, I love him, but I would rather be alone with my vibrator (and hey, they make some pretty good ones these days) than be stuck in a monogamous relationship with someone who lacks groiny feelings for me.

    So put aside your fears about being alone for a minute and ask yourself- think about the sum total of the time you are currently spending in this relationship, and not just the time where you are actively in the same room. Are you happy more than you are unhappy?

  16. I have nothing of real value to add, except that I wish we could burst into song when somebody made a racist comment.

    Specifically, this song:

    • delbelcoure said:

      I was thinking of this song as well!

  17. Sheelzebub said:

    OK, LW, everyone has some good advice here. I’m going to add my two cents:

    1) Your friends–what the Captain said about reconnecting with one, then one or two more, and feeling things out.

    2) Making new friends–I’m going to echo what everyone said about hobbies and classes. Mix it up. You’re going to the gym? Great! Go to the same exercise class every week. You’ll get to know some folks and make some decent acquaintances that could become friends. Take a class through adult ed about something you don’t know how to do but want to learn. Meetup is a great thing! And yes, volunteering is a good thing to do as well (just remember to draw some serious boundaries, because it becomes very easy for orgs to ask the same 10 people for more help all the time).

    3) Party personna. I feel you on this because in my line of work, I have to politely put up with asshattery, ignorance, and general bigotry and I cannot. ever. argue. back. When it comes to personal interactions, I try to not get into arguments (I don’t always succeed) but I think of encounters like the one you had with your neighbor as a great tool–how your mutual friends deal with them/regard them is a huge clue as to whether or not you want them in your life. Right now it seems like you feel you should be happy to get whatever you get as far as friendships go. Be a little choosy.

    In dealing with people like that, I find the question “What makes you think so?” a good way to get them to talk about how douchey they are and to eventually see it. Mirror back what they say, but do it with *nary* a trace of irony. “You’re saying that unemployed people are lazy? What makes you think so?”

    HOWEVER, please know that it’s okay to excuse yourself and freshen your drink/go to the loo/ask your friend if they need help in the kitchen. You don’t have to fight every battle. I get the feeling you’re doing that since this has been a problem for you, and I wonder if it’s your insecurity fueling this.

    4) General interactions with people. In several jobs I held, it was a big thing to interact with many, many people. And that’s great. But especially in my job, I wasn’t supposed to talk much about myself. People’s favorite subject is themselves. So ask them about themselves. Ask them questions about what they told you. “I live right here in town.” “Oh, for how long?” “About 10 years.” “It’s so nice to meet someone who’s planted roots. What do you think of the schools/the town government/your neighborhood?”

    5) Unsolicited advice. No, not about your weight or exercise. But it’s spring going into summer, and daylight does wonders for my mood. It *may* do the same for yours. So it *may* help your general outlook to have a routine walk outside–maybe in the morning before work, maybe at lunch (with a coworker you like or who you’d like to get to know), maybe after work. Do something outside–gardening, photography, or general meandering and gazing at the trees and the greenery.

    6) Boyfriend. I wonder if he’s staying because he feels obligated and if you’re staying because you feel obligated. I sympathize with this situation–I’ve been on both ends of it, and it sucks either way. What is NOT OKAY on his part is to do this dodgy thing where he’s staying with another woman in a hotel and he tells you he will do it and not run it by you. That’s. . .I dunno. Disrespectful. I think it may be time for you to get this relationship to give up the ghost. Your BF, if he’s unhappy and realizing this isn’t working, should have bucked up and ended things. He isn’t doing this, he’s behaving in a way that is guaranteed to make the end more toxic and shitty than it needs to be. So be the awesome chick you are and end this. Free your head space and your emotional energy to finding and connecting with people who think you are awesome and treat you that way.

    Best of luck, LW. Please update us!

  18. I just wanted to make a quick comment about evaluating your relationship with your boyfriend. It sounds like you are having some really rough times right now but it also sounds like you have a lot of good history.

    Are you familiar with the idea of sunk costs in economics? It’s where you’ve already spent X amount of money on something, and now you have to decide if you want to spend Y more in order to achieve Z. A common fallacy is to look at X and say well I’ve already spent X, I have to spend Y or I’ve wasted X. But really, X doesn’t matter, you can’t get X back. What you need to decide now is if proceeding with Y is worth Z.

    In relationship terms this means that though you’ve both put time and love and effort into your relationship, you may not want to count that, when you think about how your relationship is going to be in the future. Absent everything that has happened in the past, what kind of relationship do you see you guys having going forward based on current events? How much more work are you going to have to put in? And is it worth it?

    I know it sounds kind of heartless to compare a relationship to a business decision. And realistically history always matters to a certain extent. But I personally have a history of remaining loyal to individuals who treat me like crap for far longer than is appropriate. I will often use our history to justify my decision to stay friends with them despite their horrid behavior. I often find it is helpful to try to ignore most of the distant history and think of recent events, and if I were just entering this friendship now, how would I behave?

    Just some thoughts. Good luck re-making or making new friends!

    • Vicki said:

      On the sunk costs thing: It’s worth remembering that yes, shared history can be valuable in and of itself. This is someone to whom you can say “Do you remember X?” and who knows what to say if you’ve had a difficult conversation with your father, or not to offer you guacamole and how you like your tea.

      But the point is that you have those shared things and they’re part of the relationship, and you do them for each other. If they’re forgetting and offering you guacamole anyway, it might be more annoying because you think they should know better. In LW’s case, without physical intimacy, it’s not going to help that they each would know where and how the other likes being touched if they were being intimate.

      • History is valuable, but it isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. That’s true of friendships too. Without effort on both sides to be together in the moment, without chemistry, and current shared interests then what is history? History is great for a quick brunch with an old friend, but remembering that time your mom said that really embarrassing thing is just not enough to get you through life together.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Exactly. Shared history is valuable! but without any romance, that ain’t a long-term relationship, that’s people who broke up and successfully navigated the transition into friends… except without the part where they admitted that this is what they were doing. And by “they” I mean the boyfriend, who is now apparently moving on, without admitting that he’s left. The more I consider this, the less I like it.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      THIS. LW, do you want to stay in a relationship where you’re not having sexytimes (and it seems you *want* sexytimes), where you’re made to feel like you don’t rate, and where your BF is clear that he is not physically attracted to you? Where he asks for forgiveness instead of permission and engages in red-flag behavior with other women? You two had a good run but there is no shame in letting each other go and building a more satisfying and happy life for yourself.

  19. the_apricot said:

    “I love my career. I love my job. It is everything I ever wanted.”

    I am not going to add any more advice, but I have to tell you that this is awesome and you are awesome!

  20. Erika said:

    As one 100+ pound overweight chick to another–guys can and will find you sexy. And I’m not talking just “those guys” who are fat chasers. I’ve been with my husband since 1995 and in that time have 1. gained 90 pounds; 2. lost 75 pounds; 3. had two babies; and 4. gained back 65 pounds. Before he met me, he primarily dated dancers, so I know he isn’t a chubby chaser. My weight has been stable for two years now, and for me just not gaining has been a wonderful thing. My husband loved me and wanted me at a size 12, and he loves me and wants me at a size 20. Would he like me to be healthier? Oh, hell yes. But it doesn’t affect our sex life.

    You absolutely deserve a man who wants you and loves you regardless of your size. They are out there. Yes, your boyfriend has a right to find attractive the body type that he finds attractive. But you also have a right to stand up and say “I’m going to find someone that finds me attractive right now, not when/if I lose this weight.” Don’t put your life on hold.

    Also, congrats on rocking academia! You know, brains are the ultimate aphrodisiac.

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