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More on the theme of parents & communication with adult children today.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for just a few days now but I already caught on to the important part ‘speak up for yourself’.

Now my problem is that I can’t. Or rather I can’t make myself.

I’ve grown up with my bipolar mother. She’s in therapy, on meds and the whole family is very supportive.
She was stuck in depressive stage for what feels like my whole youth, so living at home was equal to walking on egg shells. No arguments, no unplanned behavior, no upsetting mom lest she burst into tears. No friends over (not that I had many). No going for a walk after school instead of heading straight home. No speaking my mind. Keeping my head down so dad wouldn’t have more to worry about.

While my younger brother dealth with the problem by taking drugs and acting up, I was the model daughter. Dream grades. Quiet behavior. Self sufficient.

I, well, broke around age 17 where she had another depressive plunge and went into the hospital. I was unable to visit her, speak to her, look at her without everything freezing. I had two years of therapy, at least one mental breakdown and unvited her from my graduation ceremony because I didn’t want to risk her ruining the day as she was almost but not quite out of the hospital.

Fast forward to today:

I’ve moved out and live with my boyfriend of 6 years. She’s not had a depressive episode in a while but is bordering on mania. She’s still self centered but more aware of her surroundings. Unfortunately she has this big idea of us being/becoming bffs. She tries to bribe me with presents (small things…flowers, yarn, chocolate). She says she loves me and I can see in her eyes that she wants me to just say it back.

But I can’t. It would be a lie. I don’t love her. She has serverely disabled me with this need for top grades, the inability to speak up for myself and the fear that one wrong step will have her telling me again what a horrible child I am and/or send her back into depression.

I generally keep my distance as she’s getting clingy again. I only visit my father (he works at me university, so I can just visit his office). But I don’t want to cut her out of my life. Or rather, I feel I shouldn’t. It would mean not seeing my father as much. I enjoy spending time with her in small doses (or at least I think so…might be self-delusion). I’m afraid it’ll push her back into depression and though I should be taking care and thinking of myself I just can’t.

The solution to my problems is just one talk/phone call/email/letter away
I could talk to my boyfriend.
I could call or email my father.
I could call or write a letter to my former therapist.

But I just sat here for three hours trying to make myself do any of it and couldn’t.

Any idea?

Lips Glued Shut

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This just in:

Captain Awkward! and assorted other Awkward Militia,

I want to have an Awkward Meet-up in Seattle!  And since I get to pick…

Details: Thursday September 20th at 5pm at Solo Bar in Lower Queen Anne.

I’m not a regular commenter, but I’m lurky-lurker, and my handle (I
think? the, like, two times I have commented) is Maria Tee-Rex, which
links to my bloggity blog, which is neverstopsayingmaria.
I don’t tweet, so I have no hashtags, but it would be very nice if
other people wanted to.

Let me know if there are dozens of other folks planning get-togethers
in Seattle, but otherwise, alert the media!

Thanks!

Maria Tee-Rex

Thanks for arranging this, Maria Tee-Rex. Will you have some kind of sign or emblem or balloon so that people will recognize you when they get to the bar?

 

Hi Captain:

I was raised by a mom who used the silent treatment. Whenever she was really mad about something- maybe once a month- she’d just shut down for several days at a time and not talk to anyone except to sneer at them. This only applied to people in my immediate family- my dad and I- as she’d easily turn around and be smiley and chatty with her father on the phone or a neighbour, and then continue to freeze me/my dad out. This has been going on for about as long as I can remember- one incident in particular stands out, when she refused to even make me dinner. I was about eight at the time. As I got older, it grew less damaging, since I didn’t rely so much on her approval, but it still left scars. She was my primary caregiver- my dad also lived with us, but he’s not so great at parenting as opposed to being a pal, so she was the only authority I really looked up to at home, and in my childhood, I needed a lot of looking after. (I had and have several leaning/social disabilities that necessitated a lot of care.)

Now I’m in my early twenties, and I think this treatment may have left some scars I’m not entirely sure how to deal with. When my mother is quiet or avoids me for extended periods of time, I start to freak out because I think I’ve done something “wrong.” (When she did this when I was a child, she never told me what she was angry about, so I had to guess until I got it right.) Even when I confront her and she insists she’s not mad about anything, it doesn’t calm me down, because I feel like she’s trying to make me guess again. This may be tied to my social anxiety, which I’ve been working on with a therapist, but I think it’s also just a byproduct of how I was raised. It’s also affected how I make decisions- whenever she disagrees with something I want to do about my life (enter a school program, move to a different place) I start to panic and second-guess myself because she’s been The Authority in my life for so long. I can’t talk to her about this, because whenever I do, she turns it into a conversation about what I’ve done to frustrate or anger her, and I end up defending myself instead of explaining to her that she’s hurt me. We’ve been trapped in this pattern for so long, I don’t even know if she realizes she’s doing it, or that it has this effect on me. How do I stop myself from being this needy child who’s desperate for her mother’s approval?

Sincerely,

The Sound of Silence

Dear Sound of Silence

Thanks for your letter. I think it speaks to many, many of the writers in my inbox who I will probably not have time to answer, so if you’ve written something similar consider this your answer. And Sound of Silence, you are definitely not alone.

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Hello!

I have an academia related question for you. I graduated from a small liberal arts college in May 2011. I enjoyed my time there immensely. I was able to form some awesome relationships with my professors and some administrators (most of whom were my bosses for part-time jobs or internship supervisors). I moved to Japan for work about 6 months after I graduated, and I’ve been here ever since. Before I left, I visited my university and said goodbye to my friends and professors (and let them know about my moving/work plans). We all said the familiar refrain: “Let’s keep in touch!”

Question 1: Do professors *really* want to keep in touch? Or do they just say that to make you feel better as you leave the comfort of the college bubble?

Question 2: If they do really want to keep in touch, what are some appropriate, non-awkward ways to do that? 

I’ve thought about emailing small updates, but every time I sit down to write one it feels awkward in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. I feel like I’m imposing on their busy schedules if I ask questions about them/their lives, but I feel self-centered if I only give information about my life. Is there some sort of script that could work in this situation?

Full disclosure: While there are no immediate grad school plans, I do want to go back eventually. So I might be requesting references at some point in the next few years. But I really would want to maintain some sort of contact even if I didn’t have grad school aspirations/need someone to say nice things about me.

Do you (or the Amazing Awkward Army) have any ideas on what is the most appropriate/least awkward thing to do here? 

Thanks for your time!!
B. A. (Bachelors of Awkward)

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Ahoy, Captain! Maybe this is a pleasant problem to have, but it’s a puzzling one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with a woman I find very attractive, trying to figure out whether I want to ask her out or not. We have a lot of interests in common, and do plenty of things together, but have different interests too. (I like this for a couple of reasons – the fact that she’s not into knitting means that my knitting group will always give me space from her, for example, and on the other hand she’s introduced me to a fun new sport I never would have tried otherwise.) I find her fascinating and really easy to spend time with – she’s just a very friendly person. I really, really want to make out with her, and from the way she’s acted towards me, I think she’d be pretty open to the idea of taking this from friendship to dating.

I’ve been holding back from that step, though, mainly because I feel I need to know people a bit better than I know her before I go there. (I’ve never been attracted to someone this quickly before – it’s both exciting and a bit weird.) It was actually a comment on a recent CA post that made me wonder if I should reconsider it altogether. I can’t find the comment, but it said something along the lines of “People who won’t respect your boundaries will tell you through their actions – they’ll touch you without asking, they won’t notice when they’re interrupting or dominating the conversation, and they’ll tell you inappropriately personal things.” That pretty much describes my friendship with her so far.

There’s a lot of physical affection in our friendship, which I love, but it did start with her touching me without permission – I just didn’t care, because I liked it. When something’s bothering her, she does tend to steamroll over other people in conversation until she’s exhausted her need to vent. And we hadn’t gotten to know each other for very long before she hinted to me that she’d been abused and lost most of her friends over it, though she only recently told me all the details. But although I was sympathetic, even at the time I thought it was a big leap to even drop me hints about this stuff when we hadn’t known each other long.

Captain, I don’t know what to do here. I really feel for her over what she’s been through recently, having survived the same kind of abuse and subsequent loss of support network myself. I want to do what I can to support her through that, and it’s clear she still has a lot of feelings to work through. But I do worry about some of these things, especially the way it’s almost impossible to get in a word in with her when she’s upset about something. It seems like the sort of thing that should be a red flag, or at least a warning to be careful while I continue to support her. And yet, I really like her! She’s very attractive to me in all sorts of ways, I love being around her, and she gives me warm fuzzy feelings in a variety of body parts. I just worry that my happy feelings are drowning out warnings I should be listening to. Or maybe that I’m just a bit desperate – I’m a lesbian and it’s really hard to find queer girls I can talk to in my area.

How do I tell whether to ask her out or not when my logic-brain says to be cautious but the rest of me just wants her?

I’m going to answer a question with a question and then let the commenters have at it.

Is there some reason that you cannot casually date this woman?

As in, be friendly, enjoy what there is to be enjoyed (ahem), but don’t try to lock her down as the Love of Your Life?

You’re smart to pick up on some of the red-flaggy behavior that’s not what you want in a partner, and you’re smart to not let the pants-feelings cloud your judgment, and you’re generally smart to be cautious, but I think the script you’re looking for is:

Would it be okay if we made out sometime?

And when she’s dominating the conversation, the script is:

“Hey, I’m sorry you’re sad. Is it my turn to talk yet or is this more of a monologue situation?”

I know you’re trying to be a good citizen of Feelingstown, but you can’t control everything that will happen and everything that everyone will feel. Definitely not all pantsfeelings need to be acted on, but you’ll never be this young again and obviously you both want to. Sometimes that’s a good enough reason.

Okay. Enough of being the devil on your shoulder. If your gut really says to not get involved with this woman for some reason – she just reads like Trouble to you – then listen to it, and put a stop to the flirty-touching stuff. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting someone, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting someone who you don’t necessarily end up with in any kind of serious or permanent way.

Shameless Plug Alert: Our friends at King Is A Fink have a new webseries out. Watch the trailer here. The After Ellen reviewer called it “one of the most heartbreakingly authentic stories about LGBTQ youth I’ve ever seen. It is The Misfits meets Skins meets modern-day Dickens, if Dickens had grown up gay and gotten his hands on a video camera.” It’s up our collective alley, I think.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve recently been going to social events where I don’t know anyone (such as MeetUp groups – thankyou for the suggestion BTW – I didn’t know about them until you mentioned them) in order to meet new people and perhaps rebuild some kind of social life, since the one I had kind of disappeared in bits and pieces for all the usual predictable reasons (moved cities, broke up with partner of more than a decade, got busy with work, cut back on a hobby most of my friends were in, never that sociable to begin with etc. etc.).

Anyway, I seem to have a real problem with meeting and then being cornered by conversation hogs. I have no idea if I particularly attract this kind of person, or if everyone else has some secret way of escaping them that I lack, but I often seem to find myself stuck in a one way conversation with someone, while I nod and smile and be polite, unable to get a word in edgewise.

For example, I recently went to a group bike ride with all new people I’d never met before, and when we were stopped for rest breaks, there was a man who would talk non-stop over everyone, to the point of asking me questions and then talking over my answer. When someone else tried to strike up a conversation with me, he talked over both their question and my answer. He stood between other people and me with his back to them, no matter how I moved around, and stood way too close (again no matter how much I moved away – he was a spitter too… ugh). Despite all this conversational overkill, he was really focused on me – he spent the whole time we weren’t actually riding blocking anyone else from speaking to me, or sometimes he was so loud no one could speak at all. Thankfully when we were riding he liked to go as fast as possible, so I could hang back a bit with various other people.

Saddly, this is a pretty common experience for me. At social events I often find myself stuck all night talking to someone like this, or more accurately listening and trying to get away politely.

My question is this – how does one extract oneself from conversations like this politely? I’m trying to meet new people, so I want to escape this type of guy without coming off like a rude bitch to everyone else who might be a potential friend. Actually I don’t want to be rude or nasty at all, since I’m guessing most of the time these people don’t realise what they’re doing, and are probably overcompensating for shyness. I used to talk too much myself, lecturing on some weird topic of interest to me oblivious to the interest level of my victims, so I do sympathise. I just don’t want to feel like I’m responsible for making their social experience a good one at the expense of my own.

Or, perhaps you or your commenters could suggest some things I might be doing wrong that attracts these people and makes me a target for their attentions in the first place? Can they smell my sympathy? It seriously happens a lot. And I’m thinking that social settings where people are all trying to make new friends and anyone can attend are going to have more than their fair share of the conversationally clueless. Doubly so because due to my generally more blokey hobbies I’m often one of the only women.

Sincerely,

The woman trapped in the corner nodding and smiling

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Hulk smash ice cream

Photo by Santos Gonzales, used under a Creative Commons license.

A report from General Expression:

“I’m happy to report that the Boston Awkwardeers Army meet-up yesterday was extremely successful! We had over a dozen people show up, and happily and awkwardly chat with each other. The event started at 6 pm, and the last people didn’t head home until almost 11:30 pm!

General Expression (here referring to herself in the third person)
would also like to officially make clear that she is not in charge of
ALL Boston-area meet-ups, only the one that just happened, and in fact will definitely not be putting anything together during the academic year. So other people should feel free to step up and organize; we had a few people offer yesterday to possibly do just that in upcoming months.

Also, I hope people will feel free to share info about their blogs and online homes; there were a lot of pieces of paper floating around yesterday, but I’m sure that everybody didn’t catch everybody else’s handles and blog addresses! General Expression can be found here: http://currentconductor.blogspot.

————————

If anyone wants to organize a meet-up in other places, here is what I suggest you do:

1. If you are the organizer, you get to pick the day, time, and place that works for you. There is no magic confluence of events that works for everyone, so don’t worry about it.

2. When picking a venue, consider: 1) Proximity to public transit/parking situation 2) Accessibility 3) Something inexpensive with a varied menu 4) A safe, public place (Don’t invite strangers to your dodgy 4th floor walk-up or basement!) 5) Something where you don’t need a reservation or definite headcount ahead of time.

3. Email me an event announcement and I’ll post it. Consider sharing your Twitter handle or creating a hashtag there so people can get in touch with you directly if they want.

4. Have a good time meeting cool awkward people.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a best friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, gone through some really rough times together as we both coped with mental illness, toxic families, financial hardship and general shenanigans.  Being single ladies who are at the asexual end of the scale, we share a house, and have lived together for most of our adult lives.  We have a fairly active social life, with a lot of mutual friends. 

My BFF is magnetic and charismatic, and people are generally drawn to her.  She’s not conventionally attractive, but she’s one of those people you have to look at twice, just to confirm that yes, she’s real.  People tend to pursue her friendship (or romantic attention, which she does not give).  For a while, invitations from our mutual friends were sent only to her, “Can you and [LW] come along to X?”  (I put a stop to that when I found out BFF was refusing invitations on behalf of both of us, without even telling me about them.  “I wish I’d been invited to X.”  “We thought you didn’t want to come!”)

I’m quieter, yet more spiky.  I can be a bit snarky, and sometimes it takes a while for people to warm up to me.  And that’s fine, because it takes a while for me to warm up to people!  I’m currently in therapy to deal with my abusive childhood, and am only now learning to assert boundaries and refrain from taking responsibility for other people’s emotions.  

All this is great!  Here’s the problem:  BFF suffers from a major depressive disorder, and also a personality disorder.  It’s managed through medication, but she can’t afford therapy any more.  And she doesn’t take criticism well, even if the criticism is entirely deserved on her part.  When she’s in a low state, as she is now, she becomes a bit of an emotional black hole. 

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Dear Captain A,

I’ve been friends with my friend, B, since 2004. We had a short but really important lovership in 2006, had a hard breakup, but then rebuilt our friendship. For the past five years, he’s been someone I’ve considered family and my best friend. We referred to each other as ‘non sexual life partners”, threw giant Thankstaking and Xmas parties for our queer chosen families. We are both estranged from our families of origin due to abuse and have been super committed to being really solid people in each other’s lives. He has been the person I always picked up the phone for, the person I pick up from the airport, and the person who I’ve prioritized being there for. Over the years, we’ve done  a huge amount of mental health and physical health support for each other that’s been a work in progress, but that has felt really good in terms of us both being able to offer a lot to each other and also have boundaries. He is the executor of my will and my medical power of attorney person. And we’ve also cooked and eaten lots of food, traveled, laughed our asses off, gone to movies, thrown parties and film nights for our friends, nerded out over hiphop and poetry, talked for hours,  gotten each other jobs, gone dancing and to the ocean, and been super involved in each other’s lives. I thought we were going to be in each other’s lives forever. Our breakup and the way we came back from it built this huge amount of trust and solidness in how we’ve handled conflict. He is a wonderful person.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

 Last Friday, I went on a first date with a guy who hated me. 
 
I got dressed up, took a cab to this nice bar and dissected whether it was a date or not with the cabbie, had the waiter enthuse over how adorable I was … and the guy flat-out hated me. I was okay as long as I was agreeing with him, but everything that came from me he dismissed with mild to severe disgust. He hated the college I’d gone to. He hated that I was a nerd. He hated that I made less money than he did. Everything I did or said was a cliche to him. 
 
He ordered me another drink after I said I was “at or past my limit,” insisting that I’d like it. He asked me to ~go watch a movie~ at his place after 10 pm, on the first date, and told me when I declined that I was being silly and that he didn’t take advantage of drunk girls. I wish I could say it’s a surprise, but at this point, I’m fairly familiar with the one-two punch of negging and sexual pressure.
 
Since last spring, I’ve lost around half a dozen “great guy friends” because it turns out they didn’t really like me that much. In their varying ways, they wanted to flatter, manipulate or con me into sleeping with them, and when that wasn’t gonna happen, or wasn’t going to happen on their terms, they got mad. In one case, a boy I considered a close friend and who had stayed in my home told me repeatedly that I was a giant snake in human form– a literal monster– but that he “loved me despite my flaws,” which were copious and included narcissism, fakeness, and a lack of compassion.
 
I guess I should be grateful that I sniffed out Mr. First Date Hater for a rat right away, rather than wasting two to four years listening to his problems and revealing my own emotional weaknesses so he could use them to try and bend me to his will. But really, I’m just scared.
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