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Abuse

Dear Captain,

I have only one sibling, an older brother. He is in his late thirties and still lives with my parents. He’s never lived on his own, whereas I moved out as soon as I could at 18. He has a BA in Accounting, he works full time, he pays rent to my parents and handles his own laundry, etc, but he still has never wanted to move out. My parents have threatened to make him leave in the past, but they’ve never followed through.

He’s always been socially awkward and a loner, and most of our family suspects he has some variety of mental illness/personality disorder/is somewhere on the autistic spectrum/etc, but after one failed try at family therapy when he was four, my parents have never gotten him professional help. My dad has his head in the sand about it, and mom doesn’t know what to do at this late point in Brother’s life. Brother is in complete denial that he could benefit from therapy or medication or even a diagnosis.

Within the past few years, he’s gotten fixated on politics and turned into a walking uber-conservative caricature. Worse than that, he’s become paranoid, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic … the list goes on. He’s not quiet about his beliefs, and he is constantly turning every conversation about the most innocuous subjects into a political rant. He spouts hate and vitriol against liberals and everyone who isn’t like him. He doesn’t listen to dissenting opinions, he talks over everyone all the time, and he gets very upset and ragey very quickly. I am a liberal, and I consider myself a feminist and fairly well-read about social justice issues. I am also bisexual, but not out to my family, and have lots of friends in the LGBT+ community. A lot of what he says is extremely hurtful to me, and it’s very difficult for me to listen to without responding. He often gets angry at me for arguing and then turns things personal and belittles my intelligence and life choices. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for five years, and being called stupid is one of my buttons. Brother knows this.

Whenever I’m around him, I try very hard not to engage, to just ignore his ranting and remind myself that he has serious mental/emotional issues. But I have trouble even talking about neutral subjects, because he seems hellbent on twisting everything into a politically charged fight. He’ll even interrupt the conversations of others. I have walked away many times. I’ve (mostly) accepted that he doesn’t care about me or my feelings (or is incapable of doing so). He ignores conversational boundaries I’ve tried to set. He never asks about me and my life, nor did he show any concern when I was being abused, even though I tried to reach out to him. I’ve never felt like I had a real brother, just some mean asshole who lives with my parents. This makes me incredibly sad, and I feel guilty whenever I snap and say something back to him.

Do you have any advice on how to handle things better? I want to be a good sister, but I honestly don’t know where to start to help him at this point, especially since he has no respect for me. I would just like to be able to be at their house without feeling so constantly insulted and harassed.

Sincerely,
Stressed Sister

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Captain and Crew,

I’ve been married to a wonderful man for almost 5 years now. He and I have worked hard to have a marriage based on openness and honesty.

We decided fairly early on we weren’t in a hurry to have kids, if ever. We wanted to have time to be just us. Then I had some medical issues which required a snip of the tubes, so it hasn’t even been an issue for many years.

The second question my MIL ever asked me was if I was going to give her grandchildren. To the point she stopped talking to us for a year after the marriage when we told her it wasn’t happening.

My husband has always, always handled her and stood up to her on our (and my) behalf. He’s never tried to make me do what she wants even superficially for “family harmony”.

Adding to the tension is the fact that for ten years her ex husband brutally abused my husband. When my husband finally talked to her about it and asked why she didn’t allow him to live elsewhere, her reply was “I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I would rather you be abused and hurt than hear ‘I told you so’ from my mother”. She has also Whitewashed the abuse and makes it like they had a Rockwell childhood.

There has been therapy for all of this, don’t worry. And continues to be.

Husband and I are now talking about having kids in the next couple years, especially now that we have found out My body has reversed that surgery all on it’s own (super mutant Fallopian tubes for the win).

We will need to set boundaries, probably All over again. Going into it this is what We would want:

1. She would never be left alone with any of our kids. Ever. She has a history of poor decision making and drug use.

2. We would need to restrict how much time she is visiting for our own sanity, and to be honest, mainly mine.

3. That she will not argue every aspect of our parenting choices.

So when is the best time to establish these? What’s a good script that doesn’t involve my overprotective tendencies an easy out? Can I just hide being pregnant until the kid is like 13?

We are not telling anyone I am fertile again, but we are discussing all of this potential madness.

Thanks for your advice

Not yet a momma but already dreading grandmomma drama

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Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football from Peanuts, by Charles Schultz

Seems legit

Dear Captain,

I am currently estranged from my sister. Growing up, we were home-schooled together and were extremely close. She was usually awesome, but once we became adults, she would sometimes become obsessively jealous of my time. As examples: she demanded that I apologize for calling my significant other on the phone without including her in a conference call because “it is incredibly hurtful to talk with a mutual friend without including me.” Or, she would not call me for weeks and then, when I wrote to say “hi”, she would lambast me for not contacting her earlier and demand an apology. Or she would demand an apology if I planned a social gathering and then invited her because, if I had REALLY wanted her there, I would have let her choose the activity. She always seemed to be keeping a secret tally of what she expected from me, and she’d either get nasty with me or give me the cold shoulder when I inevitably failed to meet her un-communicated expectations.

For many years, I basically just apologized to her every time she would bully me because I was pretty socially clueless and assumed that I just really sucked at friendships. However, I’ve since decided that this is Not Normal. I’ve tried communicating my problems to her, but she always says I am being too sensitive or unreasonable. After I came out as transgender, it all got much worse until I was definitely keeping her at arm’s length. Then, about this time last year, I invited her to my wedding. She responded with a nasty email telling me that she couldn’t come “this time” (this is my first marriage) because she had a long list of unspecified grievances against me that she had never shared with me before that I should have addressed before I invited her if I had REALLY intended her to feel welcome. When I told her she was being disrespectful, she replied that I was too easily offended and my wedding invitation was obviously just an “excuse to attack” her. I was pissed off and gave up, my wedding came and went without acknowledgment from her, and we haven’t really talked since.

A couple of months ago, after radio silence for almost a year, she sent a postcard with a normal, friendly message in it., apparently pretending that everything is fine. At this point, I’m done. I haven’t responded. Her birthday is coming up next month and I’m not planning on contacting her at all. I’m still angry and I’m absolutely not ready to deal with her. However, I can’t shake this nagging fear that I’m stooping to her level of giving the “cold shoulder” and harboring resentment and grievances that I’m not trying to work out with her. I don’t want to emulate her passive-aggressive behavior by punishing her with my silence. Is it fair for me to just leave the door firmly shut unless she’s willing to approach me with an apology and a real effort to change her behavior?

-Not passive-aggressive

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Dear Captain,

I live with my partner of several years. I love her very much. We share a lot of hobbies, including a theater club. My partner is *exceptionally good* at theater – a result of a decade of passion – and most of our friends are theater people. But recently I’ve been discovering that her passion – one of her defining qualities – has been making her relationships within this community harder. 

People have been talking to me for about a year now about her long-standing habit of being incredibly bossy, having incredibly high standards for herself and resenting it when other people don’t live up to them, and making it hard to enjoy this activity at all when she’s there with them. One person we’re close to, he worked with her on a performance a few years ago, before I even met her, and he told me that after that performance, he decided never to work with her again because she made the experience unbearable. As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around. People I love are no longer participating in events with us because she lacks empathy when dealing with people in a theater context.

Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect. Now she has lupus and is in pain a lot of the time, so most of our friends have sympathy for that. But this seems bigger than just being in chronic pain. (Or is it?) 

I have told her what her friends think of her (well most of it), and have pointed out that most of our friends think her behavior is hurtful, undermining, and steamroll-y. She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her. She’s defensive and tells me to ignore what other people think. 

She’s also bossy about other things in our shared life together. Others have interpreted this as abusive, and one person was shocked to see her apparently bark orders at me. (Granted she was in immense pain at the time.)

I regularly check in with myself – I’m a past victim of abuse – but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel like abuse. There’s no emotional put-downs, no manipulation, no threats. We’re highly effective communicators except for this issue. There’s raw anger and frustration, and defensiveness, but missiles are never directed at me as a person. She just underrates the amount of pain she causes others in pursuit of our hobby. 

One or two friends have wanted to stage an intervention. These plans never panned out. I’m not sure whether or not to force the issue. She is in therapy, but I think a couple’s counseling session or two surrounding this would be helpful. I’m not entirely sure what could be done other than me saying ‘You hurt me because you make people feel bad when they’re around us by raising your voice, arguing about the finer points of staging or scriptwriting, and being condescending’ and her being like ‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s who I am.’ 

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

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Every month I try to answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place as if they were questions people asked me. I add punctuation, but I leave the text alone.

1. “Ex no longer contacts me.”

If you have shared custody or financial entanglements, this is a problem. If you don’t, this is probably a healthy evolution of things that means that time is doing its healing work.

2. “Nerdy desperate dating problems.”

You’re probably in the right place. Start here.

3. “I want to hang out with my ex because I’m bored.”

That is not a good reason. Probably you should call literally anyone else.

4. “He says he wants space. What does he mean?” & “What does he mean when he says he can’t give me what I want?”

Statements like this are very often a preludes to a breakup, or a break, or a request to hang out less, or a request to take the relationship down a level in terms of seriousness and time together. Whatever the person telling you intends, a good message to take away from statements like this is that you are being asked or warned to invest less of yourself in whatever this thing is. Don’t make big plans with this person, like, getting a place together or moving closer to them or adopting a pet. Reach out to people in your life who are not this person, and put your energy into other friendships and connections.

5. “Uncle touch breasts petting the cat on my lap.”

There are accidental touches, and then there are touches that might be bad touches (and you know because they make you uncomfortable and they make you type things like that into search engines). If it happens again, this is one of those times to visibly startle, yelp, say “HEY!” and stand up and maybe the cat will end up sort of on your uncle’s face. Someone who touched you totally by accident will be sheepish and embarrassed and never, ever, ever do it again. You’ll know a creeper because he will try to shame you for making a big deal, as if you are the one in the wrong. I give you full permission to make a SCENE. 

6. “I feel cheated on when friend wants new friends.”

That is a sucky feeling and it is really hard to just sit with it and deal with it without making it your friend’s problem, but if you are an adult and you want to keep this friendship, that is what I suggest you do. There is no script for “I wish you wouldn’t hang out with other people without me” that sounds good. Be really nice to yourself, find an outlet for those feelings like a journal or a therapist, and give it some time.

7. “I fuck goats.”

I do not think the goats enjoy that, like, at all. NO BUENO.

8. “Terrible names to call your sister.”

You should probably leave your sister alone and just go your separate ways rather than name-calling, but the Shakespeare Insult Kit is kind of fun.

9. “Once a rapist always a rapist?”

Statistically speaking, yeah. Rapists rape repeatedly.

10. I have a gay boyfriend but I keep masturbating. 

Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. It’s not cheating. It’s not wrong.

11. “What does it mean when a man says he doesn’t want you but he doesn’t want anyone else to have you.”

It means that this is someone you should avoid, completely, forever. This is such a shithead thing to say.

12. “Its my husband’s responsibility to clean his poo stain.”

Is he physically able to do this? If so, you’ll get no argument from me.

13. “I feel guilty for breaking a blind date.”

Forgive yourself. You didn’t want to meet that person.

14. “You know she wants to have sex just need to say the right thing.”

The “right thing” probably is to ask “Do you want to have sex?” and see if “she” answers “yes.” Then you’ll know, and you’ll have said the “right thing” to find out.

15. “How to politely, firmly stop attending club meetings due to physical disabilities.”

Email the organizer. “Hi _____, I wanted to let you know that won’t be at club meetings for the forseeable future, so please don’t plan on me. I’ve got some (personal/health/other priorities/whatever you are comfortable sharing, keeping in mind that you don’t need to give a reason) taking my attention right now, I’ll let you know if anything changes. Thanks for all you do!”

Then you don’t need to reply to anything, and you don’t need to go.

16. “What does it mean when she says when and if the time is right we will meet?”

She may want to meet someday, but she does not want to meet either “now” or “soon” or “anytime that is actually planned out and committed to on an actual calendar.”

17. “What kind of question to seduce a female?”

A female what?

P.S. Don’t call women that. It’s dehumanizing and gross.

18. “Is it bad to break up with someone after a week?”

Is waiting gonna make it better? “I am so sorry, I am not feeling it, and we should break this off.” Set yourself and that person free.

19. “He says no relationship but he acts like he is into me.”

Believe the words and get some distance from him. If he changes his mind, he knows how to find you and how to tell you about that, but I’d hate to see you hanging around waiting for that to happen.

20. “Captain Awkward, how do I get my ex back?”

You reach out once to say “Ex, would you be willing to give it another try?” and then you abide 100% by whatever they tell you, is my suggestion. No guarantees, but this one approach is at least honest, respectful, and will get you an answer without wasting a lot of your time.

 

 

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