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Abuse

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m in my late 20s and have achieved a considerable amount of success in my creative field. I earn a sizable living and have a good reputation in my field both nationally and internationally.  My father and I do not have a very good relationship (short backstory: he is a professor who left my mom for his T.A. when I was young, attempted to gain custody of my brother and not my sister or I, refused to acknowledge my sister’s depression was real despite her suicide attempt, other bad parent things).  At this point in my life, I prefer to keep things cordial but distant- get lunch one day if we are in the same city, phone calls on holidays.

The problem is that he undermines my achievements at any opportunity that presents itself. When I graduated from art school he flew to New York and showed up at my thesis exhibition unannounced, making my mother (who had been planning and saving to be able to fly up for the day) hugely uncomfortable and making comments like “So is this all you had to do to graduate?  I would have thought you’d at least have had to write a paper or something” and “I mean I’m just glad you’re graduating, it took you long enough.”

Now I am having my first solo art exhibition in London in the fall, and I got a call out of the blue from my dad telling me to let him know the dates because he’d like to attend.  He even had the audacity to say “maybe we’ll just drop in on you like we did for your thesis show!” I know that if he comes it will ruin what should be a major milestone in my art career.  He will make passive-aggressive and rude comments to my coworkers and friends and undermine my accomplishments by speaking negatively about me (“Oh you’ve met her mother?  Now you see why she’s so fucked up”

I’m worried that if I ask him not to come he will show up just to spite me.
How can I keep him from attending without turning it into a major dramatic argument?

Sincerely,
Stop Asking Me if I Make A Good Living From My “Etsy Store or Whatever it is You Do”

Dear Stop Asking:

Bad news: You probably won’t be able to prevent him from attending, and it will turn into a major dramatic argument no matter what you do, because that’s how your dad rolls. Whatever will cause the most turmoil and get the most attention is what he will do. So I think you should risk the drama and the argument, but do it on your terms.

The exhibition will be up for a while, yes? It’s not a One Night Only thing? I suggest you pick a date or set of dates that starts after the opening festivities. That way you can have the opening events and enjoy your success without his shadow.

“Dear Dad,

Sometime between X date and Y date would be the best for me.”

Keep it really terse. If he asks specifically about opening parties and events, etc. just repeat yourself: “Between X and Y is the best window for me.”

Do not elaborate or give reasons. He doesn’t think he behaved badly at your thesis event, he thinks it was awesome that he came. He doesn’t think he said horrible and insulting things to you and about you, he thinks y’all were bonding. He has a selective memory, he’ll never be convinced otherwise, so don’t waste your energy. Ignore follow-ups. You’ve said what you needed to say.

You could also say, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t come, but if you insist, sometime between X & Y is best.” This response would rock the illusion of cordial relations you have now though I would argue that if you are filled with dread at seeing the dude, things ain’t that cordial. I think he would still come if you said that (because you are issuing a direct challenge to him), but it strips away the illusion that he is somehow doing this for you and returns some of the awkwardness to sender.

He might well look up the event online and crash the opening to spite you (and torment your mom). Against this contingency, you could recruit some of your most thick-skinned and gregarious friends to be your Dad-buffers. If your dad shows, you can give your dad a brief (& confused) hello, like “Oh hi, Dad, I didn’t realize you’d be here” before excusing yourself to the rest room for a good 10 minutes, while Dad-buffer Friend #1 swoops in to give your dad a personal tour of the gallery and keeps him far away from you for the rest of the evening. Buffer Friend #2 is there should you get cornered by your dad, to swoop in and call you away for something urgent, like, a buyer (fictional or real), i.e. “Letter Writer, so sorry to interrupt you and your Dad, but Sting is here and wants to ask you about your work.” Your script is “Sorry, can’t talk now!” as you walk away from him to somewhere else. If/when he releases the word-kraken of undermining nonsense and backhanded compliments, your friends will know that it doesn’t reflect on you, at all. He is only embarrassing himself.

Depending on what kind of venue it is, you could also deploy the guest list or “invitation only” qualities of the opening to your benefit. It would involve telling your agent or the venue manager (or other person in charge): “My dad and I are estranged, but he likes to crash my openings and make a big weird scene. Can we make sure he does not acquire tickets or guest list privileges?” Savvy people who are invested in your career (literally, they are literally invested in you) will realize that a shaky, seething, distracted You is a You Who Sells Less Art and do what they can to buffer you. There will be drama if your dad is escorted out by security, but security people are totally capable of saying “Sorry sir, it’s invitation only, and you’re not on the list. The show runs through (date), please come back another time.” They don’t have the same emotional engagement as you do, and they give zero fucks that he’s your dad.

If he doesn’t crash the opening, and shows up later, you can decide whether you want to meet up with him at all. You could reward him for at least respecting the time window boundary with a brief lunch and collect a few more inappropriate Dad sayings, or you could be all “Sorry, didn’t realize you were actually coming (since you insist on surprising me at these things). I’m actually in France for the weekend. Enjoy the show!

Congratulations on your show, I hope it is a great success and that it is relatively asshole-free.

Moderation note: Readers, if you have kind, normal parents, flying across the ocean to see your child’s art show would be a tremendous show of support and love. If you don’t relate to a scenario where this all fills you with dread, that’s okay – it means you’re lucky, and it also means that this question and response isn’t really about you. Please no “but he’s faaaaaaaamily” hijacks.

Hello! 

I’m struggling to find good ways to respond to my boyfriend when he tells me what I should or need to be doing. I’m in therapy to recover and get to a place where I think that I’m good enough & love and trust myself again (after years growing up having that constantly undermined), and therapy has been going very well. 

I believe that my boyfriend (of almost 2.5 years) wants to help me succeed, be better, and do what we both know I’m capable of. The way he goes about it though, is damaging my self-esteem and is a constant source of “you’re not good enough” for me. 

He wants me to exercise more, eat healthier, help out more with the cleaning, and take better care of myself. All good things. But the way he goes about it is “you need to exercise today”. If I tell him I already did, he tells me that walking doesn’t count, that it needs to be more strenuous exercise. He’ll get mad if he thinks that I’m not exercising often enough, or if I stop doing as many “good things” like eating veggies and working out, while he’s out of town. He never lashes out with his anger, he just doesn’t talk much when he’s mad. He says that he still loves me even if I don’t do these things (but it doesn’t feel that way to me). 

We’ve never reached a good resolution about this, and it keeps coming up. I’ve asked him to stop trying to get me to change, that you can’t change other people, but he refuses to accept that, to the point that he says it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. We both are very logic- and reason-focused people, but he’s come to the conclusion that, “if she just does these things, I won’t have to deal with her being depressed.” 

It makes me feel like nothing I do will ever be good enough, that he will always focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I am trying to do. He says I need to do more, try harder, and not let myself be comfortable. Everything I do in therapy has been trying to build confidence, motivation, and self-respect from within and stop relying exclusively on it externally, and then I go home and grapple with someone telling me that I need to do these things to be better.

Is there a chance he will realize that the moods are part of the package, and something I’m trying to work on gradually, not all at once? How can I respond when he gets mad at me for not being good enough? 

Thanks, 

Terrible at Advice Column Nicknames

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Stinkor from He-Man, a humanoid skunk in an orange costume.

This is Stinkor, from He-Man. What would the action figure for Clingor look like?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner has told me that he is afraid that he’s boring and that he has an irrational fear that my ‘self-improvement’ means I will leave him for somebody “more exciting”.

A few years ago I was feeling really down, and during that period I decided to really work on myself by changing my lifestyle. I took up a sport, started eating better and got involved in my community. Now I can hardly imagine life before – the improvement in my life and moods has been significant.

It is now to the point where he’s jealous if I have too engaging a conversation with one of his friends, and has insisted that he comes along to anything I do that runs the risk of me so much as talking to men who aren’t related to me. I find this behaviour anywhere from irritating to suffocating.

I am not sure where this fear of his has come from, I don’t think I’m just ignoring my boyfriend and getting annoyed when he wants to spend time with me. I think the problem is that he has low self-esteem and that this feeling of low self-worth has turned into a fear that I’ll leave. In the past he has said he likes me because I ‘make [his] boring life interesting’, which I find extremely concerning. To me it sounds a lot like ‘I am making you responsible for making my life interesting’. Perhaps that is a harsh assessment, but I am frustrated that he has enough free time to latch on to my plans, but apparently not enough to go find something to do by himself.

He is a great guy when he’s not being gnawed on by the hounds of insecurity, but I cannot carry on like this – I don’t have a problem with telling him where I’m going or who I’m with, but sometimes I just want to do things without having to justify why I want to be alone. I am at a loss – what can I do? I’ve suggested therapy and a hobby, but he doesn’t seem to understand that his attempts at keeping me close are pushing me away.

Thanks,
Pushed not pulled

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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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