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Dear Captain and friends,

I am terrified of talking to my mother. If I, or my partner, do something she doesn’t like, even if it has no impact on her life, she will worry and blame me for that worry. Sometimes this is because she finds a way in which it will affect her later (she thinks that if anything ever goes wrong for me financially she’ll have to bail me out despite my assurances to the contrary). She often implies or says outright that I’m childish and should always do what she says (I’m 27). When I was 18 my psychiatrist used a garden metaphor for my life so sometimes when I am trying to communicate with her I use that. At the moment I think she is trying to walk into my garden and rearrange everything, and keeping her out is stressful, but she says she has the garden next door and I am letting weeds from my garden get into hers. I have no idea how to deal with this massive conflict in how we see the situation.

At the moment I am hiding something big from her and I don’t know what to do. My partner left his job a few months ago because the commute was exhausting. We didn’t tell my mum he’d left, just that he was looking for something closer to home. He was offered a job with a reasonable commute and great pay, but he quit after two days because he couldn’t stand the corporate culture (which wasn’t apparent at interview stage). We made the decision together, because although I’d love the security, I didn’t want to risk my partner’s well-being and looking for a new job while working there would be basically impossible. We have enough money for him to be unemployed and job-seeking for a few months, although I don’t know what happens if he doesn’t get a job before the money runs out. Some of this money was a wedding present from my parents, and while legally they can’t impose conditions, I expect criticism if they realise that the money is supporting us while my partner is unemployed. We told my parents when he accepted the job, a week before he actually started (and quit). My partner wants us to tell my mum that the job fell through because they no longer needed him. I am anticipating a world of pain as my mum has sleepless nights about his unemployment and passes the blame to me for being with him when she thinks he’s lazy and makes my life harder. I want to be honest but I am terrified of her reaction. What should I do?

Thanks so much,

Terrified Gardener

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Hey Captain & Company,

I haven’t seen my father since I was 8. We were in contact until I was 16; he was emotionally abusive throughout that time. I have a brother and sister by his previous marriage, and part of his abuse involved keeping us from having a relationship with each other. We have reconnected as adults and are tentatively trying to learn how to be siblings. It’s very difficult with my sister because she is very close to our father and is really insistent that I should be as well.

My husband, on the other hand, has a great relationship with his parents, his brother, his extended family. And that’s good! They’re all great people! (His mom and mine are like bffs now). Sometimes at his family events I feel like Jane Goodall observing emotionally healthy apes.

“Clay” doesn’t understand why my family isn’t the same as his. I was, admittedly, not very forthcoming about all the issues I have with my father and siblings earlier in our relationship, so he was a bit weirded out when, for example, he found out I’d never met my nieces & nephews. We finally had a discussion about it when he objected to not inviting anyone from my paternal side to our wedding, and I thought he understood.

But now I’m pregnant, and looming fatherhood has made him VERY WORRIED about my father’s feelings. Clay wouldn’t want to be cut off from his child for mistakes he made years ago, and although my father’s mistakes were terrible and I have every right to be angry, can’t I see it from his point of view? (spoiler: no). My sister mentioned that my father has been sending annual Facebook messages to me, reminding me that he loves me and if I “ever need to talk” he’s there for me, and Clay has taken that as evidence that he’s changed and deserves a chance to know his grandchild. The last time Clay and I argued about this he called me unreasonable, and I’m sorry to say that after that point I pretty well lived up to it.

I’d like a script to SHUT IT DOWN, but I guess it’s possible that Clay’s right and I am being unreasonable. I still have a hard time calling my father’s behavior abuse out loud; maybe I haven’t gotten across how really really terrible just the idea of him makes me feel. He does superficially seem like a better person than he was, but I still don’t want him near my child, and I don’t want him near me. I’m hoping someone on Team Awkward has suggestions how to fix this mess or myself.

Thank you so much!

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Thanks (?) to the nice Twitter friends who clued me into this horrible WikiHow on How To Stop A Wedding, or, as @KristinMuH put it, “a manual to help stalkers ruin their target’s special occasions.”

While I once joked that I would like to see this happen someday, it was, in fact, a joke. And the instructions to basically kidnap the person make my hair stand on end:

Take charge if things go your way. If he or she decides not to go through with the wedding, it is your duty to immediately escort the bride/groom away from the pressure of their family and friends. There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.

EEK!

So, if you find yourself searching for instructions on how to stop a wedding, ask yourself:

Has the affianced person been kidnapped? Is it a child? Then stop the wedding by alerting the appropriate authorities.

Is this someone you think should marry you instead? And they know how you feel? And yet they are still obstinately not marrying you, to the point where they have planned an entire wedding with someone else? Okay, here’s what you do:

  • Find out when & where the wedding will be.
  • Book yourself a vacation to “anywhere but there.”
  • Block this person in all social media spaces so you’re not seeing photos and updates.
  • Try for someplace with very limited internet access so you reduce temptation to watch it unfold on real time at the wedding hashtag or whatever.
  • If you can, get a trusted friend to go along with you so that you are not alone and there is someone who can comfort and distract you.
  • Remind yourself that soulmates aren’t real, and that other people get to choose who they want to be with.
  • Or, if it’s more comforting, say to yourself “They are making a mistake, but it’s their mistake to make.
  • Wait it the fuck out and move on with your life.

And if someone pulls this whole shebang on you at your wedding, here is a script:

“This is inappropriate and I’d like you to leave now.”

Hopefully your friends and family and security will form a nice barrier between you and this person and make sure they are escorted from the premises.

Now it’s time for the monthly(ish) feature where we find out what search terms bring people to this site! Except for adding punctuation, these are unchanged. Enjoy!

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Hello Cap’n,

My good friend Alice recently got herself a boyfriend. I have two issues with this:
1) Even though I’ve never met him (it’s a long-distance relationship), and she’s never complained about him, I’m pretty sure he’s a typical Darth Vader boyfriend -because all of her ‘cute’ stories are actually really awful,
and 2) Every time my friend falls for a guy, she falls HARD, and becomes an entirely different person who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than her boyfriend.

A little background:

Alice has recently taken to saying that she and Bob have been in love since they were children; it would be more accurate to say they met when they were kids, when they were both living in India. They never actually dated or anything back then, but to hear her tell it, they were madly in love but never ‘made it official’ -which I take to mean (based on her tendency to greatly romanticize and assume anyone she likes reciprocates) that she had a huge crush on him, but they were platonic -which is actually better than the alternative, since when she and her family moved to Canada she was 12 and he was 16. They didn’t really keep in touch, only connecting a few times in the intervening years, but she would reminisce about him often. Last summer they got back in touch, ‘dated’ for a couple months, and broke it off.

Then, earlier this month, they started ‘dating’ again -and over the course of a week, she went from “It’s very new, we’re going slow and keeping it to ourselves” (not even wanting to tell me who she was dating, because he had told her not to) to “Our wedding will be in about a year” (no, he hasn’t proposed, she’s just assuming he will).

As to why I think he’s a Darth Vader Boyfriend:

With the exception of being mad at him for not answering her calls or emails for nearly a week (this is the reason for the previous breakup), she has never complained about him, but her ‘good’ stories are all actually awful. For example:

-When me and my (male) partner picked her up to hang out the last time she was dating Bob, Alice told us about how he’d instructed her to never get into a guy’s car or be alone with a guy -but that it was ok since I was there. My best-case scenario is that this was a joke on his part, but in my experience guys who make that kind of ‘joke’ aren’t really joking. To her, this is just Bob being caring & protective.

-Even long-distance, he’s being a huge time-suck and keeping her from important priorities like school (she’s a PhD student, really needs time for studying), sleep, and friends -she’s told me, as ‘evidence’ of how ‘sweet and caring’ he is, that he just won’t let her hang up on him in Skype and insists they keep talking when she wants to go to sleep, to the point she falls asleep on the couch with Skype still on. Similarly, the last time I had plans with Alice, she was extremely late, and explained that it was because he’d called her and gotten her all worked up about an invented crisis -kept her talking to him for over half an hour -before admitting it was made up and he’d been ‘trolling’ her. He knew, and she had reminded him, that she had plans with a friend.

-she describes him as a ‘lovable asshole’. What even. She also says that sometimes you just have to let him be an asshole for a while and talk himself down, without trying to reason with him or disagree with anything he says.

-When they broke up previously, she flirted with/dated another guy. Bob got mad at her for this, and has been guilting her over it -even though he fully admits he was f*cking someone else at that time.

-He tells her that she is special to him because, unlike ‘all the other girls’, she is ‘innocent’ -because she hasn’t had sex, has never sent him a dirty picture, etc. He compared her to an ex by saying that that ex had mentioned she enjoyed/was good at giving oral sex, and said that he “lost all respect for” that woman because of her comments. Again, he fully admits that he has had sex of all kinds with many different women. Alice believes in waiting til marriage for sex, but has recently started saying that when Bob moves closer she wants to have sex with him. I have no issues with her being sexual if she wants to, but I fear she simply feels she has to in order to ‘keep up’ with him, and also that since he outright stated he values her for her virginity that if she did sleep with him he would then break her heart.

-They apparently had a discussion about kids, and he got very upset that she doesn’t want as many as she does, and wouldn’t even discuss the idea of adoption (which is something Alice really wants). He went on to lay a guilt-trip on her about this, and to talk about how much he wants to ‘come home to’ a big house full of people -which to me implies he has a very different vision of their future then what I know Alice wants (she wants a small family, to work as a professor, and the freedom to travel often). That in itself could be worked out, but the fact he wouldn’t even listen to what she wants, especially early in the relationship, spells trouble.

-She cannot hear criticism of him, and gets very angry and defensive. This might be my own issues, but I am reminded strongly of myself when I was in a relationship that -in retrospect – could easily be classified as emotionally and sexually abusive. The not-letting-her-hang-up-on-Skype thing also strongly reminds me of that past relationship, and I worry that small similarities like this may be skewing my own perceptions.

Additionally, Bob is planning on moving to the US to be closer to Alice (though it will still be about a 10 hour drive -but Alice has somehow convinced herself it’ll only be 4 hours). I’m afraid if he does, Alice will feel obligated to stay with him forever and feel obligated to do whatever to make him happy, since he moved to a different continent for her. I’m also afraid he’ll convince her to move closer to his new city -which will put her far from all her friends and family, and force her to drop out of her PhD program.

For what it’s worth, my partner also thinks that Bob sounds like bad news, and is also getting frustrated with Alice’s unwillingness to discuss any other topic, so it’s not just me thinking this.

There’s a few other issues with the relationship, not all of which are Bob’s fault; such as, her defense of why this is actually a great relationship is that ‘he’s her dream guy, her ideal, the one that she always remembered and compared all of her relationships to’ -which actually sounds like a bad thing to me, like she’s got him built up in her head to some fantasy figure and isn’t seeing the real person. Which may be why she’s interpreting everything he does as being perfect and awesome. As well, since Alice is Indian and in her late 20s, she is feeling a lot of pressure from her family to get married soon. Alice jumping headfirst into a relationship is also her pattern, and not specific to Bob -I’ve seen her fall hard and become obsessive with other guys before, just not to this degree.

I know your normal advice for dealing with a friend’s Darth is to try to talk about other things, and when the subject comes up to ‘talk like a therapist’ -to disengage a bit, with ‘hmm’ and ‘how does that make you feel’, etc., but she just won’t talk about anything else. Not only will she get furious and start crying if I -however gently -try to point out that some of the things she’s saying don’t actually sound like a healthy relationship, she will carry on an entire conversation by herself if I don’t talk. Literally, the last time I had her over, she talked for over an hour with me not saying a word beyond the occasional ‘hm’ or ‘huh’, and nodding every so often. Both me and my partner attempted to change the subject at every opportunity, but she finds a way to bring everything back to Bob -after a brief lull I started talking about my new phone, and my partner and I steered the conversation to technology; she listened for less than two minutes and then started talking about how Bob likes his phone and Bob likes computers and Bob is so good with technology… We talked about a recent party, and how one person there was being very strange and rude (she’d been incredibly hostile to me for no apparent reason) and she instantly changed it to ‘Bob also thought that was rude, when I told him about it.’ And from there, every detail of her last conversation with Bob. She doesn’t even stop when she runs out of things to say -at one point, I lightly joked that she must have had too much wine because she was repeating the same Bob story for the third time that night, and she laughed but then continued. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know how to talk to Alice without getting immensely frustrated, and am left wondering what happened to my bright, caring, intelligent friend, who used to be fully capable of carrying on a pleasant conversation.

How can I try to make her see that this relationship is unhealthy? Am I just reading into things too much, possibly because of my own bad past relationship? Should I just wait for the relationship to unravel on its own? And how to I talk to her without jeopardizing the friendship -any idea on scripts I can use to try to make it clear I don’t want to talk about him anymore, without getting her on the defensive? Should I attempt to be supportive even though I hate everything I’ve heard about this guy (and it’s all coming from her)? Or should I speak my mind even though I know it’ll cause a fight?

Sincerely,

-missing my friendship

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Every month(ish) I answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this blog. Except for adding punctuation, I don’t change the wording. Enjoy!

1. “Mother-in-law hates me. How do I tell her I’m pregnant?”

That sounds like a job for your spouse, her (presumably) son, who should be doing all or most of any communicating with his mom that needs doing.

2. “How to get a passive-aggressive man to talk to you?”

Pretend you don’t want to talk to him but make weird backhanded insults in his presence about how he shouldn’t talk to you, creating an endless loop of passive-aggression. He will be unable to resist your gambit.

"Relativity" by MC Escher

“Your endless staircase of insinuation and feigned dislike reminds me of the much nicer one I have at Pemberley.”

Or try “Hey Steve, nice to see you. How are you today?” like you would with anyone else.

3. “My boyfriend passed away 7 months ago. When is it okay to date again?”

I am so very sorry for your loss. This is actually an easy question to answer in short form:

You are 100% the boss of when you start dating again. If you’re ready now, now is the time. If you need more time to grieve, take all the time you need. Don’t let anyone pressure you, don’t let anyone guilt you, either.

4. “These little old ladies want to be fucked in my phone number 530.”

Image from old "Where's the Beef?" Wendy's commercial. Three little old ladies yell "Where's the beef?" into a phone.

How extremely specific, yet vague. We need details, son!

5. “He never read my Facebook message.”

He probably did, tho.

6. “My housemates complain about me having sex what can I do?”

Be quieter, is my guess, if it’s a noise complaint. Do it at your partner(s)’s house(s) more, if it’s a “but they’re always AROUND and using the shower when we need it and watching our TV and eating our food” complaint. Plan to move if it’s a “we are judgmental of the fact that you have sex at all or who you have sex with” complaint.

Living with housemates requires a certain amount of “I will just choose not to ever notice anything that happens in your room when your door is closed” attitude to make the social contract work. But housemates do actually have the right to say “I signed up to live with you, not you + another person who is always here” and ask you to pitch a road game once in a while if you have overnight guests more than 3-4 nights/week, and they do have a right to ask you to keep it down between certain hours.

7. “I had fight with mybf bcoz of short dress help.” and 8.”Why is he so mean to me?”

Read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft and get yourself to a safe place that’s Away From That Guy. I’m so sorry.

I’m reading this now (for blog discussion reasons, not personal ones, though it was pretty funny to have my boyfriend buy it for me from the bookstore where he works with “It’s for my girlfriend!”). It is very, very good and will help you see controlling & mean behaviors as part of an overall pattern of deliberate behavior, not anything that is your fault.

9. “Making letter for a friend that you cares about at the same time you mad at him somehow.”

If you don’t want to end or take a break from the friendship, keep the letter (or whatever communication you use) focused on the behavior that bugged you. And try, if you can, to keep it focused on the most recent instance of that behavior. “When you asked me to be your date to the party but were reading your phone/texting all night it really hurt my feelings” is better than “You are always on your phone when we hang out!

10. “How to impress a teacher you have a crush on.”

Do your best work for the class, learn what you came to learn, and move on when the semester is over without confessing your feelings or putting your teacher in an extremely awkward position. Crushes can be motivating personally without ever having to be acted on or expressed, this is one of those kinds of crushes.

11. “Is being tipsy attractive?”

To other tipsy folks, at closing time. Is that who you want to attract?

12. “Do people with Aspergers hate being interrupted?”

While it varies from individual to individual, in my limited experience, they hate this somewhat less than many neurotypical folks do. If you can’t reliably depend on social cues or body language to know when someone wants to tune out from what you’re saying, and a function of your personality is that you can and want to talk for a long time about things that interest you, having a friend or a coworker say “Thank you for that info, but I have all I need now” or “Hey, can we talk about X instead of Y for a minute?” is actually helpful if done kindly. We’ve got a lot of readers who can shed more light on this for you.

I don’t have Aspergers, but I am a geek and a college teacher and can definitely natter on about things, and when I’m in The Talking Zone I definitely appreciate a kind redirection as well.

13. ” How to avoid being the rebound girl?”

Easy. Just make sure that you date someone only after they’ve dated at least one other person since their last breakup.

Waterfall by MC Escher

Only date people if they’ve dated someone else since their last breakup and you will guarantee that you will never be the rebound!

Sorry for the impossible logic problem. It’s because I’d like the idea of the “rebound” to go the way of the “friend zone”: AWAY.

These can be true statements:

“I was dating someone but it didn’t really go anywhere because they were just too hung up on their ex/not looking for anything serious right now/the timing was wrong.” 

This is the truer statement:

“I was dating someone but it didn’t really go anywhere because they didn’t want it to.” 

You can meet someone right after getting out of a serious relationship and, if you like them enough and everything clicks well enough, go right into another one. Or you can be a person who needs a lot of time to regroup after a breakup and doesn’t even want to think about dating anyone seriously…but some makeouts that remind you that you have a body can be nice, or going on a dating site to “see what happens” can be a nice reminder that you have options. These are the On The Rebound people you are keen to avoid, and you will know them by their avoidance of any talk about feelings or the future.

But you can think you are that second kind of person and intend to date casually, until meeting a person you really love shakes you out of that mode. And you can think you are that first kind of person….ready for loooooooooooove!!!!!!….but not get into anything serious because it takes a while for you to meet the right person. Which leaves us with: There are two kinds of people and they are both just…people.

If the other person is really into you, and you are really into them, the timing won’t matter so much. So risk it like you would any other potential love relationship, but also listen to what the other person is saying and pay attention to their actions like you would in pursuing any other potential love relationship. Believe them when they say stuff like  “I like you but I’m just not ready for another serious relationship right now” “Let’s keep this really casual” etc. and don’t try spackle those things over with your awesome chemistry or how well you *should* work on paper. Those statements translate as I don’t want that kind of relationship with you.

14. “What does it mean when a girl says that she likes you but we just cant be in a relationship right now?”

It means she’s not interested in a romantic relationship with you and wants to let you down gently, so she’s using what she thinks is a culturally-approved script to do so. Read it as “she is not attracted to me or interested in ever being my girlfriend,” grieve for what might have been, and don’t bring the topic up again.

15. “He says he feels a deep connection.”

….but? You guys can hear the “but,” right?

16. My girlfriend asked for no contact but can I wish her happy birthday?

No contact is no contact.

My question is, do you want to be involved with someone who doesn’t want any contact with you?

17. “Men who are too intense too soon.”

Let’s reframe and rephrase this.

“Men who like you way more than you like them.”

“Men who creep you out or alarm you with their attentions.”

“Men who try too hard to lock in a relationship before you are ready.”

“Men who don’t pay attention to reciprocity and who come on way too strong.”

“Men who are controlling and needy.”

“Men whose relationship style is not compatible with yours.”

“Too intense” at the beginning of a relationship is often a red flag for someone with violent and controlling tendencies. Listen to those instincts and strongly consider breaking ties with whoever inspired you to search for this.

18. “He dumped me and got angry when I refused to be friends.”

Let’s reframe and rephrase this:

“He made me sad but then immediately made me relieved to be free of him, forever.”

“He suddenly made it much easier for me to put the entire sad business behind me.”

“He thinks that only he gets to decide the terms of our relationship.”

19. “How can you tell if someone has a mean streak?”

They do or say enough mean things to inspire you to Google that question, is my guess.

20. “How to piss off someone who has to have the last word?”

Remove their audience and replace it with sweet, cold, delicious silence.

 

 

Jenny Mills from Sleepy Hollow

The Winter Pledge Drive continues! Thanks to those who have given so far. Please consider throwing a few $ in the tip jar if you can.

Dear Captain,

I have a younger sibling who has a lot of mental health problems. She is still in school and living with our parents, while I am off at grad school in another state. She and I have always been very close, but things have gotten a little tough. Younger Sibling engages in a lot of very self-destructive behaviors, is constantly combative, and explodes at the slightest provocation. Whenever I go home on breaks to visit my family, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells constantly to avoid making her angry or causing her to self-harm. Our family is very supportive– she is in about seven hours of therapy a week, on medications, and has parents who are bending over backwards to get her all the help they can.

The problem is that her behavior towards me and the rest of the family is incredibly triggering to me. I was in an abusive relationship for a while that included a lot of emotional manipulation, and I’m fairly dedicated to staying out of relationships that include that component from now on. Younger Sibling is emotionally manipulative and quasi-abusive. If she were a friend, this would be the point where I would say “I love you, but until you figure some of this shit out I can’t be around you.” I feel really unable to do this with my sister, who clearly needs all the support she can get. My parents have acknowledged that I am being hurt in this situation, but feel that me withdrawing would do much more harm than good.

I am trying to stick it out, but at this point I just feel angry that I have a) lost a relationship with my sister that I really liked and b) wound up in the type of relationship I have been good at staying out of. How do I stay in this relationship and not feel like I’m getting emotionally beat up every time I go home? The last time I was there, I was in a constant state of panic for two weeks because the whole environment was just so hostile and shitty.

Sincerely,
Dedicated but Tired Sister

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Dear Captain & Co.,

I’m in a wonderful relationship, but we’ve got a Darth Vader ex-girlfriend lurking on the sidelines. When we first started dating she behaved horribly: showing up on his lawn screaming suicide threats when she found out I was over, harassing him for months, hacking his email to get my phone number to send me threatening messages, etc. She backed off after he threatened to get a restraining order.

BF left a lot of his things at their apartment. He couldn’t face making a second trip to get everything when he initially left, and then was too afraid to ask her to send it to him. He was also just trying to get his life back together, as you do after escaping an abusive relationship. Then the whole mess above happened.

He’s joked that losing that stuff was a fair price to pay to get away from her. But lately it’s clear he wants it back. (He also has a narcissistic mother who’s gotten rid of a lot of his belongings without his permission, so I think a lot of it is about gaining control over his property and life.) The stuff in Darth’s possession is mostly memorabilia and collector’s items. We’re pretty sure she still has them because she latched on to his interests during their long-term relationship. But we are both at a loss about how to approach her about it.

Their relationship was extremely toxic. Darth has Borderline Personality Disorder. I hope she’s gotten help, but the Darth my BF knew was volatile, argumentative, irrational, manipulative, and occasionally violent. He is extremely wary about contacting her. We don’t want to trigger her or become a renewed target, especially since we’ll be at the same smallish convention in a few months. Because of her BPD, she probably still views herself as the abandoned victim. Six months ago we saw her at a concert and the way she reacted made it clear she wasn’t over him. According to the grapevine, her current boyfriend is an emotional prop she openly resents, so it’s possible she’s not over him even now. Contacting her might end up being fine… or it might make her act out in any number of ways.

What should we do? Any scripts or advice on enforcing boundaries, minimizing contact, and controlling possible fallout when attempting something like this would be really appreciated. BF doesn’t want trouble … he just wants his things back.

Is the value of the stuff such that it would be worth hiring a lawyer to deal with the entire thing from beginning to end, from sending the request to potentially taking her to court if she doesn’t comply to actually picking up the stuff? Like, it’s $50,000 worth of stuff and you think it would take $10,000 of lawyering to get it back, and you have the $10,000 lying around and you also have a free year of your life to spend on this problem?

Because my recommendation is: Buy new stuff.

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Edited to Add: Relevant to our interests, here is the great Mikki Kendall, who recently co-launched a blog at Hood Feminism, writing at The Toast about the problem of abusers & enablers in progressive spaces.  /Edit

There is a lot of violence and rape culture stuff discussed at these links, so if that’s not stuff you can read about, be warned and do not click the links!

Did anyone else read this piece by Jay Roberts, I Met A Convicted Serial Killer, and He Made Me Feel More Loved Than Anyone Else In My Life?  

As a young Marine, Roberts met Randy Kraft, who is now believed to have murdered as many as 100 people between 1971 and 1983. Roberts survived the encounter, and actually had no idea at the time that he was in any danger, realizing only much later when Kraft was caught that he was the extremely charismatic stranger he’d spent a day with long ago.

Serial murder is darker stuff than we usually deal with at CaptainAwkwardDotCom enterprises, and don’t worry, it’s not a place I want to dwell. However, the piece is really well-written, and it also fascinated me because here was a violent predator using all of the tactics that predators use: alcohol, isolation (both in selecting a target and in getting the target on his own), testing boundaries and then systematically escalating behaviors, choosing someone who will be unlikely to tell, or, if they do, unlikely to be believed. It was like a textbook case of what predators do. Kraft also did what many predators do, which is to groom their victims with attention and flattery.  He got Roberts, a straight, strapping male Marine to pose for sexy photos and even consider a sexual encounter, and he did it by making the guy feel, in his own words, *loved.* Such was Kraft’s charisma that years later, despite evidence that AN EXTREMELY BIG NUMBER OF OTHER TIMES this guy murdered people exactly like the writer in situations exactly like that one, even recognizing that the guy was manipulating him, had likely stalked & selected him as a good victim, he *still* questions whether that “really” would have happened to him and still has complicated feelings about the guy.

Predators & abusers fuck with our heads. They do it on purpose and according to a predictable pattern. The pattern is designed to disorient you and confuse you. It’s often designed to mimic what “love” or “caring” or “passion” or “intense connection” feels like, at least in the beginning. It leaves you confused and doubting your own feelings or right to protest. When it goes bad, by the predator’s design, it leaves you ashamed, like you “let” something happen to you. It doesn’t matter who you are. It is not your fault. They do it on purpose.

Another great piece I read last week touches on some of the same themes. Thomas at Yes Means Yes wrote “Cockblocking Rapists is a Moral Obligation, or, How To Stop Rape*** Right Now.

***Thomas qualifies it in the post, but it’s worth doing here: He is talking about a certain kind of acquaintance-rape, the type where perpetrator and victim are known to each other and part of the same social scene. He is also talking specifically about what friends/bystanders can do, NOT about how victims can stop their own attacks (by the way, fuck you forever, Emily Yoffe) and NOT putting responsibility on survivors (in fact, the last section of the piece is called “It Can’t All Be On The Survivors”) to make the social circle safer.***

Our post here on creepy dudes in friend circles is by far the most-viewed thing on the site, with over 322,000 views. Next top post? Also about creepy dudes, with 44,000 views. Followed by The Art of No When You’ve Already Said Yes, with roughly the same number. You could say that banishing predatory behavior has been on our minds a little bit. Which is why I love Thomas’s post so much, because he goes step-by-step through what you can do when you know about/see/witness creepy behavior and translates a lot of the discussions we’ve had here into action. First order of business:

“Spot The Boundary Testing

…What the rapists do is target selection. They are looking for someone whose boundaries they can violate, and who won’t or can’t stand up for themselves.  The best targets, the ones who offer the rapists the best chance of getting away with it, are those who won’t report — or who will never even admit to themselves that what happened was rape.  The way the rapist finds those people is to cross their boundaries again and again, progressively testing and looking for resistance.

That’s the pattern to look for.  If somebody seems to be testing to see if one of your friends can be pushed off of “no,” has a limited ability to stand up for themselves, that’s the red flag.

The most important thing you can do if you see this pattern is tell the target you see it.  Forewarned is forearmed.  In fact, somebody who is being targeted and pushed and tested may think they see the pattern, but may not trust their own instincts.  If they know you see it, too, then they may trust a bad feeling that they are already feeling.”

Boundaries are your friends. Defend them and help your friends defend theirs. It can be as simple as “It looked like you were not enjoying that backrub/seventh beer/tickling/hug. Do you want to come sit by me for a while?” or signal-boosting your friend’s no. “She doesn’t want any, thanks.” It doesn’t have to be a big scene or an accusation.

There’s more at the link, including offering options (a ride home, a place to stay, cab fare, “Here, you can use my phone!”) and watching over drunk and high friends. If you’d take away a friend’s keys to drive home, isn’t it okay to say “You seem too fucked up to really consent well to sex right now, and your new makeout partner DEFINITELY does. How about you get their number for later, and we call a cab now?” That probably seems weird and like overstepping, except, 30 years or so ago people revived the concept of the designated driver and made a media campaign and conscious effort to make that into a thing that we know about and do.

Could we make a similar push around sex? Not a stupid judgy “don’t drink, ladies” one (Emily Yoffe, if you’re reading, this, fuck you), but a Too Drunk to Drive is Probably Too Drunk To Fuck one. Prince is really making a push for the beauty of morning sex lately, maybe he can be our spokesman for “Let’s sober up and do it properly, and then go to brunch” campaign for horny party people.

Some of the boldest advice in the piece is to make sure people know who the rapists & suspected rapists are and openly take sides against them. It’s the advice that is probably going to get the most pushback from MRA- types obsessed with “false accusations.” Watch for lots of appeals to fairness and privacy and “innocent until proven guilty.” Hell, I fell more than halfway into this trap myself when answering this question. Not cool, me.

In a court of law, if you are the judge or the jury, a defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s it. No one else is held to that standard. To even investigate the crime & make charges, the cops and DA have made some presumptions that so and so is guilty. As Thomas says:

Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process.  Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property.  You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them.  You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party.  And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.  We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction.

So if you want to do something, take the label, plant it on the missing stair in your social circle, and make it stick.

You don’t need a jury trial to kick Handsy Bob out of board games night. You really don’t. Handsy Bob makes people uncomfortable. He doesn’t have to actually rape someone to prove that you were right to kick him out of the group for making y’all uncomfortable.

The last section, called It Can’t All Be On The Survivors, builds on this responsibility.  Thomas calls out the total pointlessness and complete shittiness of the idea of neutrality and trying to remain friends with both abusers and their victims, another topic that has come up here  more than once.

It Can’t All Be On The Survivors

I’ve seen the following two things happen:

(1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something!  If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?”

(2) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and the survivor yells and shouts for people to deal with it, and the people who are friendly with both the survivor and the violator shrug their shoulders and try to stay “neutral.”

What these two things have in common is that in each case, the people around the situation place all the responsibility on the person who most needs help and can least be expected to go it alone.

…Confronting people is emotionally taxing, and it often irreparably ends the friendship.  In fact, about something as serious as rape, it invariably irreparably alters the friendship.  If you believe that your friend raped your other friend, and you say, “hey, you raped my friend,” then the old friendship is gone forever as soon as the words leave your mouth.  What remains is either enmity, or a relationship of holding someone accountable, just as tough and taxing as staying friends with a substance abuser who is trying to get clean and sober.  That’s not easy.  That’s a lot of work, and most people are not up for it.

The option most people choose, because it gets them out of that, is to choose to not make up their minds about what happened…

…Just think about that.  ”Hey, you’re still friends with Boris.  But X said Boris raped her.”  ”Well yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”Well, but you know what Y said, and Y’s account was a lot like X’s.”  ”Yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”But Z said Boris violated consent, too, and that’s three people …” “Well, I’ve been friends with Boris a long time, so I kind of don’t know what to think …”  (Trust me when I tell you, folks, I’m not making that up.)

What can you do tomorrow?  Don’t let your communities do that shit.  Hold your friends to a higher standard.

If the current status quo is that survivors end up ceding social space and fleeing bad situations because they feel shame for “creating drama,” I would accept “rapists & creepy, boundary-violating people are shamed and shunned on the word of survivors” as an alternative.

In the comments,  in the aftermath of all the creepy dude posts here and “safe space at cons” discussions I’ve seen around the Internet, I’d be interested to know:

  • Have your social groups taken steps to isolate Missing Stair-people? How did that go?
  • Do you have stories of people intervening successfully in potentially creepy situations?
  • Do you have a creeper who needs a good banishment and need moral support or advice on how to accomplish such?
  • Those of you who go to cons or other events in geek-identified spaces, have you noticed changes in attitudes of organizers or changes in behavior?
  • Do you have suggestions for other things we can do to make our social scenes safer from predators?

Ooh, one final link that I got from Twitter (Thanks, Twitter!), about cutting toxic people out of your life and the relief that can come from not having to deal them by errlix might be good to read today. S/he lays it out very clearly and beautifully.

Oh Captain, my Captain

I broke contact with my family and moved across country from them ten years ago. It was a decision made by several years of mixed bag abuse. My dad is a creepy stalker who still haven’t given up and the police have been involved more than once. I have no hope that they’ve changed their ways.

Now I’m moving back. I got a job offer that’s just to good to ignore. I don’t want anything to do with my family. I’ve Googled them so I know where they live. I’ve done the therapy and anxiety meds route. My therapist claims that I’ll be able to run into my family without any big hoopla, and on a good day I believe her. I’m not there yet but it has become easier each time in the past. Less of a shock and easier to stand up for myself.

I cut all contact with several friends and gave up interests in hope of being left alone. Now I want reconnect but I’m scared that my family will find out. I have an old flirt who I’d love to catch up with but his family is basically besties with mine. Is it worth the risk? Any good scripts for why I haven’t been around for ten years that doesn’t invite too many questions?

On one hand I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends and re-starting hobbies. I love the city and I’ve been there before several times without incidents. But OTOH, I’d be right there! Like an hour away. What if something happens and I can’t get away? All the self defense and martial arts training doesn’t help much against people who think their abuse is for your own good.

Sincerely,

Freak Out

Whenever I read or see anything about stalking, I always end up dwelling on the unfairness – especially the financial unfairness – to the victim. Moving costs money. Beefing up home security costs money. Having to go to court for restraining orders, etc. costs money in terms of lost wages. Leaving behind possessions costs money. Changing one’s name costs money (and more than money). Therapy costs money. Leaving behind a lifetime of professional contacts and friends and a sense of belonging has costs – both financial and emotional. Being fired from your job because your workplace is afraid of your stalker costs money. And stalkers know this. They love it. They use it. They try to make it as expensive as possible as a way to control you. What is the price of feeling safe? And even if you pay it, do you ever really get safe or feel safe? Stalking is violence; stalking is also theft.

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