A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.
If this blog were a child it would be a five-year-old today, and I would buy it Star Wars action figures and a bake it a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting in my mom’s old Mickey Mouse-shaped pans. Happy New Year/Blogaversary, Awkward People! Here is a poem that I think is about forgiving yourself:
Attende Domine (Thomas Lynch)
To lie in the tub on New Year’s morning
awash in bath oil and resolution
observing the Feast of the Circumcision
is to seek the water’s absolution,
according to the law that juxtaposes
Cleanliness and Godliness. I suppose
it is time to examine my conscience,
to make a clean breast of it and amends
to such as those I might have offended.
Attende Domine et miserere! Lord
I’ve sinned with my eye and did not pluck it out,
and with my hand and yet my hand remains
blessing myself against your righteousness.
I’ve sinned with my mouth and loved the sound it made.
I took an honest-to-goodness vacation (I saw family and friends and met a camel and read Goblin Emperor, finally) instead of writing intense 2015 recaps or 2016 pronouncements, so, let’s just dive back in to what we do here.
Today’s question is about when a past toxic relationship bleeds into the present. How do you know what’s reasonable to ask for? And how do you correct someone or set a boundary with a new partner without constantly calling back to the old one?
Hello Captain Awkward,
I’m feeling quite stuck in a romantic situation and am hoping you can help.
Last year I took a job in a town 5 hours away. To my surprise and delight, a co-worker who I had a secret crush on messaged me daily after I left and from there she admits she is attracted to me. Problem being, she is married. The texting gets intense- sexting 24/7. After a few weeks, I drove up to the city and we spent the weekend with each other, in bed together for most of it. She was racked with guilt, I felt guilty too and also guilty because I had feelings for her and she insisted no feelings were to be involved in this. Guilty feelings made way for more and more of these weekends and trips together- we saw each other most weeks despite living in different cities, having an intensely passionate and sexual relationship for over a year.
I didn’t want to sneak around forever and wanted more of a relationship. She told me for months that we would have that, and she was in the process of separating. However one day she announces she can never leave him and get a divorce. Also, she doesn’t want to disappoint and be disowned by friends and family. I was upset but carried on with the relationship because I just didn’t have it in me to leave.
Before we got together, she had planned to live overseas and travel. I would get upset as the time loomed closer when she was due to leave, just as we were getting serious. She reassured me that it was for the best- a way of separating from her husband so we could together. Yet, only a week before she left, she informed me that he had taken a job over there and was going with her. Nevertheless, she insists they aren’t really together, just friends and she will come back to be with me in a year’s time.
I was upset and angry, although accepting that I am ultimately responsible for my own unhappiness about it because I did get involved with a married woman.
I am still in love with her and want to be with her. However I know it’s best for me to leave this all behind. Yet every time I do, she guilt trips me so hard into staying and staying in contact while she is over there- making it impossible to move on. I was hoping Captain that you would be able to shed some light on an escape route out of this and some potential scripts for when she guilts me into staying.
The question in the subject line is one of the most common questions I get.
Carolyn Hax took a version of it on recently. Hers is not a blanket solution, especially (obviously!) when the relationship has deteriorated to the point where you need to not only be done but AWAY, but in those situations where the romantic part is definitely done but the caring about each other is not, she suggests that you stop pretending. Be honest that your feelings have changed and end the romantic relationship. Offer to be a supportive friend anyway. I would add: Be honest with yourself about what you are really willing and able to do, and don’t over-promise out of guilt. I think her approach is beautiful if you can make it work, and it makes me think fondly of some exes and how we took care of each other after the end of the relationship. One part of the relationship can end but it can still be a love story.
There’s a phrase and a dynamic that comes up over and over in the letters I read about this: “Partner has no one else but me” or “I am Partner’s only support” or “Partner doesn’t have any friends or family, there’s just me.” This factor adds so much guilt and terror to the letter writers’ situations, like, I will leave and this person will fall completely to pieces and there will be no one else to help them and whatever happens to them will be my fault (but I still might have to leave). The question that always comes to my mind (from my safe, cold distance) is, why? Why are you this person’s only person? How did that situation develop?
Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m currently over 2 years into a poly relationship with a wonderful person. Our policy is that we’re both free to have casual sex, and we’ll treat dating people on a case by case basis. The majority of our relationship has been long distance, but I very recently moved to live a few blocks away from them.
Partner has a friend who was also known them for as long as I have. Over the course of our relationship, they’ve grown very close. Every time I heard about Friend from Partner for the first year or so, they kept assuring me they were “just friends” and that they’d never be interested in anything more with him, even though I didn’t ask for that assurance.
Then, Partner asked me if they could do nonsexual kink things with Friend, which I was okay with. This came with more assurances that they’d never be interested in doing sexual or romantic things with him, again without me asking for them.
Early this year, Partner asked to start dating Friend. I said I wasn’t comfortable with it right then. Partner asked again a month or so later because Friend’s partner decided to open up their relationship. I said I needed to wait until I lived near Partner and see if I felt more comfortable in our relationship.
Over the summer, Friend visited Partner and they had sex, even though I told Partner I was uncomfortable with that. They apologized for being inconsiderate of my feelings, saying that it just happened. A day before I moved, Friend’s new partner referred to Partner as their “metamour” in a place where I saw and Partner brushed it off as a misunderstanding. After that, I told them I wasn’t sure I’d ever be comfortable with them dating Friend while still dating me.
It’s now been two months since I moved and while my relationship with Partner is stronger than before, I’m still not comfortable with them dating Friend. They’ve given some hints that they want to talk about this sometime soon, but they haven’t brought it up yet.
Other than this issue, I am really in love with Partner, although I still don’t feel like I’m getting enough affection (school and health issues make fixing this hard).
I don’t know how to get over Partner giving specific boundaries for their relationship with Friend and then changing them suddenly.
Thinking about this situation makes me have anxiety attacks and cry. I’m working on finding a new therapist, but it’s hard having just moved and needing to find a bunch of new doctors.
Am I being ridiculous about this whole thing? What do I do when Partner brings up the subject again?
– Too Anxious, Too Needy
The subject line has most of the relevant details. A friend of a friend (Jane) presented me with a screenshot of messages my boyfriend sent her through a major dating site. The messages themselves are innocent enough (about radio shows and favorite desserts) but whyyyyyyyy are you sending strange women messages on a dating site when we are talking about who we would have in our wedding party? He’s been shitty and distant and “I don’t know if I want this” for a few months, so I’m pretty sure he won’t be upset that I found out. I’m expecting a “You’re right, let’s break up” response, which terrifies me, even though I am so fucking angry right now at him about this. (Super extra fun, the intermediate friend is my boss’ wife, so this is bleeding into work because the friend discussed it with her husband, the boss). I’m so mad, and I want to confront him, but I don’t know what to do or say. I’ve never been in this situation before.
He sent this message three months ago, according to Jane. She didn’t see me until yesterday and didn’t feel like she knew me well enough to get in touch specifically for that, I guess. She said as soon as her Facebook sleuthing revealed he was with me, she stopped messaging him immediately. No reason to doubt Jane.
Not Good Enough, Apparently
Dear Captain Awkward,
Lately I’ve run into a stupid issue that I just can’t seem to get over. I have two friends (let’s call them Raoul and Christine, for convenience’s sake) that I have known for a very long time and recently, they told me that they were in a relationship.
I’ve known Christine for about close to ten years and I consider her to be my best friend and we both look out for each other as much as we can through an almost-purely online friendship. Raoul, I’ve known for almost as long, but we live in the same city and hang out occasionally. They both knew each other through me but they previously hadn’t been much more than casual acquaintances.
Christine and I had a falling out some time ago and only recently reconnected. Despite this, she remains one of my nearest and dearest. On the other hand, even though Raoul is a close friend of mine, I have gotten to see a lot of his bad side (please take the following with a grain of salt, since I don’t trust myself to not be biased), including his (seeming) unwillingness to be affectionate even in a relationship he initiates. It doesn’t help that I also witnessed Raoul indulge in some somewhat stalkerish and quite frankly unhealthy obsession with a girl in one of his previous relationships. However, this was quite some time ago and Raoul has since changed.
It’s not really that I have a problem with their relationship (though it really sounds like I do, doesn’t it?). I know that whether or not they choose to be together has nothing to do with me; I really, truly believe that. But I just can’t help but feel that this whole thing is really weird (for me) even though I know it’s none of my business.
Part of me wonders if I’m being too clingy about this? It’s their lives and I have no say in it, which I understand in theory but is a struggle for me to get it in practice. Another part wonders if I’m being unfair to Raoul? Maybe I’m less worried for them and more worried for myself? In recent years most of my small circle of friends have moved away so getting some support from someone else isn’t really possible.
I’ve thought this over for a few weeks now I’m not as bothered as I was initially. University keeps my mind off things for the most part but when it doesn’t… ugh. I still can’t fully come to terms with it and it makes me really disappointed in myself because I thought I was better than that and I don’t understand why I can’t just live and let live?
What do you think, Captain? I don’t want to risk damaging my relationship with both my friends over something as petty as this but I just can’t get over it, no matter what I do?
Overly Anxious For No Good Reason