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Darth Vader Boyfriend

Dear Captain,

In essence, I absolutely adore this girl, but there’s someone else, and she has problems being away from home. As a disclaimer: this isn’t some crush, or the case of a naïve adolescent. This is my fifth relationship (though I wouldn’t call myself experienced in relationships). I’ve dated this girl, and known her for over a year, during which we’ve been comfortable friends for long stretches of time. I want her in my life, at least as a very close friend.

Lets call her Emma. We met last August in college, and very quickly, naturally, spilled all our feelings and pasts to each other. Emma was emotional and had a troubled history of depression. I’m an open and helpful person, so I was more than happy to be there for her. She didn’t need me, but felt much happier with me around. She was single, but had lingering feelings for her ex, who she’d gone out with for two years, but had broken up with because she didn’t want to do long distance in college. His presence was visibly ruining her emotionally. At this point I had no intention of going out with her – I was more than happy to have her as a close friend. Eventually, I had a sit-down with Emma, explaining to her she wouldn’t truly be happy if she didn’t let him go.

About a week later, Emma stopped contact with him. She was noticeably happier, and I was proud to have helped her. I started to develop feelings. She had had feelings for a while, before she broke things off with her ex. The natural progression of our friendship led to us going out. This lasted over 3 months, until break. She went home to her closely knit friend group, which included her ex. My family had just moved to a remote location with a harsh winter, and was alone for break. It was hell.

This took an emotional toll on me. When we returned to campus, things weren’t the same. She broke up with me after a week with no clear reason. Emma got back with her ex shortly thereafter. It was because her ex was more accessible over break than I was, by default. It wasn’t my fault.

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Dear Captain,

I couldn’t find a similar story, and I don’t know how strong a bro-relation is, so I’ve been quite confused for a while. The history about this story is bigger, but I only want to point out the main things. This is my story:

It all started a year ago, I met this guy Jimmy, which I fell in love with. We became friends. I gathered my courage and confessed to him. The response I got was not what I expected… His reply was just we’ll see what happens. After a month he didn’t took the effort to make it work. We didn’t saw each other at all. For me it was pretty clear that he didn’t wanted to start something with me.

A month later I went to a party at his house. For me this party was the opportunity to find out whether I still had feelings for him. At this party we all drank a little too much and a friend of him, Jason brought me home. I think you can already predict what happened. We kissed, nothing bad yet, except for the fact that this guy has a girlfriend…The next day, when we got sober I talked with Jason, and we decided it was a mistake and never mention it again. I felt horrible for making him cheat, and was so confused about my feelings. So it was easier for me to not seeing them both for a while.

A few weeks later, Jason contacted me. He wanted to see me and I agreed to it. I think I was being naïve, for not seeing what he wanted and we went a step further. His girlfriend still didn’t know anything about it.

A week later I met up with Jimmy at his house. Jason was there too. We talked about cheating and Jimmy hated people who were cheating, he couldn’t understand why someone would do that. At the end of the night he brought me home. We talked and I wanted to know what I meant to him. He confessed that he didn’t want a relationship right now. His ambitions are too big to settle down at this moment, but his feelings towards me can still go any direction. So my secret affair with Jason continued. After a month he ended it all. He confessed our affair to his girlfriend, and he wants to stay with her.

Months passed by without seeing them both, until yesterday. I went to Jimmy’s house, where they both were. The weird thing is that it didn’t felt awkward at all, sitting between them. For all I could say, I got the feeling that Jimmy was hitting on me. For what reason I don’t know, did Jason told him anything? Or is he finally ready to settle down? Just all those assumptions, makes me insecure.

Also I just don’t know what to do if I ever get serious with Jimmy. Am I obligated to tell him about Jason? I still have a weakness for Jimmy, but I don’t know if he can ever accept me for sleeping with Jason and if I would damage his friendship with him.

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Thank you all so much for a very constructive discussion. At nearly 600 comments, the thread has grown beyond where I can reasonably keep up. So as of 5/14/2014 10:17 pm Chicago time, comments are closed. 

 

In this piece at Medium on “Cut-Off Culture,” “Emma” broke up with the author after four months of dating, asked for space, and then when they tried to rekindle a friendship after a year, decided it wasn’t really for her.

“After nearly a year of silence, I reached out to her and we began a series of conversations toward repairing our friendship. She said she had recently begun dating someone new and I think it was difficult for her to talk to me about our relationship. Her response was to withdraw again. There were misunderstandings and miscommunication.

She stopped responding to my email and when I called to inquire she blocked my number and emailed me to stop contacting her. Over a space of nine months, I wrote her two kind emails in the spirit of healing. Finally, she replied, “I do not want to see or hear from you ever again” and threatened to file an anti-harassment order against me. The open, thoughtful, communicative Emma I knew had vanished.”

She said,”Please stop contacting me.”

He sent two more emails. She got angry (and possibly afraid) and asked him never to contact her again.

Then he wrote an essay about it, blaming her for invoking his past with an abusive mother(!), making all kinds of assumptions about her “trauma,” and discussing his confusion with her choices:

When personal safety is involved, cutoff is warranted. But most times this isn’t the case. When it’s not, this kind of behavior dehumanizes the other and sends the message “your needs don’t matter, you don’t matter.” University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo told Psychology Today, “‘The pain of losing a meaningful relationship can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact.’ With no definitive closure, we’re left wondering what the heck happened, which can lead to the kind of endless rumination that often leads to depression.”

Emma once told me, “You’re the first one to want me for me,” but her abrupt about-face might make you think I ran off with her best friend or boiled her rabbit … I did neither. In fact, to this day, I have only guesses to make sense of her hostility to me.

Because Emma’s withdrawal and eventual cutoff surprised me so much,I had a lot of intense emotions and questions about what she’d experienced and the choices she’d made. Rather than face my need for explanation and desire for resolution, she chose to withdraw.

Here is what the heck happened:

  • You guys broke up.
  • She didn’t communicate for a year, but eventually gave in when you contacted her. Unfortunately you wanted to hash out the end of the relationship; she didn’t. She was into a new dude and didn’t want to talk about old emotional business.
  • So she decided it wasn’t really for her. She tried a slow fade. After all, you guys weren’t really close anymore.
  • Then she TOLD you what was up. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
  • You kept contacting her against her explicitly stated wishes. Emails seeking “healing” are still unwanted emails.
  • She got angry and enforced the boundary.
  • You  happened to turn up at her work on a date and she didn’t like it.

What additional “closure” could she have given? What kind of explanation would satisfy? Breakups are painful, and we don’t always understand the reasons for them, but after a four-month romantic attachment ends I don’t think the person is responsible for all of your feelings literally YEARS later. And I don’t think there is any peace or solution possible here, short of “keep being my friend even when you don’t want to.”

Everything about this made my skin crawl:

Cutoff culture is violent in its own ways. The person cutting ties gets what they want, but the person getting cut off is left in a situation where what they need or want doesn’t matter.

Emma’s last note included the phrase, “Apparently, what I want seems irrelevant to you.” She didn’t realize the irony that what I wanted had long been irrelevant to her. Being on the receiving end of a cutoff, surrounded by friends and culture that just expect you to get over it, can leave you feeling utterly powerless.

You are not entitled someone else’s attention and affection! Avoiding someone is not “violent.” YOU GUYS WANT OPPOSITE THINGS. And yes, it is on you to take care of your own feelings here. It is on you to do what you can to heal and get over it. Talk to your friends. Talk to a therapist. Say the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. Don’t force your ex to take care of you!

“If you’ve cut someone off, the ideal response is to ask what the other person needs to feel at peace and to try to offer compromise. Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says, “A lot of wounds in this world could be healed if we would say to the other, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you, what do you need now?’” Sometimes we cut off because we lack capacity. One can also say: “I can’t do this right now, but maybe can touch base later. What do you need in the meantime?” This is a place where technology can be helpful. Email can be used to communicate at a distance that feels safe.”

What compromise is possible between “I don’t like you or want to be in your life” and “Please stay in my life?” Why do you want someone’s grudging attention that you force them to give you? In the second to last paragraph, the author tells a telling anecdote:

The friend who was told to break up via “JSC” told me another story. One of her friends chose to have sex with a lover after breaking up with him; she said even in the midst of ending the relationship, she wanted to “be generous in spirit.” While I don’t necessarily advocate taking things that far (in part because it can create confusion), I embrace the sentiment.

AH HAHAHAHAHA “Good closure” with a “generous spirit” might involve still having sex with your spurned lover after you dump them while they heal at their own pace. Ok got it. He also invokes technology, and the act of blocking, as a catalyst for stalking, but not in the way you think. His reasoning is that if you block someone it will maybe force them to stalk you. “More than 3 million people report being stalking victims each year, the ultimate measure of collective cluelessness about ending love affairs well.” OR POSSIBLY IT’S ‘CAUSE OF STALKERS. LIKE YOU MIGHT SORTA BE.

The subtitle/logline of the piece is:

“Cutting off exes not only hurts our former partners but limits our own growth as well.”

Actually, this person knows nothing about Emma’s growth. When I cut off a former partner who stalked me, I grew just fine. I grew away. I grew alone. I grew free. I hope “Emma” did, too. Today seems like a good time for a reminder: You don’t have to be friends with your ex. And when you say “stop” and the other person keeps going, that person is telling you that you were right to flee.

P.S. He publishes excerpts from her private emails to him. NOT CREEPY AT ALL YOU GUYS.

P.P.S. Edited to add: This paragraph right here? Blaming male domestic violence against women on women making men feel powerlessness?

“I believe that most domestic violence is the result of men with trauma histories reacting to powerlessness in response to experiences with their ex, friends, or family. Certainly men are responsible for finding nonviolent ways to respond to feeling powerless, but culturally we need to understand the dynamics driving these kinds of situations if we’re to reduce them.”

 

Bubs and Johnny from the wire with the quote "Equivocating: you're doing it like a motherfucker."

Domestic violence springs from a sense of contempt and entitlement towards women. Men who abuse women don’t think that women are entitled to their own needs, feelings, opinions, and personal space. They think women exist to be emotional caretakers and nannies for men, and that when they fail to put men first, it somehow constitutes “violence” that must be contained and retaliated against. Sound like anyone we know? This is a chilling, MRA-style argument that makes violence against women the fault of women. “Emma”, wherever you are: keep running. Your instincts are in solid working order.

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.

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward:

About two weeks ago, I was broken up with by my then-boyfriend of nearly two years, P. I did not see it coming, at all. A week before, he had invited me to his family’s reunion in the summer, and he had spent the previous weekend with me.

P and I met on a dating website, after I had been single for a couple of years. We seemed to click right away, he was very attractive and intelligent, and was fun to converse with. The only major problem in our relationship, that I could tell, was that he was bad at emotional intimacy. Like, way bad.

When he broke up with me, he sent a bunch of mixed signals. The few times we saw each other or talked during the first week after, he was way physically (& not platonically) affectionate, and was telling me all about how his day was going. Needless to say, it was confusing.

I spoke with a friend who is mutual friends with P, and she confirmed that nobody knew that P was going to break up with me, and that P was being a sad panda about it. He said (to my best friend) that I should get in touch with him when I was ready.

I ended up talking to my therapist about it, and she suggested that I figure out why he had broken up with me. Initially he said it was because he didn’t feel the way for me the way he thought he should, but all of his actions pointed away from that. So, I texted him to see if he was open to talking, and off we went to our favorite diner.

That talk, to say the least, ended badly. He hemmed and hawed and gave weird reasons (didn’t want to move in together, which was odd because I was nowhere near ready for that either), only to change his mind the next second. Then he said, “I just never saw myself with somebody like you.”

When I asked what that meant, he mumbled something about my “eclectic” fashion sense. Then, he blurted out, “I guess I always saw myself with somebody more conventionally attractive.”

This obviously hurt. In the beginning, I often wondered how somebody like me could land a guy so freaking hot. And now, cool! All my fears and insecurities came true! Awesome!

I got angry, and told him that there was no way, none what so ever, that we could be friends after this. He got sad, and was practically pleading with me. He apologized a bunch, promised he’d be a better person in the future, all that. When I left his car, I told him that he could consider himself free from me, and I went and ugly-cried all over the place. I deleted and blocked him from everything, disabled a lot of my social media accounts to avoid lashing out at him.

In the process of that, I came across a post he made on Reddit, asking how to forgive himself after he had hurt somebody, mentioning how he was never proud to be seen in public with me, and how he knew from the beginning that he was settling for way less than what he wanted in a partner, namely in the looks department.

It’s less than a full day later, so I know it’s too soon to make huge declarative statements but: This has utterly messed me up. Like, I’ve always been aware that I was less than cute by society’s standards but I’ve never had a hard time getting dates/hook ups/relationships, so I figured I was doing okay enough. Now, I have to deal with the knowledge that a man I was in love with for nearly two years, who introduced me to his family and friends, who seemed to have no problem having sex with me, secretly wished I looked like somebody else. From the get-go.

I guess my question is: How to I survive this? I can’t look in the mirror without bawling. I’m so nauseated that I can barely stomach food. I am hating my body and my face a lot right now. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way, that this anger should instead be directed at him for being such a jerkface, but it’s easier to point it at myself.

For right now, I am so turned off to the idea of finding somebody else, even in the distant future, because now I’ll always be wondering at the back of my head: What if this hypothetical person will also lie to myself about loving me and having sex with me while actually being embarrassed by me?

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Hello, nice people of the internet!

I took your generous Pledge Drive donations and finally bought myself a reliable, working computer. I CAN WRITE AGAIN!

February is over and my 2-week sinus-infection-shitbeast-respiratory-thing-from-hell seems to be lifting. I CAN WRITE AGAIN!

HI IT IS NICE TO SEE YOU ALL I MISSED YOU AND HOPE YOU ARE OK

Today’s question comes up in a lot of forms, so let’s kill many birds with one stone, or hey, can someone find a new, less horrifying metaphor that means that same thing?

Dear Captain and Crew,

 2006-2008 I was dating a grand master Darth, “Ben.” The details of his darthiness aren’t particularly relevant, except in that they were generally either “micro-aggressions” or happened without witnesses. For example, in public he’d make a lot of subtle comments to undercut my self-image and competence in order to get me to do what he wanted me to. Which on their own were fairly *eye roll* move on-y, but added up were extremely detrimental to my emotional health.  In private he was downright manipulative and abusive.  

In 2008 I took a semester off as an escape strategy, which gave me the confidence to break up with Darth.  Unfortunately at the time I nurtured a misguided belief that when you break up with someone the “mature” “adult” thing to do is to maintain a friendship with them.  And so we did, and in this “friendship” he maintained the same darth-y behavior of our relationship.  Additionally twice he pressured me into living with him so it wasn’t even that much safer than in the relationship. 

Finally, I moved 3000 miles away.  For a while he would still send me manipulative electronic and phone communications, but eventually I developed a “Team You” in my new city, who convinced me to cease all communication with him and not look at any contacts he makes.  This was probably the most stress relieving decision of my life.

The problem: we still have many mutual friends from my former city.  While some of the people in our friend group also felt abused by Ben, many have stayed friends with him. So I’m trying to figure out how I navigate situations such as weddings or reunions, in which I know Ben will be present.  I wouldn’t want to miss these occasions, and I don’t feel like I would be in any danger, but I want ways to address two issues:  (1) How do I communicate to my friends that my relationship and subsequent friendship with Ben were abusive and detrimental and as such I have cut ties, but they are free to do with him as they please, so long as they don’t require us to sit next to each other on a seating chart or something and (2) If I do end up “cornered” by Ben at one of these events, how do I communicate: I have cut ties with you, I am willing to be cordial and polite but I am not willing to engage any further than that.  

For (1) I’m worried about having to “prove” his abusiveness, which could quickly get to an awkward place if I discuss the awful things he did in private, but would be hard to do only describing the micro-aggressions because these were really only problematic because they built up so much.  For (2) I know he would say that logically I OWE him an explanation and try to manipulate me into such so I’d rather get away from the topic/him before he starts using his finally honed tactics.

Wanna Be Hans not Luke 

P.S. I am a lady for pronoun purposes

Dear Han/Hans:

Hans and Franz from Saturday Night Live, also, I'm old.

We are here to awkwardly pump you up.

Han Solo looking sheepish yet relaxed

Who *wouldn’t* want to be me?

Learn this phrase. Love this phrase. Repeat this phrase:

“Actually, ‘Ben’ and I aren’t friends anymore.” 

For most reasonable people, that answers the question. If anyone asks you why? or whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

“You know, we tried to keep in touch for a while after we broke up. But the more we interacted, the more I realized that I just don’t like him.” 

I know that it is tempting to seek 1) justice, 2) validation of your memory and perspective from people who are in a position to bear witness to what happened, and 3) deserved shunning of the dude by all things associated with fun and goodness in the world, but being brief and direct should get you around any “proving” that what he did was wrong, “sufficiently” abusive, whatever. You don’t have to prove squat; you just don’t like him, and the boss of such decisions and feelings is you and you alone. If people ask “what happened” or “why?” (or whyyyyyyyyyyyyy?) you can decide how much detail to go into.He was constantly shitty to me in a million small ways that are hard to really describe but that add up to a portrait of ‘yeesh’ and ‘never again,'” vs. “Eh, I don’t necessarily feel like recapping it,” + “I can be civil in small doses, though, so, let’s talk about exciting stuff like YOUR AWESOME WEDDING!”

Don’t justify it more than that if you don’t want to. You just don’t like him. This is the insidious aftermath of abuse in geek social circles: You think you need to show some kind of cause for not liking someone, even when the person has mistreated you. Even if Ben (or a proxy) could somehow win the argument that you are being unfair in not wanting to hang out with him, would it make you like him and want to be around him again? Howabout we change the terms to “I, Han/Hans do sincerely despise ‘Ben’ with all my soul. I will be civil for the sake of others because that’s what party guests do, but honestly, he can eff right off.”  People can draw whatever conclusions from that they want to. If they need his flaws “proven” to them before they’ll accept your opinion, you can lump them in with old Benji in the Yeesh-bin of history.

“Heyhowsitgoing” + Being Elsewhere is your current plan for encountering actual Ben at these events, correct? Hopefully that will work. Probably that will work. If it does work, then rejoice: he has gotten the message that you don’t want him in your life and is keeping a respectful distance. This is how adults who don’t like each other handle social situations.

If it doesn’t work, and he insists on having some kind of conversation, try the Broken Record approach and then physically move away. Repeat as necessary:

  • “I don’t want to talk, Ben.”
  • “You’ll have to excuse me.” 
  • “I’m here for [Bride/Groom] and [Bride/Groom], not you. Let’s drop it.” 
  • “Yes, I am avoiding you, and I want to keep right on doing that.”
  • “You are making me very uncomfortable. I’m walking away now.”
  • “I’m not actually interested in repairing this friendship or working anything out. Not sure I can be any clearer than that. Howabout we drop it and just celebrate with our friends?”

If he is a certain flavor of Darth, he will use “clearing the air,” “apologizing,” “making things right,” etc. as a way to come across as a bemused, hapless good guy who can’t understaaaaaaaaaand why you just won’t give him your time and attention so he can talk at you. He will enlist others in this cause. “I just want to make things right, but she won’t talk to me. Can you help us clear the air?” This sounds like what you are (reasonably) worried about.

Keep these scripts at hand should you meet Ben’s Middle Child Wingman and Carrier of Geek Social Fallacy #4:

  • “I appreciate the apology.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.”  You can “appreciate” it the way one does a work of art or a fine wine or well-performed production of Hamlet. You can also do that appreciating from a safe distance.
  • “It’s nice that he wants to discuss things, but I’m just not interested.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.” 
  • “There’s nothing to actually work out, since he’s not a part of my life anymore. We’re just two random guests at the same party.” + “You’ll have to excuse me.” 

In case of a scenario that came up once upon an inbox question that I never got time to answer, where it’s the host of the event pressuring you to “make peace” or “forgive” “because it’s my wedding!” or “do it for meeeeeeeeee” consider the following responses:

  • Wouldn’t you rather have some cheese knives?”
  • “Loathing another human being with all my soul is not, actually, like, negotiable.”
  • “I am really glad you want me here to celebrate your wedding. I am so happy for you! Can’t we leave ex-boyfriends out of this and just celebrate the day?”
  • “The less ‘Ben’ and I interact, the better I’ll like him.”
  • “It’s not fixable because there is nothing to fix. He’s not a part of my life anymore, beyond us being guests at the same party. You are a part of my life, though, and since I’m back here so rarely I don’t want to waste our precious time talking about stupid ex-boyfriend stuff.” 

“You need to feel x way about y person as a favor to me” is not actually a favor that people get to request!

One of the ways manipulative people get their way is through the tacit threat of “making a scene,” as in, Ben might approach/corner you and say something that would sound innocuous to people who don’t know your history, in the hopes that you’ll flip out and appear unreasonable by comparison. This is how unreasonable people use “keeping the peace” and the social contract against reasonable people.

If by some chance you “made a scene” to get away from your abusive ex-boyfriend who would not leave you alone at a party, it would not be the worst thing in the world. It would not be your fault, and, while stressful to contemplate, honestly I think we could all benefit from more “scenes” of this type. After all, you survived years of your constant emotional abuse, is an awkward moment at a party is supposed to scare you? Seriously? While you don’t want to give this guy too much room in your head at a function you’re supposed to be enjoying, practicing what you’ll say, thinking of escape routes ahead of time, etc. can help you feel more grounded if something should come up. But go ahead. Go ahead and imagine the scene, where you say “SRSLY, what part of me not calling or writing you back for seriously YEARS at a time did not sink in? You’re gonna follow me around our friend’s wedding like a kicked puppy and try to ‘make’ me talk to you? Is that what today is about for you? I’d feel sorry for you if you weren’t so creepy.” + executing a perfect pivot worthy of Beyoncé + leaving a room of stunned people behind you without a care in the world because they can’t touch your courage and your awesomeness.

In the past readers have suggested the most excellent strategy of having someone serve as your official party comrade for occasions like this: someone who is in the know about the dark, shitty history and can be a buffer in situations when you need an easy out (“So sorry to interrupt! Han(s), can you come help me with (conveniently invented task)?”) and a not-so-easy out (“Dude, she said she didn’t want to talk to you. GET THE HINT ALREADY!”). Since there are others in that same friend group who are wise to Ben’s antics, you should have no shortage of people who are also trying to avoid that dude and can summon you to solve urgent dance floor emergencies.

Darth Vader, looking pleased with himself,

Hey, it’s me!

Comments are closed as of 2/9

Hi Captain,

I need your help. I don’t know if I’m in a shitty relationship or if bad things just keep happening to us. I’ve been dating a guy for eight months. We fell in love very quickly and very intensely. The first period was very happy but I quickly felt very insecure and anxious about our relationship. I have generalised anxiety disorder and am often irrationally anxious. It has led to numerous situations where I was deeply worried about an aspect of our relationship, felt like we had tried as much as possible to fix it, and ended up trying to break up; however he would always convince me that we hadn’t really tried and that he wanted another chance to do better.

He is a rationalist who is deeply against living by social norms and just sees them as defaults, and is “non-default” about pretty much everything including work path, values etc., as well as lifestyle including cooking (lives off takeaway so as not to spend time grocery shopping and cooking), cleaning (does not have much of a regular cleaning habit – I broke glass in his kitchen a month ago and he said I shouldn’t have to clean it up and it’s still there), sleeping (he has no regular sleep schedule and sleeps when he wants to. The kind of work that he does is largely from home with long deadlines. He ships a prescription anti-narcolepsy from overseas which allows him to stay awake for long stretches on little sleep – although he plans on giving this up soon). He also takes party drugs and for a while, was taking quite high amounts of MDMA on a weekly basis, which pretty much wiped him out the day or two after. I have always been uncomfortable around drugs, although he did not really know the extent of my discomfort, and I can’t take them myself due to mental health. He dropped back to once a month after I expressed concerns about escalation and he acknowledges that he has some susceptibility to addiction, although he is not currently dependent.

One serious issue we had was that he gave me an STI. He had rationalised that he had a very limited risk of having an STI so despite my repeated requests and despite being informed that a previous partner had been infected, did not get tested. I was furious at his intellectual arrogance and the danger he had put us both in. I lost a week of unpaid time off work and my mum had to nurse me through my allergic reaction to the treatment. I told him I wanted to break up, but we ended up supporting each other through the treatment and ultimately decided to get back together and work things out.

We have had some more rough patches lately. After agreeing that he would party on New Years, he ended up sleeping and feeling rotten through most of my birthday on New Years’ Day, which felt pretty lonely for me. He has been very stressed at work and had some issues with a very serious eye infection, which means that any positive changes around cooking/cleaning etc. have understandably stopped. I supported him through the eye infection by taking more time off work to wait at the eye hospital with him for many afternoons. We then went away camping with some of his friends, some friends-of-friends and a couple of my friends. Most of them did drugs, including one less experienced girl who wound up with drug-induced psychosis. It was a five-day process to get her help and it was extremely upsetting and worrying for everyone involved, and I once again could not work for the period. The experience reinforced my dislike of drugs and desire to not be around drugs, and as someone with mental health issues, I was angry and upset that the girl’s mental health was being blamed more than the illegal drugs she had taken. I told him that the drugs were too high a price of admission for me and packed my bags.

We have since traded emails in which he first said he did not understand why I left him and thought that I was being dishonest about drugs being the true reason. Through his logical arguments he has forced me to see that I was being irrational about my attitude to drugs and that it is merely a personal preference I have not to be around them, rather than any objective issue with the drugs themselves. I felt like the whole arguing process was unpleasant and cold and hated it. When he explained the break-up over drugs to his best friend, the friend replied by saying he should not to try and argue people out of their emotions and boundaries. My boyfriend doesn’t see the problem – he thinks if someone is objectively right, they’re right, and emotions that correspond with that are the issue of the emotional person. He is also extremely strong-willed and intellectually well-backed-up and is not used to being challenged emotionally, so I don’t think he realises how unpleasant it can be. I’ve explained this explicitly now and he found the concept very hard to relate to.

It’s really hard for me to check in with friends and family about this too. They all hear only have to hear me mention drugs to tell me I’ve made the right choice by leaving him. My family has had bad history with drugs and my sister, who used to take party drugs and was badly affected, told me “You’ve already been through a lifetime’s worth when it comes to drugs – you don’t need to go through any more”.

We’re now in a position where he thinks I’ve made a mistake with the breakup, and that I did not adequately justify my reasons for ending it. I ended up seeing it from his perspective and apologising for being irrational and hurtful. I love him and that we do have a lot of good things including a great amount of love, affection, good humour, and generally understanding. He says he loves me more than he loves anyone, that he needs me, that we are good for each other, that he wants to be the one for me, that he wants to make it all work. Our plans had included travelling and ultimately living together. I ended up feeling like maybe breaking up with him over the drugs had been an anxiety response rather than something I really wanted to do. But I’m worried about this narrative; as I type it I can see that it sounds really unhealthy (he would say that “sounds really unhealthy” is weak reasoning). I feel like I’ve paid a lot of costs over the STI, drugs etc., including lost work time, stress, and in particular with the STI pain and possibly ongoing health concerns. I can’t turn off the part of my brain that says that someone who loves me as much of as they say wouldn’t hurt me in these big and small ways. We’ve discussed this; he says he feels he treats me well; and I guess that I am now consigning a lot of my worries to pure anxiety, which makes me feel like I can’t trust my emotional reactions and that I should work on my anxiety and ultimately stay. I don’t know if that’s the right thing for me to do. I don’t know if we truly do have a problematic dynamic (despite having amazing things shared between us) or if it’s just anxiety at play. Have we just had bad luck at points? I can’t tell if this all feels so weird because his lifestyle and approach is so ‘non-default’ or because I am being manipulated. I don’t know if my anxiety is protecting me, or causing the problems. I so hope you and the Awkward Army can help with insight and advice.

Sincerely,
Worried about my worry but also my maybe(?!)-dodgy relationship

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Beyonce asking" Why are you so jealous?"

We haven’t had a gif party or a “Yo, maybe you are way cooler than that person you are dating” thread in a while, so, here you go.

Dear Captain Awkward:

My partner of 5 years moved 200 miles away last week for a job. I’m sad he’s gone and I’m missing him, but I really support what he’s doing —  he was having a hard and stressful time finding work in his field in our city and has been unhappy for some time. We agreed that, for now, we want to keep our relationship exclusive and revisit that decision in a few months. 

On Saturday, I went to the corner store and one of the workers — I’ve seen him many times, but we’ve never really talked — initiated a conversation with me. I felt a little forced into it (“Hi there, lady who never talks to me when she comes in to buy cigarettes”) but he’s a part of my neighborhood and I wanted to be polite. He turned out to be a big talker and amusing storyteller, and we had a 15-minute conversation about his family, his country, and so on. Very innocuous and kind of sweet; I tend to be reserved and don’t necessarily get to know people I see daily. He asked about my partner, and I told him that he’d moved.

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Montezuma from Civ 5

“Okay, Montezuma, we can have embassies in each other’s capitals, and I will trade incense for whales, but an Open Borders treaty? That’s just gullible.”

Dear Captain,

How obligated are we to try and forgive our friend’s significant others for the harm they have caused in the past?

To make a long story short, my friend A started dating person B.  I wasn’t wild about B, but I wasn’t the one dating him, and our casual interactions initially seemed fine, so I didn’t worry about it.

However, it soon became clear that B had some unaddressed emotional issues, and they were taking them out on my friend, and eventually on the rest of our circle (we were accused of alienating A from B, of monopolizing A’s time, and eventually, even of cheating on B with A).  It was like B read your article on Darth Vader boyfriends but thought it was a how-to.  Needless to say, we were angry for our friend and angry on our own behalves.  Most of us wanted A to dump B, but A was not willing to end the relationship without trying to save it, and instead worked very hard to get B into therapy.  We did our best to support A in this time, but it was very hard to see how much pain B was causing her.

Now, B seems to have gotten some help, and B and A are working on rebuilding their relationship.  A very much wants to bring B back into the social circle, but this is causing problems.  I know I am not the only one of A’s friends who resents B after all of this.  I am also mad at B for the way that B treated me and our other friends.  A says she has forgiven him, and wants us to forgive him too, but I don’t know that I’m ready to do it now, and honestly I’m not sure I will ever be.

Do you and the army have any suggestions for how I can handle the issue of reintegrating B?  I don’t really want to hang around with B, and though I am trying to plan occasions to hang out with A alone, I know that it isn’t possible to totally avoid B so long as they are a couple.

Thanks,

Trying To Make The Best Of It

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