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Enthusiastic Consent

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.

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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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The monthly(ish) roundup of the questions people type into search engines to find this blog.

1. “My partner thinks I have genital warts but I have herpes what do I do?”

Both of you should get a full STI screen, if you haven’t already, and talk about whatever you find there. (‘Cause maybe it’s both). Or, if you’ve just done this, say “We thought I had HPV, but the screen showed that actually it’s herpes. You should get screened, too.

2. “My girlfriend is rude to my parents.” 

“Hey, you were pretty rude to my parents tonight. I don’t appreciate you (specific rude thing she did). I think they deserve an apology, and I need you to calm that whole thing down.”

If you bring it up, does she acknowledge the behavior? Is she rude to other people who aren’t you? Is she rude to your folks even after you talk to her about it?

3. “I joined a dating website to hurt him.”

Spite Dating: seems totally reasonable and like it will bring you and your Spite Dates nothing but happiness!

Or, ahem, maybe this is a good sign that whatever relationship you’re in has run its course and it’s time for you to find the exit, take some good care of yourself, give yourself some room to mourn and heal. Join a dating site to remind yourself that you have options. And then, when you’re ready, use that dating site and find new people who will be into you the way you want them to be. But do it for yourself, not at your (soon to be) ex.

4.” ‘I love you as certain dark things are to be loved in secret, between the shadow and the soul’ what does the line means?”

Reading the whole poem, it seems to me the poet is describing a love for someone for reasons that would not be obvious to everyone, in a way that isn’t necessarily healthy or a good idea, but is true nonetheless. It reminds me a little of the song My Funny Valentine. Lit Majors of Captain Awkward, what say you?

5. “I just don’t feel ready enough yet to be in a new relationship because I’m tired and now I want to be alone.” 

Embrace the alone.

Make your living space exactly what YOU want it to be. Eat foods YOU like, watch movies YOU want, listen to YOUR favorite music. Throw yourself into work, into school, into creative endeavors, into meeting new people or trying new things for their own sake. Or curl up under a blanket and wait out this eternal February with a good book. Spend time with your friends and family and people who love you. Be really nice to yourself. Heal. Get some rest. Feast on your life.

And when people ask, in a well-meaning fashion, if you’re dating anyone new or if you plan to, smile and say “I’m sure I will someday, but I’m really enjoying being alone right now.

There’s this picture of Katie Holmes from a while back that people were criticizing for being “frumpy” or whatever. I kind of love her outfit and would wear it in a heartbeat, but mostly what I want to say is “LOOK AT HER SMILE. THAT IS A PERSON WHO IS FEELING LIKE HERSELF RIGHT NOW.”

That’s you. Alone. Walking through the world like you know a secret no one else does, and the secret is that life is huge and amazing and you are strong and wonderful and there are all kinds of love in this world and relationship-type love is only one of them.

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Hi Captain,

I’m afraid I’ve ruined something. I don’t feel comfortable talking with my support team about this yet for reasons that will soon be apparent.

Backstory: I am a woman in my later twenties whose longest relationship ever lasted 6 months (and honestly it’s stretching it to call it a relationship). This is not the issue, as I’m totally cool with it. I’d rather be single than in a bad relationship. I have dated, and it’s all been a big pile of meh that ended after 2 months.

Recently, I met someone. We’ve gone out a couple of times, and I can’t believe things are going this well. He’s been a complete gentleman, smart and funny and sweet, no red flags, and the dates have lasted pretty long. He isn’t someone I’d normally pick out as my type, but when we’re close there’s something indescribably hot about him (though we’re taking it slow). I’ve been gushing to my friends and family about it because I was excited to finally have someone around that I liked! And maybe I could get my feet wet with having a longterm relationship?

But I did something stupid. I accidentally found a treasure trove of old information. Pressed “search all contacts” on a social media app, and he showed up, with all of his public info. I wasn’t looking for him when I searched, but I checked it out when I saw it.

At first glance, some things made me groan, though nothing horrible. But I had to play internet detective. And it took me all of 5 minutes to realize his ex is a furry. With a full body suit. Their relationship only ended in the last year or so, and it seems unlikely he didn’t know about that. If he’s one, that would be a deal breaker for me.

Even though this is all out in the public, I feel embarrassed for finding it. I don’t know what to do. Do I ask him about it? There’s something about wanting him to explain his ex’s lifestyle that doesn’t sit well with me, especially since we haven’t had any serious relationship talks on our own. It’d even be different if he brought it up himself. But I’m more afraid of ignoring it and becoming a ghost at the table that he’ll get bored, and I’ll lose something I enjoyed because I internalized a problem.

I can’t tell my Team Me about this because I don’t want to air dirty laundry when I don’t have the full story. He’d be hanging out with them at some point, and I don’t think he could come back from that.

Honestly, I’d like to keep seeing this guy. I wish I had never looked so things could have stayed light and fun. But I don’t know what to do now. How can I pretend this didn’t happen until it comes up on its own?

Please help?

Sincerely,

Can’t sleep  because of this

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These are edited slightly for punctuation, but otherwise unchanged. Find out how people find this blog!

1. “Do I tell my son’s teacher he has a crush on her?”

No. What possible good could come of this?

2. “How to react when your cousin brother loses his mom.”

Tell him you are very sorry for his loss. While it’s tempting to ask “Is there anything I can do?” grieving people are often too overwhelmed to think of anything they need. It’s emotional “work” they on top of everything else. But they still need the love & support of family and friends. So see if you can bring dinner over/take him to the movies/spend time with him/otherwise let him know that you care.

3. “Why doesn’t my husband like for me to masturbate?”

We covered this, so I hope you found it, but the short version is: Learning to love yourself is the Greatest Love of All. It’s none of his business.

4. “Someone called me “girlie” in not a nice way..is it condescending?”

Fuck yes it is.

5. “Feeling sad and lonely inside a relationship.”

This sounds like a relationship that is profoundly Not Working, and I’m so sorry.

Maybe it’s time for a little journaling. What’s going on in your life, overall? Are you generally feeling a little down? Do you need to call in Team You (could be a therapist, friends, family, partner, mentors) and take some steps around self-care and feeling good? Is there something you wish your partner was doing that s/he’s not that you could ask for specifically? Is it time to end this thing and focus on taking care of yourself and being around people who don’t make you feel “sad and lonely”?

6. “Why does my my girlfriend keep inviting a guy with us to hang out?”

This is one of those “ask her” questions, and if it bothers you, then also “tell her.” Don’t torture yourself with possible reasons. Script: “I’ve noticed that ‘Steve’ has been coming on a lot of our dates, what’s up with that?” Who knows, maybe Steve is lonely and she’s trying to do him a solid. Whatever the reason, you are allowed to say “Could we have some one-on-one time next time we go out?

7. “Advice for one who has been abandon by the man coz of his family and yet she is pregnant.”

That’s a heavy one, my friend. My advice for you is to sit with the idea that he is never, ever coming back. Make your plans for the future knowing that he will never be a part of your life the way you want him to. In that world, what do you want?

8. “How to control your girlfriend that’s too sensitive.”

Wow. Scratch a situation where a person is “too sensitive” and you’ll usually find someone who makes mean, belittling comments and jokes that aren’t really jokes and violates boundaries nearby.

Is that person you? Because as soon as you are asking “how do I control this other person who is separate from me” you have gone far, far, far over to the Dark Side. Maybe it’s time to break up with this fragile soul and find someone who can take what you’re dishing out.

9. “My boyfriend doesn’t come to watch me perform.”

Oof. My ex-boyfriend didn’t like to come watch me perform at storytelling events, and while I was mostly okay with it (I’d rather have someone not come than come grudgingly and not enjoy whatever it is), it was such a good feeling when The Gentleman Caller’s attitude to such things was “Of COURSE I will be there!” Like, oh, this is what I need and deserve. Oh.

There are limits, of course – a working performer is going to perform way more than even the most dedicated partner wants to sit at the table with the band-spouses until Last Call, and nobody wants to be in the “fan” position all the time. But wanting someone to like your work and be there for you at least some of the time is not wrong, pushy, needy, diva-like, etc. If you’ve been playing it off like it doesn’t matter, it’s time for a serious talk about this. Tell him how important it is to you that he support you in this, and see what his attitudes are.

10. “My friend is cheating on me.” 

Like in this short film?

Content notes: Made by a former student for my class! Has some non-realistic parody violence & references to popular horror movies that may not be your jam.

“I didn’t know you didn’t want me seeing other friends.” 

Your friend gets to see other friends, Friend! So if you talk about this, I would stay away from accusations of “cheating” or mentioning the other friends and keep it to wanting to spend more time together. More on rebuilding fractured friendships here.

11. “how 2 tell my new gf that i want 2 hav sex with her.”

“Girlfriend, would you like to come back to my place and have some sex?”

Or “I would really like to have sex with you, what do you think about that?”

And then really listen to her answer.

Also, talk about this when you have your clothes on long before the intended moment. You’ve got logistical things to work out. What are your safer sex protocols? Is this the kind of sex where contraception is needed? When was the last time y’all got tested for STDs?

Taking care of yourself and the other person around sex IS romantic and sexy.

12.” after two dates do you still keep online date options open?”

It sounds like YOU do, so do!

And if you’re really into the two-dates person and not so into meeting other people, then don’t.

When I met the Gentleman Caller, after two dates I had no time for anyone else and cancelled any other plans I’d made. He had also been dating around a bit and had some things scheduled with people who he’d met before meeting me and it took a few weeks for that all to wind down. Which we mutually learned when we had a conversation about being exclusive.

Sometimes keeping options eternally open is a habit, sometimes it’s a sign you’re “meh” about someone, sometimes it’s about wanting to feel like you have options in case the other person isn’t as into you as you are into them…but it’s not hugely meaningful on its own and if something is really working it will find a way to work.

13. “Not wanting to be burden on therapist.”

Oh, sweetheart,  make your appointments, keep your appointments, pay for your appointments in the agreed-upon manner, and freely unload your troubles = being a good patient. Your therapist is there to listen to ALL of your worries, and does not think you are a burden.

14. “How to say no to a second date nicely.”

“No, but thanks!”

Now and then it’s interesting to see the search terms that bring people here, and, since they are in the form of a question, give some short answers. I’ve added punctuation but otherwise left the texts unaltered.

“Pushing someone to accept something they aren’t ready to.”

Is doomed. You can maybe get someone to say they accept whatever it is in order to end the argument and get you to go away, but you better believe they’re still stewing inside and now have some extra angst that’s directed at you for pushing them.

What if your boyfriend’s parents want you to call them mom and dad?

It sounds like you don’t want to call them Mom and Dad, so, don’t. Say, “That is a very sweet suggestion and I am glad you want us to be close, but I only want to call my own parents that. Can we come up with something else, like, Mr./Mrs. ______ or first names? Thank you.

This is not a normal thing, especially if you guys are unmarried, so stand your ground.

“Speed-friending London.”

GO! And tell us all about it.

Seducing my friend’s girlfriend advice.

Don’t seduce your friend’s girlfriend. That’s my advice.

“How to tell if my best friend’s girlfriend want to have sex with me?”

Assume she doesn’t until you hear the words “Let’s have sex!” come out of her mouth.

“If I send a face book message and they read it and its marked read then why does the read status disappear when they block themselves from me?

Ok, to answer the question you didn’t ask, stop reading over those messages looking for signs of this person’s attention to what you had to say. To answer the one you asked, blocking you severs that relationship on the interface level. Suggestion: Delete the messages. Block them right back. Anything so you aren’t spending one more precious day of your life pouring over communications from someone who clearly doesn’t want to talk to you.

“Making your girlfriend do what you want although she might be busy.”

Ask her to spend time with you. If she’s busy, do something else with your day. If she’s consistently too busy, ask her to talk about how you guys spend time together and tell her how it makes you feel. If she’s still consistently too busy, break up. There is no “making” here – she’s either enthusiastically spending time with you or she isn’t. You can make requests and make decisions about whether that works for you, but that’s where your making powers end.

Girlfriend willing but doesn’t want to have sex.”

Then you don’t have sex with her, and you let that be a thing she initiates.

“I want my nude pictures on the internet.”

From all reports, the Internet is ok with that.

“10shart fuck only vidios opan ok

It’s out there, somewhere. 10 sharts! Be steadfast in your quest.

“Will a guy test you by being a jerk?”

The guys who do this are probably failing your personal “That guy’s a jerk” test. Rather than seeing it as some test that someone eventually passes (um, yay?), maybe see it as a guy acting like a jerk and make decisions accordingly.

How to write a letter to my boyfriend’s jealous ex.

Do not write  a letter to your boyfriend’s jealous ex. It will not make her go away, it will just show that whatever she’s doing is getting to you. The only thing that will make her go away, eventually,  is if both of you starve her of attention.

“Boyfriend not interested my life.”

Let me correct that for you. “My ex-boyfriend was not interested in my life.” Roll that around on the tongue a few times. How does it sound?

“Only depressed before and during work.”

No guarantees, obviously, but a new and different job might clear that right up.

“Should I breakup with my boyfriend if I don’t love him any more?”

Do what you want, but this is literally THE most airtight reason to break up with someone.

“I can’t break up with my boyfriend because he was my first.”

You can break up with someone for any reason. “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore” is a good reason.

The connection with a first love and/or first sex partner is very intense and lovely and wonderful, but having that connection with someone & making a long-term happy life with someone are not necessarily congruent. Breakups are hard, even when they are for the right reasons, but with time you will bounce back and so will he.

If your high school sex-ed was all about previously chewed gum, plucked daisies, used Kleenex, etc. I am here to tell you those people were sadistic lying assholes. Get thee to Scarleteen.

“Should I pretend to drunk text him?”

What is it that you want to say to him? What if you said it completely sober and completely sincerely?

“How to text a drunk girl.”

What would you say to this girl if she were sober? Try that.

“How to apologize after drunk text.”

Text/Call/Say in person: “Sorry, I was not my best self the other night and am feeling pretty embarrassed.”

Go forth and text, and drink, responsibly. An occasional drunk text can be funny/flirtatious. A cycle of oversharing & apology? Gets annoying really fast.

“Drunk texts to let guy know you like him.”

Okay, okay, I get it. It’s awkward to make yourself vulnerable, and being drunk lowers inhibitions and also gives the illusion of an excuse if the person doesn’t respond the way you want – “Ha ha, no, I was kidding, I was drunk.” I too have made out on the Couch of Plausible Deniability Where We Are Going To Watch A Movie, I Swear.

Drunk texts are not wrong, and if you’re having fun with it, text away! Get your flirt on, people! But if you’re strategizing about this? Maybe it’s time for a “I think you are handsome and cool and would love to go on a date sometime. Have you ever thought about it?

“We made out drunk and he texted me next day.”

Unless he’s sending you insults, it sounds like he’s nice, actually, and making an effort to reach out while sober. There’s no obligation, but if you wanted to hang out again, it sounds like he’s at least open to the idea. Biggest question right now is what do you want to happen now?

“How does being an introvert affect communication?”

Not that much, in my opinion. Introverts need a fair amount of alone time to recharge their batteries and may prefer hanging in smaller groups/quieter spaces. But they CAN and DO communicate just the same as anyone else, including doing very people-centered jobs very well and having an active social life. Introversion vs. extroversion is about preference/style/feeling energized by social contact vs. depleted, not ability, and knowing someone is an introvert is not a predictor or prescriptor of anything. Individuals have differing communications styles, so take your cues from your own preferences or from how a specific person responds to you.

“Do professors like their students to thank them?”

Who wouldn’t like to know that their work affected someone for the better? It’s not necessary or expected that students thank us (the best thanks is you doing your best work and going on to do well), but “I really enjoyed your class” is a very nice thing to hear, especially after grades are in, and especially when it contains some info about what you are currently working on/doing next.

“I fell in love with my professor.”

I’m not going to tell you those feelings aren’t real, but I am going to tell you there’s too much yucky power differential stuff for this to be a good idea to pursue while you are a student at that school. I have a massive side-eye for any professor who would respond positively to romantic or sexual advances from a student. Holy abuse of power and trust, Batman!

“I want to have sex with my therapist.”

This is a REALLY bad idea. Illegal in some cases, the stuff of license-revoking in others, for a good reason. A therapist who has sex with patients is a NO GOOD VERY BAD THERAPIST who is abusing trust and power. Being able to trust and open up to someone compassionate can bring up all kinds of feelings, especially if your therapist is also foxy. But not all feelings need to be acted on, and a good therapist is going to set an ironclad boundary here.

“My mom doesn’t want me to masturbate.”

Good thing it’s not up to her. It’s completely none of her business, in fact, and is strictly between you and you. Masturbation is awesome. Rock on with your sexy self. Also, get thee to Scarleteen.

“What if a guy says it’s awkward and might want to break up.”

When people say stuff like this, believe them. He’s giving you advance warning and telling you that breaking up is on his mind. Start to make your peace with ending the relationship.

“How can I tell my daughter I found a partner for her.”

If you’re from an Arranged Marriages Are A-Okay culture, how did your parents tell you this stuff? I feel like there will be some rituals and scripts around this that are widely-known and your daughter will be expecting some conversation like this to take place.

If you’re not from that kind of culture (and honestly, probably even if you are), I would not talk in terms of “partner” or “husband” or “wife.” At all. That’s putting the cart waaaaaaaaaay before the horse about something that is ultimately not your decision.

Possible script: “Daughter, I met someone who I think you’d really get along with and would like to put you in touch. Can I give you his/her contact information?”

Then you drop the subject. Forever. And you do NOT give your daughter’s contact info to this person, or try to sell them on your daughter. No hinting. No pushing. No inviting the person over for a “Surprise! You two should probably mate!” dinner.

“What does it mean when someone says you have a heart of a bullet and a mind of a boss?”

Take it as a compliment, because if it’s not, your bullet-heart and boss-mind don’t have time for that anyway. Maybe write a song about it.

“Am I a bitch for leaving my boyfriend to take care of myself?”

From where I sit, you are a person who made a hard decision and I wish you all the best. Get on with the job of taking care of yourself, part of which is forgiving yourself and being gentle and kind to yourself and not calling yourself mean names.

Love,

Captain Awkward

Hello Captain and Company!

About a year and a half ago I had my primary outbreak of genital herpes. It was excruciating, both physically and emotionally, but I’m finally starting to pick up the pieces and feel like myself again. I’m starting to feel like I maybe want to date again, finally (yay), but I’d like to be prepared for the inevitable awkwardness of telling a hypothetical partner about the herpes. It’s an awkward enough conversation to have when you don’t have anything communicable. Herpes isn’t the biggest deal as far as STIs go, but it isn’t kittens and rainbows, either. Being honest has always been important to me, but it’s even more important to me now since the person I got it from wasn’t– between telling me he’d been tested, that he’d tested negative over six months after my outbreak, and that he’d show me his test results, there was certainly a lie. Herpes doesn’t happen spontaneously, and his test results never materialized. So I really, REALLY want to be open and honest about it.

I’m not really super into PIV sex, but I really like to cuddle, and sloppy, sexy makeouts are fun! And low-risk, if pants stay on, which I kind of want them to until I’m sure that the person I’m making out with is someone I can really trust and connect with. I’d really like to be able to bring up the conversation waaaay ahead of time, and to maybe talk about the kinds of things I do and don’t want to do, and how to manage the herpes and be safe and really, to give the other person a chance to really decide about whether they want to have fun sexy times with me. I know this sort of thing probably just takes practice and will always probably be awkward, but do you have any ideas about how to have that conversation? Any advice for minimizing stammering and embarrassment during it?

In herpitude,
Dental Dams Are Your Friends

Hi Dental Dams. This is Elodie Under Glass here. I am so sorry that this happened to you, and so happy that you are getting better.

I am really glad that you wrote in. You sound like you’ve already got your feelings well in order, which I admire. And you’ve opened up a great new topic to tackle: STDs.

When the good Captain offered me the chance to answer your question, I was initially super-excited because it’s a really, really good question – but also pretty nervous, because immediately I was like “I am unqualified to answer this question, for I have rarely negotiated sexytimes/STDs with strange men!”  followed by realizing that this question, like all questions, runs far deeper than that.

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Buffy flirting with Xander as a "joke."

Sport-flirting with a friend you *know* has feelings for you is bad, bad manners.

Hi Captain:

There is this totally awesome and beautiful girl in some of my graduate classes. I sat next to her and before I knew it we started texting a lot and it looked like it was leading to something more. I tried taking her out to dinner but once she had something come up and then we never got definitive plans after that. One night she started drunk texting me and she expressed that she wanted me. The next morning she appoligized for her texts. I total her don’t worry about. A couple days later the she started drunk texting me again. This time she expressed a stronger desire for me. The next morning she appoligized again.

Later that day she said how she was embarrassed that she wanted me when she was drunk. I told her I liked it because I like her. She then responded with “I thought we were just friends,” “I’m glad I know this now,” and “I hope this doesn’t make things awkward” I tried to get a clear answer about what this meant but was left under the impression that she just wanted to be friends.

Later that night, she started texting me again. This time it became full on sexting. During which she said how much she wanted me. Then the next morning she appoligized again. This time talking about how embarrassed she was and how she gets crazy when she’s drunk. I told her how confused this all made me, but that I like her and she responded “I like how we are now ya know?”

First What the HELL does this all mean?

Is there something I can do to piece this together and go out with her?
Should I wait this out and see what may happen?
Or should I just cut off communication and move on?

Thanks
Too confused to pursue

Dear Too Confused:

I think that you handled this beautifully when you asked the lady out. Straight up: “I like you. Let’s have dinner.” That was cool and confident. And when she said, “No thanks,” you backed off and respected that and tried to keep it strictly friendly & professional. Also cool.

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Two cats in a fighting position with the word "awkward hug" above it.Hi Captain Awkward!

I have a social situation question: What do you do if you don’t want to hug someone, but they want to hug you?

This has happened to me about three times in the past 6 months, all with guys. I don’t think they were trying anything creepy, just trying to be friendly or comforting, but I just didn’t feel like our friendship was at the hugging level yet. In all the cases, they swung their arms up, like the Jesus statue in Brazil and I felt like I had to proceed with the hug, even though I felt uncomfortable. 

I don’t want to be rude to these guys, but I don’t want to hug them. What do you suggest? I polled my lady friends and they said to do the hug, but I don’t like that option.

Thanks!

Huggee

Dear Huggee,

Welcome to my awkward wheelhouse.

Saturday night I was at a party, and someone wanted to hug me, and I did not want to hug them, so I stepped back and gave them a fistbump.

They probably felt a bit taken aback and awkward about it.

I don’t care. I would rather risk a temporary awkward moment than have to be nestled against someone’s body when I don’t want to be.

Our culture is all about pressuring women to just go along with things they don’t want to do in order not to make men have even momentary sadfeels, so I’m not surprised your ladyfriends advised you as they did. They probably have felt exactly as you do at times, and maybe even refused a hug, only to find themselves on the receiving end of a manly tantrum of “I WAS JUST TRYING TO BE NICE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU” so they want to help you avoid such awkwardness. You risk the man-tantrum (mantrum?) pretty much anytime you decide that your time, or your smile, or your body belongs only to you.

Your blogger, JenniferP, hugging a baby orangutan in Indonesia in 2007.

The best hug I have ever experienced, hands down. Girl was a snuggler!

While it can be difficult, I think it’s good to challenge this notion and back away from hugs you don’t want even at the risk of momentarily upsetting someone.

“Sorry, not up for hugging right now.”

“I’m not much of a hugger.”

“I’d prefer not to hug today.”

“You’re nice, but I don’t feel like hugging right now.”

Do not explain why. There are a zillion reasons why. “Come for the personal space invasion, stay for the norovirus!” is a reason. “Don’t feel like it” is a reason. Anyone that drops criticism and anger on you for not wanting to hug, visibly sulks, or demands a reason is displaying their sense of entitlement. They are the ones in the wrong, and you don’t have to hug them.

If you’re wondering what to do when you offer a hug and someone steps back, the correct response is to put your arms down and take a step back and then resume normal conversational activities. You don’t have to do an apology shame dance, just take a step back and go on being friendly. Don’t read too much into it! If the person keeps generally acting like they like you, then they like you, and this wasn’t a permanent referendum on that. They’ll probably like you more for being relaxed about it, because you are showing that you are a person who respects a boundary, and you’ll know to let them take the lead for any and all hugging in the future. This is probably a good time to remind people that it’s better to ask if someone wants to be touched and give them a real opportunity to answer you than to rush in like Cristo Redentor.

Thank you so much for your generous pledge drive donations! These friendly reminders will end after Monday. I hope you have a great weekend that includes only nice hugs and the freedom to say no to unwanted hugs.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Due to a current organizing position I hold I have been asked to deliver brief presentations to each of the Greek chapters on my campus discussing the importance of women’s reproductive health issues in the upcoming election and subsequently registering people to vote while perhaps even sneaking in tidbits about safe sex and healthy relationships. I have no reservations talking to the sororities because I figure they have more reason to be receptive to the message. I am, however, quite nervous to present to the fraternities. Standing alone in front of a room of fraternity guys is scary in and of itself. Trying to convince them to care about women’s reproductive health issues seems tricky, as does talking about consent to a group that is particularly sensitive/defensive about consent issues. How can I give my presentation in a compelling and convincing manner?

Some things I have thought of:

1.  The men and women’s sexual health on campus depend on one another. The men’s health is compromised if the women don’t have access to STD screenings/contraceptives etc and vice versa. And these dudes definitely aren’t looking to become dads anytime soon so like, SUPPORT BIRTH CONTROL HEY!

2.     The “these are your girlfriends, your friends, sisters & mothers” ploy. But that comes off to me as “PROTECT YOUR WOMEN” and that is a weird message that I don’t want to deliver.

3.     It’s just the right thing to do…

Any script ideas or talking points you can think of?

Sincerely,

Fraternizing with the Male Vote

Dear Fraternizing:

What a cool project. I understand why it feels daunting. But it is cool and important.

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