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Captain,

I have a question about dealing with a Geek Social Fallacy #5 carrier, with a work-related twist.

I have a live-in position and a good working relationship with the other live-in staff members. Naturally we often spend our free time together, sometimes as a large group get-together but more often in smaller groups of the people we’re closest to / actually friends with.

There is one individual who generally gets on everyone’s nerves — she dominates the conversation and makes it all about herself, says slightly inappropriate things on a regular basis, asks people direct personal questions in front of everyone, etc. The problem is that she thinks that we’re all one big friend group and that anytime she hears that someone’s making social plans with another employee, it’s fine to invite herself along. She does not take hints at all, and no one wants to come right out and say, “You’re not invited to this” since this is someone we all have to live and work with on a daily basis.

From past experience, I have a feeling that trying to have an honest conversation with her would lead her to drop by everyone’s rooms to try to have hours-long FEELINGS conversations, and trying to shut that down will make her unbearable to work with. She recently renewed for another year-long contract.

Right now everyone’s strategy seems to be to make plans behind her back as much as possible, and then if she finds out and invites herself over/along, we suck it up and deal. Do you have any suggestions for a better strategy?

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Hi Captain,

I have a friend. He’s a reasonably good friend and has been there for me during some tough times. Which is why I feel guilty about what I’m about to say.

For the last year or so, we’ve spent a lot of time together chatting and hanging out. We had some sexual tension and a very brief romantic fling before deciding it was not to be. I am way happier now that we’ve decided this, but he – was and probably is still – a bit upset about it. So I have a lot of guilt over that. We chat quite a bit on FB and via text and at the moment it’s pretty constant throughout the day. However, the more we talk the more I kinda think – while I want to be friends, I want to pull back a little. Well, a lot.

The thing that is getting me down the most is that he’s so negative. Every message is about how much his life sucks or how much something hurts or how much he hates his job or his parents or how everyone else is stupid… Like I genuinely can’t remember the last time I had a positive comment from him. I know his health isn’t great, so he is being genuine. But it’s just so wearing.

I’ve tried making helpful suggestions (these go down like a lead balloon). I’m currently just leaving a while before replying (although that’s tricky cos he can see on FB when I’ve seen a message) and then saying something like “you poor thing” and either changing the subject or not really engaging further, unless the subjects shifts to TV shows or something neutral. Some days I just ignore messages altogether. But it’s getting to the point where I just don’t want to hang out with him any more – via chat or in person, because I just end up so depressed. But I don’t want to make him feel worse. I feel really guilty about all of this, because I know I used to participate in the negativity. Nowadays, I’m trying to be more positive – and seeing positive results from this – but I don’t want to just abandon him either like “my life is better now, yours isn’t, so bye!”.

The second thing is that he’s super clingy – and quite aggressive in his clinginess. He ends up scolding me about our friendship if I try to pull back a little. It starts out with if I don’t reply within an hour or so, I get a text asking if I’m mad at him. Whether I say no, or I try to be honest, he gets really really upset and starts attacking me – saying I don’t reply to him enough and when I do I’m being superficial and I’m not hanging out with him enough or when we do he feels like I’ve scheduled him in like everyone else and I’m making him feel bad… or else he brings up other stuff, about our brief fling or my new boyfriend… This sort of thing also happens if I mention something that I didn’t tell him about instantly – I get “ why didn’t you tell me?!” and then the rest of the guilt trip. If I get upset about what he’s said, he backtracks and tells me that I’m overreacting and that I “always do this” and I’m being ridiculous and that he’s just venting so “why do I always think everything is my fault?” This happens by text and in person – and in person he shouts. I’m really bad at confrontation, so as soon as he goes on the attack I forget all my words and just get upset.

I just find it all exhausting. I don’t want to be friends like this. But I feel really bad that I used to engage in all of this and suddenly don’t want to any more. I feel like a terrible friend and I’m just abandoning him when his life is still difficult and mine is getting better. I don’t know what to do.

Please help,

A Terrible Friend

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My feet are cold, but my heart is warm thanks to the generosity of the Winter Pledge Drive contributors. Thank you so much! Support the site if you can!

Today’s letter is about money and family and when those things come together in a manipulative and possibly sinister way.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents passed away three years ago, leaving my little brother and I in the care of my Uncle and his wife. Their method of raising children is very different from what we were used to. Mom was the type who would say no to something and then explain why and often prompted discussion. Aunt is the type who yells no and glares if you question her.

I was 17 when I moved in with them so they haven’t been able to control me as much as they have my little brother. That said, they do still restrict me a lot. We live in the middle of nowhere so I can’t move around on my own, my phone and internet are regulated, and several times Aunt has snooped on my laptop. ‘My room’ is a free-for-all where her siblings come and go as they will and she often gives my things away because ‘they were getting old.’ I should stand up to them, I know that. But then I think they didn’t have to take us in and I really don’t want to cause any more trouble, so I quiet down again.

This year they’re intending to move to a new, much more expensive house in a very upscale area. Uncle took me aside and said that once I turn 21 this year and get my inheritance, he’s going to need some help, and alarms started going off in my head.

He says the new place will enable me to move around freely, and even get that summer job I’d been begging them to allow me to apply to, but it just feels like he’s trying to butter me up. He’s often promised me things that his wife then goes around and disagrees with, or outright denies they ever said. My friend is telling me I should run away, live on my own (practically impossible in my country) or, failing that, once I get my money I should sit them down and talk about the terms of my ‘helping.’ On one hand, that does seem reasonable. On the other hand, it also feels ungrateful.

I wouldn’t mind paying rent and my own expenses. I already pay for my college and for most big things, it’s only reasonable, and I often suggested that once I turned 21 I could live off my inheritance. But they always refuse and say that ‘It’s their duty’ and they didn’t want me to touch my money.

So why is Uncle now talking about ‘sharing’? He also explicitly told me not to mention this to any of our relatives and to claim that he got the new house with his money. The alarms are blaring louder.

Am I overreacting? Am I not? Should I just suck it up and accept that, sometimes, I gotta be the bad guy?

Sincerely,
Grateful But Worried College Girl

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Dear Cap’n,

I don’t know how best to help my DH. This message follows us having a long, slightly drunk but happy and loving chat about his life.

DH’s family history is complicated. His upbringing includes some things which, when we talk about them, he agrees were “probably abuse”, but explains that he’s somewhat normalised what happened to him, and tends to say it totally matter-of-factly, as though this were just how things are. His feelings – or lack of – are complicated by guilt. DH was born a sickly child, with complex medical needs that put a lot of strain on the family. His parents divorced partly due to the stress of it all. He did not cope well with his deformities or medical needs and his childhood was a mixture of being a bullying victim, being a bully, having serious anger issues and acting out. I’m sometimes amazed by the wonderful, loving, mentally balanced person he’s become without therapy or help.

DH doesn’t seem to know what sort of relationship he wants with his parents. He is amicable with them, visits his mother about once a month, enjoys talking to his father… but he won’t initiate contact, and he gets anxious if, for example, his mum tries to ask him to visit on short notice. At the same time, he’s just naturally bad at maintaining relationships and has asked me to help him keep in better contact with his gran and siblings. He’s never confronted either parent and even apologised to his father recently for being a “difficult child”.

At the same time, the abuse has only come out over a long time in small parts. and by the time I started to get the picture, we’d been together years and had started to build closer relationships with his parents. His mum in particular, who is always very kind and concerned and helpful, and I don’t know how to feel about her, or the FIL, or any of it. To be fair, DH doesn’t isn’t certain how he feels. He’s given me permission to ask his big sis for more info on their childhood, because his memory can cause him problems. She lives abroad though, and I’d feel weird asking by email.

Because of his relationship and memory difficulties, it’s my job to help him maintain contact with loved ones. But I don’t know how to do this where his parents are concerned. I don’t want to pressure him to get closer than he feels comfortable, but I also don’t want to be the woman that drives him from his family into hers, as his father’s second wife has started doing with him.

I’d love some advice please!

This statement: “Because of his relationship and memory difficulties, it’s my job to help him maintain contact with loved ones.” from your letter set off my Yikes-o-meter. Yikes!

Here is my advice:

Do not volunteer to be the carrier for his communication and relationship with his family, or to sort out these memories. Do not email his sister. It is only “your job” if you choose it, and you get to choose to not make it your job.

You can be a sounding board.

You can be a listening ear.

You should not be an ambassador or a manager. And you don’t have to feel any particular thing. HE doesn’t have to feel any particular thing.

Even in much less extreme situations (history of abuse, memory problems, disability) men sometimes expect that women will do the emotional work of the relationship, up to and including remembering everyone in HIS family’s birthday and buying presents/sending cards/keeping in touch. I think this sets a bad precedent, where his messed up family issues are now something that are the present stuff of your relationship. I’m sure he feels great after this chat you guys had; he just transferred all responsibility for sorting out his messy past over to you and now you’re writing me for advice on how to do it when really HE could write in for advice (not necessarily here, but somewhere) on how to do it.

This is HIS family.

This is HIS history.

This is HIS thing to solve.

I think it is admirable that you want to help your husband, and admirable that he wants to get back in touch with people and start sorting things out. And I think there is no one perfect way that he has to feel about a history of abuse. It is possible for people to have very dysfunctional relationships as children that grow into much more mellow relationships as people age, get power and autonomy, and create a series of positive interactions to build on.

But it is on HIM to contact his sister, sort out his memories, and deal with them (with the help of a professional, if necessary), and keep in better touch with his gran and his siblings. “Terrible at maintaining relationships” isn’t an actual condition, it’s a series of choices that have turned into a habit.

The best way to get in touch with people you haven’t talked to in a while is to send a greeting. People love getting mail that isn’t bills, so maybe write a postcard. “Dear _____, I hope you are well. I read/saw/ate/experienced this thing recently that made me think of you and remember the time that we _________. (Wife) and I are doing well, here is a thing that is new with me. Have a happy (upcoming holiday, season of the year), Love, Husband.” Keep it light, and remember, if communication has really lapsed, the other people don’t know what to say or how to begin either, and will be grateful for you breaking the ice. Make the effort, say something brief and kind, and then keep sending responses when they respond back. It is honestly that simple: If you want to, you will do it. If you don’t want to, then don’t do it, but don’t expect your partner to magically make it happen for you. Either admit that you don’t want to do it and make peace with that, or work on the “I want to want to, I just haven’t figured it out yet” stuff with a therapist.

You can help by dropping stuff in the mail, or picking up postcards, or hunting down addresses, or even helping him come up with things to say, but you shouldn’t manage the entire process.

The problem of making an adult relationship with imperfect relatives is not unique to this guy, it’s something we all have to figure out for ourselves.

My advice is that your mantra becomes “I am always here to listen, and I will support any decision you make, but I am not comfortable (emailing your sister, sorting out your past, taking the lead on how you interact with your family).”

I’m sure the community will have alternate perspectives to my initial “AW HELL NAW” reaction, I hope it will be helpful.

Before we jump into sad, serious things, Gollum dreamed a dream (of coming to your party?) Courtesy of my friend @spyscribe. You guys watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, right?

Now, some letters about living situations gone bad (#451) and very, very bad (#452).

Dearest Captain,

I need some help with relationship ambivalence.

It’s been 3 years and we live together. This is going to sound awful, but I recently has the thought that I am better than him at almost everything. He is extremely unsure of himself and is very dependent on me. He needs help/frets about making even the tiniest decisions. His indecision about inconsequential things used to be something we joked about, but now I just feel very smothered. He often makes his problems/feelings my problem or responsibility. I have had the occasional moment of, “this is definitely right for me”, but more often I have had doubts about whether I really want to be with him.

Here’s the wrench: My whole life has been in a shake-up recently. In the past two weeks, I found out I am losing my job (a job I REALLY love), found out I didn’t get accepted into grad school, then, last week I witnessed a stranger’s death. I was one of the first people to stop and help him. I stood over him as he died, before medics even arrived. The experience has really had a profound effect on me. I was very disturbed by what happened. BF knew I had all this going on though that didn’t stop him from wanting to have a big relationship talk about feeling that we’ve been in a “rut” for the past week. This was two days after the stranger’s death. 

On one hand, I feel like I should not make any major life decisions in such a period of upheaval. On the other, I get the feeling I am being tested and have a gut feeling towards making changes in my life. 

I have a gut sense telling me to end it, but I can’t *rationalize*why because everything seems fine between us. He is a very kind person, intelligent, insightful, sweet, cute, great sense of humor and he loves me very much. We live together very harmoniously. On the downside, he has depression that he has never attempted to do anything about. Recently, on my urging, he agreed to talk to a psychiatrist and then asked me to give him the number to a psychiatrist. Later, he blamed me that he hadn’t called because I never gave him the number. This is the kind of responsibility-shifting that really upsets me and makes me sad. 

In my society, there is a slavish devotion to “rational” thinking and I doubt many of my intuitions. Then here I am being the one who is indecisive and generally at-sea!

I have no idea what to do and could use a little wisdom! 

Private Secretson

Dear Private Secretson:

Your vague gut feeling that you want to end it IS the reason.

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Hey Capt., 

Cliff notes. My sister got pregnant three years in a row, giving birth to three healthy babies by c-section. With baby 1 she was put into bed rest almost immediately and I was assigned to make sure she didn’t jeopardize her or the baby’s health. This was a difficult task only made worse after the birth because it meant an additional 4 weeks at the least. Around 2 weeks into that time I broke down sobbing. My sister threw me out and my parents let me have the morning off before insisting that I return to make sure my sister hadn’t hurt herself. 

Continuing into the next two pregnancies I was told I had to stay with my sister because my parents were afraid for both her mental and physical health. This involved me sometimes driving 3 hours daily back and forth to my sister and her husband’s apartment. Where I was welcome by my sister but resented by her husband for being there and also for not doing enough while I was there. 

I am realizing that I was depressed. Slowly over the last few years I’ve been trying to recover. And I’ve felt like I have been. (In part thanks to this blog.) 

Now my sister is pregnant again. It’s been the easiest pregnancy yet. When I told my mom I was not going to do what I did before she said that yes I would. I felt like I had been slapped. I tried to tell her no but she told me it’s family. I told her a little desperately that if she didn’t want me to resent that baby and my sister even more than I already did she wouldn’t make me. She just repeated the family bit. 

That was a little over a month ago. I am depressed. My sister, who had already spent christmas at my house, wanted to spend the week following new years here as well. I told her no, and I told my mother I can’t do it. I am depressed and I just can’t face it. My mom offered to pay for me to take off for a few days so that my sister can come and spend the time here.(My Mom and I live together.) She says that she understands that I am depressed but she thinks my sister is too and she might need to come up to get some relief. 

Captain Awkward, I am being asked to leave my own house. I am being hounded by my mother to find a quick fix for my depression. And I am sincerely at a loss. Can you help me? 

-Just empty.

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Smeagol looking scarily enthusiastic.

If you had met up with your ex that day, this would have been the expression on his face. Still feel guilty?

Hi! This is very sweet, right? But don’t spring it on someone the first or second time you meet them. Friend-date people for a little while and if you’re meant to be friends you will totally figure it out.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I ended my first romantic relationship earlier this year. I’m in my early 20s, still in college. He was 10 years older than me. Long story short, we had met during the previous summer and had been attempting a long distance relationship. We talked constantly. Though he was needy and was borderline smothering me at times, he was sweet and fun. We finally met up again in early spring and everything seemed fine. Shortly after, he decided to tell me that he had slept with two other girls while we were apart. To get them to sleep with him, he told them that he had feelings for them. I was disgusted and called off our relationship. Still wanting to be amicable, I left the door open for a future friendship, but I told him that I needed some time. 

I wish it ended there. After a few months, I contacted him again. In a moment of loneliness and weakness, I wrote him a letter apologizing for cutting it off so abruptly. I also apologized for not being expressive enough-I’m not lovey-dovey and I tend to be shy about expressing my true feelings around men (Somehow, at the time, I felt that I had caused him to cheat on me-which I now realize was HIS decision. I have no control over his actions.) I missed him, and I wrote that I wanted him back in my life. Note that I never expressed any desire for a romantic relationship, and I had previously said that I wanted to be friends in the future.

After a month of casually e-mailing back and forth, he suddenly sent me a text message asking to meet me somewhere near my school. After a few texts back and forth, I found out that he had traveled cross country to see me, without warning. A trip to see me would have been long and costly. I panicked. Clearly, what he was doing was beyond being “friendly”. My entire mind and body seemed to be screaming: “Do.Not.Meet.Him!” I didn’t. I sent him an e-mail to leave me alone, and everything finally ended there.

I never wanted to start a romantic relationship again. I had only wanted to start our friendship over again. Was I leading him on? I’m still beating myself up over this. I hate that I had to hurt him, but at the same time, I don’t want to see him again. I felt that he was trying to pressure me into doing something that I didn’t want to do. He proved that he would always think about his own needs/desires first, not mine. But I still can’t justify my own behavior. Was I in the wrong?

Love Rookie

Dear Love Rookie:

Your former dude mistook your friendly email for a romantic gesture, so he made what he thought was a big romantic gesture in return, except really it was a stalkery gesture. That isn’t about you “leading him on,” that’s about a story he told himself in his head about what you wanted and about what would happen when he showed up. You say you felt like he was trying to pressure you into doing something you didn’t want to do. You felt correctly! He was in fact a “needy & smothering,” high pressure and manipulative guy! Who lies about his feelings to get girls to sleep with him, which constitutes actually “leading someone on!” You learned what he was like the first time you parted ways, and then you tried to give him another chance to be in your life as a friend, and he blew that other chance.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

About ten months ago, I started a relationship (a really-long-distance relationship with someone I met on a website). At first, and I have to be honest here, I was just fooling around, I couldn’t believe that you could actually fell in love with someone you don’t even know.

He was a “good guy”: sweet, romantic, funny, smart; I could say I had a crush on him. Eventually, he said he loved me. I was truly shocked, mostly because I was only fooling around and the guy was not. I’ll admit that I started having feelings for him, a crush, like I said. We started texting each other, talking over Skype, when I realized, I was in love. But there was one problem at that time: He doesn’t know my real name. Due to very personal reasons (related to my family), I never use my full (or real name, sometimes) on the internet.

I admit I let things go too far. So when he started taling about us being together in the future, and how I was the love of his life, and the future mother of his children, I started freaking out. I felt, and I still feel, like the worst fucking person on the face of the earth. I mean, how could I let things come to this? Why didn’t I walked away when it wasn’t too late?

So I broke up with him, about five moths ago, I couldn’t tell him the real reason, so I used my family crisis as an excuse to break up; I wasn’t in a good place, I couldn’t focus on a relationship (I really coudn’t focus on a relationship, anyway, but still…). So that’s when the whole thing got even worse.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a best friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, gone through some really rough times together as we both coped with mental illness, toxic families, financial hardship and general shenanigans.  Being single ladies who are at the asexual end of the scale, we share a house, and have lived together for most of our adult lives.  We have a fairly active social life, with a lot of mutual friends. 

My BFF is magnetic and charismatic, and people are generally drawn to her.  She’s not conventionally attractive, but she’s one of those people you have to look at twice, just to confirm that yes, she’s real.  People tend to pursue her friendship (or romantic attention, which she does not give).  For a while, invitations from our mutual friends were sent only to her, “Can you and [LW] come along to X?”  (I put a stop to that when I found out BFF was refusing invitations on behalf of both of us, without even telling me about them.  “I wish I’d been invited to X.”  “We thought you didn’t want to come!”)

I’m quieter, yet more spiky.  I can be a bit snarky, and sometimes it takes a while for people to warm up to me.  And that’s fine, because it takes a while for me to warm up to people!  I’m currently in therapy to deal with my abusive childhood, and am only now learning to assert boundaries and refrain from taking responsibility for other people’s emotions.  

All this is great!  Here’s the problem:  BFF suffers from a major depressive disorder, and also a personality disorder.  It’s managed through medication, but she can’t afford therapy any more.  And she doesn’t take criticism well, even if the criticism is entirely deserved on her part.  When she’s in a low state, as she is now, she becomes a bit of an emotional black hole. 

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Hi, Captain Awkward,

My Beloved and I bought a house around three years ago, which shares a driveway with another neighbor (the property line literally goes right down the center of the drive).  We were very optimistic about this, initially, as she seemed a very charming and outgoing lady.  For the most part, our relationship with her has been amicable.

This is our first stab at home ownership, we both work full time (opposite shifts from each other), and have three amazing spawn that we’re working at guiding into responsible human-ness.  We’re having a bit of a harder time than we anticipated with staying on top of all the home owner-ship demands in addition to parenting and working, but I don’t think we’re too horribly awful at it.

We came  home from a family vacation very recently to find our driveway blocked off because our neighbor had decided, unilaterally, that it was time to re-seal it.  In and of itself not a horrible thing, except that we arrived home at 4 am* and it is illegal for us to park on the street during the night.  We discovered later that day (after the sun rose) that she had also decided to take it upon herself to make changes to our lawn vegetation (not actually the first time- she also decided to cut back my rose bush one day about four weeks ago! **), rearrange some of our property on our lawn, etc. I was rather upset about this, feeling like my space was invaded without warning.

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