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Friendship

Ahoy there Captain!

So, there’s this super awkward couple that my gentleman and I are both acquainted with through a Meetup group I used to run. We used to be closer, but we’ve started distancing ourselves, because the closer we got, the more we saw that we didn’t really care to be around. For example, the she-half of the couple (Greta?) is extraordinarily passive aggressive… Greta’s catchphrase when addressing the he-half (Irving?) is, “IRVING!!! CAN YOU WASH THE DISHES *PLEEEEASE*????” Of course, in the snottiest tone she can muster. Irving, of course, is no prize himself… he’s a secret asshole, presenting as super-chill and totally laid back but having a sneaky side to him that is hella lazy and dismissive of anyone who may hold a different opinion.

So we moved them from Always Friends to Sometimes Friends, and made our excuses so that my gentleman could stop running a tabletop game that included them as participants (Greta had a bit of a habit of actively pouting (at age 30!) whenever things in the game didn’t go the way she wanted for her character, and Irving would always make excuses about ending the game early whenever she’d get in a funk, which started happening with exponential frequency). Following the end of the game, Greta blew up at me directly when I announced my exit from the Meetup group, demanding ownership and making a huge production about why we didn’t talk anymore. I snapped back at her that I didn’t appreciate her making something that was painful for me (the possible dissolution of my Meetup group) into a referendum on our friendship, and if she wanted to talk to me about the fact that we weren’t very close anymore, she could have chosen literally any other time.

We haven’t spoken much since then, and Greta hasn’t brought up our last real conversation at all. We’ve seen one another at other events and while everyone’s been polite, we haven’t had much contact. They recently sent us a Save The Date for their wedding, but when it came time for the bridal shower invites, I was snubbed (I had another event that day anyway, and I actively dislike bridal showers in general, so that was no hair off my backside). Now our mutual friends have received their wedding invites, and my gentleman and I have not.

On the one hand, my gentleman and I are not that into weddings. On the other hand, I think it’s rude as hell to send out a Save The Date and not follow up with an invitation. Part of me wants to contact Greta and Irving and let them know that they’re continuing to behave unacceptably, and if they miss us as much as they’ve made reference to towards our mutual friends, this is not the way to mend fences. Part of me is glad I don’t have to buy them a Himalayan Pink Salt Block and Shaver for their wedding. Part of me, though, knows that the mail is not the most reliable vehicle for sending messages and maybe it got lost, and I don’t want to be half of that Awful Couple that didn’t even RSVP to a wedding invite (and thus lose the Moral High Ground).

My question is thus… we’ve been plopped into an Awkward Spot by having to pick a discreet follow-up versus a discreet Total Fadeout. How to best mitigate it? Which to pick?

Your humble servant,

Uninvited?

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Dear Captain,

I have a friend that I’ve known since high school (we’re both in our thirties now) and I consider her a good friend. Over the years we’ve gone through phases where we’re more apart and distant (mostly from living in other states or distant parts of the country from each other and only seeing each other a few times a year) and phases where we’re closer. I like talking to her and I like having her in my life, and very soon she’s moving to the town I live in now and we’re both planning on and looking forward to getting together and being closer again.

The thing is, she’s spent the last two years becoming a minister and sometimes when we talk about how our lives are going, it feels like she’s not listening and talking to me as a friend, but as a minister to a congregant or a counselor to someone seeking help; so I find myself not wanting to talk about difficult things in my life, or talking about them in minimizing ways because I don’t want advice, well-meaning and well-trained as it might be. I’m not seeking counseling or guidance or theological insight from her, I just want to talk to my friend and share some of our lives as friends do.

Do you have any scripts for gently asserting the boundary that I want to just talk as friends, that I love her dearly, but that unless I explicitly ask for advice or guidance, I don’t want her to act as my minister or counselor?

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

Thank YOU for a good question that can be answered quickly. And your last line is a great script if you want to just go with that.

Light-hearted script: “Thanks for the suggestion, most Reverend Friendname, but I want to talk to Just Plain Old Friendname now please.

Additional scripts:

  • “It must be really easy to slip into counseling or advising-mode, given what you do all day, but you’re slipping into it with me a little too readily just now. You know I value your insights, but I’d appreciate it if you’d ask me if I even want advice before offering it.” 
  • “Reminder: Me sharing a situation is not an automatic request for advice/Engage Counselor Mode!”

I think she’ll hear you and will be ultimately glad that you set a boundary and reminded her to relax and be a person when she’s around you. This seems like a good time to say, “Eep, maybe I do this sometimes, if so, Real Life Friends, please tell me to knock it off and I will be very grateful.”

Oh Captain My Captain:

I’m running into a communications problem, and could use some advice.

First the backstory: I live with my parents. My mother, who is nearing seventy, is having arthritis issues and needs a little bit of extra help around the house; generally more help that I can reasonably provide while being a full-time student. A year ago, a friend of mine had to choose between an abusive situation and homelessness, and I convinced Mom that we could offer her a third option. Now we have Kat in our guest room, doing dishes and minor housecleaning tasks for ten dollars a day plus room and board.

Now, the problem: Mom is unhappy with Kat’s performance. A lot of this is coming from the fact that Mom isn’t actually talking to her. She doesn’t remind either of us of routine tasks (because we’re intelligent people and she shouldn’t have to explain the obvious), and deals with extraordinary requests by telling me that they need to be done (with the unspoken riders of “so get Kat to do it” and “you should already know how I want that task performed” and “I will be Very Upset if you do this yourself instead of making sure Kat does it to my specifications.”) When, somehwere along the line, communication inevitably breaks down and something *doesn’t* meet with her approval, I get to listen to Mom rant about how she’s not getting what she’s paying for and how Kat isn’t ever going to be able to make it in the real world if she can’t complete simple tasks. Mom does not, generally speaking, ever voice concerns directly to Kat.

Do you have advice/scripts/etc. for how to stop being the Mom-to-Kat translator in this arrangement?

Sincerely,

The Messenger Is Tired Of Being Shot

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Hi Captain,

I’m a twenty something female working in a retail job where it’s NECESSARY to work as a team. In the six months I’ve been at my job, I’ve built especially great rapport with a few people. The man henceforth named Paul is one of them. Paul is a year younger than me. Most of our dynamic has been sarcastic banter, punctuated by some more serious conversations about a wide variety of topics. After about two months Paul asked some questions about my opinions on romance related topics (we were off the clock and out in a group with coworkers), and I answered in the context of the happy/trusting/loving relationship I have with my boyfriend of 4 years. Paul seemed surprised to hear about him.

I later brought up one of Paul’s questions I didn’t feel I answered well, and he got extremely flustered and changed the topic. A week later he told me that he struggled with feelings for a coworker at an old job for a year or so before he really stopped having feelings for her, and he regrets that it took him that long to deal with an unrequited crush. Since he told me about that, he hasn’t brought up anything even remotely related to romance.

I’m pretty damn sure that Paul has a crush on me. He hasn’t said or done anything inappropriate either in or outside the workplace, and since describing that old crush has not brought up romance in any context (that was nearly 3 months ago). It doesn’t get in the way of our work, most of the time we still execute the sarcastic banter/serious topics conversations without a hitch.

But I definitely feel like there’s a weird feelings stalemate. In my personal life I would have confronted him about it long ago and let him know that if he can’t handle being around me, then he shouldn’t be around me, and I’d be happy to have his friendship whenever it’s just friendship. But given that we work together that’s not an option, and I don’t know what’s appropriate. I feel bad because I get the sense that he’s doing everything he can to keep the feelings off my radar since that story. If he were creepy I’d tell a manager, and if the fact that we get along didn’t make our job way easier and more enjoyable it would be an unwelcome but simple task to freeze him out. Ultimately I just want to be able to work and occasionally hang out with this guy in group settings without the sense that he’s experiencing heartwrenching crush feels half the time I laugh at his jokes. Is there even anything to do, Captain?

-Midshipman Awkward Sauce

Dear Midshipman!

:salutes:

You’re an empathetic person, so you are putting yourself in his shoes and wanting to make things better, but you can’t fix this for him. Short answer: Say nothing, it will get better soon. “Paul” is actually handling all of this very well, in my opinion, and it would be a mistake to stage-manage his feelings or pry further into them.

He most likely did have a crush on you, he figured out that it would not be requited, and he bailed out just in time before telling you about it beyond an oblique reference to a past situation. Of course he feels awkward, he’s got all these feelings and he can see how very close he came to 1) asking out a coworker and 2) macking on someone who he knows is happily coupled up. I think it speaks to him being a good person that he pulled back when he did. You can help everything get less awkward by being your same basic amount of work-friendly to him and letting him save face. In my opinion, he won’t thank you for addressing it directly: Imagine someone else peeling off a scab that’s on your body, and that’s pretty much what it will feel like for him if you bring it up before he does.

For now, return the text of your interactions to normal relations, ignore all subtext unless it does get angry or creepy or unless he sheepishly confesses, “I was developing a crush on you and that’s why I’ve been acting kinda weird lately” at which point you say “Aw,  knew *something* was up, but I didn’t want to make you more uncomfortable. So you know, I really like working with you and I’d like us to be friends, and I’ll follow your lead on that.” 

A still of the Hulk in a pile of rubble from The Avengers

“HULK WILL NOT FEEL GOOD ABOUT THIS TOMORROW, HULK CAN TELL.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

One of my friends gets angry a lot. To be more specific: one of my friends gets angry at things that are not me, and vents to me a lot. I don’t mind being available to vent to in the general case, but.

Bruce, let’s call him, gets especially angry when anxious. When he gets angry, it generally takes the form of explosive swearing. Even though I know where he’s coming from, there’s only so much tirade I can handle before getting anxious (in-person anger scares the crap out of me, online anger not directed at me takes a while longer to do that) or exasperated. I don’t feel this is something I want to abandon this friendship over, but I also am pretty sure that I do not need to let him expound on how enraged he is over some mishap with something he’s nervous about for extended lengths of time.

My question is one of diplomacy: How can I ask him to calm down without pissing him off more? I just want a little less freakout time here. (I think he would benefit too, but that’s really not within my control.)

(For the record: This is an online friendship, so I am not getting any of this in person, and I do not feel threatened or unsafe; no threats are even being made, just a lot of directionless swearing. I’m just not especially comfortable with it past a certain point.)

–Frets in the face of Frustration

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Dear Captain,

My straight friends will not stop talking about boys. Specifically, if they have boyfriends: How awful their boyfriends and sex lives are (in excruciating detail). If they don’t have boyfriends, it’s all stuff like the latest japanese dating sim they’ve found, and how hot the (disturbingly, rapey) plot lines are and dick in general, to me, a Lesbian.

With the boyfriend thing, it’s always about how condescending/annoying/lazy/useless their boyfriends are, or how horrible they are in bed, how much vaginal sex hurts/is boring, and when I say: Then why don’t you break up with him? They gasp and clutch their pearls and subject me to another tirade about how he is really a Nice Guy and he’s been getting SO much better since they told him all his problems and he folded one whole shirt this week! Without being asked! So I’m being cruel/judgmental/I don’t know what I’m talking about, telling them to break up with him. Yet, next week, they’ll have the same complaints and no matter how much I try and change the subject, I have to hear about how she is allergic to his semen and also, can’t walk right for days after they do it because it’s so excruciatingly painful (but it’s okay, she really wants it! Not having a horribly painful experience/vaginal sex, isn’t an option because she wants that /connection/ with him).

My straight friends that don’t have boyfriends make dick jokes constantly, talk about how hot guys are, try and show me nude pictures of dudes they’ve drawn, etc. In one-on-one conversations with me! A lesbian! Who has said many times, I do not care about that stuff or the entire, 20 minute plot description of the anime episode you just watched, where it’s really cute/funny when main male character sneaks up behind female characters and grabs their boobs. Not only am I disgusted, I am bored out of my mind, and feel extremely alienated.

The few lesbians I’ve talked to about this online, say this is exactly the reason why they do not hang out/are no longer close friends with straight woman, because stuff like this always happens eventually, and no matter how often you tell them that you don’t want to hear about their disturbing heterosexual shenanigans, they will not listen to you. But I love so many of these crazy woman dearly, and I find I can hardly accept not-being-friends with any straight woman, ever again, because most woman are straight woman! Do you have any advice how to handle this without starting a whole new social group from scratch? And excluding myself from caring about the majority of woman in this country?

Sincerely,
Confused And Grossed Out

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Dear Captain:

During the past couple of years, I have been growing apart from “Joy,” one of my best friends for more than two decades now. I’m godmother to her children (whom I love deeply), we share many mutual friends, and we have a lot of the same interests. But she really, horribly failed me about two years ago, and it seems like I cannot get over it.

What happened: After about three years of expensive, emotionally grueling fertility treatments, I went in for one final “hail mary” attempt. I’d tried hard not to vent all over everyone about the psychological ups and downs of this, but I had definitely told Joy that this was the last try, that I was pretty scared about it, etc. She was supportive, though not on a very close level–which at the time I wrote off to her being really busy with work concerns, and not trying to “get my hopes up” or something like that.

Well, the final treatment failed too. That night, I texted her to tell her the bad news, and said something like, “I’m feeling really blue and would appreciate it if we could spend some time together tonight.” Her response — and I am not making this up — was “Oh, poop.” Then she said she’d helped her son fix some stuff in his room and was kind of tired, so she didn’t want to get together that night.

Probably I should’ve been angry at the time. But I was so miserable that it hardly even registered. I spent the night alone, crying.

A fairly significant depressive episode followed, but through therapy, drugs and plain old making peace with never having kids, I’ve pulled myself together again. As I’ve done so, though, Joy’s total failure to reach out to me that night or at any point thereafter has loomed larger and larger in my mind as being Not Okay At All. I try to rationalize it–like, I know I’m not the best at asking for emotional support, etc. — but dammit, that was one of the times I actually did it right! And how emotionally numb do you have to be not to get that the last fertility treatment’s failure would be devastating?

What makes it worse is that I had been a person she called on during past significant troubles in her life. After her husband left her, I sometimes spent an hour a day on the phone with her, for a couple of months, letting her vent. When she miscarried a baby years ago, while her then-husband was out of the country on business, I was the one who picked her up at the hospital, took her home and settled her in. What I’m saying is, I showed up for Joy when it was really rough, a lot of times, and the one time I needed that from her, I got “oh, poop.”

I’m not the best at dealing with conflict ever, but I’m okay generally. In this case, I was so devastated by the fertility failure that I didn’t even have the emotional energy to focus on this until so long after the fact. Now I’m really resentful of it–and I know Joy has sensed my greater distance and displeasure. But only last week–where we were at a girls’ lunch and she blithely started talking about how she thinks would-be single moms are “all crazy”, that I realized she didn’t even remember that I’d tried to have a baby on my own. I mean, the information is in her brain, but apparently she had so completely disregarded my experiences that she saw no reason whatsoever not to spout off. (She’s not a deliberately hurtful person, generally — I think.) Whatever reason she thinks I’ve backed off–well, I have no idea what it is, but she obviously hasn’t recognized the truth.

So now I’m like, do I say something this long after the fact? Is that going to wreck the friendship? Because I don’t think this is like an issue where we “work it out” — I mean, I think she just totally fucked up and would need to apologize and try to do better. And I don’t know that I trust her to do that any more. The worst part is–you know, I love her kids. I’ve been a babysitter/chaperone/adult friend to both of them throughout their lives, and we are all three very close. If I confront Joy about this and she pulls back, do I lose them too? (They are no longer small, but also not quite old enough for me to feel sure we’d continue our own independent relationships.) I feel like I haven’t spoken up for so long that the scar tissue can never really heal, and maybe I should just … accept that she’s a hang-out friend, not a truly deep friend any longer. But am I wrong about that? Can you bring up something so long after the fact and work on it constructively?

I’m trying so hard to learn how to talk more about what I need, but this one has me depressed and confused. Any thoughts?

Not-Mom

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