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Geek Social Fallacies

Dear Captain Awkward:

I used to hang out with Friend Group, and dated a guy in that group for two years. When we broke up five years ago, I moved to a different neighborhood and saw them less because I needed space and because I was starting to move away from them socially.

Since then, I hang out with this group less and less, but still come out for big get-togethers. My ex-boyfriend and I were on good terms. He’s more socially awkward than I am and in our relationship and after, I took on the burden of smoothing any awkwardness over. We hooked up at one point, and I suspected he wanted to get back together with me, but I wasn’t interested. We hung out in group settings a few times since then, and all was well.

Then I got engaged to someone outside of Friend Group, and ex-boyfriend started ignoring me at these Friend Group events. Avoiding eye contact. No talking. Looking the other way when I was standing in front of him. Since I don’t see this group much, I tried not to let it bother me. I also didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, because I didn’t want to come off like an obsessive ex. 

I don’t think he bears me any ill will or anything. I just think he’s kind of an awkward guy who just didn’t know how to react.
The problem is that a) mutual friends started mirroring his behavior and b) he started becoming a more integral part of that group, so I got pushed further out. When I show up to a party someone is throwing and he’s with a group of people, most of them are his friends, so no one greets me. I don’t get invited to Friend Group parties at his house (understandable!) but then mutual friends surprised when I don’t attend. It’s made me pull even further away from Friend Group, and now I get super nervous before attending if I go at all.

I KNOW that I should have just ignored any weirdness, jumped right into the middle, and started chatting like normal. But I was tired of shouldering the burden of being the outgoing, socially adept one (despite social anxiety) YEARS after our relationship ended that I just didn’t. And it really, really sucks feeling rejected whenever you hang out with a group of people.

So I’ve been married a year now, and have been with this group maybe five times since then. This last weekend was the wedding for my oldest friend in this city, and it felt really weird to be there, two feet away from my friends, being avoided. People came up to us individually to say hi, but since I haven’t been around much, we weren’t included in any pre-wedding parties or weekend group activities. We left the wedding early because I just felt really weird about it. Everyone else went on to go bar hopping, after parties, etc.

I know no one can make me feel small except me, but is my only choice to avoid this group moving forward? Am I just blowing this feeling out of proportion? Should I be the bigger person and step in, him be damned, and have a good time no matter what?

Help, Captain.

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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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Omar from the Wire, "Indeed."

From Wire Inspire, a worthy Tumblr.

Hi Awkwards!

My boyfriend and I have been together for around 2 years. We’re incredibly compatible and this relationship has done a lot for me. I was in a pretty shitty situation before we met, and he’s done so much to encourage me to accomplish the things I want, I feel very lucky.

Basically, there are several shows that I love dearly and want to share with him. He’s done the same for me – He’s a huge fan of Joss Whedon so we are working our way through the Whedonverse. We’ve completed Buffy and Angel and are now on the second season of Dollhouse. The original deal was that I would watch Buffy if he would watch The Wire. 7 seasons later… he’s watched the first episode and wouldn’t continue.

When we first started hanging out I tried to get him to watch Battlestar Galactica, but the explosions in space were too annoying for him to continue. I tried to get him to give Game of Thrones a try, but he was turned off by the fantasy setting. Several months later, he must have encountered something that made it finally sound interesting, because he’s now a huge fan of the show and we gush over new episodes together. The same thing happened with Deadwood, I wanted to watch it together but he wasn’t into it, and then he ended up watching all of it by himself sometime later and loved it.

I only really care about The Wire. The other shows I can enjoy on my own without wanting him to share them with me. I have pretty strong feelings about it, I think it’s an amazing example of storytelling and I think there are a lot of things he would really enjoy about it. It feels like he’s blowing it off without giving it a chance. We’ve talked about it and he knows that watching it would mean a lot to me. He says that the subject matter is too depressing and since he is already depressed it isn’t a good show to watch right now, but has promised that he is interested and will watch it in the future. I don’t really believe that, though.

Really I’m just writing in to find out if I’m being reasonable, and if it’s worth bringing up to him again. Forcing someone to watch something they aren’t interested in won’t make them suddenly like it. I don’t want to turn him off it forever, but I am feeling sad about this. I just don’t know if it’s justified. I do have a lot more tolerance for things in shows that I don’t like than he does. Do I just need to chalk this up to personal differences and get over it?

Thanks for reading,
Long Live Omar

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Movie Poster Art from The Wise KidsDear Captain,

Last Fall, I began dating an awesome guy. He’s nerdy, a real feminist, and is just as much in love with me as I am with him. Things have been great and we both know how to use our words to make things even better. As it stands, we’re both in this for the long haul and have discussed plans of moving in together when I graduate from college and eventually of getting married. I am so excited about life with this guy.

My problem is that I come from a super conservative Christian sub-culture and my boyfriend is an atheist. While I’m super cool with his personal views on religion (and he is of mine as well, yay!) most of my friends, family, and people I interact with at church have made it their business to go out of their way to tell me to end things with him. Everyone sees my relationship as something wrong and offensive to God. In their eyes, they’re just helping me “do what’s right” but it’s emotionally exhausting and always makes me upset with the people.

As it stands, there’s literally nothing these people could say to me that would actually make me break up with him. But I’m tired of having to act nice when people tell me off for dating someone who isn’t a Christian. Since you are the master of awesome shut-down scripts, I was wondering if you might have anything up your sleeve for people trying to get me “out of my sinful relationship” when this (super hurtful) behavior is considered acceptable (and encouraged) within the sub-culture I am in.

(On a side note, I’m planning on joining a much more awesome denomination/church when I graduate from college, but as I am going to a college funded by this denomination, I’m stuck in place for a year.)

Thanks for your help,

Happily Dating

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A grumpy cat "there are two things I don't like: Change and the way things are."Hey Captain:

This has been a problem for a while but strangely it only occurred to me to write you about it after your recent post on polyamorous parents inviting their girlfriend to their kid’s wedding.  I had a lot of feels over that post because I’ve been having a similar concern. Namely, I hate my parents’ new wife. But I feel like the ship on which to mention it has long since sailed.

For the majority of my life I was happy living with the idea that my parents were monogamous and happy about it.  But then a couple years ago they approached me with the idea that now that I was grown up they were going to start dating around. I was confused and upset (Are you getting a divorce? But wait, aren’t we Catholic?  Why now? Am I supposed to do something about it?) but they were able to explain things for me.  I can’t say I’m the most thrilled panda on the planet because on some level I think I just don’t “get” it. I’ve never had the desire to date more than one person -anything else seems stressful and difficult- but I support anything that makes them happy. So I took a few weeks to think about things and decided that their lives were their own and it was not my place to judge.

When they got a new girlfriend I even tried really hard to be nice to her – we did the whole family dinners thing. The girlfriend – “Carol” – was nice enough and I feel like I might have genuinely liked her had we met under different circumstances.  We had a lot of “weather talk” conversations and were genuinely polite/pleasant to each other, but that was it. She and I never did anything alone, and her being Mommy and Daddy’s Close Friend seemed to work out for all of us.

But then they got married. Not legally of course, but there was a service and she moved into my parents house. Marriage changed everything. It seems like I can’t see my real parents alone any time, and whenever I want to see them Carol is always around. What’s worse, it seems like they expect my relationship with Carol to upgrade like theirs did. Carol wants that too – recently she’s been pushing for more “girl time” and keeps trying to talk about more personal things as though we’re good pals. The more she pushes the more I realize I actually loathe her. For a while I denied it and tried extra hard to be friends because that’s what noble, progressive, open-minded people would be. (at least, in my mind) But I never wanted to be friends, I was mostly being nice because she was important to my parents. But because I started out being more friendly than I felt I feel like I’m now locked into this permanent state of being cool with Carol. My parents are upset that I’m still keeping her at arm’s length (since we’re all one big happy family now!) and I know that if it came to her or me they’d choose me. Still though, I don’t want to force them to choose but I don’t want to be all buddy-buddy with her either. They feel like I’m rejecting her and their lifestyle, and I guess in a way I am? I’m just not ready for their lifestyle to become mine.  How can I tell my parents that I’ll never love Carol as much as them, and that while I value their relationship with her the less of a relationship *I* have with her the better? And is that even a cool thing to want?

Signed,

Not Down for Family Christmas Carols

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Hi there Captain!

I’m a 36 year-old mom of two adorable boys (6 and 2). I also have no friends. I’m not entirely OK with not having friends, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past 30 years or so of not-having-friends-ness. What I’m less OK with is that my Big Guy seems to be following in my footsteps, and it’s making me worry.

A bit of background:

I grew up being *that kid*, the one who is always picked on, outcast, and very lonely (but not bullied, really). Elementary school was *really* tough. By the time I got to high school, I had a regular table I could sit at for lunch, Science Team and Quiz Bowl competitions I could attend and do well in (with said lunch-mates), and excessively high grades and test scores. Still couldn’t really call them “friends”. *They* all hung out and did the usual social stuff that high school nerds do outside of high school. I was just never included.

Those high grades? Came about because of my parents, who prioritized high grades above EVERYTHING ELSE. Including a social life. I mean, I’m sure they were concerned about my social life, but it was always “Studies first, (dance second), and anything that can distract from your studies can come afterwards”. So I complied, because my father’s commitment to making sure I succeeded academically was *really* intense.

As an adult, (as in, many, many years after the fact), I figured out that I had/have ADHD-inattentive type, which led to me not being able to finish my homework/keep track of all my crap. And also makes it hard for me to follow a conversation without spacing out in the middle of someone else’s sentence. And then have a hard time knowing what to say next. So: schoolwork not getting done, leads to me “not having time” for a social life. And in school, my fellow nerds were nice and friendly and let me sit at the lunch table, but I still felt like an outsider, because I was always ten steps behind them conversationally.

College was worse than high school, because my family uprooted their entire lives and moved three whole states so I could live at home in a three bedroom apartment and commute to school. They would make sure I didn’t flunk out (see above re: intense commitment to my academic achievement). And since I was at the most competitive, intense university in the world, you can fill in the blanks about how much of a social life I was able to manage.

So I never had a chance to navigate friendships and relationships as a kid and teenager (and young adult). I got married because Arranged Marriage is a common thing in my culture and I was completely OK with it. My husband is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t feel the need to have many friends, and likes his peace and quiet and political blogs and weird YouTubes of politicians from our country screaming at each other.

So how does this affect my kid? I don’t know how to make mom-friends. I was supposed to “join a playgroup” and “set up playdates” and then socialize with each other while our babies did their baby-stuff. But I didn’t know how to get from “Hi, nice to see you at our monthly breastfeeding support group” to “Hey there friend! Wanna get together for (whatever it is that friends *do* together. Seriously, WHAT?!)”. And now that he’s in Kindergarten, I STILL don’t know. All the other moms somehow know each other already. Their kids go on playdates with each other. They all stand around in their little circles on the blacktop before afternoon pickup and talk about whatever it is they talk about (Seriously, WHAT?!?!?). Big Guy gets the occasional birthday party invitation, but even there, the other moms know each other better than they know me, so I’m the odd one out again. (WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT IN THEIR LITTLE CIRCLES? I edged into a circle once, and one of the moms was asking the other where she got her hair done. I get my hair done at Supercuts.)

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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.

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