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how to say no

Oh Captain My Captain;

I rent a room in a house with a pretty nice family, and for the most part it’s pretty cool. They’re very friendly and open, their eldest son and I share a lot of interests, and they aren’t really judgmental, though they are very vocal about their political views and beliefs, they know I don’t get involved in that sort of stuff and seem to respect my space as far as that’s concerned.

The problem is respecting space as far as everything else – I do my part around the house, cleaning bathrooms, mopping, vacuuming, doing dishes, laundry, helping care for their 19 year old cat and doing pretty much anything I can to make myself useful. My landlords, a married couple, also have two of their adult children living with them because finances suck for everyone except the elderly rich, which we are not among. Their kids, even though they are adults, are still very close to their parents and depend on them for a lot, and basically come off as young teens in a lot of ways. The main problem seems to stem from the fact that, although I am not one of their kids, because I’m younger than their kids they seem to feel the need to parent me.

Whenever I get anything in the mail, they want to know what it is, who it’s from, if it’s a package they want to hover over me and see what it is, who I ordered it from, how much did it cost, was it made in the USA? They have come in my room without permission several times, always ask me when I will be at work, how many hours I’m getting, what I’m paid, if I go out somewhere that isn’t work related where did I go, did I buy anything there? I can’t bring home so much as a single shopping bag without being interrogated or having it pawed through and my purchases commented on, along with how I dress, where I work, basically everything I do. They do it more to me than they do it to their own children!

I’m a very private person, and I hate discussing money with anyone, particularly when it’s really none of their business, and I really don’t want my every purchase judged and pawed through. I am one of those people that doesn’t want to talk about my day, I don’t want to talk about what happened at work or if I got a raise or if I bought lunch or something. I don’t like talking to people in general, but I try my best to at least be nice. It’s started creeping me out a lot that I can’t walk anywhere near the door with my keys without getting an interrogation on where I’m going, who I’m going with if anyone, what I’m buying, et cetera. If they had to drive me places, yeah, fine, I could understand them needing to know my work schedule or if I needed to go buy stuff or something, but I have my own car and drive myself everywhere so there is no reason they need to know any of this stuff. They also try to include me in their family events, even big holiday stuff like Christmas or Thanksgiving, even when they’re super loud and generally not the kind of thing I’d go within a hundred miles of if I didn’t live here, but when I live in the same house it’s kind of hard to avoid without it being painfully obvious that I’m avoiding it, particularly since I’m not social and generally don’t go anywhere other than work.

They seem to have semi-adopted me as one of their own kids, which is kind of problematic on it’s own, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Do you have a way for me to politely tell them to back off and stop questioning me about everything I do? I intend to move out soon, so I’ll have my privacy again eventually, but until then I’d like to get back at least a bit of privacy while I live here, without making things tense or possibly making them angry. They are a very close-knit, openly affectionate, rather loud kind of family, so I’m not sure they can even understand that no, I don’t really want to take part in all the loud, boisterous family stuff they do because I’m just not that kind of person. I like my quiet and privacy, and I would like to get some of that back.

Any ideas?

Thanks!

Not Their Kid

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Grumpycat saying "no."

This word makes “yes” possible.

Dear Captain, my Captain,

Lately I have been very grumpy and I would like to stop. 

While I am in a very happy place right now mentally, best I’ve been in a long time, I have found that certain things irritate me more than they reasonably should. Prime examples are my flatmate coming home every day and complaining about her drive and an incompetent colleague. I love her and I know she has a right to whine, but it’s become very repetitive.(Someone in front of her was slow, someone behind her was pushy, and her colleague is useless because ‘something to do with Chemistry that I know nothing about’.) She will usually follow me to my room, lean against the doorframe, and just stay there watching me on my computer and complaining about stuff every once and again. And it irritates me.

I also have a friend who likes to talk about food. I have a history of eating disorders in my family and my circle of friends and I find the most random comments triggering – e.g. “wow I ate so much I feel sick ” after dinner, “I should really eat less/ lose weight” (while simultaneously eating a lot), and “my stomach is so full and fat *pat pat*” after food. But these are not really things I can ask her to stop doing, it’s just small comments!

I don’t know if it’s because of stress at uni lately, or because of some other thing, but I hate being so irritated all the time and I never know how to react to them both without being impolite.

So I guess my question is: do you have any scripts for me to opt out of those kinds of one-sided conversations?

Best wishes,
Grumpycat

Dear Grumpycat:

I’m glad you asked, because I DO have scripts.

First, let’s talk about the idea that these events are annoying you “more than they should.” When you are feeling less overall stress from school, you might in fact be able to better put up with the constant doorlurking from your roommate and the constant diet-talk from your friend. But that doesn’t mean something has to be wrong with you, or overwhelming in other parts of your life, for you to want to set and enforce boundaries in your living space and your relationships. Somehow, many of us have inherited the fallacy that listening to someone endlessly, way past our own comfort level, or listening to talk that is actively harmful to us, without interruption or protest, is the only polite thing to do. I suspect a lot of it is socialization (esp. if one is a female-raised person) and another big bunch of it is mistranslation or misunderstanding of Emily Post’s adage that it is bad manners to point out someone else’s bad manners.

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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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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a slightly complicated situation that I don’t know how to talk (or better yet, avoid talking) about with my parents.

Recently, I’ve met a guy and had a couple dates with him. We hit it off and would like to continue seeing each other. Fortunately, he has his own place; unfortunately, I still live with my parents (yay poorly paying retail jobs), and my mother in particular feels like she needs to know everything going on in my life. It’s impossible for me to just say that I’ll be home late from work, or going out in the evening on my day off without her wanting to know exactly why and where I’m going. I’d be willing to tell her that I’m going on a date, except:

I have a wonderful boyfriend of several years that the parents have met and like. Sadly we live in different countries and only manage to see each other about once or twice a year. This is not a cheating letter! We have an open d/s relationship in which we both are switches, and we’ve both encouraged each other to find other people to play with, although neither of us has taken advantage of it until now. My boyfriend has known about this play partner since I met him, is aware of the play dates, and finds it sweet and very hot.

So if I tell my mom that I’m going on a date, she’ll be wanting to know if I’ve broken up with boyfriend, or think I’m cheating on him, and I don’t really feel comfortable trying to explain an open relationship or that it’s strictly a kink thing to her. (Even more complicated to explain since it’s not sex, either.) >.< Using generic excuses or saying I have work only works for certain times of day, and will no doubt be discovered at some point by calling work when I’m not there. I can’t even say that I’m going out with friends because … well I don’t have any local ones. I don’t really want to get too tangled up in maintaining a lie – this isn’t something I’m ashamed of or feel a strong need to hide, but I really don’t feel comfortable trying to explain it to my MOM.

I guess basically I need some help putting together scripts to either try and explain this or politely tell her it’s none of her beeswax without provoking a tantrum. She has no real sense of privacy, and when I’ve asked her to not do things I find invasive before (like ignoring my closed bedroom door/refusing to knock, or going through my trash) she’s acted offended that it bothers me and then hurt because ‘I never tell her anything’, so I don’t really see a way to set up strong boundaries that isn’t going to result in disaster and endless fights, which I’d love to avoid.

Thanks!

I know people want to be open and honest in all of their relationships, but you get to hold certain things close to the vest if you want to, especially with nosy/judgy parents who go through your trash and can’t knock before entering your room.

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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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Ahoy Captain & Company!

I have a question that is not 100% relevant yet, but may be in the next few weeks. My husband “A” and I are planning on starting a family. Although we are young (by the time any baby is born, I will be 23 and A will be 25), we have been together for eight years, married for two; we have stable sources of income, ample savings, and a plan for how we will support ourselves. The problem? How to tell my parents once we have good news to share. A’s parents will be over the moon, but mine… Well, when we announced when we were going to get married, it led to a public meltdown at my birthday dinner. Judging by comments that my mother has made in the recent past, I have a feeling that any baby news would not be welcome. Add to that the fact that my extended family is not too keen on me right now (black sheep, etc.) and I am completely lost about how to tell them.

Again, this is a totally premature question, but this is stressing me out more than any other part of the whole process. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Maybe Baby

Dear Maybe Baby:

Tell people who are not your spouse that you are starting a family after you’ve had the “You’re three months pregnant, let’s see if this thing is really gonna take” tests. Not before. It’s not only about medical reasons or viability, it’s about giving yourself time to get used to the idea before inviting the whole world into your body and your choices. Being a pregnant woman is vulnerable enough (Everyone can see! Everyone feels like they have something to say about it!), so don’t make it public until you’ve had a chance to get right with it yourself.

No one can critique or weigh in on your hypothetical life choices if they don’t know about them. If you don’t need your parents’ judgy input, then don’t invite it (It will show up on its own later, no need to roll out the red carpet). When you tell your parents three months in, I strongly suspect that your mom will make a show of being hurt that you didn’t tell her right away. That’s okay, because you say yourself, she would be weird no matter when you told her. You can say “We wanted to make sure everything was medically a go before announcing” and she can fucking deal. Or not. If she doesn’t deal, that will limit her access to you and to her grandchild, because you will have too much to do to put up with one lady’s need to be the center of everything.

Also, it’s always kind of weird when people I know say “we’re…trying” in that insinuating way. What does that mean? Removing birth control? Fucking constantly? I’m happy you’re getting it on the regular (kind of assumed that already, sport!), and happy at the prospect of new awesome people in the world, but I don’t need to see the recipe.

Parenting is going to change your life in ways that we can’t even imagine. One way is that what your mom’s judgment of you is going to matter less and less. She had her chance to parent. If she wants to offer help, support, wisdom, and encouragement, great. But this is your time, and you have the final say on when you tell, how you tell, what you tell.

Bonus: Tell people what you are naming the baby when you say “here is my baby, Name” and show them the baby (or a picture of the already-born, already-named baby). Trust me. Just, trust me. Names are easy to hate in theory, harder to hate when they are attached to an adorable wee person.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

My relationship with my boyfriend is seriously beginning to interfere with my academic pursuits. I met my boyfriend about a semester ago though some mutual friends of ours, and by all accounts, it has been a truly amazing experience. He is handsome, smart, supportive, and despite a slow start to the relationship we have amazing chemistry; he’s even into geek culture. Honestly, this is the happiest I’ve ever been in a relationship, and I can’t wait to see what our future together is like.

For the past few months things have been all sunshine and rainbows, but then I began to notice a problem: during the time we have been together, the quality of my academic efforts has declined. Not drastically, mind you, but as a student who used to get A’s on her college projects, I’m now getting B’s. Theoretically, My boyfriend and I should not have such incredibly different workloads, seeing as we have similar majors (Comp. Sci. and Engineering) but while he’s already been accepted as a transfer to the four-year college of his choice, i’m still vying for a spot at mine, which essentially means that while he’s taking low stakes pre reqs for the classes he’ll be taking next year, I have to strive to take classes that make my transcript look as shiny and appealing to admissions officers as possible.

How do I explain to him, in a way that doesn’t sound like a preamble to a breakup, that I need more time on my own for my studies? Furthermore, how can I implement this lifestyle change so that he still feels loved and cared for?

“Boyfriend, I need to put more focus on my schoolwork, so going forward, x blocks of time are for us to hang out and y blocks of time are for me to study.  I won’t be answering texts or making social plans during those blocks of time until I feel caught up on my projects and my grades are where I want them to be. I wanted to let you know so that we could plan around it. Cool, thanks.”

A good boyfriend goes “sure, ok!” and then enjoys the time you spend together and leaves you alone during your study time. And then you give him your full attention during your scheduled date time and all is well.

A bad boyfriend gets all whiny and sulky and manufactures reasons to intrude on your study time and claims that your studying makes him feel “unloved.” I’ve met many versions of That Guy, the one who always wants to have big relationship talks late at night before you have an exam or when you’re in the middle of a complicated project. The one who stands in your doorway and says “I’m bored!” when you’ve blocked out the afternoon to study. That Guy must be stopped.

I’m guessing/hoping that you have a good boyfriend! So, this isn’t stuff you need to ask permission for. This is stuff where you tell the other person how it’s going to be and then do that thing. This also isn’t something he’s necessarily causing. It’s on you to get your priorities in order, make a schedule and routine, and stick to it. He can help that effort or hinder that effort, but it’s not on him to initiate the discussion. Don’t beat either yourself or him up too much; it’s very common to get caught up in New Relationship Energy at the beginning of a romance and let the laundry pile up and the homework get half-assed. Needing to readjust or renegotiate schedule stuff is normal and healthy, and he’s probably got his own laundry to do/friends to see/homework to do. You’re smart to notice the dynamic and readjust! Hopefully your future with this guy will continue to be great, and hopefully your own scholastic and professional future will be great as well. Love doesn’t have to come at the expense of work, and college is a great time to figure that out.

 

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m organising a house party for my 21st birthday, but I’ve run into a dilemma which I don’t know how to resolve. Backstory is, I was dating this woman, let’s call her X, for over half a year. We split up before January. It was my first real relationship and the breakup really, really hurt me badly, and I’m not sure I’m entirely healed yet. Having said that, me and X are on friendly terms, and I like to think that neither of us harbours genuine ill will against the other. After a long period of no contact, X and me started talking against and she invited me to her house party a few weeks ago. I went, and realised that it was a terrible mistake to go. I was pretty unhappy for a few days afterwards. Since then, we’ve still been in contact but only on a fairly light-hearted context.

So, that’s the history behind it. My dilemma is, should I invite her my party? My gut feeling is to say, hell no. I know that if she comes, I won’t enjoy it, and I’ve never organised anything like this before and I’m a bit shy at the best of times so I want to be 100% on the top of my game that evening. Also, some of my friends have a pretty big grudge against her (she never got on well with them when we were dating, and they’ve not exactly warmed to her since we broke up), so I know it wouldn’t make for a very pleasant atmosphere. That all sounds very clear cut, and I don’t expect that she’d want to come anyway even if I invited her. The problem is, since she invited me to her most recent party, and I was also at at her 21st birthday last year which was an event that was very important to her, I feel that not sending her an invitation – even though I don’t think she’d accept it – would be a really nasty snub to her. We’ve also got a few mutual close friends who I want to invite, so she will know if I don’t invite her.

She’s not a bad person and I don’t want to be rude to her, especially since she’s been nice to me and has tried to make things up with me, but I don’t want to potentially spoil an event that’s supposed to be happy. Doubly so, since I’m graduating soon after that and it’ll be one of the last chances to properly hang out with a lot of the other people who are leaving as well. Please help me out!

Sincerely,
Unsure about how not to offend my ex

Dear Unsure:

You can invite anyone you want to your party, and you don’t have to justify it to your friends. You can not invite anyone you don’t want to your party, and you don’t have to justify it to your ex. Good reasons: “Felt like it.” “Didn’t feel like it.” “Forgot.” “Thought about it, decided not to.” “Can fit only 8 people in my living room.” Your party, your money, your booze, your house, your space = your rules about who to invite. 21 is a good time to learn this, so, happy birthday!

You don’t have to be friends with your ex at all. Even if she’s not an inherently bad person. Even if she’s trying really hard to be cool. Even if you’re friendly, more or less, you definitely don’t have to be good friends with her or let her back into your inner circle. An invitation is not a contract, or an order.

Say you agree with both me and your own gut, and you don’t invite her. Say she finds out that you had a party and didn’t invite her. Say she invokes Party Smeagol and actually brings it up with you and tells you it hurts her feelings. Awkward! What can you really say? “I’m glad we’ve become somewhat friendly again, but I wanted my birthday celebration to be uncomplicated.” “Oh, didn’t realize you’d want to come to that. Maybe next time.” 

You don’t have to work hard at this lady anymore. Happy birthday!

Edited To Add: This Miss Conduct piece on how to figure out who to invite to what is great.

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.

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!”

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