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Dear Cap, 

The first date I had with him, we both ordered water–I feel awkward having a glass of wine with dinner if the other person isn’t having a drink too. It took three dates, when I suggested touring a brewery that I’d wanted to check out for ages, when he told me that he was an alcoholic in recovery. I asked him if he minded me drinking around him; he said that he’d thought I abstained entirely, and I told him that I did not, but that I’d be happy to stick to water or tea around him if me having a drink made anything harder for him. He said it was very courteous of me and he’d appreciate it. 

No problem so far. We hung out a few times a week and had fun. I never felt like I was missing anything by not drinking around him. 

We went out for three months before I mentioned, casually, that on a night we weren’t hanging out I was planning to go to an artisan cocktail bar with a few friends. He began to ask me for details–was there a DD, how much did I plan to drink. I told him I usually didn’t do more than three cocktails over a long evening and that we had a DD who just doesn’t like alcohol and planned to sample the gourmet sodas at the bar. 

Then he asked me to give up alcohol entirely, even when I wasn’t around him. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable in a relationship with someone who drank at all; he went into detail about his relationship with alcohol, comparing it to an abusive relationship, and explained that he felt that my drinking was in a sense cheating on him. 

I told him I’d have to think about it, but that I was still going out with my friends as I’d planned, and I wasn’t going to make a decision like that right then and there. His answer was that if I truly wanted to make the relationship work, I wouldn’t even have to think about it, and that even considering choosing alcohol over him was a clear sign that I had a problem and needed to go to AA. 

“I’ll do a fucking moral inventory in the morning, but I’m going to go out with my friends tonight,” I said, and hung up on him. He hasn’t called me back. 

I’m genuinely torn. On the one hand, I’m sure I’m not an alcoholic (and I did give it much thought). I enjoy good libations in moderation, and I get seriously drunk maybe once or twice a year in safe circumstances. There have been times when I haven’t had alcohol for weeks just because I didn’t feel like it; I give up beer for Lent every year and it’s not a hardship. 

But I chose the freedom to drink (responsibly) over a budding relationship with someone who was, frankly, otherwise wonderful and well-suited to me. 

Is that the sign of someone who has a drinking problem? Or was this the first sign that he was a controlling jerk? 

Signed, 

Lovely Lady Lush 

 

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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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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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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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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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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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Dear Captain,

I was wondering if you could spare some advice on how to go dutch (AKA ‘make-people-pay-their-share) with people who are ‘sensitive’ (where ‘sensitive’ is in the ”easily-offended’ way, not the ‘sensitive-they’ll-figure-it-out-with-only-a-little-prompting’ way.) And these ‘people’ are all members of my in-law family which I would described as a relationships which are ‘generally-pretty-friendly’ but coated with a thick layer of ‘don’t-rock-the-boat’.

I don’t mind being generous (and I come from a family of similar) but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with my in’s who are all financially well-off but when a bill comes around for a shared service are always suddenly stuck by the need to ‘go to the bathroom’ or ‘get something from the car’, have forgotten wallets, don’t have cash on them right now, will ‘get the next round’ or ‘are really short this week’.

I’ve tried some techniques in the past -

  • Pre-arranging payment methods beforehand (these get ‘forgotten’, wrong payment is brought, or guilt is brought out ‘I didn’t know it was so expensive here’)
  • Only bring a set amount of cash or trying to remind them that I had the last round (the ‘bring only a set amount’ has been a disaster – its resulted in long moments standing awkwardly round the till in silence with everyone looking at me while I muttered pathetically “Sorry, I only brought enough for me” or worse, they have all walked out/vanished leaving the bill unpaid. A member went back and paid it once we realized it hadn’t been covered but the experience was very unpleasant. The ‘I had the last round’ is met with excuses similar to if payment is pre-arranged).
  • Ask my husband to speak with HIS family about this. This had been met with either apathy and sympathy but no results. (“Yeah, they are like that and it is annoying. But that’s just how they are.”) (“Just don’t go out with them then.”)

I like spending time with my in-law family and we do a lot of other free fun things together but I’d also love to occasionally go out for a meal, see a movie or get my nails done in their company without having the pay for the pleasure.

Advice?

Not-Made-of-Money

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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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Dear Captain and friends,

I am terrified of talking to my mother. If I, or my partner, do something she doesn’t like, even if it has no impact on her life, she will worry and blame me for that worry. Sometimes this is because she finds a way in which it will affect her later (she thinks that if anything ever goes wrong for me financially she’ll have to bail me out despite my assurances to the contrary). She often implies or says outright that I’m childish and should always do what she says (I’m 27). When I was 18 my psychiatrist used a garden metaphor for my life so sometimes when I am trying to communicate with her I use that. At the moment I think she is trying to walk into my garden and rearrange everything, and keeping her out is stressful, but she says she has the garden next door and I am letting weeds from my garden get into hers. I have no idea how to deal with this massive conflict in how we see the situation.

At the moment I am hiding something big from her and I don’t know what to do. My partner left his job a few months ago because the commute was exhausting. We didn’t tell my mum he’d left, just that he was looking for something closer to home. He was offered a job with a reasonable commute and great pay, but he quit after two days because he couldn’t stand the corporate culture (which wasn’t apparent at interview stage). We made the decision together, because although I’d love the security, I didn’t want to risk my partner’s well-being and looking for a new job while working there would be basically impossible. We have enough money for him to be unemployed and job-seeking for a few months, although I don’t know what happens if he doesn’t get a job before the money runs out. Some of this money was a wedding present from my parents, and while legally they can’t impose conditions, I expect criticism if they realise that the money is supporting us while my partner is unemployed. We told my parents when he accepted the job, a week before he actually started (and quit). My partner wants us to tell my mum that the job fell through because they no longer needed him. I am anticipating a world of pain as my mum has sleepless nights about his unemployment and passes the blame to me for being with him when she thinks he’s lazy and makes my life harder. I want to be honest but I am terrified of her reaction. What should I do?

Thanks so much,

Terrified Gardener

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