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Dear Captain Awkward,

I don’t want to get too into backstory here, but my mother was a Darth Vader parent. The abuse was never physical, but emotional/verbal abuse and gaslighting were common. Darth Mom died last year. My sister and brother-in-law—let’s call them Leia and Han—are now expecting a baby girl. I don’t think anyone has said anything to *them* yet, but multiple people have told *me* that they’re disappointed that the baby won’t be named after Darth Mom or that they’re “so very sad” that the baby will never get the chance to meet her “wonderful grandmother.” And I just. No. A world of no. All of the NO.

Han is taking most of the blame for the name thing because he was named after a deceased family member and he wants the baby to have a name of her own. So that’s a script I’ve been using when people bring up the idea of naming the baby for Darth Mom. But I have no idea what to do when people tell me how sad it is that the baby will never meet Darth Mom. I understand that they mean well and they don’t know that Darth Mom was secretly a Sith Lord, but I am so relieved that the baby will never have to meet her grandmother that I kind of want to throttle these people. I have no idea what to say here and I’m afraid I’m going to snap and start airing dirty laundry, and nobody wants that.

Any kind of script or even a mantra for this situation would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Luke

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Dear Captain,

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

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

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

Thank you!

–not interested in unsolicited counseling

Dear Not Interested,

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

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

Additional scripts:

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

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

Dear Captain Awkward:

My father and his lovely new partner – she’s really nice – recently visited my area. They planned to spend a day or two with her relatives first, but wanted to know if I wanted to meet up with the two of them after that, for a meal at my brother’s new restaurant.

I agreed. I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending cab-fare to the city for a sub-standard meal (my brother hasn’t changed things yet), but wanted to see them, so sucked it up, gathered up my introvert spoons and headed out into the wilds.

I got a text about an hour before the meal – my father asked me to change the booking from 3 to 5 people.

Wait, what?

Apparently they wanted to bring along NewPartner’s granddaughter (teenager) and one of her teenage friends.

I didn’t handle that very well.

The next hour was a tangled blur of considering “calling in sick” to the meal, changing the booking at the restaurant, frantically checking the number of social-interaction spoons I had remaining (not enough for sudden dinner plans with strange teenagers), and resigning myself to my fate.

The reality was even more awkward than I’d feared. I sat there for a good 30 minutes of tense, stilted conversation.

I made my apologies and fled before the mains arrived (I hadn’t ordered anything).

Dad called after I got home, worried that I might not have been feeling well.

I ended up admitting that I just hadn’t wanted to stay. That I didn’t want to spend time with his partner’s family. He said he was disappointed in my behaviour.

I’m honestly not sure what to do.

I love my father, and want to be supportive of his relationship. I also really like his partner, I’d hate for her to feel bad in any way.

But I don’t want to spend time with her family. It feels weird and creepy when they’re around. I feel like my father is thinking of us as one big, happy family – when I barely know their names, and don’t actually want to get to know them better. I end up feeling stressed and resentful.

Part of me thinks that the best thing to do would be to talk to my father about it – to come to a new shared understanding of what our expectations are of each other going forwards.

But another part of me worries that, if I do that, I might end up with no relationship with my father at all. That I might have irreparably damaged it anyway. So I’m currently a little bit paralyzed with fear.

Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?

– Possibly unreasonable person.

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Dear CA,

I’m a partner dancer, namely blues. There’s a guy in the group who gets too close when he dances. I mean the blues can be very close, but it just feels different with this guy, icky, and other female follows have backed me up that he gets close in a kind of creepy way. He’s also just over-friendly, and does hugs with kisses on both cheeks. I’m not the type of person who likes to talk when there’s dancing but he tries to make awkward conversations happen. There’s social dance not just practice, (you change partners, blues is never set couples,) if I’m looking round for a lead and someone whose resting notices that he is free they often say “oh why don’t you dance with him?” And I’m left looking for anything less awkward to say than “I just don’t want to…” or “he gives me the skeevs…” These are not options, as they would make people ask what/if anything had happened. Well no, nothing concrete, it’s just vibes, we just don’t click. And also apart from a few trusted people, I’ve not told anyone in case it gets back to him. He’d be either hurt or angry, because he hasn’t done anything, he just is creepy. More often than not, because I have made clear that I do actually wish to dance with someone, I have to accept. There’s still a bit of the outdated notion that you have to accept dances when asked unless you have a concrete reason not to (the scene is trying to change that.)

I’m not sure he means it, he seems like he’s trying to be nice. Over a recent blues workshop weekend he let me borrow his flat when I put out a plea to dancers on Facebook that I had no accommodation where I usually live for that period. I accepted, 1) I couldn’t afford a hotel, 2) he wasn’t actually there that weekend and 3) I couldn’t turn down a perfectly good offer of accommodation for seemingly no reason. His offer was first and visible on Facebook, everyone saw so no one else offered. I will end up giving him a bottle of wine for that, to show some gratitude. It was an unexpected offer, this guy and I don’t know each other well. He thinks we’re friends I think, but I just don’t want to be! My main questions are, how do you politely give someone signals that they’re making you uncomfortable? And how do you avoid spending much time with someone you just don’t like when they mix in the same places as you regularly? And should I trust my gut?

Yours Sincerely

Awkward Dancer

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CA,

I have a great stepdad, and a pretty not good dad. My dad has been in my life the entirety of it, so he’s not an absentee dad- but he’s controlling, emotionally abusive, financially manipulative (he’s a millionaire, and uses that to try to exact control over you) and just pretty cruel in general. He is married to a woman who hates me and my siblings, and they have both been honest with us about this since we were kids and they got married. They both think we haven’t tried hard enough to get her to like her or to “earn” our way into being part of their family, which we currently don’t deserve (his words.) I have tried to keep him in my life as much as possible and do what I can to prove to him I’m a good person, and always have.But he’s been pretty consistent in his vocal belief I’m not a good person, and never will be.

Now I’m an adult and I take nothing from him, and pay my own way 100% of the time. I wanted him to see what I wanted was the relationship, not the money. When I got engaged, he offered to help with the wedding, which I should have just said no to. But I was seduced by the idea we could all be a family and do this big day together, and as dumb as it is, I love my dad. Of course, by two weeks after our engagement, things had devolved. My dad, and then his wife had called to insult me and my mother (whom my dad still hates, almost two decades later) and call me names etc. My dad was apparently in the room and let her do it. We haven’t spoken since. That was 3 months ago.

I don’t want his money. I just wanted him to be a good dad. The shitty part is, I LOVE my dad! I wanted him to be a part of it and walk me down the aisle and be my dad. But I don’t think he can be. My stepdad is a good dad and always has been. I want him to walk me down the aisle, but I know this will break my dad’s heart. And frankly, now that my dad can’t show off his money, which he loves to do, and the event won’t be about him, I don’t even know that he’ll come.

My fiancé hates him and doesn’t want to invite him. I don’t want to invite my dad’s wife, but know I will have to if I even want a chance to have my dad there. Which I’m not sure if I want, either, to be honest.

How do I even begin to decide how to handle this? to be fair to my dad, my fiance, and my stepdad all at once? And most of all, to keep our wedding the happy day it’s meant to be, and not the Divorced Family Dysfunction Hour?!

Thanks,
K

PS- Yes, I do have a therapist. Specializing in family conflict. And a great support network.

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Hi Captain,
I’m wondering if you could give me some advice on dealing with my challenging Mother when I’m going through stressful times.

Right now I’m nearing the end of my Master’s degree, so I’m working long hours, stressed out, and have a lot to do (your posts on graduate life have been very helpful!). And today my Mom calls me to let me know that we’re having my Dad’s birthday dinner tomorrow (the next day). I ask if it could be moved to the weekend (as to give me some time to get a gift, and to just better deal with it in my schedule). She says no, and gives no reason. The dinner will only involve my Mom, my Dad, and me so it’s not a big deal where many people’s schedules have to be accommodated.

This is just typical behaviour for my Mom (my Dad isn’t perfect, but he’s easier to deal with). I’d say she has a lot of narcissistic traits (your recommendation of ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough’ by Karyl McBride was also very helpful!). She makes everything about herself. I predict if I approach this situation in a reasonable manner, and say something like ‘Could you give me more notice for family events? Especially when you know I’m on deadline?’ it will cause a huge fight where she makes it about herself, and there will be no recognition of my needs.

My usual way of dealing with my mom is 1) emotionally distancing myself from her, and 2) being very passive and going along with whatever she wants to avoid a no-win fight (which is why I am now having dinner with my parents tomorrow night, showing up with no gift, then coming home and writing until God knows what hour to make up the lost time). It would be really great if I could mix in some assertiveness in there!

I don’t want to make things worse between us. And I want to continue having a relationship with my Mom (there are some good things). But I want to be myself much more than I am right now. I feel like I have to chop off parts of myself at the door when I deal with her :/

Thanks so much!

Work in Progress

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

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

Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

–Frets in the face of Frustration

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