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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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Hey Captain & Company,

I haven’t seen my father since I was 8. We were in contact until I was 16; he was emotionally abusive throughout that time. I have a brother and sister by his previous marriage, and part of his abuse involved keeping us from having a relationship with each other. We have reconnected as adults and are tentatively trying to learn how to be siblings. It’s very difficult with my sister because she is very close to our father and is really insistent that I should be as well.

My husband, on the other hand, has a great relationship with his parents, his brother, his extended family. And that’s good! They’re all great people! (His mom and mine are like bffs now). Sometimes at his family events I feel like Jane Goodall observing emotionally healthy apes.

“Clay” doesn’t understand why my family isn’t the same as his. I was, admittedly, not very forthcoming about all the issues I have with my father and siblings earlier in our relationship, so he was a bit weirded out when, for example, he found out I’d never met my nieces & nephews. We finally had a discussion about it when he objected to not inviting anyone from my paternal side to our wedding, and I thought he understood.

But now I’m pregnant, and looming fatherhood has made him VERY WORRIED about my father’s feelings. Clay wouldn’t want to be cut off from his child for mistakes he made years ago, and although my father’s mistakes were terrible and I have every right to be angry, can’t I see it from his point of view? (spoiler: no). My sister mentioned that my father has been sending annual Facebook messages to me, reminding me that he loves me and if I “ever need to talk” he’s there for me, and Clay has taken that as evidence that he’s changed and deserves a chance to know his grandchild. The last time Clay and I argued about this he called me unreasonable, and I’m sorry to say that after that point I pretty well lived up to it.

I’d like a script to SHUT IT DOWN, but I guess it’s possible that Clay’s right and I am being unreasonable. I still have a hard time calling my father’s behavior abuse out loud; maybe I haven’t gotten across how really really terrible just the idea of him makes me feel. He does superficially seem like a better person than he was, but I still don’t want him near my child, and I don’t want him near me. I’m hoping someone on Team Awkward has suggestions how to fix this mess or myself.

Thank you so much!

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Thank you all so much for a very constructive discussion. At nearly 600 comments, the thread has grown beyond where I can reasonably keep up. So as of 5/14/2014 10:17 pm Chicago time, comments are closed. 

 

In this piece at Medium on “Cut-Off Culture,” “Emma” broke up with the author after four months of dating, asked for space, and then when they tried to rekindle a friendship after a year, decided it wasn’t really for her.

“After nearly a year of silence, I reached out to her and we began a series of conversations toward repairing our friendship. She said she had recently begun dating someone new and I think it was difficult for her to talk to me about our relationship. Her response was to withdraw again. There were misunderstandings and miscommunication.

She stopped responding to my email and when I called to inquire she blocked my number and emailed me to stop contacting her. Over a space of nine months, I wrote her two kind emails in the spirit of healing. Finally, she replied, “I do not want to see or hear from you ever again” and threatened to file an anti-harassment order against me. The open, thoughtful, communicative Emma I knew had vanished.”

She said,”Please stop contacting me.”

He sent two more emails. She got angry (and possibly afraid) and asked him never to contact her again.

Then he wrote an essay about it, blaming her for invoking his past with an abusive mother(!), making all kinds of assumptions about her “trauma,” and discussing his confusion with her choices:

When personal safety is involved, cutoff is warranted. But most times this isn’t the case. When it’s not, this kind of behavior dehumanizes the other and sends the message “your needs don’t matter, you don’t matter.” University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo told Psychology Today, “‘The pain of losing a meaningful relationship can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact.’ With no definitive closure, we’re left wondering what the heck happened, which can lead to the kind of endless rumination that often leads to depression.”

Emma once told me, “You’re the first one to want me for me,” but her abrupt about-face might make you think I ran off with her best friend or boiled her rabbit … I did neither. In fact, to this day, I have only guesses to make sense of her hostility to me.

Because Emma’s withdrawal and eventual cutoff surprised me so much,I had a lot of intense emotions and questions about what she’d experienced and the choices she’d made. Rather than face my need for explanation and desire for resolution, she chose to withdraw.

Here is what the heck happened:

  • You guys broke up.
  • She didn’t communicate for a year, but eventually gave in when you contacted her. Unfortunately you wanted to hash out the end of the relationship; she didn’t. She was into a new dude and didn’t want to talk about old emotional business.
  • So she decided it wasn’t really for her. She tried a slow fade. After all, you guys weren’t really close anymore.
  • Then she TOLD you what was up. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
  • You kept contacting her against her explicitly stated wishes. Emails seeking “healing” are still unwanted emails.
  • She got angry and enforced the boundary.
  • You  happened to turn up at her work on a date and she didn’t like it.

What additional “closure” could she have given? What kind of explanation would satisfy? Breakups are painful, and we don’t always understand the reasons for them, but after a four-month romantic attachment ends I don’t think the person is responsible for all of your feelings literally YEARS later. And I don’t think there is any peace or solution possible here, short of “keep being my friend even when you don’t want to.”

Everything about this made my skin crawl:

Cutoff culture is violent in its own ways. The person cutting ties gets what they want, but the person getting cut off is left in a situation where what they need or want doesn’t matter.

Emma’s last note included the phrase, “Apparently, what I want seems irrelevant to you.” She didn’t realize the irony that what I wanted had long been irrelevant to her. Being on the receiving end of a cutoff, surrounded by friends and culture that just expect you to get over it, can leave you feeling utterly powerless.

You are not entitled someone else’s attention and affection! Avoiding someone is not “violent.” YOU GUYS WANT OPPOSITE THINGS. And yes, it is on you to take care of your own feelings here. It is on you to do what you can to heal and get over it. Talk to your friends. Talk to a therapist. Say the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. Don’t force your ex to take care of you!

“If you’ve cut someone off, the ideal response is to ask what the other person needs to feel at peace and to try to offer compromise. Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says, “A lot of wounds in this world could be healed if we would say to the other, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you, what do you need now?’” Sometimes we cut off because we lack capacity. One can also say: “I can’t do this right now, but maybe can touch base later. What do you need in the meantime?” This is a place where technology can be helpful. Email can be used to communicate at a distance that feels safe.”

What compromise is possible between “I don’t like you or want to be in your life” and “Please stay in my life?” Why do you want someone’s grudging attention that you force them to give you? In the second to last paragraph, the author tells a telling anecdote:

The friend who was told to break up via “JSC” told me another story. One of her friends chose to have sex with a lover after breaking up with him; she said even in the midst of ending the relationship, she wanted to “be generous in spirit.” While I don’t necessarily advocate taking things that far (in part because it can create confusion), I embrace the sentiment.

AH HAHAHAHAHA “Good closure” with a “generous spirit” might involve still having sex with your spurned lover after you dump them while they heal at their own pace. Ok got it. He also invokes technology, and the act of blocking, as a catalyst for stalking, but not in the way you think. His reasoning is that if you block someone it will maybe force them to stalk you. “More than 3 million people report being stalking victims each year, the ultimate measure of collective cluelessness about ending love affairs well.” OR POSSIBLY IT’S ‘CAUSE OF STALKERS. LIKE YOU MIGHT SORTA BE.

The subtitle/logline of the piece is:

“Cutting off exes not only hurts our former partners but limits our own growth as well.”

Actually, this person knows nothing about Emma’s growth. When I cut off a former partner who stalked me, I grew just fine. I grew away. I grew alone. I grew free. I hope “Emma” did, too. Today seems like a good time for a reminder: You don’t have to be friends with your ex. And when you say “stop” and the other person keeps going, that person is telling you that you were right to flee.

P.S. He publishes excerpts from her private emails to him. NOT CREEPY AT ALL YOU GUYS.

P.P.S. Edited to add: This paragraph right here? Blaming male domestic violence against women on women making men feel powerlessness?

“I believe that most domestic violence is the result of men with trauma histories reacting to powerlessness in response to experiences with their ex, friends, or family. Certainly men are responsible for finding nonviolent ways to respond to feeling powerless, but culturally we need to understand the dynamics driving these kinds of situations if we’re to reduce them.”

 

Bubs and Johnny from the wire with the quote "Equivocating: you're doing it like a motherfucker."

Domestic violence springs from a sense of contempt and entitlement towards women. Men who abuse women don’t think that women are entitled to their own needs, feelings, opinions, and personal space. They think women exist to be emotional caretakers and nannies for men, and that when they fail to put men first, it somehow constitutes “violence” that must be contained and retaliated against. Sound like anyone we know? This is a chilling, MRA-style argument that makes violence against women the fault of women. “Emma”, wherever you are: keep running. Your instincts are in solid working order.

Thanks (?) to the nice Twitter friends who clued me into this horrible WikiHow on How To Stop A Wedding, or, as @KristinMuH put it, “a manual to help stalkers ruin their target’s special occasions.”

While I once joked that I would like to see this happen someday, it was, in fact, a joke. And the instructions to basically kidnap the person make my hair stand on end:

Take charge if things go your way. If he or she decides not to go through with the wedding, it is your duty to immediately escort the bride/groom away from the pressure of their family and friends. There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.

EEK!

So, if you find yourself searching for instructions on how to stop a wedding, ask yourself:

Has the affianced person been kidnapped? Is it a child? Then stop the wedding by alerting the appropriate authorities.

Is this someone you think should marry you instead? And they know how you feel? And yet they are still obstinately not marrying you, to the point where they have planned an entire wedding with someone else? Okay, here’s what you do:

  • Find out when & where the wedding will be.
  • Book yourself a vacation to “anywhere but there.”
  • Block this person in all social media spaces so you’re not seeing photos and updates.
  • Try for someplace with very limited internet access so you reduce temptation to watch it unfold on real time at the wedding hashtag or whatever.
  • If you can, get a trusted friend to go along with you so that you are not alone and there is someone who can comfort and distract you.
  • Remind yourself that soulmates aren’t real, and that other people get to choose who they want to be with.
  • Or, if it’s more comforting, say to yourself “They are making a mistake, but it’s their mistake to make.
  • Wait it the fuck out and move on with your life.

And if someone pulls this whole shebang on you at your wedding, here is a script:

“This is inappropriate and I’d like you to leave now.”

Hopefully your friends and family and security will form a nice barrier between you and this person and make sure they are escorted from the premises.

Now it’s time for the monthly(ish) feature where we find out what search terms bring people to this site! Except for adding punctuation, these are unchanged. Enjoy!

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Hello Cap’n,

My good friend Alice recently got herself a boyfriend. I have two issues with this:
1) Even though I’ve never met him (it’s a long-distance relationship), and she’s never complained about him, I’m pretty sure he’s a typical Darth Vader boyfriend -because all of her ‘cute’ stories are actually really awful,
and 2) Every time my friend falls for a guy, she falls HARD, and becomes an entirely different person who doesn’t seem to care about anything other than her boyfriend.

A little background:

Alice has recently taken to saying that she and Bob have been in love since they were children; it would be more accurate to say they met when they were kids, when they were both living in India. They never actually dated or anything back then, but to hear her tell it, they were madly in love but never ‘made it official’ -which I take to mean (based on her tendency to greatly romanticize and assume anyone she likes reciprocates) that she had a huge crush on him, but they were platonic -which is actually better than the alternative, since when she and her family moved to Canada she was 12 and he was 16. They didn’t really keep in touch, only connecting a few times in the intervening years, but she would reminisce about him often. Last summer they got back in touch, ‘dated’ for a couple months, and broke it off.

Then, earlier this month, they started ‘dating’ again -and over the course of a week, she went from “It’s very new, we’re going slow and keeping it to ourselves” (not even wanting to tell me who she was dating, because he had told her not to) to “Our wedding will be in about a year” (no, he hasn’t proposed, she’s just assuming he will).

As to why I think he’s a Darth Vader Boyfriend:

With the exception of being mad at him for not answering her calls or emails for nearly a week (this is the reason for the previous breakup), she has never complained about him, but her ‘good’ stories are all actually awful. For example:

-When me and my (male) partner picked her up to hang out the last time she was dating Bob, Alice told us about how he’d instructed her to never get into a guy’s car or be alone with a guy -but that it was ok since I was there. My best-case scenario is that this was a joke on his part, but in my experience guys who make that kind of ‘joke’ aren’t really joking. To her, this is just Bob being caring & protective.

-Even long-distance, he’s being a huge time-suck and keeping her from important priorities like school (she’s a PhD student, really needs time for studying), sleep, and friends -she’s told me, as ‘evidence’ of how ‘sweet and caring’ he is, that he just won’t let her hang up on him in Skype and insists they keep talking when she wants to go to sleep, to the point she falls asleep on the couch with Skype still on. Similarly, the last time I had plans with Alice, she was extremely late, and explained that it was because he’d called her and gotten her all worked up about an invented crisis -kept her talking to him for over half an hour -before admitting it was made up and he’d been ‘trolling’ her. He knew, and she had reminded him, that she had plans with a friend.

-she describes him as a ‘lovable asshole’. What even. She also says that sometimes you just have to let him be an asshole for a while and talk himself down, without trying to reason with him or disagree with anything he says.

-When they broke up previously, she flirted with/dated another guy. Bob got mad at her for this, and has been guilting her over it -even though he fully admits he was f*cking someone else at that time.

-He tells her that she is special to him because, unlike ‘all the other girls’, she is ‘innocent’ -because she hasn’t had sex, has never sent him a dirty picture, etc. He compared her to an ex by saying that that ex had mentioned she enjoyed/was good at giving oral sex, and said that he “lost all respect for” that woman because of her comments. Again, he fully admits that he has had sex of all kinds with many different women. Alice believes in waiting til marriage for sex, but has recently started saying that when Bob moves closer she wants to have sex with him. I have no issues with her being sexual if she wants to, but I fear she simply feels she has to in order to ‘keep up’ with him, and also that since he outright stated he values her for her virginity that if she did sleep with him he would then break her heart.

-They apparently had a discussion about kids, and he got very upset that she doesn’t want as many as she does, and wouldn’t even discuss the idea of adoption (which is something Alice really wants). He went on to lay a guilt-trip on her about this, and to talk about how much he wants to ‘come home to’ a big house full of people -which to me implies he has a very different vision of their future then what I know Alice wants (she wants a small family, to work as a professor, and the freedom to travel often). That in itself could be worked out, but the fact he wouldn’t even listen to what she wants, especially early in the relationship, spells trouble.

-She cannot hear criticism of him, and gets very angry and defensive. This might be my own issues, but I am reminded strongly of myself when I was in a relationship that -in retrospect – could easily be classified as emotionally and sexually abusive. The not-letting-her-hang-up-on-Skype thing also strongly reminds me of that past relationship, and I worry that small similarities like this may be skewing my own perceptions.

Additionally, Bob is planning on moving to the US to be closer to Alice (though it will still be about a 10 hour drive -but Alice has somehow convinced herself it’ll only be 4 hours). I’m afraid if he does, Alice will feel obligated to stay with him forever and feel obligated to do whatever to make him happy, since he moved to a different continent for her. I’m also afraid he’ll convince her to move closer to his new city -which will put her far from all her friends and family, and force her to drop out of her PhD program.

For what it’s worth, my partner also thinks that Bob sounds like bad news, and is also getting frustrated with Alice’s unwillingness to discuss any other topic, so it’s not just me thinking this.

There’s a few other issues with the relationship, not all of which are Bob’s fault; such as, her defense of why this is actually a great relationship is that ‘he’s her dream guy, her ideal, the one that she always remembered and compared all of her relationships to’ -which actually sounds like a bad thing to me, like she’s got him built up in her head to some fantasy figure and isn’t seeing the real person. Which may be why she’s interpreting everything he does as being perfect and awesome. As well, since Alice is Indian and in her late 20s, she is feeling a lot of pressure from her family to get married soon. Alice jumping headfirst into a relationship is also her pattern, and not specific to Bob -I’ve seen her fall hard and become obsessive with other guys before, just not to this degree.

I know your normal advice for dealing with a friend’s Darth is to try to talk about other things, and when the subject comes up to ‘talk like a therapist’ -to disengage a bit, with ‘hmm’ and ‘how does that make you feel’, etc., but she just won’t talk about anything else. Not only will she get furious and start crying if I -however gently -try to point out that some of the things she’s saying don’t actually sound like a healthy relationship, she will carry on an entire conversation by herself if I don’t talk. Literally, the last time I had her over, she talked for over an hour with me not saying a word beyond the occasional ‘hm’ or ‘huh’, and nodding every so often. Both me and my partner attempted to change the subject at every opportunity, but she finds a way to bring everything back to Bob -after a brief lull I started talking about my new phone, and my partner and I steered the conversation to technology; she listened for less than two minutes and then started talking about how Bob likes his phone and Bob likes computers and Bob is so good with technology… We talked about a recent party, and how one person there was being very strange and rude (she’d been incredibly hostile to me for no apparent reason) and she instantly changed it to ‘Bob also thought that was rude, when I told him about it.’ And from there, every detail of her last conversation with Bob. She doesn’t even stop when she runs out of things to say -at one point, I lightly joked that she must have had too much wine because she was repeating the same Bob story for the third time that night, and she laughed but then continued. It’s getting to the point where I don’t know how to talk to Alice without getting immensely frustrated, and am left wondering what happened to my bright, caring, intelligent friend, who used to be fully capable of carrying on a pleasant conversation.

How can I try to make her see that this relationship is unhealthy? Am I just reading into things too much, possibly because of my own bad past relationship? Should I just wait for the relationship to unravel on its own? And how to I talk to her without jeopardizing the friendship -any idea on scripts I can use to try to make it clear I don’t want to talk about him anymore, without getting her on the defensive? Should I attempt to be supportive even though I hate everything I’ve heard about this guy (and it’s all coming from her)? Or should I speak my mind even though I know it’ll cause a fight?

Sincerely,

-missing my friendship

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Edited To Add: If you wrote one of the many (now deleted) treatises on The Darkest Evils of The Other Woman And How They Deserve Our Collective Scorn and Hatred, and how they must accept the possibility of violence at the hands of those they’ve wronged as the forseeable fruits of their sins, thanks for the shortest window between posting a thread and closing comments in Captain Awkward history!

I have three things to say to you:

1) Sometimes married (or committed-ly coupled) people who are looking to get laid LIE not just to their partners. “We’re separated!” “The marriage is all but over, we’re just working out the details.” “We have an arrangement where this is all okay as long as she never finds out.” “We no longer even sleep in the same bed anymore.” “S/he’s cheating on me.”

2) This Letter Writer is not responsible for your pain. She stopped behavior that didn’t feel right to her and changed how she approaches relationships several years ago. She apologized to the wife. She read the hurtful, vitriolic email. She doesn’t have to absorb your vitriolic-emails-by-proxy that you couldn’t send to the people who your partner cheated with so now you dump it all on her. Her actual question was “I’m very aware of how I screwed up here and feel really guilty, but also she said stuff that makes me feel scared for my safety.

3) Not cool, guys. Not cool.

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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.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So I met a girl last night, one I’ve run into occasionally when the orbits of our respective circles come into gravitational alignment. We spent the time chatting together and exchanged numbers afterwards. I have zero experience with romantic relationships, but what little knowledge I’ve accumulated from rom-coms and trashy novels leads me to believe we mayhavekindofactually been flirting. She’s smart and funny and similarly awkward, and I felt like we connected really well in the short time we had. It’s early stages yet though and I’m in this weird excited for possibilities but desperately trying to play it cool space.

The thing is, I’ve never considered it possible for me to be in a relationship with someone so I’ve never tried. Ever. I’m trans but lodged squarely in the back of the closet (assigned and currently perceived as a guy, wholeheartedly wishing otherwise as a girl). I can’t imagine myself going through with transition though because I have extremely negative self-image, and the first person to laugh at me would crush what remains of my misbegotten soul.

Thus far my motto has been that if I can’t even love myself, how could I begin to love someone else? That way lies jealousy, resentment, and a whole host of Bad Feelings. I couldn’t do that to anyone because I know that I would do that, eventually. Not the best basis for a healthy relationship.

I don’t even know why I’m suddenly considering the possibility, but something about it strikes me as very selfish. Like, doesn’t my not being upfront about being trans constitute deception? I know I’m on shaky ground here because there are a whole bunch of nasty transphobic deception narratives that trans women have to contend with every day and so I shouldn’t propagate or internalise those. But I’m approaching it from the other side; in my nail-studded closet I’m not being true to myself and I’m lying to everyone else. So… deception, right?

This girl, who is by all accounts an awesome person, who is not obliged to be a receptacle for my obsessive worrying (we haven’t even been on a date, for pete’s sake!), who is totally unaware of all this inner turmoil, doesn’t deserve this kind of baggage. What’s more is that like me she has also struggled with depression and social anxiety. I’m terrified of making things worse for her and fatalistically certain I will. How can I start building a relationship with her while witholding such an important self-defining secret, and even if at some point I became comfortable enough to share it with her, what then? Cisgender people are generally not well-known for reacting positively to such admissions.

I don’t want to assume here but statistically speaking she’s likely to be straight (as opposed to bi, or even more unlikely to be gay). When I interact with her (or anybody else for that matter) I don’t put on a big macho act or anything. I’m more or less honest about who I am and what I like/dislike, just with dampened emotions and responses. A restricted version of me, pushed into the neutral zone between genders. Apparently androgyny is in? I’m not going to cross the boundary into masculinity or male-identification, that’s not me and will never be me. But in an ostensibly heterosexual relationship that burden would typically fall upon me and exert all sorts of pressure to conform. On the other hand I can’t really emphasise my femininity or female-identification because a) I’m too scared to do so regardless; and b) it wouldn’t be what she signed up for.

Can you tell I’m an obsessive worrier? We might date and find we don’t gel after all. She could click her teeth for all I know. But if I put myself out there and something special happens, haven’t I created a moral conundrum hammer that’s bound to smash that special thing into teeny tiny pieces? I also wonder if I’m just in love with the idea of love, or being loved, and wish fulfilment is a shitty way to treat someone. Proximity to Valentine’s Day does not help at all, funnily enough.

I don’t know whether to even attempt a romantic relationship with some careful guidelines in place, or to explicitly make it friends-only, or to NEVER SPEAK TO HER AGAIN!!!!!!111 What should I do?

Sincerely,
Faith, Mope, Love?

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Darth Vader, looking pleased with himself,

Hey, it’s me!

Comments are closed as of 2/9

Hi Captain,

I need your help. I don’t know if I’m in a shitty relationship or if bad things just keep happening to us. I’ve been dating a guy for eight months. We fell in love very quickly and very intensely. The first period was very happy but I quickly felt very insecure and anxious about our relationship. I have generalised anxiety disorder and am often irrationally anxious. It has led to numerous situations where I was deeply worried about an aspect of our relationship, felt like we had tried as much as possible to fix it, and ended up trying to break up; however he would always convince me that we hadn’t really tried and that he wanted another chance to do better.

He is a rationalist who is deeply against living by social norms and just sees them as defaults, and is “non-default” about pretty much everything including work path, values etc., as well as lifestyle including cooking (lives off takeaway so as not to spend time grocery shopping and cooking), cleaning (does not have much of a regular cleaning habit – I broke glass in his kitchen a month ago and he said I shouldn’t have to clean it up and it’s still there), sleeping (he has no regular sleep schedule and sleeps when he wants to. The kind of work that he does is largely from home with long deadlines. He ships a prescription anti-narcolepsy from overseas which allows him to stay awake for long stretches on little sleep – although he plans on giving this up soon). He also takes party drugs and for a while, was taking quite high amounts of MDMA on a weekly basis, which pretty much wiped him out the day or two after. I have always been uncomfortable around drugs, although he did not really know the extent of my discomfort, and I can’t take them myself due to mental health. He dropped back to once a month after I expressed concerns about escalation and he acknowledges that he has some susceptibility to addiction, although he is not currently dependent.

One serious issue we had was that he gave me an STI. He had rationalised that he had a very limited risk of having an STI so despite my repeated requests and despite being informed that a previous partner had been infected, did not get tested. I was furious at his intellectual arrogance and the danger he had put us both in. I lost a week of unpaid time off work and my mum had to nurse me through my allergic reaction to the treatment. I told him I wanted to break up, but we ended up supporting each other through the treatment and ultimately decided to get back together and work things out.

We have had some more rough patches lately. After agreeing that he would party on New Years, he ended up sleeping and feeling rotten through most of my birthday on New Years’ Day, which felt pretty lonely for me. He has been very stressed at work and had some issues with a very serious eye infection, which means that any positive changes around cooking/cleaning etc. have understandably stopped. I supported him through the eye infection by taking more time off work to wait at the eye hospital with him for many afternoons. We then went away camping with some of his friends, some friends-of-friends and a couple of my friends. Most of them did drugs, including one less experienced girl who wound up with drug-induced psychosis. It was a five-day process to get her help and it was extremely upsetting and worrying for everyone involved, and I once again could not work for the period. The experience reinforced my dislike of drugs and desire to not be around drugs, and as someone with mental health issues, I was angry and upset that the girl’s mental health was being blamed more than the illegal drugs she had taken. I told him that the drugs were too high a price of admission for me and packed my bags.

We have since traded emails in which he first said he did not understand why I left him and thought that I was being dishonest about drugs being the true reason. Through his logical arguments he has forced me to see that I was being irrational about my attitude to drugs and that it is merely a personal preference I have not to be around them, rather than any objective issue with the drugs themselves. I felt like the whole arguing process was unpleasant and cold and hated it. When he explained the break-up over drugs to his best friend, the friend replied by saying he should not to try and argue people out of their emotions and boundaries. My boyfriend doesn’t see the problem – he thinks if someone is objectively right, they’re right, and emotions that correspond with that are the issue of the emotional person. He is also extremely strong-willed and intellectually well-backed-up and is not used to being challenged emotionally, so I don’t think he realises how unpleasant it can be. I’ve explained this explicitly now and he found the concept very hard to relate to.

It’s really hard for me to check in with friends and family about this too. They all hear only have to hear me mention drugs to tell me I’ve made the right choice by leaving him. My family has had bad history with drugs and my sister, who used to take party drugs and was badly affected, told me “You’ve already been through a lifetime’s worth when it comes to drugs – you don’t need to go through any more”.

We’re now in a position where he thinks I’ve made a mistake with the breakup, and that I did not adequately justify my reasons for ending it. I ended up seeing it from his perspective and apologising for being irrational and hurtful. I love him and that we do have a lot of good things including a great amount of love, affection, good humour, and generally understanding. He says he loves me more than he loves anyone, that he needs me, that we are good for each other, that he wants to be the one for me, that he wants to make it all work. Our plans had included travelling and ultimately living together. I ended up feeling like maybe breaking up with him over the drugs had been an anxiety response rather than something I really wanted to do. But I’m worried about this narrative; as I type it I can see that it sounds really unhealthy (he would say that “sounds really unhealthy” is weak reasoning). I feel like I’ve paid a lot of costs over the STI, drugs etc., including lost work time, stress, and in particular with the STI pain and possibly ongoing health concerns. I can’t turn off the part of my brain that says that someone who loves me as much of as they say wouldn’t hurt me in these big and small ways. We’ve discussed this; he says he feels he treats me well; and I guess that I am now consigning a lot of my worries to pure anxiety, which makes me feel like I can’t trust my emotional reactions and that I should work on my anxiety and ultimately stay. I don’t know if that’s the right thing for me to do. I don’t know if we truly do have a problematic dynamic (despite having amazing things shared between us) or if it’s just anxiety at play. Have we just had bad luck at points? I can’t tell if this all feels so weird because his lifestyle and approach is so ‘non-default’ or because I am being manipulated. I don’t know if my anxiety is protecting me, or causing the problems. I so hope you and the Awkward Army can help with insight and advice.

Sincerely,
Worried about my worry but also my maybe(?!)-dodgy relationship

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My feet are cold, but my heart is warm thanks to the generosity of the Winter Pledge Drive contributors. Thank you so much! Support the site if you can!

Today’s letter is about money and family and when those things come together in a manipulative and possibly sinister way.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents passed away three years ago, leaving my little brother and I in the care of my Uncle and his wife. Their method of raising children is very different from what we were used to. Mom was the type who would say no to something and then explain why and often prompted discussion. Aunt is the type who yells no and glares if you question her.

I was 17 when I moved in with them so they haven’t been able to control me as much as they have my little brother. That said, they do still restrict me a lot. We live in the middle of nowhere so I can’t move around on my own, my phone and internet are regulated, and several times Aunt has snooped on my laptop. ‘My room’ is a free-for-all where her siblings come and go as they will and she often gives my things away because ‘they were getting old.’ I should stand up to them, I know that. But then I think they didn’t have to take us in and I really don’t want to cause any more trouble, so I quiet down again.

This year they’re intending to move to a new, much more expensive house in a very upscale area. Uncle took me aside and said that once I turn 21 this year and get my inheritance, he’s going to need some help, and alarms started going off in my head.

He says the new place will enable me to move around freely, and even get that summer job I’d been begging them to allow me to apply to, but it just feels like he’s trying to butter me up. He’s often promised me things that his wife then goes around and disagrees with, or outright denies they ever said. My friend is telling me I should run away, live on my own (practically impossible in my country) or, failing that, once I get my money I should sit them down and talk about the terms of my ‘helping.’ On one hand, that does seem reasonable. On the other hand, it also feels ungrateful.

I wouldn’t mind paying rent and my own expenses. I already pay for my college and for most big things, it’s only reasonable, and I often suggested that once I turned 21 I could live off my inheritance. But they always refuse and say that ‘It’s their duty’ and they didn’t want me to touch my money.

So why is Uncle now talking about ‘sharing’? He also explicitly told me not to mention this to any of our relatives and to claim that he got the new house with his money. The alarms are blaring louder.

Am I overreacting? Am I not? Should I just suck it up and accept that, sometimes, I gotta be the bad guy?

Sincerely,
Grateful But Worried College Girl

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