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Lucy inviting Charlie Brown to kick the football from Peanuts, by Charles Schultz

Seems legit

Dear Captain,

I am currently estranged from my sister. Growing up, we were home-schooled together and were extremely close. She was usually awesome, but once we became adults, she would sometimes become obsessively jealous of my time. As examples: she demanded that I apologize for calling my significant other on the phone without including her in a conference call because “it is incredibly hurtful to talk with a mutual friend without including me.” Or, she would not call me for weeks and then, when I wrote to say “hi”, she would lambast me for not contacting her earlier and demand an apology. Or she would demand an apology if I planned a social gathering and then invited her because, if I had REALLY wanted her there, I would have let her choose the activity. She always seemed to be keeping a secret tally of what she expected from me, and she’d either get nasty with me or give me the cold shoulder when I inevitably failed to meet her un-communicated expectations.

For many years, I basically just apologized to her every time she would bully me because I was pretty socially clueless and assumed that I just really sucked at friendships. However, I’ve since decided that this is Not Normal. I’ve tried communicating my problems to her, but she always says I am being too sensitive or unreasonable. After I came out as transgender, it all got much worse until I was definitely keeping her at arm’s length. Then, about this time last year, I invited her to my wedding. She responded with a nasty email telling me that she couldn’t come “this time” (this is my first marriage) because she had a long list of unspecified grievances against me that she had never shared with me before that I should have addressed before I invited her if I had REALLY intended her to feel welcome. When I told her she was being disrespectful, she replied that I was too easily offended and my wedding invitation was obviously just an “excuse to attack” her. I was pissed off and gave up, my wedding came and went without acknowledgment from her, and we haven’t really talked since.

A couple of months ago, after radio silence for almost a year, she sent a postcard with a normal, friendly message in it., apparently pretending that everything is fine. At this point, I’m done. I haven’t responded. Her birthday is coming up next month and I’m not planning on contacting her at all. I’m still angry and I’m absolutely not ready to deal with her. However, I can’t shake this nagging fear that I’m stooping to her level of giving the “cold shoulder” and harboring resentment and grievances that I’m not trying to work out with her. I don’t want to emulate her passive-aggressive behavior by punishing her with my silence. Is it fair for me to just leave the door firmly shut unless she’s willing to approach me with an apology and a real effort to change her behavior?

-Not passive-aggressive

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Captain Awkward,

I want my parents to get divorced.

There’s been a lot of unexpected changes from their marriage to today, but everything always seemed okay, at least topically.

But a big reason my mother married my father specifically was because he was a Christian. Recently, his views have changed, and he is an atheist. This is partially due to a domino effect from my coming out. I am an atheist as well, and my sister is Christian.

This has sort of put a spilt through family dynamics, because religion is a very large part of my mother and sister’s lives, and, in the case of my mother, recovery and dealing with mental illness. Non-religion is a very large part of my father and I’s lives, and, in my case, recovery and dealing with mental illness.

The atmosphere has been tense for weeks. They’ve been arguing, assuming things about each other, and their already very different personalities have started to seriously clash. I’m not sure my sister notices it, but my father has noticed that I’m noticing, and we’ve talked a little bit. He says he wishes I weren’t so perceptive. Right now I’m inclined to agree.

And it bothers me. More than that, it’s making my anxiety, feelings of guilt, and general mental state get significantly worse.

My father brought up “staying together for you kids”, but that kind of atmosphere is tugging at my seams. It’s stressful to watch, and I want it to stop. But… it’s not my relationship, and even if my father doesn’t feel the marriage is working out and is coming to terms with “the D word”, my mother denies the tension and seems to err on the side of marriage being held super importantly and not getting divorced unless things absolutely implode. Neither of them are faultless in this, not by a long shot, but if this carries on the way it is, to the point where someone breaks down or things and collide?

That implosion would hurt like hell for me. But I feel selfish that I want them to split up, at least partially for my sake. But I don’t want to relapse from stressful second-hand emotions. But it’s, above all, not my relationship.

How can we, as a family, discuss this and come to a solution? I have no idea what to say, or what to do, or if I should even do or say anything.

A Deer’s Divorce Dilemma

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Dear Captain,

I live with my partner of several years. I love her very much. We share a lot of hobbies, including a theater club. My partner is *exceptionally good* at theater – a result of a decade of passion – and most of our friends are theater people. But recently I’ve been discovering that her passion – one of her defining qualities – has been making her relationships within this community harder. 

People have been talking to me for about a year now about her long-standing habit of being incredibly bossy, having incredibly high standards for herself and resenting it when other people don’t live up to them, and making it hard to enjoy this activity at all when she’s there with them. One person we’re close to, he worked with her on a performance a few years ago, before I even met her, and he told me that after that performance, he decided never to work with her again because she made the experience unbearable. As I’ve asked around, others (who she respects deeply) have agreed with me that her behavior is fun-killing all around. People I love are no longer participating in events with us because she lacks empathy when dealing with people in a theater context.

Granted, she’s incredibly empathetic – she’s a teacher by trade – but she feels that when she leaves the classroom, she doesn’t want to have to make so much effort just to, I guess, have friends that value her outside of her intellect. Now she has lupus and is in pain a lot of the time, so most of our friends have sympathy for that. But this seems bigger than just being in chronic pain. (Or is it?) 

I have told her what her friends think of her (well most of it), and have pointed out that most of our friends think her behavior is hurtful, undermining, and steamroll-y. She responds that I need to stop caring about what other people think about her. She’s defensive and tells me to ignore what other people think. 

She’s also bossy about other things in our shared life together. Others have interpreted this as abusive, and one person was shocked to see her apparently bark orders at me. (Granted she was in immense pain at the time.)

I regularly check in with myself – I’m a past victim of abuse – but it doesn’t feel the same. It doesn’t feel like abuse. There’s no emotional put-downs, no manipulation, no threats. We’re highly effective communicators except for this issue. There’s raw anger and frustration, and defensiveness, but missiles are never directed at me as a person. She just underrates the amount of pain she causes others in pursuit of our hobby. 

One or two friends have wanted to stage an intervention. These plans never panned out. I’m not sure whether or not to force the issue. She is in therapy, but I think a couple’s counseling session or two surrounding this would be helpful. I’m not entirely sure what could be done other than me saying ‘You hurt me because you make people feel bad when they’re around us by raising your voice, arguing about the finer points of staging or scriptwriting, and being condescending’ and her being like ‘Well, I’m sorry, but that’s who I am.’ 

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

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Every month I try to answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place as if they were questions people asked me. I add punctuation, but I leave the text alone.

1. “Ex no longer contacts me.”

If you have shared custody or financial entanglements, this is a problem. If you don’t, this is probably a healthy evolution of things that means that time is doing its healing work.

2. “Nerdy desperate dating problems.”

You’re probably in the right place. Start here.

3. “I want to hang out with my ex because I’m bored.”

That is not a good reason. Probably you should call literally anyone else.

4. “He says he wants space. What does he mean?” & “What does he mean when he says he can’t give me what I want?”

Statements like this are very often a preludes to a breakup, or a break, or a request to hang out less, or a request to take the relationship down a level in terms of seriousness and time together. Whatever the person telling you intends, a good message to take away from statements like this is that you are being asked or warned to invest less of yourself in whatever this thing is. Don’t make big plans with this person, like, getting a place together or moving closer to them or adopting a pet. Reach out to people in your life who are not this person, and put your energy into other friendships and connections.

5. “Uncle touch breasts petting the cat on my lap.”

There are accidental touches, and then there are touches that might be bad touches (and you know because they make you uncomfortable and they make you type things like that into search engines). If it happens again, this is one of those times to visibly startle, yelp, say “HEY!” and stand up and maybe the cat will end up sort of on your uncle’s face. Someone who touched you totally by accident will be sheepish and embarrassed and never, ever, ever do it again. You’ll know a creeper because he will try to shame you for making a big deal, as if you are the one in the wrong. I give you full permission to make a SCENE. 

6. “I feel cheated on when friend wants new friends.”

That is a sucky feeling and it is really hard to just sit with it and deal with it without making it your friend’s problem, but if you are an adult and you want to keep this friendship, that is what I suggest you do. There is no script for “I wish you wouldn’t hang out with other people without me” that sounds good. Be really nice to yourself, find an outlet for those feelings like a journal or a therapist, and give it some time.

7. “I fuck goats.”

I do not think the goats enjoy that, like, at all. NO BUENO.

8. “Terrible names to call your sister.”

You should probably leave your sister alone and just go your separate ways rather than name-calling, but the Shakespeare Insult Kit is kind of fun.

9. “Once a rapist always a rapist?”

Statistically speaking, yeah. Rapists rape repeatedly.

10. I have a gay boyfriend but I keep masturbating. 

Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. It’s not cheating. It’s not wrong.

11. “What does it mean when a man says he doesn’t want you but he doesn’t want anyone else to have you.”

It means that this is someone you should avoid, completely, forever. This is such a shithead thing to say.

12. “Its my husband’s responsibility to clean his poo stain.”

Is he physically able to do this? If so, you’ll get no argument from me.

13. “I feel guilty for breaking a blind date.”

Forgive yourself. You didn’t want to meet that person.

14. “You know she wants to have sex just need to say the right thing.”

The “right thing” probably is to ask “Do you want to have sex?” and see if “she” answers “yes.” Then you’ll know, and you’ll have said the “right thing” to find out.

15. “How to politely, firmly stop attending club meetings due to physical disabilities.”

Email the organizer. “Hi _____, I wanted to let you know that won’t be at club meetings for the forseeable future, so please don’t plan on me. I’ve got some (personal/health/other priorities/whatever you are comfortable sharing, keeping in mind that you don’t need to give a reason) taking my attention right now, I’ll let you know if anything changes. Thanks for all you do!”

Then you don’t need to reply to anything, and you don’t need to go.

16. “What does it mean when she says when and if the time is right we will meet?”

She may want to meet someday, but she does not want to meet either “now” or “soon” or “anytime that is actually planned out and committed to on an actual calendar.”

17. “What kind of question to seduce a female?”

A female what?

P.S. Don’t call women that. It’s dehumanizing and gross.

18. “Is it bad to break up with someone after a week?”

Is waiting gonna make it better? “I am so sorry, I am not feeling it, and we should break this off.” Set yourself and that person free.

19. “He says no relationship but he acts like he is into me.”

Believe the words and get some distance from him. If he changes his mind, he knows how to find you and how to tell you about that, but I’d hate to see you hanging around waiting for that to happen.

20. “Captain Awkward, how do I get my ex back?”

You reach out once to say “Ex, would you be willing to give it another try?” and then you abide 100% by whatever they tell you, is my suggestion. No guarantees, but this one approach is at least honest, respectful, and will get you an answer without wasting a lot of your time.

 

 

Comments are closed as of 10/12, thank you.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My family has managed to kill the buzz of new marital bliss…or at least I’m allowing them to in my mind.

After a decade-plus long marriage, children, and lots of misery, I divorced, and later married a long time friend.  We have a very solid relationship, my children adore him, and life is as good as it can be with our hectic schedules.  Other than my parents, there was no wedding for my family to attend.  Because this was my new husband’s first marriage, and he lives out of state, we were married there so that his family could all be present.  My family was aware that we were getting married, and explanations were made regarding the wedding location.  Our wedding happened, and life moved on.  The problem is, I haven’t….at least not in my mind.

Many families are “quirky”, and mine is no exception.  Heck, Hollywood seems to have a whole film genre for uncomfortable family comedies.  It’s all fun and games until it’s your own, though.  Since our marriage, exactly one family member (in my sizable family) has called to wish us congratulations.  Not a single card.  Lest you say this is sour grapes over not receiving money or gifts, or some obnoxious etiquette whinge…Maybe deep, deeep down there is a bit of truth to that.  I can’t imagine not giving my own sibling/niece/grandchild a wedding gift.  It is my second marriage, and there was no wedding for them to come to, so it is understandable.  My greatest concern is (in addition to the fact that his family now thinks mine must be pure evil and worries about what he has married into), my husband feels hurt and jilted, when he has moved away from his EXTREMELY, UNBEARABLY close-knit family to be here. He has inferiority issues regarding my first husband. He makes less than half of what the Ex made, he is missing the 15+ years of family history my ex had with us, etc.  He could use some friends here, or at least acknowledgement that he exists. 

No one has reached out, invited us over, or has tried to get to know him in any way.  In fact, I was told by my sister not to bring him with me (during our engagement) when I visited her out of the country, “because it would be like having a stranger in her house.” That trip to see her was taken at the cost of our honeymoon. (It was all the money I could save in two years, and all of my PTO from work.) I thought that was the final straw, until no one even acknowledged that I had gotten married at all.

My family does not still seem to be grieving for my previous marriage or Ex.  Our divorce was very friendly, amicable, and we still raise the kids together exceptionally well.  My divorce did not inconvenience the extended family in any way (not even so much as a babysitting request), so I just can’t wrap my head around what is going on here.  Yes, some cards of gifts for our wedding would have been nice, but having them welcome the man I love into the family would have been the best gift of all.  Too bad none of them can bother.

Can’t wait for Thanksgiving

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Hi Captain,

I’m worried about one of my friends, who I think is becoming depressed, a cycle I’ve seen her go through before. One of the things that makes me concerned is that she’s been lashing out at me lately and saying some pointed, personal, hurtful things to me. (Mainly being judgmental and critical about, say, my hobbies, or the way I approach my job, or asking how I am and then being very dismissive of my feelings.) As much as I’m worried, her meanness makes me really not want to talk to her or be around her at the moment. She doesn’t acknowledge the things she’s said as being hurtful, and hasn’t apologised which makes it hard for me to feel very accommodating – but knowing how she thinks, I’m sure she’s dwelling on it and feels awful, and bringing it up to clear the air will just feed the jerkbrain.

And yet, as much as I want to avoid her right now, and avoid the possibility of getting stung again, I’m still really worried. I’ve seen her seriously depressed before and I wouldn’t want her to think that if she’s really, truly desperate then she couldn’t reach out for me to help. I’m just not sure how to be supportive when I’m wary that even a message of caring and support could be met with an attack. Do you have any advice?

I do have advice. Surprise! :)

Call out the behavior as it happens. “Hey, that hurt my feelings.” “Hey, that was really out of line.” “Why did you ask me how I’m doing if all you’re going to do is be mean to me?” “That was rude.” And, I don’t think asking for an apology gets you a GOOD apology, but sometimes the act of asking for an apology can be helpful resolving an awkward conversation, in that it at least tells the person what a next step might look like. “That really hurt my feelings, I’d like you to stop saying things like that and also apologize.”

Being called out on crappy behavior might well start a jerkbrain spiral. Nobody likes hearing they are acting like a shitbeast, and if she’s already feeling terrible about herself, being called out on it won’t feel good. But if she’s acting like this because she’s having a depressive episode, she’s going to feel bad no matter what you say, and you putting up with mean behavior is bad for you and not actually helping her. It doesn’t actually feel good to take all of your filters off and just poop negativity onto everyone around you, and it can be a relief to have someone stop you if you can’t stop yourself. It’s honestly weirder and more alienating to have your bad behavior be totally ignored or coddled…like, “Can’t they even tell something is wrong?

Calling out the behavior is a way into the rest of the conversation, where you say “Friend, you’ve been really snarky and mean at me lately, and I don’t care for it. This kind of thing really isn’t like you, but it is like Depressed You.The only other times I’ve seen you acting like this, it’s been because something is very wrong. What’s really going on with you?” + “Can you check in with a counselor or doctor?”

You can make it clear that you don’t want to subject yourself to mean comments, while also telling her you care about her and are concerned for her well-being. It’s hard to be supportive to someone who doesn’t want your support, and it’s hard to be supportive and present for someone who is mean to you, so cut yourself some slack – if she responds to you with an outburst of mean things, it’s okay to get a little distance from her – give it a couple of weeks and then check back in to see if you get a better response, and then maybe go with short, easy hangouts in small doses or whatever you are comfortable with. Being honest about where your own boundaries lie is part of being a good friend.

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Ahoy there!

I have a 40-year-old friend who’s very open about his frustrations with internet dating in our geeky friend circle, and recently he went on a date with a 32-year-old woman who, during their date, said that she is looking to have a couple of kids in the future. She didn’t want them straight away, but she’s looking for a relationship that would ideally end up there.

He was appalled by this, and says he feels a) like he was being assessed for fatherhood, and b) that it was unfair that because he doesn’t want to have kids ever, (and I’m sure for other reasons,) she wouldn’t have another date with him – he thinks they’re compatible in other areas, so could have a lot of fun. Most of our friend-group seem to be commiserating with him, but I think he’s out of order. He’s saying that there’s time for her to have a fling with him, but if you’re looking for relationships where (for example) you’re planning to move in together in a year’s time, and start trying for a kid in two, bearing in mind you might not meet someone compatible straight away, you are completely justified in deciding you don’t have time to waste dating guys who definitely will never want children (or any other reason!).

I seem to be in an extreme minority – as a gay woman who’s 40, apparently I don’t understand these things. I suspect that being the type of guy with a long history of fixating on people and not wanting to change anything about himself, it’s convenient for him to decide she would be the next Only Girl In The World rather than look around for more dates. But he’s being given sympathetic suggestions like he should have said he wasn’t sure about kids, and string her along for a bit, or do that AND try to persuade her she doesn’t want kids after all, which is despicable to me, or that this woman was some kind of crazy person who was only after his sperm and he had a lucky escape.

Do you have any suggestions, or resources, to help geeky guys understand that for some (not all) women in their ‘30s, dating can be more serious than for the 40-year-old guys? I’m obviously not getting through – and given he only wants to date women in their early 30s (if a woman’s still single over 40, she’s got too much baggage, or something something? I KNOW! Why AM I friends with him?) this is unlikely to be the only time this will happen.

Why AM I Still Friends With Him

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