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Dear Captain Awkward:

I am a gay man. I am seeing this guy that I like a lot. He comes to my place every week and we have sex, I make dinner and we enjoy watching TV. The sex is awesome but there is no kissing. He is a divorced man. ( Two years). I know he enjoys being with me but he hasn’t asked me to go anywhere with him. I would like to go to a movie with him and on some trips to places he goes but he never asks. Is this a lost cause or what do I do. I am very frustrated. I want to kiss him so bad but every time I try he turns his face. I am very clean and I know I don’t have bad breath. This seems silly to ask but I am hoping for some help.

Thank you, 

T

Hello T.! This isn’t silly! Not at all! 

I think you should ask this guy some questions, and you should make them as simple and direct as you can, and I think you should ask him for what you want. Scripts for that:

  • “When I try to kiss you, I feel like you turn away or pull away. Is there something I should know about that?” 
  • “When you I try to kiss you, you pull away. Can you tell me what’s up with that? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I also really, really want to kiss you. What’s up?”
  • “Let’s go out tonight. I’m in the mood for _______. What’s your favorite _______ place?” Don’t ask permission, and in fact, if it feels like you are asking permission at any point, RUN. 
  • “Hey, want to see Love Is Strange* with me?” 
  • “Your trip to _______ sounds great. Would you ever be up for going away for a weekend together sometime? I’ve always wanted to visit _______.”

These are all very simple questions that one partner in a relationship should be able to ask the other partner without a lot of hullaballoo. What could be more basic than “How do we like to touch?” “How will we spend our time?” “Where will we eat?” 

These are all the riskiest questions in the world when your basic worry or fear is that the other person doesn’t feel the same way you do or doesn’t want the same things you do. “Simple” doesn’t mean “easy” when what’s at stake is “Do I like you way more than you like me, and what will happen to our pleasant status quo if that becomes glaringly evident?”

I think you should ask the questions, and I think you should pay attention to the answers. Recognize phrases like:

  • “I want to keep this casual.”
  • “But I enjoy what we’re doing now so much, why change it?”

…for what they are, namely, “I super like coming over here and having sex with you, but I plan to make zero effort to do anything differently in the future.” And if he says “please don’t ruin this by being serious/needy/clingy/like my ex” in any form, if you catch even a whiff of him guilting you for having needs and bringing them up, please kick him out of your house and never touch him again. He’s allowed to have different needs and desires. He is not allowed to shame you for having some of your own. 

If the talk seems to go well, pay attention also to actions and follow-through after you talk. Does he insist there is nothing weird going on with the whole kissing thing, but then, does he still refuse to kiss you? Does he promise you that next time you’ll go out to dinner, but tonight he’s just really tired and wants to stay in, but then there never seems to be a next time? Then cut him loose, or relegate him to the most casual of very occasional hook-up partners. He is showing you that you can’t trust what he says. 

This dude sounds kind of lazy and entitled, to be honest. You cook every time? He never takes you out or even suggests ordering dinner? He never cooks? Does he at least help with the dishes or bring/buy groceries or bring wine? Are you the only one who makes and initiates plans? You never go to his place? Has he met your friends? Have you met any of his? (I don’t want to read too far into this, but something about a completely hermetically-sealed relationship with no kissing reads as “possibly closeted?” to me. Am I alone?)

I’m going to give him one tiny, teensy, microscopic benefit of the doubt along the lines of: Maybe you’re the one who has been offering to cook and suggesting that he just come over until now and he doesn’t know that you want anything different. Sometimes in the early stages of a relationship you fall into a pattern, and it’s pleasurable and easy, and you don’t know if it will be an ongoing thing so it doesn’t seem worth it to spend time – time that you could be constantly, joyously fucking –  on second-guessing and negotiating whose turn it is to select and procure the food. But if it becomes an ongoing relationship, a non-lazy dude, one who really likes you, will presumably eventually begin suggesting things that you might enjoy and appreciate, right? Like, “Hey, I want to show you my place, why don’t you come over there next time.” “I love how you cook for me, but let me take you out tonight!” People you’d actually want to be with longterm don’t relax, unquestioningly and perpetually, into a status quo where you do all the work and they do none. 

T., you sound like a total sweetheart, and you deserve someone who kisses you and who takes you places. You deserve someone who cooks for you and who creates a relaxing sexy evening for you. You deserve someone who wants to make plans with you for future trips away. Maybe that romantic, thoughtful dude is some unknown future dude, and this dude is just a hot casual-sex-fun-right-now dude. That’s okay, as long as everyone is on board with it and as long as you are enjoying yourself, but you should decide that and ask about that and not default into something just because it’s easy (easy for him). 

*Possibly Too On The Nose, I realize, though I am very excited to see it. Insert your preferred specific movie (vs. “the movies, sometime”) here instead.

 

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I used to hang out with Friend Group, and dated a guy in that group for two years. When we broke up five years ago, I moved to a different neighborhood and saw them less because I needed space and because I was starting to move away from them socially.

Since then, I hang out with this group less and less, but still come out for big get-togethers. My ex-boyfriend and I were on good terms. He’s more socially awkward than I am and in our relationship and after, I took on the burden of smoothing any awkwardness over. We hooked up at one point, and I suspected he wanted to get back together with me, but I wasn’t interested. We hung out in group settings a few times since then, and all was well.

Then I got engaged to someone outside of Friend Group, and ex-boyfriend started ignoring me at these Friend Group events. Avoiding eye contact. No talking. Looking the other way when I was standing in front of him. Since I don’t see this group much, I tried not to let it bother me. I also didn’t want to talk about it with anyone, because I didn’t want to come off like an obsessive ex. 

I don’t think he bears me any ill will or anything. I just think he’s kind of an awkward guy who just didn’t know how to react.
The problem is that a) mutual friends started mirroring his behavior and b) he started becoming a more integral part of that group, so I got pushed further out. When I show up to a party someone is throwing and he’s with a group of people, most of them are his friends, so no one greets me. I don’t get invited to Friend Group parties at his house (understandable!) but then mutual friends surprised when I don’t attend. It’s made me pull even further away from Friend Group, and now I get super nervous before attending if I go at all.

I KNOW that I should have just ignored any weirdness, jumped right into the middle, and started chatting like normal. But I was tired of shouldering the burden of being the outgoing, socially adept one (despite social anxiety) YEARS after our relationship ended that I just didn’t. And it really, really sucks feeling rejected whenever you hang out with a group of people.

So I’ve been married a year now, and have been with this group maybe five times since then. This last weekend was the wedding for my oldest friend in this city, and it felt really weird to be there, two feet away from my friends, being avoided. People came up to us individually to say hi, but since I haven’t been around much, we weren’t included in any pre-wedding parties or weekend group activities. We left the wedding early because I just felt really weird about it. Everyone else went on to go bar hopping, after parties, etc.

I know no one can make me feel small except me, but is my only choice to avoid this group moving forward? Am I just blowing this feeling out of proportion? Should I be the bigger person and step in, him be damned, and have a good time no matter what?

Help, Captain.

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As of August 28, comments are closed. Letter Writer: Go read some books by women, try out some new social activities, GO TO A REAL THERAPIST, and be well.

Dear Captain Awkward,

So I’m a guy, 20 years old and totally devoid of any form of romantic relationship. Ever. I’ve never so much as held hands with a member of the opposite sex, never mind anything else. I’m getting incredibly lonely and yes before you say it, I did behave like a nice guy tm once and just once. I was an ass, I made an incredible fool of myself, I traumatized my friends and worst of all, I hurt that poor girls feelings. She wasn’t the nicest person and took advantage of me, but I hurt her feelings and I made sure when I came to my senses that I apologized, regardless of what she’d done, I messed up. Before all that happened, I was an incredible jerk, an arrogant piece of shit with an intellect to match and zero attachments to anyone. I hated the idea of feelings and I shut them out and didn’t do friends (ironically this is when I received most attention from the females). For most of my teenage years, I didn’t need people and I didn’t need love.

I’m literally petrified of making the same mistake again and of ever hurting another living soul again, I’ve been bad, I’ve made mistakes and I’ve taken advantage of people, now I’m trying, very hard not to be that person again and that includes treating women as people, with thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears and dreams. It’s difficult in the uni dorm I’m in, considering most people I meet socially are either drunk (I’m stone cold sober) or do the whole ‘one night stand’ routine which to me is appalling. The few people I’ve really sparked with are all in relationships.

I’m lonely and very different, I’m eccentric, have eccentric tastes and I’m a lot more mature then most people I meet in most social settings (I’ve been regularly mistaken for 40+ when I was 18) I’m also a romantic whose entire cultural upbringing utterly rejects the idea of genders freely mixing and all that cabal. Pretty much means my social skills are shit. I can out-argue almost anyone and I can debate exceptionally well but I’ve zero social skills that aren’t an argument, sports or one of my passions (which many people do not like) I’m regularly putting my foot in it in casual conversations and I have been told in the past that I am far far too intense. 

On the plus side, most of my closest friends are all female (I do not and have not had romantic feelings for any of them) and they’re great people but they all offer conflicting advice on what my problem is. I’m fast becoming isolated, I’ve zero self confidence and my self esteem has taken a nose dive, a combination of truly looking into the mirror for once and a mystery illness. I don’t think I look handsome, but a lot of people have said that I do. I get really confused and I pick up a lot of body language, but I have no understanding of social cues. It’s like I’m trying to read Swahili.

What on earth is wrong with me? Am I incapable of being loved?

Awkward & Lonely

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Hello everyone! How are you? ICYMI, I wrote a non-spoilery (since I haven’t even watched the episode yet) piece about Doctor Who and friendship that’s up at Indiewire. Special thanks to TV editor Liz Shannon Miller, who should probably edit every single thing I write, and who constantly turns me onto cool things to watch and like. In other good news, the short film Meet In A Public Place has just been accepted into the Oakland Underground Film Festival. Oakland! I won’t make it out there for the fest, but let us hope that it is merely the first stage in world domination and travel.

And now, a question.

Hello Captain

I have an awesome boyfriend. We’ve been together for five years now. Next year both of us will have finished our educations and will be taking the Big Step into the World of the Working.

He still lives with his (equally awesome) mother, while I live full time on a boarding room. I will lose my room and therefore home once I graduate. We’ve agreed that we’d like to start living together officially once that happens. We’ve been living together half and half for the past three years: either he stays at my place or I stay at his, we alternate.

I’d love to rent an apartment together during our first years, while saving up for a proper home. He however thinks rent is a waste of money and wants me to move in with him and his mother until we can afford to buy our own place. His mother agrees with him.

I want to move in with him in our own place, not with him and his mother in their parental home. I get along well with his mother, that’s not the problem. I’m used to living independent and don’t want to go back to being mothered in a place I have no say about whatsoever. Living at his place feels like staying at a hotel instead of being home. Moving in with them would also mean that I would be dependent on either them having time to drive me to places or on the terrible local bus connection, since I’m not legally allowed to drive due to medical issues.

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I say I want to be able to go to job interviews on my own, that I want some say in what happens to the space I live in or even that I want a say in minor things like what I eat or where my stuff is.

My boyfriend, who has never lived on his own before, does not understand this. How can I make him understand?

Greetings

A frustrated student

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Dear Captain Awkward and the Awkward Army,

Long story short: my kind, hilarious, handsome (ex) boyfriend and I just broke up because after two years of things being “great!” we realized that nagging “…but maybe not the ‘forever’ kind of great?” wasn’t ever going to go away. It is very, very sad and very, very hard and everyone is crying a lot and gazing listlessly out windows listening to Bon Iver and wishing this wasn’t our lives.

That being said – we would like to still be friends in a real and meaningful way, and I’m not sure how to navigate this for a few reasons:
- I have some exes who I’m friendly with, but they were all “we dated for 6 months” or less exes, and the kind of “friends” we are is, “we can be in gatherings together and it’s mostly fine and not awkward!” and, “we comment on each other’s funny facebook statuses!” not, “you are the thing that makes me laugh when my day is terrible” or, “you are my partner in crime and adventures” or, “I call you when I just want to talk” friends.

- He has no exes who are his friends, and only one with whom he is on still-in-contact friendly terms.

- We are VERY NEWLY broken up, and I don’t want to mess this up by rushing to friendship before every time I see him and then remember we’re not together it feels like a sharp tug on my Golden Retriever of Love’s leash (you know – that feeling of stabbing knives and despair). But also don’t want to “give it space” until seeing each other turns into this unnatural production.

- I suspect that, in my heart of hearts, I will be unbelievably ungracious about his new girlfriend(s), when their time comes. He is, truly, the Perfect Guy (Funny! Kind! Unbelievably hot! In possession of the world’s best beard! Not into the DC-style of one-upmanship that is the worst!) – and I KNOW that he is going to be snatched up by some really perfect waif-y-type-woman in basically seconds. I “KNOW” this in part because he is amazing and in part because This Is My Greatest Insecurity (jerkbrain says: “What if he dates some blond, no-makeup-wearing, athletic woman next? Will that ‘prove’ that our relationship wasn’t meant to be because I WAS UNWORTHY?’“) and I react to it by having a lot of possessive crazyperson thoughts that I keep mostly to myself, but that eat me up inside.

Can you help me figure out how to navigate, “I love you, but need to be falling out of love with you” and “I want you to be important in my life – but also need to let go of feeling possessive of you?” We’re both going to make an effort to communicate a lot about making sure we’re respecting one another’s boundaries but this re-definition is hard and unfamiliar to me and I just want to cut right to the part where seeing him doesn’t feel like stabbing and I don’t want to push his new girlfriends into volcanoes.

Thanks,
Let’s Be Friends

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Hello Awkwardeers,

I was recently on a double date with a family member, their spouse, and an acquaintance of said spouse. The family member sold it to me as a “try it out and see what happens sort of thing” but I’m not sure if that’s how it came across to the Acquaintance. Acquaintance really seemed to think it was a Real First Date(tm) and now I have no idea how to manage this.

Basically, I’m a single female and I’ve only been completely on my own for a half a year, and I’m only just being able to define who I am and what I want. I’m really not interesting in any romantic relationships, unless the guy is a Super Amazing Fantastic Wonderful and All Around Good Guy. And Acquaintance was perfectly nice, but not enough of a Super Amazing Fantastic Wonderful and All Around Good Guy to get me out of my aggressively chosen singledom. Which is not his fault, I’m just not interested. In addition, I basically had a mini panic attack when he added me on social media after our date/not date. So where do I go from here? How do I let Acquaintance know that I’m not ready for a relationship and probably won’t be for a very long time, and it’s got nothing to do with him?

Thanks,
Awkward Single Lady

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Today is a weird, sad day in social medialand and also with various life stuff and brain chemistry stuff and street harassment. To be honest, I have been crying or on the verge of crying off and on for the last 20 hours with occasional breaks for sleep and a much needed breakfast and movie (a movie …that made me cry) with a friend this morning. I almost started crying in the Apple Store a little while ago when I thought I’d have to pay $80 for a new power cable, and then I really cried when it was under warranty and it was free and this big bear of a man was so nice to me and didn’t call attention to the crying and just gently handled my transaction. Crying is good, btw. It’s better than numbness, avoidance. But this question is well-timed.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This has been on my mind a while, but seems a good time to ask. What is the best way to express to someone who is depressed (or isn’t depressed at that moment in time but has depression) that you are there to talk to / for whatever they need? I’ve been trying to find words to express it to a couple of friends but failing – as whenever I feel I’ve drafted the words to make clear it’s not just the polite ‘if you need me, call’, it starts sounding like it’s about me, ‘my need’ to help them – the word ‘I’ crops up a little too often. So I say nothing instead of risking them going dark about their thoughts – the opposite of what I intend.

My wordage fails at two points:

1) Everyone seems to say they’ll be there if a friend needs help, not everyone means it. (And from what one of my depressed friends says, they don’t believe it either way.)

2) One of them says when down, they need to completely introvert and left alone as they recoup their energies. I’d be happy to do this (being an introvert myself and knowing the exhaustion of having to explain why you don’t want to see people to be ‘cheered up’), but I know they’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past. I worry that I can’t tell when they’re isolating themself for recovery, and when they’re isolating themself thinking there aren’t people who care/getting worse.

So, I guess – I’m looking for words on expressing empathy and my attempts at understanding – but also tips on how to know what’s helpful, if it goes against what a person actually says. Or should you never go against what a person says, even if you worry?

They aren’t the closest friends to me, in that I don’t know their families/local friends, which perhaps makes things harder – I can’t plug into the network of others who might support them. But they are friends, and I care and … I don’t know how to express it usefully.

Still too many ‘I’s, eh, Captain?

Self- (and other-) absorbed

This is a complicated thing, because isolating yourself to recover when you’re an introvert and isolating yourself because your brain is trying to kill you look identical, even to the person who is doing the isolating (Hello, Winter 2013-2014). Depression is a liar that tells you that it is normal to be sad and numb, and it makes you hide from other people because they might interfere with its narrative of your life.

I think one thing you can do to help your friends who are depressed is to reach out to them not in the spirit of helping, but in the spirit of liking them and wanting their company. “I’m here to help if you ever need me” is good to know, but hard to act on, especially when you’re in a dark place. Specific, ongoing, pleasure-based invitations are much easier to absorb. “I’m here. Let’s go to the movies. Or stay in and order takeout and watch some dumb TV.” “I’m having a party, it would be really great if you could come for a little while.” Ask them for help with things you know they are good at and like doing, so there is reciprocity and a way for them to contribute. “Will you come over Sunday and help me clear my closet of unfashionable and unflattering items? I trust your eye.” “Will you read this story I wrote and help me fix the dialogue?” “Want to make dinner together? You chop, I’ll assemble.” “I am going glasses shopping and I need another set of eyes.” Remind yourself why you like this person, and in the process, remind them that they are likable and worth your time and interest.

Talk to the parts of the person that aren’t being eaten by the depression. Make it as easy as possible to make and keep plans, if you have the emotional resources to be the initiator and to meet your friends a little more than halfway. If the person turns down a bunch of invitations in a row because (presumably) they don’t have the energy to be social, respect their autonomy by giving it a month or two and then try again. Keep the invitations simple; “Any chance we could have breakfast Saturday?” > “ARE YOU AVOIDING ME BECAUSE YOU’RE DEPRESSED OR BECAUSE YOU HATE ME I AM ONLY TRYING TO HELP YOU.” “I miss you and I want to see you” > “I’m worried about you.” A depressed person is going to have a shame spiral about how their shame is making them avoid you and how that’s giving them more shame, which is making them avoid you no matter what you do. No need for you to call attention to it. Just keep asking. “I want to see you” “Let’s do this thing.” “If you are feeling low, I understand, and I don’t want to impose on you, but I miss your face. Please come have coffee with me.” “Apology accepted. ApologIES accepted. So. Gelato and Outlander?”

If you can set up a weekly or monthly routine, some sacred time when you and your friend hang out (or Skype, if you’re long distance), that can be an anchor in itself, even if you don’t talk about anything particularly deep. I don’t recommend offering or initiating constant, daily contact or becoming someone’s sole source of support or sole outlet, and I don’t recommend making your relationship all about them telling you their problems. If you are a professionally trained counselor, you shouldn’t counsel your friends. If you’re not, it does no one any good if you are like “I am here to help!” and then African Violet them two months later because their exhausting and soulsucking disease has soulsucked you, too. It is okay to have limits on how much and when and how you can be in listening mode, and to redirect friends to professional help. It’s okay to say “I am glad to know what’s going on with you, but limited in my ability to process these thoughts with you, especially when I think they are transmissions directly from your illness. Are you seeing your therapist soon/Please call a therapist/let me call one for you?” “You are scaring me right now, That sounds very scary, and I really think you need to see someone.” Nobody likes being told they are dumping too much on their friends (and it plays into the messages that depression is telling them about how they are tedious and nobody likes them), but you get to set boundaries and then, hopefully, defeat the lies about how they are unworthy of love by still showing up in their lives.

Commander Logic is a sturdy, steady sort of person who does not really get depressed. When I am full in the middle of a spiral, her insistent cheerfulness and optimism and proposing of reasonable, achievable solutions can be downright irritating, and my Jerkbrain will try to logic her out of her pragmatic and healthy worldview and into my shitty perspective Where I Can’t Possibly Because: Reasons. She resists it, though, and when she’s had enough of listening to the Jerkbrain she dismisses it by agreeing with it. “Well, I guess everything is terrible and you just can’t. So, Doug‘s?” And then we go to lunch, as we have for 9 years or so, and we talk of other things, and I eat the sandwich of love and let it save my life. The thing is, we go to lunch when I am in a depression cycle, and we go to lunch when I am not, and we talk about my stuff AND her stuff AND mundane stuff during ALL of those times. I know that she would help me if I needed Capital H Help, and I know that she won’t leave me when my illness makes me hard to take, and I know that because she keeps showing up and she keeps inviting me in and because she talks to me like I’m Jennifer and not my illness or a project.

Time, attention, love, enjoyment > help.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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