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Dear Captain,

I couldn’t find a similar story, and I don’t know how strong a bro-relation is, so I’ve been quite confused for a while. The history about this story is bigger, but I only want to point out the main things. This is my story:

It all started a year ago, I met this guy Jimmy, which I fell in love with. We became friends. I gathered my courage and confessed to him. The response I got was not what I expected… His reply was just we’ll see what happens. After a month he didn’t took the effort to make it work. We didn’t saw each other at all. For me it was pretty clear that he didn’t wanted to start something with me.

A month later I went to a party at his house. For me this party was the opportunity to find out whether I still had feelings for him. At this party we all drank a little too much and a friend of him, Jason brought me home. I think you can already predict what happened. We kissed, nothing bad yet, except for the fact that this guy has a girlfriend…The next day, when we got sober I talked with Jason, and we decided it was a mistake and never mention it again. I felt horrible for making him cheat, and was so confused about my feelings. So it was easier for me to not seeing them both for a while.

A few weeks later, Jason contacted me. He wanted to see me and I agreed to it. I think I was being naïve, for not seeing what he wanted and we went a step further. His girlfriend still didn’t know anything about it.

A week later I met up with Jimmy at his house. Jason was there too. We talked about cheating and Jimmy hated people who were cheating, he couldn’t understand why someone would do that. At the end of the night he brought me home. We talked and I wanted to know what I meant to him. He confessed that he didn’t want a relationship right now. His ambitions are too big to settle down at this moment, but his feelings towards me can still go any direction. So my secret affair with Jason continued. After a month he ended it all. He confessed our affair to his girlfriend, and he wants to stay with her.

Months passed by without seeing them both, until yesterday. I went to Jimmy’s house, where they both were. The weird thing is that it didn’t felt awkward at all, sitting between them. For all I could say, I got the feeling that Jimmy was hitting on me. For what reason I don’t know, did Jason told him anything? Or is he finally ready to settle down? Just all those assumptions, makes me insecure.

Also I just don’t know what to do if I ever get serious with Jimmy. Am I obligated to tell him about Jason? I still have a weakness for Jimmy, but I don’t know if he can ever accept me for sleeping with Jason and if I would damage his friendship with him.

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It’s July, so time for the monthly “let’s answer the stuff people typed into search engines” post. It is, as always, a very mixed bag of topics.

1. “Is my partner’s family using my family for money? Help!”

I feel like there is a lot of backstory and context here that would be valuable to know, but one suggestion is to revisit and renegotiate current arrangements around money, and see what happens. It sounds like that you (or your family) are already uncomfortable with something about the financial arrangements that are taking place or requests that are being made, and that’s a good enough reason to pull on one of the threads and see where it goes. Do you feel like you are allowed to say “no, we can’t help with that, sorry?” Does it change how your partner’s family treats you?

2. “Should I be upset with a coworker who didn’t donate to a fundraiser in my name?”

Feel however you want, but I don’t think addressing it with the coworker, complaining to other people, or changing the way you interact with them at work is a good idea at all. Be grateful to the people who did donate, and assume the coworker who didn’t had completely understandable reasons that aren’t really your business. Let this one go.

I don’t feel shame about asking for donations here periodically, or for boosting charity stuff or crowd-funding campaigns for friends or causes I’m close to, and I don’t mind at all when people in my life ask me for help with their stuff, but that only works as long as everyone understands that a request is not an order and that gifts are voluntary. For real, the quickest way to make everyone you know go “fuck you and your cause” is to act like they are obligated to give. I also think, personally, that bosses should never ask their employees for charitable donations. Get some friends, boss. Get some friends.

3. “If someone with depression apologises for something they did, do u tell them its not their fault?”

Well, maybe it is their fault. Depression dulls and blunts a person’s ability to function within relationships sometimes, but it’s not an excuse for mean behavior, and we are still ultimately responsible for how we treat other people. If you want to say something comforting in response to the apology, howabout “Apology accepted, thank you.

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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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A warning sign: Danger Crush Points with a graphic of a hand getting crushed. Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like to ask for your opinion of a situation that is currently happening in my life, hopefully whatever you may say might give me another perspective.

I have a crush on the most gorgeous boy, my family friend and we’ve always been friends. He had a crush on me once, years ago, but now the tables have turned and it’s me who has these feelings. I just adore him, it’s the same old story.

There’s this other girl, one of the popular girls and she has a boyfriend who goes to another school but that doesn’t stop her and said boy from flirting all the time. She’s just all over him all the time and he is too, but all of my friends say that they’re just good friends and that’s it.

I just want to know, from the outside, without knowing all of the
information it may seem like he likes her, and I feel that way also, but I
swear sometimes he steals glances at me, we laugh and joke together
sometimes, he like obnoxiously sings songs to me in class to make me laugh (and he succeeds) and he’s shy around me, even though he’s one of the popular boys and he’s seemingly cocky and confident all the time. 

He’s so much different around his friends and it’s in those moments when we’re together at each others houses that I feel like maybe something could happen. These feelings I have for him, I just feel it in my stomach and in my heart. I want him so badly it hurts.

Captain Awkward, do you think anything could ever happen between us?

Because I would really like to know, so I could know if all this wanting
is for nothing. All I want is something…..anything.

Love, Eleanor x

Dear Eleanor x,

There is only one person who knows the answer to this question.

That person might like the other girl.

He might like flirting with the other girl but also like you (or someone else).

He might just like flirting with everyone and not like anyone in particular. Or, it may not have occurred to him that you might like him so he doesn’t quite see you that way. Attention from cool people feels good, there’s nothing wrong with him enjoying it.

Watching him like a hawk, reading all of his laughs and smiles and glances like tea leaves, and speculating on his desires are not going to get you closer to figuring out his feelings, but they are going to get you more invested in an outcome that may or may not happen. Trust me, you can spend years in this headspace, ignoring all other people who might be cool romantic partners, obsessing over the slightest changes in his facial expression, boring your friends with another analysis of “the way he leans” and yet getting no closer to putting your lips in the neighborhood of his lips.

What would happen if the next time he was at your house, without his friends, you said something like “I am developing a crush on you, is that weird?” or “Do you still ever think about us getting together?” and then you talked about it?

One possibility is always that he says, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” Which would be embarrassing in the moment, but then you’d at least know what’s going on. You could take a little time to regroup and then go back to being friends. Your friendship survived his crush on you, why wouldn’t it survive this? Reminder, when someone tells you that, it’s best to say “Well, that’s sad news, but I had to ask” and then back off.

There are other possibilities, though. “Let me think about it!” “REALLY ME TOO <3 <3 <3 <3 <3″

I want you to think of everyone you know who is happily, mutually in love with another human. Your friends. Your family. Then think about everyone in the whole world who is in love that way. Every single one of us had to navigate an awkward moment like this. Someone had to be brave and say the thing. There might have been hints and signals leading up to that moment, but no one was ever sure before they took the leap.

Hope and courage and love, Miss Eleanor.

"You know that tingly feeling you get when you like someone? That's common sense leaving your body."

Hello Captain,

This seems like such an common problem that I was surprised there hasn’t been a post about it before – but then, maybe it’s so commonplace and everyone but me handles it fine so it doesn’t need a post.

Your column has helped change from a “build the crush up in my head” Firther to someone who Uses My Words and asks people out when I first become interested in them. Sometimes they say yes! Other times they say no but I’m still better off than I would have been had I let the crush fester! I can’t thank you enough for your advice on this topic over the years.

Yet now I have a problem. Over the past few months, I’ve developed a crush on this fellow, whom we’ll call Fellow. Fellow is in a serious, monogamous relationship and has been for several years. From my outside perspective, they are very happy together and likely to get married. I have no desire to negatively impact this relationship.

Fellow and I have been acquaintances for years, but have recently started talking more and have become Actual Friends within the past few months. We talk online quite a bit. We don’t see each other in person often but we got to hang out at a nerd event this weekend. Apparently, our in-person interaction is obviously flirtatious enough that several people asked me what the heck is going on with us.

I think he may be flirting with me with the assumption that it’s all in good fun and nothing will come of it. I’m worried that it’s dishonest and wrong to continue as we have been with him not knowing that I’m seriously interested and would make a move if things were different.

Fellow is also semi-famous in our particular nerd world, and has said things that imply to me that he perceives my sometimes-nervousness around him simply as being starstruck (not in an egotistical way; he always reminds me that he’s not a big deal and that we really are friends). It also follows that he may know that I have a crush on him, but think it’s more of a celebrity crush than real feelings.

I can’t tell him that I like him, right? No good can come of it.

Am I obligated to cut down on the flirting, or can I pretend it’s just for fun since that’s probably why he flirts with me?

And what on earth can I do to stop this crush from taking over my brain if I can’t talk to him about it?

Regards,
I Was Doing So Well

Dear Doing So Well:

Having a crush on a monogamously attached person isn’t wrong (or if it is, I am retroactively sorry, like, 1,000 times).

Your instincts are also good on the whole “don’t tell the happily partnered friend about your crush because you don’t want to throw a wrench into his works or beach yourself on the rocky shoals of his disinterest” thing.

But your question illustrates the limitations of that strategy, when your endgame isn’t “get with this dude,” it’s “enjoy his company without shredding your own heart” as he casually flirts with you.

So this is about finding a way to take care of yourself. One way is to wait for the next time he flirts with you and address it.

Hey, it can be really fun to flirt with you, but could you chill out with it for a while?

He’s gonna say something like “Aw man, why?

And you can say “Eh, it’s just a bit too much, thanks” and leave it there. You don’t have to give reasons. Repeat versions  and variations of “It’s too much.“I know you don’t mean anything by it, but it feels like too much.” 

I’m usually against invoking Mysterious Other People Who Agree With Me That You Are Doing Things Wrong in discussions, but the fact that it’s noticeable enough in public that other people are commenting on it can be part of the reason. “In public it attracts more attention than I’m comfortable with, and in private it just feels confusing and inappropriate.

Get ready for him to defend his honor and your honor. But we’re just friends! I don’t mean anything by it! My girlfriend is okay with it! You’re my friend, you’re not some fangirl groupie, etc., etc.

The thing is, this doesn’t have to be about his relationship, the rules of his relationship, his just-a-friendly feelings for you, or whatever. This is about you and your comfort. His right to flirt with you ends at your comfort with that. You get to reset the boundary within your friendship. “No flirting for a while” is a perfectly reasonable request, and a true friend (especially someone with a little fame who is used to ‘starstruck’ fans) has a lot of room to be cool and understanding. You’re not obligated to keep flirting with him just so that your friendship will never change and he will always feel 100% okay about his behavior, so don’t get sucked into that trap.

This discussion might spiral into a FEELINGSTALK, if you set a boundary about behavior and he keeps digging for reasons.“I don’t want to get between you and girlfriend, or make our friendship weird, but the flirting stuff makes my feelings confused. The problem isn’t that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I *really* enjoy it, in a way that feels inappropriate given that we are not involved and you are very happily involved with someone else. I’d like very much to stay friends with you, but I need the flirting to stop for that to comfortably happen.

In the screenplay in my head he says “Oh.” and you say “Bet you wish you’d just stopped back when I said ‘can you lay off the flirting for a while?‘”

The other way is to pull back a bit from the friendship and put your energy into meeting new people and otherwise distracting yourself. You don’t have to slow fade or cut things off, and you don’t have to notify him that you are doing it or why. Just let him do the work of initiating conversation for a while. Maybe train yourself out of responding immediately by filtering his emails to a folder that you check once a week. Maybe don’t be so available on IM. Maybe be more scheduled about IM sessions or phone calls so that you can compartmentalize a bit and it’s not all flirty messaging, all the time. When you have a crush like the way you have a crush, your brain interprets any attention from him as “Happy Reward Times! RELEASE THE PLEASURE CHEMICALS” and you need to cut into that cycle somehow.

If he notices that you are not so available and asks you about it, and if you feel up to it, you can level with him. “Since you ask, last time I saw you at Event, we were very flirty, and it made my feelings confused. I don’t want a little crush on you to make our friendship weird or lead to anything inappropriate, so I’ve been pulling back a bit until my feelings get less awkward. I’ll see you/talk to you in (time frame that is probably a few months), is that cool?

Everything that makes you fun to flirt with for this person is within you. It’s not some glow imparted by this one dude’s Nerdfame or attention, it’s your wit and attractiveness and good humor and loyal friendship or whatever Terrifyingly Amazing stuff you’ve got going on. This is the good part of crushes, the part that lights you up and makes you smile and get great haircuts on the regular and stand up straight and flirt shamelessly with hot nerd celebrities. Keep being brave and awkward, and when love comes to you it will come correct.

 

Four letters about The Guy Who Would Be Perfect If Not For That One Dealbreaker Thing. I didn’t publish the 5th of this ilk that came in this week, which was about a perpetually-unemployed-and-not-trying, bad-in-bed man who was also mean. That one was too easy (Bees! Run!). These are harder because people don’t have to be evil to be not quite right for you.

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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.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I used to have a really close friend who I’ll call A. A and I went to the same middle school, high school, and college, and for several years we talked online together almost every day. Then, about two years ago, she stopped talking to me. At first, I thought she was busy (since she’d just graduated from college and was looking for a new job), so I tried sending her messages and things, but she never responded. I spent about a year trying to figure out what was going on, but I never really figured anything out until A finally sent me a message completely out of the blue. A had sent that message because, on tumblr, I’d reblogged a post that A’s friend had made about a sensitive subject, and A wanted me to delete it.

I had no problem with deleting the post, so I went ahead and did that, and I also took that as an opportunity to ask her, “Are we still friends? It’s been about a year since we’ve talked, and I don’t know why.” A never directly responded, but she did make a vague tumblr post about how it had been a year since she’d realized she was a lesbian, and she put a lot of emphasis on stating that it had been one year. So my best guess is that A realized that she had a crush on me, and instead of talking to me about it, she decided to cut off communication with me completely. I’m actually not straight either, but I never got a chance to talk to her about that, so I guess A never knew.

At that point, I still would have liked to be friends with her, but I decided that if she wasn’t willing to talk to me, then we really weren’t friends in the first place. So, I deleted the tumblr blog that A knew about and made a new one, and otherwise I just avoid her online. I don’t really check Facebook anymore, because I inevitably see something she’s said to one of my old friends or something like that and I just get upset.

It’s been about a year since I gave up on talking to A. I spent a while being really upset and randomly crying and so on, but after a while I thought I’d gotten over all of this.

Earlier tonight, I randomly found something that A had written. Pretty soon, I just started sobbing.

She was my best friend – at times my only friend – for almost a decade, and then she suddenly shut me out. I don’t really know what to do now. I’ve tried to find new friends, but I’m very socially anxious and I’ve never been good at talking to people, so nothing I’ve tried has worked out at all. After college, I had to move back in with my parents in a very small town, so there aren’t very many people my age in the area. I basically don’t have any friends anymore, and I feel very isolated and alone, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Thanks,
Lost and Lonely

Dear Lost and Lonely,

I’m so sorry you are having to mourn the death of a close friendship at the same time you are navigating isolation. There is no shortcut for dealing with all of this, but there are some steps that with time and effort may work to help you grieve the loss of your friendship with A. and start to make new friends.

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Hi there Captain!

I’m a 36 year-old mom of two adorable boys (6 and 2). I also have no friends. I’m not entirely OK with not having friends, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past 30 years or so of not-having-friends-ness. What I’m less OK with is that my Big Guy seems to be following in my footsteps, and it’s making me worry.

A bit of background:

I grew up being *that kid*, the one who is always picked on, outcast, and very lonely (but not bullied, really). Elementary school was *really* tough. By the time I got to high school, I had a regular table I could sit at for lunch, Science Team and Quiz Bowl competitions I could attend and do well in (with said lunch-mates), and excessively high grades and test scores. Still couldn’t really call them “friends”. *They* all hung out and did the usual social stuff that high school nerds do outside of high school. I was just never included.

Those high grades? Came about because of my parents, who prioritized high grades above EVERYTHING ELSE. Including a social life. I mean, I’m sure they were concerned about my social life, but it was always “Studies first, (dance second), and anything that can distract from your studies can come afterwards”. So I complied, because my father’s commitment to making sure I succeeded academically was *really* intense.

As an adult, (as in, many, many years after the fact), I figured out that I had/have ADHD-inattentive type, which led to me not being able to finish my homework/keep track of all my crap. And also makes it hard for me to follow a conversation without spacing out in the middle of someone else’s sentence. And then have a hard time knowing what to say next. So: schoolwork not getting done, leads to me “not having time” for a social life. And in school, my fellow nerds were nice and friendly and let me sit at the lunch table, but I still felt like an outsider, because I was always ten steps behind them conversationally.

College was worse than high school, because my family uprooted their entire lives and moved three whole states so I could live at home in a three bedroom apartment and commute to school. They would make sure I didn’t flunk out (see above re: intense commitment to my academic achievement). And since I was at the most competitive, intense university in the world, you can fill in the blanks about how much of a social life I was able to manage.

So I never had a chance to navigate friendships and relationships as a kid and teenager (and young adult). I got married because Arranged Marriage is a common thing in my culture and I was completely OK with it. My husband is a bit of an introvert who doesn’t feel the need to have many friends, and likes his peace and quiet and political blogs and weird YouTubes of politicians from our country screaming at each other.

So how does this affect my kid? I don’t know how to make mom-friends. I was supposed to “join a playgroup” and “set up playdates” and then socialize with each other while our babies did their baby-stuff. But I didn’t know how to get from “Hi, nice to see you at our monthly breastfeeding support group” to “Hey there friend! Wanna get together for (whatever it is that friends *do* together. Seriously, WHAT?!)”. And now that he’s in Kindergarten, I STILL don’t know. All the other moms somehow know each other already. Their kids go on playdates with each other. They all stand around in their little circles on the blacktop before afternoon pickup and talk about whatever it is they talk about (Seriously, WHAT?!?!?). Big Guy gets the occasional birthday party invitation, but even there, the other moms know each other better than they know me, so I’m the odd one out again. (WHAT DO THEY TALK ABOUT IN THEIR LITTLE CIRCLES? I edged into a circle once, and one of the moms was asking the other where she got her hair done. I get my hair done at Supercuts.)

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Every month(ish) I answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this blog. Except for adding punctuation, I don’t change the wording. Enjoy!

1. “Mother-in-law hates me. How do I tell her I’m pregnant?”

That sounds like a job for your spouse, her (presumably) son, who should be doing all or most of any communicating with his mom that needs doing.

2. “How to get a passive-aggressive man to talk to you?”

Pretend you don’t want to talk to him but make weird backhanded insults in his presence about how he shouldn’t talk to you, creating an endless loop of passive-aggression. He will be unable to resist your gambit.

"Relativity" by MC Escher

“Your endless staircase of insinuation and feigned dislike reminds me of the much nicer one I have at Pemberley.”

Or try “Hey Steve, nice to see you. How are you today?” like you would with anyone else.

3. “My boyfriend passed away 7 months ago. When is it okay to date again?”

I am so very sorry for your loss. This is actually an easy question to answer in short form:

You are 100% the boss of when you start dating again. If you’re ready now, now is the time. If you need more time to grieve, take all the time you need. Don’t let anyone pressure you, don’t let anyone guilt you, either.

4. “These little old ladies want to be fucked in my phone number 530.”

Image from old "Where's the Beef?" Wendy's commercial. Three little old ladies yell "Where's the beef?" into a phone.

How extremely specific, yet vague. We need details, son!

5. “He never read my Facebook message.”

He probably did, tho.

6. “My housemates complain about me having sex what can I do?”

Be quieter, is my guess, if it’s a noise complaint. Do it at your partner(s)’s house(s) more, if it’s a “but they’re always AROUND and using the shower when we need it and watching our TV and eating our food” complaint. Plan to move if it’s a “we are judgmental of the fact that you have sex at all or who you have sex with” complaint.

Living with housemates requires a certain amount of “I will just choose not to ever notice anything that happens in your room when your door is closed” attitude to make the social contract work. But housemates do actually have the right to say “I signed up to live with you, not you + another person who is always here” and ask you to pitch a road game once in a while if you have overnight guests more than 3-4 nights/week, and they do have a right to ask you to keep it down between certain hours.

7. “I had fight with mybf bcoz of short dress help.” and 8.”Why is he so mean to me?”

Read Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft and get yourself to a safe place that’s Away From That Guy. I’m so sorry.

I’m reading this now (for blog discussion reasons, not personal ones, though it was pretty funny to have my boyfriend buy it for me from the bookstore where he works with “It’s for my girlfriend!”). It is very, very good and will help you see controlling & mean behaviors as part of an overall pattern of deliberate behavior, not anything that is your fault.

9. “Making letter for a friend that you cares about at the same time you mad at him somehow.”

If you don’t want to end or take a break from the friendship, keep the letter (or whatever communication you use) focused on the behavior that bugged you. And try, if you can, to keep it focused on the most recent instance of that behavior. “When you asked me to be your date to the party but were reading your phone/texting all night it really hurt my feelings” is better than “You are always on your phone when we hang out!

10. “How to impress a teacher you have a crush on.”

Do your best work for the class, learn what you came to learn, and move on when the semester is over without confessing your feelings or putting your teacher in an extremely awkward position. Crushes can be motivating personally without ever having to be acted on or expressed, this is one of those kinds of crushes.

11. “Is being tipsy attractive?”

To other tipsy folks, at closing time. Is that who you want to attract?

12. “Do people with Aspergers hate being interrupted?”

While it varies from individual to individual, in my limited experience, they hate this somewhat less than many neurotypical folks do. If you can’t reliably depend on social cues or body language to know when someone wants to tune out from what you’re saying, and a function of your personality is that you can and want to talk for a long time about things that interest you, having a friend or a coworker say “Thank you for that info, but I have all I need now” or “Hey, can we talk about X instead of Y for a minute?” is actually helpful if done kindly. We’ve got a lot of readers who can shed more light on this for you.

I don’t have Aspergers, but I am a geek and a college teacher and can definitely natter on about things, and when I’m in The Talking Zone I definitely appreciate a kind redirection as well.

13. ” How to avoid being the rebound girl?”

Easy. Just make sure that you date someone only after they’ve dated at least one other person since their last breakup.

Waterfall by MC Escher

Only date people if they’ve dated someone else since their last breakup and you will guarantee that you will never be the rebound!

Sorry for the impossible logic problem. It’s because I’d like the idea of the “rebound” to go the way of the “friend zone”: AWAY.

These can be true statements:

“I was dating someone but it didn’t really go anywhere because they were just too hung up on their ex/not looking for anything serious right now/the timing was wrong.” 

This is the truer statement:

“I was dating someone but it didn’t really go anywhere because they didn’t want it to.” 

You can meet someone right after getting out of a serious relationship and, if you like them enough and everything clicks well enough, go right into another one. Or you can be a person who needs a lot of time to regroup after a breakup and doesn’t even want to think about dating anyone seriously…but some makeouts that remind you that you have a body can be nice, or going on a dating site to “see what happens” can be a nice reminder that you have options. These are the On The Rebound people you are keen to avoid, and you will know them by their avoidance of any talk about feelings or the future.

But you can think you are that second kind of person and intend to date casually, until meeting a person you really love shakes you out of that mode. And you can think you are that first kind of person….ready for loooooooooooove!!!!!!….but not get into anything serious because it takes a while for you to meet the right person. Which leaves us with: There are two kinds of people and they are both just…people.

If the other person is really into you, and you are really into them, the timing won’t matter so much. So risk it like you would any other potential love relationship, but also listen to what the other person is saying and pay attention to their actions like you would in pursuing any other potential love relationship. Believe them when they say stuff like  “I like you but I’m just not ready for another serious relationship right now” “Let’s keep this really casual” etc. and don’t try spackle those things over with your awesome chemistry or how well you *should* work on paper. Those statements translate as I don’t want that kind of relationship with you.

14. “What does it mean when a girl says that she likes you but we just cant be in a relationship right now?”

It means she’s not interested in a romantic relationship with you and wants to let you down gently, so she’s using what she thinks is a culturally-approved script to do so. Read it as “she is not attracted to me or interested in ever being my girlfriend,” grieve for what might have been, and don’t bring the topic up again.

15. “He says he feels a deep connection.”

….but? You guys can hear the “but,” right?

16. My girlfriend asked for no contact but can I wish her happy birthday?

No contact is no contact.

My question is, do you want to be involved with someone who doesn’t want any contact with you?

17. “Men who are too intense too soon.”

Let’s reframe and rephrase this.

“Men who like you way more than you like them.”

“Men who creep you out or alarm you with their attentions.”

“Men who try too hard to lock in a relationship before you are ready.”

“Men who don’t pay attention to reciprocity and who come on way too strong.”

“Men who are controlling and needy.”

“Men whose relationship style is not compatible with yours.”

“Too intense” at the beginning of a relationship is often a red flag for someone with violent and controlling tendencies. Listen to those instincts and strongly consider breaking ties with whoever inspired you to search for this.

18. “He dumped me and got angry when I refused to be friends.”

Let’s reframe and rephrase this:

“He made me sad but then immediately made me relieved to be free of him, forever.”

“He suddenly made it much easier for me to put the entire sad business behind me.”

“He thinks that only he gets to decide the terms of our relationship.”

19. “How can you tell if someone has a mean streak?”

They do or say enough mean things to inspire you to Google that question, is my guess.

20. “How to piss off someone who has to have the last word?”

Remove their audience and replace it with sweet, cold, delicious silence.

 

 

Dear sifters of potentially-answerable awkwardness,

I’ve had a lover of the very best kind for the past ~9 months, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, and we both had started to talk about, you know… we could see us together for a long time. I feel respected and heard and loved and the sex is incredible.

We both have a history of depression, but in many ways sharing that made it easier for us to relate and be supportive of each other.

7/9ths of this time has been long distance; we started seeing one another just before I finished graduate school and moved from the heartland to a well-paid technical job on the left coast. Lover has a BFA and has struggled with unemployment most of his adult life. We’d talked about him moving here as I am in a position to support him, and would be happy to for him to pursue his art. But fears and feelings of dependency and uselessness are what his depression eats and breathes.

A month ago, I was visiting, and Lover said he doesn’t know who he is right now, and needs to focus on his own mental health and knows that it breaks my heart and breaks his too, but he needs some time for himself, for self care and therapy. I told him if space was the only thing he needed that I could give him right now, I would give that to him, and we both cried ALL the tears. I love him and I want him to be well. He said how much he loves me, too and let’s call it not a break up for now, but a break.

The radio silence we’d agreed on has passed and we’ve talked. He is still not well (a month is not a long time), is maybe possibly in the beginning stages of starting to climb out? But we can’t be together as we were. We also still love each other, very much.

We don’t want to drop out of each other’s lives. We said let’s talk on the phone sometimes, not just fb/instagram, and we both thought about once a week sounded good. (We used to talk every day, usually multiple times.) We talked about how neither of us really is that interested in dating anyone else right now. We said goodnights with “I love you.”

Captain does “can’t be in a relationship right now” always mean “with you”? Can it ever be legit? I don’t want to get over this. I love the boy with sparkles I’ve never had, including in my 5 year marriage in my early 20s. He clearly still loves me. I don’t want to ‘put my life on hold’ but neither do I really want to put a ton of effort into ‘getting over’ him.

-Feeling too many things

Dear Feeling:

“I can’t don’t want to be in a relationship right now with you” can be the ambivalent or uninterested person’s soft rejection, or it can exist alongside all the feelings of connection in the world.

I advocate replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” because while it’s painful, it’s useful to remind yourself that when someone breaks off a relationship for any reason, they are making a choice. The decision can really be more about timing, logistics, health, etc. than it is about feelings, i.e., the “don’t want to” can have a lot of genuine “can’t” embedded in it, but the choice is the choice. “If circumstances were different, I’d be all about you, but they are what they are, so I’m making this decision that the relationship is not where I want to focus my energies.”

When you fixate on the “can’t” part of it, when you stay focused on the circumstances at the expense of the choice, it keeps you invested in solving the problems in a relationship that someone just told you they don’t want to be in. When you’re in love with someone like you’re in love with this person, the Wishful Thinking Translator is very powerful. “He said he can’t be with me right now because _______” = “If I solve for _______, he will be with me! Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix this motherfucker!”

And the devil of it is, that might actually sorta be true, in your case? Like, if your partner weren’t feeling so depressed and shitty right now, you’d probably actually be rolling along like you used to be. So, there’s a problem, and your loving, delightful, smart intelligent human brain is ready to find the solutions because that’s what our miraculous brains do when someone we love has a problem.

Proposed Solution 1: Fix the depression.

If you figure out how to solve someone else’s depression so that they can finally become the partner you want them to be, DEFINITELY CALL ME ABOUT GUEST POSTING OPPORTUNITIES THX.

Proposed Solution 2: Adapt the relationship into something that is more “workable.”

Like, pulling back daily, constant interaction to once/week. Like calling it a break, not a breakup. Like reaffirming your feelings in spite of the shitty situational stuff, and remaining hopeful. (YOU ARE HERE.)

If this level of contact is enjoyable and sustainable for you, and agreeable to him, then why the hell not wait it out for a while and see if things get any better? You get to decide what you do with your heart and for how long.

One pitfall of this, of course, is that you don’t actually want to talk only once a week. You want a boyfriend, not an occasional pen pal. And the longer you pour yourself into the shape of the world’s most supportive and accommodating girlfriend — oops! supportive friend with absolutely no agenda whatsoever! — the more your own needs are going to disappear inside his immediate & overwhelming ones. “I need a boyfriend who pays a lot of attention to me and is very present, even if it’s from a distance. I want a boyfriend who will make a plan to actually move to where I’m living. But you know, X is very depressed right now, and until he deals with that, this is okay, too…I guess…I mean, I know what it’s like to have depression, and I want to be fair about that.” His needs are more acute right now, but now long before they take over and the relationship runs only on his terms? You have radio silence (that you don’t want) when he needs it, you have occasional contact (less than you want) when he needs that…when are you allowed to have needs again?

Proposed Solution #3: Believe and honor his choice.

The circumstances – mental illness that no one asked for – are shitty and heartbreaking. And I am so, so very sorry.

But your lover’s choice, to pull back from the relationship and focus 100% on his own recovery, is actually pretty legit. I have a lot of side-eye for the “I’m breaking up with you for your own good, you shouldn’t have to be saddled with poor me” breakup, but someone who says “I have energy only for myself right now, sorry” is being brave and honest.

This is why I encourage people who are being broken up with to pull back from sifting through the reasons and look at facts. Reasons matter, of course they do, but the fact is: He ended your romantic relationship. He chose Not You, or, only a Little Bit Of You In Small Manageable Doses On His Terms, For Now.

He could have said “I love you, hang in there with me, we will be together someday I promise, but I need a few months to pull my mental health together and focus on that.

He could have said “I’m moving to where you are, will you take care of me like you offered while I do therapy and get myself together, I would really like you by my side while I work these things out.

My grandparents got married and then my Grandpa went back to the war and they didn’t see each other except occasionally for the next four years, and since he stayed in the service they had many long periods of separation and relocation for the next decade or so. While times and expectations about marriage were different then, they did not actually know for sure that they’d still be in love when they were finally able to reunite. They had no guarantees that they’d be the same people, or they’d still be compatible. They had to re-learn each other, and re-decide to stay and make it work. They were very much in love, it turns out, and they did stay together for the next 60 years, but day to day during their separations the most they ever had to go on was “If we both survive this, I promise to try really hard to still love you” because that’s all anyone has ever had to go on. For a less dramatic example, for some couples, “I got into this neat grad program that means I’ll be moving very far away ” means “let’s break up, that’s too hard” and for others it means “Let’s get hitched before you go so the health insurance will all be cool while we figure out the rest.” 

Saying “I love you” when you hang up the phone, not being interested in dating anyone else, being regretful, missing the other person a lot, liking someone more than you’ve ever liked anyone else, honestly loving someone and really wanting it to work out are all reasons to be sad about the way this is ending. You’re throwing them out there, as signs, as evidence, like we’re proving a geometry theorem, but they aren’t proof. There is no substitute for “I. Choose. You.” 

When you’re in a situation like this, it’s tempting to grab onto the narrative about how “good love just takes work!” and wrap it around you like a big comfy blanket. Work! It’s something you can DO. It’s something you can CONTROL.Work Ethic, meet Feelings! Feelings, roll up your sleeves and meet this Plucky Can-Do Attitude!

Healthy relationships do take work in the sense of figuring out “Where will we live and who will do the dishes there?

I will distract you while we wait for the doctor to call with the news.” “I will be the sociable buffer while we visit your difficult family.”I will clean up the cat barf so you don’t have to look at it or smell it.” “I will work on managing my mental health issues so I can more fully present as your partner.”

This kind of work can be hard and draining as hell, depending on the circumstances (fist-bumps to all the new parents and the caregivers out there!), but if you know for sure that you’re in this thing together and the division of labor feels fair and reciprocal, it’s not bad work.

The bad kind of work is the stuff that romantic dramas are made of. “You are a stalker and literally a vampire, sure, let’s date! Let’s break up and get back together 10,000 times. Love triangle, heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy! OK I will let you bite our terrifying deathbaby out of my womb.” It’s very intense and sexy and words like “destiny” or “meant to be” get thrown around a lot, with massive amounts of energy expended on the question “Should we actually be together? Do I actually want this? Does the other person actually want this?” The higher the stakes, the harder the struggle, the more it proves that the relationship is worth it, in Storyland.

My opinion is that high-conflict situations are compelling to read about and watch, but draining to live, and that “this totally sucks!”/”ok just work at it harder” is a damaging, toxic message when people try to translate it from stories to life. In fact, I am working on a theory that goes like this:

The more times someone mentions “destiny”, “soulmate”, “it was meant to be,” “I felt like it was fate”, “I just know in my heart that we are meant to be together” “I think that if we just worked at it…” in either a TV show or a letter, the more likely I will find myself throwing metaphorical popcorn and yelling “you know you could just break up, right?” in the direction of the cat. When it’s working, it doesn’t need to be “meant to be;” it just works.

My other opinion that there is no amount of work that you can do to preserve a relationship if the other person isn’t on the same page. Logistics can be worked out. Brainweasels can be managed. Hard times can be lived through. But “I want to sail in this boat with you, wherever it takes us” is not negotiable. You’ve got to choose each other, and if both people aren’t fully doing that, all the work (and all the love/pantsfeelings/hopes/wishes/sense of connection/signs/green flags) in the world won’t fix it.

You say in the opening of your letter that this is by far the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in. Let’s add some words onto the end of that sentence, like we did with “…with you”:

This is the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in so far.

Either this relationship is going to get healthier because your partner works on his stuff, feels better, and makes a strong, clear, unequivocal move back in your direction, or you are going to meet someone else who will have all the great stuff this person does + some other great stuff that you don’t even know about + that person will fully choose you as hard as you choose them. 

I know it is not what you want to hear, but my honest suggestion is that you either decide together that you want to make a go of it, or you make a cleaner, longer break (3-6 months, no contact) before you do any more work or try anything resembling being friends. This limbo is not healing him and it’s not serving you.

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