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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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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have a really great job; creatively fulfilling, changing and full of new challenges and people. I’ve been in this job for a lot of my 20’s, and devoted a lot of time and emotional energy to it.

A lot of the greatness of the job is down to my boss. So far, I’d say our relationship has been warm, informal and rather protective, but professional. However the other week (after an work event we were attending together) it became so warm and informal we drunkenly made-out.

He kissed me, not that I’m looking to assign blame, but I was definitely into it. And it was a mess, and kind of innocent, and he’s my boss, and married.

Backstory; while I don’t really identify as asexual all signs so far point to me being somewhere down that end of the ballroom. I’ve had crushes on one or two men (maybe even been in love) but have had very little romantic or sexual experience. I’m basically okay with this, as I experience attraction so rarely (and it’s my body and I’ll do what I like with it, even if that’s nothing) .

However since that night I’ve been left feeling lonely, and touch deprived. I wouldn’t truly say I have a crush, but I want his attention and affection. I feel very safe with him and if he was any of my other friends I’d be asking if he wanted to do it again and working out whether it could be a thing. As it is, we very quickly went back to normal, which is right but has left me so at odds with myself.

How the hell do I behave, now I’ve finally noticed I’ve been having this weirdly intimate working relationship? I feel like such a loser for being so affected by a drunk kiss but really my problem is that I feel like I don’t know myself at all. How can I try to be happy romantically in the future, when my sexuality is such a small, hidden thing?

Thank you, I’d really love to have the chance to think about this anonymously. As it’s pretty professionally compromising I feel I can’t talk about it to my usual Team Me!

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Ahoy, Captain!

My partner and I have been together for about three years now. We don’t live together, but lately my partner has been saying that he would like to start cohabiting –  not necessarily immediately, just at some point. Mostly I’m the one saying “let’s not.” There’s a few reasons for that, but a major one is financial.

I work full time at a higher wage than my partner, who works part time. He’s frequently out of money by the time his next paycheque comes, while I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been straight-up broke, even when our incomes were more comparable. When we go out, I usually pay, which is not a problem for me; I’ve also occasionally lent him money for things he really needed, like a bus pass at the beginning of the month, and when something is clearly expressed as a loan, he’s fairly good about paying me back. However, I’m not totally on board with the way he prioritizes his spending. For example, his bed frame has been falling apart for the last year and a half. He said he couldn’t afford to replace it – but in that time, he’s definitely spent more than the price of a cheap Ikea bed (let alone a Craigslist find) on books and games.

I’m not criticizing him for spending his money on things he likes. It is, after all, his money! He’s a grown-ass man and he earned it. I’m also not his mom, and neither he nor I wants me to nag him about financial responsibility. Basically, I just slap a big ol’ Not My Problem sticker on about 90% of his cash flow crap and move on with my life.

My concern is that if we do move in together, I will start shouldering not just most of our financial responsibilities, in accordance with my larger earnings, but ALL of them. I worry that if we did get together, he’d know that the rent would get paid and food would get bought no matter what, so why not go ahead and spend whatever he feels like – not inconsistent with what I know about his spending habits. He’s also got a big pile of student loan debt, and if we’re cohabiting and eventually end up being common-law, I don’t want to take on responsibility for that.

It feels cold, but basically, I’m afraid that moving in with my partner will mean taking a financial hit. It’s not necessarily one that I can’t afford, but it is one that I don’t want.

I’m not immediately on fire to move in with my partner right now – it probably wouldn’t happen anyway, for a number of reasons – but should I mention this to him as part of my reasoning? If so, how do I do that? And if we do decide to make that commitment together, how do we address this problem as a couple?

Many thanks,

Not Subsidizing Anyone

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Dear Cap, 

The first date I had with him, we both ordered water–I feel awkward having a glass of wine with dinner if the other person isn’t having a drink too. It took three dates, when I suggested touring a brewery that I’d wanted to check out for ages, when he told me that he was an alcoholic in recovery. I asked him if he minded me drinking around him; he said that he’d thought I abstained entirely, and I told him that I did not, but that I’d be happy to stick to water or tea around him if me having a drink made anything harder for him. He said it was very courteous of me and he’d appreciate it. 

No problem so far. We hung out a few times a week and had fun. I never felt like I was missing anything by not drinking around him. 

We went out for three months before I mentioned, casually, that on a night we weren’t hanging out I was planning to go to an artisan cocktail bar with a few friends. He began to ask me for details–was there a DD, how much did I plan to drink. I told him I usually didn’t do more than three cocktails over a long evening and that we had a DD who just doesn’t like alcohol and planned to sample the gourmet sodas at the bar. 

Then he asked me to give up alcohol entirely, even when I wasn’t around him. He said that he didn’t feel comfortable in a relationship with someone who drank at all; he went into detail about his relationship with alcohol, comparing it to an abusive relationship, and explained that he felt that my drinking was in a sense cheating on him. 

I told him I’d have to think about it, but that I was still going out with my friends as I’d planned, and I wasn’t going to make a decision like that right then and there. His answer was that if I truly wanted to make the relationship work, I wouldn’t even have to think about it, and that even considering choosing alcohol over him was a clear sign that I had a problem and needed to go to AA. 

“I’ll do a fucking moral inventory in the morning, but I’m going to go out with my friends tonight,” I said, and hung up on him. He hasn’t called me back. 

I’m genuinely torn. On the one hand, I’m sure I’m not an alcoholic (and I did give it much thought). I enjoy good libations in moderation, and I get seriously drunk maybe once or twice a year in safe circumstances. There have been times when I haven’t had alcohol for weeks just because I didn’t feel like it; I give up beer for Lent every year and it’s not a hardship. 

But I chose the freedom to drink (responsibly) over a budding relationship with someone who was, frankly, otherwise wonderful and well-suited to me. 

Is that the sign of someone who has a drinking problem? Or was this the first sign that he was a controlling jerk? 

Signed, 

Lovely Lady Lush 

 

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a straight male in the process of getting a divorce. I am the one who filed for it. I did so out of necessity because my spouse has been increasingly unstable and abusive throughout the marriage. I spent years telling myself that things would get better any day and that there was no real cause for alarm. Additionally, my soon-to-be-ex-wife struggles with a lot of legitimate and confidential mental health issues. As a result, as this problem grew and my marriage slowly marched toward its end, I told very few people just how bad it was. Because I spent the first several months AFTER I filed for divorce falsely hoping that the divorce wouldn’t really have to happen, I also didn’t tell people what was going on as the process began.

At this point, she has moved out, and our small child has been placed primarily with me by mutual agreement. And still, many people in my life have not been properly clued in to this major life change. I still have relatives, friends, and co-workers who casually ask me how my wife is, or talk to me about what a wonderful family I have (really, I hid this well). When this happens, I visibly wince at this point. I no longer want to respond to those kinds of comments dishonestly, but I really don’t want to tell the whole story. All I want people to know are the two facts that are key to my current situation (and not easy to hide): the fact that I am divorced, and the fact that I am effectively now a solo parent. What is the quickest, least awkward way to say this when I feel I need to? My goal here is to minimize follow up questions, and ideally also minimize hurt feelings. I am finding that some people definitely feel put off that I hid the truth from them.

Sincerely,

Divorcee Unmasked

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Willow and Evil Willow from Buffy Season 2

Willow, talking about Evil Willow: “That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil, and skanky…and I think I’m kinda gay.” 1) How has this image never come up at the blog before? 2) Don’t marry off just one of the sides of yourself and kill off the other. They’re both you.

Hi Captain:

I have been in a relationship with  my boyfriend now for 5 years. I met Leigh when I was 19, fell in love, grew up together, and last year bought a house together; we even had an engagement ceremony so our family would feel more at ease with us living together. Even though it was just a front, Leigh already sees me as his fiancé. I think you know where this is going. 

Last year shortly after we purchased our first home, I met a guy through an online game. Jack fell in love with me even though we have never met each other in person. We texted each other day and night for months and eventually things got progressively worse. We started “sexting” and it was then that I started living in guilt, every living moment. I sleep talk when I go to bed at night, and it didn’t take long until Leigh found out that I was cheating on him emotionally. I knew what a horrible person I have been and hated myself for enjoying having intimate conversations with Jack. Most of the time, I felt downright disgusted about myself. I stopped talking to Jack, and he continued reaching out to me telling me he needed me and can’t live without me. Jack texts me every 2 weeks to tell me that he trusts me and will always be there for me but I’ve ignored them all, as I believed he was a temptation I have to stay away from. In order for me to salvage my relationship with Leigh I need to fully devote myself him and one day we will get married and have kids and live our lives like all the loving couple in the world. Leigh being the perfect man that loves me more than anyone in the world, he forgave me and decided to trust me again. 

I travelled solo as a backpacker just last week and made out with a girl and a guy that I met at  a bar. I almost had sex with a guy I met at the hostel but I didn’t for I know I am in a relationship. I despise myself for even having the horrible thought and genuinely enjoyed being hit on by them, having them telling me how beautiful and sexy I am. I had the time of my life when I was there, for once feeling as though I am single.  I thought I could just forget all about it once I get home, and concentrate on being the perfect girl friend again and wait for the feeling of wanting to be single to go away. Sleep talking didn’t help, as Leigh found out in my sleep that I have been apologising “for being a whore” and that “I’m sorry, I’m wrong”. He also managed to find a conversation of me and a friend regarding this situation. The guilt is eating me alive but I didn’t know what else to do. Leigh left me this morning, to travel by himself and to give me time to figure out what is it that I really wanted. He is willing to put a hold on this relationship and let me leave and “find myself” and “do whatever I want” as long as I don’t tell him any of that when I come home. I am with a man that loves me so much, enough to forgive me from cheating on him and would sacrifice everything in his power to make me happy. What more do I want? Am I really willing to let a man like this go just to fuel my desire of being single?

Lost

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Robin Marantz Henig’s piece on loneliness and the science of how loneliness affects the brain is sad and interesting and relevant to our interests, I think:

What is different about lonely people is how they interpret their interactions with friends and acquaintances. In the Ohio State study, lonely people tended to feel put upon and misunderstood. They were, the researchers wrote, “more likely to attribute problems in social relationships to others,” and to see themselves “as victims who are already giving as much as they can to their relationships.”

In other words, people grow lonely because of the gloomy stories they tell themselves. And, in a cruel twist, the loneliness itself can further distort their thinking, making them misread other people’s good intentions, which in turn causes them to withdraw to protect themselves from further rejection — and causes other people to keep them at arm’s length.

According to Guy Winch, a New York psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid, lonely people can become “overly defensive and come across to others as detached, aloof, or even hostile — which only pushes them further away.” Loneliness can create its own self-defeating behavior.

I see this pattern in letters and discussions we have here. “Try meeting more people!” we say. “I’ve TRIED that and it’s not WORKING” the struggling, lonely letter writer or commenter says. “Just, um, try harder!” we say.

I have also seen the self-fulfilling “negging” behavior in action, and I do have a strategy when I meet someone at an event and I say “Hi, nice to meet you” or “Are you enjoying the event?” and they say (true story) “You’re probably just saying that” or (true story) “I’m sure it’s nice but I can never meet people at these things. Not people who want to be my friend.” To be honest, responses like that make klaxons go off in my head, and I DON’T want to be around that person very much, and I DON’T want to be guilted into being friends with a stranger. A mean stranger. But recognizing that sometimes people blurt stuff out when they are feeling really awkward, and knowing that my own semi-public role as an awkward soul makes it more likely that they will blurt that stuff to me, I’ve begun a strategy of redirecting the conversation. “Wow, well, I can’t answer that, having just met you, but…” 

  • “…how did you find out about this event/know the hosts?”
  • “…what would you rather be doing with your Tuesday night?”
  • “…read/watch/eat anything good lately?”

Sometimes the answers are (true story) “I know the hosts because they are good people who take pity on people like me,” “Somewhere really quiet, like the morgue” and “No, but let me tell you about all the things that I’ve read that SUCK and all of the details of that suckiness” and then I do bail politely after three unsuccessful attempts, likely added to their list of “fake people who just can’t hang when things get too real,” or whatever. But sometimes I am able to draw the person out about something they are interested in that isn’t their own self-consciousness, and then they relax a bit, and then we have a pretty ok conversation. So if you hear the klaxons, but sense the person is really trying to connect, I humbly offer that as a way to get through the interaction.

I don’t know how to bypass the self-defeating patterns of a “lonely brain,” and it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what could be happening. At least you’re not imagining it? Sadly, I also don’t know any possible solutions beyond “recognize the role that your own assumptions and fears might be playing in how you respond to interactions with other people, and see if you can’t find happier tapes to play for yourself and for others over time” (maybe with some professional help) and “just, um, keep trying to meet people, Buddy!” I can see why hearing that would be frustrating, especially when you are already making the effort and it feels like it’s going nowhere.

Do others have experience getting themselves out of this mindset? What changed/how did you change it? What other advice could we be offering lonely people who are frustrated with the usual channels for making friends?

 

 

Dear Captain,

In essence, I absolutely adore this girl, but there’s someone else, and she has problems being away from home. As a disclaimer: this isn’t some crush, or the case of a naïve adolescent. This is my fifth relationship (though I wouldn’t call myself experienced in relationships). I’ve dated this girl, and known her for over a year, during which we’ve been comfortable friends for long stretches of time. I want her in my life, at least as a very close friend.

Lets call her Emma. We met last August in college, and very quickly, naturally, spilled all our feelings and pasts to each other. Emma was emotional and had a troubled history of depression. I’m an open and helpful person, so I was more than happy to be there for her. She didn’t need me, but felt much happier with me around. She was single, but had lingering feelings for her ex, who she’d gone out with for two years, but had broken up with because she didn’t want to do long distance in college. His presence was visibly ruining her emotionally. At this point I had no intention of going out with her – I was more than happy to have her as a close friend. Eventually, I had a sit-down with Emma, explaining to her she wouldn’t truly be happy if she didn’t let him go.

About a week later, Emma stopped contact with him. She was noticeably happier, and I was proud to have helped her. I started to develop feelings. She had had feelings for a while, before she broke things off with her ex. The natural progression of our friendship led to us going out. This lasted over 3 months, until break. She went home to her closely knit friend group, which included her ex. My family had just moved to a remote location with a harsh winter, and was alone for break. It was hell.

This took an emotional toll on me. When we returned to campus, things weren’t the same. She broke up with me after a week with no clear reason. Emma got back with her ex shortly thereafter. It was because her ex was more accessible over break than I was, by default. It wasn’t my fault.

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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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