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Dear Captain,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts appreciated.

-Bossed-At

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

1. “Ex no longer contacts me.”

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

2. “Nerdy desperate dating problems.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. “I fuck goats.”

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

8. “Terrible names to call your sister.”

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

9. “Once a rapist always a rapist?”

Statistically speaking, yeah. Rapists rape repeatedly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A female what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t wait for Thanksgiving

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Hello Captain and Friends,

My life is a mess right now and I have no idea how to begin untangling it. I’ve made a lot of really selfish and terrible choices.

I got married very recently (less than 6 months ago) to a wonderful, successful, charming man that I knew was not “the one” for me. I wish I could explain this decision. We have been together for a long while, our lives are intertwined, and I do feel genuine affection for him. I read a lot of validating things about how relationships are hard and there are no soul mates and I was getting the impression that most married people did what I was doing, which was to just pick a person and keep moving forward. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I felt like I was making a mistake but I just felt like, my life is not a movie and I couldn’t leave someone at the altar. So I’ve been spending several months trying to convince myself and others that I am as happy as they are expecting me to be.

Then, a couple of months ago, I did something even worse. I fell completely and totally in love with someone else. I have feelings for him that I never felt for my husband, even at the beginning of our relationship. Honestly, I didn’t know adults got to feel this way. He is a close friend of mine that I had always harbored a crush on and I know I should have done more to discourage those feelings. But I didn’t and one night we kissed and things have basically spiraled out of control from there. He does reciprocate my feelings and I constantly imagine my life with him.

I feel so stupid and deeply selfish but I just can’t figure out what is the right thing to do here. Do I owe it my husband to try to make this thing work? Do I owe it to him to set him free so he can find someone who deserves him? I would love to be able to talk to him about this, but we don’t really have that kind of connection. Obviously I should have spoken up months or years ago but I just didn’t know how.

It feels like I have a lot of mutually exclusive options here and I have no idea how to make this decision. I know you can’t make a choice for me but I respect the opinion of this community and I hope you guys can help me to think about the situation in way that makes sense so I can try to cause minimal damage to everyone’s lives.

Thank you for your insight.

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Hello Captain!

I’m writing to you about a lady in my friend group who seems to dislike me very much, and makes social gatherings very uncomfortable. Some back story: I started dating my boyfriend Brad about 4 years ago, and hung out with his friend group consisting of his friend from childhood Jake, Jake’s wife Pam, Jake’s brother John, and John’s girlfriend, the lady who now won’t talk to me unless forced, Kayla. (names changed!)

For the first year Brad and I dated, everyone got along! Kayla was warm and friendly, and once when drunk told me that I was “the sister she never had.” Her, Pam, and I would go shopping, talk about comics or feminism, the whole group played cards and went out – things were fine! But then around the same time Kayla and I both moved in to the 3 bedroom apartment Jake, Pam, John, and Brad were sharing, each couple in a room sharing 2 bathrooms and a kitchen, and things deteriorated rapidly.

Simple roommate requests, like “Brad and I have done the dishes twice this week, do you mind taking care of them soon?” became big THINGS for John and Kayla. After any typical roommate issue, they would withdraw to their room, and Kayla would stop speaking to us. We ignored it, chalking it up to social awkwardness, but things got worse. Suddenly Kayla didn’t want us playing with John’s cat. (who, up until this point, was all over the apartment and playing with everyone freely) No reason was given, nothing was said, but suddenly Brad, and mostly me, got nasty looks from Kayla if we picked up the feather toy, and the cat would then be locked up in their room. Soon John and Kayla weren’t even acknowledging us when everyone was in the main room together, or if we bumped into them during the day.

Pam and Jake noticed this change and spoke to John and Kayla privately, and they really made an effort to be more sociable to us for the next few months. Kayla still wasn’t talking to us a lot, but she at least said hello and acknowledged our presence. Then, about a year after everyone moved in together, Brad and I had a small, typical-couple-stuff spat and Kayla was the only other person home. Brad went out to cool down and I was washing my face in the shared bathroom. Kayla walked by and I made a small mention of the spat, and we talked for a bit about long-term relationships; she even seemed warm towards me. Brad and I figured everything out, and everything went on as normal.

But after that day Kayla point blank refused to speak to me or even make eye contact. She was perfectly fine to everyone else in the apartment, including Brad, but now all the antisocial weirdness from before was directed solely at me. If I ran into her and John in the parking lot and said hi, she would look away and walk straight past me, even if John and I were still chatting. At one point we were all at a restaurant and when I sat down, she literally scooted into John’s lap to not sit next to me, and only came off when I moved seats. She blocked me on all social media when prior to this we had all been fairly interactive on Facebook and Twitter, but denied doing so when confronted by Jake and Pam. Jake and Pam eventually stopped inviting her to outings unless she acted nicely, and even then she would sit as far away from me as possible and responded to any attempts at conversation with one-word answers. At this point I had sent a text and also spoken with her face to face, saying that if I had done anything to make her uncomfortable or upset, that I was sorry and would like to reconcile. Over text she said “Sure!” and in person she just smiled and nodded, but nothing changed. I gave up trying to figure things out and let her be, and Brad and I tried to hand out with Pam and Jake alone more often.

Now, another two years later, all of the couples have moved into apartments of our own, but things are still distinctly weird when everyone gets together. I have tried to speak to Pam, who is close with Kayla, and she has said that Kayla tells her she likes me and everything is fine. She still has me blocked on all social media and when questioned by Pam, said she forgot to undo the blocking. However when we all hang out Kayla will ignore me in the conversation but exuberantly engage with the others. Even if I am included in the conversation, she will address them as if I am not there, even in conversations about things Brad and I now share like our apartment, car, cats, etc. I feel like I’m intruding on conversations about my own life, and it’s frustrating and hurtful. Ultimately Kayla has the right to dislike me whatever the reason, and I don’t want her do anything she doesn’t want to do. However I’d like to be able to engage with my friends about mine and Brad’s life without someone essentially denying my involvement in it.

I feel like I’ve done everything I can to address this, and to do more would just be unnecessary drama. Do you and the awkward army have any advice on how I should proceed?

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Edited to Add: The Toast has compiled a list of telltale comments re: creepitude.

Hi Captain!

I’m 21 and recently graduated from university. My best friend Sam is 23. Sam struck up a very close friendship with a 43 year old married man named Chris. I’m concerned because:

1. They spend 3-4 days/week together in a larger social group setting and alone.

2. They often stay out for hours and hours till 4-5am while Chris’s wife Judy sleeps at home. Sam says Judy doesn’t want to go with them.

3. Sam says her name has come up in un-related fights between Chris and Judy.

4. Chris said his mother thought their friendship was odd in the context of an, “older people just don’t understand me” conversation.

5. Within the first HOUR of meeting Chris, he made two separate slights toward his wife (who was not present) in the form of, “Oh, Judy would never come out to something like this” (swing dancing) and, “Oh, Judy isn’t one to try new foods”.

6. Chris commented to a different mutual friend once that sometimes he “thinks he married the wrong woman”.

7. Chris goes to Sam for emotional support, especially when he has a fight with his wife.

Sam doesn’t see anything uncomfortable or inappropriate with this dynamic but I have foreboding feelings. It feels weird and I can’t seem to separate their age discrepancy as a factor that’s magnifying the weirdness. When I talked about this with Sam, she told me I’m acting ageist.

Flash forward several weeks to the person I was dating recently, Mike. Mike and I met online and hit it off right away. He was kind, funny, feminist, and WONDERFUL. We discussed problematic masculinity on our first date (THE ACTUAL DREAM!). Sleeping with him was a pretty big deal for me because it was my first time and I had been waiting to have sex with someone I felt “all in” about. Mike’s profile said he was 27, which was fine because I’ve dated a lot of guys my age who are so nervous that I feel like I’m babysitting. Things with Mike were going well until, unexpected plot twist, I found out he was actually THIRTY SEVEN. He claimed 27 was a typo online but that he looks and feels like he’s a twentysomething (he’s in university), and that he thinks I act very “maternal”, so it shouldn’t be a problem. When I talked to Sam about my misgivings, she said I’m acting ageist again.

Can you help sort out my feelings about all this? Am I really being old-fashioned and ageist in these situations? How much is too much of an age difference to date someone? Do the rules and dynamics of friendship change if there’s a big age difference between friends?

Thanks!

The Adults Are Not All Right

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Matt Smith as The Doctor, holding a baby (Stormageddon)

“Evan, Stormageddon did not appreciate your last remark.”

Dear Captain Awkward:

My husband is very expressive of his emotions; the problem is, he’s also very subtle about it. I’ve had half-joking chats with his BFF (we’ll call him Adam) about the subtle distinctions between the sigh that means “I’m pretending to be offended because you’re playfully teasing me” and the sigh that means “I’m actually really hurt but I don’t want to make a scene”; it’s as clear as day to me and Adam, but sounds identical to onlookers. My BFF, Evan, is one of those who can’t read my husband at all; recently, he approached me and mentioned that it makes him uncomfortable when I call my husband out on emotions Evan didn’t even notice he was feeling because it feels like I’m telling him what he’s feeling when I’m actually just echoing back what I’m seeing on his face. 

The way my husband and I work, it helps tremendously if I stop and question him when I’m getting signals that he’s not okay, so we can resolve the issue immediately and not let it fester. I’m very grateful Evan said something, however, because I suspect other friends are also uncomfortable. How can I address my husband’s emotions when I’m the only one who can tell them apart without making people think I’m making things up, seeing what’s not there, or generally neurotic and anal?

For example: The three of us (Me, my husband, and Evan) were out to lunch and Evan and my husband were playfully teasing each other. Evan said something that actually bothered my husband, and he went into his (subtle) withdraw-and-sulk routine. I knew he’d feel bad all lunch and barely participate in the conversation, so I tried to comfort him,  but he rebuffed me, so then I felt kind of bad myself. Evan was highly uncomfortable, but he characterized the event as my making a big deal out of nothing and making both of us upset. I pointed out that my husband was upset by the teasing first, and Evan was shocked to realize that he’d hit a nerve at all, and immediately apologized. That ended well, but I feel like I handled it badly. It’s like the three of us were in two totally different conversations: my husband and my perspective, and Evan’s perspective. I really don’t want to come across how I do in Evan’s perspective, but I’m not sure how to clue him in without sounding like a control freak. 

Got any scripts for this?

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