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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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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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Omar from the Wire, "Indeed."

From Wire Inspire, a worthy Tumblr.

Hi Awkwards!

My boyfriend and I have been together for around 2 years. We’re incredibly compatible and this relationship has done a lot for me. I was in a pretty shitty situation before we met, and he’s done so much to encourage me to accomplish the things I want, I feel very lucky.

Basically, there are several shows that I love dearly and want to share with him. He’s done the same for me – He’s a huge fan of Joss Whedon so we are working our way through the Whedonverse. We’ve completed Buffy and Angel and are now on the second season of Dollhouse. The original deal was that I would watch Buffy if he would watch The Wire. 7 seasons later… he’s watched the first episode and wouldn’t continue.

When we first started hanging out I tried to get him to watch Battlestar Galactica, but the explosions in space were too annoying for him to continue. I tried to get him to give Game of Thrones a try, but he was turned off by the fantasy setting. Several months later, he must have encountered something that made it finally sound interesting, because he’s now a huge fan of the show and we gush over new episodes together. The same thing happened with Deadwood, I wanted to watch it together but he wasn’t into it, and then he ended up watching all of it by himself sometime later and loved it.

I only really care about The Wire. The other shows I can enjoy on my own without wanting him to share them with me. I have pretty strong feelings about it, I think it’s an amazing example of storytelling and I think there are a lot of things he would really enjoy about it. It feels like he’s blowing it off without giving it a chance. We’ve talked about it and he knows that watching it would mean a lot to me. He says that the subject matter is too depressing and since he is already depressed it isn’t a good show to watch right now, but has promised that he is interested and will watch it in the future. I don’t really believe that, though.

Really I’m just writing in to find out if I’m being reasonable, and if it’s worth bringing up to him again. Forcing someone to watch something they aren’t interested in won’t make them suddenly like it. I don’t want to turn him off it forever, but I am feeling sad about this. I just don’t know if it’s justified. I do have a lot more tolerance for things in shows that I don’t like than he does. Do I just need to chalk this up to personal differences and get over it?

Thanks for reading,
Long Live Omar

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The Bachelor group shot

“One of you lucky ladies is going to get tenure!”

Hi Captain (& friends),

I have been dating an awesome guy for a little over a year now. It’s not really my style to gush over a romantic partner, but this is possibly the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been with someone. However, we have one big difference: I’m a graduate student getting my PhD in a science field, and he never completed his bachelor’s and is currently working in the service industry. He’s taking online classes and collaborating on a startup, but doesn’t plan to finish his degree.

This doesn’t bother me, or adversely affect the relationship. He is extremely intelligent and genuinely interested in my research work, and I like hearing wild stories from the club he works at. He challenges my ideas and experiments in ways that are interesting and helpful, since they’re not coming from within the academic culture. And besides, we have a lot of shared interests, like programming, caving, and gaming, where we are at similar levels of accomplishment and feel like we can challenge each other.

But this doesn’t stop me from getting anxious about the education discrepancy. When I first met Boyfriend, my out-of-town friends told me I needed to be aiming higher. All my in-town friends are grad students / PhDs, and they’re all dating other grad students / PhDs. They spend date nights writing new theorems; I spend date nights playing Starcraft. It can make parties a little weird: “Oh, your partner developed an entirely new model of fish ecology? That’s awesome! Mine couldn’t come because he’s still washing tables.”

I already have a lot of anxiety about my career. Thanks to ever-present imposter syndrome, my brain loves telling me that I’m my department’s pity hire, I actually don’t know anything about science, and I will crash and burn horribly. So now I’m afraid that I’m somehow sabotaging myself and my career with this non-academic relationship. Is it going to turn me into a lesser scientist? Am I wasting time? Are my priorities all out of whack? I feel awful for making this all about me and my flawed, academia-instilled value system, but my brain won’t shut up about it. For what it’s worth, Boyfriend knows about this anxiety and tries to help (like, by scheduling Thesis / Startup Work “Dates”, to help with my fear that I’m spending too much time with him and not enough time in the lab).

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a slightly complicated situation that I don’t know how to talk (or better yet, avoid talking) about with my parents.

Recently, I’ve met a guy and had a couple dates with him. We hit it off and would like to continue seeing each other. Fortunately, he has his own place; unfortunately, I still live with my parents (yay poorly paying retail jobs), and my mother in particular feels like she needs to know everything going on in my life. It’s impossible for me to just say that I’ll be home late from work, or going out in the evening on my day off without her wanting to know exactly why and where I’m going. I’d be willing to tell her that I’m going on a date, except:

I have a wonderful boyfriend of several years that the parents have met and like. Sadly we live in different countries and only manage to see each other about once or twice a year. This is not a cheating letter! We have an open d/s relationship in which we both are switches, and we’ve both encouraged each other to find other people to play with, although neither of us has taken advantage of it until now. My boyfriend has known about this play partner since I met him, is aware of the play dates, and finds it sweet and very hot.

So if I tell my mom that I’m going on a date, she’ll be wanting to know if I’ve broken up with boyfriend, or think I’m cheating on him, and I don’t really feel comfortable trying to explain an open relationship or that it’s strictly a kink thing to her. (Even more complicated to explain since it’s not sex, either.) >.< Using generic excuses or saying I have work only works for certain times of day, and will no doubt be discovered at some point by calling work when I’m not there. I can’t even say that I’m going out with friends because … well I don’t have any local ones. I don’t really want to get too tangled up in maintaining a lie – this isn’t something I’m ashamed of or feel a strong need to hide, but I really don’t feel comfortable trying to explain it to my MOM.

I guess basically I need some help putting together scripts to either try and explain this or politely tell her it’s none of her beeswax without provoking a tantrum. She has no real sense of privacy, and when I’ve asked her to not do things I find invasive before (like ignoring my closed bedroom door/refusing to knock, or going through my trash) she’s acted offended that it bothers me and then hurt because ‘I never tell her anything’, so I don’t really see a way to set up strong boundaries that isn’t going to result in disaster and endless fights, which I’d love to avoid.

Thanks!

I know people want to be open and honest in all of their relationships, but you get to hold certain things close to the vest if you want to, especially with nosy/judgy parents who go through your trash and can’t knock before entering your room.

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A children's book "Feelings and how to destroy them."

Reminder, Chicago people, Story Club South Side is tonight at 7:30 pm. It will be awkward in the best possible ways.

Hi Captain and Crew,

My partner and I have been together about eight years, and living together for most of that time. I think we’ve learnt a lot about working with each other’s boundaries and habits, and it’s generally going well.

I’m easily socially stressed and like a lot of space away from everyone. Currently Partner is working full time and I’m studying part time with a lot of working from home, so I get a lot of time to myself through the day and that works out really well.

Recently Partner has needed to take some time off so he’s been at home more than usual. It’s a temporary situation and it’s basically okay, but does leave me more drained than usual. He’s aware of the issue and makes an effort to leave me in peace, but just having another person in the house has an impact on me. I’m a lot more comfortable than I would have been even a year or two ago but it’s an ongoing process.

The real issue comes when I try to express how I’m doing, intended as something like “Heads up I’m starting to feel a bit stressed out and flakey”. I know they aren’t really feelings he can do anything about and I don’t expect him to. I just think check-ins are important and not doing them causes other problems. But I can’t seem to say something like that without triggering a large guilt response for all the trouble he’s causing me, and that’s even more draining.

It’s difficult to talk about what’s going on with me if it’s always going to result in an emotional outpouring about what it brings up for him. His stuff is important too but I can’t always be dealing with that on top of (instead of?) my own feelings.

I’ve tried to express this to him before — including bringing it up at calmer moments — but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere constructive. I suppose it’s difficult to work through being both a source of stress and a source of comfort, and that the stress part isn’t really his fault. Any scripts or advice for finding better ways to check in and support each other in ways we can both work with?

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