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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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Dear Captain Awkward:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help, Captain.

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Let’s play the game where we answer the questions people typed into search engines to find this place. Punctuation added. Wording unchanged. 

1. “My bf won’t choose me over his brothers that are rude to me.

I don’t know what the nature of this choice is, like, probably your boyfriend won’t ever cut off or stop talking to his brothers on your behalf, but your boyfriend should definitely stick up for you when and if people in his family are rude to you. 

2. “When he says he doesn’t have time or focus for a relationship.”

Time and focus may in fact be factors, but also, “he” doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. I’m sorry, that sucks to hear. Move on from this prospect, is my advice. 

3. “How to turn down a friend down politely convincing her you love but can’t engage in a relationship right now.”

This is the wrong way to go about it. If you don’t want to be in a relationship, just tell her “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, I’m so sorry, but I value you very much as a friend.” Let her heal for a bit and then you can most likely be friends again. If you use the “not right now” excuse you leave her hanging and hoping, and it’s going to be so much worse.

4. “What it means when a girl say she does not think it will work out.” /”What did she mean by saying we can’t cope with each other?”

Most likely translations: “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, but I’m using neutral language like ‘it won’t’ work’ to try to spare your feelings.”

5. “How to respond to a compliment on your looks.”

From an acquaintance, not delivered with a leer, like, “You look really nice today?” a good answer is “Thank you.” It’s what people expect to hear and will complete the conversational circuit with maximum efficiency. 

Yelled at you from a moving car? It’s not a compliment at that point. 

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

Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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

Awkward & Lonely

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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?

 

 

Ahoy Captain,

I’m writing this after reading about the LW who kept getting stuck with the check.  I’m in the inverse of a similar situation, and I’m not sure of the best approach.  I’ve just started a job in an awesome place with a bunch of wonderful, appropriately friendly co-workers.  Apart from loving what I do there, this job will (slowly) get me out of a pretty grim financial situation created by student loans and intermittent work over the past two years.  For now, though, I’m on a skeleton budget and can’t afford much by way of unnecessary stuff, which is where the problem starts.  My co-workers have all worked together for a while, and they do this cool thing were they go out to lunch together a lot and take turns either paying for lunch, or collecting money from the office to run out and get food.  They invite me frequently, and once or twice have covered me for lunch on the rare occasion I forgot to pack one. I’d love to participate, but I can’t at the moment due to being behind on a lot of crucial bills.

The trouble is that it’s getting to the point were it feels really weird to be constantly opting out of these lunches, especially since we’re a small office, and the fact that I don’t volunteer to pitch in for food runs is creating some very awkward situations were I’m constantly removing myself from the rest of the group.  I know I’m coming across as either stingy or unfriendly, which concerns me because I really want to make this job a pleasant environment.  But it’s realistically going to be a few months before I can afford to do this, and I don’t want to explain my financial situation to my colleagues.  Are there any scripts or tips you and the awkward army know of to navigate this embarrassing situation?

Sincerely,

Economic Casualty

Dear Economic Casualty:

The first ever Captain Awkward reader question was about a similar topic, with friends and money and eating out. So, hey! We’ve come a long way.

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Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall with text "Professor McBadass"

There is more to teaching and life than having a good small-talk game.

Dear Captain Awkward,

This question is not so much about a single major situation or a crisis as it is about a recurring, if minor, situation that I encounter again and again. I am a graduate student at a medium-sized research university where graduate students do a lot of teaching. As a result, I encounter former students on campus on a very regular basis. I hope very much to keep teaching college students long-term, though who knows what my future holds.

The problem I have is this. My classes are often fairly popular with students, in part because my teaching persona is very warm and approachable, and in the classroom, I am good at not taking myself too seriously and putting other people (i.e. students) at ease. In real life I am none of those things: I am awkward, introverted, and ill-at-ease with social acquaintances, and I overread Every. Damn. Detail. of routine social interactions. I often feel that students who run into me in public social settings (at coffee shops, libraries, etc.) are surprised by what they perceive as a change in my affect, and that–put bluntly–I make them feel uncomfortable when they greet me after our class is over. I hate that. I feel I talk too long, or not long enough, or that I greet them when they’d rather avoid me, or that I avoid them when they’d rather greet me.

I should say that, while many college instructors resist or resent outside encounters with students, I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy keeping up with former students. Even more importantly, I think that students at my large, cold, competitive institution need as many one-on-one adult contacts as they can get, and that it’s important for them to feel like they are part of a supportive social network made up of people of many different ages. I think that having good, positive, low-key, supportive encounters–not with every single student, but with students who actually want to say “hi” or catch up briefly in passing–is an important part of my job. But I’m not good at it.

I’m asking you because I know you are a college professor, and I imagine that–like me–you have a lot of students who would like to keep in touch, or who check in when you pass them in the hallway. Any advice on how to make these encounters productive, or at least comfortable?

Wants to Be That Supportive Former Teacher

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