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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.

 

 

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?

 

 

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