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#560: It’s *your* party, so why would you invite people who put you on edge?

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m organising a house party for my 21st birthday, but I’ve run into a dilemma which I don’t know how to resolve. Backstory is, I was dating this woman, let’s call her X, for over half a year. We split up before January. It was my first real relationship and the breakup really, really hurt me badly, and I’m not sure I’m entirely healed yet. Having said that, me and X are on friendly terms, and I like to think that neither of us harbours genuine ill will against the other. After a long period of no contact, X and me started talking against and she invited me to her house party a few weeks ago. I went, and realised that it was a terrible mistake to go. I was pretty unhappy for a few days afterwards. Since then, we’ve still been in contact but only on a fairly light-hearted context.

So, that’s the history behind it. My dilemma is, should I invite her my party? My gut feeling is to say, hell no. I know that if she comes, I won’t enjoy it, and I’ve never organised anything like this before and I’m a bit shy at the best of times so I want to be 100% on the top of my game that evening. Also, some of my friends have a pretty big grudge against her (she never got on well with them when we were dating, and they’ve not exactly warmed to her since we broke up), so I know it wouldn’t make for a very pleasant atmosphere. That all sounds very clear cut, and I don’t expect that she’d want to come anyway even if I invited her. The problem is, since she invited me to her most recent party, and I was also at at her 21st birthday last year which was an event that was very important to her, I feel that not sending her an invitation – even though I don’t think she’d accept it – would be a really nasty snub to her. We’ve also got a few mutual close friends who I want to invite, so she will know if I don’t invite her.

She’s not a bad person and I don’t want to be rude to her, especially since she’s been nice to me and has tried to make things up with me, but I don’t want to potentially spoil an event that’s supposed to be happy. Doubly so, since I’m graduating soon after that and it’ll be one of the last chances to properly hang out with a lot of the other people who are leaving as well. Please help me out!

Sincerely,
Unsure about how not to offend my ex

Dear Unsure:

You can invite anyone you want to your party, and you don’t have to justify it to your friends. You can not invite anyone you don’t want to your party, and you don’t have to justify it to your ex. Good reasons: “Felt like it.” “Didn’t feel like it.” “Forgot.” “Thought about it, decided not to.” “Can fit only 8 people in my living room.” Your party, your money, your booze, your house, your space = your rules about who to invite. 21 is a good time to learn this, so, happy birthday!

You don’t have to be friends with your ex at all. Even if she’s not an inherently bad person. Even if she’s trying really hard to be cool. Even if you’re friendly, more or less, you definitely don’t have to be good friends with her or let her back into your inner circle. An invitation is not a contract, or an order.

Say you agree with both me and your own gut, and you don’t invite her. Say she finds out that you had a party and didn’t invite her. Say she invokes Party Smeagol and actually brings it up with you and tells you it hurts her feelings. Awkward! What can you really say? “I’m glad we’ve become somewhat friendly again, but I wanted my birthday celebration to be uncomplicated.” “Oh, didn’t realize you’d want to come to that. Maybe next time.” 

You don’t have to work hard at this lady anymore. Happy birthday!

Edited To Add: This Miss Conduct piece on how to figure out who to invite to what is great.

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#559: Does “can’t be in a relationship right now” always mean “…with you”? Spoiler: Yup. Sorry.

Dear sifters of potentially-answerable awkwardness,

I’ve had a lover of the very best kind for the past ~9 months, healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, and we both had started to talk about, you know… we could see us together for a long time. I feel respected and heard and loved and the sex is incredible.

We both have a history of depression, but in many ways sharing that made it easier for us to relate and be supportive of each other.

7/9ths of this time has been long distance; we started seeing one another just before I finished graduate school and moved from the heartland to a well-paid technical job on the left coast. Lover has a BFA and has struggled with unemployment most of his adult life. We’d talked about him moving here as I am in a position to support him, and would be happy to for him to pursue his art. But fears and feelings of dependency and uselessness are what his depression eats and breathes.

A month ago, I was visiting, and Lover said he doesn’t know who he is right now, and needs to focus on his own mental health and knows that it breaks my heart and breaks his too, but he needs some time for himself, for self care and therapy. I told him if space was the only thing he needed that I could give him right now, I would give that to him, and we both cried ALL the tears. I love him and I want him to be well. He said how much he loves me, too and let’s call it not a break up for now, but a break.

The radio silence we’d agreed on has passed and we’ve talked. He is still not well (a month is not a long time), is maybe possibly in the beginning stages of starting to climb out? But we can’t be together as we were. We also still love each other, very much.

We don’t want to drop out of each other’s lives. We said let’s talk on the phone sometimes, not just fb/instagram, and we both thought about once a week sounded good. (We used to talk every day, usually multiple times.) We talked about how neither of us really is that interested in dating anyone else right now. We said goodnights with “I love you.”

Captain does “can’t be in a relationship right now” always mean “with you”? Can it ever be legit? I don’t want to get over this. I love the boy with sparkles I’ve never had, including in my 5 year marriage in my early 20s. He clearly still loves me. I don’t want to ‘put my life on hold’ but neither do I really want to put a ton of effort into ‘getting over’ him.

-Feeling too many things

Dear Feeling:

“I can’t don’t want to be in a relationship right now with you” can be the ambivalent or uninterested person’s soft rejection, or it can exist alongside all the feelings of connection in the world.

I advocate replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” because while it’s painful, it’s useful to remind yourself that when someone breaks off a relationship for any reason, they are making a choice. The decision can really be more about timing, logistics, health, etc. than it is about feelings, i.e., the “don’t want to” can have a lot of genuine “can’t” embedded in it, but the choice is the choice. “If circumstances were different, I’d be all about you, but they are what they are, so I’m making this decision that the relationship is not where I want to focus my energies.”

When you fixate on the “can’t” part of it, when you stay focused on the circumstances at the expense of the choice, it keeps you invested in solving the problems in a relationship that someone just told you they don’t want to be in. When you’re in love with someone like you’re in love with this person, the Wishful Thinking Translator is very powerful. “He said he can’t be with me right now because _______” = “If I solve for _______, he will be with me! Let’s roll up our sleeves and fix this motherfucker!”

And the devil of it is, that might actually sorta be true, in your case? Like, if your partner weren’t feeling so depressed and shitty right now, you’d probably actually be rolling along like you used to be. So, there’s a problem, and your loving, delightful, smart intelligent human brain is ready to find the solutions because that’s what our miraculous brains do when someone we love has a problem.

Proposed Solution 1: Fix the depression.

If you figure out how to solve someone else’s depression so that they can finally become the partner you want them to be, DEFINITELY CALL ME ABOUT GUEST POSTING OPPORTUNITIES THX.

Proposed Solution 2: Adapt the relationship into something that is more “workable.”

Like, pulling back daily, constant interaction to once/week. Like calling it a break, not a breakup. Like reaffirming your feelings in spite of the shitty situational stuff, and remaining hopeful. (YOU ARE HERE.)

If this level of contact is enjoyable and sustainable for you, and agreeable to him, then why the hell not wait it out for a while and see if things get any better? You get to decide what you do with your heart and for how long.

One pitfall of this, of course, is that you don’t actually want to talk only once a week. You want a boyfriend, not an occasional pen pal. And the longer you pour yourself into the shape of the world’s most supportive and accommodating girlfriend — oops! supportive friend with absolutely no agenda whatsoever! — the more your own needs are going to disappear inside his immediate & overwhelming ones. “I need a boyfriend who pays a lot of attention to me and is very present, even if it’s from a distance. I want a boyfriend who will make a plan to actually move to where I’m living. But you know, X is very depressed right now, and until he deals with that, this is okay, too…I guess…I mean, I know what it’s like to have depression, and I want to be fair about that.” His needs are more acute right now, but now long before they take over and the relationship runs only on his terms? You have radio silence (that you don’t want) when he needs it, you have occasional contact (less than you want) when he needs that…when are you allowed to have needs again?

Proposed Solution #3: Believe and honor his choice.

The circumstances – mental illness that no one asked for – are shitty and heartbreaking. And I am so, so very sorry.

But your lover’s choice, to pull back from the relationship and focus 100% on his own recovery, is actually pretty legit. I have a lot of side-eye for the “I’m breaking up with you for your own good, you shouldn’t have to be saddled with poor me” breakup, but someone who says “I have energy only for myself right now, sorry” is being brave and honest.

This is why I encourage people who are being broken up with to pull back from sifting through the reasons and look at facts. Reasons matter, of course they do, but the fact is: He ended your romantic relationship. He chose Not You, or, only a Little Bit Of You In Small Manageable Doses On His Terms, For Now.

He could have said “I love you, hang in there with me, we will be together someday I promise, but I need a few months to pull my mental health together and focus on that.

He could have said “I’m moving to where you are, will you take care of me like you offered while I do therapy and get myself together, I would really like you by my side while I work these things out.

My grandparents got married and then my Grandpa went back to the war and they didn’t see each other except occasionally for the next four years, and since he stayed in the service they had many long periods of separation and relocation for the next decade or so. While times and expectations about marriage were different then, they did not actually know for sure that they’d still be in love when they were finally able to reunite. They had no guarantees that they’d be the same people, or they’d still be compatible. They had to re-learn each other, and re-decide to stay and make it work. They were very much in love, it turns out, and they did stay together for the next 60 years, but day to day during their separations the most they ever had to go on was “If we both survive this, I promise to try really hard to still love you” because that’s all anyone has ever had to go on. For a less dramatic example, for some couples, “I got into this neat grad program that means I’ll be moving very far away ” means “let’s break up, that’s too hard” and for others it means “Let’s get hitched before you go so the health insurance will all be cool while we figure out the rest.” 

Saying “I love you” when you hang up the phone, not being interested in dating anyone else, being regretful, missing the other person a lot, liking someone more than you’ve ever liked anyone else, honestly loving someone and really wanting it to work out are all reasons to be sad about the way this is ending. You’re throwing them out there, as signs, as evidence, like we’re proving a geometry theorem, but they aren’t proof. There is no substitute for “I. Choose. You.” 

When you’re in a situation like this, it’s tempting to grab onto the narrative about how “good love just takes work!” and wrap it around you like a big comfy blanket. Work! It’s something you can DO. It’s something you can CONTROL.Work Ethic, meet Feelings! Feelings, roll up your sleeves and meet this Plucky Can-Do Attitude!

Healthy relationships do take work in the sense of figuring out “Where will we live and who will do the dishes there?

I will distract you while we wait for the doctor to call with the news.” “I will be the sociable buffer while we visit your difficult family.”I will clean up the cat barf so you don’t have to look at it or smell it.” “I will work on managing my mental health issues so I can more fully present as your partner.”

This kind of work can be hard and draining as hell, depending on the circumstances (fist-bumps to all the new parents and the caregivers out there!), but if you know for sure that you’re in this thing together and the division of labor feels fair and reciprocal, it’s not bad work.

The bad kind of work is the stuff that romantic dramas are made of. “You are a stalker and literally a vampire, sure, let’s date! Let’s break up and get back together 10,000 times. Love triangle, heeeeeeeyyyyyyyy! OK I will let you bite our terrifying deathbaby out of my womb.” It’s very intense and sexy and words like “destiny” or “meant to be” get thrown around a lot, with massive amounts of energy expended on the question “Should we actually be together? Do I actually want this? Does the other person actually want this?” The higher the stakes, the harder the struggle, the more it proves that the relationship is worth it, in Storyland.

My opinion is that high-conflict situations are compelling to read about and watch, but draining to live, and that “this totally sucks!”/”ok just work at it harder” is a damaging, toxic message when people try to translate it from stories to life. In fact, I am working on a theory that goes like this:

The more times someone mentions “destiny”, “soulmate”, “it was meant to be,” “I felt like it was fate”, “I just know in my heart that we are meant to be together” “I think that if we just worked at it…” in either a TV show or a letter, the more likely I will find myself throwing metaphorical popcorn and yelling “you know you could just break up, right?” in the direction of the cat. When it’s working, it doesn’t need to be “meant to be;” it just works.

My other opinion that there is no amount of work that you can do to preserve a relationship if the other person isn’t on the same page. Logistics can be worked out. Brainweasels can be managed. Hard times can be lived through. But “I want to sail in this boat with you, wherever it takes us” is not negotiable. You’ve got to choose each other, and if both people aren’t fully doing that, all the work (and all the love/pantsfeelings/hopes/wishes/sense of connection/signs/green flags) in the world won’t fix it.

You say in the opening of your letter that this is by far the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in. Let’s add some words onto the end of that sentence, like we did with “…with you”:

This is the healthiest relationship you’ve ever been in so far.

Either this relationship is going to get healthier because your partner works on his stuff, feels better, and makes a strong, clear, unequivocal move back in your direction, or you are going to meet someone else who will have all the great stuff this person does + some other great stuff that you don’t even know about + that person will fully choose you as hard as you choose them. 

I know it is not what you want to hear, but my honest suggestion is that you either decide together that you want to make a go of it, or you make a cleaner, longer break (3-6 months, no contact) before you do any more work or try anything resembling being friends. This limbo is not healing him and it’s not serving you.

192 Comments

#558: Help I’m boring

Hi Captain Awkward (or any other lovely affiliated blogger kind enough to take this letter on),

I’m a very boring person. I used to think I was creative and interesting, but I find that all I really do is mindlessly consume media. I read online constantly (articles, blogs, forums, etc) but almost never post anything myself. I used to write a bit, but now I just guilty delete the 750words.com reminder email every morning. I read books, watch Netflix, listen to music, whatever, and I’m so sick of it. I’ve read all about “the top 10 ways to meet new people” and “best hobbies for 20-somethings” and I just can’t bring myself to feel anything but apathy for most things. Occasionally, something will spark my interest briefly, but I’ll only pursue it for a few days, if that.

I have a lot of spare time because my (mind-numbing, totally awful) job (that I despise) pays extremely well and doesn’t require more than a dozen or so hours of work per week. I could work more hours to make more money, but I prefer not to. I know I should fill my free time with fulfilling activities of some sort, but very little sparks any interest for me whatsoever, and my follow-through is pitiful.

I’m married and I have a few friends and family who I guess I’m close to, but they all seem to be a bit bored of me lately, and I can’t blame them. Who wants to hang out with someone who says and means “absolutely nothing” when you ask them what’s new? Most people seem to think I’m funny and intelligent, so I can have some non-awkward conversations, but I’m starting to feel a bit self conscious about my interactions with people now. I’ve (ineffectively) addressing this by reading endless articles about building social skills and being a good listener, which has the result of making me seem, well, kind of fake to be honest.

Captain, I’m sure you’re bored of me already (if you’re even reading this). How do I turn a human-shaped lump into someone worthwhile and interesting?

Oh and I suppose I should note that I’ve seen a doctor and a therapist. I tried a vast assortment of prescription medication for depression and ADHD (which I was diagnosed with 5 years ago) over the course of the past couple of years, none of which had any effect on my general well-being or motivation.

Hello there.

I don’t know where you live, but if the photo below resembles what’s been happening outside, have you considered just chalking this up to “Generalized Februaryness” and waiting it the fuck out from under a blanket somewhere?

A stop-sign mostly submerged in snow.

That is to say, you’re not alone in feeling generally “meh” and “blearggghhh” right now. From your last paragraph, it sounds like you’ve already considered that losing interest in things that used to interest you, feeling generally un-energetic, and assuming that it must be because you are inherently _______ (insert negative quality here) ticks off some ticky boxes related to treatable stuff, so, good. You’ve got medical resources you can call if you need to, I won’t belabor that aspect of your question and we can skip ahead to the existential crisis part.

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256 Comments

#557: That’s just one dude’s opinion/Annual reminder that “why did you break up with me?” is not a question you actually want answered.

Dear Captain Awkward:

About two weeks ago, I was broken up with by my then-boyfriend of nearly two years, P. I did not see it coming, at all. A week before, he had invited me to his family’s reunion in the summer, and he had spent the previous weekend with me.

P and I met on a dating website, after I had been single for a couple of years. We seemed to click right away, he was very attractive and intelligent, and was fun to converse with. The only major problem in our relationship, that I could tell, was that he was bad at emotional intimacy. Like, way bad.

When he broke up with me, he sent a bunch of mixed signals. The few times we saw each other or talked during the first week after, he was way physically (& not platonically) affectionate, and was telling me all about how his day was going. Needless to say, it was confusing.

I spoke with a friend who is mutual friends with P, and she confirmed that nobody knew that P was going to break up with me, and that P was being a sad panda about it. He said (to my best friend) that I should get in touch with him when I was ready.

I ended up talking to my therapist about it, and she suggested that I figure out why he had broken up with me. Initially he said it was because he didn’t feel the way for me the way he thought he should, but all of his actions pointed away from that. So, I texted him to see if he was open to talking, and off we went to our favorite diner.

That talk, to say the least, ended badly. He hemmed and hawed and gave weird reasons (didn’t want to move in together, which was odd because I was nowhere near ready for that either), only to change his mind the next second. Then he said, “I just never saw myself with somebody like you.”

When I asked what that meant, he mumbled something about my “eclectic” fashion sense. Then, he blurted out, “I guess I always saw myself with somebody more conventionally attractive.”

This obviously hurt. In the beginning, I often wondered how somebody like me could land a guy so freaking hot. And now, cool! All my fears and insecurities came true! Awesome!

I got angry, and told him that there was no way, none what so ever, that we could be friends after this. He got sad, and was practically pleading with me. He apologized a bunch, promised he’d be a better person in the future, all that. When I left his car, I told him that he could consider himself free from me, and I went and ugly-cried all over the place. I deleted and blocked him from everything, disabled a lot of my social media accounts to avoid lashing out at him.

In the process of that, I came across a post he made on Reddit, asking how to forgive himself after he had hurt somebody, mentioning how he was never proud to be seen in public with me, and how he knew from the beginning that he was settling for way less than what he wanted in a partner, namely in the looks department.

It’s less than a full day later, so I know it’s too soon to make huge declarative statements but: This has utterly messed me up. Like, I’ve always been aware that I was less than cute by society’s standards but I’ve never had a hard time getting dates/hook ups/relationships, so I figured I was doing okay enough. Now, I have to deal with the knowledge that a man I was in love with for nearly two years, who introduced me to his family and friends, who seemed to have no problem having sex with me, secretly wished I looked like somebody else. From the get-go.

I guess my question is: How to I survive this? I can’t look in the mirror without bawling. I’m so nauseated that I can barely stomach food. I am hating my body and my face a lot right now. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way, that this anger should instead be directed at him for being such a jerkface, but it’s easier to point it at myself.

For right now, I am so turned off to the idea of finding somebody else, even in the distant future, because now I’ll always be wondering at the back of my head: What if this hypothetical person will also lie to myself about loving me and having sex with me while actually being embarrassed by me?

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## 556: What’s the difference between “can’t” and “I’m scared, don’t wanna?”

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 25-year-old living at home with my parents; I received a BA in English/Creative Writing about two years ago, and I haven’t done much of anything since then. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety (especially social anxiety) for practically my whole life, and a couple months ago I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. On top of that, I have some physical health problems: tons of food allergies that cause a lot of digestion issues and Fibromyalgia. These all make my daily life pretty difficult. I’ve been seeing a therapist for about a year, but I feel like I haven’t made any progress.

I have very little energy to do anything; I sleep late every day no matter what time I set my alarm clock for, and every day I take naps for two hours or more even if I set an alarm to try and force myself to get up sooner. Most days I stay at home, but on days when I have to leave the house, I come back home later completely exhausted for the rest of the day – sometimes for more than one day. So it’s really difficult for me to find the energy to force myself to do things, not to mention the motivation.

I haven’t written anything since I graduated, and I can’t get myself to draw anything either (I took plenty of drawing classes as well and for a while I thought about starting a webcomic, but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation to keep up with something like that). I also don’t have any social life, because I never made any real friends while I was in college, and I’ve lost contact with all of the friends I had in high school, so I’m pretty socially isolated.

I’ve been working on getting a driver’s license, but it’s slow going. For the past month and a half, I’ve tried doing yoga for about ten minutes a day, but I don’t think it’s made any difference in my health. My primary care doctor doesn’t have any other suggestions.

With all of this, I don’t know if I could handle holding down a job. I can’t imagine ever having the energy to work for five hours or more at a time. My parents want me to try and apply for disability to help pay for my college loans, because they’re paying for them right now and it’s hard on them. But my parents have always been very overprotective, and I worry that they’re not pushing me as hard as they could be to do better. I want to someday be able to live independently, but I’m not sure what kind of job I could work or how I could make that possible.

I guess this is my question: How do you know the difference between being completely unable to do something (like get a job) and being scared or finding it difficult?

Thanks,

Exhausted

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66 Comments

#555: Carts, Horses, and the Order of Operations

Dear Captain Awkward:

How bad is it to get involved with a new person when I am still very hung up on someone else? Someone not available to me, but still part of my friend group? Even though I am still in love with him, I no longer hold out hope that we can be together and I feel ready to find someone else. What I’m afraid of is that I’ll meet someone new, and get involved, and then realize that I am not really emotionally available for him, which seems like an awful thing to do. But, I don’t see how I can know in advance whether or not I will love the new person more, unless I give it a try. Does this make me evil?

Part 2 of this question is, do I have to tell my new guy at some point about the old guy? Old guy doesn’t want me to, as he’s married and is afraid of the story getting out to all our friends and our children. Does it really matter if either I don’t love new guy enough to stay with him, or if I love him enough that I don’t love old guy any more?

Dang it,
Confused

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12 Comments

Victoria, BC Meetup March 22

O Canada! You’re meeting up, courtesy of Annafel. Her message:

Hi friends!

Over in the discussion thread for the Captain’s ‘You Are Legion’ post, there was a bit of interest in a meetup in Victoria, BC (the one in Canada). I then posted in the Meetup thread, and a couple of other people and I agreed on the following date, place, and time:

Saturday, March 22

Serious Coffee on Blanshard at Fisgard

12 noon
It is accessible, reasonably spacious, affordable (for Victoria), and offers a range of options for food and drink. It has a wheelchair accessible washroom, free parking, and kids are welcome. It is close to a number of bus routes but not directly on any of them. Probably the closest bus stops would be on either Douglas or Pandora (one long block in either case).

I will bring my white tiger stuffie, Quentin, for recognition purposes. I may also bring paper and pencil crayons.

Hope to see a bunch of you soon!

<3, Annafel

Have a good time!

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