Tag Archives: Boundaries

Sweaty shirtless Chris Evans you're welcome

Even Mr. Mountain Lodge Candle himself needs a bath sometimes.

Hi Captain,

So I just started officially dating this really sweet guy, and it’s been going really well! However, he is a huge runner and usually runs every night. We are both in college so we usually hang out after he runs, but he never showers before we hang out! At first I thought it would be a one time thing but it keeps happening, and I really don’t like cuddling with him all sweaty. How should I approach this? We just started dating and I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I really wish he’d just rinse off or something. Am I being too picky?



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The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC

The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, 421–407 BC Shared by Thermos, used under a Creative Commons License.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am currently having issues with a roommate, who is also a friend of many years. We had lived together once before for a short period, and while I had noticed his intense reactions to stressful situations then, I was given the impression he had developed strategies to cope with his anxiety since we first lived together. But now he is in a bit of a tailspin, and has been since our third roommate broke up with him and moved out four months ago. He is also incredibly stressed about work, and is worried about getting fired, and comes home every night with a new bout of anxiety to work out. Unfortunately, this takes the form of his unloading all his anger, disappointment and anxiety onto me as a listener. I understand expression of one’s feeling is super important, and his feelings are one hundred percent valid (work does sound awful and getting dumped blows), but I am feeling incapable of knowing how to help, or perhaps more importantly, how to get time to myself in the apartment. I am a teacher and feel “on” most of the day, so I do not know how to listen and get time to myself at the end of the day.

I feel like we have gotten trapped in a ritual where he will come through the door and tell me every terrible thing about his day for forty-five minutes, and I try to listen, but all I seem to be doing is reinforcing a cycle of negative thoughts. My roommate is feeling very unstable with his life right now, and I don’t want to shut him out, but at some point, it’s probably not good to allow him to fixate so much, yeah? At times, I feel like I am his only outlet for his feelings, and that I have let him take advantage of my listening ear. Often, he will seek me out if I am not in common spaces, not to check in on how my day was, but to unload. He did it just now when he ostensibly knocked on my door to ask if I needed anything from the grocery store, and then ranted at me for thirty minutes, despite knowing it was my writing time. I absolutely should have said, “Yes, it is my writing time, you are correct. I don’t need anything, I will talk to you later,” rather than hand-waving my scheduled time away and listening; I give him permission to do this. But what would be a good script to start a larger conversation?

I don’t know how to talk to him about this issue, given his stress level. I don’t want to give him more anxiety, but I feel this routine we’ve gotten into is creating bad habits. For me, I am not asserting my need for my own space and time. For him … well, it’s almost like he’s treating me as a girlfriend, like giving me all his emotional turmoil as if I am required on a partner level to help him carry it, which isn’t helping him move on or cope on his own? Even in one of my own crises (a cancer scare in my family), he spent all day with me, only to unload an intense amount of anxiety on me at the end of the day (which he had set up as a distracting, “let’s do fun things to get your mind off this cancer scenario” sort of day). This summer, I began dating someone, and my roommate started saying kind of mean jokes in my direction while the new boyfriend was around (though his humor runs more sarcastic generally), and I can’t help but wonder if this happened because I let him lean on me too much in the early days of the break-up and now he’s gotten our relationship parameters confused? He’ll invite me to events these days, and I will say no if I don’t feel like it, or that I have to check my schedule, but then he’ll repeat the invite three times after I have responded. I don’t know. It’s just a lot.

How can I be a good friend and understanding roommate while reinforcing boundaries? Do you have scripts for this, Captain?

Tongue-Tied In A Two-Flat

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So… Not sure if this fits under relationship advice or under the “how to be a regular human being and not a lizard person” category. I’ve been seeing this guy for the last 10 months. He is great, but I’m the first person he’s actually gone out with since ending a long, traumatic and when we met he said he wasn’t looking for commitment. I was fine with it, but then we kept seeing each other and I started falling hard and wanting more – to actually be able to look forward to things and not just treat every encounter as “oh, this could or could not have happened, what random happenstance”.

The thing is, although he’s said he’s in love with me and wants to try being with me, he’s still unable to make plans. If he says “see you saturday”, that doesn’t mean we will definitely see each other saturday, but rather that when he said it it sounded like it might be a nice idea. Come saturday, though, he might decide to go do something else entirely and fall off the grid whilst I’m waiting to hear from him. As someone who has a limited amount of energy for social interaction and a few anxiety issues, I treat planning as something serious. If someone says “see you saturday”, I expect to hear from them saturday. Now, I realised he comes from a different perspective and it’s better to check things on the actual date and not count on them as solid plans, but it still wears on me a bit.

It’s like..Though I know plans could change at any moment, things happen, feelings change, life is unpredictable… And if he changed his mind I would try not to hold him against it… I still feel like I need a plan? Even if it’s not ironclad, just knowing that right now there is a more likely outcome or a desired outcome would make me feel more secure? Does that make sense?

Also, he’s seemed a bit distant lately (still texts almost every day, actually came to see me and brought medicine and food over because I have a cold – but left after sex saying he needed to go home and we MIGHT see each other later… or, you know, not) and I’m not sure if it’s just my insecurity or indicative or something a bit more worrisome. Anyway, my point is: despite thinking of several reasons to work around it (“the distance is all in my head” and “who needs plans anyway”) I keep feeling a bit neglected and anxious. I’m thinking of ending things, not because I want to – I love the guy and he seems to care for me back – but because I think I handle being lonely better when I’m alone and it might be less stressful.

I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he says he’s like this in general, not just with me and there is no point in treating plans as solid because the future is such a changeable thing. So, how do I make peace with being in the moment and stop worrying bout unreasonable things? If there is no ironclad future, how do you stop yourself from having expectations? And how to manage a schedule with someone who doesn’t believe in plans?

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Dear Captain Awkward:

There is an elderly man in his 80s, who I will call Fred, who I have known for almost twenty years. He is known by almost everyone in the community as a grandfatherly figure and was voted Citizen of the Year. He likes to hug people, and I used to give him a hug whenever he asked, never thinking anything of it.

However, last spring I was put in an awkward situation. Fred knocked on the door to my apartment and I invited him in to talk. I was showing him a new book and he asked me to read to him. While I was reading, he suddenly slipped his hand under the back of my shirt and started massaging my shoulders. I was so stunned by this breach of boundaries that I did not know how to handle it. It was entirely inappropriate and I finally moved away but did not say anything.

For the next few months, I tried to avoid running into him around town. But twice during the past two weeks, Fred has run into me and asked for a hug. I gave him a quick hug, and both times, he jokingly complained that he didn’t want a “side hug” and he wanted me to give him a “full frontal hug.” He made a comment about noticing that I was “running away from him.” I am a large-chested woman and I think this is why he wants to hug me in this way. I like Fred as an individual, but his inappropriate touching behavior and pursuit of me makes me feel uncomfortable. How should I handle this?

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Ahoy, Captain Awkward!

Looking for some relationship advice and hoping you can help.

Background: Boyfriend and I met through a mutual friend, I’m in my mid 20s(first serious relationship) he’s in his late 30s(and been around the block a few times, though never married). It’s been an awesome two years and we’re looking into moving in together(though for the record, I haven’t slept in my own bed since March and it’s now July). I’m excited about the whole situation save for one major issue; his ex, M.

M and boyfriend basically grew up together and have always been very close. They dated for a couple years but broke it off because (according to him) it was too much like siblings dating.

She has a history of serious panic attacks and boyfriend seems to be the only one who can calm her. She was suffering so badly at one point that her baby daddy got boyfriend a job in their state(2 states away from where boyfriend was living) to help calm M down. While this was all before my time, it always struck me as odd that they were all so close.

M has always had constant contact with boyfriend the entire 2 years we’ve been together, whether it be emails, FB posts, texts, calls, kissy emoticons, etc. And now with another wave of serious panic attacks brewing, the phone calls are getting more frequent and the visits more lengthy. I’ve talked to boyfriend about maybe suggesting professional help for her as M’s constant contact is taking its toll on him(to the point where he says he’s exhausted and he’s starting to freak out a bit just listening to her freak outs). But he brushes it off with “People who’ve never suffered don’t understand” and “She’s family. I can’t just ignore it”.

Don’t get me wrong, M is super sweet but it also feels like she’s co-dependent on boyfriend and he either doesn’t see it or just chalks it up to being “family”. M, baby daddy and co have since moved back to their home state (5minutes away from boyfriend). And having been here for 3 or so years, M has yet to make any friends of her own, hence the tight hold she appears to have on boyfriend to help her deal with things.

All that to say, what do I do? I love boyfriend and I’ve always heard you marry the man, you marry the family, but am I wrong in thinking this is too much family? I want to build a future with this man but I don’t know if I’m ready to build a future with him AND M. Previous relationships he’s had he said “worked” because the women were “mature” enough to understand the relationship he and M have. So am I not being mature enough? Do I try and make some sort of ultimatum? Break it off til he gets his priorities back on the relationship?

-Sidelined In California

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Dear Captain,

My straight friends will not stop talking about boys. Specifically, if they have boyfriends: How awful their boyfriends and sex lives are (in excruciating detail). If they don’t have boyfriends, it’s all stuff like the latest japanese dating sim they’ve found, and how hot the (disturbingly, rapey) plot lines are and dick in general, to me, a Lesbian.

With the boyfriend thing, it’s always about how condescending/annoying/lazy/useless their boyfriends are, or how horrible they are in bed, how much vaginal sex hurts/is boring, and when I say: Then why don’t you break up with him? They gasp and clutch their pearls and subject me to another tirade about how he is really a Nice Guy and he’s been getting SO much better since they told him all his problems and he folded one whole shirt this week! Without being asked! So I’m being cruel/judgmental/I don’t know what I’m talking about, telling them to break up with him. Yet, next week, they’ll have the same complaints and no matter how much I try and change the subject, I have to hear about how she is allergic to his semen and also, can’t walk right for days after they do it because it’s so excruciatingly painful (but it’s okay, she really wants it! Not having a horribly painful experience/vaginal sex, isn’t an option because she wants that /connection/ with him).

My straight friends that don’t have boyfriends make dick jokes constantly, talk about how hot guys are, try and show me nude pictures of dudes they’ve drawn, etc. In one-on-one conversations with me! A lesbian! Who has said many times, I do not care about that stuff or the entire, 20 minute plot description of the anime episode you just watched, where it’s really cute/funny when main male character sneaks up behind female characters and grabs their boobs. Not only am I disgusted, I am bored out of my mind, and feel extremely alienated.

The few lesbians I’ve talked to about this online, say this is exactly the reason why they do not hang out/are no longer close friends with straight woman, because stuff like this always happens eventually, and no matter how often you tell them that you don’t want to hear about their disturbing heterosexual shenanigans, they will not listen to you. But I love so many of these crazy woman dearly, and I find I can hardly accept not-being-friends with any straight woman, ever again, because most woman are straight woman! Do you have any advice how to handle this without starting a whole new social group from scratch? And excluding myself from caring about the majority of woman in this country?

Confused And Grossed Out

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m in my late 20s and have achieved a considerable amount of success in my creative field. I earn a sizable living and have a good reputation in my field both nationally and internationally.  My father and I do not have a very good relationship (short backstory: he is a professor who left my mom for his T.A. when I was young, attempted to gain custody of my brother and not my sister or I, refused to acknowledge my sister’s depression was real despite her suicide attempt, other bad parent things).  At this point in my life, I prefer to keep things cordial but distant- get lunch one day if we are in the same city, phone calls on holidays.

The problem is that he undermines my achievements at any opportunity that presents itself. When I graduated from art school he flew to New York and showed up at my thesis exhibition unannounced, making my mother (who had been planning and saving to be able to fly up for the day) hugely uncomfortable and making comments like “So is this all you had to do to graduate?  I would have thought you’d at least have had to write a paper or something” and “I mean I’m just glad you’re graduating, it took you long enough.”

Now I am having my first solo art exhibition in London in the fall, and I got a call out of the blue from my dad telling me to let him know the dates because he’d like to attend.  He even had the audacity to say “maybe we’ll just drop in on you like we did for your thesis show!” I know that if he comes it will ruin what should be a major milestone in my art career.  He will make passive-aggressive and rude comments to my coworkers and friends and undermine my accomplishments by speaking negatively about me (“Oh you’ve met her mother?  Now you see why she’s so fucked up”

I’m worried that if I ask him not to come he will show up just to spite me.
How can I keep him from attending without turning it into a major dramatic argument?

Stop Asking Me if I Make A Good Living From My “Etsy Store or Whatever it is You Do”

Dear Stop Asking:

Bad news: You probably won’t be able to prevent him from attending, and it will turn into a major dramatic argument no matter what you do, because that’s how your dad rolls. Whatever will cause the most turmoil and get the most attention is what he will do. So I think you should risk the drama and the argument, but do it on your terms.

The exhibition will be up for a while, yes? It’s not a One Night Only thing? I suggest you pick a date or set of dates that starts after the opening festivities. That way you can have the opening events and enjoy your success without his shadow.

“Dear Dad,

Sometime between X date and Y date would be the best for me.”

Keep it really terse. If he asks specifically about opening parties and events, etc. just repeat yourself: “Between X and Y is the best window for me.”

Do not elaborate or give reasons. He doesn’t think he behaved badly at your thesis event, he thinks it was awesome that he came. He doesn’t think he said horrible and insulting things to you and about you, he thinks y’all were bonding. He has a selective memory, he’ll never be convinced otherwise, so don’t waste your energy. Ignore follow-ups. You’ve said what you needed to say.

You could also say, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t come, but if you insist, sometime between X & Y is best.” This response would rock the illusion of cordial relations you have now though I would argue that if you are filled with dread at seeing the dude, things ain’t that cordial. I think he would still come if you said that (because you are issuing a direct challenge to him), but it strips away the illusion that he is somehow doing this for you and returns some of the awkwardness to sender.

He might well look up the event online and crash the opening to spite you (and torment your mom). Against this contingency, you could recruit some of your most thick-skinned and gregarious friends to be your Dad-buffers. If your dad shows, you can give your dad a brief (& confused) hello, like “Oh hi, Dad, I didn’t realize you’d be here” before excusing yourself to the rest room for a good 10 minutes, while Dad-buffer Friend #1 swoops in to give your dad a personal tour of the gallery and keeps him far away from you for the rest of the evening. Buffer Friend #2 is there should you get cornered by your dad, to swoop in and call you away for something urgent, like, a buyer (fictional or real), i.e. “Letter Writer, so sorry to interrupt you and your Dad, but Sting is here and wants to ask you about your work.” Your script is “Sorry, can’t talk now!” as you walk away from him to somewhere else. If/when he releases the word-kraken of undermining nonsense and backhanded compliments, your friends will know that it doesn’t reflect on you, at all. He is only embarrassing himself.

Depending on what kind of venue it is, you could also deploy the guest list or “invitation only” qualities of the opening to your benefit. It would involve telling your agent or the venue manager (or other person in charge): “My dad and I are estranged, but he likes to crash my openings and make a big weird scene. Can we make sure he does not acquire tickets or guest list privileges?” Savvy people who are invested in your career (literally, they are literally invested in you) will realize that a shaky, seething, distracted You is a You Who Sells Less Art and do what they can to buffer you. There will be drama if your dad is escorted out by security, but security people are totally capable of saying “Sorry sir, it’s invitation only, and you’re not on the list. The show runs through (date), please come back another time.” They don’t have the same emotional engagement as you do, and they give zero fucks that he’s your dad.

If he doesn’t crash the opening, and shows up later, you can decide whether you want to meet up with him at all. You could reward him for at least respecting the time window boundary with a brief lunch and collect a few more inappropriate Dad sayings, or you could be all “Sorry, didn’t realize you were actually coming (since you insist on surprising me at these things). I’m actually in France for the weekend. Enjoy the show!

Congratulations on your show, I hope it is a great success and that it is relatively asshole-free.

Moderation note: Readers, if you have kind, normal parents, flying across the ocean to see your child’s art show would be a tremendous show of support and love. If you don’t relate to a scenario where this all fills you with dread, that’s okay – it means you’re lucky, and it also means that this question and response isn’t really about you. Please no “but he’s faaaaaaaamily” hijacks.


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