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Tag Archives: enforcing boundaries

I’m in grad school for creative writing. It’s hard. Right now, I’m taking three classes, which means that I’m reading 500-plus pages a week, in addition to commenting on my classmates’ writing and producing a poem every week. Plus, I’m teaching a basic composition course for struggling writers, and a literature course (for the first time ever), so I’m writing lesson plans and grading essays for nearly 60 students. AND I work ten hours a week to supplement my stipend enough to buy things like toiletries, books and the occasional beer on a Friday night. Also, I need to clean my apartment and do laundry and run errands sometimes. And in addition to all of THAT, I’m expected to participate in meetings, go to outside lectures, and attend all the readings by my classmates and visiting writers. And I WANT to, because oh my god I love school. School is the best thing ever. I work my ass off and I LOVE IT. This is not really about grad school.


What people think an MFA is like.

Except it kind of is. I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes, among other things, crushing migraines and extreme fatigue. And there’s no cure for it, because ovaries, ew. Mostly, I manage. But there are days when I can barely drag myself around, and did I mention all the stuff I’m supposed to be doing? Sometimes I can’t do it all. Sometimes my whole body feels like a bag of wet sand that I’m not strong enough to lift. Sometimes I have to lie down and rest before I die. So I miss the reading, or the lecture, or the lunch meeting.

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fun house mirror

Your mom.

Dear Captain Awkward,
        Ever since I can remember my worth in my family has only gone up when my weight goes down. My mom was always telling me I was too fat and that I needed to pull my pants up over my stomach or that I needed to buy larger shirts so my “fat doesn’t hang out”. She even has my brother, grandmother and my father doing it. My mother is a functional alcoholic, and has been since before she was pregnant with me (my dad had come home to her being trashed when she was about 3 months along with me, but that’s not the point of what I’m writing about) and when she’s drinking her comments on my body get around ten times worse. She’s even gone so far as to text my father (whom she’s divorced) that I’ve gained [EXAGGERATED AMOUNT OF WEIGHT] and need an intervention. I honestly am not overweight, or at least don’t see myself to be. [WEIGHT INFO REDACTED] I have to wear extra large T-shirts because  I have an overly large bust and if I complain about not being able to find tops that fit she says that maybe if I went on a diet I would go down a few cup sizes. The only time she ever says anything positive to me is if she thinks I’ve lost weight. I would be completely comfortable with my body if it wasn’t for her breathing down my neck all the time about my weight. One minute she’s angry that I’m eating, and then another she’s angry if I haven’t eaten. There is absolutely no way that I can win with her. How can I make her leave the subject alone?

I’m an 18 year old girl, not a victoria’s secret model.

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More on the theme of parents & communication with adult children today.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been reading your blog for just a few days now but I already caught on to the important part ‘speak up for yourself’.

Now my problem is that I can’t. Or rather I can’t make myself.

I’ve grown up with my bipolar mother. She’s in therapy, on meds and the whole family is very supportive.
She was stuck in depressive stage for what feels like my whole youth, so living at home was equal to walking on egg shells. No arguments, no unplanned behavior, no upsetting mom lest she burst into tears. No friends over (not that I had many). No going for a walk after school instead of heading straight home. No speaking my mind. Keeping my head down so dad wouldn’t have more to worry about.

While my younger brother dealth with the problem by taking drugs and acting up, I was the model daughter. Dream grades. Quiet behavior. Self sufficient.

I, well, broke around age 17 where she had another depressive plunge and went into the hospital. I was unable to visit her, speak to her, look at her without everything freezing. I had two years of therapy, at least one mental breakdown and unvited her from my graduation ceremony because I didn’t want to risk her ruining the day as she was almost but not quite out of the hospital.

Fast forward to today:

I’ve moved out and live with my boyfriend of 6 years. She’s not had a depressive episode in a while but is bordering on mania. She’s still self centered but more aware of her surroundings. Unfortunately she has this big idea of us being/becoming bffs. She tries to bribe me with presents (small things…flowers, yarn, chocolate). She says she loves me and I can see in her eyes that she wants me to just say it back.

But I can’t. It would be a lie. I don’t love her. She has serverely disabled me with this need for top grades, the inability to speak up for myself and the fear that one wrong step will have her telling me again what a horrible child I am and/or send her back into depression.

I generally keep my distance as she’s getting clingy again. I only visit my father (he works at me university, so I can just visit his office). But I don’t want to cut her out of my life. Or rather, I feel I shouldn’t. It would mean not seeing my father as much. I enjoy spending time with her in small doses (or at least I think so…might be self-delusion). I’m afraid it’ll push her back into depression and though I should be taking care and thinking of myself I just can’t.

The solution to my problems is just one talk/phone call/email/letter away
I could talk to my boyfriend.
I could call or email my father.
I could call or write a letter to my former therapist.

But I just sat here for three hours trying to make myself do any of it and couldn’t.

Any idea?

Lips Glued Shut

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a best friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, gone through some really rough times together as we both coped with mental illness, toxic families, financial hardship and general shenanigans.  Being single ladies who are at the asexual end of the scale, we share a house, and have lived together for most of our adult lives.  We have a fairly active social life, with a lot of mutual friends. 

My BFF is magnetic and charismatic, and people are generally drawn to her.  She’s not conventionally attractive, but she’s one of those people you have to look at twice, just to confirm that yes, she’s real.  People tend to pursue her friendship (or romantic attention, which she does not give).  For a while, invitations from our mutual friends were sent only to her, “Can you and [LW] come along to X?”  (I put a stop to that when I found out BFF was refusing invitations on behalf of both of us, without even telling me about them.  “I wish I’d been invited to X.”  “We thought you didn’t want to come!”)

I’m quieter, yet more spiky.  I can be a bit snarky, and sometimes it takes a while for people to warm up to me.  And that’s fine, because it takes a while for me to warm up to people!  I’m currently in therapy to deal with my abusive childhood, and am only now learning to assert boundaries and refrain from taking responsibility for other people’s emotions.  

All this is great!  Here’s the problem:  BFF suffers from a major depressive disorder, and also a personality disorder.  It’s managed through medication, but she can’t afford therapy any more.  And she doesn’t take criticism well, even if the criticism is entirely deserved on her part.  When she’s in a low state, as she is now, she becomes a bit of an emotional black hole. 

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Hello Captain!

I am in serious need of some guidance. I’ll do my best to keep the background info to being pertinent to the situation. Here it goes.

I have a wonderful four year old son with my terrible, emotionally-abusive ex. I left him when my son was a little over a year old and there has been many legal battles and serious ISSUES between he and I ever since. About 8 months ago he was caught physically abusing his stepson (which my son witnessed) and I was finally able to get a restraining order and complete physical custody. The incident left my son with emotional scars and a ton of guilt. He won’t tell when people are mean to him (i.e. kids throwing rocks at him at daycare and not telling the teacher) because of the guilt about his dad. He has a good therapist and has improved considerably since the incident but he is in a fragile place and needs security and to feel safe for the healing to continue.

My question is about how to handle my ex’s stepmother. She is an incredibly overbearing and demanding person who lives a few hours away from my family and calls my son every so often to chat. That’s ok with me, but she also wants to have him come and stay with her and my son’s paternal grandfather for a few days every so often. I let him go there once and for weeks afterward he was off, super crabby and the beyond normal clingy and had several nightmares. He told my fiancé that he had seen his dad but when we asked about it later he said he hadn’t. I would not put it past The Step-mom to let my ex come over to spend time with my son, even though it’s illegal.

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The Hulk Hulking Out


Hi, Captain Awkward:

I used to have a really hard time using my words, but therapy is awesome and now I will totally tell people, in words, when what they are doing really needs to stop. I’m stuck, though, on how to respond to people who repeatedly ignore my words when I use them.

Example, “I love you very much, Boyfriend, but I really need you to stop calling me six times in a row when you know I am sleeping, because it wakes me up and then I am tired for the rest of the day and also very grouchy all morning.” His response “But I want to talk to you and I know you’re grumpy, but now you’re awake and I’d rather have you awake and grumpy than asleep. You’re cute when you’re grumpy.” I know I’m a late sleeper and maybe I should just put up with it, but I’m just really tired. I can’t turn my phone off because it also functions as my alarm clock.

Similar example: “Dad, you are awesome and smart, but please stop trying to tell me how to launch my publishing career. I know I am a whole 20 years old now and missed the chance to be published in high school like you thought I would, but that is not the end of the world. No, my manuscript is not ready for me to start querying agents right now. No, really. I know I’ve been working on it a long time. Thank you for this (not particularly) helpful article about e-publishing, now please let me do my own thing.” His response: “What do you think, I’m a dumbass? I read the newspaper. I know what I’m talking about. Why shouldn’t I act like an expert? You just need to want it more.” (These are both actual quotes from my people). I know he means well and I should just ignore it, but it makes me really anxious and aggravated and I want him to stop. I also want him to stop making ableist jokes and pretending my disabilities don’t exist, but this is enough examples for one letter.

How do I set boundaries? My father treats boundaries like a personal attack and my boyfriend is good with some of them but cheerfully ignores the others. I would really like some boundaries, but talking hasn’t worked. What do I do now?


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Gustav Fring from Breaking Bad

I should write a book called "Silence is Golden: The Management Secrets of Gustavo Fring."

Hi Captain Awkward,

The background to this story is I moved away from the city I grew up to go to graduate school on the other coast. While I have been in the area a while I am currently living with roommates I did not know prior to living with them. This is fine and for the most part they are very nice. However one of my roommates, lets call her Reba, is very nosy.

Specifically, Reba constantly asks incredibly personal questions and constantly offers to hear my personal problems. This really came to a head a few weeks ago when I finally broke up with my boyfriend of 4 years. For the most part the break up was amicable, it really was just we are at a point in our lives where we want different things; I am trying to finish my Ph.D. and then hopefully have adventures as a post doc while he is trying to buy and house and settle down. Anyways I decided not to tell Reba (and the other roommate Mike by proxy) because I did not want to talk about it and my personal life with Reba. But a few days after it happened Reba mentioned that she had over heard me talking on the phone about breaking up with my boyfriend. And then talked about how she is really good at listening, and will be totally fine with hearing all of my problems about the break up etc. etc.

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Dear Captain Awkward;

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I made a deal: he picks first name, I pick middle name, and then should we have a 2nd kid, it would be vice-versa. We decided at the time to name our daughter after his (late) maternal grandmother and my maternal grandmother.

I heard no end of grief from my mother about the chosen first name for literally months. Every day, my mother would tell me how much she hated the name, how her friends hated it too, etc. Each time I calmly explained that the name was chosen and that was that, and to please stop criticizing it. This happened over and over again daily for months until I finally lost it and there was a huge blowout. Thank God that seemed to end it, and I named my daughter as planned with no further drama.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m a transman – reasonably attractive, fairly extroverted, early in my transition. I have recently moved to a new city and found a group of people who are both awesome (sharing similar interests and drives) and supportive of my transition. I even started dating a nice young man in this group. Then he called it off. We took time apart. I was distressed, but realised I’d rather have his friendship than nothing because he’s important.

Since then, however, he’s been flirty, possessive (both verbally, when someone else hits on me, and by keeping my things), mis-gendering me publicly, and generally a combination of acting like a jock out of an 80’s movie and like we’re still together. It’s unattractive, unlike him, and causing me a lot of distress. I’ve tried talking to him and it feels like, short of cutting myself out of our shared friends circle, I’m stuck with this. He’s even telling people that we’re still together! I am stuck looking like the asshole who can’t deal and I am at a loss.

At a Total Loss

Dear At A Loss:

I am so sorry this is happening to you, and that it feels like a choice between your own safety and comfort and your new-found friends. You are correct that if he keeps doing this and your other friends won’t check him or back you up, you will have to leave the group. It is heartbreaking and unfair.

A lot of people will jump in and say “DTMFA!” “Get new friends who appreciate you!” and yes, it may come to that, but I won’t insult you by suggesting that’s an easy thing to do especially when you are in a new city. Those of us who live away from our families create families with our friends. Those relationships are primal and very important, and they can change and grow and survive hard times if there is love and a willingness to work at it.

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This came into the Captain Awkward mailbox last night.  It seems like we’re all in the mood to Hulk out and get people to stop touching other people, so have at it, commenters.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a recurring problem when it comes to friends. It’s been a problem from the very beginning, as far as I know, and I’ve never been able to fix it. For now, it’s gone, but I know it’s going to come back.The problem is, essentially, that my friends will not stop touching me in ways I don’t like. Granted, I don’t like being touched at all.

But these people insist on doing things like stealing my hat every time he sees me (which led to me not wearing my favorite hat for several years until he graduated), poking me every time he sees me (this guy actually admitted that he A) only pokes women and B) waits until a woman puts on her angry voice to actually listen to her; I wish I’d had the guts to punch him in the face), and hugging me even though we’ve had a conversation about how I don’t like it when he hugs me and I want him to please stop AND I’m standing there doing the awkward trying-not-to-touch-you-back-pat. These are three different guys, three examples of people who won’t stop even though I’ve asked them to, told them to, and finally (in one case) yelled at them to. They’re also just three in a lifelong line of people who won’t leave my body alone, and who won’t listen to me.  Read More


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