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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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Letter Writers, no one is topping “Dear Sugar” on this topic. Read that and you’re probably good. But just in case, your letters and some answers are below.

Dear Captain Awkward:

I’m 29 and female, and have been in a relationship with the same guy since college. We now live together. He wants to marry me. I have no objections to him as a person, like spending time with him, and have many interests in common. 90% of the people I talk to socially I have met through him.

However.

I’ve found, as I’ve lived with him, that I really do not enjoy living with him. A large part of this is due to the house he owns, which is tiny and cluttered and dark and damp, and whose appliances (oven, shower, washer) are constantly breaking. He doesn’t have the money to move; I have even less money than he does.

I also have very little interest in sex (this may be due to depression, which is an issue I’m getting therapy for), and although he has been good about this, I’m beginning to be a bit creeped out by the fact that he keeps pointing out to me, unsolicited, how he doesn’t want to push me into having sex before I’m ready. Uh…Great? (A similar thing that’s also starting to scare me is that although I’ve told him I don’t want or particularly like children when it’s come up, he keeps telling me I would make an AWESOME parent. A lot. Unsolicited.)

The last time I tried to bring up the above problems and explain to him that I didn’t want to be married to him, didn’t want to live with him, and had no interest in either sex or children, he begged me to “work this out”. I agreed, and am now super angry with myself for not sticking with my guns.

…What do I do? I do genuinely enjoy doing Friend Things with him, I just don’t want to be his wife or his live-in…whatever. I also don’t want to be talked into sticking around any longer.

Possible Awful Bitch

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Willow and Evil Willow from Buffy Season 2

Willow, talking about Evil Willow: “That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil, and skanky…and I think I’m kinda gay.” 1) How has this image never come up at the blog before? 2) Don’t marry off just one of the sides of yourself and kill off the other. They’re both you.

Hi Captain:

I have been in a relationship with  my boyfriend now for 5 years. I met Leigh when I was 19, fell in love, grew up together, and last year bought a house together; we even had an engagement ceremony so our family would feel more at ease with us living together. Even though it was just a front, Leigh already sees me as his fiancé. I think you know where this is going. 

Last year shortly after we purchased our first home, I met a guy through an online game. Jack fell in love with me even though we have never met each other in person. We texted each other day and night for months and eventually things got progressively worse. We started “sexting” and it was then that I started living in guilt, every living moment. I sleep talk when I go to bed at night, and it didn’t take long until Leigh found out that I was cheating on him emotionally. I knew what a horrible person I have been and hated myself for enjoying having intimate conversations with Jack. Most of the time, I felt downright disgusted about myself. I stopped talking to Jack, and he continued reaching out to me telling me he needed me and can’t live without me. Jack texts me every 2 weeks to tell me that he trusts me and will always be there for me but I’ve ignored them all, as I believed he was a temptation I have to stay away from. In order for me to salvage my relationship with Leigh I need to fully devote myself him and one day we will get married and have kids and live our lives like all the loving couple in the world. Leigh being the perfect man that loves me more than anyone in the world, he forgave me and decided to trust me again. 

I travelled solo as a backpacker just last week and made out with a girl and a guy that I met at  a bar. I almost had sex with a guy I met at the hostel but I didn’t for I know I am in a relationship. I despise myself for even having the horrible thought and genuinely enjoyed being hit on by them, having them telling me how beautiful and sexy I am. I had the time of my life when I was there, for once feeling as though I am single.  I thought I could just forget all about it once I get home, and concentrate on being the perfect girl friend again and wait for the feeling of wanting to be single to go away. Sleep talking didn’t help, as Leigh found out in my sleep that I have been apologising “for being a whore” and that “I’m sorry, I’m wrong”. He also managed to find a conversation of me and a friend regarding this situation. The guilt is eating me alive but I didn’t know what else to do. Leigh left me this morning, to travel by himself and to give me time to figure out what is it that I really wanted. He is willing to put a hold on this relationship and let me leave and “find myself” and “do whatever I want” as long as I don’t tell him any of that when I come home. I am with a man that loves me so much, enough to forgive me from cheating on him and would sacrifice everything in his power to make me happy. What more do I want? Am I really willing to let a man like this go just to fuel my desire of being single?

Lost

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Dear Captain Awkward:

My 27 year old son has been in a relationship with his girlfriend for about 18 months. He was living with a friend until a couple months ago, when he and his girlfriend moved to an apartment. Before the move, his friend came to see my husband and I to talk about the situation. He said that the girlfriend is a total loser and the two of them fight constantly. He said many of their friends can’t stand her, and that the two of them drink and smoke weed, i.e. enable each other’s recreational drug use. They are both broke most of the time, although they work full time at low level jobs. My son was barely able to cover living expenses before, and asked us for financial help from time to time. When we heard about his plans to move in with her, we were not happy but came to grips with the situation, accepting the fact he is an adult and has to make his own decisions. Since then, we have stopped all flow of cash to him, hoping the living situation and the relationship will eventually fall apart and he will start over.

We do not want the girlfriend attending all our family gatherings. It’s too stressful for me to converse with her because I feel she is a terrible influence on him. The problem is, she’s manipulative and puts on a very phony act around us. I see right through her, as my son can also be that way. I can see how they feed off each other and it drives me crazy. She seems to rule his life and is very self centered. I’ve wondered if there is some sex addiction going on, because for the life of me I can’t understand his attraction to her otherwise. I just see a toxic relationship, like his friend told us.

I am struggling with how to handle a family gathering at Christmas. She was with us at Thanksgiving and that was too much for me. Should we tell him it’s family only, or should I just decline to attend????

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Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I’m having trouble with my mom and I’m not sure if it’s a me-problem or a her-problem or a “no one did anything wrong but it’s just uncomfortable” problem.

When I started college (and became an adult-ish) my mom has opened up to me about a lot of things that she didn’t want to talk to me about when I was younger. In general, this is fine. However, it’s changed the way we talk about my dad and it’s starting to make me very uncomfortable.

My parents are happily married but they’re in a tough situation–they have five kids (I’m the oldest) and my dad works about 5 hours away from where we live. He commutes Monday and comes back Friday, which leaves my mom shouldering a lot of the day to day burden of running the family. I totally understand that my dad isn’t perfect and that she might want to vent about him sometimes. However, I’m really uncomfortable with her venting about it to me. I can’t commiserate, as I’m not around to experience things the way she does, and I really don’t like hearing negative things about my dad.

Some of the stuff she says is true (he can’t do as much with a lot of problems because he’s just not accessible) but I feel really defensive whenever the conversation turns that way.

Basically, is there a script or something that can help me deal with this? Should I deal with this?

Growing Up is Hard

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Dear Captain Awkward (And Awkwardeers),

I’ve been in a fantastic relationship with my partner for a few years now. He’s incredibly supportive of my mental health, and

Kinky and Healthy are two different - but not mutually exclusive - things

Not an effective fighting strategy.

complements my personality perfectly. However, and this may seem a silly concern, I’m worried about the fact that we never argue. Basically, I’m concerned that this might mean that we aren’t communicating well enough.

We have had disagreements, but usually that happens when I say something that’s concerning me and he agrees with whatever I’m saying. It’s not really an argument because he quickly turns around to my way of thinking. Or, less often, he would air an issue and I would see it as reasonable and agree to help fix it. And for a while, this was great! I felt that our relationship must be going amazingly because we never argue!
But the thing is, I’m now sort of scared about what will happen if we ever do fight. Because when we haven’t even really had any of the little arguments, who knows what will happen if we end up in a big argument? Because surely it can’t always happen that we just agree with the other person’s opinion. What about when we have to start making big decisions like whose job dictates which city we live in? Whether we have kids?
And I’ve noticed that I’ve started avoiding conflict because it’s got to a point where I’m scared of The Fight. The Fight seems to me to be this big inevitable thing looming that sooner or later we both have to deal with… and I don’t know how I’ll handle The Fight. So sometimes, I don’t mention things that upset me because I don’t want to lead to a fight. And that means I’m kind of bottling up grievances which I know full well isn’t healthy. We have an amazing relationship, but I’ve always thought that good relationships were about dealing with the bad as well as the good, and what if it takes us years to realise that we can’t handle the bad?
It’s not like everything’s been sunshine and roses. As I mentioned earlier, he’s been great with my mental health, but that means that he does the majority of the housework, as well as working, and although I’m working hard to be able to contribute more, it’s something that definitely hangs over me. I think the guilt from knowing that he basically just cares for me a lot of the time also means that I’ve stopped talking about things he does that sometimes upsets me, because I feel like I don’t deserve to be unhappy with anything he does when he’s great and supportive and puts so much time, and effort, into making our home a safe place for me. As well as trying to avoid The Fight. And I feel like, hey, I’ll have forgotten the bad thing he said tomorrow, so why argue about it now? It’s probably just me being over sensitive anyway, right? But what actually happens is that it still hurts tomorrow, just feels too late for me to bring it up, so just gets added to the pile of Things That Hurt Me. 
(Note: the things he says aren’t generally actually nasty things but just things that are badly worded and hurt my feelings. For example: “you’re looking beautiful today! I think that dress makes you look thin” and like I’m certain he means well but I’d rather be able to accept the fact that I’m not thin rather than feel like his image of me on beautiful rests on his image of me as thin, y’know?)
Basically, how can I call him out on things that make me sad at the time? I kind of need a method to use when usually I’d just lose my nerve and stay quiet because I’m now kind of really fearing conflict. 
And what if The Fight does happen and we end up having a big argument, either now or in the future? How will I be able to convince myself that this isn’t the end of the world and that our relationship has the potential to survive that, when so far it’s been built on a foundation of mostly harmony and agreement? I feel like we’ve been constructed by all our friends as The Couple Who Never Fight, The Perfect Couple, and I’m scared of realising that we’re not.
~~Conflict Avoidant

This is the last day of the Summer Pledge Drive, where I post the links for making a (non-tax deductible) gift  through PayPal or  via Dwolla.  Your generosity so far has been amazing and I am so humbled and pleased with the outpouring of support. A new computer will be within reach when this one goes. I will be able to pay down some debt and have a little bit of an emergency fund. And, I bought a ticket to see Janelle Monae at the Vic on October 21. Yes, YOU made it possible for me to see my dream show with my dream artist. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

These two letters are representative of many I have gotten in the inbox over the past few years, and I think a lot of you will recognize yourselves somewhere in here. I think I finally have a way to frame this discussion that is maximally reassuring and honest. Please allow me to suggest some background reading before you dive into this post: The Dirty Normal on Attachment Styles.

Hey Captain!

I have a male co-worker who I am friends with outside of work. A few months ago, his wife’s work schedule changed and since then my husband and I have been hanging out with my co-worker and his wife “Clara” frequently. I like them and they’re good people, but his wife is the kind of person I enjoy best in small doses; I am shy and reserved, she is very outgoing and can be overbearing. 

Lately Clara has been inviting me to do stuff with her 2 or 3 times every week. Usually it’s a 6+ hour event with a group of 3 other girls. She frequently talks about how close we are and how great it is that we’re such good girlfriends. The thing is we’re not that close yet. We’ve only been hanging out for a few months and I actually am much better friends with their husbands & boyfriends, all of whom are my co-workers (I work a heavily male-dominated engineering field).

I do like these girls, I appreciate being included in these plans, but it’s just too much! So, I’ve started to decline every third invitation or so. The problem is, Clara bends over backwards to accommodate me. If I say I can’t make it, she’ll suggest 3 other days. When I decline those, she’ll try to squeeze the event in between my morning rock climbing club meetup and my date night, for example. I find this very stressful because she obviously is trying hard to include me and I end up having to refuse the same invitation 4 times! I can tell it hurts her feelings when this happens.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I definitely want to cultivate more female friendships in my life, but I feel like I’m being forced into some kind of weird Sex In The City fantasy of Clara’s instead of the more casual way I prefer friendships to form, where different people make the plans every time instead of one person being the Designated Event Coordinator.

How can I kindly get Clara to back off a bit without burning bridges?

Thanks,

I’m Not Carrie Bradshaw

Dear Not Carrie:

This is a “classic” advice question that perfectly fits the paradigm of many questions we have around here:

Dear Captain Awkward:
A person is making me uncomfortable and doing stuff that violates my boundaries.
How do I stop them without hurting their feelings or making them feel uncomfortable?

And you guys are all so nice, and kind, and considerate, and working so hard to be fair to the other person! But the fact remains, if the behavior is making you uncomfortable, things are already uncomfortable. Often to the point that you might have to scorch the earth of the relationship if whatever it is keeps continuing, but you’re still looking for a way to let the other person down easy. There is a perception that speaking up for boundaries is somehow introducing conflict into a situation, or at very least, escalating it in an unkind way, like, everything was fine until you spoke up for your needs and now you made it weird.

So I’d like to perform a bit of a mind flip.

  • When your shoulders are going up around your ears…
  • When you are spending a lot of time strategizing about how you deal with a person. “I will accept every third invitation…
  • When you are avoiding someone you are theoretically supposed to be friendly with…

…things are already uncomfortable enough to speak up about them.

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