Dear Captain,

My parents keep visiting me over the summer and living in my apartment on my couch. One of my parents is looking for a job both in my current state and in the state of my hometown (where she actually officially lives when she is not visiting me). She sometimes has interviews out here and I am her host.

My dad, meanwhile, stayed three weeks at my place over the summer. I repeat: three fucking weeks. I did not need his “help” (his reason for visiting), but I felt bad telling him because I know he is going through a difficult time in his life (unwanted retirement) and wants to feel useful. I know I don’t *have* to satisfy those feelings for him, and I’m in therapy to try to get over this thinking.

I feel like crying. I was (and still am) a “parentified child” (chaotic home, traumatized parents told me about their adult sexual and financial struggles as though I were a healthy confidant) and having to host my parents now in my early 20’s is really triggering the sad feelings of powerlessness and numbness I used to feel. The feeling that I have to care for and baby my parents rather than enjoy being young, being a kid and having a fun place to live *on my own*.

I was saying to my therapist yesterday that I need to balance what my parents want from me as a daughter, to what society thinks a daughter should reasonably do to help her struggling parents. I burst into tears because she said, “Well, and you also have to balance those things with what YOU want.” I hadn’t even considered my own desires in terms of my apartment and my boundaries with them.

Do you have any scripts on re-setting (or rather, setting for the first time) boundaries with my parents? I know that part of the process will probably involve my knowing what I actually WANT for boundaries–but frankly yesterday is the first time I have ever thought about it with such precision.

My mom still doesn’t have a job yet, and I know she is probably going to come back out for more interviews. I have suffered enough of my parents’ rage and regret over finances and lost jobs. I am so tired and fragile right now. I also am terrified of setting boundaries–I don’t know that I believe they can get on without my help. Plus, you know, I love them.

Any help or advice or scripts would be amazing.

–Healing from parentification

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been married to my husband for five years, and in a relationship with him for fifteen years.  About four years ago, we became poly with a friend. At the time, she was our roommate and had just separated from her fiancé. He was deeply immature, and she has an abusive family background. She had also been through a sexual assault. While we were helping her get through the assault, we became quite close, and discovered that we were both attracted to her. When we found that the attraction was mutual, we formed a closed poly triad with her.

In the last year, she has twice demanded to have absolute relationship equality to my marriage with my husband, despite our 15 years of history together. She has also stated that she wishes to have children with my husband – a condition I cannot accept under any circumstances. Because of this, and some other issues, she and I are no longer partners. However, my husband has depression and PTSD, and he cannot make a decision about what he wants from this situation (his preferred situation, that we go back to being a triad or at least a V, cannot happen because of her demands). 

She still lives with us, and she continues to state her intention to convince my husband to have children with her. For me, the ideal situation would be for them to break up and for her to move out. My husband’s depression is so severe right now, however, that he cannot decide what he wants (and has said so). The ongoing situation is putting a strain on our marriage and destroying the peace of our home life. However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.

I have to live with her and she is passive-aggressive and combative. There are times that, no matter what I say, she has to contradict it.  I promised my husband I would try to support his relationship with her, but she tells me that the things I do in that direction are suspicious and remind her of an abusive parent. She and I had a long discussion the other day and during that conversation she told me that she refuses to be second to anyone. I have talked with several poly people about her demands. No one thinks they are reasonable, but because my husband does not know what he wants, I am living with the situation. My main goal is for him not to be hurt, however unlikely or even impossible that may be at this point.  Her goal is to be equal to me in his life, apparently even if he gets hurt in the process. I have not demanded that he throw her out for two reasons:  1) I don’t want to hurt him and 2) I don’t want him to trigger when she leaves, again because it would hurt him. 

I want my husband to be happy, but this situation is killing me.  I want us all to be happy, but I don’t see how the V she and he want (even though he still doesn’t know if he wants to have children with her at all and she is openly working toward that) is even possible.

A friend of mine who knows about the situation said that it reminds them of King Solomon with the two women fighting over the baby – that one woman is putting her needs over the baby’s and the other is putting the baby’s needs over hers. My goal is for him not to get harmed. Her goal seems to be to get her way.

I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.  My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me.  He has told me that absolutely won’t happen, but I cannot keep myself from being so frightened of the prospect. And, of course, the idea of him triggering (and getting hurt) is not pleasant either.  I’m also afraid that if I demand that she go that I will be selfish in doing that.  A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I had a secondary partner that demanded to be a primary partner and the comparison stunned me.

If you have any suggestions for how to handle this situation, I need to hear them.

At The End Of My Rope

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Dear Captain Awkward,

One of my friends has mental health issues of severe depression (along with some other stuff) that is being ineffectively treated–a situation that they are trying to change, but solutions are slow going.

The depression brain weasels are causing my friend to regularly assume that everyone they know and care about is actively furious with them. I (and other mutual friends) will regularly check in with our friend only to hear how they were sure we were mad at them for a litany of tiny “infractions” that most of us would never even notice.

I know that my friend can’t help what the depression tells them. But it is also becoming incredibly difficult to spend the first hour of any interaction with this friend repeatedly reassuring them that no, really, I’m honestly not mad. The extended confessions (“I was so sure you were mad at me for the following reasons…”) seem to spin them up into a state of heightened tension and to be causing harm to them in spite of the “forgiveness” afterward. I think the harm is stemming from their viewing the confession as evidence that they are awful and that their forgiveness is predicated on our saintliness, which will surely run out someday.

In short: while I’m not mad at them and I do love them dearly, the weekly confessions are hurting them and are a genuine drain on my own limited spoons for social interactions, causing an avoidance spiral that doesn’t help them believe people aren’t angry with them. Is there a set of scripts you might can recommend for cutting through the litany of specifics each time and reminding them that we’ve done this before and those recurring feels are just the depression speaking?

Much love!

 

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My question is one of those probably 60% of the people in the room have, but no one wants to ask. (I did check archives but didn’t find a close match.) The top line question is, is there any ethical way to build and test the viability of a romantic relationship when you and the potential sweetheart are both already in relationships.

Of course people do this all the time, ranging from “just getting to know as friends” and “grabbing a drink” to “flirting” and “cheating.” A purely puritanical response might be, “no nothing never, consider your partner.” A Francophile might respond, “oh course everything it’s natural.” There’s some comfort in rigid or absent rules. The most of us are somewhere murkier in between— an uncomfortable place.

The particulars of my situation are that I’m in a very long “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship. It is overall emotionally positive, with the major quips being no sex for 4 years (he cannot get it to work with medical help), throwing out a stack of my love letters (he doesn’t like clutter), and never even considering proposing to me for 7 years (we’ve lived together for 5 yrs). Despite these difficulties, I have to say I have dealt with them with open communication and this is the one person I feel who has thus far been able to meet my emotional and cuddling needs while maintaining a ceaselessly patient attitude with my irregularities/failings.

However, I recently met someone with whom I quickly developed strong feelings. He expressed strong feelings first, and I found myself responding honestly. The fellow is 7+ years my junior, though he’s more of a man than most I’ve met. There are reasons to believe we’d be compatible romantically, I’ll spare you the details. Just suffice to say it’s not just infatuation. I love him and I would be inclined to marry him (no he hasn’t asked, our relationship is not anywhere close to that – I say that to express the trust, affection, connection, etc I feel for him). He has a girlfriend of 2 years. I don’t know what their level of commitment is, but she seems like a lovely person. We’ve known each other less than 2 months.

I have never physical cheated on anyone in my life (not a kiss, nothing). However, I have delved into emotional affairs, in the sense that I’ve shared a mutual crush. In those cases, the threat of something actually happening has sort of paralyzed me with fear and I’ve avoided contact with the person. After all, I have my sterling record to protect (and drive fear into me)!

But in this case, I do not feel either paralyzed or driven by fear. Primarily because the fellow puts me at ease and I trust him. This is not a rooster chasing the chicken scenario, wherein my fight-flight mechanism kicks in. If nothing happens (if we both do nothing and/or either one prevents it), I will just continue loving him (though hopefully the romantic element will dissipate, if there is a merciful God).

I’m 33 considering a guy who is 7+ years my junior, while I’m already in a 7 year relationship with a guy who has (yes finally) decided he wants to marry me. They are both wonderful guys, but I now feel for one what I no longer feel for the other.

These are high stakes tables for me. And anyways, I like to think things through before they get real and hairy. This is my life — I just want to live it. But analysis paralysis is a real thing. I want to do the right by everyone involved, but also love is the one thing that we’ll do anything for.

Getting back to the question, what’s fair game for getting to knowing one another better and testing the romantic viability of the relationship when we are both in a relationship (no one’s engaged, but in a boyfriend/girlfriend).

And also, side note, the statistics are against the longevity of relationships where the woman is significantly older. Although I know many long marital examples of 9+ older women who lived happily ever after. But I think most of society still raises an eyebrow. Perhaps that would impact your advice. I should say, I feel I could learn a lot from him and respect him immensely (he’s way more accomplished that I was at a similar age).

Sincerely,

Honest heart with serious doubts

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Dear Captain,

I think I’m bisexual. The problem is I’m not sure and I’m interested in finding out, but I’m in a committed yet rocky relationship with a man in the gay-unfriendly Midwest. I made an online dating account today to seek out other queer women in my area. There are like 5 of them. I feel simultaneously guilty about making the account, disappointed that my alternative prospects are so few, and frustrated about my relationship but not sure I should end it.

One problem is that I’m uncertain about my sexuality. When I was 12 I decided I was gay. I came out to my (male) best friend in middle school and later my mom. But later I had sexual feelings for boys. In college I have fucked men happily and continue to have satisfying but infrequent sex with my partner. I thought I was straight, though I’ve always had the occasional sexy dream about a woman. But I’ve had a lot in the last couple of years. It’s actually weird how often it happens. I never had this many dreams about men.

Now I think about women more. I fantasize about a romance of my own. However, I’m still afraid my attraction isn’t real. It really sucked to think I was gay for years only to have to admit I was attracted to men after all. I’m also afraid to break up with my boyfriend of four years, who shares an apartment with me, only to change my mind (although I’ve drafted a totally separate letter to you before about whether I should keep trying to save the relationship…). If I were in an urban area, I might be able to try out a chaste date or two to see if flirting with real women is something I’m into. But I’m not, and I don’t foresee being in a gay-friendlier city until I move away for a new job — probably with my boyfriend.

On problems with my boyfriend, a quick summary: lots of walking on eggshells on both sides. We both amplify the other’s anxiety. Just yesterday we fought about this and I told him if nothing changes, we need to break up when I get a job after grad school next year. For the record, he knows I’m bi but we are not in an open relationship. We tried counseling and the therapist was a bad match. I think Carolyn Hax would ask if I’m sacrificing too much to keep the peace and generally I would say yes. But things have also improved in the last few months. It seems clear that I should break up with him, but how do I kick him out when I’m not sure about any of this?

– Am I Even Fucking Gay???

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Hello Captain!

Long-time reader, first question. I have been having a tricky time navigating adult friendships lately. I feel like I keep getting surprised when my interactions with other adults (parents of my kids’ friends, from the neighborhood, etc.,) suddenly seem to remind me very, very strongly of junior high school. I have an amazing therapist who is helping me on my end, to learn how to see and heed the red flags of immaturity and Mean Girl stuff. Basically: I grew up with horrible siblings in a very challenge family situation and I keep “re-meeting” them in friends.

I have a friend whom I enjoy, our kids are in the same activities, our husbands are friends, you get the picture. She is very delicate in social situations, so much so that we have a friendly nickname for her, that we all call her, the Delicate Flower. She laughs, we laugh, she says it fits her to a T.

Then, something happened this past weekend that is not so funny. Her demanding, clingy, super duper amazingly high maintenance behavior went full on Olympics Gold Medal level. She was whining to me and another mutual friend about how she couldn’t get out of bed, she NEEDED a day off of “life” and to go downtown and have an impromptu, fun, frivolous afternoon. We said, sure, made a million arrangements for our kids and made it happen. We did every single thing she wanted to do (the mutual friend and I are natives to this city, she is a transplant) and pulled out all the stops of what she requested and insisted upon.

We had cocktails for the train ride into the city, I had one. She had more and…kept on drinking all afternoon, very aggressively and in really large amounts. I only had that one because I didn’t want any more, thanks but no thanks, FULL STOP.

This is when she started asking, “Are you ok?” She asked me over and over again. I kept saying, yes, of course! And truly, I was! I was having fun and enjoying myself. But she wouldn’t believe me, apparently. All afternoon, she asked me that. All afternoon, I smiled and said, YES! She kept drinking and the questions became a little more belligerent and by the time we caught he train home, she was quiet and kept fucking asking ME if I was okay. By this point, as you can imagine, I was finally NOT okay.

When we got off the train and were standing on the platform about to go to our respective homes, she asked me again, if I was okay. This time, I said, “Yes, now please stop asking me that.” She took immediate offense.

I saw her that evening at an event for both of our kids, she was very weird to me, and possibly, still intoxicated. The next day, we had a big event for several families, we were both hosting it. She showed up very passive-agressively late and didn’t help, so I did most of it. While there, she had her husband come up to me and ASK ME IF I WAS OKAY THE DAY BEFORE. For fuck’s sake. I told him yes, it was a great afternoon. When he kept asking, are you sure? I answered, “well, you know, I just couldn’t keep up with your wife’s drinking, maybe that was it! We had a great afternoon in the city, though!” and then I looked over at my husband and my friend was ASKING HIM, “was LW okay yesterday?” to which he relied, “YES! She sure was!”

WTF do I do now? We have plans to attend an event together this Friday and HOLY SHITBALLS if she asks me if I’m okay again, I will punch something. We all arrange everything around her very precise needs and desires and wants–so much that she has her nickname. But this is the dark side of that: if everything doesn’t go exactly her way, she is going to do this?? Why do I have to keep up with her? What if I have different intentions of a fun afternoon (i.e. not getting shitfaced)?

Do I handle this honestly or do I smile and nod and back the fuck away? It will be a mess if I do that but she has some seriously funky stuff going on right now which she is projectile vomiting onto me. Our mutual friend form that day thinks our delicate flower was behaving very oddly that day and that I did not do anything to warrant this (I asked, in case I was missing something.) She thinks perhaps Delicate Flower is having some major depression or something else going on.

Advice? Do I say something or say nothing and just keep insisting that I AM OK?

Signed,
I’m SERIOUSLY okay, You’re SERIOUSLY okay.

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She’s so good.

“But you know what? Some guys are funny and supportive and caring but they still don’t love you the way you want to be loved. They might be perfectly wonderful to spend time with, but there’s a point where too much wishy-washy nothingness, too much going with the flow, too much “Let’s wait and see,” adds up to an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach. You don’t know what to do about it, so instead of throwing a fit or walking out the door, you become someone who exists in the margins, someone who can tuck herself into the background and make do with whatever leftovers come her way.”

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