Dear Captain Awkward:

This is (hopefully) behind me now, but I could use help understanding it, and strategies to prevent it happening again. I work at a small nonprofit, where I am a department of one. So I was excited when “Mark,” whom I’d met a few times at events related to my work, emailed saying he wanted to help out. He wanted to use us as a case study for his coursework, and while this was not an internship (his grade was dependent on his case study only) he was very clear that he wanted to help in other ways: “I have the time, and I’m happy to help with anything from IT work to giving rides.”

First sign of trouble was his frequently cancelling our weekly meetings, or showing up 15+ minutes late. Sometimes he’d text to cancel just minutes before our meeting time, after I’d already arrived. Sometimes his reasons sounded legit, other times it was “I don’t have much for us to talk about today so I’m gonna keep working on these overdue assignments instead.” I told him we could change the time or frequency of our meetings if he wanted but I didn’t appreciate having my time wasted. He promised to do better but nothing changed.

Sometimes Mark would take 5-6 days to respond to an email, then the response would be full of apologies, TMI excuses about his personal life, and EMPHATIC statements about how excited he was to be working with me and how great it was gonna be from now on!! As if he could dazzle me with so many exclamation points that I’d forget everything before. Then if I didn’t respond to his email immediately he’d start texting me, asking did I get his email?? It felt lopsided and annoying.

Then he no-call-no-showed for a big event where I’d assigned him an important role. After hearing nothing from him for two days I emailed saying I was disappointed and I needed to see more follow-through from him if we were going to keep working together. He apologized, then told me his marriage is falling apart, then said I also owed him an apology because sometimes I cancel our meetings and I don’t respond to his emails fast enough. I reminded him what I’d told him from the start: my work life is chaotic and there are lots of demands on my time, that for us to work together I needed him to be reliable, not another factor in that chaos. When we met next he again told me way, way too much about his marriage troubles. I tried to change the subject several times but probably not forcefully enough. The whole thing felt very weird.

Shortly after this I learned he’d also been flaking on commitments to our volunteer coordinator, leaving her scrambling to find a substitute. So the next time he was late for our meeting (texted 5 minutes before start time saying he’d be half an hour late, showed up 50 minutes late), I told him how frustrated I was with this pattern. He became indignant, said I’ve been patronizing toward him from the start, he’s a grown man (37!) and doesn’t need to be lectured, he’s in two grad programs and has a family and also I’m a hypocrite because I also cancel our meetings or am late sometimes. I told him he’d signed up to help me and my organization, and instead he’d been an ongoing source of stress for me. He began to complain about all the time I’d spent “venting” to him about my job. (Um, you mean, telling you about the ins and outs of my job, for you to write your case study? I thought that’s why you were here?) Then about how I picked this meeting place, which is far from where he lives. (Um…what?) There was no whining or beseeching in his voice. He was angry. I cut things off there, then later sent a restrained, professional email making it clear that our collaboration was over.

I’m left feeling very unsettled. I think it’s clear Mark has problems with boundaries and professionalism. (He also repeatedly demonstrated what I’d call a high degree of white fragility and entitlement, just shy of being outright racist. We are both white but in our context I still found it very weird that he would say such things to me.) But being called a hypocrite gnaws at me, no matter the source. We’re all lefty radicals and not big on hierarchy, but I still feel like he expected a degree of reciprocity that was not reasonable, and not how I said from the beginning things would need to be. But maybe I was treating him poorly by enforcing a power differential between us, just because I could? I need help getting my head around this so I can learn and move on, and also I’m wondering what I can do to nip this kind of thing in the bud if it happens again. Without being an authoritarian asshole about it. FWIW I am a woman and 5 years younger than Mark.

Sorry so long. Cut as needed.


Not your supervisor

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Last year, my neighbor and I helped to rescue a small dog from a bad situation (owner got divorced and for whatever reason, just stuck him in her dog-hating father’s backyard, where he may have been abused. I should note that I live in Cancun right now, and he was there for two months with no shelter or love). When I found out, I offered to foster him, and by that time he had a disease from ticks. He ended up staying with me for months, until I started talking about finding him a home. She then adopted him as her own. (I have reasons for not being able to adopt him)

Anyway, all was well and she was very attentive and caring to him and her other pets (extremely attentive) until her husband left her. Not long after that, she told me she had to work a lot for a couple of weeks. I agreed to take him back for that time. Well, two weeks became a month became three months, only one of which she provided some food for him. The rest, I paid for his food and other needs, including the Revolution for ticks. I noticed that she began dressing a lot nicer and wearing make up, causing me to believe that she had started dating again. I don’t judge her for this at all, but she could have been honest with me. I suspect she wasn’t because she knew I’d be upset that she was ignoring her dog so that she could date freely.

He had to go back to her when I recently went on a week’s vacation, and not long before that she told me that her “work” was coming to an end and she could also look after my dog – she was pushy about it, in fact. She also finally fessed up to having a boyfriend, but insisted she’d have the time. I went with my instincts and instead paid for boarding at a vet’s office where the staff are all very fond of my dog and vice versa. I should note that due to the initial arrangement during the rescue, she’s had a key to my house. While I was away, a friend was feeding my cats and called to let me know that little dude was back at the house for a day. This upset me and leads me to believe she only offered to “take care” of my dog so that she could have an excuse to keep him here too.

Well, after my return I gave limits as to when he could be here. She agreed, but I came home from work last Thursday to find him in my living room. When doing my customary post-walk “tick check” on both dogs, I found that he was covered in them. To say I was pissed doesn’t cover it. I ended up paying for a night of boarding and a bath as he couldn’t stay in the house, obviously. When I picked him up the next day, I was told he should see a vet as he was covered in red marks all over his body, only revealed with the hair cut. Yeah, he has yet another tick disease in less than a year. Turns out when he couldn’t stay with me, she sent him to a friend’s house – a house infested with ticks – and she was aware of this when she brought him to my house. I’m extra pissed now.

She is aware that he’s sick again (and yes, I paid about $90 for the vet visit and will need to pay even more for 21 days of pills) yet she hasn’t visited or checked on him. I suspect that she is so wrapped up in this new romance with a guy that seems to not like dogs, that she is putting everything else aside. She was even planning on sending him back to the friend’s tick infested house for her upcoming vacation!

I had the lock changed today, so the key issue is solved. But I’m wondering how to deal with this. I’m planning on telling her that until she has time to properly care for him, he’s staying with me, screw what I said about Monday to Friday. I don’t know if that’s considered pet-napping or not, and if she insists, I’ll probably have to give him back. But hopefully she at least lets him heal before, you know, farming him out to a tick-filled house again. Or maybe she’ll just be relieved that she doesn’t have to fuss with him and can enjoy dating.

I don’t know the state of her other dogs (five indoors and one outdoors that seems mostly OK) but there is little I can do about that. I do know (by her own admission) that her large outdoor dog hasn’t been walked for a long time, possibly two months. And that dog seems desperate for attention when I walk by.

My questions are the following: first, am I wrong to want to insist that little dude stays with me until she sorts her shit out and two, is it inappropriate to somehow bring up the fact that since she started dating again (sorry…working a lot, as she’s again insisting on now that I’m back from vacation) she’s providing sub-par care for little dude (at the very least) and seems to just be farming him to to wherever is convenient. I find her attitude hypocritical as she was very angry at his former owner. Even the vets office has noticed her declining care of her pets and it’s been mentioned more than once that they assumed he was my dog now. Fortunately, they know me and my dog well, so they are letting me make the decisions regarding his care.

I also want to possibly broach the subject of rehoming him, if she is really this uninterested in his well-being and may continue to be if she stays with this guy. I mean, I hate to say this, but I kind of hope this romance doesn’t work out so that she has to give her head a shake and learn for next time about balancing fun and responsibilities. As it stands now, she’s planning on moving to a different city with him, where the dogs will not be allowed in the house. She is Ok with this, which is miles away from how she used to regard her pets.

I should add that the reason my house is a convenient option is that both little dude and my dog have disk degeneration, so my living room is already arranged in such a way that they can’t access the stairs or furniture. Her argument for him not staying at her house has always been that he has to stay in the kitchen when she isn’t there, and he hates solitude (this part is true, he gets sad). Still, it’s all about balance.

I know this may seem like a minor issue, but despite her over-stepping several times (she even borrowed my fan without permission during my vacation) I don’t want to be hurtful or over-step myself. Do you have any scripts or advice for how to handle this? I know a new romance can be powerful, but she is definitely old enough to know better. (she’s at least in her late 40s).

Oh, and while I’d love to get the money back for the vet costs, I know realistically, I probably will not. Since my main concern now is the dog, I’m reluctantly accepting of this. Oddly, when I mentioned him being sick again, she had the nerve to ask what vet I took him to, as she only trusts one vet who is notoriously difficult to get in to see due to her skill. Blood tests were done, so I know the vet I went to (in the same office as the highly skilled one) isn’t just guessing. But her not really caring yet still questioning my choice of vet is very irritating. I suspect she knows that I’ll step up, so she feels liberated from worrying. Ugh.

Confused and concerned animal lover/annoyed neighbor

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Dear Captain,

I’ve been with my partner Dave a long time (10+ years). I love him dearly and I feel profoundly loved in return. We’ve built a life and a home together. He is unfailingly supportive and loves/tolerates all of my various quirks as I do his. We have friends in common, but also understand and encourage each other having separate interests and friends. Our values and life goals align perfectly, and he’s my best friend and the first person I’d normally turn to about anything. On paper we are perfect for one another, and our relationship is as wholesome and comforting as a bowl of hot soup in front of the fire on a cold day. But for all that I love Dave deeply, I’ve often had a nagging doubt that in some way I’ve ‘settled’ and over the last year or so I’ve wondered if we’re beginning to drift apart a little. Having said that, to answer Sheelzebub’s question: I can very easily still see us together in five or ten years’ time, much the same as we are now. So I’m not in the position of LW #603.

Last week I was staying away at a conference. I sat next to Steve, a colleague, at dinner. His role has just changed, which means we are no longer working together directly, though we move in the same circles. Our paths will cross again, fairly regularly, and it’s likely we’ll have to work together closely again in the future. Over dinner he made a pass at me. The way it was done showed planning and forethought, and it was done with subtlety, so that I could decline and we could both pretend it never happened. Later in the evening, he tried again, much more obviously. I let him down gently both times. We parted on good, friendly terms, with me making sure he understood I was touched and flattered by his attention, and didn’t intend to treat him any differently as a consequence.

I am intensely flattered. Steve is interesting, clever, funny and great company. He is very successful in his field and I respect him and his opinions tremendously. We clicked from the start and work really well together. I had been half-wondering if he might try something that night. I’ve been particularly careful not to let friendly banter edge into anything that could be read as flirting precisely because I thought he might be feeling more and I didn’t want to lead him on. But, banter aside, he’s always been so scrupulously professional that I was never sure if he actually was attracted to me or not. Ironically, what happened has cleared the air (for me at least) and I feel a lot easier around him than I did. I’m confident we can move forward as colleagues.

In some ways, Steve has given me a gift. For a brief while I’ve seen myself through his eyes: an intelligent, witty, successful and attractive woman that he desires and wants to spend more time with. I like being that person he sees. I don’t have pantsfeelings for Steve, but I’ll freely admit I’ve enjoyed being the object of his desire. And while I feel and am loved by Dave, I rarely get that thrill from him. So, while my head is firmly saying “nope” to Steve, my ego is saying, “hell yeah!”. My heart agrees it was right to reject Steve’s advances, but is left wondering whether that awesome woman Steve tried his luck with should take a shot at a less secure, but potentially more exciting life.

So, Captain, have I ‘settled’ for Dave, or does the grass just appear greener? How do I tell which it is?



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Spoiler note: I reject this “boyfriend,” and all his works, and all his empty promises, and all his creeping on young women destroying their self-esteem.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been seeing the same guy for almost two years now. We met when I was living in Colorado, shortly after we met I moved away, and our relationship there wasn’t ever really too serious, but I feel like both of us felt that we wanted it to grow stronger, so when I moved away we continued to see each other and have a long distance relationship, but we aren’t truly in a relationship because he says he doesn’t want to claim me as his girlfriend until I am 21. He is 29 and I am 19. I know that is quite an age difference, but I am very mature for my age, and I feel like he acts more as if he is 24/25 than a 29 year old. So after going to visit him in Colorado a few times, I actually found out that the first time I went back to see him he had a girlfriend, this really upset me because I felt lied to and betrayed, but he thought it would make me feel special to know that he cheated on his girlfriend to be with me. They ended up breaking up right after I saw him, and that was that.

Besides telling me that we can’t be together until I’m 21, he also tells me he can’t be with a girl who doesn’t have, in his words, “a perfect ass”, so he constantly is harassing me about going to the gym and working out, he will check in with me and asked if I worked out today, which is really upsetting to me because, I eat very healthy and I go to the gym daily, and it is because I like being healthy and feeling good about myself. I am not overweight or out of shape by any means, I’m [height and weight redacted by Captain A.], I wouldn’t call that out of shape, but he constantly is harassing me about the way I look. It is so bad that I don’t even want to show him my body because he always has something negative to say. The things he has said to me have really hurt my self esteem, and make me feel like I am not good enough in his eyes. He will say terrible things about my body and my looks but then the next day tell me how beautiful I am. It is hard for me to understand.

When I get upset at him for critizing my body and putting me down he will tell me I need to toughen up and that he is only trying to make me better, but it’s not because he is worried about my health, it is because he wants me to look a certain way, like some model he sees online. He has even said to me, “I see other girls and I just want to f–k them”..I just don’t know how you say that to someone you love, and he says he’s just being honest, and that he’s a guy and every guy I meet will think that about other girls. Bottom line is, he just makes me feel terrible about my looks, and I wonder will I ever find a guy who can love someone that has all of the flaws he points out in me, I know I will never be a bikini model, but I am in very good shape, and he acts like he is a bodybuilder or something, meanwhile he doesn’t even have a gym membership, eat healthy, or go to the gym on a daily basis. I have never, and would never try to change him, even though he is 29, doesn’t have a job and has no clue what he is doing with his life, I always encourage him and tell him he will figure things out. I never bring him down, or make him feel bad about himself, and he will say the only reason I don’t is because I think he is so perfect already, and it’s not that, it’s just that I love him for who he is and all of his flaws or imperfections make him who he is..I just really don’t know what to do anymore. He also, came to Florida, where I live now and went on a cruise with another girl, before I found this out he told me he was coming to Florida to visit me, but around this time he told me he met someone else and he never really loved me, that we were just friends,and that maybe one day if I was in better shape we could be together, so I was confused as to why he was coming to see someone he felt this way about, then the day before he came he told me the real reason he was coming to Florida was to go on a cruise with another girl, and he wanted to see me after..After that I blocked his number, but ended up forgiving him a week or two later. But even after all that he still disrespected me and treated me poorly when this should’ve been a time he was amazing to me.

I asked him if I could spend New Year’s and go to a concert with him and he told me I didn’t look good enough to be seen with him there..but Later on he said he needed me there and was so happy I came. I just cannot keep being put down so harshly, by the one person that is supposed to bring me up, I just don’t understand what is wrong with him, or what is wrong with me. obviously he can be good, and sweet to me and we have had some amazing times together, which is why I love him, but hearing him say such hurtful things makes me question his love for me. I just don’t know what to do.

Dear Lovely Letter Writer,

Your email subject line was “Does my boyfriend actually love me?

No. He doesn’t. He may say that he does, or have feelings inside his head that he calls “love,” but the way he treats you isn’t how love works.

Question Time:

Is this the kind of treatment you want from a boyfriend?

Are you okay with it when he criticizes your body and makes you feel ugly?

Are you okay with him constantly lying about his relationships with other girls and women?

Do you think that “girlfriend” is a role that you must constantly audition for and prove you deserve? Over the course of multiple years? At the cost of your well-being and self-esteem?

I don’t have any scripts that will make him behave better or turn into the boyfriend you need and deserve. He won’t ever change or stop these asshole behaviors. He has been grooming you since you were 17 to accept his warped version of love and what your body should look like and how people treat other people (and he likely grooms and mistreats all his other “not quite girlfriends” too). He is an emotionally abusive asshole who picks on you to make himself feel better.

You end your letter with: “I just don’t know what to do.”

You DO know what to do and you already tried to do it (block him forever). You just gotta make it stick this time, and I’d love to help you do that.

Right now, you could text him and say “I am breaking up with you, goodbye.”

Then (also right now), you could block him on all possible forms of communication and delete his number from your phone. It doesn’t matter what he thinks or feels or says – once you decide to break up, it’s over.

Then, you could let yourself get really, really angry about how he’s treated you.

Next, imagine your ex-boyfriend as a flat piece of paper.

I want you to mentally crumple that piece of paper.

Make it really tiny and dense.

Did you crumple it? Can you feel it crushed very tight inside your fist?


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Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend and me have been planning to find a place together for 6 months now. He’s an amazing guy, he’s smart, funny, he understands most of the things I say, I always felt like he was a very reliable person and I know him for 8 years now. We’ve only been together for a little more than a year though.

I’m 35 and while I’ve got my own place and I’ve been working for a while, I haven’t been able to save anything so far. Only very recently has my income gone up enough for me to be able to afford things. My boyfriend is 27 and he inherited a lot of money years ago. Before we started having a relationship he used a good share of that to take a year off from work. The rest he started using when we started meeting. He blew a lot of money on clothes and since we don’t live in the same country on flights and transport. As did I.

In September 2015 we decided to move in together summer 2016. I told him I may not have the money to fix my old place and move things over to his country and pay half the rent and a deposit at the same time. He said he’ll cover it, whatever it takes. Since then I’ve been saving.
Sometime last year he ran out of extra money. He said he wanted to save in 2016. It’s April now and he hasn’t saved a cent. He said he wanted to sell some personal belongings but that hasn’t happened either. Additional money from his birthday (that was left after buying what he really wanted) was instead invested in a Kindle because he took up reading.

I handed in my resignation and my boss and me are currently looking for someone to fill my spot. By the end of July I’ll be jobless and would need to move in with either my mom or his mom if things don’t work out. We need to find a place for the end of June.

He says he’ll save enough in the next 2 months and it’s all going to be okay. I told him I’m extremely worried and he said he can’t do anything but reassure me that we’ll be fine right now. I really want to trust him, but this is my life and I’m starting to think he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing or he doesn’t do well with money or maybe he just doesn’t really want to commit. Mentioning his leftover birthday money simply got me a “Am I not entitled to use my birthday money as I please?”.

In the past 8 years I’ve never seen him not commit to things he wanted to do. He is very high on my list of people I would absolutely rely on, but this situation scares the shit out of me.


Dear Really Scared:

I recommend that you un-quit your job ASAP and do whatever you can to secure your own financial well-being. More to follow.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a young lady of 23 years old. I am a supervisor at my job and make decent money. I have my own apartment which I acquired and pay for completely on my own.

My boyfriend of 2 years lives with me. I love him dearly. When we moved in together we made an agreement. Since I work 50+ hours a week, he would do the house work. He agreed. I admit that I’m a bit of a clean freak. My mom is OCD and so I’m used to a very clean house.

It’s been a couple months now. He doesn’t clean.

I used to write down specific things on our white board for him to do (because else he wouldn’t do anything???) and I talked to him about it. I asked him if he needed the direction or if it felt like I was micromanaging. He responded that he liked it and would appreciate it if I continued to do so. So I made a list for the week, made it simple and not over the top trying to keep in mind my cleaning standards, and made it easy by narrowing it down to a room a day (apartment isn’t very big). That way it’s less work for me, and he knows exactly what is expected.

He still ignores it. I find this extremely frustrating and disrespectful. He doesn’t currently work or go to school. I tried to explain to him my frustration, explaining that when he doesn’t clean it is upsetting to me because of a. Our agreement and b. I feel he is disrespecting all that I have worked so hard for. I clean when I’m home, I clean on my days off. Everyday when I get off at 11pm I make dinner and I also make breakfast. This isn’t too big of a deal because I like to cook. But if I’m cooking and cleaning and paying, I find myself wondering why he lives with me?

Whenever I bring up our agreement and explain that I’m starting to feel frustrated he always turns it around on me for some other injustice I have done him.

Please help, I feel like I’m babysitting and micromanaging, even if he doesn’t. Which is also something I have tried talking to him about.

How can I help him understand that I don’t want to be his mom and direct him all the time? And how do I explain to him the importance of chores because the direction he has asked for is not helping?

Thank you,
I’m not that bad of a neat freak

Dear I’m Not That Bad Of A Neat Freak:

I think the only way your boyfriend will “understand” any of this is if you ask him to move out. More to follow.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband, “John”, is currently studying for a graduate degree. He has exams coming up so is spending all day every day in the library and then when he comes home he just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. It sucks and I miss him but we are dealing with almost never seeing each other properly because these exams are important right now.

My husband has a friend, “Martha”, who is doing the same course. Martha is taking the same exams. Martha lives in the building across from us. And I just wish Martha would fuck the fuck off and leave him alone.

Martha is incredibly psychologically needy and seems to have latched onto my husband as a target for her emotional vampirism. She doesn’t have a boyfriend or may other friends here. I am all for my husband having friends and for him sometimes needing to be there for them, but Martha wants his attention all the time. She messages him constantly about trivial chatty things and ‘needs’ him to reply immediately. They go to the library and spend all day there together, and then when they get home he feels he needs to invite her in for a drink or even sometimes for dinner because she’s “so lonely”. Then five minutes after she leaves (which is always well after I thought she ought to have left) she is messaging him again. This happens all day every day.

The thing that kills me is that my husband will come home and say how tired he is of Martha and how he wishes he didn’t have to see her again all day tomorrow. So I say, “You don’t! Just say you’re not going to that library and go somewhere else to work! Or when she makes her sad face and talks passive-aggressively about how she’ll just go and spend the evening alone again, just let her go! The world is not going to collapse if you ignore her stupid messages!”

But he doesn’t. He says how fed up he is of her (and I think he really is) but then nothing changes! He still gets guilted into spending all his time with her and getting sucked into her emotional neediness. I don’t want to turn this into some huge drama when he’s focused on his exams, but I cannot stand to hear about Martha one more time, I cannot stand to see Martha ever again and I cannot stand to know that she’s stealing his time and energy that he needs for himself right now (let alone for me!).

Please help me before I do or say something I regret!

Hateful Wife

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May London meetup as follows:

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 7th May , 11am onwards.

Book swap! Bring any book you don’t like, or just come and chat with us.

This venue is working out really well.

They sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Blue Bar (go up in the JCB lift, lift 7, which is bright yellow and quite musical). I have tried to check with the centre to make sure the Blue Bar is free, but if not I will post on the Facebook group to say where we are – or email me if you’re lost…

Here is the internal map of the Royal Festival Hall:

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: One time I forgot it but I will do my best this time, however if I forget again I will put up a sign. I have long brown hair and glasses.

The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.

The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(June meetup will be on the 11th.)

If something changes on the day, I will post here (in this post or in the comments) to notify everyone.


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