Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 23 year old college student, and the kind of degree and profession I want to work in requires constant joint projects where working alone is not an option, and because our industry is so small, making good connections in college with your peers can be really important.

My problem is this: last semester, while working on a project together, a class mate told me he liked me and wanted to go out with me, and I turned him down because I wasn’t interested. We finished the project, he was professional, and I pulled back from hanging out at school because I didn’t want him to feel awkward.

Then the semester was over, we didn’t really talk, and when a new semester started, we hang out a bit more at school (sitting in class together, chatting at breaks), because I liked him as a friend and would have liked to work on more projects together. Two weeks ago we made some vague plans to go see a movie, he saw it without me so I offered to go to a different movie. We ate something and saw the movie (each of us paid for ourselves), and apparently he thought it was a date. Thing is, I deliberately leaned away from him and put my beg between us to not give the wrong impression. He took my bag and put it on the floor (wtf), then put his hand on my knee. He asked me if it was okay, I said no and he took his hand off. We’re on break from school now, and haven’t talked since.

I’m mad at him, and I don’t know if I’m being cruel or not. On one hand I’m pissed off he just assumed I changed my mind. On the other hand, did he harbored a crush on me for months and I was careless with his feelings? Did I sent the wrong signals, or did he ignored the signals I sent? Should I assume he is not interested in being friends?

Truth is, I’m a very traditionally attractive woman and I usually gets more romantic\sexual attention than I would like. I work with other women on projects, but only working with ladies will really limit my options.
The whole not-date throw me into a spiral of insecurities (I’m not really talented, nobody really likes me, guys lie to me and only put up with me because I’m pretty etc) and I’m feeling really shitty right now, and I can’t focus on my school work. What can I do to make things better, and to prevent situations like this in the future?

Frustrated student
(female pronouns)

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Greetings, Captain!

Long-time lurker checking in with a relationship problem. My boyfriend and I (she/her pronouns) have a lot of different interests. Which is fine! Not all my stuff is his cup of coffee! Not all his stuff is my cup of tea! The issue is when he says he wants to do something with me and our apparent inability to find time prevents me from doing the thing.

For example: I wanted to watch The Martian when it came out. He was Super! Excited! to watch it together! It was going to be great! Except somehow every time I suggested it there was something else to do, or he didn’t have time. After a while I brought up the idea that he didn’t have to watch it with me, since it seemed he wasn’t interested…only to hear that of course we would watch it, he really wanted to see it with me, we’d watch it next time we had time! I still haven’t seen The Martian.

I’m also a full time student with a part-time job and limited free time, which means I often do (hobby) inconsistently. This means that it feels odd to push him to go do (hobby) with me if I haven’t been in two weeks, especially if it means he misses an activity he enjoys. However, if I say I’m going, he’ll ask me to wait since he’s almost done, which stretches out into another thing, then another..then he’s ready to go, but I’m annoyed because I’m late, or it’s too late to go at all. He always apologizes, but that’s little help when I lose an hour of dancing because he wanted to finish a game.

Boyfriend is great in pretty much every other regard, and I really don’t mind if he never gets into dance or D&D or Sherlock. I appreciate that he wants to do things that I enjoy with me, but I’d rather he either a) actually DO them, or b) tell me if he’s not into ice or d20s or giant scarves, so I can go do things involving these things on my own time. I suspect that both of us have a bit of a dirty lens going on as well; my last ex found a few of my hobbies intensely boring and vice versa, while his most significant ex insisted on doing everything together.
Is there a gentle way to say “I love that you want to do things with me, but if you aren’t into it, just…don’t bother? Should I just start doing things without him, even if he’s expressed interest? Am I overreacting? Should I just go watch The Martian already?

Sincerely,

liking D&D is not the price of admission

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Dear Not The Price,

I love this question for being so specific, for covering something we haven’t done in detail before, and for being something that is very solvable with boundaries and scripts. Thank you!

I think there is a very direct way that you can break this impasse and make your time & interests less fungible where your boyfriend is concerned. It involves, for starters, adding specific dates and timeframes to your plan-making if you’re not already doing that.

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie!”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?” (Or, “Great, let me check showtimes and I’ll send you a couple options tomorrow.” Or, “Can you look at showtimes at the theater that would work for you?”

Boyfriend: “None of those times really work for me.”

Let’s breakdown the roles:

If you are the suggester/the inviter/the initiator/the person who wants to do The Social Thing, I suggest adding a specific time, date, place to your suggestion as soon as possible/reasonable. We have covered this in some of our threads about dating and asking people out: “Would you like to hang out sometime?” is not enough. “Would you like to see a band with me on Thursday after work?” is a real invitation that a person can say a specific “yes” or “no” to.

If you are the invitee, and you cannot make the suggested day/time/place, but you still want to do The Thing or A Thing, it is now your job to suggest alternate days/dates/times/Things. If you want to actually make plans with someone that actually exist on the actual space-time-continuum, it is not the other person’s job to endlessly suggest things until they find something that happens to suit you. If you want to do the Thing, help a person out! If you can’t do The Thing, “I don’t think I can make it work in my schedule, but I’ll let you know when that changes” is good information to communicate. If you just don’t want to do The Thing, say “Thanks for the invitation, but no.”

Letter Writer, somewhere in becoming an established couple, you and your boyfriend drifted away from scheduling your plans with each other. On the one hand, it’s a very natural and even comforting transition from “We have to meticulously plan everything” to “I take for granted that I will see you often/just come over!)” On the other hand, I think that politeness and consideration are still extremely valuable in close relationships, and your boyfriend is not being fully considerate of your time here, especially when you both have busy schedules and varied interests. Value your own interests and your own time and prioritize the things that you want to do, and then communicate your expectations and wishes to your partner.

Let’s revisit the conversation:

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie.”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?”

Boyfriend: “Neither of those really work for me.”

What if what happened next was this?

Letter Writer: “Ok, can you suggest a time in the next week or two that will work? I really want to see it soon.”

Then if a couple weeks go by without your boyfriend suggesting specific plans to see Exciting Movie (and if you still even want to see it with him) try this:

Letter Writer: “I’m gonna see Exciting Movie this (Day at Time/Place). Last chance to join me!”

If the dude still can’t make the schedule work, that’s okay, you’ll go see it with a friend or by yourself, and you can watch it again or rent it together sometime. But he can’t lay claim to both “I want you to wait so we can experience it together” and “But I will never make a plan for that to happen.” Nopetepus!

Let’s apply it to the other situation: When his indecision making you late for (or miss entirely) a thing you wanted to do.

Letter Writer: “I am going to go dancing with my friends tonight.”

Boyfriend: “Cool, I’ll join you. Just let me finish this game.”

Letter Writer: “Well, I said I’d meet them by 9:00 pm so I’m going to leave in about 30 minutes. If you’re ready by then, definitely come along. If not, maybe next time!”

Then go at the time you said you’d go and dance your ass off with or without him. He can pause his game, or he can decide he’d rather play the game, but he doesn’t get to have it both ways. He especially doesn’t get to have you dancing attendance on him and missing out on the stuff you want to do.

I believe you that he’s a good dude, but here are things to watch out for:

  • Your boyfriend pouts or resists or gets jealous or clingy when you go to stuff by yourself. Extremely annoying in small doses, controlling and scary in medium+ doses. Time for, at minimum, a “Come along or don’t, if you don’t I’m shutting my phone off and you don’t get to text me later ’cause you’re bored” discussion and also time to evaluate whether he’s controlling and needy in other ways.
  • Your boyfriend resists or mocks the idea of scheduling things with you in advance. “Ok, sure…Mom”Come on, let’s be spontaneous, Babe!” Dude, let’s not.
  • You are always the one who has to schedule things without reciprocal effort from him, or, you’re ultra-aware of his calendar but he’s oblivious to yours (like you are his freaking social secretary). Planning the time you’ll spend together is the constructive, healthy kind of relationship “work”, but it is emotional labor and takes thought and effort and equal investment by both partners. Time for “I’d like to see you this weekend, but I don’t want to plan everything or just hang out while you play games. Can you look for something fun for us to do on Saturday?” discussion.

If adding a time & place and asking your boyfriend to do reciprocal planning doesn’t make things better, it might be time for a script like this:

When I invite you to something, I’m learning that ‘maybe’ really means ‘no.’ And ‘later’ also means ‘no.’ (Give one or two recent, specific, examples where his hesitation meant you missing out on what you wanted to do). It’s okay if you don’t really want to come to (x events/hobbies), but I’d like you to be more specific and more clear when you tell me your decision so I’m not planning around you.”

Or “I get really excited when you want to join me for (things I like to do) and it’s a big bummer when you say yes and then it doesn’t actually happen. It makes me wish I’d just gone by myself when there was still time. Is there a way you’d like us to handle making plans that will help avoid this?” You can be clearer about specific time frames, but it’s not on you to do all the work of figuring this out. It’s very reasonable to ask him to do his fair share of work to help solve this between you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Cap,

I recently graduated as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). The entire time I was in school I always felt that I didn’t deserve the grades I got, that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and didn’t know enough. But I kept passing with some As but mostly Bs (a failing grade in this program is anything less than a 75). I had 3 clinicals in 3 different settings for a total of 17 weeks and got high marks in all of them.

I got my first job in a nursing home, which was my favorite setting out of all my clinics. I apparently made such a good impression on the rehab director that she cancelled her other interviews and offered me the position 45 minutes after my interview. On my first day I trained with a seasoned PTA. This PTA’s caseload had some of the most difficult patients I’d ever seen; people that couldn’t follow directions and resisted me during the treatment. By lunchtime I was in tears because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was doing a bad job. I tried to quit but the rehab director encouraged me to go home and think about it. I came back the next day and asked to not go around with that PTA, to be given a small caseload of simple patients and to go out on my own. I had a good day and was told I did well. That was a Friday. By Sunday night I was having a panic attack (I have a long history of anxiety/depression which had been well controlled with medication for many years). I woke up Monday, had a panic attack and quit.
Now I have zero confidence in myself and I don’t know how I can take another job if this is how I handled my first one. The entire time I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and I was bad at the job. Choosing another career is not an option. I don’t know how to become more confident or at least fake it until I make it. The only advice I’ve gotten is “go see a therapist”, but I have no job or income. How can I be successful in this career when I don’t believe in myself?

-Zero
(Pronouns: she/her)

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Update from LW below!

Dear Captain,

I love your site and have read 99% of your archive. I love the honesty and practicality of your responses and find a lot of helpful truth in them. This one, though, is stymieing me.

I have built a career that has been very successful and train people in complex aspects of my profession.

Since there are multiple cycles of the sessions required for industry certification, I get a lot of the same participants over and over, and one such is the worst energy vampire I’ve met in my entire life. I’m running out of ways to deal with her short of telling my boss to cut her out completely, thus hurting her career pretty permanently. I work hard to be patient, professional, and kind to everyone, but this woman, Emma, is beyond my capabilities.

Emma lives alone, and her husband either died under tragic and improbable circumstances or left her under equally tragic and improbable circumstances or there never was a husband at all; she was apparently adopted by a cruel aunt as a child, but that story has shifted as well and sounds suspiciously like Harriet Potter or at least A Little Princess. Each session now drags on as she rambles, and regardless of what we are discussing (usually content-specific and related to our set purpose) she finds an entry point to share irrelevant anecdotes incoherently and at length. With no exception, the other participants in each session despise this woman, and come to me privately to “deal with her.” She has been questioned on inconsistencies in her narrative by members of the group only to rail at how unfair everyone is to her and WHY WILL NO ONE BELIEVE THAT MY LIFE IS HARDER THAN YOURS. She never submits her assignments, and thus takes the sessions again and again and again (paying full price each time, so my boss just shrugs and takes her money) but the behavior never changes and it’s The Emma Show.

She has my office number due to its placement on my syllabi, but not my cell, although she asks me for it every single meeting so we “can socialize” because “you’re my sister from another mother!” She desperately wants to be friends on social media, and I have firmly told her I don’t do that with work acquaintances. She wants us to get matching tattoos. I have said no with increasing hostility to each of these overtures and repeatedly said, “Emma, I understand that you would like us to be friends, but I have to maintain professional boundaries and I know you’ll understand that I can’t breach those roles,” to which she will inevitably sigh, giggle, and pet my arm while saying, “Soon! I’ll graduate from the cycle and we can HANG OUT!”

Okay. I know that this woman is desperately lonely and probably struggles with the truth (even to herself), and I SHOULD be sympathetic. I have asked my boss to schedule her with another instructor, but my boss doesn’t want Emma in her own sessions again so I’m it. It’s to the point now that I don’t honestly know what to do short of open warfare.

Practical suggestions? A script? If I remove her from my roster it will have immediate and negative repercussions on her full-time employment and I don’t know if I can ethically do that to someone who, let’s face it, I just dislike. I strive to be a good person but my God she is testing this each time.

I hate how she eats French fries. (EVERY SESSION. LOUDLY. WITH MAYONNAISE WHO DOES THAT.)

I hate how she pronounces “nuc-u-ler.”

I hate how she monopolizes everyone’s time, in small groups, or pairs, or whole-group activities, no matter what I do, say, relocate, or attempt. (And yes, I know how to deal with teenagers with oppositional behaviors, just not forty-year-olds who insist they are grownups.) I move her seat; she cries and moves back. I tell her I can’t pass her due to lack of work; she blames her seat mate. I tell her not to talk tonight because other people need to share and work through their (work-related) issues; she interrupts and says her problems are more important. I feel impotent because my boss will NOT back me up.

(And I hate, hate, hate going to the bathroom after her, but that’s another story for never.)

Thank you! Just writing this helped a bit. VENTING.

~Emma, I Can’t Be Your Friend
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Hi Captain,

I went to university to be a screenwriter and, as i’m sure you know, it’s not exactly an easy industry to break into (especially if you’re female – ‘old boys club’ indeed). A couple of years ago (late 2013-ish) I went to a casual networking event with a couple of classmates and met a television writer (let’s call him Dale) who’s at least in his early to mid 40s. I was 20 years old at the time.

Dale and I exchanged email addresses and I sent him a copy of the television pilot I’d written and then we met up for a late lunch/early dinner shortly after so I could get his notes/pick his brain about his career/networking etc.

Fast forward to 2015. We’ve met up maybe once or twice a year at most since then, always to talk about writing stuff. I was planning a trip to LA last year too so I asked him for some tips on networking etc because he spends a lot of time over there. He kept complimenting how I looked and offered (multiple times) to let me stay with him at his place in LA and one point even to fly me out on his own dime to stay with him when I jokingly complained about how expensive my trip was going to be. He’s also invited me to a number of parties with him and his and other middled aged male friends and has texted me subtly suggestive sexual things in the past(it’s always him initiating the conversation).

At the end of December, I asked to meet up with Dale one last time because I needed a professional reference letter for a program I was applying to.

We meet up, Dale stares at me really suggestively the entire time and makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable with some of his comments about my appearance and then when we leave (it’s night time by this point) he refuses to let me walk to the train station by myself and puts his arm around my shoulder and gets really close to me without asking. He did eventually take his arm away and finally left me alone when we reached the train station (not before getting into my space again and kissing me on the cheek).

I stupidly ignored my intuition and also because I figured it was worth putting up with a bit of creepiness if it meant i could get some solid career advice and a reference letter. I stopped replying to his emails and his texts and just the thought of seeing him again gives me intense anxiety. We both live in the same city and I’m terrified I’ll bump into him somewhere.

Dale still keeps contacting me and clearly cannot take a hint even though i have not replied to a single one of his messages since late December. He refused to respect my boundaries or even stop to consider that I, as a female in my early 20s, have no desire to sleep with or date someone his age (especially considering i’m not even interested in dating men period).

How do I get him to leave me alone? Every time I see a new message from him I feel sick to my stomach.

Sincerely,

Majorly Creeped Out

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband and I (cis-woman), are adopting our first child. We came to this decision after we learned that I have a medical condition which will make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to have biological children. We were very excited to tell our families about this decision. And, for the most part, the response has been positive.

However, my husband’s parents have not been as enthusiastic as I had hoped. The week after we announced our plans, they gave me a ton of brochures about in-vitro and fertility treatments, as well as information about embryo adoption. I politely explained that the same condition which makes it difficult for me to conceive makes it more likely that I’ll have a miscarriage. I also explained that we had already submitted the first part of our application, and were committed to adoption.

Explaining all of this seemed to put the issue to rest, until the holidays. While we were visiting them, I accidentally overheard my husband’s mother say some pretty unkind things about me and my body (the same condition which limits my fertility also makes it harder for me to manage my weight), as well as suggesting that my husband should divorce me and find someone who can give him children. She doesn’t know I heard her say this.

In the months since then, my inlaws have insinuated that they don’t (and won’t) consider adopted children to be “real” grandchildren, even asking me point blank why I would want to take care of “someone else’s child”. My mother-in-law also seems particularly concerned that the child that is placed with us will be disabled in some way, going on about how adopted children are often “emotionally damaged” (after which I pointed out that no child comes with any guarantees, and mental, emotional, and/or physical disability are not limited to adopted children).

I’ve asked my husband to talk to them, but he has social anxiety, and confrontation (especially with his parents) is really hard for him. And his family is close-knit. We’re over his parents house for dinner about twice a month. I don’t want to ruin his relationship with his family, but I also don’t want to hear the constant stream of criticism, and, more importantly, I don’t want to subject any potential future child(ren) of mine to that kind of talk. Lately, I’ve started using work as an excuse to skip dinner with them, but that can’t work forever. And I just don’t know what to do anymore.

Sincerely,
Anxious Mom-To-Be

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Edit:

Oh shit sorry the northern line is closed near me and I’m on a rail replacement bus. I will be there asap but probably late, please look out for each other.

——-

Excitingly, the Captain has given me access to post here myself, so here’s hoping I get it right!

April London meetup as follows:

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 9th April , 11am onwards.

Colouring in time! Please bring any copyright free images to colour, and any suitable pens and pencils, or just come to chat.

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: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/RFH_map.pdf

I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: http://forbiddenplanet.com/3950-cthulhu-baby-plush/  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: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/.  There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.

My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com

(May meetup will be on the 7th.)

Cheers,
Kate

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