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#265: Should I burn this bridge (like I usually do) or patch things up?

Charlize Theron as Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman

Were you having emotions near me, Peasant? You know that’s not allowed.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I feel like my question is probably strange and not a little bit over-specific. But it is indicative of a larger issue I’ve been facing recently. However, some context is in order.

I grew up a diplobrat, moving from place to place ever 3 or 4 years. I therefore became accustomed to friendships lasting for about as long. I have had no friends since childhood, and most people barring family fade out of my life in a few turns ’round the sun. I am great at making new friends; although I’m probably more of a natural introvert, my lifestyle has led me to develop excellent people skills and a perfect “public face”. I’ve even turned that ability into a career in PR. I’m also the best bridge-burner you’re ever likely to meet. Friendship goes sour? Best end it now, no sense postponing the inevitable. Make a polite exit stage left, collect flowers, leave theater. Pretend friendship until curtain falls. There is no blood. I am a master of emotional control, but I only feign emotion for those I don’t respect. (Oh what a lovely cat sweater, thank you, kind neighbor. I adore it! If only I had a kitty of my own) But now I find myself in a bit of a situation.

My fiance’s best friend/roommate is a very different person from myself. As such, there is an enormous potential for misunderstanding between us. Something happened recently that brought this to a head. At fiance’s instruction, a couple weeks ago I left the front door open en route to go take a nap, so he could go out and get the mail. He decided he also fancied a snooze, so we both fell asleep. 2 hours later the roommate arrives home to discover his expensive laptop has been stolen. Fiance feels horrible (it was our faults after all) and is generally prone to letting his own remorse take over his reaction to the crisis, instead of trying to support his friend. We agree I will be the one to offer reimbursement and apologies/whatever roommate needs. Roommate objects to my “politicizing” and tells me he doesn’t want to hear it. I’ve just enough of a clue to recognize he actually *wants* the overemotional thisisallaboutmeI’msosorryI’manawfulfriendIswearitwasn’tmyfault, and since I was going to offer anything he needed I promptly put on my best “I’m the WORST FRIEND EVAR” sulk and he is appeased. But remember I don’t normally do that for people I respect enough to give the truth. But he asked me to lie to him, essentially. I’m really offended. Do my genuine reactions/personality mean so little to him he’d have me perform a task only reserved for the irrelevant? But I lie (it’s for the best, he was angry, and I’d promised to provide what he needed), and a little bit of me dies inside.

Normally, this is an excellent cue to sever proper friendship ties (not in a material hangout way, more in an emotional respect way). As it happens, it’s also right around the three-year mark, which is the duration of my experience with friendships. However, as the best friend of fiance, this is not someone so easily ditched. I don’t want to mentally demote him from Real Friends status to You Think We’re Pals But I’m Just Being Nice if he’s going to be sticking around, because not even I have the endurance to maintain that kind of bullshit for years. My other option is to “patch things up,” an experience with which I’m entirely unfamiliar. I have zero experience “patching things up” because I never was in one place long enough to have to learn. Considering how diametrically opposed our personalities are to start with, I’m not even sure if the effort is worth it or if we suffer from irreconcilable differences. I guess where I stand now is at the edge of a bridge, torch in hand, wondering whether I should drop the torch as I’ve done so often before, or if I should learn a new script from scratch. How on earth do people patch things up with others who aren’t very sympathetic in terms of personality? Can it be done at all? Will I always have to pretend? Should I just move on and make new friends because this one was insulting? But mainly, how do normal human beings overcome the rifts between them when building and burning bridges is impractical?

Yours,
Burning Bridges

Dear Burning,

Your description of friendship sounds really lonely and crappy. I get that the pattern of “dump them before they dump me” developed for a reason in your childhood, but you might want to visit a therapist and get that whole ability-to-feel-feelings-and-empathize-with-other-people’s-feelings thing checked out. “I maintain perfect emotional control!” isn’t actually something to brag about. It makes you fake, and honestly, kind of scary.

What you describe here is that you & your partner did something careless and your friend’s expensive laptop (and all the contents stored on that laptop) got stolen, and even though you offered to replace it (good), your friend had some angry feelings about the whole thing (normal), and now you feel “offended” that you maybe had to offer him some empathy or deal with his negative emotions for a short period of time (NOT GOOD).

You didn’t have to totally prostrate yourself with WORST FRIEND EVAR stuff (by the way, that’s the kind of apology that makes it all about you, because it puts him in the position of having to say “No, no, you’re not“), and he didn’t “make” you have to do that. Even if he wanted some kind of catharsis, you decided to try to manipulate the situation when you could have just said “Listen, I get that you’re angry, and you have a right to be. We’re really sorry and we’ll make it up to you however we can.” Show some empathy, own your part in what happened, let the person vent a bit, then absent yourself from the apartment and let him stew. I’m also confused as to why you had to be the one to apologize, if they are roommates/best friends? Eh, bygones.

If you want to patch things up with this guy, follow through on replacing the laptop (I assume with the help/contribution of your fiance) ASAP, apologize one more time, and then give the guy a wide berth for a couple of weeks. Adjust your routine so that your partner comes to your place instead of you staying over there. Then resume normal relations. You don’t have to do anything special.

But don’t call it “friendship.”

I mean…this sentence…”Do my genuine reactions/personality mean so little to him he’d have me perform a task only reserved for the irrelevant?” gives me the chills. “The irrelevant”? What is that even? It’s like there’s this secret audition he doesn’t know he’s performing, and if he passes it he’ll become a real person to you and  earn the privilege of seeing your real emotions (which by the way, sounds like a TREAT), but since he failed it he’s disappointed you and will now only get the mask. It’s his fault, you see! Not yours for turning a shitty thing that happened to him into a way he “offended” you.

If you could lose respect for someone and feel totally justified in lying to them because they display emotions in a less-than-perfectly-controlled way (and then blame them for “making” you do that), you’re not their friend. You’re just a person who is faking it until something better comes along. Seriously, get that checked out. It’s a good sign that you’re re-examining this pattern now. Eventually you’re going to want a relationship (like a marriage, for instance) that lasts longer than three years.

Signed,

One of The Irrelevant

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223 comments
  1. O SNAP

    Seriously, very well done Cap’n. I identify very strongly with the LW as my personality leads me to routinely make careless mistakes that wind up having costs to others. I’ve let my friend’s cat out so many times I can hardly look the guy in the eye.

    One of the hardest things in the world is to apologize for something like that and have the apology not go well. You just feel so helpless and awful. It’s very tempting to turn it around on the other person and blame them for not reacting better, even to say “screw it, this isn’t worth it” and run away from the friendship.

    The good news is as horrible as it feels, you can endure it.

    When I feel really bad (like, REALLY bad. no, worse. yeah, THAT bad. you know what I’m sayin) I sometimes will go sit in a comfortable chair and just let all the awful feelings wash over me. REALLY feel it, you know? Sometimes it takes an hour or more. Eventually you realize that as bad as it feels it’s not going to kill you to just feel it and you get up and go do the dishes.

    I’m going to recommend this technique to the LW now. You may not have to do ANYTHING in this situation except feel crappy about this for a while. Just act however you feel like acting. It doesn’t have any big significance for the future of your relationship. No one’s at their best in a situation like this one, not you, not your fiancee, not the roommate. Just let it be a bad patch. It will pass.

    • KL said:

      This is really good advice in general, and it also seems like it might apply more specifically in the LW’s case– sometimes not feeling other people’s feelings is a way to avoid feeling one’s own.

  2. The manipulation just drips off this letter. The vague, roundabout ways LW describes things…the subtle phrasing of things to cast the LW in the best light possible. It’s creepy.

    So, the gripe is basically “We did a bad thing, and now roommate thinks we should FEEL bad! The horror! The NERVE!” Well, when you do bad things, you SHOULD feel bad**. It’s not enough to just shrug your shoulders and offer to replace it, then refuse to hear his emotions. Maybe he had really important, personal stuff on that laptop. It’s gone forever now.

    **Now, this does not mean that by feeling bad, you should flog yourself with the Whip of Regret forever, because as CA said, making yourself into a martyr is making it all about you.

    Sorry to be so negative, y’all, but this letter seriously gave me the heebs.

    • That was the part that scared me. “Fiance felt horrible”? Okay, how does the LW feel about having done this shitty thing? Apparently not remorseful!

    • minuteye said:

      Good points. Even if there was nothing REALLY important on the laptop, aside from the expense (which is hopefully being compensated) there’s 1) the inconvenience of being without a laptop for a while, and getting the new laptop up to snuff, 2) feeling like your roommate can’t be trusted to behave responsibly, 3) possibly anxiety or feelings of violation over being robbed. The LW seems to be going “well, we fixed it, what more do you want?”, but there’s a whole lot of other valid emotional stuff to be dealt with, and it’s very reasonable of the roommate to expect some basic empathy about that.

  3. FelixBC said:

    There’s something seriously wrong with that letter writer. “Irrelevant” people? And his/her true face is… awful.

    • I love the blaming of LW’s personality on LW’s parents, for making LW move so many times. Not on, LW. One of my best friends is an Air Force brat (her terminology, not mine), and moved around ever few years as a child. She’s not nearly so cold and calculating in her interactions – and I’ve been friends with her for nearly 20 years.

      • Cora said:

        Although mileage varies a lot on that. While I don’t “blame” my parents for it, moving around a lot screwed me up pretty good in ways that manifest as social anxiety, which in turn often manifests as emotional shutting down and defensive behavior not totally unlike what the LW describes. Yeah, some people flourish, some people don’t flourish but are ultimately fine, and some people get screwed up by it–same as any stressful childhood thing, really. I don’t think that means that the people who get screwed up by it are making excuses, even if some people didn’t get screwed up at all.

      • hlwest said:

        I know I’m coming to this WAY late (just found this amazing blog, catching up), and I want to weigh in as a Navy Brat.

        Yeah, LW is screwed up, but I can kind of sympathize to a certain extent. I have hard time maintaining long term relationships, too. When they get tough, I tend to want to run for the hills, because I’m not really used to being friends with someone more than a couple of years.

        I’m wondering if LW is an only child? I at least always has my brothers, and we were always fighting and making up about *something*, so I did at least get some practice, even if it was only with the same people all the time, lol.

        And stuffing down the feelings, keeping yourself from getting too close, being ready to burn a bridge at any moment- yeah, that happens with this kind of life. And when you stuff down your own feelings long enough, it just gets that much harder to understand and identify with the feelings of others.

        Still, this needs to be unlearned.

        Get thee to therapy, LW. Or at least pick up some books, or something. Learn how to get back in touch with your own feelings. It’s gonna hurt like hell, I promise you, but it’ll be worth it.

  4. I couldn’t even understand what the LW was talking about until you interpreted. I was all like “OK, mistake was made by LW and LW’s fiance; bad thing happened to LW’s fiance’s roommate; LW sacked uppe and decided to take full responsibility; LW’s fiance’s roommate was upset that bad thing happened; ???” I literally could not comprehend what the LW was claiming was the remaining problem at that point.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think he made her have an emotional conversation and wanted to discuss things a bit more after she apologized, and she was like “But I apologized already? Why do we have to talk about feelings?” and is now asking for permission to maybe delete him from her life.

      • Ah, so this reminds of something that happened one time when I was riding my bicycle in Central Park.

        I turned to my left and spit, and just at that second, another dude zoomed by and my spit hit him. It was totally accidental, and so I go “Sorry, man. My bad.” And the dude just kept yelling and screaming at me, and I was all like, “I said I’m sorry. What more can I do?” And he kept getting angrier and shoutier. Finally, I just slowed down a lot so he just rode away still shouting.

        I think the guy was irate because I had done something that made him have a sudden extreme emotional reaction–it’s fucken horrible to get spit on–yet I myself was not reacting emotionally at all. And I wasn’t taking on board any of the emotions he was feeling. And that just made him even angrier, in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

        I have a feeling this may have been the sort of dynamic that was going on with the LW and the roommate.

        • labedzla said:

          But on the other hand, this is a lot worse. I can understand why the biker in your situation was mad (my bad seems insincere and getting spit on is gross), but at the same time, it was truly an mistake (although there’s always the option to look behind you before spitting-I learned this long ago as a runner). But, it’s still a mistake and, in the long run, not a big deal.

          However, leaving the door unlocked was done on purpose and is generally a bad idea because things like this happen! It wasn’t a mistake in this case, and, even if it was, it’s definitely a bigger deal than being spit on.

        • monsterzero said:

          I’m not really clear on why some people feel the need to spit periodically. Unless they just got a bug in their mouth maybe?

          • You must not have ever exercised hard for a sustained period of time.

          • monsterzero said:

            [replying to Comradde P] Er, possibly not, for certain values of “hard” or “sustained”. Does that render people unable to swallow their own spit for some reason?

          • When you exercise hard for a sustained period of time, you generate large quantities of mucous and saliva, more than most people want to just continuously swallow. If you’re ever on a paved road or path where lots of people run and/or bicycle, look down and you’ll see a shocking number of big loogies on the ground. I have, on occasion, wondered how many gallons of loogies are expectorated onto the six-mile loop road in Central Park (NYC) every day.

          • Aside: If there is a prize for Most Bizarre Thread Tangent of the Week at Captain Awkward, I hereby nominate this one.

          • maggie said:

            I have never seen that before, and I live in a city that’s huge on cycling and generally quite active.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        I also really wonder if this isn’t the first thing that happened that pissed off the roommate. I’ve been that roommate, and after using my words and still having basic safety and respect issues disregarded and dismissed, I fucking lost it over a boyfriend, Nair and a shower door (don’t ask).

        I mean, I may be getting on the speculation train here, but if LW felt comfortable enough to be there when her fiance wasn’t, and her fiance felt comfortable enough to tell her to leave the door unlocked/open (what?? Doesn’t he have a fucking key TO HIS OWN PLACE I CANNOT EVEN) I wonder if this was the first time they did it? And maybe the roommate was concerned about safety, etc. only to see this brushed off.

        This is my long-winded way of saying that these folks need to get that this is about safety and respect, not about placating an unreasonable roomie, and if the LW thinks he should just get over this and her fiance is more concerned with dodging his ire after disregarding basic safety concerns, they both fucking fail at life. What the everloving hell???

        • a boyfriend, Nair and a shower door (don’t ask).

          BEST WRITING PROMPT EVER

          • Elysia said:

            NaNoWriMo, here we come! 😉

          • Camp NaNo is running in August and June! (I’m currently failing at it. As usual.)

    • My paranoid city dweller self doesn’t even understand the part where everyone leaves the front door open!

      • Right? I could NEVER nap with the door open.

        • dusty_rose said:

          Me neither!

        • It’s not just a city thing; most of my country relatives feel the same way.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        Holy crap, me too. I sometimes have to double-check all the locks before I can sleep, so the concept of leaving the door standing wide open is just… I don’t understand what happened here at all. You open the door when you need to open it, and then you turn around and lock it behind you, THAT IS JUST HOW IT WORKS.

        I remember in a technical way that this doesn’t work the same way in my hometown, I grew up that way and all, but it’s way too alien to me now to even process.

        • Erika said:

          I don’t actually know where my house key is. I leave ground floor windows open (someone could literally step in), the UPS driver just puts packages in our unlocked garage when no one’s home. The 45 minute commute is totally worth it.

      • drst said:

        I lived with a friend of mine for 6 months, and she had a dog and a fenced in yard. We never left the fence door open. When we came home from anywhere, though, we would usually leave the front door open in case the dog needed to go out (sometimes to pee, sometimes to do a perimeter sweep – no, seriously). Usually once he’d gone outside to check things out, he’d come back in and we’d close the door.

        Neither of us ever opened the door and went and took a nap that I recall though.

        HOWEVER. My “thing I did to a roommate” story is that this scenario happened once during a Friday morning while my friend was at work. Dog came back inside and I was putting groceries away in the kitchen. As I’m thinking “I should go close the door” I hear a bump outside. I go to the doorway and a sanitation worker is hauling our empty garbage container toward the street (which is illegal – they can’t enter private premises even to collect trash, which is why you have to put your garbage out away from the house). I ask him what the hell is going on, as it’s not our trash day and again as I’m thinking “I need to close the door” the dog shoots past me and flips out. A stranger is in his yard, he had to defend his property, so he’s barking and he grabs the guy’s pant leg with his teeth trying to herd him outside (it was a sheepdog).

        I finally haul the dog off him and shoo the guy out of the yard. He rolls up his pant leg and there’s not even a scratch on his skin. It comes out that the people behind us were complaining their trash wasn’t being picked up, hence the invasion.

        BUT. The police had to come and told us the dog had to be quarantined for 10 days due to the attempted biting, and then the animal control people say the fence isn’t high enough for us to quarantine the dog at home. I have to call my friend, who is letting me live in her house, and tell her to come home from work because we have to take her dog to the pound.

        I STILL WRITHE IN AGONY WHEN I THINK ABOUT THIS. It was random. It was completely unpredictable. There’s no possible way I could’ve known the garbage guy was going to walk into the yard at that precise moment, because no one ever would’ve expected him to do that. My friend forgave me for this ages ago and we joke about it to this day, and she never got mad at me or even raised her voice over it, but my gut still churns with guilt that I should’ve done something different. And in this case the dog came home after 10 (lonely) days, not any worse for the wear (though he did pick up some salty language in the hoosegow).

        I cannot relate to LW’s letter at all. It almost would’ve been easier if my friend had raged at me for a while, which would’ve been completely understandable.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          Oh, honey, I feel for you. It’s actually easier to forgive ourselves if someone else is mad at us– I don’t know why this is. It’s like we feel like somebody has to do the job of being mad, and if the other person isn’t doing it, then we have to take up the slack!

          Sweet protective sheepdog was fine. Dude wasn’t actually bitten. (The “he did pick up some salty language in the hoosegow” bit made me giggle like a crazy person.) Your friend forgave you. You’ve learned your lesson. You’ve atoned. The only thing left to do is forgive yourself, and that can be the hardest part. I hope you can do this at some point.

      • KT said:

        When I lived in a (much) smaller town than I do now, my old roommate and I used to do this ALL THE TIME. I vividly remember coming home one day to find our front door wide open with a note on it to one of our friends along the lines of “In the shower, come on in.” I kind of miss those days.

  5. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, I was with you until the whole “how dare my fiance’s roommate be angry when I offered to replace his laptop!” thing. I mean, I get that you’d feel defensive–I would, too–but his roommate is freaked out and kind of pissed off that you didn’t close/lock the door. There actually may have been other issues festering beneath this (is this the first time this has happened? Are you there a lot? etc.). Unless his roommate has done similar stuff in the past and brushed off your concerns (which is what a family member of mine does) then I’d take a deep breath and let it go.

    Here’s what I’m VERY concerned about: your fiance asked you to take the blame for this? When he’s the one who asked you to leave the door open, and he’s the one who didn’t lock it when he got home before crashing? Really? REALLY?? Why was that? Why couldn’t he have owned his part of it? Why are you the fall guy? And why didn’t your “Let’s maybe jettison this person” instinct not twing you when he pulled this? I’m not saying that you should dump him–I am saying that this is very uncool behavior on his part and yet you’re angrier at his BFF for being sore than you are at your fiance for making you the fall guy.

    As far as the shelf-life of friendships, here’s the thing: many friendships naturally fade. I am sanguine about goodbyes, but I don’t cut people out of my life unless they are really toxic. If our lives have changed and we don’t have that much in common anymore (which is usually why friendships fade for awhile), I still regard them with affection and respect and would gladly be there for them if they needed anything. Change happens, it’s life, people evolve and change and it’s okay. My friends who got married and have kids don’t have the time to do the things we used to do, and have different things to talk about. We still make time to see each other–I’m still close with some, and with others not so close, but I harbor no ill will or disrespect towards anyone. Same with friends who found religion or moved or discovered a new life path or whatever. My emotions around them would not be fake because I still genuinely like them, even if we don’t have that much in common anymore.

    • That’s… an interesting point. About the “fall guy” part. My other question is, what does “politicizing” mean in this context? It’s such an odd word here to me that it makes me wonder what the LW is leaving out.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Yeah, I mean, I don’t mean to imply she’s not responsible, she clearly is. . .but so is he, and it’s weird and a little red flaggy that she’s not seeing how fucked up it is that he wants her to take responsibility and bear the brunt of his friend’s ire. Why couldn’t they have both owned it and apologized profusely and offered to pay for the laptop if he asked her to leave the door open and he didn’t lock it when he got back? I mean, great, he’s paying his share but can’t he grow up and admit his fuck up as well? And can’t she get that his roommate is rightfully freaked out about the stolen laptop? I wonder if there was other stuff the LW and her fiance did that was building to this ire on his roommate’s part anyway.

      • KL said:

        That pinged my radar too, especially in context, but it could just be an issue of communication styles; if LW was in Public Relations Mode when talking to the roommate, it might have come across as a bit “we categorically deny all liability pursuant to etc.”

        • KL said:

          Uh, by “that,” I mean the accusation that LW was “politicizing” things.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          if LW was in Public Relations Mode when talking to the roommate, it might have come across as a bit “we categorically deny all liability pursuant to etc.”

          Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking, too. Roommate may have been using “politicized” to mean “impersonal and blatantly fake-face”. Because, well. Politicians.

          • lizzieladie said:

            If the lw is completely confusing the professional/pr approach to apologizing and the personal/decent way to go about it, it would explain a lot about this letter. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fiance offered to apologize in the normal way, and lw overruled on the basis of professional experience.

            As far as I can tell from outside observation, pr folks often appoint a single spokesman to be the go to person in crises, and a major goal of the pr approach is to minimize drama and get things out of the news while avoiding admitting culpability in order to prevent lawsuits. None of that translates at all to any kind of personal relationship conflict.

    • Nicole said:

      The LW doesn’t say that her fiance asked, just that “we agreed” on her telling the roommate because the fiance is “generally prone to letting his own remorse take over his reaction to the crisis”. So we don’t know if it’s the case that the fiance was trying to shift blame, or if the LW is so uncomfortable with people having feelings/displaying emotions that she decided that she was better suited to breaking bad news than her fiance.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        That’s true. But if I was the fiance, I’d still say something. “Dude, I forgot to lock the door when I got in, so it’s my responsibility as well.” Neither of these two are coming off particularly well.

        • Nicole said:

          Oh, totally. The LW just seems so put off by emotions that I did wonder if she wanted to be the one to tell the roomate because she was worried about her fiance’s emotions getting in the way, but really it should have been the fiance’s responsibility to tell his roommate.

      • Allison said:

        I wondered if the answer was the LW has the money to replace the laptop more easily than the fiance does, and therefore she will take the lead on fixing this.

      • secretrebel said:

        I think these people need to retrain in apologising.

        Repentance + restitution + resolve to do better = apology.

        So in this case “sorry we left the door open that was careless of us, we will replace the stolen laptop and we promise not to be more careful in future”.

        It needs emotion, money (to pay back any costs) and sincerity. It’s not rocket science.

    • Ldubs said:

      I kinda got the vibe that the LW thought that the fiance wouldn’t apologize right (that is, that he would “let his remorse take over the situation”) and that the LW could apologize better (that is, offer compensation and GTFO). Its ok that she doesn’t like to deal with people’s emotions (I mean, I suppose) but acting remorseful isn’t a character flaw. \

    • cyranothe2nd said:

      I got the feeling that she decided to talk to the roommate herself, because she deemed her boyfriend’s reaction as ‘too emotional.’

  6. MissPrism said:

    There’s something inherently defeatist about using the phrase “patch things up” to describe dealing with the first incidence of any kind of conflict whatsoever in a relationship. As if a friendship is a pair of nylons and once it’s snagged… well, you can extend its working life briefly with a dab of nail varnish but it’s basically the beginning of the end. It’s not like that. Friendships are organic things that grow and heal.

    The LW isn’t merely letting herself lose friends, but actively stopping herself from making any in the first place. I agree with the Captain as usual – find someone to help you deal with what sounds like a debilitating fear of actually liking someone enough to miss them if they leave your life.

  7. Oh dear.

    LW, I get it to a certain, TINY extent. I really do. I get extremely cold when I’m really angry (as opposed to THE UNBEARABLE CAPSLOCK OF BEING when I’m kind of annoyed or inconvenienced or indignant). And when someone does something really, really toxic, even if I genuinely forgive them, sometimes… I execute the Slow Fade. I am talking about maybe three or four people in my entire life here, one of them being my emotionally abusive father, and he got an Immediate Cut-Off. Point being, SOMETIMES there is a point where you have to “downgrade” (ugly word, I know) a friend to Casual Acquaintance or Polite Response Without Reciprocal Expression of Interest. Sometimes I have done this for my own sanity, and maybe sometimes I did this unfairly. But as coping mechanisms go, I get it. Although it sounds like you’re doing it preemptively, like the Captain said–ditch people before they can ditch you, or because involuntary ditching is all you learned growing up, and it was easier to own that and maybe even revel in it than allow yourself to feel regret and longing for friends you were moved away from.

    This is a really harsh thing to say, particularly to a stranger, and I have a feeling you’re going to get dogpiled for this. However, maybe you can start seeing what you’re doing from the perspective of “the irrelevant”–and, hate to break it to you, the more emotionally perceptive “friends” of yours are going to be able to tell you’re being fake and withholding real regard; you’re not getting away with some brilliant charade here. But the harsh part: if I were that roommate, and something careless my roommate/his girlfriend did resulted in my laptop–which, from my personal perspective, is by far the most important thing I own, because my LIFE is on it, forget the actual, ridiculous amount of money I worked hard to earn and spend for it–being stolen, and those two people evinced no empathy beyond the barest logical regret, and then heaped on a self-centered “bullshit” “sulk” when I was actually upset that you didn’t even seem to CARE about what you’d caused me to lose? I would execute a fade on both of you. It would be more immediate and less polite depending on how quickly I could get out of the living situation. You would be the one who deserved the fake courtesy and inner disdain, not the “irrelevant” roommate. You have become the kind of person you deny respect. And you are going to make yourself irrelevant to a lot of people if you can’t find a way to empathize with them as equal human beings.

    • Yeah, I think it’s important that it was a laptop. Expensive, whatever, it’s the laptop part that’s important. Even if he had his files backed up (which isn’t nessarily true), I literally can’t think straight if I don’t have a working computer somewhere, it’s that kind of crippling for me. We are so dependent on the things.

      • MissPrism said:

        Even apart from the practicalities, being a crime victim is hugely upsetting. And being broken into sucks even worse than having your laptop stolen from your bag. Your safe space has been violated; you might not ever feel comfortable in that house again.

        • Just made four backups of my dissertation chapter

          • EmilyG said:

            Ha! I emailed my dissertation to myself (at two addresses), my mom, my grandpa, and my boyfriend every day! They were soooo ready for me to finish.

        • monsterzero said:

          This reminds me of something I read on CodingHorror:
          “Which day is International Backup Awareness Day?”
          “EVERY day is International Backup Awareness Day.”

        • lizzieladie said:

          If you’re super paranoid about it make sure at least two of them are different physical places too – like an external harddrive in your apartment and also an email server that you know won’t do an automatic housecleaning and delete them. If (god forbid) your apartment burns down and you’ve got six copies on different external harddrives in the apartment you’re probably still going to lose everything.

          • alphakitty said:

            Use Dropbox!!! It’s free, and anything you save to your “My Dropbox” folder is automatically backed up to the Dropbox server periodically (often).

    • Sheelzebub said:

      “But the harsh part: if I were that roommate, and something careless my roommate/his girlfriend did resulted in my laptop–which, from my personal perspective, is by far the most important thing I own, because my LIFE is on it, forget the actual, ridiculous amount of money I worked hard to earn and spend for it–being stolen, and those two people evinced no empathy beyond the barest logical regret, and then heaped on a self-centered “bullshit” “sulk” when I was actually upset that you didn’t even seem to CARE about what you’d caused me to lose? I would execute a fade on both of you.”

      THIS. Really, there seems to be a basic lack of respect for other people.

    • and, hate to break it to you, the more emotionally perceptive “friends” of yours are going to be able to tell you’re being fake and withholding real regard; you’re not getting away with some brilliant charade here.

      Exactly this. I logged in to make the same point.

      I also want to second therapy, even though I expect it will be really, really difficult for you, LW–you strike me as one of those people who feel that therapy won’t “work” because you’ll be one step ahead of the therapist, figuring out what you’re expected to say and either deliberately conforming or confounding the expectation. Manipulating how other people perceive, and feeling that you’re operating on a level that they cannot perceive, seem to be really essential to your sense of self-worth, and it’ll be challenging to let go of that and operate without the double-think.

      But what I hope therapy can do for you, in time and with a good therapist, is help you pin your self-worth to something more substantial–something positive and concrete about yourself, not dependent on the imagined inferiority of other people. Because the people I’ve met who share your investment in emotional facade and manipulation are invariably sad and very, very scared. . . and that’s no way to live. Good luck.

      • staranise said:

        Yeah, trying to out-think and manipulate your therapist is like going to a gym, replacing the surveillance tapes to make it look like you’re running, and kicking back on the couch with a bag of potato chips.

        In another way it’s saying, “I WISH someone would be able to see through my bullshit and call me on all my secret fears, but in practical terms, I will make this as implausible as is humanly possible.”

        The point of therapy is to genuinely talk about yourself to someone who is really smart about how people work. You have to go in there and put your cards down, because sometimes your therapist will lean over, pull five cards out, and say, “You know, you’ve actually got a flush here.” You can’t keep them close to your chest because the actual healing part of the relationship is that you’re able to be open and honest with someone who really gives a damn, and yet has no vested interest in you doing or being anything other than your healthiest best self.

        • Yeah, trying to out-think and manipulate your therapist is like going to a gym, replacing the surveillance tapes to make it look like you’re running, and kicking back on the couch with a bag of potato chips.

          Just wanted to say how much I love this metaphor.

    • staranise said:

      THE UNBEARABLE CAPSLOCK OF BEING

      Cleo? I love you.

    • THE UNBEARABLE CAPSLOCK OF BEING

      That right there? Is priceless. 😄 Awesome.

    • Guelta said:

      LW here. The CAPSLOCK OF BEING (whaddaya mean, the A/C is broken, it’s 98 degrees outside!!) and Ice Ice Baby dichotomy sums me up fabulously most of the time. When I wrote the letter I was feeling particularly ill-willed towards the roommate, essentially because I felt like he asked something of me I’m not good at giving. He asked for an overt emotional response, but I *never* give overt emotional responses unless I’m getting paid. That’s not to say I’m completely devoid of emotion, but one of the mail hallmarks of what I do is reacting calmly and rationally in a crisis (ironically, part of what made me suited to the job in the first place). I wrote this letter 2 weeks after the incident, because it would have been really incendiary to have a knock-down drag-out fight right after I was to blame for losing his expensive laptop. My crisis mode is not “OMG I’m SO SORRY, Please Forgive Me, Oh God What Do We Do?” (fiance’s crisis mode, actually) Mine is “Okay, first we need to call the police. Then, as we are responsible, we offer to reimburse. If there’s anything you need from us, please don’t hesitate to ask”. To have *my real-life-unpaid reaction* called “politicizing” made me feel like he was demanding I act like someone I’m not, which isn’t what I go for in friends. In an ideal world my friends would understand that I only react on demand while on a payroll, and that my rational silence is not indicative of a lack of caring/concern/regret. It felt like he was treating me not as a friend, but as a business acquaintance.

      • JenniferP said:

        Thanks for weighing in.

        Obviously you and I didn’t really bond throughout this process, but the commenters (as usual) are coming through with beautiful stuff and I hope you find something useful. See Scott’s comment especially. Your friends can’t read your mind, and you can’t read theirs. Your friend doesn’t know about your “real self” vs. “work/public persona” and doesn’t know that in that moment he’s making a choice about which he’d rather encounter. He’s failing a test he doesn’t know he’s taking, which is happening right at the same time something terrible and traumatic (theft, violation, feeling unsafe in his own house) is happening to him. I think the expectation that if he’s your friend, he’ll automatically react “correctly” is an unfair test, especially in extreme circumstances.

      • Hello LW,

        I posted this, in part, elsewhere in the comments section, but I’d rather reply directly to you.

        For me, I know that it really bothers me when someone causes the damage and/or loss of possessions of mine that are important, and then apologizes but doesn’t acknowledge that I am upset. It feels like they are merely paying lip service to the apology and that they are not being sincere. Different people have different ways that they feel fulfilled in their interpersonal interactions. Some people respond better to emotional responses than to logical ones, or vice versa. This definitely looks like a “I need you to acknowledge my feelings” situation, as well as a “you need to replace the stolen item” situation. I applaud the latter; it is, however, unrealistic to expect that action to fix everything. The roommate is justified in being upset with both of you, and faced with a cold response may feel, to him, like a slap in the face in an already crappy situation.

        We don’t get to decide how people will interpret our actions, and they can’t see what’s going on behind our eyes. I have found that statements like “You seem very upset, and that’s understandable. Is there something I can do to help with that part of the problem?” sometimes help me, in situations where I’ve hurt someone. It may, however, be a “avoid them for a while and let the matter cool off” sort of thing.

        Good luck.

        –Foxipher

      • Hi LW! This really really struck me in your comment: “It felt like he was treating me not as a friend, but as a business acquaintance.” The thing is, most people *don’t* have jobs that involve dealing with people’s emotional responses directly, so your sense that “asking me to express emotion = asking me to work for free” takes some serious explaining to, well, a whole lot of people. I’m not trying to go all Captain Pedantic on you, but for most people “act professional” means something more like “act calmly, squash personal feelings, do not let others see that you’re upset,” while “act like a friend” means “be okay with expressing emotions.” You are mad because you feel like Roomie is treating you “as a business acquaintance,” but that’s the exact same thing he’s mad at you about.

        • Cora said:

          I think this is a really good insight.

          And I think it’s tempting to decide that one of those modes of being is superior, but that’s not really the issue. If LW is naturally cool, that’s fine! If FBF is more emotive, that’s fine too! Neither of them should have to fake to make the other person happy.

          But what it means is that they both need to be able to talk about it–for LW to say something like, “I know it may not have been apparent from my apology that I genuinely regret leaving the door unlocked. I do, very much. I just am not a very emotive person. This is what my genuine regret looks like.” And for FBF to say, “I’m just going to be angry for a while, because that’s how I process things.”

          I think it’s easy to get sidetracked into trying to change people in either direction, either trying to get the emotive person to “calm down” or to get the naturally-calm-demeanored to “be real.” But that’s both unfair (both are perfectly legit ways to be–if someone is naturally cool-demeanored, it’s not more “genuine” to get them to emote; it’s as fake as getting a naturally emotive person to clamp down artificially) and, frankly, not the point. The point is that negotiating that kind of difference is possible, but only if you communicate about it.

          • Frosty said:

            De-lurking to say that this is my favorite comment in the history of ever.  My childhood was made of sunshine and rainbows, and I am and have always been very emotionally reserved.  Just because some people emote less does not make them less able to connect with people – they just do it differently.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          THIS. I am pretty sure that, without some really explicit explanations, nobody is going to assume “person who either has no emotions or doesn’t share them with me = friend! person who shows emotion = business contact that is faking it!” because that is the exact opposite of everyone else’s lived experience.

          Guelta, I would really question calling your relationship with the roommate “friends”, because while up until this point you may have been getting your version of friendship out of him (i.e. “leaves me alone, doesn’t express emotion at me and doesn’t expect me to express emotion at him”), I’m guessing his version of friendship is the more traditional “spends time together, comfortable sharing emotion around / to each other” version. This incident didn’t so much disturb a friendship as much as it revealed that there isn’t a friendship there to disturb.

      • Hey, LW? I am that person. If there’s a crisis, I’m ruthlessly practical and start figuring out all the steps for what needs to be done, and then I either get them done myself or I get other people to do them. I think it’s great to be that way!

        I would also like to point out that, for some of us, that goes hand-in-hand with being an emotional person. I was in the hospital last summer, facing emergency surgery and a whole bunch of nastiness, and I was still the person who was telling everyone what needed to be done. Even though I was really scared, and in a whole lot of pain – and on the heavy duty narcotic painkillers that dulled my thoughts and some of the pain. You can, in fact, both feel things and still act rationally.

        I made a bitchy comment earlier I could have worded better. For that, I apologize.

        You come off as a little, um, manipulative? And not always nice. Which, I’m sorry. I used to be that person, the one who prided herself about being strong, and in control, and showing the absolute perfect face to everyone, regardless of what was going on or how I felt. Which served me very poorly in the long run. I basically had to re-learn how to interact with people when I learned how to be a grown-up.

        So what I’m saying is, “Hey, your letter stung a bit.” And so I reacted poorly. Hence the apology.

        I agree with everyone who recommended therapy. You’re not a Vulcan; it’s not possible to be 100% emotionally controlled all the time. And it’s okay for you and your friends to make mistakes! One mistake does not a friendship end, not for most people. Therapists are awesome people to talk to.

        One suggestion I might have? Tell your friends you keep your emotional reactions close and you don’t often let them show. I guarantee that the good ones will understand and let you have the emotional space that you need. And if someone tries to needle you into an emotional reaction after they know that you need/want the space to keep your emotional reactions to yourself (to process or because you’re just that private or whatever the reason might be), then you will know that person isn’t worth wasting your time over. (All IMO. YMMV. Take with a grain of salt. Etc.)

      • Obsidian Entropy said:

        Hey, LW.

        It’s also worth remembering that there are many ways to respond to this situation that are in-between being detached and rational and let’s get it done and OMG WHAT DO WE DO. I also don’t think you have to beg for forgiveness (I’m not sure if you felt you were doing that or not) or flagellate yourself.

        You can do something in between: express remorse, say I’m so sorry this happened or I feel bad that this happened (or something like that), accept responsibility (which you’ve done) and then offer to fix the situation (by replacing the laptop), if possible.

        I also want to add that there is a difference between keeping your emotional reactions to yourself when the incident only affects you or isn’t your fault and keeping your reactions to yourself when you’ve done something that affects someone else. I’m a reserved, private person and I don’t express many of my emotions to people I’m not close to. But if do something that harms someone else I make sure to express remorse or some similar emotion because a) I feel bad and b) it shows that I understand that something I did affected someone else negatively.

        When people do things that hurt me, but don’t express any sort of regret, remorse, or “I feel so bad that I did that” I get angry and stop trusting them because it seems like they don’t care that they caused whatever the problem was.

        In sum, I think there is probably a way to express remorse without being overly emotional.

      • cyranothe2nd said:

        Hey LW, I think that it’s important to understand that friendships are a two-way street. You have to give people what they need too, and that this isn’t an imposition. Some people need to expression of emotion as evidence that you really care. You can choose to never be friends with people like that (not very practical, imo), or you can see this, not as you being fake, but as you being a good friend and giving someone what they need from you right then.

      • Hey LW,
        I think I get where you’re coming from. I grew up a neglected, under-socialized latch-key kid, and we also moved around a fair bit. Now a work as a receptionist and I definitely have a similar work Mode and Public Face that come in super handy in a crisis. First I assess what needs to be done and I do it, and then later, when it’s safe, I react. I also have a similar dynamic going between myself and my boyfriend/some of his family and friends when it comes to crises. They don’t at all seem to understand the difference between having an emotion and reacting to it, and that if you don’t freak out and totally lose your shit when something goes down then you just don’t care or aren’t taking it seriously. Something that I’ve found really helps in these situations is to just straight up tell them what you’re doing. You don’t have to perform for them, but they can’t understand what you’re doing unless you tell them. I just say something like “I understand you’re really upset right now, and I’m sorry, but I need to deal with (calling the police, paying you back, putting out this fire, getting this stitched up) first. Most people can understand that and then not feel like you’re just blowing them off. I mean, from fiance’s friend’s point of view, it can look like you’re just throwing money at the problem and then ignoring it in lieu of actual remorse for your actions.
        Additionally, if maintaining “perfect emotional control” is making you happy, then great! That’s your choice! But that makes it sound to me like you’re *always* in crisis handling mode, and that sounds exhausting and lonely. I suspect that seeing someone about that could make you even happier, as it did for me.

  8. SarahTheEntwife said:

    Huh. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post this, but I think people usually like knowing they’ve helped someone, so…

    The letter-writer sounds a lot like me, except that I’m not usually good at making friends beyond the small-talk stage. And I completely didn’t realize how I must come off to other people. I’m not really sure how to get better at empathy (something to talk about at therapy, I suppose), but I’m glad I read this.

    • DarthTrina said:

      The book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg and courses connected to his work (http:/http://www.cnvc.org/) teach skills on listening empathically. It has really helped me in my relationships with friends and family.

      At first I thought it was weird and wrong to guess at other people’s feelings and needs, but as I worked through the exercises with the strangers in my class, I watched people relax / shift as I got closer to understanding them. For example, in this instance, it might have been something like, “When I respond factually to your anger at theft of the laptop, are you angry because you needed empathy, not facts?” Then the roommate could say, “Yes, that’s it.” Or “Yes, and also I need you to understand my anxiety about security in my own home.” or “Yes, and I specifically wanted to know that you understand it was not the physical laptop but also my PhD thesis/novel/naked pictures on it.”

      There’s a lot more to the communication technique than just that. I highly recommend it for learning to identify your own feelings and needs and identifying with the feelings and needs of others. The book / classes are also great at identifying feelings (sad: yes, fat: no) and needs (empathy) vs. strategies to meet those needs. In this case, the roommate needed empathy but clearly is not going to get it from the letter writer and I hope has other friends to vent to and get empathy from. Or heck, gets empathy from CA and the commenters responding to the letter.

      • Buttered Lilies said:

        Seconding Non-Violent Communication, adding DBT.

        • Jake said:

          DBT? Do you mean CBT (cognitive and behavioural therapy), or is this something else?

          • Ack. Sorry, JenniferP. Was intending to define a confusing term, not recommend therapy.

          • JenniferP said:

            We’re cool, I’d just like to stop this before it gets further into therapist inside baseball.

          • staranise said:

            “Therapist inside baseball” is my new word for when therapists start snarling at each other about the empirically validated statistics of their respective theories. “Oh yeah? Our program’s treatment coefficient is 0.16 higher than yours!”

        • staranise said:

          DBT’s a little specialized and extreme for this case, in my opinion. It’s great when it works, but it’s mainly intended for Borderline Personality Disorder and addiction. The work focuses a lot on basic emotional regulation skills that a lot of people already know. I can kind of see why the recommendation is here, since some of the work is very heavily, “Emotions! I have them! They do things!” but it doesn’t sound like the best match. There are other things that are like DBT in many ways (especially group therapy) that are targeted at a wider population.

          • JenniferP said:

            Thanks for defining and clarifying, and everyone needs to stop providing free unwanted recommendations for specific forms of psychotherapy (that suggest a particular diagnosis, like BPD) in the comments of my blog now please.

          • fiona said:

            thanks. i love your blog, but i’m kinda tired of the armchair therapists. therapy has its place, but i kinda think its place isn’t in the comments of an advice blog. maybe in a therapist’s office?

          • staranise said:

            Jennifer–just wondering if the reccomendation for group therapy falls under that. I’m happy to back off personally. (I’m just taking a class in group therapy this term and going OH GOD THIS IS SO COOL, because it does so many more things than I ever thought it could!) I really don’t want to do the internet-diagnosis thing, when really, the best recommendations come from a trained professional who has interacted directly with a person, and knows the resources in their geographic area.

          • JenniferP said:

            That wasn’t specifically for you, staranise, this whole sub-thread has strayed a bit into “diagnosing LW and recommending specific kinds of therapies over others” territory and I’d like it to stop now. I’m not deleting anything.

    • Elysia said:

      In the vein of “this reminds me of…”, I think I might have been like the image I get of the LW when I was younger, in that I didn’t make friends well and expected logical responses from people, although I clearly over- rather than underempathized. I definitely have had trust issues related to fear of being hurt or of things going wrong, and I didn’t maintain long-term friendships throughout most of my young life. (It is only through the magic of Facebook that I have reconnected with anyone from before college, and those are very clearly *re*connections.) Turns out I just hadn’t met the people with whom I could form long term relationships – during college, I found My People, and have been friends for almost a decade and a half with them. Therapy has also helped me be better able to learn how to relax and be friends with new people, and to accept that some will stick around and some won’t, and how to trust myself and others, which has let me deepen my relationships with those people I had considered cherished friends already but wasn’t very open with.

      Good luck, LW, in figuring out what to do!

    • staranise said:

      So, something that might help is process-oriented group psychotherapy (which is a little more extensive than a support group). With many groups, there is an explicit curriculum (treating eating disorders, learning how to cope with depression, whatever) but they don’t just bundle you into the room to cut costs: the implicit curriculum is to learn how to deal with other people, how to be open and honest with them, and to get feedback on how you come across. The idea is that a lot of the time, the best way to fix social dysfunctions is in a social setting. Just make sure it’s a good group, though; you may need a therapist’s or doctor’s referral to get into it, and you may have to do screening interviews before you can attend.

    • I think it’s appropriate to post that sort of thing. 🙂

  9. CL said:

    It seems like it really doesn’t take much to become one of the people that LW disrespects. Like her first example, when she talks about how she feigns emotions for people she doesn’t respect, is that she fake-compliments her neighbor’s cat sweater and says she wishes she has a cat — when the reality is what exactly? She has contempt for people who like cats? What did the neighbor ever do to her?

    It’s not normal to treat people with contempt, disrespect, and patronizing “fake” emotion — someone would have to really wrong me or do something despicable for me to feel like they deserved anything like this. It’s not normal to be offended when someone wants you to deal with their emotions. It sounds like LW was being cold and patronizing to the neighbor when he reacted, then when he didn’t like that she was acting like it was unreasonable for him to feel angry and emotional, she made it all about her — to the point where she feels like he deserves to be cut out of her life forever.

    I feel for LW because I’m sure this comes from a place of pain and/or childhood dysfunction, but I think some therapy will help LW to relate to other people and to make real friends.

    • dusty_rose said:

      I think the neighbor gave her a cat sweater as a gift (hence the “thank you”), and she was being fake-polite because she had no use for it.

      Otherwise, though, I agree completely with your assessment!

      • CL said:

        Ohhhhh that makes sense — thanks for clarifying. I think we’re all fake polite in those situations. However using the neighbor as an example of someone she doesn’t respect still creeps me out.

        • dusty_rose said:

          You’re welcome! I’m not positive I’m right, but that’s how I interpreted it. And yeah, it’s one thing to be fake-polite to people who give gifts you don’t like, and entirely another thing to consider them a person you don’t respect. Respect should be the default setting.

          • CL said:

            I think you’re right that the sweater was a gift because of “thank you.” But yeah, definitely not a reason for disrespect / contempt. If someone gave me a cat sweater, I would thank her and think (privately) “oh man, I’d never wear this, but that was really sweet of her.” I wouldn’t be all patronizing about how “I adore it” and I “wish I had a cat of my own” when it’s clearly not true. “Thank you so much” is all it takes — and it should be genuine even if you don’t like the gift itself.

        • dusty_rose said:

          (responding to this since I can’t rspond to your other comment) Haha, wow, I totally read “cat sweater” as “sweater for a cat,” not “sweater with pictures of cats on it,” and couldn’t figure out why the neighbor would give one to a non-cat-owner. This might be because one of my Facebook friends keeps posting pictures of her cat wearing a sweater with a shark fin sticking out of it. 🙂

          • dusty_rose said:

            Also, because I spend too much time on Etsy looking at hedgehog tutus. Yes, tutus for hedgies. They’re a thing.

          • KL said:

            It didn’t even occur to me that it might be a sweater for humans. *shame*

          • minuteye said:

            Wait, it wasn’t a sweater for a cat? I’m so disappointed!

        • dusty_rose said:

          That makes sense!

  10. I can empathize with the letter writer here. As part of my upbringing I also developed what one might call a “public face” and my sister and I call a “Customer Service” face. I have one very friendly but completely bland personality I use with people that I don’t know very well and or do not like (and obviously when I’m working in any form of customer service), and another entirely different personality that I use with my friends.

    But having a public face for things like working at Starbucks or dealing with clients is one thing. Having a public face for everyone except for a few select few is not about maintaining polite relations with the neighbors or coworkers you hate. That’s something else, something dark, something we watch on reality TV and cringe about because it’s not okay.

    I think the captain’s advice that you talk to someone professionally is a great idea.

    I would also advise you to just stop. Like right now. Stop. Don’t tell someone you like their cat sweater if you don’t mean it. Don’t make polite chit chat with people on the phone to manipulate them into liking you. Just stop. It will probably actually take some practice, and big things like feeling and showing remorse for a stupid mistake may never come easily. But with the possible exception of doing your job, I think you should stop being anything more than polite with people unless you like them.

    You may find that you have more energy for getting to know people and just life in general when you aren’t using so many resources to keep everyone at the appropriate distance. And once you stop doing that you’ll probably be able to get to know yourself a little more.

    Someone also mentioned above and I want to reiterate that you’re probably not fooling as many people as you think you are. Fake is pretty easily identifiable because if you don’t really mean what you’re saying, people can tell. So that’s another reason to stop. People know you don’t really like them, so why not just end it at civil if you can’t be bothered to get to know them.

    If I had moved around as much as you did I would probably be in the same boat as you so I empathize, I really do. I see how you’ve built this structure to keep yourself safe from rejection and pain. But at a certain point you have to choose to be more. You can choose to let your normal emotions inform your behavior, and to let your relationships grow from there. It may take time, and it may be painful, but in the end it will be better.

    • JenniferP said:

      I agree with this 100%: “I would also advise you to just stop. Like right now. Stop. Don’t tell someone you like their cat sweater if you don’t mean it. Don’t make polite chit chat with people on the phone to manipulate them into liking you. Just stop. It will probably actually take some practice, and big things like feeling and showing remorse for a stupid mistake may never come easily. But with the possible exception of doing your job, I think you should stop being anything more than polite with people unless you like them.”

      I don’t kittens-and-rainbows love every person I meet in the world, that’s for sure, and we all have our polite “customer-service” or “church pancake breakfast” or “work conference” personae, but I don’t look for excuses to deem people “irrelevant” and brag about how I fake everyone out with my fake awesomeness and save my real personality for the worthy few.

      • Ethyl said:

        That “irrelevant” comment was so…..icky.

    • Britt said:

      You may find that you have more energy for getting to know people and just life in general when you aren’t using so many resources to keep everyone at the appropriate distance. And once you stop doing that you’ll probably be able to get to know yourself a little more.

      Absolutely agreeing with this. I also can’t help but wonder, LW, if part of this isn’t an attempt to make sure that everyone always likes you and a fear that most people, if they have access to your honest emotions and personality, won’t like you.

      Of course the problem is that this is backfiring. As has been said, people are smarter and more perceptive than you’re giving them credit and are almost assuredly aware of you fake-face-ing them and honestly? They probably don’t like you because of it.

      Rejection and loss are scary things, and I understand developing coping mechanisms (even if they’re maladaptive ones) to deal with them, especially given how hard circumstances in your childhood made it for you to put down roots and count on people being there for the long term, but you owe it to yourself and the people who you do care about (especially people like your fiance that you’re starting a life with!) to not worry so much about maintaining this perfectly polite, unemotional facade. Let the people who don’t like you or who you don’t like be, and I hope that with some therapy and time, you’ll be able to let the people who you do care about have the blessing of all the energy you save from not constantly putting you a shiny hologram of who you want people to think you are.

  11. Esti said:

    I’m another who is confused and kind of taken aback by what you’ve described, LW. I don’t understand what you think the fiance’s friend did that was insulting or deserves any blame — you and your fiance did something careless that caused his computer to be stolen, and just giving him money doesn’t mean he can’t be upset (for some reasonable period of time) that he has the hassle of replacing it and has lost whatever was on it that wasn’t backed up. The fact that he wanted you to express being sorry and upset that the computer was stolen seems… reasonable? Because you and your fiance did something that caused him harm, and people who care about you *should* feel bad when they hurt you?

    I was in a similar situation recently: a few months ago, my roommate borrowed my camera and then lost it. She immediately emailed me to let me know and apologize, and it was clear that she felt terrible that she’d lost something that belonged to me. I reassured her that it was fine (and it was!), but I probably would have felt differently if she’d just said “I lost your camera, sorry, here’s some cash.” Replacing the thing you lost (or caused to be stolen) repairs the financial damage; expressing sincere regret repairs the emotional damage of you having been careless toward a friend. Expressing that you feel bad isn’t a demeaning task that this guy demanded you perform. It was about wanting to know that you respect and care for him enough to feel genuinely upset that you had caused something bad to happen to him.

    I think you may be slightly misidentifying the problem you’re writing in about. Lots of people don’t have childhood best friends they’re still in touch with (like me!) and lots of people tend to have shorter term friendships rather than ones that last forever (I have a few people I stay in touch with even when we don’t live in the same place, but my closest friends tend to be the ones that live in the same city as me). The real issue, from your letter, seems to be the disdain you feel for people who show emotion and that you find it insulting that other people want you to empathize with them. Maybe moving a lot as a child is part of the cause of that; maybe burning bridges so frequently is a symptom. But neither of those are the problem.

    I don’t like internet diagnosis (and I know the Captain really doesn’t either), but I agree wholeheartedly that you should talk to a professional of some type about how you’re relating to other people (and actually, I really think that telling that person about your reaction to this situation would be a good starting point for delving into that). Maybe you just don’t have a lot of experience dealing with other people’s emotions; maybe you have trouble processing or expressing your own emotions; maybe there’s something else entirely going on. But I think the Captain’s right that if you want to build meaningful relationships (particularly long-term ones, like a marriage), you’re going to need to sort through some of the issues that came through in your letter.

    • alphakitty said:

      well said

  12. alphakitty said:

    I agree substantively with the advice and comments…. but they also rub me the wrong way. Lots of people write in for advice because life has kind of messed them around and they feel like they don’t know how to function in the world of feelings. The response is not usually “God, you suck! You are so screwed up it is scary!” Which is the tenor of a lot of the stuff above.

    The LW had one of those constantly-moving childhoods that in some people results in genuinely great people skills and friends all over the world, but that for others, like LW can be brutal. She developed what felt like “coping skills” at the time but with the benefit of some distance and hindsight look more like “serious damage.” (That fake-face prevented intimacy). But we of the CA community don’t judge people for their damage, do we? We try to help them through it, right? Even if their damage is that they’ve become cold, rather than messily emotional?

    Understand, LW, that real life and real people are sloppy with emotions. People get mad, they argue, they forgive, they annoy one another, they talk it out… The ideal is not a placid scenario when everyone pretends that everything everyone else does is just lovely, but genuine connection between two people.

    When you make a mistake, people are going to get upset. I get the impression that you have a script for how the roommate was supposed to react to the loss of the laptop, and then to your apology, and you’re pissed (or is it ‘grossed out’?) by the way he deviated from that script. And you are generally disinclined toward friendship with this guy because he is way more openly emotional and expressive than you, and that makes you uncomfortable. When really, you could use a little more of that yourself.

    You need to allow yourself to be more honest (Shinobi42 had some good, less condemning advice in that regard). You also need to allow people to be honest backatcha, without getting mad that they are not reacting the way you would. The world would be DULL if everyone were the same. Don’t write the roommate off — learn from him.

    Take the advice above, despite the manner in which it is given. They’re right, even if they’re not expressing it as kindly as they could have. Watch “The Power of Vulnerability” on Ted Talks. ttp://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
    It’s about how it is only when you strip your own guards that you get the really good stuff in life — and do try to find professional help. Because holding the world at bay, keeping your own emotions in perfect control, is no way to have a satisfying life, much less a joyful one.

    • KL said:

      Self-awareness is a tricky thing. The LW is, on some level, looking for help breaking a pattern of manipulating others and faking emotions, but the letter itself, as some have noted above, is somewhat manipulative and dishonest. I think that’s why the reactions here are more negative toward the LW than usual.
      To me, LW doesn’t come across as someone who genuinely doesn’t know what the real problem is; she comes across as someone who’s invested in getting other people (in this case, Captain Awkward and, to a lesser degree, the comment section) to corroborate her framing of what the problem is.
      (YMMV — this was my emotional reaction, and it seems like it may have been that of some other commenters as well)

      • dusty_rose said:

        Thank you for putting your finger on this–this was my reaction too.

      • alphakitty said:

        Still… perhaps a better response would be “this is what you seem to want from us [validation that it’s the roommate who has behaved badly and a green light to declare him dead to her], and here’s why we’re not going to give it to you”?

    • staranise said:

      I kind of agree, just because I think it sucks when someone writes in and the commentariat response is, “Well, yeah, you are the problem.” I’m afraid the LW will read the comments, get all offended, and then do the opposite just because of that. But hey, that’s not actually our job, to fix other peoples’ reactions.

      • This. Can we maybe try responding with a little more compassion and a little less condemnation? Please? The strong condemnatory and accusatory tones are hurtful, and they help no one and solve nothing. You can be open, frank, and honest with someone without being somewhat heartless about it.

    • Guelta said:

      LW here: I really like this post, and you’re right, I was a bit surprised and taken aback by the negativity of responses. I guess I wrote in hoping for “Okay, this is someone who’s not good with her own emotions, let me tell you how normal people experience and deal with them” and got a large number of “Wow, you’re a really horrible person, d’you know that?” If I were absolutely convinced I should respond to this incident with “Well, you’re an emotional person and I hate those, so now I loathe you for forever” I wouldn’t have sought advice. I’ll look into the Ted Talks thing though, thank you. Thank you for that, and for understanding.

      • staranise said:

        Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is one that really helped me a lot. I’d absolutely recommend it if the TED talk strikes a chord with you.

      • LW, maybe the thing to take away from this is that a lot of people aren’t hearing your words the way you’re intending for them to come across? I don’t think you’re a horrible person at all; I think you’re translating “things that are obvious to me” into “things that are obvious to everyone else,” and that can cause a lot of misunderstanding on all sides.

      • minuteye said:

        LW, just my two cents, but it might be helpful to remember that the commenters are responding to your letter through the lens of their own experiences. Having had the experience of being judged harshly for having the “wrong” emotional response to something, it was difficult for me to read your letter without feeling triggered that way. That’s about my baggage, not your letter, but it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference and not react defensively.

    • Cora said:

      Yeah, as someone with a similar set of issues due to a screwed-up childhood/adolescence (albeit ones I have mostly worked through…), I was a bit taken aback at the number of comments that seemed to boil down to, “You are icky and creepy, and probably also a bad person at heart.” I mean, I get that being helpful isn’t the only thing that the comments section is for, but… yeah.

    • Commandant Cray Cray said:

      Double thumbs up for this comment alphakitty. Obviously this letter triggered a lot of intense reactions, but for me what makes the awkward army so awesome is their compassion. I was confused as to why this letter caused such a tone in some of the responses, which seem very different and more negative than normal. There are ways to offer constructive criticisms of someone’s actions and behaviors without offering criticism and judgement on who they are as a person.

      Brene Brown explains this distinction as the difference between guilt for your actions and shame about the person you are who committed those actions. Guilt can be healthy and motivating; shame kills your spirit and stops human connection. So the recommendation of her TED talk might be good for the commentators too.

      Heck, everybody should watch it: Brene Browns work, that Ted talk, changed my life. I used to feel as you do LW, and I think what people are trying to say is that you’ll have a more rich and fulfilling life if you embrace emotional honesty with yourself and others. This doesnt mean you need to be more emotionalIy expressive, but rather that you allow people insight into your thoughts and feelings.

      Good on you for recognizing a pattern and expressing your feelings in this letter. Your framing of the letter expresses this pattern a bit too, but i think reaching out is a good first step and shows that you realize your behaviors aren’t quite working. Recognition of that fact is really all you need to start a positive change. Good luck LW.

  13. PomperaFirpa said:

    Okay, LW, let me explain in a clinical way.

    The mere act of being roommates with somebody requires a certain amount of trust, because you have all your stuff in a place where someone else can touch it– “all your stuff” includes your body, during sleep– and you have to have a base level assumption of “this person will not do bad things to my stuff / myself or put my stuff / myself at risk” in order to live with this person. Anything that happens to make that base-level assumption invalid puts the whole roommate relationship into a bad place.

    You (and your fiance, who seems to be cheerfully getting out of taking any responsibility for this) have proven that you can’t even be trusted with the incredibly basic security measure of closing and locking the front door when you go to take a nap. Money replaces the laptop, but does nothing to replace the sense that you can be trusted with the safety of Roommate’s stuff and self.

    If this were a business situation, and a contract was broken, monetary reparations would be made not only for the stolen item, but also for the broken trust; this is a gesture indicating that the other party takes this seriously, regrets the mistake, and wishes to make amends. I’m guessing you’d be more comfortable with that sort of arrangement, but monetary reparations for emotional harm are not the norm when social contracts are broken. People who have broken social contracts are expected to– using words and body language– show that you understand your transgression, that you regret your mistake, and that you want to make amends.

    It sounds like your parents’ moving around all the time is less the problem than the fact that they raised you without imparting the basic skill of being able to feel regret for a mistake and make a sincere apology, not to mention giving you the mistaken impression that such basic live skills were “task(s) for the irrelevant”. Even world leaders are expected to feel regret for mistakes and make sincere apologies, and voters take them to task if they do not follow through on that expectation. You made a mistake. It’s not the end of the world, but it does pose some questions: are you going to do it again? can you be trusted? do you understand how your actions impacted others? Those are the questions that are answered by a display of regret. You have not answered those questions, and instead seem offended that they are being asked at all, as if you’re above that kind of thing. You’re not. You’re a human being, or at least playing the part of one, operating in human circles. Be upset about how it works all you want– every child whose parents send her to her room until she apologizes for something has that same indignant reaction– but those are the rules, and you are not going to get an exemption from them for being a special snowflake who can’t be bothered by petty human emotions.

    In short, if you can’t be bothered to actually regret fucking up, for God’s sake learn to fake it better.

    • alphakitty said:

      This, I agree with completely.

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        In retrospect, I was way too harsh at the end there. It occurs to me that the reason LW doesn’t seem to want to show regret is, in fact, because the person who was actually at fault– who both told her to leave the door open (really, he can’t re-open it on his own? is your apartment built to withstand a siege and thus your door weighs more than you do?) and then wandered off without either completing his task OR closing the door– was her fiance. That’s a problem. I would honestly be having problems with showing regret, too, if everything inside me was screaming “it’s HIS FAULT, if you want regret you should TALK TO THE ONE WHO DID IT.”

        LW, I get the sense that your fiance had you take the fall for this alone because you’re literally a professional at handling public relations, and because you’re less emotionally invested, and– I’m guessing– he doesn’t want his friend to be mad at him. I understand all those reasons, but considering that this has had detrimental effects on your own emotional state as well as interpersonal relations with his friend, it honestly just makes him kind of a weasel who’s dumping this stuff on you.

        Are you okay with that? Has it happened before? Is there a pattern here? Because I don’t think this is okay. It’s dishonest and it’s forcing you to be dishonest as well, and you seem ill suited for subterfuge of this nature.

        All my stuff from before still goes, but your fiance broke the social contract, too, and he did it worse. He broke his social contracts with his roommate by compromising the safety of a shared living space, but by letting you take the fall he doesn’t have to have the roommate angry with him, and doesn’t have to show regret and apologize and all the other stuff that’s expected when breaking that contract. He just Wall Street CEO’d it. You say that he’s “generally prone to letting his own remorse take over his reaction to the crisis, instead of trying to support his friend”, but in this case, it sounds like what was needed was a team effort, with him (appropriately, as it was his fault) handling the expression of regret, and you handling the technical detail end of things with giving the roommate money for the laptop and such.

        More, your fiance broke a social contract with you, his partner, by– even if you both agreed to it– putting you in a situation where you’re not totally at fault, but you’re expected to take on all the responsibilities of full culpability, including emotional displays of regret which take a toll on you. That sucks. Does he know that this is hard on you? Does he respect the effort you’re putting out and encourage you? Because this is just kind of wrong, on a lot of levels.

        You may in fact benefit from some help you “tune up your awesome” (tm Cleolinda), i.e. some therapy to re-calibrate your feelings about having / expressing feelings and how that fits in with the social contract. It certainly couldn’t hurt. Being able to be able to reconfigure and renew a relationship after the first big trust-busting incident (which always happens, let’s face it) is a valuable skill to have in your public-relations toolbox, and beyond invaluable to have in your personal-relations toolbox.

        • PomperaFirpa said:

          (Not to mention that– obviously– tuning up how you operate within your relationship with your fiance would kind of be a big priority. I’m not sure what the intra-couple decision-making process was for this one, but it seems to have gone off the rails. Looking into the why and the how of this problem would be awesome.)

          (And LW– seriously, you don’t have to have EVERYBODY think well of you. That really does put you in a situation where your natural response is to give fake-face so that you get the response you want, while you don’t seem to be enjoying giving fake-face. If you don’t enjoy it, why are you doing it? What are you getting out of it? What does it protect you from? Those are some other things you might want to poke at.)

        • Yes, This stuck out to me as well. The apology bits should have come from the fiance.

    • anon said:

      This is basically what I was going to say. I don’t know the roommate in question, but chances are they didn’t want an act of regret, they wanted actual regret and an honest show of regret as a signal that 1)you’re taking their loss and hurt seriously, 2)that you care about them in general (if someone is indifferent when something bad happens to you, isn’t it natural to conclude they don’t really care about you?) and care whether you hurt them and don’t WANT to hurt them, 3)that you know that what you did was bad,* and finally 4)that you won’t do it again.

      *I mean, being somewhat careless when someone else was technically taking responsibility for it (I guess is the best way I can think of to put it) is not the worst thing you can possibly do, but the result was pretty disproportionate.

  14. Yorglow said:

    LW, I wonder if you’re familiar with the book Third Culture Kids? I’ve loaned my copy out so I can’t pull any salient quotes, but it’s about the experience of kids who grow up in a culture other than their own, and/or moving a lot – diplomat kids, army kids, missionary kids, immigrants and children of immigrants, things like that – and the personality types they develop into and issues they come up against as adults. I don’t know that it has specific advice for your situation, but it certainly has a lot to say about difficulties with forming or keeping deep relationships, and burning bridges, and moving on quickly because you’re just going to lose people anyway, so what’s the point.

    I didn’t grow up overseas or moving often, but I did grow up in a culture very different from my parents’ culture, and reading Third Culture Kids was a huge “Whoa” for me. It was often like the authors were describing me and my thoughts and experiences very specifically. (Hey, I have trouble keeping up with old relationships because there were so many people who came into and out of my life as a child! Wow, I often feel like I don’t quite fit in or understand other people’s life experiences and concerns! Oh my god, I totally have a gut-instinct love for Obama because he was a third culture kid too!!)

    I don’t disagree with the other commenters that there are some serious red flags in your letter, but I do have a lot of empathy for your past experiences and traumas – because, yes, moving often as a child, losing relationships and starting over again and again is traumatic – and the ways in which they’ve informed your present. There are lots of us out here, and we’ve all had to learn how to put down roots and build lasting relationships. It’s hard, but it’s absolutely possible, and if you care enough to start wondering whether or not this pattern is a healthy one, then I totally think you can do it, too.

    • Mary Sue said:

      Thank you, Yorglow, for mentioning the Third Culture Kids book. I was raised, and react to situations and relationships, in a very similar way to the LW, and think that it’s important to recognize that they aren’t alone in growing up that way. LW, you, and I probably all lived in different places, but it gave us similar survival skills, which as adults are both excellent tools (being able to ease into new social situations, tell polite social lies, and so on) and hobbles (not knowing how to maintain long-tern relationships — I still go into shock when I realize that I have *appliances* I’ve owned longer than some of my most significant relationships).

      LW, I’m sorry that the advice here was more critical than understanding. As someone who has been learning as I go along, here are two things you might do to work on your relationship with the roommate. They are a bit difficult, but they will be good practice for other relationships.
      1. Ask him about himself: what sports he likes, TV shows, etc. Try and find something that you are at least a little interested in (like his softball team). Make a point of following up with questions like, “When is your next game?” And the hard part is, let yourself care (i.e., it’s not small talk) because you care about the person. It’s a bit like watering a plant, and caring does grow.
      2. Tell him about yourself. What do you think a friend would know about you? Friendships are woven of this kind of give and take. You can say, “I was never allowed to talk about or cry for friends I moved away from, and I envy people who are able to share their emotions” (my experience) and you can say “I love your red hat, that’s my favorite color”. (so long as that’s true!). Even if being emotional is hard for you, you can learn how to say how you feel even without going over the top. Let him know where you are coming from. The hard part is, you may be used to packaging yourself to inconvenience people as little as possible, to be socially nice and keep your real self locked up tight. Lowering those walls is frightening.

    • Kaliana said:

      My own adaptation to the Third Culture Kid syndrome (I *have* to read that book by the way!) is that I am super-good at adapting to new situations, don’t take local cultural norms for granted (be they group/city/country specific) and am utterly ready to make the next person I meet my Absolute Instant Best Friend for Life, or y’know just a pretty cool, interesting human that I’m enjoying being around in that moment.
      Which I think seems to make me very lucky as far as adaptations go and clearly comes with awesome benefits when I meet wonderful people, but does mean my own learning curve has been more in the vein of protecting myself from folk who are not also on that wavelength and are out to take advantage, with a side order of having too many amazing people in my life to do all of them justice at once and occasionally feeling guilt over that (I worked out, you just have to be glad of the times you *can* see each other and enjoy those, and make sure people know 100% that you will be there in dark or difficult days). Plus several other minor anxieties in which that kind of childhood could be implicated (must collect *stuff* – stuff can be carried around when you leave right?)
      Er, the point of this being, I really like what those experiences brought me and I hope that it doesn’t just become accepted wisdom that moving children around will forever damage their ability to have real and honest interactions with people. I love how that experience fed into the rest of my life, even if it was sometimes painful at the time.

  15. elfabla said:

    I can identify to some extent with the LW, for a long time if I did something bad I was able to be very apologetic and do what I could to make amends, unless and this is a big unless, the person I had hurt responded very angrily to me and then I would immediately switch into indifferent robot mood. No-matter how much the person shouted, no-matter what they said I would react like their feelings meant nothing to me. I understand now that it was a coping mechanism I had learned to deal with my mothers rages, she has borderline personality. In other ways I also struggled with dealing with other people emotions because I as a result of my experiences felt that another persons emotions would devor me as my mothers had. So perhaps the letter writer has experienced her emotional boundaries not being respected and shutting down is how she deals with emotions now

  16. pinkpyjamas said:

    I am also a TCK and the whole “I have never had to learn how to heal damaged friendships” thing baffles me. Three to four years is a LONG time for a kid, and I’ve never heard of any relationship that lasts that long without some kind of disagreement or issue that needs talking through and fixing.

  17. CLB said:

    Hey LW. I can empathise with some of this story, because I know I react extremely badly when people are angry and upset at me. And sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in my own reaction, and lose sight of the big picture. Recently I had to pay for repairs to someone else’s car that I’d nicked. They were upset, and I got pretty emotional, and while I was crying in my room and vowing to never to drive again, I could feel myself thinking that I felt Really Sad, and that the other people could See how Sad I was, they would stop being Mean and Angry. But ultimately, how I felt wasn’t really that important, because I was in the wrong and I had to try to make it right. Sometimes, whatever we do, we can’t just fix a bad situation, and however tempting it is to become emotionally defensive and blame the other person for overreacting and making things uncomfortable, it’s ultimately not going to help. I’d say that in your situation, you can apologise, you can follow the excellent advice of the other commenters to empathise with the roommate, but it will probably take some time for things to get better, and things will probably be uncomfortable for a while. You can’t change that, so you’ll need to soldier through.

  18. piemouth said:

    jenniferp, I really want to tip my cap to you for this excellent answer. I read the letter with mounting anger at the LW’s bad attitude, and I was afraid you were going to pull your punches. You didn’t. You said what she needs to hear in a clear, concise, and reasonable way. You weren’t mean, but you didn’t baby her, either. Thanks.

  19. I feel like we’re not getting the whole story in this letter; I get the sense that there is background with the roommate and perhaps the fiancee that the LW is not specifying.

    For me, I know that it really bothers me when someone causes the damage and/or loss of possessions of mine that are important, and then apologizes but doesn’t acknowledge that I am upset. It feels like they are merely paying lip service to the apology and that they are not being sincere. It does sound to me like sincerity is a challenge for the LW, given the bits about “the irrelevant”. I suspect that the roommate was more upset that the LW wasn’t validating/acknowledging/empathizing with their feelings.

  20. Scott said:

    Ok, LW, I think you may have broke the Captain’s sympathy reserves and her letter was pretty low on useful advice. I’m going to give you some. (Captain, I get it, but this is about LW for a minute, not you. Thx!)

    There are a few things you’re doing here that are not serving your goals very well. You sound like you like this fiance’s best friend (hereafter “FBF”)? You are unhappy that they’re sorting themselves into the “not friend” category? Your emotional needs are not being served by them here? Can you step along with me for a minute so I can show you some of how you’re making that happen?

    First, you may be discounting that you have emotional needs. Yes, they’re super under control, and that’s an impressive skill. However keeping emotions under control is not the same thing as having your emotional needs met – and you do have emotional needs, even if you’re super-good at keep them from breaking free of the surface. You’re human, you have emotions, you have the need for validation, for understanding, for empathy, for emotional connection with others. You’re saying some of this in an oblique way when you’re describing how insulted you are that FBF doesn’t care about how you actually feel and just wants to be lied to.

    Which brings us to another thing that you’re doing. Two, actually. 1. You’re not using your words. Does FBF have a mind-reading skill that you left out of the letter? I’m going to assume not, because this isn’t the X-Men edition of Captain Awkward. So when you feel [insert bad emotion here] because someone doesn’t already know how you feel, you get an awesome present in the form of being in control of that! You can tell people how you’re feeling, and then observe how they act now that you know that they know you feel bad about something. (I wouldn’t do that immediately in this case, because right now he’s feeling super-bad about the whole situation and he’s going to need some time to just feel that before he’s going to have emotional attention left over for your stuff.)

    Second thing that you’re doing regarding how you actually feel, is you’re using yourself as the measure for what should be obvious to others. That whole paragraph up there about how people can’t mind-read is probably making you go “BUT I CAN TELL HOW HE FEELS SO HE CAN TOO”. No. No he can’t. See, you’re super-tuned to this stuff in a way that is rare. Most people are not! Most people can’t read others like books so well that they can adjust their outward presentation to perfectly accommodate their inner, unspoken emotional desires. If you can do that a lot of the time, that’s a skill you’ve got. You even went on about how you’re super-good at it, so you do recognise that it’s not a universal thing. I’m going to go out on a made-up statistic limb (but hopefully one that impresses upon you my intuitive sense of how people are) and say that 99% of the people you meet are not going to be able to do this thing that you do to any degree that even registers as “skilled at reading people”.

    So using yourself as the measure of this reading-people skill, you’re probably unconsciously thinking that your feelings are really obvious. I want you to take it on faith for a while that they’re not. Do that for a while as an experiment, and see how it changes your interpretations of other people. Did that woman just do something thoughtless? If you assume that she can’t read people at all, does that change how you’d characterise her behaviour? Just try it on for a while and see if it’s a possible explanation for things you observe about people. Then once you’ve tried it on, remember that you’re super-good at this, so it’s a likely explanation that other people just aren’t.

    One more thing, and CW touched on this, is that how you thought FBF wanted you to act is not the only choice you had. Just because you have this awesome hammer of a skill doesn’t mean you should always use your hammer to fix a situation! Sometimes people are going to want things from you that you don’t want to give them, and that was one of them. You’re super-good at figuring out people’s emotional needs and giving them that performance, but because you’re so good at this it’s your first response. Most of the letters to CW are about people whose first response to a situation isn’t working and they’re looking for advice on different ways of handling things that aren’t just fulfilling the expectations of behaviour that they see. So this is yours: you expect that you have to show people what they want. You don’t have to! CW’s advice for an alternative way to handle that conversation with FBF was spot-on. It’s virtues are that you address FBF’s unhappiness while also preserving your emotional integrity.

    So, here’s what it all boils down to: You felt like you had to respond a certain way to FBF. You did. You resented having to respond that way. You didn’t actually have to, so see if you can let go of that resentment. Further, they likely had no idea that their emotions were picked up by you so plainly that you could discern what they needed. They also had no idea you were capable of creating that perfect of a mask. Ergo, they couldn’t have been asking for that, because you being able to do that just wasn’t even in their awareness. They had an emotional reaction to a really shitting circumstance, and you interpreted it as a request to lie to him. He didn’t. Forgive yourself for the lie, and move forward from there.

    And do consider talking to someone about this stuff. You definitely need someone on Team You who can do the equivalent of driving up with a big Snap-On truck full of emotional tools you never knew you needed or even existed. Burning bridges every 3 or 4 years is definitely not necessary, and it’s going to make it much easier to do otherwise if you’ve got someone patient and unjudgemental to coach you through your first blunders with unfamiliar tools and to cheerlead your successes.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think this is pretty great, actually, thanks.

      • Scott said:

        I appreciate the Captainly blessing! I just wanted to be as good a guest as I could while trying to share a divergent perspective.

    • This? Is amazing. Thank you for writing this. It’s given me a fair bit to think about. May it be as helpful or more so for the LW.

    • Cora said:

      This really resonated with me, thank you. I empathized a lot with the LW, because I had a lot of the same behaviors–not because I was a lying empathyless jerk, but because, like you, I moved a lot as a kid and teen. And in the course of moving a lot I learned that failing to make a “good” first impression could lead to 2-4 years of severe and unrelenting bullying, whereas if I could figure out what people wanted and give it to them I was more likely to be left alone. It was a defense mechanism, and I employed it not out of disdain but out of terror.

      It took a long time for me to realize, in adulthood, that I didn’t have to do that. Most of the time as an adult (unlike as a kid), if someone doesn’t like me, I don’t have to spend time with them. I can leave if they turn out to be bullies. But for a long time I felt like I had to continue the pattern of “find out what people want, then give it to them” in order to feel “safe”–and yes, sometimes I wound up resenting people for “making” me do it. It took a long time for me to recognize that I didn’t have to do it; it was a defense mechanism that was no longer necessary, and I could just… stop. I didn’t have to fake, I didn’t have to resent, I could just stop, without the risk of serious physical and emotional damage that had been there when I was a bullied kid.

      In other words: yes, I agree!

      • JenniferP said:

        Thanks so much for this perspective. You present it in a far more sympathetic and relatable way than the LW.

    • staranise said:

      Yes, this. I spent a lot of time socially isolated as a kid, so for me, it was always kind of terrifying to get people angry with me, or to stick out in a social situation. I learned to blend in really well. I think I’m really lucky that when I was 15 I got involved in model parliament and made some really good friends. In the House when we were debating, I could stick to my guns and let people be angry with me or think I was wrong, and then when the day adjourned we all went and ate dinner and laughed together. That gave me a lot of the ability, when I was an adult, to look at someone shouting at me and take a deep breath and say, “They’re angry, but I don’t need to cave and make it up to them. I can let them think I’m wrong.” I realized that I often manipulated people into always empathizing with me, even when I’d done something that legitimately hurt them, and sometimes it was kinder just to let them feel what they felt. To stand back and say, “I’m sorry, and I understand that you’re angry, and this is what I’m feeling; when you want to talk, come find me.” Things do not always need to resolve into perfect emotional harmony, especially if that harmony requires someone to twist like a pretzel to make it happen.

    • Guelta said:

      LW here: This is by far the most valuable response I’ve read, and I am deeply grateful for your insight. You’re completely right; I’d forgotten for a moment (it seems silly I know) that FBF is not me. In hindsight it seems obvious that when going through the miserable experience of losing a laptop (lord knows if mine so much as gets a virus I act like I’ve lost a child, checking on it in the “computer hospital” ever few hours) the last thing he’d have been prepared to do was pick up on *my* emotional state. I guess I just sort of do it instinctively, so to be reminded that not everyone is as weirdly telepathic did remove a lot of the resentment I had towards him. He wasn’t asking me to lie to him, or treat him like our friendship is just an extension of my job, because his awareness of me at all was probably completely overwhelmed by the circumstance.

      • alphakitty said:

        It’s also good to remember that you and your boyfriend had screwed up, and the roommate was the one who was hurting, so it was time to prioritize his emotional need to vent and howl, rather than your emotional need for him to get on with the forgiving already.

        • JenniferP said:

          Ah yes. This encapsulates exactly my initial reaction of “REALLY?”

          If something bad happens to me, and you turn it into a story about how my reaction in the moment was not specifically tailor-made to how you like to handle emotions and now it’s a story about how I did something offensive and maybe I’m “irrelevant” now, and you know this because you’re super-good at reading emotions but only in secret and for people you *really* value (or for money)….yeeeeeeeeeeesh.

          I’m glad you and others responded with so much kindness and useful advice and I hope the LW takes away something useful about changing the dynamic going forward.

      • Esti said:

        LW, I think your responses sound a lot more reasonable than the original letter did, but I’m still a bit concerned by your conviction that you are particularly gifted at intuitively sensing other people’s emotional states and needs and then giving them what they want. Maybe you are! But in my experience, people who are convinced that they are much better at some aspect of social interaction than everyone else are… sometimes not very good at that aspect of social interaction, because their feeling of superiority is rarely as well-hidden as they think it is.

        Your letter and comments have expressed some version of “I have my emotions totally under control and can convince others that I am reacting however they want, and I am also telepathic about their emotional state and what they want from me,” and here you seem to be saying you think the problem is just that you need to remember that the rest of the world is not as good as you are at social interactions. But maybe the roommate was not failing to be aware of your emotional needs, maybe he was just pissed that you and your fiance had let his laptop be stolen and wasn’t interested in prioritizing what you seemed to want at that moment.

        • “I’m still a bit concerned by your conviction that you are particularly gifted at intuitively sensing other people’s emotional states…”

          An extremely important point. You’re working from stories in your head about how other people feel instead of facts about how other people feel. People are VERY good at fitting new facts into existing narratives, and I’m guessing you’re especially good at this.

          There are a lot of losing poker players who are quite sure that they can tell what everyone else is holding. If they really could tell, they would win more.

      • Scott said:

        I’m glad I could help! I share some of the challenges it sounds like you have in front of you: I’m sensitive to others’ emotional states and have put a lot of Life Skill Points into understanding people even when they’re not using their words, but it does make me kind of addicted to doing it well and makes me a bit of a meddler in others’ emotions. I also often feel responsible for others’ emotions because I pick up on them, when by an outside reasonable judgment I’m not responsible for managing the emotions just because I’m the cause of them.

        Some of the best lessons I’ve learned recently have been how to give people credit that they’re competent in ways I might not see; reminding myself that my theories of particular people’s emotions may adequately explain the facts I perceive but those facts can be explained equally well by other theories, so I could have a good theory and still be wrong and blow things up by acting as if I’m right; and that not everything needs to be fixed right damn now.

        Also, I’ve learned that my lessons might be entirely irrelevant to someone with similar issues because people are so much more complicated than that, so take that paragraph with a grain of salt. 🙂 Just know that challenges can be overcome, but it’s rarely obvious how, or even if it’s possible, until the solutions ambush you on your travels. It’s the staying in one place that feels functional and effective that makes overcoming challenges hard.

    • LilyR said:

      Reading this was a little like looking in a time machine (in a good way, thanks). Your explanation would have helped a ton in my teens when I first started trying to just *feel* things, and express those feelings, rather than always thinking about the most beneficial response to a situation. It also made me realize how far I’ve come! It’s now pretty natural for me to express my feelings sincerely, as the norm rather than the expression.

      Which is also a roundabout way of saying – I empathize with the LW, and I’m glad there’s good advice here.

  21. Not It said:

    I have two comments:

    1) I would like to commend the LW and her boyfriend for replacing the computer. I have actually had roommates who would try to get out of that responsibility. So congratulations on taking the correct action, if not being able to make your emotions match your behavior. Many times, people can say the right thing and never get around to doing it, so it’s a little unusual to learn of someone doing the right thing and being unable to muster up the appropriate feelings or words to accompany the action.

    2) There is a person that everyone can agree to be mad at: the actual thief who entered the apartment and stole the laptop. Maybe if the three of you agree to hate that person, you can unite in your outrage. The roommate is the victim, but the LW and her boyfriend also had their security violated, which is unsettling. Yes, they left the door unlocked. That is not the same as hanging out a sign that reads, “Please, come take all our stuff. We won’t mind at all.” LW and her boyfriend made it easy for the criminal, but the crook was looking for an opportunity. I teach self-defense and we use a diagram, a triangle with three legs: the opportunity, the victim, and the criminal. In order to have a crime, you must have all three components. The easiest part to remove is the opportunity (lock the door!). The next easiest step to take is to make yourself an unattractive victim (and I don’t mean physically, I mean deterrents like bars on your windows, etc.). The most difficult part of the diagram to remove is the criminal. It’s the essential struggle of civilized society. What do we do with people who don’t respect agreed-upon laws?

    And that brings me back to the LW. She has some rules, which seem specific to her. How to live amongst civilized people and stay true to her laws?

    • Guelta said:

      LW here: It’s a bit too late now to do any redirecting of anything (2 weeks after the fact, and I’ve tried to make myself very scarce for the sake of the roommate. Roommate actually refused to let us reimburse the laptop, but he did let us get him a new iPod because his was getting old.) but you’re right about the criminal. I wish the police agreed with you, when they came they brought pizza and were basically looking at us like we sent out gilded invitations. I’m just grateful nothing happened to the fiance and myself. It was very unnerving to realize that the thief had been *in the apartment with us* while fiance and I had been asleep. He could have killed us and been gone long before anyone would have notices. I’m just grateful to still be alive, which probably didn’t help with showing the proper remorse face.

      • staranise said:

        I wonder what would happen if you said to Roommate, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about when your laptop got stolen. You were really upset then, and meanwhile I was processing the break-in my way, which isn’t always empathetic. I’m sorry, because I really do understand it was a loss for you.” Then, probably, Roommate would say, “Oh, okay,” and you’d move on with their days. Because I wonder what would happen if you started showing people in your private life that you actually do have emotions under your reserve; and sometimes they are hard to manage, and you do have blind spots. But you’re trying, because you want people to know you.

        • JenniferP said:

          That sounds like an awesome way to patch things up and move forward. Good call.

      • I wish the police agreed with you, when they came they brought pizza and were basically looking at us like we sent out gilded invitations.

        The police brought pizza when they came to investigate the crime!?!?!? Wut?????

        • Obsidian Entropy said:

          Ha! I know, seriously? I wish cops would bring pizza for me!

      • PomperaFirpa said:

        I wish the police agreed with you, when they came they brought pizza and were basically looking at us like we sent out gilded invitations

        I imagine that is, in fact, what a wide-open door looks like to a thief. OH HALLO, YOU WANT ME TO TAKE YOUR STUFF? I AM HAPPY TO OBLIGE! So… yeah. There’s a bit of victim-blaming to it, yeah, no question– but, again, just so you know, when it comes to interacting with other human beings, this is where the display of chagrin / regret / embarrassment comes in, because people generally feel that when they’ve made a mistake or had an accident, but not so much if they did it on purpose. Lack of display of emotions in this case can lead both the roommate and the cops to think “Wow, this person must have done that on purpose, she clearly doesn’t care. What a jerk.” If that is not how you want to come off to people, then, yeah, REMORSE FACE is important. If you actually feel that way, it’s not an act, it’s letting people in on your truth.

  22. ollie said:

    I think everything that could be said about this has been said, apart from this: at no point does LW identify themselves as someone for whom ‘she’ and ‘her’ are appropriate pronouns. It’s not a huge deal, but perhaps if LW is reading this and isn’t in fact ‘she’ or ‘her’ the advice will seem even more alienating than it no doubt would anyway.

    • JenniferP said:

      Fair point, though I can see the real email addresses of the LWs and sometimes can draw conclusions you can’t. I’ll try to be more watchful going forward.

      • ollie said:

        I’m sorry, I should have been clearer – I didn’t mean you, I meant people who have added commentary. I thought your response was gender-neutral, plus, as you say, you may well have more knowledge than a reader like myself. My apologies!

  23. karinacinerina said:

    One thing is digging at my heart-brain about LW’s original letter and her follow up letter. I quote excerpts below to read back to back. While I agree with everyone above that LW would benefit from a strong Team Her therapist, I also think in this case, LW might also benefit from a peek in the mirror.

    What these two excerpts say to me is this: I do not bother to share emotions with people unless I am paid for them or they are a Real Friend who has earned my respect, which they can only do by understanding intuitively that I am ALWAYS under complete and rational control and that my deeper, honest self is reserved only for clients or the People Who Matter Most To Me. Otherwise I am a calm pond at all times and anyone asking me to be otherwise is violating me.

    What I know is that to make real friends who can understand/trust you when you react differently from them, or who want to know you better, or forgive you any trespasses, is that you need to be the kind of person THEY respect/trust/feel emotionally safe with. Which includes vulnerability on your part. It may be a flaw to burst into tears at the Press Secretary podium, but it is not a flaw in a human creature participating in the social contract. In the brief times you lived places, you were probably very emotionally controlled/reserved, which wouldn’t draw a lot of people to you. Then, due to their not understanding how you respond to the world, and therefore wanting you to be sad for their losses and joyful for their victories, they probably weren’t even elevated to Important Person because they couldn’t be bothered to learn that you only emote for money, or only care about people you feel like caring about.

    What I am reading between the lines here (don’t worry, not an internet diagnosis) is that you want the same impossible level of control and rational behavior from everyone else that you have somehow convinced yourself is optimal. But you didn’t HAVE to sever ties with friends that you moved away from. You chose not to email or call or visit after. You didn’t have to burn bridges and you didn’t have to decide that your heart was only for pay, 24/7. Plenty of people need emotional distance to be effective in their work but it doesn’t define them as people at home, with loved ones. It seems clear with this laptop incident, you are possibly realizing that perhaps this mode of operations isn’t optimal for you any more.

    I would suggest that you assess the value you get from withholding true, natural empathy from acquaintances or even strangers/”irrelevants” – does it serve your happiness? Does it make the world a better place? Does it create new bridges? The world is full of people who can make each other happier just by sharing an honest connection – and respect is due to more than just those measured few who obey one person’s rigid (and frankly totally unrealistic) rules of conduct.

    I sympathize with your feelings of frustration and isolation, and I hope you can find that path to a warmer place.

    • dusty_rose said:

      The world is full of people who can make each other happier just by sharing an honest connection – and respect is due to more than just those measured few who obey one person’s rigid (and frankly totally unrealistic) rules of conduct.

      THIS.

  24. The Wandering Opinionator said:

    *cough*

    I’m not a doctor, as I read through this letter, I’m starting to wonder if the LW has Asperger’s syndrome, or some other form of autism. The difficulties understanding emotions, his/her odd take on social interaction and “friendship,” the ease with which s/he can pick up and drop social connections (childhood history aside), the felt need to feign appropriate social behavior, the clinical tone in which all of the former are described… It all sounds very much like things all mentioned by a friend of mine who writes a blog on being an “Aspie” (and incidentally was featured on NPR for samesaid blog.)

    The LW may not necessarily be a jerk, but really and truly not understand “normal” social interaction that would make her a traditionally “good friend.” If I were in contact with the LW, I would urge the LW to get checked for some form of autism.

    *throws 2 cents into the jar*

    • JenniferP said:

      Correct, you are not a doctor. Please read the site policies. We do not diagnose strangers we haven’t met through the internet, even if we are doctors. I am letting this go through as an example of what not to do. No more amateur armchair diagnoses please.

    • MHM said:

      I find this armchair diagnosis thing to be ridiculous and dangerous! Quite a few therapies and personality disorders and clinical issues have been suggested and hypothesized here. I am glad the Captain is shutting down this stuff.

      Medical and psychological guidelines: A trained clinician can diagnose someone based on a comprehensive assessment, including interviewing and observation, and maybe a medical examination to rule out contributing factors. And you should meet with the person face-to-face as part of that, of course!

      A letter to an internet advice columnist that is all of several paragraphs DOES NOT give you enough information for a diagnosis. Even a trained diagnostician could not diagnose based on these letters!

  25. Undinespragg said:

    I’m going to scond this. I identify with some of what the letter writer is describing (the emotionally-reserved but picks up on other people’s emotions part, not the PR people management part) and the experience of feeling more emotionally perceptive than some people is a double edged sword. You identify yourself as emotionally perceptive when your observations are confirmed, which happens sometimes, but not all the time. When you’re wrong, you’re not nearly as likely to know it. What that means is you get a lot of confirmation bias going. For me, that means that I’m right about other people’s unstated emotions enough of the time that I can’t completely discount my intuitions/observations, but I also have to remind myself that I am not a mind reader and I’m wrong plenty of the time, and I don’t even know how often I’m wrong. In other words, I need to take my perceptions with a heap of salt, be generous to other people, and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is sometimes hard for someone as reserved and sensitive as I am, particularly because, like the LW, I keep a pretty tight lid on my sensitivities, so they’re not always apparent.

    To reiterate, because people are polite and also manage their reactions, the LW may have misjudged people’s emotional states and not actually have realized it. And being right enough of the time can lead one to believe one is always right, but that’s not usually the case.

    • Undinespragg said:

      Whups… Meant to second Esti’s comment upthread, particularly: “LW, I think your responses sound a lot more reasonable than the original letter did, but I’m still a bit concerned by your conviction that you are particularly gifted at intuitively sensing other people’s emotional states and needs and then giving them what they want. Maybe you are! But in my experience, people who are convinced that they are much better at some aspect of social interaction than everyone else are… sometimes not very good at that aspect of social interaction, because their feeling of superiority is rarely as well-hidden as they think it is.”

  26. Jenna said:

    Growing up as a diplobrat seems to have left you with an amazing set of coping….skills? Mechanisms?

    I will agree that not being in touch with other people’s emotions is sometimes connected with not being in touch with your own. You may have feelings, but, I suspect that you are so accustomed to shutting them down that they may be strangers to you.

    The cold control is probably an asset in lots of situations where losing that control would be a problem, but, your lockdown is preventing you from seeing a couple things.

    You were not asked to LIE to your fiancé’s room mate. He did NOT ask you to lie. He was upset. You offered to replace the computer, and he was still upset. You chose to act in a way that you correctly predicted would calm him down, at least for right then. You chose that. His being upset at you….justifiably upset at the unlocked door, mind you…was apparently upsetting to you and so you chose to shut the scene down by choosing to act in a way that you correctly predicted would end the scene.

    Congratulations. You chose to end the scene and it ended!
    He did not ask to be lied to.

    You could have chosen to let him vent longer. You could have chosen to leave the room. You could have chosen to ask your guy to handle it. You could have reiterated your offer to replace the computer. You could have just apologized for leaving the door unlocked(this time, and had you done that before? I do wonder) I’m sure there are other things that you could have done instead.

    You ended the scene the way you chose to and now you feel like he made you lie. He didn’t.

    You aren’t psychic. He isn’t psychic. Expecting the people around me to read my mind is something that really does not work. I make it a policy to not expect people to know what I am thinking unless I have told them. If I have told them, then I can expect them to know. I do expect the people around me to tell me what they need, and if they tell me that they need X I believe them….

    …and this leads me to believe that being around someone like you would be as confusing as hell to someone like me. I would never know what you wanted or needed, really, because you don’t ever say it directly, do you? You had to negotiate multiple unstated rule labyrinths when growing up, so that is normal for you. I didn’t. It’s not normal for me. I suspect that it isn’t normal for your guy’s roommate, either.

    Your internal unstated rule set is different. I respectfully suggest that you discover a different way of doing things, because expecting other people to just KNOW because you were expected to, growing up, is going to bite you in the ass sooner or later.

    Good luck.

  27. xenu01 said:

    I want to reach out to you, Guelta, because I feel you.

    I will tell you what it is at the root of things, for me: I can be pretty much the perfect employee/friend/person for about 2-3 years, but then. Then, you will get to know me. ALL of me. My PR-face will falter sometimes. You’ll see me not at my best. Maybe I’ll get frustrated. Maybe I will make a mistake. This was OMG so amazingly frightening for the longest time, because I did not like the person I was beneath my perfect outside, even though being cheerful and willing and perfect is freaking EXHAUSTING. But I couldn’t slip up. Couldn’t be me. And so I have made certain to not stay at a job too long, and I am the BEST, the BEST at quitting. It helps that I moved a few times so I could have that fresh start, you know?

    Except- well- imagine this. Imagine that your friends are jobs. Imagine you have to have some references, that you keep for a long time, and it doesn’t look good, does it, if you’re over the age of 21 and yet none of your references are people who have known you less than three years? Imagine that you interview for a new friendship and that person calls around to old friends and they say, “Guelta? Hmm…well…she’s nice and competent, but distant, you know? I never felt like she was real with me. Except one time we had our first rough patch and she broke off our friendship!” Imagine that you don’t get the friendship/job because you’re not known as someone who can invest in others enough to grow and change and weather rough patches?

    This is not to say you should stay in abusive situations, Guelta. That is a whole other set of things. However. What if you’re considering cutting off your fiance’s roommate because he is now a person who can look at you and see a whole person, including that terrible thing that you did that sucked that one time? Do you know that I am friends RIGHT NOW with two women who once said they would never speak to me again?

    At the same time, you have difficulty expressing feelings, and it is not fair of him to expect you to express feelings the way HE wants you to. You have a right to express that.

    I suggest you split the cost with fiance, both emotional and $$$. It is not fair for him to saddle you with either or both responsibilities on your own. Especially since it’s his house and his roommate. Then, the three of you have a meeting in which you talk it out. You tell him you’re sorry, and you aren’t good at expressing feelings all the time but you are and he should believe you. Your fiance sucks it up and also says he is sorry. Then you find out an exact dollar amount and lay out a plan for paying back the roommate, in addition to any other things- monitoring for identity theft might be a concern- you guys can do. And then you consider the situation resolved, and back off a little to give roommate some space, and let him be mad and/or cold and/or hurt-feelinged at you for a while.

  28. JenniferP said:

    Guelta, I have a sincere question for you. Do you like this guy? Did you like him before that bad day?

    Because one of the things that was rubbing me the wrong way in your letter was that you expressed how he was different from you in how he handled things, and how he is your fiance’s friend so it would be majorly inconvenient to ditch him forever or grin and bear it, but nowhere in there did I hear “Also I’d miss him because he’s nice/friendly/cool/smart/it makes me happy to have a friend like him.”

    Somewhere in that territory you’re looking for between DITCH FOREVER and BESTIE WHO UNDERSTANDS MY SECRET HONOR CODE is learning to like other people for themselves. Affection for the other person is a big part of getting through a rough patch. If you don’t actually like him, I can see why the whole thing smacks of effort right now.

    • Jenna said:

      To like someone else, it is often needful to like yourself….and I’m wondering whether she’s seeing much in herself beyond the cool competence, and excellent navigating of invisible, unstated rules.

      I happen to slightly envy the cool competence and excellent navigating of invisible rules. Slightly.

      However, who I am is a flawed but warm person who likes herself pretty well. Liking myself makes it easier for me to pick friends who I like, and who like me. I may need the people around me to tell me what they need rather than be able to pick it up from non verbal cues and body language, but, I’m happy a good portion of the time. I’m worth it.

      If someone is out of touch with their own emotions(and shutting down a scene because you don’t like it, and then blaming the other person for you shutting down the scene looks like “out of touch” to me) then they may have a problem liking other people for themselves. There’s too much focus on rules and shoulds and control for messy things like emotions and “like.”

      The coping mechanisms were learned, but, they are a little like heavy armor. It’s protective, yes, but it interferes with what you can see and do.

      • xenu01 said:

        I love this comment. ❤

      • I wanted to remark on the “heavy armor” thing. It’s more apt a metaphor than it seems, because: when you wear armor for long enough, you stop noticing it; moving in it becomes second nature, and you almost forget you’re wearing it. Until you fall down, when it suddenly becomes one of the hardest things in the world to lift your head up and look around for why you fell.

        • and by ‘more apt than it seems’ I mean it was already pretty good, but is made better if you know what wearing armor is like

  29. RedJohn said:

    As someone else who has roughly the same skillset and outlook (navy brat represent!) I have to say I thought Jennifer’s anger really interfered with her normally-awesome advice-giving. To me the question came off as “I’ve realized I have an emotional defense mechanism that was REALLY useful growing up and I’m coming to realize that while it does defend me, it’s coming with a bunch of negative side-effects that were clearly illustrated to me during this incident. I want to change, but this seems normal since I’ve done it successfully so long, while changes are going to be messy and embarassing. How can I make changes that feel stressful and unnatural to me go more easily?” (Please keep in mind this is how I interpreted LW’s question and there’s no proof I got it right.)

    It seems like talking how a person is “fake” and “kind of scary” when they’re asking for help in overcoming a behavior is just going to drive that person away from trying to change their ways. I remember being that way for a long period in my life too, and to this day I still have the little cliche devil pop up on my shoulder going “You know, you could just stop caring about this person. It’d be no loss to you.” I’ve gotten better at brushing him off my shoulder but when someone makes me really upset that’s still my go-to reaction.

    As to concrete advice to LW, I’d say a few things help:

    First off, embrace the intent behind your behaviors even if it feels cold and mechanical to do it. When I say a person looks nice out of the blue, yes, JOHN_UNIT_001 has decided target human should feel “happy” and is initiating “That is a pretty dress/suit on you” script. The compliment is a means to an end. But that end is [i]making a person HAPPY[/i]. If you’re taking actions to make someone feel good, that indicates you care enough about them to want to make them feel good, right?

    Second, forgive. I’ve found sometimes it’s just too hard to not cut that person out of mattering to me, and the best I can give is to cut them out with an intent to review in a month, or 6, or 12. If I just burnt that bridge I would have missed out on some cool friends and lovers with rough patches, and yet at the same time sometimes you just need to burn that bridge for yourself. The best compromise I’ve come across is burning the bridge and then carefully storing all the wood, hammers, nails, and concrete I’ll need right next to its smoking remains and going “This summer…”. The Cap’n herself explains how the ability to burn the bridge gives freedom to do so, but also freedom to choose NOT do so in the question right before yours: https://captainawkward.com/2012/06/05/264-my-in-laws-bugged-us-forever-to-give-them-a-grandchild-but-now-that-shes-here-theyre-not-interested/

    Finally, be okay with yourself. The way admitting you have a problem seems to inspire a lot of vitriol is going to make you want to go back to just shutting down, and I know the first two or three times I admitted I hated having to wear a mask ended with me running away and putting it right back on because people who had been okay with me as cheery robot were disgusted that I admitted to wearing a mask. Over time, though, if you keep it off you’ll accrue a Team You that lets you live mask-free. And the haters? Well, bridges are don’t stop being flammable just because you’re trying to keep the matchbox closed more often.

    tl:dr; you’re not a bad person for growing up with this defense mechanism, build team Maskless You, and it feels icky to not burn bridges at first but it’s more okay than you think.

    • Jenna said:

      This is good. Letter writers usually come here with the intent to listen to advice. We can’t see if they take it(and there might be the occasional flounce) but the intent, when writing, is to hear a different perspective.

      There are lots of different perspectives on this site.

      I don’t find the letter writer scary. I suspect the letter writer is under thirty….because if you haven’t dropped some of the armor by then it leaves marks and scars of its own.

      I do actually envy the control, somewhat, while still understanding that I don’t want or need it enough to actually work on acquiring it. Rereading the letter, it looks like there’s even a chirpy facade skill listed, which would probably have increased my earnings somewhat. Again,I envy it slightly, but, never worked on it.

      There is an inquiry In the letter as to how to patch things up. This is actually something I did work on, because MY failing, was that I didn’t want people to leave. I’m not professing great skill at this, mind you, just an interest and a willingness to work on it.

      First step, get in touch with what you actually feel. Your emotions and feelings are there even if you have been squelching them for years. Reacquaint yourself with them. This is not always as easy as it sounds. I hid my feelings for years because certain things would not have been acceptable to the person that I thought I wanted to stay. Finding your own preferences again can be tough.

      Second step is to actually tell the truth. Unless it is actually needed for some concrete reason, stop lying about even the little things. Especially the little things. You may get to practice your diplomacy in saying truthful things in ways that other people won’t be insulted by, but, do try to make truthfulness a habit. If you want coffee, then do say so. Don’t pretend you prefer green tea because you think your host will like that better. If you really want coffee you may have to provide it yourself, but, is that a reason to not drink what you actually prefer? Ask for what you actually want. This only works if you have done step one and know, though.

      Third….most of life is simply showing up. If you want to mend fences with someone, then keep in contact, do things with them occasionally, keep them as part of your life and in with your other routine habits. Time smooths a lot of roughness if you keep speaking to one another, keep doing things together, are a part of one another’s lives.

      The rest is just treating the people around you like people….distinct individuals whose habits, likes, and dislikes, and histories are vastly different one from another. Pay attention, listen, and learn who they are, actually, under THEIR masks. All of us have armor and coping mechanisms, but some of us are a little better at taking them off, sometimes.

    • T.J. said:

      Cosigned. What I got from LW – that, frankly, I don’t think LW even really quite understands fully at this point (not an insult, just an observation) is that the coping mechanisms of growing up are no longer working. And, you know, we have a decent club going here – growing up in rich suburbia with working class parents represent! Having a good public face is absolutely an asset when you’re around people who you wouldn’t trust with a Bic pen, and when you have a friendship turnaround of a few years, it starts to feel like what’s normal. It doesn’t have to be, but you have to actively try to change that.

      This from LW struck me particularly on a second read: “it is indicative of a larger issue I’ve been facing recently.”
      People get hurt – including LW, hence the “well, maybe I should just disengage from this friendship, then.” Thing is, friendships include hurt – you have to work on the words of it all. In social service non-profits that I used to be heavily involved in (and still am to a certain extent), we actually have an Oops/Ouch Rule. Someone says something that hurt you? Say “ouch! When you said [content of what they said], it sounded like [how you perceived it].” The other person can then say, “Oops! When I said [content of what they said], I actually meant [a much better rephrase of what they said].” I think what’s going on here is LW is saying “I made a mistake, I tried my best to repair it, and that’s all that can be done, right?” and Fiance’s Best Friend is like “ouch! I actually didn’t want you to just offer to pay for it, I kind of wanted to know that you know you messed up and this affected me a lot in a way that it didn’t affect you.” And since LW has coping skills that no longer fit this situation, the next order is to make an appropriate public show of what they think Fiance’s Best Friend wants or to severe the relationship. …when these are not the only two options. Obviously, this is me as a random internet stranger trying to read the mind of someone I don’t know with limited information, so YMMV.

      Furthermore: yes, therapy is a good idea! And as someone who also has had to redefine my own coping skills – particularly of the people-pleasing kind – it is a difficult thing to undertake. For me, it’s helped to think of it as more of an emotional tune-up than Psychological Counseling – like a doctor’s visit for a rare condition going on with your emotions, where all the symptoms have to be described by you so that the doctor can do their job. Yes, of course they’re another person… but they’ve gone to school for this and have to do this sort of thing every day. Describe your symptoms, even if it comes out in stories like this. The therapist can then go, “okay, this is what I’m hearing you’re saying.” And you can either say “yeah! that sounds about right! how about we talk more about that!” or “no, actually, I meant ______.” Is it kind of awkward when you’re used to having The Perfect Public Persona? Yep. Is it necessary? IMHO, yes.

      • Kate said:

        “coping mechanisms of growing up are no longer working. ”

        Perfect. Seriously everybody needs therapy. At least the LW seems to realize on a deeper level that what worked before isn’t working now and that can be a HUGE step toward self awareness, if she choose it. And while she’s at it, I dearly hope she takes another look at the dynamic between herself, her fiance, and his friend/roommate. Unless you’re in the midwest where alot of towns leave their front doors unlock, what man asks his soon-to-be-sleeping fiance to leave the front door unlock?

    • Guelta said:

      ” I have to say I thought Jennifer’s anger really interfered with her normally-awesome advice-giving. To me the question came off as “I’ve realized I have an emotional defense mechanism that was REALLY useful growing up and I’m coming to realize that while it does defend me, it’s coming with a bunch of negative side-effects that were clearly illustrated to me during this incident. I want to change, but this seems normal since I’ve done it successfully so long, while changes are going to be messy and embarassing. How can I make changes that feel stressful and unnatural to me go more easily?””

      Yes. A thousand times yes. I wonder if I’d have pissed so many people off if I’d just said it like that. And I also guiltily confess to being a bit driven away. The response I got was not what I was expecting at all, and as I skimmed over the (holy shit) 100+ comments I sort of felt betrayed by an advice column, if that’s not too absurd to contemplate. Like “Here’s my problem, I can has advice” and then I got “You’re such a shit person you should just crawl in a hole and die.” Also my favorite “Get therapy please” as a backhanded sort of insult. Normally Captain Awkward is so supportive and finds the neat, precise answer to help her askers, and I spent about an hour trying to figure out if I was actually a shit person or if there was something I’d missed about my audience. Team me seemed to be thin on the ground. I swore off all blogs and advice columns that morning to find the flaw in myself or in the medium. You and a few other commentors made me realize that I shouldn’t let the ugly sucker punch of shock from the internet get in the way of solving my real-life problems, and taking the negative advice to heart would only hurt me. I’ve already bounced around the idea of a “Christmas List” as a list of friends to keep in the grey area who hear about my life every year, and I like your bridge toolbox metaphor. I might have to install one of those on my utility belt as well. And thank you so much again for being the internet version of Team Me!

      • alphakitty said:

        You know, it’s ironic: I think a little bit of what happened is that, in an effort to put your best foot forward, you put on some of that icy gloss you use for professional first impressions, and it totally backfired, because this is not a crowd that relates to that and thinks “ooh, she’s so grown up and professional and competent,” this is a crowd that goes …. well, you know how they went, and it was no prettier than your initial impression.

        Happily, you’ve gotten realer and realer as the dialogue has gone on, and the real you seems to be pretty likable. Yeah, you’ve got with issues, but duh — we all have issues. Hopefully this process, while painful, may have helped you suss out just what yours are, and give you some ideas how to deal with them. I, for one, really favor sticking with the real you and taking the risk of putting her out there a bit more.

        • I would agree with this but I would also add… I think in your attempt to put forth your professional glossy story, you said a bunch of stuff but you actually didn’t say “Here’s my problem, I can has advice.” From your follow-up comments, it seems like your problem is that expressing your emotions–even your real emotions–feels like work, and you need to find some sort of balance between not working for free and not having people assume you don’t care about them because you haven’t expressed it at all. This is, in part, because in your follow-up comments, you have mentioned your natural ways of dealing with things, what you feel was the expected/work response to things, and your actual feelings.

          In your original post, you forgot to tell us whether or not you felt bad that Fiance’s Roommate’s laptop got stolen, and as such, it was possible to read the letter to be either about expressing emotions, or about having them in the first place. (I think one commenter has already pointed out that you specifically told us that your fiance felt bad, but not whether you did.) When I first read your letter, I read it as “This guy expects me to feel bad about my role in this bad thing happening to him, and I resent having to fake giving a shit about it, and a Real Friend would be okay with my ‘genuine reactions/personality’, which is where I don’t give a shit when bad things happen to my friends.” And then I was like “Christ, what an asshole.” (I am glad to find out that this is not actually the case!)

          Maybe you feel like it should be obvious that you felt bad and so you shouldn’t have to tell us, or Fiance’s Roommate, for that matter. You may feel like it is somewhat insulting that he wouldn’t just assume that of course you feel bad about it even if you don’t express it, what kind of asshole does he think you are. But unfortunately, the world is full of insensitive assholes who actually don’t give a shit when bad things happen to their friends, and so it is necessary to explicitly communicate that you aren’t one of them.

          • VoIP said:

            “In your original post, you forgot to tell us whether or not you felt bad that Fiance’s Roommate’s laptop got stolen, and as such, it was possible to read the letter to be either about expressing emotions, or about having them in the first place.”

            You know, I have Asperger’s, and a lot of the time, I really don’t have emotions when things happen to other people. I try to focus on doing the right thing for them, but I can’t make myself feel on their behalf no matter what others want from me. Not to mention that I think the implicit conflation of feelings with morality that you seem to be doing is pretty simplistic.

          • KL said:

            VoIP – calling someone an asshole isn’t a moral judgement; it’s a social one.

      • RedJohn said:

        If it’s any consolation, this is sort of a funny teachable moment. When I first read the Captain’s reply, my reaction was pretty much the same: “Oh wow, I’ve misread Jennifer this entire time, she dislikes me and doesn’t even KNOW me yet! I should just go away and never bother with this blog again!-SOB!-…-FLAMBÉ!-” It took me a bit to quash that thought and actually help instead of just trying to silently waltz out. I’m glad to hear that practicing what I preach paid off, and staying around and Using My Words actually took us to a better endpoint than my starting reaction. And I’m also pretty chuffed that you count me as part of Team You. Thanks for being awesome.

        • Cora said:

          I had the same “teachable moment” where I went, “Oh shit, this group of people who I thought were copacetic think that people like me are icky and gross. I’d better just go away; clearly my damage is too damaged for these cool and together people.” But I took a few deep breaths and said a few things that seem to have been useful? And that was definitely better than going “well I must suck then.”

          • Just a Reader said:

            I’m a fairly avid reader of Captain Awkward (and I generally really like it!), though I’ve never felt moved to comment before now, and I also had this reaction to some of what went down here: “Oh shit, this group of people who I thought were copacetic think that people like me are icky and gross. I’d better just go away; clearly my damage is too damaged for these cool and together people.” (I don’t know about you, but one of my deepest terrors is, of course, that I am actually so irremediably damaged that if I’m ever honest and show people how I Really Am, then they will quickly conclude I’m “creepy” and “chilling” and will attack me for it! Which… yeah.)

            So I wanted to say thanks, to you and to the other commenters who came in and reframed things a little–the things you said have been useful, to this anon too. 🙂 And y’all made me better able to appreciate the good advice/valid perspective that was there, objectively speaking, both in the Captain’s post and in some of the harsher comments.

          • Echoing the sentiments of others: I think a lot of the negative reactions were because most of us did not perceive a request for help with a non-helpful coping mechanism. I certainly didn’t. I perceived “should I drop-kick this friendship because this person expects me to have feelings and I only do that when I’m being paid for it.” The translations supplied by the various third parties in the Awkward Army completely changed things.

            Guelta: “Talk to a therapist” is never an insult in Awkwardville. It’s more like “You seem to be a real and complex person, whose life is not so simplistic that all can be made right via the musings of strangers on the internet.” If the issue is that the way you relate to people doesn’t lend itself to sustaining friendships or getting past temporary interpersonal difficulties, and you want to change that, then having someone who can sit down and have an actual conversation with you about who you are and how you got there and where you want to be, who also happens to be well-trained in the field of interpersonal relationships, and who will be a staunch member of Team You — that’s got a way better chance of being useful than anything the Awkward Army can say or do.

            Cora and Just a Reader: I suspect, deep down inside, a lot of people who are carrying around damage think that, if other people knew just how damaged we really were, they’d scream and run, or shun us forever, or something. I also suspect that some of the people we’re afraid would react badly are too busy worrying that we’d want nothing to do with them if we knew who they really were. I’ve only ever cut off one person, and it wasn’t because of the magnitude of his damage; it was because he dealt with it by drinking, using illegal drugs, and becoming abusive.

      • JenniferP said:

        Guelta,

        There’s an apocryphal story about Marlon Brando about how he’d test a director when he worked with him for the first time. He’d do one take where he gave it his all, and then he’d phone it in for one take, and he’d watch to see which one you printed. God help you if you chose the wrong one, because he’d then take it as an excuse to phone it in for the rest of the shoot (or commit wacky Brando hijinks to completely disrupt everything) because you were no longer “worthy” of his talents.

        This story was presented to me as evidence of Brando’s rare genius – he saved up his talent only for worthy people, you see, like it was some finite resource that would dry up. I see it as a big example of NOT COOL, BRANDO. When you engineer situations for people to prove their unworthiness so that you don’t have to care about them, it’s manipulative and crappy. Also, I have a feeling that the two takes looked pretty much the same to everyone but Brando, to say nothing of possible camera glitches or it being a good take for the other actor in the scene and you know you’re going to cut anyway…but I digress. Maybe he was acting out of self-protective reasons because of his childhood, but the result/behavior was that you either magically tailored your response to his top secret head games or you failed forever.

        Reading your letter (which was the only thing I had to go on when I responded, and since you say below that you prefer/stand by it we’ll stick with that), I don’t think you like your so-called friend. I think the only reason you don’t ditch him forever is that your fiance’s relationship with him makes it inconvenient. I think you took a moment where he was going through something really upsetting and blamed him for not reacting in a way that was magically and perfectly tailored to what would be easy and comfortable for you. You eventually came to an insight about that in the comments – whoa, maybe it wasn’t about me right then and I should cut him some slack? – which, good, I’m glad. I think that I can’t explain to you how to patch up relationships because so much of it depends on liking the other person for who they are and putting that affection uppermost in your interactions.

        It’s commendable that you’re figuring out that the old pattern doesn’t work anymore and seeking a change, and I’m glad other commenters were better able to read between the lines of your upbringing and offer you more sympathetic and compassionate advice than I could and to offer me a more sympathetic and understandable description of your situation than you could.

        You’re big on being genuine to those you respect even if it doesn’t present as “nice,” so maybe you’ll understand this: My honest reaction to the person I saw in that letter was dismay and dislike, and you set off a lot of personal alarm bells I have from my own history. I think you displayed a lack of empathy. I think you displayed magical thinking about your own ability to read & mollify people, and when it didn’t pan out you blamed them for not perfectly anticipating your needs instead of thinking about whether you might just have been wrong. I think you turned the entire roommate break-in/computer situation around until it was all about how you were the real victim. I think you presented your ability to fake it and manipulate people as something you resent having to do and wish you could overcome but also something to brag about because it makes you feel smarter than other people. I try on the whole to be sympathetic to letter writers, but the attitudes in your letters are big screaming red flags I have about people I let into my life and big searing reminders of people I had to run away from in the past.

        We could use the word “unprofessional” to describe me letting my strong and instant dislike show so much in my response. But I’m not a professional. I’m not objective. And I’m not a calming manatee – Sometimes my honest answer is “SERIOUSLY? COME ON, NOW.”

        I’ll be thinking about this one for a while, especially if I get another letter that hits me so strongly. In a way my dilemma will be the same as yours: engage, perhaps imperfectly vs. DELETE FOREVER.

        • Awkward Niece said:

          I haven’t said anything on this thread yet, but Captain: I really enjoyed your response. I thought it was measured and fair and also very interesting. Sometimes the best advice IS to check yourself, and question what impacts your thoughts and behaviours are having on others and yourself. Some people have suggested that you should have been more generous to the LW’s point of view just because zie had written in to you, and should thus be seen as part of the Awkward Army. I dislike this idea for two reasons: 1) anyone can write in to this blog! and more substantively, 2) If that were the case this in my mind would seriously diminish the effectiveness and honesty of your advice! Even those of us who are devoted footsoldiers of the first battalion of Awkward are sometimes jerks! And it is very important for us to remember that.

          I felt like the Captain’s refusal to entirely swallow the LW’s account and interpretation of events very instructive, it was an object lesson to me in how to maintain control of one’s own reactions and draw boundaries. I found the original letter fairly coercive in its claiming of “this happened and it meant this and you must agree with me”. I was inspired to see the Captain courteously but firmly refusing complete agreement and validation. I think it shows that she walks the walk.

          Also, LW, the recommendation of therapy is not ‘backhanded’. The Captain recommends it so frequently she even wrote a post explaining why. Probably about 60% of letter-writers get that recommendation! So you should definitely not feel attacked by that. In CA-ese ‘try therapy’ definitely does not mean ‘there is something wrong with you’.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Whoa. Considering the fact that the people who suggested therapy ALSO are in therapy or have been in therapy in the past, I do not know what to say to the backhanded insult charge. Those suggestions were made in good faith. Do you think therapy is some sort of shameful thing?

        I’m not going to rehash all of the parts of the letter that rubbed people the wrong way–others have done it a lot better than me–but I’ll say that I think you need to really look at how you came across in that letter (instead of “standing by it” as you are later in the comments) and consider why your PR face has backfired. Frankly, we all had a lot more sympathy for you in your follow ups about the situation. Even before then, the folks on Team Harsh seemed to have sympathy for you but for bigger reasons–the whole “emotions are work” thing that you portrayed in your letter and the mainly self-imposed emotional isolation that comes out was sad. Not for nothing, but they’re seeing a bigger issue. And several saw it and suggested therapy because they can relate to you.

        So, I’m going to sound like the captain of Team Harsh here, but fuck it–in all of these situations, be they with friendships going sour, fiance’s irritating roommate, or people on the internet reacting to your letter, you’re the common denominator. And it does seem to be rooted in your insistence on presenting a public face and relegating honesty to those people you only “respect.” Which–think about this. Your angry at our honest reactions, yet you save dishonest public face reactions for those you don’t respect. Do you see the disconnect there?

        People react to the initial letters. And while a couple of people thought the Captain and commenters were being too harsh, I am somewhat in disagreement with them. There were one or two commenters who went over the line, but in general people were being blunt and honest in their reactions to you. There have been letters here that elicited harsh reactions and for good reason–I can think of one in particular that to this day sets off my alarm bells and I think my harsh reaction to it was 100% justified and make no apologies for it.

        Frankly, my Team Me has no compunction on being like SHEELZ WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A GRADE-A ASSHOLE CUT IT OUT CUPCAKE when I come across as an asshole, and I do the same thing. When people are in your corner they are going to tell you when you’re fucking up.

  30. VoIP said:

    I still want to know wtf is up with your fiance, LW. He asked you to leave the door open for him while you slept–an unreasonable request, in my opinion–doesn’t lock it behind him, then leaves you to patch shit up with his friend. The hell?

  31. ceiswyn said:

    “How on earth do people patch things up with others who aren’t very sympathetic in terms of personality? Can it be done at all? Will I always have to pretend?”

    Everybody pretends. That’s the grease in the wheels of social interaction. We call it ‘being polite’.

    It is necessary and desirable to let friends see the ‘real you’, but everybody’s ‘real self’ is just a bit indigestible. We take out our annoyance at ourselves on others, we get angry about things that really don’t matter, we find others’ grief at real and tragic situations just a bit boring. But we don’t cut them out of our lives for expecting us to be remorseful when we haven’t managed to reach that stage yet, we do not unleash the full fury of our righteous wrath when reminding our housemate to put the butter back in the fridge, and we don’t yawn in the face of someone who’s just lost someone. Or at least, we try not to.

    There isn’t a discrete line of genuine/fake that cuts through all our interactions with people. We don’t unveil our True Selves like a supernova and expect people to accept the whole thing, the whole time. Show me two people who show each other their True Self 100% of the time, and I’ll show you two people who will end up at daggers drawn in short order.

    We smooth out each others’ rough edges by giving and accepting polite fictions. There’s a whole world between whacking someone in the face with your True Self and lying to them. You can act the way you know you’ll feel when you’ve stopped overreacting but don’t feel quite yet. You can keep your own feelings hidden because their happiness is more important to you than the self-centred desire to let your feelings out to jump up at them like a badly-trained dog. None of this is lying. It’s just what you do to get along with people: /especially/ with people you care about.

    And people are WAY better at sensing fakes than you might assume.

    I used to hide my feelings a lot, in the hope that people would prove themselves my True Friends by reacting to my True Feelings, rather than the mask.

    People didn’t, and even while it hurt me I quietly prided on myself on my Oscar-winning acting skills. Until it was pointed out to me that most of them had totally seen through my mask, they just weren’t reacting to my True Feelings because either a) I was obviously trying to hide them so they were deliberately being polite and unintrusive by pretending not to notice or b) they’d not only seen my True Feelings but figured out what I was doing, and declined to be manipulated. I lost so many potential friends that way.

    Since then I have followed the simple maxim of ‘don’t lie to people unless you want them to believe you’. And it has stood me in good stead 🙂

  32. I am both heartened at the constructive feedback on this post, and disheartened by a lot of the kneejerk judgementalism. Please, let’s remember that LWs are people, too, and harshly negative feedback (as opposed to constructive feedback) is extremely unhelpful.

  33. Guelta said:

    LW here: Sorry if the original letter was unclear, the conversation went more or less like this:
    Fiance and I arrive home. I’m exhausted and tell him I’m going to go take a nap. I’m the last one in the door and he says “Oh, could you leave it open? I need to go out and get the mail.” I say “Okayzzzzzzzzz”. He hangs his coat up, putzes about out of sight for a moment, then snuggles up and says “Actually, a nap sounds like a brilliant idea.” Next thing I know, Fiance is waking me up with “I have bad news. Roommate just got robbed. The door was open and his laptop is gone”

    So I shuffle out to the living room in a vague panic. Was anything else stolen? Namely, my purse, which was also sitting there in plain sight? Roommate is on the phone with his father outside. Fiance sinks into the couch, buries his head in his hands, starts to pull his hair, and begins murmuring about how everything in the world is his fault. I pull his hands out of his hair, make him look at me, and tell him that this is just something we have to deal with, we have to be strong for roommate etc. Fiance’s face is completely white and his speech is reedy. I talk fiance through steps: call police, apologize, offer to reimburse, check if anything else is missing etc. There is a brief conversation on how to come up with $1,500 dollars to replace the laptop as well. I suggest fiance lend roommate the extra laptop I got him for his birthday. I tell him that everything is not all his fault, I was the one who physically left the door open, and I was in a better state to do the talking, so when the roommate walked back in I’d manage the conflict and his job was to not break down. Roommate walks back inside.

    I wait for roommate to get off the phone. Roomate does, wanders outside our range of vision, then comes to sit down next to us. Fiance apologizes. Roommate stares. I also apologize, tell him that fiance and I *insist* on reimbursing him, and begin to offer anything else roommate may need. I don’t even get to the borrowed laptop part. Roommate cuts me off with a “Guelta, just stop talking, okay, just stop.” I stop. Roommate calls father again and wanders around the apartment for another half hour. Fiance looks stricken, so I spend time reminding him that roommate needs him to be thinking of roommate, not of how sorry he is. Silence ensues.

    Roommate walks back in and starts a few sentences about idiots who leave doors open, what possessed us, etc. Fiance and I both apologize again. Roommate turn to me and goes, “And YOU! (points) I shut you up earlier because I really don’t need your f*cking politicizing right now.” I am stung. He rejected my honest apology as “politicizing”? Fine, I can take a hint. Roommate leaves and I take a leaf out of fiance’s book and sink into my hands, grip my hair firmly, and focus on looking as lost and miserable as possible. Roommate comes back, looks at us for several minutes in silence, and says “Buy me a pizza and we’ll call it even.” He sounds satisfied. I’m irritated, but keep my SadFace on, buy pizza, let roommate do the rest of the talking, and excuse myself in the name of work I should be doing to go home. My Fiance did not *make* me take the blame, I was actually the one who deemed it best initially given the circumstance.

    However the more I thought about the roommate’s response the angrier I became, because I’m not in the habit of keeping friends over rough patches because I’m never around long enough for it to get to that. The fact that roommate was unhappy until I forced a visibly miserable reaction struck me as something distinctly unattractive in a person. Who gets off on the misery of others? An apology, sincere and heartfelt wasn’t enough? I don’t put on shows of emotion for friends, but sometimes the job requires it. How dare he ask me to be fake with him, etc etc. That’s what was going through my head at the time. In hindsight, he probably wasn’t even thinking about what he subconsciously wanted from me, he just figured if he were in my place he’d be acting like my fiance and the fact that I was so comparatively cool struck him as unconscionably obnoxious.

    • Guelta said:

      Also as far as me liking roommate, I don’t dislike him. I just find him needy. He is a lot more friendly in general than I am or usually have time for. He also expects that everyone is as emotive as he is, so he’s told me he finds me cold a few times. By his definition, hell, I’m cold with fiance. I’ll tell fiance I love him once, not over and over again until someone gets tired and finally hangs up the phone. I therefore find him a nice guy, but not someone who’s super on my wavelength I guess. He’s better in teaspoon doses. If it were just me, I would remain friends for as long as I’m in this city, and then let it naturally drift away with time (effectively severing the friendship). But he’s fiance’s Best Friend, and fiance doesn’t make a habit of moving on from friendships, and so it looks like that option is probably not available.

      • So, it kind of sounds like roommate isn’t really a friend, making the question not, “how do I patch things up with my friend?” but rather, “how do I patch things up with my fiance’s friend, whom I could take or leave?” Friendships take effort, especially the kind of friendships where we try to be generous and supportive, and it doesn’t sound like either you or roommate want that kind of friendship with each other. Which argues for some of that middle ground between “knows me like I know myself” and “cut out of my life” that the Captain was advocating.

      • Sheelzebub said:

        Ah, this answers some of my questions. Then I’d suggest you keep things civil with him. (Honestly, I had a BF who’d do the I love you thing over and over again when I tried to end our phone conversations and got stroppy when I tried to cut it short and it irritated the fuck out of me. FFS, LET ME OFF THE PHONE I AM ABOUT TO GO INTO INSULIN SHOCK.)

        So–as far as this guy goes, it sounds like basic incompatibility. I’d suggest just letting him be who he is and he can emote all over the place if he wants to. And when he gets pissed off he can be that way and you’ll know that that is the way he operates. You don’t have to be friends with him (it sounds like you never really were).

        As far as your friendships go, I’d suggest this: ask yourself why you’re thinking of doing the slow fade. The friendships I’ve had that have faded have been because we were in different life phases, grew apart, etc. and it was kind of a mutual thing. I don’t usually think to myself “I think I’ll do a slow fade.” It’s a pretty exceptional thing. So ask yourself why you’re considering this with a friend: Do you find the person toxic? Are they actively bad to you? Do you just have nothing in common? Etc.

        Sometimes friends and I need short breaks from one another–so we might go a month or so without much contact and then we’ll resume. Sometimes it’s just a matter of using our words. “J, every time we see each other these days you only talk about how evil your husband’s ex is. It’s getting exhausting and I feel like you don’t want to talk about anything else or listen to what I have to say.” Or to me: “Sheelz, you’ve been really pissed off and irritable lately and it’s getting on my tits. What the fuck is up with you these days?”

        The thing is, like you, I moved around a lot when I was a kid. So I’m pretty sanguine with goodbyes and life changes and evolving friendships and slow fades. (I got more irritated with a friend who complained about a mutual friend’s sudden busyness after she got married and had kids–and I was all, dude, she’s married now and has kids, her life is different.)

        You don’t have to be what you’re not–if you’re not super-friendly, that’s okay. What concerns me is that you seem to have built a moat around yourself and it is difficult for people get close to you. And so I will suggest some therapy here, so that you can figure out what’s fueling this and develop ways to change it.

    • Sheelzebub said:

      Guelta, thank you for the clarification. Just a few Monday-morning quarterbacking suggestions:

      1) Next time, let your BF muddle through this stuff, whether or not you feel he’s collected enough to do so. I know you were trying to make the situation better, but you’re a) not at work and b) not your fiance’s mother. It might have actually simmered things down if your fiance actually said something to the roommate and apologized. And honestly, fighting and getting pissed off isn’t the worst thing in the world.

      Also, his roommate may have dealt a bit better if your fiance interacted with him instead of you acting as a buffer. Yes, a competent and cool and very remorseful buffer, but a buffer nonetheless.

      2) I get where your irritation with roommate comes from, I truly do. I’d probably tell him to go fuck himself, which is also NOT a good way to react, so don’t do that. But there’s nothing wrong with being quiet and letting him cool down. He was pissed off. I can’t read minds, but he might have been pissed off with his *roommate* for leaving the door wide open and gotten pissed at you for covering/speaking for him. I don’t know. Again, not a mind-reader.

      3) You don’t know for sure that roommate expected the type of hair-clutching remorse from you that your roommate was displaying. You only knew that he was pissed off. The thing is, you don’t know that the politicizing comment was about the way you reacted, or about you speaking for you and your fiance or about something else. There was no hint, there were a just a lot of assumptions about what the roommate meant. After you displayed the hair-clutching remorse face, he may have dropped it because now it wasn’t just about your fiance’s feelings it was about your (presented) feelings. Again, let him be pissed. Just back away and back off.

      4) You were absolutely right that it wasn’t about your fiance’s guilt, it was about the roommate (at the time, though it is also about your feelings around having someone come into your apartment while you were sleeping and steal shit).

      5) I don’t know how you feel/felt about the roommate, but I will say this–if you want to actually repair the relationship, I’d suggest you talk honestly with him. Not as in a “this is just the way I am deal with it” way, but a “Look, I don’t understand where the politicizing comment came from. We wanted to do the right thing and fiance was beside himself and so I figured I’d be the one to talk to you. I felt shitty about the theft and us leaving the door open, and I go into fix-it mode when I fuck up. I’m just not sure what I did when I was talking to you that pissed you off so much–I get that you were pissed off over the door. I don’t get what I did after that made you so angry. Can you help me out here so I don’t do it again?”

      Keep in mind, he might have just been pissed off and taken it out on the person who was talking to him. In other words, nothing anyone could have said or done would have cooled him off at that moment.

      I don’t know if there are other issues or if his roommate was just pissed pissed PISSED and needed to be pissed pissed PISSED. Sometimes being angry is like riding a bicycle with brakes downhill–the apologies are good but you can’t quite stop til you crash. (/bad metaphor) Sometimes people are going to be angry for a while. Unless you sold their pets to space aliens or something like that, they will get over it more often than not.

      • IAWTC 100%. Also, Guelta, I know I said something like this before, but I’m struck more by it now — the way you describe the whole ordeal in your followup is totally different from how you described it in your initial letter. I think it’s really possible that what you are trying to communicate with people (the roommate, us, etc) is not actually what you *are* communicating with people. An honest talk with the roomie might help to clear the air, especially if you are both trying to second-guess what the other is feeling.

        • Guelta said:

          When I was writing the letter I was angry and trying to put distance between roommate and myself. My usual reaction to being hurt is not “I’m sad now” but rather “Well then f*ck you too.” My tone, I think, conveyed that. It’s always been easier/more convenient to go with “your stupid hurtful opinions/my stupid hurtful actions can’t hurt me because I don’t even care about you so TORCH”. It sounds silly when put like that, which is why I tried to provide the context for why it’s just been easier to move on instead of repair relationships. Repairing takes a lot of time, and roommate might very well be the first person with whom I *have* to repair things. I do make friends easily, and when friends have a very high turnaround rate there’s not much point to getting too emotionally invested, particularly with people who aren’t magically in tune with me.

          I’m also not good with lingering sort-of friends, because I’ve never had them. I’ve only ever had family, (for whom I would do anything, suffer any burden etc, no matter how silly they are) fiance (for whom it took 2 years to *finally* make it to family status despite being in love for years as well), and very fleeting friends. I don’t understand how some people replace family with friends sometime around high school, and I’ve never minded having best friends whom I never see again once I’ve moved. The slow fade applies to everybody, except the *very* select few whom I’ve very recently (last 6 months) decided to try to keep in contact with outside my immediate proximity. I’m sort of poking my nose in the area of grey between WE’RE OVER and OMGBESTIES, but it’s not something I’m comfortable with *at all*. I’ve started with a “Christmas List”, or the list of people who will probably get one of those letters from me about how the family is doing every Christmas. It may seem stupid but I feel like the fishlizard that stepped on land For The Very First Time.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            If it makes you feel better, a lot of friendships fade/change over time and that is okay. And not every friend is going to be an OMGBESTIE. In fact, the people I could have sworn would have been besties with me turned out to be friendly acquaintances and the people whom I didn’t think I’d be that close to became very, very close friends.

            Over the past 10 years, friends have moved, changed jobs (to places where we no longer worked together) or I changed jobs, people have moved, etc. I learned (as someone who, like you, is sanguine about fades, etc.) that keeping in touch can be a tricky thing but not impossible. It’s the odd email and “hey, want to grab some coffee/come over for lunch/go to [cool place to walk around] this Saturday”? And it’s knowing that with some folks, they won’t be able to meet up or talk often because of life circumstances (distance, marriage and/or kids, health issues, family stuff, etc.). And that’s okay.

            Your immediate proximity friends will grow gradually but sustainably if you let it. You don’t have to be an emo river of FEELINGSBOMBS I promise you. But be respectful and empathetic and when you get into a tricky situation with someone, be honest about what you’re thinking and feeling. And know that friends argue and get pissed at each other but will usually get over it so it’s not the end of the world. No need to throw the kerosene and the torch on the bridge.

            Some of my closest friends live far from me. We will talk on the phone or (if they are within reasonable driving distance) meet up for dinner or coffee or brunch (or come to each other’s houses for such). Our friendship grew over time; it didn’t suddenly happen. Two people I’m close with I met through work, and while we all worked together we were all friendly but not as close as we are now. Then we hung out once or twice. Then one of them said her family’s summer place was going to be vacant on the weekend, did we want to come? Oh yes we did. So the three of us hung out and got a bit drunk on gin (oh, lord me and gin are frenemeis). Now we take turns having brunch or dinner at each other’s homes every three or four months.

            Another couple of friends of mine and I have gotten into the pattern of having the other two over for dinner (holy crap I see a pattern here).

            And another set of friends and I will get together and take long walks in some conservation land nearby. And another friend of mine is always up for unusual things or artsy things (craft exhibit? We’re there! Book swap? OMG where? etc.)

            But these friendships took a while to take root; now they do well and don’t need a lot of maintenance (though they need some–if I stopped calling or someone else stopped calling it would fade, obviously).

            And just FYI, none of us are in tune with each other (or weren’t at first), magically or otherwise. But we’re in tune with each other now, and it’s mainly because we know each other well. To be at that point you have to make yourself vulnerable to someone. Not right off the bat, but as you get to know them. If you’re comfortable with them and you like them, then do that –be vulnerable, be the admitted fuckup, be the person who isn’t perfect and sometimes can’t handle shit or has insecurities or whatever. And give them the room to be the same way. That’s how you really start to know each other.

            I hope I’m making sense. It’s late and the coffee’s wearing off!

          • saythisword said:

            Hey LW,

            I think noticing the difference in tone between your letter account of events and your comment account of events is important, because it seems like the issue you had with the response from the commentariat here is almost identical to the issue you had with your fiance’s roommate. In both cases, your initial presentation of yourself was intentionally clinical, more intent on logistics than emotion, and, in your opinion, more fully comprehensive.

            And yet in both cases, the result was a painful and apparently hurtful pushback. Which sucks! Being hurt is awful, on account of…the hurting. At the same time, however, roommate AND comment section were both reacting not to you and your real hurt feelings and your real attempt to help and your real attempt to protect your partner– nor COULD they, because you didn’t really explain any of those things up front. Your original letter, in an attempt to tell the story from a distance, goes so far out into space that it obscures all the human emotions and complications that are necessary for a nuanced response to your essential question. “Should I destroy this relationship” is nowhere near “I tried to help and got shit for it, so give me some coping mechanisms for making this better while I still feel offended and misunderstood”– and you asked the former question first.

            A few things:
            -I had someone in my department decide she hated me (she does that) and start saying horrible, hurtful things about me (while I was at a family funeral, no less). I was hurt, but not mad, and when people asked me why, I always said “if she could believe those things about me, then she doesn’t know me. And I can’t really take her criticisms seriously if they are aimed at a person who doesn’t exist.” You’ve gotten some blowback that was aimed at the crafted persona you used in your letter– but it sounds like the real you is a lot more human. Try to remember that the commenters weren’t actually horrified by YOUR behavior, but the clinical self you first presented. We have all done things that sound horrifying and monstrous if told in an absence of context or affect, because we are human– that does not make us all horrific monsters.
            -Agreed with everyone else saying that there is a huge range of possibility in between “besties for alwaysssss” and “I’d better never see you on this side of the Rio Grande again, pardner”. I have friends I enjoy but don’t trust, friends I’m happy to see but only when they make the plans (bc they won’t show up otherwise), acquaintances I adore but haven’t had the chance to know better, friends I haven’t seen in years but still click “like” on my status updates, people I am nice to just because I just like hearing stories about their weird lives (not proud of that one), and the list goes on and on. Friendships are not the utilities that you have to switch off before you move. They can grow and change and STILL EXIST.
            -Have you considered reaching out and trying to start up an old friendship again? I mean, if I don’t hear from someone in five years, and then I get a letter or a call from them, my first thought is not “Oh man, they faded me out, and now s/he’s CALLING ME??? The NERVE!” I just think that person is bad at keeping in touch. It might be an interesting experiment for you, and one that could potentially show how fluid friendships really are.
            -The Captain often reminds us all that other people’s feelings are not our responsibility, and while that advice might not seem immediately applicable to your situation, I think it is still something to think about. If the roommate was being (rightfully) pissed and got kind of nasty and personal while doing it, then that sucks, but that is his reaction that he had, and he is allowed to have it, just as you are allowed to be annoyed by it. You perceived him as being placated by your performance of remorse, but maybe he just cooled down because he needed more time, or snapping at you helped him vent, or talking on the phone helped him calm down, or he remembered that he wanted a new laptop anyway, or he started to feel bad for his behavior but didn’t know how to apologize. Just as his anger is not your responsibility, so too is his switch to “less angry”…NOT your responsibility, i.e., not necessarily attributable to whatever you did. It’s like that old fable of the rooster who thought his own crow caused the sun to rise every morning– just because your action precedes an event does not mean you must have caused it.

            I hope your future naps prove less eventful!

          • Guelta said:

            See, but I *hate* being forced to express that. I also dislike it in others (fiance knows better than to try to be kissy or cuddly in public, unlike roommate) but that’s beside the point. I still stand by my first letter because I like it better on a personal level than the “here, let me display my emotions for your reading pleasure” that I did later on because many people confused *distant* with *emotionless asshole*. It’s incidentally the problem I have with sitcoms in that for some reason people get off on observing others’ reactions to things. Whenever I see it, it tends to get labelled as “emotional vampirism” in my head. I can perform emotions well in part because I know I’m giving people what they want to see and I don’t have to worry about confusion/insecurity etc. The notion that displaying emotion here makes me more “real” is trying because the more real me is the me who clinically observes to others what she’s privately working out in her own head. For me, using feely words like “I felt so bad” and “I was hurt” and “remorseful was I” is actually more manipulative of me than saying “this adverse thing happened so now I need to make a choice based on what I value in people” because the feelings are stated in reaction to other people’s needs, not my own. My own need is to get an objective opinion unbiased by words which subconsciously elicit reactions. I get that’s what this audience apparently needs, but it took overcoming my natural aversion to provide it.

          • T.J. said:

            A few things:
            1. Without doing armchair psych, I’d encourage you to get some more neurological info. Is it possible you have something going on? Yes. Is it probable? I don’t know – I don’t know your makeup, nor am I a health professional of any sort. END.
            2. People aren’t interested in knowing your emotions because they want a show – well, SOME people do, but the average person is not a mind reader (barring any interesting scientific discoveries) and they want to know what’s fully going on. “It’s my fault your laptop was stolen and I feel bad that I did that” is not a wild show of emotion that gums up the reality of the events that took place (door improperly left open + theft = missing laptop) – it speaks to the reality of the situation. I think that’s rather why the reaction of some here is “HOLY HELL WHAT IS GOING ON?!” I’m hearing that you don’t like emotion and find it manipulative – that may well be something to look into further. Might you be just hyper-analytical? Absolutely. Might you be afraid of emotion? Quite possibly.
            3. You… totally don’t have to be friends with your fiance’s best friend. Would it be nice? Eh, yeah. But it doesn’t really sound like you ever were? If he refers to you not as “a friend” but as “my best friend’s fiance,” does that really break down your world? I’m thinking not, particularly since he’s “fiance’s best friend” to you, at least as this page is reflecting so far. And I know you can make friendly without BEING friends.
            4. I reiterate therapy.

          • My own need is to get an objective opinion unbiased by words which subconsciously elicit reactions

            LW, there is no such thing as an objective opinion. There are no such things as words that don’t subconsciously elicit reactions. That is not how language or opinions work. If you think it is, then you’re not as good at reading people as you think you are.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            Guelta, you were displaying emotions in your first letter, but they came off as arrogance and superiority with a dash of irritation at a roommate who didn’t calm right down when you offered to fix everything and was freaked out over the apartment door being open and his laptop being ripped off.

            Here’s the thing–you’re now talking about us and giving us what we need, and that your original letter was more “honest” in your eyes. But you were pissed and hurt that we didn’t give you what you needed even though our reactions were honest.

            We are not magical beings and we cannot read your mind. And you really cannot read ours, no matter what you may think about somehow knowing what we want, etc. You didn’t have to–and you didn’t–emote all over the place to get us to understand what was going on inside, you just explained the situation in more detail.

            It’s actually not manipulative to say what you’re feeling if you’re really feeling it. It might feel manipulative to you, but it’s actually, objectively not. What’s manipulative is to not say anything and decide once someone reacts to you in certain ways that they’ve failed an unspoken test and therefore they aren’t worthy of your time or honesty and you will now commence to cut them out of your life. (Fair enough if you just don’t like someone but come on. We are not mind readers.) Also, you’re not exactly being honest. You’re just being distant. Which, fine. I tend to be distant at first as well, and I’m crappy at showing my emotions in difficult situations, but the thing is, by the time my friends and I get to a difficult situation, they’re familiar enough with me from what I have said to them AND how I have behaved to know that this is the way I operate. I’m under the impression this is not the case with you–that you are superficially nice but that you keep people at arm’s length.

            There is a happy medium from emoting all over someone at dinner when you first get to know them and keeping someone you’ve known and generally like at arm’s length for several years.

  34. Celine said:

    Just what I like to read, a “supportive” advice column lambasting a letter writer who was brave enough to approach total strangers for help. Badly done, Captain Awkward, badly done. I really thought you’d do better.

    • I respectfully disagree. Just because someone has written to Captain Awkward doesn’t mean that s/he is entitled to have all of his or her behavior praised and supported no matter what. In this case the LW acted like a jerk, and CA gave it to her sugar-free. CA wasn’t cruel; she just told the LW very plainly why her jerk behavior was not okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, when someone acts like a jerk, s/he needs to be told that s/he’s acting like a jerk. Just my two cents.

      • Yes, “advice” is not the same as “support.”

      • RedJohn said:

        I think the issue was, the real question LW tried to ask was “Ye gods, I am acting like a jerk! I want to fix this! Captain, being a jerk has worked really well in the past, how can I kick the habit?” Telling people they’re a jerk when they’re asking how to stop being a jerk doesn’t actually teach anyone anything, and has a good chance of making the person asking for help shut down and not learn anything useful from the experience.

        • liyyspoon said:

          But, the thing is, the LW DIDN’T ask that. Some of the commenters, like you RedJohn, were able to perceive this extra question hiding in the original letter, maybe through the similarities in your upbringing or emotional responses to the LW. And that is great.

          But it’s not the Captain fault she missed that super-secret question (many other us did! I did for sure!) because it wasn’t put like that. I think it the LW had in fact written that exact question you wrote up there – ‘ Ye gods, I am acting like a jerk! I want to fix this! Captain, being a jerk has worked really well in the past, how can I kick the habit?’ – the Captain would have responded differently.

        • Sheelzebub said:

          That did not come through to me at all–it sounded like the LW was actually asking “must I always fake it with these people who REQUIRE it of me and just won’t be rational?” She didn’t own that she had a part in the problem other than to say “Hey I tend to burn bridges how can I stop doing this” but then followed up with things like “people expect me to put on a show for them and it’s something I only do for irrelevant people who I don’t respect.” Wow. Thta was, you know, a pretty awful thing to say and I do not blame the Captain *one bit* for showing her emotional reaction to that. The LW seems to think it’s her tendency to end friendships after three years that’s the problem, where CA and everyone sees from her letter that the problem is that she keeps people at arm’s length and secretly administers tests for them to “pass” to see who is worthy of her RealFace. I do not think CA was being cruel or nasty in her reply to her. Pissed off and aghast, yes.

          I remember one LW who tried to paint his GF as irrational and overly emotional, and as it turned out, he was the one who seemed to have issues and be into the dramz. I was pretty harsh with him–got more so when he came on trying to mansplain to us about how we were wrong and how his girlfriend really was overly emotional and not very mature for living with people he didn’t approve of, for taking a walk to clear her head after they broke up (because she was in a foreign country) and how she wouldn’t answer his constant calls/texts. I was pretty blunt with him and yes, I suppose harsh, but I make no apologies for it. When he complained about how people saw him, I said to him what I said to the LW here: you need to consider how you came across in your letter. I don’t know if he ever did. The LW here doesn’t seem to want to consider this, even though every single person here–even the ones who tried to be kind–had the same initial emotional reaction to her letter.

          • Ethyl said:

            I agree totally, Sheelzebub. The only thing I wanted to add, and I know the Captain mentioned this upthread, was that there were lots of things in the original letter that reminded commenters (and CA) of abusive people in their pasts. This isn’t to say the LW is abusive, but that zie should maybe think about why something written from the heart in an honest attempt to get advice sounded so similar to what a lot of people heard in abusive relationships of various kinds. Between that and the frankly dehumanizing language the original letter used to refer to people who aren’t the LW, it’s unsurprising that it got under some people’s skin, and acting like CA ought to be above all of that seems pretty unsound.

    • KL said:

      I strongly disagree. When someone writes a letter that is full of self-delusion and puffed-up assumptions about their own powers of mind-reading, what they need is a reality check, not a big sloppy kiss. The Captain did just fine, as did the commenters.

      • dusty_rose said:

        Agreed.

        • Awkward Niece said:

          Yep. I’m always gonna love ‘Signed, One of the Irrelevant’.

          • Nicole said:

            Agreed. Not every bad decision or bad behavior needs to be validated and supported.

  35. staranise said:

    LW, it sounds like you’ve got a unique perspective on emotions and emotional display that probably isn’t a result of a “diplobrat” upbringing (since a lot of diplobrats and TCKs don’t have it) as much as your own individual life experiences. If I’m reading you right, it sounds to me that you see displaying emotions as placing a kind of implicit demand on other people. Being sad demands the other person cheer you up, being angry demands they apologize, and so on. With that in mind, it’s pretty understandable that you’d respond that way. Actually, with that worldview, I can see how the choice to be emotionally controlled is actually something to be really proud of–because it keeps the people around you safe and lets them make their own choices. It’s sparing the people you really care about from unreasonable demands.

    It just comes off badly in some situations because that’s really not how a lot of people experience emotion. It’s complicated and I don’t want to get longwinded, but many, many people work under the basic assumption that what we really want out of life is human connection; it’s to be seen, known, understood, by other people. This is why neglecting a child actually does more damage to them in the long run than abusing them; at least abuse is some form of human connection. So for many people, refusing to show emotion doesn’t communicate, “I care about you and respect you too much to manipulate you,” it gets read as, “I don’t care about you, I don’t want you to get to know me, and I’m not willing to engage with you.”

    How you cope with that is really up to you, but I think it’s useful for you to know what’s going on with other people. I’m glad you’ve found someone (in your fiance) who’s able to read the subtext of what you’re saying and really understand where you’re coming from.

    So, kind of parting note, I’m a therapist; I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, recommending it isn’t an insult because I think most people could benefit from it. So I can say what I know: most therapists have been taught that attachment, empathy, and connection is one of the most important things in life, but also, an important part of empathy is being able to read other peoples’ emotions, but be able to hold yourself separate from them, and not take them as an implicit demand. I can see how that’s just an eensy bit of a mismatch with where you’re coming from.

  36. Hallom said:

    LW, I’ve been lurking here but was a bit surprised by this comment about the commenters —

    “I still stand by my first letter because I like it better on a personal level than the “here, let me display my emotions for your reading pleasure” that I did later on because many people confused *distant* with *emotionless asshole*.”

    — so I decided to reread your original letter along with your comment at 2:35pm which is the main one where you set out in detail your version of the story. I think what I noticed would be interesting to you and I hope you’ll follow along.

    Let’s start at 2:35. The first three paragraphs are quite dispassionate, just describing the events in sequence. You are describing other people’s emotions (roommate’s, boyfriend’s) but have said nothing about your own. In the fourth paragraph there are a couple of places where you mention how you were feeling — “I was stung”, “I’m irritated but keep my sadface on” — but nothing that strikes me, at least, as a huge display of emotions. Then your last paragraph, starting with “However the more I thought about the roommate’s response the angrier I became,” really is emotional about the anger you felt, but it is also filled with the explanation for why you felt that way — an explanation that a lot of us could understand and connect to because of the way you had set out the background facts (which was pretty clinical/dispassionate).

    Now let’s go back to the original letter. Compare the main paragraph where you tell the story to the fourth paragraph at 2:35 — the emotiveness is almost identical. You say “I’m really offended.” and “I lie . . . and a bit of me dies inside” which is really no different from “I was stung” and “I’m irritated” as you commented later on.

    But the difference is the anger. At 2:35 you say “I was angry” and explain why, but in the original letter you leave a whole wack of anger bubbling below the surface and couch it in terms that criticize the roommate (“irrelevant”? really?) and that make fun of people who are more emotional (“he actually *wants* the overemotional thisisallaboutmeI’msosorryI’manawfulfriendIswearitwasn’tmyfault, . . .“I’m the WORST FRIEND EVAR” sulk”).

    I think what the commenters were reacting to was the level of anger and venom — the emotion — that came through in your first letter toward roommate who, I think you’ve agreed, was the real victim here. And you’ve already admitted/explained, you did write that letter from a state of anger, and your later comments came at a time when you were calmer and — surprise! — able to be more dispassionate!

    (For the record, that is okay. You often would write a letter to an advice column when you are in a more emotional state. Most of the time, we around here are better at recognizing and respecting that).

    I think there are a number of conclusions we can draw from this, but I’d like to suggest your dichotomy between clinical/rational which is really you but others don’t like, and emotional which both the commenters and the roommate connected to but made you feel dirty, is not necessarily accurate. I see your original letter being just as emotive if not more so than your comments — the difference is that in your comments you have allowed people to understand where you’re coming from, not by being more emotional but by owning the emotion that was there anyway, and explaining it, and being honest about it. I hope that is something that might help you going forward?

    • Awkward Niece said:

      Yes this is absolutely right! The LW wants to tell a story about how zie is emotionless and objective and cool as a cucumber when in fact she is super pissed off and wants everyone to agree what an enormous jerk face this poor guy is for having anger at the horrible consequences of her fiance’s incredibly stupid behaviour.

      I guess it’s that old temptation- oh yes I’ve felt it too!- to think ‘It’s not an emotion cause I’m *right*’

  37. LW, I think one thing you should really take from this is how many people really, really relate to you and how you react to things. A lot of people wrote in to say, “I could have written this” — I certainly could have, and probably would have pretty recently. You are not alone in being logical. You are not alone in wanting to avoid the petty parts. You are certainly not alone in being bothered by fakeness and wanting to eliminate it in any way that you can. You’re getting this many comments, in part, because you’re so much like all of us. We see ourselves in you, and our own mistakes in yours, and want to change it.

    I get wanting to control the narrative, but sometimes it really backfires. It’s not, “I have to be emotional to satisfy the Awkward Army,” but rather, “the Awkward Army can sense when a narrative is being crafted, and prefers the narrative to come un-“unbiased”.”

  38. Gardenia said:

    Hi, Guelta.

    In reading your original letter, I guessed you were having trouble with two things in particular that I have also had trouble with:

    1. How do you do the friendship thing in the middle of the range between “polite acquantance” and BFF? In your later comment, you mention that this is explicitly a thing. I also had no clue about this, although for me the presenting problem was “ok, so how do you *get* from polite acquaintance to BFF after you’re a grownup?”

    What helped me was when my therapist explained that there were all kinds of friendships, and not every friendship had to be about sharing your deep personal feelings and/or effortlessly being on the same wavelengths. There are “hang out and talk about your feelings” friends, and “go out for dinner and a movie” friends. There are “vent because work sucks” friends and “have witty intellectual conversations but never get much into anything personal” friends. It’s not quite as compartmentalized as this, and people can move around from one category to another, and, especially important, this is not actually a one-dimensional continuum from “distant” to “intimate” friendship, *and* it is not a hierarchical ranking from “unimportant” to “important” friendship. It’s a lot more disorganized and multidimensional than that.

    As I’m writing this I’m thinking about the answers I’ve read here a few times about sex, and dating, and how there is no single right answer because people are different! and different people like different things! and sometimes the same people like different things at different times! And friendships are like that, too.

    So, maybe it would help in this particular situation to imagine a category for your friendship with FBF. It sounds in a way as if he’s the friend version of an in-law: somebody you wouldn’t pick to be friends with, really, but he’s important to your fiance, so maybe it’s worth making a little effort to find something you can enjoy talking to each other about or doing together. (Or maybe it’s not, too, but it might be a good exercise in imagination anyway.)

    It took me a while to be convinced that there is actual value in these non-BFF friendships, but I’m convinced now. They aren’t so deep or intense so it was a more subtle kind of value.
    I’ve got one friend now that I used to work with years ago, and then we lost touch for years, and then we got back in touch. And now we have dinner together, like, once a month, and tell each other funny stories and talk about our house projects and laugh a lot and have a great time. She’s totally not my BFF, we’ve never had anything like that impulse for intimacy, but that once a month get together is something I enjoy the hell out of.

    The other thing it sounds like you’re having trouble with is figuring out how to authentically be in a relationship of any kind after there has been conflict and unpleasantness, because you’re used to either bailing or faking it at that point. So the thing here is, sometimes things are going to be awkward and uncomfortable, and there is no “right” thing you can do to fix it. Sometimes you just have to tolerate the discomfort. And you probably distance a little bit from the other person, as they probably distance a little bit from you; but again this is not an all-or-nothing deal, and it is not a permanent deal. That took me a long time to get the hang of. And also, to trust the relationship, that it is *possible* that even if I’ve done something wrong, or said something awkward, or hurt their feelings, or … I dunno, just anything where we weren’t quite matching each other in a particular interaction, to trust that next time, or the time after that, we’ll be closer to the same wavelength again.

    That concept of matching was also important to learn. By that I mean, the interaction is effortlessly comfortable and enjoyable, *because*, I’m spontaneously responding in ways that match what the other person is looking for in that moment, and vice versa. I used to consider that to be an attribute of *the friendship* rather than of a particular interaction, when the reality is that even in good friendships, sometimes it doesn’t happen effortlessly, or at all really, for whatever reason you are not on the same wavelength. But it’s not the trump of doom for the friendship if it happens once or twice: it’s possible to leave after dinner, or whatever, thinking “gee that wasn’t as much fun/intimate/witty/relaxing/whatever as it usually is. Oh well, I guess we just weren’t on the same wavelength tonight”, and let that be the end of it…. instead of analyzing and figuring out what exactly I did wrong or s/he did wrong and thereby building it up into a bigger FEELINGSthing than it needed to be. I wonder a little bit if that is partly what happened to you in this situation, since you said “the more I thought about it the angrier I got.”

    Anyway, that’s probably plenty long enough. I hope it’s helpful. Good luck with whatever you decide to do with the particular situation, and with developing the more nuanced relationship skills that it sounds like you’re looking for.

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