#270: I’m using my words, but the other people aren’t listening. What now?

The Hulk Hulking Out

Hi, Captain Awkward:

I used to have a really hard time using my words, but therapy is awesome and now I will totally tell people, in words, when what they are doing really needs to stop. I’m stuck, though, on how to respond to people who repeatedly ignore my words when I use them.

Example, “I love you very much, Boyfriend, but I really need you to stop calling me six times in a row when you know I am sleeping, because it wakes me up and then I am tired for the rest of the day and also very grouchy all morning.” His response “But I want to talk to you and I know you’re grumpy, but now you’re awake and I’d rather have you awake and grumpy than asleep. You’re cute when you’re grumpy.” I know I’m a late sleeper and maybe I should just put up with it, but I’m just really tired. I can’t turn my phone off because it also functions as my alarm clock.

Similar example: “Dad, you are awesome and smart, but please stop trying to tell me how to launch my publishing career. I know I am a whole 20 years old now and missed the chance to be published in high school like you thought I would, but that is not the end of the world. No, my manuscript is not ready for me to start querying agents right now. No, really. I know I’ve been working on it a long time. Thank you for this (not particularly) helpful article about e-publishing, now please let me do my own thing.” His response: “What do you think, I’m a dumbass? I read the newspaper. I know what I’m talking about. Why shouldn’t I act like an expert? You just need to want it more.” (These are both actual quotes from my people). I know he means well and I should just ignore it, but it makes me really anxious and aggravated and I want him to stop. I also want him to stop making ableist jokes and pretending my disabilities don’t exist, but this is enough examples for one letter.

How do I set boundaries? My father treats boundaries like a personal attack and my boyfriend is good with some of them but cheerfully ignores the others. I would really like some boundaries, but talking hasn’t worked. What do I do now?


Hulk from The Avengers

Dear Sleepy:

Good job with therapy. Keep doing that. And as for these conversations that you need to have with the men in your life, what if you took a step beyond clearly and calmly asking for what you want? What if you let yourself get angry? What if you honestly displayed that anger by being way less polite the second time they make you speak up about something and/or by avoiding their company when they ignore your stated needs?

For example, let me translate your boyfriend’s words into his native tongue, Clingy Entitled Dude:

I know you said clearly what you needed, but my random whims are more important than your needs so I’m just going to ignore them and keep doing what I want. When you get mad I’ll totally dismiss your anger by telling you it’s cute.

This weekend on the eL I saw some loud drunk guy verbally abusing his wife, so I mentally gave him a vasectomy – I mean, I visualized this thing fully and in detail, snipping tiny tubes deep inside his junk and tying tiny knots in the ends. I know that I don’t actually have the power to do that, so it also won’t work when I mentally dump this guy’s ass for you. But let me say that “Please don’t do that anymore” is a complete sentence. It’s not the opening salvo in a negotiationTime to get in touch with your inner Hulk. Next time he does that say “Remember when I asked you not to do that anymore? Turns out I really meant what I said, and I’m not “grumpy,” I’m FUCKING PISSED OFF AT YOU. Apologize now, and then hang up, and don’t call me for any reason until I call you. I need a few days to think about things, as do you, clearly.” Then give him a few days to think about what he’s done and call him when and if you feel like it.

The “cute” thing infuriates me on your behalf. It’s not a compliment. It’s sexist belittling bullshit. Maybe try “If you think I’m cute now, I’m going to be fucking gorgeous in a minute if you don’t knock it off. And you’re going to be single.”

As for your dad, the way you expressed yourself was pretty clear and unambiguous, so I don’t know that you need to say anything again. Repeating your “quit it” or “no” over and over again robs it of power because it signals to the other person that this is in fact a negotiation. But I’ll give you a One More Try script just in case.

Dad, I know you love me, and that you’re very supportive and invested in my career. But I need you to stop with the unsolicited advice about my work. It’s not about whether the specific advice is good or bad – often it’s quite good, and it’s something I am already doing or would do anyway. But right now the best way you can help me and show me that you believe in me is to give me the time and space to handle this in my own way, even if it means that I make some mistakes or move more slowly or differently than you would in my shoes. I’m feeling overwhelmed and defensive about all the advice, and it’s getting in the way of our relationship and in the way of my ability to just focus on the work. Show me your support by backing off.”

There is a 99% chance that he will respond to this with some defensive screed about how he just loves you and if you would just do what he told you everything would be great and how can you be so ungrateful and mean? Let him get it out, and then say: “Okay, Dad, you’ve made it really clear how you feel. Now I’m telling you how I feel: I still want you to stop it. No advice unless I specifically ask you. Can you agree to that?

You might want to put a time-frame on it to make the pill go down easier. You really want him to knock it off forever, obviously, but try framing it as a short-term request that is so reasonable that he looks like a total asshole for not agreeing to it. So end the above response with “Can you agree to that for 6 months? I really, really need a break.”

If he stomps off in a huff or gets very negative and shitty, like “SEE IF I TRY TO HELP YOU EVER AGAIN, UNGRATEFUL DAUGHTER” it means you’ve won. “Really, Dad? You can’t even give me a break from constantly advising me for 6 months? Did you raise me to be able to handle my own life or not?”  Hold your ground. He’s retreating in the hopes you’ll follow. Don’t follow. Just sit with his negative emotions (and let him sit with them) and don’t try to soothe or fix it. Let it be weird and uncomfortable. You didn’t make it that way. HE made it that way when he deliberately ignored your stated boundaries. Don’t be the first to apologize. Let him come to you.

Once you get the courage to speak up like you have, these are the important next steps in boundary setting:

1) Learning to be okay with other people’s negative emotions and not take them on yourself and try to “fix” them.

2) Realizing that the people in your life are choosing how they interact with you and react to you. If your dad would rather give you advice you don’t want than believe you  when you ask him not to, and if he takes your (very legitimate, normal) request as a criticism and an excuse to get really angry at you and treat you badly, that is HIS choice, not your fault for having needs.

3) Being willing and able to live with some distance in the relationship as a buffer to protect yourself from this kind of stuff. They can’t bug you if you won’t talk to them.

Now to the nitty gritty of daily life:

Do you live with your dad or not? If you don’t live with him and communicate primarily by phone and/or email, that’s a bit easier because you have physical distance and can choose more about how you interact.

First, create an email filter where all his messages go into a special folder that you don’t see unless you go and click on it. Read those emails only when you feel like it. Maybe once a week while you sip your favorite beverage and when you have arranged something fun and awesome to do right afterwards as a reward. Then pick one and give a very stock response. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll definitely think about your suggestion.”

You will think about it. Then you’ll ignore/reject it and do your own thing. You can’t really win this fight with him by logic, and you can’t really win it by asking him to stop (because he needs to be right/smart at you more than he needs to respect and be nice to you), so you can sort of win it by not engaging in it. By thanking him and being nice you’re ending the conversation on your terms and not giving him a toehold to keep pushing you about it. You don’t get him to admit that he was wrong and knock it off forever, so you don’t win all the way, but you win by ending the conversation. Over time it will get less productive for him to act like this, because he’s not going to get the attention from you and rise out of you he’s looking for, so he may taper it off. You can also mix it up a little from time to time –  respond to everything in the email that ISN’T advice as you usually would, and totally ignore the advice as if it never existed. I had to do that with my Grampa when I asked him to stop sending me anti-Obama screeds from the Cranky Old Man Internet. I filtered those out and only responded to the emails he wrote directly to me and only to the parts I wanted to. I rewarded him for doing what I wanted him to and gave him zero attention for the rest.

This works on the phone and in person, too. On the phone, talk pleasantly about whatever you normally talk about, and whenever he launches into a “helpful” suggestion say “Thanks, Dad, I’ll think about it” and then end the call. “I should really get back to work. Love you, talk soon!

In person, it’s harder, so you may want to rehearse with a friend a few times. You don’t want to tear up or yell, he’ll seize on that as proof that you’re “emotional” as if that somehow means “wrong.” Keep it breezy and quick. “Sure, Dad, thanks, I’ll totally think about it.” Then change the subject and get out of the conversation as soon as you can. If he gets pushy or violates a previous agreement, go with “Dad, we talked about this. Let’s change the subject.” If he won’t change the subject, end the conversation. You can use everything from “You’ll have to excuse me” and going into the bathroom (whether you have to pee or not) to “We should stop talking about this now. I’m going to step out for a bit and try to get some work done. See you later!”

The method is: Your dad gets your attention as long as he doesn’t do the stuff you’ve asked him not to do. He breaks the rules? Remove your precious attention nuggets. He won’t change, really, but he may figure out more productive ways of engaging with you if preserving the relationship is more important to him than being right.

As for the ableism, check out Jay Smooth’s advice on how to tell people they sound racist. “Dad, that thing you said is really ableist. Please don’t say stuff like that around me anymore.” “Are you saying I’m prejudiced or something?” “I’m saying that thing you said made you sound that way. If you don’t want to sound that way (and hurt my feelings), don’t stay stuff like that anymore.” Extra credit reading: Derailing for Dummies. Maybe you can make some kind of Bingo sheet.

I don’t know how to get him to stop pretending that your disability doesn’t exist. Going back several paragraphs – do you live with your dad? If so, is there a way to stop living with him as soon as possible?

And let’s be clear: Both of the interactions you describe here are VERY, very gendered. When women stand up for themselves, it’s cute, or you’re being a bitch, or you’re the one being mean and hurting everyone’s feelings (by not being 100% accommodating and taking care of their emotions, accepting a buttload of obvious advice gratefully and without complaint, or being available 100% of the time even if you need sleep which is a BIOLOGICAL HUMAN NECESSITY AND NOT ACTUALLY NEGOTIABLE). HULK SMASH.

Speaking up to dudes without sugar-coating it is going to feel weird and hard at first because it goes against the way you’ve been socialized. I don’t know if it’s comforting, but you’re far from alone in having to learn this from scratch, and the truth is that being sweet and accommodating all the time doesn’t actually get you respect or a friction-free existence. There’s no amount of nice you could be that would make any of this go away or be ok, so you might as well fight for what you need.

Enforcing boundaries isn’t easy. It takes time and constant vigilance. People don’t get how exhausting it is to have to be on your guard all the time, so be really gentle with yourself around this stuff. It doesn’t always work to change people’s minds or behavior, but over time it can change the tenor of your interactions with people and make them less fraught for you. Speaking up for yourself will start to become a habit. An awesome habit.

204 thoughts on “#270: I’m using my words, but the other people aren’t listening. What now?

  1. I don’t have anything very useful to add to the Captain’s excellent advice. I just had to comment that the LW’s boyfriend saying “I would rather have you awake and grumpy than asleep” makes me feel very HULK SMASH. Really that is just awful. Sleep is a NECESSITY not a luxury and the LW’s boyfriend taking that attitude shows a total disregard of her needs. Just ugh.

    1. It might be worth pointing out to the boyfriend that sleep deprivation is a bone fide torture technique, and while he may not be taking it to that level, it’s really telling that he thinks his desire to chat on the phone entitles him decide for her whether she’s had enough sleep.

      Also, LW, if you’re feeling guilty about being a late sleeper/feeling like other people are entitled to criticize your sleep schedule, please read this:

      okay, I can’t find the article I was looking for, but you can read this, which is not at good: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_sleep_phase_syndrome

      1. “It might be worth pointing out to the boyfriend that sleep deprivation is a bone fide torture technique, and while he may not be taking it to that level, it’s really telling that he thinks his desire to chat on the phone entitles him decide for her whether she’s had enough sleep.”

        Trust me on this–pointing out something like that will get a woman labeled histrionic or hysterical or some flavor of that.

        1. Ha, so true. Also, it sucks you into an annoying logic argument, when really “I don’t want you to call me in the mornings” is a good enough reason for the (Ex?) boyfriend to NOT EVER CALL IN THE MORNINGS.

        2. Just to clear up an understandable misunderstanding: I am a woman and I’ve pointed out shit like that in the past.

          I’m not saying the boyfriend definitely won’t be a condescending jerk about it (evidence so far indicates that he may well), but he might not, and I just really don’t think the concern that someone might be dismissive is a good enough reason to not speak up.

          1. Jake, I’m with the Captain on this one. “I don’t want to get calls in the morning” should be good enough. She’s *already* spoken up.

          2. Sure, it SHOULD be good enough, but sometimes, you know? And even if she never brings it up (it might be a bit hyperbolic for this kind of an argument, and also irrelevant) it can be nice to know. I’m really, really sensitive to being tickled, and people think that’s just HILARIOUS, and knowing that tickling is a bona fide torture technique helped me gather the confidence to kick them in the face (literally; my words were only making it worse, because we were teenagers and they were assholes). I was so gaslighted into thinking my feelings were an overreaction that I couldn’t fight back until I found out that no, actually, I wasn’t overreacting at all, and it was totally okay to do whatever I needed to make them stop right now.

      2. Wow, no. It may be accurate, but it’s a distraction from the major issue: he shouldn’t need a any reason or evidence to follow LW’s stated request to NOT BE AN INCONSIDERATE ASSHOLE. He should do it because she asked him to. Giving him reasons, or evidence, means that he can play the favorite game of entitled assholes everywhere, “now I get to judge whether these things mean what you say they mean!”, and this is not a game LW should play.

        She made a request. He ignored it, and belittled her for making it. There’s no more discussion necessary, just enforcement and punishment. “Here are the rules, asshole, OBEY THEM OR YOU ARE IN TROUBLE.”

        1. Although it wasn’t super clear in what I said, my main point was about the boyfriend’s sense of entitlement, which holds even without the torture point (since she asked him not to and that should be good enough). But I retract my suggestion about pointing out that it’s torture because people are right that she shouldn’t need a reason beyond “I asked you not to.”

      3. Seconding the note about not feeling guilty about being a “late sleeper.” (This post http://brianarmstrong.org/blog/how-i-learned-to-live-with-dsps about someone’s actual experience of DSPS might be a good one to read, though the wikipedia article is a good start for learning about circadian rhythms.) Even if you don’t actually have a circadian rhythm disorder, it’s important to recognize your own body’s needs and rhythms and to stand up for them. My own experience has been that when I tell folks that my body wants/needs sleep from approximately 4am to noon, all they hear is “noon” and it sounds pretty darn lazy. They miss the fact that I’m super productive, creative, and focused from midnight to 4, and that makes it easy for ME to forget that vital information. So, like many other commenters, I’m encouraging you to stand up to your boyfriend about not disturbing your sleep, and also to reframe your thinking about sleep and doing what you need to do in order to be healthy, regardless of other people’s opinions.

        1. I’m naturally a bit of a night owl (though more in the 2-ish to 10-ish sleep range, so not super extreme), and I think part of the weird stigma has to do with what we culturally consider “real” jobs or “real” schedules. Sleeping late, regardless of number of hours slept, is associated with teenagers on summer vacation or people who stay out until all hours of the night partying or whatever. My parents are morning people and there seems to be an undercurrent of “you can sleep whenever you want because you’re don’t have a ~real~ job” to their criticisms sometimes, when the reality is that I sleep just about the same number of hours a night as they do, and I sleep when I do because I’m a freelance writer and more productive at night and I worked retail for years and had a work schedule that was more likely to be somewhere in the 10-7 through 1-10 range than 8-5 or similar.

          1. I’m a night owl too, and there is definitely a weird kind of moral hierarchy when it comes to early birds/night owls in our culture. Being an early bird is seen as being a virtue, while being a night owl is seen as some kind of moral failing. Even though early birds and night owls both probably spend the same percentage of time sleeping, working, playing, doing chores etc., night owls are still seen as more slothful than early birds.

            I work long hours, but I always feel weirdly guilty that I’m not in the office before 9.30am, as though I am not as committed as someone who is in at 8am (even if they leave on the dot of 4pm) because of the “early rising is a virtue” thing. The thing I hate most is people who arrange meetings for 8.30am, as it’s so hard to tell them that I’m not usually in the office until 9am at the earliest. It feels like I’m saying “Yeah, I’m really lazy, that’s why I can’t make your meeting”, whereas no one ever seems to feel bad about saying “I can’t have a meeting at 5pm – I have to leave before then”. Ideally we’d never have meetings outside core hours, but my office has such a meetings culture that we tend to try to squeeze them in wherever possible.

            anon: “…it is hilariously stupid and awful that so many people think that doing stuff at a different time of day is lazy…”
            THIS. Ha, it’s so silly when you think about it that way!

    2. Ignoring the LW’s wishes and then belittling her need for sleep…yeah, this boyfriend is pretty hateable.

    3. Yeah, I don’t know EXACTLY why some people decide they can treat (other people’s) sleep as some kind of optional luxury that you could do without if you just, I don’t know, tried harder or something?, instead of something that not getting makes you fucking die and not getting enough of makes it hard to function or even think, but yeah.

      It seems to go hand-in-hand with this idea that getting up early is a virtue and sleeping later is lazy, even if it doesn’t actually mean sleeping more (not that needing more sleep IS lazy–because, BIOLOGICAL NEED, you don’t get to choose how much you need!–but it is hilariously stupid and awful that so many people think that doing stuff at a different time of day is lazy or whatever the fuck it is that they think).

      1. The whole “getting up early is a virtue” thing is so grating to me. My husband used to have clients who awoke at 5am every morning, and they were so goddamn smug about it. The guy used to call our house all the time before 7am – even on weekends – and then would chirpily ask, “Oh gosh, did I wake you? You lazy sleepyheads. Guess what I’ve already accomplished today…”

        When I started working from home, I answered the phone one morning and politely told the guy that he was being rude, impinging upon my personal schedule, negatively affecting my health and that we would no longer be answering any calls prior to 9am. Guess what – it stopped.

        1. This. Also, as an early-riser, I treasure the ring-free time. It’s jarring to get calls that early; I tend to think it’s an emergency, and when it’s not I’m kind of pissed.

          1. “It’s jarring to get calls that early; I tend to think it’s an emergency, and when it’s not I’m kind of pissed.”

            Agreed! I work first shift, so calls that come in third shift (11pm-7am here) tend to get a “who died?” auto-response from me.

        2. I wonder how they’d react if someone called them at 1 am and then asked, “Oh gosh, did I wake you? You lazy sleepyhead, being in bed already! I can’t believe you’re wasting all these productive hours!”

          I mean, I don’t advocate that, I just wonder. You know.

          *same person as anon as above, just finally thought of a handle*

          1. HAH, I had the same thought. How is it any less rude? I remember being taught as a kid that calling earlier than 10am and later than 9pm (on a weekend, at least) was rude unless I knew for sure that whoever I was calling was okay with it. Seems like a reasonable guideline.

        3. Yeah, the most generous interpretation of this is is that dude is either an early riser or someone who does just fine on little to no sleep, and he just doesn’t get that the LW is calibrated differently. Some people really never get a handle on that stuff.

        4. one day a client called me at 9 am and I wasn’t in, because I worked from 10-7. So when he called again at 5:55 and was all “where were you this morning?” and then “SOME of us were at work!” I got to say to him “yes, and now you’re not at work and I am, but if you’d rather I can work from 8-5 so you have to use your lunch break to do business with us.”

          Such a weird status thing, getting up early in the morning.

        5. I love that we’re talking about this. Along with body size, it’s THE single biggest thing about which my family is absurdly judgmental.

        6. It’s just not late sleepers – I work night shifts at a hospital (about as ~real~ a job as you get), and you wouldn’t believe the amount of boundary crossing you put up with that sleep schedule. The management at my job is infamous for treating night shift people with the same on-call hours as morning/evening shifts, until somebody from my shift basically laid down the law with them and stated that calling us at 12 p.m. in the afternoon was the equivalent of calling one of them at 2 a.m. in the morning and hey, would you like us to do that one night so you can see what it feels like? I won’t even get into the fights I’ve had with friends and family trying to get them to respect the “NO CALLS BEFORE 3 P.M.” rule.

          A lot of times, it’s unintentional – people are usually apologetic for forgetting my usual schedule. But for people who are repeat offenders, I generally don’t hesitate to make it known I’m not happy. Frankly, LW, I agree with the Captain on this one – don’t hesitate to be angry. Either you’ll assertively angry now, or you’ll be explosively angry later when they finally push you one too many times. In my personal experience, I came to realize people were going to call me a bitch either way, so what the hell – at least they shut up and listened.

      2. I ❤ this so much.

        I'm a late sleeper … because I frequently *work all night*[1]. I'm self-employed, so I do have a choice about it, but still: lazy? Hardly. Sure, I can see the benefits of being awake more of the time when the sun is up (I do miss getting enough sunlight in the winter), but that's none of anybody else's business.

        [1] Okay, and the other way around, but still: I get the same amount of work done.

    4. YES THIS SLEEP IS SUCH A NECESSITY. I do not have any more constructiveness because I had too little sleep today, so there is all the evidence we need.

    5. LW, consider dumping that boyfriend. DTMF. I am a wee, young one, but I’ve never been with anyone that pulled that shit on me. A call. Really? I’ve gotten late night text, but a call? HULK SMASH.

    6. Agreed, I basically came to this thread to be like: LW, your boyfriend? THE WORST.

  2. First, as someone who has also had to learn to articulate boundaries, I really feel for you.
    Some of the best advice I ever had came from a friend of mine who was helping me deal with the drama my mother created during my wedding (and the planning beforehand). Seriously, at one point my mom told me that she was worried that she would “outclass the bride” and called me crying the morning of because she didn’t feel that she had been treated as if it was a “special day for her as well”. My friend had me repeat, over and over, “Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll think about it.” Mom wanted me to wear a giant white dress and walk down the aisle to a string quartet? (I did a brown dress and the Hitchhiker’s Guide Theme instead) “Thank you for the idea”. Demanding that I invite cousins I had never met to help me get ready the morning of? “Thanks for the suggestion!” etc, etc, etc. It helped stop the cycle of me trying to “explain” why I didn’t want to do something, and it showed her that at least I was listening to her advice, instead of instantly rejecting it and then having it be something she had to prove was correct. Listening isn’t the same as agreeing, but it seemed to (mostly) be “enough” to get us through without losing it entirely.
    Good luck!

    1. Right, you win by not giving her a foothold to pick a fight and get your time and sanity back. You don’t need to make an airtight case about why you’re right (that she’ll just try to pick apart), you just need to exercise your power of not giving a shit. Good work!

    2. I have several different loving versions of this for my own mother, who doesn’t necessarily occupy the same plane of reality from one moment to the next, and has a lot of trouble understanding “no.”

      “Thanks for your perspective, Mom, but I prefer to use deodorant.”
      “No, Mom, I haven’t watched that nine-hour documentary about the Illuminati you’ve been suggesting every time we talk, but thank you so much for the suggestion!”
      “I’ll definitely think about that!”
      “What an interesting idea!”
      “I can see why you’d feel that way.”
      “Orange doesn’t suit me, but thank you so much for keeping me in mind. What do you think of [x]?”
      “You’re so generous! But let me try it on my own.”

      1. Both my parents love to give me very insistent unsolicited advice about things they know nothing about. A few years ago, I had a therapist who coached me to just say, “Thanks.” She explicitly told me not to say “Thanks, but I’d rather X,” as it gave my dad, who loves to debate, a foothold to just argue about details forever. “Thanks, I’ll think about that” might even be too much, if the letter writer’s dad is like mine.

        When I first tried that script, it was like MAGIC. My dad was, if I remember correctly, telling me to exercise more (I exercise plenty and am slightly underweight, for the record). I just said, “Okay, thanks.”

        “You know, that’s what experts say.”

        “Okay, thanks.”

        “I’m just telling you what experts say.”

        “Okay, thanks.”

        And then he gave up and the conversation ended. I didn’t get worked up trying to argue, the conversation didn’t escalate. He just…stopped. I highly, highly recommend it.

  3. I would rather have you awake and grumpy? Oh, your BF is a peach, LW. You could use these words when he says that: “I’d rather have a boyfriend who respects what I said I needed and doesn’t try to belittle it or override it. Bye!”

    1. You’re much politer than I am. My response to such would be much more along the lines of ‘Really? F**k off.’ and then slam the phone down.

      1. To be honest, that’s about the politest response a phone call like that warrants.

        1. One of my friends used to answer the phone with a forceful “Goddamit, I was asleep!” It was very effective.

      1. This! A series of phone options is below, skip if uninterested:

        If your phone can’t be set up to route all calls to voicemail, you can get a Google Voice number which can. Your phone stays on, but nothing comes through (bonus: voicemail transcripts in email!). Alternately, if your cellphone is a Nokia, they have the ability to alarm while turned off. Set the alarm, turn the phone off, it goes off at the set time and asks if you’d like to turn the phone back on. Third alternative, see if your phone’s silent mode makes the alarm silent as well. Some don’t. Fourth, some phones allow timed silent mode — set the phone to silent, expiring five minutes before the alarm.

        1. Erm, I read this before CA’s request to stop tech supporting and everything downthread. If it gets nuked, I understand, and apologize for contributing to the babble.

          1. Look, you guys aren’t WRONG about many, many simple tech solutions that will solve the immediate problem of sleep.

            But they don’t solve the problem of “Men think they get to interrupt me and tell me shit, and when I get mad they act like I ran over their dog or tell me I’m cute.” The LW said that the examples she provided about sleep & publishing were just two of many.

            There’s something really patronizing about the “Why don’t you just do this really obvious thing?” tech support answer to someone who is trying to solve a big deal emotional problem. It has a silent “What are you, stupid?” embedded in it. That’s why I asked people to stop it.

          2. I dunno, I can see how the phone stuff could potentially be used as a tool TOWARDS dealing with shitty boyfriend’s shitty entitlement issues.

            Right now, he has all the power. He can just utterly dismiss and ignore her request to be allowed to sleep because he knows she’s accessible by phone in the morning. He knows he can ring her phone and it’ll be by her bed.

            If she gives him one final warning about it – “I do not want to be called early in the morning. I get up at X o clock and am not ready to deal with conversation until after I have [insert morning ritual here]. I need you to stop calling me early in the morning. You know it effects my mood and energy levels and it is extremely selfish of you to ignore that just because you feel like chatting.” and then, if he does it even once more, alter the phone settings.

            Once he cannot force the interaction (by calling the phone) he loses all the power.

  4. Holy crap, LW, I’m feeling the urge to hulk out with you! Seconding everything the Captain said – the second half of boundaries is consequences for not respecting them.

    Tangentially, I feel like this is an excellent illustration of how society conditions us to not accept “no” as an answer – particularly from women. It’s endlessly frustrating to state your boundaries, only to have them taken as some sort of negotiating tactic, rather than a requirement to continue to enjoy your company.

  5. On the repetitive caller front… man I hate them.

    I’d be ponying up the $20 for a separate alarm clock. Or you can download a basic call-filtering application free for most phone OSes – I have a free one for Nokia Symbian that lets you create custom block lists of numbers that you can temporarily send straight to voicemail.

    It’s the telephony equivalent of walking out in person if someone won’t respect your boundaries. I’ve found some people who won’t listen to your words will get the message from the brick wall.

    1. Reading over my own comment, I now want to add that of course it would be cheaper to break up with him.

      I was just reflecting that I used these tactics on harassing calls from my mum. Because I was stuck in a relationship with her. But you’re not stuck with the boyfriend. So maybe coping strategies are not really the key thing to focus on. 🙂

      1. Well, they would be good strategies to use if she decides to break up with her BF and he really shows how well he can violate boundaries via telephone.

      2. I have a co-worker who calls me on my cell phone when I’m not at my desk ready to take his calls, as I’m his assistant and he feels it’s my duty to be on call to assist him at all times. Which, just, no. That’s not how the modern administrative assistant works.

        I use call filtering software, and so his calls to my cell all get shunted to voice mail.

        I second the call-filtering software suggestion! It’s very lovely and worthwhile, if you have a smartphone. You can get free versions, but there are some with more features if you have a few extra dollars (or whatever unit of currency you use) to throw at it. The ability to block certain calls during certain hours may well be a feature you need to pay for.

        1. When I am the boss of the world, the admin assistants will hire and fire the managers.

          Or maybe everybody will hire and fire everybody at will at any time, and it won’t matter because we are all paid from the same collective pot, so we are free to just go find our people in the world of work.

          It will be like communism as run by magical unicorns of pure good.

          1. If I were given the actual free rein to hire and fire the managers? Or even just to review them freely? MY DREAM. It’s not that I dislike the people I work with. It’s just that I’m not actually able to set verbal, stated boundaries without having negative consequences.

            In other words, I love your communism run by magical unicorns of pure good. (So stealing that phrase.)

          2. Oy. I hate workplaces that act like the managers are Better and More Important than the people they manage.

            Management is a specialty skill that you contribute to the workplace. Some people contribute their ability to deal with customers, some contribute their skill in making your product or performing your service, and some contribute their management skills. Other employees have to obey them because that’s what makes the management skills work. Not because they are special people who deserve to be obeyed just because of their special status.

            /semi-unrelated rant

      3. I was thinking this as well, that she could set up a call block on him, and then I got to the same ending you did, which is that if she’s finding herself needing to defend herself from him as she would from a stalker, maybe it’s time to get the fuck out of that relationship.

      4. I now want to add that of course it would be cheaper to break up with him.

        Which of course gives the LW a gorgeous script.

        “Sweetheart. I love you. I’m just trying to decide if I love you enough to spend $10 on an alarm clock.”

    2. I agree with these strategies as good ones to take in general. With the BF, however, I am really, REALLY worried that this isn’t the first and will not be the last time he ignores what she says and does whatever he wants. A continued relationship with him would likely be a long hell of eroding self-esteem and dismissal of her feelings and needs.

      1. ha, yeah, as I said in my 2nd reconsidered comment… breaking up with him would, on hte other hand, cost $0! If you are having to employ these strategies on someone, it’s a really bad sign about the state of the relationship.

    3. Of course you should move forward with stated boundaries, LW, and if the boyfriend continues to call you in the morning, you need to discuss that and have some consequences. Call filtering might be the answer, but my phone also has an “alarm only” volume setting. Yours might too!

    4. I have an app on my Android phone–Sleep Bot–that when it’s on, it doesn’t turn off your phone, but it does disable anyone’s ability to call you. I don’t know what kind of phone you have, but there’s probably something like this available for it. Frankly, if the jerk isn’t listening and you don’t want to break up with him (this is a baaaad sign if he refuses to respect your wishes at all), turning off your phone will make him get the message more than your “no’s” are apparently doing.

      I say this because my mom absolutely won’t respect my phone boundaries (even after I’ve taken her to group therapy) and HAVING THE PHONE OFF or at least physically disabled so she CAN’T call me is the only thing that stops her. Or at least makes her have to wait until I get to work to call me, but that’s another story.

      1. Some phones also have an “airplane” setting, so that all the internal functions (including the alarm and calendar) work, but the phone won’t send or receive a signal.

    5. Alternately.. Does your phone allow different volume settings for calls vs alarms?

      1. Sure, ok. Now everyone stop tech-supporting this, please. You’re all correct and very smart, but it’s SO not the real issue.

  6. Hi LW,

    Firstly – commiserations on the being woken from sleep thing; I’m a late sleeper too, and being woken repeatedly would certainly make me HULK SMASH.

    I can’t turn my phone off because it also functions as my alarm clock.

    For a slighttly techy solution – does your phone support Airplane mode? It’s still switched on, and will work as an alarm clock, but it disables email, messages and phone calls, meaning that no-one gets to disturb you. Or can you set a profile that disables the ringer except for the alarm?

    Sorry to give a techy thought when the core problem is about someone not respecting your boundaries but if he can’t stop calling, perhaps changing things so you can’t hear him (and therefore he’s not getting the feedback of ‘cute grouchy you’) might train him out of this behaviour?

    1. “For a slighttly techy solution – does your phone support Airplane mode? It’s still switched on, and will work as an alarm clock, but it disables email, messages and phone calls, meaning that no-one gets to disturb you.”

      Brilliant. I had never considered this.

      1. Thanks 🙂

        FWIW I completely understand why other commenters have said its not LW’s job to train her boyfriend out of this behaviour. But on the other hand, uninterrupted sleep is precious. 🙂

    2. My old (not smart) phone had a feature where you could set a number in your phone book to silent without an app. So no matter what phone you have, there should be a way to choose when his calls are blocked and when they are not.

      Best of luck LW, I can sympathize about family that doesn’t respect boundaries. I love them, but there is a good reason I live in a different province.

  7. Seriously, Captain, you are amazing.
    LW: sending you be-strong vibes! Boundaries rule. Best of luck!

  8. Don’t alarm clocks cost like $9.95 at the drugstore? I mean YES the boyfriend is being a piece of $#!+ and YES you apparently need to learn to enforce your boundaries pronto and probably DTMFA while you’re at it. But if you need sleep right away? Please just buy a clock.

    This message brought to you by the Clockmakers’ Association of America.

  9. ARGH. The issue here isn’t what tech solutions the LW needs. The issue here is that the LW’s BF knows damn well she doesn’t want to be bothered in the morning with phone calls and HE FUCKING DOES IT ANYWAY. SIX TIMES IN A ROW. BECAUSE HE’D RATHER HAVE HER GRUMPY AND AWAKE THAN ASLEEP AND HER NEEDS APPARENTLY ARE A PILE OF DOGSHIT COMPARED TO HIS.

    Yes, she could get an alarm clock. But the issue is bigger than that. This isn’t telemarketers or multiple people calling her–this is a boyfriend who refuses to respect her stated needs and continues to do what he wants anyway. This scares the shit out of me because I know (GOD DO I KNOW) how this shit ends, and it isn’t pretty.

    She cannot train this guy out of this behavior–he is not an animal, and she is not his keeper. He is also not a child, and she is not his mommy. It is not her job to train him out of jack shit and it’s so not okay to suggest this. “Training” men is a job that has been put on women for years, and it’s bullshit. Men are goddamn grown-ass adults and they’ve already been raised. If I want to raise a child, I’ll have a baby and if I want to train a living creature, I’ll get a dog.

    Also, FWIW, I use my phone as an alarm clock.

    1. “I use my phone as an alarm clock.”

      As do I. It means I save power (by only plugging in one thing, and only when it needs to charge), it has a battery in it (so it’s not fucked if the power goes out). I can turn off the ringer and the alarm clock will still work, so I don’t have the same problem as the LW – mostly the problem I have is that I leave the ringer off all the time so don’t realize when people are calling me.

      And by “problem” I mean “blissful freedom from interruption with occasional inconvenience of a missed call.”

      1. “And by ‘problem’ I mean ‘blissful freedom from interruption with occasional inconvenience of a missed call.'”

        I am agreeing so hard here.

        1. One of my favourite Cowboy Junkies lyrics:

          “Telephone’s ringing, but I don’t answer, cos everybody knows, good news always sleeps until noon.”

          1. Well, I was surprised at how long it took to suggest to LW to get an alarm clock (was there a memo I missed that said we should use our phones for that now?) but I truly laughed aloud when it finally was and the blow-back/rationalizations that a phone-as-alarm-clock was far superior came flying back! In LW’s case, I think that the small financial expenditure for a basic LED clock and the miniscule addition to her carbon foot print will be well displaced by having a complete night’s sleep (unless you have an iPhone-then just get a alarmclock/dock combo and problem solved!). That lifestyle adjustment being made AFTER following the Captain’s advice of course. Boyfriend needs to be told in no uncertain terms that calling during sleeping hours is not acceptable (I can’t think of any exclusions to that rule really….sleep trumps all unless your house is burning down I suppose).

            Also, there was mention somewhere about concern about Boyfriend having a key and when he is ignored thus just coming in? Well, really the only reason someone other than the occupant should have a key to one’s place under ANY circumstances is for emergency, and that person should be a long-time, highly trusted best-est ever friend or relative. Never ever ever ever should it be someone you are dating (ever ever) until such time that that person is actually LIVING there. Seriously, no good can come of the pre-living-there-key-holdership. One is for the above mentioned security concerns, but the other is that if you break up, you either have to a) ask for that key back at some point or b) change your locks. One is a pain in the ass, the other is a pain in the wallet. Just don’t do it people!

            As for LW’s dad, lots of good advice being thrown around here. Advice givers can be hard to shut up (oh the irony…) but one tactic can be to demonstrate that you have a plan in place and you are following it and “sorry if it isn’t going as quick as you think it should”. Then as someone else suggested later, keep the topic of your work off the subject list. If he brings it up, defer and then change the subject to something else, preferably to something that you know he is keen on and also believes he is the expert at (we advice givers can be easily distracted by other shiny things we think we know what we are talking about). Beyond that, I hope that any of the points thrown out here work out for you LW.

          2. Never ever ever ever should it be someone you are dating (ever ever) until such time that that person is actually LIVING there. Seriously, no good can come of the pre-living-there-key-holdership.

            BRB…I am going to make keys for my boyfriend right now after this vigorous key-shaming!

            And the alarm-clock thing – yes, it’s obvious advice, but it’s SO not the letter writer’s real problem, which is why I totally ignored it.

          3. Um, not loving the prescriptive key-related dogma here. There are dozens of possible reasons to give a key to someone who isn’t an occupant. None of which are the business of anyone who isn’t the key-giver or the key-receiver.

          4. Seriously, no good can come of the pre-living-there-key-holdership.
            Except the key-holding partner feeding your pets when you’re away.
            Or picking up their bag that they left at your house.
            Or letting themselves in if they get to your house for a date before you’re back from work.
            Or locking up after themselves if you have to get up early and they want to sleep in.
            Or saving your butt if you lock yourself out.
            Or getting in if you’re not home but it’s logistically convenient for them to stay at your house–say you live right by their work and they live far away from it, and they need a place to nap after a rough shift.
            Or… you get the picture yet?

            And yeah, you do have to ask for the key back when you break up. Oh well. There’s a lot of unpleasant loose-thread-gathering when a serious relationship (romantic or not) breaks up, and that’s part of it.

            When a partner violates the trust implicit in giving them a key, the key is not the real cause of the problem there.

    2. Yeah, getting an alarm clock so the LW can put the phone in airplane mode or turn it off are band-aid solutions, and are problematic if LW wants to be able to take calls from non-asshats or which might be important for other reasons – friends & relatives who have a good reason to call when LW might be asleep, emergency at work and LW is on-call, whatever. Doesn’t matter if LW never actually *gets* any of those calls, either.

      Once the LW Hulk-smashes BF with the bitchiness he fully deserves, I do like the idea of filtering *just* him; but there’s no way she should have to turn the phone off because of him. That would make me extra-super-pissy, like he was winning by making me change my habits.

      (if you don’t want to jailbreak an iPhone to install an app to filter somebody, you can get a “silent” ringtone for 99 cents and assign it to jerks and telemarketers that don’t respect the do-not-call list.)

    3. Have you ever been in a house that had a glaring flaw, something that was massively against code and unsafe and inconvenient, but everyone in the house was used to working around it?

      “Oh yeah, there’s a step missing there on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”

      Some people are like that missing step. Everyone around them gets used to working around their, er, special requirements, and because these absurd half-solutions do work, everyone feels like the problem is solved. But it’s obvious to an outside observer that people are massively inconveniencing themselves just so Mr. or Ms. Missing Step won’t have to behave like a reasonable adult.

      Silencing the boyfriend’s calls, but continuing to date him, is jumping over the missing step, and that kind of thing never works out well in the long term.

      1. “But it’s obvious to an outside observer that people are massively inconveniencing themselves just so Mr. or Ms. Missing Step won’t have to behave like a reasonable adult.”

        Yes, THIS. I actually think that getting the alarm clock (sans the “OMG have you never thought of spending $10 to get an alarm clock from Target?????” BS) and screening the BF’s number is a good idea if she decides to change his status to EX-BF.

        Also–she’s not having a problem with telemarketers or scads of friends and relatives or clients calling her at inappropriate times. She’s having a problem with a boyfriend doing it, and he’s doing it knowing full well she doesn’t want him to call her during those hours. The problem is bigger than “oh, just get an alarm clock” (OK, and in the next situation where he violates her boundaries and dismisses her feelings?). His behavior is riddled with red flags and she deserves to have her boundaries and her feelings respected.

        1. re the ‘alarm clock BS.’..

          I think what happens for me in the commenting dynamic is that I don’t tend to comment unless I have something to add, so in this case where I totally agree with the whole package of the Captain’s advice, I wouldn’t have commented except that the LW’s statement that she didn’t have a mechanical solution available stood out to me as something I could help with. But then in the context of the whole discussion it comes across (unintentionally on my part) as blowing the substantial issue off.

          I have found that people who are not used to enforcing boundaries often genuinely have not considered obvious mechanical solutions – it’s not that they’re stupid, they just haven’t given themselves moral permission. And if you offer the mechanical advice, that can feel like permission for them.

          Also I don’t like to lead with ‘your partner sucks donkey balls-dump them’ because I find with friends, if they’re ready to hear it they would have dumped them already. It’s gotta be even more unwanted and useless coming from an internet random.

          1. But here’s the thing: BF could very well be the type to come banging on her door (or letting himself in if he has a key). BF could escalate.

            And it’s not “ZOMG YOUR BF IS HORRIBLE, DUMP HIM STRAIGHTAWAY” it’s “Your BF isn’t respecting your boundaries and doesn’t seem to intend to do so. This is a huge red flag. Do you want to live this way?”

            It’s a safety issue for me. And honestly, if someone had pointed out that a) what my ex did was not at all cool AND b) I did not deserve that and c) the only thing I could hope for if I stayed with him was more of the same since he wasn’t going to change, I would have gotten out a lot sooner. I actually did get out when a therapist pointed out (c).

            What would not have helped is the “OMG haven’t you heard of [department store] where you can get [tech band aid solution] for low $$$$? What do you mean you did X THAT IS STUPID. YOU SHOULD NEVER, EVER DO THAT.”

            It was exhausting to think that I could/had to try to train him, understand where he was coming from, and that I was somehow to blame for not doing X, Y, or Z when the real issue was his behavior, not my failure to somehow mitigate it. It was frankly liberating to know that what he did was not okay, not even a little. And hearing “You’re going to have to decide if you can live with his behavior” pretty much clarified for me that I needed to get the fuck out (which took a lot of doing since abusers don’t let go easily).

          2. We seem to have really different perceptions on the following:

            -whether or not, based on one snippet of behaviour from a presumably late-adolescent boy, we can conclude with certainty that the boyfriend is systematically abusive, or that the LW’s relationship is equivalent to your situation
            -whether or not the comments that suggest technical solutions in response to the LW’s identification of a technical problem constitute shaming, blaming or haranguing her in all-caps.

            Given we can’t agree on those, we’re not actually discussing the same problem. So I will bow out at this stage.

          3. I am really, really strongly on Team No Technical Solutions, and here’s why:

            1) If the boyfriend’s calls suddenly stop getting through, it’s unlikely he’s going to just go “huh, okay then.” He’s going to figure out how to disrupt LW’s life another way, or make it into an argument the next time they see each other.

            2) If the boyfriend doesn’t make it into an argument, that’s almost more uncomfortable. Then LW’s in a situation where zie isn’t getting woken up any more, but nobody’s talking about why it was necessary for zir to implement a technical solution, and that seems like a poor place to go from if the relationship’s going to last much longer.

            3) A boyfriend so disrespectful of boundaries he’d play the “you’re cute when you’re grumpy” card is not going to just have this one problem. He’s doing–or going to do–other messed-up, boundary-violating things that won’t be so easily solved with phone settings.

            The only time I think a technical solution is appropriate is when you’re cutting someone off and want to block all their calls and emails. If you’re going to keep having a relationship with them, you need to address the real problem with them.

          4. Belinda, I don’t think we have to — or even can — decide whether or not the boyfriend is systematically abusive. But it’s not just “a snippet” of behavior; it’s an established pattern, one with enough red flags for a decent-sized Communist Party rally. And adolescence, late or otherwise, doesn’t matter. I work with mostly 19 and 20 year old people, many of whom would be appalled by this, and insulted at the idea that the offender’s age is an excuse.

          5. Please don’t include my name at the start of the comment like that – it feels ooky to me. Please also don’t try to draw me into an drama triangle with hypothetical offline parties.

            There is a high level of rhetorical escalation from some commenters that does make it seem to me that a conclusion that he is a dangerous abuser has absolutely been reached. I don’t want to re-open a line of discussion that I said I was bowing out of, but that was what I was responding to. We don’t have enough data points for that to be legitimate.

            I am pretty bewildered by your comment. My point in this particular thread was that there is a dynamic in the commenting that has caused the discussion to appear more polarised than in reality it is. As far as I can see, virtually everybody agrees in substance that the dude is a dbag and she should consider the future of the relationship carefully.

          6. Sorry, I wandered away from this thread and particular discussion because: sleep & work.

            I don’t think tech solutions are wrong or that Belinda (or anyone) was wrong in recommending them. I think they are (as one commenter recently and awesomely put it) next steps in enforcing boundaries, and some of the “Why don’t you just try…” aspect of the recommendations rubbed the wrong way. It’s really easy to get into “just install the Solve Patriarchy app and stop your complaining!” territory with it.

            I’d like to close down this particular branch of the discussion between Sheelzebub, Belinda, and anyone else who wants to add anything. You’ve all articulated your points very clearly, you agree more than you disagree, it’s getting to be more about tone than anything else which is a good sign to be done with it. I don’t think any new insights or new ground is going to be covered.


          7. Belinda, what we can conclude, from the LW’s words, is that her boyfriend respects some of her boundaries but “cheerfully” (in her words) violates the ones he doesn’t like. You don’t have to call someone a horrible abuser to point out that such behavior is a red flag. This isn’t one snippet of behavior, it’s part of a pattern that the LW had mentioned. The phone thing was an example she gave.

            Her situation may not be the same as mine, but it is part of the same dynamic. He’s young, he may not know! You can use the tech band-aid solutions! How could you be so stupid as to give him a key? Why didn’t you just get an alarm clock? Maybe you can train him! All of these things are likely to guilt and push someone (who’s already had admitted problems with setting boundaries) into staying because she’s not being fair to him and she should do more. And besides, it’s somehow tarring him as horrible to point out that repeatedly ignoring her requests is a shitty thing to do and that it’s something that’s worthy of caution. And that he’s so young (so is she).

            And really? The LW is 20. Chances are her BF is the same age, maybe 18 or 19. 18 and 19 year olds are old enough to understand that “I know you don’t want me to do X but I’m going to do it anyway” is a shitty thing to do. Either way, she should not have to put up with that if she doesn’t want to. Part of enforcing boundaries is putting space between yourself and the people who refuse to respect them. And pointing out that she’s within her rights to do that if she wants to and that someone who has a history of doing this (a history that LW herself mentions) will likely continue the behavior is, IMO, perfectly constructive.

          8. See above – let’s close down this branch of the discussion. You’ve all said what you have to say very clearly, nothing new is going to be added, and y’all agree more than you disagree. Thank you.

      2. May I share parts of this comment on my [real life, different name] facebook, with credit? It is really really great and I think some people in my life need to hear it.

        Totally understand if the answer is “no” for any reason. ^_^


      3. Everyone around them gets used to working around their, er, special requirements, and because these absurd half-solutions do work, everyone feels like the problem is solved. But it’s obvious to an outside observer that people are massively inconveniencing themselves just so Mr. or Ms. Missing Step won’t have to behave like a reasonable adult.

        Well that just summed up 50% of the problems at my now-former job. Damn.

    4. I agree that the alarm clock isn’t the real issue here, but I do think checking to see if her phone has an alarm/no ring function (and/or getting another alarm system) is actually kind of a good idea. Not just because it’ll benefit her sleep, but because in my own experience as a night shifter, it sends a message: I am not answering your goddamn phone call until I feel like it. The problem with cell phone culture is that it gives some people the entitled sense that they are owed an immediate response whenever they feel like it. I turn off my phone for the exact purpose of saying, “No, I don’t.”

      (I absolutely agree on the rest of your points, though.)

  10. LW, can you afford an alarm clock? If so, you may want to consider purchasing one and then turning your phone off (or to silent) when you’re asleep. I know that you shouldn’t have to, and you should be able to have your boundaries respected by your BF. His clear refusal to respect your boundaries isn’t going to change, but this way you can enforce them more strictly. He can go from being able to get in touch with you while you’re sleeping (in case of emergency) to not having any ability to contact you during the time you have specifically stated you do not wish to be woken up.

    The one drawback I can think of is this: Does your BF have a key to your place? Would he be able to get around those stronger boundaries by actually driving to your residence and waking you up? Which would be a horrifying thing and creepy as fuck, but I wouldn’t put it past some people. It’s worth considering, either if he already has a key or as a consideration if/when you decide whether or not you feel like giving him a key.

    Obviously, you’re getting enough out of your relationship with BF not to want to break up with him despite his boundary issues. And I’m glad for you! I’m also glad you plan to continue to be firm on your stated boundaries. I know from previous experience that many a BF that has ignored stated boundaries will (consciously or not) end up trying to get through all your boundaries. Boundary creep is never fun.

    1. Ha, this entire comment is one long case for DTMFA. “Are you afraid he’ll show up at your place when you don’t answer his six phone calls that you asked him not to make?”

      1. Oh, no argument there. I just don’t believe in telling people to break up with their partners. I feel like, if he’s a Darth Vader BF, the LW will have to make the decision to leave him. Anyone else saying “leave him, trust me!” won’t do any good. It never does, not unless that person has made the decision on their own. (I’ll happily validate the LW if they decide that a break-up is in their best interests, though.)

        1. You’re right, and I really try to avoid telling people to do that – They are definitely not going to listen if they don’t want to or aren’t ready and it just alienates them and creates bad blood to put them in the position of defending the bad partner to others. It can come across as “and also I think YOU’RE stupid for going out with him.”

          I’m sure that the dude does have many good qualities. He’d HAVE to, right? Still “you’re cute when you get mad at the gross thing I did that you asked me not to do” is a SMASHABLE offense. I’d be really surprised if it were the only way that he’s disrespectful.

        2. I can think of two types of people who would do this.

          The controlling boyfriend (who is asserting his right to make her jump) is likely to escalate when thwarted, and really needs the DTMFA treatment.

          The joker, who’s gotten himself in a loop where he’s interpreting her anger as a token display of irritation, may just have appalling judgment. If this is the case, and he’s someone who needs a high baseline level of conflict/attention/adrenaline, then you should be able to spot that in how he relates to his friends. Does he take it well to be surprised? Have friends who tease him mercilessly and play practical jokes on him? Does he approach every problem by poking it hard and seeing what the reaction is? Someone with a weird pattern, who needs to learn that not everyone is like him, isn’t hopeless, though maybe he’s still a bad fit.

          1. LW has said, in essence, “I have now informed you of my needs. You should have the knowledge to act on my needs.” That should be all the learning he needs. He’s a grown-up.

            Honestly? I don’t care how someone might be a joker or have a weird pattern if they’re still ignoring someone’s stated needs. That way lies frustration and anger as “oh, but he just has a weird pattern of behavior” is used as an excuse for understanding why he just. hasn’t. changed. yet. And why it’s a way of taking responsibility for his behavior away from him, because, oh, poor him! He just hasn’t learned yet! It’s LW’s job to teach him. Because he’s just not educated properly and LW needs to ~train him up right~ and he’ll be fine. Which is sexist and demeaning to everyone, because men are capable of learning on their own and not being manchildren and women are not required to be maternal, nurturing figures to their BFs. (I’m not trying to label LW with any particular gender, but stating that this is how sexism is bad for everyone.)

            It’s not the LW’s responsibility for taking care of his potential “weird pattern” of socialization or his “appalling judgment” that still results in involves behaving like an asshole and ignoring other people’s needs. That’s all on BF. He’s a grown up and bears the responsibility for his behavior, whatever has caused it.

          2. (CONTENT WARNING: Personal baggage, TMI, strongly stated absolutist opinions)

            There is definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY a third option, and I dated him for about a year: the narcissistic, unempathetic, entitled jerkwad who *thinks* he’s a joker and *insists* really really loudly that he’s a joker and the rest of you are just taking things too seriously and have no sense of humor. This is the guy who engages in merciless and vicious teasing when everyone else in the room is just at a regular level of affectionate banter; the guy who plays potentially dangerous/property-damaging “practical jokes” on all of his friends, including the ones who don’t do that to him; the guy who makes joking-but-not-really comments about all of your supposed faults and mocks the everloving shit out of all your mutual friends whenever they’re not around (because there’s no sexier pillow talk than discussing all your best friends’ failings!); and who assumes that you also must obviously be joking any time you say something that isn’t exactly what he wants you to be saying, because OBVIOUSLY. Sometimes the thing you will be saying that is not exactly what he wants you to be saying will be sexual in nature, like when he is trying to do something to you and you are like “No, stop it, I want to (sleep/get something to eat/otherwise do something else, possibly involving taking care of basic physical needs)” and he will be like “AHA lol okay” and sexually assault you.

            LW, the fact that your boyfriend blatantly doesn’t give a shit about your basic physical needs is a massive, massive red flag. It is a sneaky way of psychologically abusing someone because it is so completely fucking OUT THERE that it is likely to just *not compute* in the brain of the abusee, because seriously, who the fuck does that.

            My ex was like this with food. It would be dinnertime and I would say I was hungry and we would agree that it was definitely food time and we would go get some pizza now, and I would reach for my shoes, and he would reach for my pants. Attempting to decline would get me, like, cutesy fake pouts and stuff. I eventually stopped trying to decline because I didn’t want to also go through the ten minutes of pointless back-and-forth where I said no and he decided I was obviously kidding in addition to the twenty minutes of having-things-done-to-me (plus another half hour of him checking his email, playing with the cat, talking to roommates, and generally putting Wall Street executives to shame with his making-people-wait tactics), and I eventually relented because (a) I was fucking hungry and just wanted to get whatever was in between me and food out of the way as soon as possible and (b) I didn’t want to find out how he would react if I kept pushing it, how angry or loud or violent I would have to get before he would understand that I didn’t want him to do that. I wanted to put it out of my head. So I spent a year trying to be nice and accommodating and understanding that some people are just *different* than me, and are more extroverted or more practical-joking-oriented or need “a higher baseline of adrenaline” or whatever the fuck justifications people come up with for being assholes with no regard for other people.

            I know there are many people here who try not to unequivocally order people to dump their SO’s because if they are in a relationship they must be getting something out of it, but as someone who was in a relationship with someone with that level of totally not giving a shit about your boundaries, I wish that someone had unequivocally told me to dump that asshole when I complained to my parents or my friends about whatever passive-aggressive bullshit he had pulled when we were fighting (I didn’t tell anyone about the “assuming I was joking when I said no” thing until after we broke up, but a lot of the things we did have fights over and I did tell people about were mind-bogglingly fucked up). Because the main thing I was getting out of that relationship was not having to admit to myself what a gargantuan mistake I’d made. Now that it is over, and has been over for more than a year, I still cannot go an entire day without being deeply, bitterly angry with myself for putting up with that shit for so long. I am having a lot of trouble forgiving myself for becoming the sort of person who makes excuses for that kind of bullshit. I wish I had the strength to end it myself instead of trying to tell myself it was okay until he finally got fed up with me being insufficiently cheerfully submissive and dumped my sorry ass.

            And so I am unequivocally telling you to DUMP. THIS. ASSHOLE. RIGHT. NOW. No negotiations, no excuses, no second chances. Do it yourself, so you can at least know that you got yourself out of it. Do it now, instead of later, so you don’t have to wonder as much what made you put up with that treatment for so long. It doesn’t matter what other nice or good things he does to make you believe that he loves you: he doesn’t. He’s not capable of it. Like many narcissistic asswipes who are constitutionally incapable of understanding that other people are real, I’m sure he is very, very good at acting like he loves you sometimes–he may even think that he does! But he’s wrong. Get rid of him.

    2. This. I think LW wants to read up on/understand “extinction burst” for both players. A common first response to no longer getting the usual, is to escalate, and escalate hard.

      If you feel safe doing so, it might be time to say, in the evening: “I’m tired of being woken up, and I’m going to start filtering all calls that come to my cell phone before noon. Is there anything that might come up that you can’t just send me email about?”

      The idea is both to hear him out and give him a few hours to get used to the idea (which might prevent a freakout), and to give you warning to take better precautions to reduce collateral damage, if he tells you he’s going to break in if he doesn’t hear from you.

      It’s valid to remind housemates or apartment managers/security officers who shouldn’t be given free access to your place, and what your expectations are for emergency access.

    3. My alarm clock suggestion was exactly to prompt his next move. Him showing up to still wake LW thus proving to her once and for all that this isn’t a misunderstanding but actually a deliberate and oh so fun fuck you on his part.

  11. Your boyfriend and your dad are both assholes. WOW.

    First, for your boyfriend: he gets his reward of talking to you when you pick up the phone. Hopefully going HULK SMASH via the Captain’s (AWESOME) speech will do the trick, but if not, just DON’T PICK UP. Do not give him the satisfaction of hearing your voice until an hour you find acceptable, and ONLY THEN do you pick up to reinforce what you said before with “This is your last warning on this, you are on my LAST NERVE. I’m not going to talk to you again until [day], and you’d better have a really damn good apology then.” Then hang up on his ass and don’t answer any more calls until the day you specified (and if he calls before your wake-up time on that one? break up with that asshole, jfc). He is now not only being not-rewarded, he is being PUNISHED.

    Your boyfriend may throw a temper tantrum over this and call you MORE to try to get your attention, because he apparently has the emotional maturity of a friggin’ toddler. Think of it as good experience for when you have to deal with small children. Sit it out. Don’t answer the phone. Screen his calls. Your attention is the reward he gets for not being an inconsiderate asshole, not the reward he gets for persistence in his assholery.

    Second: your dad is obviously more tricky, because while you can dump a boyfriend, it’s harder (I won’t say impossible) to dump a dad. And he’s doing it because he loves you, and he thinks he’s helping, which is more complex in a REALLY FRUSTRATING way. Give him an alternative way to “help”, on something you find more acceptable (ideally, something you’d truthfully enjoy and appreciate his help on)– and give him lots of attention and happy-daughter face for it. Give him no attention whatsoever for the “help” on your publishing career. Lots of “huh” and “really” replies on the publishing advice; lots of “wow, that’s great, Dad, thank you so much!” on the alternative-topic advice/help.

    On a completely personal note: it’s really weird to me to see how my approach to these things changed once I had a kid; the boyfriend thing is a clear case to me of listening to the kid howl when I’m in the bathroom and ignoring it, and the dad thing is a case where I’m taking away the remote control and distracting the kid with a stuffed animal. The scary thing is that while these things are the most blatant with toddlers, they’re true for adults, too– there are more layers there with the grown-ups, but the underlying emotional tantrum remains the same. You just use more layers and slightly different techniques with the adults. Huh.

    1. “And he’s doing it because he loves you, and he thinks he’s helping”

      I don’t agree. If he were acting out of love or a genuine desire to help, he would have stopped when the LW told him to. Doing something obnoxious and unhelpful is not love. It’s putting his own view of how things should be above his actual relationship with his actual daughter. Which really fucking blows.

      I like your analogy of toddlers. The behavior isn’t conceptually different, it’s just done with different words.

      1. If he were acting out of love or a genuine desire to help, he would have stopped when the LW told him to.

        Yeeeah, not necessarily. Exhibits A-ZZ138: My Mom. I don’t doubt for a second that she loves the shit out of me and genuinely wants to help me. I don’t doubt, because her method of showing her love is to try and help with something, ANYTHING, and she will make things up to help me with.

        I can hear the “I love you” behind the baseless worry and occasionally offensive “helpful” comments. It’s obnoxious and unhelpful, but it’s how she shows she cares, and it’s still love. I’ve just become an expert at filtering out the advice and focusing on the message of love behind it.

        1. i can’t really get behind this. my mother and stepmother are both this variety of “helpful”–doing things like throwing me large, elaborate 16th birthday parties including the boy i was hopelessly in love with when all i wanted was pizza and a movie. an insistence on providing “help” you neither ask for nor desire demonstrates, to me, a greater commitment to an imaginary version of you than the real one. accepting that sort of help as “love” tells the helper that their feelings are more important than yours in situations in which you might actually need actual help. a truly helpful person will find out what you need and give that. a person who insists on giving you what she wants to give regardless of your needs is selfish.

      2. If he were acting out of love or a genuine desire to help, he would have stopped when the LW told him to. Doing something obnoxious and unhelpful is not love.

        The thing is, though, just as women are trained to be sweet and accommodating and take care of men’s needs before their own (as a sign of love), men are trained to “protect” and “help” women (as a sign of love). My dad, god bless him, is a champion mansplainer, and his constant advice/”helpful” emails/etc are, to him, a way of showing me he’s thinking about me. It drives me up the fucking wall, and I have to lay down serious boundaries about it, but it’s not malicious, initially. That said, he *does* listen when I ask him to stop (at least for a while) — it’s the LW’s dad’s pushiness and ignoring boundaries after the fact that strikes me as pernicious.

        1. That’s a better way of saying what I was going for. Reflexive advice givers are, well, reflexive. If you can hear the ‘I love you’ behind it, that’s great. The LW’s quotes sounded a lot more malicious to me, though. I live by the ‘believe what they do, not what they say’ rule, so PomperaFirpa’s assumption that he’s acting out of love was a hot button for me. This guy may not merit the assumption that he’s acting from a good place. Even if he is, the results are not loving behavior. The LW will have to decide for herself how much credit she wants to give him for good motivations.

          Y’all have very good advice for dealing with it, regardless of where it’s coming from. Deflect, deflect, deflect!

      3. He’s acting out of his perception of love and a genuine desire to do what he considers helpful. Helpers — especially male ones, I think — tend to think their idea of what’s helpful overrides that of the beneficiary — especially a female beneficiary.

        Even the ablism and erasure might be coming from a place of helpfulness. Without details, I couldn’t say, but I can see it as not wanting to encourage the LW to think of herself as disabled because he thinks that’s holding her back. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t refer to myself as “chronically ill,” which is medically 100 percent correct, by people I’m pretty sure intended to indicate that I shouldn’t be thinking of myself as sick first and whatever else I am after that.

        None of this purported helpfulness is an actual defense of his behavior, and he still needs to cut it out, but strategies for getting him to cut it out need to take his idea of what he’s doing into account to be successful.

      4. Okay, I have a really, REALLY strong aversion to statements like that. Really, really, really strong.

        You can’t write an equation that says loving intentions = only good actions, because that means you get all sort of shitty answers back about the actions of people who love you and about your actions toward people you love. The emotion and the action are separate entities. One does inspire the other, but the fact that love is good does not mean that the resulting action is good. It might, by sheer coincidence, be good, but a lot of the time it isn’t.

        If you, yourself, are acting out of love, will everything you do be right? If it turns out that you screwed up, will you then be incapable of seeing how you screwed up because you were acting out of love? Will you further hurt someone you love because you refuse to see how you are wrong? …and see, there’s exactly the thought process that LW’s father is probably going through right now. I CAN’T BE DOING IT WRONG ‘CAUSE I’M DOING IT OUT OF LOVE is the other side of the coin for IT CAN’T BE LOVE IF HE’S BEING A JACKASS.

        I don’t know about you, but I fuck up all the time for really, really good reasons. I still have to apologize, and I still have to feel like shit about it, and I still stew and feel like I was totally justified and have to work it around in my head until I can deal with it. LW’s father is likewise fucking up for great reasons– he wants to help! HE IS REALLY BAD AT IT. Doesn’t mean he isn’t acting out of love, but he’s still hurting his daughter. (Yay, parenthood! It sucks sometimes.) If he’s stuck on only seeing one option for how to help, he’s going to keep careening along in that same direction like a determined freight train. If you give him a different track to run that engine along, he’ll be a lot happier about letting go of the other, hurtful track.

        1. Sorry, looks like we managed to land on each other’s hot buttons!

          I should have clarified in my comment that it’s the inability to let go of this topic, coupled with the angry behavior and insults when asked to let it go, that make me think the LW’s father is at least on this topic more invested in being right than in listening to his daughter. I could be reading it wrong, the LW obviously knows him and his intentions far better than I do. I guess I don’t think the situation merits the assumption that he’s acting out of love, which is what I took issue with in your comment. (Apparently much too strongly!)

          I have major issues with the ‘but zie’s only doing it becuase zie loves you’ excuse after it was used to hand-wave years and years of hurtful behavior from my father. It made no sense to me how the cruelty that he dished out could line up with love. When I reexamined it from the perspective that perhaps he was being a selfish, immature jerk, it suddenly all fell into place. Since then, my motto is “if there’s a mismatch between someone’s words and their actions, the actions are telling the truth.” It’s amazing how much self delusion it turns up, too. I really intend to get to the gym? Yeah, apparently I also have some motivations not to!

          I absolutely agree with you that bad behavior can come out of good intentions and good, loving people fuck up and hurt each other, often repeatedly. I’m no exception. My poor husband has the scars to show for it! But I’d like to think that in the long run, real love leads to an upward trend, not a downward one.

          1. Yeah, believe me, I got the full run of emotionally abusive treatment out of my dad, who loves me like fire! And both these things are true. I think, hilariously, that you and I both got a lot of the same treatment from our dads, and that we both came to the same conclusion, only different.

            And oddly, even though I sounded more like the more cheerful version on the surface, when I look at our opinions further written out, mine looks A LOT DARKER than yours does, because I have zero believe that “real love” leads to an upward trend. My general lack of optimism, let me show you it!

          2. Huh, interesting. My dad wasn’t abusive, quite, mostly just neglectful and had no tolerance for anyone’s feelings but his own. (He was a long term addict. Let me show you another one of my hot buttons.) As long as we stayed out of his way, he didn’t care. It’s kind of sickeningly hilarious – at age 17 I decided to have as little to do with him as possible. I’m not outright rude because I care about keeping the family peace, but I don’t even say hello if I can avoid it. It took him nine years to notice. Then I got a great non-apology that was all about his bruised feelings, and things went right back to the way they were. He thinks it’s all cool now.

            He’d probably say he loves me, if you asked, but I think he’s fooling himself. The usual platitude is that ‘he loves you deep down’, but I’m not sure if I believe ‘deep emotions’ actually exist. We have conflicting emotions, sure, and some of them get shoved to the back sometimes, and there’s some that are more apparent than others, but if it *never shows*, is it really there?

            So I have no concept of someone who really loves, but is also abusive. I guess I know it’s logically possible – I can imagine someone who pulls really nasty crap, and then honestly apologies, only to start the cycle again – but even then I’m really skeptical that the apparent love is just manipulation. Probably not conscious manipulation, but manipulation all the same. If the end result is that you hurt while they get to win all the time, I don’t see how it can be a loving relationship, no matter how much they believe that to be the case.

            I’m glad you’ve found a way to frame your experience that works for you. You’re right, we’re looking at similar stuff, different angles.

        2. One more thought I realized I was implying and other people might not be: this often applies only to one area of a relationship – The LW’s dad may be acting out of need-to-be-right-ness in this area and still very much love her and have a good relationship otherwise. It’s just that this particular behavior is not loving, and I’m not convinced that love is its motivation.

    2. This (Dad thing) may be symptomatic of the parent having difficulty adjusting to the relationship-of-equals thing that happens when children become adults. The good news is, it can sometimes get better if you kindly but firmly set boundaries and then ignore the parent’s inappropriate behavior (kind of how people will look away if you poop on the sidewalk), only reinforcing the good behavior.*** Here’s a bright spot: my Dad has had MAJOR trouble adjusting to my and my sibling’s growing up. However! I kept enforcing boundaries and giving him space when he reacted badly to that reinforcement. Not too long ago he frustratedly told me when I was visiting that he knew better because “you’re the kid and I’m the parent!” And then we looked at one another and cracked up.

      *** Disclaimer: this is not applicable for abusive relationships.

    3. “And he’s doing it because he loves you, and he thinks he’s helping”

      I’m going to hopefully assume that LW’s Dad does love her. That’s a separate issue but this behavior doesn’t come from love, nor helpfulness. If someone who respects you wants to help they will either ASK how they can be of service or offer help and wait for your answer. In other words they will factor you into the equation of their desire to be helpful. When people force their unsolicited advice on you especially after you have told them not to, it’s an act of deep disrespect and aggression. People who do this are belittling you to prop up their own pathetic ego. “See I’m smarter/better/higher on the totem pole than you are therefore you should be grateful for my wise counsel.” Yes parents in particular have a really hard time making the transition to seeing their children as adults. Mine never made it to that destination but that doesn’t mean they get to torture you all your adult life no matter how much they love you.

      I’m going through this same situation with someone right now. I recently met this person at church and I happened to mention in passing to someone else that I’m unemployed and now every time I go to church, the place I am going to escape my constant fear/worry about being unemployed, she’s in my face asking if I’ve gotten hired yet. Every. Week. First I gave her the disapproving look. Then I started avoiding her. Then she started avoiding me in pissed protest. Well, I couldn’t let that martyr stance go so I wrote a two page letter simply stating but not explaining what she was doing was harmful and NOT helpful including this . She said she understood but I noted she made no attempt to apologize (thus conceding equality). I thought it was handled and she still did it again the very next time I saw her. This person has absolutely no basis whatever to feel superior, she just does. So I definitely vote for the HULK SMASH approach. Polite, rationality just doesn’t make a dent.

  12. LW, I don’t know whether to send Jedi hugs or offer you some boxing gloves (sorry about the rhyming, there).

    I don’t know the backstory with your boyfriend, if this is just one thing he does that’s annoying and the rest of the time he’s superawesome and respectful or what. I do know that you get to have your own schedule and sleep patterns and aside from the occasional accommodation (that is pre-arranged by both parties) you do not have to alter your daily pattern entirely just to salve his neediness.

    As for your dad, ugh. Parents and family members are sometimes the worst because they want you to succeed, and when they know what you do, nothing can stop them from trying to be helpful, even though you do what you do ALL THE TIME and thus are an expert (or learning to be) while they read a newspaper article and think they know just as much about this as you now! It can feel insulting to your hard work that they feel that way. I sometimes envy my siblings whose jobs are way more confusing than mine, because nobody ever tells them how to be what they are, because they don’t understand it!

    I hate to say it but this is a particular problem for people who write. Everyone thinks they’re an expert because hey, they read! So they know everything! You will be getting this kind of commentary from pretty much the entire world your whole life any time you tell someone “I’m a writer” unless you get into some really esoteric field of reporting. (PS – don’t ever tell anyone in a public transportation situation that you’re a writer. Lie if you have to. I’ve been subjected to screaming rants about how terrible movies are nowadays even though I had never sold a script. Or worse people tell you their ideas for their awesome novels that they’re totally going to write some day and you sit there with your head pounding at how awful and incomprehensible it is and when they get done they laugh and say “Now, don’t steal my idea!” and you want to barf. ALL TRUE STORIES!)

    Anyway, disengaging from your Dad as much as possible seems like a good idea. Also, don’t talk to him about what you’re working on right now. At all. It may take some time to get used to this, if you’re accustomed to discussing your work with him, but you need to stop. This is your thing, you are not required to share the details of it with anyone who asks (see previous paragraph). Practice evasions like “Oh I’m just getting started” or “Well I’m editing so right now I don’t have a good grasp of the overall feel of it” or “Oh God I’ve been staring at it for days I can’t take it any more! We have to talk about something else!” And when those don’t work, fall back on the “Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll consider that!” and get the hell out of there. Your dad will probably not be the last person who behaves in this way, though thankfully with most everyone else you can distance yourself more easily since they won’t be family. But it may be a good idea to have this routine down in case it comes up again later in your life.


      I laughed so hard at “Now, don’t steal my idea!” It’s funny because it’s true.

      I love your advice on replying as vaguely as possible about the actual work itself.

    2. Oh God yes to all of that. My folks are teachers, and that’s another job that everyone thinks they are totally qualified to do in spite of not having a master’s degree in it and forty years of on-the-job experience. It does not get better with time, because everyone in the entire world is a complete asshole about these things. I DON’T KNOW WHY.

  13. LW, I think your dad and my dad totally hang out at the same club. It’s the cranky old man club where they sit around and talk about all the useful advice they’ve given their daughters and how we are just so ungrateful for their masterful assistance without which we would be total failures.

    “You can’t really win this fight with him by logic, and you can’t really win it by asking him to stop (because he needs to be right/smart at you more than he needs to respect and be nice to you), so you can sort of win it by not engaging in it. By thanking him and being nice you’re ending the conversation on your terms and not giving him a toehold to keep pushing you about it. You don’t get him to admit that he was wrong and knock it off forever, so you don’t win all the way, but you win by ending the conversation. Over time it will get less productive for him to act like this, because he’s not going to get the attention from you and rise out of you he’s looking for, so he may taper it off. You can also mix it up a little from time to time – respond to everything in the email that ISN’T advice as you usually would, and totally ignore the advice as if it never existed. ”

    This is THE MOST TRUE. That confrontation where you get your father to admit that you’re an adult who can think for herself and actually has good ideas, that is a total fantasy. It is unlikely to happen.

    Also keep in mind that if it wasn’t publishing your dad was advising you about, it would be something else. My father doesn’t understand what I do for a living so he likes to tell me all my political opinions are wrong. I also get comments if I make any other life choice that he doesn’t approve of, getting a cat, getting a dog, continuing to date someone who is unemployed, painting the walls of my house. I live in the universe of “all of your life choices are wrong.”

    And I’m 10 years down the line and I am just now starting to set some boundaries. Luckily you’re ahead of the curve.

    1. Yeah, this is what I’m trying to figure out with my mom right now. She means well and she loves me and she worries and all that, but every comment she makes about my life or whatever story I’m sharing always comes across as “you’re doing it wrong.” And I don’t know whether that’s me just being amazingly sensitized in recent years, or whether she’s always been that way and I just rolled with it until recently. She’s definitely a fixer and has an opinion about everything and is privileged enough to share it freely. I do know that my automatic reaction when anyone offers me unsolicited solutions to a problem I’m having is to shoot them down in the moment. We’re in detente right now, I think, as we each try figure out where we go from here. The whole thing makes me sad and unhappy because we used to be really close, and I shared just about everything with her in our weekly conversations. Not so much anymore. Now it’s mostly small talk.

      I don’t even try to negotiate with my dad. I visit and talk with him on my terms, and I either humor his need to put me my place, or just ignore it and do what I’m going to do, depending on how I feel in the moment. He doesn’t mansplain or tell me how to live my life, but he’s definitely got the gender stuff going, as well as other prejudices, and is all about the subservience and respect for authority thing.

      1. Our moms! So alike! They just want to help! That’s why they say things like “You should wear more foundation” and “You might have a little too much self-esteem” and “Have you considered dating older men, you’re so intimidating.” All things Mom has tried to “help” me with.

        1. Yowza! I am glad that you have managed to reach an accommodation with her that works for you (listen to the love, tune out the rest). Those are some real gems.

          Frankly, I think the situation with my mom went downhill long after I moved out as an adult. She’s in an abusive relationship, and I think those dynamics have infected her relationship with me and presumably others in her life. I know some of it is love, but so much of it feels like pain and anger and hurt and trapped, unable to forgive or let go–zero-sum arguments where being right is the most important, and anything less than positive is interpreted as hostile. I just wasn’t prepared for that kind of dynamic because I sure don’t remember it growing up (but the opinion on everything and essay response to yes/no questions, those are old hat) and it took me awhile to figure out what the hell happened. And that being-right mindset seems to always come with implied-criticism side salad. I basically shut her out of my three years of cancer treatment and I remain in limited contact mode now, because my first priority is taking care of myself and my partner. I’ve been pretty explicit about not being able to deal with their dysfunction anymore. Haven’t gotten anywhere with talking about OUR relationship because she’s just not willing to discuss stuff like that. So small talk and living in the moment, carefully backing away from conversational landmines, that’s where we’re at now.

          Actually, she herself told me to just use that “Thanks, Mom” noncommittal reply when she offers unsolicited advice. Of course, I was frustrated because I just want her to stop already, but I suppose it’s a reasonable compromise. She gets to feel like she’s a part of my life, and we avoid an argument.

      2. My first reaction to the letter was “When did she start dating my mother?”

        And my reaction to this comment was SO MUCH EMPATHY, because I’m in exactly the same place right now. I genuinely can’t tell how much is she’s gotten worse in recent years and how much is I just woke up to her patterns and am now steaming mad about them and thus profoundly sensitized to each new incidence. She’s mourning the loss of our closeness and mistily reminiscing about how close we were when I was still a kid; I hear “I miss how it was when I had direct control over you.”

        To add to cmdr logic’s pile: “The best way I’ve found to lose weight… is to eat less.” (Said, completely unsolicited, in the middle of a conversation about a new sport I was considering starting.) “I shouldn’t have said you were politically naive, though I may have thought that, I don’t know for sure..” (this was an “apology”) and the advice on what I should do about my violent temper that’s obviously going to destroy my marriage. (Can you guess why she thinks I have a violent temper?)

        She’s just so concerned, you guys.

        1. I’m sorry you’re navigating that. It’s so hard not to feed the trolls when they are related to you, and concern trolls are in many ways the most difficult to deal with. Le sigh. Mutual sympathy offered, and optional Jedi hugs.

        2. We in the business call this concern trolling, I believe. Concern trolls and advice trolls should get together and have a tea party far away from the rest of us.

  14. LW, do this mental exercise: Imagine that your boyfriend, the guy who respects some boundaries but “cheerfully” violates the others continues to do this. That you are with him for years and that he continues to do this, that when you say what you want he laughs it off and says he’d rather do it, besides, it’s fun and your cute or it’s no big deal or whatever. That stating your needs becomes a negotiation or a replay of this: state needs, BF ignores them, state needs and anger, BF dismisses your feelings.

    Can you live like that? For a month? A year? Five years? Twenty?

  15. “pretending my disabilities don’t exist”…

    oh hai. i have a wee bit of experience with this. it seems rather common, sadly. that, or “you’re not really disabled/sick, you have a character flaw/just need to see a psychiatrist” (yes, because mental illness is easy to cure! and other problematic stigma-based issues. uh, wow). or “you just want attention and i don’t want to enable you by helping you when you, say, can’t walk.” i’ve had experience with all of these reactions. my dad actually told me i was wasting my life once. yes, dad, it’s all my fault i’m disabled and i’m bringing this on myself?

    therapy helps. there you get an impartial voice of sanity, a professional to tell you that you’re not being a brat. for me, anyway, it’s easy to slip into the mindset of doubt. because maybe i’m exaggerating these health probs like some people think? that sort of self-doubty mindfuckery is best avoided. understatement.

    the doubters/deniers/whatev who love you? they’re trying to protect themselves emotionally because admitting the truth is too difficult and sad. my mother wants me to have a successful career and multiple graduate degrees and a lovely man in my life and all the things she’s dreamed for me (or just a healthy daughter, who she can guilt about not having the previous listed things), but instead all she gets is a daughter with a severe illness who hangs out in bed and reads a lot of books. not what she wanted! very upsetting! (as if it isn’t a struggle for me, but whatev)

    my parents have gone thru multiple phases of ignoring/reinterpreting my situation in super-creative/insulting ways. what i did:
    -lots of therapy (SO MUCH)
    -supportive friends as adoptive family (tho finding friends can be tricky too–disabiltiy can be v isolating–but anyway)
    -distance from parents (phyiscal and otherwise)
    -for me? my parents want to help and make it better but they don’t know how. and it’s tough when they won’t admit the full reality of the situation. so, i ask for their help in ways that they can easily help me. they can’t be supportive emotionally in ways i find helpful. they certainly can’t give me advice. but when they come visit they can bring me everyday stuff i can use. (they have a costco addiction, and financially they’re fine, so i can ask for material help–toiletpaper! stamps! those big containers of mixed nuts that i devour!) dad likes tinkering with/fixing things so i ask for help with that kind of thing. i try to encourage that, and show appreciation for that, and they seem happy to help.

    and the comments keep coming at times, and i try to change the subject. and then do a lot of deep breathing afterwards, or sobbing, depending.

    i just veered wildly away from being brief and concise but this stuff, it is complicated! i don’t know if any of this is helpful or if i’m just blathering, but i guess i just wanted to say i have this same prob and it’s incredibly frustrating (disability on its own is PLENTY to have to deal with).

    1. But you can’t be sick! Because that would mean the universe isn’t fair and we have to feel feelings we aren’t comfortable with. Also, you don’t look sick.


      I’m glad you found support in other places. Some people will just never get a clue.

  16. For the record, I just want to express how grateful I am for this blog, for Jennifer P, Sweet Machine and Commander Logic, and for the commentariat. Reading and participating in this blog has changed my life in so many more ways than I can even express, and it is helping me to have relationships with difficult family members that are not just “Aaak! Avoid! Avoid!”

    1. Yes! I have been practicing not offering advice. I saw myself too clearly in some of the last posts. So far it’s going well and reducing several stresses in my life. ThanKs!

      1. Me too! A while back, a friend of mine was venting about a familiar stressor in her life, one that I usually jumped onto my trusty sack of “maybe you should”s and “have you tried”s. But this time, I broke in (where it was polite to do so) and asked “do you want an ear or some advice?” She opted for the ear and we had a way better conversation/cathartic whinefest duet than we could have hoped for. Yay!

    2. Me four! And I keep re-referencing. And re-referencing. And forwarding, and linking and so much good stuff here.

      Also I love how the commentariat is so respectful in disagreement. The exchange up there between PomperaFirpa and FlyBy is an example of how great this space is.

      Thank you CA.

    3. Delurking to “word!” this comment. For me, it’s not family but other socialization; I’ve realized I need major changes in my personal boundaries and enforcement and finally started working on that, and I owe it significantly to the Awkward Army.

    4. Oh for serious yeah.

      The other day I stopped a friend from making an unreasonable request (he wanted to go dumpster-diving and make me carry his dirty, possibly dangerous dumpstery finds) with “I’m going to have to set a boundary here…” and I realized that:

      A) I sounded a little silly and pop-psychy
      B) That was okay, because delicately worded or not, it was letting him know very clearly that I was serious and could not be “oh, c’mon”ed into being his Dumpster Valet
      C) I had totally learned this from Captain Awkward.

      So <3.


      Thanks everyone! Especially the good Capt’n, Sweet Machine, and Commander Logic.

  17. Learning to be okay with other people’s negative emotions and not take them on yourself and try to “fix” them.

    KA-BOOM! I think this is the single most important emotional skill required for effectively enforcing boundaries against intrusive manipulative people.

    Just an additional piece of practical advice: You don’t have to answer the phone. You can even turn off the ringer. No one is going to die because you didn’t answer their phone call.

    For the few people in my life who are intrusive and manipulative, I *never* answer the phone when they call. This is effective for at least three reasons:

    (1) It trains them to expect that they do not have instant guaranteed access to your attention, and after a while, they will demand it less and less.

    (2) It preserves your attention for what you want to devote it to, and protects you from distraction.

    (3) It allows you to pick times for communication that suit you, and to calmly prepare any scripts or other tools you may want to have ready before you initiate communication, rather than being taken by surprise and potentially being off balance and not ready to protect yourself as necessary from intrusion and manipulation.

    There will definitely be pushback when you start doing this, as there is sort of a social expectation that when someone is home, they answer the phone. So you will have to go through some conversations like this, before callers adapt:

    I called you this morning, but no one answered. Were you home?

    Yes, I was home.

    Really?? Then why didn’t you answer the phone??

    I wasn’t able to come to the phone when you called.

    Why not??

    I was doing something and I didn’t want to be interrupted.

    What were you doing that was so important you couldn’t come to the phone??

    What I was specifically doing isn’t important. I didn’t want to be interrupted.

    What if it was an emergency???

    If there is ever a health- or life-threatening emergency, you should definitely call 911 right away so that trained professionals can handle it.

      1. Actually, I think you make a good and relevant point – the LW is having issues with a boyfriend who uses the phone to harass her. Based on my experience with laying down boundaries with people like this, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that his behavior may escalate, if she stops answering the phone so she can SLEEP (the nerve!)

        I was laughing as I read your comment b/c I had people like this in my life up until recently. One time this “friend” wanted a favor. I had already said no…so when she called me, I didn’t answer the phone. Then she called me four times per hour for three hours straight. Then she sent her husband over to my house! I was on the phone with my mom and didn’t look before I opened the door, and he’s all standing there going, “AHA! You’re HOME! Why didn’t you pick up the phone when we called!!!”

        And I held up my phone and said, “I have been on the phone for the last four hours. I am still on the phone. WHY are you HERE?”

        As a side note: I have found that, when I lay down boundaries with manipulative/self-centered people there is almost always an initial freakout backlash, where their behavior escalates, and sometimes things get really weird for a while. It seems like it goes against every instinct you have to ignore it (you’re being rude! they said they were sorry, why can’t you just forgive them! everything is awkward now and it’s all your fault!) Ignore it anyway. It is not you, it is THEM. This is also a sign that you should get away from that person. Because the normal, acceptable reaction to being given a boundary is to apologize and respect it.

        1. Arrrrgh, it’s incredibly gross when, after you refuse to do something for somebody, they take it upon themselves to try to “prove” that you really COULD have done it, that you weren’t really busy or that whatever you were doing instead wasn’t really more important or whatever. I mean… REALLY?! Are they just that invested in justifying their sense of entitlement to your time/effort/etc. that they have to, like, lauch this whole little investigation into The Case Of They Wouldn’t Do Me A Favor?

          1. That’s why giving reasons/explanations for why you can’t is overrated. A reasonable person will accept “No, sorry” as a final answer, and an unreasonable one will probe your reasons for weaknesses so they can try to get what they want from you.

          2. Even the vaguest, most nonspecific explanations (“Sorry, I’m busy right now”) can be vulnerable to that if someone is a big enough jackass! Even AFTER the fact. (I’m thinking of a particular incident, in an online game, where someone asked me for a res, I told him the above (it’s my standard “polite no”), and then a little while later, when his character was alive again, he decided to scry me to… see what I was doing? And proceeded to sulk at me about how I clearly wasn’t really busy and I totally could have ressed him if I’d wanted to. That sure made me regret not helping him! (Ha.) Of course, that’s not nearly on the same level as going to someone’s physical house to try to shame them into doing you a favor.)

    1. On other people’s negative emotions: making someone else unhappy or displeased may be a cost of your behavior. It may not be, it may have nothing to do with you except that you’re the person they choose to blame. But even if the negative emotion they feel is a genuine response to something you actually did, that cost does not automatically outweigh the benefits to you. That they don’t like you doing it doesn’t mean you were wrong to do it. That your boyfriend, LW, doesn’t like that you are sleeping at a certain time, that doesn’t mean you don’t get to sleep then.

      I’m going to assume you knew that, but I hope it’s helpful to have someone actually write it out.

  18. Ohhh lord, Sleepy, your letter strikes So Many Chords with me. Like, I can’t really coherently respond but wanted to say I hear ya and am sending you a million internet hugs (also I have taken a migraine drug that makes me a bobblehead). I broke up with the boyfriend who ignored my boundaries, and afterwards realized how many more than just the one or two he’d been ignoring (YMMV), and my dad and I have…a nuanced relationship. (He’s got a whole ‘nother set of disability-related Drama, though, with me, because my sister was born with so many problems that now he can’t fully separate me from her and keeps trying to tell me how to do things like pack my stuff as I move somewhere else for a new job.) (Also the sleep thing got me because sleep is so very much more important when you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, as I have been.)

    I hope the Captain’s advice helps you! You sound like an awesome person and I hope you can get free of some of the drama soon…and get the sleep you need! 🙂

  19. Separately, I wanted to respond to this excellent advice:
    You can’t really win this fight with him by logic, and you can’t really win it by asking him to stop (because he needs to be right/smart at you more than he needs to respect and be nice to you), so you can sort of win it by not engaging in it. By thanking him and being nice you’re ending the conversation on your terms and not giving him a toehold to keep pushing you about it. You don’t get him to admit that he was wrong and knock it off forever, so you don’t win all the way, but you win by ending the conversation.

    with some applause. And exclamation points (!!!!).

    My mother sounds a lot like your Dad, LW. Additionally, she has a tendency to hilariously give advice that is the opposite of encouraging, ie, when I was thinking about teaching high school she told me I’d better shoot for elementary school, and when I was thinking about teaching college she was suddenly in favor of me teaching high school.

    She also has a marked tendency to network for me without my permission. In the past, this has consisted of her meeting someone somewhere (like at a conference) giving this person WAAAAY too much information about me, and then sending an email to that person (cc ALL OF MY EMAIL ADDRESSES EVEN SCHOOL AAAAAGH) saying, “Xeen, this is _____. They work in _____. I told them you’d be in touch within the week.” One time, this was a rep from a school I had no interest in because she couldn’t use her words and tell me she didn’t like the school I was actually interested it- a school she has since realized is an excellent one, if not well-known.

    Phase one would be that I would feel that pressure and reply, embarrassed, to the person apologizing for my mother and saying I was not actually interested in their school/field/whatever, but best wishes and thanks anyway. Then I evolved a little into telling my mother each time that I wasn’t interested, firmly, but of course she’d forget the next time. So finally, when it happened again this weekend, I wrote out a little guide for how to network for me (get a business card! Don’t give them a time frame in case I google them and don’t wish to talk to this person! Don’t give them ANY email address of mine, let alone all of them! etc). I sent this to her. It is now out in the universe, in printed form, what the rules are, and since she replied to the email she can’t pretend she never received it.

    Now, if she continues to engage in these practices, I will ignore the email entirely and just press “delete.” I have stated my boundaries, and she is perfectly aware of them. I can’t change her, but I can change how much she is able to interfere with my day-to-day sanity (yes, literally, and I’m not trying to offend anyone- I suffer from chronic depression).

    Some people are incorrigible, and are going to engage in behaviors that are not good. If you want to keep them in your life, it’s good to come up with a game plan on how to not engage and enable bad behaviors. Bonus points if you imagine your Dad is a cat and that when you cheerfully ignore his latest inappropriate query and tell him something inane about the weather you’re spraying him with water from a spray bottle. 🙂

    1. She also has a marked tendency to network for me without my permission.

      Oh my god, MY FATHER DOES THIS TOO. Up to and including telling people that I’ll do freelance work for them and then negotiating my pay with them. (Bonus points: he’s not in my field at all, doesn’t know what the going rate is, and settled on a number that was comically low.) It’s incredibly annoying–and stressful.

      You have alllll my sympathy, JA. (And LW, too! Both of these guys in your life sound really difficult.)

      1. You mean I’m not the only one? Holy bejeezus but it’s nice to have someone understand how intrusive that can be! Do you ever have to do the follow-up, “Um, hey, so my Dad is not actually authorized to be my agent,” thing afterward?

        1. (Sorry, I have no idea why I thought your name was JA! I don’t think I was completely awake when I made that comment.)

          I know! I thought this was a uniquely awkward thing that happened only to me. (Life lesson I should remember: there are no uniquely awkward things.)

          I have a really hard time asserting boundaries with my parents–and with, y’know, everyone in life–so the last time this happened, I actually agreed to do the stupid job. And then spent about two weeks in a state of panic and avoidance and self-loathing until I finally caved and told Potential Client that oops, no, I was mistaken, I couldn’t do it after all. And then got a lecture from my father about making him look bad professionally.

          So: you are more advanced than I am, so far!

  20. Ugh. I feel you LW. I get this crap from men too, including some in my family, and also from random strangers. When people tease you like you’re a little girl (“you’re cute when your grumpy”) they don’t respect you. They aren’t taking you seriously.

    You should never respond positively, or even neutrally, to this crap from the boyfriend ever again. If he wakes you up, he needs to be told off. If he doesn’t take you seriously, he needs to be told off. I like the Captain’s approach of saying “I need a few days to think about things, as do you, clearly” and then ignoring him until you’re ready to deal with him. This will show him that you’re serious, and that he can’t keep ignoring your words while getting what he wants from you.

    I don’t think the people recommending an alarm clock are “missing the point” — obviously, the boyfriend needs to change. But when someone is harassing you in the middle of the night, preventing that harassment from waking you up is still a good idea. Next time this happens, I think the LW should get angry, tell him she needs a few days to reconsider the relationship, and use a $10 alarm clock during that time– chances are good that the boyfriend won’t leave her alone, and it’s better for him to think “she’s not answering because she’s mad” while in reality she’s blissfully sleeping through his calls.

    I would have a very hard time staying in a relationship with someone who belittled me and ignored my needs. I have seen this dynamic, often in older couples with “traditional” marriages where the husband treats the wife like a child: joking that she’s “the boss” and acting burdened when she makes any request of him at all, belittling and mocking her when she disagrees with him (but always in a paternal, “affectionate” way). You don’t want to be in that kind of relationship. The boyfriend needs to change in a big way, or he needs to be booted.

  21. I am thinking right now about Harrison Ford saying something about how his father used to sadly ask him if he’d gotten a real job yet. Ah, Helpful Parents. So Helpful.

  22. I would wait until I knew that he was asleep, then call him 6 times in a row. When he got mad, I would baby-talk at him and call him “adorable” for getting so upset. See how he likes it.

  23. LW, is there something unbelievably boring you could ask your dad for help on? “Actually, dad, I’m nowhere near submitting it to an agent or a publisher yet. But the story just isn’t going to work without my having a lot more solid information on [the length of shoelaces in the 1870s/the number of calories in the frosting of half a brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tart/the estimated volume of Lake Victoria for each of the past nine decades]. If you really want to help me, I could seriously use some assistance with the research.”

    For the boyfriend, I second Sheelzebub — picture your life with him over the next few months or years. What would it be like if you two lived together? Would you be able to put up with his behavior?

    1. I LOL’d at this. And it probably would actually help. My mom loves to give long-winded advice about getting my dissertation done, and is clearly frustrated that she can’t do much to help because she’s in a different state. It turned out she enjoys alphabetizing bibliography entries (!) and is happy to re-format the entire document to match the University’s 30-page dissertation formatting guide (!!). Win-win!

  24. ok, should BF be respecting boundries, You Bet. However, as I’ve been learning/practicing over the last few months, if boundaries won’t be respected, building a bigger wall does help. I have a certain friend, who is with a Darth Vader and is happy with DV. I, however, can’t stand to hear anything about DV. I’ve asked that we not talk about them.I asked repeatedly with no change in behavior from them until I changed mine. Once I changed my behavior, theirs started to change.

    Currently we are at some times this is respected and other times they cross that boundary just a little, I figure it is to see if boundary is still in place, without them actually using their words to find out. This causes an immediate shut down of conversation. I just don’t say anything at all after they brought the subject up. They then either excuse themselves from the conversation or change the subject. I see it as my boundary and therefore, my responsibility to enforce. (and falls under the taking responsibility for myself and for my needs to be met)

    I guess, what I’m saying here, is yes, it would be nice if BF and Dad’s behavior would change and they would start respecting your boundaries. However, what is likely to happen is that your reaction to their crossing your boundaries is what is going to have to be the change, since you can control yourself, but not them.

    1. This is where reading the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense and Harriet Lerner’s Dance of Intimacy is super helpful. Both are full of scripts and also good theoretical descriptions of why the heck they are acting that way when you are being perfectly reasonable and they are well-intentioned.

    2. I had this experience once while talking on the phone to my otherwise lovely sister. She started talking about her daughter’s weight. I told her we had different views on the issue and I didn’t want to discuss it. She kept talking and I just didn’t say anything. After a very short time, she abruptly changed the subject and I started talking again. No hard feelings, no extra discussion required – it was lovely.

  25. Re the Dad: If you’re writing a novel, explain that agents and publishers really don’t want to hear from an unpublished author about their first, unfinished novel. It doesn’t matter how good the premise is, or how beautifully written and engaging the first couple of chapters (or even three-quarters of a manuscript) are. LOTS of people start writing books. Far fewer finish them. (Because it’s really hard!) And when an agent or publisher has stacks and stacks of FINISHED manuscripts to consider, and is going to have to reject most of THEM (even some they kind of like) because there are only so many they can handle in a given time period, it is beyond unlikely they are going to fall so in love with your partially-completed manuscript that they just HAVE to have snap it up despite its unfinished status because they’re terrified that you will finish the thing and it will be transcendently wonderful and marketable and some other agent will snap it up before they get a second chance to say yes. I suppose it may happen once in a blue-and-pink-polka-dot moon, but it is not something to count on. No matter how much they love your work, the pro’s will be thinking “yeah, but can she finish this in a satisfying way?”

    In other words, the #1 thing you need to do to get an agent or publisher is finish your manuscript. Time spent contacting agents and publishers right now is just time not writing, and therefore something that pushes attainment of your goals farther away. (Which is, in a weird way, a good thing: it means you not only can but should focus on the part you love and are good at, the writing part, and defer the marketing bit for later).

    If you’re anything like me, thinking too much about agents or publishers (who right now seem like a bunch of arbitrary strangers who hold your success in their hands) at this point just brings out all your insecurities and makes you LESS productive. So what he intends as *help* right now is actually *sabotage.* And you need him to stop.

    What he can do that would be genuinely helpful is to be your research guy — not silly make-work about the book, but research on agents and publishers. For example, any time you see work that you think would resonate with the same kind of person as your yours, send an e-mail to your dad asking him to find out who the person’s agent is, whether they are taking new clients, etc.. Get him to compile a list of agents with their names and addresses, genres they handle, people they represent, contact/submission preferences, etc., and any other information available about them (articles they’ve written, articles about them, blogs they write…). Get him to study up to be your consultant on agents and publishers, so that when you actually have a manuscript, all that horrible legwork will be done, and you can hit the ground running… but for now, he needs to put all the info in a file.

    1. Sadly, if explain-y parents are at all alike, he won’t believe the LW that she knows things better than he does, even if it’s about her field. I lived in Last City for almost ten years and my parents don’t trust me to give them directions in my old neighborhood, even. Which I have to say is a little bit amusing when I finally get away from them, because it means they take a million times longer than they should and get lost rather than listen to their daughter saying, “Actually, Dad, you shouldn’t take this street because it’s not marked, but it’s a dead end and you’ll have to circle back around….ok. Well, make a left here, because after this it’s all one-way streets going the wrong way…ok.” So it’s better not to engage sometimes.

      1. Oh, I know that. But part of the reason people write Captain Awkward is because sometimes it does make a difference exactly what you say and how you say it. I advocated this because it is what I have used, and it has worked with array of “helpful-minded” people.

  26. Oh I so sympathize with you LW and I hope my story might give you some hope that this can change. When (after a good chunk of therapy) I started using my words and establishing boundaries my mother pushed back hard and I couldn’t seem to make them work at first. The secret for me was having and enforcing consequences. For my Mom, I had to take a period of time where I did not speak to her. I wouldn’t take her calls or answer her emails. It was incredibly difficult and she tried everything to get me to break (including having other family members call to tell me how awful I was for doing this and leaving long messages about how I was being ridiculous and how much I was hurting her) but I held my ground and did not re-engage until after she stopped pushing. At that point I set up the ground rules for how I needed our interactions to go and amazingly (with a few reminders over the years), she has mostly respected them since then. I feel as if she needed to see that I was really serious about this and that I would stand my ground against her firmest offensive. It has been so freeing and has actually allowed me to enjoy my relationship with my mother which I would have told you at one point was probably impossible.
    I wish you strength and resolve. I hope you know you are doing the right thing by standing up for what you need and that if you keep working on using your words and setting boundaries you will get to a place that feels so much better than where you are now.

  27. This is a little tangential to the real issues here, but having a relationship with someone who has a dramatically different sleep cycle to you is actually really hard. ‘I really like you, but almost all of your free time is when I want to be asleep’ is not an easy place to build a relationship.
    I didn’t manage to find a good solution, so I don’t have any constructive advice to offer, But I do know that calling you when you’re asleep and thinking it’s ok because “You’re cute when you’re grumpy” is not the way to do it.

    1. Very true. I’ve had two instances where my romantic/dating partners had a totally different sleep schedule from me, and it really made certain things hard. All those little rituals of mealtimes & bedtimes that are the social glue of couplehood were a little off-balance.

      I didn’t wake them up like a jerk, though. Intern Paul is NOT cute when he’s mad.

      1. Off topic from the main post, but relevant to this comment: One of my SOs and I have very different sleep patterns, but from the beginning of our relationship he has made a habit of tucking me in each night when I go to bed. On the extremely rare occasions he goes to bed before I do, I tuck him in instead. It’s become a very sweet small ritual.

        1. OMG, my b/f and I do this too! His schedule tends to be all over the place, but it gives us a few minutes to touch base and affirm that even if we don’t always spend a lot of quality time together, we still care.

  28. My story of learning how to defend my boundaries after stating them:

    My other half is not at all controlling or abusive in the normal run of things, but there have been incidents (maybe half a dozen in five years) where he has been teasing and annoying me and it’s stopped being funny (not because he’s being harsh, just because I’m bored of it already, and I have things to do or I want to talk seriously to him, and he keeps going on and on and oonn) and I’ve got mildly or laughingly annoyed and asked him to stop, and he’s kept going, and I’ve come out with something like “Jesus Christ would you fucking well STOP like I asked you to!?” and he’s gone all puppy eyed, and told me his feelings are hurt. And I have said “I told you to stop, I told you I was getting annoyed. You kept going. What the hell did you expect?” and I have patted him on the head and said “No hard feelings on my side. Learn from this,” and walked away.

    But when I was younger, I used to feel like the obligation to not get mad or upset people was so much greater than other peoples’ obligation to not ignore my wishes and stop treating me like shit. I had to train myself to recognise the difference between “I am being whiny and can’t take friendly teasing, and look, they’re all just joking, clearly they don’t see this as a big deal and I am being too sensitive,” and “my friends have been throwing pebbles at me for ten minutes straight despite my pointing out that it’s not funny and I am really suck of it now. I am entitled to let them know I am mad as hell.”

    I would, frankly, claim a lot of my growing up has consisted of learning that it’s ok to let people know that your boundaries have been violated and that you are mad as hell. If someone is doing something you wish they would stop (be that a boyfriend calling you when you need sleep, a friend taking teasing too far or a drunk stranger interrogating you on the train) you have the right to tell them to stop. If they ignore you, you have the right to be mad as hell and to let them know it.

    1. But when I was younger, I used to feel like the obligation to not get mad or upset people was so much greater than other peoples’ obligation to not ignore my wishes and stop treating me like shit.


      This is a huge, huge reason why “politeness” can be such a burden on women in particular.


        I’m recovering from “it’s more important that I’m nice than that I’m treated well” illness myself.

        It helps to have Hulk as my spirit animal.

      2. I am so very glad my mother demonstrated Not Taking Shit in the way she lived her life when I was a kid. (And still does, I hasten to add; I just don’t see it as much now!) When I state boundaries and then enforce them, I always feel slightly like I’m doing an impression of her.

        Having an awesome mother who doesn’t worry too much about being a correctly socialised woman, just being a good, independent human, helped me so much to get over feeling like that.

    2. YES. And also thank you! This is why I feel like it’s so important to allow little kids, and especially little girls, to decide whether or not they wish to be hugged/tickled/touched and the space to say no.

      1. THIS! This is why my favourite brother in law is my favourite brother in law: the rest of my husband’s family are INCREDIBLY huggy because they love everyone SO MUCH!!1! but I don’t really like being touched. Favourite brother in law recognized this soon after we met, and now when we have extended family get togethers and everyone is doing the “I haven’t seen you in FOREVER I love you SO MUCH LET ME HUG YOU” thing, he will offer a handshake, or a genuine “hey how you been”. I really appreciate this! And the rest of them mean well, we just have different boundaries or whatever. I’ve also noticed that Favourite bro in law and fav sister in law’s kids are like this: they respect other people’s boundaries, and enforce their own. And they are all under the age of 9.

      2. UUGH, tickling. Oh God, tickling. I hated it so so much as a kid, but I don’t remember realising I might have the right to not be tickled. I remember sitting there on my mother’s knee as she did “Round and round the garden, like a teddybear” and dreading the “tickle you under there!” that I knew was coming, and it never occurred to me to say “Mammy, I don’t like that.” It used to upset me so much as a child that no one ever, ever stopped when I asked them. You can’t sound angry or upset when you’re in spasms of involuntary laughter, so people just don’t take you seriously. “But you like it; you’re laughing!” is one phrase guaranteed to induce immediate fury.

        The only thing that ever stopped people tickling me as a kid was if I accidentally hit them while flailing. So now my method of dealing with people tickling me after I say stop is probably not a good one: I hit them. I lash out with hands or feet, or if I’m restrained I will bite or headbutt. I do warn people. “Don’t tickle me; I’ll hurt you.” I’ve never found anything else that works if someone is determined to be that much of an asshole.

        1. If someone is tickling you and you hit them, good for you. You’re being tickled; it’s hard to stop and think or get your words together when that happens. If you can, great! If you can’t, whack them. Or if you say to stop and they don’t, whack them.

          I hit people who tickle me. It’s the only thing I’ve ever found that stops repeat performances, because no one ever believes me when I say I don’t like being tickled. I don’t even apologize for it. They were hurting me. The natural consequence is being hurt in return.

          I realize this is Not Nice of me, but I don’t actually care. I was held down and tickled a lot by my brother, who is younger than me but much stronger. I have zero sympathy or patience for people who don’t understand that tickling someone who doesn’t like it is wrong.

          1. This +1. It’s defending yourself against a physical attack! That should always be okay. If it means the person attacking you gets hurt, too fucking bad for them; they shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.

        2. I dumped someone when he text tickled me,**

          *tickles you under arms*

          -I don’t like being tickled. I really, really hate it.-


          -My older brother used to do that to me and he is/was really big and I would have to struggle to get him to stop because he wasn’t listening. So finally I just bit him one day to make him quit.-

          *there are good tickles and bad tickles*

          -No. They are all bad.-

          And I ended it.

    3. This! Definitely this! My husband is similar (wonderful but sometimes just won’t stop joking) and there have been times where I’ve had to follow up a ‘please don’t do that’ with a ‘hey, I fucking said stop!’.

      He has on occasion pushed back with a ‘I feel like I have to watch what I’m saying around you’ and ‘I’m only joooooookkkiiiiiiinnnngggg, stop being so seriouuuuuuuus’ and it has taken a bit of self training to not captitulate and then get upset and annoyed because of that capitulation and thus we arrive at ArgumentTown.

      Instead I shrug and say I know that’s what he means but that’s not what’s coming across and what’s more important, being funny or me not being upset. Asking him what his intentions are and then asking him to take responsibility for what actually happens after he says something instead of laying it on me (‘you shouldn’t get upset, I’m only messing’) has gone a long way to smoothing things out.

      And before it sounds like he’s a total jerk, it’s been a reciprocal re-training. I have BPD and have issues with over reaction and anger and he’s been patient with helping me work through my initial reactions (ie temper tantrums) and letting me use my words to tell him what I actually want/need.

      YMMV of course and I certainly don’t recommend staying in situations where boundaries are continuously being crossed and your feelings are being ignored BUT there is hope that repeating patterns can be rewritten IF both parties are willing and able.

      1. As evidence for the last paragraph, it’s been absolutely ages since my other half ignored a “that’s bothering me, please stop now.” Won’t always work, but it can.

  29. I actually think the technical solutions might be helpful, but as a follow-up tool for the LW. Like, definitely tell your boyfriend that his continued refusal to respect your needs is so extremely not on! (Epic fail on his behalf.) But since just telling people about your boundaries isn’t enough, and you are moving onto stage two: enforce boundaries with actions, you will probably find that you have to repeat your actions a number of times before the lesson sticks, and that is extremely tiring and annoying. So rather than hanging up on him to enforce your boundaries, you could use one of these tech-type solutions to automate your boundary-enforcing process. Making your life a bit easier? Win.

  30. Late to comment, but I notice that you seem to be telling the boyfriend that his behavior upset you after the fact, and it might be helpful to make your boundaries happen in the moment rather than later.

    Instead of having a conversation with him when he wakes you up, even one to discuss whether on not he should be doing that, I’d suggest something like, “What?! When I saw you were calling me at 4 in the morning I thought you’d been in a car accident or something! I’m going back to sleep.” And then actually hang up and go back to sleep, and don’t pick up any more calls that morning, because you are sleeping. He might get the picture better, and at the very least waking you up will stop being a viable way for him to get your attention.

  31. LW, I, too, have struggled with this exact issue. And it sometimes has to do with men treating me disrespectfully, and sometimes it is just Things Other People are Doing Wrong. I’ve had to work on voicing how other people’s actions bothered me, and I, too, was sorely disappointed when that didn’t seem to be enough. While it should be enough for your boyfriend, your dad, or really, anyone (but especially people who love you and care about your happiness), to be informed of how their actions are making you unhappy, unfortunately, a lot of the time, it isn’t.

    I have had to learn that along with the skill of raising issues that bother you, you need to be prepared to follow through. I second the notion that you need to be prepared to deal with others’ negative feelings about what you say, but you also need to take that a step further and take action to show you mean it and to actually stop the behavior from affecting you if the offending party does not respond appropriately to your words.

    I was in a situation once where I was living with a roommate, and all of the sudden her boyfriend decided he also would be living there. This was not OK with me, and I used my words to express that to her. I thought I had done a great job:

    Roommate, it is not OK with me to have your boyfriend staying here 7 nights a week. He does not pay rent, he hogs the bathroom, he makes a mess, and it isn’t fair to me to have to share my space with him when that was not in our agreement.

    I received acknowledgement from her about the problem and a promise that it would end. Great, right? Wrong. He continued to live there, and in fact moved in more of his things! And I felt betrayed! Not by my roommate, but by the failure of my words to fix the problem. And I felt even more disrespected than I had in the first place, because now my roommate was KNOWINGLY doing something that she knew was bothering me, and didn’t seem to care.

    In your case, you seem to feel as though you need to accept others’ unsatisfactory responses to your needs. You don’t! You don’t need to say to yourself, “well, I used my words, and that didn’t work, so I guess I need to keep being unhappy.”

    How you don’t accept others’ response to your calm and peaceful requests is up to you. Personally, I think this sentence to your boyfriend would be appropriate: “I told you something you were doing was not acceptable to me, and you just belittled me. That is incredibly disrespectful, and I’m not interested in talking to you at all right now. Goodbye.” He may or may not get the point, but you need to show him that you won’t accept his refusal to listen to you.

    However, stopping answering his calls is, I think, also perfectly acceptable. So is breaking up with him, if that is what you want. But I think your letter was really more about a common pattern in your life rather than these two specific problems, and the point is that it’s true, not everyone will listen to your words, and sometimes you need to go ahead and take that respect for yourself rather than waiting for someone to give it to you.

    In my case, I should have, after it was clear that my words were not working, brought the issue to my landlord. It was against our lease to have another person living in our home, and I am sure that my landlord would have done something about it. This would have been my not accepting my roommate’s refusal to give me some respect. Unfortunately, what I did instead was stew and be unhappy until the time came when my roommate and her boyfriend finally moved into their own apartment together. I was afraid of how bad my roommate would make my life if I “tattled” on her. But you know what? My life was pretty bad living with her boyfriend, and I felt pretty bad because of feeling used and disrespected. In hindsight, my life probably would have improved had I taken action–she would have either moved out sooner, or would have grumpily told her boyfriend to leave and stew at me for making it so.

    When you are able to stop taking those reactions personally and prioritizing your need for respect, your life will be a lot more enjoyable.

    1. I love this comment.

      One thing that can add to the impact of telling someone bothers you is to suggest something they can do about it. Sometimes expressing the need or the hurt feelings isn’t enough to change the action and you have to really spell it out, but it was so hard to get our courage up to have the conversation in the first place that we think that saying the need or the hurt feelings is enough to prompt the actions that WE would take in their situation. Obviously that totally overestimates people’s ability to extrapolate.

      In the above example, one approach could be.

      “I didn’t sign up to live with your boyfriend, and I don’t want him here 7 nights/week…so please find an alternative arrangement. If he’s here more than 2-3 nights/week going forward, I’m going to have to talk to the landlord about altering the lease so that the two of you pay a portion of the rent or enforcing the “no extra people” clause so that he can’t stay here at all.”

      And things will get ugly for a bit, and maybe it means that the roommate moves out, and they’ll either do what you want or don’t.

      For the LW & boyfriend, it’s “Please don’t call me in the mornings anymore. I want to sleep more than I want to talk to you right then. I’m not going to answer any calls you make before x o’clock going forward.” And if he keeps calling, yes, implement all of the tech (call filtering/blocking, etc.) or non-tech (“If you can’t respect my needs around this and make fun of me for expressing them, then maybe you should find someone who enjoys being interrupted, mocked, and belittled.”) solutions.

  32. I didn’t read all the comments, but I didn’t see this mentioned, so here’s my two cents:


    It sounds like you’ve never really been able to establish boundaries before, which means that both relationships have been built on patterns of him establishing boundaries and you not. Now, you’re changing that pattern (which is awesome) and… it’s going to take a while for them to adjust. With your boyfriend, lay down boundaries, enforce them – tell him you will no longer be accepting calls before X time and then don’t or tell him if he calls you you’re not speaking to him for the rest of the day or whatever – and then watch to see if he adjusts to this new relationship dynamic. It sounds like you’re making changes – for a much better and healthier relationship – but it is going to take a little (LITTLE) time for him to break the patterns and get in line with the new relationship. Now, if he doesn’t respond to your new boundaries or escalates things by crossing more boundaries, then that’s probably a sign that he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with mutually established boundaries.

    As for your dad, well, he’s getting established boundaries from you (yay! Also awesome!) and you’re no longer a child so the relationship is changing very dramatically and while many good things were said about the reasons parents can act like this (and, of course, you’re the one who has enough information to make a judgement call here), here’s another: he’s probably scared for you as well – scared that you’re going to fail as an adult, scared that you’re going to get badly hurt like he remembers being hurt in the world, scared that he hasn’t been a good enough parent and he has failed you now that you’re moving into adulthood.

    When my dad starts giving me or my brothers bullheaded advice, that’s usually the reason behind it. In addition to other suggestions here, you may want to give him evidence of your successful adulthood in nonheated moments, like “here’s my five year plan, Dad” “here’s x thing I did today” “I was successful in academics/work/life in this small but very adult way.” My dad has calmed down a lot since I’ve started discussing things like financial planning and career plans with him in an adult way. (You may already be doing this, but I’ve found with my friends and myself that sometimes it’s hard to get into adult mode around parents, so it’s worth a mention.)

  33. I know at this point I’m just repeating what others have already said, but: “You’re cute when you’re grumpy”? Oh my god, what a patronizing response. Because of course it’s all about what HE wants (to see you being cutely grumpy) instead of what YOU want (some fucking sleep). This guy sounds like he has trouble respecting even the smallest of boundaries. Hulk smash indeed.

  34. “Boyfriend, it’s not cute when you ignore my no. If you must have a relationship with a girl who will tolerate her no being ignored, it’s going to have to be someone NOT ME!”

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