Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bratman & Snobbin

“Don’t let the fact that we wear our underwear on the outside mislead you; we know more than you about everything.

Dear Captain Awkward:

This should be a quickie, at least to ask. I have two friends (they’re dating) who constantly argue with me about the field I’m studying in graduate school. They challenge my knowledge about it, and honestly about most everything, up to and including outright telling me I’m wrong about something I just took a class on. They don’t, however, argue with my boyfriend. It’s driving me crazy – I can’t be around them without wanting to pull my hair out and scream because of their constant arguing, getting frustrated with me as if I’m being stupid for disagreeing, and even just plain yelling.

These two are great friends of mine, or at least their friendship is very valuable to me, and while one has never been the easiest to get along with (just one of those people), the other hasn’t really been that bad. They’re also partners, and both male. 

The arguing is actively interfering with every aspect of our friendship, because (1) I hate arguing – which they know, and (2) they do it EVERY TIME I see them. Every single time, and if by some miracle they don’t argue with me about my field of study, they find something else, something innocuous, to ask me about and then vehemently disagree with me. So far, I just leave the room/take a walk/play games in the bathroom when it gets too bad, but then I wind up being tense and out of sorts for hours from the argument, so it’s just not working for me anymore.

Basically, I want them to stop arguing with me. It’s one thing to ask a question about something I know (like the color of the sky), say “Oh, I thought it was fuschia today” and then drop it, and another entirely to say “No, you’re wrong, it’s not blue, it’s fuschia, I know because of my extensive knowledge in knowing and your study of this subject is clearly wrong because I say so,” and then continue asserting said position in the face of any and all evidence (including referring them to the clearly blue sky). Sorry, but I’m just so tired and angry from all the arguing. I just want a way to be reasonable, calm, and tell them that they’re driving me crazy and they need to stop this moment. Except . . . I don’t think just saying that will cut it.

Thanks for whatever help you can offer,
Argued Out

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Dear Captain Awkward:

Hey. I have done some bad things. I need to tell you about it so you can help me figure out how to not do bad things ever again.I started dating this guy two years ago, my first relationship. He was a really fantastic guy. But it slowly became clear that he had a lot of problems of the mental health variety. Since he was my best friend and I loved him and we were going to be together forever and other teenage nonsense was in my mind, I tried to help him even though I know nothing about depression. Then he became dependent on me and I became dependent on him being dependent on me, and it slowly turned into this nightmare where I spend every day listening to him talk about how much he wanted to die and I was just constantly emotionally exhausted.

Anyway long story short I finally realized how unhealthy that was and broke up with him for both our sakes. Then I spent a while feeling super guilty and sad and angry, and just really confused. Meanwhile, a younger friend (who is also really hot) started moving in, and by moving in I meant he started doing really sweet things for me and being adorable. And I, being lonely and confused, totally went for it, and he asked me out only a month after I had broken up with Guy #1 and I said yes, because I felt like I might as well. 

I went out with this guy and did not feel ANYTHING for him. So I called it off. But then the post break-up guilt started again and I thought I just didn’t give it enough chance and if I just worked harder I could do it, and I just quit too easily, so I went back (I know, it was stupid.) And, well, I still don’t feel anything, except that his text messages are really creepy now. But guess what, Guy #2 totally broke down to me and it seems that he’s depressed too.
Now, I realize Guy #2 is not a good match, and I feel really bad because I’ve caused so much pain to Guy #1. So my questions are, what the hell do I do now, am I a terrible person, what do I do about Guy #2, and should I go apologize to Guy #1 to give him some closure, and why do I keep attracting these guys, and do you have any advice about dating depressed people? I just don’t want to hurt anybody.

I have read your letter several times now, and I fail to find any “bad things” that you did.

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February 5, 2013: Thanks for all the cool comments and discussion, but I can’t keep up with the moderation demands right now. Comments on this entry are now closed.

Yesterday I saw this TweetThe piece linked there asks the question: “Can married women have straight male friends?” and suggests that friendships between straight men and straight women can be very difficult, partially based on a study about how some men and women might view their friendships differently:

Recently a study published in Scientific American stated that women are much more likely to be able to keep male friends platonic, while men have a harder time. The article states that these friendships are masked by a cover-up of sexual impulses by one of the parties. It said that men were far more attracted to their female friends and assumed their female friends felt the same, when they didn’t. Females were far less attracted to their male friends, and they, too, assumed that the male friends felt the same as they did. So, when it comes to male/female relationships, there are a lot of mixed signals going on from both sides.

First order of business: Studies like the one linked in the article are descriptive, not prescriptive. “This happens sometimes” does not mean “This happens sometimes, and therefore you should ______,” though they are nearly always presented that way by headline writers. “This happens sometimes. Scientists studied it in a way that fits into my preconceptions and anxieties. Therefore you should ____.” ==>A trend piece is born.

Sometimes, inevitably, we become attracted to our friends. They are awesome people, we are awesome people, and like attracts like. I do not see why this is a gendered issue. Attraction causes tensions in straight-lady/gay-lady friendships, too, right? And straight-man/gay-man friendships?

Should you become attracted to your friend of any gender, ask yourself:

  • Is this person in a committed relationship that does not include room for me?
  • Do I want to speak up about my feelings and see if they are returned?

If your friend is single or might be interested in you, and you want to speak up and see what happens, say “Friend, would you maybe like to try dating and see if we’d be good at it?” and see what they say. Real friendships are not irrevocably ruined by such honesty. I swear.

If your friend is happily committed elsewhere, and/or you don’t think it’s a good idea to act on an attraction for whatever reason, having the attraction does not have to doom your friendship. Having an attraction does not mean you have to do anything or say anything about it. Someone else’s attraction (or possible attraction) to you does not obligate you to do or feel anything in return. Even if such attraction is rare for you, you’re not the only two members of your species. Go ahead and have your secret PANTSFEELINGS. Then, when you see your friend, do not mention these feelings, hint at them, Firth them, probe for or exacerbate cracks in their current relationship, send FEELINGSMAIL, or give weird extra-long hugs where you smell their necks.

We talk a lot here about boundary-setting; this is a case for boundary-having. Feel whatever you feel! Then set boundaries with yourself about how you behave towards your friends. You could even say “I need to take a little break from hanging out to work out some weird feelings I’m having, sorry to make it weird, I’ll see you in a month or two” if you had to, and your friends would understand. Survive the temporary awkwardness, and stop imagining “attraction” as this mystical force that exists outside of human decisionmaking.

I am also confused as to why the writer seems to equate male friendships with “male attention.” This is one of the saddest sentences I’ve read in a while:

I find it easier to get my other needs met from my girlfriends and the male attention I get outside of that is restricted to the few men that still try to pick up on me in the grocery store.

Even if you buy the frankly terrible assumption that “male attention” is some kind of abstract need that women have in the first place, all “male attention” is not created equal.

My best friend from film school is named Zach. Zach is the kind of talented that means that someday you will all line up to buy tickets to the opening nights of his movies and talk about them in breathless, excited tones the way you now discuss your fondest artistic heroes. He is also fiercely loyal, honest, sensitive and considerate, a great listener, a generous collaborator, and effing hilarious. He moved away about a year ago, and I miss him pretty much daily.

I do not think that my friendship with Zach has ever included the kind of “male attention” one finds in grocery stores or, say, riding the Chicago Transit Authority. Full attraction disclosure: Once I walked into a show where his band was playing and thought “Whoa, that bass player is really ho-….I mean, my friend Zach is really good at playing bass!” If he ever had a similar passing thought of “Whoa, that disheveled teacher is really ho- I mean, my friend Jennifer is very good at explaining stuff” I do not know. If he did he sensibly kept that shit to himself like a grownup.

For anyone to try to tell me that one of the best and most productive and rewarding relationships I have ever had with a human being could possibly live or die by some pseudo-science about misplaced pantsfeelings, or put it in the highly dubious “ego-feeding” category of grocery store flirtations is beyond insulting. What a sad and reductive view of what human beings are to each other.

The author’s anxieties and choices about who to be friends with are obviously her own to have. But I don’t respect this way of forming the question and am so tired of seeing it asked. Advice about how to be friends, find love, and have sex that relies on gender essentialism is so very, very bad for us.

When I was growing up, my mom fell into this trap, big time even though she is an amazing, driven, brilliant, career-minded feminist who brooks no crap from anyone. She was hyper-vigilant and worried about any time I spent with boys. Even though I played on a nearly all-male soccer team. Even though men made up more than half our family, not to mention being half of everyone on the planet so, not actually avoidable. I was not allowed to invite male friends over, or go to their houses, and the question was always “Will there be boys there?” She would say “It’s not that I don’t trust you, I just don’t trust them,” or “You never know what might happen” or “You don’t want to get a reputation.” I wanted to know – WHAT? WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN? I know that she was very afraid that I would get pregnant and derail my plans for education and career stuff, but beyond that she would never be specific, there was just this generalized fear and I had to live with it. When I mentioned any boy comma friend, there was a lot of probing to see if he was a boynocommaorspacefriend and sudden restrictions on where I could go. The weirdest thing is, it was also coupled with a lot of advice on how I could make myself prettier – gift subscriptions to Seventeen and Vogue, admonishments to wear more makeup and stop stealing my dad’s flannel shirts and wearing unfeminine stompy shoes. Message: Be pretty, or at least, prettier! So boys will like you and ask you to proms! But be very afraid of them and don’t spend time with them unless a parent is in-the-room supervising you!

Content note: Brief discussion of long-ago sexual assault below cut. If you want to skip that and go directly to a definitive answer about whether men and women can be friends, click here.

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Ahoy there,
I have this general problem. I am almost 30, and I am not a grown-up person. I am a college drop out, have never had a ‘real’ job. I’m working for almost 3 years now at a job that doesn’t pay a lot, but really easy and it’s basically the only one I could get. And I also still live with my mum [I live in a country which is in a constant, 25-years long economical crisis, so it’s not really easy to get away from that] Also, most of my life I’ve been really shy, so no girlfriend ever either. I do feel much more confident in last 2-3 years, but some things I still cannot overcome.

Most important, I cannot commit to anything really. Whatever I start doing [like trying to learn some program language to maybe be able to work in IT], I never finish, I easily get bored, lose concentration. It’s like that with almost everything. I always delay things, because of laziness and sometimes fear. I get in a fight with a family members cause I’m keeping everything inside, and than it explodes and I [and them] say stupid things. I don’t even know what I want to be in terms of professional career. I have one idea, start reading about that, than I get bored and go to something else.
I live in a small town, most of my friends moved to a bigger city. I want it too, but in order to do that, I’d have to find a job. That is really hard right now even for someone who has a college diploma and better skills than me. I know I’m not stupid, I know I am good at some things [though my knowledge in any area is too general], but how do I make that step and start really trying hard to be better at something? Obviously, that’s not my only problem, but I feel like I have to change something in this area to be able to improve in some others…

El Capitan

Elodie Under Glass here.

Yes, adulthood is a scary horse. You can make up all sorts of excuses not to get onto its back: “Oh, I have a funny feeling in my leg. My horse allergy is playing up.” But in the meantime, you’re not winning any races, and everyone else knows that you’re secretly afraid of horses. Your dreams are big! Your intentions are good! But you have to get on the horse.

Captain Awkward: The Horses In Costumes Edition


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Oh Captain, my Captain!

I need some help. Last year, I was in an abusive relationship. My ex raped me repeatedly and often manipulated me. When we were together, I became close friends with another guy. Guy #2 eventually owned up to having feelings for me, and I found myself in a very awkward position. Wherein I was dating a terrifying man – who I later learned was a sociopath – seven years older than me, but was attracted to my close friend.

Fast-forward to February of 2012. I broke up with The Ex, who then proceeded to harass me, guilt-trip me, threaten suicide, and spread rumors about me amongst mutual friends. Unfortunately, being in a very not-good place mentally, I blamed myself and spent a lot of time trying to make him feel better, which he took advantage of.

A few months later, I started dating Guy #2. The ex began harassing both of us brutally, but #2 and I made it through.

But he’s having a really hard time handling my past. He blames himself for my abuse, because he thinks he should have talked to me and asked me to break up with The Ex sooner. But I think he also blames me a little bit, even though he won’t say so. Once he said “it’s a hard story to believe” and another time, we had a big argument – we almost broke up – because he was “disgusted by” it and sometimes couldn’t look at or touch me.

I just feel like he’s not trying. I really want this to work out, because I trust & love him. But things are getting worse, to where almost every time we’re alone, we start fighting about it. He’s depressed, but won’t talk to anyone. I’ve started seeing a counselor to work through my issues, but I feel like our relationship would improve if he did, too. He says him talking about it would be a waste of time, no one can help him, I don’t understand because I’m not in his situation… etc. But every time I ask him to explain, he just says he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Sorry for rambling; I’m just worried. Maybe we should break up, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I just don’t know if our relationship is as important to him as it is to me.

I guess what I’m asking is, how can I talk to him about how much he’s hurting me? How can I convince him that talking to someone, even if it ends up not being helpful, is at least worth a try?

Frustrated and Confused

Dear Frustrated and Confused:

I think your current guy was probably a helpful force in getting you out of your old relationship, but you do not owe him the rest of your life in return for whatever he endured at your ex’s hands or the assistance & comfort he provided.

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O Mighty Captain of Scripts for the Awkward,

I consider myself to be fairly socially skilled, if introverted, but one place where I’m completely socially awkward is at work. I’m the person who gets skewered by all the career advice that says, “You think you can just sit in your office and work hard and you will get ahead! You need to build relationships!”

I recently started a new job and have been trying to get better at this. When I hear my coworkers talking in the communal office area I come out of my office and (awkwardly) insert myself into the conversation. When I run into someone in the kitchen, I will say hello and engage in small talk about weekend plans, etc. But clearly I am not doing enough because today my coworkers (who struck up a hallway conversation outside my office door) joked about how I am always in my office! and Never come out for sunlight! etc.

I have seen advice to take coworkers out to lunch to get to know them better and stuff, but there’s literally 8 people in our office and no one does this, singles out one other person to go to lunch. Sometimes we will all go out to lunch and I feel like I make decent conversation then.

Friends I’ve discussed with have said it’s totally normal to stop by someone’s office and start talking about random non-work things, but this seems SO awkward to me, plus rude. I don’t like when people interrupt my work to talk about nothing!

Am I jeopardizing my career by not being more, um, network-y? Is there a way to do this without being so super awkward about it?


Awkward at Work

Dear Awkward At Work:

It’s true that having friendly and positive relationships with coworkers can help your career, but cut yourself some slack. This is a very new job. You will get to know these people and they will get to know you with some more time, and I do not think you have to take any special steps to “network” right now. You’re doing all the right stuff. If everyone goes out to lunch? Go and have a good time. Once every couple of weeks or so, be the person who suggests that everyone goes out to lunch (which lets people know that you like seeing them). Try to remember the names of people’s spouses, kids, dogs, hobbies, etc. I think your coworker’s jokes (which they are 99% aware you can hear) are a way of saying “We like you! We want you to feel welcome here!” rather than a criticism.

My friend recently did something cool at her workplace by instituting Afternoon Tea Break. Once a week, at 3:00 or so in the afternoon, everyone is invited to bring their mugs into the break area and catch up for a little while while drinking tea. I think she bought a couple different cool teas for people to try, and she brought a snack the first time or two but now they rotate who does that. It’s just a 15-20 minute “let’s chill out and relieve stress and catch up with each other” thing. She was nervous that no one would show up at first, but it’s been a pretty rousing success. Maybe when you’ve been there a little while longer you could try something similar.

It’s okay to want to do your work socializing in a more structured way and be left alone to work the rest of the time. Over time you’ll figure out who you feel comfortable with and who you have more in common with than work, but right now just be friendly when you do run into people or they do drop by your office, show up to work lunches and parties, and don’t worry about the rest.

Introvert fist bump!


Dear Captain Awkward:

Quick backstory: my mom and stepdad babysit my daughter for free one afternoon a week while I work (I telecommute the rest of the time). My mother offered to do it right after my daughter was born and I was thrilled. I’ve checked in with both of them a few times to make sure they’re still ok with it, and they’ve responded enthusiastically every time.

Lately things have been weird. A few weeks ago I had an appointment before I went into work and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to take the baby, so I asked Mom ahead of time if they could take her a bit earlier and she said yes. I told her I’d let her know for sure if it would be at the usual time or earlier, but forgot to call when I’d promised, and then my phone died just after I left my appointment, so I ended up showing up at the usual time (without calling) and apologizing profusely to both of them for making them wait around for me. I was expecting them to be annoyed, but I don’t feel like it was a HUGE deal – it was an honest, though inconsiderate mistake on my part, and I promptly apologized for it. 

When I got there Mom berated me for half an hour until I finally got a word in edgewise to ask her what she wanted me to do, other than apologize and not do it again. She told me that she needed to vent at me because she was angry, and she needed me to show more remorse. I apologized again and prepared to leave, but on my way out Stepdad confronted me (he’d been in another room, not out of earshot, for the preceding conversation) and began an identical tirade. I cut him off almost immediately and told him that while I was sorry for inconveniencing them, I really couldn’t stay to talk right that second because I had to get to work.

Ever since that afternoon, Stepdad hasn’t spoken a single word to me. I tried to talk to Mom about it, but she simply said that Stepdad is angry for good reason and that I should apologize to him more. I feel like an asshole, but also kind of unfairly treated, and I’m not sure how to move forward, or how to deal with this should something similar arise in the future. Though obviously I will be more considerate going forward.

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