It Came From The Search Terms: May Flowers

Thanks (?) to the nice Twitter friends who clued me into this horrible WikiHow on How To Stop A Wedding, or, as @KristinMuH put it, “a manual to help stalkers ruin their target’s special occasions.”

While I once joked that I would like to see this happen someday, it was, in fact, a joke. And the instructions to basically kidnap the person make my hair stand on end:

Take charge if things go your way. If he or she decides not to go through with the wedding, it is your duty to immediately escort the bride/groom away from the pressure of their family and friends. There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.


So, if you find yourself searching for instructions on how to stop a wedding, ask yourself:

Has the affianced person been kidnapped? Is it a child? Then stop the wedding by alerting the appropriate authorities.

Is this someone you think should marry you instead? And they know how you feel? And yet they are still obstinately not marrying you, to the point where they have planned an entire wedding with someone else? Okay, here’s what you do:

  • Find out when & where the wedding will be.
  • Book yourself a vacation to “anywhere but there.”
  • Block this person in all social media spaces so you’re not seeing photos and updates.
  • Try for someplace with very limited internet access so you reduce temptation to watch it unfold on real time at the wedding hashtag or whatever.
  • If you can, get a trusted friend to go along with you so that you are not alone and there is someone who can comfort and distract you.
  • Remind yourself that soulmates aren’t real, and that other people get to choose who they want to be with.
  • Or, if it’s more comforting, say to yourself “They are making a mistake, but it’s their mistake to make.
  • Wait it the fuck out and move on with your life.

And if someone pulls this whole shebang on you at your wedding, here is a script:

“This is inappropriate and I’d like you to leave now.”

Hopefully your friends and family and security will form a nice barrier between you and this person and make sure they are escorted from the premises.

Now it’s time for the monthly(ish) feature where we find out what search terms bring people to this site! Except for adding punctuation, these are unchanged. Enjoy!

1. “My sister in law hates me what do I do?”

You don’t really have the power to make someone like you if they don’t, but you do have some power here.

Do you know why, as in, does it stem from a specific incident or slight? If you were in the wrong about something, apologize once, and then go for distant-but-civil at family gatherings where you can’t avoid her until or unless she approaches you.

If you don’t know why, maybe ask her once (or have your spouse do it, if s/he is closer to her) about what’s going on. “Have I done something to upset you? If there is a way I can make amends, I’d very much like to know.

If she tells you the truth, you’ll at least know what’s up and see if there is a way to make amends.

If she says something like “You should know what you did” then it’s a good sign that she’s not really interested in clearing anything up. That is good information; it means there is nothing you can really do, so go with distant-but-civil when you have to encounter her and spend your precious energy connecting with other people in the family.

2. “Should parents talk to kids about marital problems?”

Kids need to know stuff that 1) directly affects them 2) when there is something concrete to tell, like, “we’re getting a divorce” or “X parent is moving out for a while.” “We’re having problems and trying to decide what to do” = anxiety inducing!

Other than that, I don’t think kids are the right audience for marital ups and downs. Talk to friends, talk to a trusted counselor. Don’t lean on your kids about this topic. In abusive situations, safety comes first, and there might be no safe amount of contact with an abusive parent. But absent abuse, kids have a relationship with their parent that is entwined with but distinct the parents’ relationships with each other.

3. “What does it mean if a guy kisses you when he’s drunk?”

Do you like this guy? Try hanging out with him when he’s not drunk and find out if kissing is still on the agenda. Script: “I really enjoyed kissing you the other night. Want to try that sometime when we’re not drunk? I’d love to hang out with you again.

There is a chance he will give you a sheepish “Yeaaaah, about that…” rejection, but trust me, it’s better than trying to read Weird Drunk Dude Cues for the next precious months of precious spring and summer.

4. “What does it mean when a guy kisses you when he’s drunk but not when sober?”

Aha! He likes kissing but not necessarily kissing you, specifically. Do you like him? See above. Just find out from the person who knows, aka, that specific guy and not Guys In General.

Do you know in your heart of hearts that these are meaningless drunken kisses? Are you okay with that? There’s nothing wrong with fun drunk makeouts.  But if you aren’t feeling good about this, stop kissing him, drunk OR sober. Read this (sexually graphic) speech by Amy Schumer about how you are much cooler than making out with drunk guys who don’t really like you that much. Because you are.

4. “Girlfriend doesn’t sleep with me but has with others.” 

This question is potentially the tip of an extremely ooky iceberg of sexism and entitlement, especially if you’re thinking about those Others, dwelling on them, imagining them, retroactively jealous of them, looking at them as proof that your girlfriend should be sleeping with you, etc. If you’re doing that, stop it! Each person, each relationship, each sex partner, etc. is a universe unto themselves. The clock on what you want to do with someone completely resets with each new person you are with, and having done certain things with someone in the past doesn’t make those things automatically “on the menu” going forward.

Your girlfriend will sleep with you (or not) when and if she is ready and wants to (or not). Do you like her and care about her? Do you want the relationship to go to a sexy place someday? Then make it clear to her that you’d be up for that when and if she’s ready. Don’t bring it up again until she does. And go on enjoying your relationship in the present moment for what it offers you.

If over a little bit of time you feel like the issue is one of attraction, as in, she is not attracted to you, or you do not want to be with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you, then consider splitting up so you can both find people who are more compatible. Don’t do it in a pressure-y way, though, like, “If you won’t have sex with me I’ll have to dump you.” More like, “I care about you, but I think it’s time we ended our romantic relationship.

This is tricky to navigate. I hope you can both do it gracefully. And never bring up those Others! Never do it. They aren’t your business.

5. “My guy friend is dating a bitch.”

Does she treat him well? Is he happy? In other words, is she an okay girlfriend to him but the two of you don’t gel together? Then minimize how much time you spend with both of them together and otherwise ride it out. Things might get better, or they might break up, but there’s nothing to be gained from getting in the middle of it.

If she doesn’t treat him well, if she is mean and controlling, if he seems drained and diminished when he’s with her, then make sure you ask him how he’s doing a lot and make time to spend with him (away from her). Stay in his life and be a person who cares about him. If he complains about her or raises concerns about her with you, you have an opening to say what’s on your mind one time. Avoid words like “bitch,” just say “That story makes me sad, do you think it’s okay for her to treat you that way?” or “I don’t know her well enough to comment, but you seem anxious and sad a lot of the time when y0u’re with her, and that concerns me.” Or if she’s been mean to you, specifically, bring that up. “I know you really like her, but she is cold and rude to me so I don’t like hanging out with you both together.” Be specific and brief.

In my experience, when people are in love they don’t want to listen to advice form their friends about how to run their relationships, so if the friendship is valuable to you tread with caution. Don’t put him in the position of having to defend her to you. And don’t harp on it – if he gives you an opening, bring it up once, but end the conversation with “I want you to be happy and I trust you to know what’s best for you.

6. “I’m a 28-year-old virgin. Will sex hurt the first time?”

I can’t answer that for you, since I don’t live in your body, but I can recommend:

  • Masturbation. Learning to love yourself is in fact The Greatest Love of All.
  • Advanced Masturbation: Experiment with toys and also with lubrication (go to a friendly sex shop like Early To Bed, they’ll talk you through what you need to know).
  • Have your partner start with fingers/do lots of foreplay together, long before/many times before attempting penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex (if that is indeed the kind of sex you are worried/writing about).
  • Choose a partner who really excites and turns you on and makes you excited to try things out with them.
  • Choose a partner you can trust to go slow and/or stop if things do hurt you.

That will give you a head start on making the whole thing super-fun and enjoyable. It’s normal to be nervous before the first time you have sex. Even if you’ve had sex a million times, it’s normal to be nervous the first time you have sex with a new partner.

7. “What to do if I am in love with my best friend?” (there were many variations on this one)

Is this friend single? If so, try this: “Friend, I really care about you, and sometimes I think about what would happen if we dated. Do you ever think about that?” Or, “Friend, I think I am developing romantic feelings for you. Would you be open to going on some dates with me and seeing where it leads?”

See what they say. I would stay away from declarations of love to start out with. It’s too much pressure. Start with raising the possibility. Open the door and see if they walk through it. If they do, great!

If they say “I’m so sorry, I don’t feel that way about you” say “Okay, I understand. I had to ask.” Then, if you need to, take a little break from seeing them while you grieve what might-have-been. You can say that, in fact. “I want us to keep being friends, but I need a little time to knit my dignity back together before we hang out again without feeling weird.” DON’T interrupt their wedding or do big dramatic gestures to change their minds! A true friend might feel momentarily awkward or guilty for not returning the feelings, but the friendship can and will survive a moment of honesty like this as long as you don’t creep on them or keep bringing it up.

Is the friend involved with someone else? Maybe hang back and look for someone else to crush on.

8. “When boyfriend is unemployed and treats you like shit.” 

Consider reading Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Why Does He Do That?” (maybe not where your boyfriend can see it, though!).

Lots of unemployed men don’t treat their partners “like shit,” so see it for the excuse that it is and hopefully get yourself out of there before it gets worse. I don’t care what is going on with your boyfriend’s life; you don’t deserve being mistreated. ❤ and best wishes to you.

9. “What does it mean if someone says,’Sometimes i feel lonely when you are by my side?'”

You can ask whoever said this to you to give you specific examples of things that would help them feel less lonely, but on the whole this is a request for more of your attention. So maybe look at ways that you can be more present with them.

  • Are you on the computer or your phone when you spend time together? Or playing video games/watching movies? Try unplugging for a while when you spend time together.
  • Are they the ones who are making the bulk of plans for you to spend time together? Maybe take on more of the planning/initiating of plans.
  • Are you tuning out when they talk because you think you already know what they’ll say? Work on that.

Readers have said that getting some meaningful, close contact right when a partner comes home can make them feel more valued and loved, so see if it makes a difference to give the person your full attention (a hug, asking them how their day was, fully focusing on them) for a few minutes right when you first see them. These little things can make a big difference.

10. “What to do when a man slow fades.”

Fast fade right back! Don’t initiate contact with them, don’t keep time slots open for them. People who like you will act like they like you. Don’t prioritize someone who isn’t doing the same for you. Put your energy into people who like you and give you their time and attention.

11. “I graduated with a degree that I hate.” 

No one believes me when I say this, but I’ll try again, since graduation season in upon us:

You are not your degree, or your college major. You can choose to work in an entirely different field from the one you studied in, and studying something at university usually does not lead directly to a job in that field.

Congratulations on completing a degree! That is an accomplishment you should be proud of no matter where it leads. If you are just entering the work force, look for companies you might like to work for, and try to get into them in any kind of entry-level position. Don’t worry about the title too much. Just start working and then see what interests you from there.

12. “Can rapists ever have redemption?”

Wow. That’s a big one.

I don’t believe in redemption (in the religious sense of that word). I don’t believe that survivors and communities have an obligation to forgive or EVER welcome people back just because that person has gone through the motions of trying to change. God (for people who believe in God) may forgive all sins, but that doesn’t mean that survivors have to tolerate or welcome their abusers or that communities have to allow known predators back into the fold. Which isn’t exactly motivating to the person who searched for this question. But, it doesn’t mean that rapists shouldn’t bother trying to reform their ways.

Any path to “redemption” for a rapist probably starts here:

  • Admit what you did. To yourself. To a counselor. Don’t make excuses.
  • If there is a criminal case, admit what you did to the court and don’t put the victim through the horrors of a trial. Accept your sentence and serve your time. “Technically Not Guilty because I put you through a trial, but really, really sorry” = “You are still a raping shitbeast.”
  • If there is a civil case, admit what you did and pay reparations.
  • Work with a counselor (or other program for violent offenders) to figure out what “making amends” would look like. A written apology and admission of the truth might help some victims and might terrify others because you contacted them. It’s up to the victim if they ever want to read or accept your apology and they have the last word about anything that happens next.
  • STEER CLEAR of your victim and of social spaces where they are likely to be, FOR THE REST OF TIME. You gave up your claims to certain cons, certain parties, certain places/bars/pubs, and certain friend groups when you raped someone. There is no amount of apology or amends you could make that would make you welcome in those places or make your victim feel safe knowing you might be nearby. The best contribution you could make to the social scene you were part of when you committed the rape is your permanent absence from it. There doesn’t have to be a criminal case for this to be true. Seriously, GTFO of places where your victim will be. “You never have to see or hear from me or about me again” is a gift that it is within your power to give.
    • Are you in college? Does your victim go to that same college? TRANSFER TO A DIFFERENT FUCKING COLLEGE. NOW. You leave. You find a new place to be. Consider online education where you won’t be around people in person.
    • Do you and your victim work together? TIME FOR A NEW JOB, THEN. Quit your job. Today. The resulting economic stresses should be on you.
  • STEER CLEAR of alcohol, drugs, and situations where you might conceivably harm someone again. Consistently and proactively treat your issues, whatever they are.
  • Be someone who looks out for other people in sketchy situations. Be someone who doesn’t laugh at rape jokes. Be someone who believes survivors and who advocates for women’s health and safety. Don’t vote for politicians who trivialize or deny rape.
  • Recognize that forgiveness from your victim or from the world is not a realistic goal. Recognize that some people may never trust you because of what happened.

This list is literally the least you can do to try to knit the world back together after what you did. Time will heal some but not all, and that’s how it should be.

13. “My mom is obsessed with my weight.” 

Mine too, friend. Mine too. Tell her you won’t discuss the topic with her. It took me a long time to get my mom to stop bringing it up with me. I had to say stuff like “Just because you hate your body doesn’t mean I hate mine” or “This is not a safe topic for me to discuss with you” or “I don’t actually want or value your opinion on this topic, so stop now.” See also “That is something I discuss only with my doctor.” And then I had to leave a lot of conversations and rooms to drive the point home. I had to set and enforce rules that said  “Bring that up after I’ve asked you not to and I will stop talking to you at all.

I thought things were better, but on our last visit home this spring she ambushed my boyfriend with her “concerns.” He shut her down for me. (That happened once and won’t be happening again, FYI, because if it does we will leave). So I don’t have an easy, permanent solution. People are hard. She has so many of her own issues around this stuff, and I try really hard to be compassionate and remind myself that it’s not about me, but sometimes I just need to peace the fuck out and shield myself from listening to it.

As you learn to reset boundaries with your mom, shore yourself up with resources like: The Shapely Prose archive, Health At Every Size, and Fat Body Politics, to name a few (they will have links to many, many other resources). Look at fatshion blogs and beautiful images of people of all sizes and retrain your eye as to what is normal. It’s hard to love yourself in the face of body shame and harassment from people who say they love you, and I feel you. There are so many smart and inspiring people who talk about this stuff every day, and they helped me love myself, or at least defend myself better from the onslaught. Oh, final note, “Fat Acceptance” resources are helpful even if you don’t identify as “fat” or aren’t “fat” according to the scale. They are about loving your body the way it is and are broadly applicable in our diet culture.

14. “I led a guy on and I don’t like him.”

I’m assuming he likes you and thinks your attentions were sincere. My gut says extricate yourself but without using the words “I led you on.” It sucks to be rejected, no need to add the humiliation of feeling like a sap or plaything on top of it. “Guy, I’ve enjoyed spending time with you but I realize that I don’t want to be romantically/sexually involved with you anymore. I’m so sorry.” Own your feelings, make it final and non-negotiable. Then get out of there and leave him be.

15. “Letter to your uncle expressing your gratitude to them from all that he has done in absence of your parents.”

What a sweet note to end on. This is a great idea. I’m sure your words will be sweeter and better than anything I could come up with, but definitely write that letter! “Dear Uncle, I love you and wanted to tell you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me…” is a good place to start.






156 thoughts on “It Came From The Search Terms: May Flowers

  1. When it comes to writing a letter to a victim, if possible the best delivery method would be to give it to someone who knows them and who can ask if they’re interested in reading it. That way it isn’t just laid right on them and they don’t have to have any contact with someone who raped them.

    1. (TW: rape, misogyny)

      I would HATE that, to be honest. Every survivor is different of course, but as a general rule I’d stick with no, do not do that, ever. Because in my experience, men who rape (I’ve known a few) just aren’t very good at apologizing. I’ve received some of these missives myself. They all start out as apologies and then gradually drift into justifications and a list of reasons I should forgive them, with a subtle undercurrent of desperation that makes it very clear that they’re more interested in being forgiven than they are in helping their victim in hir recovery process. They have this vague understanding that they’ve done something wrong, but just do not understand the basics of it. And an apology without complete understanding is just hollow and potentially triggering in a case as serious as this.

      For someone in the early stages of recovery, I can imagine the results could be devastating. The rapist is statistically very likely to be someone they’ve known for a while, someone who had opportunity to gaslight them and try to make them share in the responsibility of what they did. One of those not-quite-apology letters can bring on a storm of conflicted feelings and confusion about whether this is another manipulation tactic. (Again, this is my own experience, not universal at all.) Men who rape are usually quite misogynistic, and while your mileage may vary, my understanding is that misogynists only very rarely gain a true and deep understanding of why misogyny and rape are wrong. Which is why those apologies tend to miss the point spectacularly. It doesn’t matter if they’re sorry if they don’t understand what they should be sorry for. And I’m personally not a little bit interested in helping them on their little soul-searching adventure even if the apology was rooted in understanding. There is nothing more triggering to me personally than rapists whining about how bad my rape makes them feel. Ugh.


      And the thought of the guy who raped me contacting my friend and explaining what he’s trying to do just creeps me right the hell out. I’d hate that even more than unexpected letter in the mail, because that would make me paranoid like whoa. Who else is he talking to? Is he telling people who don’t know this even happened to me? IS he contacting my friends? Which friends? Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.

      Again, this is my personal experience, and of course everyone goes through their own unique recovery process. But if there are any rapists who are thinking of writing a letter are reading this, I would not advise a them to contact their victims at all, ever, for any reason. I think chances are good those survivors are going through a process of their own and aren’t interested in propping up their abuser during their quest for redemption.

      I apologize if I come off a little curt. This is obviously a very sore point for me.

      1. Totally, completely, 100% different situation, and I want to acknowledge that right up front:

        My dad walked out on my mum out of the blue after 30 years of happy successful marriage. I’m still close to both; he is happy, she is hurt and bitter. When he mentioned to me that he admired and was grateful for all that she did in the marriage, and in raising us kids, I asked if he’d expressed those feelings to her.

        So he wrote a letter. And I read it. And I said “cut these paragraphs, they’re about your feelings, justifying what you did to her – that’s not what this letter’s supposed to be about or for”. And he did, and rewrote the letter. And passed it to me, and I let my mum know that he’d written a letter to her, and if she ever wanted it, I’d hand it over, and never ever ask her whether she read it and what she thought or whether she ritually burned it or whatever.

        At the same time… it took me 15 years to actually verbally confront my teenage abuser. I said that he’d done some not-cool stuff. It was a little out of nowhere (he’s in my family and will always be someone I see a few times a year; we are not close), and he hesitated and said “we should… talk. …I am sorry.” and it’s small, but that recognition, that acknowledgement that it had happened and it was wrong meant something to me. I think it certainly helped that there were no follow-up excuses for his behaviour.

        I don’t know. But I do know that if a friend’s rapist wanted me to pass along a letter, I would:
        (a) refuse unless I get to read the letter and reassure myself that I’m not the carrier of any fucking kind of rape apologism
        (b) consider the victim’s feelings way, way above the rapist’s – “would you like to read it, would you like to burn it, would you like me to throw it in the bin?”

        1. THIS. GET SOMEONE TO PROOF IT, no matter WHAT, to make SURE it says “I WAS WRONG, I regret this, if there i X you need from me (e.g., a public admission and always including never contacting/seeing you again)” and NOTHING else. Obviously do not promise anything you will not deliver. And be aware it may never be read.

          I have never raped anyone, but as a recovering alcoholic working the steps, there is an amends step. And in my group, EVERY attempt at amends, individually, was run by your sponsor first, to make sure there was no begging for forgiveness in it*. To make sure, in fact, that the wronger was as absent as possible from the amend. Those of us doing amends in person were told to being scripts to keep the focus where it should be.

          *even the unavoidable accidents were planned for. The “I haven’t seen X in 10 years and s/he lives in another part of the country and yet I just ran into him/her at the grocery store.”

          1. Running your attempt at amends past your sponsor sounds like an awesome idea. I once, out of the blue, got an apology phone call from an abusive ex. In the time since we’d broken up, I’d moved to a new city (which he didn’t know), and there was no one he could’ve gotten my new contact info from, so just the sound of his voice calling me at a number he had to go to some effort to find (this was back in the days of land lines and phone books) freaked me the fuck out. I don’t even remember what he said, other than that it was a good apology. I asked him never to contact me again, and he hasn’t. But for several days I let all my phone calls go to the answering machine before I picked up, because one of his patterns of abuse had been calling over and over.

            I realized much later that he was probably in recovery and had gotten to the amends step. And, while it’s nice in the abstract to know he realized what he’d done and was sorry for it, I’d have been much happier never hearing from him.

            So, yeah. Be very careful about apologizing.

          2. @Other Becky That’s fucking stupid of him (especially in light of his old abuse pattern)? Seriously, if you wanna make amends/apologize, you should have the best interest of the person in mind you’re apologizing to. Otherwise it’s just a load of crap.

          3. Yeah, I can’t count the number of 8th step stories in my AA community that included “and my sponsor said the best way I could make amends was never ever to contact this poor person whose life I fucked up again.”

      2. Oh my god, this. This and this and this some more.

        When I confronted my rapist, and he apologized to me, I told him that the only way he could possibly make up for what he did was to NEVER EVER rape another person again, and to seek treatment to actualize that goal.

        Homeboy wasn’t that sorry, because he never did seek help, and two years later raped another woman.

        So, to any rapists out there: Do NOT contact the person you raped, EVER. You want to make up for what you did? Own up to it. Own up to anyone you lied to about the rape. Turn yourself in. Or, get help, get *honest* help in which you are honest with your therapist/counselor/psychologist about what you did. Do not rape again. Educate yourself on consent, on abuse, on what survivors have to deal with.

        And if you somehow, some way, figure out things? Do not track down the person you raped to show them how much you’ve changed. They don’t owe you a single. Fucking. Thing. Ever. Even if from the moment after you raped, you spent the rest of your life doing good deeds, it would never make up for what you did.

        Do not write a letter. Just, ugh. Don’t do it. Because I honestly doubt that the apology would be for the survivor.

      3. “There is nothing more triggering to me personally than rapists whining about how bad my rape makes them feel.”

        Seconding this. I’ve read WAY too many apologies from my abusers that have absolutely nothing to do with me, and that address no problem in particular. They are just generally sorry because I appear mad at them but clearly haven’t even the most rudimentary understanding of what they’ve done.

        Honestly I’m surprised whoever searched that recognizes themself as a rapist, because wow, they basically never do.

        Do NOT send an apology letter. Even if you do not do it badly, it is not your victim’s job to absolve you. They will NOT want to read about your feelings.

  2. The “rapist” search might have been not from the rapist but from someone else who’s just found this out about someone they care about. I dunno why it reads more that way for me – maybe because I’ve heard so many versions of “but people can change, right?” over cups of coffee with friends. That’s also a difficult one to answer though.

    1. In that situation I tend to go for some version of “it is possible for people to change, but nonetheless I’d really recommend you don’t put yourself in a situation where your safety depends on that change.” But I’m interested to know how other people deal with this issue.

      1. Agreed. Another way I find it helpful to think about is: ANYTIME you are saying to yourself, “It’ll be different with me” or “Ze promised it’d be different with me” or “I would not / will not let X happen” (where X is something that ze has told you has happened in the past in a previous relationship), you need to tread really carefully. Like, eyes wide open, and then open them again.

        1. So much of this.
          Many times when a someone tells you about violence they’ve committed with a soft regretful tone, or jokes about terrible things they ‘had to do’ to ‘crazy exes’, they’re testing the waters, to see if you’ll find a way to make the abuse okay.
          A person who is willing to excuse the abuse ze gave to prior partners is much more likely to excuse the abuse ze gives to them.

    2. That was my take, too, Just Plain Neddy.

      I’ve asked a question like this one recently– not about rape but about abuse. And the person counseling me told me, “It’s okay to decide that you do not want to spend the energy on being angry with this person anymore but still have no relationship with them. And in fact, until they change their behavior, that’s probably the closest you can safely get to reconciled.”

      1. I always find this bit from Fiddler on the Roof relevant:

        “Rabbi, is there a special blessing for the czar?”
        “There’s is a blessing for everyone! May God bless and keep the czar…far away from us!”

        Some people are easier to love, or in this case forgive, from a distance. If the only way you can avoid fear/anger/genuine threats to your safety is to get the hell away from them, by all means, get away. I think it’s possible to forgive without wanting to ever interact with them ever again. I mean, if forgiveness is something that one wants to do.

      2. What happens if the person finds ways to force you to spend energy on them?

        It’s been three and a half years since I broke up with my abuser, blocked his emails, and all that. Fortunately, we live on different continents, so it’s unlikely that I’ll ever see him again in person. But he still follows me around online, and every so often makes me aware that he’s doing so (showing up in an online community that I’m part of, etc.). Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get rid of him.

        1. Wow, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that.
          My reaction is to think that by doing that they’re displaying their need for the validation of your attention — which it is in your power to withhold. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that it takes some of your energy every time.
          Jedi hugs if you want them.

        2. It took about five years before my (verbally abusive) ex gave up following me around and piping up with seemingly rational posts every time they spotted a way to prove that I’m wrong about something.
          Nobody spotted that pattern, but they only ever replied to me, and some of those places were things they had no interest in whatsoever, apart from the above.
          So yes, chances are that you’ll get rid of them – but this low-level controlling behaviour is exceedingly hard to even prove, let alone stop. (Controlling as in ‘I have the power to make you just a tiny bit afraid of me, and you can’t stop me from remaining a feature in your life’).

          All the sympathies.

    3. I felt similarly, I personally didn’t think the rapist wrote that question when I first read it.

    4. I’m a big believer in the idea that people can change. Someone can start adulthood in a really rotten way, have a wakeup call, and actually reform. It is possible for a rapist to discover later how utterly, horrifically awful their behavior was, and become a decent person.


      If a rapist has had a true turn-around, then they know full well that their past consists of them being a Terrible Person. They get that this will be scary to future romantic partners. They don’t think that they deserve to get a break, a second chance, or a free pass because “Come on, I was young and foolish then; I’ve changed”. They certainly don’t resent others for not intrinsically and automatically trusting them.

      If a person has had an actual, for-real change of heart, they will not engage in rape apologia for their own past self and they will respect the boundaries and caution of anyone considering a relationship with them. If they fail on either of those counts, they are not yet demonstrating themselves to be a safe person, because it’s still all about them and what they want, without respect to the comfort level of their partner.

      So tl;dr – It’s possible, but it takes a heck of a lot more than a puppy-eyed, “But I’ve changed!” to prove it.

      1. “They certainly don’t resent others for not intrinsically and automatically trusting them.”

        This this this this this.

      2. Yes, this. ‘Feeling bad’ or ‘Hating yourself’ is not change — those are just feelings. Change is behaviour. I think if the querent has a good sense of what healthy boundaries and active consent and all of those things are, s/he will be able to tell very quickly if the former rapist has actually changed, or is just feeding them a line.

      1. Okay, sure. So, for the person Googling that, now there is a list of what rapists could do to demonstrate that they regret what they did and are being thoughtful and self-aware and safe going forward. Are any of them actually doing that stuff? No. They are whinging about how they don’t get invited to parties anymore or stalking their victims. They are serially getting people drunk. The person Googling that is asking the wrong question. Fuck redemption, let’s talk about safety.

  3. Is it a terrible idea to send a link to #12 to my ex/rapist as a means of explaining why I don’t want to be friends? There are some logistical complications so I haven’t been able to cut off contact completely, and he says he wants to be friends as soon as I’m ready. (He’s not really pushing for it, just dropping a “Let me know if you want to hang out sometime” here and there.) He claims he’s sorry but continues to abuse drugs and alcohol in really bad ways. His apologies tend to be excuses in disguise: “I’m sorry I’m broken,” “I’m sorry no one ever taught me how to communicate,” “I’m sorry I don’t know how to do relationships,” etc. He fundamentally doesn’t understand the concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions; though he’s an atheist of the Christopher Hitchens variety, he rationalizes everything by saying that I should just forgive him and that forgiveness should be automatic and unconditional, which means he never has to apologize or change his behavior, because he thinks that’s how Jesus forgives.

    Part of me wants to communicate the seriousness of the situation to him, especially since I have to occasionally talk to him for the next year or two, but part of me says, “Danger, danger, do not engage!”

    1. I tend to think that if you’ve got instincts saying “Danger, do not engage!” you should probably listen to them. From your description, it doesn’t sound like he’d understand why you were sending this to him.

      (Also I am so sorry you had to go through that. Hearts and ::hugs:: )

    2. He sounds like a dangerous, abusive, horrible, manipulative man. He sounds like a man who thinks he still has a place in your life once you “get over” his horrible abuse and assault (I’m really sorry that happened to you). Listen to your instincts about his dangerousness – trust yourself about not getting in touch with him. The odds are not good that you can get him to understand what he’s done wrong – even if he seems to be carrying on about how terrible it is, know that that’s not self awareness on his part, it’s a performance of self loathing to draw your pitty and forgiveness and suck you back in. That’s why they’re “excuse apologies” and not real apologies.

      I’m so sorry this man who hurt you is pestering you to let him back in your life as if that’s ever possible. If your instincts tell you it’s safe to do so, next time he contacts you you could tell him (in simple, brief language) that you’re not interested in any kind of relationship with him in the future other than the bare minimum politeness required to negotiate logistics. Then follow the fantastic advice the Captain always gives to block him online, avoid him, disengage as much as possible. Responses to communication keep people engaged – lack of response eventually gets boring and people go away. Eventually. Sometimes after a big flurry of activity where they make one last over the top effort to get your attention.

      I’m guessing you want to send him the entry on rapists because you’re hoping he’ll understand what he’s done and have empathy for you. He probably won’t. A more realistic goal is to strive to just get him out of your life entirely. Try to fix the reasons you still have to communicate so that it’s no longer necessary. Then block, ignore, avoid until he gives up and goes away.

      Jedi hugs for this horrible awful thing he’s putting you through.

    3. Oh also. After reading the Lundy Bancroft book the Captain links above, I offer the following interpretation of his behaviour and suggest that’s why your instincts are screaming “Danger!”

      He doesn’t think he’s done anything unforgivably bad to you. He possibly doesn’t think he’s done anything bad at all, or that his actions were justified and excusable.

      He’s trying to manage your anger by putting on a show of remorse “saying he’s a terrible person” so that he can continue (he hopes) to get positive attention from you. You can tell they’re not real apologies, because they aren’t apologies. They’re manipulation tactics.

      Really internalising this information has helped me deal with abusive people in my own life.

      I hope this scumbag fucks off and leaves you alone as soon as possible. 😦

    4. Generally, when someone tries to pull that whole apology-without-actually-apologizing thing with me, my responses tends to be “Well, I’m sorry you refuse to take responsibility for your own actions like a grown-up, you dumb fuck.”

      I don’t know what your situation is, but I’ve found it can be incredibly helpful to start calling people on their bullshit. If it opens their eyes to how other people really see them and the consequences of their sad, idiotic lies (it won’t, btw)–great! When it doesn’t, the fact that you aren’t letting their lies work will make them want to avoid you–also a win! It’s not your job to teach him how to communicate or fix him, so why let him try to convince you that it is? Of course, if this would put you in danger, or it’s too stressful or you just don’t want to do it, feel free to ignore me.

      I’m sorry that there are atheists like him that make us seem so hateful. Being an atheist made me more moral–there’s no objective morality, so I think the purpose of morality is to try to be decent to people. I have nothing but contempt for people who take rationality and logic and then use it to make sure they never have to change.

    5. If you have to listen to more of his excuse-apologies, I think a good reply might be, “An apology is a start, but what do you plan to do about that?” If he comes back with an actual plan for being less broken or communicating better, you could say, “Great, why don’t you go work on that, then.” (If you have an urge to follow that up with “and then maybe we can talk,” suppress it.)

  4. I apologize in advance, because I have INTENSE FEELS about the topic of whether or not rapistsncan be redeemed. Trigger warning for blunt as heck discussion on my own sexual assault.

    The question about whether or not rapists can find redemption hit me straight in the gut. When I confronted my rapist, I was told by several people that doing this would ruin his life. He was a different person now! Look at him, he couldn’t hurt an ant! One time he was so poor that his friends bought him groceries and people who are too poor to buy groceries and who are sympathetic on the surface can’t be rapists! Blah.

    The fact is that any chance my rapist had at redemption died when he apologized and admitted what he did TO MY FACE and then went on to try and turn whatever mutual friends we had left against me. And it worked, I lost a few good friends, friends that I can never again turn to even if they now realize how much of a fucking sociopath my rapist is. Plus, he didn’t stop with me. He raped another woman. In between raping me and another woman, he was engaged to a woman that he hit.

    He would go to events knowing I was there. He once emailed me after I specifically asked that he NEVER EVER contact me again, to see if we could go to the same camping event. Yeah.

    And then he had a fake Facebook account that he used to spy on me, which is so full of gross and even now I’m way cautious about friending people I don’t know.

    Anyways, point being that sure, probably a rapist can get better and not rape ever again. Maybe he can be super sorry. But if he doesn’t leave his survivors the fuck alone, he’s not really sorry and doesn’t deserve shit from the communities he tore apart with his poisonous actions.

    1. Yeah, I have lot’s of feelings about rapists and redemption too. For similar reasons as well.

      I’m lucky in that my rapists lives very far away and so far has only showed up close to my life twice since he stopped being my friend. Once was when facebook was all like “you might know this person!”, so that wasn’t really his fault. Once when he showed up at an event I was on my way to, thankfully my mum was there and could warn me I might run into him. That time I managed to avoid him even if it affected me a lot more than I thought it would to have him show up like that.

    2. Yep, right there with you. I get super-annoyed by what I have termed “forgiveness-badgering” (it’s similar to what Xenophile talks about). You see it all over the place on TV and in movies, reformed “bad guys” turning over a new leaf and the people that they hurt being pressured to forgive (and if they don’t forgive, then they’re the bad guys, because obviously the reformation happened). Some of my favorite shows employ this trope, and it’s like being stabbed every time it happens. I was raped, my rapist denied everything to everyone, he started dating my best friend, I tried to warn her, he turned her against me then tried to play the victim, then turned some other friends against me, and said “best friend” was consistently forgiveness-badgering on his behalf throughout the first 6 months of their relationship, trying to convince me that the rape wasn’t rape, and then popped back up again after their breakup, years later, forgiveness-badgering on her own behalf via Facebook (she was still friends with him, of course), and wouldn’t fucking take no for an answer, so I finally blocked her.
      So when it comes to rapists and their defenders, no, I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. Because they can talk the talk about change and redemption all they want. But they expect everyone they hurt to continually make room in their lives and hearts while not outwardly changing a thing about their behavior. And that’s not okay at all.

      1. “Forgiveness-badgering” is such a perfect term for this sort of behavior. Can I start using this??

      2. The thing that these people fundamentally don’t seem to grasp about forgiveness is that if you need it, you don’t deserve it.

  5. To the 28 y.o. virgin: I’m a 30-year-old NON virgin, but I was sexually inactive for almost half a decade, so when I recently tried to have PIV sex again, it HURT. My vag wasn’t used to being stretched like that, so it felt like my first time again. So I got myself a set of vaginal dilators that are also vibrators, so I can stretch myself out while also having vibrator fun time. I recommend those highly (made by Berman Center). I’m now on the second biggest size and working myself up to the biggest, and after that I’ll try PIV sex again once I have the opportunity. Also, use lube! Lots of it!

    (I don’t know why I’m writing this as though 28 y.o. is going to read it, but whatever, maybe someone will find this comment through the exact same search terms.)

  6. Re #7, I have a friendship that is proof that friendships can definitely continue after a non-reciprocated “I’d like to date you.” My Dearest Dude Friend and I have been friends since we were in diapers, and the summer after my freshman/his sophomore year of college we were hanging out and he said, almost word for word, what the Captain advised: “I’ve realized lately, you changed a lot at college, and I think you’re really cool and I’m starting to like-like you. Do you want to go out some time?”

    I, rather stunned, stumbled through a polite “not really.” And his answer was, “Okay, cool. I didn’t really think so, but figured I’d ask just in case. Anyway, let’s put on the movie we rented.” Which we did. It never came up again, he never made me feel weird or bad or guilty about it, it was just a surprising thing that happened. Within a few days things were totally normal between us, and years later, I was invited to his wedding to a very rad lady who makes him extremely happy.

    Re #11, my dad got a bachelors of science in agriculture. He then went on to get a masters of ag sci. He then worked in agriculture for six months, realized he hated it, did a correspondence course in engineering, and went on to be an electronics engineer for 45 years.

    1. It’s so good to hear that it works out sometimes! Thank you for sharing that.

      What are some good scripts for gracefully saying no? I tend to fumble around with cliches or make excuses but I know that being direct is fairer and kinder to everyone in the long run.

      1. I am the person who wrote the email asking Captain Awkward how to gracefully extract myself from unwanted conversations. Over a few days her response and that of the commenters slowly sank in – the problem was me thinking that “gracefully” meant somehow magically rejecting someone without actually rejecting them. :-/

        We’re taught that “I’m sorry but no” or “I’m not interested but thanks for the offer” are too blunt and awful to be polite. But, if not that, then what? The answer is that we’re socially conditioned to not say no at all, to think no is rude.

        So a script might go “Oh! It’s flattering of you to ask, but I don’t feel that way about you” and it will feel awkward and rude and blunt and horrid when you say it, because really what you want is a way to say no without saying no, which is impossible.

        And if people have been weird and creepy and rude about their offers, or don’t respond to “I’m sorry but no, thank you for the offer” you can drop the “sorry” and the “thanks” and the “flattering” and just go for a flat out “I’m not interested” without all the polite qualifiers.

        When you say no, people will be sad and rejected, which is normal, and more importantly not something you can fix or prevent. They want something from you you don’t want to give – their unhappiness is inevitable, no matter how kind you are about rejection.

        1. I made the mistake of telling someone(who I didn’t realize at the time had followed me onto public transport after a meetup. The group is worldwide; I don’t live in the city where it took place. ) that I was flattered by his attraction when he sent me an email which was a combination of his lust and condescension (I’d had a good time at the meet up, but I was drunk and tired and needed to decompress. I tried to make conversation with him, but it went nowhere. His email: Stilted…conversation aside, you totally fascinate me {If I had actually fascinated him, he would have shown interest in what I had to say}. If you’re still around, give me a call so you can babble{Excuse me?!} more….

          I told him that given the stiltedness, I didn’t think we had anything in common and that I was interested in someone else. His response was something to the effect of that he would back off. He then proceeded to:

          Be photographed making a shout out claiming that I’d “stolen his heart”. I emailed him and said I thought it had been made clear that I wasn’t interested. His response was that “it was a joke….by the way {cute guy from online community in his city—who was NOT the someone else to whom I was attracted} isn’t interested in you”.

          Send me a sugary card marked with kisses (a satellite of the community has a holiday card exchange; this is how I found out that where I had been staying in his city was nowhere near where he lived. If I had known this when he followed me I would have gone Hot Topic Kitty on him).

          After I received the card I sent him an email telling him that I wanted the declarations of love to stop. His response was to go on an overreactive drinking binge at a meet up a few days later (he was photographed doing so).

          I have not called meet ups on my subsequent trips to this city because I don’t want to be subjected to this.

          1. I don’t think the phrasing of your rejection was the cause of this guy’s behaviour. I think he’s a terrible person who may well have done that anyway even if you were really really blunt.

            I think it’s fine to want to be polite and friendly with rejection. That stalking dickheads pretend they don’t understand it is on the stalking dickheads. And getting rid of those is a whole different thing to rejecting a nice normal human being we don’t want to hurt. 😦

            Also *shudder* that guy sounds awful.

      2. “Wow! I’m really flattered, but …” That doesn’t come across as the most graceful sometimes, but I don’t know of anything better.

        More importantly, I think grace depends more on the person you’re saying no to than you. This is the least awkward exchange I’ve experienced, and I still appreciate the friend for it. Not nearly verbatim, but the important part is here:

        Friend: “Listen, I really like you. Is there any chance you might feel the same way?”
        Me: (I raise one finger and open my mouth to speak, having no idea what words will come out because I want to let him down gently and don’t know how. Before there’s even time to speak …)
        Friend: “Okay. I just had to ask.”

        Whatever my expression, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to get enthusiastic reciprocation, and he handled the awkwardness for both of us. He’s happily married now, and he so deserves the happiness.

        1. More importantly, I think grace depends more on the person you’re saying no to than you.

          This, really. The one time I’ve recently had to refuse someone, it… wasn’t very graceful on my side. Not only did I give a reason (“I’m queer and you are the wrong gender for me to be remotely interested!!”) but the refusal *also* involved me explaining to him how the way he’d been following me around at uni and monopolising my time had really been creeping me out and could he please knock that off?? Which I am pretty sure I did not word very nicely.

          …a year later, he was one of my best friends! Because he accepted the refusal, apologised for creeping me out and quit doing those things; for a few weeks we basically tried to avoid each other because *awkward*, but since we had a pretty large shared friends group we kept running into each other anyway and our interactions went much better from then on.

          I look back on that and go – wow, that could have ended so badly, and the reason it didn’t had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that despite the fact that he must have been crushed he accepted both the rejection and my criticism of his behaviour really, well, gracefully! *g* He’s still my go-to example for the difference between nice guys and Nice Guys (TM).

      3. I’ve been on both sides of this, and managed to keep the friendship in both cases.

        Case the first, kind of socially-awkward guy and I have been hanging out for a while. He asks me out, and my immediate, knee-jerk reaction (internally!) was “Oh god, this would be *exactly* like my previous relationship. Nope!” I don’t remember what I said, but it was pretty awkward, something along the lines of “Sorry, I’m not interested. But kudos on actually having the courage to ask!”
        We were pretty distant for about a month, then went back to being friends again.

        Case the second, I’m into a friend of mine, and after literally months of working up to it, I finally invite him out to dinner and a movie, and afterwards, I go “So, this was me asking you out. Yes? No?” And then he went back with me to my apartment and spent about half an hour explaining exactly why he wasn’t interested in a relationship with me. (This was actually a good thing, because we’re both really over-analytical types, so it really was a self-examination/explanation, not him being a mansplainy jerk.) I was disappointed, but after a week of awkwardness, we went back to friends, and he’s still one of my closest friends today.

        I don’t really recommend either script, but I think being sincere, straightforward, and not being a jerk about it will always work out if they’re honestly interested in being your friend, not just in being your significant other. Even if you hit on the magical perfect script, it’d still be awkward and uncomfortable, because rejection is inherently awkward and uncomfortable if both parties actually care about each other’s well-being.

      4. First time commenter, yay! I want to second all the variations on “Thanks/I’m flattered, but I don’t really feel that way,” as a script, with emphasis on the importance of keeping it simple. I think it’s really tempting to try and give the person an itemized list of reasons to justify your rejection, because otherwise (at least for me) it feels awful and arbitrary, but those reasons may just turn into things to argue with, in their heads (if they are respectful of your agency and decision-making) or out loud (if they are less than respectful of your agency and decision-making). YMMV, since I see that there is a comment below about a situation where the whys and wherefores were discussed to everyone’s benefit, but every time I have given a person whose advances I was rejecting a gold-plated list of reasons, it has degenerated into a discussion about why those reasons are wrong.

        On the one hand, that was definitely on them, because arguing with someone about why they should date you is not a graceful way to take rejection (see also: below comment about how “grace depends more on the person you’re saying no to than you”), but on the other, not offering reasons/excuses is a great way to avoid the argument all together.

        1. Simple – yes, exactly. It gives the person you’re letting down a very clear, unarguable refusal. There’s nothing to argue with, nothing for them to latch onto to try to fix, and nothing for them to feel criticised over.

          There are always exceptions, like the commenter above, but I feel like that should be reserved for people you are 100% sure want a detailed briefing on why.

          Besides, it’s also possible to say “I can’t date you because of X” only to find a work around for X when someone you’re actually attracted to comes along.

          1. Exactly! I used the “I’m taking a break from dating” as my reason once when I was young because I thought it was a less mean way of letting the person down (and I meant it at the time). But like a month later I found someone I really liked and started dating whom I almost didn’t date because I felt so bad about the aforementioned excuse (and that guy was still around due to school). I never used it again and have since stuck with the short and sweet “Thanks but no thanks” type.

          2. Yeah. That tends to be why I’ll talk in general about how I don’t have any real intention to date, but if someone I knew asked me out I wouldn’t use it in the answer, JUST IN CASE. (I have still used it when people I wouldn’t see again without planning it have asked, though – explained I was focusing on myself and she agreed that sounded healthy etc.)

  7. ““This is not a safe topic for me to discuss with you””

    OMFG, I love this and am totally using it with my parents the next time they start hectoring me. In relation to the Wiki How dealio, could that be satire? It just seems too obviously deranged to be earnest advice.

      1. The end of the article did say “have you considered seeking psychological help?”, which is a good nudge in that direction.

  8. I’m a little more liberal than the Captain on the topic of talking to kids about marital disputes: assuming that the situation is basically healthy and you’re not already veering divorcewards, I mean.

    I don’t mean that kids should get the gritty details – or any details that you don’t want making an appearance at show-and-tell – or that it’s a good idea to let them know that big, stressful changes may be in the air when you’re not sure yet.

    I do think, though, that if kids get used to their parents saying, when there’s obvious grumpiness in the air, “Yeah, well, OtherParent and I are having a bit of an argument; it’ll be fine”, and then it IS fine, that that’s both less stressful than them picking up on negative emotion but not knowing what it’s about or who it’s directed at, and just a generally healthy model of conflict and resolution for them to grow up around.

    1. My parents never argued in front of me, which is a good thing on balance, obviously, but I never learned how to handle disagreements.

      Now then: I would say, if there’s obvious tension in the household, the kids should be reassured that it’s not about them, which isn’t as obvious to kids as adults tend to think. Saying so directly may be counterproductive, however.

    2. My parentals are divorced, and the six months or so before they separated were *hellish* for me. My dad was sleeping in his office, my mom didn’t come home until really late at night (sometimes I was worried she wouldn’t come home at all), they were arguing all the time etc. And I had no idea why. And like a lot of kids, I thought I could make it *better* by being the perfect kid, which put waaay too much pressure on me.

      In retrospect, I wish they’d taken me aside and said “We’re having some trouble as a couple, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen. But it’s not your fault, and whatever happens, we still love you, and we’re still both going to be a part of your life.”

    3. Yes yes yes on your last paragraph. The thing a lot of child mental health literature I’ve read says that if you are going to expose children to any part of marital discord, they have to see how the fights are resolved. “OtherParent and I talked last night about why we were so upset, and we’re okay now. I’m sorry you were scared.” “OtherParent has been stressed and tired lately, so I’ll pick you up after school and drive you to swimming lessons so they can have some rest.” This lets them know that fights can end safely, and that parents are on top of fixing the situation.

      One small catch: this means that the parents in this equation have to actually work to respectfully resolve their conflicts. Whiiich is easier for some people than others.

    4. When I was 15yo, my parents told me they would divorce, up to the point where I had to choose with whom I’d stay and making plans for the move. Talking to lawyers and whatnot.
      Then, all out of sudden, the upcoming divorce was no longer a topic, like it never happened. I was very much encouraged (pressured) to go along with this and not ask any questions.

      The only informations I got came through my gossiping aunt, who told me all the glory details she could get her hands on. Having been treated as an actual person would not have been bad. Children deserve to know what is going on in their lives.

    5. There are actually some studies that I can’t find right now that suggest that arguing in front of your kids is actually really good for them. With the enormous caveat that you must argue in a constructive and healthy way. That’s how they learn to work through disagreements and that a healthy relationship is actually full of disagreements.

      1. Yeah, my parents fought in front of me for years, (well, they still DO, but I’m a grown up now) I used to find it so stressful and frightening nothing was ever resolved. I literally did not know until I was eighteen years old that people actually apologised to each other after fights outside of soap operas. I mean, I literally said to a friend, “It’s so UNREALISTIC how on TV families are always APOLOGISING, no one does that” and she was all “…uh.” And I went home and told my mother “Did you know real people actually apologise for stuff, like on television?” Having grown up with parents who would simply not talk to each other for months on end, she was all, “No, really?”

        My grandfather told my mother divorce was the worst thing you could ever do to your kids and she believed him 😦

        (I mean, we were capable of apologising for say, stepping on someone’s foot or whatever, but in the context of Talking about Feelings, no.)

        1. Damn. That reminds me of this time when I was about eleven or twelve. I was watching a rerun of M*A*S*H–it was the one where Hunnicutt is tempted to have a relationship with a visiting war correspondent. He’s all tormented about it, and at one point, he shouts, “I love my wife!” My immediate reaction was, “Pfft, yeah right. Husbands and wives don’t love each other.” Yeah. I was old enough to recognize this as a problem, but yeah.

      2. Okay, long-time lurker, first time commenter:
        Arguing in front of your kids MAY be a good idea, but only if you make up in front of them too. Which that study probably says.

        My sisters and I were spectator-participants in our parent’s unhappy marriage; we heard the fights (I broke up a few of them when they got physical), we heard the angry silences, we saw Dad not coming home until late, we saw the uneasy truces, but we never saw them happy to be with each other, never saw them hug or kiss.
        I was shocked years later to hear that while my mother was confiding/discussing/asking for marital advice from me (at 9 ferchrissake), my father was doing the same with my little sister. Pair of selfish children, both of them.

        I also heard about my mother’s unhappy relationship with her mother, my father’s wartime experiences in the Merchant Marines, what it’s like to be shipped off unwanted to a boarding school (my mother), what it’s like to be starving in Murmansk (my father.)

        They never divorced, but for what it’s worth, I think their divorcing would have made me feel even less safe than I did. (An unpopular position, I know, but my personal experience.)

        I think adults have NO business burdening children with their unhappiness or their problems. I have kids myself now, I certainly didn’t let them know what their grandparents (both sides, unfortunately) were really like until they were in their teens, as in, “16-year old son, I understand that you want to slam doors and raise your voice when you are frustrated, but I need to tell you something. I was beaten as a child and raised voices and loud noises make me feel frightened. I don’t like feeling frightened in my own home. If you need to express your frustration physically, please do it outside.”
        Each son was shocked that Granpa had been “like that” and that Gramma had let it happen, but i) understood ii) respected my request and iii) was able to maintain a loving, respectful, balanced and forgiving (?) relationship with Gramma. (Granpa died years ago, but did apologize to me just before he died.) Same thing with my husband’s parents, adult disagreements were adult disagreements, we kept the kids out of it. If they tried to involve the children, we left.

        We certainly controlled and monitored their interactions with their grandparents, but we didn’t cloud them with things they were not old enough to understand or deal with.

        My kids saw my husband and I arguing, sure, can’t avoid that, but they also saw us making up. They knew we were – overall – happy with each other and our marriage, even during the periods when we definitely weren’t.

        Let children be children; childhood doesn’t last nearly long enough. If your marriage is unhappy, sure the kids will know, but don’t involve them. Let them see you trying to protect them from it, I guess. Let them see you trying to keep THEM safe and happy, let them see that you think that their safety and happiness is – for their short childhood – more important than yours. (I’ll repeat: An unpopular position, I know, but my personal experience.) (This, of course, does not apply to any of the three A’s: abuse, adultery or addiction. All of which make children unsafe. )

        (And I wonder if this will make it past moderation…)

        1. My parents hid their marital unhappiness so well it rocked the foundations of my world when they said they were getting divorced, so I’m going to say: don’t pretend to be happy when you’re not. It prevents kids from having an honest connection to you and sets a terrible example for dealing with negative emotions and situations.

        2. I think it’s important for children to feel that they’re taken seriously, without placing the burdens of adults on them. I am intensely grateful that my mother informed me of challenges, decisions and explained them. I was deeply unhappy that we moved when I was five, but my Mum was ill and needed treatment she could not get where we were living: so while I was unhappy as hell, I was never angry at *her*.

          And it was much better to know ‘you cannot do x because we do not have the money’ then ‘because I say so’ (or getting into debt for the pretense of a happy childhood).

          There’s a difference between trying to make a childhood easier and lieing to a child to pretend that all is well.

      3. I can see that point of view. I had an ex once who insisted that there was something wrong with our relationship (read: me) because we didn’t always agree on everything and occasionally had some heated disagreements. “My parents never fight,” he said. When I pointed out that the only thing that showed was that they never fought *in front of him*, he went into Sulk Mode.
        On the flip side, I recently realized that the only person I ever yell at is my mother. I sometimes snap or speak harshly to others when I’m low on patience, but total loss of temper and shouting only happens with her. I’m still working out why that is, but I think it’s because when I was a child, that was often her go-to method of working out frustration, whether with me or anyone else. She got a bit better by the time I was a teenager, but by then I’d absorbed the message that Shouting Is Normal, At Least At Home. I can distance myself from that lesson when dealing with other people, but with Mum it’s like a switch has been flipped.

        1. I can empathise with that. I hate the person I turn back into around my family – I’m getting better at resisting it, but it still happens. My mother can send me into a total rage, unlike anyone else I know, but also, she ignores my boundaries unlike anyone else I know…

      4. Yeeaaah. From the other side of the fence…

        My parents never argue(d) in front of my brother and me. I’m not sure if it’s given me issues with arguing myself (I *am* pretty terrible with it, but I’m not sure if that’s necessarily one of the causes?). However it did mean that when my mother took me aside to tell me that actually, they’d been having X marital problems, they were attempting to solve them in Y way and they figured I deserved to know, it came as a massive shock. Nowadays, I’m completely uncertain as to whether my parents’ marriage is actually going well again or whether it’s going to explode at some point since obviously how they interact with each other in front of me tells me nothing. I guess at least if they do end up getting divorced it won’t come completely without warning???

        IDK, it’s probably partially because I’m autistic and have some issues about this, but the idea that although everything looks shiny and happy on the surface it *might* be hiding major problems and moreover the major problems might actually be visible to someone with better reading-subtle-social-nuances skills than me (my brother told me he’d been aware they were having problems) but there’s no way for me to tell just freaks me out. 😦

      5. My parents fight a lot. They also laugh a lot. They sometimes start out fighting and end up laughing. Their marriage is (I think) an amazingly successful one. They’re very passionate, vivid people and I think they are happy with each other because they challenge each other. (Also, it’s very plain that they love each other; it’s so cute how my Dad will be on a high whenever Mom laughs at one of his jokes.) They are both very strong people and stand up for themselves and what they think, and they talk about everything, and when they disagree, they’re not afraid to say it. Then they sometimes argue about it. They sometimes get in very dramatic fights. Then, later on, they will make up. They fought in front of us and would make up in front of us too, complete with apologies and kisses. Some of their fights are dumb (I remember an epic one over the proper way to cook brussels sprouts) and some of them are more serious, if one of them feels disrespected or is really upset about something.

        Once I got old enough to know that the fights weren’t the end of the world, or their marriage, or even the evening, I’ve been kind of fascinated by how healthy all this is. They don’t fight in an unfair way–no personal attacks or name-calling, and they use a lot of humor and exaggeration.

        And in my own relationships, when I’m too shy to argue with a boyfriend, I know that the relationship isn’t that strong. I know that when I’m not afraid to say, “I disagree,” when I disagree, or “that kinda hurt my feelings” if something did, then that’s healthier. I hardly ever actually fight with anyone, but being unafraid to stand up for yourself is an important lesson to learn! I am so glad that I learned that from my folks.

        tl;dr: I think maybe that study is right.

        1. Aw now I’m kind of sad I didn’t have your family relationing. My parents mostly didn’t fight in front of us, except occasionally they would snap at each other. And the “resolution” was my dad being patronising and my mum giving up. Also, which I think was possibly worse, she tried to turn us into counsellors or coffee date friends to rant with or whatever. I still am very not close to my father at all and I have no idea how much of that is due to her constantly talking about their marriage problems to me as a kid and how much is just that he’s a condescending conservative old white man.

  9. Either I didn’t actually post this or it fell into moderation:

    I slightly misread #4 and thought the searcher’s GF was having one-night stands by the several (or more) but not having a sexual relationship with her actual partner. Which is not cool unless they discuss that first.

  10. I thought all you needed to do to stop a wedding was go to the church, pound on some glass and yell “Elaine! Elaine!”.

  11. Ugh, the rapist one hit home for me too. My ex-husband dated my best friend during our divorce (it was a horribly managed last-ditch attempt at an open relationship before completely calling it quits) and I found out later that during that time he raped her twice. It was an incredibly wrong, awful, terrible period of time for everyone involved but that was what pushed him over the line from emotionally-abusive asshole to an Irredeemably Bad Person. Unfortunately, we still have some financial entanglements that probably won’t be resolved for a couple more years, so I do have to interact with him occasionally.

    It’s so frustrating because he’s somehow managed to convince himself that we ended things well, to the point that he’s made comments congratulating us on having an easier divorce than a lot of our friends. I have swallowed so much rage whenever he discredits the months of emotional terrorism that we lived under until he finally moved out, not to mention all of the damage his actions caused my friend who I love deeply. I want nothing more for our last few connections to be severed and to never see him again, but in the meantime I smile and remain polite and curse him in my head. It’s so hard and I feel like I won’t be able to fully let go of all of my anger until he is completely and permanently gone from my life. So yeah, the narrative of “good guy who made a mistake” is a sensitive one for me…

    1. Trying to convince everyone that everything is cool and they’re a great guy is abusive guy 101. I wish I could force every one of them to walk around their community wearing a sandwich board that listed all the things they did. Well, assuming their victims were OK with it. But ugh. >:-(

      I’m sorry that happened and I hope you can extract him from your life completely as soon as possible.

  12. I really like the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie, having had an affair with a married guy, stalks the wronged wife to a restaurant to apologise, and the wife does not accept her apology and basically tells her to eff off.

    IMO, save apologies, even written ones, for reparable wrongs. When you’ve done something so truly awful, it is selfish to force your apology on the other person – it’s more than likely just going to cause more pain to the victim to have to see your face/hear your voice/read your letter. The only benefit is to assuage your own guilt, and your feelings <<<<<< their feelings, so keep your apologies to yourself.

    1. Didn’t the wife say “You not only ruined my marriage, now you’ve ruined my lunch”? What a great line to point out the utter selfishness of it.

  13. The question in #9 is actually raising red flags for me; it could easily also be a manipulation tactic to get the other person more focused on the person who claims they’re lonely. I’m not sure why I’m reading it that way but it’s the first thing I thought when I saw it.

    Oh by the way hi! Guess I’m Rusty Jones here.

    1. I got a similar vibe. To me it feels like a really hurtful thing to say, the way it’s phrased — I guess if I had to analyze why, it’s because “by my side” sounds to me like a description of someone who is making an active effort to be with you, whereas if the issue were wanting more attention I’d expect a statement more like, “Sometimes you feel really distant even though we’re together.” Or come to think of it, maybe it’s the fact that they used the word “when” instead of “even though”, and that seems to imply that it’s not a specific behavior or lack thereof that’s the problem, but the very fact that they’re with you. It’s like the difference between “Our dates haven’t been very exciting lately; do you think we could do something more interesting?” and “Being with you is boring.” I would consider the latter to be a HIGHLY inappropriate thing to say to someone you are willingly choosing to be in a relationship with.

  14. Ermahgah.laskdcj;lkdsjfa The scary wedding breakup Wiki How is even scarier because of the Sensitive New Age Sex Manual/ Birds and Bees Book/ Christian Publishing On Family Life Illustrations. Like, super creepy, there. And the one of the bride and dude running away together? So much a bad sketch of The Graduate.

    Yuck yuck yuck.

  15. On #12, i.e. the Big Gross Rape One…

    If it’s the rapist asking that question, I personally do not trust their motives at all. Backstory: I had an abusive BF for a few years. (Long-distance, mostly emotional abuse, frequently pressured me into cyber roleplay sex in a way that made me feel very used and manipulated– I wouldn’t necessarily call my experience rape, but he did use sex to abuse me.) After I dumped his ass and explained to him in no uncertain terms that he was an abuser and I never wanted to see or hear from him again, he realized he could not possibly keep up the social media/friend group charade of “oh gosh, some stuff happened and I made some mistakes, I didn’t mean to hurt her, I feel so bad please forgive me WAHHH”

    So what did he do? He changed his tune to “oh gosh, some stuff happened and I made some mistakes that turned into abuse, I didn’t mean to hurt her, I feel extra bad, please please forgive me WAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH” Apparently his endless pity-party and forgiveness fantasies are even worse in private.

    Recently he contacted me AGAIN, asking for “consent to open up a discussion” in which he wanted to give me back some stuff and some money (to the tune of a few hundred dollars???) that he coerced out of me. I didn’t see the message until after a con where we both were, so it was a surprise when a friend showed up to give me some stuff. No money, though. (Implicit message: he’ll hold that money hostage unless I ~*~consent~*~ to a ~*~discussion~*~, presumably in which he plays out his fantasy of showing how much he’s CHANGED and UNDERSTANDS NOW and that totally makes it okay that he crossed my boundaries and also sexually harassed that same friend at that same event! CAN’T I FORGIVE THIS POOR TORTURED SOUL????)

    Because here’s the thing. No matter how much self-aware, social-justicey language he dresses it up in, the thing he’s still obsessed with is NOT my healing (which I’ve told him to never ask about), nor is it actually fixing the behavior (as evidenced by all the friends he abused/manipulated when I was no longer a target). What he cares about is his own manpain, and what other people think about it.

    By “redemption,” I’m assuming the searcher means being forgiven– by their God, society, whatever. Forgiveness is a thing that someone feels. It is up to them; you cannot control it. A rapist should be concerned with NOT RAPING ANYMORE, not with how people feel about what they’ve done.

    And no one, ESPECIALLY the victim, is obligated to feel positive things about it.

    1. Holy shit, what a manipulative dirtbag. The money thing is especially telling. I’m sorry this happened to you and your friend(s).

      1. Yeeeeeep. I probably wouldn’t have taken the money anyway because it would be too much like loan-sharking, but that it wasn’t even an option with the other stuff just makes it ever more obvious.

        1. Oh, it wasn’t even NEW money that he was offering me– this was money that he apparently owes me (“stole” from me is the phrase he used). So basically… “if you could please talk to me about how I have treated you like crap, maybe I can stop continuing to treat you like crap? FORGIVENESS PLS???”

          The most ridiculous thing is that what he did wasn’t even… real theft. He coerced and pressured me into paying for a bunch of crap (for example: it was long-distance, I nearly ALWAYS did the visiting and I paid for most of it), just like he coerced and pressured me into doing a bunch of things, many of them sexual, and this is just him trying to slap a number on it so there’s a way for him to “pay it back.” And then everything he did will be magically okay!

          Though he is also the type of person who enjoys loan-sharking and favor-sharking.

  16. #15.
    The very fact that this appreciation is on your mind and something you want to concretely communicate means that both you and your uncle are people I’d like to meet.
    I am sure your uncle is burstingly proud of the thoughtful and resilient person you are, and receiving a letter from you like the one you describe will be one of those happy life moments that he replays in his mind for a long time to come.
    The letter will, I’m sure, be one of his most treasured posessions; however he will ascribe a value to it that is a mere fraction of the value he sees in you and your presence in his life.

  17. An addendum I’d offer to the advice on talking with one’s kids about marital problems: Do not ask your child to play referee or confidante when you’re fighting with your spouse.

    I was not a good marriage counselor as a 12-year-old, and I’m not a great counselor as an adult, either. I am not a trained therapist and am too close to the parties involved to be an ideal mediator. Also, it wears me the fuck out.

    1. I’m a trained therapist and I STILL beat my mom off with a metaphorical stick when she tries to tell me about her marital difficulties.

      Okay, a stick made out of words like, “It’s awkward and uncomfortable for me to hear this,” but the thought’s still there.

    2. Do not ask your child to play referee or confidante when you’re fighting with your spouse

      I second this. It’s one of the main reasons I never had kids myself: I swore I’d never risk putting anyone else through that.

    3. Ugh yeah. Young kids, no matter how “bright”, should not be confidantes-for-adults in GENERAL. (This is a thing that I think really messed me up, personally.)

    4. That’s exactly how I interpreted that question. My answer would have been, “Do you want your children to resent you forever? No? OK, then.”

  18. Haha #4. For a long time, my now-husband would NOT be affectionate with me unless he had had a few drinks. No hand holding, no touching, definitely no kissing. Because he needed the alcohol to start breaking down his own boundaries, since he’s very much a non-touchy person.
    I took heart from the fact he still wanted to be around me when sober, and started gently working on getting touch in while sober (hand holding and the like). Its worked out quite well in the end – so I would go with “if he only kisses you drunk, and doesn’t really want to socialise sober, THEN he is not worth it” 🙂

    1. Basketcase, are you me? 🙂

      Spouse grew up in a very sterile home environment and was alone a lot. It took him a couple of years to be comfortable enough with touching to initiate it without being drunk. The only time he drank regularly was during those first two years of our courtship.

      He did tolerate being touched sober when I initiated, and really enjoyed going out with me when I initiated.
      After the first time we drunk kissed I asked him on a date, and then kept asking because he kept saying yes.

      Have you asked Drunk Kissy Guy on a date?
      Ask him to go out with you to a public place where you can hang out sober and see if that’s enjoyable. I think that would be the clearest way to get a sense of his romantic intentions.

      1. Ha, perhaps! I do apparently have at least one doppelganger around 🙂
        Yeah, DH didn’t flinch away when I casually touched him sober, but he was not keen on hand holding in public for a good six weeks. We’d slept together before that happened! (and yes, we’d had a couple of drinks before that too, I needed the confidence as much as he did).
        And yes, so long as I initiated, he accepted, enjoyed and continued to accept and enjoy my company. Sober and drunk.

  19. Thank you for #12 ❤ As a survivor it's always empowering to see it repeated by others that I don't ever have to forgive, welcome or reconcile with my abuser.

  20. I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole Wedding Thing (yet?) but this definitely jumped out to me from the quote: “There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.” As if there wasn’t even more confusion when you not only find yourself at a wedding where one person decides to not want to do it after all (which is totally withing their right!) but also see your friend/sibling/child practically abducted. The logic is not strong in this one.

    Your answer to the rapist question really moved me. I’ve thankfully never been assaulted in any way but I still wish everyone reacted to rapists the same way you do here. I will definitely bookmark this, it’s really great!

    And what a sweet end note. Really lovely and made my day a little brighter and a lot smily-er. 😀

  21. Yeah, I don’t have any good answers for #12. I wanted to jump on the “this question bothers me” wagon and also make an observation. This is still really undeveloped so feel free to critique mercilessly.

    It seems like most of the problem with the “nice guy who makes mistakes” trope is a problem on both a personal and societal level with how narrowly we think about sexual violence.

    Of course what’s wrong with sexual violence is the act of violence itself. There’s also the relational context for that act of violence. Even if abusers and rapists are “sorry” it seems like they often say they are sorry for the moment of violence without keeping in mind the entire fucked up power dynamic that went along with the violence.

  22. I second Fat Acceptance being great for everyone. I’m a thin person, and I was helped soooo much by discovering the FA blogs and movement. It helped me with making peace with my body, with expanding my definition of beautiful, with being less judgmental and more accepting and inclusive of difference, with supporting my friends who struggle with body issues, and even with my dating life, as I started to look past the idealized “male good looks” to who I’m *actually* attracted to. Just, you know, don’t take over conversions about/for fat people and you’ll be fine. :

  23. I’m awfully fond of the expression ‘knit my dignity back together.’ If only it was as simple as picking up a dropped stitch!

    On the redemption of rapists, interested readers might want to see what-all is happening in Major League Ballparks when the Tampa Bay team is in town. An essay on the topic is here.

    1. True, but in that case, mom “obsessing” is more likely to hurt than help, I think, and the recommended resources might still be helpful, so… yeah.

    2. Yeeeah, no. Obsessing over the weight of someone with an eating disorder is more likely than anything else to exacerbate the power struggle and make the child MORE determined to be 100% in control of their own body.

      There’s a reason that teens and young adults eating disorders get inpatient treatment so often: they’re often very informed by home environments with really toxic issues of control and communication between parents and kids, so the kids need to be out of the house before they can make progress.

      1. Thanks for this; one of my siblings has some stress-related food issues (she basically needs beta blockers to eat) and my parents’ way of addressing it has been destructive to the extreme (they’re both chronic dieters, and their strategy around it is, I actually swear, to praise her for being so thin ‘so that she doesn’t feel like she needs to diet any more’.) It’s caused enormous fights between me and them; they just can’t get their heads around not opening conversations by addressing everyone’s weight, how it’s changed, and how they feel about it.

        1. I think trying to get the parents of kids with food issues to change is one of my least favourite things. Ever.

  24. Going along with the “Friend’s Girlfriend is a Bitch”; what if she does treat him well and he seems happy, but she also seems to undermine his friendship with you?

    I’ve tried very hard to keep the focus on my friend’s behavior (as who knows, the girlfriend might be blameless!) but I’ve been noticing situations that make me suspicious and uncomfortable that she seems to be contributing to. I’ve tried speaking directly to the friend (“Hey friend we never really talk anymore”), but it doesn’t seem to resolve anything. Is this just the time to let the friendship go?

    1. It sounds like you don’t have anything concrete (openly sabotaging your time with your friend) so attacking her will backfire, especially if there’s a chance she’s blameless.

      Maybe having a conversation about what you want/need out of the friendship will work better. So instead of “Why don’t we hang out as much anymore” you could say “I miss our weekend fishing trips. Can we make a plan to do that again next Saturday?” That way you’re not even making about his behavior, just what you would like to see happen.

      Also ask him if he’s happy with the state of the friendship. Maybe he hasn’t noticed but maybe he has. Finding out if he’s deliberately slow fading or just doesn’t know how to fix this would be a good thing to do before letting things go.

  25. Sex Ed person here! I answer a lot of questions about intercourse-pain worries/experiences, and have had intercourse myself! A lot of what I suggest overlaps w/what Captain Awkward said here, for sure, but here’s a general rundown of what I suggest:

    Don’t head for intercourse-town until the receptive partner is really relaxed, aroused, and not actively nervous/worried. Of course some nervousness is normal the first time, but if you’re TERRIFIED about it… that’s not the best time.

    Basic experience with insertion is a good idea – you may not want to insert an actual penis/dildo without using just a finger or two (gloves + lots of lube will help here to smooth out rough nails/callouses) first, to get used to the sensation.

    USE A BUNCH OF LUBE. You might prefer one type over another; some sex-toy stores will sell lube samplers or have a bunch of small packets to choose from. I’ve heard some people feel like they or their partner feel like things are going poorly if more lube than what exists naturally during arousal isn’t enough; please don’t buy into that! Everyone’s level of natural lubrication varies, but even folks who make a LOT when aroused can benefit from additional lube sometimes. It’s not a referendum on relationship or sexiness quality.

    Some positions can be more comfortable than others, although these won’t be the same for everyone. Some folks enjoy being on top as a receptive partner because it can allow them to have more control over the initial insertion process. It’s a good idea to talk to a partner about what sort of control you want, and for them to be aware that things should move slowly at first & that they need to STOP when asked.

    Some folks just don’t enjoy intercourse that much, or like it but don’t see it as the Best Kind of Sex. If that turns out to be the case, that’s ok!
    One of the things that really frustrates me about the common definition of “virginity” being “someone who hasn’t had intercourse” and the common definition of “sex” as “intercourse” is that it sets up intercourse as The Ultimate Form of Sex. And for some people, it really is! It’s great! But for other people who aren’t as into it, it can mean they feel weird or guilty suggesting other kinds of sex more often to their partners.

    1. Good tips! I can also add from my own experience – you don’t have to have intercourse on a particular occasion, even if you started out wanting it and began trying, or promised you would do it then. If it starts to hurt or you feel uncomfortable, it’s all right to stop! Your partner should be gracious about it (or at least, accepting) and you can always try it again another time with less pressure. It’s always your choice, and only you can decide when the time is right. There’s such a strong narrative of ‘once you start, you can’t stop!’ and I’m really glad that worked out not to be true for me and my partner.

  26. I really like the phrasing of the rapist question. I mean, it’s probably not what the actual search term meant… but on the other hand, it uses that search term to springboard into a really important discussion. I don’t know when else I’ve ever seen a flat “what to do when you’ve raped someone” instruction, but we NEED them. We NEED to set out, very plainly, what acceptable behaviour is for rapists. It gives survivors and the people supporting them a very concrete set of expectations.

    Once the rules are laid down, they’re easier to enforce. Ironically, it’s easier to ask a rapist to be courteous than to tell them to their face that you think they’re an evil human being. It takes less chutzpah to say, “Please give your victim the courtesy of letting them enjoy this hobby without having to deal with you being there,” than, “I never want to see you again.” And it lets bystanders know how they can help: “Hey, Jo, I notice you’re drinking, and I know that when you’re drunk you’re not always safe to other people. Can I get you something non-alcoholic?”

    I love it. It’s so important.

    1. Thank you. I mean, fuck redemption. Let’s talk about redemption when basic safety practices are the norm.

      1. Yeees.

        Part of the reason victims are pushed to “forgive” is that it removes any obligation on the community’s behalf to protect her/him from the rapist. “Oh, it’s cool if they’re at the same party–Victim has forgiven Rapist.” People don’t know what to do if there’s still an obvious rift.

        And, about forgiveness–I think my headspace is different than most peoples’. I think I have one step nastier in social relations. To me, “forgiveness” means renouncing your personal right to seek vengeance against another person, and refraining from doing something awful to them. If I have forgiven someone, this means I am not launching a campaign of lawsuits, and I ask my friends not to beat them up for my sake. Magnanimity to me is, “Your face is still intact.” But people don’t want to remember that victims have the right to demand redress (even if as a society we have criminalized many forms of private vengeance) and that a victim who is merely establishing his/her own safety, and not actively pursuing vengeance, is already being quite generous.

        1. I always wondered about people who say that anger isn’t a healthy/helpful reaction to trauma. Like, I think it helped me tremendously to be angry about what I experienced. And even though I didn’t act out revenge fantasies, I don’t think they were ~bad~ for me

          1. From my POV, that kind of pushing the victim to “forgive” is actually saying, “You currently have the theoretical social power to shake up the status quo and disrupt my life. I don’t like this, so I’m going to convince you to give that power up.”

            More philosophically, anger is part of our basic defense mechanisms. It’s the “fight” part of “fight/flight/freeze”. It gives you energy, confidence, numbness to pain, and increased strength. Those things help you get away from whatever’s threatening you and find safety. That’s good. Anger can be tremendously healing.

            It’s just not an unmitigated good because it’s is supposed to be a threat response, not an everyday response. “In case of emergency, break glass.” Because anger gives you those advantages at the cost of higher brain functioning, moral reasoning, and overall physical health. So people who carry a lot of anger through their everyday decisions and are relying on rage instead of intellect are hurting themselves.

            But when it’s what you need? Oh boy is it great. For me, being angry at someone is a continual reminder to stay out of their range so they can’t hurt me.

          2. I love Karla McLaren’s book “The Language of Emotions” and in it she posits that forgiveness isn’t possible until the anger is felt/processed/channeled first. Makes a lot of sense to me. “Real forgiveness can’t exist without true anger, true despair, true fear, and true emotional integrity. Anger and forgiveness are not bitterly warring enemies; they are essential and irreplaceable aspects of the process of fully healing and restoring the entire self, and this process can only be undertaken in a soulful, and therefore emotive, way.” More here:

          3. In my experience most people who get out of a bad relationship take a while before they’re even able to feel angry about it. In that context, anger is COMPLETELY healthy, it’s a VITAL part of recovering. Your emotions are starting to work properly again, congratulations! You should be angry! Now where from here?

          4. I feel like anger is very healthy. If you’re angry about how you’re treated, it’s a sign that you recognize that you have worth, that you DESERVE to be treated better than you have been.

        2. I like that way of looking at it. Forgiveness as “I am, of my own free will, taking no further action to pursue amends in THIS matter, but that doesn’t mean I like or trust you for any other purpose” makes a lot more sense to me than forgiveness as “I welcome you back with open arms as if none of this ever happened.”

          1. I think of it as the difference between forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving is something I do for myself, where I decide not that I’m ready to let go of the anger that you hurt me. Forget that you hurt me? Go straight back to trusting you and give you another chance to hurt me? Hell no. Maybe, if I believe that you understand what you did wrong and are really sorry and there are enough positive things about our relationship, I’ll give you a chance to rebuild the trust. But that’s not the same as forgetting.

            I also once saw it explained really well in terms of debt: forgiving a debt means you take the balance of payments back to zero. It doesn’t mean you *lend them more money*.

          2. Mary, thank you for that debt analogy. It really helped bring things together in my head.

  27. 14. led a guy on and I don’t like him. I don’t like this phrase, rock bottom all you did was *think* you might like him and when you talked to him realized, nope. All you led him to was realization.

    This struck me cos of this: i msgd dating site guy. Then Talked to guy from dating site a few times, our schedules weren’t working out and his responses to that bothered me, like my schedule rather than both was the issue. Then due to another event I was on the state court site, so I looked him up. He had stalking & assault charges a few years ago on a woman, and last year another assault on a different woman. He called right after I read that and I didn’t answer. Last night I sent him a very neutral “I’m not feeling it, hope you find someone” email. I’m rather upset about this, I’m far out from my abuser and in person my boundaries are strong. It just freaks me that out of some 30 profiles, i picked his to respond to on one of the few occasions I even look at the site. On the plus, my intuition did tweak from our convos. In some part this is due to CA and Awkward Army, I’ve learned a lot here.

    1. Whew! My hair stood on end. I’m so glad you found out about this dude’s bad actions before you met him! GREAT job recognizing and heeding those red flags! Go you, for serious!!!

  28. I think everyone has the chance for redemption. (not a religious thing, just a personal belief). But that doesn’t ever obligate anybody to *care* or to forgive that person. Some bridges are just burned. That doesn’t just apply to rape to my mind, but also to things like childhood bullying, going through a bad time and treating your friend badly for a year, etc. There are some situations where it’s healthier for *everyone* if the redeemed person goes somewhere else. If they truly want to be a new person, that can be accomplished away from the site of their previous behaviour.

    There are people who I don’t want to ever see again. Even if I knew for 100 percent that they had truly changed, I still will never ever be close to them. I don’t wish them ill or go around telling their new friends what they did before, but I want nothing to do with them. And efforts to get me to see it differently will not go well.

    1. My take is: you (generic) aren’t the one who decides when you are redeemed or forgiven. I would never tell anyone they can’t be, but this isn’t because it’s not true, it’s because I’m probably not the one in a position to determine that. If you (again generic) hurt someone, it is up to them to decide whether to forgive you for it, to set the conditions for them forgiving you, and to decide that they cannot. And that’s no more unfair than you (g) hurting them in the first place.

      This is a mistake people make a lot; one notable case comes to mind.

      1. I agree with forgiveness; though I think someone can be genuinely redeemed and have turned their life around, even if their previous victims never do forgive them. To me the two are separate.

      2. Redemption is probably an ongoing process, I think. Something that you have to be on guard with, actively making sure you don’t let yourself engage in that behaviour again.

    2. Exactly. It’s theoretically possible for anyone to turn hir life around, stop harming others, and try to make amends for the harmful things s/he’s done. But no matter how many “good works” s/he does, there will always be people who will never trust hir, like hir, or want to be around hir ever again. That’s the punishment for doing harmful/shitty things. Someone who understands that what s/he did was harmful/shitty also understands this, and resigns hirself to living with it.

  29. Anon this time because scared.

    I’m from a small town that had a combined middle/high school. Relevant because all grades were combined for a lot of extracurriculars that I did. And there was a big friendly older guy there that I developed a crush on when I was in 8th grade, and he kept on being friendly, and then he sexually assaulted me (not PIV, but other things) and told me he’d kill me if I told anyone, and I was a wreck because I liked him a lot but this made no sense. And then it happened again a couple months later with the same threats.

    Mom read my diary, blamed me for the whole thing, I went to the school counselor and the counselor refused to believe me and told my attacker I was spreading lies about him. So he started threatening me. But almost a dozen other girls in the 7th-9th grades came forward to tell me he had done similar to them.

    Fast-forward a couple decades. One of my good friends who did not go to school with me then is good friends with his (ex?)wife. AWKWARD. And through this I followed the trail – the guy has a really common name so I wouldn’t have just googled it but this tells me where he was, which is not too far from where we grew up.

    He’s a teacher. He’s fucking teaching fucking elementary school. FUCK.

    I can’t even with how angry this makes me. Or how sick. I thought I’d put this behind me but um maybe not?

    And I’m still scared of him enough to not post with my usual handle, just in case he sees it. Or someone who knows him sees it and runs back with how I’m still lying about him 20 years later.

    There is so much more about this that is utterly fucked but am trying to avoid identifying details. Sigh.

    1. Damn. That really sucks. Not only did this guy assault you, but then adults you trusted went and betrayed that trust.

      Putting things behind you doesn’t mean forgetting them, and you absolutely have reasons to be angry and scared.

      Take good care of yourself, ok? Wishing you well.

    2. Oh yikes! That’s horrible. Have all the Jedi hugs.

      You might benefit from calling a sexual assault hotline about this – it doesn’t matter that it was 20 years ago, they can still help you think through this. They can help you personally, and help you understand all your options.

      Also, I am unbelievably furious with your school counsellor. That’s a horrific breach of trust, and a terrible violation of professional ethics.

      Blergh. It’s OK to reach out for professional help. You had a terrible experience trying to get help as a child, I understand you probably don’t trust psychologists and so forth (with reason!), but you don’t have to deal with this solo and a crisis hotline might be able to tell you how to access trusted therapists who specialise in this stuff and will keep your personal details in confidence.

  30. Thinking back to my own childhood, I think it’s a good idea to talk to kids about marital problems if it’s already obvious. I mean, they’re observant little critters, and they live in your house. They probably know when you’re fighting, and it might be reassuring to know why.

    “We were angry about X, and we said some mean things, but we both apologized and made up because we love each other. I’m sorry you had to be around to see that,” is totally appropriate, imo. So is, “I know you’ve heard/seen/sensed that we’re not getting along right now, and that’s true, you’re not making it up. But remember that no matter what happens, we both love you, and we’ll always take care of you.”

    A long, rambling history of your marriage, your personal problems, and your respective traumas from your family of origin given while your child is trapped in a room with you and can’t really leave is not appropriate, Mommy, it’s just weird. /flashback

  31. A few words about #4. I’m going to imagine I’m talking to any person with the worry “I’m in a relationship without sex, and I want sex”, not just that one google-searcher who probably won’t get to the comments anyway.

    Lots of people are starved for sex. By this I mean they have an appetite for a certain, possibly even small, amount of sex (or for a certain amount of a particular kind of sex, with a particular kind of person – this often just comes down to intimacy, but can be any kind of kink too) but then for whatever reasons that appetite is always being unfulfilled, to the point it starts to burden them.

    It’s easy in such a situation to start obsessing about sex. In a relationship like the one from the query, it’s easy to start obsessing over “What is wrong with me? Am I just less attractive than those other people my partner has sexed?”

    (Of course the reason could be anything. The partner might just not be feeling very sexual at this time in their life, or they might only be into sex when in a relationship that’s ripened in that direction more than this one has.)

    Now, there’s no shame in being sex-starved, though it’s an annoying position to be in. There’s no shame in wanting sex, no shame in wanting sex with a particular partner that you’re already in a relationship with, no shame in wanting to be in a kind of relationship that would make you feel attractive and sexy and wanted.
    But if it gets to the point of those obsessive worries, you need to be aware that that’s not a healthy place for your mind be dwelling at. It’s the kind of thought that on its own doesn’t lead to any solutions, but in the long term makes you unhappy and eventually starts poisoning the relationship. Those worries need something done about them, and you could do worse than talk to your partner about them.

    You don’t get to use your “wants” to blackmail someone into doing something they don’t want, but you do get to steer your own life. Relationships do grow and shrink in all kinds of directions, and they don’t just do that randomly – so you can put an effort into growing this one in the direction you want. Ultimately you also get to decide that there’s something you really want but aren’t getting from this relationship, and that’s as good a reason as any to break up.

  32. I read #12 as being from someone who knows a rapist, and/or interested in dating one. From that perspective, I’d only add: be careful.

  33. With regard to #2: yes tell the kids you’re divorcing; yes reassure them that you love them; no, don’t say it’s not their fault, instead try telling them they can’t change the outcome; also no, don’t explain in detail what you and spouse argue about; yes try to model disagreement and coming to solutions

  34. The rapist question made me think of the Lisak & Miller study (see writeup at ). The thing that has always fascinated me about that particular study is not the repeat rapists (which is what people usually talk about, for very good reason, because those 4% of men in the study are a HUGE source of all kinds of violence), but the people who only committed *one* offense.

    I really want to know more about those people. Why only the one time? Why never again? What stopped you from doing it again, and is that something that could be possibly a target for education, to prevent the people who are one-timers from ever becoming one-timers in the first place? Because — let’s assume that study’s numbers are good — that’s not quite half of rapists. (Not of rapes. Rapists.) And those people, I really do wonder if they might be, well, not redeemable, but — capable of not being awful people the rest of their lives (though of course what they did cannot and should not be erased).

    I mean, that still leaves you with the more-than-half of rapists who are repeat rapists with an average of 6 victims apiece, so, you know, those people are assholes and as far as I am concerned they can all be put in a giant hole filled with weasels.

    1. This is an excellent question and the answer is yes, educating people on what rape is and how not to rape, as well as enforcing clear penalties for sexual assault, are enormously helpful in reducing the number of rapists out there.

      1. Yes, I mean — yes, clearly, but I want to know specifically about those one-timers. WHY are they one-timers? Did they rape someone and then something happened to make them think it was wrong? Did it make them feel gross and oogy? Did they tell a buddy about it expecting a high-five and get a “dude, that was SERIOUSLY uncool”? *Why* are they one-timers, and not repeaters, and what can that tell us about how to direct anti-rape education and anti-rape-culture action?

        1. Really excellent questions, J. Preposterice.

          I often wonder if my family member rapist was a one-timer, or not. Since afaik, he’s still lying to everyone in the family about knowing why I avoid him, I’m pretty sure none of them could tell me if he’s raped anyone else. And I haven’t talked to him in 20+ years. But, from the outside & a distance away, it looks like he *could have* reformed his life. I wish I knew if he had. And why.


        2. I used to work with, among other things, programs for juvenile sex offenders. At least in that part of the issue, there are some validated assessment tools (I think the one I usually saw in use was J-SOAP II) that have some ability to determine who is likely to re-offend and who is not.

          I worked with a particular case file that sort of fits what you’re talking about. The boy was 12 at the time of the offense, which basically was “I saw something in porn and was curious so I got a girl alone and tried it” – and the girl was *much* younger. He vaguely knew it was something he shouldn’t be doing, but not really that it was that much worse because of how young she was, and from what I could tell he was completely horrified when he realized it. He was in his late teens when I picked up the file and was basically given the lowest possible chance to re-offend – he was basically only still in care because his parents wouldn’t let him come home, and he couldn’t discharge to anywhere else because “sex offender”.

          Sad situation all around, really.

  35. “People who like you will act like they like you. Don’t prioritize someone who isn’t doing the same for you. Put your energy into people who like you and give you their time and attention.”

    OK, so I’ve seen this phrase come up here before, and I have a bit of a related query to make. I have this awful habit of dancing around trying to do the “correct” thing to make people like me, because if they don’t then I must be defective, and maybe if I did X Thing then maybe they’d like me?
    I’m not sure where the line is between, “This person is showing me they don’t like me, so I should put my efforts elsewhere,” and, “This relationship is young so I still need to put in more than I’m going to get out for now,” or, “This person doesn’t do interactions generally at the same frequency or intensity that I seem to want.” I’m not sure when I’m doing the pathetic, “Please like me!” dance or when I’m just putting in the expected, “Well you’re new in town and friendships take time to be reciprocal.”

    1. I can’t speak to specific situations, because I don’t know you or the people you are trying to hang out with, or how that’s all going, but my general thinking is this:

      Conventional, romantic comedy-type wisdom says “Be persistent! Keep asking people to do stuff until you convince them to say yes!”

      I say, nope. People will like you, or they won’t, but you can’t make someone like you, and pestering someone who isn’t responding to your signals is annoying. You need to leave other people some breathing room and trust that if they want to hang out with you they will.

      What this means in terms of making plans is:

      If you ask someone to hang out at a specific time on a specific day (“sometime” is not a plan and doesn’t count) two or three times, and they are never available at those times (which can happen, and may have nothing to do with you), and they make zero effort to reschedule or suggest a different time to get together, maybe pull back on trying to get together. People who really, really want to have lunch with you but can’t due to schedule will say “So sorry, I’m busy Wednesday, but howabout Saturday?” or “I’m sorry, my schedule is really booked right now, can I get back to you after the holidays?” and then they will get back to you. They will reward you for taking the initiative to plan something by reciprocating when it is more convenient for them.

      But what if…?

      They genuinely forgot?
      Their phone wasn’t working?
      Their email address was spontaneously sending all of your messages to a secret sub-basement?
      It’s a new friendship or relationship and you guys haven’t figured out your rhythms yet?

      I dunno. Whatever is going on, they aren’t making an effort to hang out with you or respond to your kind efforts, so after a few unsuccessful attempts maybe don’t fixate on trying to make this happen and look for someone else to invite places.

      People make two big mistakes around this. The first is “Howabout now? Okay, howabout now? But you said maybe Tuesday, and now it’s Tuesday, so howabout now?” You can’t make people like you, but you can make people dislike you by pestering them. Once upon a time I promised to call an OK Cupid person “over the weekend” to plan a date for the following week. Monday morning at exactly 9:01 he sent me a text that said “You didn’t call. :(” I said “Sorry, I didn’t have time. Would you still like to plan something? and he said something about how inconsiderate that was and then I blocked him. It already felt like too much work. When the person who is now my boyfriend asked me out on OKCupid, I was in the middle of a nasty head cold. I said “I’m sick, can we plan something when I’m not?” He said “sure” and went on other dates with other people. Maybe he’d hear from me, maybe he wouldn’t. When I felt better, I got in touch with him. Because I am a person with agency and I liked him.

      The second mistake people make is after a few unsuccessful attempts they show their hand and do a guilt trip. “I guess you’re not really into it. Okay, it’s fine, I guess. I won’t bother you anymore.” Ok thanks Sulky McGee! Guilt always motivates me to want to hang out, said no one ever.

      Make a couple attempts to make plans. If your efforts aren’t met with equal energy from the other person, pull back, but leave the door open to be friendly casual acquaintances. Some people take a lot of time to warm up to a new person, so if you keep running into them and that keeps being enjoyable, circle back to it again in 6 months.

    2. Hey Party Smeagol, I think I have been you before. I always used to approach conversations with an intense desire to perform “socially apt conversation partner” as well as possible. And that meant I would spend the entire interaction focused on my own behaviour, and listening only in as much as I needed to in order to work out when to speak and what might be vaguely appropriate to say, and also to gauge if the other person seemed to like me. I am cringing a lot as I write this.

      Anyway. This has several major downsides. For starters I wasn’t really listening attentively, and I think people pick up on that, and also it leads to saying things that aren’t entirely appropriate. Or I would be so focused on performing that I would talk too much. Also, I wouldn’t give any thought to whether or not I actually liked the other person and I spent a lot of time in conversations and sometimes whole friendships with dreadful, no good, toxic people. And I was always nervous and intense. Yeesh! Party Smeagol is in the house and wants you to like her, random human shaped person!

      I mean eventually if I got close to people I would relax and become normal, and this approach worked OK with other people who liked to interact by swapping long stories only vaguely related to each other. But it’s not the best tactic.

      The thing I’ve learnt is this. Talk less and listen more. And on top of that, be more selfish in order to be less selfish – by which I mean don’t think about whether the other person likes you and if you’re cool and awesome, think about how you feel about *them*. Because actually, when you’re super intensely focused on your own performance you’re entirely focused on yourself. And when you really listen to someone and get in touch with how you feel about what they’re saying and doing (and not whether or not they like you) you’re really engaging with them and seeing them.

      Natural, relaxed conversations and friendships flow from that.

      Obviously I don’t mean to focus on your own feelings to the point where you ignore the social cues other people are giving. Just that it can help to get your mind off what they think of you so that you can properly see them.

      So don’t try to do the right thing. Work out what thing you want to be doing and do that (obviously within reason and respecting other people’s boundaries). Some will like it, and like you, and some won’t. I really personally empathise with the need to just work out what the actions of a likeable person are, because I didn’t seem to naturally posess those attributes. But if you can accept that your own preferences and desires and likes are valid, and then be that person socially, it works a lot better.

      It’s easier to write that than it was to do it, but it was worth the monumental effort. And therapy dollars.

  36. I thought a lot of the advice in ‘How to break up a wedding’ was sound. Mainly make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons, get others input, try to talk to the person before it goes down, accept that you may be wrong and things won’t go your way. Which make the run away advice downright strange.

    1. It struck me as more than a bit creepy, even surrounded by all those caveats (“make certain you think it’s for the best” etc). The caveats could easily be ignored by the kind of stalker that the article seems to be targeting – “Of course I’ve thought it through! She is my One True Love etc, I’ll serenade her then we’ll jump in the car and make our getaway”…

      Especially the way the article refers to the person whose wedding is being targeted as the stalker’s ‘beloved’. As in, ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’ from the wedding service & ring inscriptions? Aaaaaaa! They are not your beloved! At best, they are the object of a misguided obsession, a desire that almost certainly isn’t reciprocated anymore and which you can’t let go of.

      Are there *any* good stories out there, not in romantic movies, where trying to break up a wedding ends well? I’d be really curious to hear them, because I just can’t picture the scenario ending well at all.

      1. There’s Momus and Shazna Nessa? Her parents were forcing her into a marriage against her will, and he and the British High Commission in Bangladesh helped her escape and get back to the UK. I think they then got married and stayed together for a few years and then broke up. I think “how to help someone who is being forced to marry against their will” would probably be a different article, though!

    2. My advice for “how to break up a wedding” is DON’T. I fundamentally disagree with the entire concept. I think that doing it is an incredibly disrespectful, invasive, harmful thing to do, and it is more likely to cause the person hurt and trauma than it ever is to help them. So I don’t think it’s sound at all.

      1. Breaking up weddings might have made a tiny amount of sense when they were considered irrevocable magical bindings, and no one would want to marry a woman who’d already been married. (I have a book of real-life law cases from the 1920’s, and many of the ones the lawyer is most proud of center around avoiding this outcome–they seem ridiculous to the modern ear.) Now? You can get a divorce if you need to. You will not be shunned for the rest of your life if you do. So, what’s the rush? Why does it have to interrupt the ceremony? If the marriage is an awful mistake it will still be an awful mistake next week, next month, next year. Let the person whose business this is work out how to end it, if they choose to do so.

        1. Yes, this!

          These days I think: if the marriage is an awful mistake, and the person for whose sake you are interrupting is being abused and not 100% ready to leave? Chances are, they will not come with you at the wedding. There’s too much inertia of motion to stop. They will go ahead and get married anyway.

          And you, a person who would be willing to support them, have just outed yourself to the abuser as Public Enemy No. 1, and caused their entire social circle to associate “them not being married to their abuser” with “rude hurtful breach of social ettiquette”, probably in a way they will talk about a lot in front of the person who is being abused.

          Thus making their situation worse. Congratulations. *slow clap*

    3. The big problem I have with it is that the article assumes that the potential wedding crasher is right (if it is for romantic reasons). It starts off with the assumption that of course the ‘beloved’ is in love with the person considering stopping the wedding:

      It is possible, after all, that they have made this choice after a great deal of soul-searching, based on their own wants, needs, and preferences. Sometimes a person will prefer a pragmatic, realistic, and reliable love choice over a deep love that they feel isn’t going to fulfill specific needs in their life.

      Emphasis and disgust is mine.

      Apparently we can’t even do the object of our affection the favor of assuming they actually thought about whether they actually want to marry the person they’re engaged to. No, that’s only a “possibility”. It’s not, “Of course they thought this through” it’s “maybe they actually gave a serious life decision some thought”.

      Even then we can’t consider that if this person was dating someone else instead of us, got engaged to someone else instead of us, and is about to marry someone instead of us then they love that person and not us. No! It must be that there are other, pragmatic reasons that they are rejecting this deep love.

      It’s pretending to say that you should consider that this is what they want but what they’re really saying is that this person doesn’t know what’s best for them and obviously loves the wedding crasher. At one point it asks you to be sure if crashing is your only option but that’s a lie. It’s never your only option because you always have the option to keep your mouth shut. The article writer tells you to keep going over how much happier the engaged person would be with you, it never tells you to consider the fact that they already are happy with the person they’re about to marry. No, the wedding is “doomed” so better tell them early to save them some money.

      Also, this:

      Someone who is likely to walk from a wedding may be afraid of commitment, and insecure in relationships. This could pose problems for your relationship.

      Yeah, crash the wedding to get them to be with you but hold the fact that they were willing to walk out on a wedding to be with you against them for the rest of your relationship.

      1. If the marriage is doomed I just feel like it would be better for them to come to realise that themselves and get out of it themselves instead of for some other person to rescue them and have that be part of their story. Because then it’s like “well, I rescued you from you making a bad decision” and there’s nothing about that that sounds like the basis for a healthy relationship.

        1. Yeah, there was actually a question on here some time ago where an abuser used exactly this reasoning as to why the Letter Writer should stay with them.

  37. The thing that gets me about the wikihow page, is that almost every illustration is drawn as if it’s a woman concerned about the wedding. I feel extremely safe saying this was written by a man, for other men, and drawing women in the illustration was a decision to try to dial down the creep factor (as if that’s possible) or dial up the legitimacy factor.

  38. It’s also worth noting (may have already been noted in the comments) that the only legitimate reason for someone actually objecting in a wedding ceremony is if one of the parties is already married somewhere. Otherwise you’re going to get security called on you/the priest is gonna brain you with a censer. Actually, those two things may happen anyway.

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