#766, #767, #768: Awkward friendships, ahoy!

Hello Captain!

I am looking for scripts/advice dealing with a situation that I tangled myself up in.

A friend I made over the summer, and became quite close to, recently started giving me the silent treatment (I’d say about a month ago).

Although it was hard for me to accept, I decided after olive branching twice that “Hey, this is the unspoken African VIolet. Alright. We were there when we needed each other, and this sucks, but it’s time to move on”

Except, my Best Friend on Team Me is also friends with this person I will call Gentleman.

Gentleman is best friends with *her* best friend. So, it is a given he will be at most social interactions.

I have tried my best to be smooth about this; I’ll give a polite “Hello” or something along those lines in a group setting. I will not venture to engage any more than is required.

Except he *pointedly ignores me*, will turn away from me, and also engage everyone around me so I have no one to speak to. Friends may notice but seem unsure what to do, and I often forget this is what’s happening, so I have to scramble to interact (or go silent, which results in me starting to panic).

It is made more awkward because if I disengage with this group, I lose my only close friends.

I am trying to pick up more hobbies, meet more people, but I cannot change that this is the small group I will interact with most. I am just…not sure what to do.

Which would be fine and dandy, except he..just invited me to his birthday on facebook? And my friends have insisted I go or I “am making things more awkward”? They seem frustrated with the situation (as am I!) but I have already offered an olive branch or two to him, and he clearly does not want this (that’s ok too!).

Suddenly changing my mind would upset the friend group I believe. But, I am worried because I get the feeling that mutual friends are trying to thrust us together in the guise of helping. I do not think it is helping, and Gentleman is a shy person.

What…can I do? How can I navigate this social necessity? I don’t want to be like “please don’t invite me if he is around”, as he is always around.

But I’d like to be able to, yknow, recover? It takes time for me to make friends, and accepting a “no closure but no friendship” situation is rough for me.

Suggestions, capt?


I Accepted The VIolet but My Mutual Friends Didn’t

The Geek Social Fallacies run amok in your circle! Even the person who super doesn’t like you carries them!

I think you should decline the party invite and give this person a little space.

And I think you should invite your friends (actual friends) to do some stuff one on one or in smaller groups. It’s time for you to put the idea of The Group on hold for a while. Groups & relationships only work if they work for the people in them. Suffering for the idea of the relationship, especially to preserve other people’s idea of what that relationship should be like, is madness.

And your script for your friends is: “Hey. If you want to make things less awkward, howabout speaking up when Gentleman gives me the silent treatment to all of our faces? Instead of pushing me to make everything okay, and pressuring him to invite me to stuff, which means I end up enduring the ‘cut direct‘ on the regular, howabout we give everybody a little breathing room. Not everyone has to be friends with everyone else. I’d settle for ‘distant nod’ terms and I’ll come back to group stuff when Gentleman feels the same, but I’m not subjecting myself to the silent treatment ever again. He is being a jerk about this, and I’m sure he has his reasons, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that’s not what it is.” 

Reaching out to your friends in smaller groups, or singly, will mean a small cultural shift in how things work, especially if you are not generally the inviter/social fulcrum, but it’s work worth doing. “Can you and I go to breakfast, just the two of us?” is a nice invitation if you usually see everyone all together. I also suggest you throw yourself into another hobby or class or activity that takes you into a slightly different social scene for a bit, too. It will help you keep yourself aloof from friend-scene drama if you flex your “I know how to meet other cool people” muscle.


O Captain my captain (or guest!), please help:

I’ve got a problem that isn’t necessarily distressing to me, but it is very perplexing, and it’s something that has me feeling kind of stuck.

The quick background is that I am in a friends-with-benefits sexual relationship with my ex and best friend. Our friendship is one of the best things in my life: we’re open with each other, we make each other laugh, and we support each other. We both care very deeply about the other person, and the sex is connected and amazing. This has been going on for a little over a year, and we were together as a couple for a little under a year. In many ways aside from sex, our behavior isn’t all that different from it was when we were together: we hold hands in public, we’re cuddly, we see each other and talk to each other more than we do with anyone else in our lives. We try not to be very physically affectionate in public to avoid confusing friends and family though, and we definitely don’t call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. Because we’re so honest with each other, he knows I’m still a bit in love with him, and I know that he doesn’t want to be a couple and why.

While this sounds like it could be a stressful or unfair situation because of the feelings being “uneven”, I am genuinely happy with what we have! It provides me the best friendship I’ve ever had, intimacy, affection both physical and emotional, great sex, and a ton of support. I’m sure eventually the arrangement will end, but I do know I’ll be sad and will miss the physical parts of our friendship when it does.

So what’s the problem? It’s that I feel so much pressure to define the relationship further for the sake of others or to move on. My friends express concern that he should just “make up his mind” or “admit that you’re really a couple”, or that I should date. I’ve attempted to date, too! But I find myself comparing my dates to the established and happy intimacy I already have, and I don’t feel that would be fair to another person. I don’t know what my next steps should be. Am I fooling myself that this is something that could make me happy for now? Am I setting myself up for heartbreak somehow? Is it possible to move on while staying so connected to the person I love most?

Thank you,
Friends with Bafflement

Dear Bafflement:

Winter is Coming, and having a reliable and trusted friend/bedfellow is not the worst idea ever. You also don’t owe the world a relationship that other people can understand. Romances and sexual relationships don’t have to move forward in recognizable stages or last a lifetime to be valuable.

I can see why your friends are concerned if they know you to be someone who wants to be married, etc. someday. Sadly, The Dude Who Would Like To Keep Things Very Casual While Also Enjoying What A Good & Caring & Always-Available Girlfriend You Are is a common figure in our common folk mythology and his stories are not often happy ones. In your friends’ places I might wonder if you were being totally honest with yourself about how cool you are with everything. I would especially wonder this if “He” (how amazing and wonderful he is, drama around your past breakup, the mismatch in affection & relationship goals, etc. ) were a frequent topic in our conversations and if your case for how great things are sounded (out loud) like you are trying to talk yourself into something. When I’ve been obsessed with someone and talking about how no, really, our relationship is special, and these are all the very good reasons I’ve decided to accept less than I really want, wise friends have said to me, “Do you think he thinks and talks about you as much as you do about him?” Is that what your friends are saying, or are they projecting their own desires for security and certainty onto you (also possible)? Nothing makes a case like success, so if you’re happy, try going with “All good, thanks!” instead of a lot of details about Him for a while and see if their reservations recede.

As for your romantic life in general:

Am I setting myself up for heartbreak?

Yes, but you always were, and you always will be as long as you love other people. Heartbreak is the human condition. The most obvious thought experiment is: What happens if Friend meets someone else next week or next month or after five years of being with you all the time and does really want to be in an exclusive romantic relationship…with them? And all the cromulent reasons for ‘not being a couple’ that you patiently understood all this time become not true when it’s this person? That would completely gut me in your shoes, like, Stevie Nicks + Lindsay Buckingham Performing Landslide Together-gut me. Less obvious but true: Romantic relationships can end on amicable terms and for great reasons mutually decided upon, and it can still hurt like hell when they end. And hell, Lindsay and Stevie look beautiful on that stage.

“Is it possible to move on while staying so connected to the person I love most?”

Yes, in that your life is going to move and change no matter what you decide. If your heart’s desire is a monogamous relationship with someone who is long-term committed and devoted to you, it’s going to be hard to meet and fully engage with someone who might give you that if your heart (not to mention time & energy) is still engaged with Mr. Friend and if in your heart of hearts you still wish things were different with him. Still, you can date new people if you want to. Try to realize that nobody new is going to compare to someone you’ve had a great time with in bed and out of it for a year when you’re eating awkward first date dinner with them. You’d have to compare things to back when you and Friend first met. Poly dudes might be your best bet for right now, because they are also the most likely to be accepting that you have this amazing connection with someone else and not try to compete with or displace it. Always remember: The wonderful qualities in you that brought such a sexy and fun relationship your way in the first place are still in you, and they don’t belong to Mr. Friend, they belong to you. In meeting new people, you might be surprised by someone who makes you call up Friend and say, “that was great and I’ll always care about you, but I’m done with the sexytimes kthnxbye.

You could also decide your dating plate is happily full for right now. If you take this route, I would encourage you to throw yourself harder than ever into your work or school or artistic pursuit or hobby and to make sure that your social life includes many people who are not Friend and who are not connected to him. You’re getting happily laid on the regular, you’ve got good friends, so take all the effort that “dating” takes and apply it to other things you really want to do with your life. I say this because while I take you at your word that things are great, I also take you at your word that you are more into Friend than he is into you, and I think it would be smart to make sure that you’re doing the other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

I’m glad you are happy and hope that you remain so.


Hello Captain,

First off, thank you for all the work you’ve done on your blog. Thanks to reading through your archives, I was most recently able to tell the boss on a project I was working on, “Sorry, can’t do that,” to an additional task that was So Not in My Job Description and that I didn’t want to do without offering a rambling litany of excuses that were only half true! And guess what – the project was successfully completed anyway, and I got praised for the efforts I did put into it! Yay!

But of course, there’s a “but,” one that is unrelated to that project. My best friend was recently sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, and in another, inconveniently located state, no less. I haven’t exactly been blurting this out to everyone I know for the sake of my friend’s privacy, but a few people I consider close friends are in the know about the details, and for the most part, they’ve been nothing but supportively awesome examples of a fantastic Team Me.

The problem is one friend, “Thomas.” Thomas is, shall we say, a bit of judgmental prick when it comes to violations of the law and my friend’s violation in particular. He seems to be of the opinion that my friend got off easy and that serving his term in a different state (which is, as you might imagine, somewhat distressing to his family and friends), is only appropriate, as my friend has to learn that his actions have an impact on others around him. Naturally, my usual reaction to this is to throw my phone across the room and go out for a walk to clear my head.

I’ll then get a text hours later to the tune of, “Sorry if I’ve offended you.” To this, dear Captain, I usually have no response. So far, I’ve been ignoring the pathetic attempt at an apology and switching topics with no lead-in when I do get around to texting him back, but I’d really, really like to tell Thomas where he can shove both the apology and the high and mighty opinions that led him to needing to make one. Is there a script for doing so with less vulgarity than I’ve fantasized about putting into my response? I know the obvious solution is to simply not discuss my newly in-depth knowledge of how law and order actually works in America with him, but Thomas already kind of knows, and it’s been my go-to for brushing off why I really can’t get interested in his latest girl drama.

I know I’m likely to get some reaction along the lines of, “Well, why are you still friends with him?” to which I respond that I have good reasons for which I obviously don’t need to seek advice.


Friends don’t tell friends to go chew on broken glass, do they?

Good job asserting yourself with your boss, and I am so sorry about your best friend. That must be so scary for both of you.

This topic came up in a slightly different way recently, but sometimes the answer a friend needs is “You can think and feel whatever way you want about x, and you can also try to have enough sensitivity and care for my situation to keep it to yourself. When something affects my life and my loved ones so harshly, I’m not in a place where I can treat it like Debate Club.The old “comfort in, dump out” or “ring theory” of “not being a poophead to people in pain” comes to mind.

Thomas may remain your friend, but he’s not currently a safe place for you to talk about your best friend’s situation, so I hope you can vent elsewhere. I think you well within rights to say, “You have offended me and that ‘Sorry if...’ text wasn’t really an apology, was it? You have a right to your opinion, of course, but I have no idea what made you think I want to hear about it right now.” See if you get a real apology and go from there. It might be time for Thomas to become a very “Small Doses” friend for a couple of months.

189 thoughts on “#766, #767, #768: Awkward friendships, ahoy!

  1. I have a friend who expresses opinions, quite forcefully sometimes, that other people, including me, don’t want to hear. Or don’t want to hear again. Or which are simply off the wall, and inappropriate.

    After a through discussion on several occasions, which helped after the fact, but didn’t stop him from expressing himself when it wasn’t wanted and he knew it wasn’t wanted, I started just waiting till he took a breathe and saying “Shut Up Percival” in a very neutral tone.

    And he does. He knows he’s being rude, or taking over conversations and pointing them in the direction he wants to go, and so on. It’s a simple reminder. He’s not embarrassed by it, or I wouldn’t do it. Other people have started doing it too, and it’s even been used to stop other people who are stepping in it. It’s become an inside joke, but a very effective one.

    Perhaps after you have a discussion such as the Captain recommends with Thomas, you might try waiting for him to take a breathe and either pointedly saying something like “how bout them Nicks!” or some other clear and obvious conversation changer, or even “shut up Thomas” and see if you no longer feel like throwing your shoes at him.

    1. I’m in the same state my best friend and I are from right now, which is not the same state Thomas is in, which is really fortunate because otherwise I’d really have to restrain myself from becoming my best friend’s cellmate due to reacting very, very inappropriately to Thomas’ comments. 😦 These comments have been entirely by text, which adds another layer of misfortune to the whole thing, because I don’t think he’d be this, uh, openly opinionated if he were talking to my face. I like the idea of changing the conversation abruptly, but I don’t have the sort of personality where I can let things go without growing bitter and resentful.

    2. “Stop digging” is the one I usually use (as in, digging oneself into a hole). It works nicely by implying that the person doesn’t actually think terrible things, but is just failing at expressing their true, Definitely Not Awful opinion, and thus allows them to save face a bit.

      1. Go me for posting a comment during my lunch break, having forgotten that I loaded the page at 8:30am and hadn’t refreshed since! I didn’t mean to ignore your comment, LW, but I do now realise that my comment is less useful in light of yours…

        1. I know all about the joys of not refreshing, haha! I could see using “Stop Digging” in a different context with people I care more about allowing to save face.

  2. LW 767, I feel you! I’ve had a long-term quasi-romantic but casual and not exclusive relationship with a former partner whose company I genuinely enjoy. We did this on and off, so whenever I got mentionitis about him–he said this, we did that, etc.–my friends would ask if we were dating again and then follow with a lot of questions. “Are you sure it’s not a relationship? Surely he’s secretly in love with you, or you with him? What happens when one of you wants to date someone else?” And their questions didn’t bother me because I was content, and they generally accepted my answers and because it was clear that I was not bothered.

    I’ve also had a lingering quasi-relationship with an ex that was not like that. We broke up, resolved to remain friends, and then carried on in precisely the same manner as when we were dating. When it was good, it was great. But a lot of times it wasn’t good, because now and then he’d be absent and unavailable, and then after a few months he’d be back and we’d pick up where we left off. His affection and attention as my friend (with or without benefits) were only available to me when he wasn’t dating someone else, in other words; I was the backup. My friends would ask, “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you are okay?” and I was say yes, but it was pretty clear to us all that I wasn’t. I was sad when we broke up as partners and sad all over again when we had to break up as friends, but the truth was that as soon as I got a little emotional space from him, I felt amazingly better.

    So I can see how this situation can go either way, and I can’t completely tell from your letter which way it is–because, like the Captain said, I trust you when you say it’s good, but I also trust you when you say you’re not quite equally yoked. You’re the only one who knows and you’re the only one it has to please, so don’t worry about your friends. Just take care of you.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I’d say it’s probably true that I’m not quite equally yoked, but in a fairly minor way. I certainly am a bit in love with him still, and I think he has feelings for me beyond friendship and beyond just sexual/physical intimacy, but just isn’t ready for the Actual Relationship part. But, at the same time, it’s good! There’s a lot of other Serious Stuff that I’m working through right now, so having a situation like this without the pressure of it being an Actual Relationship is probably good for me.

      And luckily he and I don’t come anywhere near the stereotype Captain mentions of being just a backup or convenient: he prioritizes me a tons and treats me with amazing caring and kindness in all things!

      1. I had a friend who very recently went through something similar to what you are describing, and as her well-wishing friend, my question to her often was, “What you are doing sounds like a relationship to me, so what is the missing link between that and an Actual Relationship, for him?” Or in your case, since you refer to him as your ex, what did you have THEN that you don’t have NOW?

        Now, in your case, it’s not really any of my business, so I’m not asking for specifics, but my feeling is the same. If you hang out all the time, act affectionate in public in ways that people don’t usually unless they are in a romantic relationship, AND sleep together, you fit most people’s definition of A Relationship (not even necessarily monogamous either, but just operating at a more intimate level than platonic friends.) And again, most people’s opinions are — and should be! — irrelevant to what you are mutually deciding you are, and what works for the both of you. But I think it’s fair to question, still, why there is an insistence on his part on throwing up an extra barrier to Relationship. And that’s why your story reminds me so much of my friend’s: she (and you) both admitted to being a little in love with the guy, and you both were/are understanding of his not wanting to commit, but acting like her boyfriend while verbally maintaining the front of being casual gave him carte blanche to enjoy all the cuddlies and sex while he felt like being not-quite-single, but just duck out when it felt convenient. And he did, when he met someone else.

        I hope that however you and this guy proceed truly continues to make you happy and doesn’t end in any kind of horrible heartbreak. As a risk-minimizing type, I wince when I read your letter, but you are you, and you may find that even the worst case scenario was worth it for what you’re experiencing now. Best of luck to you!

        1. I think your question for your friend is exactly what mine are trying to suss out!

          I’m not even sure Mr. Friend actually knows himself why he’s got that barrier in place. I do know he wouldn’t duck out and if he was the person who met someone else (or decided that the more intimate part of the friendship should end) first he’d be great about it, as he was when we broke up. So it could very well be heartbreaking in it’s own way, but not due to lack of consideration on his part.

          What’s funny is that I’m also a risk-minimizing type and would wince and worry about this as well in most situations, but somehow this works out for me right now.

          Thank you for the good thoughts and good luck wishes!

          1. I don’t know how applicable this is, but before I figured out I was aromantic a lot of my relationships looked like this; I enjoy sex and platonic affection, but as soon as Relationship, Romance or Romantic Commitment show up I get really uncomfortable. If he hasn’t looked into that kind of identity stuff it might help explain why that Not a Relationship barrier is in place. Of course, more common explanations like “more focused on other projects than romance right now,” “trying to stay available,” “not willing to re-experience whatever it was that broke us up” are definitely possible too.

            (Also, side note: “Heartbreak is the human condition”? I get the point being made, love is risk and that is a nicely poetic way to phrase it, but my aro ass is still human. :/ )

          2. You’ve never had your heart broken…by anything? Death? Betrayal? Disappointment? We all hurt sometimes about something and you can’t live your life just trying to avoid it. I didn’t put “romantic” in front of that for a reason and def. wasn’t implying anything about aromantic people being less human or heartbreak being about only romantic love.

          3. IDK Cap, as another aro person I wouldn’t describe any of my past experiences as ‘heartbreak’ either, and I’ve certainly experienced some significant betrayals. I’ve only ever seen that term associated with love, and mostly romantic love.

          4. @Anonymous–I have heard it used in plenty of non-romantic situations. I just did a quick google search and on the first page of results I saw an article about a sports game and one about an abandoned dog. You’re right that it’s very often applied to romantic relationships, and I believe you that you’ve never seen or heard it used in any other context. But that doesn’t mean nobody does use it any other context.

          5. I don’t mean to be rude, but you can’t really anticipate what he would do if he met someone else. Not a lot of women would be cool with their new boyriend hanging 1:1 with this ex-GF turned FWB who’s still a little in love with him. I have a guy friend I dated briefly when we were teenagers many moons ago, who *always* dials back on contact with me when he’s in a relationship and I am not.

          6. Considering I think I actually felt my heart crack earlier this year when I had to say goodbye to the second pet in a week, heartbreak is accurate for a lot of things. So I would agree that the metaphorical heart is not just for romantic love. If you feel like crying you can listen to this song about the heart, used as a memorial for a beloved hedgehog. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ANKT2PMoAQ

          7. Bad at screennames, I don’t think you’re being rude and understand what you’re trying to get at. I do! But I really do know him well and he’s stubborn as hell. If a new GF told him he wasn’t allowed to hang out with me 1:1, his response would be “problem solved, because your’e now no longer my GF”. Of course we’d probably spend less time together if he got a GF, because he’d be spending time with her! But he’s not the type to allow for that kind of restriction from someone else.

          8. I thought of David Simon’s description of Jeannette’s story arc in the show “Treme”: “she is losing the love of her life, which is a restaurant.” The character is a chef, and while she does have romantic pairings in the show, none of them mean half as much to her or break her heart the way that restaurant and the city of New Orleans do.

          9. I didn’t say I’d only heard it associated with romantic love – I said I’d only heard it associated with love, period, and mostly with romantic love.

            I think where we may be misunderstanding each other is the general idea that aromantic people experience other kinds of love, just not romantic love. That is true for some. Others, like myself, don’t experience any kind of love.

            Either way, I don’t have any interest in taking this conversation further, since I am starting to feel like a pedant for not wanting other people to try and tell me what my own life experiences have been, and we’re getting off topic.

        2. I’m not sure if this anecdote will help, but during my first (really good!) relationship, my boyfriend underwent a period of pretty serious stress around work/what I think were minor, if undiagnosed, anxiety issues. I was pretty much his only support during this period, and that was…rough. I pretty seriously considered breaking up with him, and I sat down and asked myself two questions:

          1) Was I willing to be the primary emotional support for my Boyfriend?
          2) Was I willing to be the primary emotional support for my Friend?

          The answer to the first question was a Sad No. The answer to the second was a resounding Yes.

          Some thinking on my part lead to the conclusion that I have some baggage around Being A Girlfriend (I’m afraid of what the Traditional Duties require of women in relationships with men, and how those relationships traditionally disappear the woman’s own life in favor of the man’s).

          tldr; However stupid it feels, sometimes simply naming a relationship can be scary and baggage-burdened. Just as your friends might be relieved by having a recognizeable title on your relationship (which tells them what to expect about it!), it may be that you two would feel constrained by that title, and the implication that your relationship will follow a familiar path.

          1. Oooh, this is a really good point and I’m glad you shared. Without getting into any details (I’m making sure to protect his privacy beyond some of the info in the letter) I think there are reasons we’d both feel constrained with the title on top of other life stuff we’ve both got going on.

          2. Thank you for putting into words the reason I am completely unwilling to be in a relationship any more. Every time I become romantically involved with someone I feel like I’m giving away little pieces of myself with the guy just taking them and taking them until I literally have nothing left for myself. And I don’t date jerks, just run of the mill guys, which leads me to assume that this is just an expectation bred into men. That women will sacrifice and organise and arrange things and rearrange things and give things up for them. And I JUST CAN’T ANYMORE.

          3. Wow, I am pleasantly surprised to see so many other people feel the same way that I do! I have also realized that I never liked, and never again want, to Be a Girlfriend (or fulfill a similar emotional role a la carte within an FWB situation).

            Monogamy, also done and over it. I’ve decided that what I want is a sort of polyamory with a hierarchical primary partner of oneself. Partners are friends, friends are great things, and I feel okay caring for and supporting others as friends.

      2. I have this creature in my house, it is small, with pointed ears. It is very agile and has a flexible tail and makes noises that are “Meow.” I am not a cat person though, and I wouldn’t be comfortable having a cat, but I really am very happy with my turtle.

        This is what I hear when people tell me they are exclusively having sex with someone who is their best friend but they are not “together.” Now I understand that both capital R Actual Relationships and small r relationships with people who are friends or more than friends are complicated and there are feelings and backstory and all of that. So I’m not saying that you NEED to call it a Relationship. I am suggesting though that you evaluate what all the things that are different, in your mind, from the relationship you currently have and A Relationship.

        Is it that you don’t spend much time together? Clearly it sounds like you are both not exclusive at this time? Is it not feeling pressured to reach certain milestones?

        And then look at what the differences are, and make sure you are really okay with them. Would you be okay if these things changed in an even more not Relationshipy direction? Are these things that you really don’t want to have in any Relationship anyway? (Maybe monogamy is not your jam? Or maybe it isn’t his?)

        I think that might help you think about where you want this small r relationship to be, and how long you want it to go on. And you can still use your experience in this relationship to inform future Relationships, and to think about what you really want from them, as opposed to what your friends and society think they should look like. Relationships don’t have to be a thing that comes with pressure or expectations. They can still just be a thing one or more people do together because it makes them happy. So you might use this also as an opportunity to challenge not whether or not you are having any kind of relationship, but what a Relationship looks like to you and your friends.

        1. I love the cat comparison!

          We actually spend more time together than anyone else, and are exclusive in that it wouldn’t be okay with either of us to start seeing someone/sleeping with someone without talking about it, and the latter would probably mean we wouldn’t sleep with each other anymore.

          Everyone here has lots of great thoughts that I’m going to ruminate on for sure.

          1. It might be worth asking the same question of him, what does he feel is different now that you’re not calling your relationship a Relationship? Not because that is a thing that it needs to be, but because understanding why this makes you both happier could be useful.

          2. shinobi42, that is fantastic and I wrote it down.

            The great thing about the friendship I have with this dude is that he won’t blink an eye if I have a little page of notes gleaned from Captain and y’all here in the comments whenever we talk about this stuff.

        2. “I think that might help you think about where you want this small r relationship to be, and how long you want it to go on.”


          LW, I’m sharing my story from the POV of a lady whose current partner was in a relationship similar to the one you describe prior to us getting together.

          Background: Partner and Ex had been best friends before dating, and after breaking up became “best friends” again. There was never any real no-contact period between dating and “friendship” to reset the relationship and see if they were compatible without any sort of emotional or physical attachment. Partner and Ex were each other’s main emotional support for a period of some years, in addition to sleeping together on the regular, while still seeing (and sleeping with) other people casually. Their only two rules were 1) he didn’t talk to her about any other girls (she however, always wanted his feedback and to talk about her relationships) and 2) safe sex.

          The major breaking points were being unable to see and acknowledge the relationship for what it was, a lowercase-r relationship, and having no clear plan in place for if and when either of them were ready to begin a Relationship with anyone else.

          Partner was upfront from the very beginning of his and my relationship in telling her that he was ready to be exclusive with someone else and that their sexual relationship would not be continuing. She did not take it well. Long story short, she wanted them to keep being “friends” without the sex, but she never wanted to meet or see me, he was not allowed to speak about me to her, and none of their mutual friends were allowed to hang out with me. As you might have guessed, that didn’t go over so well with Partner, mutual friends, or me. Also, she had apparently been telling another partner of hers that THEY (Ex and third party) were exclusive while still sleeping with my soon-to-be-Partner.

          As time went on, and I got more and more of the full story both from Partner and from other friends, I could understand and empathize with the way she felt about the relationship ending. I too, would probably feel hurt, rejected, maybe even a little betrayed. However, I cannot condone her actions after the relationship ended. Not going to list them here, but they were all less than gracious and not the way a friend with Partner’s best interest and happiness in mind would act. I’m not trying to turn this comment into a “Bashing of my Partner’s Ex” tirade, but her actions after the shift in their relationship dynamic made it impossible for them to continue their friendship in any form.

          Now, I’m not trying to paint either you or Mr. Friend in a bad light for having the kind of relationship that you do (nor am I saying that the experience I witnessed is a foregone conclusion for you) but acknowledging what it is, understanding there’s a possibility of a shelf life, and having an honest talk BEFORE there is a third party involved about a graceful exit strategy will be crucial to minimizing hurt feelings, miscommunication, and hopefully maintaining a real friendship even after the sexytimes and primary emotional intimacy have departed. Who knows, you two might end up together, you might both end up with someone else equally great and all parties involved could have a lot of warmth and respect for one another. Of course there will be some hurt if/when your relationship changes and evolves, but honestly and openness can go a long way towards both healing those hurts and making it possible to have a true platonic friendship later on down the road.

          1. Thank you for sharing this. I have seen these situations play out similarly, too, so now I don’t feel like a killjoy for mentioning it above.

        3. “This is what I hear when people tell me they are exclusively having sex with someone who is their best friend but they are not “together.” Now I understand that both capital R Actual Relationships and small r relationships with people who are friends or more than friends are complicated and there are feelings and backstory and all of that. So I’m not saying that you NEED to call it a Relationship. I am suggesting though that you evaluate what all the things that are different, in your mind, from the relationship you currently have and A Relationship.”

          As an aromantic sexual, if I were in a monogamous sexual relationship I still wouldn’t call it dating, because I feel like dating is in the realm of romantic relationships and I don’t want one of those. I realize that LW isn’t aromantic, and it sounds like those thought experiments are really helpful for her, but my initial response to your cat/turtle comment was really angrily defensive. Like, maybe you don’t understand what’s important about my self-definition of my relationships, but it is still very important to me, and that felt insulting.

          1. I’m sorry for insulting you. I’m not super familiar with the concept of aromanticism, so I hadn’t really considered it, my bad.

            I absolutely always want people to be able to define their own relationships. It’s just that I’ve known too many people who have spent a lot of time in Not a Relationship that turned out to be them on the back-burner being miserable until they finally got really For Real Dumped. So that’s more my concern.

            You have a different reason for how you define your relationships and that’s certainly not something I would argue with.

          2. Yep, I also found it pretty condescending. I mean, sometimes it’s a cat called Turtle, and sometimes it’s a turtle but people aren’t used to turtles as pets or they personally prefer cats so everything is a cat for them.
            And sometimes one should accept that a friend is calling a cat a turtle, because there’s no harm in it and it’s their life so it’s okay?

          3. Lily, I wont try to tell you that it’s not condescending, because it probably was. I’m not sure if elaborating more will help at this point but because I am feeling defensive I’m going to do it anyway.

            I have a thing, where for me it is important that I be super clear about what is true, and what are things I am allowing myself to believe because it makes me feel better. I believe that we all do a certain amount of self delusion for our own sanity, and that a certain amount is healthy, or is a coping mechanism for difficult situations. That’s because I know there is a difference between what I want to be true, and what is actually true. And that what I WANT to be true will really hurt me, or those around me, a lot more when I use that as the basis of my decisions.

            So in the aforementioned metaphor I was trying, and failed to make a distinction between “We have chosen to call our cat Turtle because of it’s tendency to hide in boxes with just it’s tail sticking out.” and “No, that’s really a turtle what are you talking about?” It’s not necessarily about what I call a thing, it’s about looking at a situation and making a choice to re-label it for my own reasons, vs pretending that a situation is something it isn’t.

            And obviously, I’m not hunting people down and forcing them to put things into neat little truth boxes, or telling them what to call their relationships. But if I’m giving a friend advice, or advice on the internet, I always want people to be making there future decisions on the actual situation as closely as we can capture it, vs the version of the situation they may have idealized in their head. Because it can cause real harm to not acknowledge the facts of the situation.

            i’m not saying that idealization is wrong or bad. It is a thing we all do, and that is why we need friends and objective third parties sometimes to question the situation for us. Rationalization is a natural mental process that our brains engage in all the time on a multitude of levels. But like so many things I don’t think it is always working our best interests.

            In this case though it sounds like the LW has a very good handle on the situation and is actively discussing things with her friend, so hopefully she can find a way through conversations with him to feel more settled both in their relationship and in talking to other people about it.

          4. @Shinobi: nesting is out.
            You’re right, sometimes it’s a good idea to ask a friend whether they’re sure that it’s a turtle. It’s just – I was on the opposite end of this, and I got this *all the time* from people who didn’t even know me well trying to tell me that it’s a cat, and I was pretty sure that it wasn’t. Also there was another sexist thing happening, as I was sleeping with a guy and liked him well, so surely poor little lady was in love with him etc. It was pretty annoying.

          5. Out of nesting again, so here it goes:
            Shinobi, I do get where you’re coming from, but I think you’re approaching this issue from the wrong angle. Saying “don’t call your cat a turtle” isn’t a helpful metaphor here, because “cat” and “turtle” are fairly well-defined concepts with little room for personal interpretation/identity, while things like “relationship” – uh, kind of…aren’t.
            Let’s try a different angle. Suppose you have a friend who says, “I’m a virgin,” but then you find out that they’re having frequent anal sex sessions. You might have some legitimate concerns about your friend in that case, but none of those would be resolved by sitting down with a dictionary, a medical doctor and a clergyperson to have a thorough and definitive discussion about the meaning of the word “virgin”. You might ask if they’re using condoms, or are monogamous, or well-stocked with lube, or are generally okay. If it turns out that they think by engaging in anal sex they can’t get hurt, then that’s the real issue, not whether or not you think they have to turn in their V card. However, it may simply be that for whatever reason, they feel like anal doesn’t “count” – they know the risks, they just feel like it doesn’t carry the emotional weight of some other sex act, and they still identify as a virgin. You might feel entirely different in the same situation, but it’s not really your call.
            Similarly, you can be concerned about a friend who’s doing something that to you looks identical to a Relationship because you think they’re in denial about the prospect of getting hurt, but the real issue isn’t whether or not they say they’re in a Relationship, it’s whether whatever they’re up to is healthy and okay.

          6. @Shinobi: First off I want to apologize, especially if you feel piled onto. I was brusque because I came to this thread feeling all, “Hey, being FWBs with an ex but not in a relationship, it’s a situation I have first-hand experience with handling well!” only to… well. Feel judged about my FWB relationship, for one.

            I think what HeyNonnyNonnyMous said is really to the point. It’s very important to have clear definitions of things and to go on facts when you’re making decisions, and insisting on calling a rabbit a schmeerp or a cat a turtle can run right into gaslighting in certain circumstances. But relationships and how we feel about them are one of those things that you can only be certain of your own feelings, and sometimes not even then. We have patterns for how one goes about displaying and communicating certain feelings, but even then we may wind up demonstrating things we didn’t mean to or failing to show our affection in a way our partner understands. (Love languages, anyone?)

            So I totally sympathize and I think your points about interrogating why something is or isn’t a capital-R-Relationship and what you actually want and whether you’re really happy with how things are–good points all! But the only people who can decide whether something is dating or FWBs or something in between are the people involved. Saying “I don’t understand why you’re calling what is clearly your cat a turtle” and “I don’t understand why you’re calling what is clearly a romantic relationship ‘friends with benefits'” isn’t really equivalent. And whether it’s FWBs or dating, watching out for your own emotional health and making sure that you are happy with the relationship as it’s going is important.

        4. shinobi’s comparison is spot on and I admit that I’m struggling to see why this is being called a turtle. If there’s public affection, cuddles,sex, constant one on one time and if you’re effectively exclusive (to the point of not tolerating a future girlfriend or boyfriend insisting on monogamy) then surely why you have is not a turtle, but a common tabby housecat that has a slightly wonky leg.
          Of course we trust your judgement on this and we all define our own relationships. But I can’t personally see really how this can’t be represented exactly the same by you both saying you’re in a ‘traditional’ relationship open to pologymy.
          Is it a commitment issue? Or an emotional investment issue? Are you just busy? Whatever I is, as the lively commenters say above I think you need to sit down and write a list about what specifically makes this not a romantic relationship. Because if that list is small enough you may need to consider if you’re effectively a couple but you’re not being treated as well as you should.

          1. Hey there, Preludes!

            Sorry, I think I was unclear or confusing about a couple of minor differences. We’re affectionate in public but not around friends/family, as confusing them further about what’s going on just seems weird. And it’s not that we wouldn’t tolerate a future GF or BF expecting monogamy: we’re both monogamous by nature! It’s that if one or the other of us were to begin seriously dating someone, we’d have to figure out how to break off our FWB thing before the new relationship became exclusive and certainly before we slept with a new person. We are exclusive FWBs in that we don’t sleep with other people right now.

            I suppose the major thing that makes us “not a couple” is that we don’t call it that.

          2. you need to sit down and write a list about what specifically makes this not a romantic relationship. Because if that list is small enough you may need to consider if you’re effectively a couple
            That list only needs one item on it, and it is “we say we’re not”.
            Suppose you met a couple who were living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, had a child together and so on. You might assume they were married, but I’m sure that if they said, “No, we’re actually not”, you wouldn’t insist that they were just because their situation is functionally no different from a lot of marriages.

          3. *facepalm*

            If any alloromantic (which I always want to pronounce as “‘Allo, romantic!”) folks are wondering why my initial response to Shinobi above was testy, this. This is why.

            “A turtle and a cat are two different things, and I can determine which is which pretty well from a third-hand description of the animal”–probably true!

            “A romantic relationship and a FWB relationship are two different things, and I can determine which is which from a description of the couple’s activities”–no. Nuh-unh. Nope. I’mma stop you right there.

            For one thing, the idea that a romantic relationship is obviously what these people want and there’s some reason keeping them from upgrading their relationship is unsupported by the evidence. It doesn’t matter how they “present” their FWB-ship.

            If someone said to me about my FWB, “You’re not being treated as well as you might be if you said you were dating, why don’t you just say he’s your boyfriend and that you’re dating?” I’d be annoyed. Because I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want a romantic relationship, I don’t want to date. It’s not commitment, it’s not emotional investment, it’s not being busy. It’s what I want and what I don’t want, and the actual fact of what I have and what I don’t have.

            I don’t have a boyfriend, I have a dude who I go out to dinner with and cuddle with and make out with and have a long emotional history with and who I would drop everything to help and know that he’d drop everything to help me, who loves me (Filios! Eros! Not amore!) and whom I love (See above!), who I am emotionally invested in and dearly care about, who I have sex with. He’s a friend. A dear friend. In bed. But we’re not in a dating-capital-R-Relationship and I’m not interested in doing that again, with him or with anyone.

            LW, the question you need to ask yourself isn’t “What’s the difference between what I’m doing now and a Relationship?” The question is, “What is keeping this situation from perfection, and would I be happy if this lasted for another few years/ended in a couple weeks? What do I need to change to be happy, and will I be happy if something changes?” Okay, that’s actually like four questions, but none of them assume that what you actually want is to be dating your FWB. If what you want is to be dating your FWB, yeah, figure that out, but you’re not wrong if you don’t.

            (And a brief aside for Preludes: Most people in nonmonogamous communities draw distinctions between “polygamy”, “swinging”, and “polyamory;” some people get more annoyed than others when those distinctions aren’t respected. And it sounds like our LW isn’t interested in any kind of open relationship anyway, whatever it would be called.)

          4. Aw, shucks, Mrs. Langdon Alger, if you want to then go right ahead. Good luck with the bafflement.

    2. I had a friend like your second, except we never dated. It was all FWB and quasi-dating – except when they were dating-dating somebody else. Like you I had to break off the friendship entirely because it was just too hard. I think it’s the inconsistency that does it, and that often the other party expects that you’ll always be available when they want you, but are never available when you need them.

  3. I’m Bafflement, and thank you for answering my question so amazingly well (and with your usual compassion) and so quickly!

    I think you got the perfect feel for what’s going on and for the possibilities for the future. As far as concern from friends goes, it usually comes in the form of “hey, are you two still dating-but-not-dating and what’s up with that?”. Their concern is welcome, really, because it always gives me a moment to look internally and make sure that yes, I am indeed still happy with the arrangement I have.

    On the other hand, you’re right that if the time came that one or the other of us wanted to date someone else exclusively and have an actual, named romantic relationship with them, I would very likely be heartbroken. I think we’d both mourn the loss of the sexual/cuddling part of our relationship because it’s been so great for us, and to me at least it would feel a bit like a second breakup.

    Anyway, I had asked because I had been considering rejoining a couple of dating sites, mostly for friendship but also with the goal of being open to romantic possibilities if they presented itself. I didn’t want to be fair or to anyone I could be getting to know that way though! I think your answer helped me reflect and solidify a decision I had already been making, which is that dating is just not something I’m interested in putting a lot of effort into right now. As you say, I would rather focus on expanding other friendships (while still hanging out with Mr. Friend often, of course, because he IS my best friend), taking courses for fun, hobbies, etc. If someone comes along while I do that, great! If not, I’ll stick with the awesome sex from an awesome person for as long as that’s an option!

    Thanks again, this really was such a help!

    1. Dating really is non-obligatory. If you’re getting everything you need out of the way you have your life set up right now, and have taken a good look at how well you’re preparing for likely futures, you’re doing great!

      I had a few friends doing something similar to your situation, I called it “not-dating” because it helps to be able to say “that’s Jamie, Jamie and Taylor have been not-dating for a while now”. So far, of the not-dating couples I’ve known, one pair resolved towards dating and are getting married soon, one pair stopped not-dating but remain friends, and I’m no longer in touch with two others. Dating relationships break hearts, not-dating relationships break hearts, friendships can break hearts. Each kind of relationship has its own risks to evaluate, and I feel like people have normalized the risks of dating the way they’ve normalized the risks of driving so that it seems less risky than it really is, while the risks of not-dating are weighted pretty heavily. This comments section so far seems to be full of people telling stories of that kind of relationship going south, but I’d bet they all know dozens more stories of full Relationships going south.

      The main risk with not-dating seems to be continuing to not-date when one of you would rather be Dating. Because then that person has a need for the relationship to be acknowledged in a more formal way, and that need will not get met. If neither of you has that need, then the only person who cares is one who wants to know how to introduce you at parties, and that’s where “Empress Awesomesauce of the Supremely Excellent Snuggleflies and her consort” seems made to go 🙂

      It’s good to keep your friends concerns in mind, but the only person who knows how well your needs are being met right now is you. You can thank them for having your best interests at heart while telling them that you’ve got this. It really sounds like you’ve got your eyes as wide open as possible, and that’s really admirable and will probably help you have a now that you can look back on as positive in the future.

    2. Bafflement, I wanted to comment on your letter because I’m been in a dynamic a bit like this and we’ve come out the other side.

      The breakup with my ex was complicated by a couple of things– that he had serious health issues, and that I was moving and we had come to a collective realization that he was not healthy enough to move with me, away from the rest of his support network, and maybe did not want to. The breakup was messy, with a lot of sadness on both sides and crying and continuing to sleep with each other. I moved, and we were still a little in love with each other, continued to be each other’s call-at-3am-insomnia person, and visited each other a few times and sleep together when we did.

      But over time we came to a mutual peace. We love each other. We are like family. But I want to get married and have kids and he doesn’t. And his health issues are severe enough that they are a major issue for daily life. So there wasn’t really a question that at some point I would seek out a new partner given what I want from life (and that he would too, in time). We both knew that, and I told him about my various attempts to date and such.

      I did find a new partner, and it was a little weird and awkward to tell both of them about the other, but not bad, just dynamic-shifting. Contact with my ex tapered, which felt right. My new partner was compassionate about our relationship and chose to believe me when I said I wanted to be with him. I’m grateful for his grace and understanding. I just broke up with new partner, but it has nothing to do with ex. I love new partner too, and when we were together it was a funny but healthy feeling to love both people, but feel clear on wanting to move on from the old relationship to the new.

      I wrote a novel here, but I guess the takeaway is that relationships can take a lot of different forms. Be honest with yourself and with others about what you want and it can work, although sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s okay.

  4. LW#766 – If I were in a social situation where Person A was blatantly and obviously ignoring Person B, I’d assume the problem rested with Person A. That’s just not an acceptable social tactic, regardless of situation, perceived slights, etc. Refusing to go to these events is certainly one way to deal with this, but if you really think you’ll be missing out, maybe see if you can grab one or two people and start your own separate conversation once Gentleman starts up with his shenanigans. You say he engages everyone around you so you have no one to speak to, but unless this is happening in a very small group, you might be able to peel a few people off. (And if someone notices what you’re doing and calls attention to it, but ignores what Gentleman does to you? That might offer an interesting insight as to the nature of the people you’re hanging out with.)

    Don’t go to his birthday party. You don’t owe it to anyone. And if Gentleman wants to know why you didn’t attend, he can damn well ask you himself. Shut that business down from your mutual friends after a “No thanks, I’m not going”, and change the subject. (Similarly, shut that down afterwards if your other friends are asking “whhhhhyyyyyy?”) And like I said before, if they keep pushing, well, there are some more insights for you.

    LW#767 – I had similar thoughts as the Captain, but in the opposite direction. If *you* started dating around and found someone you wanted to pursue a relationship with, what do you think Current/Ex Dude’s reaction would be? Would he be genuinely happy for you and encourage you to go forth and be merry with this new person? Or would he sulk at the first whiff of Another Man in your life? This is what your friends might be concerned about, especially if they think it might be the latter. If you’re genuinely fine with how things are right now and think dating other people somewhere down the line won’t be a problem, keep doing what makes you happy and follow the Captain’s advice to answer any questions briefly and cheerfully, and then change the subject.

    LW#768 – “Sorry if I offended you” is one tiny, meaningless step above “Sorry you were offended” when it comes to apologies. I think telling Thomas that the topic of Best Friend is off limits and you will NOT be discussing it with him, ever, is a reasonable boundary to set. If he accepts this, great! You two can keep on doing fun friend stuff together. If he keeps pushing past this boundary? He doesn’t get the awesome benefits of being friends with awesome you for a while.

    1. I’m #767, and good question! I think he’d be genuinely happy for me and wouldn’t sulk, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was sadness there. Next time he and I get a chance to talk deeply, I’m actually going to ask him about it. Basically saying “I’m sure it’s an eventuality that one or the other of us will date, and that that dating will become serious at some point…how are we both going to feel when that happens?”.

      1. It sounds like the issue is how you understand the intimacy between you both; emotional, sexual and platonic. I think if you both plan to date others in future and becoming a reunited couple is not guaranteed then there needs to be a lot of honestly discussed and thought out negotiation of how it might play out to ‘end’ it. You clearly have more intimacy than you would as purely platonic friends and so it’s risking a lot of pain to pretend that this future scenario is a case of being pleased for a friend’s romantic success. It’s also worth talking about if and when you disclose sleeping with potential new partners as sexual health relies on you both being upfront about that.

        I had a similar situation and unfortunately, the friend did not feel able to be honest about the fact he was dating and I inadvertently was sleeping with him whole his new dating partner had no clue. That felt against my values. His reason for not telling her or me at the time was a case of ‘I didn’t know *how* to tell you’ and if we had discussed this eventuality, I would have felt justified in challenging him on that dishonesty.

        I think friends with benefits with an ex you would be with if not for his readiness carries risks, but the crux of it is how much you two can honestly assess those risks and communicate your values.

        1. Oh, I’m sorry it happened that way for you! I would have felt it was dishonest and against my values as well. He and I definitely have an agreement that if we started dating we’d let each other know, and if we started sleeping with other people the sexual part of our relationship would end (we’re both just monogamous types, even with FWB things).

      2. It’s a great question, but I wonder what your goal is in asking it out loud when that is not an immediate prospect for either of you as far as you know. Maybe save that one for now and go about your awesome business?

        1. Good point there! Honestly it’s probably more that I want to ask “hey, do you think we’d ever try again or are we 100% saying that isn’t going to happen?”. And that’s something I know I can ask with minimal weirdness! It’d be a good thing to know one way or the other, and I think we’d end up going about our awesome business afterwards but both knowing more about where we stand. That’s how it happened when I recently told him I was still a bit in love with him, because it felt wrong to keep up what we were doing without being honest.

          1. This is probably why your friends are bugging you. On the one hand, you’re saying that the current situation is totally fine as is, despite your feelings. On the other hand, you’re not just ‘yeah, it would be swell if we stopped being exes, but that isn’t going to happen’ – you’re unsure that things are final, and you’re hoping they’re not. So to your friends, it almost certainly sounds like you’re talking about how chill things are right now in order to convince yourself that they are.

      3. This seeking out deep relationship discussions with him sends up a red flag to me. It think he already answered this question when he had the courage and honesty to dial your relationship back to FWB. Strongly recommend taking him at his word, as much as it is sad to hear that someone we are really care about doesn’t feel the same. I get that you don’t have to make your relationship conform to some FWB template, but he sounds like he wants to be friends that have sex. I really don’t see a down side to gently reining things back with this guy until you treat him much like your other treasured friends, with caring and respect, but perhaps not so many PDAs and deep talks about the future and Feelings. Best of luck to you. You seem cool, and you’ll come out on the other side of this with panache no matter what happens.

        1. I have to agree on that – it sounds like this has been going on for a year? If he wanted to get back together officially he probably would have said so by now, especially if he knows you still love him and would take him back.

    2. Agree, BeautifulVoid, that LW#766 should also be able to engage with others in her group despite Person A. Is he holding court? Is everyone around him being held spell bound by words of wisdom? She should be able to interact, and if others are also ignoring her, then something is amiss with the rest of the group. If it is just Gentleman Person A, he is the one with the problem, and hopefully LW will not let him affect her self esteem. Not everyone will like you. And actually, you don’t need have everyone like you.

      “Don’t go to his birthday party. You don’t owe it to anyone.”

      True. an invitation is not a subpoena. It does not require attendance or explanations. All you need to do is decline with an “I can’t make it.” Why you can’t make it is nobody’s business.

      A lot of boundary issues in these letters, best of luck to each.

    3. I totally agree with you. I think I’ll be deploying the Captain’s scripts followed by a very succinct, “Knock. It. Off,” if Best Friend ever comes up again. For the moment, though, I think Thomas seems to have realized that he crossed a line and has been strenuously avoiding any conversation having to do with any non-neutral subject, which is really how I like it.

    4. As we don’t know both sides of the story in #766 it’s hard to say what should be done, but I would probably call out the behaviour when he does it because it’s rude and mean-girly and I have zero tolerance for those kind of immature shennanigans. Publicly shunning someone is not a solution to his problem, whatever it is and I agree, it just makes him look like bad. I would have no problem piping up with “An excuse me, we were talking here” or “That’s an extremely rude thing to do” or whatever suits the situation. Obviously if you’re a non-confrontational person, then these are going to be non-starters, but it boils my potatoes when people are essentially bullied out of their own friend circles by someone who lacks the maturity to discuss their issues like an adult. Half the time, dwelling on the problem magnifies it or it’s the result of a misunderstanding that could have been cleared up with 10 minutes of awkward yet grown up conversation.

  5. LW766, just to add to the Captain’s awesome scripts for your friends: my experience with this kind of toxic group dynamic is that it stems from a “Can’t we all just get along?” place. Which isn’t, y’know, an inherently bad place, but as the Captain said, it also means that people sometimes label the person who’s brave enough to call out the local fuckery as being responsible for said fuckery.

    However: you can use this to your advantage, because it means they also won’t want to talk about this shit, especially in public. I’ve had good success with the following:

    1. In case they come at you with a “But what happened?” or a “But whyyyy?”, reply with some variant of: “I don’t want to speak for what Gentleman is feeling. What’s important right now is creating a space we can all live with.” + shrug + subject change. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of either your behavior or his.

    2. In case they ignore you at a party again / pay attention to him instead of you: pick ONE friend standing near you and say, “Hey, could I talk to you for a sec?” + pull them aside to a place where Gentleman cannot see / distract the friend. Then say, “Thanks, I’ve missed hanging out with you and I was finding it hard to do that in there! How are you?” and then have a happy friendly conversation about you two or stuff the two of you like.

    The idea is to do just what the Captain said — rebuild the connections you have with people who are NOT Gentleman without invoking the spectre of his drama. (I don’t know your gender, but I sometimes think of this as a real-life Bechdel test pass: do I want to be the woman who talks to another woman solely about a man, or do I want to have a cool conversation about cutting-edge astrophysics? THE CHOICE IS CLEAR.) The more time you spend with your friends having fun, the more confident you will feel about your connections to them *and* the more they will feel a responsibility to you.

    Good luck, LW!

    1. The “can I talk to you” tactic sounds good to me, too. It sounds like your friends don’t like this dynamic and probably *want* to make you feel included, but are stymied by drama-avoidant inertia. It’s a normal human reaction when confronted with something inappropriate to kind of sit there and go with it because you don’t know what else to do…so just because your friends aren’t standing up for you doesn’t mean they’d disapprove if you stood up for yourself in this highly not-inappropriate way.

      1. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but the message I’m getting is that the group is uncomfortable with this tension. Rather than getting to the cause, they are taking the easy road by pressuring the LW to stop making them feel uncomfortable. Does this make the Gentleman a missing stair in this case (or in general)?

        If no one was coming to my defense plus everyone was piling on the pressure, I’d bail on the whole group. I heartily support the advice to explore other friendships. Hopefully LW will find a more comfortable dynamic with other people.

        1. I agree, but it can be hard to bail on your main friend group, particularly if it is the first “main friend group” you’ve had as an adult.

        2. If they’re actively putting pressure on the LW, I totally agree. If it’s more like “Gentleman is being weird and my friends aren’t helping,” it may be worth trying some of the other strategies to see if friends are totally fine with having fun with LW apart from Gentleman. If they aren’t, agreed: HUGE red flag, better get some distance and get more friends who don’t automatically think Getting Along With People Who Treat You Poorly is the biggest goal of civilization.

      2. Speaking of gendered behavior…

        If you are a lady, head to the ladies’ room in a pack for deliberate ladies in the loo convos.

        Or say “oh hey, I am going to the bar, come with and chat with me while I wait?”

        “Oh, rats, I left batch of super delicious brownies and some cupcakes in my car… would you come help me carry it in so there’s only one trip to make?”

        “Okay, can you settle a bet please?”

        Also… is Mr Silent Treatment… I am worn out just thinking about it.

    2. I think that using the invitation to try to clarify the situation is a great idea, whether or not LW766 decides to attend. If “Gentleman” refuses to respond, and “cuts” LW 766 again (not at the party, but at the next event they attend), I think it might be a good idea for LW 766 to do the same back, just as pointedly. Interact with everyone else, just not with “Gentleman.” If anyone calls them out on it, just do the innocent, “oh, he doesn’t want to talk to me, so I’m just obliging him!”

  6. LW#766, I’m so sorry that your friendship with Gentleman went south; I’m sure that must have hurt your feelings. You said you’d extended an olive branch a couple of times, but have you come right out and asked him why he’s been so cold toward you? If not, this birthday party invitation might be an opening to send an email or text: “Hey, Gentleman, I got your birthday party invitation and while I was happy to get it, I was a little confused. You’ve seemed upset with me lately; is there something bothering you? Are you upset with me in some way?”

    He can respond, “No, everything’s fine!” in which case you can go to his party and if he ignores you again you’d be well within your rights to call him on it privately–“You said we were okay, yet you’re still ignoring me; what’s up with that?” Or he might respond to your email, “Yes, I’m upset with you for xx reason” and you can go from there. Or he might ignore your question altogether, which is an answer in itself although kind of a crappy one.

    Best of luck to you, whatever you decide to do!

    1. I wondered about this too. It is possible to think you are extending an olive branch, but the recipient misunderstands.

      I recently had a friend who was purposely defying a clearly stated boundary shift request. The request hurt them and their way of dealing with it was to push the boundary all the more because in their mind, it was a generously provided chance for me to drop it and re-establish buddy-buddiness on previous terms. They saw it as extending an olive branch, as opposed to admitting defeat and going off to sulk. I saw it as being a disrespectful pain in the neck. (I’m not suggesting you are doing that.)

      I’ve also had a time when I think someone was extending an olive branch and I wish I’d taken it, but I was too hurt and not ready at that point. I was unsure what they meant by it, but might have welcomed a direct question.

      Is it possible that your olive branch attempts were not direct enough to know for sure what’s up? Is there any sense in asking once along the lines of LeighTX’s comment above, especially in light of the birthday invite??

    2. I like this approach a LOT, if LW766 is comfortable Using Their Words in that way. But I would be prepared for a somewhat gaslighty response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing’s wrong on my end. If anyone’s making things weird, it’s you.” And at that point, you’re kind of back where you started, except now you know you can’t trust his words to line up with his actions.

      IMO, you would be justified in skipping the party, but it may cause Acute Drama in the Friend Group. Maybe you’re better off going and pulling the one-on-one trick mentioned above: grab one or two friends for some quiet time in the kitchen. (Wait, bad choice, the kitchen is too busy. Back porch? Corner of the living room? Five-minute walk for some air and peace and quiet?)

      Best of luck. Having a friend group that wallpapers over internal tension because Friends Never Argue just sucks.

  7. LW #766, what’s happening is that your friends are socially awkward and lazy, and are taking the easy way out. They perceive that it’s easier to pressure you to suck it up and pretend nothing is happening, than to admit that Gentleman is making things awkward. Telling Gentleman to cut it out, or to keep saying “What do you think of that, LW?” takes effort and discomfort. Instead, they’re pretending nothing is wrong and asking you to go along with that fiction by accepting Gentleman’s invite.

    CA’s advice is spot-on: you can only deal with this by handing the awkward right back to your friends. Calling it out bluntly, and letting your friends respond, is most effective, in my experience. “I feel that when Gentleman pointedly ignores me and makes things awkward, you kind of expect me to pretend it isn’t happening so nobody has to confront Gentleman about his behavior.” “Since Gentleman refuses to acknowledge my existence when we’re at the LARP, I am unsure why his birthday party would be any different. Has he said anything to you about thinking that this invitation is an olive branch?”

    Warning, that your friends’ response will probably be a lot of handwaving and shitty excuses for conflict-avoidance, but who knows, maybe they’ll realize that Gentleman is the problem here?

    1. I don’t think it’s fair to assume the friends are specifically trying to shut her up (unless I missed something in the letter, in which case never mind). They may just not know what to do and so are doing nothing, but would be relieved and/or impressed if the LW took matters into their own hands.

      I read somewhere recently that one of the main reasons people get so frustrated with passive onlookers/victims of violence, inappropriateness, boundary-crossing, etc. is that we assume we ourselves would behave differently in the same situation. Call it out, take a stand, punch that asshole in the face, etc. But it turns out that in reality, most of us react just as passively when confronted with that sort of situation. (And then beat ourselves up after the fact for not living up to our own valiant expectations.) I found this to be a huge relief because it means this default behavior doesn’t automatically say something crappy about the person doing it. But it does leave room for practice at overriding the default.

      1. The friends are not doing nothing. They’re bugging LW to go to this glassbowl’s party and are telling LW that LW is “making things more awkward” by not accepting the invitation.

        In other words, the ‘bystander effect’ here is only happening when Gentleman socially ostracizes LW. When LW turns that around, all of sudden these friends locate their backbones and affirmatively tell LW how to behave.

        So, no, I don’t think this is just about the friends being unsure what to do, or anyone criticizing LW’s friends having unrealistic expectations of our own fortitude. This is a bunch of people engaging in Geek Social Fallacies and picking on LW to try and maintain the group dynamic.

        1. You’re right. The key fact, which I did miss, is the friends telling LW they’re the one making it awkward if they don’t do what Gentleman wants. But I wouldn’t call that “locating their backbone”–it’s just passivity by proxy, and probably just as much a default, anxiety-based response as keeping silent oneself.

          LW, are the “uncomfortable bystander” friends the same as the “you’re making it awkward” friends? Or is the latter category mostly one or two people? If it’s pretty much everyone, then pretty much everyone is wrong and you get to be the first in your friend group to notice. But if it’s only one or two, maybe there’s hope.

          In either case, peer pressure and moral support are pretty much the same thing–except that one of them prioritizes YOUR wishes in addition to those of the group. It sounds like you don’t want to go to this party and the reasons for that are good. If you’re ok with that being enough, then you’re ahead of the curve where an awful lot of us are still struggling. Good luck.

      2. “I read somewhere recently that one of the main reasons people get so frustrated with passive onlookers/victims of violence, inappropriateness, boundary-crossing, etc. is that we assume we ourselves would behave differently in the same situation … But it turns out that in reality, most of us react just as passively when confronted with that sort of situation. (And then beat ourselves up after the fact for not living up to our own valiant expectations.) ”

        THIS – so much this.

        A man acted threateningly towards me at a gas station – I was on my way to work and when I got there I was still shaking. When asked what happened, I explained. And was met with a list of things I should have done and they totally would have done if they were in the situation! (I was in my car at the gas station – here in the dirty Jerz we don’t pump our own so I was buckled in, ignition off and window down.) I was advised that I should have broken his fingers when he reached in towards me – no one knew what to say when I said “Commit assault? The guy hadn’t touched me – if the cops took anyone away it would have been ME!” Someone else told me I should carry a knife so I can wave it around at would-be attackers (…I keep a list of people never to accept advice from …) – I pulled the knife from my skirt’s waistband at the small of my back and said “had one – I was buckled into a bucket seat – couldn’t reach it.” (besides – no need to stab someone who at this point had only touched me, FFS!) Someone else would have closed the window with their other arm – it happened in a flash, he had my left hand in his and to move my right arm to the door would have brought my body closer to him – he was leaning in my window at me already!!! This warrior-genius would have me move closer to my attacker!

        No one had a single useful “I would have…” everything they mentioned would have made it worse. But everyone was still quite convinced that they would have thought of something besides jerking their hand as hard as they could until it was released and saying “no thank you I have to leave now gotta go bye!” as they used the released hand to hit the window, the right hand to start the car so I could drive away. The cop I reported it to later that day certainly thought I had the best solution, but what does he know … he is no warrior-genius who can pull knives from waistbands while buckled and trying to avoid a creeper! 🙂

        1. These people, also, are not your friends. Because even if they were totally convinced they would have acted perfectly, they should have KEPT THAT TO THEMSELVES and instead supported you from having gone through something unpleasant.

          “Oh, in that situation I would totally have _______” = “I don’t want to think I could be a victim too.”

        2. You did awesome. Getting away safely is an automatic win. And your friends probably armchair-quarterbacked it because they were scared to realize that that shit actually happened and would rather rehearse invincibility than acknowledge how vulnerable they (we, all of us) really are. Too bad it ends up shaming the victim at the same time.

          The article was on xojane, by the way:Why We Judge Sexual Harassment Victims, PLUS the time I got drive-by oinked at. (Captain, are links ok when tangential? Please remove if not.) Reading that and the comments helped me exit-shame-spiral after being weirded out by the air conditioning guy but acting nice to him until he was out of my house. I do that sort of thing all the time, no matter how diligently I practice assertiveness, so discovering that my imaginary critics were probably full of hot air made me feel a lot less wimpy about it. Also more impressed by all the times when people actually DO respond assertively in the moment, instead of assuming that’s the minimum anybody should do.

  8. For Friend With Bafflement– One good reason for keeping a FWB when looking for a more permanent monogamous relationship is that it keeps you from seeming needy. When I had a long-term FWB, I could date and feel confident because I knew that I wasn’t likely to jump into a sexual relationship too soon– I had that need wrapped up. I felt like someone had my back if I met someone who was truly wrong for me. Instead of getting discouraged on one bad date after another, I could buoyantly keep hoping I’d meet someone terrific. I simply wasn’t as vulnerable. And yet, every advantage was also a disadvantage seen through a different lens. I wasn’t going to connect with that terrific person if I didn’t put myself out there as at least a little vulnerable. I wasn’t going to come across well if in the back of my mind I kept thinking it doesn’t matter if I don’t connect with this man in front of me because, well, you know. For me the answer came in the form of moving to another city (for work). FWB and I stayed in touch on long weekends. When we each started dating someone for reals, the benefits part of our relationship fell by the wayside. Since I don’t see you moving for the purpose of getting away from Mr. Benefits, could you keep him in the closet a little? I don’t mean lying outright. I mean not going around cuddling with him in public. Start treating this relationship like a new one as far as your friends are concerned. If you feel a need to tell them anything, tell them that you don’t know where it’s going and that you’re taking it slow. If they ask, tell them that you’re not seeing him as much– which is true. Don’t appear in public with him which just gives people the wrong idea. Just keep him on that back burner where he can give you the warmth of confidence and without giving the idea to friends and potential dates that you’ve got a burning love going.

  9. LW#766 – A couple of years ago, I accidentally invited someone who was no longer my friend to my birthday party. Thankfully she just RSVP’d “no” and that was that.

    That may or may not be what happened in your case, but whether it was an accident or due to pressure from friends, RSVPing “no” will be a big weight off for you and likely for your former friend as well. It certainly was for me when when mine did.

  10. Poly person here. I’m not sure that “date a poly dude” is the best approach. Polyamory works best when everyone involved is enthusiastically poly. If the LW eventually wants to be in a monogamous LTR, getting involved with poly folks is bad news bears for all.

    Other than that, spot on advice.

    1. I can definitely see where the advice came from, especially since Captain doesn’t know whether or not I’m poly. But yeah, if I had feelings for another person I’d want monogamy so I don’t want to lead some poly man or woman on!

  11. This. It’s pretty bloody childish to act the way ‘Gentleman’* is right now. Give him a clearly stated chance to explain in grown up terms why he’s not communicatng with you, then African Violet him. You deserve better friends too, because by “not picking sides” they’re doing just that. I hope you can find some new hobbies and circles to hang in, because this crowd are stuck at primary school level.

    *or maybe Nice Guy™? ‘Cos that’s the vibe I’m getting

    1. I had a weird social situation like this when I was a lot younger and very active in a social group plagued by persistent GSF ideation, and when I finally was like, yeah, no, eff this, and told the person I was done, the passive-aggressive blowback from the social group was IMMENSE–and aimed only at me. I think the most egregious example was when someone I’d thought was a friend approached me and, with no preface, said “I’m not going to pick sides,” and then started explaining how I was making my bitchiness everyone else’s problem. I waited til she paused for breath and said “Who asked you?”

      No surprise that I stopped making any effort to talk to that person too!

      1. “I’m not picking sides” so, so often means “I’m not picking YOUR side.” Rarely is it so clearly demonstrated as in your story, though.

        1. Something I learned from that sad episode is that when someone tells me, apropos of nothing, with a voice that is already strident, that they’re “not picking sides”, I should generally assume shit is about to get SUPER messy.

  12. #766–Do not go to his birthday party. If your friends say that not going will make things ‘more awkward’, respond: “More awkward for whom?”

    Because it sounds like you not going makes things a hell of a lot less awkward for you!

    1. I want to shower this comment with many good things.

      (Because of course the friends mean ‘awkward for us’, but hell will freeze over before they admit it.)

  13. Hi LW 768 — I am in a similar situation. My brother was sentenced to 17 years in prison, after spending 3 years cooped up in a county jail in the awaiting trial. It affected my life dramatically, especially career-wise, and sent me into a severe depressive episode for several years. So I had to talk about it in some regard with people so they knew why I was so sick and why my recovery would not happen until a certain nebulous time-frame passed (the sentencing), but I kept the details reserved for very few, close friends. The crime he was convicted of is Bad, and worse still we believe he was wrongfully convicted. So it is a verrrrry sensitive topic. Luckily all my friends and peers have been supportive of me and not pried about the details. If anyone disagrees with my family that he is innocent, they have not voiced it. And it better stay that way. Not because I want to censor people, but because they have nothing to do with my brother–they should only be invested in how his situation has affected ME, their friend. If anyone ever tries to argue with me about the details, about my brother’s crime, punishment or guilt, THEY ARE NOT MY FRIEND.

    You need to take this hard line with Thomas. Maybe your convicted friend was a mutual friend, but he’s no longer present in your group circle. You are. Thomas needs to separate his feelings about Friend from how Friend’s situation is affecting your own life, and your feelings should be what matters more. Him arguing with you constantly? He is challenging your feelings, telling you you are wrong to be so upset. Not cool.

    Thomas can or cannot interact with imprisoned Friend as he chooses. Thomas can have whatever opinion about Friend he chooses. Thomas does not get a say in how you feel about Friend. Or whether, or how, you keep in touch with Friend. It’s not his business. Start reminding him of that. Don’t mention Friend anymore when Thomas is around. And if Thomas keeps bringing Friend up (weird as hell, imo) tell him you refuse to discuss it with him because you already know how he feels, but you feel differently, and it’s obviously not something you can reconcile so it should be a topic Off The Table, like clashing religious or political beliefs. (If one of you was vehemently pro-choice, and the other pro-life, would you be cool with constantly talking about abortion laws? If one of you believed sex before marriage was a sin, and the other enjoyed casual sex, would you constantly discuss your sex lives with each other?) Having the same argument or topic raised over and over when it’s clear you’ll never find common ground is exhausting and damaging. People who value their friendships with friends they might deeply disagree with on certain subjects… avoid talking about those subjects.

    My advice is to lay down the law with Thomas, give him one chance to slip up (and correct him), then the next time he does it walk out/hang up. Zero tolerance. If he’s worth having as a friend and cares about you, he will modify his behavior around you. He is not endorsing whatever Friend did by respect your desire to be supportive of Friend.

    1. Yes, this. My brother was the first person I ever knew personally to go to jail, and it totally upended my previously rosy white middleclass view of the justice system as a whole. He was correctly convicted, in our case, to less than two years, and being imprisoned did him a world of good; but it’s still an incredibly painful subject for me to talk about.

      It’s also a subject on which a lot of people have an incredible lack of empathy. Like, normally kind, empathetic peoples’ tact and consideration leaves the room with an audible sound when the subject comes up. I’ve noticed, for example, three of us so far carefully Not Mentioning just what the crime was in any of our cases, and in my experience that’s because the moment you mention a specific charge, whether it’s murder or littering, it’s like a switch gets flipped in most peoples’ brains: everything STOPS being about you, the person in the conversation, and what you think and feel about this thing happening to someone you love; it turns into Well Let’s Pass Judgment On How Bad That Crime Is And How Everyone Everywhere Should Feel About It And Then Shame Anyone Who Feels Differently. And no matter what the final decision is, that process is rending.

      So yeah, I totally advocate setting down hard lines. There are people the subject is safe to discuss, but beyond that, most people are conditioned to be total assholes on the subject even without a natural inclination to argument or abrasiveness so you’ve got to make your own boundaries.

      1. It’s amazing how quickly people turn into Judgey Blanket Statement Moral Experts where convicts are concerned. At least my experience with the “justice” system has curbed that instinct. For that, if nothing else about the ordeal, I am grateful. It’s never simple. Prisoners are still people; they had lives beyond their crimes and they have people who love and care about them. And those people are not complicit in the prisoner’s crimes because they continue to love the prisoner.

        Watching someone you care about get sent to jail, guilty or not, is a form of trauma and bystanders need to respect it as such.

        1. prisoners are still people; they had lives beyond their crimes and they have people who love and care about them. And those people are not complicit in the prisoner’s crimes because they continue to love the prisoner.

          I’m seeing certain similarities to #763 where the writer WILL stand by Belinda, however hurt Tabitha might be by that. This is a very complex field, and I haven’t even got the faintest idea how to navigate it. I see pitfalls everywhere: why are you friends with someone who hurt my friend/someone like the person who hurt me/my friend in the past. And as far as I can see, all you have is a muddle of clashing guidelines – *because* there are people on all sides: the person who hurt one party has supported someone else through hard times and vice versa.

          As the person who wants to do well by a friend or loved one, you really don’t need additional pressure from third parties.

      2. Hey Onyx and Book of Jubilation and LW:

        I worked in a prison school for a while. It’s not even *close* to having a loved one go to jail. But I do know, even bringing up “educate felons y/n?” will bring down a rain of Opinionosity from the most mild mannered person. I’d have to listen to it from staff, family, strangers… whoever. Even when I lost my job to funding cuts in the state budget and was unemployed and was sad and stressed I heard a world of “those people jadda jadda.”

        I want to tell you… I am so sorry and I think it really sucks that folks will just leave their compassion, sense, and manners at the door when it comes to the issues of incarceration and criminal justice.

        I also think people who are willing to mouth off like that are usually soaked in incredible, incredible privilege. They don’t live in communities where going to jail is just a thing that happens to some folks because it does. They don’t give a rat about protecting vulnerable people outside jail. They love having something to disdain. Best of all, they really thought *because* I educated myself about criminal justice and learned about it, and deliberately thought about how to cope with People Do Bad Things And Yet Are People, Too, And Also The Man Exploits Of Course I was somehow naive and ignorant.

        And it was so much bullshit. Recently a person I really respect asked if I’d had an experience that left me with PTSD and I had never thought about it before… and when I said well… they replied that yes, that job is the sort of thing they had in mind. And it was such a relief to think that this weird short episode in my life caused, and still causes, me grief and sorrow, and anger and anxiety and hopelessness isn’t just a weird issue I have.

        And I just want you to know, I believe your presence in the room is a reason for Thomas and everyone like them to temporarily shut the ever loving fuck up about whatever important opinion they have on What Is Justice.

        Because goddamn people. Just be kind. Just be kind, okay? How hard can it be? (Obviously very hard for Thomas et al)

        1. HA HA, isn’t it funny that the people with the most experience and education on a topic are also the most “naive” and least trusted, when it comes to things like education and social services?

          SO FUNNY, HA HA.

          (Thanks for the rest of your comment too!)

          1. The other one I’ve heard is that people with the most experience are “biased”. Though this is particularly for lived experiences eg a member of a different ethnic group is biased about cultural matters but a white person who’s read a little bit about it isn’t!

        2. I have zero experience with the justice system (and I’m not American), but I would think, given that the vast majority of prisoners are not serving life sentences, that educating them so they have a chance of building a life outside rather than returning to crime just makes sense from a recidivism point of view. I mean, even if you don’t care about outcomes for former prisoners, everyone wants less crime, right? Surely you’d support educating prisoners from a purely selfish perspective?

          1. YOU WOULD THINK

            You are quite correct. Research shows consistently that the most effective way to reduce recidivism is to educate people. In fact it appears that tertiary education *in the liberal arts* makes the biggest impact. People leaving prison with a high school equivalence will see reincarceration rates drop BY about 13% (so from 60% to 47%). In 2003 a study showed, leaving with an Associate of Arts (a two-year degree) would drop your reincarceration rates TO 13%.

            Anger management, drug treatment, parenting classes, technical degrees, therapy, all that stuff? Seems to be the thing that makes inmates ready to go to college. But it’s college that actually makes the biggest change.

            And yeah. I point this out to people. I don’t know about THEM, but I personally WOULD REALLY LIKE any neighbor of mine who had gone to prison to NOT BE IN THE POSITION OF GOING BACK. Thing is… I don’t think such persons see themselves as having neighbors in that situation. I don’t know where they think ex-convicts go, but evidently they don’t go where the education-disapprovers are.

            Also, yes, the majority of incarcerated persons do return to society’s general population. A lot of grant money for educating prisoners is aimed at that population. However, never underestimate the power of a lifer in your classroom. They’re bored. They’re interested in occupying themselves. Some want to be of use to their community. And being in a classroom, where they can model behavior for squirrily youngsters who are still working on self regulation? IS A HUGE HUGE ASSET. HUGE. It’s a big service, in my experience, to have a long-timer around to Be Impressive And No Nonsense.

          2. This. Also, I have a sense that many judgemental, privileged people in the U.S. profess to be Christians. So how’s about “When I was . . . in prison, you visited me . . . . If you did these things for the least of my brothers, you did them for me.”

            (from a recovering Catholic, born-again atheist humanist with Buddhist tendencies)

          3. @mamacitaconpistoles, that study about the drop in reincarnation sounds fascinating! Do you have the link or name? I may want to read it in full.

          4. Here’s a link. the basis of the article is that the NY prisoners beat a Harvard debating team, and the fact that they don’t have internet and have to read and study helps sharpen their skills. This is part of the Bard prison initiative, which has expanded since 2001 to six New York correctional facilities, which aims to provide inmates with a liberal arts education so that when the students leave prison they are able to find meaningful work.

            “Among formerly incarcerated Bard students who earned degrees while in custody, fewer than 2% have returned to prison within three years, a standard measurement period for assessing recidivism. This is exceptionally low, when contrasted with the statewide recidivism rate, which has hovered for decades at about 40%.”


          5. @h: “that study about the drop in reincarnation sounds fascinating! Do you have the link or name? I may want to read it in full.”
            Wouldn’t the drop in reincarnation be due to the reduction in the death penalty? 😉 I’m sure you meant reincarceration, it just tickled my funnybone. 🙂

        3. My rosy privileged view of the justice system didn’t get completely broken until my brother was arrested, but years before that it got a significant crack when, in college, I had to participate in a felon penpal program. My professor had a class at a women’s prison and was helping the inmates write memoirs. We had to help edit and put it together for them. My penpal was a cop killer. Oh, I balked so hard when I found out. But then I found out her story, and that story was one of a horrifically abusive husband who hid behind his badge. She never spoke about the murder itself, but it was evident that one day she managed to get his gun in her hands. She did write about the trial, though, and how the papers declared her guilty before the jury delivered a verdict. Because she killed a cop in a small town, and had no paper trail to back up her husband’s violence because of course she couldn’t call the police.

          There is always a story. It doesn’t necessarily justify the crime, but it peels away the label of Monster, and that’s critical.

        4. I have gotten into the “educate felons y/n” argument repeatedly, and I don’t know why, it’s not even one of my big things, it just somehow keeps coming up in conversations with my classmates for some reason. They’re all “and they get free college, I don’t even get free college, what about my kids’ educations, yadda yadda?” and I used to try saying “yes, but educating them leads to less crime” but…yeah, somehow that doesn’t matter, apparently.

          So now what I say is “you’re absolutely right, it’s completely ridiculous how much we have to pay for education and healthcare in this country, nobody should have to pay this much.” I don’t know if it makes them think differently about education in jail, but it makes me feel better and the conversations go in different directions.

      3. “It totally upended my previously rosy white middle-class view of the justice system as a whole.” Setting aside the fact that I am nodding in vigorous agreement with the rest of your comment, that sentence? Yeah. I can’t even watch Law & Order reruns anymore without getting grumbly at the TV.

      4. It really comes down to knowing when to shut your mouth, honestly. My very dear friend’s husband was convicted of drunk driving, and she called me, told me about it, and said that she didn’t want to hear about how much he sucks for driving drunk. And I mean, I do think that driving drunk is a shitty irresponsible thing to do and will certainly never get in a car with him or allow him to drive with my child in the car, but…in the moment, she didn’t need to hear that. She needed to hear ‘I’m sorry you’re in a shitty situation, how can I make you feel better?’

    2. LW 768 here. I am so sorry to hear about your brother – I can’t imagine how much worse it must feel in a potential wrongful conviction case (my friend was guilty and admitted as much to the arresting officers as well as his family and friends). His crime is verging-on-capital-B bad as well, but at least we have the peace (?) of knowing that what’s happening is within the guidelines of the justice system, even though I have my personal reasons to doubt that it qualifies as true justice. Jedi hugs, if you want them.

      Thomas and Best Friend have never met. It’s really interesting…with only a couple exceptions, most of the people who do know Best Friend personally have been nothing but supportive of him. The ones who haven’t been have at least had the guts to tell him, directly, why they can’t be friends with him anymore. Obviously he’s been hurt by that, but it does seem preferable to snide commentary made behind his back (though of course, I only have to deal with the snide commentary, not the direct blow-off).

      I hadn’t thought about the feeling-policing element before, but you’re right. Yet another reason to tell him to back way the hell off.

      1. Thank you. We’re fighting it, but it’ll take years to even get the sentence challenged (it is unusually harsh, especially for a first-time offender/isolated incident). But it can’t get worse, and I don’t have a choice but to cope with it and keep my own life moving.

        Thomas and Best Friend haven’t even whaaaaat?? Okay, he can REALLY just fuck off at this point. I could sorta look past it (with major side-eye and a dose of “get over yourself”) if they had some kind of history with each other, but if they haven’t even met this is definitively Not His Business. His opinion is irrelevant and he’s only voicing it to sound superior. How close are you to him? I wonder if he is on some level jealous of your relationship with Best Friend, and is trying to appeal to nagging feelings of disapproval he hopes you have at Friend’s actions with his Manly Moral LOGIC.

        1. Hmmm, Thomas has made it clear that he would like to remove my pants if I ever showed any interest…you may be into something with the jealousy. Of course, that would just make it worse in my mind, since I’ve made it clear I’m not interested in him or anyone (I’m asexual).

          I hope you can find peace while your brother is still in the system’s clutches. At the sentencing hearing, my friend’s lawyer made sure to emphasize my friend’s otherwise mostly clean record (there was a DUI, but that was long past), and he still got a ridiculous sentence. Justice, my left foot.

          1. Oof. As a fellow asexual, I’m calling it: this is all rooted in bitterness at your “rejection” of him. He might be one of those people that thinks asexuals are just repressed or “haven’t found the right person”, or he might have a delicate enough ego that he sees your orientation as a personal insult or a challenge. I bet that since Best Friend is also a dude, Thomas sees him as an obstacle and envies how close you two are. He’s trying to chip away at your relationship. Casting Best Friend as Bad-Lowlife-Criminal! is something that fits very neatly into his list of why you should like him instead of liking Best Friend.

            I forgot how exhausting being a sexual person’s crush was, when they perceive you as “available”. blech! Maybe get some distance from this dude. My gut reaction is it’s not about what Best Friend did, it’s about you.

            My brother and I both have been doing loads better since he got moved to a proper prison, after three years rotting in our state’s worst county jail. It’s a sad irony that prison treats people better than jail, which is for people that are still innocent under the law. :\ But whatever. He gets real food now, he gets to go outside 3 times a day, he gets access to real doctors, he got to buy a TV, he has a library, and everyone is over 30 so there are hardly any fights or gang crap to worry about.

            And I get to hug him now when I visit. That’s pretty great. 🙂

          2. I’m glad your brother is now somewhere with semi-decent standards for treating human beings. That sounds like the situation my friend will be in as well, only he’s starting out there after being out being out on his own recognizance, so he’s still upset about the future restrictions. I guess I’ll at least have the comfort of knowing it could be way worse for him?

            I’m pretty sure you quoted Thomas near-verbatim with that whole bit about asexuality-only-until-you-meet-the-right-person. Considering I’ve been in this exact scenario before with guys I saw as great friends who saw me as something else, I’m chagrined I didn’t think of that already. Definitely time to dial communication waaaaaaaayyyy back. :/

  14. LW 768: I have script suggestions!

    Thomas clearly believes in being Blunt. He is taking advantage of the fact that you believe in Not Being A Jerk. Blunt people often rely on this to get away with the shit they say.

    You are free -without it making you a jerk in any way- to be as Blunt in return as you feel the need, barring actual verbal abuse.

    “So do better” is a perfectly reasonable response to “Sorry if I offended you”.

    If he knows he’s being offensive and that an apology is called for, he knows that he should cease to say the thing.

    Other possible scripts: “What are you trying to accomplish here? Because you’re not going to change my mind and I’m not interested in listening to your opinion about this any more.”

    “You mind your morals and I’ll mind mine”, “Change the subject or go away” and (if he has a reasonable grasp of sarcasm) “I can’t begin to tell you how much your support means to me.” (You could begin. But as you say, you might not stop for awhile.)

    You could also cut directly to “this is none of your damned business.”

    When he – almost inevitably – pushes back, tell him you’re sorry if you offended him. And then stare at him coldly until the penny drops or your eyes get dry and itchy.

    1. I love all of this. The only other thing I would add is:

      “I get that you have a capital O opinion about this, but you’re not being very empathetic of actual people and their actual situation right now. And that does not paint you in a very favorable light as a friend. So let’s change the topic.”

      I recently found out that a neighbor has been incarcerated for a DUI and is facing multiple felony charges after her passenger died. I can recognize that her driving under the influence was wrong, and that she has to deal with the consequences of her actions.

      But I also feel very sorry for what she is going through, she has to deal with her own guilt as well as all of the legal and financial consequences. I’m not saying they shouldn’t happen, but I can certainly acknowledge that there is real pain there for her and for the people in her life.

      Maybe Thomas friend just can’t hold two ideas in his head at one time, and if so, maybe he should work on that.

      1. The thing is – and apparently my comment on the matter has ended up in moderation – guys like Thomas think empathy to criminals is akin to Stockholm Syndrome. If you aren’t violently and unbendingly against the crime and the criminal you are either as good as an abettor of the original crime or you are a dim, do-gooder know-nothing who needs to be shocked and bullied out of your unconscionable support of a felon. In their mind *nobody* should ever support a felon – they should be perma-shunned for life at best.

        You can’t argue with someone like that, but worse someone like that is very unlikely to allow you to change the topic. They see themselves as the courageous white knight saving you from your own weak-minded folly. It’s intense disrespect and there’s often nothing you can do but disengage.

        1. Yeah, I mean, I’m kinda assuming that the LW is friends with this guy for a reason, and that he’s not THAT big of a jerk. But i certainly think that pointing out to these jerks that they are jerks is worth doing. Believe me I am VERY familiar with Mr. You Don’t Agree with Me Because You Don’t Understand Let Me Enlighten You. But there are ways to deal with them as well.

        2. Yes, I have had really tense conversations on the matter as well, and it’s very hard to discuss, because often they really think that any compassion towards someone who’s committed a crime necessarily means you don’t care about the victim. I see this a lot when it comes to things like prison reform. I support the right of anybody to decide they personally don’t want to associate with somebody who’s committed a crime, or certain crimes, but I think it’s really unfortunate when they assume that others who don’t feel the same way have really bad motives or don’t care about people the criminal hurt.

      2. I’m going to chime in here, as someone who lost a relative to a DUI. It’s honestly very hard for me to have any empathy for drunk drivers, especially those who kill … because at the end of the day, even if they have to serve a short prison sentence or pay fines, they get to move on at some point. I’ll never forget the judge during sentencing talking about how the killer would serve her time and then would have time to have a life afterward. It made me sick to see that unrepentant jerk and killer skirt responsibility.

        Maybe Thomas is in a similar situation. I am definitely more reactionary than I would like when this subject comes up, admittedly. For me, if someone was expressing empathy or sympathy for the situation of a drunk driver, my immediate reaction is anger that the person doesn’t give a shit about the victim or family. (Not saying that you feel that way, but it’s how I feel.)

    2. Yes, this. TRULY blunt people, as opposed to those who use ‘blunt’ as a euphemism ‘I want to be a mouthy asshole with no tagbacks’, will respond just fine to being directly told that you don’t wish to hear it and the subject is closed. Someone who is a good friend but just opinionated will respect that you are equally direct and blunt, and respond appropriately.

      People who whine or say you were meeeaan or go off in a huff are not your friends and they’re not ‘blunt’ or ‘believers in radical honesty’ or whatever; they’re just assholes who think only their opinions count.

      1. Yeah, I capitalised Blunt for that reason. Perhaps I can popularlise “Blant” to mean “people who claim to be Blunt but are actually just really into nonconsensual emotional sadism” or perhaps “Blunty”, after Helpy?

    3. Short, sweet, to the point, TOTALLY what I’m using if Thomas ever pulls this shit on me again. Can we make Jedi high-fives a thing, or will a standing ovation have to do?

      1. Well, and if he kvetches about how you handle his approach to all this, you can move things along with “the consequence of the action of your being an insensitive jerk is I am changing the topic.” I mean, if you have an awful sense of humor, might as well use it, right?

        1. Or come back with “sorry if you were offended by my telling you to change the subject.”

    4. Also, I would think that a good friend would consider IN ADVANCE whether you are in a place to hear all about that and bite their tongue. I was friends with someone when a mutual acquaintance of ours murdered his ex-wife. Mutual acquaintance (MA) strongly maintains his innocence to this day, but was convicted. Friend was extremely upset about this as he was closer to MA than I was.

      I don’t know if Friend still believes that MA is innocent because we lost touch a few years back for unrelated reasons, but I was VERY careful not to speak my mind on the subject because a) Friend was genuinely shocked and hurting, and b) I didn’t expect to change his mind anyway.

      Some people just think that being right* is always more important than being kind.

      *Their version of right, that is

    5. “So do better” is a perfectly reasonable response to “Sorry if I offended you”.
      If he knows he’s being offensive and that an apology is called for, he knows that he should cease to say the thing.

      I’m afraid my standard response to “Sorry if I offended you” is “Obviously not sorry enough.”

      1. That is a good one too! I like mine because it explicitly points to future action, i.e. stop doing the thing, instead of being easy to sidetrack into arguing about the quality of the apology.

        1. I’ve used it chiefly in situations where the person was fauxpologizing for third time for the same dang thing; the followup, if required, is “Clearly you don’t regret it enough to STOP DOING IT.”

  15. For #766, the word “hijack” comes to mind. I could be wrong. But a little part of me wonders if Gentleman is deliberately trying to muscle the LW out of the group by making things so uncomfortable for the LW that LW leaves, and then the Friends all belong to Gentleman. Whether it’s because of the whatever-it-was that caused the coldness (so this would be revenge) or calculated bullying, I don’t know. But it’s possible that he’s not just trying to make things weird, but really trying to push the LW out of the social circle permanently.

    1. Now that’s an angle I hadn’t considered. I had thought that maybe he’s just up in his head and doesn’t see how it’s impacting others, but who is not a gentleman. My thought was to not go to the birthday party, because the invite at this point just seems cruel and manipulative. Let your friends say “What is the deal with you and Violet? Because it looks like you’re being a jerk?” And hope a couple others wander over with some chiming in. And yeah, make some brunch appointments with subsets, where you don’t talk about this person.

      1. PS On a re-read: did you become “close” over an helping kind of event that G now wants to put in his past? Maybe he’s embarrassed? I was Myrtle, Queen of Halping, crushed by inevitable rejection by Halpees whose affections I’d thought I’d secured. I’m learning to have friends who like me without all that dance I was doing.

      2. Well, the invitation was sent over Facebook, so it would be interesting to see what Gentleman would do if the LW accepted. Though if LW goes, it would be best to carry a printout of the invitation in case Gentleman accuses LW of crashing.

    2. This was my first thought. He’s trying to wait LW out. Unless some of these mutual “friends” start calling him out, he’ll probably succeed. Agree with the one-on-one chats and also with finding new friends (especially that second part!).

  16. #766- I think I’d sit out the party, but I’d also contact Gentleman and ask what’s up. Maybe there’s a simple misunderstanding to be cleared up.

    #767- This kind of sums it up for me: “Try to realize that nobody new is going to compare to someone you’ve had a great time with in bed and out of it for a year when you’re eating awkward first date dinner with them. You’d have to compare things to back when you and Friend first met.” It’s going to be really hard to meet someone new when you have Friend and your current relationship as a baseline.

    #768- It might be time to cut Thomas back to Very Small Doses friend if he’s not willing to shut up about this. He’s not being blunt, he’s being a jerk.

    1. Thomas is being a massive jerk. Reading LW #768’s letter my blood was boiling on their behalf. So. not. cool.

  17. #766: Already summed up my opinion above; maybe it’s a peace offering, maybe it’s gaslighting, maybe it’s a mistake, maybe he doesn’t realize he’s an arse. I think if you don’t want to go, don’t go; and if you think you do kinda want to go, have a strategy for “Awesome, Gentleman is ignoring me again.”

    #767: It sounds to me like you are rocking this FWB thing and your friends probably need a quick dose of “This is working for us now, so let’s drop the third degree, OK?” The word “friend” covers a wide range of relationships, from “casual work acquaintance” to “person who will sit with me while my parent dies,” and the lovely ambiguity there means you can say, “He’s a special friend and we love each other very much” and be totally truthful while leaving the relationship almost completely undefined.

    #768: The most polite response I can suggest to “Sorry if I offended you” is “You did, and when you’re ready to give me a REAL apology, we can talk.” I’m going to take you at your word that Thomas is a good enough friend that him being a bastard about your brother isn’t a deal-breaker. But if he’s that good a friend, he should be able to accept “Thomas, I don’t want to discuss this with you anymore. You’re talking about my brother. Shut up or I’m walking off/hanging up/logging out.” I hope your family can find justice…or, failing that, peace.

    1. It’ll have to be peace, since there’s no way of appealing the decision, but thank you. Thomas seems to have figured out that the potential consequences of further assery might include me dropping him as a friend, which he doesn’t want.

      1. I’m glad that Thomas seems to be behaving himself better! He might try to start in again as soon as the trepidation from the smackdown wears off, so it’s probably worthwhile to still focus on the strategies and scripts here. I’m curious, if you and Thomas have mutual friends who also know your Best Friend who is incarcerated, has Thomas approached them in the same way about it, or is he singling you out? That might be good information to have in interacting with him, especially if the other people were right about him potentially badmouthing Best Friend to try to replace him in your affections.

        1. As far as I know, Thomas and BFF only have me as a common friend. In fact, they’ve never even met…the reason Thomas knows about the situation at all is that he and I live in the same general area, and when I told him I was going back to BFF’s and my hometown for an indefinite length of time, I stupidly and dazedly answered Thomas when he asked, “Oh, what for?” since he is (was?) one of my closest friends in New City. I am going to keep the scripts on hand, though, since you may be right about him overstepping once again, especially once BFF is safely locked away way, way out of state.

  18. I really don’t get the comments here that suggest that the “Gentleman” in LW 766’s letter is acting on a misunderstanding that can be cleared up with some more emotional labor from the LW. The cut direct is not a misunderstanding, and the people who use it aren’t just people who have a little misunderstanding so they feel awkward around someone and don’t know how to behave. The cut direct is deliberate, public shunning. It is meant to communicate that the person being cut is unfit for your community. If the offense is clear and known to the victim, it is meant to be a combination of punishment and a way to force compliance with community standards. It unknown to the victim, it is meant to run them out of the community completely. The cut direct is a deliberate, calculated act.

    1. Exactly. Community shunning used to be a form of criminal punishment in some times and places, and Emily Post refers to the cut direct as the nuclear option precisely because of its effect on bystanders. Unless he has some sort of sensory impairment, he can’t do it accidentally.

      If LW 766’s friends are making excuses for / joining in this behaviour, she’s not the one with the problem. LW may be interested in some of the scripts at http://www.etiquettehell.com for deflecting their pressure to go to this party. The odds are good that it will turn into an opportunity for Gentleman to shun LW on his own turf, while her friends sit passively by.

      1. “on his own turf” — good point about that. Whatever LW may be able to do to get a better position with respect to the friend group and the Gentleman’s actions, like pulling someone aside for some 1:1 interaction, that’s not going to be possible at the Gentleman’s own birthday party. The pressure to go along with whatever the Gentleman does and smooth things over will be at a high, and may be used to set this very abnormal behaviour as “normal”.

        Surely the LW actually not being there would be less awkward than the Gentleman only pretending that the LW wasn’t there? But that would challenge the “act like everything’s okay” expectation. They want the LW to shrink down to nothing but still “be there”, likely ongoing if they go along with it now.

    2. Yes. Also, it seems to me that, instead of using his words, Gentleman is trying to get LW to ask what he did wrong and beg forgiveness. Gentleman would then have established his superiority in the group, whether or not he decides to forgive LW. Not a great process to go along with from LW’s perspective. Any friend group that puts up with this kind of nonsense is not worth it in my view, but following the Captain’s advice may encourage them to grow up a bit.

      1. This is a good point, and goes along with what I said above. I still think it would be helpful for LW to ask Gentlemen for the reason behind the cut, but that in NO WAY obligates LW to apologize for anything or ask forgiveness. It could be that LW inadvertently said something offensive to Gentleman (maybe a joke gone wrong, for instance) and they can hash that out together; it could be that Gentleman got his panties in a wad over an innocuous comment or even something he *heard* LW did but LW did not actually do. Whatever it is, LW can do nothing about apologizing or not apologizing until Gentleman uses his words and says what’s bothering him.

        1. Helpful to whom, and how? Not to LW, who has no idea what’s going on, and is getting decidedly mixed messages (when someone has offended you so that you cut them in public, you don’t invite them to your freaking birthday party).

          1. I think the weird birthday party invite would be a good opportunity to air this out if LW wanted to since it’s a very specific situation that can be done over Facebook messages or whatever. “Hi Gentleman, I’ve noticed you invited me to your birthday party but I’ve had the impression you’ve been blocking me out/you’re upset. Have I misunderstood something here?”
            For the very VERY slim chance it is a misunderstanding (though God knows how it’d be). It’s good in that it’s a specific topic to cling to. But if LW isn’t bothered by why he’s being a dickhead then I’d have no trouble in advising skipping the party. I lw’s friends are worried it’ll cause drama LW could always ask them to find out why he hates LW used they’re so bothered by it and chalk it up to ‘not my problem’.

    3. [raises hand] Actually, in the past I’ve done something very like the “cut direct,” not as a way of deliberately shunning someone, but because that’s what my mother has done ever since I was a toddler to indicate disapproving displeasure (just before rolling her eyes and walking out of the room). Since Mom was also Mrs. Please-and-Thank-You, I never associated this behavior with rudeness until READING THIS VERY LINK. Thanks for including it, Captain.

      That said, nothing in LW’s letter makes it sound like Gentleman isn’t being deliberately cutting. But he may have the (wrong) idea that it’s not all that extreme a gesture, or have some family script like mine that he’s expecting LW to play into before everything goes all nice again. Either way, LW may want to call him out and say, “Not acceptable.” If he keeps doing it, he was never worth trying to befriend.

      1. …Your mother did this to you? Often? That’s… somewhat emotionally abusive. When children misbehave, their care takers should correct them (including telling them with WORDS what they’re doing wrong), not put on a silent display of contempt, not demonstrate to the child how effortlessly they could abandon them.

        Please don’t treat other people like this anymore. It’s not merely rude, its devastating.

        1. I won’t, and now feel terrible that I ever did. I didn’t even realize I’d been doing it in years past until I read the link. It definitely put some things into perspective.

          1. Jedi Hugs if they are welcome, Hannahbelle. I’m totally familiar with feeling terrible about how I treated people in the past: My mother was verbally and emotionally abusive to me, and I picked up a lot of her behaviors growing up. I thought that was just the way people interacted, and I had no idea how hurtful I was to others.

          2. It’s actually a huge thing to be able to read Captain Awkward and not go “OMG I USED TO BE HORRIBLE!” 🙂 Jerkbrain had a field day for a while when I first discovered all this wonderful information about how people actually like to be treated (and how and why and when and whether that’s important). I think a lot of it was internalized guilt for situations I actually wasn’t responsible for, but being able to see both/many possibilities and actually evaluate them and talk about them in language I understand now has been a very big thing. So yep, totally relate to the awakening of a new social conscience, and am happy to say the growing pains are minor now, as they go. Thanks for all the well wishes!

        2. Also–on the surface, the direct cut seemed a lot less harmful than being screamed at or chased down and slapped (two other totally in-character reactions from Mrs. Please-and-Thank-You). The worst was probably when she “exiled” me from the family because I didn’t want to play with my little sister. I was told I was no longer part of the family and would be treated like a renter from now on. Tellingly, I was so accustomed to this sort of thing that I just squared my shoulders and thought to myself, “Ok, this is the new status quo. I can handle this.” I was 11 years old. I remember being disappointed when she forgave me after less than 24 hours: being a renter in my own house actually felt kind of freeing.

          In any case, compared to all of this, “the direct cut” was being let off easy. Even if it made me feel like crap and start crying once she was gone, it wasn’t downright terrifying or actively brutal in the moment.

          That’s changed now that I’m adult: whenever she does it, I get so violently angry inside (though of course I can’t show it) that I don’t even know what to do. In the past, I assumed it was just one of those objectively minor things that drive daughters up the wall if their mother is the one to do it. Now that I see people saying, “Actually, this specific thing your mother does is so outrageously offensive and hurtful that centuries ago it was literally grounds for pistols at dawn,” I feel much less intimidated by the whole situation. If she does it again, I may educate her about the “cut direct.” She probably doesn’t know it’s a thing, either. (And yes, I know it sounds like I’m making excuses for her, but I’ve learned not to underestimate people’s blind spots when it comes to their own problematic behavior. This person isn’t malicious: she just doesn’t think what she’s doing is/was wrong.)

          1. “This person isn’t malicious…”

            Hannahbelle, whether or not your mother is actively being malicious seems a little tangential to the main issue, after your description of her behaviors when you were a child. Regardless of intent, the behavior you described is abusive. Not “might be considered by some to be borderline abusive”–clearly over the line abusive.

            “…she just doesn’t think what she’s doing is/was wrong.” Abusers rarely think what they are doing is wrong. What concerns me is that you don’t seem to think that what she did/does is wrong (or maybe only a little wrong?) If you have access to it, it might be a good idea to seek some professional counseling to help get some perspective on just how wrong that treatment was and to unpack the lasting effects of surviving that abuse.

            *jedi hugs*

          2. I’d like to add to the people expressing my sympathy for your mother’s treatment. That sounds like it was all pretty horrible to live through and I hope you have a good Team Me to help you unravel some of it.

            We all learn what “normal” is from our parents or our childhoods, and it sounds like you’ve been working to reorient your normal compass as an adult. I hope you don’t get hurt from people here pointing out that things your mother taught you were normal are actually harmful, since it can take a lot of work to undo that kind of programming. I wish you the best of luck figuring all this out.

          3. Also–on the surface, the direct cut seemed a lot less harmful than being screamed at or chased down and slapped (two other totally in-character reactions from Mrs. Please-and-Thank-You).

            I’m so sorry she did those things to you. It wasn’t okay and you didn’t deserve it.

            Our culture tends to be pretty unhelpful at discussing or even recognizing the more subtle forms of mistreatment in parent-child relationships. The common framing of Reasonable Parent versus Bad, Surly Teen or Small, Bratty Child is especially potent at instilling guilt and doubt in kids. For example, I had believed that my mother’s behavior was all my fault because I was just so Teenagery — until I witnessed her bullying my 90-year-old grandmother in exactly the same way during a family trip.

            In any case, compared to all of this, “the direct cut” was being let off easy. Even if it made me feel like crap and start crying once she was gone, it wasn’t downright terrifying or actively brutal in the moment.

            That’s changed now that I’m adult: whenever she does it, I get so violently angry inside (though of course I can’t show it) that I don’t even know what to do.

            I got the silent treatment, but I think it’s very similar to the cut direct. It always left me seething too, because my mother did it to rub my nose in her contempt. The Captain Awkward letters about the silent treatment have really helped me process my feelings. Here they are in the archives, if you’re interested:

          4. It’s not exactly that I don’t get it, it’s that I haven’t really had a chance to talk about it before in a way that didn’t feel weird in all the classic ways. I did grow up thinking this sort of thing was normal and feeling like a giant whiner if I made a fuss about it…even though I also had the sense that not all my friends’ parents were like this. (But then, maybe they weren’t as bad as I was, or maybe their parents were just too easy on them and that’s why I was so good in school and they weren’t. Oh, kid logic that we don’t remember to question later: suddenly I’m beginning to understand my jerkbrain’s fundamental underlying premise. Mean parents create successful kids; easygoing parents don’t.)

            Anyway, from people’s reactions, it sounds like I’m in a “deadpan about serious stuff in case it’s not really serious” phase. I’ve been told that I do this, so sorry if it’s freaking anybody out. Yes, I’m working to reorient the compass, and gradually getting used to thinking “That was wrong” without immediately thinking “You oversensitive drama queen.” It’s been incredibly helpful to have Captain Awkward to read and discover that so many people have been through this sort of situation and reorientation before, and that having not understood things in the past doesn’t mean you failed at humanity or are doomed to misunderstand forever.

            Also–my mom got totally schooled by an irate customer after giving the cut direct. Mom was flabbergasted. Absolutely no idea what the issue was. It muddled things that the customer was being a belligerent asshole to begin with, but I see now why their reaction to being cut wasn’t as over-the-top as I originally thought.

          5. What concerns me is that you don’t seem to think that what she did/does is wrong (or maybe only a little wrong?)

            No, that’s your assumption about what’s going on in my head, but it’s not actually the case. I get where you’re coming from because I’ve seen other people act like it’s no big deal when they describe things I consider unconscionable, but you don’t get to put that responsibility on me when I just disclosed something traumatic. We all process this stuff in our own ways on our own timelines. I’m not at fault because I didn’t realize I was being abused, and I’m not going to be scolded for not describing or understanding it “correctly.”

          6. Ran out of nesting–this is to Hannahbelle.

            I’m sorry that my comment came across as scolding. I misinterpreted the comment of yours that I quoted as you still being in the headspace where one honestly doesn’t view abusive behaviors as abusive. I’ve been in that headspace and needed someone else to name things as abusive to recognize them. I was trying to offer help, not judgement. I’m sorry that my efforts hurt you instead.

          7. You absolutely do get it; I can see that clearly from all your thoughtful replies here. I’m sorry I didn’t communicate that in my previous post. I was fumbling trying to articulate sympathy for how fraught that path to “getting it” can be (for me at least). I feel like I’m dealing with two flights of hurdles: realizing which of my family’s behaviors are not okay and then trying not to let the broader culture’s minimizing/rationalizing messages bury me in self-doubt.

          8. Oh, guys, no worries. I’m sorry I misread the first comment–I can’t always tell the difference between concern and judgment disguised as concern, especially online. And even though I do get it intellectually, sometimes these inward truths are like puzzle pieces that you can line up in the right place but need someone else to push down before they click. I’m really glad you said something, Courtney, and I’m glad I got the chance to talk about this in a safe place. Derail over!

  19. LW 768. Thank you, Captain and commenters, for your helpful scripts as well as your sympathy! While Thomas and I have butted heads on this issue in the past (we’ve had a while to do so, since my friend has been at the mercy of the system for over a year), things really came to a head when he made the comment about my best friend deserving to be sent to a remote prison so that he could learn about the effects of crime on those around him. I tried and maybe even partially succeeded to give a rational, legal-based response, but I kind of doubt it made an impact, and I wrote my letter while I was still seething. Luckily, Thomas seemed to have realized that after he stuck his foot in his mouth, he kept going with the rest of the leg, and has since been making a conscientious effort not to mention anything having to do with my best friend or crime in general. I do plan to use the excellent scripts I’ve seen here if it does come back up and I have to lay down the law (sorry…I’m trying to keep my sometimes awful sense of humor through all this) with him. I do agree with the general sentiment that I keep Thomas as a Small, Very Specific Mealtime Doses friend going forward. He is a good friend to discuss most other topics with, and on those other topics, I do appreciate his viewpoint and wit, but as far as the Big Topic That’s Hanging Over My Head In A Big Way right now, obviously not so much.

  20. Wow….that “Landslide” video was really intense. I don’t know much of the history of the relationship there but…hmm. Yeah, wow.

    What the Captain says about “what will you do if he finds somebody else that he does want that commitment with” is…ouch, yeah. I was in a similar situation to this years ago, and it was terrible. A friend of mine is in a very similar situation at the moment. It’s hard. Because it’s easy to accept “ok, this is the type of the relationship that this person wants, and I’m cool with it” but if later, that changes…it’s really hard not to think “oh. With me. Oh.” Even though there might be a hundred different elements, it’s still super painful. I don’t really have any advice on the situation, though, because this doesn’t always happen, and when it does, it doesn’t even mean someone did anything wrong. So I don’t know that I, personally, would end a situation that was working well for me because “well, this might really hurt in the future”. In fact, I almost certainly wouldn’t even if part of me thought it was a good idea.

  21. LW #768 This could be utterly inapplicable to you for your reasons, or for Thomas’s reasons. But if the circumstances turn out to be right…

    (Heads up, religious woo woo talk)

    If I know the person who is giving me a hard time is Christian of some sort, I have just started quoting from the Christian Testament, particularly Matthew 25’s “when I was in prison you visited me” verse. Because I may be in a fraught relationship with my own Church. But since I stick around and deal with the problems, like hell will I not deploy the benefits if they help me make a social justice point to some mouthy person being Blunty. If someone gives me “oh hah hah well but…” I can just dip out with “yes, that’s fine. I am just explaining where my perspective comes from on this.”

    Or, I will say “well, you know, in some societies, the idea of justice is to restore harmony and balance to the offender, victim, and community. Offenses against others are the result of illness, and healing is the way to resolve the offense. Are you telling me societies that value that approach are made up of naive, foolish people? It seems to work for them.”

    Or “as a good friend of mine said about working with undocumented migrants claiming asylum in Europe “Allah judges, it is not my place to judge.”

    Or “huh. Well, we should just file Letter From a Birmingham Jail under ‘rantings of an unrepentant criminal then, I guess.”

    IOW, any kind of “people who have a track record of being Important Voices disagree with you, interlocutor, so STFU” can help extract from a conversation.

    1. I am now almost sad that both Thomas and I are atheists. That “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” might at least get him to think for two seconds, though…

  22. ok, first things first to #766 – as the great Anwar Kharral said in Skins, DA-HUMP the friends because they are obviously aware that something is amiss but are too mealy-mouthed to let you know what’s up yet totally expect you to attend events where you will be blatantly ignored. The “Gentleman” in question – well he sounds like no gentleman to me, he sounds like he’s in need of a good bloody slap – has decided with your former friend that something you have done offends him greatly to the point of publicly snubbing you and in no way in hell do you need to deal with it. It’s a shame these people are the few friends you have around at the moment, but you can and you WILL make friends who will be upfront with you when they’re upset or when you’ve caused a disturbance. He doesn’t deserve your wonderful presence at his party because he’s a rude, unpleasant little gobshite and they don’t deserve your amazing company because they are a bunch of wobbly ass interverbrates who keep bending their spineless asses’ over for this douchebags behaviour.

  23. Re #766:

    There are many valid reasons for not choosing sides in the wake of a falling out. Third parties don’t need to get involved. The problem here is that Gentleman is forcibly involving them.

    I can’t say for sure that I’d have the presence of mind or social adeptness to call Gentleman out on his behavior in the moment. Later, though, I could see pulling him aside and saying, “Please stop. You’re making things awkward for ME when you do that.”

    Are any of your mutual friends doing this? If not, why not?

    A thought, upon rereading: Maybe they have done this, and they also pressured Gentleman into inviting you?

    Hope the situation gets less weird as soon as possible.

  24. LW #768, I think you’ve been extremely patient with Thomas, and it’s ok to shut him down with a more direct approach.

    If Thomas texts you to say, ‘sorry if I’ve offended you’, I think it’s entirely open to you to reply ‘don’t be sorry that you’ve caused offence. Be sorry that you hold prejudiced and inaccurate opinions about [friend/imprisonment/the justice system] and then come back to me with your apology’.

    If you’re talking about your friend and Thomas starts spewing judgement, feel free to say any of the following:
    1. ‘I thought I was opening up to a friend, not a judge. Are you able to set your opinions aside and show a little empathy? If not, let’s change the subject’.
    2. ‘I thought I was opening up to a friend, not a judge. I’m not interested in your opinion of [friend]’s actions, particularly not right now. I am changing the subject to [subject]’.
    3. ‘I thought I was opening up to a friend, not a judge. The comments you’ve made about [friend] are incredibly hurtful and insensitive. I am ending our conversation and will contact you another time’. Then leave.

    Seriously, he’s being incredibly Not Cool, and it sounds like he knows he’s hurting you but is not stopping anyway.

    I’m so sorry for you and your best friend. Jedi hugs to you both.

    1. Honestly, I would just not talk about friend with Thomas. I don’t think there’s any good way to do it, and you already know that you won’t get the support you want or need from him.

    2. Thank you!

      And aebhel, that’s going to be my strategy going forward, I think. I did unthinkingly, in the context of a larger conversation about Places I Never Really Wanted to Visit But Did Anyway, mention visiting BFF after he goes away, to which Thomas responded by quickly changing the topic. I think he may have gotten the message.

  25. Dear LW766:

    Don’t accept the invitation as you don’t want to go. As the Captain says, hand the awkward back, and see friends individually.

    Dear LW767:

    If I were your friend I would be a bit anxious on your behalf. When I’ve seen this unequal yoke, it has cost the friendship. So maybe if you demonstrate through your happiness that this relationship works your friends will ease up

    Dear LW768:

    Thomas is acting like an ass. And yeah call him on his non-apology.


  26. LW767: This happens even with intense platonic opposite sex friendships, sorry to say. I had a male friend that I enjoyed the company of, and was not interested in the time in dealing with the messiness of dating around, and mutual friends were positive there was more to it than just being fond of each other. There was no sexual or romantic interest whatsoever on my end, as he was definitely not my type. I am pretty certain that he was also totally not interested in me sexually or romantically either! We mostly talked about computers and the arts. We never, ever talked about date-y stuff. But he was a safe outlet for hugs that wouldn’t get too hands-y, we flirted mildly with each other with a big bold-type and underlined THIS IS NOT SERIOUS FLIRTING neon sign attached, and he was a good male POV resource, and a fun activity or event partner. The end. I’m pretty sure I’m demisexual or on the asexuality scale to some degree anyway, as I will do without sex if I don’t have an emotional connection with someone but it is also important to grok that even though a strong emotional connection is a requirement for an actual partner/couple relationship for ME, it still is not the ONLY requirement. Actually being attracted to the person, rather than just feeling safe around and fond of the person, also has to be part of the picture. And I can form strong emotional attachments with both male and female friends and have never confused those connections for sexual attraction to them, FWIW. At the most, I have wished I were attracted to male friends with whom I get along very well, but if I’m not, I’m just not. I’m also capable of being platonic friends with former boyfriends if they are cool with it, and have never abused the privilege by trying to act girlfriend-y once they’re not into that anymore. That is honestly a lot harder, because it is vanishingly rare that I feel an emotional connection with someone I ALSO find attractive sexually. But that’s my problem, not theirs. And since I inevitably was friendly with them before we dated because of how I am wired emotionally, it usually (but not always) works out that we can go back to being friendly.

    The only solution I ever found to dealing with nosy commentary (even if well-meant and caring) was to ignore people who insisted on discussing things that weren’t their business, up to the point of unfriending them or dropping out of an activity group if it persisted and got annoying after I said it needed to stop, and to make other good friends and hang out with them some of the time, too. Good luck.

  27. Thomas is being a douche. And while I generally say not to be friends with people who are most often like that, if you are cool staying friends with him, you do you. Just tell him to knock it the fuck off about your friend in jail. If he protests, tell him you aren’t stupid, you *know* what happened and you know he’s doing time and in the end what Thomas thinks won’t help anything and is not helping you. If he wants to be blunt, you can be too.

    1. Well, he isn’t *most often* a douche (said every LW ever), and in fact we agree on most topics, just…not this one. It seems like he’s making a better effort to keep his thoughts on it to himself, though I’m keeping this page and its excellent scripts bookmarked if the discussion ever comes up again.

  28. LW766- I have been in your shoes, and those shoes stink like old gym sneakers.

    My version of Gentleman was not a friend, but my SO’s ex, and they admitted upon private confrontation that they were trying to discourage me from hanging out with SO’s friend group, but in public denied anything was happening.

    For me, the people who, upon having the situation pointed out to them, stopped allowing me to be cut out of conversations (even though they never did expressly tell Gentleman to knock it off)? Those are the only people I still am friends with. The ones who denied it was happening, or told me they couldn’t take sides and I should “give them this” because they were in a rough spot? Nope. They lost out not only on my potential friendship, but my SO was so annoyed by the way their friends were allowing me to be treated that they also gradually pulled away from the people who thought that cutting me for existing was appropriate.

    For me, that smaller circle, the one-on-one friendships- those were worth ditching the people who thought it was okay that I be bullied to “keep the peace.” Maybe it would be worth it to you, as well.

  29. LW 766, can you ask best friend if they know what the heck is going on with “gentleman”? It’s always possible that even if they’re handling it badly, they might be legitimately upset about something — it’s unlikely but it’s possible there’s something specific you can say “I didn’t do that, Friend X made it up” or “Oh shit, I didn’t realise, I’m actually really sorry”.

    And if friend says they’ve asked (or will ask) and gentleman still won’t admit what’s going on, you’re in a much stronger position to get friend on side and say “look, I’m not saying never invite gentleman, but be aware if you do it will be awkward” and “look, it really hurts me when you go along with not talking to me, if gentleman doesn’t want to talk to me, that’s fine, but don’t YOU all freeze me out!”

    1. A tempting route to go. The problem is, even if the mutual friend (a) knows what’s going on, (b) wants to get in the middle, and (c) is certain that Gentleman wouldn’t mind the disclosure, there’s a limit to what LW 766 can do with that information. If they apologize to Gentleman, it teaches him that he doesn’t need to tell them why he’s angry. He can just engage in obnoxious behavior and expect them to do detective work to discover why.

      1. Also, the Gentleman’s birthday party is not the last celebration on earth where these friends will ever meet. It’s okay to just…skip it! And to not say why!

        1. Oh yes, sorry, I was going to add that and I forgot. I would indeed just skip the party — facebook invitations can happen for lots of reasons and it doesn’t mean he really wants you to come, and even if he did, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I mean, instead.

  30. Friends With Bafflement:
    100% agree with what the captain said; here’s a few additional notes I think might be helpful.
    Background here is that I’m poly and also on the asexual/aromantic spectra, and bopping around in those spaces provides a great view of how interpersonal relationships don’t have to fit into neat little boxes to be good or worthwhile. I recommend looking up the term “queerplatonic” to see if it rings any bells for you—not because I think your arrangement with your friend needs a label to be important, but because it can be a nice connection to realize that oh, someone already came up with a word for that thing, I am not the first person in the history of ever who’s had to navigate this situation!
    Your friends seem like they’re trying to look out for your well-being, but what they’re doing is disrespectful of your agency. Even IF they were right and what you’re doing with your friend is going to be hurtful to you in the long run, ultimately the only people who get to determine the terms of your relationship are the parties directly involved. If your other friends are actually more invested in staying good friends with you than playing out the “I know what’s best for you” role, they will air their concerns ONCE and then make politely-neutral “I’m glad you’re happy” etc noises when the subject comes up, unless the situation takes a turn for the worrisome. A possible script for you: “I understand that your intentions are good, but I’m happy with the arrangement and I need you to respect my choice on this even if it’s not the one you would have made. If my relationship status really bothers you that much, why don’t we change the subject? [new topic].”

  31. To LW768: Not knowing your friend’s offense, I will say this: I lost a family member to DUI, and I have a few friends who have made stupid choices and gotten DUIs. It is a topic that is off-limits for us. They didn’t hurt anyone else, thankfully, and they all smartened up, but you can bet if someone was hurt or killed …. it wouldn’t be so easy.

    So in your situation, I would be the Thomas. The thing is, I would say something like “I’m sorry that you are hurting, but I have no sympathy for your friend and honestly think that the punishment is too light for taking a life. I don’t think we can agree on this issue, so we probably can’t talk about it.” With the understanding that you can get support from someone who is equipped to provide it,and I would be an asshole if I kept talking about how much I despised your friend for his crime.

  32. MrsLangdonAlger (@LisslaLissar), I wanted to come back to this before the comments closed and offer a few thoughts, not just bandy words about the definition of relationships. So here are the two lines in your letter that stuck out to me:

    I’ve got a problem that isn’t necessarily distressing to me, but it is very perplexing, and it’s something that has me feeling kind of stuck.

    So what’s the problem? It’s that I feel so much pressure to define the relationship further for the sake of others or to move on.

    Here’s my story, shortened: I dated a guy for a couple years, and it was great. We broke up, and that sucked. We’d been friends before dating, and we stayed friends after we broke up. After a couple more years, we moved from friends to friends with benefits, and that was great.

    We’re both polyamorous (well, polysexual in my case, if you want to make the romantic love/sexual attraction split explicit) and he has been dating other people/I have been sleeping with other people, so that part isn’t the same. But I definitely relate to the feeling stuck feeling.

    The thing is, I have put parts of my life on hold–not just because of him, but he’s definitely been one consideration in planning what I’ve been doing with my life. I’ve stayed in the city we both went to college in, even though I can’t really go to grad school here (long-term goal), partly because I have a great extended social network and a job, but partly because he’s here. I’ve structured my social life around hanging out with him. And… if we were dating, that would seem perfectly normal, but because we are Not Dating, there’s both an internal and an external pressure of, wait, is this okay? Is this normal? Do other people react to their friends like this? What if I want to date? Do I want to date? For a while I thought I might want to date, but I was spending ever Saturday night and much of Sunday hanging out with him and weekday evenings at my job, so I didn’t really have time, and scheduling “dating” and telling him we couldn’t hang out seemed like more hassle than it was worth.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to date and I do want to move cities and go to grad school, but there were a few years in there where I’d occasionally get the feeling of, well, stuck-ness. So I have to say: That feeling is perfectly normal. I don’t think it even has to do with being in an unusual sexual relationship, but that contributes, because you don’t even have the dating/romance script to fall back on. If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading CA, it’s that people feel weird and stuck in all kinds of situations, and there’s not really any magic thing you can do or sign up for to make your life feel like it’s going perfectly.

    If you do get the itchy feet or the “I do want to date” or any urge to change, eventually it will get to the point where the thing you want outweighs the urge to hold on to the things you have. Just listen for that inner voice saying “Change time” and don’t freak out that you’ve somehow wasted time. If you’re happy, it’s not time wasted! Good luck figuring it out, and keep on keeping on.

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