#814: “You’re not doing anything wrong, but stop it!”

If this blog were a child it would be a five-year-old today, and I would buy it Star Wars action figures and a bake it a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting in my mom’s old Mickey Mouse-shaped pans. Happy New Year/Blogaversary, Awkward People!  Here is a poem that I think is about forgiving yourself:

Attende Domine (Thomas Lynch)

To lie in the tub on New Year’s morning
awash in bath oil and resolution
observing the Feast of the Circumcision
is to seek the water’s absolution,
according to the law that juxtaposes
Cleanliness and Godliness. I suppose
it is time to examine my conscience,
to make a clean breast of it and amends
to such as those I might have offended.
Attende Domine et miserere! Lord
I’ve sinned with my eye and did not pluck it out,
and with my hand and yet my hand remains
blessing myself against your righteousness.
I’ve sinned with my mouth and loved the sound it made.

I took an honest-to-goodness vacation (I saw family and friends and met a camel and read Goblin Emperor, finally) instead of writing intense 2015 recaps or 2016 pronouncements, so, let’s just dive back in to what we do here.

Today’s question is about when a past toxic relationship bleeds into the present. How do you know what’s reasonable to ask for? And how do you correct someone or set a boundary with a new partner without constantly calling back to the old one?

Hey, friends!

My partner, Darryl, is a great guy. Cute, smart, loving, works out a bunch, generally pretty considerate. We’ve been dating for two years now, and we’ve got an apartment. The problem is that the person I was dating before Darryl, Kris, is not so great. I dated him for three and a half years, and he was pretty firmly in the “well at least I didn’t HIT you” category of Darth Ex. Kris did things like use my ED to try and push me mentally off balance (buy me food, say I had to eat it since he bought it for me and my eating patterns are off, then used that as proof that I wasn’t mentally strong enough to make it on my own, sort of thing) and hypercriticize every little thing I did (you shot the guy that was close to you in the video game first, what is even wrong with you?) I thought I had recovered pretty well mentally, and that’s generally what I’ve been telling Darryl. Darryl’s never met Kris, but he’s heard stories about him from friends and family, and I gave him a vague idea of what had been going on, so he kind of knows the extent of it but not the specifics.

I’ve been getting a bit less stable recently, however, and I’ve been sort of regressing. Darryl has responded to that with moving in and being more caring. However, a lot of his behaviors have been similar to Kris’s lead-ins to gross situations. “LW, you haven’t eaten today, I’m making dinner” automatically gets my guard up. (Especially since Darryl’s diet is a lot more heavy and calorie-rich than I usually like, and he generally picks what we eat, so I end up with this giant plate of meat.) Sometimes I’m gaming on my own to blow off steam and he sort of leans over and makes a comment about how I’d be a lot better if I was strafing more. That sort of thing- stuff that on its own is entirely innocuous and caring and loving, but my jerkbrain makes the connection and sets me off.

I need scripts or something. I’ve tried to think of ways to present it in a way that’s not comparing him to Kris, but I’m kind of worried because he pretty much thinks of Kris as the scum of the earth. How do I say “stop doing this normal loving couple stuff because I have Brain Problems?”

-No Really, It’s Not You, It’s Me

Hello, It’s Me*:

 

Good or bad or in-between, relationships teach you what you do and don’t want your relationships to be like. Dysfunctional relationships teach you those things even harder. You survive and are left with a tangle of lessons & preferences & NOPE reactions, such as:

  • Things your awful ex did that felt really good & How will you learn to enjoy that stuff again and make new associations? (A lot of people write to me about this category of things, especially regarding sexy stuff, like how can what the evil ex did feel so good? How can we reclaim the good feelings while shedding the bad associations? How can we trust the goodness in a new relationship when we also trusted the good parts of the bad one?)
  • Things your awful ex did that felt really bad, like controlling behaviors & How can you make sure those things don’t happen again? It sounds like you’ve done part of the work by selecting a much kinder & better dude, but it’s left you with a category called: Things that would be annoying or Not For You no matter who did them.

When you are in the process of untangling all of the old relationship baggage, it’s hard sometimes to know what is reasonable to ask for and to give yourself permission to ask for things or set boundaries. You also sense (correctly) that delivering course corrections with the added context of the ickiness of your old relationship is not quite the right thing to do and it won’t land the way you want it to. I see this pattern of rooting the dynamics of current conflicts too deeply in backstory a lot – I see it in myself & my own history, I see it in Letter Writers here who include details about childhood or past relationship dynamics to explain the current, adult ones, I see it in friends, and it is SO COMMON and SO HUMAN and SO NATURAL and yet it doesn’t quite work as a way to resolve current conversations and I have a hypothesis as to why.

As we said, your relationship history informs your preferences of what you will and won’t put up with. For another example, there is a (bad) cultural narrative that victims of certain kinds of abuse are less able to be objective when they spot red flags in other situations, when in fact their experience makes them more likely to spot manipulation and coercive behaviors. Right now, practically, I think your history and how it applies to your current situation is more about about internal processing/reasoning than it is about helping you convince people about what you want them to do.

When you told Darryl about all the icky stuff Kris did, you were mentally comparing Darryl to Kris, like, I am going to tell you these stories so that you know never to behave like that toward me. This (again, very common, very natural) telling of cautionary tales only works to a point, because Darryl didn’t and doesn’t see himself as someone with the potential to behave like Kris. When he heard those stories, he put himself in your shoes, not the shoes of the villain of the tales. In some cases the “My ex/mean parent/bad friend did this thing that hurt me/bugged me…” isn’t enough on its own and It needs the sentence finished with “…so please don’t do that thing. I have a very strong NOPE reaction to it.

Once you figure that out, it will (hopefully) do two things:

  1. Remind you that you have a right to not want or not like certain stuff, no matter who is doing it. For example, it sounds to me like you don’t like to hear advice when you are playing video games, ever, from anyone, and that is 100% normal and cool. I like people to teach me new skills and 100% hate having someone “optimize” me when I am trying to figure something out for myself. Call it a visceral reaction to how I was raised, call it a personal quirk, call it what you like, but “Hey, you could be doing that slightly better!” when I’m in the middle of a task is immediately going to put my shoulders around my ears AND make me perform WORSE at whatever it is no matter who says it and what the task is. It’s an instant confidence-underminer, no matter how it was intended!

Accepting this might mean taking Darryl off his pedestal, relative to Kris, and I think that’s a very good thing. Darryl sounds like a good person who loves you, but he’s still gonna do things that annoy you sometimes. He’s not perfect, and that’s okay. He doesn’t just have to hit “Better than Kris” as a metric for being your partner, he needs to be right for you and the relationship needs to be working for you, present tense. You will annoy him sometimes, too, and figuring out that people can annoy each other without it being a huge fight/crisis/possible relationship-ender is huge progress after a toxic relationship. Plus, small, solvable problems are good problems!

2. Allow you to state needs and have constructive conflict that is rooted more in the present than in the past. You could say “Darryl, the thing you are doing with (advising me about video games, making a big show of cooking me a hearty meal) is reminding me of Kris and is bringing up all sorts of icky associations for me. Please don’t do that anymore.” It would be true, and it would not be wrong of you to say it. But I’d like to suggest slightly different scripts that carries less of Kris’s baggage:

  • Darryl, please don’t talk over my shoulder when I play video games. Thanks.
  • “Stop advising me when I play, it’s annoying.” 
  • I don’t really like meat – can you make a hearty veggie side if you’re cooking for both of us?

That’s all you have to say. And the good news is that saying this stuff and acting as if your needs are perfectly reasonable is one way that that you test for jerks. A cool dude will stop doing the thing. Maybe he’ll need an occasional reminder, but he’ll mostly stop.  A not-cool dude will explain to you why he just meant to be helpful and jeez, you’re sensitive and then keep doing it even more.

This kind of communication and conflict resolution is one of the things that journaling and/or good therapy can help you do better, by a) giving you a reality check & reminder that your needs are reasonable b) giving you a private space to process all the “stuff” around an issue at length so that you can be clearer and more direct when you express yourself to others and c) help you practice scripts and communication and develop more control in how you express and filter communications. We’re all informed by our pasts and carry them with us, some more visibly than others, but as adults, it is exhausting for everyone if every conflict must take a conversational detour through childhood or psychology or relationship history and extensive justifications therein before it can be expressed. To use a not-related-to-this-specific-Letter example, which is better?

Request A: “Coworker (Who Started Working Here Last Week), can you wear headphones if you are going to listen to talk radio at work? Thank you!”

vs.

Request B: “Coworker (Who Started Working Here Last Week), I’ve noticed that you love to listen to talk radio, but it’s something my abusive family member really loved to do and this particular station is triggering awful memories of him. Ever since I was a child this station made me feel sick to my stomach because it meant that something terrible was going to happen to me later. I hate to have to ask you to do this, but it would mean so much to me if you would wear headphones.”

In my opinion, Request B can be true and there is no shame in it, but Request A is the information that the Coworker needs to know and the level of info that is appropriate at work. Being able to switch between B and A when appropriate and being able to state your need without over-justifying it or apologizing for it can make you feel more in control, which I think is an important step in healing from a rocky past. Your history of abuse doesn’t leave you, but over time maybe it doesn’t have to dominate your inner landscape or your interactions with others. To bring it back to you, Letter Writer, as you find a way to speak to Darryl about your needs that is not about Kris, you’ll get further and further away from Kris and more about expressing who YOU are and what YOU want, and that can’t help but be a good thing.

I’ve left the eating/making dinner stuff until last. I’m not qualified to dig into disordered eating or ED-recovery stuff, so I’m not gonna go too far with this, but:

  • It is making you feel ooky to have a partner take on a role of “let’s get calories into you!” and that’s totally understandable.
  • It sounds like Darryl does most of the food shopping and cooking right now, so without stated preferences from you, his preferences about what to eat/how to cook are gonna take precedence. That’s not necessarily an abusive/dysfunctional dynamic, and the whole question of “what do we eat when we live together & how does that all work” is a question everyone has to deal with when they set up house together. Think about how you could talk about that in a positive, constructive, “Let’s make a plan for how this can work better, babe, by including foods I like at every meal!” way vs. a “I know you just cooked for me but I don’t want to eat THAT” way.
  • It sounds like you could so some work around a) telling Darryl what you like eating b) making a plan to have stuff you want to eat/can eat in the house c) putting some of that in “requires zero effort/handy snack form.” That way, in the moment, you can say “Thanks, just worry about yourself, I’m gonna eat a (effortless thing I like) for dinner” instead of “YOU ARE BEING JUST LIKE KRIS.” You are allowed to not like meat or not want heavy meals at the end of the day!
  • Does that sound hard/impossible right now? Since you say you’re “regressing” around food, and “You haven’t eaten all day? Let me feed you” is a thing that is happening in your house, it sounds like a check-in with whatever eating disorder recovery pros or team or online space or support group you have available is in order in the New Year. I hope that’s a feasible thing for you to access.

I hope some of this helps. Here’s me, wishing you every good thing.

*Don’t hit!🙂

 

234 comments
  1. Thank you for this wonderful advice, CA. I have a whole bunch of issues from my childhood and previous relationships that make me react in exactly the same way, so I’m going to be using this approach. I was so caught up in the stuff that was being triggered that it never occurred to me that I could tell people it wasn’t cool for me without mentioning that stuff.

    What is quite funny is that my SO’s two best friends are called Kris and Darryl🙂

  2. JIll said:

    If your partner has been kind and loving in every other way, I would assume that these things that are irritating are coming from good intentions. Correct the behavior while leaving reference to the ex out. (I’d be hurt if my partner constantly compared me to his exes when I truly was just trying to be helpful/nice/etc.

    “I’m just playing this game to blow off steam – I really don’t care about strategy, so could you let me have a half hour to just unwind and play?”

    “Dinner looks great. Thanks for cooking! But I’m afraid you forgot that I can’t eat X” Or “I’m afraid the portion size you dished me is too big. I’m gonna put some back. Just let me dish out my own plate next time, please.” Or “Just leave me some leftovers. I’m actually not hungry now and I’ll reheat them when I am.”

    No reference to the ex, but definately asserting your needs.

    • I utterly agree; perhaps LW’s sore spots are preventing them from simply asserting their wishes, now that they are all moved in together? That ramps things up in both intensity and speed.

      I would always go with the lowest drama explanation, including the fact that you just like something a certain way. This actually has zero to do with what a Darth Ex comes up with to torment a person.

      Also, give the other person their own script, too. What IS the best way for them to ask about food? Is there any time you welcome advice? And so forth.

      Letting someone know what you find loving is a loving thing to do.

    • Myrtle said:

      (Happy New Year, everyone!) I didn’t see humor mentioned anywhere, and on the subject of gameus interruptus, I wondered if using a simple comic drawl or use of your couple-inside-joke voice to say lightly, “Daaaahling, I AM conquering the world right now and I mustn’t be interrupted” whilst your body continues to play the game (not shifting shoulder to look at him, or moving eyes to him) maybe a light touch to him, will acknowledge him as not an adversary on attack, but continuing your choice of activity. If he enjoys a-game-and-chat environment, why not try hanging on his shoulder as he plays, and ask him about strategy? But maybe at times neither of you are playing, you’d enjoy talking about theory? Does he play with his friends in the same way?

      I do think it’s easier to talk about either food and money when it’s not in the moment. LW, are you part of the household shopping and planning stages? If he enjoys heavy meats, is there a way to validate that (“You sure do find some high-quality cuts”) while suggesting a change (“I find it hard to sleep after eating meat late at night, maybe just a taste of it then, but mainly just salad and veg is perfect- and/or “maybe I could spoil you for a change and cook a smaller piece at breakfast or a brunch, while you’re in charge of the mimosas?”) as it sounds as if you’re still negotiating the relationship mechanics. If you want to do that!

      • Myrtle said:

        PS-this is wicked, but you could poison the well a bit by innocently saying, “Oh my gosh, if I eat too heavily I toss and turn all night and when I do fall asleep, I’ve even woken myself up with snoring! Then I’m grouchy and tired the next morning, it’s awful.” Smile and eyeroll…

        • Broke Law Student said:

          But you really don’t have to do that! It’s ok to have needs and boundaries without giving reasons for them, and “I don’t like X” is a perfectly good thing to say and expect your partner to understand. If your partner needs you to give a reason on how something will affect THEM before they’ll listen to your boundary, then that’s good information so you know that this person is not a good partner.

          • Paulina said:

            Exactly. “This doesn’t work for me” is a complete explanation, when it’s about a decision that I get to make (like what food I eat, or how I play games, or my sleep schedule, or whatever). I don’t have to get anyone to agree about why it doesn’t work for me; they just need to respect that I know what’s working for me and what isn’t.

            I’ve dealt with far too many people who interpret information that is intended as an explanation (so that the other person understands what’s going on) as some sort of indication that they get a say and can mount counterarguments. I tend to cut this off pretty fast these days. Reactions to skipping the detailed explanation is also, as you and the Captain say, a good indicator of who is willing to respect boundaries and our rights to set them as we see fit. Which as well as being healthy, might also help out any of the issues that the LW has that may have control issues as part of them.

        • oregonbird said:

          Femsplaining helps no one. In a lot of relationships, it’s the original Peanuts wah-wah sound.

      • 5YearsOfLW said:

        I am part of the shopping and planning, but generally I find when we have conflicting needs, he tends to go on ahead and do his thing. (He needs a lot more calories and protein since he exercises every day and I don’t sort of thing.) We had a discussion about that, and we’re going to try and do more pre-planning of meals with a bit less of the “big meat every day” factor.

        • speedbudget said:

          Might I gently suggest that you guys pick one of those meal-delivery services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? I just started using Hello Fresh this year, and I couldn’t be happier with not only the portion sizes, but also the nutritional content. My husband and I do the three meals for two people per week. The only planning we do is when I go on the website to choose from the meal offerings for the week. He could always add meat or whatever to his portion of the meal, or he might find that the portions they have are adequate. I’ve not had a bad meal yet.

          • Aris Merquoni said:

            This might work for some people, but I have to admit I winced at the prices. If that’s something you can or want to budget for, that’s great, but sometimes a conversation about “Let’s both be involved in grocery shopping” is a better choice.

          • speedbudget said:

            @Aris Merquoni I agree. When I first started looking, the prices seemed very expensive. Then I started comparing those weekly prices to what I was spending at the grocery and taking a look at how much food was being wasted/thrown out each week. There is little to no waste with each meal box, and three meals for two people each week is $69, at least $40 less than I was spending each week at the grocery store. My husband and I both hate grocery shopping, so now our “shopping” is sitting down and picking our meals together.

          • Aris Merquoni said:

            Oh, totally, if that’s how your budget works out that’s fantastic–sometimes stuff like that really is less expensive, and sometimes even if it’s more expensive it’s well worth the cost. It’s also one of those things that might be part of a solution if both people are on board and looking for options, but “Well you’re the picky eater so you deal with it” if a relationship isn’t working so well on solution-finding.

            My initial wince was because their cost/meal is what I’m trying to spend per day, but I spend that saved cost on eating out, so that’s way more per meal than cooking those would be. It all depends on where your allocation of resources winds up.

        • Saira Ali said:

          It might be that you need to do separate grocery shopping and meal planning, and that’s okay. When my partner and I first moved in we tried to make shared groceries and meals work because we both had some heavy emotional investment in family dinner and all the stuff that goes around that, but it left both of us frustrated, hungry, and physically ill. I’m one of those big meat every day people, and I literally get sick (more susceptible to flus and colds, more muscle and joint pain, digestive upset) if I don’t get enough food and enough protein in me every day. It’s *possible* to do that on a vegetarian diet, but it’s hard and consumes a ton of spoons that I don’t really have. My partner is very much not a big meat every day person, and too much meat makes him sick. So we just _can’t_ cook together and have found other ways to capture that homey nurturing feeling of family style dinners.

    • RSVP said:

      One thing I’ve noticed over the years with men who cook is, they often have just two or three dishes in their repertoire, and those dishes are usually heavy on the meat. It took until my partner had bypass surgery to convince him that a meal really could be a meal and have just chickpeas or lentils for the protein part.

      • 5YearsOfLW said:

        I know, right- what’s even up with that? “Yeah, I can cook- I can make fried steak, fried pork, and fried chicken!”

      • Amtelope said:

        It’s okay for people to want to eat meat at most meals, though. If two people have very different food preferences, they need to work out how they’re going to handle cooking. But I’m uncomfortable turning this into “it’s better not to always eat meat” – people get to have the food preferences they have, and the issue is how to avoid imposing them on someone you live with who wants to eat differently.

      • JenniferP said:

        This detour into critiquing specific food preferences is unnecessary. Let’s all rein in the recipe-sharing and commentary, thank you.

  3. Dear LW:

    I have a similar, not identical, set of baggage. These are some scripts I’ve used, that may help you start conversations about stuff like this:

    “You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just doing something that doesn’t work for me.”

    “I love that you’re doing things to support and care for me. Let me give you more information about how to do that.”

    “You’re not an expert on this stuff and you shouldn’t have to be one. Sometimes that means I have to ask you to believe me without understanding me.”

    “Even when I’m triggered, I know you’re not my ex, I do. Sometimes brains are messy places.”

    “You can’t be responsible for my eating, or my stability. That’s my job, and I am going to do my best to make sure I get the support I need to do it. I’ll ask for the help I want, okay?”

    (Optional but useful) “I don’t mind telling you more of the backstory, if it helps you, but I need it not to be a debate about whether or not my reactions are okay, and I need you not to take it personally, okay?”

    I wish you all the good things, LW and BF.

    • Saira Ali said:

      These are all fantastic. I’m going to steal them for my own situations. Thank you!

    • Anna Sthetic said:

      ‘I love that you’re doing things to support and care for me. Let me give you more information about how to do that.’

      YES. Excellent line – it acknowledges his positive attitude and makes it clear that you’re asking him to care *differently*, not *less*.

    • 5YearsOfLW said:

      These are excellent- thanks!

    • These are AWESOME, and I am going to borrow them to use with my husband (who is still, with all the love and goodwill in the world, learning the finer points of the Care and Feeding of Pocketnaomis after 2.5 years together and 8 months of marriage). Thank you so much!

    • oregonbird said:

      I have a question — can you use these once or twice and have that be an end to the undesired behavior? How many times do you lay down the lines before this becomes another emotional job — soothing your partner because you are suffering from being triggered. I’ve had to cut off vampires who really liked to hear boundaries, so they knew what to bust through next time. Okay, I’m dealing with one right now, but hopefully its not… romantic. ick.

      • That’s kind of a judgement call, to be honest. It sounds like you’re correctly identified the nature of your beast and are dealing with them otherwise – good luck!

        These are scripts for people acting in good faith, and as you correctly note, can be abused by people acting in bad faith.

        There is no script to make a person WANT to act in good faith. The ideal script in that situation is “go away and stay away. Right now.”

        That said, yes, they will generally need some expanding on and repeating, and in context I’m okay with that.

        EDs and complex trauma are big complicated difficult topics which most people, blessedly, are not and don’t need to be experts in. Add to that that everyone’s responses to them – while falling loosely inside the general parameters – are individual, so even if you’ e dealt with the situation before you haven’t dealt with THIS one, and the loving, smart, kind people around you are going to need information and assistance in treatng you right. The way you determine that they are of good will is that they don’t tend to repeat their mistakes – but they’ll still make NEW ones, yes.

        I don’t think of them as soothing so much as helpful reorientation, on the whole. That said … Ok, this is tricky.

        It’s not intrinsically not okay for a partner to have a strong emotional response to finding out that you’ve suffered horribly. Or to realising that food is never, for as long as this relationship endures, going to be entirely simple again.

        Or to be upset or worried or frustrated by the limitations on your lives together that your baggage brings to the game. Sometimes I’ve had to skip things I really wanted because they were incompatible with my partner’s needs and it sucked. Sometimes it’s turned out that the thing I was doing to be loving and helpful was in fact neither and I felt rejected and small and ashamed and it hurt. And sometimes I, who have spent twenty-odd years learning to wear my personal trauma fairly lightly, find out that something traumatic happened to a friend and lose all my hard-won chill and go straight to COME LET US FIREBOMB THE BASTARD’S HOUSE.

        We’ve all dealt with the Darth whose reaction to our pain is to immediately exhibit Infinitely Greater Pain, every time, and it’s smart to be wary of them, but their success is based on exploiting a real thing, which is that when you’re in a long-term cohabiting relationship, there’s Your Pain, My Pain, and, quite often, Our Pain.

  4. Temporary Null said:

    Having an ED is so hard. A lot of the way we talk about food in our society is with “should” language, and it’s terrible.

    Katie Morton is a therapist who specializes in EDs, and she has a lot of videos with great suggestions for dealing with triggering situations (holidays, family, eating in public).

    Also, regressing occasionally is pretty normal in life. We get stressed, our situations change and those good habits we work on get less regular. It’s not a personal failing on your part, and you’ll get back on track in your recovery.

    • DropTable~DropsMic said:

      “Also, regressing occasionally is pretty normal in life. We get stressed, our situations change and those good habits we work on get less regular. It’s not a personal failing on your part, and you’ll get back on track in your recovery.”

      This. I see this dynamic a lot in myself and friends who also have anxiety and depression. Like, if stressful stuff is happening and triggering those mental states, it is not a sign that we will forever be doomed to be dysfunctional (or insert whatever bad thing) it is probably a sign we have Some Stuff going on and should be gentle with ourselves.

  5. This post could not have come at a better time. Every part of this.

    Many thanks and much love

  6. Anonymous Coward said:

    It’s common for people without eating disorders to believe that you need a bunch of calories to recover, and that is precisely the wrong thing to do.

    The bacteria in the gut die off when people are not eating, and it is better to start eating slowly by including things like fresh fruit so your digestive system gets up to speed.

    I was attempting to look for resources on “breaking a fast,” and a lot of them mentioned the above; but none of the sites seemed particularly reputable so I am not linking. People who have been on prolonged fasts are at risk of “refeeding syndrome” and need to avoid carb heavy meals.

    • Jay said:

      Yes and no. Every situation is individual and people who are truly malnourished should be advised by a professional. That said…refeeding syndrome does exist and is an issue for the first few days after starvation. From then on, people actually *do* need a lot of calories to recover because of derangements of metabolism and they particularly need to eat full-fat meals to help repair damage to their nervous systems; this can be very very difficult because of the “fat is evil” indoctrination that pervades American (and most industrialized) society.

      In any case, and no matter what, it’s generally not helpful for someone else to tell an adult what to eat unless that adult has asked for help.

      (I’m a doctor and this is *not* medical advice, which I would never offer over the internet)

      • JenniferP said:

        Thanks, and please let this be the last word in this subthread. The LW doesn’t want a heavy meal in those moments and that’s what matters.

  7. I am very pleased to see the advice posted here, particularly the hypothetical “true statement” vs. “work appropriate information.” It will help me on my next date.

    • SM said:

      The hypothetical radio/headphones situation totally hit home for me, too, though from the other side. I used to have a roommate with serious control issues – she put a bunch of furniture in the front hall that made it hard for the rest of us to comfortably walk through, so I brought up during a low-conflict situation (eating dinner together) that it was hard for me to maneuver and asked if she could move her bench into the dining room or living room instead.
      Her response was a long sigh, followed by a diatribe about how hard it was for her when her parents got divorced and her mom had to sell the house and most of the furniture she grew up with and was attached to, and it was really hard for her to make her own space in the apartment… And basically refused to budge on her placement of her furniture in our shared space.
      If she had just said let me think about it – the bench is special to me so I’d like to make sure it’s placed where I can best use it; I’d like to take a day or two to think about layout; etc, whatever – I would have said OK, let me know what you think, I’m happy to help you with moving any heavy items. And if she had then come back a day later and said, can we try if I just move the bench a foot this way? Still totally OK with me.
      But instead I ended up angry at her because it felt like I had to take responsibility for all of her emotions and panic around her parents’ divorce, all because I wanted to move the bench in the hallway!

      So anyway long story short – you’re allowed to want things a certain way, and certainly allowed to think about how your preferences/actions/emotions tie into your past… but bringing up that past in detail can both put a burden on the other person, and make the situation more emotionally charged than it probably could have been.

      • Goodness emotionally charged yes.

      • Manders said:

        This is really well said. I knew some people who went through this phase where a whole lot of innocuous conversations about things like books and movies would take a sudden left turn to Horrifying Backstoryville. I spent a lot of time keeping quiet about my own opinions and ended up avoiding people I’d previously enjoyed spending time with.

        LW, it doesn’t sound like you’re there at all, but it’s ok to remember that this dude seems to want what’s best for you and he doesn’t *need* the whole backstory every time. “Hey dude, I don’t like that” is all the information he needs in that moment–someone who genuinely has your best interests at heart will want you to be comfortable around them.

        • newlife said:

          “Horrifying Backstoryville” – thanks for that. I think I’m in danger of becoming that very person. A little heads up is super helpful!

          • The Awe Ritual said:

            I am that person. If you DO want backstory: I spent a very long agentic time in a relationship with a person who felt that my not telling the nastiest bits of the messiest times of my life was inauthentic of me, and insisted upon my telling every part of it to obviously-disinterested bystanders, and if I didn’t, not only would he play yellow journalist and fill the poor folks in in lurid amd inaccurate detail, he would be filled with contempt for me for weeks on end, and bring it up years later. Still in the habit, and will try to look back on this column whenever I am feeling dishonest because I don’t *explain* why the intro to Law and Order SVU makes me cringe and go straight into suicidal ideation mode, and instead just mildly point out that I have to wake up at 5:30, can you keep the volume down on that marathon, please?

          • Hannahbelle said:

            Yep. @The Awe Ritual–I know this feeling! Apparently cult survivors (who have problems overlapping with N-type relationships) often have overdisclosure issues, too, because they’re expected to spill all their secrets constantly in the name of authenticity or self-abnegation or We Have No Secrets Here or something. I am so, so sorry…it may have been here on CA where I read recently that “a culture in which one is not allowed to have secrets is an authoritarian culture.”

            Thanks also to everyone who pointed out the Horrifying Backstoryville issue. Sometimes it feels like having boundaries at all is so charged with offense-giving potential that we try to justify and explain ourselves when that’s (a) totally unnecessary and (b) actually hurtful to others. It’s great to see that spelled out so clearly here.

      • Jenn said:

        What bothers me about this is that seems like an attempt at manipulation. I mean like you said it’s making other people responsible for your emotions as well as dumping a huge pile of guilt on them for having a reasonable request. I mean does the person really *need* this information, or is it about making them do what you want?

        • Hannahbelle said:

          In my case, it’s because I feel so guilty and apprehensive about setting any boundaries (worrying that the person will get offended if I do) that I give all these reasons almost as a way of taking blame for having needs at all. Of course, when people are perfectly fine with being told “Hi, could you please not, thanks,” those long-winded explanations seem superfluous and kind of suspicious…like, why the TMI? But it’s because I’m afraid without the backstory nobody will really “get it” and respect the boundary. Again, it’s nice to be reminded that if they can’t respect a boundary unless they “get it,” that’s already a problem.

          Of course, some people may be doing it to be manipulative and get sympathy–or just to segue into a tale of woe–but I’d be appalled if I were coming across that way. It’s usually because I *don’t* want to seem demanding or manipulative that I over-explain.

  8. I agree with the Captain’s advice about how to talk to Darryl about these issues, but the emphasis on “Maybe these are just things you don’t like when ANYONE does them” rubs me the wrong way. You have every right to ask people to change things that make you uncomfortable, even without a Big Serious Reason, and that’s important to remember, but… it’s also OK if these really are Big Serious Reason type things for you.

    It’s OK to think of your discomfort about these things as caused by trauma or by your eating disorder.
    It’s OK if “I just don’t like it” is a polite omission and not the truth.

    I just think that part needs a little more emphasis.

    • monologue said:

      I think the message there was more like, just bc abusive dude did a thing doesnt mean you need to tolerate it when a non abusive person does it bc they arent abusive TM or that you need to evaluate whether it is abusive or not or meant well or whatever in order to not like it. Like maybe LWs ex was being nitpicky about video games as part of a bigger abuse campaign and maybe LWs current bf is well meaning w his video game nitpicking but either way the LW can be like no people shall nitpick my video gaming from now on forward.

      • I understand that, and I agree, I just think that idea would be better expressed explicitly– “Do you feel like you *need* a Big Serious Reason in order to be justified in asking your partner to do this? Because you don’t.” instead of with this sort of work-around of “Let’s say there isn’t a Big Serious Reason here at all.”

    • Rachel said:

      I agree with this – saying “I just don’t like it” about triggers often feels to me like a mild lie, and while it’s the kind of lie I’d expect to have to tell work colleagues, a partner with whom you’re trying to build a life is a little different. I think this also extends to the issue of how much backstory to bring up when asking someone to change their behavior – I think the advice given in the post makes a lot of sense for immediate, in-the-moment requests and boundary-setting, I know that for me and my partner, it’s been really important in the long term to actually have conversations about what my triggers are, and what it looks like when they’re set off, and actually what’s going through my head when my partner, say, tries to convince me to do breathing exercises and I panic at him (to use an example of my own).

      Those aren’t easy conversations to have, and they might not be where the LW and Darryl are right now, which is totally fine. But it’s also not oversharing or inappropriate to decide that they are important conversations to have in a relationship. I actually wonder if the kind of clinical language of ‘triggers’ (whether re: eating disorders or trauma) might actually be a useful way of approaching this? They tend to carry a connotation of ‘this isn’t personal/about you, it’s the way my brain works right now’ which might defuse the kind of issue of comparison that the LW is worried about.

      But, all my sympathy, also. I’ve had to have a lot of conversations with friends and partners which straddle this kind of uncomfortable divide (someone is doing something which is genuinely not the nicest thing and something I want to outright set a boundary around; at the same time my reaction to the thing is really conditioned by my history and it’s hard to sort out which) and they’re never fun.

      • I totally agree with this, and was trying to figure out how to say it earlier. I’m dealing with minor trauma from my last breakup and from another previous relationship, and I had been basically keeping with the Captain’s advice– keeping the conversation about my needs in the moment and trying not to burden my current sweetie with the actions of people in my past. I thought that I could basically never tell him about what those people did and why certain behaviors make me incredibly anxious, which only made me MORE anxious, because I had to keep worrying about my sweetie doing the things that would trigger my anxiety. Opening up to your partner about past stuff can be a really important thing to do, both for healing yourself and for your current relationship (but only if you feel ready to do it and you want to have that level of intimacy with your current partner! I also have a therapist who’s helping me through this stuff and with learning how to relationship. Highly recommend that kind of help if you can get it). What worked for me also was asking my sweetie for his help. Not to fix me, but to support me while I work through my stuff. I think it was helpful for both of us, because now he has a better idea of what will make me anxious, and for me because now I know he knows where I’m coming from and will be gentle and supportive. My conversation went something like “Hey, I’ve noticed that I have these feelings under these circumstances. This is what happened in my past and why these circumstances make me so anxious. I love you and I want to work through these things because I want to be with you, and I could use your help. This is going to be a process, but here’s an idea I have for how you can help me feel more secure in these situations.”

        Best of luck, LW. I think the Captain’s advice it great for the in-the-moment conversations, but if you find yourself having them over and over and they’re causing you problems, consider having another conversation about where your feelings come from. They are scary conversations to have, but they’re generally worth it.

      • Ugh this business of trying to figure out what to share when is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I’m maybe dating this guy, and nothing physical has happened yet (which is part of why I’m not sure if I’m dating him). The last time I did anything physical in a romantic way with anybody was a few years ago and I had a flashback and dissociated. I’ve done a lot of work since then, but PTSD still impacts me and I feel like I need a partner to know this (not details maybe, but definitely the fact that I have PTSD and that sexual touching is likely to be a trigger inducing minefield for me and I need to know that somebody is willing to be there to work through it with me (to some extent) and also to be there while I work through it for myself (to some extent) but everything I read basically says ‘don’t tell people you have ptsd because it’s an overshare.’

  9. Thorn said:

    To the LW: I have no experience with EDs, but the situation regarding “getting calories into you” reminds me of something a friend of mine experiences.

    When she hasn’t eaten in a while, she gets HANGRY. She goes from delightful companion to vicious snarling in relatively short order, and she’s generally such a cheerful, even-keeled person that it’s kind of shocking. (Whereas I’m a sarcastic pain in the ass – I’m always about three steps away from vicious snarling, y’know? grin.)

    Her partner of many years has learned to recognize these signs, and will do much like what Darryl does – “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?… How about I make you a little something….?” Part of the key, in these situations, is that my friend’s partner doesn’t make her a giant meal. He makes her something that’s enough to take the edge off, so that then she can kind of think straight again and be able to contribute to conversations like “What to do about dinner” or what-have-you.

    Perhaps it would help Darryl help you to kind of go, “You know, I really appreciate that you’re looking out for me. But making a big ol’ meal is actually kind of overkill and tends to send me off-balance in the other direction. I did some thinking and I taped a short list of suggestions to the inside of the cabinet door, of things that would REALLY help me out in those moments.” (For my friend these are things like an egg and a piece of toast, or a piece of toast with peanut butter on it, or a small stack of cheese and crackers – something on the order of a protein-rich afternoon snack. But of course your list would be tailored to your needs. IF writing such a list would work for you at all, of course! You’re also allowed to say, “I appreciate you looking out for me, but it’s actually most helpful if you just give me space to sort my own shit out.”)

    When my husband and I first started living together, there was a stretch where we struggled with “how much help is the right amount.” Like I’d say, “Hey, can you pass me my sweatshirt? I’m a bit chilled.” and he’s respond by going into the bedroom to bring out the comforter. Something in HIS brain kept going, “Well, if a little is good, then MORE IS BETTER! I will be the bestest partner EVER! MORE!” Which is a sweet impulse, but also kind of obnoxious over time, y’know? Things got much easier for us both when we committed to stating our wants/needs as clearly and specifically as possible (which includes being specific about what’s optional, like: “I want something warm and homey, like pot pie or meat and mashed potatoes… something involving gravy… something in that vicinity. But I don’t have any preference as to specifics.”) People thought we were weird, because it wasn’t “romantic” but the thing is, it WORKED. And now it’s pretty great, to be able to know that if I say, “I need XYZ,” he’s going to come back with X and Y and Z, nothing more and nothing less.

    As a side note: A long time ago I came across the notion of the “Designated Patient” (or on Wikipedia, the “Identified Patient.”). It’s described there as a thing in dysfunctional families, where one person becomes the “One With All The Problems” and everyone else gets to pretend that they’re “normal” and don’t contribute to the family’s collective mess. I think, especially for those of us with abuse in our pasts, it’s easy to fall into that sort of dynamic in new relationships as well, though obviously not to the same extent. I spent a lot of years with Mr. Thorn thinking, “Oh, if there’s some weirdness going on in our relationship, it must be MY baggage that’s causing it.” Many years later, having dealt with most of my baggage and realizing some of the same problems were still cropping up, I realized, “Oh, wait! I’M not the only one with baggage around here!”

    Mr. Thorn was and IS generally awesome, but he’s human and had a life and a history before me, and some of that resulted in baggage. I’m sure Darryl is also human and had a life and a history before you, and some of that probably resulted in baggage for him as well. So, you know, you’re not the only one bringing weirdness to the party, y’know?

    Hope this helps, and best of luck to you!!

    • SM said:

      That’s such a good point – who’s to say that Darryl’s past relationships don’t also contribute to his behavior and preferences? And if he stated a preference simply (I really like to cook for you because it makes me feel helpful) I have a feeling that the LW would be understanding, since they seem very aware of being a good partner to Darryl. So LW can start thinking in those terms – “if Darryl said to me, I love when you cook but really prefer lighter foods like a, b, c, would I be insulted? Would I be receptive?”

    • solecism said:

      I am one of those hangry potential types. I’ll be fine, and then when I get past a certain point of needing to eat I head into meltdown right quick. It’s kinda frightening. I try to always keep a snack and water at hand always. And my partner is very vigilant and insistent about breaking off social time with friends to feed me at appropriate intervals. I think zie loves the caretaker role, but I worry it’s because zie has a trauma history and doesn’t want to be triggered by me in my worst state so zie is doing the preemptive management of problematic person. Sigh.

      • Yup. I have hypoglycemia and anemia and all sorts of fun related issues that mean I get HANGRY!RAWR and/or actually see grey spots and fall down in a nauseated heap on the floor if I don’t eat often and plenty. I now have snax on hand in purse and at work, but can 100% vouch that it isn’t personal when one becomes HANGRYMUNSTER or a wilting fern-person, and most people are absolutely OK with you taking care of yourself so you can avoid the Hangries and the Faints. Likewise, most partners don’t take offense when you specify what you need as far as your needs re: frequency of meals and quantity/type of food available, and they may or may not even need the additional data that your need is due to being concerned about a low blood sugar fit.

        • Ha! My husband calls me The Hungrymunster for this exact reason🙂

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          I once had an incident where a friend had basically promised to cook a meal for me and my partner, and when we showed up at his place, he A) wasn’t home and B) didn’t actually have the necessary supplies when he did turn up. So we had to make a trip to the grocery store. I had already had a long day and proceeded to do a not-so-slow boil through the shopping trip, whereupon my partner bought me a chocolate bar and said, “Eat this, because otherwise I’m afraid you’ll kill and cook [Friend] for dinner.”
          Yeah, low blood sugar hits me right in the rage centre.

          • Mel Reams said:

            Hi there, me🙂 I would’ve reacted the exact same way in that situation. Low blood sugar hits me right in the rage centre too, and since that’s something I’ve known about myself for a very long time I warn people about it and try to have snacks with me. It brings out the very worst in me, on top of the low blood sugar issue, when people who I’ve clearly warned about how I’m really not kidding when I say I need to eat don’t take me seriously and then act surprised about my completely predictable near-murderous bad mood when my blood sugar gets too low.

          • RSVP said:

            Hmm, hence that Snickers commercial where a thug with an axe turns into Marcia Brady after eating one.

          • juliusapweiler said:

            “I’m afraid you’ll kill and cook [Friend] for dinner.”

            …well to be fair, it sounds like [Friend] had it coming…

    • Jackalope said:

      That is an awesome idea! (I may appropriate for myself, since I also become impossible when I haven’t eaten for awhile, although I’m getting better at knowing when that moment is coming up so I can stave it off.)

    • Quoting @Thorn above: ‘When my husband and I first started living together, there was a stretch where we struggled with “how much help is the right amount.” Like I’d say, “Hey, can you pass me my sweatshirt? I’m a bit chilled.” and he’s respond by going into the bedroom to bring out the comforter. Something in HIS brain kept going, “Well, if a little is good, then MORE IS BETTER! I will be the bestest partner EVER! MORE!” Which is a sweet impulse, but also kind of obnoxious over time, y’know?’

      My beloved husband does this ALL THE TIME. I adore him and appreciate the impulse behind it but I find it REALLY hard, not least because I hate waste. He does almost all the shopping as he is retired.

      Me (with a cold, not normally a Ribena drinker): “Could you get me a bottle of Ribena? Just a small one. Not the sugar-free one.”
      Him: returns with three big bottles of Ribena, in three different flavour combinations, including a sugar-free one.
      Consequence: Two and half bottles of it get wasted.

      Me: “We’re out of fruit – better add it to the shopping list.”
      Him: Returns with loads and loads of fruit, including things like raspberries which are out of season and don’t keep.
      Consequence: I end up eating my head off or letting it go rotten. Or having to make banana bread, which he doesn’t eat.

      Me: “I’m having lunch at home to day.” [Thinks: I’ll finish off that bit of Brie and that last apple.]
      Him: Comes home with paté, two mini-quiches, Scotch eggs, a new piece of cheese, a head of celery and two cartons of gourmet soup.
      Consequence: I end up eating nearly-past-its-sell-by-date food for a week.

      • The part of me that loves food but does not have the spoons to learn how to cook a proper meal is kinda envious; the part that has been single by choice for three years is wincing sympathetically.😉

      • Saira Ali said:

        Oh my god. Mine does that too. “Can you pick up another carton of that coconut water I liked last week?” –> ordering 48 cartons on Amazon Prime, and then I’m stuck guzzling the coconut water long past when I’ve gotten well and truly sick of it. Twelve years together and I still haven’t figured out how to curb that impulse.

        • Thirty years, five and a half months, and counting. Saira Ali, don’t hold yer breath!

          Reminder to self: eat that gourmet soup tomorrow, whether you want it or not, as it goes out of date on Monday.

      • It’s like he’s trying to show how much he listens to and anticipates your needs, but ironically ends up NOT fulfilling your needs because he’s not actually listening to you.

      • Kitai said:

        My mum does the same thing! I’ll mention offhand that I liked X food (like croissants) when I went overseas as a lovely, light, low stress, alliterative breakfast. Next thing I know, it’s been a few months and she’s still buying me croissants even though I’ve said that I don’t really like the type she buys and I’ve had more than enough to last me the next couple of years. I agree with what Run Amok says, in that it seriously is like she’s trying to show how much she cares about what I tell her, but in doing so ignores what I’m actually saying…

    • Thank you sooo much for this reminder. I have both a past which includes some abusive relationships, and a chronic physical illness; between the two it is so very easy to fall into the trap of thinking of myself as the Weak, Cared-For One, which is frankly a role I hate. Yes, my husband does a lot more of the physical tasks at home than I do, including sometimess stuff like bringing me supper because it doesn’t cost him noticeable spoons to go downstairs to the kitchen and come back up again, and it does me. That’s a thing. But I also notice when his eyebrows start to squunch up from tension and smooth it out of them before he gets a headache — hey, licensed massage therapist; headrubs are something I do well! And search the net to locate the item or information he wants and order it/have it in his in-box so he doesn’t have to spend time hunting for it. And whatever else happens to fall within my personal range more than they do his.

      I think the corollary to remembering that other people have baggage too (and are allowed to, and you’re allowed to sometimes be in the role of support as they deal with that baggage — or person on whose foot that baggage was set down, and it really needs to be moved) is that the Designated Patient is also the competent one sometimes — the one who’s pulling the household’s weight in their own unique ways — and should both be allowed to do that and recognized/recognize themself for doing it. We’re not just a burden on our loved ones… even when we have loved ones who care so much for us and are such great people that they wouldn’t *mind* our being 100% The Patient, it is rarely true. And it feels great to be able to acknowledge to myself that I am sometimes also the caregiver. I suspect that’s true for other Designated Patients as well.

    • duaecat said:

      Oh man, the overachiever. My father’s like that sometimes
      “Can you pick up some cheap hotdogs at the store for me? The ones that are like a dollar.”
      And then he shows up with takeout from the most expensive place in town and I’m going “That’s… that’s very nice. But what am I going to hide the dog’s pills in?”

  10. cavyherd said:

    Making a simple request, when one’s internal reaction is Fraught, is remarkably difficult. I do a lot better these days* than I have historically, but resisting the impulse to Justify still takes a lot of focused effort. It’s like there’s this conversational void after Request that just really really wants to be filled up, and justification and defense are so readily on tap.

    * Thanks in no small part to this venue right here.

    • solecism said:

      My partner is like this. Lots of justification and defense for either expressing a need or declining my ask. It makes me sad to see this ongoing evidence of past trauma. OTOH, zie now is comfortable saying no to my asks. Took a few years to get to that point. And zie is doing better verbalizing hir wants and needs to me. I also work harder at prefacing my asks and offers of assistance with the explicit reminder that it’s okay to say no.

      So progress and negotiation are possible. It is possible to live in the now without unpacking the baggage in the middle of it all every time. Take heart, LW! The offered scripts are all very useful.

    • Thorn said:

      Yes yes yes yes! I have totally gone through that kind of thing as well – that feeling of needing to justify my boundaries, and then realizing that doing so made me feel like I was apologizing for having boundaries at all!

      And that “conversational void after Request” is something that took me a looong time to work through. I just could NOT leave that silence alone. So what I wound up doing, rather than trying to explain WHY I had a boundary, is that I would elaborate on WHAT the boundary was better.

      So like, using LW’s video gaming example, after saying, “Please don’t advise me on how to do my gaming better.” Instead of justifying that boundary, explaining my history and whatnot, I would elaborate like, “Downtime for me means no optimizing performance or maximizing blahblah. I just want to relax, so I don’t care if I don’t rack up as many points or take longer to complete the level.” Another alternative could be something like, “For me, part of the satisfaction is figuring it out myself.”

      For me, that was a good compromise – it satisfied the compulsion to “explain” without undermining my own feelings. And eventually, I didn’t even feel the need to do that.

      (Also, for anyone dealing with atypical neurologies, that kind of information can be hugely helpful. But that’s a whole side thing.)

      • 5YearsOfLW said:

        Ooh, that’s helpful. I get caught in the I Need To Explain I Can’t Just Have Preferences trap way too often, I think.

      • As someone who possesses one of those atypical neurologies, I am convinced that There Must Be a Reason for Everything. I used to provide that reason all the time, even if the recipient of my request didn’t honestly care, just because I sometimes needed to outline it to myself. Thanks to this very blog, I’m learning that, while there is always a reason, it doesn’t always have to be articulated, though it’s still a work in progress (suffice to say I’ve fallen victim to the “BUT WHYYYYYs” a few more times than I care to reflect on). Still, it is possible for even those of us whose brains are attuned to the extra-special cable package to adapt!

    • BB said:

      The conversational void is a THING, yes! I need to rehearse a thanks and pivot to something pleasant instead of the Justify.

  11. pinksilkjournal said:

    I’ve always struggled with thinking my preferences are valid, and have held my trauma as a trump card in case a person didn’t care to bother about my preferences. If they didn’t care about just me, then this awful thing that happened to me will pull sympathy out of them and I will get what I need and want! It evolved over time to me reflexively leading off with the trauma, to skip the part where they reject* my requests on my merit/word alone.
    LW, you get to request things because you want them or they upset you or whatever. You don’t even have to say why you want or don’t want something. Asking for your preferences to be noted and your wants and needs cared for is totally okay and not selfish or out of place.

    *No idea if this would happen or not since I skipped it so often.

  12. Tana said:

    I think maybe regarding the food thing, I have someone in my household that will literally forget to eat sometimes, it’s NOT an ED or anything, it’s just memory problems, but instead of making loads of food what I do is “Hey have you eaten today, I didn’t see you eat?” And the answer could be “yes I had lunch when you weren’t here,” or “Nope, not hungry,” or “OMG forgot to eat lemme go eat, or make me an x please?”

    The point being there’s a difference between “hey you’re not eating again, just FYI,” and letting the person deal, and that does BTW mean, saying it once and letting it go for at least a day in between, and making huge meals that just turn the person off.

    Might not work for the OP but it might, to say “Hey guy, if you think I’m not eating just tell me, then leave it alone, I can handle it and if I want you to make me something I promise I’ll ask.”

  13. Cleo said:

    This isn’t really off-topic, though it may seem so: I am beginning to hate that Adele song with the fire of a thousand suns. As the dumped, blind-sided, it-has-taken-me-years-to-process-out-all-the-toxins-of-how-the-relationship-ended party, you can bet I am not picking up the phone for that apology. The line that really kills me is the self-pitying “it doesn’t tear you apart anymore.” Yeah, sorry to disappoint you by getting over it. Asshole.

    Ok, that felt good. Carry on!

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha! “MOVE ON, ADELE. Quit calling your exes & showing up at their doors!”

      • Cleo said:

        Amen to that!

      • (roffle)!

        As the cheated-on and dumped party in an early relationship, which I have long since gotten over, I can vouch that there are few things less welcome than the Surprise Adele Reach-out from an ex.

        Me (right after the break-up): Just so you know, I am not going to contact you and I do not want you to contact me, once I move out.
        Ex (right after the break-up): No worries, I have no plans to contact you. You can always call me if you need to, though.
        Me: Excellent. That seems like it would be for the best. I will not be calling you. Good-bye.

        ** swirly “time passing” FX here **

        Me (YEARS and YEARS after the break-up): Every four to six months, my ex sends me an email, tries to call me, “bumps accidentally into me” in public places, sends me messages via former mutual friends, and/or seeks me out on social media. This is done ostensibly to apologize for who knows what. I have never once responded. We broke up in 1997.

        NO MORE SURPRISE ADELE REACH-OUTS. DO NOT WANT.

        • 5YearsOfLW said:

          Haha, funny related story- after Kris and I broke up, they actually sent me an Adele Reachout a few months later, asking if I was still alright and if my mental state had gotten worse. THANKS

        • WilhelminaMildew said:

          I think I have you beat (NOT that this is a prize worth winning {:-P )

          I have a similar ex, only I don’t get the in-person stuff because he long ago moved to a state hundreds of miles away- though I have had to block him MULTIPLE times on social media (he keeps making new accounts to try to friend me), and he once weaseled my cell # out of someone and called over and over again, leaving voicemails that were just music since I never answered any of the calls (eleven calls in five minutes one time, I was dating my now husband and finally *he* answered and told the ex to fuck off.)

          I broke up with this guy in 1989. That’s right, NINETEEN EIGHTY FUCKING NINE. I Last spoke to him in 1991. Though, after the third or fourth Facebook friend request + ‘friendly’ message talking about how his daughter idolizes me and his wife hates me because he talks about me all the goddam time, I responded with a terse ‘LEAVE ME ALONE’ before blocking him yet again. It seems to have worked, as I haven’t heard anything since, though a mutual friend from way back told me a year or so ago that the ex wanted to know if I was still married and couldn’t understand why I was mad at him. (The mutual friend from way back played dumb.)

          I just don’t even with people like that. “My ex hasn’t spoken with me in nearly 25 years, won’t answer or return my calls, and blocks me every time I try to contact her! I guess that means I’m not trying hard enough!”

          • Good Lordt. That does win the prize, not that either of us want it!

      • Courtney said:

        Ugh. This. I just broke up with a boyfriend about two weeks ago. He left my keys in an envelope by my door (with a note, which I threw away without reading). I had his emails filtered straight to the trash can and his calls on block. Last week, I got a 6-page snail mail letter from him. I scanned the first couple of paragraphs and threw it away. It mentioned “my last email,” so out of morbid curiosity, I ran a search for his addy in the trash bin. There were more emails from him than there had been days since our break up. I’m assuming there were also calls & texts, but my phone doesn’t log blocked numbers.

        I finally sent him an email explaining that I’m not reading what he’s sending me, so he shouldn’t bother.

        A few years ago when that whiny Gotye song “Somebody I Used to Know” was on radio power-rotation, a friend of mine posted on FB, “Someone please, explain to that guy that an ex who never calls you again is a GOOD thing.”

        • Drew said:

          Congratulations on excellent boundary management!

        • blackbird said:

          The best part of that Gotye song is when finally she gets to tell her part of the story – I always feel like “Yup, you got what you deserved”

          • basketcasenz said:

            Agreed! The gaslighting that song indicates when she’s telling the story – good thing she got out!

    • Each time I hear a new Adele song for the first time, I’m like “HOLY UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS, BATMAN” and wonder how anyone could like anything about the song. “I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited / but I couldn’t stay away / I couldn’t fight it”? That is a scary thing that stalkers say! “I must have called a thousand times / To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done / But when I call you never seem to be home”? GET A HINT, STALKER. IT’S OVER AND GOOD RIDDANCE.

      And then the song comes on again, and her velvet voice croons through the speakers, and before I know it, I’m eagerly belting out the words. Curse her amazing vocal talents! (*shakes fist*)

      • Cassandra said:

        Thank you! I agree so much about the Deeply Troubling Implications of some of her songs. Lovely voice, creepy lyrics.

        • The Awe Ritual said:

          Funny, but when I heard it, a piece of baggage fell off. For years, I hhad been telling my gut that, nooo, really need to move on, we don’t even like Corporal Craptastic, but gut still constantly shrieked, “NOOO! CC is the One True Love, I need approval, I need CLOSURE, CC will stop being such a giant tit and give me back my Complete Calvin and Hobbes and apologize for saying those awful things,” and I would, about twice a year, feel compelled to write letters I never sent, full of mind-numbing, drooling asshattery that amounted to “I fucked you up by not standing up to your abusive behaviors, please forgive yourself for abusing me… I’m sorry.”

          And I heard that song, and suddenly my gut said, “Wow, this song is exactly me… and so, so stupid. Okay, so, is it Tuesday? I want tacos.” So, bad song, good result, for me.

          • Courtney said:

            This is awesome!

      • E said:

        I was telling my siblings that if you imagine a man singing her songs, it’s instantly 1000x creepier.

        “Hello.”

        “It’s me.”

        SCREECH SCREECH SCREECH

        • ε=ε=(ノ゜Д゚)ノ

      • Polychrome said:

        I like to think, though, that is what Adele songs are *for*? The ridiculous, over the top feels that you never ever would act out in RL but which you sort of playact out at the top of your voice in your car? Cause like… you are allowed to want to call your ex a thousand times. You just shouldn’t actually do it. You can dramatically sing along with Adele (pantomime nuzzle fur wrap [also no good, should’t really wear fur]) and cathartically imagine doing it.

        FLINGS OUT ARMS IN A SWIRL OF LEAVES, EXEUNTS IN A WHOOSH OF WINDBLOWN BIG HAIR.

        • clodia said:

          Yes yes yes yes yes. Roll around in the feels and then never ever follow them up with action.

          • JenniferP said:

            Absolutely!

          • thathat said:

            See also: “Every theatre kid who ever soulfully sang ‘On My Own’ over and over again during their teenage years.”

          • slythwolf said:

            I was definitely that theater kid! @Fifteen-year-old-me, you’re on your own because you never tell them you are interested. Gazing soulfully and thinking really hard at them to like you back is not a viable courtship strategy!

        • There were a few times where, due to weather patterns being what they are in the Rockies, I had to avoid the mountains entirely when driving between Denver and California. That required going through my ex’s hometown where, as far as I know, he has lived ever since the breakup. I liked to blast 21 during that portion of the trip, even though I was the one who dumped him and wouldn’t take him back for any length of time for any amount of money, because I am still kind of (okay, VERY) pissed about his behavior during our time together and belting, “We could have had it ALLLLLLL, rollin’ in the deeeeeeep…” was quite therapeutic.

      • Michelle said:

        I have to admit, the first time I heard the song, I thought Adele was talking about someone who was dead, and the whole song was a metaphor for how they couldn’t forget the person who died.

      • oregonbird said:

        This is how I feel about Tom Jones.

    • Oh gosh – I’ve been crying over that song all the time because I had for some reason assumed that the narrator is someone who’s died and is mourning that people have apparently forgotten them… And it’s just about an EX?!? GAH!!!

      • marceline said:

        i read an interview with adele where she discussed that it’s not meant to be about an ex else at all – it’s more about looking back on how she used to be and feeling how different she is now. however, of course, it is framed in the song as romantic. but for me it’s so powerful to know she had more personal ideas about it.

        • cincin said:

          yes! finally! she said that the person she’s called a thousand times is her younger self. the person she wants forgiveness from, broke the heart of, is her younger self.
          now y’all gon’ listen to it, again, with this in mind. sing it out! to YOUNG YOU

      • miss_chevious said:

        I think both interpretations are valid ones (and I like yours a lot better)!

      • Mel Reams said:

        That interpretation is brilliant and I’m going to use it from now on😀

      • Frith said:

        I heard her say in a radio interview that it’s about losing touch with her non-romantic childhood friends and feeling sad about it.

    • THIS.

      One radio station recently made this point by following “Hello” with Elle King’s “Exes and Ohs” and although it’s not an exact match, I continue to wonder if that was intentional.

    • Jackalope said:

      “This isn’t really off-topic, though it may seem so: I am beginning to hate that Adele song with the fire of a thousand suns. As the dumped, blind-sided, it-has-taken-me-years-to-process-out-all-the-toxins-of-how-the-relationship-ended party, you can bet I am not picking up the phone for that apology. The line that really kills me is the self-pitying “it doesn’t tear you apart anymore.” Yeah, sorry to disappoint you by getting over it. Asshole.

      Ok, that felt good. Carry on!”

      Yeah, WHY does she think her ex will answer, exactly? (Especially if she’s called a THOUSAND TIMES. Umm, figure it out; your ex doesn’t want to talk to you.) And even if the ex hasn’t gotten over it, and is still being torn apart by it, that’s NOT the sort of thing you’re going to share with the person who broke your heart and then started stalking you because she feels guilty about it. You keep your heartbreak and your tears to yourself, and present a strong front to the lousy ex that’s stalking you.

    • HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA *sob*. I had to African Violet the two friends I made last year, including my very own Mr. Walking Adele Song (letter 804). I still love her voice, but I really want to write a song from the ex’s viewpoint that would probably just be the lyric, “FUCK OFF AND TAKE A HINT ALREADY JFC” over and over again. Belted out in an operatic fashion, of course.

    • Sue Wilson said:

      I don’t think anyone has to take her songs as either literal or romantic.

    • Jenn said:

      Can I add my dislike for ‘Someone I used to Know’? I mean I get that it sucks that you lost a relationship and a person you cared about buddy. But you were having an affair with this person. Of course they don’t want to act like your ‘best buddy’ in public. Especially since they went back to their other partner.

  14. Elf Krystal said:

    As a people pleaser, my preferences were always pushed aside in an effort to keep everyone on an even keel. This always doing for everyone else slowly both wore me down and filled me with deep resentment. That slow boiling cauldron of anger would finally blow when the last straw was reached, such as the revelation that an ex partner had deceived me for a year about what he was doing all day instead of work/study. The Captain is so spot on when she wrote:
    “Dysfunctional relationships teach you those things even harder. You survive and are left with a tangle of lessons & preferences & NOPE reactions, ”

    How do the past bad experiences still affect me? To this day am afraid of meeting former Darth Vader husband on the street of my home city and therfore avoid going to some nice places almost 2 decades later. Why should that bastard still have power this long into the future? Sometimes play out scenarios in my head of what I woud tell him if ever did meet him. Then just glad our paths don’t cross.

    People aren’t perfect, and you learn to live and accommodate each other with care and affection and good intent.
    That is the the key, the love and good intent, which Mr. Elf always has. =)

    Our most excellent Captain started with a poem, here’s another:

    Ars Poetica (Horace, 20 BC)

    “It’s not enough for poems to be beautiful: they must be persuasive
    and able to lead the soul of the hearer wherever they want.
    As we grin among those who are smiling,
    so we tend to well up around those who weep.
    If you want me to cry, you must first feel anguish
    Then your misfortunes will move me, O Peleus or Telephus;
    if you speak inappropriately, I will doze off or laugh out loud:
    sad words require a mournful expression,
    angry ones need a face full of menace,
    Naughty words suit a playful mood,
    serious words go with sober topics.”

    Cheers, All.

    • wait, a YEAR? i’m gonna say that deserves a blowup all on its own.

      does anybody know the scene in The Full Monty where Gerald’s wife finds out he’s out of a job? and she’s not even angry about the embarrassment of their things being repossessed in full view of the neighbors, she’s angry that he didn’t trust her? she wasn’t wrong.

      • erm, by which i mean, many many sympathies from a fellow people pleaser and conflict avoider. it sounds as though you would have been justified in your anger many times over.

      • My ex lied about being on track to finish his degree his last semester of college, which was one year later than he was originally supposed to graduate. He maintained the illusion right up until the day before graduation, even telling me that his parents were in town for the commencement but were occupying themselves and would meet us before the ceremony, which was totally unlike them as well as all but the most dysfunctional families who fly thousands of miles to spend commencement weekend watching their child start a new life. I’m not sure how long he planned to keep the deception going–I would’ve been almost amused to see what excuse he came up with if we’d gone to the ceremony and his name never got called.

        P.S. Reader, I stayed with him another two years after I found this out. Oh, the stern conversations I wish I could have with Early Twenties NTNA.

        • i actually don’t have any words. purely gobsmacked.

          • nottakennotavailable said:

            Heh. I’m more gobsmacked at myself for putting up with that crap as long as I did. The sad thing is, when I finally got him to level with me, I was completely and utterly blasé about the whole revelation because that’s how in-character this kind of behavior was for him.

        • Cactus said:

          My ex lied about being on track to finish his degree (he was two years older than most people are when they get a BA, which wouldn’t be a big deal EXCEPT that the reason this took so long was failing out of College #1, changing majors at least twice, and failing a few classes here and there at College #2, spiraling downwards towards the end…) He lied to his whole family, too. In the weeks leading up to finals, which he must have known he was going to screw up utterly, he dumped me out of the blue via e-mail, with some very cruel assessments of my character in a follow-up e-mail. After finals were over, he told me a giant sob story and I…stupidly…took him back.
          He was the second guy I dated ever, and the second one to flunk out of college during our relationship.
          He didn’t go to the same level of trickery as your ex, though, so at least that’s something.

          • nottakennotavailable said:

            Yeah, I totally get that people have different times when they start and end college, if they do so at all – I taught at a community college for a year, fer FSM’s sake! With mine, though, I’m sure he felt ashamed and that led into the ensuing lying and drama, and THAT is a big deal. Yours sounds like a real peach, too…I’m not sure if being ditched by email with unnecessary is better or worse than lying until it becomes impossible to do so anymore. Ugh. I can’t exactly say as I’m excited about turning 30 in a couple months, but man am I glad I’ll never be 24 again.

  15. B. said:

    Happy blog-anniversary, everyone, and many happy returns!
    LW, I don’t have anything of substance to add to the Captain’s advice, just lots of sympathy and jedi hugs if you want them. Dealing with triggery behaviours in a new not-icky context can be super hard, and I’ve had my fair share of awkwardness over that. Good news, tho: no matter how awkward the moment is, people who care are just interested in making an effort not to do the thing that upsets you around you, since they don’t want you to be upset. Luckily, Darryl sounds caring🙂 I’d say you guys’ll be able to find a way to talk about & stop the upsetting behaviour with minimum awkward and minimum annoying. Lots of luck and good wishes!

  16. Book_Belle said:

    Person recovering from an ED here! LW, I so sympathize with you on the being-stuffed-with-food front. I had a couple of abusive partners in the past who, after I disclosed my ED to them, took it upon themselves to make heavy meals and shame/taunt/ridicule me every time I indicated I wanted some steamed veggies (which I actually do like very much, ED or no ED) or fruit instead. I ate the food out of guilt/pressure, and then felt so bad afterwards, and the cycle just got worse and worse. Plus they would make snide comments about my eating habits or about the food I made for myself (I also have a lot of digestive issues), insinuating that it looked disgusting or that they could make something “better.” Fun times. /sarcasm/

    Now that I am free of those relationships (and in therapy), I have found that people commenting on my food intake is a huge NOPE. I think it’s crass for adults to mind other adults’ plates anyway, but am especially triggered when an SO takes it upon themselves to critique how I eat and insist that I can optimize it to meet their standards.

    Sometimes explaining my digestive issues is enough. Sometimes not. I also come up against people thinking that they must all be eating The Same Thing at The Same Time or there is No Bonding, which I don’t understand. Perhaps if you each made something different that suited your different preferences and ate them together, would that help things? Ultimately when and how you eat is up to you, and here is another voice in the chorus asserting that yes, you have the right to decide these things and no one else does, no matter how good their intentions.

    I wish I had scripts for you, but this is something I am still struggling with honestly. Solidarity and Jedi hugs if you want them.

    • SM said:

      I get that it’s easier to make one meal in a larger portion than two separate dishes… but maybe there’s a way to create a basic dish that each person can have “customized?” For instance, I hate mushroom and extreme spice, but my BF likes both – so sometimes if he’s making a pasta or salad and wants either thing, he’ll make the basic pasta/salad for both of us, then take half and add the stuff he likes. That way we’re not preparing two separate dishes, but each get tastes we like (and still get the shared dish bonding). Maybe there are similar compromise dishes the LW can find with Darryl – and maybe it’ll be fun to experiment and find those dishes, and what they each like to add to them?

      • Good idea! I used to do that with my husband a couple of years ago. He has ridiculously fast metabolism, does a lot of exercise and needs a LOT of calories, while I am very little and don’t need much and was trying to lose weight. I used to do stuff like grill plain chicken which I’d serve with a calorific sauce for him and salad for me, or a veggie curry that I’d add meat to for his portion. It was actually quite easy to manage.

      • Cassandra said:

        That is a really good idea.

      • Courtney said:

        My stepson went through several different varieties of picky eating and then ended up not being able to eat wheat. I got in the habit of making deconstructed meals–like pasta sauce with sauteed mushrooms on the side and two kinds of pasta (because wheat-free pasta is too expensive to just serve it to everyone who doesn’t need it.) Or when he went through a “no one but me can put the perfect amount of sauce on my dish” phase, I made Chicken Divan but didn’t assemble it: rice, broccoli, chicken breasts, cheese sauce. It was the Taco Bar approach: How best do I break this into individual parts?

      • Jackalope said:

        One of my nephews had some horrible food allergies (that he’s mostly outgrown, to the point where he might get hives but at least won’t die), and so we got used to this sort of thing. You keep Ingredient X out of the mix, and then each person adds their own, or you add Ingredient X last, but remove a portion first. Some things this doesn’t work for (I decided life was too short to learn how to make caramel rolls gluten-free, so my gluten-free co-worker got mousse instead [cuz homemade mousse is nearly as awesome as homemade caramel rolls, IMHO]), but I was surprised at how many things could be separated out.

        (I also found — this may help or not depending on what your food issues are — that cooking from scratch is a much easier way to do this, and for a lot of things it doesn’t take much more time. That way I can assure the person with allergies/sensitivities/specific preferences that the food they can’t eat is NOT in fact anywhere in what I made. That can take a bit more work, so YMMV, but it’s been helpful for me in my cooking.)

      • Charlotte said:

        It’s pretty standard for me and my husband to have a customized meal – I’m veggie and he isn’t. So, for example last night I did gnocchi in a spinach and ricotta sauce. I grilled myself a lump of tofu, and he had a chicken breast. A steak and chips night, that’s easy enough to adjust with a different protein portion for me. Even stir-fries are easy enough if you take a step to think about the different eaters preferences – massive wok full of veg, his meat strips in a small frying pan with half a bottle of sweet chilli sauce, my tofu and nut mix with soy in another. Does create more washing up, but the reduction in domestic tension and unhappiness is vastly worth it.
        A sous vide kit, if you can afford it, is also a great benefit in customization options, but it’s not a cheap solution.

        OP, you’re justified in saying “actually, I don’t fancy [X] – I’ll fix myself a [Y] to go with the rest of the meal instead” – or words to that effect.

    • sorcharei said:

      There are two things we do, both of which make other people look at us funny, but which I think have been key to our 27 years of successful marriage (so far, and *mostly* successful, as we’ve had our moments). They are . . .

      1. We have separate blankets. Each of us has our own top sheet and whatever blankets we want. We do not share blankets. Trust me, you can do this and still cuddle skin to skin.

      2. We generally do not eat the same thing for dinner. Sometimes we both want the same thing, so fine, we eat the same thing. But most days, no. We cook a pot of soup and two or three heavier things every weekend, plus several vegetable things. Salad stuff is always available, and we make sure that at least one of the weekend things can be repurposed into sandwiches, quesadillas, or pizza. When it’s time to eat, we assemble two plates of food and then sit down together and eat. ((When there were children present, this was slightly modified, but not as much as you might think.))

      I learned the first thing in a previous relationship, and we worked out the second on our own.

      • Temporary Null said:

        Separate blankets are the best!

      • Katamari said:

        Ditto with the separate blankets! Massive fluffy duvet for me, light blanket for him, and there are still plenty of cuddles.

      • RSVP said:

        My partner and I once stayed in a hotel in Munich where the double bed consisted of two narrower beds pushed together. So we not only got individual sheets and blankets, but separate mattresses. I’m tempted to try to recreate that when he rolls over and takes all the sheets and blankets with him for the umpteenth time in a night. Our male cat seems to have picked up the same amazing ability to hog the bedclothes – and he’s only 14 pounds.

        • ahardreset said:

          You can do this with a Sleep Number bed. It’s amazing — especially if you have different sleep numbers.

          • sorcharei said:

            If Sleep Number doesn’t work for you, you could try a Helix bed. My brother and his wife just got one, and they love it. He sleeps cold and likes firm firm firm, where she sleeps hot and likes medium firm. They both love the new bed, and said it only took a few minutes to organize the customizations. Cheaper than Sleep Number, too, I am told.

        • Cats are (the fluffiest, most adorable) assholes. Mine was 7 pounds. The usual ratio of bed space allocation was roughly 90/10, and I’m betting most cat owners can figure out which of us got what portion. I still miss him like nobody’s business and would happily give up the rest of the bed to bring him back, though.😦

          Sorry for the Debbie Downer moment.

          • slythwolf said:

            My 17-pound terrier mix does the same thing.

        • Ginger said:

          Two twin mattresses are about the same size as one King, and rather cheaper too! My fellow can toss and turn all night and I don’t notice.

        • Cactus said:

          Oh, I love that European hotels sometimes do that! The one we stayed at in Copenhagen did, and it was…comfortable.

    • Baytree said:

      I just Do. Not. Get. People who comment on the food choices of other adults, especially in a nagging or critical way. There are only two circumstances under which it’s appropriate to comment on another person’s food:
      1. To say how tasty it looks or maybe ask for a recipe/where they got it
      2. When they’ve asked you to.

      That’s it! It’s that simple!

      • misspiggy said:

        I think it’s part of the primeval tendency to worry at whether or not someone is Like Me and therefore Safe. Needs to be monitored and managed, or it becomes toxic in a world of genetic and cultural diversity.

      • Buttermilk said:

        My father presented this to me as a firm Rule of Manners which was Not to Be Broken Under Any Circumstances when I was a child. It’s shocked me as an adult the amount of commentary that people make about other adult’s food choices and just food in general. Never tell somebody that their food looks bad, people. It’s the height of rudeness!

        • I have a list of things you don’t say to people with food allergies, and the very first one is “WHAT do you EAT??”

          • winter said:

            Or “I could never do that”. *mumbles to self ‘do not get yourself started’*

      • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

        Slightly different ED here – food = comfort for me, my DH has long known that the way to keep/make me happy is to feed me… but since I also have emotional/psychological/physical traumatic damage and *issues* (long story, he’s also my caregiver) we’ve negotiated that “comfort” is to be a tiny treat, and anything/everything else needs to be healthy, low-fat, low-sugar, AND gf- & dairy- free… he can feed me BULK salad or steamed veggies but not chocolate. And both of us have fatigue & memory issues – again, explicit negotiations about *each* reminding the other to feed/hydrate/take pills.

        TL;DR just to say… it’s okay to say you need something different than what you’ve received, every person (and their jerkbrain/triggers) is unique. There is no one size fits all and saying so is okay and *good*.

        Jedi hugs and good luck LW own your awesome self🙂

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        Every so often I have legitimate curiosity about something someone’s eating and I will rehearse in my head about ten times the right tone of voice to say, “What’s that?” without having it come out with an undertone of “ewww”.

        • blackbird said:

          I found that the key to that is following the question directly with something along the lines of “That looks very yummy!” “Could you give me the recipe?” or “Where can I get that?”

      • book_belle said:

        Absolutely! If I hadn’t been raised in a family where making snide remarks about other people’s plates and food choices – when I still lived at home, my mom habitually stuck her face inches from my good, sniffed loudly, and then made a disgusted face – I might have seen this red flag for what it was.

        • Argh, seriously. Your description of your mom’s reaction sent my shoulders sky-high. Just…nope.

  17. Muffin said:

    LW, the Captain *nailed* it on this one. I want to emphasize something which is a small part of the response above, but which was huge for me: saying that you need something is enough. You don’t have to justify it. You don’t owe the person you’re talking to a long explanation or a story.

    As a person with a lot of trauma in my past, I often have felt like I need to include the trauma to explain why I need to set a boundary or have a preference, but actually, for me that explaining was just undermining my own confidence that it was ok for me to have boundaries. It felt like there had to be a *reason* for me to set the boundary, and it had to be a *good* reason… but then, of course, who gets to decide what’s a good reason? The more I practiced taking a deep breath and saying what I needed without any explanation or justification, the more I started to realize that it was fine (good, even!) for me just to have needs and set boundaries.

    A person who’s worth keeping around will respect your needs whether you explain them or not. For a person who doesn’t respect your needs, no amount of justification will ever be enough.

    Lots of Jedi hugs, LW. <33333

    • LegalBeagle said:

      Oh. So much this. Right in the feels.

      Epiphany for me when I realised this – you don’t need a reason to have boundaries or preferences. Your needs are valid because they are yours.

      Someone who cares will try to respect those needs, even if they mess up occasionally. Those that don’t will try and argue the reasonableness of said needs.

      Adding to the Jedi Hugs pile LW – it’s tricky, but with practice it does get easier to do, if not always easier to feel.

    • Guava said:

      This is such a very very very good point. Having come off of a week spent with my parents, I have realized anew what a steamrolling personality my mom has. Whenever I asked for something as a kid, her response was, “WHY?” and it was up to me to somehow prove or justify what I needed and provide examples and codicils in argument form for why it was important to me that I pick out my own clothes or choose my own friends or deserve something that was freely given to my sibling. And more often than not, she’d ignore me or forget our conversation, so I learned that there was no point in articulating needs, and also that I had to have a ‘fair’ or ‘real’ reason for needing to be accommodated.

      The idea that I can just say I need something, and that someone who’s supposed to care for me might listen, is mind blowing.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      I agree. That’s the concept that can be so hard to internalize if you’re used to giving up boundaries–that you have a right to them that other people will respect (or if they don’t, the problem is with them, not you).

      I would add that this requires some confidence about whose boundaries are whose, though. For example, if someone says, “Don’t do Thing X, it bothers me,” it’s not always something they have a legitimate say in. A classic example is parents in the ’60s not wanting their sons to wear long hair: son might be perfectly willing to respect parental boundaries in general, but not about something that genuinely has no effect on parents except that they don’t like the look/idea of it. If my partner asked me to cut my hair short (or keep it long, since I’m female), I’d be like, “No.” I wouldn’t care if they somehow felt this was their triggery boundary unless they explained the trigger/could show me how it affected them in a concrete way. Even then, I’d want to think it over for myself.

      The problem some of us have is that we see *all* boundaries this way. As in, we think none of them are just ground-level understandable but must all be justified.

  18. hangtown said:

    Happy anniversary!

    I think it’s fine to say some version of “stop doing this normal loving couple stuff because I have Brain Problems”. It’s not you, it’s not personal, but because of my past I am uncomfortable with (looking over my shoulder as I game, being urged to eat, being urged not to eat, whatever your brain problem is.) Loving partners can understand this and work with it. It’s not fair if you react like Darryl should have known – and you’re not doing that – but many of us have such things left over from exes, parents, teachers, etc. and explaining that isn’t wrong.

  19. Is that you, Grandma? Loved my grandmother, but she was convinced that if she was not feeding me or my cousins, she had failed as a grandmother. I tried to explain to her that I had not inherited her always 120 lb, 5’7″ frame and was instead battling weight that must have come from some throwback harvesting potatoes, stopping to give birth, and then continuing to work with a baby strapped to her back and powered by her ample, strong thighs, but she would not hear it.

    “Granma! I have been the fat kid! I don’t want dessert!” also did not work.

    I finally just had to learn to say, “No thank you.” “Nope. Still don’t want any strudel.” “Nope, don’t want any pupaki.” and not eat. (Even though I totally wanted to.) Broken record.

    (But how do you tell your sweet grandmother you do not want the Crisco can of cookies she has made for you and is sending with you on your flight back home? And the can does not fit in your bag? So you are walking through O’Hare with a can of what appears to be Crisco? Oh Lord.)

    • Eureka said:

      Those cookies make great office munchies, and you can tell grandma sincerely, “They were delicious!”

    • Alex said:

      Did she ever eventually take no for an answer? Mine would literally go through EVERYTHING IN THE FUCKING PANTRY unless I said yes to *something*. Like, she would start at ice cream and cookies and eventually get down to, “I have mandarin orange slices! I have fruit salad! I have pears in syrup! I could bake this cake mix for you!” WHAT PART OF NO ARE YOU NOT HEARING

      • Bless her heart may she rest in peace no. She never ever took no for an answer. She would have been absolutely indomitable had she had the opportunity for more education and a chance in the corporate world.

      • My mother is like this. She lists the entire contents of the kitchen.

        I laugh and tell her I’m not interested. She laughs and keeps listing.

        I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one of her compulsions. She has stated it might be.

        In her case, it’s harmless. But we’ve had a lot of this conversation:

        Her: Did you eat? There’s lettuce and arugala for salad and many soups.

        Me: I ate, I’m not hungry.

        Her: And lamb chops and chicken. Not that you eat chicken. Also there’s a very nice brie

        Me: I’m not hungry ma, you don’t have to list the fridge

        Her: …and also I got that Tuscan bean salad you like.

        Me: (guffaw)

        Her: I have to list it! (Laughs)

        Etc

  20. starsaphire said:

    Please tell me I’m not the only one to have clicked that link and expected to hear Todd Rundgren?

    I feel so old… 😉

    • Myrtle said:

      I did not click, but thought happily of Todd Rundgren, whom I’ve seen live three delightful times (including once in his semi-regular tour with Ringo and his All-Starr Band, hilarious, affectionate and solid muscianship) and look forward to seeing him again as he’s playing a date here very soon. And he clearly does not think of himself as old. Just as Todd as ever. Bang that drum all day! 😘

    • Nope, I expected it too.🙂

    • Suffice to say I wish I’d been alive to see the Doors perform in concert, so you’re not the only one with good taste in music.😉

  21. Mel Reams said:

    LW, if it makes you feel any better I once had to ask my husband not to use the word “done” when he texted to ask if I was ready for him to come pick me up from work. At the time I was working at a job that really stressed me out and the word done made me think about the mountain of work I still had to do and how ever being “done” felt like a dream that was completely and utterly out of my reach. I asked him to just ask me if I was ready to leave or something and please not use the word done.

    You are *not* weird if some “normal loving couple stuff” bugs you, and you are allowed to ask for changes without first making an air-tight case for why you want them.

    As a bit of a tangent, I wish everyone could just agree that giving “helpful tips” while someone plays a game is by default super annoying and should not be done unless the help-ee specifically asks for coaching. It’s a freaking game, nobody is going to be harmed if I suck.

    • I would go even farther and say that when not asked for advice about any activity (game or otherwise), and unless it is either required by your job to provide advice or there is a risk of physical harm that can be ameliorated by providing advice, then just don’t give advice.

      • Yes.

        As with the husband giving onion slicing advice, just Do Not Do It.

        • Hannahbelle said:

          Yes. I’d go further and include, say, the other-spatula-suggesting friend when I’m in the middle of using the current spatula that works just fine. Overhelping is very painful for the recipient, all the more because now we have to negotiate a polite “no thank you” plus our feeling of quit-optimizing-me in addition to whatever task we didn’t need the help with.

      • Bex said:

        Whew, boy. I was hugely guilty of that in the (recent) past and shudder at the memory! In my house growing up, crossword puzzles were a popular collaborative activity. The discovery that many people want to do crosswords by themselves, and that a request for help with one clue was not necessarily an invitation to help solve the whole puzzle, was pretty shocking. I think I handled it OK, without too much babbling about how fun my way was.

        • Hannahbelle said:

          Yeah, that kind of thing is easily forgiven as long as it hasn’t gone on too long. Another great reason to state boundaries (which can be oh so unwittingly family-specific) early and often.

  22. kzm123 said:

    Yes! I love this advice!

    One of the drums I regularly like to beat (or is a dead horse?) is that falseness of “Communication is good, so MORE communication must be better.” Sometimes, people need to rein in the details and the emotional history. There’s a time and a place and an audience for revealing that stuff. The coworker listening to talk radio in the office may not qualify. And believe it or not, your current loving partner may not qualify either, at least not right now, about this issue.

    I used to have a friend who unpacked everything when we spoke. She believed herself to be a beautifully open person who was introspective about her own issues, very self-aware, and an honest communicator. She was all those things, it’s true. And sometimes she made me want to nope the fuck right out of there.

    • Leemac said:

      Oh yeah. Sharing is good, but there absolutely is over-sharing. Unloading a whole bunch of stuff in what are supposed to be casual circumstances means that now I have to DEAL with it, in some way. I’m not a counsellor. And frankly, some of my own bells get rung.

      Then when your partner is one of these, will over-share on social media about stuff that involves you, where it’s visible to you, AND you have an extremely low embarrassment threshold… Oy.

  23. SMK said:

    I wanted to add in here – it’s 100% OK to not like things that society/your friend group/your co-workers/etc tells you is “Normal Relationship Stuff.” Relationships are not the Girl/Boy Scouts. You don’t have to collect a certain number of Normal Relationship Merit Badges in a certain order or get kicked out.

    Our version of this is those fb posts that go around every so often – “A real man doesn’t let a day go by without telling his woman how beautiful she is” or some such tripe. If Mr Sullie started warbling on and on about how beautiful I am, I’d check to see if he had been replaced by a robot or clone. That’s just not how we roll.

    • lilisonna said:

      There’s just so much wrong with that fb sentence that I’m recoiling in horror just at the thought.

      • Blech. Back before I let my blog lapse into the ether (note to self: Self, I know we think that we will actually get around to reading and acting on the WordPress notification emails about things like domain name renewals later, but we won’t actually, so don’t read them until we can take immediate action), I wrote a post about how I’m not beautiful. Not because I have self-esteem issues, but because beauty is not something I strive for. I’d rather be reminder that I’m intelligent, or have a sharp sense of humor, or am a good writer, or any number of things that have nothing to do with some funky external measurement that, current standards being what they are, I will never live up to in any event. I can see the value of a well-timed and not-infrequent compliment, but one that’s appearance-based like that would raise my hackles and therefore achieve the opposite effect to that intended.

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        Yup. I read it and thought, “And that’s why so many of us nerdgirls prefer fictional men.”

    • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

      Hah! My DH reads out every FB idiotic “happy wife happy life” and we eyeroll & joke about it – he quite literally just now said “figure you out?! I can’t figure you out, I’d go nuts trying”. We don’t have a standard relationship, we have *ours* and that’s fine.

  24. Dear LW,

    Here’s the only thing I might add to what the Captain advised:

    Darryl, please don’t give me advice on how to do things better unless I ask. In particular, please don’t give me gaming advice unless I ask.

    For food, the Captain seems so right. But I know it can be very hard to say you’re handling it, even if it is a baddish time.

    Maybe if you can say to him that you want to handle your ED with the pros, and you want him as your BF not your healthcare pro.

    I don’t know. Ending my ED took a while, and I still, more than 30 years later, won’t weigh myself. I get feeling triggered.

    Congrats on finding a good fellow and being in a better place!

  25. Lisa said:

    I love the matter of fact request scripts for stuff. I just did something similar for my partner around not leaving wrappers and random pieces of paper everywhere. Please throw the papers in the recycle bin when you’re done is way better than Gahhh You NEVER respect my space just like my father! It only took 15 years of marriage to up my communication game.

    So valuable. You’re allowed to have preferences, no matter where it comes from. Not every need has to be expressed with every emotion attached. +1000

  26. Anyanka said:

    Dear LW,

    I’ve found that the Captain’s approach of ‘don’t pre-emptively justify your boundaries/requests’ to be one of the most helpful approaches in my life. With people I really trust yeah, I’ll explain *why* it is that I can’t deal with certain things or I don’t like x, but honestly, you don’t need to, and once you’ve broken the habit of always providing Reasons Based On Your Past To Justify Everything, the more it becomes easier to focus on what you need/want now. Ever since I stopped trying to explain the exact mechanics of why certain things give me anxiety and instead just said firmly, “Please don’t discuss dystopia fiction in front of me, thanks”, it’s become a lot easier for me to be at peace with how my anxiety manifests. Sometimes justifying everything makes you feel like it’s not real or important enough by itself to matter, but your wants and needs *are*.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      “Reasons Based On Your Past To Justify Everything” is now one of my personal acronyms. I’m calling it RBYOP for short. (It probably applies to more things than overjustification, anyway.)🙂

  27. I don’t have much to add right now as I’m supposed to be asleep but Nth-ing the “I too forget (and sometimes straight up *don’t understand or believe*) that I can have boundaries and needs and wants without pre-emptively trying to argue for my needs by pointing out the various Brain Problems I have and the Bad Things That Happened To Me before my needs get taken seriously”.

    Sometimes, it’s important to let my partners know “This thing happened and it was bad and that’s why I am responding in an unexpected way to you doing a nice thing”* but when what I mean is “Stop doing the thing until I ask you to do the thing” that is a much more helpful and important thing to say!

    *For example, I have an extremely hard time talking about sex. And I tell partners this because I want to continue to try to talk about sex with them so I want them to trust me to end the conversation if I get too upset and not assume that me being upset during those conversations means “stop talking now because he’s upset”. And look, I just explained that here without even saying why this is!

  28. Jackalope said:

    Also, happy birthday/anniversary! And The Goblin Emperor is a book that I had sitting on my bed at this very moment when I began reading your post. This made me happy.

    • Helen Damnation said:

      So much love for The Goblin Emperor.

      • chi type said:

        If you like Goblin Emperor I recommend Half A King by Joe Abercrombie. Not quite as emotionally resonant as Goblin Emperor but a similar theme and a satisfying read.

        • Yay ! Goblin Emperor! Also, if you like Goblin Emperor you might like The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. (librarians roaming the multiverse preserving books, mostly set in Steampunk London)

  29. RSVP said:

    “I’ve been getting a bit less stable recently, however, and I’ve been sort of regressing.”
    Sometimes that actually happens when you’re in a place in your life where you feel safe, believe it or not. I was sexually abused by a relative as a young teen, but I wasn’t prepared to deal with it at the time, or even for several years afterwards. It was only when my live was starting to go well and I was in a stable relationship that I suddenly got started getting overwhelmed with feelings and memories. It was like “Oh really?? Now that things are finally going my way, THIS has to happen? Why now?”

    • It’s so counter-intuitive! To feel so bad when things are good! But it does make sense for our minds to go “well, we can handle it, now.” And we should take it in that light.

      • LR said:

        So true. It’s bizarre how the spectrum of your emotional experience can grow in both directions simultaneously – I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, while plumbing the deepest depths. Somehow living with what feels like should be mutually exclusive.

    • YUP! That was my PTSD — let’s stay on a super low simmer for years until you’re financially and emotionally stable, then AAAAAAAUGH. It’s surprisingly still good at occasionally doing that, although it’s more of a “oh so THAT’S why I have a visceral nope response to Raffi/writing in journals/something else totally innocuous” than “WHAT IS HAPPENING AHHHH”.

      Also, being triggered by Raffi, which is just… I don’t have words. But I’m super glad my family has “lost” their Raffi CDs in response because nobody saw that one coming.

    • Hannahbelle said:

      This was my experience, too, except I didn’t realize that it was happening. I had expected to be Fine Fine Fine once the bad stuff was behind me, but then all the accumulated psychological anguish suddenly wanted to make itself heard and known, so instead I got overreactive and thought I must have somehow jumped from the frying pan into the fire. (In retrospect, it was more of a fire-into-frying-pan situation.) I wish I’d known that being *safe* can actually make you feel worse at first (or even later when you least expect it).

  30. Panda Bandit said:

    I think Darth Vader Ex was insecure about his video game skills and was using criticism to sabotage the LW. It’s a very good idea to shoot the baddie that’s close to you!

  31. Part-time Jedi said:

    I like what The Captain is saying about not needing a lengthy justification based in trauma in order to state preferences about how Darryl interacts with you. If you don’t want to dredge up Kris, and all the feelings surrounding Kris, it certainly shouldn’t be required. You can just say, “I know that you are just trying to be helpful, but I don’t like it when you Do The Thing, so please don’t Do The Thing.” People who love you will do things just because it makes you feel better.

    But at some points, maybe you will want to dredge it up and go over it with Darryl. And that’s fine, too. It might be validating at some point to say “Kris used to Do The Thing and it was usually a lead in to This Shitty Thing, and it made me have bad feels, so please don’t Do The Thing,” and let Darryl reply with, “Wow, that sure is some bullshit. I am sorry that you had to experience it, and I will endeavor to be as little like that asshole as possible.” If Darryl is the good person that he appears to be, it will not be a chore or an annoyance to him to process those emotions with you, because he will want to do things that make you feel better*.

    It’s all about what you are comfortable with sharing at that moment with him.

    *Within reason, and as long as he is in a place in the time-space continuum where he can be emotionally responsive.

  32. resili0 said:

    I had a conversation with my partner a year into our relationship in order to help him know what kind of things I could handle independently and what indicates that I need support from him. I am recovering from mental ill health and have a history of abusive relationships. He very much wants me to take care of my own health and live my own life but there was an anxiousness about when it was right to step in if he noticed I was becoming unwell. Not having lived together and being a complicated sort of person, I had never thought about what sort of support I was prepared to accept and what felt overbearing/triggery.

    I used a Wellness Recovery Action Plan as a template and shared with my partner the signs that my unwellness was progressing beyond what was manageable. I shared the things I do to help myself and have him specific things he could do to support me. That gave him chance to ask about what matters without me having to get into the past stuff.

    It really helped us both to focus on the life we have now. He knows that he can show useful support that I will accept and he doesn’t have to watch out yo see if I have taken my meds or if I have eaten. If he has a concern, he knows how to raise it with me in a way we agree is respectful and I have affirmed that I will hear him out.

    Darryl sounds like he is coming from a good place. He might have all kinds of associations and ideas about how to support you that could do with adjusting. It’s ok to tell him what works because it saves a lot of time and pain where you both tip toe around because you don’t want to hurt his feelings and he wants to honour your past but has no idea that his support is misguided.

  33. Jack V said:

    I’m worried I had a slightly different reaction to most of CA’s reply.

    It’s always ok to say “actually, I really hate it when you comment on my play” or “thanks for offering to cook but I’d like X instead, can we make that”. But if LW wants their partner to drop the subject and never bring it up again ever for at least 10 years, it may be useful to say “X specific thing reminds of something stressful/makes me feel like abusive-ex is coming back/can make my eating disorder worse instead of better” not because you HAVE to justify it, but because it may make it immediately obvious to partner (a) what specific thing to avoid and (b) that it’s important and they shouldn’t try to clarify further, just stay clear and (c) that it’s that specific thing, and they don’t need to bother you asking if 100s of other things they said you also want them to avoid.

    • Jack V said:

      In retrospect, maybe “you’re not doing anything wrong but stop it”, covers the case better than what I tried to say…

  34. mooncalf said:

    Just had to say I totally agree with all those people commenting about over-justification of something that really only need be a simple request. I have background abuse and really struggle with this, and have noticed two things:

    1. When I use my history to justify my need, and my request is rejected, it feels like a rejection of the gravity of the abuse – like it is not important or I am over-egging the pudding (which in itself is a symptom of the abuse for me). If you request something, then you have to accept that the other party has the right to refuse, otherwise it is not a request (however reasonable) but a demand. (And then, if you are not getting what is important to you, you respond to that appropriately)

    2. And this is weirder… when I simply ask for what I need, and that need is met without fuss, there is a… ort of a let down feeling. I mean of course the overall result is good – things are functional. my needs are met, my OH isn’t feeling guilted into something he would willingly give etc. But I am expecting much more of a negative response, and am psychologically geared up for that and when it doesn’t happen, I have lots of emotional troops to demobilise and it feels weird. Sometimes it makes me want to cry or I feel angry. There is definitely an emotional hangover even from good results, that I have to deal with.

    I am getting slowly better at all this learning how to be me, even after many years since… The deconstruction of the effects of abuse is a convoluted path, and learning where to stop deconstruction is also a skill!

    • newlife said:

      That let down feeling – I have felt it too. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. What passive- aggressive action will follow this easy agreement to meet my needs?

      • Lou said:

        I also experience a sort of heartbreak. “That’s it? That’s ALL I had to do?” Tthe heartbreak comes from the realization that it SHOULD be that easy and isn’t.

        • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

          Yes… suddenly discovering the eggshells you were tiptoeing on are actually solid ground is disconcerting. How long have they been gone?

          • Hannahbelle said:

            All of this. And worrying that it won’t last/that it was your yearly freebie and you wasted it on something small/that you only get a certain number of eggshell-free moments in life so don’t relax or anything/that no, you’re actually a weirdo for being so paranoid about everything/except that was what you told yourself back when you were RIGHT to be paranoid/on and on and what the even hell, how did asking for something become so incredibly fraught and when will it all go away. But I’m assuming it gets better with lots and lots of successful practice.

    • FloweryHedgehog said:

      Yeah, the first time I ever told Mr. Hedgehog, “I really didn’t like the way you treated me over $CONFLICT” and he said, “I didn’t like the way I treated you either” and promised to do better, I had a similar kind of letdown. Because I had been bracing myself for the List Of Everything FloweryHedgehog Has Done Wrong Ever–the list that completely invalidates my right to complain about anything he ever does or request any better treatment. It took a lot of courage for me to speak up because I was so prepared for the fight, and then there just…wasn’t one. It’s a weird experience.

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        Wow. Yes.

  35. Nanani said:

    Everything the Captain said.

    Also, history or no, not wanting corrections when you are doing something FOR FUN is perfectly normal and understandable.
    Correcting women on how to do coded-male things like gaming is a common irritation of living in patriarchy; you are not overly sensitive or anything like that for disliking it.

    • Chiming in to concur on this. (And by “concur” I mean “sing high holy hosannas in praise of point 1 in the answer specifically because dear GOD that is annoying”.)

    • thepaintedlady said:

      Oh my god this exactly. I had never put words to this feeling, but my strictly-female-identifying hobby group has of late had a hanger-on in the form of the boyfriend of one of the other ladies and he is constantly pointing out mistakes and saying things like, “This is why this group annoys me because you all do Thing That I Don’t Do Because I Am Obviously Better Than You All Hail Manperson.” And this is exactly why I don’t like it. It is the assumption that he knows the right way to do the things because patriarchy and no one fucking asked him or even invited him along. Even when I know he’s right, it’s annoying because this is my space where I don’t have to hear how men know how to do things better than me.

      • Nanani said:

        Riiiight?!?!
        It’s like that one person dude in a group dungeon/co-op game who decides to tell everyone else how to do their job in the team.
        No one likes that guy when he’s a stranger on the internet, and nobody likes him in the living room either.

        • Laughing Giraffe said:

          I will never forget the time I met a dude through friends, and he got all excited because I mentioned that I did tabletop roleplaying. He seemed to get doubly jazzed, however, when I described a character I played, and he got the chance to say, “Well, actually, [members of a particular vampire clan] are always [members of a particular vampire organization].”

          • Kelly L. said:

            And that’s just silly of him. Everybody’s got antitribu!😉

      • CommanderBanana said:

        I advise (if for some reason you can’t remove/uninvite him posthaste from the hobby group) staring at him with a slack jaw after he makes such a pronouncement and blinking several times, then continuing your conversation as though he had not said anything, but had accidentally released a very terrible fart that you are all making an effort to ignore.

        This tactic has worked pretty well for me in the past, both on Mainsplainers and Offensive Joke Makers and Halping Optimizers. Combining it with the Raised Eyebrow of Polite Contempt really levels it up, too.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          That’s pretty much how it goes, yes. And no – his girlfriend is really lovely, and he has absolutely no boundaries to the point that she doesn’t have any hobby that’s exclusively just “hers.” She is worth dealing with him, or rather, she is worth continually making all the effort to disengage from interacting with him. And actually, the times that he’s around and keeps his mouth shut, I mostly don’t mind.

      • Hannahbelle said:

        There are guys who don’t do this, right? It’s not just a case of “This is how guys interact with each other in Guy World and they don’t realize it’s annoying in mixed company because they think treating girls like guys = unsexist and respectful?”

        I’ve also heard one guy explain it like, he’s trying to say, “I’m smart! Look at me, look how smart I am, you love me, right?” whereas she hears, “I’m a MAN and therefore know better than you, accept with gratitude my superior wisdom” and thinks uuuuugh.

        But my main question is still: there are guys who don’t do this, right? Because I’m not sure it’s ever not annoying, and the fact that so many guys seem not to realize this is troubling at best.

        • thepaintedlady said:

          I think the best I’ve got is my very sweet and lovely husband, who is a total feminist and is constantly asking how he can do better when he’s interacting with women, will only occasionally do this, and he always catches himself and promptly apologizes. But yeah, I can’t remember any man I’ve had a long term relationship of any kind ever not assuming he knew better and correcting me.

  36. B said:

    I love captain’s advice and insights here, all of it!
    — it doesn’t really matter WHY you find something annoying; it’s okay to ask someone not to do it (only caveat being if it is something that really intrudes on the other person, ie “stop eating crackers like that” etc, then maybe one has to look at themselves and/or the relationship first)
    — being given unasked for advice can be pretty annoying without any prior superbad experiences behind it. I’m not good at video games; I do sometimes play them for fun and I don’t want an audience because I just want to relax and have fun, not working on being a “better” gamer. If I want tips, I will ask for them, otherwise please no. Possible scripts for being told “pssst, X would work better”: “yeah, probably, but I’m just relaxing right now”, “thanks, but I’m just playing around” –> if the hint is not received, can go to “please don’t give me advice when I’m relaxing; I will ask for it when I want it”. The gradual approach is not necessary with strangers, but I much prefer it with a close relationship.
    — as far as eating goes, LW you mention having an eating disorder, but not whether you are seeing someone for it. I don’t normally jump to therapy first thing but if you feel you have one and that it is starting to become a problem, please find someone professional to manage it. I agree your SO shouldn’t be trying to manage your eating – it’s unfair to both of you. SO is best as a support person, not as a therapist. If you are seeing a therapist maybe they can help talk to your SO about what is actually helpful vs what is pushy, or maybe there are support groups for people with a loved one with an eating disorder. Because sorry I would be so annoyed to be told what I’m supposed to do, but on the other hand I get that if someone thinks their loved one is struggling it can be hard to know what to do.

    • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

      I just read the crackers thing and guffawed + snorted. Because I *do* have a problem with people making noises when they eat/drink. Hadn’t fully processed the bitch eating crackers line until now, for me it’s literal! I’ll have to get that jpg on a flashcard.

  37. Helen Damnation said:

    Some smaller things can probably be gotten out of the way without dredging up the ex, like the gaming advice, but I do think it would be helpful to explain that making you large/heavy portions/pressuring you to eat can make your ED better, not worse. Lots of communication about what helps/what doesn’t help/ what is counter-productive is my advice.

  38. onyx said:

    I deal with this on the other end; my SO was in a seriously toxic and abusive relationship before we met and also has mental illnesses/disorders that his ex would purposefully trigger or manipulate to make him feel like shit, make him have panic attacks, or generally purposefully upset him so she could chastise him for being the “unstable” one in the relationship.

    We’re 3.5 years in and I still accidentally do things to upset him. The worst one is his OCD and accompanying body-horror issues. I grew up with a lot of siblings, including two older brothers. Roughhousing was just a part of how I learned to playfully tease and joke, and part of that is playfully poking people. But my SO can. not. handle. being poked. Because his Ex from hell would actually pinch and poke him until he started having a panic attack. =\ I still forget, and it always ends up with me feeling shitty and mean–even though I’m not! It’s a battle but important to remember that he knows I am not trying to upset him.

    I always feel horrible when I mess up and freak him out. But he’s been good about making it clear, “Shithead Ex used to do this thing she knew bothered me a little until it became a major trigger. When you accidentally do that thing, I am not saying you are acting like her, but I am saying you need to remember that it is a trigger linked to my OCD and past abuse. I know you’d never intentionally give me a panic attack but you have to remember that poking me could trigger one.” Frame it that way. “I know you didn’t mean it, but please remember I am recovering from an ED and Kris would always use that against me to upset me.” Make it about the ED and YOUR needs, not about what Kris used to do to you that was related to it. And the more minor stuff, make it also about you, not Kris. “Hey, I’m just having fun, I’d like to play how I want to play”. if you need to connect it to any kind of annoyance or justification, go for a broader “male gamer” atmosphere (A COMPLETELY LEGIT COMPLAINT), not your horrible ex.

    If he’s a decent dude, he will understand that past issues (especially linked to abuse and something as serious as an ED) do not magically disappear or have zero lasting effect on you just because you’re no longer with Kris.

    • oregonbird said:

      The trigger/behavior may vary, but the psyche behind ‘slipping’ remains the same. It’s the subconscious telling you that you do not like That Person. So you oops! and you don’t really know why. You know not to grab… and you grabbed. It just happened.

      I’ve started countdown on a class of behavior involved in that kind of situation. It definitely became a Discussion. I was done boundary keeping in my own home! The countdown I didn’t share, however, that was my business. And when he hit ten ‘slips’ — well, there were people who cared enough not to slip. Me, for instance. I didn’t slip on his triggers, which of course became a Problem too, and the last slip happened during that discussion. Bruises fade. The new place was great.

      You’re being *aggressive*. Own that. You’re a grown-up, you don’t ‘slip’. You’re a compassionate person, you don’t make a mistake that harms a loved one over and over for no reason. What you are is pissed, and you don’t really know why. And that’s okay, because deep down inside, you’ve got Really Good Reasons to feel aggressive toward your partner.

      If any of that makes any sense at all, its probably time to find out why the aggression, because you might need to look at your complicated living situation from a new direction.

      • hhhhhhhhhh said:

        or they’re just forgetting because they’re from an environment where poking was okay and unlearning habits takes time?

        • JenniferP said:

          Or maybe…don’t poke people, like, ever?

    • Hannahbelle said:

      “my SO was in a seriously toxic and abusive relationship before we met and also has mental illnesses/disorders that his ex would purposefully trigger or manipulate to make him feel like shit, make him have panic attacks, or generally purposefully upset him so she could chastise him for being the “unstable” one in the relationship.”

      That is so horrible. I’m glad he got out and recognizes how it affected him (instead of internalizing it forever). I hate when people end up in situations like that…it’s just so messed up.

  39. Somerled said:

    I’ve been Darryl in pretty much this precise situation! Still am, as it happens. We’ve been together for 8 years, and I’m still discovering new and horrible ramifications of how abusive the Kris equivalent was – quite often when something I say or do trips a psychological landmine.

    The following advice is What Works For Us; it might or might not work for you, but I hope it will be helpful, even just as an illustration that there is a way past this stage.

    The meta-script we’ve worked out for that sort of situation goes something like this:
    * indication of a problem
    * reassurance on the one hand that it isn’t my fault, and on the other that it isn’t silly or shameful to be upset
    * attempt to establish an alternative to the triggering behaviour
    * reassurance on the one hand that I’ll try to remember to do the alternative instead and that it’s OK to remind me again if it happens again, and on the other that I’m not expected to be immediately perfect.

    I suspect it helps us that we’ve been through it quite a lot of times now, so we know it works and we have the same implicit assumptions about the process: specifically, that if there’s a problem, it’s a real problem; a problem can exist without it being someone’s fault; nobody is at fault except [Kris] and we knew that anyway; and that reassurances are a good thing, and not patronizing.

    To be fair, it probably also helps us that it’s also a bit symmetrical – I’ve had abusive past partners too, though none nearly that bad.

    LW, what you have (extrapolating from my situation and my partner’s) is a totally justifiable and not-your-fault trust issue, which is related to but separate from the landmines Kris left scattered around like some sort of demented Darth Cluster Bomb. It sounds like Darryl’s doing a pretty good job so far, for someone who hasn’t been in an equivalent situation, but there’s definitely still improvements to be made.

    • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

      +1

      Open honest discussion that things happened, this is how you react, you’re trying to deal and move on, this is how s/he can help (doing or not doing thing). Like with @Somerled, maybe Darryl has his own kneejerk reactions he’d like to be ditching.

      Best wishes for whatever strategy works for you.

      • HOBBITS! The Musical said:

        Actually, I didn’t express that very well. I meant, everybody’s brain chemistry, emotions, reactions, are unique and different; even a calm happy upbringing can create instinctive reactions we don’t want. Darryl might possibly also have something he would like to “uninstall” from his hard drive.

  40. LW, tons of hugs and support to you! I’ve gone through some similar things and likely will again in the future, and it’s not easy to untangle “stuff from the past” from “stuff I just don’t like”. Add to that, that women (and I am not meaning to gender you, I’m just speaking from my own experience) are taught that they’re not allowed to have Needs unless there are Really Good Reasons, and yeah. To this day I struggle with the word “reasonable” (or specifically “unreasonable”) because my needs and preferences don’t have to have reasons, they exist and I am entitled to them. It’s also some of the “Men have needs and desires and opinions and this is a societal expectation, women having them is an aberration and totally to be humoured but disregarded” blah blah blah I see more and more now that I’m tuned in to it.

    This does not mean in any way or shape that folks who are socialized this way are bad people, but it’s something that occasionally requires unpacking. As a woman-identifying (in public) person in a man-identifying-dominated industry it’s really big on my radar, specifically because one of the mission statements of our company is “Everyone has stories and viewpoints to tell and the ones we haven’t been hearing and NEED to hear are those of minorities and otherwise marginalized people”. It’s a lot easier to have on paper than to make sure is being practiced every day across the whole company.

    Also, because I am a game dev, I’m gonna say with all the authority I can muster that people enjoying games is the entire point of games and there is no “proper” way to enjoy them. I am currently enjoying Fallout 4 by picking up every single lootable object and I REVEL IN IT and I’ve dumped several companions in favour of my dog because HE DOES NOT MAKE JUDGEMENTAL COMMENTS ON MY LOOTING. I am also enjoying futzing with monster closets/LOS spawns/cape popping due to Creepy Watson Teleports/navmeshes, which I find tremendously fun, but people who look over my shoulder go “Why are you just turning in circles” or “Wait why aren’t you stealthing when the area isn’t clear –” (BECAUSE I UNDERSTAND LEVEL DESIGN MECHANICS, I CAN SET OFF GRENADES AND THE MUTANTS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL WON’T HEAR ME BECAUSE THE NAVMESHES AREN’T LINKED).

    Seriously. I can have reasons, but they’re totally secondary to “because I want to” and that’s reason enough.

    I also want to report in that we did a huge family get-together that was based on Find Your Own Food Friday (from the last letter’s comments) and oh my gosh it was so incredibly successful and SO low-stress for EVERYONE involved that we’re no longer doing dinners as major components, and suddenly weeks of planning are recovered for other activities instead!

    • (Amen to “because I want to”, and much love for Dogmeat. I only don’t bring him along when I’m worried he’ll get hurt and cry.)

    • exova said:

      I LOVE looting! My go-to de-stressing game is Borderlands 2, and it takes me ages and ages to progress through the storyline because I comb every inch of every area looking for enemies and lootable containers. Then after clearing a mission I’ll save/quit to reset everything and go through that area again for even more items and EXP. And repeat. Very relaxing for me, boring as all hell for anyone else to watch.

      It’s so cool that you develop games! I had never heard the term navmesh but now I understand why shooting at idle enemies doesn’t always get the “WTF WAS THAT” reaction I was expecting.

      (<3 to Dogmeat)

      • It’s also why monsters are sometimes afraid of doorways! It’s the only reason I’m able to play the first two Deadspace games because they otherwise scare the pee out of me.

        You’d think knowing mechanics might ruin things, but it honestly just lets me delight in things more knowing the work and detail that goes into it all.

        Loot loot loot all I want is loot, and giving me a REASON to pick up junk with the crafting system is everything I ever wanted. There are many ways to play a game! Mine involves having ALL THE THINGS and a room full of Giddyup Buttercups.

      • Irrisia said:

        I wasted so many hours on Diablo doing this. And Borderlands, too, actually, and Skyrim… look, I like exploring the map and finding treasure and secrets, okay?

        • Qxcl said:

          Was that time wasted though? It sounds to me like you used a relaxation/fun hobby tool in the way that was most relaxing and fun for you. Doesn’t seem wasteful, in fact it seems pretty spot on.

  41. MJRawr said:

    I do most of the cooking and shopping for myself and my partner. There’s an understanding (that gets reiterated in so many words every few months, just to make sure we’re still on the same page) that I will avoid things he despises (like seafood and mushrooms). Things he Prefers Not To Eat But Will If They Are Cooked And Served To Him however, make it on to the plates a couple times a week (various squashes, leafy greens, veggies besides peppers and onions) because if left up to his food preferences, every meal would Chunk O Meat With Bell Peppers And Onions which, while tasty, will drive me into boredom food binges if we had it every meal. Our agreement is that I cook what he really likes a couple times a week and then I get my variety in the other meals, and if he really doesn’t want that then he needs to chip in and do more cooking for himself. Oh, and because I love all things seafood and mushroomy, once a month or so he gets advised that I am making a meal for myself composed of Everything He Hates and he needs to figure out his own meal that night.

  42. PS: Captain? Thank you. You’ve been amazing.

  43. duaecat said:

    This really hit home, because I hate the “But whyyyyyyyyy?” when you try to state a preference.
    And half the time it’s a trap!
    “Please don’t flick peanuts at me.”
    “But WHYYYYYY?!” Translation: I enjoy flicking peanuts at you and do not consider your discomfort sufficient to stop doing something I enjoy
    “I’m allergic and could die.”
    “Oh! So now it is A Challenge! I can try to shame you for your allergy and haha look at you with your allergy to peanuts, har har if I want you to do something I can chase you with peanuts! Or it’s now open to debate, I can flick you with pinto beans then, right? You’re not allergic to pinto beans. What’s the Big Deal?! Or by flicking peanuts at you I’m just Trying To Help you get over the allergy and you should be more considerate of my feelings.”

    Though I do struggle sometimes with finding the balance of when to trauma-dump. Because my own husband, understandably, prioritizes things by, well, priority. “Can you remember empty the dishwasher when it’s done?” it will, generally, get done. Like maybe 60% of the time promptly, then 30% within 24 hours of it finishing, and 10% he’ll forget until he needs a clean dish. But “Turn the stove off after cooking because otherwise we’ll all die.” has a 99.9% remember rate. So sometimes I struggle with “Please unload the dishwasher, because one time my relative didn’t unload the dishwasher and through an unlikely series of events it lead to the dishwasher gaining sentience and exterminating the entire neighborhood and now I have nightmares that it will happen to us even though it’s very unlikely, so this sounds like a General Medium Priority but it’s actually a Very High Priority.” Especially because I always worry that I’m the one being unreasonable by having past trauma or anxiety. But I’m slowly trying to feel it out and generally in a “be gentle with me if I seem to be unreasonably upset about a minor issue.” sort of way.

  44. J said:

    This is such good advice!

    As someone with a colorful past re: lots of butts and unfortunate circumstances, it can be difficult to resist explaining.

    But overexplaining can quickly lead to misunderstandings, etc. And sometimes it just needs to be a succint “plz don’t”.

    Good advice, good explanation on why advice is relevant, good to apply to various life points.

    I also like the relation to other posts of “a troubled past doesn’t justify troubling behavior, but reasonable behavior can be reasonably explained without the past”

    If that makes sense? Idk.

  45. Joanofanon said:

    LW, your history is obviously important to you and it’s important in how strongly these things effect you but I feel it needs pointing out – none of the things you want are remotely unreasonable absent of your history, nor do you need to explain them to make them valid.

    You want your partner to *ask* what you want to eat before preparing you food. I would want that too! I would, in all honesty, think someone was a bit of an asshole if they consistently prepared things for me to eat without first asking if I wanted to eat them.

    You also want your partner to not back-seat video game. Back-seat video gaming is *incredibly irritating*. This is true for most people! No one wants ‘hey, that hobby you’re enjoying? You’d be better at it if you did it my way’ thrown at them unsolicited.

    You don’t need to explain and back-story-up your needs for them to be valid. You can just say ‘hey, when you make dinner for me without asking what I want? That’s actually kind of rude and presumptive. Please ask before you cook something for me.’ ‘Hey, when you tell me how to play the game I’m playing, that’s super irritating, please stop doing that.’ And expect him to respect your needs on that basic level.

    If you feel like he only respects your needs when there is a trauma or backstory which makes them important, that implies that he would be less respectful of needs you have which are just because you’re a person. That’s a problem. I would try laying down the simple, please don’t do this, requests without giving the backstory to why you feel that way first, to make sure he is going to be respectful and decent anyway. Then perhaps you can unpick, either in therapy or alone, why you feel you need to justify your needs when you state them with something other than ‘this is what I want’.

    This isn’t to say you shouldn’t talk about the way your past and your mental health effects you and is meaningful to you, or that you shouldn’t be able to share that with your partner, but you shouldn’t *have* to either.

  46. sirch1989 said:

    i love this

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