#850: Grad school and emotional labor and Mike

Dear Captain,

I’m (cis-woman) in a graduate program and I’ve got this friend (cis-man), who’s also in school, but an undergrad. We are both a bit older than the rest of our classmates, in our mid-30s. So of course we self-identify as members of the same tribe and become fast friends. We both love thinking hard about the same intellectual pursuits, we share a cynical attitude towards pop culture, millennials.

Lovely, right? But here’s the thing. Mike* doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional support. There’s me and an ex who moved away recently.

So pretty much every time we hang out he does the emotional download. He occasionally suffers from bipolar disorder, so it can get intense.

We also engage in intellectual debate – fun! – but he’s the assertive sort that has to Win. I like to learn. I don’t want to win. In fact, competition stresses me out. Meanwhile, Mike’s a freight train when it comes to verbalizing his inner monologue. To contribute to a conversation, I have to pluck up the energy to actively interrupt him. He lets me do this. And when I do, he listens. Unfortunately, I really want him to ask me what I think. To ask *me* questions for once.

Why this irritates me — I flashback to Depressed Mom who suffered from depression’s peculiar kind of narcissism. I was socialized to be a Good Listener — and I don’t want that job anymore.

Pretty much I was navigating this. I thought I was doing a decent job compartmentalizing the mommy issues. but THEN he wants to introduce sex into the picture. Sex is nice, he’s a good friend, win-win. He sold it pretty well.

Nevertheless, I sent what I thought was a thoughtful email about how I wasn’t interested in FwB. It would just turn into a mess for me. I’m in NYC. I’m *up to here* with “caz.” It would make me hate him. He responded well, and things went back to normal.

Sort of. After percolating for a few days, I got angry. I felt like a free-therapy-blow-up-doll. The idea of hanging out with him became exhausting. But I thought this was my issue, not his. So I soldiered on.

He didn’t bring up sex again for a few months…until this weekend. and I want to block his phone number. I want to punch him in the face.

I think a lot of my anger derives from stereotypes about male privilege, my own less-than-ideal past experiences with exes, and the aforementioned mommy issues. Can you help me untangle some of this???

My peanut gallery/greek chorus says dump him. It sounds like, they say, I just don’t like him. I do like him. I think?


Hi, I’m Jennifer and I’ll be your Greek Chorus today.

What I’d like to suggest to you is that you reclaim your graduate education from being All About Mike. You don’t have to dump him or not dump him from your life – he’s your colleague, he’s gonna be around no matter how you feel about him, and you might as well be cordial. It’s more about restoring him to his proper place in your emotional universe as “that one friend from class who it’s nice to have lunch with every so often.

First step:Dude, I do not want to sleep with you. Do not raise this topic again.

Second step: If he does mention it again, end the conversation immediately.

Third step: Become less reachable by text and/or however y’all regularly communicate. Get busy with something else, whether it’s your graduate research or reorganizing your spice drawer. Begin the process of converting Mike to a smaller-doses-friend.

Fourth step: Give all hang-outs with Mike a hard out time and avoid alcohol when you do see him. You won’t repeat the old patterns with your mom because you will end conversations MUCH SOONER with Mike. When he gets monologuing? You can cut him off (“Mike, you’re doing the thing again. The thing where you talk over me.” “Let me stop you there….“). You can also leave when it gets to be too much(“Well, great to see you, I’m going to the animal shelter to pet & socialize dogs for a while. See you in class?“)  Also, save yourself from embarrassing “it just happened” sex when you are feeling lonely and low. At least a part of why you wrote to me was so that a girlfriend would stop you before you actually sleep with him. I am willing to be that friend to you, Internet Stranger. Do not let this man that you don’t really want to be with logick his way into your pants.

Fifth step: So, about your mom…it’s cool that you can recognize a pattern repeating itself and pull the ripcord before you get in too deep. When and if you tell Mike about your mom and her monologues, he won’t necessarily make the connection between his behavior and her behavior. He’ll put himself in your shoes, not the shoes of the villain in the cautionary tale you just told him. He will never get hints, either. If you want him to do something or not do something, you gotta say it directly to him. “Mike, you’re wearing me out right now, I gotta go.” If he’s a good dude he’ll understand. (I am a professorial wordy sort and I love an intense dude and sometimes our conversations are more about taking turns riding the Word Kraken than give-and-take. You just gotta interrupt sometimes. It’s ok.)

Sixth but VERY IMPORTANT step: In your graduate program, where are the women? At least one of them is going to be more interesting than this guy to talk to about your studies, don’t you think? By pairing off with Mike so soon, you missed out on some opportunities for professional networking and social interaction. It’s time to reconnect with the others, and it’s probably gonna be pretty awkward at first because you and Mike were so insular, but don’t stop. Not all of these people will be Your People, but I reckon somewhere in the cohort is someone you overlooked initially when you were busy contemplating the Incredible Mikeness Of It All, maybe someone who found his or her own “Mike” and is now taking a second look, someone who does not suck.

Do not let Mike be the lens through which you see your peers and your program. Do not let him be the translator of this experience for you. Make it your business to have your own relationship, even if it’s superficial, with every single person and prof in your program. And let Mike find/make his own support system. He doesn’t get to latch onto you and put you in that role! You both entered a new place at the same time, so why are you his only person? That’s on Mike, not on you.

Seventh step: “Millennials” are your peers. They are legion. They defy categorization and description – there are too many of them to even begin. Learn from the ones around you.

Eighth step: Does your campus have movie nights, grad student socials, speakers, etc.? You’re in NYC, of course it does. If you feel lonely, go to some awesome free stuff. Maybe go with Mike sometimes, if you do want to keep up your friendship in some capacity. Having a structured activity that you enjoy together can keep the Mike-train from jumping the tracks into your vulnerable, tired ears.

Ninth step: Repeat after me: “I am here for me, not for Mike. I came here for me, not for Mike. My first priority is me: my learning, my career, my friendships. Not Mike.”

Mike is but a fellow passenger in this experience you’re having. You are the driver. Make sure it’s your favorite music on the radio and that your map is taking you where you want to go.







188 thoughts on “#850: Grad school and emotional labor and Mike

  1. I understand how you feel about being an older person in school. I’m currently finishing up my Bachelor’s degree (finally!), and most of my classmates are less than half my age. But they are still interesting to talk to. I don’t spend a lot of hang out time on campus, since I live a couple miles away and have a family, but when I’m on campus, I like talking to people with such a different worldview than me. These are kids who grew up with computers at home instead of at school and iPhones instead of landlines and iTunes instead of CDs. They are your peers in learning, even if they haven’t lived as much life as you have. Your experiences will teach them just like theirs will teach you. Give some of the other people a chance to potentially be friends, or at the very least class buddies. You never know when that person might turn out to be someone you want to hang out with.

    P.S. Captain, I just want to say how much I *LOVE* the phrase “taking turns riding the Word Kraken.”

    1. I was the ONLY person in my (late!) thirties within my gradschool cohort. I’m extremely introverted but I still made friends with other students in their early twenties. It can be done, even if you’re as hermitty and quiet as I can be!

    2. One of the GREAT things about going back to school in my late 30s has been the renewed chance to talk to younger folks. (I am not the oldest in my program — one of my classmates is in her 60s — so it’s been good in that direction, as well.) There’s no percentage in dismissing my younger classmates as “millennials”; it means I can’t learn from them.

      1. I totally agree! I started my PhD in my early-mid 30s and turned 40 the year I defended, then did 3 years of post-doc work at a different university. As a post-doc my closest friend was in his mid-30s and we bonded as the “old fogies” of the program (the similarities with Mike end there, thankfully). But I also became friends with a lot of 20-somethings, and met some really great people. We didn’t always get each other’s jokes or pop culture references, but we had a lot of fun together and I learned a lot from them. I really felt they helped keep me young and up-to-date on culture, music, and etc.

        1. Love the 20somethings at work (and my immigrant boss), but it does make me sad when I see a guy carrying a potted plant down the hallway and say, “Are you bringing me a shrubbery?” and he has no idea what I am talking about.

          1. I don’t know, I think that Monty Python transcends generation! I’m 24, and I suspect that most of my peers are at least somewhat familiar with that movie. 🙂

          2. Twentysomething here. I’m going to second Emily’s comment and say that Monty Python absolutely transcends generations. That guy not knowing the reference isn’t an (ugh) “millennial” thing–it’s a “that guy” thing. This is why broad generalizations aren’t productive or accurate!

      2. Yes! I am a millennial, but an old one; most of my friends are Gen X. One of my coworkers who was hired within the last couple of years fits a lot of the superficial stereotypes of millennials. It would have been very easy to write her off.

        But you know what? I had occasion to get to know her better, and she’s smart, thoughtful, sometimes screamingly funny, and generally lovely. Had I let myself write her off based on stereotypes about “millennials” and “digital natives” and “Tumblrinas” and whatever, I would have missed a connection with a brilliant colleague and a generally cool person.

      3. I had the same experience. I went back into education for a couple of years at the end of my thirties, and I was in classes with people twenty years older and twenty years younger than me, and from various different backgrounds. They were all great to talk to and hang out with. LW, give those millennials a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised by them, not least because they are Not Mike.

      4. Absolutely. I’m on the older end of the Millennial bandwagon, and I find the younger peeps are awesome. Yeah. There may be some generational things we differ on or don’t have in common, but I definitely wouldn’t throw out the Millennial with the bath water. Lol. I’m glad The Captain threw that little tidbit in there. 🙂

    3. Yeah, honestly? This graduate student in her mid-30s suspects that maybe part of the reason LW is stuck with Mike is because her younger colleagues recognize her contempt for them and purposefully avoid her. Most of my fellow grad students are also in their 20s, but I don’t make fun of them, many are my friends, and–here’s the best bit–there are no Mikes in my life!

      1. Yeah, I’d not be surprised. I’m more tired of it all than angry about it at this point; I have been listening to people older than me call me names and make heinous and self-serving assumptions about me for *years.* It is old. It has *exhausted* me. I have to tolerate it at work because I can’t remotely afford that House in the Fuck-Its, but on my own time? Oh, hell to the no. Thanks no thanks, I have to wash my hair, I sure am going to waste hours and ruin the world doing something with electronics, yep, bye!

      2. I got this vibe too. I’m a millennial and I am going tired of being dismissed or blamed as the cause of all that is wrong in the world. I get the feeling that I would avoid LW if I met her as she seems like she doesn’t have respect for younger folks.

        I’m 26 and I have friends in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Age isn’t a big issue when we have other things in common. Yes, it’s nice going to Karaoke with people in my age range cause I know all the songs that will kill, but otherwise it really doesn’t matter.

        1. I’m 34 and apparently a Millennial as well? I thought I was Gen X (or Y) or whatever we call people, and it just makes me stop and blink because I’ve been a home-owner, I’m a middle manager of justice over a decade into my career, but I’m still apparently totally entitled and flighty and self-involved and wait that’s what they were calling every single generation before this one until the beginning of time.

          1. Probably a typo, but Middle Manager of Justice sounds like an amazing concept for a tv show.

          2. It varies what year is considered the cutoff between Gen X and Millennial – I’m January 1981 (so, 35), and I’ve seen 1981/82 be lumped in both groups. From a personal perspective, I can relate to things that are considered characteristic of both groups, and I’ve had experiences common to both groups. I also have friends who are 22 and friends who are 40+.

      3. There was a woman in some of my first year painting classes who was in her 60’s, and although she wasn’t invited to any particularly strenuous parties, she was an open + fun woman with a lot of friends at school. Her life was very different from ours, and that was an asset. It was interesting to hear things about how her life differs from ours largely because she also listened to and appreciated things from our lives with interest, too. So, it can work, even with a ~40 year age gap, lol!

      4. This 40something thinks you’re right. Carolyn Hax’s line about contempt being the cigarette smoke of opinions came to mind- people do pick up on this, and who wants to be around someone who’s silently (or not so silently, because we’re rarely as subtle as we think we are) looking down on them for the serious crime of being under thirty?

    4. I felt self-conscious when I went to grad school at 30 and most of my classmates were in the range of 23-27. Which sounds ridiculous now even as I type it, but it was all too real to me then. Anyway, the nice thing is if you can forge and hang onto these bonds, as you get older the younger folk get older too. We’re looking forward to our 10th class reunion in a few weeks and any weirdness I felt about age difference has long since passed.

    5. Yep, wanted to +1 the steps 6&7. I’m a early thirties phd student. Our lovely phd friend group includes a range from early 20s to mid-forties. Some people are partnered, some people have kids, some own homes, some live in shared accommodation. The diversity in ages is good! Maybe you could start a morning coffee group with a few women in your program. It’s a low time/emotional commitment and you might realize you like “millennials” after all.

  2. So many of the women I know in grad school have a variation on this story. (Scribbles it on the list of things to warn my daughter about later in life.)

  3. Also, while your background might make you more sensitive to the ways Mike wants to manipulate you, no one wants to feel “like a free-therapy-blow-up-doll.” Mike is alone because of his behavior. Which has nothing to do with you.

    My own experience going back to school as an older student was incredibly positive. I found I had more in common with many of the younger people when it came to anything but “older student.” So there is an absolute sea of possible friends.

    Chill him out. He screwed up. And I’m betting it’s not the first time.

  4. It sounds like you don’t actually like this guy all that much? Or like him a little but not nearly enough for the amount of time you’re spending with him.

    Make more friends and other hobbies besides ‘hanging out with Mike’. There is nothing magic about being born in the same decade – it gives you a few extra experiences in common but ultimately not enough to build a friendship on. And people born in different decades than you aren’t a whole different type of human… If you find it hard to just start up chatting with people in class, try looking up some clubs or social events. There is such a variety in most universities.

    1. And it’s ok that you didn’t realize you don’t like him that much (or like him less now due to his choices and behavior) and that you are taking a step back now. I just had that experience – I thought I liked these two new people (and was so excited to finally be making friends), but the more I get to know them, the more I realize we just don’t click, so I have pulled back on hanging out.

      Exactly about the age! I am almost 30 and my best friend is 57. I am as old as his oldest daughter, but we have a ton in common. I love talking to him also /because/ he has had so many more experiences just by virtue of being on this earth longer. It’s really cool to hear his perspective on things, especially since he lived through some of the historical/political things. He actively listens to my perspective on things. He is what I classify as a Tier 1 friend (http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/12/10-types-odd-friendships-youre-probably-part.html) and I am glad to have him in my life. I am also glad we didn’t write each other off because of difference in ages (although we do joke about it).

      Good luck, LW!!

      1. Yeah, am in my 30s and have friends in their 40s and 50s and 60s and 30s and 20s and a few in their teens. They’re just people… Each is unique and different and although age is one of the things that makes them different, a) it’s a cool, great, interesting difference and b) it’s one of the more minor differences in the grand scheme of things, compared to more basic stuff like personality and life history

    2. It sounds to me like the LW wants to like Mike more than she *actually* does. It’s like part of her brain is saying, “We have so much in common, we should be friends!” and her gut is going, “Yeah, no.”

  5. Hi, LW.
    I think your peanut gallery has a good point. You used to like him. Then he started to use you for the emotional download and as a sound board without offering you much emotional support or showing interest in your opinions. You started liking him less. Then he trid to pressure you into sex. You like him even less now. You are allowed to change your mind about liking someone without justifying it to anyone, even yourself. You do have reasons, and good ones. But if you didn’t, you’d still be allowed to stop liking him for no reason at all.

    You wrote: “I think a lot of my anger derives from stereotypes about male privilege, my own less-than-ideal past experiences with exes, and the aforementioned mommy issues.”
    That does not invalidate your anger. In fact, you should pay even more attention to your dislike of Mike because you know exactly where his type of behaviour can lead: to doing all the emotional labour in relationship, to listening to mansplaining, to not being taken seriously, to being nagged into sex, to less-than-ideal experiences, to being forced in a role you don’t want and is not good for you …

    I think Captain is right: minimize your interaction with Mike and connect with other people.
    Good luck!

    1. ‘You are allowed to change your mind about liking someone without justifying it to anyone, even yourself.’


      A friendship is like a romantic relationship in that it ought to be an ongoing act of enthusiastic consent. LW, it sounds like your consent to hanging out with Mike is no longer all that enthusiastic. Go forth and find some people you actively and enthusiastically want to spend time with.

    2. “This does not invalidate your anger.” Yes! The way you say “mommy issues” implies that the REAL problem is with yourself and your mom and your baggage… which ends up letting Mike off the hook.

      It sounds like you’re doing what I am trying (slowly and with difficulty) to learn not to do: find any and all reasons for anger besides “this person is kind of being a jerk.”

      It’s great to recognize how our own past can play into our feelings about current situations! It’s great to recognize that when a person is behaving badly in a culturally-encouraged way, our culture deserves a lot of blame and anger. But sometimes we use those things to sidestep the discomfort of having to say, “This person, by their behavior, has earned my anger.”

      It’s so hard! My partner, who is a precious and wonderful human, had to straight-up tell me that it was okay for me to be mad at him about something that he had, in fact, done. It took that much directness and support for me to even begin to think that I might just have the right to be pissed sometimes, when someone has behaved annoyingly.

      It sounds to me like you have already done your due diligence and are nowhere near making the mistake of taking out other frustrations on Mike. So go ahead and be mad/annoyed/SO OVER the fact that he doesn’t make an effort to hear your thoughts, that he’s dumped a lot of one-sided emotional labor on you, that he pushed you for a sexual relationship when you’d already said no. Even if you didn’t have a history with a mom and bad exes, these would be reasonable things to feel angry about.

    3. Absolutely! It’s OKAY to just not like him. You have less in common than you thought, he tends to barrel over people, he wants physical things from you that you don’t want to give. It doesn’t matter what kind of mom you had! You don’t like him all that much, and that’s all there is to it. Nobody’s recording a certain number of “just because” points and you’re not allowed to go over.

  6. LW, good luck as you adjust your friendship with Mike. I hope he will respond well to the captain’s scripts!

    Captain, I love “the unbearable Mikeness of being.”

  7. I have to pluck up the energy to actively interrupt him. He lets me do this. And when I do, he listens. Unfortunately, I really want him to ask me what I think. To ask *me* questions for once.

    LW – this part of your letter really stuck out for me. Why unfortunately? Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it is not selfish, rude or wrong of you to want to spend time with someone who sees you as having a brain and a heart with ideas and opinions that are worth hearing.

    Maybe you don’t want to focus so much of your time on someone who sees your opinions, thoughts and feelings as an unfortunate interruption to the sweet sound of his own voice.

    1. That stood out to me too. Why is it so bad to want to have a conversation where there’s equal time given to both voices? Why does one conversation partner get to barrel on into perpetuity unless actively stopped, forcing the other to break conventional manners (don’t interrupt, listen politely, take turns etc.) in order to get a word in? That sounds pretty tiring. I don’t think it’s unfortunate that you’d really rather have a non-tiring conversation where your opinion is actively sought, rather than forced in through a wall of “I I Me Me Mine.”

      1. Exactly. I suspect this doesn’t have as much to do with mommy issues as disrespect of a woman by a man.

      2. I read that as it being unfortunate that Mike doesn’t pick up on needing to conversationally give as well as take. And I agree that doing all the conversational work for Mike sounds very unfortunate.

  8. Where IS the crappy-dude-be-gone spray (TM Captain Awkward) this week? Yeesh.

  9. I agree with almost all of the Captain’s advice here, but what’s up with the reference to women in step six? “Where are the people other than Mike” seems like a perfectly reasonable question, but I don’t see why the LW needs to seek out other women specifically. Not all men are as self-centered and boundary-pushing as Mike sounds.

    1. #notallmen, but if the LW is feeling isolated in grad school, networking with fellow women might be a good idea right now. There is also advice to make relationships with other students (presumably of all genders) and profs (presumably of all genders). It’s cool if you don’t see why – only use what’s useful to you and discard the rest.

    2. Because women are more likely to get what she is going through right now? Because a woman who has found herself in a situation where her only friend(s) are men will benefit greatly from developing friendships with women? Because our society teaches women to distrust each other when we actually get amazing things out of friendships with women if we just give them a chance?

      1. And if the LW is in a graduate STEM program, networking with other women/femmes/female identifying people is even more crucial.

        Battling Imposter Syndrome and crushing stereotypes with other women–of all ages and genders–is bloody awesome.

    3. Even though you’re correct that not all men are like Mike, there’s also the fact that in a relationship with women she is less likely to be pushed into a romantic direction, which can be a nice relief. Not that going in a romantic direction is BAD, but if you have someone pushing you for an undesired romantic/sexual match in one area, it can be a relief to have a relationship where that’s not an issue. (My experience, FWIW, is that even if one — or both — of you has same-sex attractions, it’s still easier to keep that dynamic out of a platonic same-sex friendship than a platonic opposite-sex friendship just because of cultural pressure.)

    4. I’m in grad school in an interdisciplinary program, living between fields A and B. In field A, there are 3 women total in the program, out of about 40 people. Field B has basically the reversed gender ratio (2 men out of 20ish total grad students).

      I (a woman) spend a great deal of time with some really great dudes! I enjoy my friendships with the dudes in field A. I can think of only one moment where it sucked to be a woman (fellow student joked about making me clean up the group lunch), and one of these great other dudes spoke up. I believe he said “What the fvck dude? Don’t talk to her like that. She’s a far better scientist than you, not your maid. Clean up your own damn mess, and think twice before saying things like that to women.”

      So these are some great dudes around me! A+ feminist dudes!

      But I STILL really value the friendships among women that I’ve made in grad school, particularly the other 2 women in program A. Those other women are in different cohorts from me, so getting to know them has taken more effort. It has been 100% worth it.

    5. Maybe not all men are like that, but all men I thought I could maybe be friends with turned out to want a romantic relationship. All of them. (At this point, there have been three who have been really open about it, and probably some more who haven’t.) I gave up on finding male friends.
      Pursuing friendship with men is for women less socially awkward than I am. It is for women who will not be disappointed and lonely when a man they thought was their friend suddenly wants sex.

      It is completely reasonable to advise a woman who lacks friends to find some nice women to be friends with.

  10. How does Mike treat the other people (i.e. the younger women) in your program? Viewing his actions through the lens of how he treats others may help you gain some clarity on your feelings about him. If he treats them as subordinates and you are seen as his ally, you may have some work to do in appearing to distance yourself from him before you can build connections with other folks in your program.

  11. Feeding an emotional vampire in the form of a human being while you’re trying to battle the hydra-headed everything-vampire that is education is EXHAUSTING. No one with sense or empathy could blame you for deciding to tell Mike he’s cut off. *He’ll* probably try and blame you, but that’s because having a free-therapy-and-emotional-validation blow-up doll is very addictive.

    Mike is asking you to do an enormous amount of emotional labor in order to make him feel good. You don’t gotta.

    (As a side note: if you’re in your mid-30s, you are a millennial, as much as these generational monikers really have any kind of real meaning. The kids just hitting college now are post-Millennial, and it’s yet to be seen what they’ll be labeled as.)

    1. Yeah. If you were born between 1980 and 1999? You’re one of us.

      There’s a whole new generation of young people that’s going to be starting university in a couple of years. (And they are as varied and diverse and impossible-to-quantify as us, and also deserve better than the stereotyping we have had to put up with).

      1. Truth. I’d love to see “Millennial” be the last generational moniker, as we grow more aware of just how limited in scope they really are.

        1. Me too. I’m a Gen-Xer, and that label has been used by old people to declare me utterly defective since I was about 7.

  12. One “no” to sex should be enough. Men who don’t listen to that are not safe to be around, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine.

    1. The “he sold it pretty well” comment made me wince. Sex shouldn’t be something that you have to “sell” or be sold. It should be something you do because you actively want to. Pitching it as if you were selling a cell phone plan, or attempting to logic your way into it, is just a bad sign from the get-go.

      1. I have this feeling that Mike wants to be the LW’s boyfriend, but doesn’t actually want to take the emotional risk of asking LW to be his girlfriend/out on a date. So instead of being like “hey, LW, we hang out a lot, we seem to have a connection, do you want to try being romantic partners?” he just figured, well, I’m 50% of the way there with the emotional relationship, how about I make a pitch for the other 50%? Which is exactly where he went wrong, but also why the relationship suddenly feels wrong to LW: because by avoiding putting his own emotions on the line Mike extra highlighted how little room he makes for her, her emotions, being honest with her, etc.

        1. A++ way of describing it. I was trying to figure out how to put that into words – his POV comes across as, “well, she’s already doing all this emotional labor for me, so I can probably convince her to have sex with me, too, what a great situation this is for me” and not really thinking about or caring about what the situation is for *her*.

          I mean, I don’t know what’s happening in his head or his heart, but it sure sounds like he’s using her, not trying to be her partner or friend. (Or maybe he *thinks* that’s how to be a partner/boyfriend, but it ain’t.)

      2. I so agree. It’s much nicer to be desired. From the sound of it, Mike desires sex, not you.

    2. This. I don’t see as how Mike did anything *wrong*, exactly, about gauging her interest in sex the first time, but once she expressed her lack of that interest, bringing it up again showed a lack of respect for the LW’s boundaries and, by extension, the LW. I agree with the Captain’s advice to keep things civil while they’re obliged to interact (then again, I have an unhealthily strong don’t-make-waves reflex, so ymmv), but cooling a friendship with someone like that is probably for the best.

      Particularly with regards to step 8B. Finding alternate activities is a great idea (also meetup.com – I can never plug that life-changer of a website often enough), but I would be VERY hesitant to allow Mike to get his tentacles into more areas of your life, thereby making it more difficult to ever disengage from him. (“Great, we’re not bound to be civil Because School anymore, but now I have to put up with him showing up at Monday gaming.”)

  13. Awesome advice all ’round, from a mid-thirties woman in a grad program. I got the impression from the letter, though, that Mike is an undergrad? If so, how does the dynamic of their interaction change? (Not in terms of what’s in the student handbook, necessarily, but that’s plucking at the corner of my mind.)

    1. And sorry, I Cannot Haz Edit. That “from a mid-thirties woman in a grad program” – should have been tweaked to indicate that that woman is me. 😛 like, Awesome advice all ’round is my opinion. #overthinking it

    2. He is invested in impressing her, because he is an undergrad and she is a grad, and if he can e.g. “win” their discussions then that proves that
      (1) the woman who is academically further along than him at roughly the same age is not better than him and
      (2) he has someone who is Recognized By The Institution to join and justify him in being cynical about things that his (younger? possibly less argumentative?) co-students are (possibly less cynically) interested in.

      My two cynical cents, which are coming from a bleak morning.

      1. I think #1 is right on the money. But then I’ve known guys who always had to win a debate, regardless of the gender of the other person — it was always about their ego.

        1. ugh yes. When I was a young(ish) woman in grad school that was probably the height of dudes mansplaining me or trying to get me to admire their brilliance with various tactics.

      2. “he has someone who is Recognized By The Institution to join and justify him in being cynical about things that his (younger? possibly less argumentative?) co-students are (possibly less cynically) interested in.”

        I think it might also be that those other students aren’t seeing him as the expert he wants to portray, and aren’t interested in listening to him pontificate.

  14. LW, I would like to point out that if you’re in your mid-30s you’ve just barely missed the millenial boat… in fact if you are 35 or 36 you probably ARE one. Millenials were born from 1980 onward.

    1. I’m 34 and I don’t have a problem with millenials but I also don’t identify with them, like, at all — I feel like I had a very different growing up experience than what people claim for millenials, not because of any vagaries of my own life but because 1982 was a very different time to be born than 1990.

      This article resonated with me way more than I expected.

      1. I was born in 1990. I’m 25. And 90% of what people ascribe to “millennials” doesn’t fit me either.

        1. At this point, I am pretty thoroughly sure that about half of what people ascribe to millennials is simply stuff that could be ascribed to any cohort in their 20s/early 30s (like, the same things were said about Boomers when they were that age) and about half the other stuff is just made up. Or at least, when you get away from neutral statements of fact (“the recession hit the generation hard” or “many of them grew up with computers in the home”) and into interpretations of value judgments, it tends to split between “things everyone has always said about young people” and “things made up for a sensationalist opinion piece.”

          1. Yep! I’m in my late 30s and I have siblings ranging down into their mid-20s. There are 7 of us altogether. There are some pretty stark lines, but they’re all fact-statements more than anything else.

            Like, I remember the Challenger disaster, and two of them weren’t born yet when that happened. I also remember the first WTC bombing and the OK City bombing, and the Olympic bombing, but they and some other sibs were too young for some or all of these. So the first big national trauma for the younger ones was 9/11.

            Like, the ones of us who got out of school before the recession all got good jobs and own houses, even those of us who are disabled due to chronic illness now. And the ones who didn’t get out of school before then have had to work a lot harder and hold multiple jobs at once and live with Mom and, for the two youngest (plus all three SOs of the three youngest), go back to school to train in a different profession where they are more likely to get decent jobs.

            These are just facts about different things that happened to me (Gen X) and my Gen X sibs vs my Millennial sibs. They’re not mythically different people because they were born in a house that already had a computer while I wasn’t. There’s not some magic about having been online before Eternal September, or anything. Mostly, it just means that I can say “Eternal September” and some people in their 40s & 50s giggle.

          2. I think that’s very true but if we pretend people aren’t judgmental gits (ha), there was a massive shift in how people grew up over a short period. It happened slightly later in NZ but basically I am old enough (at the venerable age of 31) that I learnt to type on typewriters, we had to visit another school to see their computers in intermediate (age 11-12), and I studied out of encyclopedias. I also spent much of highschool in our computer lab, but boy was the internet different!

            I worked with a USian woman only 2 years younger than me and her life experience was completely different due to the age difference + slightly earlier commonality of a lot of technology + richer parents.

            I’m another older student and my small group of friends consists of a couple of early-20s and a couple of mid-30s – I spend the most time with one guy who’s 22 and childhood experience is drastically different to mine. It’s pretty interesting.

          3. Yep. I’ve read a couple of things that I would swear were originally written as hit pieces about GenX in the early 90s with a search and replace on the generation name and a few tech buzzword thrown in, particularly pieces about work styles/workplace interaction.

        2. The bulk of what older people complain about regarding millennials is just the latest re-hashing of the “OMG, kids these days!” complaints that happens Every. Single. Generation. They said it about GenX. They said it about the boomers. Hell, you can find references going back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans complaining about “kids these days!”

          1. Literally this. Every single complaint about younger generations pretty much boils down to, “People who are younger than I am like things I’m not familiar with and don’t act the way I do. Therefore, end of civilization as we know it.”

        3. Eh. A lot of the stuff about millenials and technology is less about age and a lot about ACCESS.
          How much money your parents had dictated what age you had a computer at home a lot more than whether you were born in the early or late 80s. Also rural vs urban (Internet access came later outside rural centers), what country you were in, and so on.

          Pretty much the only true statement about Millenials is how diverse we are.

      2. Yeah, I’m squarely in the middle of “Gen X” but I always felt like “Gen X” was people 10 years older than me. When you’re hearing about all these things that your alleged generation is doing in their 20’s and you’re 14 … it doesn’t really resonate with you.

        1. The “allegedly” is really important here too. I am firmly of the opinion that a lot of the stuff that’s attributed to millennials (and that was attributed to Gen X twenty years ago, or Boomers twenty years before that, or….) follows the New York Times Trend Piece pattern of “I saw this one thing twice from three of my college-age daughter’s friends and am extrapolating it across millions in an entire demographic group.” There may have been a seed of truth in it, but it’s diluted to almost homeopathic levels by the cultural narrative.

      3. I think that’s the inherent problem with generational definitions. People in general have different life experiences and in particular, time changes a lot over 20 years. So talking about “millennials” is inherent flawed – it’s a little fallacious to say “I personally don’t identify with much of it” because that will be true of pretty much everyone.

        1. This. I’m solidly in the Millennial generation (30), but I don’t really have much in common with someone who’s just getting out of high school…any more than my father in law, who was born in 1960, had much in common with the older Boomers who were born right after WW2, despite being technically part of the same generation.

      4. On topic: Captain is spot on! Backing off from Mike at minimum is a good idea and even better idea is reaching out to other folks in your cohort and I also agree especially the women! I wish I had connected more with women in my major (mechanical engineering) when I was in college as we were vastly outnumbered and while I had some wonderful guy friends, I had few friends who were women and it’s one of the few things I regret from my college days.

        Thanks for the link to the article stellanor 🙂 I related very much to that article too, I was born in 1979 and by most counts too young to be Gen-X, but too old to be a millennial. Yes, the Gen-Y label is out there, but it was never as popular as Gen-X was or millennial is. I feel like my experience of growing up while the internet was becoming a thing (I was in on the old BBS, played all the old school online games and play a lot of the newer stuff now and it is astounding how much it has changed), cell phones were becoming a thing (I did not have my first cell phone until just after college, but my siblings had theirs in high school/college), and so much changes tapes to CDs to everything digital (I still love my CDs thankyouverymuch and also ), VHS to DVD to Bluray to digital and more. It is an experience I’m glad I had as I feel like that little window of a few years where those of us who grew up experienced all that is so fascinating. And now that I have kids, its so interesting to watch their experiences of growing up with Ipads and netflix and smart phones and apps and holy crap. I had to explain to my then 5-year-old what the deal was with commercials and why some shows I can’t just pull up at any time cause they are on regular TV and not netflix

    2. I am 36 (1979 is my birth year) and I don’t subscribe to the millenial thing but that’s also because a lot of the “HOMGZ MILLENIALS” stuff applies to *white* people between the ages of 25-35……

      Although since I am one of the first to have had a computer in my house since the day I was born (Dad programmed mainframes when Silicon Valley was just a tiny creek) I do take fierce umbrage at the ‘screens are not for communicating look up and make meaningful communication with the people near you!’ because… hi friends! *waves* I love yoooooou all!

      1. Heh! I’m a millennial (turned 30 last month), and I’m super-into ducking behind a phone or tablet screen whenever I’m in a waiting room or line or restaurant by myself–basically, anywhere that anyone might decide to strike up a conversation with me. I proudly own that yes, I AM actively trying to avoid all but the most basic and necessary of human interactions by shoving a screen between my face and the world. But you know what? I’m a hardline introvert. If it weren’t a portable internet connectivity device, I’d have a book, or a pen and notepad. In fact, sometimes it is one of the latter! I’m fairly sure I’d be antisocial and using whatever I could to maintain stringent contact barriers no matter what year I was born.

        For those reasons, I too bristle at multiple generalizations that pearl-clutchers like to fling at us: 1) that we are somehow missing out by making eye contact only with our phones (I firmly believe that, for me personally, “don’t talk to strangers” is just as solid advice now as it was when I was a small fry), 2) that you can’t make meaningful connections online (also waving!), and 3) that everybody in our age bracket is white, middle- to upper-middle-class, and digitally savvy.

        1. The “kids these days spend all their time looking at their phones and not reading/socializing/whatevering” always makes me laugh. Best Boyfriend and I on our phones at a restaurant together are probably playing WWF with each other. Me on the bus staring at my phone? Reading a book. Me texting? Socializing with my closest friends, who live all over North America.

          Also I’m 40.

          1. One of my iPad’s primary functions in my life is the free downloading and reading of classic literature! I’ve also got friends all over the country, and keeping in touch would be a hell of a lot harder without modern tech, especially for the poor saps stuck trying to decipher my handwriting through a multi-paragraph letter.

            It makes me think of all the freaking out when people would post those pictures of couples/friends/whatever who were together but on their phones, only with the phones Photoshopped out. I think I might have been in the minority of people who looked at the pictures, shrugged, and wondered if there’d be so much uproar if the subjects had been clearly holding books (of the old-school ink-and-paper kind that I, a dreaded millennial, am still partial to myself). I dunno, one of the qualities I demand in an intimate partnership is that we don’t have to be “on” all the time and can spend significant chunks of the day doing our own thing, whether it’s reading, writing, commenting on CA, or whatnot. If that’s in the same room, cool. If not, also cool. But I have a really high need for “me” time, and again, I think that’d be the case no matter which generation my birthdate put me in and no matter what distractions I had around to help me make that happen!

          2. You know, I’ll cop to using my phone to multitask when I really ought (and want) to be paying attention to something else. But, at the same time, I also defend my right to play WWF during a Hulu ad, or WeChat with a friend while the baby nurses, or read a book while I’m waiting for an email.

            I think the people who are the loudest and angriest about “kids” checking out of social interaction are also the ones who are least aware of the range of interaction that can be happening in our little magic boxes.

      2. Yeah… The gripes about screens and meaningful contact/communication make this cynical Silicon Valley GenX-er laugh.

        Because before the ubiquitousness of mobile devices and laptops, people avoided each other with newspapers, books, and magazines.

        They still do. The delivery method is just different.

      3. I’m 49, and also had a computer in the house very early, because my dad (and mom, when they met) worked in the aerospace industry and was doing work with computers quite early. He bought one of the first available Commodore PCs and taught himself programming languages on his own time.

    3. This whole generational thing is so skewed, it doesn’t even make sense. Generation X “begins” in 1965 and Millenials start from 1980. Fifteen years is barely enough time to start a new generation. And the poor Gen Y is given maybe 7 years or disappears together.

  15. It sounds like you’ve built up a lot of frustration about Mike’s bad habits and self-absorption, and it’s all coming out at once, which can make it seem outsized. It’s not; it’s a perfectly valid response.

    He is, as far as I’m aware, not a terrible person! He has many fine qualities! He is sometimes, maybe even mostly, a good friend! You feel bad for denying that by being mad at him about the times and ways in which he is not a good friend. You feel like you’re not being fair.

    You don’t have to be fair. Your relationship with him is not about him, it is about you.

    What you need to work out now is how much work you want to/can stand to put into this friendship. Maybe you could train him to be a more thoughtful and attentive conversational partner… eventually. Or you could downgrade him to small-doses friend, and let go of your anger and your expectations in the same movement. If he matters less to you, his actions will bother you less. Or, you could just drop him. All perfectly valid! Just, do what’s right for you.

    1. > It sounds like you’ve built up a lot of frustration about Mike’s bad habits and self-absorption, and it’s all coming out at once, which can make it seem outsized. It’s not; it’s a perfectly valid response.

      Yessss. I’m someone who has a lot of trouble recognizing my anger in the moment when someone does something that makes me mad – it takes me awhile to realize that the reason I’m stewing is because I’m pissed off about something. Because of that tendency, when someone has repeatedly done something to make me mad and I finally realize it, my rage always feels (to me) a bit disproportionate. But it’s because I’m finally letting myself look back and say, “Also this person did X! And Y! AND I HATED THAT!!! I just didn’t realize how much until now!!” Because it’s much easier to look back and see how upset I was than for me to process it at the time, so it all comes tumbling out at once.

      It’s not that I’m wrong for being that mad, it’s that I didn’t recognize the things that were upsetting me and act to stop them until a much later date. Not exactly the recommended method of dealing (I’m working on it!). But it’s totally valid, now that you’re seeing Mike in this light, to look back and be unhappy about how he’d treated you previously. Having to repeatedly say no to sex may be what’s causing that look back, but the way he’s treated you all along sounds kind of crappy and you don’t have to continue to shrug that off, even if you did at the time.

      1. “I’m someone who has a lot of trouble recognizing my anger in the moment when someone does something that makes me mad” –> this is me too. I’ve learned to pay attention to the daydreams that come when my mind is wandering while someone is droning on. Like the one where I’ve died at the lunch table, and the flesh is falling away from my bones and being replaced with cobwebs…now I’m a mummy…and he is still talking at me. A good sign to limit my time with certain people.

        1. Me, too. It’s bad in my case, because it stems from a too-quick temper that I have learnt to ignore because ninety percent of what makes me huffle and puff like an outraged hedgehog is just random air molecules being airlike, but I let that other ten percent supersaturate and the resulting boom is really not fun.

  16. “The idea of hanging out with him became exhausting. But I thought this was my issue, not his. So I soldiered on.”

    Even if it is your issue, LW, you’re allowed to take care of your issue. You don’t have to put up with something that is tiring to you, taking up your precious energy that could better be spent on things more rewarding to you, just because you’re self-aware enough to identify why it may be particularly tiring to you. Mike is tiring — he is not respecting your responses and is pushing his dominant mode of interaction — and you not wanting that isn’t some sort of weakness that you have to overcome for his benefit. Having to push back and muster your energy often is an exhausting thing, and if he can’t learn to balance your modes of interaction then it isn’t on you to simply accommodate his. Especially since you too should be able to relax while socializing, not spending your supposed downtime doing emotional labour for someone else and having to fight to be heard.

    1. YES. You don’t owe Mike anything but civility and courtesy (up to a point, of course.) He doesn’t have some kind of Relationship Punch Card where you have to dutifully mark off each little square because you might or might not have issues that correlate with how he acts!

    2. I’m overweight. Because of that, if a friend insisted on our interactions being going running, I would be extremely uncomfortable. Yet this situation is totally my issue! It’s even my fault! So should I suck it up and drag my unfit self around because that’s what my friend wants to do?

      No. Because I don’t want to. It doesn’t matter why I don’t want to, or whose fault that is — I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to, so I’m not going to. And my friend needs to respect my preferences; if they can’t, then they need to find another friend. I am not a “bad friend” because I don’t want to be their running buddy, I am simply not the friend they’re looking for.

      (Waves hand. “This is not the friend you’re looking for. Move along.”)

  17. “Do not let this man that you don’t really want to be with logick his way into your pants.”

    Seconding this so hard – this happened to me with a college friend who was extremely intellectually intelligent but had no emotional awareness and tended to “forget” about boundaries. He could come up with super LOGIC reasons why we should hook up, and I’d go along with it because LOGIC (ah, being a young woman in a math program). If this motivates you: the sex was ALWAYS bad because he didn’t care about my needs at all (he just outright refused to take any kind of direction, even for really small things). Unsurprisingly, he was also not great at consent-related stuff. I thought we were really close, but when I told him we weren’t sleeping together anymore, he just stopped talking to me entirely, to the degree of actually ignoring me when we were in the same space.

    SO ANYWAY, resist the logick which is very logickal except that it completely ignores your feelings. Guess what – actual logic about relationships and sex is possible, but it includes emotions and desires, even if those aren’t all that logical. Actual logic will adapt given new information, and will treat the desires of both parties as important!

    1. Yes, logic and emotions can play together! Quite nicely, in fact, as long as you are willing to give them both equal time and respect. If your emotions are having a hard time with someone, you can use your logic to figure out why and get out. If your logic is telling you you’re making a bad choice, you can use your emotions to figure out another one that still feels workable. Etc. Logic doesn’t get to win just because it’s associated with men and being rational! Both are important!!

    2. “He could come up with super LOGIC reasons why we should hook up, and I’d go along with it because LOGIC (ah, being a young woman in a math program). If this motivates you: the sex was ALWAYS bad because he didn’t care about my needs at all ”

      Okay, this is probably an inappropriate question to ask, but I just have to, treat it as rhetorical question if you like: What WERE his LOGIC reasons why you should have sex with him, if he wasn’t even good in bed? (Like, the only logical reason to have sex is because it feels good. Unless you want children, that is, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case)
      Did he convince you that you should have sex with him so that other women don’t have to, and that this would be a noble and heroic thing to do?

      Being a very selfish person myself, someone telling me that I should do something because it makes him feel good, would just not seem logical at all.

      1. I’m imagining something like, “Our sexes, genders and sexual orientations are mutually compatible. Our schedules and geographic proximity are aligned in such a way that effort in arranging times and places to copulate would be of minimal inconvenience.”

      2. Most of these types aren’t really using LOGIC. They are using rhetorical tricks that sound like logic, and because they are tricks, are hard to get around, particularly for somebody who is of good will and believes they are dealing with actual logic.

  18. ” I want to block his phone number. I want to punch him in the face.”

    This is completely reasonable. I mean, you can’t punch him in the face, but this is not you over-reacting, or unfairly projecting issues from your past onto him. This is him laying on the last straw. He’s already treated you badly and obnoxiously in many ways, and because he has some traits you like and you didn’t feel you had many other social options you were able to tolerate this, but pushing you for sex AGAIN when you’d made it clear you weren’t interested has finally wrecked your last shred of capacity to rationalise away what a shitty friend he’s being. But now it feels weird that that shred is gone and you kind of want it back. I think it makes a difference here what KIND of sex he was looking for. Of course, people have FwB arrangements that work very well, but there has to be a solid base of mutual respect. Here, it doesn’t seem like his suggestions were like “I really like you in a more than friendly way… I’m not necessarily looking for anything serious, but can we go out for a drink?” but more like: “So, you know how you’re already my emotional labour vending machine and validation machine? Can you also be my sex vending machine? Because that would be really convenient for me.” No wonder you want to punch him in the face!

    I think your friends are right and you don’t like him any more. Wanting to punch people is often a strong indicator we don’t like them. But you did like him, and you miss that, and it feels as though you OUGHT to be able to still enjoy liking him, so just throwing up your hands and going “Ew. Done.” is harder than it sounds.

    So let yourself miss the good aspects of the friendship and try to find them elsewhere, and go right ahead and block his number. I think you could simplify all these steps down to one: “Never be alone with Mike again, ever, do not go to the movies with him, ever, never talk to him on the phone or online, ever,” He can still, if you want, be the kind of friend you talk to about strictly non-personal stuff at parties. He can be the person you treat with casual civility between classes. If he asks why you’re no longer close/why you no longer endure his monologues, stare, say “You pushed me for sex again” and turn away. I don’t think you need a longterm Mike-managing stategy, or to cut down alcohol (if you don’t want to) you need to have as little as possible to do with Mike. At least for now! Maybe in six months you can graaaaadually let him a little closer if he’s been behaving pleasantly that long. But give yourself as total a break from Mike as possible.

  19. This is beautiful, and there’s so much truth here: “You are the driver. Make sure it’s your favorite music on the radio and that your map is taking you where you want to go.”

  20. If you’re having trouble convincing yourself to do less of the emotional work for Mike, try this experiment: Think up a smallish problem, blow it up to a biggish problem (for conversation purposes), and try unloading it all night on Mike. Don’t choose the actual big stuff with your mother because it will hurt too much if the experiment goes the way I think it will. I think Mike will blow right past whatever is bothering you so he can get back to himself and his ideas. If he does become sympathetic and helpful, you have new information on how to approach him conversationally when you do want to see him in the future. Don’t make something up altogether because it’s too hard to keep track of lies. Just take something that’s bothering you a little and present it to him like it was bothering you a lot.

    1. Having had a Mike in my life once, I like this idea. I did it, but not as an experiment, and unfortunately it was something where I was vulnerable to big hurt. But when he reacted in a judgmental, self-focussed, dismissive way it sure did something to my desire to listen to his problems so much!

    2. Yes! If he does choose to listen and be supportive then you can keep that as knowledge that he does care about your stuff too, he just can’t get his mouth to stop running. If he ignores you, then you’ve learned a different lesson.

      (Also, I will share that I once had a friend who complained that I never shared anything of emotional significance with him. Finally one day I had something of minor traumatic impact happen the same day we were going to get together, not a huge thing but it was painful, and I shared it with him. He completely blew me off and ignored it. Yeah, ignored all of his complaints on this issue for the rest of our friendship!)

    3. I tried the experiment inadvertently myself. The dynamic with my friend was that I always listened sympathetically to whatever she had to say. I’d been in therapy a while, had a place to talk about the big and little bothers, mostly had my act together better, and therefore didn’t unload on her the same way. I deferred to her preferences in a lot of things because she seemed to care about little decisions more. For a tiny example, I might want to eat at restaurant X a little, but she wanted to eat at restaurant Y a lot, so it made sense to me to eat at restaurant Y. It took me the longest time to realize that we always talked about what she wanted to talk about, always did what she wanted to do, and she managed this never by being overbearing, only by being hurt or vulnerable. Then I brought up something that was important to me, and it wasn’t even something bad. I’d gone on a trip and was excited to tell someone all about it. Sure enough, she asked me to stop talking about it because it made her jealous, even though she knew it didn’t make sense since she’d been on trips too, but it made her feel sad, and it was important to her not to hear about it …

      Lesson learned.

  21. If you grew up being trained to be the patient listener, it’s going to be hard to break that. You might need to work on it on your own for a while, perhaps even get a bit of counselling.

  22. First time commenting! Captain, your advice is fantastic and thoughtful as always. I just finished my associate’s degree at the local community college, where many of my peers were also younger than me, so I definitely feel you there, OP.

    Grad programs can be notoriously time-consuming and stressful, and that makes it even more important to make what free time you have as fantastic and stress-free as possible. Aside from the advice about on-campus activities and generally varying your free time more, there are tools such as meetup.com that could be useful in finding social activities with folks your age. There are a lot of ‘young professional’ groups— don’t shy away from them because you’re still a student! I used to, and I was pleasantly surprised when I finally did go.

    I do encourage you to spend more time with your grad program peers. Aside from the networking possibilities, it’s totally possible to have excellent relationships with people 10 years younger than you, especially when you’re all adults. Millennials aren’t all cookie-cutter copies of each other. They have as much variety as Gen Xers do. Your grad classmates already have at least one or two shared interests with you– it’s likely they’ll have more in common with you than you expect. Good luck!!

  23. I’m an older grad student, too. Like, old enough to be the mother of many students on campus… and it feels weird when I remind myself of that. Sure, there are many students barely out of their teens that I can’t relate to, but that’s more about non-overlapping interests than age. Honestly, it’s a lot harder to find friends my age, because being over 40, never married with no kids means that the many people my age can’t relate to me anymore. (I’ve tried, but those never develop into more than acquaintance-ships.)

    Anyway, what I’m saying is that people are people, regardless of age. There are sure to be people who are interested in things you are, too, if you put age aside. I like the Captain’s advice of making the most of campus activities — there is always something going on for just about every taste. Like intellectual discussions? There have to numerous seminars going on across campus — doesn’t matter if it’s in your field or not — you are sure to meet people who would be down for intellectual discussion and debate.

    And yeah, I had a Mike once, but not during grad school. The short story is, I liked him more when I didn’t know him very well. Once I realized he was never going to make an effort to be MY friend (take an interest in my life and what I’m doing), I did a fade. It was pretty easy for me, though, because he lived far away and he never made much effort to even stay in touch. On the few occasions since then when he suggested getting together, I told him I was too busy — which was true, because, hey, grad school!

    In summary, LW, you don’t have to keep someone in your life who doesn’t add value to it, even if on some level you find them likable. And if you put aside the idea of age as a barrier to friendship, you’ll find a lot of interesting people of all ages out there. Good luck.

    1. Rereading my post: started grad school during the fade, so I was a super-busy new grad student when “Mike” wanted to reconnect. Nope, no time and energy to feed your ego, dude.

      And I agree with the others that since you’ve said sex is not happening, he should not be asking a second time. Trying to push against your boundaries is not cool.

  24. LW, what sort of grad program are you in? If your department has a PhD program (whether you’re a PhD student yourself or not) then there are probably quite a few students in their 30s. They might be holed up in the library or at home working on their theses rather than attending classes, but if you attend grad social events, dissertation defenses (if your dept has open defenses, that’s where a lot of people can come out of the woodwork), lectures, etc., you’ll run across them. They will almost certainly share the traits you describe as common ground between you and Mike, because, well, PhD students are basically always intellectual and cynical. Also, maybe there are some postdocs (or even younger faculty in adjacent fields) around that you could hang out with too?

    That said, I want to echo what other people have said about younger students. I’m also in my 30s and in a grad program, and I totally understand how 23-year-olds can seem like Not My People, but some of them are pretty great! Plus, like the Captain said, these are your future colleagues, it’s a good idea to get to know them. And they are guaranteed to be into some of the same stuff you are into. I have some very close friends from my grad cohort (with whom I am mostly of an age), but also from cohorts years ahead or behind me, and I like having friends of all different ages very much; it’s nice to connect to people with different perspectives.

    Good luck!

    1. I went back to school just on the cusp of 40, and some of the coolest people I met were 15-20 years younger than me. I remember one girl in my class that looked literally like Barbie – long blonde hair, tan, always dressed to the nines. She was wearing full makeup and false eyelashes the day we went on a class hike through the Arroyo Seco. Now for contrast, I am a frizzy-haired rather potato-shaped woman who rarely wears anything more time-consuming than eyeliner.

      But Barbie came over to me before the hike and asked me to be in her project group, and she was *brilliant*. It was a delight working with her.

    2. Plus, like the Captain said, these are your future colleagues, it’s a good idea to get to know them.

      I just want to pull this out and highlight it and draw sparkly stars around it to get LW’s attention. LW, I might be over-reading your letter, but I heard a whole lot of disdain for your peers and colleagues in there. If your field is small, these very same millennials with their electronics and pop culture are going to be your coworkers, referees, bosses, employees, collaborators, etc down the line. They are going to teach your advisees. They will be the advisors to the students you teach in your classes. And they absolutely will remember how you treated them in grad school.

      I get it. It’s weird. I went to grad school late, and was a decade older than the next oldest person in my cohort. Hell, I was a year older than my advisor. There were times it was super awkward when we went out after lab for $0.10 wings and I didn’t catch any of the pop culture references. Or the time I cracked a joke about a/l/s and then had to explain what usenet was. But in spite of that, some of my younger colleagues became great friends. One of them absolutely saved my sanity when I was struggling with a godawful class with a godawful professor outside my main field of expertise and felt on the edge of quitting entirely. Bonus: all that practice with feeling awkward about mis-matched tv viewing habits or whatthefuckever has made it much easier to laugh off similarly awkward conversations in my first job, with both much older and much younger colleagues.

      1. lol my “greek chorus” are exactly those 25 year olds that I shunned when I first arrived. they are FANTASTIC. I love them. And now that many of my “grownup” friends are married and procreating and Servicing the Mortgage, I have so much more in common with them than I ever thought possible. apologies to all the millennials! and for all the stereotyping! my bad. honestly my bad. and now that I see that they give the same excellent advice as the captain, I’m eating my shorts. or I will, when it’s spring again and shorts weather. — LW

        1. Good news about your friendships with others in your program!

          I keep thinking about your letter, and it’s not like Mike came to you all “I know you said you didn’t want casual, but I’m totally in love with you and I want to take you on a real date and get to know you that way.” He was like “since you’re already listening to my problems/monologues it would be pretty convenient if we were also fucking, amirite?”

          Give this lazy request exactly the attention it deserves: None.

    3. You could also try meeting grad students in different programs. Most universities with grad programs should have some sort of student association for the grad students, for representation and events etc., and that’s often a good way to meet people who may be in similar situations even if they’re not in the same classes and program as you.

  25. As someone who had a similar situation with a very good friend when we were both in high school – I smell some Geek Social Fallacy brewing there, so 100% with the Captain on connecting with the women in your program and making Mike a small doses kind of friend.

    I felt super-guilty for ghosting on my friend, but I also felt it was the right thing to do. We started off well, shared a lot, but when he started making romantic advances, I just couldn’t deal with it. Like you, I wanted to delete his number and punch him in the face. (He invited me on a weekend in the mountains with two of his friends – one male, one female, which… dude. Seriously. No.) Instead of screaming and running in the other direction, I just thanked whomever was listening on that day that I’d made plans with my mother and so our “friend-date” had an expiration time. I didn’t meet him again face to face, and let our conversations fizzle out. Was my reaction fair? I don’t think it matters. I felt unsafe, and that was just about all I could think about.

    LW, your feelings are your own, whatever they are, and you deserve to honor them. Just because Mike feels like he can say whatever to you doesn’t mean you are obliged to reciprocate.

  26. Mike’s behavior sounds like he doesn’t want to be a very good friend. He’s willing to talk, not listen. He’s willing to state his needs, but not pay attention to yours. He demands attention but doesn’t solicit you for ways in which you might need attention. He wants intimacy that goes one way. Honestly, the sex he wants seems like it’s just the completion of a pattern in his head – Woman + Emotional Intimacy = (Girlfriend – Sex). He wants to add sex to balance the equation so he knows what to do with you, but you’ve noticed he’d be bad at that, too. Honestly, he sounds like a Once A Month friend. Go, find some folks you’d be cool talking to – a Once A Week Friend is still going to be more fulfilling and less draining than Mike.

    As a millennial:If you want people who are cynical about pop culture, that’s kind of our thing.

  27. It sounds like, they say, I just don’t like him. I do like him. I think?

    I’d like to reframe this, LW, not as “do you like *him*” but as “how much do you enjoy spending time with him?” He does not have to be an Evil Person for you to only want him as a small-doses friend. It sounds like extended, frequent, intense conversations with him are stressing you out, so the Cap’s advice for Not Doing Those is excellent. That does not constitute utter rejection of him as a human being consigning him to the nether regions for all eternity. You are not a bad person for wanting to interact with him in ways you find enjoyable.

  28. I think this is one of the best CA responses I’ve ever read. Brilliantly written. And I wholeheartedly agree with everything, especially this: DO NOT SLEEP WITH HIM. Thank you, CA.

  29. You say that you like Mike. But the thing is, you can like someone, and still recognize that they are not good for you, or that the relationship is unhealthy. You can like someone, and still decide that you aren’t going to be with them anymore.

    You like Mike, but do you like him enough to keep putting up with the parts of the relationship that suck?

  30. I went back for a second master’s degree at 30. Almost all my friends were 22-23 (a couple PhD students were 25). And you know what? I made amazing friends and the only time I ever noticed the difference was when I made cultural references that went over their heads (which was an issue anyway, since I was overseas). Stop fussing about “generations” or “kids these days”. Find people who like the things you like, and to hell with worrying about age when it comes to friends.

  31. “The idea of hanging out with him became exhausting. But I thought this was my issue, not his. So I soldiered on.”

    Very confusing comment to me? The whole point of friends is that they’re not colleagues or otherwise people you have to hang out with – they’re the people you actively choose to spend time with when you don’t have to because you want to?

    It’s a bit like saying ‘The thought of eating this ginger flavoured ice cream is exhausting but I feel like it’s not objectively bad ice cream, it’s just me who finds ginger kind of unappetizing in ice cream so…’

    ‘Obviously I’m going to force it down’??


    b) ‘Maybe I’ll just put it back in the fridge and grab a chocolate chip cookie for dessert instead?’

    1. In the freezer, I mean. We’re not trying to melt the ice cream, just to leave it alone for whoever does want it and move on to something you’re more in the mood for.

    2. I love that analogy! I think in this case, though, the ginger ice cream is also pretty freezer-burned. Maybe it was tasty once, but not anymore.

      1. And while I’ve had ginger ice cream and love it, it’s not my place or your responsibility to check your taste buds for issues if you find you aren’t a fan.

    3. This! LW, you have every right to like what you like and not like what you don’t like. Relationships should not dictated by the idea of “Eat all your peas, you know there are children starving in China.”

  32. Oh boy. This is some very good advice for a situation which I’ve heard about in so many situations–not just for established adults, either.

    I too have done my share of emotional labour for a (probably depressed, definitely traumatised) mother and interrupty men. I know how it can be draining and confusing. You can like and value a person hugely, but they will still not be good for you. You are absolutely allowed to change your mind and alter the nature of your relationship to them.

    I am what you’d call a “millennial.” LW, I mean this kindly: I promise you at least one of those ruddy “”””millennials””””* have gone through something like this, too. It is something to share–and you very likely share other things with some of your younger classmates. You’re probably smarter, more experienced, and knowledgeable about some things because you’ve had more time, but many of my younger friends have achieved highs and gone through lows more extreme than I will ever have the capacity to experience. My partner is nearly a decade older than me. Some of his friends are now my friends; we shared an interest in genre and proceeded from there.

    And also, not sure how to put this, but… 30something dudes who complain vociferously about young people raise something of a salmon pink flag for me. Men with this attitude still want to bone down with young people in spite or because of contempt. It’s at once odd and predictable. Mike’s cynicism towards young people doesn’t make him morally superior, interesting, or unique. It’s generally better to see young people as people, and not lived examples of NYT articles bloviating about Kids These Days, not just for this particular situation but for life in general. It’s less exhausting and life will be richer for it, honestly.

    * “Millennial” seems to be a term entrenched in the American class system. It doesn’t apply to me, and likely many Americans my age feel similarly for different reasons, but I acknowledge it as a projection of that which is not a baby boomer.

    1. Yes, exactly. For every 23 year old who moved out a year ago and has never done their own laundry, there’s someone who ran away from home at 16 and busted their ass to get to college, or who raised up their younger siblings while their single parent worked, or is just incredibly independent and together. I’ve met 40 year old men with no life experience aside and people younger than me who’ve survivors incredible trials. Age really doesn’t mean much.

    2. I started my Master’s program when I was 21. My mother had died a few months before, one of those deaths that seemingly came out of nowhere but wasn’t altogether surprising in hindsight. Since I was the only child and she had changed her will to leave my dad out of it, the clean-up was mine to direct. I had a lot of help, sure, but suffice to say it was a different sort of life experience than most of my peers had undergone. I’d definitely second the recommendation for LW to try talking to her classmates; even if the freshest-faced ones didn’t wind up taking a semester’s worth of independent study at the School of Hard Knocks, they still have some common ground with LW – they are in the same graduate program, after all.

  33. Feelings are real things! They are valid reactions to situations, not illogical things that should be ignored. If you’re feeling gross about this friendship, LW, that’s something to honor and pay attention to rather than dismiss.

    You’ve got this!

    1. Also want to add that I think people are doing a bit of a pile-on with regard to the LW’s offhand comment on milennials. This is a hard situation for the LW as is, and I sense that it isn’t going to be made easier by fifty separate people telling her she’s judgey.

      1. I mean, she apparently judged the rest of her cohort so hard that she’s stuck with this jerk (either by her own choice or because, y’know, nobody likes to be around somebody who thinks they’re superior to you). Apparently they sat around being judgey together. So yeah, she needs a lesson on how to interact with her peers at school– part of which is “quit being cynical and judgey about your classmates before you know them.”

        1. No, that’s exactly the logic that upsets me here. Her letter DOESN’T say that she chose not to befriend millennials. It says that she traded some age-cohort bonding jokes about millennials with Mike. Also, whatever she thinks or said about millennials didn’t spark Mike’s boundary-crossing behavior, nor does someone who is dealing with such a person need to be “taught a lesson” in how not to deserve such repellent company.

          What this does feel like is that one line of her letter really, REALLY triggered people who are understandably upset about the ways that older people are cashing in on millennial-bashing in the media. That is totally separate from her problem, though, and I don’t think she deserves the amount of scolding that’s going on here.

          1. I think we’re seeing an unfortunate artifact of several people making the same points at the same time, which means we get multiple threads about the same tangential issue, which looks a lot like a deliberate gang-up. Of course, back on Usenet this happened all the time due to the carrier pigeons we used to transmit messages being so slow, so we got used to it, but the newfangled kids with their cloud computing–ahem. Anyway. I concur that this reaction is, in fact, disproportionate.

          2. When I started my, as you put it, scolding, there were 3 other comments, and when I finally posted it there were nearly 50 more, some of which were about the Millennial thing, so I and others evidently didn’t see that it was well-covered. Consider me duly branked and bridled.

  34. Dear LW:

    It’s so damn frustrating when people who were pleasant and fun switch it up and become drags, and creepy to boot.

    I think that’s happening with Mike. The two of you had new friend crushes because you were agemates with similar interests. Now his other interests come out, and they are less fun.

    I like the Captain’s break down of steps to take – I like it a lot. I especially hope you can reach out to other women in your program. Women friends and colleagues make a huge difference.

    (Also, I think Mike is a creep. Getting mad makes total sense.)

  35. The way “cynicism” was portrayed here gave me a mental image of that marble rattling in a spray can-alone and somehow impotent. Why the venom towards younger people-did Mike bring this to your friendship? Is this an element of “forced teaming?” He sounds fearful and controlling here, and that’s why I would kick him to the curb. He’s pushing to be insular when a student’s focus should be the opposite.
    I grew up in a small town and a lovely element of that was friends were just people I liked. Their age wasn’t important. I had my own separate friendships with several people my mom was also friends with.
    School and workplaces have always just been more small towns to me. They all have a surprising “long tail” when it comes to finding work and needing an introduction or a reference.

    1. I agree on that one. I am GenX but I don’t feel cynical toward millenials. I would caution OP going forward about being bitter or complainy or vocally cynical… it can come across as being a lazy thinker and will definitely turn some people off from hanging out with you and attract, as OP has found out, the wrong type.

  36. I was reading lw thinking, OK, why exactly is she hanging out with him? Because it doesn’t sound like she likes him very much.

    I also went to graduate school in my 40s and it was a great experience meeting all sorts of people. Don’t let yourself get boxed into one person.

  37. I did university later than usual, and then was in grad school with, mostly, people ten years younger than me: millennials.

    And now my two closest friends in the world are women who are 8 and 9 years younger than me. Why? Because we have a lot in common. Because we met at times and in contexts where we could put in the time and work and shared experiences to become best friends. Because we like talking about the same things. Because we respect and love and delight one another.

    By ignoring your emotional and stage-related peers in favour of Mike, who has just this one thing in common with you, you have isolated yourself from the most important prospective friendships you could be making in grad school. The women you meet in grad school are, with few exceptions, fantastic people who are multifaceted, inquisitive, intelligent, interested in collaboration, and all-around fantastic, and in ignoring these women because they happen to be younger than you, because they are “millennials” or interested in “pop culture”, you are really only punishing yourself.

    In this case, punishing yourself with the friendship of a dude who pushes all the emotional labour off on you, and is on his way to becoming a sex pest.

    So: make friends with the other grad students in your programme. Make friends with women. But most of all, tell this guy that you considered that when you said no, sex was off the table forever, and that he has violated a hard line. You could also say “it bothers me that you talk over me, and that you don’t care about my opinion, and that you do no emotional labour in this friendship” but honestly, he likely won’t even understand how it could be a problem.

  38. (I am a professorial wordy sort and I love an intense dude and sometimes our conversations are more about taking turns riding the Word Kraken than give-and-take. You just gotta interrupt sometimes. It’s ok.)





    BRB, putting on clean pants and making a note to use this phrase forever because this is what I fricking do in every “conversation” #sorrynotsorry.

    1. Most of my favourite conversations are full of both of us doing long, superfasttalkimg monologues, and frequent eager interrupting.

      It’s totally fine if this isn’t for you. But in that case, either say so and find out if it’s something where he can compromise on a conversational style that works for you too, or (and with the other stuff you’ve said I’m voting option 2) just move on and spend less time with him, and find your people, who feel natural and enjoyable to talk with rather than leaving you annoyed and resentful. Pretending to get along with someone who leaves you feeling that way is usually bad for you and quite often for them too.

    2. I am enjoying the thought that you had to put on clean pants before writing this down because you shat yourself with happiness at the Captain’s turn of phrase.

  39. Hey LW, cis, like trans, is an adjective and doesn’t need to be hyphenated. Like: I don’t have brown-hair, I have brown hair. I’m not a cis-woman, I’m…well I’m a nonbinary woman. But you get the idea.

    1. So would the correct version be “cis woman” or “ciswoman”? Since I think I would have guessed at a hyphen too.

  40. Another voice for “what’s wrong with us twenty-somethings?”. Of the friends I’ve made living in a student housing co-op, one is 19, one is 23, one is 25 and hasn’t finished an associate degree yet, one just graduated at 25, one is 32, and I don’t even know how old all the rest are. Determining friendship or likability by age is silly, and judging people for being millenials is actually pretty hurtful. Maybe turn off the age-detector in your brain. I only know how old those friends are because it came up. I thought the 19yo was older and the 32yo was younger, so I expressed surprise, but it made not one whit of difference to this 21yo being their friend.

    That said. Mike is not your friend just because he is your age. In fact, Mike is not your friend. You are not even Mike’s friend. Mike thinks you are his friend, but you are actually his therapist. You are not qualified to be Mike’s therapist and you cannot be a good therapist if you don’t take breaks when you can’t handle it. Stop letting Mike make you a bad, unqualified therapist. He can go find a professional. You need to go find actual friends.

  41. I knew someone just like this. Those long ass diatribes where you can’t really get a word in and don’t want to deal with but you’re trying to be polite about him crapping on other people, the unwanted flirtation, the narcissism… He may well be depressed, but I think this kind of narcissism is a separate thing from depression.

    Maybe this is me projecting my experiences a bit, but I think that this is about control. It’s about controlling the conversation, controlling how you think, trying to control how you think about them. Even just him dropping in the “friends with benefits” thing, or every time he says something explicit or inappropriate and gross, it’s a manipulation attempt to get you to think of them “like that.” And when it doesn’t work, they’ll accuse you of being jealous or secretly attracted to them if you tell them it’s gross, because it’s all wishful thinking on their part and they refuse to allow you to reject them or let themselves think that you aren’t attracted. He is ignoring your boundaries and manipulating you.

    Your friends are telling you he’s bad news. My friends did too. So I’d actually say to the LW, if I were you, I’d let myself hate this guy, and I’d get out.

  42. I’m another commenter who went to grad school in her 30s, jittery because I thought there would be a big generation gap (there wasn’t ). I also befriended someone my own age out of a slightly self-righteous sense of my own adulthood compared to my younger colleagues’. While mine was a friendship without the gendered dynamics of the LW’s, my friend pulled the emotional download stuff on me, and my job was to be the Listener and Audience, not to have any particular needs of my own. In the end she turned out to be an emotional trainwreck who caused several people lots of problems, and my genuinely supportive, kind friends were about a decade younger than me. It was a good reminder that age wasn’t an indication of anything other than my own prejudices.

  43. “depression’s peculiar kind of narcissism”

    LW, let me offer my sympathy for growing up with an ill parent who also clearly hurt you. I very much understand what you are getting at with this particular turn of phrase.

    I would like to offer a clarification: depression and narcissistic personality disorder are different problems. One does not automatically lead to the other, though they may certainly co-exist.

    -Somebody with depression but not narcissism

    1. Narcissism is not only a personality disorder. An individual can be narcissistic or behave narcissistically without having narcissistic personality disorder. While I appreciate where you’re coming from, generally if you’re in a really bad place with depression you tend to be rather self-absorbed, and I don’t think that description is a smear, personally.

      1. You seem to be busy correcting what you believe are everyone’s minor mistakes. Its a shame, because all indications are that you are well-spoken and probably have something valid to contribute to the actual issues being discussed.

        1. Mostly because I don’t feel I have anything longer winded to contribute that other’s haven’t covered, whereas I can answer questions/contribute my experiences, and in this case I felt it was worth saying. I certainly understand why people feel defensive about depression = narcissism, I most certainly can, but I also don’t like the idea of narcissism becoming only associated with being a condition.

          I hope I didn’t make you feel bad about it, that certainly wasn’t what I was going for though it can be difficult to avoid when you disagree with someone.

          1. I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. Personally I think clarifications are often helpful. (Also, your initial comment in this thread about narcissism was in response/disagreement with Typhoid Mary…not Oregon Bird.)

      2. My jerkbrain switched from “you’re terrible and no one actually likes you” to “you’re amazing and awesome and why is the world not bowing at your feet?!” last year, and if I hadn’t only just figured out the first part after at least a 10-year pattern, I might not have noticed the second. That description really resonated with me. (also depressed and not [normally] narcissistic)

  44. I have a Mikey friend that I enjoy spending time with. I like doing the free therapy thing sometimes- it feels good to listen and know I’m providing a safe place for him to talk about things that are bothering him. But sometimes it’s too much, and I need to say things like, “you asked my advice and I’m telling you what I think – stop arguing with me” or “I’m sorry that happened, I don’t really have the energy to process it with you right now, but I care about you and hope you can take good care of yourself”. Turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. It helps that we both have other social outlets and aren’t as reliant on each other.

  45. “Where are the women?”

    So much this. A few years ago, I really started to feel the lack of female friendship in my life. Since then, I have gone out of the way to cultivate friendships with women and to deepen the friendships I already had. Best thing I have EVER done for myself.

    It really makes me angry how much women are taught to fear and mistrust each other.

  46. LW, aside from n-thing the other commenters who are urging you to put aside whatever lousiness you’ve thought/read about millennials, I’d also encourage you to take the Cap’s advice on making Mike a small-doses friend. Hell, I’d even recommend making him a no-doses friend, if you can manage it – someone you see in class and are not overtly hostile to if you’re working on projects together, but don’t make time for him off campus. Obviously take this with your own grain of salt, but my experience with the Mikes I’ve had in my life is that I haven’t missed them after I’ve cut them off. Not the ex who also had a habit of monologuing and never had anything positive to say nor any interest in reciprocating when I wanted to Word Kraken, not the former friend who was seemingly cool with my lack of interest in sex but actually got weird and overshare-y after I had to reiterate my rejection, not the other former friend who also liked me in ways I could not reciprocate and who would text me with whatever issue was bothering him all frickin’ day long. I’m sure Mike has good qualities, likable qualities (or you wouldn’t like him, right?), but your situation sounds to me a lot like signing up for a cable package and getting the subsequent triple-digit bills for TV, DVR, multiple screens, and landline phone when all you wanted was internet because you don’t have a TV or landline phone anyway.

  47. LW, a piece of advice which will definitely stand you in good stead throughout the rest of your life: learn to get along with people younger than you are. As you get older, you’re going to find more and more of them around, while the numbers of people your age and older will start decreasing. If you don’t learn early and hard age is nothing but a number (and feeling superior to people because you happen to have lived a few more years on this planet than they have is actually a rather grade-school attitude, when it comes right down to it) you’re going to wind up being very lonely later in life.

    (Free advice from a 45 year old “genX”er.)

  48. I think the key here was that LW thought Mike was a friend, but he was only pretending to be one in order to have sex.

    This is extremely off-putting, to say the least. So the changes in LW’s feelings are completely understandable and should be acted upon.

    Because he changed. And the dominoes started falling…

  49. Is the word “millenial” seen more or less as a slur in the US? I read the first paragraph as “these are the things we had in common” and the sentence “a cynical attitude to … millenials” might mean all the stuff that everyone has written further up about how she’s written off the younger members of the cohort, but I just read it as meaning something like, “eek, we are the only people who are old enough to remember the party we went to in 2000 and Take That the first time around!” I’m wondering from whether all the comments further up whether the use of the word “millenial” immediate connotes much more snark and belligerence in the US than it does in the UK?

    1. It’s because of the zillion think pieces in papers and online about millenials being entitled and privileged. It’s more of a thing in the US but of course some are online and I did read one in the Guardian the other day, it was written by a woman on the veeery top end of the age bracket and it was filled with ‘millennial problems’ (which seemed to mean extremely middle class problems like feeling guilty about having a cleaner). I think we’ve had a pile-on due to comment appearing delay, and it’s a shame that happened but I’m with everyone, I too am sick of how ‘millenial’ is used to disguise so many ‘kids these days!’ things. Because that’s all it is, really.

      1. I’ve seen a few of those kind of crappy articles over here, but I see it way more in the context of people self-identifying as millennialist in the context of talking about the awfulness of the housing market or something. I’d guess something like 9 positive or neural mentions for every negative one. So maybe the ratio is flipped around the other way in the US and that’s why it reads so badly to everyone else!

      2. Like, for sure. (Had to go with Valspeak for this generational discussion.) I’m in the allegedly slacker, apathetic Gen-X group, or so the media always portrayed us Gen-Xers when we were younger. It was surely the same thing in a slightly different flavor when the Baby Boomers were young, and every generation that comes after the Millenials will get the same treatment. All of it is just a bunch of BS that can always be summed up by “kids these days!”

    2. I don’t know that it’s a slur here, but typically, when it’s being used, it’s not being used to describe how lovely and competent the person using it thinks millennials are. So, at least in my experience, it’s a dog whistle.

      1. Yes, IME it’s generally used as code for “whiny little brats who don’t know the value of a dollar or what hard work means.” Or “is permanently attached to their phone/tablet/social media app.” I haven’t seen a lot of positive connotations.

    3. “Millennials” is a neutral term to refer to the generation born more or less in the eighties and early nineties, who are now young adults.

      The neutral term “millennials” is almost always used within the context of older people pissing and moaning about everything wrong with us, because our generation is fucked, and the people who fucked us are really, really invested in pretending that we fucked ourselves instead by just, like, sucking a lot.

      Basically the word itself is fine, but generational stuff is a HUGE component of the economic shenanigans/class warfare/general anti-establishment rage that’s been boiling up over here lately. So any time someone brings up the concept of our generation as an entity, you can be like 95% sure that what’s going to follow is going to be some whiny Kids These Days nonsense that blames us for whatever random thing has gotten up the speaker’s nose that day.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my day job where I read a lot of reports about casino executives pissing and moaning that wah wah millennials are wrecking the casino industry by not pouring enough money into slot machines, until 5 o’clock when I will go back out into the rest of the world, where everyone who’s *not* a casino executive will be pissing and moaning that wah wah millennials aren’t buying enough houses or whatever else; it must be because we’re like gambling all our money away, probably.

      Or buying coffee. If only we stopped buying $5 coffees every day, we’d all totally have enough money to do anything we wanted! Never mind that I haven’t bought a fancy coffee with my own money in almost three years and I’m still poor, or that if we all stopped going to coffeeshops en masse, the only thing that would happen is that the coffeeshop economy would collapse and we’d be blamed for that too.

      …Basically, the entire concept that my generation exists is a bit of a live wire political issue right now.

      1. I’ve definitely seen some of those shit articles, but I see and hear it more used by people on their twenties (so, millenials themselves) talking about things like housing prices and student loans and other things that are serious issues affecting younger people. So it doesn’t immediately have that nasty vibe to me!

    4. It’s not because she used the word “millennial’, it’s because she paired it with “cynical”… that she has a “cynical attitude” toward that entire group of people, which basically means that she was writing them off. Being positively appreciative of someone in your own age group doesn’t automatically have to mean being “cynical” about people in different age groups, so that’s what other readers are picking up on. Because people of any age are not a monolith.

      1. Oof I just saw that this same discussion happens a bunch of times already in this thread, so let me take this back to say a more LW-helpful encouragement: There are cool people of all ages, “the millennials” are a bunch of really disparate individuals, and plenty of younger people are doing some really great things!

      2. Yeah, in combination with “a cynical attitude to popular culture, millenials” I don’t read that as necessary sneering and hating them all. Like, I would read “a cynical attitude to popular culture” as “we love it and we love to criticise it: we watch TV shows and snark on them / follow sleb gossip and laugh at ourselves for doing so”, not “I don’t have a television because that kind of nonsense is beneath me”. So I read the millenials thing the same way: not “I’m hanging out with Mike because all the twentysomethings are arrogant little brats who think the world owes them a living”, but “the twentysomethings seem lovely! But when they’re all in a group talking about twentysomething things I feel like I’m ninety and it’s nice to have someone who remembers the nineties!”

        I mean, I’m not saying it couldn’t be taken your way, just that it really surprised me that *everyone* seems to have taken it that way.

  50. LW: I’m going to throw this reframe out there: Skills you’ve learned when coping with and managing a difficult parent are just that–Skills.

    These skills also make you extremely adept at identifying problematic behavior in others, in addition to identifying the folks who are at least moderately self-aware about it or not.

    High-five, if you want it, for acknowledging Mike is pinging your warning system and for realizing he really isn’t worth that much of your time. It is totally okay to change your mind about someone. It is totally okay not to associate with someone when you don’t want to anymore.

    Be aware and prepared for “But Whyyyyyy”, more doubling down on “we MUST be friends Because My Reasons”, and passive-aggressive behavior on his part when you start becoming less available and/or decide to ghost on him. I just want to remind you, when he does this (SPOILER ALERT: He already has over sex–yuck), this is not your fault. This is Mike’s terrible behavior and you don’t have to be anywhere near it.

    And if he has a psychiatric diagnosis and needs extra support right now? This is way above your pay grade and he needs to find a therapist and treatment. On his own and without your help.

  51. Oh man, the free-therapy-blow-up-doll thing really hit home. That is an awful feeling– one you should listen to! This guy makes you feel like an object. You don’t have to hang with him! Even if he was, at some point, cool and interesting and fun to debate. If someone makes you feel – that – disrespected, objectified, and angry enough you wanna punch him in the face– listen to those feelings. They’re trying to save you!

    I also had the selfish mom issues, learned to always be accommodating and a Good Listener™, and man. I hung with so, so many creepy dudes, who wanted to feel smarter than me, and have me take care of their feelings, and have me take care of their boners. It… sucked. I dug my self esteem so deep trying to “be logical” and “be cool”. Treating your own feelings and desires like they don’t matter is not actually logical or reasonable or good. I hope you find some better friends, and some healing for those wounds. You have every right to be angry. Listen to it, learn from it. ✌️

  52. LW, even if your reasons for not liking him so much anymore were really bad, silly reasons (they’re not), they would still be good enough reasons for you to stop hanging out with this guy, because all that matters here is that you don’t like him. Even if it were really unfair and unreasonable of you to not like him (it’s completely reasonable), even if it were all about your mommy issues (it’s not), that wouldn’t matter. Even if you couldn’t even say what it was about him that you didn’t like, you would still not like him. It doesn’t matter *why* you feel this way, only that you do. You don’t owe him your time or attention.

  53. I see a very similar situation got addressed in today’s Doctor Nerdlove. I would say it’s the same, but I am in an eerily parallel situation at work— my “but it’s the narrative arc” guy is even named Mike. HOW MANY MIKES ARE THERE OUT THERE? It’s an invasion! Shore up your boundaries and circle the wagons! Women and allies first!

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