Hey Team Awkward,
This is a quick one.
I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!
That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.
So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way.
Thanks in advance,
Dear Awkward Alcoholic,
Hey, that is an awkward (and short!) sort of question, and hey, also, it’s very awesome that you are getting the help you need and finding a community in the process.
For readers who don’t know, the “thirteenth step” is an ironic term for when people in 12-step programs who have more than a year of sobriety initiate romantic and/or sexual relationships with newcomers. Here’s a longer description of what is is and why it’s bad. Short version: It creates a giant distraction for someone who is just getting their life together, it involves preying on people at a vulnerable time, and when/if the relationship goes sour it can contribute to a relapse in addition to poisoning the well at the place that both people rely on for support. As the Ghostbusters always say: Don’t cross the streams!
It’s great that you are trusting your instincts about what’s going on, and I think the script you are looking for here is some version of “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested. I’ll see you at [Official Meeting]/[Group Gathering].”
You’d think “No thanks!” alone would get it done, but I think adding the explicit “I’m not interested” leaves less wiggle room for plausible deniability. Saying “I can’t” leaves the door open for the person trying to find a window when you can. Saying “I’m not interested” = “I don’t want to.” Less ambiguity is good here.
I predict you’re gonna get a lot of “Oh, did you think that I was asking you out? I wasn’t asking you on a date, I just wanted to hang out as friends” as a reaction. It’s a manipulation tactic designed to get you to “defend” yourself by agreeing to hang out with them to prove you’re being “fair.” The human instinct to save face is a powerful one and good news, it doesn’t really do harm to let the person save face once you know what’s coming. You can say, “Okay, phew, I’m glad to know that.” And, this is key: YOUR ANSWER TO DOING WHATEVER IT IS STILL “NO.” Don’t let the face-saving turn into you agreeing to the Date That Is Not A Date But Clearly Is Kind Of A Date. As in:
Guy: “Hey, my friend has a gallery show this weekend, would you like to go with me?”
You: “Aw, thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not interested.”
Guy: “Wait a second…did you think I was asking you on a date? No way, I just wanted to go as friends.”
You: “Okay, good to know!” [+ optional subject change]
Guy: “So, do you want to come to the gallery?”
You: “No thank you, I’m not interested. But I’ll see you at [Official Group Meeting/Gathering] next week!”
Polite, true, easy to remember, hard to argue with, indicates that everything will be normal/cool when you see them next, leaves very little wiggle room for a re-approach.
I know some readers have experiences related to newfound sobriety and navigating recovery and the reawakening of boundaries, so, what else would you tell the Letter Writer about dodging away from the “thirteenth step”?