#1011 and #1012: “Please, tell me more about the person you’re in love with. No, every detail. No, really, I never tire of it.”

Dear Captain,

My best friend, Anna, who I’ve known for many years and love very much, is currently irritating the heck out of me and I don’t know what to do.

She hasn’t had the greatest dating history, and through the years I’ve always been there for her to give advice, be supportive or just be a shoulder to cry on.

However, lately there has been this girl she likes, and no matter how many times I encourage Anna she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead its constant discussion about a text she sent, what picture she liked on instagram, how she tweets, so on and so forth. When she doesn’t answer a text from Anna I get a hundred texts from her freaking out about how she must be wrong and she doesn’t like her anymore and that she’ll never find anyone.

It. Drives. Me. Batty. And I feel like a terrible friend for feeling that way. From what I’ve observed theres like a 90% chance that this girl likes Anna back. But she just wont tell her that she likes her. Instead she comes to me.

My own dating history has proven to me that its better to be rejected and move on then to obsess over things. However I realize that not everyone feels that way.

If I hear about this girl’s social media usage one more time, I’m probably gonna explode. If she knew that I felt like this, Anna would feel incredibly guilty and bottle everything up, which I don’t want her to do. I just want the conversation to have a little bit of change. Theres only so many times you can comfort a friend for not having a text responded to before you don’t know what to say anymore.


Want To Be A Good Friend

Dear Want To Be A Good Friend:

I want you to take the weekend and give yourself permission to ignore all texts from Anna about The Amazing Crush Girl. Respond to anything that is not about that, ignore the rest. Mute her if you need to.

Then, I want you to tell Anna, one time, as gently as you can:

Anna, I think you should tell ________ how you feel about her and I hope she feels the same way. If she doesn’t, she’s really missing out! But the way you are constantly monitoring her social media feeds is kinda creepy, or, at least unhealthy for you, and the way you keep texting me every detail of her posts – sometimes hundreds of texts – is not okay. Please stop sharing these details with me, I don’t like it.

Anna’s not going to be happy with you when you say this. She’ll tell you you’re being a bad friend, why don’t you want to listen to her, you’re selfish, etc. etc. etc. There will be some kind of blow-up or argument because Anna is fixated right now and it’s like you are trying to take her favorite toy away.


Don’t argue with her if she characterizes you as selfish, uncaring, etc. It’s a ‘neg’ designed to get you to prove how caring you are by doing what she wants you to do.

Don’t try to correct the record or convince her or engage more deeply.

Your script, to whatever she says, is some version of “Okay! But are you hearing me? I don’t want to talk about Crush Girl anymore. I need you to stop texting me and filling me in on her social media activity. Can you agree to that?

Then end the conversation pretty quickly.

The next thing she’s going to do is test your boundaries. Your job from now in is to ignore all texts about Crush Girl. Only respond to other topics, and reach out about other topics when you want to talk to her. If you gotta mute her for a while, then do it.

When you do hang out, make it very boring to talk about Crush Girl. “Hmmm….interesting…hopefully you can tell her how you feel soon. So, how ’bout those current events?

She won’t like it, but if you keep not engaging, she will probably get it. And, I know you don’t want her to beat herself up or trigger a shame-spiral or make her feel guilty, but her behavior is not healthy or normal right now and a little bit of “what the hell am I doing?” introspection or perspective from a good friend is not the worst thing in the world?

On a related note:

Hi Captain Awkward,

Long time reader, first time writer!

I am in a polyamorous relationship with “Niles.”

Niles is also dating “Daphne.” Daphne is very sweet, but she spends a lot of time brooding about her ex and other woes. She often just disappears on Niles because her feelings about whatever is going on in her life are so intense. Their relationship currently appears to me to be on this rinse and repeat cycle of romance and withdrawal. I see Niles consistently bend and modify his behavior and needs to accommodate her and most of what he passes on to me about what they talk about is: her, her life, her needs, her feelings, and her ex.

Up until now, I have felt pretty supportive of Niles exploring things with Daphne. And to be honest I think Daphne is a really good person but…I just feel really done with hearing about this behavior cycle, I’m done with the mood shifts that go along with it, and I’m tired of watching Niles just shrink himself to fit into Daphne’s life. Niles sincerely believes that she is worthy of a relationship, and if he just stays the course, he will eventually succeed in showing her how to have a supportive and reciprocal relationship. Like okay, maybe he’s right and sees something I don’t but I dunno ….?? Seems like she’s one of those people who is an amazing person but has trouble with relationships.

Up until this point, I have been more than willing to lend an ear and advice to Niles about how all of this is going with Daphne. We’ve had a lot of deep talks about his feels and what to do and how to relate to her and all that. And now I’ve sort of arrived at this point where I feel like the training wheels have got to come off. It’s been six months of the same stuff with Daphne. He says she’s gotten better but it all smells the same to me. I am worried that I will become the outlet for stuff the two of them need to be hashing out if I haven’t already. Sometimes I worry that my emotional support of him in that dynamic might be making up for what he isn’t getting with her and that seems unfair to me.

Now that I’ve sorta reached my limit, I literally I don’t know what to say anymore to him when he says to me things like, “Oh we stayed up way past when I needed to sleep talking on the phone and I am tired and the conversation felt kinda awkward but it was sooo worth it” or “I haven’t heard from her in days but she needs space now and I’m proud of her for finally communicating her needs” or “omg she is so amazing and being with her is so perfectly wonderful… I feel so alive, I simply cannot imagine my life without her” or “she’s not romantic these days.” Obviously I’m hamming it up but only SLIGHTLY. Actually barely.

To me, that wide variety of statements seems…not good?

He and I have talked openly about how things with them are kinda weird sometimes. But he also knowingly marches on and is very intensely committed on doing so because…love.

So them’s the breaks. I respect his choices but I also want to maintain my sanity in all of this because I feel as though I’ve been looped in to everything. I want to quietly withdraw any emotional life support I have been providing for this relationship with Daphne. I love Niles and I don’t think this is really doing much for him even if he can’t see it. He knows what I think and he has acknowledged the validity of what I’m observing but…love. So pushing my opinions on him louder and with more intensity isn’t going to do anything other than create tension between us.

And truth be told, if the roles were reversed, barring actual danger to me that I couldn’t foresee, I probably wouldn’t want Niles coming at me all the time about how much my relationship with Daphne leaves to be desired…even if he was technically correct, I probably wouldn’t be able to really hear it because…love. I don’t think Niles is in any actual danger nor do I think I am.

But, despite the fact that I’m not in danger, things don’t feel neutral-to-beneficial for everyone involved anymore. To me, it feels as though their thing is draining emotional energy more than it’s contributing to it. Niles doesn’t seem to mind the one-sided nature of their relationship too much; so maybe I should stop caring about that? I care for Niles deeply so it’s really hard to not care.

Maybe the thing I should focus on is that lending emotional support for/having to interact with his relationship with Daphne feels draining to me (and to me, writing to an advice column for help counts as “expending emotional energy on the Daphne thing.”).

I wish someone could look into a crystal ball and tell me when things will change for the better. Till then, I need to figure out how to radiate “bland acceptance of the situation without endorsement.” I don’t want to get painted as that partner who “can’t polyamory” but at the same time I’m just totally over the Daphne thing. I also need to figure out reasonable boundaries and ways to cope with the awkwardness in solo interactions with Niles about Daphne, with Daphne by herself, and the three of us.

How do??

Straight Outta Fucks to Give

Dear Straight Outta Fucks:

What would happen if you said something like this to Niles, the next time your time together becomes completely overrun with Daphne-talk:

  • Hey Niles, let me interrupt you – I’ve sort of reached my limit for talking about Daphne and the ups and downs y’all are having right now. But I’m glad to see you! Let’s talk about something else!” 
  • Niles, you’re probably not doing this on purpose, but it feels like all our time together is spent talking about your relationship with Daphne. I’m starting to get pretty uncomfortable with it, and I’d like you to find a different sounding board for your ups and downs with her.
  • The time for talking about Daphne and her feelings is on your dates with Daphne. Right now you’re on a date with me. I’m going to go get a glass of water, do you need anything?
  • Niles, I don’t really care about Daphne or her exes or her feelings about the world. I’ve been trying to be supportive and a good listener, but when does it end?
  • “Niles, this sounds like a conversation to have with Daphne. I’m not really interested in knowing more.” 
  • Hey Niles, sounds like this thing with Daphne is really occupying your thoughts. Maybe we should reschedule our date for another time when we can focus on the two of us?
  • Huh, what do you think you’ll do about that?”

Would the world end?

Is Niles so fragile that he cannot hear the word “no” about this topic?

Would he use your “no” to accuse you of not really caring about him, like, how dare you not be interested in something so important to him?

Would he accuse you of being jealous of Daphne?

Is it worth finding out to never have to hear about her again?

There’s something in here about emotional labor and fairness and balance and time. To me, he is sucking up all the time he spends with you asking you to do emotional labor and listen to him and comfort him and counsel him about another girl he’s in love with. Is that cool with you? I know you’re worried about appearing jealous, but if we changed “jawing about Daphne” to “Reading the 1972 Encyclopedia Brittanica aloud” it would still be uncool of Niles to do if you indicated you aren’t interested. Obviously when we partner with someone, we all agree to a certain amount of “if it interests you a lot I guess it can interest me at least a little bit” but maintaining that deal requires good faith and self-awareness on both sides. Where is it inscribed that Thou Shalt Let Thy Partners Monologue Forever About Shit That Bores You Without Interruption? (Hint: I don’t think that is written anywhere). And, say you were jealous of how much energy he spends on Daphne and how much he expects you to give a shit about her. Where is it written that you can never feel jealous, or pissed off, or annoyed when someone takes you for granted?

He could tell a friend, or a therapist, or a diary, or howl it at the moon. It doesn’t have to be you, at the expense of your own enjoyment of your relationship.

So, here are my suggestions:

  • Who else are you dating outside of the Niles/Daphne sphere? Throw some love and time and energy into that person or people and give yourself some breathing room from Niles. And, go hang out with friends and family. Nurture all of your relationships, not just Niles. He sounds kinda annoying right now and maybe some space will help him work it all out.
  • Speak directly to Niles and tell you that you were once happy to hear about Daphne but you think it’s crossed a line and now you’d like him to stop.
  • Make it very boring for him to talk about Daphne with you. Him: :Big dramatic Daphne tale.: You:Huh. Interesting. I got new dish towels, did you notice them? They really tie the room together.” Do not let him endlessly process this with you.
  • Treat Daphne with a normal amount of polite friendliness but maybe keep it at arms length? It’s not her fault that you know all of her business, and I think what you have here is a Niles problem vs. a Daphne problem, but if you’re not close now maybe you’re not meant to be.
  • Do the three of you need to hang out right now? I’d be a hard pass about that, like, “Have fun, you two, I’m busy!” You asked when things might get better, and I don’t know, but they kinda suck right now, so believe the suck until you see something different.

I would want to know if I were stretching someone’s listening capacity to its limit, wouldn’t you? Not everyone wants that information – “Anna” and “Niles” probably don’t right now because they don’t want anything that will break the spell of the crushes they are involved in –  but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be said. Directness is kindness here.

Moderator note: Please spell out the whole word – polyamorous, polyamory – vs. the abbreviation”poly” here in the future. For more context, read this. It’s been brewing for a while and it’ s time to make it official CaptainAwkward.com comment policy moving forward. We’re not changing old threads, and we’re also not debating the change in comments, so if you disagree with the change or have feelings about it you can process it in the forums or your own webspace. Thank you!





82 thoughts on “#1011 and #1012: “Please, tell me more about the person you’re in love with. No, every detail. No, really, I never tire of it.”

  1. Seconding what the Captain said. Niles’s relationship with Daphne may or may not be good for him, but you don’t have to support it at the expense of your own relationship with him, or your underwater basket-weaving competitions.

    At some point, it doesn’t matter whether this is “I really wish you’d break up with her” or “I hope you can be blissfully happy together.” What’s relevant is that you aren’t dating Daphne, and don’t want to be, and Niles and Daphne should be working this out themselves, or maybe by talking to people who aren’t you. Polyamory doesn’t have to mean two of your partners going to the theatre together while you’re out of town. Fairly often it’s “have fun, I’ll see you when you get back” and only caring about the metamour’s schedule if it means they have a date with your shared partner, who therefore isn’t available for dinner next Tuesday.

    If Niles’s relationship with Daphne will founder if he doesn’t have you to support it, it probably should founder. Niles is acting as though Daphne, and his complicated relationship with Daphne, isn’t just the most interesting thing in his life, but as if he thinks it’s the most interesting thing in your life, which it isn’t and shouldn’t be.

    Frankly, if you aren’t jealous of Daphne right now, I’d be surprised: she is in fact taking your partner’s attention away from you during time you and he are spending together. My friend Darkhawk wrote, years ago, that for her jealousy is an alarm signal: a way that her subconscious says “there is something wrong in this relationship,” and that the thing to do is figure out why that alarm is going off, not assume it’s a false alarm because you don’t like being jealous. So if he says “you’re just jealous” you might want to say “I’m not just jealous, but you’ve given me a lot to be jealous of. I’m angry that she gets time with you that’s about her, and I don’t get time with you that’s about me.” Jealousy isn’t fun, and it can be a problem in relationships, but it isn’t a character flaw.

    1. jealousy is an alarm signal: a way that her subconscious says “there is something wrong in this relationship,” and that the thing to do is figure out why that alarm is going off

      This! I get so frustrated by the idea that having some emotions (particularly anger) means you’re bad and need to be fixed. Sometimes you do need to learn to chill out/work on your insecurities/take better care of yourself, but sometimes feeling anger or jealousy means someone is being a dick to you and the fix is for them to knock that shit off or for you to stop spending time with them.

      While I’m at it, LW 1012, hearing about Daphne all the time sounds unspeakably boring. You are 100% allowed to not want to hear anymore whether or not you’re also feeling jealous and you are 100% allowed not to hang out with her whether or not Niles is around to be a buffer. Even if you weren’t totally justifiably sick of hearing about her drama, you would still be allowed to just not particularly want to spend time with her.

      1. I know, it’s like, our bodies are designed to feel emotions to keep us safe from bears and also assholes. I just wish we as a society were better about teaching people to react to their own emotions and the emotions of others in a less shaming way 😦

          1. THIS RIGHT HERE! I actually just teared up at your comment. It…may or may not be highly relevant to my life right now.

      2. That’s always been the case for me too — if I feel jealousy, there is something wrong, because I almost never feel it.

        Some people feel it all the time because they’re controlling, though.

        1. Yeah, I like to say, “Your feelings are always telling you something, but it might be something about yourself.”

    2. Yes, this! Polyamorous people aren’t banned from being jealous just because we date more than one person at a time. It’s just that we try to think about WHY we are feeling jealous, and what it means that we need… not simply assume that it means that our partner shouldn’t date anybody except us and that is that.

      When I get jealous over a particular metamour, it’s usually for one of two reasons: something about that metamour’s behavior makes me distrust them and believe, on some gut level, that they’re trying to sabotage my own relationship with Mutual Partner; or else Mutual Partner is treating me in a way which I don’t like, and it appears to be partly due to their feelings about this particular metamour.

      In the first case, I may need to caution my partner about what I see in the metamour’s behavior that they don’t… in very rare cases I have asked someone to stop dating a particular person, because that person is doing rotten things; not because I don’t like my partner dating people who aren’t me. In the second case — which seems much more what OP #2 is dealing with from Niles — I usually go directly into Mutual Partner’s behavior *toward me*, and ask that it change in ways which will get me what I need. I can do that without asking that they stop dating Metamour, and the OP can do it without asking that Niles stop dating Daphne. All they need to do is ask that THEY be able to live in a Daphne-free fashion, including while they’re on dates with Niles. Niles is free to spend all of his *non-OP time* Daphne-izing to his heart’s content.

      I like polyamorous circles much better when they don’t follow the “polyamory means never getting jealous” trope. And from my observation, the relationships within such communities average rather more stable than those who *do* believe that polyamorous people never get jealous, or that if you do get jealous it always means you’re “not doing it right.”

    3. ‘ So if he says “you’re just jealous” you might want to say “I’m not just jealous, but you’ve given me a lot to be jealous of. I’m angry that she gets time with you that’s about her, and I don’t get time with you that’s about me.” ‘

      This is excellent! I could have used this a few years ago.

  2. “But the way you are constantly monitoring her social media feeds is kinda creepy, or, at least unhealthy for you,”

    Wow, that’s so well framed! If more people said this to their obsessively crushing friends then maybe we’d head a few more stalkers off at the pass. I’ve always been too scared to call friends on that sort of thing, but I think I might use this in the future.

  3. yes! I didn’t know about this and I am a pro-using-words that allow communities to flourish. So, thanks! I learn so much from this website.

  4. Agreed! I regularly learn new things here, and appreciate that I have so much more to learn. Thank you for being such a great source of information!

  5. Tip from living in a two-geek, two-aspie[1] household with very different fandom interests: raving about your fandom is always permissible. However, when the other person gets bored with you raving about your fandom, they’re allowed to say “yes, dear” (or similar phrase which indicates “I am not interested”) in one of your pauses for breath. This is a signal you should either skip to your actual point, if you have one (rather than giving the fine details of ten years of back-story); or find another topic of conversation.

    In both the cases of Anna and Niles, you have two people raving about their respective fandoms to listeners who are clearly Not Interested. It’s just in these cases, the fandoms happen to be relationships rather than media properties. Either way, I suspect the same rule should apply. Yes, they’ll be deeply insulted the first time you point out they’re boring you, because you insult the fandom (by saying you’re not interested), you insult the geek. But they should be able to accept your interests and theirs aren’t going to coincide 100% all the time, because this is part of being a grown-up.

    If not, pick a topic you know interests you, and bores the pants off them, and reciprocate. After all, fair is fair.

    [1] Do not ask either of us an open-ended question regarding a topic of interest to us unless you have at least ten minutes available to hear the answer.

    1. Equating ‘relationship/crush’ with ‘fandom’ is an act of genius here.

    2. We have a similar rule in our household. I’m married, we’re both polyamorous (thanks Captain for the link on language!) and both nerdy/geeky. Much of my own free time is spent with my horse, and I can literally talk about the horse, and riding, and caring for the horse, and people I meet at the stable, and other horsey stuff, and yet other horsey stuff… Mr Theorem is totally allowed to indicate that he’s tired of listening. He will listen for a while, because he loves me and cares about stuff that is important to me, but I keep the hours-long discussions on hold until I talk to someone who is interested in horses for their own sake, not just for mine.

      We’ve never had that kind of issue with a sweetie, but I’d have no hesitation in keeping the same rule. If I’m thinking only of my horse when I’m with my husband (or girlfriend), then I’m not actually spending time with them – I’m spending all my focus on my horse, and only using them as an audience. It’s not fair to them and they have a right to be upset about it.

      It’d be different if the horse was sick or injured; of course that would mean that I was worried and would need their support. But if that went on for six months, they’d be right to point out that I need to care for myself and for our relationship. Even if the horse is still sick, I can’t expect them to give the horse all their emotional energy and all their time that they really want to spend with me.

      Negotiating things like these are part of being in any relationship, polyamorous or not. It’s not about jealousy as such; it’s about finding what you’re willing to live with, what your boundaries are, and communicating them. And if the boundaries are unfair? You still get to have them, and your partner(s) gets to choose whether they can live with those boundaries.

      1. We have a similar rule too. My husband and I have slightly different faiths; different political views and are on opposites side of the Creation/Evolution discussion. We can bring up any topic but if the other person doesn’t bite/express interest, you drop it. It’s totally fair to bring it up a different day because moods and energy levels change.

        We try to do date night. I once spent damn near the entire time out rambling on about the findings of the Rising Star cave system. I was excited and felt alive for the first time in forever and my husband let me talk until I remembered he has absolutely no interest or belief in it and apologized for the monologue. What he DID appreciate was the old me peeking out and being happy. I was struggling with depression (still am but it’s better now) but we both needed to know that the old me is/was still there.

    3. I think a big part of the problem here is that neither Uninterested Party has actually clearly said “I am not interested” and they want to know how to say that without saying that. Up to now, they’ve listened with a decreasingly sympathetic ear, and the Ravers are oblivious to their decreasing interest.

      What it comes down to is… they have to say it, then live it.

    4. This is great. I instituted a similar rule when my roommate was obsessed with the new Battlestar Galactica, which I could not have given two fucks about. She was bursting over with love, though, and so we made a deal: I would listen, with interest, to up to 30 minutes of Battlestar talk a day, and in return, she would listen to 30 minutes of what I was interested in. It worked out really well, because we each got to share and no one got crushed by boredom.

  6. How old is Anna, twelve? ARRRGGGGHHH.

    Niles is even worse. I’m picturing him as a rude, self-absorbed whiner. There should be a law: Thou Shalt Not Yap About Thy Relationship With
    a Third Party Whilst Thou Art On A Date With Your Other Partner.

    1. I’m also polyamorous and I actually hate this as a general rule. When executed with tact, respect for the metamour’s privacy and my level of interest, I really enjoying hearing about a partner’s other partners (and sharing about my own). Partly it’s about having the space to talk about other important relationships (including friendships); partly it’s about destigmatizing multiple partners (and cultivating the healthy open communication that means Secrets are less likely to crop up); and partly it’s a good opportunity to learn more about how the other person behaves in relationships.

      It *is* important to recognize that there’s such a thing as oversharing and, separately, such a thing as overburdening the conversation with a single topic. I love the fandom analogy from megpie71 above.

      1. Agreed. How much talk about third parties is acceptable varies hugely from one relationship to another.

    2. Yes. The problem isn’t (or isn’t only) that he is talking about his other partner; it’s that he’s mostly complaining, and that topic is taking over the entire conversation. I just had an online chat with one of my partners, and mentioned the other two, because the three of us had spent the afternoon together (my girlfriend is helping me and my husband pack and move).

      “Can I have some emotional support for how strenuous this move is being” is very different from “I intend to spend our entire date night talking about what’s wrong between me and my other partner, and her problems with her ex.” if that comes up once in a while, or as part of the conversation, likely okay; if it eats an entire date night there’s a problem, and I might ask to reschedule with the promise that we won’t talk about Daphne this time. “Reschedule” because if you spent our date night asking me to do emotional labor about your other relationship, that doesn’t count as a date, and “we didn’t have a date this week, can we reschedule this one for Monday” might get the point across better than “see you next Friday, and I want a date with just you, not you and your other partner.”

  7. Near the end of our relationship, my ex was in NRE with a person whose presence was making my life very stressful and difficult (there were significant health concerns on my part, and he was, as it turned out, checking out of our 7-year partnership, which was acutely painful.)

    At a certain point, I simply could not deal with the level of burbling about his excitement or their plans, or him processing his feelings about her, or hearing about their interactions, multiple times on a daily basis.

    I told him that he needed to offload about 2/3 of his discussion about New Shiny to other people, who were not me.

    He huffed about “Why can’t you be happier for me” and “You’re asking me to compartmentalize, and that isn’t fair,” and I said that may be, but I could not be his primary listener and social support when it came to New Shiny talk.

    (I have been polyamorous for almost 20 years, and this had never been a problem in the past, but THIS PERSON and the amount of emotional energy that her presence was sucking out of me and my relationship with my partner — it was Too Much.)

    Since my story ends with a breakup, I guess you may want to take this with a grain of salt — but I think that it is OKAY to set this kind of boundary for your sanity and the health of your relationship with Niles.

    (I think it’s a terrible idea for a polyamorous partner to insist that someone pretend that a metamour *doesn’t exist*, or not to be able to express love or concern about the metamour — but you and Niles deserve time and space that is spent focusing on *each other*, not just endlessly processing the Niles/Daphne situation.)

    *hugs and good luck*

    1. I agree about this means of handling polyamory issues. My husband was in a relationship recently where there was a lot of gaslighting about how he was “new to polyamory” and therefore just didn’t understand how much misery and work and fighting was involved. He would tell me and process with me and I would say “sounds like manipulation and gaslighting to me, I think you need to go to therapy to process this with a professional.” But I ended up completely losing my ability to look kindly on the person who was doing it. He was still able to be empathetic towards her but I ran out of any empathy. Once he did break up and go to a therapist and process it, he was all “wow, that WAS gaslighting and now i’m working on trusting my instincts again.” I’m not mad at him for needing to go through this experience to realize these things, but I definitely learned how little influence someone INVOLVED in this situation can have vs. a neutral 3rd party.

      1. Don’t feel bad, Atalanta’s Boar Skin. I never had ability to feel kindness towards Ms. Gaslighter and I just read your comment. You are not obligated to look with kindess towards people who act like psychopaths. (I’m not diagnosing anyone, rather stating my opinion on behavior.)

        1. This is really kind, thank you. I know it was the right choice but sometimes I do have a tough time giving myself credit for that.

      2. Having general empathy – I’m feeling sorry for any person who is in a bad enough place to feel they have to be an absolute shithead to everybody else – does not mean that you need to feel or act upon specific empathy. This particular person is a shithead towards someone you love. You don’t need to see both sides, exercise empathy, give them another chance, or be nice to them.

        I am glad your husband got out of that situation.

      3. I’m dropping in slightly late to note that just about everyone who practices polyamory was once new to it. Even people who have never had an exclusive relationship in our lives didn’t grow up with models of multiple relationships and ideas of how to make them work.

        But if I was trying something new–polyamory, a new hobby, a social group, anything–and my complaints were met with “you’re just new to this, so you don’t understand how much misery and work and fighting are involved,” I hope I’d have the sense to nope out of there. I’m not polyamorous out of an abstract belief that it’s superior: I do things this way because it makes me happy, and lets me be happy with these people. Having more people to fight with would not be much of an advertisement for polyamory over monogamy.

  8. The situation where Niles gets emotional comfort and no incentive to work on his relationship with Daphne helps no one. She doesn’t seem to be moving on from her ex, she’s not exploring her relationship with Niles, and it must feel terrible to be the person that one’s partner complains about- assuming she’s even aware of it. Niles isn’t learning how to deal with and express his feelings about the not fun bits of a relationship within the relationship.

    I had an ex-boyfriend who spent a lot of time talking about all his problems with his friends and past relationships. I tried to be a good girlfriend: the patient listener, hiding her jealousy of his intimacy in past relationships, never complaining or changing the subject. It made for a terrible relationship though, and it lasted only a few months. Never again!

  9. I used to talk to my friends at length about Problem Person all the time. Eventually, they politely told me that they were fed up with hearing about him. You know what happened next? I realized that I was spending WAYYY too much time *thinking* about Problem Person, that it had become something of a hobby for me. I found some new and better ways to spend my time. You know what happened next? My relationship with Problem Person improved dramatically because I was no longer looking for new and juicy relationshipsproblems to discuss with my friends. Literally everything got better. I’m so glad my friends said something to me about it.

  10. Get both of them to listen to/read ‘attached: the new science of adult relationships’ by amir levine & rachel heller. (Anna & Niles that is, not LWs-boundaries all the way there!). It is our very thoughtful and compassionate explanation of preoccupied and avoidant attachment styles, and might help Anna in particular to be kinder to herself. She sounds as though she’s really lacking in confidence, and I can understand the letter writer is concerned that she will be really upset and disappear for awhile rather than get angry in an entitled way, anna sounds like someone with really high shame. A gentle redirect to this book or possibly therapy to work on the self esteem might be really helpful. As a friend of someone who has really low confidence comma maybe the conversations could be redirected to talk about things that help Anna feel calmer and connected. That might just be conversations that activate happy memories of their friendship, or people with whom she feels secure, or talking about stuff that she feels passionate about or skilled that, so that she can activate that felt sense of competence and worth. hopefully these conversations would also be more fun for the letter writer.

  11. I think the Captain’s advice is spot on, and I wish someone said these things to me five years ago so, maybe, I’d still be friend with P.

    P was one of my best friends, but she had some problems at work with one of her employers: I was happy to provide a shoulder to cry on and what little advice I could give her. Then she began to unload on me *every single problem* she had at the office: from the courier that arrived half an hour later than its usual schedule, to her coworker who drank too much coffee, how much traffic there was on her commute, someone “stole” a pen from her pen holder, the printer was broken and she had to print something right in that moment etc etc

    Every single time we went out together she only talked about her job and gave me a detailed play-by-play of her work week and every single inconvenience that happened to her. I was overwhelmed. I began to be anxious of meeting her, but I didn’t know how to talk to her and express my unease. I felt that as a friend I should have been listening to her, I was afraid to seem unkind. I endured for an entire year, but then I was worn out. So I started to “fade” away, skirting meetings and then avoiding her completely. Our friendship dissolved.

    I think that if you want to keep your relationship with Anna/Niles you should speak up. Otherwise you’ll became bitter and resentful like me, until the only thing to do is to break your relationship.

  12. I was once in a situation very similar to LW1, and I’m sad to say that the friendship did not survive. My friend, let’s say B, did end up getting together with the person she liked, but by then the dynamic of “B has feels and I listen” was entrenched.
    I hated it, I missed having a close friendship that included topics other than THIS ONE RELATIONSHIP, and it hurt.

    When I told B I no longer wanted to hear about it (admittedly with a side of “you used to be cool before all this drama” – I am not blameless) it pretty much exploded things, and I wasn’t around to hear about B’s breakup.

    I saw her socially afterward but it was always awkward and we were never as close again.

    Sorry this isn’t a good story.
    BUT! Unlike me, LW1 has scripts from the Captain and this whole comment thread.
    If anyone can make it past this sort of thing, it’s someone with that kind of equipment ❤

    1. Yes, totally agree with Nanani. Sometimes people simply have a self-absorbed nature and if you aren’t going to comply then they pass on the relationship with you. I had a close friend who called me every single day after I got home from work to complain about her day. She was going through a painful divorce and had been used to unloading on her estranged husband. The irritating thing was that in almost every way her life was in a better place than mine. It certain was far better financially. When I tried to bend the relationship back into a different direction she didn’t want anything more to do with me. We live and we learn, don’t we.

    2. “but by then the dynamic of “B has feels and I listen” was entrenched.”

      I’m a good listener/someone people trust b.c. I’m non-judgemental. I’ve learned I have to be careful to avoid allowing this sort of dynamic to form. I lost two friendships because of it. Now I’ve noticed a new(er) friend is frequently venting to me about her low paying job, while refusing to even consider looking for a better paying job or asking for a raise. I’m already starting to resent it, so next time it happens I”m changing the subject.

      It often seems that when someone designates someone as a “friend-therapist,” or “my free relationship therapist,” they find it very hard to break the habit, because it’s so nice to have a free therapist. But it’s not nice for the other person.

      1. This! I am really good at actively listening, giving emotional support, and asking people about themselves while they ask nothing about me in return. I have definitely had people take advantage of that. Now that I *am* a therapist, I’m a lot less willing to be someone’s therapist for free. I’m trying not to spend time with people who drain my energy and don’t give anything back.

      2. I was talking about this dynamic with a friend of mine. He pointed out that when I talk with someone and they ask no questions about my life after I’ve volunteered information about mine (ie they ask no follow-up questions), I tend to move the conversation in such a way that I don’t reveal anything about myself anymore. That means a lot of keeping quiet and going into Free Therapist Friend mode (he does it too, which is how he noticed).

        I’ve seen this dynamic repeat itself in so many areas in my life that I’ve become deeply cynical that there are actually people out there who actually want a “sharing” friendship vs using others as emotional dumping grounds.

        1. I do this too. At some point, if they’re not showing interest in me, I don’t want to give them any more of myself–it’s too much exposure to someone who clearly doesn’t care about me (and therefore might use the info cruelly, whether intentionally or just by not bothering to be kind). Free Therapist mode is easier for me/my anxiety to manage than putting that risk out there.

          There definitely are people who actually want a “sharing” friendship, though!! I’ve found that when I find other people who also tend to default to Free Therapist mode, we can take turns on who’s sharing and who’s supporting, and ultimately be really good for each other.

        2. Oh man, I so feel you on your last paragraph – I tend to get into spirals where I wonder this kind of thing too, especially a bad experience. I usually try to logic myself out of it with something like “well, if *I* want a sharing friendship, I can’t be the only person in the whole world who does, right?” Which sometimes helps the brain but not the heart….

        3. This is exactly the dynamic I’m facing right now! Thank you for articulating it so well.

      3. As a person who can be the emotional dumper I agree this dynamic exists! I’m working on it. It turns out, if I never ask questions and just focus on my own emotional flailing I don’t get to learn things about my friend. Also…it gets boring/exhausting to realize I’m stuck on this loop of “augh, my life!”

  13. To the second letter writer, I am polyamorous as well, and I don’t think polyamory changes the fact that you don’t have to take on major emotional labour for other parts of your partner’s life. Niles’s relationship with Daphne sounds a lot like my partner’s relationship – not with his other partner, but with one of his hobbies.

    He used to vent to me a lot about his hobby. Our conversations would go like this.

    Him: This hobby is frustrating. Other people involved are frustrating. I’m so frustrated right now. (Several more sentences about being frustrated or angry.)

    Me: Is there any way to change your experience of it so it’s not so frustrating for you?

    Him: No. (More venting.)

    Me: This doesn’t seem to make you happy. Have you considered dropping this hobby?

    Him: No way, I love it. (More venting.)

    And it would go on. And I don’t mind listening to somebody vent. At all. I like providing emotional support. But it was becoming way more of our time than I was comfortable with. I actually tried to get him to stop doing his hobby which, looking back, was the wrong approach. I had loving intentions, but he’s the boss of himself, and gets to decide how he spends his time.

    I took a page out of Captain Awkwards book and set some boundaries about *me*. I told him that I support him in doing what he loves, but if doing what he loves involves venting to me, he needs to restrict that venting to 10 minutes a day. And if spending some time on his hobby before seeing me makes it difficult to transition to quality time bonding with me, it is HIS responsibility to manage that.

    And he totally got it, thankfully. I don’t actually measure how long he talks. But now I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. And if he forgets and brings it up too often, he’s okay with me saying “I need you to not complain at me right now.” He stops right away.

  14. When a friend or other important person is having a hard time, for many of us, our first instinct is to be there for them as much as possible. That’s a generally good impulse, and I think it’s what’s motivating both of these OPs.

    But ‘as much as possible’ has inherent limits. And one of those limits needs to be, “How much support can I handle giving before it starts eating away at our relationship?” Because seriously, if your entire relationship becomes about you supporting them, and that dynamic keeps up long enough, it will destroy things. It stops being reciprocal, so you get tired, and bored, and frustrated, and lonely, and then you wonder why the heck you’re bothering to put in all this work, and things fall apart really quickly.

    The best way I’ve found for avoiding this is to be really upfront about your limits as soon as they come up. So maybe your person is struggling with a really hard thing, and you want to support them but you know you can’t handle giving them all the support they need. It’s OK to give what you can and then say “I love you but this is the limit of what I can do right now. Let’s get our mutual friend Bob on the line so they can help for a bit.” Or, it’s OK to give it your all through the worst period, and then say “I know this is still really hard, but it seems like you’re through the worst of it, and I have some things I’ve been neglecting the last few days to be here through this. I need to go do those things now, but I’ll check in tomorrow, ok?” Or, it’s OK to realize a month down the line that this pattern has been developing, and say “I’m noticing that lately, every time we talk, it’s been about X thing. Obviously I know X is a big deal for you, and I want it to get better…but I feel like by focusing on it so much, I’m losing the rest of my friendship with you. Can we spend some time doing other things?” These aren’t fun conversations (I’ve been on both ends and it’s not fun for either person), but assuming your person is a decent person, they’ll probably want you to be OK as well, and will try to balance things out better.

    1. “Obviously I know X is a big deal for you, and I want it to get better…but I feel like by focusing on it so much, I’m losing the rest of my friendship with you. Can we spend some time doing other things?”

      I love this wording.

    2. I like how kind Amy’s script is. I do want to raise that I know nothing about Anna, but some LGBT people don’t get to experience developmentally appropriate phases as far as how to have crushes, how to ask someone out, how to process the emotions of infatuation. The right time to have the style of crush might be middle school, but if Anna is an LGBT person who wasn’t out in middle school then she might have missed a step. to be frank, when I was first out I was a complete disaster about this kind of stuff. I did not know how to do dating at all – I’m bi but being closeted is completely different than being out. It was a lot. I wore out several friends, honestly, who luckily were kind and firm about their limits. once I quit on my straight therapist and got an LGBT identified therapist things got a lot better fast.

      maybe Anna doesn’t want anything to come out of this. Maybe she’s kind of in the phase of crushing where other people have crushes on boy bands- she wants the object of this crush to remain safely unavailable so that she can experience all these joys and for years without involving an actual potential partner. That’s OK. But it doesn’t mean that the LW has to listen to her nonstop and forever. I think saying “i’m full up on crush talk, and I’m wondering if you could use a professional to vent to about your fears about this” is good friending.

      I would be cautious about telling her that she’s being stalkery. it does sound like she is hinging a whole lot on this one person, and it sounds like she could use help sorting through her anxieties, but one of the forms internalized homophobia definitely takes for many people is “i’m doing something terrible to this person just by having a crush on them.” we don’t have any evidence that Anna is behaving inappropriately in any way that affects her crush object, just that she’s making herself miserable. And, by extension making her friend miserable. Social media is very strange, and lets us treat each other like normal every day people are TV shows. I think it would be healthiest for LW to keep the grievance between LW and Anna. Anna is talking about this a lot to LW. LW can’t listen to anymore of this. LW is worried that Anna is having a bad time, and might need a different kind of support.

      by the way, I agree that hundreds of text freaking out about something is way past a friend paygrade. Whatever The freaking out is about, I would say that that’s a moment where it’s OK to say that you’re at the limits of your help.

      LW, I feel like you wrote in hoping for a way to give Anna a kick in the pants to just ask this girl out already. I’ve mostly been addressing the captains advice, but to you i say: recite over and over: “people are going to do what they do until they stop doing it.” The situation as it is right now may suit Anna perfectly. or she’s acting out anxieties through the waffling, and that’s what it’s about, not actually trying to date this girl. That’s fine. But while people do what they’re going to do, the only choices that we really get to make are our proximity to their behavior, and what information we give them about how their behavior is affecting us. you can’t say anything to make her ask this girl out. You can only give her information about your willingness to listen anymore.

      sorry for weird punctuation, for health reasons I’m on speech to text today. I’ve tried to clean it up.

      1. Yeah… I’m gonna disagree on the whole “don’t tell her she’s borderline stalking because Homophobia” thing. Because as much as the “you’re predatory just for having a crush” stereotype is there when it comes to possibly straight people, there’s also a “you’re not abusive/boundary-violating in your lesbian relationship because you’re both women,” fallacy and an “all queer women have been oppressed so you can’t ever call them out on bad behavior” fallacy when it comes to wlw relationships. If she’s acting in a way that’s starting to cross boundaries (which it looks like she is) she doesn’t get a pass on having that pointed out to her, just because Patriarchy and Homophobia.

        1. Traffic_Spiral, I agree with you generally, and tend to come down hard on people who assume that wlw relationships are exempt from abuse and creepiness. I don’t want to get into real life experience here, but it’s actually part of the reason I objected to the original wording.

          In this case, the LW doesn’t discuss being uncomfortable with how Anna’s behaving towards Crush Person (besides that LW wants Anna to just ASK THEM OUT PLEASE). LW discusses being uncomfortable with how Anna behaves towards LW. LW is being put in the position of being Anna’s anxiety binkie about Anna’s ?unloveability? as represented by every instagram photo of Crush Person’s avocado toast or whatever.

          In that context, I think it’s really wisest for LW to focus on the Anna-to-LW angle of this. We don’t know how CP feels about Anna’s attentions, such as they are, but we do know how LW feels: overwhelmed, stressed out, and like it needs to STOP. LW indicates wanting it to stop via Anna just ASKING HER OUT, OH MY GOD, JUST MOVE ON, and I wanted to point out that Anna might not be there yet, for Reasons, but that doesn’t mean that LW has to keep being said anxiety binkie.

      2. I agree on not pushing Anna to ask her crush out anymore. I’m a big fan of giving advice once or twice, and if it’s not being taken at that point, dropping it in favor of “You already know what I’m going to suggest, so I won’t bother saying it again. Whatever you choose to do, I hope things work out!” (Potentially with a dose of “Look, we’ve talked about this a lot already, and I don’t have anything else to say about it. Let’s talk about X now instead.”)

        I don’t agree on not telling her that her behavior is trending towards the potentially-stalker-y side of things. I mean, if it’s not true, then of course the OP shouldn’t say it. But if it is true…I think a good friend really should be pointing out when lines are being crossed. Like you say, the ‘let me obsess over my crush without actually engaging’ stage is a real thing, but middle schoolers learn better in part by their friends saying “omg I can’t believe you know what they had for dinner last night, you’re such a stalker lol!” And their friends are probably mostly teasing them about their crush, but it means that the kid hears that tracking someone that closely isn’t really socially acceptable behavior, and they adjust going forward. Personally, as a queer person who still isn’t good at crushes/dating, I think it’s a lot better to get that kind of info from someone who loves you and won’t think worse of you for it, than to be allowed to continue it unknowingly until a stranger (or worse, your crush!) calls you on it in a serious way.

        1. I def wouldn’t agree with not telling someone that their behavior is stalkery, if it is stalkery. But I don’t see this in the description of Anna’s behavior at all. All Anna is doing is looking at a friend’s social media. (Based on what the LW says, it sounds like Anna and the girl are friends who talk with each other often–Anna isn’t just looking at and texting a stranger!) It sounds like the big problem is just that Anna is annoying the LW and the LW is afraid to hurt her feelings by saying so; and a side of the LW’s frustration at why Anna doesn’t just confess her feelings to the other girl.

          I think saying “you’re such a stalker” lol would be uncalled for and mean, especially if Purps’s interpretation is true. Not that it’s never okay to say this to a friend, or never okay to say it to a lesbian–but based on the situation as described? The only objective problem is that Anna is annoying her friend.

          1. The dialogue there was more an example of what I remember middle-school teasing of friends with crushes being like than anything I would expect a grown adult to say! I don’t know about you, but the middle schoolers I went to school with didn’t have much tact.

            My comment was more in response to the general idea that calling non-straight people on boundary-overstepping behavior is a bad thing that exacerbates internalized homophobia than to this specific situation. Like I said, if it’s not the case here, then of course OP shouldn’t say it is. But if it is the case (or if it becomes the case at some point in the future), I don’t think it matters if the person doing it is straight or gay or bi or whatever–they’re still behaving inappropriately, in a way that may be upsetting to their target when/if the target realizes it’s going on. It has nothing to do with gender or sexuality; if it’s happening, someone should tell them to cut it out (and a friend is probably going to do so in a more gentle and kind way than a non-friend would, so I would hope a friend who noticed the behavior would say something).

        2. Fair! If the LW is just speaking their truth when they say “your behavior towards your crush is creeping me out”, then they should certainly speak it. Certainly if they’d written in asking “how can I tell my friend that they’re being a creep” I would straight up jump all the way to “I will argue against anyone say it’s not creepy or abusive because it’s gay”. My real life experience in that area has been unpleasantly instructive.

          But LW wrote in asking “how can I make Anna ask this girl out because the degree to which she’s talking to me about it is making me stressed out and it doesn’t seem great for her”. That seems to me like a pretty straight-forward A is being weird to B about C dynamic: B ultimately can give an opinion about A and C, but really has very little control over how A and C interact. B’s actual problem here is between A and B. B only has control over what B says to A and how proximate B is to A’s drama. B offering further opinions about A and C may be morally urgent, in which case B should definitely speak up*! But it’s definitely not the quick route to cutting off or deescalating the A-B dynamic. If the problem is the A-B dynamic, then B should keep feedback strictly to the A-B dynamic.

          *At the end of the day, morally-urgent speaking up is actually a B-B dynamic. You can’t control other peoples’ behavior, but you can behave in a way that lets you live with yourself, and/or that you feel contributes to the kind of world that you want to live in.

    1. That is a great blog post!

      My only nitpick is… am I the only one slightly weirded out by the fact that the author evidently went out of their way to choose gender-neutrally coded names and use “they” for all hypothetical persons in the scenario *except* for the “problem” person – who was given a typically female-coded name and “she”? It would’t bug me if all the characters had been randomly assigned clear genders, or there had been a random mix of binary genders and nonbinary/agender/not clearly coded characters, but the evident care taken to choose neutrally coded language with every other character *except* the “problem person” just strikes me as… weird.

      Maybe I’m oversensitive to this because issues like this – of emotional labor – so often disproportionally affect women (a fact that is addressed in the article!). Quite possibly it’s just a random coincidence and I’m making something out of nothing.

      1. That website doesn’t tend towards misogyny usually. I’m thinking the author thought it might get confusing with three “theys”. Or maybe they were trying to be diverse, by including a gender neutral person, rather than just being vague about gender.

  15. I never realised how common this situation is! I went through it with a long distance ex who I’d stayed friends with. He had a pattern of obsessing over girls and telling me all about them in exhaustive detail, over-analysing everything they did/didn’t say or do, and then asking what I thought. But he wouldn’t be satisfied by any answer, and would either ask me repeatedly or avoid taking action (usually a more direct approach with the girl of the time would’ve resolved his uncertainty).

    Over the years, a pattern developed where he’d almost always IM because he had a girl to angst over to me, and the beats of the conversation got increasingly recognisable – he’d spend a few minutes asking how I was and if I’d heard about whatever was new in the fandom that had originally brought us together, and then he’d launch into the stuff about the latest girl.

    In hindsight, I put up with it for a few reasons, which may or may not be recognisable to the LWs or others in similar situations:

    1. Back when I had been the girl he was obsessing over, he’d been very caring and solicitous. I generalised these as traits that made him a good person, rather than seeing that they’d been part of his pattern, or thinking in terms of friendship as needing a continual reciprocation of caring and supporting.
    2. We’d been through some very intense, serious stuff together in the past, and I think I assumed that having got through that meant I couldn’t withdraw my friendship over any lesser problem.
    3. Owing to my health problems and their outworkings, various friends had left my life, so I got a kick out of people actually needing me and therefore revelled in my role as a ‘good listener’. Since then, I’ve learned to watch out for friendships where the person only goes through the motions of caring about me.

    The concept of “emotional labour” would’ve been a great help to me back then, but unfortunately I didn’t know it, so finally things came to a head after a decade of intermittent frustrating conversations. He tried to engage me about the latest girl when I was in the middle of a very stressful house move (though really, is there any other kind?) and I told him very concisely that he had a pattern, I was sick of it and could not be his therapist, and requested that he not contact me again. Perhaps there was a more tactful way to do it, but given that my MO for so long was to tiptoe around his feelings, I’m not sure tact would have changed anything.

  16. LW 1012: Another thing to consider – is hanging with Niles even *fun* for you anymore? Like I’m certain he has many wonderful qualities but one of the options you also have is “okay, that’s enough.” Being polyamorous does not mean you have to keep going in relationships where your time and actual relationship with that person doesn’t seem valued, in the interests of being Cool Enough or Polyamorous Enough. This whole situation would be exhausting enough with a friend (as we see from 1011), nevermind a supposed romantic partner!

    I also just think it’s good manners not to talk about how ermahgawd amazing your other relationships are in a polyamorous scenario. Of course you’re jealous! Who could not be jealous when all your conversations with your romantic partner revolve around how awesome *his other romantic partner* is? Rude af. Dude owes you some flowers/chocolate/apology burgers, plus a big cup of Shutting the Eff Up, stat.

  17. Is there a way to follow replies without posting? I’m posting now because I don’t know of one but I want to follow this. Thanks.

    1. If you use a newsreader at all, you can follow the RSS feed of comments on the blog separately from the actual posts (which is the way I have mine set up). The link to set up in your reader would be: https://captainawkward.com/comments/feed/

      Obviously, this only helps if you use a reader, but I thought I’d throw it out there for anyone else who was unaware you could do that.

  18. I can endorse the Captain’s scripts from the other side–I was once the one who had Only One Topic. I was talking about only that because I was thinking about only that, so when my boyfriend brought it up my reaction was confusion (“there’s something else to talk about?”) and annoyance (“THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO TALK ABOUT”) but I did quiet down about my One True Topic.

    It’s been years and I still have to make a conscious effort not to make this comment all about that One True Topic, so, be firm with boundaries but patient with relapses.

  19. I’m polyamorous and I struggle with this, too–wanting to be supportive, but not to the detriment of my own relationship with that person. I’ve decided I won’t put anyone’s relationship with someone else above my own. Respect it, yes. But honour it above the one I have with someone else? No. I spent a lot of time and emotional energy with my first serious polyamorous partner, who I was in love with, dealing with him and his disintegrating marriage. I loved him and wanted to be there for him in a trying time, but it ended up taking over our relationship as well. Secure your own oxygen mask first!

    I’m going to a chat and learn tomorrow night about relationships between metamours. I’m very excited!

  20. Perhaps it’s been said, but both of these examples seem like people who need something else to talk about. Swap out the relationship woes for a hobby, book, health issue, evil co-worker, or whatever, and it boils down to someone who talks pretty constantly about only one thing and eventually the listener is at the point of wanting to claw out his/her own ears whenever they talk. That said, I know there are times when there’s something major going on with someone and that’s what the person wants/needs to talk about. But even then, after a little while it’s fair to say, “hey, friend, I know we talk about a lot, but I’d really like us to talk about .” The trick is knowing when to say that before it turns into screaming, “oh for the love of all that is holy if I hear about ____ one more time I’m jumping off this bridge!”

    I’m a fan of declaring an off-limits conversation. Sometimes I’ll declare something off-limits for a day or a week, like politics or negativity or the weather or whatever, and when a conversation goes that way I remind the other person of my own self-imposed rule. This could be framed as a “no gossip week” or something similar in the situations the letter writers describe. That sort of takes the onus off the talker and puts it onto the listener to say, “hey, I’m re-framing my thinking this week and I need your help. Let’s only talk about happy things like puppies and ice cream.” And if the other person can’t do it, end the conversation.

  21. LW #1012 here! Thank you, Captain and thank you commentariat. This has been SO helpful for helping me set boundaries.

    Just for additional clarification that I didn’t include in the first letter because I wasn’t sure if it was relevant…on this point:

    “and I think what you have here is a Niles problem vs. a Daphne problem, but if you’re not close now maybe you’re not meant to be.”

    Daphne did to me a friend version of what she does to Niles: aloof distance because woes, super intense warm intimacy, and then radio silence because of “ex/life/etc.” I just got burned out on her cycle first, lack the optimism he has that it will get better, and now I have no desire to reconcile because getting burned out helped me realize that our friendship was a little unsatisfying to me.

    So…yes, she and I have been filed under the hashtag #notmeanttobe in my head these days but Niles is still gunning for group hangouts to happen and…I just don’t want to.

    And it’s really great to hear that it’s okay that I don’t want that.

    1. Aw man, that would be extra annoying. Basically “I had the good sense to nope out of this drama pool, and now I’m being dragged in regardless because you decided to swan dive into that.”

  22. So you know that advice people give about how you shouldn’t tell people you’re working on a book/painting/play/sculpture because then your brain gets that good ‘I accomplished something’ feeling without actually accomplishing anything and it kills motivation to do the thing you wanted to do? I swear there has to be some kind of relationship corollary here because the moment I stopped letting my friends vent endlessly about their relationship problems to me they somehow found the ability to actually deal with those problems.

    It’s like by complaining about the problem and getting comfort and advice their brain goes “Ok I have successfully done something and do not need to address any of this with the person causing my current distress.” So I’ve got a three strike rule, you get to complain and commiserate and get advice from me three times tops and then I’m done with relationship talk about this guy/girl/other for the foreseeable future. And suddenly relationship drama that had been dragging on for months and months miraculously cleared up because the only person they had left to talk to about the problems with their partner, was their partner.

    1. their brain goes “Ok I have successfully done something and do not need to address any of this with the person causing my current distress.”

      You are probably on to something here. Not exactly the same, but I had to forbid my ex from texting me and limit all contact to phone calls (we have kids together so I couldn’t cut contact completely). He was getting all the catharsis of FEELINGSTEXTS without having to actually engage with me (and hear that I didn’t like what he had to say).

    2. This makes a lot of sense. I have complained a lot about my frustrations with my relationship but I had enough people very diplomatically say “that sounds like a lot, I hope you work it out w partner” and I think that plus getting therapy has helped me get to a place of dealing w it. Yesterday I had a hard conversation with partner…not sure we fixed anything but for once I talked to him and not the rest of the world.

    3. This is a really useful point; I’d heard about it as a writer (which is why I try not to talk about my stories any more) but hadn’t considered that it applied to relationship stuff.

  23. “if we changed “jawing about Daphne” to “Reading the 1972 Encyclopedia Brittanica aloud” it would still be uncool of Niles to do if you indicated you aren’t interested.”


  24. Yes, knowing the issues with “Poly” is excellent, and I was unaware. Definitely useful in written communication. In verbal, I may still use the abbreviation, because my brain’s language center is a morass of confusion and mistakes. I’m just as likely to substitute “polygamy” in a verbal conversation, even though I am WELL aware of the difference, or bail altogether around the -amour- syllables and come up with something totally wrong, and red faces all around.
    Written communication is a godsend.

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