Dear Captain Awkward,
It is a year since I totally lost it while visiting with my (long distance) boyfriend’s close high school friends who he lives near and I need help making amends. We were visiting to play DnD, along with another friend of theirs who was also visiting for a one-off game play like me. I had met them once before (they supposedly liked me), but this time it was just weird from the get go. They didn’t acknowledge me at all, I said hello like three times and I just got ignored/talked over/a stare from the silent girlfriend of the host. I had never played before and when I asked questions the host just brushed me off, so dropped out and sat with them while my boyfriend dungeon-mastered. They were loud and seemed nasty to my boyfriend while they played (8hrs), I just lost it having a migraine from them. They were giving my bf shit about something and I just got into it about how rude and loud they were, then had a screaming match with my boyfriend about being trapped somewhere with no sidewalks with such rude people (I live in a city/no car/couldn’t excuse myself), and to get me on a train home that night.
I am so ashamed of making a scene, out of respect for my boyfriend, but he built up how important the game he wrote was, even though after-the-fact he didn’t understand why I didn’t tell him I wasn’t enjoying it (I did, but obviously no one listens until your scream) so we could all stop and do something else. The host had family staying, so I really had nowhere to excuse myself. I want my boyfriend to be able to mix us all again, if I’m welcome back.
Supposedly the host was drunk and isn’t good at reading people, and eventually apologized to him. I had apologized to my boyfriend, but haven’t seen/spoken to his friends since (we are long distance and it’s unresolved). I was still hurt about it when my boyfriend brought it up the next time we saw each other after. I wanted to get along with them for him, but was also concerned they were so hostile leading up to my losing my shit and that it can’t ALL depend on me because I’m only 1/3 of the issue (1/3 his friends and 1/3 his own lack of communication). He says it’s just how they are: they are good people but play rowdy and in general they dig at each other a bit but it’s all in good spirit. This is probably true, but I don’t think that’s what happened between them and myself. It can’t be any easier for them to get to know me than it is for me to get to know them, but I can’t imagine having done anything to upset them before that point and I feel like whatever flaw prompted them to treat me so unkindly is something they thought of me before we even arrived. The topic hasn’t come up in a year between my boyfriend and myself, how do I go about resolving this?
Thanks for your time,
Dear Downhearted Daisy,
Watching a bunch of drunk near-strangers who aren’t nice to you play a complicated roleplaying game you don’t play or understand, when they are not patient with your questions (because they mostly just want to play with each other), for EIGHT HOURS IN A ROW, in a place you can’t easily leave (even to go in another room and lie down), and where the person who brought you to this crappy party is too distracted to even hear you when you tell him you’re not okay unless you yell, sounds like one of my many definitions of hell.
And then you had a migraine on top of that. You had a migraine. In hell.
If you yell at your boyfriend often when you fight, or if lots of your fights with him could be described as “a screaming match,” this is simple. Don’t even worry about these friends! Stop reading this, break up with your boyfriend, find a therapist and some tools to work on anger management and healthier communication skills, and also look for relationship partners who neither scream at you nor ignore you until you scream at them. You can date people who are way less work than this.
If this is one awful day when you kind of lost your shit because: migraine hell party, and you’ve apologized to your boyfriend, then it’s time to forgive yourself.
How do you make amends to the friends now? You address it head on the next time you see them. “Hi, the last time we all hung out was a shitshow, and I’m very embarrassed and sorry about the way I yelled and the things I said. Can we start again, please?” Then you try to be friendly and polite and start over with each person you meet the way you hope they’ll start over with you.
And then, because the second step of an apology is “don’t do the troubling thing again if you can possibly help it,” you try to keep your cool, and if things start to suck and you feel like screaming, excuse yourself before it gets to that point, even if it’s just to the bathroom to regroup for a second.
What would really help, though, is to never, ever, ever put yourself in that situation again. Or let anyone put you in that situation again.
A couple of ways to do that, off the top of my head:
“Boyfriend, I’m obviously nervous about it after last time, but I’ll try to hang out with your friends again if you want me to. Let’s have one drink and see how it goes, and then if you want to play D&D all day again go and have fun! I’ll make a plan to do my own thing.”
No marathon hangouts. Definitely no marathon hangouts where the expectation is that you will be a polite, quiet spectator. And no marathon hangouts without a plan for what do do in case of emergencies, like, if a migraine comes down and you need to say “I’m feeling unwell. Is there any place quiet I can lie down, or anyone who can give me a quick ride back to where we’re staying and then you can all just enjoy the game as long as you want to?,” then you and your boyfriend have an agreement that he will stop what he’s doing, at least temporarily, and make sure you are okay. It’s great to go do fun stuff with friends! It’s also important to be able to leave or stop or change course if it stops being fun for any reason.
Given what happened, if your boyfriend wants to cross the social streams again, it’s honestly up to him to be a much better host this time. Why he thought you’d want to watch him play D&D with these people all day is a mystery to me (or, since he was the DM that day, why he didn’t work harder to set up and incorporate you into the game better), but much like the dudes I’ve smashed faces with who thought “come watch my band practice” counted as “a romantic date where we spent quality time together,” some mysteries are destined to remain unsolved.
You say you did speak up about how you were feeling during that day, but he didn’t listen to you until you screamed at him. Screaming at a partner is not optimal, but how does he go eight whole hours without checking to make sure you’re having a good time, or listening to you when you say you aren’t, or even noticing that you have a migraine? An afterward, why couldn’t he say “I’m so sorry I dragged you to that, I should have been up front that we were going to be playing a complicated, involved thing and that I wouldn’t have time to bring you up to speed. Next time something like that comes up, I’ll just go by myself!”
Now that you’ve been through this once, you have more information about what you need in order to have fun and be comfortable in a group setting with your boyfriend. It’s not an unreasonable list: 1) People who will greet you pleasantly and interact with you as if they are at least sort of glad that you’re there. 2) An activity where you can fully participate, or some alternative activity or space you can go if they really want to do their thing without you. 3) An exit strategy if you want to or need to leave. 4) A way to check in with each other during the thing. It’s okay to ask for and plan for those things going in, and if any of those things are not in place, it’s okay to say “You go and have fun, I’d rather entertain myself.” Couples don’t have to do everything together, and there are way less intense ways to get to know his friends if that’s a thing you still want to do.
My big question is: This all happened a year ago. You’ve apologized for your part in it. Why is it still bothering you so much? What is the thing that is unresolved?
You said it was a screaming match, with both you and your boyfriend yelling. Has he apologized for yelling at you? For not listening to you earlier? Has he done anything to smooth this over with the friends, like, apologizing on your behalf and his own behalf, asking them to give it a second chance?
You’re still dating the dude a year later, so, the fight wasn’t enough for either of you to just want to end the relationship. Does he keep bringing it up or blaming you for it? Is something about that day still part of your dynamic as a couple?
For example, when you do visit your boyfriend or he visits you, are you good at checking in with each other to make sure both people are having fun? Are you able to speak up when something isn’t going well and advocate for yourself during smaller conflicts?
I ask this because there’s a common thing in long distance relationships where nobody wants to ruin the rare beautiful weekend when you actually get to see each other by arguing (or spending part of it apart, which I suspect may have been a factor here), so people tamp down their feelings and conflicts over small things because, Togetherness! Yay!
And then the problem festers. And then another weekend you “don’t want to ruin” comes and goes, and you don’t talk about it and it festers more. Because you miss this person all the time! How can they be pissing you off so much now that you finally get to see them?
And then a few romantic weekends later, half a year has gone by, and it’s Sunday night and someone’s getting on a plane early tomorrow and the restaurant you wanted to try is closed for a private event and the subway is taking forever to come and the air conditioning is busted and you miss this person every waking moment but you’re also kind of ready for them to just go already so you can have your space to yourself and BOOM! CRACK! Suddenly the last three days of “Fine, whatever you want to do, Babe!” has morphed into a boiling argument that encompasses all the little arguments that didn’t happen along the way because nobody wanted to “ruin the moment” by expressing a need.
Does any of that sound familiar, and like it was happening then, or if it’s happening now?
Are there imminent plans to see these friends again? Are you afraid they will be mean again or bring it up with you or freeze you out again? What’s your boyfriend’s plan for having your back if that happens?
What’s the worst thing that would happen if you decided to not put much work into relationships with people that you never see and don’t like?
In your head: “Babe, I don’t really like these rude friends of yours, and they clearly don’t like me, so I have a budget of four hours once a year where I smile and say polite things and try give a shit for your sake. Please decide when you want those four hours to be and I’ll be there. Also, let’s budget for a taxi or ride-share so I can bail when I need to and you can stay and have fun”
Out loud: “Aw, you know your friends and I don’t really gel. That’s okay! You go have fun, I’ll see you when you get back.”
Even really good people don’t like each other sometimes. This was a roomful of rude people doing a thing that you didn’t enjoy, where nobody really made an effort to include you and some of them outright blanked you, that you couldn’t leave, and (I know I keep belaboring this) it lasted for EIGHT HOURS.
What if you never had to go back to a room like that ever again if you didn’t feel like it? What if you were wrong for yelling, but they also suck, and your dread about all of this is really a “My boyfriend’s friends kinda suck and he kinda sucks when he’s around them, does that mean he’s a sucky boyfriend?” question? (If so, you’re at the right blog, aka The Life-Changing Magic of Dumping People Who Don’t Make You Feel Good).
Whatever’s going on here, I hope you get to the bottom of what’s making you hang onto this so hard.