I have some questions about romantic feelings and dating and breakups accumulating and I don’t know if they all belong together, but maybe they don’t all need separate threads? I think what they might have in common is people who are trying to rules-lawyer their own hearts.
Let’s find out!
Hello Captain Awkward,
I’m not sure if a good friend of mine [20F] is over me  or not, please help!
I’m in a tough spot with a good friend of mine (let’s say Carroll) that I’ve known for about a year at college. Early this past freshman year we both hit it off really well, and she’s a great person. We both seemed to like each other for a while but we both got cold feet around the first third of the year. Thinking about a relationship with her, I constantly came to the conclusion that I was happy with my lifestyle, and starting a relationship wouldn’t be preferable (I haven’t gotten into too many relationships). However, with sophomore year approaching, our living situations seem to be more compatible, and my attitude towards a relationship with her has changed to be more positive.
Over the course of the year, things weren’t really awkward and we are still good friends. However, at several points near the end of the year, there were points where it seemed like she was talking to her friends about me and laughing about it. I wouldn’t consider her gossipy, it seems like the people she hangs with always want to discuss things in secret with her. This might be me just being paranoid (I’m not the center of their universe lol), but there were also points where my own friends poked fun about the whole situation to me (in the presence of her, ugh) and she seemed to think it was funny as well. To be more specific, she didn’t really join in on the joke, she just kinda whispered something to her friends shortly after, finding it amusing.
Thus, I’m in a sticky situation. To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her. I’m not sure if we’re both still in the stage of cold feet, or if she’s gotten over me and thinks of me as a joke to her friends. I know a lot of this is paranoia, but I want to be able to get closure on this, since all I feel when talking to her sometimes is that I’m a big joke to her. My main point is how to clarify this with her given this worry. It’s hard to clarify with her because for all I know, it’s the latter and things will only become more awkward by speaking to her, furthering her attitude and preconceptions. She’s a great friend and if she’s truly moved on, then I don’t want to hinder our future as friends. But if she does have feelings, it’s something I don’t want to ignore.
Hi there! You are now Letter Writer #1211!
Do you want to be in a romantic relationship with Carroll now? y/n
Do you want to just go on being friends with her, but without this weird vibe you’re getting that there’s a joke you’re not quite getting? y/n
Have you ever had an out loud conversation with Carroll along the lines of “should we date each other? y/n”? Where she was “y” and you were more “n” (or something else)?
I ask because I can’t tell from this whether you and Carroll had a little bit of a romantic relationship earlier this year, almost had a romantic relationship, talked/joked about dating but never took it there, or whether everything about your attitude, living situation, “lifestyle,” etc. was entirely in your head and she had no idea (or she had some idea but it never got spelled out). People don’t forget the time they confessed a crush and got turned down, so there’s no pretending that didn’t happen if it did, I’m just trying to figure out where “start” is, if that makes sense.
You keep talking about Carroll’s (possibly assumed?) feelings for you but mostly not your feelings. Except right here: “To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her.” A-ha! Eureka! Start there, sit with that, work with that. What do you feel and what do you want from Carroll now. Not “what you would be sort of okay with settling for” or “what you would possibly consider” or “what you could make work if you just knew for sure what she wanted.” What do you most want to happen now. If you’re going to risk rejection or making things slightly weirder than they already are between you before they resolve into the eventual right shape, at least you can know that you’re acting from a place of integrity and honesty with yourself.
Once you’ve got your feelings…”under control” isn’t the right term, let’s go with…admitted? It’s decision time. Awkward or not, there’s no “clarifying” Carroll And Her Feelings without talking to Carroll about her feelings. Depending on what you want, there are plenty of scripts:
- “Carroll, would you like to go on a date with me on (day) and (time) (and yes it is a DATE date.)” Maybe you don’t have to decide everything about the future with this person, maybe you can take it one date at a time and try.
- “Carroll, I know when we talked before I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but I have changed my mind. Would you still be open to that?” If she took the risks of speaking up last time, it is definitely 100% your turn now.
- “Carroll, buddy, friend, I feel like there’s some joke that I’m the subject of but not quite in on. Am I imagining that? Mind letting me in on it?” If you just want to stay friends but you want to clear up the strange vibe you’re picking up on, this is the way. If you want to be with Carroll, this is not the place to start.
Friendships can survive awkward crushes that don’t quite go anywhere, as long as everyone is honest and kind and keeps their senses of humor. If you want to be with Carroll, ask, try, risk, be vulnerable, put it out there. If you don’t want to be with her, especially if you’ve already rejected her, the kindest thing to do is probably let this subject drop. stay pleasant and friendly, let her have her comic asides with friends, and put your energy into other friendships while the Good Ship Feelings About Carroll rights itself after passing through a few rough straits.
That’s the heart of my advice: Start from what you feel and what you want, and don’t work so hard to manage or predict other people’s feelings.
I [he, him] admit I’m not a regular reader, but I’ve gone through your advice columns and been super impressed with your words of wisdom, so now that I’m in a relationship pickle, I thought of you.
Anyways. I’m in a polyamorous relationship with a woman, N. Due to life and employment issues, I’ll be moving away from where N has been living; this has been in the cards for a while so it’s not a surprise to either of us, but nonetheless it’s been quite difficult for both of us. N has been worried about feeling horribly lonely after I’ve gone, so she’s been active on dating apps trying to find a partner to keep her company. Most of those dates have been disasters, but t minus 10 on my move date she hit it off with someone she really liked; let’s call him J. They met up, got along great, and had great sex.
At the end of the day, I support her in meeting cool people and having great sex with them. But hearing about just how well the date with J went made me feel quite jealous. I struggle with insecurity and irrationally fear abandonment, and in particular I’ve been agonizing about being replaced by someone new after I leave. In any case, despite vocally communicating my happiness and support for her and her new flame, I also let her know that I’m struggling with some jealous feelings that I’m trying to work through. I asked specifically that I could meet J before leaving so I could get to know him a little and hopefully warm up to him enough that I wouldn’t experience negative feelings when he’s with N. I explained to N that my jealousy stems from insecurity about our relationship and fear of being replaced, but that it’s important to me to be supportive of her anyways.
Yesterday, we made plans for me to take her to work in the afternoon and pick her up the next morning. I drove her home and hung around while she got ready, but then at the last second she decided to go in later, so I went back to my place after she made arrangements to get a ride with a coworker. I didn’t hear from her for a few hours after, which I didn’t think much of. But then, she texts me from work saying that she had just hung out with J. What? Apparently he had called her up asking if he could drop by, she said yes, he went over and saw her, they drank and smoked together, and then had sex again. She told me she knew I’d be upset, but didn’t want to fight with me while they were together and so waited until after he had left and she had gone to work to tell me what had happened.
Honestly, if she had let me know at any moment before they had decided to have sex I would have been on board with them getting together. What really hurt me was that she chose to hide the truth from me until it was too late for me to feel like I had any input. Now I feel like she put aside my needs entirely until it was convenient for her.
Even a day after, I feel pretty gutted. Explicit notice and communication before sexual pairings is a discussed rule of our poly relationship, and I honestly feel like I’ve been cheated on. She offered me, in the ensuing fight, the option to veto her relationship with J. I said no. I don’t want to exercise that kind of control over her love life, stop her from seeing someone she clearly likes, or set us up for the kind of resentment that would create. Despite that, I feel like she created a situation that validated my fears and insecurities about us and I don’t know if I’ll be able to trust her again, especially where J is involved.
I want to be able to trust her, especially now that we’re going to be long distance. How can I work through this? What kinds of things should I tell myself (and her)?
Greetings, Letter Writer #1212!
As a new reader, you might not know this: I have experimented with polyamory/non-monogamy in a bunch of configurations in the past. My heart has been a Winnebago, my pants could have hosted a medium-sized summer music festival or two, but these days I ride a monogamous bicycle built for two. Not! (<3!) because I never thought about it and just accepted the ‘default’ mode, but because that’s what works best for me and the person who best matches me.
I tell you this because: I don’t think polyamorous relationships are less valid than any other kind of relationship, but I also don’t use “what, specifically, makes polyamory work best” or “what will make polyamory accessible and attractive to people who might not already know about it?” as my chief reference points.
Since happy people don’t write to me for help fixing functional relationships that make everyone feel great, I realize my inbox carries a good deal of confirmation bias, so I wrestle with that a lot. Am I qualified to comment on a thing that I’ve Very Firmly Opted Out Of and how do I do it without adding to stigma and ignorance people already face when choosing a non-mainstream relationship style? But how do I/we sort out and help people in situations that have definitely crossed over into WTF?-land without talking honestly about how the specific dynamics are exacerbating the problem?
Since people keep asking me, specifically, here’s what I try to do:
1) Defer to and learn from the experts. There is lots of reading to be found if you’re interested in negotiating specifically non-monogamous setups. Have I or will I read every one of these things? I will not! But I’m very glad they exist, I’ve learned a lot about having out loud conversations about complicated things from the ones I have dug into, and I am very happy to recommend them.
2) Go with what I know. Would the kind of behavior described in the letter be a problem in any romantic relationship or configuration? Quite often, yes. I can work with that.
3) When in doubt, follow the “shoulds,” they will almost always lead us to the heart of the problem. Whenever I see any kind of “romantic relationship = not working” question cross my inbox, I look for the word “should” or the idea of “should,” (often in close proximity to the word ‘just’) and usually I find it.
I’m a nerd/geek/a person who is enthusiastic about sharing knowledge and learning. What I know about nerds/geeks as a group is that we tend to be obsessed with fairness, justice, designing systems, testing and questioning existing rules and systems, seeking knowledge and data, explaining stuff to ourselves and others, optimizing everything around us so that it all works the way it should work, and I love us, I love all this about us, it makes us wonderful in so many ways! Just, when geeks set traps for ourselves? They are elegant ones that are hard to climb out of.
Also, in my experience, a lot, not all, but a lot, (#notall but #definitelymany) polyamorous folks and kinksters (Hi kinksters! ILU!) and other seekers of road-less-traveled-by relationships are sex-and-love nerds (and highly inclusive of/overlapping with all types of nerds), who have created beautiful systems for honoring their desires and speaking up for what they need and having great boundaries and checking in and holding space and having difficult out-loud conversations and honoring consent in all things, stuff that applies to all kinds of human interactions and only makes them more honest and rewarding. It’s all great, honestly great.
Unfortunately, elegantly-designed-loving-beautiful systems are neither jerk-proof nor flawed-human-doing-messy-human-bullshit-proof nor irrational-and-possibly-unfair-but-definitely-strong feelings-proof.
Non-monogamous nerds get all the same “Love just takes work!” and “Being in a relationship is better than being single” pressures everyone does, then they double down on it with extra geeky pressure like, “Since there must be a logical way to solve this, what if I just got more information or worked harder to feel less bad about it?”
They have to contend with the defensiveness that (understandably) arises from being part of a subculture that’s often misunderstood. “Love me, love my geeky obsession” flips around pretty neatly to assuming “People who share my geeky obsession should probably love me.” Add in some low self-esteem, a little history of being overlooked and excluded, you get to “I probably have to love people who share my geeky obsession because nobody else will love us” which putty in the hands of predators and selfish assholes, they can keep feeding you #NoTruePolyamorousScotsman! assumptions forever, i.e. “Polyamory that makes you feel bad is most likely inauthentic polyamory, so if you just re-apply the frameworks for negotiation and consent better we’ll probably fix it so nobody ever has to be left behind and you don’t have to break up with anyone (incl. me, an asshole who constantly upsets you)!”
Don’t get me wrong, jerks and abusers can and will hijack ANY system for their own purposes, just the more welcoming and non-judgmental your community’s stated values are, and the more sidelined you are from the mainstream, the harder it is to admit something’s wrong ’cause there’s an extra layer of “See, doesn’t this just go to show you were wrong for trying this, Grandma told you this sinful crazy weird thing you were doing would never work!” to push through to get help. Here are some resources specifically about abuse dynamics in polyamorous relationships in case someone needs that, right now I’m going to take this back to Geek Stuff.
(spinning a wheel and making cool swervy noises)
Geeks and nerds (whether we self-identify that way or got forcibly identified that way by our grade-school’s most menacing child) love the word “should,” because it helps us imagine a better and fairer world, but we are such experts at making things incredibly hard on ourselves that it’s our kryptonite, too. Naturally suspicious of feelings – Sometimes they hurt and people use them to hurt us! Also, when we were smart little kids, grownups assumed we would just naturally pick up the knack of dealing with feelings the way we picked up facts about every single famous shipwreck so they forgot to explain them to us! – so there are gaps in our knowledge, definitely areas where we sense we are uncomfortably not in the top 99% percentile of Knowing How to Human the way we are in so many other subjects, and it seems too late or too hard to sort that out. Instead we embrace logic, rules, things we can define and test and apply, things that might right the wrongs done to us and make a fairer world.
From there, it’s easy to see feelings as something untrustworthy and/or as something that can be outsmarted or controlled. I can’t speak for everyone, but for a long time, therapists had to use the reference charts the show little kids to get me to even name feelings, and my internal feedback system in response to negative or upsetting feelings and relationships went like this: This should work –>Ow! Not working –>System failure –> Re-boot system –> Redesign system –> Ow! Still feel bad –> Adjust system again? –> Still Ow! –> Fake being fine –> See if it passes –> Probably avoid situations like the one that prompted the failure –> Choose A New Subroutine = A) Stay Lonely B) Restart Painful Testing –> Press B –> This should work!
But what if our feelings are just information? And sometimes they aren’t fair, and don’t have to be?
When I see people pressure themselves to be “fair” about matters of the heart it’s usually ’cause they aren’t getting something they need or want to be happy. How many versions of “Am I overreacting here?” or “Am even I allowed to want/need this?” or “How do I convince myself to be okay with something that is not okay?” exist on the site so far, rough guess? Roughly 600 out of 1200? (I’ll take the “over”). What if it weren’t fair but you still needed it? What if you are “overreacting” but it’s still how you feel? So many of us were raised to question our own perceptions and put ourselves last, so I’m gonna fight that impulse wherever I see it.
Again, I am sensitive to whenever people use the word “should” about things that are supposed to make them happy. The polyamory letters often have an extra layer of “should” because everyone agreed in advance that a thing shouldn’t be a problem, then they created a system where it wouldn’t be a problem, so when that thing definitely is the problem (like, jealousy, or people who had every opportunity to be straightforward but forgot/chose not to), it’s a good reminder: We don’t have to serve our relationships (****or the idea/label/design behind them***) independently of our own needs and happiness.
Whenever a specifically polyamorous or other non-monogamous relationship question pings my “when it’s good, it’s GREAT, nobody loves ‘Informed Consent’ and ‘Explicitly Talking Out The Difficult Shit’ more than I, Captain Awkward, but when it’s Not Good, why is it a immediately a certain extra level of Not Working?” radar, like this one, it’s often because the “should” (and the gap between what should be happening and what is happening) is jumping out of the screen at me. I’ll find myself ruminating aloud about it to myself or to Mr. Awkward or The Wonderful Goat Lady who kindly curates my inbox about whether something is a Bad Romance problem or a Geek Logic/Subculture problem or (spoiler) both!
That’s when the blog gets words (and today’s bonus content words) because there’s something about the nexus of “helping people be more happy” and “figuring out how nerds can make feelings work” that I am powerless to resist. Which is a verrrrrrry long way of saying, Dear Letter Writer 1212:
A polyamory-focused blogger might give you lots of very useful tips about checking in with yourself and re-negotiating a workable relationship and adjusting your agreements with N. Such as, maybe, given the imminent long-distance thing, an explicit advance notification/ signed permission slip for each and every sexual encounter with Not-You is not a sustainable expectation, ergo, now that N. is seeing a lot of “J.” maybe it can be assumed that she’s, uh, seeing a lot of J. Since you don’t want to ‘exercise control’ over her love life, what if the answer isn’t more information about her sexual adventures, it’s letting go of the need to know? I’m sure helpful commenters will weigh in with a mix of “Right on, that’s how we do it!” and “Absolutely not, that rule is essential to making it work!” and you’ll have more data. (THANK YOU, COMMENTERS <3)
Since you asked me, the person who read your entire letter and thought: “He knows he’s allowed to break up with people who don’t make him happy, right?” here’s what I’ve got:
Maybe when someone hurts you, you don’t have to do more homework.
Also. Look. I think that almost every time somebody claims that it’s not THE HURTFUL NEWS ITSELF, it’s “just” the METHOD/TIMING OF DELIVERY that’s REALLY upsetting them, it’s almost always a lie on some level. A face-saving, understandable, relatable, partially-true kind of lie, but almost never the whole messy truth, and almost always a bid for more control over a thing that isn’t controllable, like what people who are not ourselves will feel or do, and how we should react.
I said “almost” and you’re the boss of you, Letter Writer, so when you say: “Honestly, if she had let me know at any moment before they had decided to have sex I would have been on board with them getting together,” I have to believe you, but.. I still don’t, not quite.
If N. had informed you before she had sex on that particular day, I believe you would have talked yourself into being okay with it, and I believe it would have meant something to you if she demonstrated to you she was honoring your agreement, I believe that small act of consideration would have made you more comfortable. And yet, if I had to guess, I’d guess that you still would feel like shit right now because leaving people you love sucks, you don’t want to leave town or have to re-figure all this out, and, while you maybe felt less guilty about leaving her behind when you knew N. would be able to channel her impending loneliness into new partners, you don’t actually want her to see this gross inconsiderate smoker and drinker mentionitis “J.” guy from work who clearly does NOT know or care about you or your Important Agreements and who interferes with N.’s judgment and sense of time and how phones work. There’s a strong “Did it have to be HIM and did it have to be NOW?” subtext in your letter, like, you realize the cat’s out of the bag but some level you now wish N. had waited until you were safely gone to start dating again so she could spend the bulk of your remaining proximity focused on you.
THESE ARE ALL PERFECTLY VALID FEELINGS, IF I AM CORRECT AT GUESSING THEM (AND EVEN IF I AM NOT, BECAUSE I’D MUCH RATHER BE WRONG AND YOU BE HAPPY THAN THE ALTERNATIVE). But you asked: I want to be able to trust her, especially now that we’re going to be long distance. How can I work through this? What kinds of things should I tell myself (and her)?
My read is, you are very unhappy and hurt right now. What if you you can’t trust N. and there’s no way to guarantee that? Possibly more importantly, how can you deal with the feelings you’re actually having vs. the ones you want to tell yourself to should probably have?
You’re saying all the right things to N. about how you want to be supportive and excited, all v. admirable, you are honoring the agreement you made! But she clearly isn’t! And in fact, you’re both “agonizing” and “jealous” and “anxious” and “gutted” and “worried” and “horribly lonely” and mired in “insecurity” and “resentment.” You’re co-opting your negative feelings to exhibit the ones you think you should have, which adds additional pressure on top of, stuff like…getting ignored and cheated on and feeling like crap.
If N. is one of the great loves of your life, nothing I say can tear you apart, but in your story I see a lady who had to do the bare minimum to make you feel good about a difficult thing and when it came down to it, she chose not to.
And worse, afterward, she abdicated it all to you, offering you the chance to “veto” the new relationship with J. if you want to, which reads to me like a dare or a challenge to a duel, a Polyamory Duel: “Well, you said you were okay with this, are you sure you’re okay with this? ‘Cause if you’re not okay with this, I guess we can make decisions based on how Not Okay with this you are, as long as we agree that you’re the one who is being Not Okay with this (vs. focusing on the Not Okay thing I did).(P.S. Reporting Live From Subtext Land: You’re leaving town anyway you won’t ever know if I do decide to still see J. without a signed permission slip.”)
Some relationships thrive in proximity and do not thrive long-distance, no matter how hard everybody tries. But…you already tried telling N. “Go for it with sexy New Dude (please just respect the agreements we made, my feelings are kinda fragile right now)” and she went for it but forgot to take care of your feelings. What if however fair and kind and open you want to be to N., she’s not willing or capable of giving you what you need right now? You’ve got a strong momentum leading you away from her, why not use it to do all the painful leaving at once?
I’d love to be wrong, I don’t want to direct you away from or happiness just because it’s personally harder for me to imagine it. Still, I think this is most likely doomed, and it’s a matter of when you decide and deliver the news whether this is a “hurt a lot now” or “hurt some now and more later” problem, hurt’s still coming, and that doesn’t mean that you failed or that love wasn’t real or that you didn’t try hard enough. What’s the choice that takes the most care of you? That’s the one I’m rooting for.
Dear Captain Awkward,
A man I loved has chosen to block me because he cannot get over his Very Strong Feelings about me, and doesn’t want to see my social media.
Being blocked is mostly fine. Its probably a very very good call on his part, and frankly long overdue.
We were having an emotional affair. Both married, and at the start, I think we were both determined to keep each other in the friend zone? I’m not sure any more, but I guess it doesn’t matter.
We finally both came to terms with the deepening, confusing feelings and rapidly vanishing boundaries, and agreed on a break. I hoped we would end our “best friendship,” which was sad, but maintain an ability to be around each other in our mutually shared space. We have a lot of mutual friends and are “star players” in our SportsClub. I thought, we will break the addiction, have a talk in a few weeks about new boundaries, say goodbye, have some sorrow, and continue to share custody of our club and see each other socially 1-2 times a month, maybe after a few more months of space. He started as a good friend, and I believe is a good person. Just one in a rocky marriage he has chosen not to prioritize, and one that takes boundaries setting personally (yes I know).
But after 1 week of very limited contact and then another of no contact, I signalled via social media that I’d be open to opening the dms again. I was still driven to make our friendship work, and I knew he had a history of poring over my SM. I should have DM’d directly but I thought a little heads up before I asked him to meet in person to set the new rules and objectives for space sharing might give him a chance to think.
I guess it did. Before I messaged him, I got a long, long text telling me how hopelessly in love w me he was, how he couldn’t be around me because of that, a couple other things I won’t share for identity reasons… and that he wouldn’t come to club any more, and he was blocking me for his own pain.
Okay. Sad, difficult, confusing, I felt shame for my role in our affair, heartbroken for how isolated he was choosing to make himself. But. He’s not coming to official club events, but he *is* coming to mutual friend events. And people signal we are coming to these things through Instagram (thumbs up on this post if you’re going to make it!). And I can’t see him, bc…blocked. There are a bunch of events coming up and I cannot be asking our one friend who knows what happened to be telling me what his plans are. Mutual Friend should not be our go-between, and I’ve already cried too many tears on Mutual Friends shoulder. But I don’t want to be chased out of our Sports Thing just because he’s the stronger athlete, and has Feels Forever for me. I wanted to agree on rules of engagement and now I just feel SURPRISE! It’s Himself, and he doesn’t want people to ask him what’s going on, so he’s going to come over and talk to you!
So, how do I find out which events are Safe? I want to respect the new boundaries (if he wants to pretend I don’t exist, fine. I’m not seeking him out). But if we keep fucking showing up to the same thing… would it have killed him to have just muted me on Instagram so I could at least see his “I will also be at this event” comments? Do I ask Mutual Friend to ask him to do that? I just want to keep doing the thing that I love and keeps me sane, even if I can’t do it with the dumbass I loved any more.
-I Fucked Up the Boundaries a bunch, how do I do the New Ones? What even are the new ones? (She/her).
Hello Lucky Number #1213:
Please review all previous content in this post and links re: “It’s not the MESSAGE, it’s the WAY of the message that’s REALLY bothering me” and please accept this mental, long-distance, consensual hug (often called a “Jedi” Hug here, since Jedi don’t need physical arms to do cool stuff, and really I’m just sending sympathy). You are not alone, this is a very common way to try to reclaim control and assign a proportional response to a thing that is actually shaking your world pretty hard, but it’s almost never THE actual problem, and whenever I see this it’s a flashing sign that points toward denial.
Next, let’s be clear about our terminology. Every time the phrase “emotional affair” has ever popped up on CaptainAwkward.com so pops up a lot of general discussion that covers “What are those, even?” and “Isn’t this just trying to police good friendships between men and women?” and “I, personally, wouldn’t see it as a problem for me, so you’re probably wrong if you think it’s a problem for you?” (and vice versa) and “Come on, it’s not technically ‘cheating’ until the exact second a penis goes INSIDE a vulva, until that happens nobody is ever allowed to be mad!” (and other takes that make me less nostalgic for the 1990s whenever I think about them) and “Wait, are crushes illegal now, are you saying it’s never okay to have feelings about someone outside your relationship?”
This entire post is an attempt to *discourage* rules-lawyering in all its forms, not open up new avenues for it. Feelings are messy as fuck, but “plausibly deniable” isn’t where the standard goes, “in all fairness…” never fixed anyone’s hurt feelings, and “well, technically your partner didn’t CHEAT-cheat, so you’re illogical if you feel cheated on right now” isn’t a foundation you can pour on top of the still-smoking ruins of someone’s blown-up heart. For today’s purposes, let’s agree that “Emotional Affair” most likely means some combination of these things:
- Friends of a sexual orientation and gender that would make them compatible as romantic/sexual partners had a lot of attraction and romantic feelings about each other that turned into discussions and interactions with each other that they kept a secret (or wildly downplayed/under-reported) because they are reasonably certain their existing partners would not be cool with it if they knew.
- Why wouldn’t the spouses be cool with it if it was all talk and no actual sexy stuff? Perhaps because the specific content, intensity, or quantity of discussion implicitly violates the integrity or mutual understanding of the relationship. Some people (see #1212) might see an opportunity to lean in here, fully discuss it, air it out, redesign the map of what’s allowed. But not everyone would, nor is there mandatory homework called “Why am I hurting and could I decide not to be,” so, if someone thinks their spouse wouldn’t be cool with a thing, they’re probably right.
- If you intensely consider cheating or leaving your partner and decide not to, the “decided not to!” part is definitely important, and hopefully the admirable, ethical, and happy choice! But “In the end, I chose you, isn’t that wonderful?” might not land the way you want it to, especially if the “chosen” spouse has to sift through a bunch of texts and other evidence that it was an extremely close call first. Let’s look at the letter for an example. Ah yes: “Before I messaged him, I got a long, long text telling me how hopelessly in love w/me he was, how he couldn’t be around me because of that, a couple other things I won’t share for identity reasons… and that he wouldn’t come to club any more, and he was blocking me for his own pain.” Would either the Letter Writer’s spouse or the Almost Guy’s spouse be relieved, like,”okay, as long as you weren’t fucking,” if they saw that text? No.
- “Affair behaviors” aren’t just sex behaviors, there are a whole host of “Hey look, my attention, money, time, and other priorities are definitely elsewhere, I’m pretending they are not, and I’m not telling you why” behaviors, and cheaters are TERRIBLE at op-sec. There’s the way a person constantly checks their phone, and suddenly never lets it out of their sight, and laughs at secret jokes that don’t include their spouse (and hangs out constantly on a certain person’s social media, as the letter details). Wherever there is a strong crush, there is likely to be mentionitis, and where there is mentionitis there is a high likelihood of gaslighting, including self-gaslighting, since a lot of people genuinely believe in their “Don’t Worry, We’re Just Good Friends!” intentions and “Ha, Can You BELIEVE People Keep Asking If We’re A Couple Just Because We’re Always Visibly Acting Like A Couple When We’re Together (And Glued To Our Phones To Discuss The Problem of How We Are Definitely Not Becoming A Couple When We’re Not Together)” performances. If the crush passes like most do, or the people ultimately do the right thing by being truthful and forthright and ethical in handling pre-existing commitments, it doesn’t mean that nobody ever noticed or had feelings about the time it was all unfolding.
- Self-reporting is accurate reporting. If someone says, “I had an emotional affair with x,” then they did. If someone says “X had an emotional affair while married to me,” then that’s what happened, and I promise you, this person does not want to hear “Well, technically, are those even real?” from anybody at that moment. Assume that some joint understanding of what belongs inside a relationship was violated in some way. Maybe it’s something that can be renegotiated by the people at the center of the problem, maybe it’s something that you can negotiate differently inside your relationships, but nobody wants to debate this stuff among the rubble of their own demolished happiness and trust.
Good? Good. Your eventual moderator thanks you.
Letter Writer #1213, here’s what I see:
- Any time you’re talking about a doomed/failed/past/”we’re definitely not doing this…oh wait…are we?” relationship in terms of counting the weeks & days since you’ve decided a thing or last interacted, it’s a good sign you’re still too far in, everybody needs a longer break, and that all of this is Way Too Soon.
- Duder was right to block you and wrong to send you that long text right before he did. I think you’re better off out of this particular thing, whatever the state of your marriage is, and you made the right decision to cut things off.
- Duder isn’t coming to Official Club events right now. Smart! Those are yours. Proceed accordingly. They are yours. Experience them without looking over your shoulder for him, reinvest in the other people that make this wonderful.
- You’re right, you need to get your Mutual Friend out of the middle of this, both to be a good friend and to cut off an avenue of “Oh, I’m not obsessing, I’m just innocently checking in in a way where I have to pay a lot of attention to him and say his name a lot.” Since Instagram, etc. is closed (good decision), what are you to do?
The Bad News Is Also The Good News: Duder is coming to lots of unofficial hangs. arranged by other people. You know that now. This leaves you several courses of action! I love action!
- Respect the block. We do not argue with the block. You are attempting to argue with the block. Stop.
- Block him everywhere in return, including his phone number. Stop waiting, monitoring, hoping. It’s time.
- What if you a) assume he’ll probably be unofficial hangs arranged by others from now on and b) ceded that territory firmly to him until YOUR heart calms down enough to have it not be a big deal? You might miss out on some stuff, but you’ll both get a breather from pretending you’re not breathlessly looking for each other on the edges of all the invites and “casual” conversation groups.
- It doesn’t have to be forever, think in terms of 30-day periods, like a detox of the heart. When you’ve gone 30 days without going to stuff where you think he might be, mentioning his name, or looking at his social media for clues to what he’s up to or what he’s thinking or whether he still loves you, you can stop into a summer happy hour or whatever and see how you feel. Stuff gets weird? You start obsessing? Reset the clock.
- Instead: Keep going to official sport/club events. They are yours now. He is making his choice, stop questioning it and second-guessing it or managing it, he’s literally not your problem. The sportsclub loses one of its stars temporarily, oops, too bad, maybe he shouldn’t have been playing “fall in love with me/don’t fall in love with me” with a fellow member and it will be like this for a while. He’s trying to get/give space. Let him.
- Also Instead: Arrange your own invite-only hangs with smaller groups and specific friends both inside and outside this social scene. Actively cultivate a social circle that doesn’t rotate around him but still lets you have a thing you love. That’s probably your summer project as far as this is concerned.
- The more you try to rules-lawyer this for yourself, and look for loopholes and “when” and “how much is allowed” and “but what if I’m very good and don’t intend to see him” and “but how can I know for sure,” the longer you’ll be in it. The sooner you cut contact, adhere to both the letter and the intent of the decisions and promises you made to give each other space, the sooner you’ll be past it.
Since you didn’t ask for advice on how to reconnect in your marriage [MODERATOR HAT EXTREMELY ON] I’m going to ask people who start typing the words “BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE” or literally anything judgmental about that or you for having feelings about someone else in a comment-field to just…delete it. Hold back. Leave it unsaid.
The Letter Writer doesn’t need it. She knows what she did, she knows how close she came, she knows why she chose what she chose, she knows what it would have cost and what it’s costing still, she knows that the time spent getting over this Almost-Ran person is time she’s supposed to reconnect with herself and her spouse, she’s heard of marriage counseling, she’s not the person who hurt you, her spouse didn’t write in, she made us no promises and none of us have to pay her debts or live her life.
To dispel this impulse, imagine me as Judy Dench as Queen Elizabeth at the end of Shakespeare In Love sending Thomas Kent back into the playhouse to fetch Lady Viola out and send her to her new life:
How is this to end?
As stories must when love’s denied: with tears and a journey.
Cry the tears. Close the chapter. Start the journey.
[***Speaking of “You Do Not Exist To Serve Your Idea/Label/Identity/Structure”
Confidential to the avowed asexual folks, plural, who are blowing up my inbox lately to say: “I am asexual, so why am I DEFINITELY secretly doing highly addictive sexy stuff with this incredibly-hot-yet-inappropriate person?” = Some asexual folks have enjoyable sex sometimes, additionally your labels exist to describe who you are, they aren’t there to proscribe your choices, set a standard for you to aspire to living up to, or beat yourself up with. If someone tells you your identity isn’t valid or suggests that “It means you just haven’t fucked the right person yet!,” they’re wrong. Only you can decide if this is a rogue outlier vs. passing experimentation vs. new information that means you might want different descriptors for yourself down the road.
In the meantime, you’re probably not letting “The Spirit of Asexuality” down by enjoyably and consensually exploring this aspect of yourself, though if you keep Doing It with [housemates][the assumed-monogamous-partners or polyamorous partners of said housemates (but you keep it a secret and never discuss it)][housemates’ siblings][housemates’ parents (!)][coworkers esp. bosses/people junior to you][other people you can’t avoid if/when it all blows up][seriously, there are smarter and safer ways to experiment with sexual activity than letting your landlord-who-is-also-your-housemate’s-relative fingerbang you when you drop off the rent!] …you might end up letting some specific people down…in a way that has fallout beyond ‘is my identity the right one’…so please consider something you can “explore” more safely and in the open? Happy Pride!***]
Feelings are information. Rules aren’t magic.
Toldja I was knocking a bunch of things out today.
- There’s bonus content at Patreon, this is a very good time to support the site.
- Review the site policies before you comment if it’s been a while and keep comments on-topic, constructive (helping the letter writers vs. general expounding/exploring that might be better done in your own webspace or at the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com), kind, and a whole lot briefer than my answers.
- I categorically do want to read accounts of what you (nonspecific you) would consider “cheating” vs. “not cheating,” please refrain from mapping out your personal boundary-garden in detail as evidence for what “should” be happening and how anyone should feel about it. My whole deal right now is, quit arguing with and redefining the “shoulds.” Work with the “actually happening stuff,” including the feelings, including the scary ones. Much appreciated.