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Abuse

Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.

Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.

Sincerely,
Troubled Teen

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Slainte, Captain!

I have a weird family question that I couldn’t find an answer to, so I turn to you.

I’m 30 years old, raised by my mom and my stepdad. Hopefully brief context: my stepdad and I have never got along. There were many instances of emotional abuse – he’s the kind of guy who would excitedly volunteer to tell me when I was in trouble because he delighted in bringing me bad news, and was jealous enough of my relationship with my mom that he would come up with chores for me to do whenever he caught me sitting and talking or reading with her. There were also a few occasions of drunky physical abuse; I got slapped and thrown around a fair bit. He’s still incredibly rude to me a lot of the time, which is why we don’t really talk. They live in another state and that’s the way I like it.

By contrast, my relationship with my mother is… good, but problematic. She is the strongest, classiest, most brilliant and brave woman I’ve ever known, and I practically worship her, but I also know that I can’t be around her and retain my adulthood at all. She loves me ferociously but spent most of my childhood pushing me away. “Love me from afar!” was her favorite line. We can talk for years about books, movies, history, science, ideas… but I cannot tell her things that matter to me, because she will either ridicule them or simply tell me, “Oh, honey, you know I don’t care about that.” Yes, she actually says exactly that.

So! Here’s my issue:

Every time I talk to them on the phone (usually about twice a month for an hour or more – my mom and I LOVE to talk) one or the other of them will say something like, “Do you think we were good parents?” I never know how to answer that question. I don’t think they were great parents, but at this point, there’s nothing they can do about that, and they’re not likely to agree with a lot of my criticisms anyway. Answering that question honestly would ultimately involve me DEFENDING my memories of neglect and abuse. I’m happy with my life now; I have a family I love and I am finally discovering the person I want to be. Why make both them and me feel like crap when it doesn’t really matter now?

But it keeps coming up. They won’t stop asking, and I hate comforting them about it when I can’t feel genuine doing it. How can I make this question go away without opening up a whole can of emotional nonsense when my life is finally getting better?

Thank you for your time!
Loving From Afar (she/her pronouns)

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#TFG = #thatfuckingguy

Ahoy, Captain!

I would appreciate any advice you could give on supporting a friend (female pronouns) who is not yet ready to leave an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. This has been an ongoing issue for about 2 years, but something happened a few days ago and I could use an outside perspective.

I would describe the boyfriend as coercive (in past conversations she has alluded to having sex with him just so that he will stop begging, even when she doesn’t want to) and one of my big concerns is that Friend will be extremely isolated in our current city without me. I think he looks through her phone and computer, so I pretty much assume that he could read any written communication I send. I censor myself in written communication with her and we only have frank conversations when we go for walks in the nearby park. He often invites himself along to things we have planned and it feels like he is monitoring our friendship. He also makes controlling comments, but when I call them out, he always says, “I was just joking. [Friend] knows I’m just joking. She’s amazing and the best thing ever…etc.” They live together, but he does none of the domestic work and will only do paid work (freelance) when she nags him.

A couple times a year, she will reach a boiling point and tell him to shape up or she will leave. He will improve for about 2 weeks and then go back to the status quo. Her work/school schedule has been grueling the past few years and she hasn’t had the energy to deal with the inevitable fallout of a breakup. Most of our one-on-one conversations end with me reiterating an offer that she is always welcome to stay at my apartment when she is ready to leave. She’s not blinded by love or anything, just doesn’t feel like there is a good way or time to exit the relationship. He is currently estranged from his family and not really working, so she feels like if she dumps him, he will have nothing. One of my priorities is staying in her life, so I don’t want to overstep and give her boyfriend ammunition for isolating her further. Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic and her other close friends live in other cities and are busy with newborn babies.

A couple days ago, I ended up spending about 30 minutes alone with her boyfriend while we were stuck in terrible traffic, on our way to pick her up and go to an event. I don’t enjoy his company and generally avoid spending time with him. Our one-on-conversation (mostly him doing a monologue) was frightening. He was delusional, paranoid, and unable to remember things I had said 5 minutes earlier. I had to repeatedly remind him where we were going and why we were going. He was extremely animated in his conversation and was looking at me while he talked and not the road, often swerving at the last minute. His ranting mostly focused on how the [creative] industry was scared of his success and how “they” wanted to keep his [art] away from “the people” and that this was a huge mistake because “the universe was going to revolt” if they didn’t get access to his [art]. At first I thought he was joking and just being overly full of himself, but he was completely serious. He then segued into how his estrangement with his family was a concern of the Catholic Church. Apparently, him “stepping out of line” is crumbling the foundation of the church by upsetting the established hierarchy. At several points, he referred to himself as royalty and referred to his lifelong “fame” that comes with being part of his family. Before you wonder, you have no clue who he is. His “fame” comes from the local and state politics his family is involved with in one of the poorest states in the country.

This grandiose sense of self and paranoia about “the establishment” trying to prevent him from success is worrisome. There were also times when he said things that I know for a fact aren’t true, but he seems to have fully convinced himself of this alternate version. I have considered that he may have been on drugs during that conversation, though that possibility does not alleviate my worry. He does not believe in therapy, though Friend has suggested it to him many times over the last two years.

I have already sent Friend a vague text and we are getting together this weekend for a walk where we will be able to speak more frankly. I just feel powerless to help and that my support has fallen woefully short. I don’t know how to be a supportive friend in this situation and I’m really worried that he is acting like this with her on a regular basis. It was exhausting for 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it is doing to her longterm. I don’t think he is violent now, but think he could become violent if she breaks up with him. I feel like Friend is the frog in the pot of water, slowly boiling to death. She’s been unhappy, but the decline has been gradual so there hasn’t been a catalyst for her to jump ship.

I know I can’t make her leave, but I do want to make sure I am there for her if she needs support. Any words of wisdom to help me be a good friend in this situation?

-Helpless & Worried (female pronouns)

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Dear Cap’n,

My husband has suffered depression for the past 15 years. It has taken many opportunities for a healthy and positive life from him in that time. He has gone back to school several times, trying to find his passion and came up dry every time. The last degree he got, he started at the age of 28 and as in mechanical engineering. He graduated at 31. He is from Europe and a culture which is very emotionally repressed. He moved to Canada to be with me. After a few months, he got a job using in engineering only to discover that it was not his passion either, despite being a natural problem solver and passionate about the workings of machines and systems.

He was a kind of non-actor for much of his life and the entirety of our relationship. All responsibilities of a couple fell to me; money, friends, planning for the future. All of this should have been red flags, but I come from an abusive home where I had to take on caregiving for my parents and siblings, so it came naturally to me to overcompensate. He said at one point that he didn’t want to worry about the future because he couldn’t be bothered.

In the first year of our marriage, he decided he wanted to switch careers again and move us to a farm where we could pursue self-sufficiency and work for ourselves. Neither of us has a background in farming or self-sufficiency, so he took six months out of his career to intern on an organic farm 200 km away while I continued to work so that we would be able to bu a farm. The farm wasn’t the best; it was very disorganised, and he always complained when I visited that the work was too hard. When he got back to the city, he took a temporary job as a waiter. During this time, I continually confronted him about his depression and seeking help. See, he didn’t understand that he was barely functional as an adult. He didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t cook for himself, didn’t manage his appointments or health. Again, that was all left to me to do for him. He went days without bathing or getting up from the couch. We used to have a joke about him changing from his “night jammies” into his “day jammies” and then back into his “night jammies.” Haha, I know, but I’m just a wife, not a psychiatrist. When he did pursue his interests, he didn’t engage. All of it looked like depression to me.

I begged him to address these issues, and upon threat of leaving, he finally did. His psychiatrist said he was one of the most emotionally repressed people she’d ever met and that he should try and address depression with medication and therapy. To his credit he did. His family was very harsh, particularly with regards to expressing emotion. He also went to a prestigious boarding school, where alumni graduate to run prominent corporations or hold political office (that’s why parents send their sons there), so I think he may have been taught that he was being set up to measure up to unattainable standards. In the years since his diagnosis, he has gone off his meds a few times without the guidance of a therapist or doctor because “he feels better and doesn’t need them anymore.” I told him that not even psychiatrists on antidepressants could make that decision for themselves, and he certainly isn’t able to either. Especially when every time he does go off them, he reverts to his depressed and helpless self.

Something that has always been a thread through his depression is a concern with environmental destruction and climate change. That is certainly one of the motivating factors with wanting to be self-sufficient. He and I do all that we can and has been suggested to reduce our carbon footprint: we’re vegan, we recycle, we cycle when we can, we don’t buy a lot of new stuff and always try to buy second-hand. We live rurally, but even then our cars are old, used and fuel efficient models. Where we live is in a housing bubble right now, so we rent a small house, but we have plots in the community garden. We hope to build an Earthship/sustainable house when things cool down and are learning about that now.

However, he is obsessed with conserving even more, to the extent that it is affecting his mental health and mine. If I fill the kettle up too much, even by half a cup of water, he’ll scold me for wasting energy. He refuses to believe that running a dishwasher is more water and energy efficient than hand-washing dishes, even though our energy efficient washer is far more efficient, many times over. He refuses to throw anything out, even if it’s broken or hasn’t ever been used because “that’s wasteful.”

Moreover, his concern about climate change never manifested as any activism nor action of any sort. He never raised money for environmental causes, nor went to marches or demonstrations before he met me. We have attended a few animal rights, and pro-immigration demonstrations, but those were from my research and at my request and it even took a lot of convincing to get his to those. In fact, for this all-consuming concern about climate and the environment, he doesn’t do much, except stay at home and be depressed. Which to me implies that it’s more about the “being depressed” than it is about the issue.

I think he has chosen these issues as a “load bearing depression repository” for him. Climate change and environmental destruction are these huge, complex issues that may take many years, if not our entire lifetimes to be resolved, if ever. They will always be there to feel shitty about, so if he claims that he is depressed about them, then he doesn’t have to face how he feels about himself.

I’m not discounting the seriousness of these issues, nor that they could be a factor in his depression. We should all be concerned and it *is* fucking depressing, but his depression hurts both of us, and I refuse to let it take more away from him than it already has. I confronted him about this again, because it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health, but he assured me that “he knows his depression better now” and it’s not about that (he has also gone off his meds again independently).

Last time I told him that I couldn’t live with him obsessing over the kettle or the dishwasher and letting such small things affect our relationship. He says he will never be able to do that; he will always be concerned with it. He implies that when I overfill the kettle or use the washing machine to preshrink fabric *for the clothes I make myself* I am not concerned about these issues, which is complete bullshit. He says I gave him an ultimatum, which I did. But I have tried, Lord have I tried, to reason with him.

I struggled with anxiety for many years myself, but the delightful “generalised” kind, now with added panic attacks. I know that I will never “know my anxiety” enough to think I have it licked. Indeed, anytime I’ve had that thought, I’ve realised it’s a red flag to check in with what is really going on because a mental illness’ “job” is to separate us from those who care about us and will use any method possible to get us alone with it.

How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?

Thanks,
Can’t Get Any Greener (female pronouns)

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Captain Awkward,

My husband has a formerly good friend “Paul,” who has a history of domestic violence. The last three of his relationships have ended after violent physical attacks. We learned about the first two accusations second hand over the course of a few years. The most recent incident feels a bit different because it was relayed to me personally by Paul’s ex-girlfriend “Jenny,” with whom I’ve become friendly.

My husband and I are appalled, and have actively distanced ourselves from Paul. It is inevitable though that our paths will continue to cross because we have many mutual friends. Some of these friends have heard the same rumors we did about past abuse, but we have not shared what Jenny told me. Do we have an obligation to make this information known, or to confront Paul about this pattern? I have no desire to ostracize Paul, but if he starts dating someone new, I’ll want to warn her. I have not a clue how, or what I might say. Talk about awkward!

Thanks and please keep me anonymous.

Hi there:

Your anonymity is no problem.

You say:

“I have no desire to ostracize Paul.”

How many women would he have to beat up before you & your husband would want to ostracize him?

“It’s not that simple” is the instinctive response. There’s history there. For so long, you didn’t know, or, you didn’t have all the information, or, you didn’t have it from the horse’s mouth.

What if it were that simple, though?

I’m going to yell now.

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