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Abuse

#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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Hi, Cappy! I recently discovered your column and am so grateful for it. You’re amazing and helpful!

I really could use some situational advice, but it’s a long and complex story, sorry!

I’m a single parent of a 1st grader. Child support basically doesn’t happen.

3 years ago I was (thankfully) laid off from my research position. I’d worked hard after grad school to achieve success in an almost exclusively male-dominated and competitive field, but it was hard to raise my daughter working the crazy hours and with the amount of travel required for my job.

As a result I returned to school for graphic/web design; a field I thought would provide me with a more flexible schedule, increased job opportunities and potentially more money. I started a two year program at a technical school, with tuition and childcare 100% paid for by government benefits.

Enter “Donny”. Donny was a friend who was a neuroscientist at the University I’d attended and worked at. Despite having very different values, he had become a trusted friend. Romantic interest in Donny = 0. Divorced and childless, he is middle aged. He seemed kind and supportive when I really needed that. He was also the only positive male role model that my daughter had. He was not very involved in our lives at this point.

Donny started a tech company outside of his university position and became wealthy enough to retire from the University this year. He has a low emotional IQ, lots of anxiety and few friends. However, Donny loves my daughter and dotes on her. I don’t think he has ever said “no” to her. I’ve never had weird “vibes” about his relationship with my daughter. She was like the daughter he’d always wanted.

Back to me. Two years ago, after finishing year 1 of my program, Donny convinces me to drop out of school and work with him at his tech company instead. He says I am wasting my time at school and that he, the wealthy and successful entrepreneur, would teach me “real-world skills” and his special coding “secret techniques” from start to finish. He told me people would pay lots of money to learn his secret and that I was lucky he was willing to share this very profitable knowledge with me. He started paying me to do small projects, such as writing copy and some print work for his company. I was thrilled, thinking I was embarking on a new, lucrative and fulfilling career.

Fast forward to a year ago. Donny has stopped sending me any work but continues to pay me a barely livable wage each month to essentially do nothing. Projects are always just over the horizon but wind up “falling through” at the last minute or he doesn’t have the time to teach me anything because it’s a rush job, etc…. I make barely enough to cover my bills most months, but through decreased spending, I can still live check to check. I am ridiculously busy parenting (with no breaks), trying to stay organized, maintaining/improving my small house so my daughter has an un chaotic place to live, and being involved with my daughters activities while occasionally making stuff, but I have no social life (unfortunately that often goes along with single parenthood). I would like to make more money, but confess I am also enjoying the opportunity to be there for my daughter since I am her only family and her whole world. We are very close.

Donny continues to point out how rich he is, but keeps my pay at poverty level. He is also increasingly manipulative and controlling with his money, even believing he is entitled to having input in decisions I make about my and my daughters life, parenting, my house, friends, etc. He is by nature condescending and a master mansplainer. I ignore him and avoid confrontation because after 3 years of rarely seeing my daughter I still feel lucky to have this opportunity.

A month ago I ask Donny for more money for the first time because bills are mounting. I know I need to start a job search, but have been putting it off because —what the hell do I do now?

Donny tosses out a figure 33% higher than I’ve been getting monthly. He says he could even pay off my student loans “if he wanted to”. (They are not getting paid because I don’t make enough to pay them.) He tells me to send him the amount I owe and he will pay them off because he “doesn’t want the government to play any role in my life” which sounds generous, but is actually paranoid and a little conspiracy- theory ish. I send him the figure and he ignores me. All three times. I don’t rock the boat, but never even get a response. When that month’s check arrives its less than the amount he’d promised. I don’t say anything, feeling grateful to get anything at all, but irritated that he has changed the amount without mentioning it.

This months check was even less, back to the original too-low amount. I finally tell him (at 11:30 at night, probably sounding crabby) that it is hard for me to budget when I don’t know how much money I will be getting. At the first sign of what he perceives as questioning him or “conflict”, Donny flips out and says he could easily pay me more money but that he wants me to “work for it” by doing sales for him, which I’ve been clear from day 1 that I was 1) not good at and 2) not interested in doing or I would have pursued a sales career.

Then starts the classic rhetoric all single Moms hear: that I CHOSE to be a single parent and that I CHOSE to have a baby with that person, that my current situation is all my own doing. Followed by hinting that I am lazy and that I need to take “personal responsibility” for my predicament. He then drops a bomb by asking “how long am I going to do this?” I get mad and remind him that I was halfway through my degree which was PAID for and that I had wanted to finish, but that he was right, it was my fault that I had believed his promise to train me and give me work, which he not followed through on in 2 years. So now I have no money and no skills– nothing but some extra time to be a good parent to my daughter.

Then Donny says “I wanted you as a partner, but now Im not so sure,” which had failed to ever be mentioned to me. Apparently I had no say in that either. I got mad and told him not only do I not have time for any relationships, but that we have nothing in common, which we don’t- he voted for the One Who Is Not to be Named -not to mention a hearty “no thanks!” to all the boundary-crossing behaviors I put up with like never knocking but just walking into our house unannounced and at varying degrees of earliness to keep me guessing I guess. Locking the door makes him crabby. I have tolerated these behaviors because 25 years ago he emigrated from a culture where personal boundaries are not a priority, so I thought I was being understanding.

I have not heard from him in 6 days now when normally I get multiple texts per day. I assume he is pouting and will contact me with reasons why I am an ungrateful and overall crappy person. I actually feel enormous relief at not being scrutinized or controlled but am frightened for my financial situation.

What I want to know is: was it wrong of me to go along with this arrangement for so long? What if he contacts me and wants to continue this arrangement for more money? I intend to secure my own employment temping or something, but I am really regretful that I didn’t complete my education. Donny has been really generous, but at this point I feel so manipulated and disrespected that I don’t know if a can have any sort of friendship with him, whether he continues to pay me or not. He will see me as ungrateful and leaving because the money dried up.

I have been very appreciative and grateful and thank him constantly for his generosity, but it never seems to never be enough. He tells me I should just “be a good parent to my daughter,” which I am. I and my daughter make things for him and involve him with my daughters activities, but it’s still not enough. He is feeling under appreciated but doesn’t actually know what he wants. Donny has done a lot for us and I don’t think his behavior is conscious. I believe he is emotionally stunted for some reason. However, i cannot handle any more controlling and condescending bullshit. I am also aware that I am equally to blame for my situation. My motive was wanting to be able to be a good Mom for my daughter, no matter how short-lived. Finally, Donny was the only male figure in our lives my daughter could depend on, but I also don’t want to set a poor example by being manipulated and controlled by Donny.

Scripts for what to say to conflict- averse Donny if and when I hear from him would be greatly appreciated!

-Master Builder of Gilded Cages

she/her pronouns please, he/him for Donny

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hi captain,

i want to thank you so much for your website and lovely community and i hope this message finds you well. i’m having a hard time sorting through some relationship stuff and i’m hoping for some clarity.

i’m dating a very sweet and loving man who is still dealing every day with mental health issues due to early childhood trauma. these include ptsd, anxiety, depression (he is now in therapy for this) and nightmares. in his youth, he worked through his feelings of shame about what transpired in violent ways but that seems to be a thing of the past.

our courtship was fairly quick and we fell deeply in love, spending lots of our time together. in retrospect i should have been firmer about my need for a life and friendships outside of our relationship (especially at my age mid 20’s) but it all happened so fast. to be clear he does have friends/interests of his own but he is of the belief that our relationship is THE MOST important one in his life. he would be happy to rarely if ever spend time with anyone without/or other than me. in his words “i am the only thing that makes him happy” and “he welcomed dying before me but now wants to live as long as possible”. he constantly tells me i’m too good for him and is very insecure in our relationship. my friendships are deep and important to me and my feeling is that a romantic relationship should be something that adds to but is not the source of one’s happiness.

i was single for a long time before we met and had a very full life & was close with my family. they are thankfully still present but i spend much less time with them than i’d like because he doesn’t like last minute changes to our plans (even if those plans were netflix and pizza). i told him recently this needs to change and he agreed to work on it. because i’m the only thing that prevents him from having nightmares the idea of my being away causes him immense anxiety. sometimes i worry that he uses his trauma to manipulate me (his episodes early on often coincided with times i’d made plans with friends). we are also an interracial couple so that adds to a dynamic where anytime i express upset about his behavior or try to set a gentle boundary i am talked over, mansplained and/or the conversation is derailed due to the level of distress he’s displayed.

some of this is my fault as i’m not always good about expressing my feelings honestly and i want to hold space and be there for him. i tried to change parts of myself to make him more comfortable as he is an admittedly jealous person. i’m now doing my own work to come back to the vibrant, carefree woman i was when we met but it’s really difficult sometimes. i don’t know what to do or if the above is enough reason to leave or if i should keep showing up for myself, set clearer boundaries and love him through this.

any advice would be so appreciated,

sincerely,

trying not to be a pacifier

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a young woman, eighteen years old now, and studying at university. Three years ago, when I was in secondary school, I had an abusive friendship with a boy named Ned.**

(**all identifying details changed for quality assurance.)

Ned had no friends, and I, as a somewhat awkward outcast in a small country school, quickly connected with him. It became very clear that he was not a good fit for a friendship – he shut down my interests quickly while begging me to participate in his, he told me I “couldn’t” be friends with other people and that I was the only thing keeping him from suicide, and he reached the point of physically stalking me.

The Ned situation was handled, but it has left me feeling frightened of myself. I am at university and have a few very close friends now, but I’m terrified that I may end up clinging to them as tightly and as unhealthily as Ned did to me. As a result, I find myself pushing away from the people who are closest to me – I ask them, more than I should but less than I used to (yay therapy) if I’m doing something wrong, etc. I am frightened that, just like I felt about Ned, my friends are too frightened of me to tell me if I do something wrong.

I know that this hurts my relationships far more than just me being myself ever could, but I don’t know how to squash my insecurity completely. That, of course, just freaks me out even more, and I end up in this ridiculous cycle of panic and insecurity that really needs to go.

Do any of you humans on Team Awkward have any suggestions on how not to become a Ned-type person, and on how to stop being so afraid of it in the first place? I’m at my wit’s end.

Thank you!

Signed,
Nope, Not Ned

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