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Abuse

I know we just talked about this, but this showed up in the box this morning and I want to show side-by-side how PREDICTABLE and DELIBERATE this kind of emotional abuse is. A partner who harps on you about your appearance is not a good partner. In other news, it’s about to get very crowded in the center of the sun.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My partner is worried about my overweight. It’s their most important issue, to the extent of regular arguments. One sided arguments, since they are right. I am overweight, and should be thinner. All our friends are thinner, so my partner is less attracted to me. My partner will not know what to do without me when I die early because of my overweight, so is only arguing for my benefit. Anything I could say is just an excuse. Including that I am the one with a job. That my partner isn’t any thinner. That I get up every day an hour and a half earlier to play with our 3 year old, quietly, so as not to wake my partner, until day care opens and I bring them there, so my partner can sleep late. That when I come home from work, my partner hands over the kid, while they rest by watching television. That after I put the kid to bed, I am asked to bring my partner food in bed, usually sweets, or fats which I am asked to fry. Those are just excuses, because my partner is unique in wanting to sleep late, and the kid is charming so playing shouldn’t make me tired, and my partner’s eating shouldn’t make me eat, and a few times in the past when my partner did let me go to the gym some mornings or evenings or weekends it didn’t have a major effect, and I should be able to get my exercise when playing with the kid anyway, and weight loss really is more about not overeating than about exercising. And anyway I shouldn’t be be blaming everyone else in the world for my problems instead of taking responsibility for them myself. So I don’t say any of that (which is a problem in itself, because then I am either behaving like a wall, or just agreeing to make the argument stop, but not getting any thinner). I do occasionally ask my partner to exercise with me, but they had a hard day, so I shouldn’t nag, and it’s not their job to fix my overweight. And since I know how important my weight is to my partner, whenever I overeat or eat sweets or carbs I must do it for spite, not because I need comfort for myself.

Any advice?

Heavyweight

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Spoiler note: I reject this “boyfriend,” and all his works, and all his empty promises, and all his creeping on young women destroying their self-esteem.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been seeing the same guy for almost two years now. We met when I was living in Colorado, shortly after we met I moved away, and our relationship there wasn’t ever really too serious, but I feel like both of us felt that we wanted it to grow stronger, so when I moved away we continued to see each other and have a long distance relationship, but we aren’t truly in a relationship because he says he doesn’t want to claim me as his girlfriend until I am 21. He is 29 and I am 19. I know that is quite an age difference, but I am very mature for my age, and I feel like he acts more as if he is 24/25 than a 29 year old. So after going to visit him in Colorado a few times, I actually found out that the first time I went back to see him he had a girlfriend, this really upset me because I felt lied to and betrayed, but he thought it would make me feel special to know that he cheated on his girlfriend to be with me. They ended up breaking up right after I saw him, and that was that.

Besides telling me that we can’t be together until I’m 21, he also tells me he can’t be with a girl who doesn’t have, in his words, “a perfect ass”, so he constantly is harassing me about going to the gym and working out, he will check in with me and asked if I worked out today, which is really upsetting to me because, I eat very healthy and I go to the gym daily, and it is because I like being healthy and feeling good about myself. I am not overweight or out of shape by any means, I’m [height and weight redacted by Captain A.], I wouldn’t call that out of shape, but he constantly is harassing me about the way I look. It is so bad that I don’t even want to show him my body because he always has something negative to say. The things he has said to me have really hurt my self esteem, and make me feel like I am not good enough in his eyes. He will say terrible things about my body and my looks but then the next day tell me how beautiful I am. It is hard for me to understand.

When I get upset at him for critizing my body and putting me down he will tell me I need to toughen up and that he is only trying to make me better, but it’s not because he is worried about my health, it is because he wants me to look a certain way, like some model he sees online. He has even said to me, “I see other girls and I just want to f–k them”..I just don’t know how you say that to someone you love, and he says he’s just being honest, and that he’s a guy and every guy I meet will think that about other girls. Bottom line is, he just makes me feel terrible about my looks, and I wonder will I ever find a guy who can love someone that has all of the flaws he points out in me, I know I will never be a bikini model, but I am in very good shape, and he acts like he is a bodybuilder or something, meanwhile he doesn’t even have a gym membership, eat healthy, or go to the gym on a daily basis. I have never, and would never try to change him, even though he is 29, doesn’t have a job and has no clue what he is doing with his life, I always encourage him and tell him he will figure things out. I never bring him down, or make him feel bad about himself, and he will say the only reason I don’t is because I think he is so perfect already, and it’s not that, it’s just that I love him for who he is and all of his flaws or imperfections make him who he is..I just really don’t know what to do anymore. He also, came to Florida, where I live now and went on a cruise with another girl, before I found this out he told me he was coming to Florida to visit me, but around this time he told me he met someone else and he never really loved me, that we were just friends,and that maybe one day if I was in better shape we could be together, so I was confused as to why he was coming to see someone he felt this way about, then the day before he came he told me the real reason he was coming to Florida was to go on a cruise with another girl, and he wanted to see me after..After that I blocked his number, but ended up forgiving him a week or two later. But even after all that he still disrespected me and treated me poorly when this should’ve been a time he was amazing to me.

I asked him if I could spend New Year’s and go to a concert with him and he told me I didn’t look good enough to be seen with him there..but Later on he said he needed me there and was so happy I came. I just cannot keep being put down so harshly, by the one person that is supposed to bring me up, I just don’t understand what is wrong with him, or what is wrong with me. obviously he can be good, and sweet to me and we have had some amazing times together, which is why I love him, but hearing him say such hurtful things makes me question his love for me. I just don’t know what to do.

Dear Lovely Letter Writer,

Your email subject line was “Does my boyfriend actually love me?

No. He doesn’t. He may say that he does, or have feelings inside his head that he calls “love,” but the way he treats you isn’t how love works.

Question Time:

Is this the kind of treatment you want from a boyfriend?

Are you okay with it when he criticizes your body and makes you feel ugly?

Are you okay with him constantly lying about his relationships with other girls and women?

Do you think that “girlfriend” is a role that you must constantly audition for and prove you deserve? Over the course of multiple years? At the cost of your well-being and self-esteem?

I don’t have any scripts that will make him behave better or turn into the boyfriend you need and deserve. He won’t ever change or stop these asshole behaviors. He has been grooming you since you were 17 to accept his warped version of love and what your body should look like and how people treat other people (and he likely grooms and mistreats all his other “not quite girlfriends” too). He is an emotionally abusive asshole who picks on you to make himself feel better.

You end your letter with: “I just don’t know what to do.”

You DO know what to do and you already tried to do it (block him forever). You just gotta make it stick this time, and I’d love to help you do that.

Right now, you could text him and say “I am breaking up with you, goodbye.”

Then (also right now), you could block him on all possible forms of communication and delete his number from your phone. It doesn’t matter what he thinks or feels or says – once you decide to break up, it’s over.

Then, you could let yourself get really, really angry about how he’s treated you.

Next, imagine your ex-boyfriend as a flat piece of paper.

I want you to mentally crumple that piece of paper.

Make it really tiny and dense.

Did you crumple it? Can you feel it crushed very tight inside your fist?

Good.

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Hey Capt,

I find myself in a delicate situation regarding my best friend of 2 yrs Julie (23f) and her fiance, Jon (23m).

Julie met Jon and became engaged to him this past summer; they’d been seeing each other 4 monthes in a LDR. There had been many issues (Jon was unwilling to commit for awhile, struggles with alcohol, has bipolar and a dark past), so there side-eyeing and lost friendships over the course of everything. At this point, the dust has settled. Julie and I are still close, but there are few she’d call close friends.

Before she met Jon, we were at that comfortable “let’s hang out pretty much everyday in sweatpants or meet up between classes” type of friendship. I figured that we’d get much less time together once she started dating; I wasn’t expecting the engagement, but I tried to be as supportive as I could. She tells me often that she appreciates my support, though I have expressed concerns re: Jon’s past, issues, etc. I’ve read all your darth articles quite a few times.

However, it’s getting hard to do this because almost every time we have plans beyond coffee, Jon is suddenly suicidal or “worried he’s in a bad place” or “more down than usual”.

Julie is very sensitive to this, and will promptly cancel with many apologies. I’m fine rescheduling coffee or lunch. When it’s a day plan though (birthday party, sleepover,etc), that bothers me. Add that to the fact that she’ll be texting with him because he’ll feel ignored otherwise, and I don’t know how to approach this.

It feels cruel to suggest she not tend to her partner when they’re going through a hard time ,but it bugs me that his hard times always fall on days where we’re supposed to be having plans, It also makes me feel like I can’t express frustration or hurt, because how selfish is it to want to see your friend when their SO is in a bad place?

It’s gotten to the point that any time she bails, I can be sure Jon is the reason behind it. I want to support her, and be there if she needs me, but I also want to be able to schedule time without constantly being trumped by Jon’s emotional issues.

What should I do, and how can I talk about this without making her defensive?

Sincerely,
I Miss My Friend

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Hello Captain,
I’m 29 years old, living with my parents, my older sister and my niece.

My mother stopped work when she gave birth to me, so she’s pretty much been a housewife all her life. My father is that wonderful combination of breadwinner and financial abuser (i.e, he has enough money to buy expensive shoes and perfumes for himself, but asking him for money so we can have food and power supply is like talking to a wall), so when things are down, it falls to my sister and me to pick up the slack when it comes to money. My sister just started a new job, and I’m still entry-level at the job I’ve had for nearly three years.

The thing is, it usually falls to me to pick up the financial burden. I’m asked to pay the cable, the internet, the groceries etc all the time. I’ve asked my sister for both of us to split the bills, but she doesn’t agree. And when I ask my mother to talk to her, her preferred method is to placate me rather than talk to my sister. Usually, this means that I’m counting every cent until payday because I don’t have a lot for myself. Despite this, anytime I buy food/toiletries for myself, I’m expected to share with the two of them. I plan out my groceries and needs for the month, and I literally cannot afford to be replacing items if they finish earlier than expected.

I need help saying no, especially to my sister. Every time I try to be firm, I’m called ‘selfish’ and ‘I used to be so nice’ and ‘we’re family, so we share everything.’ I don’t think it’s selfishness to want to let my personal groceries last as long as possible, especially when I can barely afford to look after myself, and especially when my sister won’t do anything. I’m at that point where I’m seriously considering buying a small cupboard/fridge, putting it in my room and keeping everything locked up when I’m not home. What should I do?

– Not Selfish

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Now that my spouse and I have purchased a house, my mother (who is a difficult person, reminiscent of Alice, but with her own special nuances) is constantly sending us my family’s old junk.

Here’s how the conversation goes: Mom says (for example), “I have all of these lawn ornaments that have been sitting in a box in the basement for 15 years. Do you want them?” I say, “No, we really just want to choose our own stuff.” She says, “Think about it.” The conversation closes. Then, the next time we talk, we have EXACTLY THE SAME conversation. Then, she sends it to me or brings it with her when she comes to visit. And I take it to a thrift store. When she visits, she looks for the previous stuff she has given me, and becomes either sullen and pouty or aggressively angry when she can’t find it. It makes visits extremely stressful.

None of the stuff on offer is anything with which I have a sentimental connection. All of those things—stuffed animals, correspondence with friends, books—my mother got rid of a number of years back (and not by giving them to me). Additionally, during my childhood, my mother took away things I liked away as a form of punishment for (often imagined) bad behavior. This happened over and over again with basically anything I had a connection to, eventually extending to pets that were re-homed and with friends that suddenly became “bad influences” that I wasn’t allowed to see. So I have a weird relationship with stuff in general and with stuff from my childhood in particular.

And now there’s this wave of childhood stuff coming at me. And it sort of feels like an apology? But there’s another part of me that thinks she’s using me, so she doesn’t have to feel guilty for throwing all this stuff away. So she transfers the guilt to me.
She’s a boundary-ignorer and a grudge-holder and a non-apologizer. What do I do?

Drowning in Junk

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Dear Captain,

I am married to a wonderful, funny, smart man. We have an amazing two-year-old and I just found out that I am expecting again. Life is good, except that his normally-long-distance family is suddenly in the area (an hour’s drive away) and thus all the issues about my dislike of them that we have managed to gloss over are coming up in a big way. (The stuff I found in the archives about in-laws involved a partner’s family being just as toxic for him/her as for the LW, and this isn’t so much our case.)

His family history is too long and sordid to get into, but it involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and my husband being informed at nine years of age that he was now responsible for everyone else, including not just his siblings but his mother. (She was the one informing him of this.) This resulted in an incredibly responsible and patient man, but one unable to see his siblings and mother as anything but helpless victims who need him, when in fact there is major manipulation going on in order for them to maintain the hapless lifestyles to which they are accustomed.

It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him); he wants me to love his family. And he keeps comparing them to my family, and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family. When: well, if this were a Hollywood rom-com, my family would be the uptight prissy overeducated East Coasters, and his would be the lovable “honest folks” who teach my family to open up. But in real life, my overeducated parents and brothers are the kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine, and his family drove me to tears on my wedding day with their social boorishness and constant pressuring of me to drink (I am a recovering alcoholic AND was visibly pregnant). So when my husband says, after a nightmare afternoon with his brother during which said brother indulged in belching, farting, cursing, and homophobia in front of the toddler, and ignored social cues to the extent that he was there three hours longer than either of us wanted him there, “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I want to scream that I am just too tired to keep up the pretense that All Brothers Are Created Equal anymore.

And in a few weeks his mother will be here, for seven months’ stay. (Not actually in our house: small mercies.) She will be here my entire pregnancy, because that’s not already enough of a stressful or emotional time. And she’ll want to see her granddaughter, so I imagine she and the aforementioned brother will be at our house nearly every weekend. In addition to the broken record she plays about her victimhood (divorced almost thirty years but How He Ruined Her Life comes up in every conversation), she is a rabid conspiracy theorist, and bases her right to judge how her son’s kid is being raised on a lot of debunked stuff. Like, anti-vaxxer stuff: that level.

I try really, really hard to be polite, to guests and in-laws especially. But “polite” is going to be the best I can do, if the latest visit from his brother is any indication. Pregnant, working full-time, and parenting a toddler, I do not have one-tenth of the social acting energy I would need to pull off a “Yay! You’re here again!” And pulling that off is what my husband wants from me, despite how he’s seen my wickedly-introverted self get completely drained by a few hours with people whom I genuinely adore, and his having watched one pregnancy wipe me out already. He wants me to be delighted that these people are descending on us every weekend.

Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? How can I convince him that it has to be enough, because it is all I have, for them to be fed and given places to sit down and allowed to chat at the toddler (at least until they say something offensive)? And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.

There may be no possible answers to this, but there is no possible answer to “just force yourself to love these people”, either!

Like Chekhov But With More Theories About Government Plots

Dear Like Chekhov,

We can’t undo a lifetime of your husband’s relationship with his family in a blog post, so, I want to start by saying: There is probably no script where you set boundaries about his family that will necessarily make him see things your way, where everything is resolved pleasantly without further friction.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries with him about their visits. The truthful answer to his question: “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?” is “Dude, I would be really sad, but I’d also try to work with you about what kind of visiting schedule you could handle, and as long as you were polite to them when we did see each other, I wouldn’t pressure you to feel any kind of way about them. Not everyone is meant to be best friends!

 

When his mother arrives, could you handle something like:

  • 1 visit per month from Grandma & brother at your house where you act as pleasant joint host. You will break out the good dishes and smile. You will try not to say “You can’t possibly be serious.
  • Husband can take your daughter to see Grandma and on outings with Grandma as many times as he wants.
  • Husband, please go have fun hanging out with your brother! The operative word here is “Go!”  When Brother overstays his welcome, kick him out!Brother, good to see you today! We’re kicking you out, though – got a million things to do. See you soon!Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores.So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.

 

I suggest these arrangements for illustration purposes, what’s more important is that you decide what you can live with and then ask for it.

There is stuff that your husband values about always having an open door to family and that’s real, primal stuff. There is also stuff you need about sufficient down-time and not having to play hostess to people you dislike all the time so that he can perform filial piety, and that is also real, primal stuff. I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. Choosing you in this instance doesn’t mean not ever seeing his family, but it does mean not shoving them down your throat and then berating you when you don’t love that.

This honestly might be a good time to bring in a couples’ counselor to referee. Whether you involve one or not, I suggest stating every request about his family strictly in terms of your needs.

  • Start with visits from Brother, since he’s here. “If you want to see Brother this weekend, can y’all go out? I am not up to hosting anyone tomorrow.
  • Husband, I need time to myself today. Why don’t you take Toddler to see Grandma instead of having her come here?
  • I have about one family dinner or outing in me per month right now. If you want to hang with your family more than that, enjoy! But I can’t commit to more than that.
  • You’re a working mom, so isn’t it just so helpful that your husband’s family is here to help? So helpful!”Hi Mother In Law, hi Brother, good to see you. Have fun with Husband and Toddler – I have some errands* to run. Gotta go!”
  • You’re pregnant, so you need naps. So many naps**. “Sorry to bail right when the fun starts, but if I don’t close my eyes right now I’m gonna pass out!
  • It’s risky, but sometimes invoking your doctor can help. “Doctor says I’m supposed to take it easy right now!” “Doctor suggested that stress is bad for me right now.” “Doctor recommends not taking on additional stressors right now.” Your husband is going to be horribly hurt that his family are considered “stressors” as in, “But they’re faaaaaaaaamily! That’s not the same as something stressful” and that’s maybe where the couples’ counselor or doctor comes in because the truth is they ARE stressful… to you… and no amount of his wanting it to be different makes it so.

Bailing on togetherness time won’t be without friction or consequence. Your mother-in-law is definitely gonna pick up on it if you are not around 100% of the time faking happiness to see her and her wack ideas, and she is 100% gonna make remarks about it to her son, who is 100% gonna try to persuade you to get with their family program of “Boundaries Are Mean.”

Scripts for when that happens:

  • I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.
  • Our house does not have to be In-Laws central every weekend! I literally cannot handle that, and if you want to see your family that often I need you to find another way to make it happen!
  • I don’t think the conversation about whether I love your folks ‘enough’ is fair or productive. If I’m going to love them like you do, that will have to develop in its own time. I can tell you that being forced to host them for hours every weekend is not improving my affections!!!” (BTW your “I’m done pretending that all brothers are created equal!” script is good.)
  • I’m okay being the bad guy here. Tell them you want them to come but I’m just not up to it today! Tell them that you forgot that we already had plans! Tell them whatever, but I cannot do this every weekend.

Letter Writer, this all sucks, and I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to want to take care of yourself and limit stress. Turns out that limiting exposure to people you know stress you out is a very effective way to limit stress.

Like many abused kids, your husband never got to learn the life skill where other people can have all the feelings they want about something that he needs to do to take care of himself, and he can make the best choice for himself even if it pisses them off and annoys them. That’s very unfair and sad, but it’s not fair for him to try to impose that pattern onto you. Now is definitely the time for you to exercise that skill, as in, “I can’t handle having your family here every weekend even if you have different feelings about that.” There is no prize for being the world’s most accommodating person, and the prospect of your husband (or his mom or brother, by proxy) having sad feelings doesn’t obligate you to play eternal gracious hostess! It is okay to have conflict sometimes and to risk pissing people off!

*”Errands” could be “going to the movies” or “seeing friends.”

**”Naps” could involve headphones, and reading.

 

A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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