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boundaries

Hello friends! It’s that time, where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they were questions. It’s a good way to check in with people’s preoccupations on a large, anonymous scale and it’s usually pretty fun.

First, as is traditional, a song:

(Lyrics at the YouTube link)

Also I know I used this one last year, but it came up when I was looking and I love it so:

Ok! We’ve got witchy autumn-themed music cued up, so without further ado:

1 “How to know if a girl wants to hang out?”

Say the words “would you like hang out with me” & include a specific place, day, and time in your invitation. If she says no & does not suggest an alternative time/day/venue, like, “Can’t make that, but I’d love to get together – can we do x instead?” and never follows up with her own invitation, she does not!

2 “What to do when your friends tell you to date someone you dislike and they dislike your crush.”

For the first person (the one you dislike): “If you like him so much, you date them.” 

For the second person (the one they dislike): “You don’t have to date them!” 

3 “What does it mean if my brother in law keeps saying flirty comments and trying to touch me in front of his brother which is my boyfriend?”

It means your brother-in-law is a creep & a sexual predator who is trying to groom you to put up with this. It’s okay to yell “gross, don’t touch me!” or “ew, why would you say that!” or “Nope!” and leave the place where he is and also avoid him forever, like, “Nope, I don’t want to hang out with your creepy brother, hard pass.” Like, you can make a giant stink and insist that this never happen again. Also, I DEEPLY question why your boyfriend doesn’t step in or stick up for you since this happens in front of him. Have you discussed it with him? Because it might be time to avoid the whole creepazoid family.

4 “How to send an email asking if anyone has dietary restrictions?”

In your email about the gathering/event, say “Please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

I also like it when invitations say “The tentative menu is x, y, and z – please let me know if you have any dietary restrictions or food allergies I should know about!” 

People who have dietary restrictions are pretty used to this and will have no problem responding.

5 “He criticizes my clothes.”

Is he the boss of you or your closet? Criticize his fallacy that you care about his opinion about that.

6 “Reaching out to an ex boyfriend after many years.”

Why? Self-awareness about why you’re reaching out and low expectations for what you’ll find when you do will make this much easier than it might otherwise be.

7 “How do I know my best friend is not cheating on me?” 

Is your best friend not allowed to have other friends?

I saw this and then….whooo boy: 7a “My friend is overly possessive of me and wont even acknowledge anyone else as my friend.”

Friendship is not a pie. You’re allowed to have multiple friends, people who try to isolate you from others do not have your best interest at heart, and if this friend won’t honor that you’ll need to end that friendship.

8 “My boyfriend wont let me eat.”

Yeah, that’s a “get yourself safe & away from him” situation. You’re the boss of your own food. Please keep yourself safe.

9 “What to do when your boyfriend doesn’t shower.”

If your partner’s hygiene grosses you out, it’s okay to be very blunt, like, “I notice you don’t shower, what’s going on with that? Please take a shower when you know we’re going to see each other.” “I don’t want to have sex/be close to you when you haven’t showered, please take care of it.” 

10 “How do you tell your spouse of 50 years that they need to shower better.”

“Babe, I need you to be more thorough when you shower – you’re missing some spots.” 

You may have to get realllllllllly specific about which spots. In 50 years you’ve had to have survived some awkward conversations, what’s one more?

11 “Why does my daughter continue to pick undesirable men?”

I don’t know! Assume she’s getting something out of the relationship that you can’t see, assume she has different priorities from you about what desirable even is. Then, remind her that you love her, try to keep an open mind, emphasize her choice & her agency in her romantic decisions, keep lines of communication open, try to hang out with just your daughter sometimes (vs. having both of them at everything). If the dude is actually awful, this will help her find her way back to you. If he’s a decent person but just not who you would choose, this will help you keep a good relationship with your daughter while you give him a chance to change your mind or everyone waits out the inevitable breakup.

12 “My children want to live with my rich in-laws instead of me.”

There is clearly waaaaaaaaaay more story here.

13 “Guy said maybe in the future meaning.”

Not now, i.e., don’t make any life plans around this guy.

14 “When relative distances from you do you try to contact or leave alone.”

If I know the source of the conflict or if things seem really out of the blue, I might try one time to address it – “Everything ok?”

But also, in families, not everyone has to like everyone, sometimes we get along better with some breathing room & space. Am I sure that the distance is about me, specifically (and not something stressful in their lives they’re dealing with) & does it all need to be resolved right now or can I trust that a little time will work it out?

15 “My boyfriend won’t watch a show with me.”

Not everyone has to like or watch the same entertainments. Let it gooooooooooooo.

16 “Doesn’t want me to meet his friends to take it slow.”

Hrm….

“Taking it slow” can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

Wanting to hold off on introducing someone new to your friends because you’re not sure yourself whether this one is a keeper can be a good/healthy/reasonable thing.

If someone you’re dating says “Let’s take this slow!” aka “I really like you but I’m not fully-committed yet and I’m taking my time before I decide that (& so should you!)” then it’s a signal to adjust your expectations accordingly, like, slow down your own commitment/investment level, slow down introducing him to your friends & family, slow down on future talk, remind yourself to put some time & love into the other people in your life & not disappear into New Couple! mode, & maybe don’t delete that dating profile just yet. Also, let the person who said they wanted to take it slow do more of the work of staying in touch, planning dates, etc. Like maybe it’s a prelude to a rejection, or maybe it’s an opportunity to give yourself permission not to do much or any work around this person right now. They’re taking it slow! No worries, you’re busy with your own thing and will check in when you have some time!

Also trust your instincts and trust what you want! If you feel like you’re being hidden away & compartmentalized from your person’s actual life, or he’s all “take it slow” about meeting friends but really clear about wanting all your time/fidelity/attention/commitment, if something feels unbalanced or unreciprocated, maybe trust that itchy feeling that made you Google this and pull back entirely. People can fall in love at different speeds, people can also string you along because they like your attention and they’re incapable of managing the whole “when I said I was single I meant I was separated and by separated I mean I’m still very much married and I promise I’ll tell her soon and anyway that’s why nobody can know about you, but we’re still having sex tonight, right?” discussion and order of operations like an ethical & trustworthy adult.

17 “Don’t want to spend Christmas with disabled step daughter.”

Listen, your holiday plans are your own – spend them how you want. Also, this phrasing does not make you sound awesome, so, probably it will be a huge relief to your stepdaughter if you just go on a cruise somewhere with her parent/your spouse or better yet with your family of origin or some good friends!

18 “I ghosted someone and now he’s sending letters to my house.”

Yeah, that’s creepy. Safety experts advise communicating directly with the person one time to say “I’m not interested, please stop contacting me,” using a medium where you can document that you said this (text, email), to remove plausible deniability from the situation. Then, never respond to any communication again, the logic being that if someone sends you 100 letters and you respond to say “I told you not to send me any more letters!” you’ve taught them that it takes 100 letters to get your attention so next time they’ll send 101. Every time you engage with the person after you tell them to stop, even if it’s yelling at them to leave you alone, it’s like buying yourself a few more weeks of stalking behavior because they are getting that little jolt of attention they wanted. The hope is that if you starve them of all attention & feedback they’ll lose interest.

Additionally: Tell other people in your life what’s happening and ask them (esp. any mutual friends) not to engage with the dude or give him any information about you, tighten up your social media visibility (block him everywhere if you haven’t yet, be mindful of sharing location data & photos online, he’s almost certainly monitoring whatever he can find), check on your locks/make sure you close your windows when you go to bed or leave the house, save all the letters in case you need to show them to law enforcement, vary up your routine & commute.

19 “How do you get your neighbor to quit asking for stuff.”

Say “no” every time they do ask, be very selective about when or if you answer the door, even make it clear – “I can’t/won’t help you with that, please stop asking.” 

20 “What to do when your new boyfriend is a slob.”

People change slow if they change at all, and you can’t make them do it.

Use that information how you will. Either find someone who is more compatible with you around cleanliness & hygiene stuff, choose your battles & speak up about the stuff that affects you, at risk of him not taking care of whatever it is and outright deciding “hey, I don’t wanna change the sheets more and I don’t wanna be criticized about it, I’m out!,” decide that you will probably never share a household and that’s okay, or learn to love the mess. He is a new boyfriend and you have the choice to be like, whoa, you have the best smile and we like all the same books, but I don’t think this is for me.

21 “I can’t stop cheating on my boyfriend.”

You actually can, so let’s rephrase this: “Something about my relationship with my boyfriend is not working for me and I am unhappy with him, so I keep cheating on him instead of breaking up or talking whatever it is over, but I’m also afraid of losing him or hurting him so I keep delaying the inevitable.” 

Feelings happen and they don’t always happen at convenient times or in the right order.

Let’s take feelings out of it for a second and talk about safety. If you’re sexually active, if you agree to have a monogamous relationship with someone and they trust you to hold to that agreement, and you’re also secretly having sex with other people, you are messing with consent. You are not allowing your partner to make informed decisions about their own sexual health and risk tolerance. That is a really shitty, violating, possible health-destroying thing to do to someone and it’s in your power to not do that anymore.

22 “When mothers barge in son’s room to find him wanking.”

Look, I know this is most likely a random porn search, but I grew up with a family who were pretty terrible about closed doors and privacy, so let me take this opportunity to say:

  1. KNOCK.
  2. WAIT FOR AN AFFIRMATIVE ANSWER BEFORE YOU TOUCH THE DOOR AGAIN.

Kids are people, people need privacy and respect, if it’s not a life or death situation (like someone is not literally bleeding, exploding, flooding, or on fire) you can fucking well knock and wait 30 seconds for everyone to get their britches reaffixed. You want little kids to learn to knock & wait for an answer before they interrupt you, you want your older kids to have respect and privacy and feel safe where they live, so, be the change (and the knocking) that you want to see in the world.

23 “Captain awkward cries all the time”

I cry a normal amount of crying + 20% if it’s a sad movie or if unlikely animal friends are involved somewhere or if it’s the part of the book where little girls send letters to their heroine about how they want to be astronauts someday. I also cry if someone is mean to me or someone I care about, if someone is unexpectedly nice to me, and….[censored for politics].

24 “Feel guilt quitting job manager asking me to come back.”

Good news, you don’t have to go back.

You can say “Oh manager, it’s so great to know you value my work, but this is the right decision for me. Thanks for asking, but no thanks!” 

And like, it’s good to keep things cordial with former workplaces if you can, but once you stop working there you do not have to respond to every communication you get. Once the question’s been asked and answered, you can ignore future requests.

And hey, if you decide you want to go back, this seems like a great time to ask for wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more money than you were making before!

25 “Husband supporting his adult children behind my back.”

Assuming “support” = financial support, yikes. Married couples need transparency & honesty about financial stuff. Maybe this is one for couple’s counseling and/or talking with a financial advisor to make sure that your shared savings & financial priorities aren’t being neglected and to dig into why he didn’t feel like he could tell you. Ya’ll need to open all the books and spreadsheets and accounts and air everything out, down to the penny.

One way to possibly handle this (after a full accounting/disclosure and some deep discussions) is to make an agreement going forward that X amount of money (the majority) goes toward your shared financial priorities & living expenses and Y (much smaller amount) of money gets split equally between each spouse to be spent/saved/invested as they wish without consulting the other, so if he wants to throw his monthly Y budget to his adult kids that’s up to him, you can still be confident that your savings & expenses are being handled and also have your own discretionary funds. It doesn’t remove the problem completely (I sense that the querent’s ideal amount of support for the adult children is zero dollars and no cents) but it does remove secrecy and lies.

 26 “Good headlines for dating profiles.”

  • “I’m shy and weird and nice.”
  • “Let’s eat cheese and do witchcraft.”
  • “Evil genius seeks henchmen for world domination scheme.”
  • “Winter is coming (Come hang out in my sweet blanket fort).”
  • “I just got divorced, everything sucks, wanna make out?”
  • “Let’s both put on a clean shirt and leave the house tonight.”
  • “Yes…and? Comedy/Improv dork seeks a willing player.”
  • “I promise I will never make you come to my improv shows.”
  • “My perfect date involves documentaries and crying.”
  • “Let’s canvass for the midterm elections and then fuck!”
  • “Severely allergic to cats, lilies, and people who ‘love to debate for fun.'”
  • “I like tacos, heist films, and books about space travel.”
  • “Let’s compare shoe collections (I wear a size 8).”
  • “Hold my hand during scary movies?”
  • “Weatherwax in the streets, Ogg in the sheets.”
  • “Ok basically my fantasy is to meet someone who wants to learn how to fence and then we’ll have duels and say witty, cutting remarks laced with sexual tension, who’s in?”
  • “My version of dating is to be really good friends who snuggle (a lot) and kiss (sometimes/a little) and do other sexy stuff (maybe/never). Who’s with me?”
  • “I express myself only in GIFs, memes, and rap battles.”

Be specific! To me, the secret isn’t to appeal blandly to the maximum number of possible people, the secret is to communicate your specific brand of weird in the hopes of attracting same. It’s okay to have fun with it, especially if the whole dating site seems like one big “I’m a chill relaxed normal person who likes to work hard & play hard, I have sanded off as many of my rough edges as I could before appearing on your app screen, I’ll break the news about the bagpipes and the family curse later, please swipe right!” avatar of the same person.

That’s all for this month. Live Chat/Short Answers return Friday 9/28 (I’m doing them 2x a month instead of every week, which I think I told Patreon but didn’t necessarily announce here), here is a kitten photo to tide you over:

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Daniel Striped Tiger (L) and Henrietta Pussycat (R) are two soft brown tabby kittens who are best friends and excellent sleepy snuggle buddies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi Captain.

I need some help. And some peace and quiet. My husband has what appears to be a vendetta against silence. First of all, he’s a talker. He tells me stories about his day, about his co-workers about whatever political thing happened that day. He goes into extreme detail about his favorite hobby that I have only a passing interest in. Mostly, that would be okay. I like to hear about his day, and I can tolerate some political talk (but not much). Except he isn’t done.

He reads me entire articles or Reddit threads on his phone. Sometimes he finds them so funny, he’s laughing too hard to read them, and makes me read them, even if I say I’m not interested. In fact, he does the first part even if I say I’m not interested either. He’ll start reading a thread to me, and I’ll request he not, a couple of times now by saying “if I wanted to read the whole article, I’d go read it” That makes him grumpy. I admit I read him the occasional funny comment or picture, but never every comment in a topic. It’s just overkill.

It doesn’t help, probably, that we have a toddler who himself is a source of endless noise, but he’s two, so even playing by himself envolves lots of noise, which is to be expected. I tolerate that much better than the endless chatter from hubs.

It’s getting to the point I dislike being in the same room with him for very long. Even if he’s not talking to me, he’s watching videos on his phone, with the sound all the way up. He does this even while lying in bed, winding down to sleep. Sometimes he keeps talking when the lights are off and I’m actually trying to sleep. I once got so fed up I asked him if he ever shuts up. It was mean, and I felt bad, but he finally did and I went to sleep. He was fine in the morning and continued with his usual way.

Disenganging doesn’t really deter him. I can say “that’s nice” and “oh cool” for hours. I can straight up say nothing, and he keeps going. Is there a nice way to say “Sorry honey, I missed that actually important thing you said because I ignore almost everything you say because you say a lot of everything”? If I say I need time to myself, he has before grumped that I never want to spend time with him.

I should note, that I don’t think it’s an emotional labor thing. I’ve watched him to the same thing to male friends of his, as well as in group settings. He’s just always got so much to say.

Thank you,
About to buy stock in ear plugs
(She/her)

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Hello everyone!

We’re doing the thing today, where people can submit short questions at Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday) before noon Chicago time and I will answer as many as I can this afternoon between noon and 2pm. Comments get turned on once everything is posted

Please enjoy this artsy photo of Daniel Striped Tiger hanging out in his new rainbow tunnel/bifrost.

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Image: Daniel Tiger inside a rainbow tunnel, walking toward camera like he’s in a Kubrick movie.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

A couple of months ago, one of my best friends (we’ll call her Beth) and her partner (we’ll call him Dylan) broke up. Beth and Dylan had been together for six years and living together for five. They seemed to have a pretty good relationship, although Dylan dominated the apartment with his belongings, said he couldn’t marry her until he was a “real adult” (at 34, while doing nothing to move toward his definition of “adulthood”), and was generally kind of moody. Beth did most of the adult work in the relationship, including keeping a job she didn’t love in order to support them financially and doing all the emotional labor because Dylan wouldn’t go to counseling, individual or couples’.

They broke up because Dylan deleted their anniversary on Facebook. When Beth asked him about it, he confessed that he had been secretly dating a coworker and no longer loved Beth. She was blindsided, not least because she was very good at checking in on the relationship and he had essentially gaslit her into believing that everything was fine for months. Dylan moved out of their apartment and Beth actually packed his boxes for him. I did everything I could to support her and tried very hard not to set Dylan’s things on fire and to discuss my deep contempt for him with mutual friends instead of with Beth. Eventually it came out that the coworker was married and she created a lot of drama and misery for Dylan, and I thought, Great! He’s getting his and I don’t have to do anything.

Unfortunately, now that his little fantasy didn’t work out, Dylan has decided that he DOES love Beth after all, and he is insinuating himself back into her life and her apartment. She told me yesterday that they were having sex, but that he “can’t make any promises right now” and he says, “We shouldn’t be doing this” (while still managing to fuck her), which is basically the sexiest thing someone can say. Beth, heartbroken and holding out hope that he’ll come back to her and they can make it work, isn’t doing anything that I haven’t done myself, but I am furious that Dylan is taking advantage of her feelings so he can have AND eat ALL THE CAKE. But of course when I tell Beth that, I become the Bad Guy. Captain Awkward, I don’t know how to support my friend while also making it clear that there’s no fucking way this guy is getting back in our good graces, especially not with this behavior.

Thank you for your time!

Hard-Hearted Harpy Wants Friend to Be Happy (she/her pronouns)

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Hello Captain:

There’s a bit of tedious backstory to this, and a few other co-problems (which I think I have some scripts and strategies for, thanks to your incredibly useful archive of GSF/friendship posts). But the main gist is:

Our child (Anna) has a very good Friend (Elsa). They are both 4-5 years old, if that helps. I first met my child’s friend’s mother (Juno) at playgroup, and we bonded over shared hobbies and interests. It helped hugely that the kids really got along, and for the most part, as parents, we shared many parenting values. The problem is the one parenting value we don’t share.

Elsa is incredibly sensitive. And her mother (Juno) makes it my child’s job to manage her child’s emotions. For example, here’s what typically happens:

The children are playing rambunctiously and my child gets hurt – in a trifling way (a bump, scratch etc) and through no real fault of anyone. It happens! That’s life.

My kid gets sad, mad and sometimes, both. Wailing ensues. This is also normal, and I tend to respond by validating the feelings (You feel hurt/Bumping your knee is pretty ouchie sometimes!/etc) and offering a cuddle.

The Elsa gets upset that my kid is upset. Sometimes, Anna is inconsolable (wailing too hard to make any sense, again, this is normal and understandable). Elsa then begins to wail EVEN HARDER (“I tried to say sorry and Anna didn’t stop crying!”) like, Elsa gets upset because my kid is upset. This is – a bit much when it’s all going off and I haven’t quite finished my coffee – but also understandable. Elsa is very empathetic and that’s a great thing! I should also note here that it happens a lot. Like every play date. Over many minor events.

However, this is the problem. The mother of the kid (Juno) takes it upon herself to fix her kid’s (Elsa) emotions by sort of shaming my kid (Anna) into accepting an apology, or comforting her kid. Juno tells elsa to “go tell your friend how she made you feel sad” and “if you’re feeling upset, you should tell your friend how you feel”. She makes the situation all about Elsa, and Elsa’s emotions and how we restore Elsa to happiness. I’m like – hey my kid got hurt! Let her be!

Typing this out, it maybe doesn’t sound as bad as it is in the moment. But it’s hard to express how this is TOO MUCH for a wailing 4yo to process.

I want to yell HEY KNOCK IT OFF. YOUR KID’S EMOTIONS ARE NOT MY CHILD’S TO MANAGE. I mean, I am trying not to raise an asshole – in fact, I’m pretty sure my kid is not one. She’s not perfect, but she’s trying! We talk a lot of about being kind and considerate. But in the moment, when my kid is in pain, is maybe not the time for a guilt trip. And I do not think it’s a good idea to teach your kid how to guilt trip their friends into making them feel better! To me, this smacks of manipulation.

Yet, when it’s all chaos and tears seems a really bad time to also add to the fire. So please help. Is this a big deal? And if it is, do you have any scripts for me to use in the moment to deflect Juno’s attempts to guilt trip my child without fanning the emotional flames of the situation? And any scripts to talk about it afterwards? I wasn’t raised w great boundaries and feelings talking skills, so I’ve largely through therapy, your blog, and hard life experience taught myself as an adult to do all this. And now I’m lost.

And here is some of the tedious backstory. My friend Juno has battled social anxiety and depression, and has terrible boundaries/communication skills. I am trying to fade out the friendship – which in itself is a challenge due to small town/tight knit social group/many overlapping hobbies/no way to actually end the friendship. But I am trying to preserve contact for the sake of the kids (and the husbands, who also like hanging out a lot). Previous attempts to talk about the issues (my friend has a tendency to sulk/storm off/dole out the silent treatment/expect everyone to manage HER emotions) have resulted in some super awkward and unproductive circular conversations.

For example:
Me: Storming off and taking the car keys was not cool. And then not texting us to say what you did was even less cool.
Her: I can’t control my emotions. I was upset.
Me: OK, I’m sorry you were upset. But storming off without even a text is still not cool.
Her: I was upset!
Me: ….

(That was the day I decided that this friendship wasn’t as awesome as I had thought. And that she wouldn’t be allowed to watch my kid again, ever.)

So I foresee that a calm, productive post mortem of our parenting techniques is unlikely to happen. Still, I’d like to try, as moving town is not an option lol. I have to find a way to make it work. Or if not work, protect my child/descalate situations as needed.

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Good morning! We’re doing the thing today!

To ask a question, patrons can post to this thread and anyone can reach me on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday). Submissions close at noon Chicago time, at which point I’ll answer as many as I can between then and 1pm.

Comments are open! So many great questions! Thanks everyone.

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Hello Captain,

I live in the ‘burbs with an hour+ work commute to the city. I enjoy the flexibility to work from home several times a week make my own schedule, which also varies due to the needs of the tech world. I enjoy separating my work and social life, which means keeping relationships at work professional, with minimal interaction outside of work.

My coworker is planning to move in with their partner soon, who happens to live in my town, down the street from my house. I gave Coworker a handful of rides to/from work several months ago, since they do not own a car, public transit is not close, and it was technically on my route. Now that cohabitation plans are in order, Coworker is casually asking lots of questions about my work schedule and how I feel about carpooling more often when they move (asking me during work, which is awkward). This is coupled with suggestions to hangout/do non-work stuff together.

I really don’t want to commit to being Coworker’s source of transportation, or non-work friend, for various reasons that I don’t want to share with Coworker, but I feel like a jerk for saying no and/or not committing to anything. Anticipating the pending questions of, “Hey, can you give me a ride to work X times a week? And, wanna get dinner after?”, what scripts do you have that will help me navigate this conversation, and say no/put firm boundaries in place, without seeming like an asshole, and needing to continue interacting with this person on a regular basis? Also, do you think I should be the one to initiate the conversation (since I am 90% sure it is coming), or have Coworker take the lead?

Thank you!

Introvert In the Suburbs

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