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boundaries

Hi Captain –

I have a question about keeping yourself sane while trying to get out of a bad situation.

I’m trying to leave my job. Everyone I work with is too. I’m at a very small startup, and the main person in charge is both incredibly demanding and extremely volatile, which makes it virtually impossible to succeed. For a variety of reasons,* I can’t just quit, but I am actively looking and trying as hard as I can to get out.

The problem is that, for me at least, job searching is stressful too, and I’m much better at it when I’m in a good place mentally. Unfortunately, our head honcho makes this really difficult. It’s not just a matter of ignoring or deflecting manipulative or unkind comments; it’s that they’re in touch constantly, with all of us, making it hard to even get the time or space for reflection. They don’t have a lot of family and have devoted the last few years to making the company work, which means that they constantly want engagement and validation (even if they’re berating us), and they won’t stop trying to engage until we cave and give them the answer they’re looking for.

For example: they’ll ask, on a weekend, if a previously-undiscussed deliverable can be done by Monday. If I say it can’t, they’ll ask why we’re not working on the weekend when everyone else is working “like mad.” They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future. (This is often followed by “I’m tired of arguing with you and want to make this work, but I don’t know what else I can do.”)

So my options boil down to either a) completely acquiesce to all requests, regardless of their merit or any other factors, or b) have a pointless, hour-long conversation that consists mostly of being reprimanded. I should also note that they also want to hang out socially with all of us a lot, and pout if we won’t, which, as you can imagine, also affects the workplace dynamic.

I will be much, much better off if I can stay in this position until I find another one or am in a better financial position to leave. In the meantime, though, I’m so stressed and busy that it’s hard for me to do anything, including look for other jobs. Do you have suggestions for scripts I can use on *myself* here in order to keep myself going? My therapist says just to remind myself constantly that I won’t be here forever and that I am leaving as soon as I can, but the more frustrated I am, the less likely that seems. And I feel like this is a situation that a lot of people get into – cutting toxic people out of your life is necessary, but it’s so complicated.

Sincerely,

Working on Freedom (she/her)

*You can include these reasons if you want, but I left them out for brevity. I’m including them here to indicate that I really have thought about leaving, and really have decided that the best option for the moment is to stay until I get another job. Those reasons are:

– I have < 1 month of rent in my savings account, and am reluctant to borrow from my parents
– My job history has quite a few short stints, mostly due to coincidence and/or bad luck (yearlong grant programs, getting laid off, leaving a part-time job in order to take this one, and, yes, one where I was a bad fit)
– I’m in a weird specialized field where the work I’m doing is actually hugely beneficial to my ability to get a job in the future

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Context: My sister and I are incredibly close and talk about everything. We grew up in a Charismatic Christian home. We’ve spent a long time trying to work out The Right Thing, first as Christians, now on our own. These days we’re both happier, but it’s still difficult trying to figure out if I feel guilty because the situation warrants it, or if it’s a hangover from religion.

Current day: We live together, we’re both bisexual and poly. My sister is currently seeing a small group of lovely people who’re all involved with each other. I haven’t been in a polyamorous relationship to date, but I also identify as poly.

One of my sister’s partners and I have had some flirty chemistry for a while. Over the holidays that went from light physical affection to an enjoyable makeout session. (My sister knew about us getting handsy and kissing btw).

Now my sister and I are discussing the possibilities of whether I should date him as well, and what could happen as a result. We’ve tried to cover all the bases (it’d be awkward if one of us stopped seeing him, how the group would handle it, who goes to parties with him, etc) and are currently at an impasse.

Neither of us wants to police the other’s behavior. She won’t tell me I can’t date him because she doesn’t feel that’s her right and she wants me to be happy. I don’t want to date him if it’s going to cause any harm or hurt to our relationship or her relationship with any of her partners.

To add more context, this isn’t the first time someone has been interested in both of us, (though we’ve not yet dated the same person). It’s ranged from more emotionally complex (her ex-husband, an ex-boyfriend) to a guy we got to know at different times. We have similar tastes in a lot of things and we get along very well, and people are drawn to that. (We also both have anxiety over everything, be it big or little, lol.)

I desperately don’t want to hurt anyone here, mostly my sister. I know I have a tendency to shut things down before they have a chance to develop, partly out of self-preservation. Realistically I know this won’t be the last person I have chemistry with and it won’t kill me not to date him. At the same time, it’s been a while since I’ve been attracted to someone and enjoyed being around someone this much.

I also don’t want to not take a risk simply because it’s unconventional or complicated.

Any advice is muchly appreciated.

Anxious Sister

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Hi,

Me and my husband have been together for a bit less than seven years now. I have never really liked my mother-in-law and my husband doesn’t really like her company either. Also, everyone who has met her and I’ve talked about this agrees with me. She is exhausting to be around: she talks literally all the time about things only she is interested in. It’s also impossible to concentrate on anything if she is around: she will come and interrupt us with something else. I can spend about a day in her presence, after which I will be totally exhausted and sleep for a day.

What bothers me even more is that she wants to control and micromanage everything in our life. For example, me and my husband are attending the pre-Christmas party of the company that I work for, and my mother-in-law obsesses about it. She has bought my husband a suit (he could afford it himself) and she calls me often to say that I need to put my hair up for the occasion. I don’t really care and don’t know how to do it but she keeps pushing. She also gives us a lot of cleaning tips and buys a lot of cleaning utensils (that are not the ones I prefer, for ethical reasons) for us. She also always starts to clean our apartment when she visits. These are just examples, she has an opinion on every little thing in our lives.

The problem is that she never listens to anything we say. Especially for me, it is hard to confront her because she does get hurt easily. And I know she means well by everything she does. But even when we talk about these things quite straight (and my husband even harshly) to her, it doesn’t change her behavior. It will maybe work for a few weeks but then she will continue the controlling behavior.

Another problem is that because it’s not pleasant to be around her, we spend a lot more time with my mother. Even though both mothers live equally far away, we visit my mother a lot more often. It just isn’t as big an investment of energy from us to visit my mother. My husband agrees with me on this but I still feel guilty about it. My mother-in-law isn’t evil, I just personally don’t enjoy being in contact with her.

How can I reach a more peaceful existence with my mother-in-law? Should I feel guilty about visiting my mum more often? Is it ever possible to get through to her that we want to make our own decisions?

Thanks in advance,
An introvert who isn’t a native English speaker 🙂

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Dear Captain,

This is a bit messy, please bear with me… One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie. Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship. She says she is not jealous, but she’s mean to me every time we meet, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to her. I’ve made several attempts to build bridges, and she’s burned them every time. At this point Katie has stopped talking to me altogether, which is kind of a relief, I guess. I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.

John and I never really got over our almost-relationship. The other day we finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: that we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that. To summarize, John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge. I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately. I have no love for Katie, but I don’t want to hurt her and I don’t want to be responsible for a breakup… But I care deeply about John and want to be his submissive, even if it is in kind-of-secret… I’m in such a tangled web I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Yours,
Lovelorn Sub

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Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

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Hey Cap,

I have a really close friendship with “Nathan”, who I’m also In Love With. We met on Twitter and talk throughout the day most days, and a long-standing online friendship and flirtation turned into a close offline friendship and flirtation and a gradual but big escalation of my feelings. Long story short, despite mutual expressions of attraction and romantic interest things never went anywhere due to what he frames as general fear and ambivalence regarding sex/intimacy/relationships. He’s essentially said that fantasising about romantic scenarios brings him solace instead of torturing him like they do me – anyway my torch still burns painfully bright, I’ve been open with him about this and he’s been understanding, so several times I’ve taken breaks from communication/hanging out to focus on sorting myself out. It’s still an issue but less so than it used to be, and we remain close friends in constant contact and we see each other when we can (we now live in separate cities).

The issue is that Nathan is very, very, very attractive and he has many, many other online admirers, many of whom run in similar Twitter circles. Our friendship/flirting is well-documented publicly on there and a lot of our thirst followers have filled in their own mad libs about our relationship or at least see me as someone safe to talk to who knows him well and regularly try to probe me for (sensitive/creepy) information about him and his availability. This brings up a lot of knee-jerk Bad feelings of sadness, regret, jealousy etc and I would like to find better ways to ward off these kinds of questions entirely. I tend to maybe go all-in with my response describing my history with him which might do the trick in getting them to shut up about it but comes off as highly territorial which is something I don’t want to be. He’s a private person and I want to protect him but I also want to protect my sensitive, foolish heart and set up some kind of flag in conversations that says “Don’t Ask Me About Nathan It’s Creepy And It Hurts”. Any scripts for how to do this? I feel like I’m stuck in a Jane Austen situation.

– Lovelorn Go-Between

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