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Hi Captain,

I’m such a fan of your kind and logical advice! I’m hoping for scripts to deal with a nasty pattern that my family falls into at mealtimes when we’re visiting my parents and brothers- it’s kind of like the abilene paradox on steroids, but while hungry.

I tell spouse and my parents that I’m going to make salmon and a salad for dinner, and do they want any. Parents counter with a 40 minute discussion of whether I eat fish (only if not baked), whether chicken would be better (Mom is pescetarian) whether we can bake the salmon (yes, but then I won’t eat it). I circle back to what I started with, because I’m hungry and this is what I wanted for dinner.

Spouse then asks why I’m cranky and Dad finishes with the ‘whatever you want dear’.
I start prepping, then deal with another 2 attempts to bring chicken back into the mix and a quick derailment of maybe we should have gotten takeout.

At this point its been over an hr of discussion for dinner, and as far as I can tell, no one is happy with the choice of food. And this sort of nonsense happens every night we visit, and is only amplified when my brothers and their spouses are in the mix.

I’ve tried the escape with spouse for dinner, but then I have to deal with the parental ‘oh can we come with, since we’d like to have dinner with you, but we don’t like any of the restaurants you’d want, but we’ll suck it up since that’s what you want’

How on earth do I avoid this nonsense?

Thanks!

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Hello Captain,

I’m in a bit of an emotional pickle and I was wondering if you had any advice.

It’s kind of a long story but I’ll simplify as well as I can;

For 5 years I was in a relationship with a very good man. He was supportive and loving throughout some incredibly difficult times and although we certainly had our problems (both of us bought our family and mental health drama into the relationship) we were not just boyfriend and girlfriend but each other’s best friends for all those years. Living in a town we hated, in a university that was draining us, and surrounded by people we didn’t like, it was like me and him against the world.

However, last year around November we broke up. He ‘pulled the trigger’ as I put it but it had been something that had been on the cusp for a while. I had been questioning my sexuality for a while and shortly after our break up I came out as a lesbian. He was surprisingly supportive throughout all of this although I’m sure it was incredibly hard on him. Aside from my sexuality we had other problems as well, we were fighting more and laughing less, his anger which had been a problem in our relationship since the beginning was still a problem I had near completely lost patience with.

We both promised each other we’d do what we could to be friends. We’d only a couple of months earlier moved in together (we needed to get out of our previous living situation and I had hoped that moving in together might ‘fix’ me) and at first it seemed ok. We still laughed and went out to dinner, he’d point out girls he thought I’d find cute, we’d joke and make fun of each other the same way we always had. It seemed too good to be true. Well you know what they say…

After not too long a time that stopped, I’m not sure exactly why, but things became distant, and then hostile. There had been tiny glimpses of this before, (for example, I mentioned to a friend that he’d been the one to ‘pull the trigger’ and he said ‘yeah well you had the gun shoved so far down my throat that I didn’t have a choice’. He later said this was a badly worded joke) but nothing huge and whenever I’d ask he’d play it down.

But after a short while the living situation became very difficult. For a while I was scared I would be homeless because he said he wanted to move out and I wasn’t sure I could cover rent and everything all by myself (things we’d previously halved), I tried to explain this to him that I needed more time to figure a living situation out as i have no family in the city where we live and no where else I could have stayed. He got very angry and didn’t seem to care about the homeless possibility. We were in his car having a chat when this happened and he screamed at me, getting very angry as I had seen 1000 times before, and at one point when I got out and walked away he screamed “times running out”. He moved back in with his parents (something he blames on me because he says I made the living situation so hostile and tense that he had no choice but to move out) and thankfully I can cover rent and bills, though I don’t exactly have much left over afterwards.

Very shortly after he started dating a girl I know and although it felt weird at first, I’m glad he’s found some happiness, and the girl is a very sweet person who I’m sure won’t hurt him.

One of the last times we spoke I asked him how he felt about me. I told him that I can take him going from my boyfriend and best friend to my ex who i have a friendly or casual relationship with, but I couldn’t take him going from being the centre of my world to someone who seems to hate me and isn’t in my life at all. He told me that he never thought I’d hurt him, and the way I’d handled coming out and everything after hurt him and he has to protect himself. That broke my heart. We might not be together anymore (I have a girlfriend myself now), but I’d take a bullet for that guy. It breaks my heart to think that I hurt him, I certainly didn’t mean to, and I cant believe he feels like he needs to protect himself against me of all people.

I’ve been wondering what, if anything, i can do about this situation for a while. The trigger for this letter was two dreams I had in a row (I’m not the type to read into dreams but these are a little on the nose). In the first his girlfriend had a baby and my ex told me that I needed to pay child support for some reason, he seemed very annoyed with me when I questioned why I had to give him money. In the second (that I had just last night), he asked me to get something for him but I couldn’t do this, I was late to meet him and tried to explain that I couldn’t get what he wanted just yet. At first he seemed fine with this, then he took me somewhere else (his mom was in the background telling him he ‘should have done this to begin with’) and started saying horrible things to me. I asked if he hated me and he yelled ‘of course I fucking hate you, you deserve everything you get’. There are currently concerns that I have a swelling in my brain and in the dream I asked ‘what about the tumour?’ and he said ‘I hope it kills you.’ I woke up crying.

I messaged him the other day but didn’t get a response and this is par for the course pretty much whenever I try to speak to him now.

Do you think I should tell him about these dreams? Ask him again how he feels? If not, how do I deal with these very painful dreams and feelings?

Any advice would be appreciated,
I didn’t mean to hurt him.

P.S. His parents have caused more drama by insisting that I owe them money for things they bought us as a couple (his mom even wants the mattress back that she bought us), I have tried to be civil and offer them money. They’ve even argued that I should give my ex our fridge even though I paid for half of it. This does not make our situation any less tense.

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Dear Captain,

I write fiction, mostly fantasy. I admit I can be humorless about it. My friend “Shawn” writes fiction of similar genre. We used to talk about writing and about our ideas a lot, but less so since I got a day job.

Shawn starts projects all the time and most of them never come to a full rough draft, so I know not to get too invested in any particular setting or character concept they tell me about. (OTOH, due to my more limited free time for writing, I’ve just got the one novel I’ve been revising for a few years now.) My issue is that Shawn keeps telling me about all of these ideas, with no context. They’ll text me out of the blue, “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date” or “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet” and I have no idea how to react anymore. I’d be happy to read any completed stories that came from these ideas. I’ve read their one completed manuscript and, hell, I’d be happy to hear random thoughts about that setting or those characters, who I already care about. But what on earth do I say to “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune,” especially when I know I’ll never hear about this dragon again?

I wouldn’t mind if I got to talk about my own writing in turn, but they don’t seem interested anymore. They asked to read my manuscript once, and (a year later) have finally stopped pretending they’ll ever get around to it. Recently they asked me a question about my protagonists, and I got excited at this sign that we could resume shop talk like we used to. But after I answered, they just said “Nice” and used it as a springboard to brag about their own great characterization, in the context of another story they had just thought up. I kinda feel like my time and effort are being disrespected here.

Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process? Am I being too precious about my own work while judging theirs harder? If not, how can I steer these conversations back to a fun and mutual place, and not a place where I’m getting infodumped on?

Thanks,
A Wiki for a Fictional Multiverse that Doesn’t Yet Exist (they/them)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

How is a good way to let a friend know that her mildly homophobic comments are hurtful to me before I move in with her?

My friend Ella would probably be offended if she knew her comments come across as ‘othering’ to me (I’m a bisexual woman, not yet fully out to her, and only newly out to myself). Nonetheless, the things she says make me feel I can’t be fully myself around her.

When Ella heard I’d been on a date with a woman, she grilled me about my sexuality at a point I was feeling uncertain myself and unready to talk.

Now when we go clubbing, Ella will grind up against me, pant against me and generally invade my personal space in a way I don’t like while looking at all the men near us. It makes me feel like she’s trying to ‘put on a show’ to attract men, and I don’t like being a part of it.

Ella has often said things that make me think she views sexuality as very binary – a female friend of ours was once in a three year relationship with a woman, and is now with a man. Ella immediately dismissed the previous relationship as “just experimenting”.

Ella has low self esteem and is dealing with anxiety right now, which is why she wants me to live with her. She’s a nice person and I think it could be really fun to live together, but not if these things that make me uncomfortable continue.

How can I respectfully and kindly assert what I need, Captain Awkward?

Sincerely yours,

Not in Kansas anymore

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Dear Captain,

My partner and I have been together almost a decade and our relationship has been polyamorous all that time. For the most part (aside from perhaps two ‘near misses, completely, in fact) it has been me in other relationships (my partner has never been interested in looking, or hasn’t reciprocated others’ advances). Our stated ‘rules’ have been around safer sex, and a rule of not getting involved as someone’s affair. The latter rule sprang from me entering the relationship with her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair. We both decided we didn’t need that – there was potential for drama that would involve each other etc.

After almost ten years my partner just met someone (someone she already knew but who just declared an interest) she really wants to pursue something with. The catch? He’s married. of course. She tells me she doesn’t really care about the ‘affairs’ rule now – she knows I do but she doesn’t see why she can’t do this, given that it’s so rare for her to have these feelings.

It’s the first time she’s got this close to seeing someone and so I can’t work out what are my feelings about it being ANYONE, and what are my feelings about her becoming an affair.

I have two choices. I can either tell her not to do this (and I believe she won’t) and she will be miserable and resent me, or I can NOT do that, and I will be miserable.

This isn’t ethical non-monogamy to me. it’s not what I signed up for. I love her, but I’m aware that my thought processes have changed. I cannot currently say I feel proud of her, for example, and I hate that.

I guess I’m looking for some perspective?

Sincerely,

Not where I thought I was going (they/them)

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Dear Captain,

I just bought a new house (yay me!) and am still unpacking/deciding where things go. After living with family for about a year while I saved up to be able to afford a down payment, you can imagine how excited I am to be able to put my own decorating touch on my own space!

I invited my oldest friend over to see it over the weekend. While it’s nowhere near company-ready, and she knew it, she made many, many comments about “you should move the couch there”; “that picture I sent you on your phone would look good on your wall”; “did you know your floor sloped?”; “is this the couch that needed more stuffing? I can help you with that” etc., etc., etc. (I know, some of these sound nice but these are just the comments I remembered. The one that “got” me was the one about moving the couch. I actually had the couch specifically where I wanted. Oh, and she made a comment about one of my end tables being too big for the space. Well, I am downsizing so I can’t actually replace everything all at once).

I believe she comes from a good place, but this is how she is with everyone – constantly offering her opinions and advice when not asked for. It’s a non-stop verbal diarrhea and it’s like she can’t help herself. The onslaught was such that I couldn’t get a word in.

I’ve tried limiting my contact with her over the years for this very reason – I don’t like being told “you should…” anything. But I am a wimp at saying “You know, I didn’t ask you over here for advice, I just wanted you to see my new place.” When she left, she did say she was really, really happy for me, and I know she is. She’s just not one to keep her opinions to herself.

So, if I can’t change my friend, how can I change me? How can I get my internal “ugh, don’t tell me what to do” to become more external?

Because she really harshed my mellow.

Thank you in advance!

Hi there, congrats on the new house!

I think it is 100% okay to tell a friend “Oh, thanks, but I’m not looking for advice” when they reflexively offer advice. Your script of “Hey, I didn’t ask you over here for decorating stuff, I just wanted to show you the place” is totally fine.

See also:

  • Thanks for the offers of help – I’ll let you know if I need to take you up on any of that. Right now I am so happy to have my own space where I can put everything just as I like it.
  • “Cool, but the couch is exactly where I want it for now!” (Sometimes it’s easier to be assertive with positive statements).
  • “That photo you sent was really great, thanks.” (Make no commitments about hanging it)
  • I’m really going to take my time with any home improvements or decorating. This is a ‘showing off my new house’ visit, not a ‘hardware store list-making visit.
  • Huh, thanks, I’ll think about it.

Get ready for an aggrieved “Well, I was just trying to help” response, to which you can say: “I know you are excited and looking for ways to help but hang back a sec and let me enjoy the moment, will ya? I promise to seek your wise counsel if I need it.

Give her a few chances and some time to let her reset things. Her personality won’t change, but eventually, she’ll learn not to do this so much around you.

If you’re the reflexive advice-giver in this situation (um, hello, 1043 questions, I’m not just the Captain I’m also a member), here’s your reminder to ask first. Unsolicited advice is exhausting. Some examples:

If someone says they are enjoying a particular show, maybe try asking “What else are you watching?“or “Are you interested in some recommendations of things to watch next?” before you jump in with “You have to watch [fave]!.” Enthusiasm is great, but remind yourself that people don’t “have to” do shit.

If someone vents about a problem, ask “Are you looking for suggestions on how to handle that or just venting?” before you launch in with how they “should” have handled things. A “hey, this thing sucks right now” post is not an automatic cry for solutions. This goes a thousandfold for anything medical or related to eating. Are you the person’s doctor or nutritionist? Do you literally share a body with that person? Did they ask you for suggestions because they know you’re an expert on said topic? No? Great. Then stop with the “Have you tried _____?

And for the love of all that is holy and unholy, if someone complains about their iPhone or their Android device or their Mac vs. their PC or their Avid vs. Premiere or any technology problem, STFU about what they “should” have bought instead, forever and always, amen. I literally saw someone say “Well, this wouldn’t happen if you were running Ubuntu!” on one of my feeds yesterday in response to a question about Windows and it’s probably really good that I don’t have any telekinetic fire-starting powers.

I love helping! You love helping! We love helping! And yet? Unsolicited advice is exhausting and helpful intentions don’t make it less exhausting.

Letter Writer, I know you dread it, but the world won’t swallow you if you acknowledge your friend’s kind intentions while shutting down the behavior.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have an awkward social situation that I’m not sure how to handle. It’s been causing me a bit of anxiety, and so I’ve been avoiding dealing with it.

Recently I have had a rash of old friends who I am no longer close with contact me, wanting to either catch up or get together. Some of them I’m happy to have a chat with and tell them about my life and hear all about what they’re up to now, but when they suggest we start hanging out again I feel stressed. The problem is that I simply don’t know how to fit these people into my life now.

For a long time I was very mentally and emotionally unhealthy, and I self medicated with drugs and alcohol a lot and was a bit of a party girl. Right now I’m the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been, and I can look back on those years with new clarity and insight. I see now that I tended to be drawn to people who were dysfunctional because it allowed me to feel like I had my shit together, even though I really didn’t at all. I’ve done a lot of work on myself since then, and I feel like a lot of the friendships I made at that time in my life are no longer fulfilling to me. I’ve purposely distanced myself from a lot of people, not because I think they’re bad, but because I now find their company totally draining. Hanging out with them became something I did out of a sense of obligation. I felt guilty at first until I realized how much happier and calmer I was without them, and that I now had room in my life to make new friends.

There’s one old friend who won’t give up trying to contact me, who I particularly don’t want to see. We didn’t have a falling out, I just realized that I didn’t really like her anymore due to her rudeness, self centeredness, and flair for the dramatic. I was ok with it when she moved a bit further away and we lost touch for a while. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple years, and I was pretty relieved. She texted me at the start of this year saying she had moved back into town and invited me to her birthday party at a bar. I felt an immediate sense of dread. Since it had been a couple years, I pretended that I got a new number or something and didn’t reply. Maybe that was wrong or short sighted.

A few months later she found me on social media and messaged me “WHEN ARE WE HANGING OUT?!?!” which both terrified and annoyed me. I thought it was a rude way to make contact with someone she hasn’t seen or heard from in years. I felt put on the spot and uncomfortable. It made me want to get together even less. I didn’t reply and hoped she would get the hint. She didn’t.

A few weeks ago she found me on another platform and commented on one of my posts “Hey! Let’s hang out!!!”. I didn’t reply and haven’t posted on that platform since. This morning I woke up to a direct message from her saying “(my name)?!?!”

I think at this point I need to be direct because she is not getting the hint and it would be cruel of me to continue this tactic, but I really have no clue what to say. I’m not mad at her, we didn’t have a falling out and there’s not really a specific instance that made me not want to be friends anymore. I don’t want to be hurtful. I’ve been on the other side, attempting to reconnect with someone and realizing that they had no interest. It sucked but I got the hint and let them go. For me, this friendship is over.

What do I say?

Sincerely,

Chronic Avoidance

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