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BREAKING UP

Hi Captain!

I (she/her/hers) am a business partner with Partner (also she/her/hers). We have been running a small business for a few years now. We had one employee who just retired, and we finally hired someone part time. We are equal owners in the company. We went to grad school together and I thought we were friends.

I am more of the sales face of the business for various reasons. I enjoy the networking and advertising part and I calm down any angry customers. She puts in more of the bookkeeping time than me and prefers to be behind the scenes. We equally share in other admin stuff that our new employee cannot manage. I have been making more commission than her for about two months, but it used to be equal.

I have been dating someone for about a year now (he/his/him) who has moved in with me. He and I have a pretty significant age difference (I’m early 30s, he just turned 50). For whatever reason, our relationship… works. We click – and I’ve never felt like this about anyone before, to be honest. Notably, he is more right-leaning than me politically, and I’m more left-leaning… but I studied political theory in college and he works for a lobbying group. We have actually bonded over our differences politically and enjoy engaging in civil discourse about theories, current events, etc.

Sig Other and I do not talk about politics with our friends. We’ve mutually agreed to let sleeping dogs lie on that topic, and typically cheerfully redirect someone (unless we know they’re cool with a discussion on current events!). Neither of us push ideologies on outside parties.

When we had our old employee, Business Partner used to micro-manage their every move. She was constantly checking hours and emails and keeping tabs on her, and complaining to me about things that weren’t done properly. Employee retired… and since then, Business Partner’s focus has been on me.

She gets upset if I leave early to take a cat to a vet appointment. She checks my hours and reviews my work like I’m an employee, constantly texting to see where I am if I’m not in the office and she is lurking around. She works later than I do because (as she’s acknowledged) she goes home alone at night and would prefer to be in the office getting work done. She does leave early for hair appointments and nail appointments, and sometimes for other personal stuff, but she typically rolls in about 10 am, works until 8 pm, and works all weekend. I work 8 am to 6 pm weekdays and I do not work weekends by choice. If there are big projects or a big deadline coming, I will come in on the weekend, but it is not a routine practice for me.

She does take days off for vacations and family travel, but lately I’ve noticed her scheduling ME for appointments when I have travel plans or days off planned. She works bank holidays and guilt-trips me when I don’t do the same. She scheduled an appointment for me when I had a lunch planned with a colleague very high up in our local food chain, and made snide comments about how people in the field, “seem to like [me],” but don’t seem to invite her out. (Colleague called me up specifically to talk shop, invite was clearly only for me – but it’s an opportunity to grow the business!) The tone of the remarks felt… envious. I tried to brush it off.

My work gets done. I pull my weight. But I have a life. I have a lot of close family in the area and I like to take a little time for Sig Other in the evenings. I started my own company with her so we could benefit from schedule flexibility, work for ourselves and our values, and make more money than at our old jobs.

I did not change my schedule when Sig Other moved in. I work the same hours I did before he moved in with me.

A friend of mine recently overheard her in public in a cafe complaining to a group of our colleagues that she’s upset because I make more commission pay than her and work less hours, and complaining that I took three days off after Christmas to meet Sig Other’s family and was traveling out of state. Friend seemed to think she was planning to take some kind of action, but she spotted him and immediately stopped talking. I didn’t confront her about this because I wasn’t sure how to approach the topic. And I wasn’t sure what action she would take.

We used to share a friend group, and now I don’t get invited out with that group. She made an offhand comment after telling me she was going to meet a group of our (mutual?) friends for dinner recently, along the lines of: “Well… nobody wants to hang out with your middle-aged republican boyfriend.” I typically don’t extend invitations to him unless I know ALL significant others are invited, and I don’t believe he’s ever talked about politics with them, but she’s also made it clear she doesn’t approve of my relationship. It felt really awful to clearly not be invited above and beyond any feelings about Sig Other’s political leanings.

I was out on a date with Sig Other last week and ran into them all at a surprise party for another friend’s birthday. It was AWKWARD. Super awkward. And when I mentioned seeing them at the restaurant at work on Monday, she shrugged it off as, “I didn’t do all of the invites, and I didn’t think you were a good fit for that crowd. [Sig Other] is a lot older than everyone else.” But why wouldn’t I want to celebrate a birthday?

I feel a little sabotaged at work and micromanaged by someone who is supposed to share equally in the process of running the company. The general vibe I get is envious, but that sounds so juvenile to say that she’s ‘just jealous.’ I made a commitment to myself to have a better work-life balance this year, and she seems to take it personally when I take time off or don’t work until 8 pm every night.

What’s going on here? What do I do? Am I the jerk somehow that I’m not seeing? Is she actually envious? Do I dissolve the business and start over? Or is there a way to set up professional boundaries and say goodbye to the friendship?

Losing Friends and Losing Business

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am torn and hoping you may have some options that could help me make a decision. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, but I want to do my best to give you as much to go on as possible.

Around 10 years ago, I met my future wife, we’ll call her “E.” Things started out pretty fast, she is very introverted and I am pretty extroverted, so I think we were both intrigued in learning each other’s ways and trying the other’s interests. Within about 3 months, things became pretty physical, pretty fast, if you know what I mean. This lasted for a little over a year, where we spent most of our time together, and most of it was alone. We tried going out with my friends, but she didn’t like them or going out, and I was okay at the time to split time between her and what I like to do, probably a 70:30 split.

After around 1.5 years of being together, I moved away to grad school, something I had been planning since we first met, so it was no surprise to her, but I was not ready to move in together and she was not ready to move and find new work, so we became a long distance relationship. We talked each night, but quickly ran out of topics, sticking to a 45 minute limit on conversations because we seemed to run out of things to say and I hated just sitting on the phone listening to each other breath.

We saw each other about 2 times a month, just for a weekend, which was typically spent mostly in the bedroom. She would become very upset about not moving the relationship forward when she heard of friends getting engaged, and often brought up marriage. When it came time for me to graduate (around 4 years into the relationship) I knew I either had to commit or break it off. I should’ve realized that having that thought was probably not a good sign, but I thought maybe it was cold feet and normal. I felt committed to her and didn’t want to hurt her, as well as this was as good as I had felt in other relationships, so what would be different if I ended it and tried starting new. I never felt that “falling in love” feeling I’ve see on TV/movies, or heard about from friends, and I have never been openly emotional or enjoyed PDA or even the DA part when 1 on 1 with a girlfriend. I have just never been super excited or felt thrill with the people I have been with.

Once we got married, she moved in, we got a puppy, she got a new job, and by the time a year almost rolled around, we were house hunting. Everything was just moving so fast, there was never much time to think. A month later, we found a home, moved in, and found out we were pregnant. Things were crazy for a year, but we both expected it, especially since the closest family is several hours away. She stayed home with the baby for 2 years before starting to look back into work. She also stayed in the guest bedroom every night for that whole period, insisting she would wake me accidentally when listening for or getting up with the baby, even though I encouraged her to come back to our room on day one. It was around the two year mark that I realized how bored I was with our life.

Sex had become a routine, once a week on Fri or Sat night, only after she had showered. It was even to the point she made jokes about how routine it was, I would try to spice things up or change it up, but she said she liked our routine. Our talks consisted of the baby and work, I would try to come up with things to do but she enjoyed just staying home and cleaning. I feel so anxious when I don’t get out, that I would take our daughter and do things with just the two of us, or on the rare occasion, just get out for an hour or two by myself.

This went on for another 2 years, slowly feeling like we were becoming more and more distant, barely talking, the only physical contact was our routine sex once a week. Sometimes I would pretend to not feel well to skip it because I just couldn’t get in the mood. I was afraid this was what my life would be like for the next 14 years and then what would happen when it was just the two of us again? But what else could I do? I considered divorce for at least a year, but I felt I had no good reason other than being unhappy, but I was growing used to the idea of divorcing and just doing life alone and with my daughter on the days I would have her. But also, would there even be a point in getting myself into the same situation with someone else if I never really felt that strongly for anyone before, I am in my mid-30’s by the way.

Then in June 2019, a female at work began to grow close, we’ll call her “L,” occasionally texting, chatting more than normal when at work (she only worked part-time, 0-3 days a week). But I noticed I would miss her on the days she was gone or when I didn’t hear from her. In July, the texting picked up to daily and throughout the night, to the point I would get notifications that I had burned through my data limit, and have stayed up past midnight, when normally I would’ve been in bed at 7:30 and asleep by 9. She was going through a divorce and dating, but I began getting jealous of her going out with these guys. Texts and talks seemed to get flirtier, until the point where she sent a topless photo, unprovoked, to see my reaction. I felt wanted for the first time in many years, and actually felt excited for the first time I could ever remember and I could not stop thinking about L. We had so much in common, it was like we could read each other’s minds. I had never felt a connection like this before, not even at the best moments with my wife or any other girlfriend. I felt happy around her, elated, like a whole new person, even just when texting her, it was an odd feeling for me but it was intoxicating to feel this way, I couldn’t stop, it was addicting. I wanted to be my best person for her, to improve myself, and spend every moment with her. My efficiency at work even declined because I was with her so much when she was working.

In August, L began to make statements about ending our talks, since she knew I would never be able to give her my all and vice versa, as well as become physical with her, and I felt my heart break. She helped arrange an after work party to give me an excuse to hang out in person, outside of work, and as a “last hoorah”. She came dressed in what might as well have been lingerie, and I felt like we were the only two in the bar. When we moved to another bar, she reached for my hand and I felt like I was floating, how could I have realized I that I was missing out on a feeling that was so incredible, why have I never felt this before, and why has my wife never made me feel this way before.

After a few drinks at the next bar, we both headed towards the bathroom and she told me she would not make a first move because I was married, but when I came out and saw her waiting for me, I couldn’t help it, I had to experience a kiss with her, and I had never felt anything like it. We fooled around under the table the rest of the night, and more in the car after. I ignored texts and a call from my wife and eventually took L back to her friends home. They invited me in, but I knew I had to go. After that, we began fooling around at work.

By September, she ended things because she knew it couldn’t go anywhere, and I spent that night sleepless and physically sick, I knew she was working the next day and avoided her area for hours longer than usual. Once I did go down there, I felt worse seeing her. It was extremely awkward and painful. By the end of the work day, she texted and asked to meet up, I did, and we talked about how horrible we both felt, and fooled around again. Not long after, she arranged another “work party” and we made love after, twice, something I had also never felt an urge to do before. I say “made love” because this was how it felt, this amazing connection, a type of sexual connection I have also never felt before. Usually after sex, I just want to clean off, and have some space, with her, I wanted to cuddle, go again, and never let her go.

I began “going out” more and started just going to her home when her kids were with their father. We would make love multiple times in only a few hours, something I had never been able to do before, nor felt the desire to do, I knew I had fallen hard for L but I was afraid to tell her because I thought it would scare her off. I would take days off work in secret from my wife, and spend them with L. I would have PDA with her everywhere we went, also something I never enjoyed before, but it was tunnel vision with this woman and I didn’t care about getting caught or not. I even hoped to get caught, to give me a reason to end things with E, I never hid my texting habits from E, and L and I both wondered why E never seemed to notice how much more distant I was becoming or how much I was communicating with someone else.

During all of this, I had been making excuses with E as to why I was not having sex with her, claiming migraines, stomach pains, etc., but one night in early Oct, I ran out of excuses, and it came a fight about why I hadn’t in months, so we tried to have sex, but I could not even keep it up, all I could think was I was betraying the person I really love. I discussed it with my new love later, only after L had asked about it, and she was of course hurt, but understanding that it would’ve had to have happened at some point since I was still married. I tried to explain that I couldn’t even finish, much less really perform due to how strongly I felt about L as well as how poorly I felt about my wife, and she seemed to understand and told me it was okay.

However, a few days later, she called and said it was over, I was distraught and felt sick again. I apologized for hurting her and said how much I didn’t want to lose her but knew that I had no say in any of this as I was the cheating husband and not her boyfriend like I wished I could be. A few minutes after ending our talk, she texted how she felt horrible because she was in love with me, this was the first time either of us had said it, I told her that I was in love with her as well and had been for months, as well as everything I loved about her. After a long talk, things seemed to be okay.

We made love one or two more times after that, then she became more and more distant, and eventually ended it mid October. The next day was similar to the first time, where we ended up catching each other by the end of the day and kissing but then she told me she could not keep doing this and was starting to date again. The following day, I thought things may have been okay and tried to kiss her when we were alone, but she pulled away, I never felt so hurt and like such an ass at the same time, I knew it was time to try to figure out my life or lose the person I love. L also told me the same thing, that I needed to figure out my marriage, if not for me, then for my daughter, to try to save it for her, because L wished she could have saved hers for her kids.

It was not long before I told my wife that I did not like how things were and wanted to go to couples counseling. She disagreed and said everything had been perfect for her, that this is the best her life had ever been, and did not understand why I was saying these things. All I could really say was almost the entire truth, that I had fallen out of love with her, it had been getting worse over the last 2 years, and I’m at a point where I’m depressed and don’t know what to do. This went over horribly and started many fights, but as I told her more and more about how I felt like we grew apart and were just roommates, giving her many examples such as; she hadn’t sat in the front seat with me but 3 times that year (because she always chose to sit in back with our daughter), and those were the 3 times my parents were in town and we went on a “date.” Dates consisted of groceries once, a movie and back once, and then shopping once, I pointed out how she showered every other night or sometimes went longer, she had not gotten any new clothes in over a year and only wore the same two outfits to bed which were falling apart, she never tried to dress up for me or show that she cared about how she looked with me, that we had not held hands in ages, etc. After many fights, she seemed to finally get it, and agreed to counseling a month later.

Counseling has been difficult as I really want to say that I cheated and am in love with someone else, that I haven’t ever felt so loved and so happy, even at the best times with my wife. But even as much as I want to end things, I don’t want it to be because I cheated as I know that would be held over me for the rest of my life (as it probably should). When asked if I want to make things work, I just agree, but wish that I had the courage to say I just want to be with someone else, and if that’s not possible, I’d rather be alone.

As Nov passes into Jan, at work I hear about L’s new partner, he calls during work and texts all the time, it kills me to see the smile and laugh he gets from her, I loved being the one to get that and still do, it’s torture, but I can’t stop being near her. I tried my best to avoid her, but then she seemed sad and asked me if things were awkward, that she missed me and us but that it couldn’t have worked because of me being married and she didn’t want to be the reason I ended my marriage, to be the “other woman,” to have my daughter know it was L’s fault that her parents split, etc. I told her I was trying, but she knew the problems I had with my wife prior to getting together. She told me it was not fun to be divorced, and to just make it work.

L started to text me more towards the end of Dec, something which confused me, but made me so happy at the same time. I was in almost daily fights with my wife, to the point E told me she knew I wanted a divorce and to just do it, I was excited when she said this, but scared of the reality as well. But I didn’t know how to respond and said that we should discuss it in counseling. By the time we did, E had already changed her mind 15 times.

During Jan, I met with L several times outside of work, but only as friends and never tried anything more than a hug. We talked about missing each other, her boyfriend, my wife and issues, our kids. I even told her how at one point during all of this, E had talked about killing herself because she was so upset with me and our life. L and I had become so close, she was my best friend while we were lovers and I was just so happy I had a piece of her back, I didn’t want to lose it.

Since Feb, my wife and I have gotten back into the “safe” routine of only talking about our kid and work, counseling has become more fluff than real topics, and we tried a weekend trip in which the best 4 hours of the trip was our drunkest in which we discussed what we would do if we divorced, killed each other, or something happened to the other. This was the most talking we had done in years, and the happiest I think either of us had been together in years. However, it still felt to me like talking with a friend, no romantic feelings, no desire, no real want to even continue the night after that talk.

Once we had gotten back to the room, we discussed how neither of us wanted sex still (we have not been together physically since I was unable to perform in Oct.) since she knew I didn’t love her and wasn’t attracted to her, and that was how I felt too. That ended the night and made for an awkward morning and quiet trip back.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a chance with L anymore as things have been going steady with her new boyfriend for several months now, as well as I don’t think she would trust me even if I was divorced and poured my heart out to her, as now I have the label of cheater, even though she is the only person I ever thought of cheating with. Before her, my sexual dreams only involved my wife, but after her, I have not had a dream about my wife since, and had nightly dreams about L for months, and even now I have them every couple of nights, but they aren’t even sexual, they’re dreams of laughing together, hanging out in public places, eating dinner, and I always wake up in such a great mood from them, until I remember it was just a dream but I do my best to hang onto that memory as long as I can.

I don’t think I have a chance at happiness with my wife either, as I cannot get L out of my head, nor all the horrible things my wife has said to me and the horrible things I have said back, as well as how horrible I know she feels every day, knowing that she is with someone who is no longer in love with her nor attracted to her. She is a good person and does not deserve this, and my daughter deserves to see us both happy, for hers and our sake.

I’m at a point where I think being alone may be the best decision for my daughter and I, giving her mother a chance to find happiness with someone else sooner. Then maybe I would be able to reflect more on myself and what I need, if someone could make me feel so amazing before, I need to find that high again or just settle for being alone to be happy. I’ve also recently come to the realization that I have always had very close female best friends (none of them were ever anything physical nor anything I wanted to become physical, except when L came into my life) and I believe now this has been because I have never felt like any woman I have been with was my best friend and I sought that out in others. I would also like to add that I’m still surprised I have never felt guilty about the affair with L, only guilty about the one time being sexual with E and that was guilt for betraying L.

I apologize for the length of this, and thank you for reading through it, although I know it’s as clear as mud. Please, any thoughts/opinions on what to do are greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Torn

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Thank you all for the kind words and end-of-year donations and patronage that have flowed in over the last week or so. I’ve been traveling and kind of made a point about not touching my laptop for a week or so, but I read everything and I’m very grateful. ❤

Everyone’s doing decade-retrospectives and my brain is melting at the thought of it. Ten years ago, I was still technically a grad student/adjunct teacher, I lived with roommates, I’d just finished my very last student film, Captain Awkward Dot Com didn’t launch until January 2011, and I didn’t meet Mr. Awkward until 2012.

But let’s do a 2019 round-up, yes? Here were the most-viewed/shared/discussed posts from the site in 2019:

First, a timely seasonal carryover from the very end of 2018,  “#1162: Is there room to compromise when it comes to alcohol and driving? (Answer: Why not set the default at “Don’t drink and drive”? I made a chart and everything.)

Next: #1215: ” ‘So…about your private reproductive decisions’ and other ‘small’ talk.” 

Let’s please stop asking people about their intense private life stuff out of passing curiosity, the idea of politeness, or because we think we’re entitled to know. When people have big news about babies, THEY’LL TELL U.

While the rest of the world catches up, this post has lots of strategies for answering (and deflecting/de-escalating) potentially fraught “small-talk” questions that can unknowingly hit real sore spots.

P.S. Letter Writer #1228 you’ve been in my thoughts and the offer to fight your family in real life if necessary is still incredibly open.

Third, #1219: “My friend’s boyfriend keeps ‘negging’ me.” 

This post has THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY ONE comments strategizing about whether it’s okay to tell a serially annoying dude “Look, could you stop?” and is often re-shared/cited for mention of “Schrödinger’s Autist,” a theoretical construct who only comes out in Internet discussions of cis men behaving badly toward women as a way to pre-excuse bad behavior (and has nothing to do with actual autism).

Fourth-most viewed is #1186: “How do I restore trust in my relationship?

Like the faux rank of “Captain” Awkward, “The Marie Kondo of Breakups” is a self-assigned comedy title because it’s one of my life’s missions to tell my younger self young people, especially young women, that a partner who keeps letting you down and leaving you wondering in the early stages of a relationship is probably not going to change for the better, and there’s nothing you can do to “love somebody more” into being who you need them to be.

It’s okay to want love, to risk, to try to make things work, but working at somebody who isn’t doing any work to be a good partner to you is a lonely and disappointing bet.

Fifth, #1218: “Irritability and constant criticism in a marriage. The post and comments are a good roundup of previous discussions of verbal abuse and safely extricating oneself from a draining and damaging partnership.

Good “Could this be abuse?” guideline: When someone who is supposed to love you is constantly mean and you start asking yourself “what’s wrong with me that’s making this person be so mean, how can I fix myself?” it might be time to visit LoveIsRespect.org from a private browsing window and start making plans.

Sixth, #1198: “How do I deal with work burnout and make my partner* happy?” (*My partner = my boss, who is *a* partner in the law firm where I work)

Notable for link to description of “insecure overachievers”and how capitalism hijacks anxieties and perfectionism in search of star performers, not caring who burns out along the way or how unsustainable and unhealthy the culture can get.

VERY GOOD NEWS: This Letter Writer sent me an update and is doing MUCH, MUCH, MUCH BETTER. ❤

Seventh, #1197: “He broke up with me but hasn’t moved out yet. How do I not ruin our last chance to make this work?” 

I had the worst time moving on after breakups (rejection sensitive dysphoria, yaaaaaaaay) and learning how to let people go was one of the hardest and best lessons I ever learned. I’m proud of this heartbreak omnibus and hope it can make a difference to others. There are enough ballrooms in you, Letter Writer, and I hope you are in much better straits now.

Eighth, #1194: “I’m moving in with my girlfriend and now my homophobic parents want to disown me. One of a series of posts on family estrangement and how to close doors to protect yourself and leave some open in hope of better things. “Forever is a long time, Sally.” Letter Writer, your parents don’t deserve you and I hope your new home with your girlfriend is a cozy and happy one that is everything you want it to be.

Ninth, #1233: “Is it ever safe to take a parent off a low-information diet?” 

People have choices about how they treat you, and relationships don’t get messed up overnight or for no reason, so when a parent wants you to have a “closer” relationship, does that obligate you to try to repair things in some way? Can they acknowledge why distance made sense at the time?

Probably one of the most personal posts I’ve made on the site, this brought up lots of stuff for me and was very much on my mind during holiday visits with my folks. When people talk about the past, my mom says “I don’t remember that” a lot ( A LOT) in a sharp, pointed way that clearly means “So, obviously it didn’t happen.” She’s telling the truth (she doesn’t remember) but it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen or that my memories are lies. I still don’t know how to ever ethically tell our story or tell her about my writing here, but I know our story lies at the heart of many of the things I write here.

In tenth place, several posts around the topic of “WEDDINGS, WHY ARE THEY SO WEIRD?” came in within 100 page views of each other so I’m re-sharing them all:

  • It’s Mother-Effing Wedding Season Again So Let’s Chat. Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix you, your family, your friendships, your partnership, your body. It does not have to be your sole creative act that communicates your exact social class and crafting ability.
  • #1223: “Feminist Etiquette Wedding Help”. Your wedding doesn’t exist to fix you, your family, your relationship, your body, or the world. It’s a party so try to throw a good one that makes you happy and invites your guests in to what you want vs. trying to argue with each of them about why you’re allowed to want what you want. “Oh thanks, but we’re all set!” is a very useful phrase.
  • #1188: “Grief and empty chairs at the wedding feast.Maybe the idea of ghosts first sprang from the divided vision of grieving people, the way we can both see the party as it’s happening and see the echoes of what the party should be like, our longing giving shape and color to the empty spaces where our loves should be.”
  • #1189: “Fox News, Immigrant Family, and the F**ing Wedding Invite List.Probably the Uncle could have behaved himself for one day, but this thing where we tiptoe around bigots and keep negotiating with non-bigots for “more tolerance” toward bigots has gotta stop. We can work on tolerating/convincing/courting them once we’ve out-organized and out-voted them, let people who aren’t their direct targets run interference for a change.

I should also highlight the awesome series of guest posts from Lenée aka dopegirlfresh aka the GOAT who filled in for me during surgery in the spring. I plan to have her back in 2020, as well as some other exciting guests (Rae McDaniel has volunteered to peek into the inbox to answer questions about gender, we’re just trying to get a meeting on the calendar to figure out the logistics).

The blog motto for 2019 was “Quit working so hard on relationships that aren’t working for you” and I’m still ruminating on 2020’s. How do people feel about “Do even less work than that and see how you feel?”

Love and good New Year wishes to all of you in Awkwardland, comments are open.

Got an update for us (never an obligation, but we love to read them)?

Is there a post from the past year that you found especially useful?

Did you kick ass at setting a difficult boundary this year?

Did you decide to put in “less work” with a thorny relationship? What happened?

Y’all I have another Vice piece dropping soon and I have to confess I am HOLIDAYED TF OUT RIGHT NOW. Let’s talk endings. Breakups. My wheelhouse.

We’ll call the first one #1240: “How do I approach a friend who doesn’t want to talk to me anymore?”

Hey Captain Awkward,

Here is my dilemma:

I am currently in my second year of college. At the beginning of last school year, I became friends with a girl [M] and we both hit it off. We instantly became best friends and spent a lot of time together, including with my family (I live close to school). We grew close and so I decided to shoot my shot and ask her out. I was politely turned down and said she wanted to just be friends. She was really cool about it and never made me feel uncomfortable about the situation.
Over the course of the last year we got extremely close to each other and were inseparable. I never really did lose feelings for her and that became a problem eventually.

She was in a relationship with someone from back home, but they were constantly on the rocks and had even been on-and-off over the year. This left me with the slightest bit of hope that things might change. That being said, I was always respectful of [M] and her relationship. I rarely asked about the situation or pry into her relationship — I always let her bring it up.

She went away for the summer (abroad) and I was ok with the distance — a lot better than I thought I would be. So when we came back from summer break, I tried to pursue other people (romantically), but I never felt the same connection I had with [M], with anyone else. I then talked to her about it and that led me to telling her my feelings, to which she had no response other than being gracious for my kind words. Things were seemingly normal for the next couple of days, and we made no mention of the discussion.

After a few days, she did not talk to me or text me. This was not normal at all.

Once I talked to her (a whole two weeks later), she let me know that she felt uncomfortable about what I said and that I had crossed a line, “Something a friend doesn’t do.” Noting how her relationship with her boyfriend was rocky but was committed to him. I apologized profusely, admitted I made a mistake and crossed a line. She accepted and said that she was unsure how to proceed with our friendship and need time/space. Especially since I knew that she had a boyfriend and already turned me down previous.l I agreed and admitted that I put myself in an emotionally unhealthy situation, by spending so much time with her if she was never going to be interested in anything more than a friendship.

Since then, we have not spoken to each other beyond a greeting and in class we don’t say hello to each other (she sits in front of me in class). We go to a small college and have a class together, but it was as though we had never known each other. When we pass each other around campus, a greeting is barely shared. This has left me confused, hurt, and sad.

I am not delusional and expect us to become best friends again, but I don’t think we have to ignore each other and pretend we don’t exist. I feel like I have no closure about the situation which hurts the most.

I have no idea what to do. I want to at least talk to her and see what she was to say about the situation, now that it has been over a month since we last talked — at all.
Do I try to talk to her or let things be and just try to get over it?

Thanks for reading, any help is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,
— S.

Dear S,

You gotta leave M. alone. 

I know you are hurting. I know you tried your best to be a good friend and be respectful of her boundaries and you tried to be a good manager of the feelings you were developing for her. I know it would sting slightly less if M. would talk it over one more time and maybe give you hope that something is salvageable. Still: You gotta leave M. alone. 

We don’t, as a culture, have a good template for scaling down or ending friendships (and let’s face it, our collective romantic breakup skills ain’t anything to brag about, though obviously I’m working on it). It’s okay if both you and M. are muddling through this and don’t know quite how to act.

That said, I feel strongly that there is no conversation you could “approach her” about that would send the message “Hey I want to be respectful of what you need and not bother you, but what the fuck, can we talk for just a second and clear the air?” that communicates “I will leave you alone if that’s what you want” better than actually leaving M. alone like she wants. Every single past interaction you describe in your letter eventually leads to a conversation where what M. wants most from you seems to be “more space” with a side of “never talking about your feelings about her again.”

Her silence now is a way of making that space when asking didn’t work.

Maybe it’s not a smooth way of making that space, an “I gotta let him down easy” way of making that space (a thing she tried several times), but as messages go, but freezing you out is hardly an ambiguous way of claiming space. What is there to explain? She’s been pretty consistent with you from the start and it’s extremely clear what’s going on, the way it’s clear that a cat who hides whenever you walk into a room is a cat who doesn’t want your snuggles. The only way to ever get the cat to come out without being a ball of needle-claws and yowls is to ignore it until it comes out on its own. You’re probably not going to make a situation any worse than it already is by applying the same principle to humans who indicate they’d prefer to be left alone.

Things might not stay this chilly between you and M. forever, once enough time goes by, but the thing you can do to give the situation the best possible chance of a thaw is to realize that the only way your former friend’s shoulders are going to come down from around her ears when you’re around is if you show her you will give her space…by giving her space…and not hanging out expectantly waiting for her to explain herself or suggesting that if you could just talk about all of it one more time that will fix it somehow. When someone sets a hard limit, we show we are safe people who respect boundaries by retreating back behind the boundary and staying there until invited to cross, not by hanging out just outside the gates trying to have just one more conversation about what kind of fish to put in the moat.

So where do you go from here? You can decide that M. is incompatible friend material for you at the present time without talking through it with her. She decided that she didn’t want to be friends anymore, which is a thing she gets to do without taking a vote, and you also get to decide, hey, I need friends who want me around, she’s not that person, it’s time to stop trying to make this happen.

In the class you share, say ‘hello’ if she says ‘hello,’ try to match her energy where possible, don’t double down on the awkwardness by giving her the silent treatment or doing anything dramatic to “punish” her. Find a different seat if you can, actively seek different study buddies and lunch companions, don’t lurk around her conversations, don’t monitor what she does or who she talks to, try to think of her as just another stranger in the room. When you get tempted to dwell on her during class, dare I say it, re-focus your attention on the material you’re there to learn at considerable expense? 😉 And let her do the same, without having to manage your feelings!

Outside of class, put your energy into other connections that aren’t so fraught. It’s a small campus, but women you have a crush on and a failed friendship with aren’t the only people on it. M. has already occupied a lot of a school year you’ll never get back, I wonder how many hangouts with other people did you forgo to hear more about the dude back home she likes better than you in the hopes that today would be the day she’d either love you back or you’d become finally immune? It’s time to break that cycle, stick the landing on your finals, enjoy the holiday break, and next semester or quarter, get yourself a fresh start. Join a club or two, try something new, and make some friends who aren’t her. In both friend material and future crush/romantic partner material, start selecting for people who enthusiastically want you around and who want the same thing you want.

As for M., one last thing: It actually takes a ton more effort to ignore someone and actively freeze them out than it does to be casually pleasant, so This WILL pass, I think, if you give her space. It won’t go back to how it was before, a little friendliness from her absolutely will NOT be an indication that she’s changed her mind and is now Into You That Way, but chances are it won’t always be quite so tense. If and only if: You give her space.

(And if you hear that she’s broken up with her boyfriend at some future point? KEEP GIVING HER SPACE. We don’t forget when people close to us tell us they are in love with us, if she ever wants to talk about that again you will know because she seeks you out and brings it up. If she doesn’t talk about it, assume she’s not feeling it.)

I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t persuade people into loving you back or letting you in even if you use all the best words. It took so many times and so many words for that to sink in, but it never stopped being true if I’d only let myself see it. What I’d love to hand down to you, my dear S., is the knowledge that the closure you give yourself is the closure that ultimately heals you in the end. Giving M. space, walking away, and choosing to prioritize other people is the kind of closure that lets you stop auditioning in an empty room where she walked out, turned out the lights, and shut the door behind her. It’s the kind of closure where you find the story you can live with, the one where you tried your best. Time does the rest, if you’ll let it.

Now, onward to #1241, “Is a person ever entitled to direct communication?” 

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Hi Captain!

So… how do you quit something you’ve been a part of for a long time?

I’m currently in a long running dungeons and dragons campaign. We’ve been going now for a year and a half and I want out. Ultimately, I’m a different person than I was when the campaign started, and I just don’t enjoy DnD as much as I used to, especially the 4+ hour night sessions that tend to happen in this group. It’s just not for me.

Although my fellow adventurers are lovely, I’m not really friends with the other people in this group outside the campaign. However, we’ve been at this for a year and a half, so I don’t really know how to… broach the subject after all this time, I guess? I don’t know, the sunk cost fallacy is strong here. I want out and I don’t know the best way to get out.

Help!

Dungeons and Dragging my Feet

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