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BREAKING UP

If someone breaks up with you, it’s okay to be sad.

It’s okay to be surprised. Confused. Bowled over. Wrung out.

It’s okay to ask questions like “why” and “how long have you felt this way” and “is there someone else”? You aren’t owed answers but it’s okay to ask.

It’s okay to want them to stay. It’s okay to ask them to stay.

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay to not immediately feel relief or see the “It’s gonna get better!” on the horizon.

It’s okay to be filled with regret.

It’s okay to not be gracious or cool.

If the person says they did it for your own good, it’s okay to say “I don’t believe you” or “What?” or “Fuck you!” (P.S. Don’t ever tell people you’re breaking up them ‘for their own’ good. You may in fact think it is for their own good but you’re not the decider what’s good for them and nobody likes hearing that, ever.)

It’s not okay to threaten to harm the person, or harm yourself, to get them to stay. It’s not okay to physically block their exit. It’s not okay to force them to talk to you for hours and hours so that you can try to convince them or manipulate them or browbeat them to stay. It’s not okay to threaten or take revenge on them for leaving you. If they ask for no contact or space, it’s not okay to flood their phone and inbox with messages and calls, or to show up where they work. If you do this stuff, or feel like you might do this stuff, that’s an indication for you to seek professional help immediately. People are allowed to leave you.

But it’s still okay to feel as sad as you feel when they do.

Here’s a poem. And another one. And this one.

And here are some songs for you:

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m writing you, because I feel like I am stuck and I don’t know what to do.
So, I’ve been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half now, but for the last 6 months or so, I’ve thought about breaking up with him. I love him, he’s a great person, and it feels good and safe to be with him. But I am simply not in love with him anymore, and even though I know it is normal for a relationship to lose some of the spark it had in the beginning, I can’t help but feel like I am somehow wasting my time staying in this relationship.

But here’s my problem: First of all, in many ways my boyfriend is very dependent on me, as he doesn’t have a lot of close friends in the city where we live and his family lives at the other end of the country. He has told me that he went through a long period of depression a few years back because of feelings of loneliness and his job situation at the time. While the job situation has gotten a lot better since then, he still has very few friends that he can really talk to, and I sometimes feel like he is putting a lot of pressure on me to spend more time with him.

He constantly tells me how much he loves me, and sometimes he’ll say things that makes it seem like I am the only source of happiness in his life. While I know this is not true, I feel really scared of what will happen to him if we break up.

To make things worse, his brother is getting married next week and he’s told me how much he is looking forward to me being there with him. But I just feel like a voice in my head is screaming NO!, whenever I think about it, because I don’t feel comfortable going at all with all these thoughts about breaking up in my head. But I also don’t want to hurt him right before his brothers wedding day.

So I guess my question is: How do I break up with my boyfriend without feeling like a horrible person?

All the best,
A confused Dane

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Hi, Captain!

I’ve got a nice, awkward, many-years-running situation for you!

So when I was in my early 20s, I dated someone I shouldn’t have dated, whom I’ll call Dean. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…and I was 23 and had very little relationship experience. Partway through the relationship I relocated to a major city for grad school, and took the opportunity to break up with him. However, after a few months and some insistance from him that surprised me (because he’d always been so passive), he moved to be with me again. We lived together until I got interested in polyamory, met what would become my community (and next partner), and then broke up in slow motion over an agonizing year, during which I dated my new person openly, Dean planned to move out of state, and we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable.

Context: this person was a functioning alcoholic, a burnout artist type, and most of the time treated me very well (still the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever met), but see above re: the manipulative sex, and manipulative behavior in general that usually amounted to refusing to take a strong stance on anything, but guilting me if I did. Even now, close to 20 years later, it’s hard to explain exactly how that relationship (mal)functioned, and even when I’d been through a year of living with him while wanting nothing more than to be officially broken up, I was still sad when he left, and he still wanted to stay friends.

For a while we weren’t in touch, but over the years he started sending me cards and pictures again, letting me know how his life was going, and so on. More recently, he’s also been texting me, and a couple months back we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in (it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have). His texts often have the flavor of his self-styling as a “comedian,” which means that at times they say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean” as directed to me, but is testing the waters as to whether they’re generally funny. (They’re not.) He and I used to be massive fans of Bill Hicks and other edgy comics; these days I look back at that material and find a lot of it horrifyingly offensive. So the texts go back and forth between expressions of “gee life sucks, but you were a great part of it so I keep in touch with you,” and weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.

In short, Dean and I are just as poorly matched now as we ever were, but I get the strong sense that he was closer to me than he had been to almost anyone, and that even now, I’m one of the few people he genuinely cares about. On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.

When I spoke to him last, I told him my dad had died, and he expressed genuine regret; they’d been close, possibly because my dad was a similar kind of fuckup. He expressed the desire to come to his memorial when I had it, and in the same breath said he’d understand if I didn’t want him there, which I appreciated.

But the whole thing is just so sad at this point. I feel like encouraging him by inviting him to the memorial, seeing him again, etc., could make him start contacting me more regularly and sucking my time and energy in a way I’ve found really unpleasant in the past. On the other hand, am I a jerk? I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad, then starting the cycle over again. We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young, but I have to admit that that me isn’t someone I love being reminded of, and that person isn’t someone I felt knew or understood me well at all.

Thoughts?
Recovering Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Taker

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Dear Cap’n,

My husband has suffered depression for the past 15 years. It has taken many opportunities for a healthy and positive life from him in that time. He has gone back to school several times, trying to find his passion and came up dry every time. The last degree he got, he started at the age of 28 and as in mechanical engineering. He graduated at 31. He is from Europe and a culture which is very emotionally repressed. He moved to Canada to be with me. After a few months, he got a job using in engineering only to discover that it was not his passion either, despite being a natural problem solver and passionate about the workings of machines and systems.

He was a kind of non-actor for much of his life and the entirety of our relationship. All responsibilities of a couple fell to me; money, friends, planning for the future. All of this should have been red flags, but I come from an abusive home where I had to take on caregiving for my parents and siblings, so it came naturally to me to overcompensate. He said at one point that he didn’t want to worry about the future because he couldn’t be bothered.

In the first year of our marriage, he decided he wanted to switch careers again and move us to a farm where we could pursue self-sufficiency and work for ourselves. Neither of us has a background in farming or self-sufficiency, so he took six months out of his career to intern on an organic farm 200 km away while I continued to work so that we would be able to bu a farm. The farm wasn’t the best; it was very disorganised, and he always complained when I visited that the work was too hard. When he got back to the city, he took a temporary job as a waiter. During this time, I continually confronted him about his depression and seeking help. See, he didn’t understand that he was barely functional as an adult. He didn’t clean up after himself, didn’t cook for himself, didn’t manage his appointments or health. Again, that was all left to me to do for him. He went days without bathing or getting up from the couch. We used to have a joke about him changing from his “night jammies” into his “day jammies” and then back into his “night jammies.” Haha, I know, but I’m just a wife, not a psychiatrist. When he did pursue his interests, he didn’t engage. All of it looked like depression to me.

I begged him to address these issues, and upon threat of leaving, he finally did. His psychiatrist said he was one of the most emotionally repressed people she’d ever met and that he should try and address depression with medication and therapy. To his credit he did. His family was very harsh, particularly with regards to expressing emotion. He also went to a prestigious boarding school, where alumni graduate to run prominent corporations or hold political office (that’s why parents send their sons there), so I think he may have been taught that he was being set up to measure up to unattainable standards. In the years since his diagnosis, he has gone off his meds a few times without the guidance of a therapist or doctor because “he feels better and doesn’t need them anymore.” I told him that not even psychiatrists on antidepressants could make that decision for themselves, and he certainly isn’t able to either. Especially when every time he does go off them, he reverts to his depressed and helpless self.

Something that has always been a thread through his depression is a concern with environmental destruction and climate change. That is certainly one of the motivating factors with wanting to be self-sufficient. He and I do all that we can and has been suggested to reduce our carbon footprint: we’re vegan, we recycle, we cycle when we can, we don’t buy a lot of new stuff and always try to buy second-hand. We live rurally, but even then our cars are old, used and fuel efficient models. Where we live is in a housing bubble right now, so we rent a small house, but we have plots in the community garden. We hope to build an Earthship/sustainable house when things cool down and are learning about that now.

However, he is obsessed with conserving even more, to the extent that it is affecting his mental health and mine. If I fill the kettle up too much, even by half a cup of water, he’ll scold me for wasting energy. He refuses to believe that running a dishwasher is more water and energy efficient than hand-washing dishes, even though our energy efficient washer is far more efficient, many times over. He refuses to throw anything out, even if it’s broken or hasn’t ever been used because “that’s wasteful.”

Moreover, his concern about climate change never manifested as any activism nor action of any sort. He never raised money for environmental causes, nor went to marches or demonstrations before he met me. We have attended a few animal rights, and pro-immigration demonstrations, but those were from my research and at my request and it even took a lot of convincing to get his to those. In fact, for this all-consuming concern about climate and the environment, he doesn’t do much, except stay at home and be depressed. Which to me implies that it’s more about the “being depressed” than it is about the issue.

I think he has chosen these issues as a “load bearing depression repository” for him. Climate change and environmental destruction are these huge, complex issues that may take many years, if not our entire lifetimes to be resolved, if ever. They will always be there to feel shitty about, so if he claims that he is depressed about them, then he doesn’t have to face how he feels about himself.

I’m not discounting the seriousness of these issues, nor that they could be a factor in his depression. We should all be concerned and it *is* fucking depressing, but his depression hurts both of us, and I refuse to let it take more away from him than it already has. I confronted him about this again, because it is having a detrimental effect on my mental health, but he assured me that “he knows his depression better now” and it’s not about that (he has also gone off his meds again independently).

Last time I told him that I couldn’t live with him obsessing over the kettle or the dishwasher and letting such small things affect our relationship. He says he will never be able to do that; he will always be concerned with it. He implies that when I overfill the kettle or use the washing machine to preshrink fabric *for the clothes I make myself* I am not concerned about these issues, which is complete bullshit. He says I gave him an ultimatum, which I did. But I have tried, Lord have I tried, to reason with him.

I struggled with anxiety for many years myself, but the delightful “generalised” kind, now with added panic attacks. I know that I will never “know my anxiety” enough to think I have it licked. Indeed, anytime I’ve had that thought, I’ve realised it’s a red flag to check in with what is really going on because a mental illness’ “job” is to separate us from those who care about us and will use any method possible to get us alone with it.

How can I help him see and give up his obsessions, which are ruining both of our lives?

Thanks,
Can’t Get Any Greener (female pronouns)

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It’s that time of the month where we treat the search strings people typed in as actual questions.

Before I dive in: The trip to France was wonderful. We ate all the foods and saw all the arts and drove many kilometers and met lovely France-based Awkward folks who had excellent ice cream recommendations. I think it took Mr. Awkward a whole day before he was like “How do we move here forever?” and once he saw Lyon, where we tragically only had one day, he was actively in “No, seriously, let’s live here” mode. My favorite place we stayed is here. If you can go to Normandy, go, and let Vincent and Corinne envelop you in their hospitality and cook for you.

Came home to this:

onyou

The top half of my face visible above a black and white kitty stuck to my neck like velcro.

Sometimes it’s this:

onyou2

Same Jennifer, same black and white kitty, only this time I’m on my back and she’s on my shoulder/face.

As for this month’s theme song, I love Prince and I still feel his death last year pretty keenly. There was only one song this month could be:

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It’s time to answer the questions people typed into their search engine as if they really asked them.

1. “How to make him want to start a family.”

There’s no making anybody want anything. Do you want to start a family? Then tell “him” what you want and ask him what he wants. “I know I want to have children, and I’m feeling ready to get started doing that. What do you think? What kind of timeline makes sense for us?”

If he wants to have children, too, you’ll find out and you can get started. If he doesn’t want children at all, or if his answer is a perpetual “someday,” well, you’ll know that too and can make some decisions about how to move forward. If this is the right person to start a family with, ask him. Speak your heart’s desire.

2. “How to be uninhibited during orgasm without disturbing the neighbours?”

If you live really close to other people you’re all gonna hear stuff sometimes. Earplugs, white noise machines, headphones, carpets, and heavy curtains are your friends. Part of living communally is learning to tune some things out and deal with a little background noise. Your neighbors will survive hearing you Do It every now and then as you survive the odd loud party or bit of toddler parkour. Still, to be maximally considerate:

  • Be generally aware of school nights/workweek nights and keep it quiet when you know it will likely keep someone awake or awaken them too early. (Try kissing when you feel a yell about to come out).
  • Use music or white noise machines. I knew my former upstairs neighbors were having sex the second Wicked Game came on (every time…every single time) but I appreciated the muffling attempt and the plausible deniability, and no doubt they appreciated the sonic smokescreen that let them have maximum fun!
  • Sound-proof your space. A rug on the floor. Heavy curtains over the windows and sometimes around the walls. Cover or block the nooks and crannies through which voices carry.
  • Done some soundproofing? Have a good time.

3. “Girl at work hardly ever speaks.”

Okay?

4. “Not ready for a relationship right now after a bad break-up.”

It’s totally fine to need some time after a breakup to fall back in love with yourself and the world.

If someone is telling you this, believe them.

If someone is telling you this and sleeping with you/doing other relationshippy-sort-of-stuff with you thats full of mixed signals, also definitely believe them. If people really want to be in a relationship with you they are capable of making many, many adjustments in their lives to do so, and it’s okay to say, “I hear you, call me if that changes!” and walk away from their sexy-and-confused selves.

5. “My ex says she doesn’t want a relationship.”

Then you don’t have a relationship. It really is that simple.

6. “What does it mean when someone says they don’t have time for a relationship.”

It means they are choosing not to pursue a relationship (with you), very likely due to having too much other stuff going on. Always reframe statements like this as a choice. It will set you free.

7. “Should I tell my mom my dad hit me?”

Generally, yes, I think you should, but if what’s stopping you from telling her is an instinct that says “If I tell her I will be even less safe than I already am” then use your own judgment about that.

If your mom isn’t the right person to start with, please tell somebody. I don’t know how old you are, anonymous internet searcher, but a school counselor or other adult you trust can be a good place to start. Also, here’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline number in the USA if you need to talk to someone anonymously at first. If you’re not in the USA, get on a computer your folks don’t have access to or open an incognito browser window and search for “domestic violence hotline” and your location.

8. “When a guy asks if you’re mad at him.”

Are you mad at him?

Were you even paying enough attention to be mad at him?

If you aren’t mad, and you weren’t really even paying attention, try “No, should I be?” if he asks you about it again?

9. “How best to deal with someone you care about but they are mean to you?”

Tell them to knock off the mean behavior, and avoid them until/unless they do.

10. “How to dump a guy you kissed once.”

A kiss is not a contract, so, try some version of: “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you but I don’t want to be romantically involved with you. So sorry, I wish you all the best, goodbye.

11. “What’s the meaning of ‘no thanks but nice to meet you’?”

One possible translation: “Thanks for hanging out/coming on this internet date today, I appreciate the effort that you took to wear a clean shirt and make small talk with a stranger, you seem nice enough, but we won’t be doing that again. Have a great life!

12. “How to deal with your Catholic parents who are insisting that you have your child baptized Catholic and you don’t want to do that.”

You got to choose this for your children, I get to choose for mine. Let’s find a new topic, please, or I’m going to have to hang up the phone/Grandbaby and I are gonna have to wrap up this visit for the day.

Be alert to the possibility they might take your child to be baptized anyway behind your back since apparently that’s a thing people do.

13. “How can I tell my boyfriend he smells like urine when I go down on him sometimes.”

Awkward Sex Rule: If you’re close enough to someone that you sometimes put your mouth on their parts, you’re close enough to say “Babe, let’s pick this up after a shower” or to go “hands only” if you don’t want to interrupt the action right then and/or to let him know at another time”Hey can you take special care to clean up down there before we get it on? It takes me out of the moment if things are funky.

14. “Write a letter to your friend with whom you had a quarrel, giving three reasons why you and him should resume your friendship.”

Three reasons?

Maybe try this:

Friend, I’m really sorry for [specific thing that led to quarrel and us not being friends anymore, WITHOUT making excuses or trying to justify it or explain further, ONLY apologizing]. I really miss our friendship and I hope we can talk again soon when you’re ready.” 

Send it out there, give the friend time and space, and see what happens. That’s all you can really do – all the reasons in the world won’t outweigh a sincere apology and sincere request to reconnect or convince someone who doesn’t want to be friends to come back.

15. “My boyfriend tells me to exercise and watch what I eat. It makes me feel horrible.”

Dump. Him.

16. “When bf doesnt want u to meet his friends.”

Dump. Him.

17. “How do you describe a relationship whereby you’re the only one forever reaching out for that person?”

One-sided? Unsatisfying? Soon-to-be-over?

18. “My boyfriend only cares about himself in bed.”

Dump. Him.

19. “Husband doesn’t like short dresses.”

Husband should only wear long dresses then, on his body i.e. the only body of which he is the boss.

20. “My old teacher doesn’t seem to remember me.”

Aw, that can be a really sucky feeling, but it happens. Your teacher has known a lot of students and it’s reasonable to think they might have trouble placing you especially if some time has passed. Gently remind said teacher that you enjoyed his or her class and take it from there.

21. “Korean boyfriend ghost dumped me.”

Getting dumped sucks, no matter how it happens. I’m so sorry. Remind yourself “He didn’t even care enough to tell me it was over” as a way to help yourself let go.

I would read a novel about a breakup with a Korean ghost-boyfriend.

22. “How to tell your boyfriend you don’t want to live together.”

“I prefer living alone.” “I don’t want us to live together.” “I’m not ready to live with you.” “Let’s not live together.” “I don’t see us living together.”

If he really wants to live with you, and you don’t want to live with him, there’s no magical way to deliver that news that won’t hurt his feelings or make him sad, but you gotta tell him so that you can both make good decisions about your relationship and living situation. People can have good relationships and live separately. Trust your instincts on this one and do not “try it out” if you aren’t feeling it.

23. “Dear Prudence sucks.”

She used to suck especially with regard to consent and sexual assaultNow she’s Mallory, and she’s pretty great.

24. “What do you do if your cousin passed away but you weren’t close.”

Consider sending a card to his parents and tell them you’re sorry for their loss. Greeting cards were invented for just this situation, you just have to sign your name at the bottom, and it will be a nice gesture of kindness to them.

25. What does the big relationship elephant in the room mean?

The “elephant in the room” is an idiom that refers to “the giant glaring problem that everyone is pretending not to see or talk about.” So this would be “the obvious problem in the relationship that we aren’t discussing for some reason.” Here’s hoping that it’s a cute baby elephant?

26. “How to stay informed politically without anxiety attack.”

I DON’T KNOW. I AM NOT DOING A GOOD JOB OF THIS. DID YOU SEE THE ELEPHANT VIDEO, THO?

27. Random shoutout to my friend Erin Lynn Jeffreys Hodges.

Hi! Hi! Hello!

This post brought to you by Patreon supporters. This also marks the opening of the 2017 Winter Pledge Drive where I gently shake the tip jar in the general direction of my wonderful audience. Thank you for reading.