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bygones

Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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Dear Captain and Co.,

Please help me sort out this mess. I don’t know how to handle this at all.
My mom keeps on pressuring me to have a relationship with my dad, who is a Darth Vader Boyfriend to his girlfriend. She wants me to see him and we had this huge fight over months where I didn’t want him to come to my college graduation because my Dad and I were estranged at the time and she thought he should come for the sole reason that he was my dad. Part of the reason that Dad and I are very very low contact is how he treats his girlfriend, including kicking her out of the house because she did a thing he didn’t like and then texting me “Happy Valentine’s Day”. I found out about it because Girlfriend texted my sister in the biggest guilt trip I have ever seen and told Sister how much Girlfriend hated our dad and how mean he was to her and then asked Sister to help even though Sister barely knows her and wasn’t even in state. The other reason Dad and I are estranged is that he was very abusive when he and Mom were divorcing and treated Sister and I as his emotional dumpsters and trash-talked our Mother constantly. Most recently he took Sister and I to China in hopes of reconciliation and meeting family but threatened to abandon us there after a day because he was jealous that we were talking to our mother.

My mom says that what goes on between Dad and his Girlfriend is between the two of them and I shouldn’t let it affect my relationship with him. She has a history of enabling him and not standing up for me. I’m just really confused about how to handle this, because even if I discounted his treatment of Girlfriend, I still don’t like him that much. Is it true that I shouldn’t let what goes on between Dad and his Girlfriend affect my relationship with him? I feel that I can’t have a relationship with someone in a vacuum.

Thank you very much,
WTF Do I Do About My Dad

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Dear Captain,

I am currently with someone whom I know is completely toxic for me. He’s selfish, emotionally unavailable, dismissive of my needs and feelings, and apparently very depressed due to recently losing his career and having trouble finding a job. Even when things were good, he spent most of his time alternately being unwilling to talk to me about any of my concerns or telling me whatever he thought I wanted to hear to shut me up. I’ve caught him in various small lies, and at this point have no idea what big lies he might have told me. I don’t even know if I believe him about the depression. Sometimes it just seems like a convenient excuse to treat me badly and to not come through on absolutely anything he promises me, even something as small as calling me when he said he would.

I’ve also been making a massive fool of myself. After watching him piss his career away, blame everyone but himself, and mislead me as to what happened and how for months, I still persisted in: (1) staying with him; (2) paying for shit, like a vacation we took together and other material things he needed; (3) letting him refuse to address any of my needs except to say I needed to stop talking about them because I was stressing him out; (4) putting up with increasingly neglectful or hostile behavior; (5) watching his drinking become more and more of a problem; and a bunch of other things it shames me to even think about. Not to mention the times he pressured me into sex after I repeatedly told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, or the time he picked the night there was a death in my family to spend an hour yelling at me for constantly “attacking” him with my insecurity.

The result of all this is that I am now an intensely insecure, obsessive mess who can’t seem to stop texting or calling him. I’ve tried to break up with him twice now, and both times I went back less than eight hours later. I’ve lost 25 pounds from the stress alone, and the quality of my work is beginning to suffer because I’m so distracted. For the last three nights, I’ve been up into the late hours trying to get a hold of him, and when I do get a hold of him what follows is a tearful (me) and bored/hostile (him) conversation where I demand/beg to know why he’s treating me so badly when he keeps saying he loves me and he just keeps saying he doesn’t know or that he does love me and wants to be with me, he’s just depressed and really needs me to shut up about this.

By this time, I’m actually quite surprised that he hasn’t just broken up with me. It came close once, when he started saying things like maybe he couldn’t give me what I wanted right now, that maybe he wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, that he had too many problems and it wasn’t fair to me, so forth and so on. It was very painful to hear, but then when I tried to confirm that he was breaking up with me, he reversed himself again and said he did want to be with me and he did love me, he just needed some space to figure himself out and think about his problems and try to figure out a way to deal with his depression. So now the situation is that we are going no contact for a few days while he thinks himself through. When I told him I wasn’t going to wait a few days for him to break up with me, he said that wasn’t what he was doing and even made plans to see me after the days were up. Except then he told me that he’d be taking two of those days to take an overnight drinking trip with some of his friends. One he specifically told me he wasn’t going to go on. When I said that this was bullshit, he backtracked and said he wasn’t sure he was going and that he was going to think about it, and then refused to discuss it further and just demanded his space.

I managed to go two hours before I broke no contact because not knowing whether he was going on the trip was killing me. He wouldn’t answer, so I left a text. I’m determined not to do more than that, but I need help.

Captain, I feel so awful. I feel like the most pathetic person alive. I don’t understand why I’m so desperately chasing someone who’s so terrible to me. He has nothing to offer me emotionally, intellectually, or materially. Even the physical part isn’t appealing to me anymore, because I always feel so pressured to “help” him relieve stress by getting him off and that inevitably makes me feel like it is now my only function in the relationship, seeing as how he doesn’t enjoy spending time with me, talking to me, or even holding my hand anymore.

I am not perfect by any means, but I think I’m better than this. I have plenty of outside confirmation that I’m attractive, intelligent, interesting, and desirable. I turned down two other, far more accomplished and stable men for my current partner. And I still have my very demanding, high prestige career, the same one he threw away with his drug use. I have good, supportive friends (who are rightfully tired of listening to this shit), a loving family (who are basically begging me to end it with him), and a work environment in which I am doing very well (I’m up for a promotion). I travel, I volunteer, I’m politically aware and socially active. I work hard and face my problems directly and believe in open and enthusiastic communication.

I’m so disgusted with myself. Why do I keep going back? Why am I so invested in a relationship that is at least embarrassing and at most abusive? When I think about being without him I feel such despair, but why? For all his behavior toward me, it’s not as if I actually have him now.

Captain, I’ve decided that this is the last time he’s going to lie to me. I don’t want this anymore. I don’t want to be this sad creature I’ve turned into. I am not going to accept being treated like this. But I need help. How do I maintain no contact when it hurts so much to not be with him? How do I resist reaching out at those moments in the middle of the night when I’m lying awake mourning what could have been? How do I get it through my head that he is not going to change, that the way he treats me shows me who he is, and the man I love doesn’t exist?

I’ve read through your archives, and I want to follow the advice I see there, I really do. But I just can’t seem to apply it on my own. I miss him, and I grow weak, and I rationalize everything and convince myself that maybe he’s just depressed and it can be different. How do I overcome this? I’m okay during the day, when I have things to do and people I can talk to, but what do I do in those intense moments when I’m alone and it feels like I’m about to die if I don’t talk to him? How do I break free of this?

Please help.

Hi. Here’s a poem.

The dude is depressed AND addicted to alcohol AND a terrible boyfriend for you. It’s not one or the other. You are telling yourself the story of The Guy Who Would Be So Perfect If Not For That One Thing. It’s a compelling story. It’s the Pied Piper of stories. I’ve told this story to myself, too (and made all the people around me want to claw their eyes out listening, to it). It’s a depressingly common story and it has its hooks in us deep. It’s affirmed by so much of our media and popular culture, every time some morose asshole on TV reforms temporarily for the sake of some long-suffering woman in the name of “true love”, every time some woman puts in the work and then more work and puts in even more work because maybe redemption will come and she has to try because “relationships take work.” “If I can just love him better/give him some more time/accommodate him more, he’ll be kind to me and I won’t have to do the terrible work of kicking myself free of him/starting over.” It’s a powerful story but it’s not the only story and it doesn’t have to be your story anymore. See it for what it is and write that ending. You’re the only one who can.

These things are true but won’t be true for you until you believe them. I’m going to say them anyway:

  • You can do better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • “Alone” is better than a boyfriend who doesn’t treat you with kindness.
  • There will come a time in the future when you will not feel this lonely and sad and addicted to this person. He will be a memory with no power to hurt you anymore. If you can cut him off and let enough time pass, you will detox and heal from this. You have to believe in that future. You’re the only one who can get there. You can get there.

You have given us a very smart clue about some ways you can break this cycle forever, do you know what it is? It’s the knowledge that *when you’re alone at night* you feel lonely and terrible and bored and sad, so that’s when this magical device that will let you text and call and hack away somehow at the loneliness (your cellphone) starts glowing like a beacon.

What you have right now isn’t a love affair, it’s a habit. This dude is “biting your nails and gnawing your cuticles” or “popping those pimples that won’t come to a head, the ones you KNOW will not be fruitful but you squeeze at them anyway” or “buying lots of produce for these elaborate meals you plan to cook and then letting them slowly liquefy in your produce drawer.” These habits aren’t evil and don’t hurt anyone but ourselves and we lapse into them when our resources run low.

He is a habit. You had the habit of being with him, of seeking his approval, of trying to make it work and now you have the habit of using him to beat yourself up with at night, to give a shape and a name to your loneliness.

You know exactly when and how this habit manifests most often. Maybe if you can change the circumstances around those moments and how you deal with them, you can get a handle on the habit and build a new one. To do this we’ve got to disrupt the pattern where you are alone and up all night climbing the walls and reaching for your phone, so, let’s talk strategies:

A. If you can’t be alone at night right now, don’t be… at least for a few nights. See if you can stay with friends or family for a little while. Or, if you can afford it, invite some good friends to crash with you in a fancy hotel or get away for a few days and pamper yourselves. Your friends will probably be pretty happy to participate in Project Darth Vader Boyfriend Detox. NO DARTH CALLING OR DARTH TALK. Be with friends for a little bit. Remind yourself you have lots of love in your life. Three nights that you don’t text or call this dude are three nights closer to being done forever.

B. Find support. Does your employer have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can call? Can you find a counselor to talk to?  Or talk to an Al-Anon group (distinct from AA, for families and loved ones of people with alcohol addiction)? Where can you safely unpack all the feelings and history and anxiety that you have around this without shame or without making you feel like you are overburdening your family and friends? You’re not sleeping at night, you’re having intrusive thoughts of this dude, you are compulsively subjecting yourself to his indifference. It’s okay to call in the cavalry here.

C. Plan out your evenings. Whatever your current evening routine is, change it the fuck up. If you are having a hard time getting to sleep, see if adding some form of exercise after work will literally tire you out. Plan out your meals so they are enjoyable and you look forward to them. Buy a stack of books you’ve been wanting to read and read them before bed. Do things to help yourself wind down: Stretch, write a few pages in a journal, take a nice shower, lay your clothes out for the next day, wash your face, etc.  Talk to your doctor about a mild sleep aid if you think that will help. Try out the Sleep With Me podcast.* You’ve got to sleep.

*If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy an alarm clock that is just an alarm clock. You’ve basically got to ban your cell phone and any way of contacting this dude from your bedroom at night. This may be incompatible with podcasts, even excellent ones.

D. Change your environment. Take a look at your bedroom. Do you like it in there? You said you have a good career and are about to be promoted, so I don’t feel bad suggesting “throw a little money at this problem” solutions to you. Do you need a new bed, one that he’s never seen or slept in? Do you need to clean every surface of the room? Do you need new sheets and awesome pillows and the best pajamas? Do you need to rearrange the furniture/hang some lovely art/put fresh flowers next to the bed at night? Involve a friend or hire a person from a service like TaskRabbit so you have a buddy and make it part of the project of falling back in love with your life.

E. Plan for relapses. Maybe you’ll wake up in the night and claw your phone out of the drawer you stuck it in and want to text him. What if you add the Crisis Text Line to your phone contacts? If you’re tempted to text or call Darth Dude at night, you can text them instead. A nice human will text with you until the moment passes. They will listen to you and not judge. They will help you get one more day without texting or calling him. We’re doing this one day at a time.

F. Block his number on your phone so he can’t call or text you. Then delete the contact from your phone. Block his email addressBlock him everywhere. Block him on all social media platforms and lock down your security & privacy settings in general.

G. Get his stuff out. Put any stuff he has in your house in a box and ship it to him.

H. Acknowledge sunk costs. Decide that any money you’ve given him or spent and any stuff you left at his place is gone forever. Letting this go, replacing whatever it is will be the cheapest money you ever spent in your life.

I know that you can do this. You don’t know yet that you can do this, but I do, and so does everyone else who has ever done this. We’re all here on the other side of those shitty partners who made us feel so lonely and those late night desperate-sounding emails we wrote them and those self-deprecating stories we tell about our younger selves who put up with all that shitty behavior. We’re all here and we’re cheering for you. We’ve got a cosy spot by the fire for you, with a comfy chair and your favorite drink and comfy pants and someone friendly saying “Aw buddy, tell me about it.” You’re almost there. You are so, so close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

Over the last year, a once close friend of mine and I have been experiencing the African Violet of broken friendship. We had been through a very intense multi-year creative work project together, and after the project finished and she moved onto another job, we kind of drifted apart. For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic. After any incident where she said something unkind (for example, that half of the work on my part of the project was not my own work, which really hurt my feelings) or been judgmental (for example, negatively commenting on the dynamics of my relationship with my partner or how much I was eating and snacking during the intense project), I would take some space. Over the last couple of years my confidence has grown, not just in this area but in many other areas of my life, and I have been able to deal with some anxiety issues I had and learn how to set boundaries.

She started mainly hanging out with some different friends, and although we were still in touch, our conversation was becoming more and more surface-level. Anytime I suggested meeting up she would be really vague or say no. I was quite hurt at the time that she didn’t seem to want to hang out with me anymore, but I knew that we had just been through a really intense period in our lives and maybe she needed her space. There was always room for our friendship to get renewed further down the line. Before yesterday, we hadn’t been in contact for about four months. There wasn’t anything particularly negative about our last contact, it just tailed off.

I recently got a new job that I am very excited about and yesterday, in a whatsapp group she is also part of, someone congratulated me on my new job. About an hour later I got an feelingsemail from my friend. It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years. She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else. She did say congratulations about the new job at the end.

I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship. We were so close, and I miss her. However, I don’t know what to say or how to respond to this email. I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship. I am open to being friends again, and rebuilding our relationship but it can’t be like this. I want to acknowledge the email, but I don’t want to get caught up in back and forth about who did what, or act in a way that says I think this email is acceptable, or apologize for things I haven’t done. How should I respond to this feelingsbomb? Should I even respond? How can people respond kindly and compassionately to feelingsmail in general?

Best wishes,
I’ve got feelingsmail

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My friend Dana Norris writes a good companion piece to our plethora of “or you could break up?” posts here: “Dear Dana: After you break up with someone, how do you move on?

“Staying with the wrong person won’t make you happy, but leaving the wrong person also won’t make you happy. Leaving the wrong person doesn’t create happiness—it only creates space. And that space can be filled with any possible thing. At first it will be sadness and loneliness, then restlessness, and then, maybe, eventually, hopefully, a form of happiness. But at first, you take your slight daily misery of being with the wrong person and you ratchet it up so it becomes an acute daily misery of mourning a relationship that has ended.

In order to completely change your life, to leave the person you love and set out anew, you have to basically take a portion of your life and set it on fire. You have to metaphorically burn it down to prevent yourself from going back. Some people may be well-versed in the art of breaking up with a long-term partner and still staying friends, but I think only 10% of the population can pull that shit off. The rest of us light a match, throw it, and run.

Burning down your life sucks because you’re surrounded by ash and rubble and you’re also on fire. Because, you see, in burning down your old relationship, your old life, you’re really burning down yourself. You’re the one who’s on fire. Lots of profiles on dating sites and apps state strongly that they aren’t looking to date anyone who’s fresh out of a relationship. Why not? Because people fresh out of a relationship, especially fresh out of a long-term relationship, are kind of awful. They’re metaphorically aflame and can’t be any good to anyone until enough time passes that they can put the fire out. But, in the meantime, they walk around, burning, singeing everyone they try to kiss. They can’t be of any use to anyone until they calm down, accept their new single state, put out the fire, and allow for something new to grow.”

Read the whole piece for how to do the next steps, which Dana calls “1) Wallow 2) Fuck Around 3) Do The Damn Thing.”

 

Video: Snappy dance music, Polish soccer, what’s not to love?

It’s that time again, when we answer the things people typed into search engines like they are questions.

1. “Dating a Midwestern man”

High probability of at least one of these things going on: beer, cheese, beards, & warm, burly hugs. What’s not to like?

 

2. “My crush doesn’t make a move even though I feel we have chemistry. Why?”

There is literally one person on earth who can answer this question for you. (Hint: It’s your crush) If you like this person and feel like you have good chemistry, why aren’t you making a move?

 

3. “friendsporn???” 

??? If this is porn based on the 1990s TV show “Friends,” HARD PASS.

If this is you trying to make porn with your friends, make sure you have clear consent –  like “signed release-forms!” clear.

4. “How to sabotage someone’s teeth.”

Teeth are useful and important. Please don’t do this.

5. “Girlfriend is over emotional and oversensitive.” 

Better break up with her and find someone with your exact level of cool, logical detachment!

6. “I impregnated a girl whose parents and mine are not in good terms please am confused what do I do?”

Be kind to the ‘girl’ in this situation and ask her what she wants to do about it all. She’s the one carrying the heaviest load here.

7. “How to knock your fucken dad out because he is a fucken asshole.”

You know I’m gonna suggest “no violence” but the phrasing of this made me laugh and reminded me of the fan-generated ad campaign for this brand of liquor that’s popular among my Chicago dirtbag friends:

malort

Image = ad for Jeppson’s Malört with a photo of the bottle and the text: “Tonight’s the night you fight your dad.”

(Don’t drink this, it’s repulsive)


8. “He blocked me and I have no way to contact him.”

Yes, that is the general idea.

9. “My weight loss captain.”

Is piloting another ship, far from here.

10. “How to get rid of my son’s girlfriend before he goes to college.”

You don’t.

Look, I get it on some level. At my teaching job I see a lot of college students who spend more time Skyping and texting with their sweethearts back home than making friends and engaging fully in their classes or campus life. We, who are older, want to say “You have your whole life to be in love and only a limited time to be in college, so seize this opportunity with both hands!” But your son gets to decide who he loves, and any move you make to separate them will probably only drive him away from you. Let them be. If it’s true love, it will shine through no matter what you think or do about it. If it isn’t, The Turkey Drop will take care of it on its own without any help from you.

11. “Very dangerous when girls chews dicks of boys for serious.”

Much dangerous, many serious.

Reminds me of this video I saw once. Video description: Comedienne Ellie Kemper plans to give the worst head ever.

 

12. “I love my boyfriend but my mother doesn’t like him because he is abusive, what do I do?”

As reasons not to like someone go, that’s a super good one. What’s the worst that could happen if you listened to your mother?

13. “Estranged friend’s mother died should I reach out.”

Think about whether a grieving person who doesn’t talk to you anymore would find a card or email or text comforting or intrusive right now. Is your desire to reach out right now about them or about you?

 

14. “If someone texts a message when drunk is this the truth?”

“In vino veritas” the saying goes, but there are so many caveats here! If you’re looking at drunk texts for proof of something that’s important to know, why don’t you try asking the person about it when they are sober?

15a. “How to defend yourself when caught with the wife of a married man you dating.” & 15b. “I fell in love with a married guy and I’m not really into apologizing.”

Sometimes these things just go together like magnetic poetry.

#15a: If you mean how do you defend yourself physically, leaving the situation as soon as possible seems like a good idea?

If you mean how to defend yourself verbally, maybe…don’t? What could you even say? “I’m dating your husband! I have really good reasons that I think you’ll want to hear about right now!”

#15b Is this the new “I’m not here to make friends?”

16. “When she won’t watch the shows you like.”

Watch them by yourself or with friends who do like them?

People can have good love without overlapping pop culture tastes, as long as everyone is respectful.

17. “Is there any point visiting someone in mental hospital?”

If the person is allowed to have visitors and wants them, and you can make the time, visiting can be a great thing. It can be so isolating in the hospital and seeing a familiar face of someone who loves you can be such a lifeline. Keep it light, let the patient guide the conversation.

18. “Neighbor won’t answer doorbell.”

If I’m not expecting someone and I don’t smell smoke or hear screaming, I don’t answer the door. Your neighbors might feel the same. Try calling, texting, emailing, or slipping a note under the door with whatever you wanted to tell them.

 

 

 


 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.

Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.

Sincerely,
Troubled Teen

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