Content note: Letter mentions the long-ago death of a child.
This is going to be the first of a two-part series on how people who can’t hear the word ‘no’ are not your friends.
I (she/her) just moved out of a group house. I lived with five other people in the house, including a couple (Elsie and Jenna). Elsie (she/her) and I are pretty good friends and have known each other for a few years. I met Jenna (she/her) through Elsie when they started dating. before we lived together, I would have said we were low-key friends and that I thought she was cool, but I had never hung out with her without Elsie and we only ever saw each other in group contexts.
Elsie and Jenna’s fairly stable, two year long relationship became super rocky during the year we all lived together due to a lot of factors. During this period, both Elsie and Jenna, but especially Jenna, deeply relied on me for a lot of comfort/help/emotional processing. I like helping people and I think of myself as a comforting person, and I don’t mind helping, but this got out of hand incredibly quickly and soon I was spending all my free time processing Jenna’s emotions. This only got worse when they eventually broke up and Elsie moved out. Jenna would wait for me to get home and immediately come to my room to process for hours. I work two jobs that both require a lot of emotional labor and was struggling with depression and did not have the bandwidth for this. It made my living situation a personal nightmare for me, and I dreaded coming home. I attempted to set up boundaries (telling her I wasn’t interested in talking about it anymore! saying I was tired! locking my door!) but she was pushy and I didn’t stick to my guns enough. She also did a lot of unrelated things that made me uncomfortable in the breakup aftermath, such as trying to date a bunch of my friends/literally anyone I brought to the house to hang out, which made my friends uncomfortable so I felt like i couldn’t have friends over (a whole separate weird issue). Eventually, I just moved out of the house because I couldn’t take it anymore. I now live in a much better situation and feel much happier.
Since my move Jenna has reached out to me constantly about hanging out/spending time together. Three times in the last week, she has asked me to attend an event I was already attending with other friends, invited herself, and then brought a date along and made a HUGE deal about the fact that she was bringing a date (which is a part of her whole weird “I’m single and horny” thing she’s doing right now). She talks constantly about how much she misses me and is always asking to spend time together. I suspect part of this is because I’m a connection to Elsie (every time we hang she asks me about Elsie/talks about Elsie and I try to shut it down, but she just does it the next time anyway), and the other half is because she wants to keep using me as free therapy. I want out! I need space! We are not actually friends, she just uses me as therapy. I thought it would stop when I moved, but it hasn’t.
How do I nicely express to this girl that:
A. I refuse to process this breakup with her anymore
B. I wish she wouldn’t invite herself to plans I already made with other people
C. Its weird and unnecessary to bring dates to every interaction we have
D. I need her to hang out with her actual friends and give me some fucking space already
I’m not your personal live in breakup therapist
I (she/her) was recently dumped by a guy (he/him). It’s now been about a month since we broke up, and we only dated for a few months. Since we split, I’ve been reflecting on some things that I wish I had handled differently in our relationship. We got lunch together a couple weeks ago and then he asked that we not talk for a couple weeks. I’ve respected that, but the end of the couple of weeks is coming up and we were hoping to be friends again. Should I try to apologize for things that I wish I’d done differently? Or is it better to just let it go and assume he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore? I don’t want it to turn into re-hashing old difficulties, and I don’t want to apologize if the only reason is so that I feel better. But if it might help him and our future friendship, I want him to know that I realize I wasn’t perfect and I aim to do better.
The longer version, if you want it:
I’ve mostly had polyamorous relationships in my life, and when I went into this one, I made an effort to show him positive aspects of polyamory and give him resources he could use to learn about it more as an option. At the time I’m not sure I was entirely clear even in my own head about what I wanted, but in retrospect I think that I would have been happy being either polyamorous or monogamous (we were monogamous throughout our relationship and I was happy with it). What I wanted was for him to make an effort to learn about and consider options other than monogamy, because I didn’t want to treat monogamy as the default, and I wanted to feel that he had some understanding and respect for my past relationships (e.g. didn’t think that polyamorous relationships couldn’t be serious and committed, when I’ve had serious and committed polyamorous relationships). Instead I gave the impression that, while I was happy with our relationship and willing to be patient, being polyamorous was ultimately important to me. This ended up making him feel like he was solely responsible for deciding whether or not he wanted to be polyamorous, and that our relationship couldn’t continue if he decided polyamory wasn’t for him (which is ultimately what he decided). He spent a while being anxious about needing to make this decision, and I’m afraid I didn’t listen to him enough in that time.
So basically what I want to tell him is: I’m sorry I put you through all that anxiety and made you feel like you had to figure it out on your own. I think I kind of assumed that I knew what was best for the relationship, and if I’d been a bit more humble, I would have approached it more as something we could figure out together. I know it’s too late for our relationship, but I think in the future, I’ll make a lot more effort to approach this issue as a discussion where we both consider different options and decide together what works best for us. I appreciate all the thought and effort you put into this, so I just wanted you to know that I acknowledge that and I wish I’d made it easier for you.
Does that sound at all helpful and constructive in moving forward? Or does it sound like it’s mostly self-serving on my part, and would mostly just re-open wounds and re-ignite arguments?
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a psychotherapist, and a friendly colleague who is also a psychotherapist said she would like me to take a room in a three-room office she was acquiring. This plan didn’t work out because the sale fell through. She then bought a two-room office and the idea, always an idea in consideration not a formal offer, was that I and another colleague of hers might share the second office. (I never ever asked after or pushed for any of this.) I considered this a viable-if-not-sure plan and accordingly waited many months for sales to go through etc.,while adjusting my practice because this office was in another part of the city (basically not marketing in my area and gearing up for a change). It reached the point that we all met, discussed final furnishings and hours in the room and rental fees, and I and the other colleague stated we were happy to go forward.
Two days later my ‘friendly colleague’ told me that she was separating from her husband and needed the space to herself, that she had felt very ill over sharing it, that she was sorry. She then pressed me to meet her for a coffee. We met, I asked how the other party had taken the news, and she told me that the other person would be using the room as she had made a promise to her. Never in any of this was the disparity in promise level shared with me. ‘Friendly colleague’ (!) then pressed me for an ongoing time we could meet up as friends. I don’t wanna! Thoughts? Am I being a bad sport?, or is it a sensible decision to cut my losses with this colleague and how to say so if pressed?
Welcome to the re-activation/remixing of “Short Answer Fridays,” where patrons of the site have first dibs for getting short questions answered. I broke it up into two parts, I’ll post the rest this weekend.
Q1 Scripts for when my mom talks about how she looks like a slob, or how she is such a lazy wretch because her house is a wreck (spoiler, it looks a million times better than mine). Or should I just grit my teeth and let it go, always an option. Love your work. Thank you for doing it. (she/her/hers)
I am allergic to self-deprecation in others (my own is another story), I strongly dislike the bonding ritual of putting yourself down as a gambit to get the other person to try to convince you that you’re great, and one way I deal with all of it is to playfully agree with the person. So I would go with “Ha mom, you’re right, what a dump!” or “Sure mom, you’re a slob, everybody knows!”
I keep my tone light, I laugh, I change the subject as soon as I can because I don’t want to give it a ton of attention, the message is “I’m not playing this game with you.” I think these conversations are more between the other person and themselves than anything to do with me, so who am I to take a side?
Other people have luck with “Stop saying mean stuff about my mom you big jerk!” or sincere talks like “Why don’t we try saying only nice things about ourselves for a change” or “If you’d like some compliments or reassurance you can just ask, you know.”
Or there’s always Mr. Awkward, who’s 95-year-old friend often grouses about looking old and Mr. Awkward answers, deadpan, “Well, good news, Scoop, you don’t look a day over 96.”
More questions after the jump.
It is time to celebrate the mostly-monthly ritual of rounding up the snippets that people typed into search engines to find this place and answering them like questions.
Please enjoy this jazzy bittersweet tune about lost love and memory (When April Comes Again, sung by Mel Tormé).
1 “How to get over a long distance crush.”
The good news is you won’t run into them everywhere you go.
The bad news is that many of us carry a little device in our pocket that lets us see what our crush is up to at any moment of any day, and sometimes there are settings on that device and its various applications that give us a little ping when our crush has posted a new photo of themselves looking cute while they live life without us (or some other fascinating snippet of information). We are also able to respond immediately to any communication.
It’s time to stop monitoring them and haunting their feeds. Starve the crush by muting/unfollowing/filtering/turning off notifications. Then throw yourself into something local to where you live, with new faces or old friends, something that absorbs you, perhaps something where your convenient crush-monitoring device is best turned off and tucked in a pocket or a drawer. Unfollowing/disengaging is how you help time and absence do their work.
2 “What someone really means when they say they aren’t taking sides?”
They definitely aren’t taking your side.
They want to keep hanging out with everyone involved in the conflict.
They would prefer not to be a sounding board for your grievances with whoever is on the other side.
3 “Is it rude to invite someone to someone else’s party.”
If you know for sure the host is a “The more the merrier!” person or the invitation says “Bring anyone you like!” and it’s not a formal, invitation-only, sit-down fancy affair, then: Probably not rude! Just indicate when you RSVP – “Yes, I’ll be there, and I’m bringing [Name] FYI, so, 2 adults.”
However if you’re wondering if it’s rude you probably don’t know the above things for sure, so, checking in with the host first can be a good idea. “I’d love to come to that, is it okay if I bring [Name]?” I’m reminded of the time I invited a few friends who overlapped with a message board community over for my birthday and one of the people announced it in the community chat. Hellooooooooooo, way more people than I’d cooked for, showing up unexpectedly to my home address for a party where I’d already invited everyone I actually liked! (RUDE)
4: “Ask vs. Guess Culture”
The previous question is a good case study for “Ask” Culture vs. “Guess” Culture , right? Here’s the great Metafilter comment that explained it succinctly. And I made a post about it forever ago, in the context of “What Are Advice Columnists Even For?”, but I rethink my assumptions about it all the time.
For the “is it rude to bring someone to someone else’s party” situation:
“Ask” Culture = It’s okay to ask, it’s also okay to say “no,” which means asker must be prepared to take “no” for an answer. Someone who prefers this way of operating is more likely to say “Go ahead and ask the host, it’s not rude!”
“Guess” Culture = People don’t ask unless they’re pretty sure the answer is already yes, so asking a host if it’s okay to bring someone to an event creates an implied pressure to say yes. Someone who is more comfortable in a “Guess” culture would be more likely to wonder, “What did the invitation say? What are this person’s parties usually like? What are the accepted rules in the social group around parties like this?”
One is not necessarily better than the other, tight-knit communities who have ways of checking on each other and caring for each other that let everyone save face have their extremely strong points, though I have a lot of thoughts lately about how hierarchies and systems replicate themselves by being “Guess” (where it helps to know a lot of “unwritten” rules and have “cultural fit” to function there and where asking gets riskier the less relative power you have in the situation or b/c you mark yourself as an outsider). I think about this a lot in terms of social class, disability, neurodivergence, expectations around ‘civility’ and ‘norms’ in political power structures, and also when I think about “traditional” families and cultures where elders have authority and sway. If you’re not supposed to defy the elders, where does that leave people when the elders are the problem?
These aren’t necessarily rigid dichotomies or mutually exclusive states. I lean “Ask” as an adult, but I find “Guess” habits and assumptions in myself all the time (“Everyone already knows how to do x….” “Jeez, read the room!” ). I find it fascinating when I find resistance in myself to the idea of just asking a question (for example, see the case of Party Smeagol). However you were raised and whatever you prefer, it’s good to know about other modes of operation, since you might need to adapt to the other in certain situations.
5 “When people ask me how my weekend was I prefer not to answer.”
This situation is what the words “Fine, and yours?” was invented for.
It is the quickest, most boring, expected way to complete the social circuit and get off the topic of your weekend without making it weird.
“But what if my weekend was NOT fine, Jennifer?” Idk, you just said you didn’t want to talk about it. ‘Fine’ = “Nothing to report, ask me no further questions.” If that super does not work for you, try “Nothing interesting to report. And yours?”
If I casually ask how your weekend was, and you refuse to answer the question at all, or get all “Why would you ask me that?” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” I’m gonna wonder about you and your weekend a whole lot more than if you’d just said “Fine.” Were you doing crimes? Are you secretly a sexy international spy?
6. “Roommate lives in basement suite and when I have company comes up uninvited.”
First I’d want to know “basement suite” as in separate apartment or as in basement room in the same house (y’all share a kitchen & other common spaces). The first is more of a neighbor problem, the second is more of a roommate problem.
As a bedrock principle, if I’m home in my house, and a party is happening in my house, I also get to be there, right? That’s probably the default setting? But if my upstairs neighbor is having people over, I do not assume that I am invited to that unless she knocks on my door or leaves me a note to say “Come up for a drink!”
But it’s negotiable, even when it’s a roommate situation. Part of living in shared housing is finding a way to give other people the illusion of space and privacy even when there is no actual space or privacy. There’s a lot of room between “We do everything together!” and “I’m gonna have 3 work friends over for a four-player game, can I claim the living room for myself that night?” You just have to talk about it and actually spell it out, preferably from the beginning. “What do you want to do about having people over – especially if there are times when you want it to be just you and your friends? Can you give me a heads’ up if that happens so I can make other plans or know to give y’all some space?”
It’s harder to interrupt an established pattern, and probably the person’s just hearing people upstairs and thinking, “Cool, I wonder who’s here?” You can still ask, though. Do it with plenty of notice before the next event. “Can we work something out about having people over? I definitely want you to join us sometimes, so can I text you and invite you specifically when that is? But other times, when I just want to have a few specific people over, is it ok to just give you some notice so you don’t plan on using that space? And then you can do the same?”
It will be awkward because who wouldn’t hear that and wonder if they’ve ever been actually welcome to anything, ever? The best way to reassure the person is probably to give them lots of notice when you are doing stuff where you want them to hang back, and to actually, enthusiastically invite them sometimes.
7. “I’m not a relationship type of person.”
If this describes you, no worries! You’re far from alone! Find each other! Kiss, or, equally likely, don’t! There are lots of labels and spaces where this will make total sense and you will be welcomed without question.
However, the context that *I* usually encountered that phrase in the wild was from people who would then start doing stuff like showing up at my place and/or calling every single day, wanting to spend tons of time together doing relationship-y activities, expecting a ton of time, kissing stuff, attention, listening to and supporting their hopes and dreams, accompanying them to family gatherings and life events, and acting in a way that is indistinguishable from “being in a relationship”…because we had a relationship, it was just one where they also wanted to keep all their options open and remind me constantly not to ever need or expect anything from them.
Which is why I would suggest clarifying for yourself: Are you “not a relationship-type-of-person,” or do you not want a relationship with a specific person under these circumstances? Then you can be the right kind of honest.
8. “Should I be jealous my husband watches Game of Thrones.”
I mean, he’s watching it instead of what? You? Killing Eve? I love Killing Eve, but that’s what the DVR is for.
If you can hang out for three more weeks and this one’s gonna resolve itself. Or the jealousy will still be there, in which case, it wasn’t the show, which recently has been about 90% grimy, exhausted people laden down with Ikea fur rugs hanging out in shadowy corridors having feelings at each other and stabbing screaming zombies in almost total darkness (& I say this as an enjoyer). There are possibly easier ways to enjoy Adult Content.
Got GoT opinions/theories/spoilers/a burning need to communicate how deeply disinterested you are that you’re dying to share in the comments? Kindly zip it or better yet, come find me on Twitter.
“I never understood the fuss about…” BALEETED.
I’VE BEEN READING THIS FUCKING DRAGON TALE SINCE 1997, LET ME HAVE THIS.
Three more weeks.
Yes, I realize the querent’s husband might not be all the way caught up on the show, thank you.
THREE MORE WEEKS.
9. “How to know if a socially awkward girl likes me?”
Ask her: “Are you flirting? I think you might be flirting but I can’t always tell.”
“Is this a friend-date or a date-date?”
Or if you like her, tell her. “I like you a lot. Want to go on a date sometime?”
She is the only person in the world who knows the information you seek.
10. “Would you make fun of or appreciate an apology letter 20 years later?”
It really depends on what the person is apologizing for. I’d like to think I wouldn’t ever make fun, but then there’s the time a few years ago that someone apologized to me deeply and at length for “breaking my heart” back in high school and I was like, “You did?” High school ended in 1992. My heart is fine.
Some people really do appreciate stuff like this. It heals a wound to know that the person who hurt them feels remorse, that they changed. Others really, really don’t. After 20 years, they’ve moved on, and now they have to think about it again and possibly deal with the feelings of the person who harmed them?
I think for best results the “better late than never?” apology crowd should be really honest with themselves: Am I doing it for the other person or am I doing this for me? Can you be brief, clear, take responsibility for what you did and said, and then leave it in the other person’s hands without expecting a response?
A letter is good because you drop it in the mail and let it go. Consider also that a letter is potentially very creepy because the recipient is now wondering how you found out where they live and if you’re gonna show up there. Find the least intrusive way you can to reach them.
11. “Reaching out to an old ex on her birthday.”
Smooth. I notice you didn’t use the word “current friend.” As in #10, above, just be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this and what you’re hoping for, ok? And know that the the ex just deleting whatever it is is 100% a possibility, and be cool with that possibility.
12. “Decline last minute work.”
Script: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ve already booked that time slot. Is your schedule flexible at all? I could take on something after [date]. Otherwise, good luck finding someone.”
Bonus: If it’s a client or employer you really, really like, and you know people who might be able to help who are looking for work, connect them!
To the client: “Would it be okay if I shared this with a few people who do similar work in my network?”
To the colleague: “Client X just asked me to take on a project, and I’m booked. Would you like me to put you in touch?”
Check before sharing people’s contact details. It’s just good practice.
13. “Why in a relationship would one partner line up friends to insult the other partner?”
Signs point to the partner who recruits friends to insult someone they claim to love being both really mean and having mean friends. Sorry, you might be surrounded by assholes!
14. “Helping your ex through your break-up.”
My first thought when I read stuff like this: BUT YOU BROKE UP. IT’S NOT YOUR JOB.
I can think of a few legit good ways to help an ex with a breakup, assuming this is a “Farewell good person who was, alas, not right for me” breakup and not a “Never contact me again you controlling shitlord” breakup, are you ready?
- Have good boundaries for yourself. If you need space and time to get over the relationship, be honest about that and don’t set yourself up to be your ex’s Chief Consoler. If you know you don’t want to ever get back together, don’t dangle that option. Don’t dump someone and then lean on them as your favorite listening ear. Ex-sex can be a fine, healing, understandable human activity, but there are times when you know it’s a bad idea and is going to make the other person have an even harder time detaching. You ceased already, so desist!
- Be a little thoughtful about how you use social media. Don’t air this person’s private heartbreak everywhere, wait a hot second before you go all #FinallyFree #AtLast #TrueLove with your brand new beau, it’s cool to stay friends with people you met as a couple but maybe give your ex priority in their oldest friends at least until the dust settles, give them a heads’ up if you’re going to be at the same event.
- Be really fair and kind about money and property. Return their stuff to them promptly and without drama, don’t make them ask or hunt or wait for it. Did someone relocate to be with you, or could someone use a grace period of NOT having to pay half the rent on a place they’re getting booted out of while also coming up with the money for a new place, can you afford to ease the transition for this person a little without stinting yourself? Then do it. If you still have to share living space for a while, be respectful about bringing new dates around.
- Don’t write to their advice column under a fake name and ask for advice on wooing your new crush.
These tips are from my own experience and aren’t absolutes, you’re not necessarily doing it wrong if you have a different style, helping out financially isn’t always possible (and isn’t an obligation), and all bets are off if the other person was a jerk! But those are some ways to possibly be nice, and none of them involve nursing someone through their breakup with you! You broke up! You get to stop working on this person’s problems and life!
Thanks for joining us for this fun feature. If you would like Daniel & Henrietta content, they are SPACED OUT on catnip right now.
Dear Captain Awkward,
After almost a year of planning, we’re in the home stretch before my wedding day in early May. Everything was lining up smoothly until I reached out for RSVPs that hadn’t been received yet, namely my stepdad, my aunt, and my grandmother (my dead mom’s sister and mother). These are my only family members from mom’s side of the family. And I was informed that none of the three are coming. My stepdad says he “doesn’t feel up to it” but honestly we’re not super close so I kind of get it; my aunt can’t afford it (no loss there, honestly, she’s a pain).
My grandmother at first said she can’t afford to come. When I offered to pay her way, it became “well I just cain’t (said in an East Texas drawl)”. I’m not proud of it but I was sobbing on the phone with her. She then wrote me a passive-aggressive letter, full of “I” statements, talking about how she has all these wonderful memories of going and doing things for and with me throughout my childhood. I’m glad for her to have those memories. Problem is, the memory I’m going to get to keep with me for the rest of my life is that she couldn’t be arsed to make an effort for me. I’m feeling really abandoned and very, very sad. Am I off base here? How do I let this go (short of going in to therapy for it – I already am looking for a new therapist after a little over a year out of therapy because of insurance reasons)? I also haven’t spoken to her since the phone call where I cried – she hasn’t called me, and I don’t know what I would say if I called her. After the letter, I’m not even convinced I want to talk to her.
I guess what I desire right now is to be told I’m not insane to be hurt by this, because past-trauma-brain is gaslighting me super hard right now and I’m tired of crying every time I think about it.