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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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I have some questions about romantic feelings and dating and breakups accumulating and I don’t know if they all belong together, but maybe they don’t all need separate threads? I think what they might have in common is people who are trying to rules-lawyer their own hearts.

Let’s find out!

Hello Captain Awkward,

I’m not sure if a good friend of mine [20F] is over me [20] or not, please help!

I’m in a tough spot with a good friend of mine (let’s say Carroll) that I’ve known for about a year at college. Early this past freshman year we both hit it off really well, and she’s a great person. We both seemed to like each other for a while but we both got cold feet around the first third of the year. Thinking about a relationship with her, I constantly came to the conclusion that I was happy with my lifestyle, and starting a relationship wouldn’t be preferable (I haven’t gotten into too many relationships). However, with sophomore year approaching, our living situations seem to be more compatible, and my attitude towards a relationship with her has changed to be more positive.

Over the course of the year, things weren’t really awkward and we are still good friends. However, at several points near the end of the year, there were points where it seemed like she was talking to her friends about me and laughing about it. I wouldn’t consider her gossipy, it seems like the people she hangs with always want to discuss things in secret with her. This might be me just being paranoid (I’m not the center of their universe lol), but there were also points where my own friends poked fun about the whole situation to me (in the presence of her, ugh) and she seemed to think it was funny as well. To be more specific, she didn’t really join in on the joke, she just kinda whispered something to her friends shortly after, finding it amusing.

Thus, I’m in a sticky situation. To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her. I’m not sure if we’re both still in the stage of cold feet, or if she’s gotten over me and thinks of me as a joke to her friends. I know a lot of this is paranoia, but I want to be able to get closure on this, since all I feel when talking to her sometimes is that I’m a big joke to her. My main point is how to clarify this with her given this worry. It’s hard to clarify with her because for all I know, it’s the latter and things will only become more awkward by speaking to her, furthering her attitude and preconceptions. She’s a great friend and if she’s truly moved on, then I don’t want to hinder our future as friends. But if she does have feelings, it’s something I don’t want to ignore.

Thank you!

Hi there! You are now Letter Writer #1211!

Do you want to be in a romantic relationship with Carroll now? y/n

Do you want to just go on being friends with her, but without this weird vibe you’re getting that there’s a joke you’re not quite getting? y/n

Have you ever had an out loud conversation with Carroll along the lines of “should we date each other? y/n”? Where she was “y” and you were more “n” (or something else)?

I ask because I can’t tell from this whether you and Carroll had a little bit of a romantic relationship earlier this year, almost had a romantic relationship, talked/joked about dating but never took it there, or whether everything about your attitude, living situation, “lifestyle,” etc. was entirely in your head and she had no idea (or she had some idea but it never got spelled out). People don’t forget the time they confessed a crush and got turned down, so there’s no pretending that didn’t happen if it did, I’m just trying to figure out where “start” is, if that makes sense.

You keep talking about Carroll’s (possibly assumed?) feelings for you but mostly not your feelings. Except right here: “To be honest with myself, I’ve found it hard to get over her.” A-ha! Eureka! Start there, sit with that, work with that. What do you feel and what do you want from Carroll now. Not “what you would be sort of okay with settling for” or “what you would possibly consider” or “what you could make work if you just knew for sure what she wanted.” What do you most want to happen now. If you’re going to risk rejection or  making things slightly weirder than they already are between you before they resolve into the eventual right shape, at least you can know that you’re acting from a place of integrity and honesty with yourself.

Once you’ve got your feelings…”under control” isn’t the right term, let’s go with…admitted? It’s decision time. Awkward or not, there’s no “clarifying” Carroll And Her Feelings without talking to Carroll about her feelings. Depending on what you want, there are plenty of scripts:

  • “Carroll, would you like to go on a date with me on (day) and (time) (and yes it is a DATE date.)” Maybe you don’t have to decide everything about the future with this person, maybe you can take it one date at a time and try.
  • “Carroll, I know when we talked before I wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship, but I have changed my mind. Would you still be open to that?” If she took the risks of speaking up last time, it is definitely 100% your turn now.
  • “Carroll, buddy, friend, I feel like there’s some joke that I’m the subject of but not quite in on. Am I imagining that? Mind letting me in on it?” If you just want to stay friends but you want to clear up the strange vibe you’re picking up on, this is the way. If you want to be with Carroll, this is not the place to start.

Friendships can survive awkward crushes that don’t quite go anywhere, as long as everyone is honest and kind and keeps their senses of humor. If you want to be with Carroll, ask, try, risk, be vulnerable, put it out there. If you don’t want to be with her, especially if you’ve already rejected her, the kindest thing to do is probably let this subject drop. stay pleasant and friendly, let her have her comic asides with friends, and put your energy into other friendships while the Good Ship Feelings About Carroll rights itself after passing through a few rough straits.

That’s the heart of my advice: Start from what you feel and what you want, and don’t work so hard to manage or predict other people’s feelings. 

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Hello gentle friends, it’s time for that thing where we treat the things people typed into their search engines to find this place as if they are questions in their own right.

As is traditional, we begin with a tune:

 

Then we begin the no-context guessing games and assumptions!

1 “Adult male using baby talk voice.”

If this person is talking to babies, kitties, puppies, or other actual baby cute things, this is extremely okay, let the man babble!

If this person is talking to a fellow adult in a baby voice, and you are that adult, and you presumably don’t enjoy this, my suggestion is to be very direct: “What’s going on with the baby voice? I don’t like it, please stop.”

Bonus: Ask A Manager has advice for how to deal with people using baby voices at work (because of course, someone was using a baby voice at work).

2 “Ex asks ‘are you still angry with me?'”

This one keeps coming up, so here are some discussion questions for whoever needs them.

Are you still angry? What’s the worst thing that happens if you say “yep, still angry”? Did this person ever actually apologize? Why are they bugging you about this, exactly? And why now? And how interested are you in discussing a relationship that you’re not in anymore?

You don’t have to keep working on past relationships, and you’re allowed to find whatever intersection of unfiltered honesty and “ugh, what will get you to go away and stop asking me this” that works for you.

3 “I’m so sorry, but my boyfriend has forbidden me to communicate with you.”

What in the what now?

Please allow me to make the argument that “my boyfriend forbids it” is not a good enough reason to stop communicating with someone you want to be communicating with. If you don’t want to be communicating anymore, that’s a good enough reason on its own, though I do get that sometimes “another dude has priority here” is the only thing that makes a certain kind of annoying dude actually go away.

4 “Quinton just got a promotion at work.”

Congratulations Quinton? Hey everyone, drinks are on Quinton!

5 “How to change a person with disgusting hygiene?”

You were probably looking for this, but in case this was a more general query:

You can’t change other people. You can ask for what you need, you can tell them what you need, you can ask them to take steps to give you what you need, you can break it down in detail like “Please take a shower, brush your teeth often, and wear clean clothes on days you know you’re going to see me,” you can inquire if there is something preventing them doing this and see if it’s something you can help with, you can teach kids to do this stuff if you’re a parent, but ultimately it’s up to them. You can care about people, you can’t do their caring instead of them.

6 “My neighbor wants to be friends, but she makes me uncomfortable, what to do.”

It never feels great to have this conversation, but when someone is trying really hard to be part of your life and your desires around that are mismatched, sometimes you have to balance whether it’s kinder to avoid/dodge/fade on them them and hope they eventually get the hint or whether it’s kinder to speak up with something like “You’re a good neighbor, and I can tell you’re trying hard to be a good friend to me, but I don’t want to [spend more time together][join your book club][connect on social media][buy your kids’ school fundraising crap][help you with your cat rescuel][be friends]. I know this is awkward, and I’m so sorry, but can we just go back to being friendly acquaintances, and I’ll see you around the ‘hood when I see you? Thank you for understanding,” and then move on with your life.

There’s no blanket answer for this kind of thing or guarantee that any of it will go smoothly, some people take direct rejection well, some people eventually get hints, some really don’t do well with either direct refusals or the soft no, reasons work on reasonable people and give unreasonable people something to try to fix or argue with. People often claim they “just want to know why” or “just tell me!” but so often, like every sentence with the word “just” in the middle of it, those things don’t necessarily make anybody feel better.

I’ve had to be the person who gives the “Hey, this is the tenth thing you’ve invited me to, and that’s so kind but I know I’m probably never going to make it, it’s okay to just stop asking!” talk and the one who realizes after far too many times that what seemed like a sincere offer to “totally hang out sometime!” meant never, the “sometime” was actually “never.” It’s confusing and weird because human connection is confusing and weird, nobody wants to be the Bad Guy or find out they were being  a nuisance. Anyway, sometimes what’s kindest is being kind to yourself and setting the boundary where you need it to be. If you’re sure you don’t want to be friends with a person who “makes you uncomfortable,” don’t be! You do get to decide who you invite into your life.

7 “What to do with a boyfriend that is trying to protect you but constantly lectures you.”

Tell him “If you don’t stop acting like Professor Dad, I’m going to dump you. No more lectures!” 

When he starts lecturing, leave the room! Go home!

Or skip straight to the breaking up part.

There is a short story by Claire Humphrey about the fallacy that protecting someone means controlling them, with a content note for mentions of domestic abuse and serial killer stuff. I constantly think about adapting this story into a film.

8 “Asking a coworker to go on vacation.”

Okay but…why?

Like, do you mean, asking them to take a vacation: “Fergus, you’ve got a lot of vacation days saved up, time to take a break, buddy!”

Or asking them to go on vacation…with you? But…why? You didn’t use the word “friend,” and vacation time is AWAY FROM WORK time, so…I would start smaller if you want to become better friends with this person. Lunch. Coffee. After-work drinks. Small hangs outside the office before disappearing to a destination. 

If you meant asking a coworker if you could tag along on THEIR vacation, that’s a hard no from me.  You either have the kind of friendship where they invited you already or you should let them goooooo. Speaking of which, I never press for updates, but I would dearly love to know what happened with all of this if possible.

9 “Friend gets mad if I don’t invite them to every outing.”

Here’s a possible script:

“Friend, sometimes I want to see you, and sometimes I want to do things alone or with other people. I need you to accept.”

If you set a boundary and someone gets mad, let them be mad, you’re not doing anything wrong, punishing you around something like this is so controlling and not okay.

10 “Asking out a former student.”

COME THE FUCK ON.

Leave your students alone. Do not treat your students – including your former students – like your personal dating pool, ever. And definitely don’t come to me to be validated about that. No.

Discussion Note: Everyone can keep their anecdotes about the one time this really worked out happily for somebody somewhere to themselves. Sometimes if you’re a happy exception to a rule, your happiness has to be enough for you. It’s not evidence in an argument to move where the rule goes, especially given how often people who flout this rule are abusing their power, and how rarely even the worst offenders are held accountable for that.

11 “What can I do about a neighbour that calls me a pervert and tells me to stay away from his kids.”

YIKES.

Some possibilities:

  • You’re being targeted by bigots. Are you some variety of queer and your neighbors are big ol’ homophobes, by chance? Or are you neurodivergent in some way and your neighbors are being ableist bullies? Sadly not unheard of, and the query has the ring of that going on.
  • There’s some other neighbor hostility thing going on (lawn care, parking, trash bins, noise complaints, they leave their dog out in all weather and you called animal control on them, or, your dog constantly poops in their yard, idk what it is, but if you think about it you probably do) and it’s escalated to nuclear levels with this kind of accusation,
  • You’re doing something creepy that is making your neighbor reasonably concerned about your behavior (if this is the case you almost certainly know what it is, so, stop it and get some help please).

Mentally I’m moving forward with “the neighbors are the problem here and the person searching for this is not the bad guy” scenario, here are some possible smart moves that don’t actually depend on knowing exactly what’s happening.

Mandatory: Have zero further interaction with these neighbors, especially the kids. Leave them be. There’s not one thing you could say to anyone in that house that would de-escalate such a risky and high-stakes situation. Don’t apologize, explain, clarify. Don’t even wave to them. Give them no ammunition. If one of the kids kicks a ball into your yard, the parents can come get it or it can rot there, not your problem.

This is incredibly not fair especially if you’ve done nothing wrong, but sometimes protecting yourself means disengaging and de-escalating from people who are bad for you. Plus being able to truthfully say “Once they made it clear how they felt about me, I never contacted them again” can be a shield down the road if things get even worse.

Additional Possible Steps: 

Document your interactions with these neighbors. This can be brief: Dates, times, who was there, what happened, what was said. When did this start? Was there some kind of inciting incident? Is this really about something else? If this thing escalates you’ll want this record. Screencap any texts, emails, or messages you’ve exchanged, the NextDoor thread where it all went awry, anything that shows the history of the relationship with these people.

Tell people close to you what’s going on. This is an incredibly stressful situation, right? Again, through the frame of “the neighbors are the problem,” if you’re being harassed by a bigot or bully to this degree, what else might these people do?

This whole kind of thing thrives on secrecy and shame, so telling people ‘Look, my horrible neighbors accused me of some gross stuff and it’s incredibly humiliating and scary but I don’t want it to be a secret ’cause I need your help and support, especially if this all escalates,’ is one way to fight back. Make your friends aware of the situation and the history with these neighbors. Lean on people: Counselors, community, friends, family.

Heck, if you’re friendly with other neighbors, make the ones you trust at least basically aware of the situation – “Just so you know, I’ve been having a strange conflict with ______, they called me _______, I’m trying to give them a wide berth and hoping it all dies down, but if you hear some weird stuff, that’s why.” The rumor mill is gonna do what it’s gonna do anyway, if you’ve done nothing wrong you don’t have to flee or hide from it.

I’ve been watching a lot of Killing Eve lately and one thing I’ve noticed about Eve’s character is that, for a supposedly bright and perceptive lady, she is EXTREMELY BAD at informing people around her about necessary information and DANGEROUSLY OVERCONFIDENT in her ability to handle situations by herself. “I just don’t want to burden anyone else with my secret problems” is TV logic, the kind that creates plots like “I have a mutual crush on a terrifying assassin, how can this all be as dangerous and messy as possible?” vs. helpful real-life logic, which is what you need. Resist the impulse to hide and keep this all secret with everything you’ve got.

Tighten up your privacy and security. This is where you Google yourself from a private browsing window and think about the truly awful question, “How could an extremely hostile person who knows where I live possibly use this information against me?” This is where you lock your social feeds down, this is where possibly you quickly search for your neighbor’s social profiles (adults only, probably do not search for their children by name under any circumstances) and specifically block those people from accessing any of your feeds (Facebook, etc.) This sucks so bad and it’s completely unfair but it’s the smart thing to do so I’m telling you about it. Also consider blocking/locking out any mutuals you share if those people are not completely trustworthy.

This is also where you think about physical security and safety. Doors. Locks. Gates. Pets (don’t let your pets go where these people can have access to them). Cars. Packages. Lights. Motion-sensors. Window blinds/drapes/shades. Routines. Who has keys? Maybe nobody but you should have keys for now.

If this escalates at all, seek expert legal advice where you live. If your neighbor is unfairly harassing you with accusations like this, and you sense they might escalate things, get an expert, tell them everything that’s been going on, and let them help you. A lawyer can talk you through scenarios like, well what happens if they involve law enforcement or try to get you fired at work or do other harassing things? Trust your gut if you think these are people who will never let a grudge go or have a pattern of escalating conflicts.

Keep living your life. I’m hoping that as horrible as this is it was a passing, “Classic Unoriginal Rote Bigotry” sort of remark and not something more specifically and violently targeted, but who the hell even knows right now. (Holy crap is that a depressing collection of words.) This got pretty long for a drive-by query but I’d rather see someone take something like this very seriously and implement some filters and precautions and not need them if the alternative is leaving themselves open to more harassment and danger.

Moderation Note: We’re not Internet Detectives and can’t possibly solve this situation for what’s actually happening or give people legal advice in absentia. If you’ve been the target of something like this from bigoted/homophobic neighbors in the past and have practical tips to share, that would be useful. I’d ask people to not try to exhaustively detail all the possibilities.

12 “How to invite yourself to stay at someone’s house out of state.”

This is one of those areas where, either you know that you have that kind of relationship with the person, where “I’m coming to your area on [dates], is there any chance I can take advantage of your guest room or sofa for a few days?” is a perfectly appropriate question and everybody knows that “nope, sorry, that won’t work” is a perfectly appropriate answer or you don’t.

The wording of the request matters less than the strength and nature of the relationship. “Mind if I crash at your place during [week]?” vs. “Is your guest room open to visitors next month” vs. “Will trade some free babysitting and chef skills for space on your basement sectional” vs. “Hey Grandpa do you still keep the key to the lake house in the mouth of the fish? Mind if I head up that way this weekend?” matters less than whether you feel comfortable asking this person about this in the first place. Ask or don’t, consider also that you won’t lose anything by making a plan B for if they say “no.”

13 “How to handle jealous husband as female musician.” 

How stressful! Possible script if this were a scene in a movie:

“Dude, being a performer means that sometimes I get attention from people who want to flirt or who have crushes on me. I try to have good boundaries about that and be friendly without encouraging people or crossing any lines, but engaging with fans, even really enthusiastic ones, is part of the job and it’s not going away. Their feelings about me are not my fault or my problem to manage, nor are they something I need to apologize to you about or account for. And yeah, sometimes I’m going to wear ‘sexy’ outfits on stage or for photo shoots. It’s part of the brand, plus I like wearing them.

You knew what this was when we got together, I’ve never cheated on you and I don’t plan to change that, but it’s time for you to accept me and my job. You either trust me not to cheat on you or you don’t. If you trust me, stop [describe the behaviors – hovering/accusing me of cheating/being a jerk to my bandmates/being a giant hostile weirdo about it]. If you don’t trust me, we should think seriously about ending our marriage. I’ll hate to lose you but I can’t keep living with you being so mean and suspicious all the time. I’m not submitting to surveillance or constant checkups or soothing your feelings every time another dude looks my way.

Please think about it, talk it over with friends/a therapist/people you trust and tell me what you want to do. Just know that I’m not having this fight with you ever again. We have to put this to rest.”

Jealousy happens, not always rational, not always controllable. It’s the behaviors and reactions to that jealousy that are under our control, and it’s okay to ask people to get those under control if the alternative is living your life around their unfounded fears!

14 “I hate last-minute invitations.”

Don’t accept them. In the moment you can say “That sounds awesome, but I can’t join you. If you give me a little more notice next time, I’ll see what I can do. Have fun!” 

Tell people who are close to you who you hang out with a lot what’s up: “Hey, I’m a planner and I like to schedule things in advance/I need a lot of notice so I can get the night off from work/find a babysitter/budget my introvert energies/get a ride/set aside enough $, so I can’t always say yes to last-minute invites even when I’d like to see you. Thanks!” 

15 “I dreamt my ex invited me and his ex girlfriend in his house and had sex with us at different intervals what does it mean.”

Are you joking? Your true destiny has been revealed! Call them at once!

Or, just possibly, your brain’s hard drive was sorting through some old footage the other night and decided to show your sleeping self a movie that would push a couple of buttons real hard (maybe the ones marked “horniness” and “emotional stuff”?) and the dream isn’t necessarily meaningful in itself.

I never want to say that dreams aren’t important. I am a meticulous, vivid, immersive dreamer and I often remember my dreams upon waking. I can tell I’m anxious about something when I spend my nights waiting tables in a restaurant where suddenly I’m the only one working and a bus full of old people has just pulled up and I can’t stop until every one of them is satisfied, or I’m taking the final exam for a class I never signed up for but am unable to drop, or worse I’m TEACHING a class where I am totally unprepared and have no idea what the topic even is but the room is full of students looking expectantly at me and there is something on the white board that might help but try as I might I can’t read what it says. I have had recurring bad dreams about seemingly innocuous people from my life who turned out to be unsafe down the road enough times that I know to pay attention or at least ask why a person is suddenly showing up in my brain as the Devil. Those I’ve loved and lost visit me in dreams all the time, sometimes it’s Beadie, full of purrs and intense stares, and my childhood pets show up too, and we all walk together through a vast forest. Sometimes it’s my Grandma, red-nosed from drinking her single glass of rosé, destroying me at Rummy. And yup, sometimes I’m back in one of those situations, pressed close against some hot and confusing person in an encounter that I thought I’d deleted from the directory long ago but I clearly didn’t empty the Trash folder since my dream brain’s impressions are shockingly faithful to actual events.

My dreaming self isn’t the boss of me, she’s more of an observer, so if I happen to carry a strong memory of the night’s jumble of images forward into the day I always find it interesting but not necessarily instructive, in a “data isn’t the same thing as information” sense.

What do you think this dream means, if anything, and where is it pointing you in terms of what you need and desire? That’s probably what it means.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Dear Captain –

I (she/her) am a middle-aged wife of a man (he/him). We’ve only been married three years (together 8) but it has turned out to be rather nothing like what I wanted marriage to be – and I was not unrealistic! He’s emotionally constipated and may also be more intellectually my inferior than he first seemed. He’s kind, not a monster, but he doesn’t manage stress well – at all – and I don’t manage money well. He’s sexually inexperienced compared to me, but he’s still interested whereas I am completely dead from the neck down. Right now hugging him is like hugging a pillow. I am so tired of managing his emotions, explaining things to him, taking the lead on any decision-making because he can’t manage it, quelling my frustrations, enduring his inept pawing, trying to explain my dissatisfactions and needs without somehow making him feel blamed, I’m exhausted. In addition, my work situation has gotten more isolated, difficult, and stressful. Plus there’s the news cycle grinding us all down slowly.

I believe strongly in the campsite rule of relationships, leave them better than you found them; I think if I vanished he’s in a better place: he’s in touch with his creative side, has a wide and non-toxic pool of friends who love him, and a homier home and healthier diet. However, I used to be creative and horny and enthusiastic and I did performances and made things and wrote things, I kept up with my projects and bills and friends, and now I just want to watch TV or maybe play World of Warcraft, though it’s too much bother most of the time. Definitely depressed! But, if he vanished, I would be worse than when he found me, but I’d feel free.

One day I had a dream, followed by another dream, which resulted in writing a 200,000 word book in three weeks. I didn’t want to do anything else, I was utterly engulfed in this project. He keeps asking what I am doing but I just can’t tell him, “Writing!” but he’s convinced I have to share every phase of any project like he does because he’s so insecure. Anyway, all I want to do is work on these books. I have control of that little universe on the page, and I don’t want to engage with him at all. He’s trying to be sweet but it’s too little too late. He’s always been terrible at communicating any kind of emotions besides stress. Any time he has stress he crawls up his own ass and neglects everyone around him, particularly me. I am exhausted beyond belief. We both have therapists, but it’s still too early to be experiencing results, and we definitely need couples therapy. A bitter part of my brain just knows he’s not asking her the right questions.

I am in despair and I just need to know how I can communicate “please fuck off” while I am working on this project, which is tantamount to an emotional affair (the first book involves me meeting and getting together with a famous person; the second is a meta response). I feel guilty not telling him, but I know he’ll take it personally and then those emotions he cannot express will be my problem too. I am his mother more than his wife and I don’t even know what a proper relationship looks like. But it ain’t this. If I knew it would be like five years from now, I would be gone. But I am hoping therapy/Wellbutrin will help.

I guess my question is: how do you tell the husband you are currently utterly burned out on that you are writing a story about being in love with someone else, and you’d much rather do that than talk to your husband? My book lover is not some Hemsworthian hunk but is the opposite of my husband in all the important ways, and a very nerdly sort of beau. My regular crush on him has definitely blossomed into something unhealthy, but I’m in no danger of acting out on it, so it’s more of an escape than a manifesto.

Sincerely,
Writing A Book With Dream Boyfriend

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Short Version: I (she/her) have a friend (she/her) who is irrationally jealous of her boyfriend, and it’s driving all our friends apart. I don’t know whether to try help her, or just to distance myself from our friendship.

Longer explanation: She and I have now been friends for about five years, including during grad school. Overall, she can be a kind, thoughtful, and generous person. However, when it comes to her boyfriend of one year, she transforms into someone I don’t even recognize. Based on what she has said in the past, her relationship is stable and he has never given her cause to doubt his fidelity.

But recently, whenever he talks to another woman, even casual chat at a party, she becomes incredibly jealous. She has made scenes, calling women out in front of everyone, or sending messages that say “stay away from my boyfriend, bitch.” She insists that all the women in the friend group (even married, much younger, much older, etc.) want her boyfriend. I think I’ve escaped her jealousy only because I’m gay. Sometimes after one of her scenes, she apologizes and tries to smooth things over, but more often she remains convinced that someone is a “bitch” and expects everyone to agree with her. But everyone does NOT agree with her, and people are starting to distance themselves.

I’d like to remain friends, but I’m starting to seriously rethink the relationship. I believe that a lot of this is coming from her anxiety/depression, but I can’t stand to hear her reduce all these lovely, smart, funny women to “scheming bitches,” and I can’t let her believe that I’m on her side in this. Nobody else actually wants her boyfriend! I know if I confront her, she might get really angry with me, too, and I don’t do conflict well. We all work in a similar niche field (science-related), so I’d like to somehow maintain friendly relationships with all these people, if it’s even possible now. What do I do?

Thank you!

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