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comebacks

Hello, Cap and friends! I have a couple of questions about boundary-setting with people who don’t believe in boundaries.

The Awkward team’s advice and scripts on setting boundaries have been so wonderfully helpful in my life, but what (if anything) can you say to people who believe that setting boundaries in a family is controlling?

For an example, there are wonderful scripts you linked from the SPLC center, on how to set boundaries with family members being bigoted:

>”Your ‘jokes’ are putting unnecessary distance between us; I worry they’ll end up doing irreparable harm. I want to make sure those ‘jokes’ don’t damage our relationship.” “You know that respect and tolerance are important values in my life, and, while I understand that you have a right to say what you want, I’m asking you to show a little more respect for me by not telling these ‘jokes’ when I’m around.” “I don’t want this rift to get worse, and I want us to have a good relationship. What should we do?””

In my family (parents + siblings, I’m 30), the responses are simply, “There wouldn’t be a problem if you just laughed” and “You’re trying to control what I do by saying that. It’s manipulative to say that I’m disrespecting you if I keep saying [awful insults about minority groups, or about me personally].” I mean, in a way they are kind of right? I am literally attempting to control discourse to a degree, but somehow that feels like they are missing the forest for the trees in a way I can’t articulate. Especially since they get offended if you don’t laugh at their ‘jokes!’

Is there any way to rationally respond to people that think that attempting to set boundaries (or tears at being insulted) is “childish and manipulative”? They see that as a truly deeply harmful thing, and it would be really wonderful if it was possible to get them to understand the idea of **mutual** respect.

Thank you so very much for ANY ideas.

– A Weary Woman

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Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

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HI!

So I know church is maybe not your milieu, but I hope this question has some broader applications and maybe deserves a broader answer.

I’m a lady in my early 30s who has been dating my wonderful boyfriend (late 20s) for a few years. We’ve been attending our church for 3 years, which we chose together. I was raised small town Protestant and my bf did the recovering Catholic/atheist thing for a number of years. We chose our church because, although it’s very formal (incense, fancy vestments, the whole bit) it’s a denomination that’s known for being really open-minded and liberal. We also liked the individual church we chose because it’s really beautiful and historic, and located downtown–so really, right in the thick of things. I wouldn’t call it a bad neighborhood per se (mostly because the idea of a neighborhood being “bad” is pretty racist) but during the crack epidemic of the ’80s and ’90s, there were a few scary incidents and membership took a nosedive.

Fast forward to today. Our church’s membership is growing, and about 2 years ago my boyfriend decided he was interested in pursing a career in the church. To that end, he created a ministry that focuses on homelessness and food insecurity, which is an issue that’s very close to his heart, as both of his parents were homeless at different points. The bulk of the work is that, once a week, he hosts a lunch for anyone who wants to attend, free of charge. The demand is great, and seeing 100 people come through in 90 min is not unusual. Most of the people who come through are either homeless or food insecure, and many of them are people of color.

This is a ministry that a lot of people are really excited about–our priest has been a total treasure throughout the whole process, and Boyfriend is quickly gaining a reputation throughout the diocese. But there are others in the congregation who are…less enthused.

Having grown up in a really small town, I’m used to the petty politics of church life. Boyfriend is really, really not. I think the thing that’s been most surprising to me is how many people we consider close friends, despite the age and income gaps (lots of older, upper middle class white people), have said some really nasty shit just out of earshot. Just this last week, I found out that at our summer kickoff street festival (which was attended by a number of Boyfriend’s lunch regulars) a woman who I considered a friend apparently said, “This isn’t the [local homeless shelter]. This is disgusting.” I ended up making the decision to not tell Boyfriend about this, as it happened several months ago, and there didn’t seem to be any point in tainting his image of this particular woman. But suffice to say, this was not a one-off comment; there are A LOT of people who overtly or covertly agree, one or two of whom have been openly hostile.

I’m just flabbergasted. I think Boyfriend’s work is really important, and I’m super-proud of him. I’m just really disgusted because I feel like he’s really trying to walk the walk, as far as the Christian message goes, and he’s supported by the administration, but markedly less so by other people (some of whom I thought were our friends and/or are very influential in the community.) I mean, Jesus KINDA TALKS A LOT about the poor and the destitute…

How should I handle this sort of malarkey when it comes up? Chalk it up to an age/income/culture divide and let it lie? Quickly slap it down and put them in their place? I worry that not saying anything at all enforces the status quo, but equally I worry that going on the warpath against a bunch of old ladies isn’t a good look, either.

Thanks,

WWCAD?

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Dear Captain Awkward,

After two months of just-can’t-get-enough-of-you, he went cold overnight. Just like a switch was thrown. No responses, no communication, nada. Okay, it’s happened before with other guys, I can deal.

What has also happened before which I CAN’T deal with is running into him again and getting that question. You know the one. “You’re not mad at me, are you?” [cue sheepish grin]

I simply cannot come up with a satisfying answer to this question. If I say, “why, yes, you’re a big shit-ball,” it feels like I’m giving up power somehow, and it’s easy to dismiss me as bitter, as someone who’s still hung up on him. If I say no, then he walks away feeling absolved. Either way, he feels good / righteous.

It’s surprising how often they turn up again with this question. I hate getting cornered this way, and I _will_ run into him again (small town). It’s hard for me to even articulate to myself why this question feels SO manipulative and self-serving.

I’d really like a script that is the truth, but also puts the responsibility for his shitty behavior right back where it belongs — on him. I want nothing to do with making him feel better about how he behaved. Make sense?

signed,
Being Prepared Gives Me Peace of Mind

Dear Prepared,

I’m sorry you’ve encountered Shirley Jackson’s Daemon Lover.

If you ever encounter this situation again, I offer you this script:

“Undecided.” + Awkward Pause + Turn back to whatever you were doing.

Picture this lady Viola Davis as Annalise Keating from the pilot episode of the ABC show How To Get Away With Murder that aired September 25, 2014 saying it:

Viola Davis from How To Get Away With Murder

You don’t need to act cool or smooth things over. You don’t need to reassure him. He knows you’d have a good reason to be angry with him, or he wouldn’t ask the question.

I hope everything starts to feel better soon.