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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,

My husband is suddenly moving abroad. Unilateral decision. Expected me to follow with the teenagers even though I said, before he made plans, that I had no intention of moving abroad and that it was terrible timing for the children. I have many, obvious, practical reasons to not move abroad (like a business) that he glossed over with wishful thinking. He made no practical considerations. Just got a job and a plane ticket. In the space of three weeks. He leaves in a few days.

I’ve been too stunned, confused, full of various emotions, busy with practical considerations, and uncertain of their responses to want to tell my friends. Our long-standing marriage troubles and previous attempted solutions, such as therapy and mini-separations, have been kept private. Except once when I tried to mention something minor to one friend who was rather unexpectedly and hurtfully self-focused, dismissive, and judgmental.

Well, now he’ll be gone, I can’t hide that, I would love moral and practical support, but I expect they’ll have some questions and I don’t know many answers. Nothing is certain about future plans. (We will have a legal agreement concerning finances and such that I’m happy with.) I’m not sure how friends will react. I’m not too worried about acquaintances at the moment, but I don’t know what to say to my closest friends. (None of us are on Facebook and one of us isn’t online at all, so social media and mass email announcements are out.) Can you help me with a script and ideas for when to deploy it?

Thank you, Captain!

Signed,

Window in my Heart

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My brother died suddenly in an accident in May. He was my only full sibling. The only sibling I grew up with and lived with. I also have 3 older half siblings from my father’s first marriage- we’re not super close, we see each other at holidays and text quarterly updates. After the funeral, I had to plan my wedding happening just 8 weeks after my brother’s death. The trouble starts when I am texting with T (the oldest half sister) and say that I am having a hard time because my mother is emotionally unavailable due to her grief. T has a tense relationship with my mother and uses this moment to tell me how unreasonably angry my mother was acting when she last saw her. I am LIVID and stop responding. T says “sorry, it just made her sad.” I lose a day of wedding planning to being angry and trying to figure out how to respond. I give up and send no reply.

In the following weeks, T sends a message explaining her behaviour and then tells me that I am acting unacceptably. I tell her that I need some time and space. My other sister K is sent to get some answers and I tell her to mind her own business. T gives me 10 days and then tells me I’m being abusive and I’m just mad because her siblings are alive and mine is dead, that everyone was at her wedding and my brother won’t be at mine. She doesn’t want to come to my wedding because she’s not sure if I even love her anymore. I tell her that needing space was about me not her. At this time she also makes a plea to my parents to get them to make me talk with her- they say she should just leave me alone. My father sobs and begs T to attend the wedding.

At the wedding, T shows up late and leaves early. I generally avoid them and have a fine time. After the wedding she blocks me and my parents on facebook and gets her husband and mother to do the same. I text T that I am available to talk now, but understand if she needs space. No response. I text K and say apologize for being snappy and telling her to mind her own business. She blasts back demanding I take responsibility for everything – for making my “wedding into a battle ground”, shattering all of the relationships, and “single handedly tearing our grieving family apart”. I’m at a loss. Am I selfish? Are they? How much of this is my fault? Should I just cut my losses? Help?

-One wedding and a funeral

(Preferred pronouns she-her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband, “John”, is currently studying for a graduate degree. He has exams coming up so is spending all day every day in the library and then when he comes home he just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. It sucks and I miss him but we are dealing with almost never seeing each other properly because these exams are important right now.

My husband has a friend, “Martha”, who is doing the same course. Martha is taking the same exams. Martha lives in the building across from us. And I just wish Martha would fuck the fuck off and leave him alone.

Martha is incredibly psychologically needy and seems to have latched onto my husband as a target for her emotional vampirism. She doesn’t have a boyfriend or may other friends here. I am all for my husband having friends and for him sometimes needing to be there for them, but Martha wants his attention all the time. She messages him constantly about trivial chatty things and ‘needs’ him to reply immediately. They go to the library and spend all day there together, and then when they get home he feels he needs to invite her in for a drink or even sometimes for dinner because she’s “so lonely”. Then five minutes after she leaves (which is always well after I thought she ought to have left) she is messaging him again. This happens all day every day.

The thing that kills me is that my husband will come home and say how tired he is of Martha and how he wishes he didn’t have to see her again all day tomorrow. So I say, “You don’t! Just say you’re not going to that library and go somewhere else to work! Or when she makes her sad face and talks passive-aggressively about how she’ll just go and spend the evening alone again, just let her go! The world is not going to collapse if you ignore her stupid messages!”

But he doesn’t. He says how fed up he is of her (and I think he really is) but then nothing changes! He still gets guilted into spending all his time with her and getting sucked into her emotional neediness. I don’t want to turn this into some huge drama when he’s focused on his exams, but I cannot stand to hear about Martha one more time, I cannot stand to see Martha ever again and I cannot stand to know that she’s stealing his time and energy that he needs for himself right now (let alone for me!).

Please help me before I do or say something I regret!

Yours,
Hateful Wife

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents and I have a very strained relationship. There is obviously a lot involved, but since I left home 12 years ago I’ve slowly been setting boundaries with them and trying to have the kind of relationship we can manage (which is a superficial though mostly friendly one as long as I’m not in the same state as them). While a lot of the things my parents do bother me, I’ve been coping with them. However, I have a pet peeve that I just can’t get over, and I need help!

My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk and in the third person. I am 30 years old, a successful attorney, married, and 100% an adult. He tells me all that time that I’ll “always be a widdle girl to Daddy” and other similar nonsense, and I want to reach through the phone and show him what’s what. I have far exceeded what he thought I would become in life (no thanks to him) and I feel like he’s infantalizing me to ‘keep me in my place.’ I hate it.

But how do I make it stop? This has been going on my whole adult life, and I feel like I’m in deep to just say “actually that bothers me a lot, please stop.” Ultimately I know this is indicative of his whole attitude toward me, which will never really change, but if I could just carry on a conversation were he says “I changed the oil today” instead of “Daddy changed the oil” (in a cutesy voice) I would take it.

Best,
Not Widdle and Not Buying It

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Hi,
I’m a 17 year old homeschooled dual-creadit student who attends my local community college. I have a 4.0 there, and I am part of the honor society and an officer in the Honors Student Organization. I’m not, at least not in by my family’s standards, brilliant, but I am smart. I always try to be a nice person and do good things, but I am worried that I come off as condescending and sometimes bitchy to my class mates. My grades are a large part of my identity because I am so focused on school, and because of that I have a reputation as an overachiever in all of my classes. I use my reputation as, at least somewhat, a defense mechanism. I have never had a boyfriend, had any alcohol,done any sort of drugs, etc. The people in my classes call me a baby because I don’t lie about being extremely inexperienced, and I don’t really mind that. I my be inexperienced, but I am not as naive as they seem to think I am. I use my inexperience as a reason I don’t throw parties when my parents leave me home alone for sometimes up to a week (they both travel for work). I don’t hide my grades from my fellow class mates; in fact, I share them openly. However, sometimes I worry that I come off as condescending because a lot of people make Bs or Cs, which I consider failing for me. I know that considering that a B is failing isn’t healthy, but school is my life and I don’t know how to let it go. I generally don’t understand why people don’t try hard in school and do their best. I understand that a lot of people have a job, kids, or both; but those aren’t really the people I’m talking about. The people I don’t understand are the ones that complain about doing poorly on tests and having to drop classes and then do to festivals on the weekend when they have homework. I also know that sometimes I can see the world in too much black and white and not take into account the environment somebody grew up in. I want to understand them better, but it is so much easier to call them stupid and write them off in my head as a lost cause. How do I learn to think of people as people and try to understand where they are coming from? When should I stop giving them leeway and say they need to step up and try harder? How do I not let my school define myself and my life when they are so important to me? How do I/ should I hold back on what my grades are because I may come off as a insensitive and condescending? Why do some people ignore their school and then freak out because they are failing?

Thank you for your time,
– The Overachiever

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Dear Captain Awkward,

After a very painful marriage breakup and over 10 years of not dating (for many reasons including mental breakdown, SSRI sexual side effects and being too scared to go back into that shark pool – and yes, I’m currently in therapy) I’ve recently started online dating.

At the end of a recent (first meeting) coffee date, the man indicated that he would like to see me again, but then rang a few hours later to say that he had changed his mind. I am totally ok with him changing his mind, but the call made me feel quite uncomfortable because he seemed unable to just say what he needed to say then get off the phone. I assume he was trying to be polite, that perhaps he thought it was more chivalric than sending a text message or email or just dropping off the face of the earth, but I would actually have preferred one of the more impersonal methods in this setting, where I hardly know the man and am never going to see him again anyway.

My question is whether I should be upfront about my preferred mode of rejection while we’re still just emailing or texting, or whether it’s silly and preemptively negative to bring up how we’re going to end things before we’ve even met, and I should just learn live with the fact that all rejection will be at least a little bit painful.

Thanks,
Scared of the Shark Pool

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