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Dear Captain Awkward,

I participate in a small sport, with several branches. I am both a referee and a ‘player’ in this sport. (If you see any inadvertent clues as to the sport, please could you edit them out?)

At the club where I practice, lots of people know that I referee, and often ask me questions about the rules. I don’t mind these questions, and enjoy answering them, it’s part of why I love being a referee, and part of what has helped me become one of the country’s (UK) most senior referees in one branch of the sport.

In one of the smaller branches, I’m actually getting quite good – in fact I’ll be representing my country at a world championships later this year. This is my first time at an international event, and unsurprisingly, I have ramped up my practice.

My problem is when I have gone to the club to practice, and other club members start asking me questions. It generally starts out OK with just one question, but that inevitably turns into “but what if [related but slightly different situation]?”.

How can I politely let people know that they have crossed the line from a welcome short question and answer into an imposition? Especially when the line is crossed quite quickly. I want to end the conversation as soon as possible while still making it clear I’d be happy to answer short questions in future? This is complicated slightly by the fact that I’m an introvert with extreme shyness, and anxiety. And having to tell someone no feels like confrontation to me and brings my anxiety right up! Also, these people are my friends, and answering questions starts off as a nice way to interact with people I like.

On a slightly extended note (feel free to edit this out if you prefer), an example was this weekend. I was pretty tired after going for a run first thing, and then spending all morning at practice. I had broken for lunch and was making a cup of tea in the clubhouse. A Lady from the club started asking me questions about the new dress code, and I replied with a sensible answer. But she kept asking the same question “could I wear this, could I wear that”. I felt like I had to keep answering. I did walk away, when I was too tired to keep standing, and had actually gone and sat down on the other side of the clubhouse but she followed me and started asking what local competitions would be suitable for her daughter. I said outright several times that I didn’t know about junior competitions, but she kept on asking and asking and asking. Captain, I was soooo tired, and this was my lunch break! I just wanted her to go away. This is an extreme example, as the lady in question doesn’t pick up on social cues very well, so I might need something more pointed for her.

Thank you for your lovely blog, I have really enjoyed reading since I discovered it a few weeks ago.

All the best,
Trying to Practice (she/her pronouns)

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Hi Capt,

Surely this has been asked before, but I can’t find anything this straightforward in the archive. What do you say when someone wants to be your friend but you just don’t like them?

I feel like at any given time there are a few people in my life who really want to be my friend but who I just don’t find all that interesting or fun or my cup of tea. Usually they have done nothing wrong and are in no way offensive; I just don’t like them. Usually they pursue me pretty hard, inviting me to things and politely but persistently trying to schedule friend-dates. Usually we are socially connected so there’s no ghosting on them forever (also that’s mean), and also it means bearing the burden of showing up at a real friend’s party and having not-my-friend be super excited to see me and be all “it is so awesome to see you, we need to catch up!” Ugh.

I sound like such a jerk in this email. I don’t want to be a jerk! I also don’t want to spend time with people I don’t like, and I don’t need new friends badly enough to give these folks a chance, and inevitably they are the sort of people who stubbornly refuse to notice that their invitations are never reciprocated. I also wonder why I seem to attract oblivious quasi-groupies when I am definitely not the cool one in my friend group and also I am really not that nice to people I don’t like. Like, I’m not an asshole (I hope), but no one could claim that I lead these not-friends on; it’s not like I say “omg we def need to catch up but I’m just soooo busy rn,” I’m more like “sorry, can’t make it! EOM”.

Got a script for saying “no I don’t want to hang out with you and it’s not that I’m busy, I just don’t want to” without making it a Huge Deal? Or for telling a new acquaintance that no you don’t really want to get coffee some time or friend them on Facebook? Also what’s with people friending folks on FB who they met once for like a hot second and then being offended that you don’t accept the request? Hi I don’t know you so I definitely don’t want to see your vacation photos nor you to see mine.

Maybe I am just a jerk.

Oh lordy these people probably write to advice columnists about me.

Signed,
Not Your Friend
(She/her)

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I am visiting England from North America. A person I know knew when I was coming and where to reach me. They have never called to say hello or welcome. Was I meant to call them?

Do you want to talk to this person?

Do you want that conversation to be enjoyable and pleasant? Do you want them to still want to talk to you after it’s over?

If yes, call them, and (just a suggestion) don’t start your conversation with “Why haven’t you called me yet?” or “I’ve been WAITING for your call!

Maybe try: “Hello, do you still have some time to get together while I’m here?” 

It’s entirely possible that your upcoming visit was not the most important event on this person’s calendar. Perhaps they assumed you were busy with other travel activities and that you’d call when you had a free moment. Perhaps they forgot entirely.

No matter. What you think “should have” happened didn’t happen. So, what would you like to happen now?

 

Hi, Captain!

I’ve got a nice, awkward, many-years-running situation for you!

So when I was in my early 20s, I dated someone I shouldn’t have dated, whom I’ll call Dean. I dated him for five years. At the time, I was so isolated where I lived that it became a kind of “well, it’s better than not dating anyone” thing, until it became a love thing, and then an inertia thing. He wasn’t right for me in so many ways, but he wasn’t exactly bad to me either…and I was 23 and had very little relationship experience. Partway through the relationship I relocated to a major city for grad school, and took the opportunity to break up with him. However, after a few months and some insistance from him that surprised me (because he’d always been so passive), he moved to be with me again. We lived together until I got interested in polyamory, met what would become my community (and next partner), and then broke up in slow motion over an agonizing year, during which I dated my new person openly, Dean planned to move out of state, and we had maintenance sex that I tolerated because if I didn’t, he would make me miserable.

Context: this person was a functioning alcoholic, a burnout artist type, and most of the time treated me very well (still the most thoughtful gift-giver I’ve ever met), but see above re: the manipulative sex, and manipulative behavior in general that usually amounted to refusing to take a strong stance on anything, but guilting me if I did. Even now, close to 20 years later, it’s hard to explain exactly how that relationship (mal)functioned, and even when I’d been through a year of living with him while wanting nothing more than to be officially broken up, I was still sad when he left, and he still wanted to stay friends.

For a while we weren’t in touch, but over the years he started sending me cards and pictures again, letting me know how his life was going, and so on. More recently, he’s also been texting me, and a couple months back we had a long telephone conversation that reminded me of all the ways he used to keep reeling me back in (it was a way longer phone conversation than I wanted to have). His texts often have the flavor of his self-styling as a “comedian,” which means that at times they say offensive things that he “doesn’t mean” as directed to me, but is testing the waters as to whether they’re generally funny. (They’re not.) He and I used to be massive fans of Bill Hicks and other edgy comics; these days I look back at that material and find a lot of it horrifyingly offensive. So the texts go back and forth between expressions of “gee life sucks, but you were a great part of it so I keep in touch with you,” and weird backhanded comments I don’t know how to respond to.

In short, Dean and I are just as poorly matched now as we ever were, but I get the strong sense that he was closer to me than he had been to almost anyone, and that even now, I’m one of the few people he genuinely cares about. On top of that, he apparently has early stage Alzheimer’s, which is just…terrible. I can’t help but feel, however, that the diagnosis is yet another way for him to make me feel bad for him so he can keep me around. Which makes me feel like a jerk.

When I spoke to him last, I told him my dad had died, and he expressed genuine regret; they’d been close, possibly because my dad was a similar kind of fuckup. He expressed the desire to come to his memorial when I had it, and in the same breath said he’d understand if I didn’t want him there, which I appreciated.

But the whole thing is just so sad at this point. I feel like encouraging him by inviting him to the memorial, seeing him again, etc., could make him start contacting me more regularly and sucking my time and energy in a way I’ve found really unpleasant in the past. On the other hand, am I a jerk? I just keep finding myself ignoring his texts after a while, and then finally answering them because I feel bad, then starting the cycle over again. We’re both in our 40s, repartnered, living hundreds of miles apart; though his occasional contact obviously frazzles me, it feels like it’d be cruel to just be like, “Don’t talk to me anymore.” They say that the older you get, the more you need people who knew you when you were young, but I have to admit that that me isn’t someone I love being reminded of, and that person isn’t someone I felt knew or understood me well at all.

Thoughts?
Recovering Passive-Aggressive Bullshit Taker

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Hi Captain,

So, I’ve been attending a salsa dance class the last few months. The class is structured so that you are welcome to come as a single person, and the participants shuffle through partners throughout the class. It’s a lot of fun and the men are generally pretty respectful and appropriate.

My problem is that a young man has been attending the last two weeks, and while he is very polite, his body odor is HORRENDOUS. I really cannot overstate how bad it is. By the middle of class he is sweating profusely, such that there is perspiration dripping off of his nose, and yes, onto his dancing partners (or at least *this* dancing partner, which is my main concern).

I really don’t want dance with him, but I don’t know how to refuse or what to do about it without being rude. I can totally see his attendance in this class as a suggested “assignment” from a therapist or other advice giver (such as yourself!) to get out there and be around people, even if it’s something he’s not comfortable doing.

Do you have any scripts that I can use? I do want to be kind.

~Dreading Dance Class

(She/her pronouns)

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Dear Cap,

I have an issue with one set of my grandparents – my mom’s dad and stepmom.

Backstory: my mom is a single mom. My dad never paid child support. My sister’s dad pays child support, but for a year or so there he didn’t, and he pays a lot less now than he used to. She’s not careless with money, but we’ve lived paycheck to paycheck my whole life.

A few years ago we were living with her boyfriend and his kids. He’s kind of an idiot, and my mom was very unhappy and wanted to leave him. Financially, this was almost impossible. So she asked these grandparents if they would loan her some money – loan – to help her out, and make it easier to leave this guy. As it was, when she finally decided to leave him, the only place for us to go that she could afford was to live with my other grandparents (her mom and stepdad) in their spare room. These grandparents heard my mother’s request for a loan – the only time she’s ever asked them for money, by the way – and said no. And then asked why she needed money, and to tell them what it was she spent all her money on. As though she was secretly hiding some habit, or was a compulsive shopper, or something – as though she couldn’t be poor just because she was supporting two kids on her own. My mom was very upset, and that was that. They didn’t give her a penny.

Fast forward to now. I was talking to this grandma about the car accident I was recently in. She asked if I’d gotten a settlement yet, and I explained no, my lawyer wants to wait until I’m done with treatment. And she said that she hopes I’m wise about my money if I get a settlement. “You don’t have to spend every single cent like your mom does whenever she gets money,” she said to me. And I said nothing. I didn’t want to start something. So I kept quiet, and she went on and said she just hopes I make better choices than my mom has.

Captain, I’m tired. I don’t enjoy spending time with these grandparents. They’ve always been kind to me but they don’t treat my little sister well. They said this shit about my mom. And when I was in my car accident? They called after they found out, and I didn’t hear from them again for weeks. This was a bad accident – my car was totaled, I had a concussion, bruised ribs, back stuff – and I’m a poor grad student. My mom told them I’d been hit with a lot of bills right away and if they could, I could use some money. My other grandparents sent me money, aunts and uncles – fuck, tumblr friends sent me e-giftcards. Radio silence from my grandparents – not even a ‘how are you feeling?’ text. It stung. And now these comments about my mom?

But since “family is the most important thing,” I feel like I have to keep trying, I have to go to visit them and call them. I know I can’t cut them off.

I don’t know if I should tell my mom about what my grandma said, and I’m worried the next time I talk to them they’ll say similar stuff to me. Advice on how to handle this?

Sincerely,
Defensive Daughter

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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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