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Dear Captain,

This is a bit messy, please bear with me… One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie. Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship. She says she is not jealous, but she’s mean to me every time we meet, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to her. I’ve made several attempts to build bridges, and she’s burned them every time. At this point Katie has stopped talking to me altogether, which is kind of a relief, I guess. I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.

John and I never really got over our almost-relationship. The other day we finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: that we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that. To summarize, John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge. I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately. I have no love for Katie, but I don’t want to hurt her and I don’t want to be responsible for a breakup… But I care deeply about John and want to be his submissive, even if it is in kind-of-secret… I’m in such a tangled web I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Yours,
Lovelorn Sub

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Hi there,

I have a bit of an odd quandary. I am divorced, and I divorced young. My relationship was a very bad and abusive one, and that was a dark time in my life. I have gotten therapy, learned a lot about myself, and I think I’m doing well. It’s daily work to deal with lingering issues, but I typically feel most comfortable addressing those to my therapist or close family who knew me then. It’s intensely personal to me, and revisiting it in casual conversation isn’t something I’m interested in doing. I have PTSD, and it coming up usually sets me up for a good day of feeling anxious and awful.

I’ve since moved across the country and none of my new friends really know much about my divorce or that I was ever married. I don’t hide it, and a more in-depth peruse of my social media probably holds some clues, but I don’t proactively bring it up. I’m an age where many of my friends are getting married and navigating serious relationships for the first time, so it’s very plausible and even likely that none of this ever happened. People assume that (I never lie), and I don’t correct them.

That said, I’m fortunate that some of these relationships are becoming closer, which raises two issues:

1. It is normal to not tell a minor acquaintance your life story, but it is starting to feel like a purposeful omission to people whom I see often and confide in me. I know I’m not obligated to share it, but occasionally they’ll find out and when they do there’s a bit of “whoa, that was a pretty big thing to leave out.” I stammer and ineffectually mumble some sort of half-apology, but I have no idea how to even start. I don’t feel like I need to apologize, but I always feel like I kind of lied, even though I didn’t.

2. I’ve been asked, directly, a few times – “were you once married?” and I don’t want to lie. I also, however, want to be clear that it isn’t something I enjoy talking about without disclosing more about the relationship than I’d like to.

I want to set a boundary, I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want to sensationalize. I feel like I need to give a reason why I never said anything, but that gets into self-disclosure I’d rather avoid (“Yes, I was, but it was a difficult and painful time and not something I talk about” generally creates pity and curiosity and gossip and more prying, all awful.) Not giving a reason or changing the subject generally creates a weird, stilted conversation or doesn’t adequately communicate that it’s off-limits so then it comes up again.

I need a polite way to communicate that this is not a secret but not something I talk about without making it into a bigger deal than it is and not making anyone feel as though I’ve slighted them by leaving that out. I’d love to have scripts for either of these instances because right now I’m just floundering, it’s awkward, and it’s starting to become the elephant in the room, and I’m sad I can’t think of something better to say.

Thank you so much. She/her pronouns.

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Hey Capt,

I find myself in a delicate situation regarding my best friend of 2 yrs Julie (23f) and her fiance, Jon (23m).

Julie met Jon and became engaged to him this past summer; they’d been seeing each other 4 monthes in a LDR. There had been many issues (Jon was unwilling to commit for awhile, struggles with alcohol, has bipolar and a dark past), so there side-eyeing and lost friendships over the course of everything. At this point, the dust has settled. Julie and I are still close, but there are few she’d call close friends.

Before she met Jon, we were at that comfortable “let’s hang out pretty much everyday in sweatpants or meet up between classes” type of friendship. I figured that we’d get much less time together once she started dating; I wasn’t expecting the engagement, but I tried to be as supportive as I could. She tells me often that she appreciates my support, though I have expressed concerns re: Jon’s past, issues, etc. I’ve read all your darth articles quite a few times.

However, it’s getting hard to do this because almost every time we have plans beyond coffee, Jon is suddenly suicidal or “worried he’s in a bad place” or “more down than usual”.

Julie is very sensitive to this, and will promptly cancel with many apologies. I’m fine rescheduling coffee or lunch. When it’s a day plan though (birthday party, sleepover,etc), that bothers me. Add that to the fact that she’ll be texting with him because he’ll feel ignored otherwise, and I don’t know how to approach this.

It feels cruel to suggest she not tend to her partner when they’re going through a hard time ,but it bugs me that his hard times always fall on days where we’re supposed to be having plans, It also makes me feel like I can’t express frustration or hurt, because how selfish is it to want to see your friend when their SO is in a bad place?

It’s gotten to the point that any time she bails, I can be sure Jon is the reason behind it. I want to support her, and be there if she needs me, but I also want to be able to schedule time without constantly being trumped by Jon’s emotional issues.

What should I do, and how can I talk about this without making her defensive?

Sincerely,
I Miss My Friend

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Hello Captain,
I’m 29 years old, living with my parents, my older sister and my niece.

My mother stopped work when she gave birth to me, so she’s pretty much been a housewife all her life. My father is that wonderful combination of breadwinner and financial abuser (i.e, he has enough money to buy expensive shoes and perfumes for himself, but asking him for money so we can have food and power supply is like talking to a wall), so when things are down, it falls to my sister and me to pick up the slack when it comes to money. My sister just started a new job, and I’m still entry-level at the job I’ve had for nearly three years.

The thing is, it usually falls to me to pick up the financial burden. I’m asked to pay the cable, the internet, the groceries etc all the time. I’ve asked my sister for both of us to split the bills, but she doesn’t agree. And when I ask my mother to talk to her, her preferred method is to placate me rather than talk to my sister. Usually, this means that I’m counting every cent until payday because I don’t have a lot for myself. Despite this, anytime I buy food/toiletries for myself, I’m expected to share with the two of them. I plan out my groceries and needs for the month, and I literally cannot afford to be replacing items if they finish earlier than expected.

I need help saying no, especially to my sister. Every time I try to be firm, I’m called ‘selfish’ and ‘I used to be so nice’ and ‘we’re family, so we share everything.’ I don’t think it’s selfishness to want to let my personal groceries last as long as possible, especially when I can barely afford to look after myself, and especially when my sister won’t do anything. I’m at that point where I’m seriously considering buying a small cupboard/fridge, putting it in my room and keeping everything locked up when I’m not home. What should I do?

– Not Selfish

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Dear Captain,

I am married to a wonderful, funny, smart man. We have an amazing two-year-old and I just found out that I am expecting again. Life is good, except that his normally-long-distance family is suddenly in the area (an hour’s drive away) and thus all the issues about my dislike of them that we have managed to gloss over are coming up in a big way. (The stuff I found in the archives about in-laws involved a partner’s family being just as toxic for him/her as for the LW, and this isn’t so much our case.)

His family history is too long and sordid to get into, but it involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and my husband being informed at nine years of age that he was now responsible for everyone else, including not just his siblings but his mother. (She was the one informing him of this.) This resulted in an incredibly responsible and patient man, but one unable to see his siblings and mother as anything but helpless victims who need him, when in fact there is major manipulation going on in order for them to maintain the hapless lifestyles to which they are accustomed.

It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him); he wants me to love his family. And he keeps comparing them to my family, and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family. When: well, if this were a Hollywood rom-com, my family would be the uptight prissy overeducated East Coasters, and his would be the lovable “honest folks” who teach my family to open up. But in real life, my overeducated parents and brothers are the kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine, and his family drove me to tears on my wedding day with their social boorishness and constant pressuring of me to drink (I am a recovering alcoholic AND was visibly pregnant). So when my husband says, after a nightmare afternoon with his brother during which said brother indulged in belching, farting, cursing, and homophobia in front of the toddler, and ignored social cues to the extent that he was there three hours longer than either of us wanted him there, “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I want to scream that I am just too tired to keep up the pretense that All Brothers Are Created Equal anymore.

And in a few weeks his mother will be here, for seven months’ stay. (Not actually in our house: small mercies.) She will be here my entire pregnancy, because that’s not already enough of a stressful or emotional time. And she’ll want to see her granddaughter, so I imagine she and the aforementioned brother will be at our house nearly every weekend. In addition to the broken record she plays about her victimhood (divorced almost thirty years but How He Ruined Her Life comes up in every conversation), she is a rabid conspiracy theorist, and bases her right to judge how her son’s kid is being raised on a lot of debunked stuff. Like, anti-vaxxer stuff: that level.

I try really, really hard to be polite, to guests and in-laws especially. But “polite” is going to be the best I can do, if the latest visit from his brother is any indication. Pregnant, working full-time, and parenting a toddler, I do not have one-tenth of the social acting energy I would need to pull off a “Yay! You’re here again!” And pulling that off is what my husband wants from me, despite how he’s seen my wickedly-introverted self get completely drained by a few hours with people whom I genuinely adore, and his having watched one pregnancy wipe me out already. He wants me to be delighted that these people are descending on us every weekend.

Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? How can I convince him that it has to be enough, because it is all I have, for them to be fed and given places to sit down and allowed to chat at the toddler (at least until they say something offensive)? And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.

There may be no possible answers to this, but there is no possible answer to “just force yourself to love these people”, either!

Like Chekhov But With More Theories About Government Plots

Dear Like Chekhov,

We can’t undo a lifetime of your husband’s relationship with his family in a blog post, so, I want to start by saying: There is probably no script where you set boundaries about his family that will necessarily make him see things your way, where everything is resolved pleasantly without further friction.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries with him about their visits. The truthful answer to his question: “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?” is “Dude, I would be really sad, but I’d also try to work with you about what kind of visiting schedule you could handle, and as long as you were polite to them when we did see each other, I wouldn’t pressure you to feel any kind of way about them. Not everyone is meant to be best friends!

 

When his mother arrives, could you handle something like:

  • 1 visit per month from Grandma & brother at your house where you act as pleasant joint host. You will break out the good dishes and smile. You will try not to say “You can’t possibly be serious.
  • Husband can take your daughter to see Grandma and on outings with Grandma as many times as he wants.
  • Husband, please go have fun hanging out with your brother! The operative word here is “Go!”  When Brother overstays his welcome, kick him out!Brother, good to see you today! We’re kicking you out, though – got a million things to do. See you soon!Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores.So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.

 

I suggest these arrangements for illustration purposes, what’s more important is that you decide what you can live with and then ask for it.

There is stuff that your husband values about always having an open door to family and that’s real, primal stuff. There is also stuff you need about sufficient down-time and not having to play hostess to people you dislike all the time so that he can perform filial piety, and that is also real, primal stuff. I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. Choosing you in this instance doesn’t mean not ever seeing his family, but it does mean not shoving them down your throat and then berating you when you don’t love that.

This honestly might be a good time to bring in a couples’ counselor to referee. Whether you involve one or not, I suggest stating every request about his family strictly in terms of your needs.

  • Start with visits from Brother, since he’s here. “If you want to see Brother this weekend, can y’all go out? I am not up to hosting anyone tomorrow.
  • Husband, I need time to myself today. Why don’t you take Toddler to see Grandma instead of having her come here?
  • I have about one family dinner or outing in me per month right now. If you want to hang with your family more than that, enjoy! But I can’t commit to more than that.
  • You’re a working mom, so isn’t it just so helpful that your husband’s family is here to help? So helpful!”Hi Mother In Law, hi Brother, good to see you. Have fun with Husband and Toddler – I have some errands* to run. Gotta go!”
  • You’re pregnant, so you need naps. So many naps**. “Sorry to bail right when the fun starts, but if I don’t close my eyes right now I’m gonna pass out!
  • It’s risky, but sometimes invoking your doctor can help. “Doctor says I’m supposed to take it easy right now!” “Doctor suggested that stress is bad for me right now.” “Doctor recommends not taking on additional stressors right now.” Your husband is going to be horribly hurt that his family are considered “stressors” as in, “But they’re faaaaaaaaamily! That’s not the same as something stressful” and that’s maybe where the couples’ counselor or doctor comes in because the truth is they ARE stressful… to you… and no amount of his wanting it to be different makes it so.

Bailing on togetherness time won’t be without friction or consequence. Your mother-in-law is definitely gonna pick up on it if you are not around 100% of the time faking happiness to see her and her wack ideas, and she is 100% gonna make remarks about it to her son, who is 100% gonna try to persuade you to get with their family program of “Boundaries Are Mean.”

Scripts for when that happens:

  • I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.
  • Our house does not have to be In-Laws central every weekend! I literally cannot handle that, and if you want to see your family that often I need you to find another way to make it happen!
  • I don’t think the conversation about whether I love your folks ‘enough’ is fair or productive. If I’m going to love them like you do, that will have to develop in its own time. I can tell you that being forced to host them for hours every weekend is not improving my affections!!!” (BTW your “I’m done pretending that all brothers are created equal!” script is good.)
  • I’m okay being the bad guy here. Tell them you want them to come but I’m just not up to it today! Tell them that you forgot that we already had plans! Tell them whatever, but I cannot do this every weekend.

Letter Writer, this all sucks, and I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to want to take care of yourself and limit stress. Turns out that limiting exposure to people you know stress you out is a very effective way to limit stress.

Like many abused kids, your husband never got to learn the life skill where other people can have all the feelings they want about something that he needs to do to take care of himself, and he can make the best choice for himself even if it pisses them off and annoys them. That’s very unfair and sad, but it’s not fair for him to try to impose that pattern onto you. Now is definitely the time for you to exercise that skill, as in, “I can’t handle having your family here every weekend even if you have different feelings about that.” There is no prize for being the world’s most accommodating person, and the prospect of your husband (or his mom or brother, by proxy) having sad feelings doesn’t obligate you to play eternal gracious hostess! It is okay to have conflict sometimes and to risk pissing people off!

*”Errands” could be “going to the movies” or “seeing friends.”

**”Naps” could involve headphones, and reading.

 

Dear Captain and Company,

I recently finalized the ending of a relationship…I say finalized because I’ve been trying to break up with my ex since October, but she finally was able to accept it months later…no matter how many times I told her, “my feelings for you have changed,” “I’m no longer attracted to you,” et al. For the record, she’s not a bad person…hardcore GSF carrier, yes, but a generally decent, well intentioned (if a little misguided a lot of the time) human being. When the ending finally hit her, we were able to talk more openly than we have in months and are working out all the transitional stuff without conflict.

The question is this…we rent an apartment together with me taking on the bulk of the expenses as I make more money. While I could likely move with ease, she’s not in the same position…she wants us to stay as platonic roommates for another year, continue to work on our friendship as we move forward with our separate lives. Most of my Team Me think I am nuts for considering it. I’m torn. I don’t want to be the person who says, “F You, I don’t care, I am looking out for me,” but I want to be sure that I – and she, for that matter – can move on with our lives and be okay with it. I’m at the point where if I saw her with someone else, I’d be totally happy for her. No jealously, no angst. I don’t know that I trust her to be okay in the same way. It worries me that she refused to hear the very explicit statements I was making with regard to wanting to end our relationship, and I worry about how that could pan out should I meet someone else. On the other, we do work together in terms of splitting things up around the house well, and have pretty much been platonic roommates for the last year of our relationship.

Is this worth it to save money and hassle, or should I run, run, run?

Thanks, Domestically Challenged

Dear Domestically Challenged,

Listen to your friends!

RUN!

EXCLAMATION POINTS! YELLING!

You have been trying to break up with this person, by my count, FOR FIVE MONTHS. I just met you (sort of) but your friends have been watching this saga unfold and if they say “Run!” I say “Run!”

Breaking up is a unilateral decision. When you say, “My feelings have changed and I am breaking up with you” the relationship is over! The other person does not have to agree or consent for this to be true. And once you break up, one of the pieces of good news is that you get to stop “working on” the relationship. Some exes make great friends, and sometimes the transition is pretty easy because face it, you already were more like friends and like lovers. Not so with someone who refuses to accept the reality of your breakup and thinks you should “work on” that for another YEAR of your life.

Have you ever heard the expression “Sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money?” I think it’s a nice gesture for the ex who makes more money to help the person who has less in the event of a breakup and dissolution of households, and if you can afford to pull together a security deposit-ish fund you could give her, it would be a kind gesture. On the one hand, your ex has manipulated you into staying longer than you want to and she has had five months to ponder “Domestically Challenged seems to be making noises about ending our relationship, so where would I live if we were to break up and not live together anymore?” and you don’t owe her any money (or more time). In your shoes, I would prioritize getting yourself out first and helping her second, if at all. On the other hand, sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money.

Before you contemplate continuing a friendship with your ex, I think you need a space of your own away from her where you can hear yourself think, not another year (!!!!!) of dragging this out. Tell her you don’t want to keep living together. Offer her some relocation money if that’s something you can do. Consider staying with a friend for a few days to give her time to process the decision. Then move out of FEELINGSHAUS and into the next phase of your life. Then figure in where (and if) your ex fits into your life as a friend.

 

A series of letters from people who are trying to disengage but don’t know how. There’s some really toxic addiction and abusive behavior described in some of the letters, so, know that going in.

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