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Dear Captain Awkward,

I use she/her pronouns.

I have been in a relationship with my boyfriend for almost four years. We live in different but nearby cities, and I don’t own a car (though I can get access to one with advance notice), so he often drives to mine. In our region, there is a lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit where you don’t get criminal charges, but do get your license suspended and pay a fine. I used to assume that my boyfriend could self-assess his level of inebriation, but after a roadside encounter with the police where I’m not sure whether he’d have blown over the lower limit if they’d asked, I’ve been more frequently using a BAC calculator to find out what time he would be expected to be below the limit, and asking him to wait until that time to leave. It’s imperfect, but it’s what I have available.

He feels that his self-assessment is more likely to be accurate than an online calculator (and I’m not sure that he’s wrong), and that I am being controlling by constantly pulling up the calculator when we’re out. I feel like I’ve enabled this by allowing him to drive me, and I’m being a bit hypocritical because I often drive while tired. I drink only occasionally, so I find it hard to assess what’s normal for the average person. It also feels difficult to ask people I know about this without inadvertently maligning him, because people may (very understandably!) have strong opinions about combining alcohol and driving.

I’m considering just offering to split costs on a taxi when he comes to visit, and/or arranging more dates where I drive to his city. However, that only covers the time we spend together, and it makes me nervous to think about him driving after drinking in any situation. Is this just a fundamental incompatibility? Is there a way to approach this that doesn’t feel controlling and self-righteous? Even now, I feel like I may just be asking for validation of my opinions instead of actual advice, but I really don’t know what to do.

Not BACchanalian

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This letter contains emotional abuse of people, potential physical harm of animals (now stopped/interrupted/not ongoing/the animals are ok for now!, but still I know some people can’t safely read about that), and enough WHAT THE FUCK that you’ll need a comfy chair and a cold washcloth, at minimum.

If you want the teachable moment without reading the whole story, here it is: When a romantic partner wants you to do something that is terrible for you to make life easier for his ex-wife  the lady he’s very much still married to and choosing to prioritize, 1) SAY NO! 2) RUN AWAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

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It’s time for that monthly thing where we answer the search strings people typed in to find this place as if they are actual questions. This feature is made possible through the generous support of 979 Patreon followers. They keep the blog ad-free and allow me to pay rent and eat cheese.

First, as is traditional: a song

Lyrics here.

1 “Cheating on your best friend by making another best friend.”

“Love is not a pie,” as the lovely short story by Amy Bloom tells us, and people can have more than one very close friend without taking anything away from anyone.

2 “How to ask your neighbor to text before she drops at your door.”

I know at cultural expectations and norms vary widely around neighbors popping in without calling first depending on where you live, and I fully admit my membership in the “If it’s an emergency or you need something real quick, please let me help you! But if you’re dropping by ‘just to chat’ that is my literal nightmare, sorry!” club.

Next time your neighbor drops by, open the door partway without letting her in and  – once you ascertain that it isn’t an emergency – say something like “Hi there! Forgive me, but I’m afraid now isn’t a good time! But let me give you my number, and let me take down yours, that way we can text first and make sure it’s a good time.” 

She’ll say something (hopefully something involving the words”of course”!), and then (and this is key) you say “Oh, thank you so much! So sorry I can’t chat today, bye!” and then you shut the door and go back to what you were doing. You can’t let her in once you’ve told her it’s not a good time, or she will never take it seriously.

It will feel very awkward and like you’re the one being very rude, but it’s important that you begin as you mean to go on once you’ve set this boundary. In the future, if she texts first, thank her for asking, and then tell her the truth about whether it’s a good time at that particular moment: “Hi, thanks for texting! I’m in the middle of something, so now isn’t a good time, but if you still need help hanging that painting I can pop by after 5, will that work?” Also, if you otherwise like this person, try texting her and inviting her over for a coffee every now and then when it is good for you. If she refuses to text first and keeps trying to drop by, there is no rule that says you have to answer the door at all.

3 “How to question a narcissist’s intentions.”

What an interesting question!

In my experience with narcissists, which I would list as “way more than I’d like to have,” I find it more more useful to examine a) their actions, b) the effects those actions have on me or the world and c) the future (what I would like to happen now) than to get sucked into trying to question or even determine their intentions.

If something makes a narcissist look good they will always pretend they intended it all along, if it makes them look bad they will claim that they never intended it (and that it didn’t happen like you said it did anyway, and that you’re stupid to think it did, and anyway, it isn’t their fault, and maybe also you kind of deserved it?). Arguing about their intentions just feeds them. Or tempts them to gaslight you. Or both.

But if you can truthfully say “You did x. Whatever you intended, the effect on me was y. From now on, please do z” you sidestep the discussion of their intentions entirely. They can say “but I intended a, b, and c, not y!” all day and you can say “Of course! But y is what happened, so I need you to do z from now on.” 

4 “Will my ex reach out?”

Yes and no. Yes = When they want something, or when you’ve already moved on, or when it would be maximally annoying. No = all the times you kept your phone by your pillow wishing they would.

5 “Want to break up but scared he will kill himself.”

If you seriously think a partner is in danger of killing themselves, hopefully you can direct them to relevant mental health resources and call in their family and friends to take care of them. You are still allowed to leave. 

Possible script for family/friends: “As you know, Alex and I broke up. They are taking it very hard, and have mentioned suicide more than once. I need the people who love them to check on them and support them in getting help. I can’t be the point person for that – for my own well-being, I need to take some space and make this a clean break – so can I count on you to call Alex/stop by and visit/encourage Alex to seek treatment and help?” 

If you leave and they do eventually die of suicide, it was not your fault. They had an illness, and you staying as their sole support system/guilt-hostage was never, ever going to be the cure for that illness.

Finally, if you have any reason to think you are also in danger from a partner who threatens suicide (a depressingly common thing in abusive relationships), you get to choose yourself. You get to leave and not look back if that’s what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Call a domestic violence resource like The Hotline and get to work on making a safety plan.

6 “Make your male neighbour notice you are ill and come to visit you.”

Well, learn from the mistakes in #2 and definitely text before you just drop by his place!

And maybe try just asking him out already when you’re feeling better?

7 “Is it abuse if my dad hits me and kicks me.”

Yes. You might also find the hotline useful. It is wrong for anyone to hit or kick you.

8 “How to tell my parents I’m bi but I’m married.”

My inbox was a Pride month explosion of similar questions, so I’m glad to answer them all in one place.

Maybe try “Throughout my life I’ve been attracted to both men and women. I’m married to [Spouse] now, so I’m assumed to be or mistaken for a straight person, but please know that when people talk about the LGTBQ* community, they’re also talking about me.” 

9: “I’m bisexual do I have to break up with my partner.”

A) No and B) This is one of the annoying questions people who come out as bisexual get asked a lot by people who don’t get it.

You can be attracted to people of all genders and still choose to have a monogamous sexual and/or romantic relationship with one person.

10 “Nice guy keeps texting and won’t take no for an answer.”

People who won’t take no for an answer aren’t really all that nice. Let’s just remove that plausible deniability shield for his really annoying and aggressive behavior once and for all, ok?

If you haven’t done this already, text him one time to say “I am not interested, stop contacting me.” Then, never respond to any communication from him. If he texts you 100 more times and you respond, you’ve just taught him that it takes 100 attempts to get your attention, so he’ll start again at 101. Block him on all social media and generally lock down your info so it’s not so public. Don’t threaten him or yell at him in reply to his messages even if they get really weird or seem to escalate – every time you engage with him you buy yourself 1-3 more months of harassment.

Save the texts he’s sent you already, save the one where you told him to stop, document everything in case he escalates. Tell other people in your life what he’s doing (but also set the “DO NOT ENGAGE” rule for other people).

Most times, if starved for attention long enough, these guys drop it and transfer their fixations to other people. Other times…well…we’ve all read and seen the news about the other times. Be safe.

11 “How to answer to someone who invites you last minute to his party.” 

Do you want to go to the party y/n Can you go to the party y/n

If both are y, “Great, thanks for thinking of me, I’ll be there.”

If either or both are n, “Sorry, can’t make it, thanks for thinking of me, though!” 

12 “Is it reasonable to break up because you don’t like his kids?”

Kids are a huge part of his life, and, depending on their age, probably occupy most of his thoughts/efforts/money/priorities/time. Not all kids are likeable or gonna like you, but if you don’t like the most important people in your loved one’s life, maybe he’s not for you?

13 “What to do if a friend forgets to send a birthday card?”

If you normally trade cards, and nothing else seems “off” about the friendship, what’s the worst thing that would happen if you chalked it up to ‘they were probably busy and forgot’ and then you sent them a birthday card as usual? What if you called them or sent a postcard or text to catch up about general life stuff?

13 “Short bob with side bangs”

My One True Haircut.

14 “My husband doesn’t _____, but I like it very much.”

I’m really gonna need to know what’s in that blank before I comment further.

15 “Dating sisters”

Why, why, why would you do this? Did you defeat every video game you have on hard mode/achieve the pinnacle of success in your career/cross literally everything else off your bucket list? Why would you set yourself and an entire family up for so much failure and weirdness?

 

16 “How to be supportive when your man is gross?”

Gross…how?

And how gross?

And why is “supportive” the thing you’re trying to be? And not like, “Hey babe, please stop doing gross things/please do these things to be less gross.” 

I have so many questions.

17 “Why does a woman turn and show a man their back while talking?”

First, thanks to the Twitter follower who was like “I’m a blind man and even I can read this body language.” You made me laugh.

Second, if you’re a man wondering this, in the absence of other verbal cues from the woman like “Please follow me” or “Please keep talking, I want to hear this, I just need to look at something over there for a second,” maybe, stop talking?

 

 

 

Hi Captain,

Your blog has been really helpful in establishing boundaries with family, but my mum has brought us into conflict and I don’t know how to approach it.

Background: I finished uni with depression and no job prospects, so spent a year living with my parents working occassional cash-in-hand cleaning jobs, which I used for “fun” things. I would give my mum the cash and she would transfer the amount into my bank account, as we had to travel some way to either deposit or withdraw cash. Eventually I got a fulltime job offer which meant I had to retrain under the UK’s Apprenticeship scheme, so I earned around £3/hr until I finished training.

The first month of my apprenticeship I massively overestimated my new income, and overspent, going into my overdraft for the first and last time. I talked to my parents about what had happened. I’ve been consistently in the black ever since. I have no outstanding debt.

This happened three years ago, and I now live on the other side of the country with my partner. He has a good steady income, and we own a home together. I’m currently unemployed, and had been wanting to leave for health reasons, so had been saving for months.

My mum has made me aware that she has been reading my bank statements. Today she sent me an email boasting about a microloans scheme she invested in a few years ago. She referred to my “fun” money as an addiction (full disclosure: I can’t always resist microtransactions, but I set a monthly limit and otherwise live a very quiet life) and said she wants to “pretend it isn’t happening”. She implied that my dad is scared of talking to me about this, while he and I discuss my finances whenever I ring him. In the past she and my sister have made references to my parents bailing me out financially… which has never happened.

I’m hurt and confused for several reasons. My finances aren’t my mother’s business – I am financially independent. While I have been irresponsible in the past, I’ve tried to learn from it and have never put myself or my partner in financial risk. I feel the need to prove to my mother that I AM handling my money like an adult, but I don’t understand why she is involved at this point. I suspect she’s upset about the way her mother and brothers are currently treating her, and is taking it out on me, but I still don’t know how to respond to this.

What do I do?

Not-in-Debt in Norwich

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Turbulent month, turbulent song:

And yes, it’s that time of the month, when we treat the things people typed into search engines as if they are questions they want answers to.

1 “How to handle snubs from close relatives.”

Sometimes you end up related to people you would never interact with by choice.

If you’re the one who messed things up and you know it, apologize once and then try to do better.

If you’re not the person who caused the breach, or if your apology for what you did is not accepted, stop trying so hard to make the situation better. Your effort is probably wasted, and you don’t have to keep auditioning for the approval of people who regularly show that they don’t care about you or want you around.

When you absolutely have to deal with the person, it might help to find a basic amount of polite that you can be to them suitable to the occasion. Not because they deserve it, but because it might make you feel better if you have a plan for interacting with some dignity. If it helps, imagine they are distant acquaintances, like, employees of a satellite office of your company that you run into once a year at the holiday party. In that instance you’d say “Hi, happy new year!” and then you go talk to the people you actually like and want to see.

Don’t treat the family like a monolith. Form your own relationships with the people you care about and who you want to connect with. The uncle who hates you hosts Thanksgiving every year? You do not have to go to his house and choke down his grudge-turkey, but also you don’t have to let Thanksgiving and his turf be the only time you see any of these people. He doesn’t own your grandma or your cousins or the month of November.

 

2 “My aunt says my partner is not welcome, what do I do?”

“Well, Aunt, we’ll be sorry to miss you. Maybe next year.” It’s okay to skip events where your partner is not welcome.

Unless your partner is some form of Nazi. In that case, I’m Team Aunt and also you should dump that Nazi dickhead.

 

3 “Do you have to invite adult son’s girlfriend to family parties.”

Depends. Do you want your son to come to these parties and feel happy and welcome there, or do you secretly wish he’d stay away?

Also depends – is his girlfriend a Nazi? If so, definitely don’t invite her to anything.

 

4 “My neighbor doesn’t respect the property line.”

You need to find someone who knows the laws where you live. That’s not me, even if you live where I live.

 

5 “My boyfriend tells me how to eat how to exercise.”

Did you want a free volunteer personal trainer? If so, enjoy! If not, tell him it’s none of his beeswax.

 

6 “What do you say to someone who is trying to set you up with someone you’re not interested in?”

“I appreciate the thought, but I’m not interested.”

“No thank you!”

 

7 “I’m in New Jersey when is this oak pollen going to go away for god sakes.”

I’m in Chicago and I also want to know this.

 

8 “Where will Harry and Meghan live?”

Google says “Nottingham Cottage” in “Kensington Palace.”

 

9 “Stories of sexy young girl with huge tits.”

Stories of people who are not efficient users of search engines.

 

 

10 “Boyfriend wants me to better myself.”

Did you ask him to be your amateur life coach? If not, tell him to focus on his own issues and ambitions.

 

11 “I don’t like my grandchild’s name.”

Learn to love it, or learn to be quiet about it, or both.

 

 

12 “Coworker dating app.”

My jerk of a brain initially read this as “Oh shit did someone make an app to try to help people date their coworkers please god no” when really the person is probably looking for “what do I do if I spot my coworker on a dating app.” Picture my entire body seizing up with revulsion for a few seconds until my brain caught up with the more likely interpretation.

My instinct is almost always to say hey, just leave the person alone, it’s not like it’s some terrible secret that you’re both on the app, and it would be pretty cool if you could give each other the gift of a bubble of privacy while you both try to do something vulnerable, especially since you work together. If they spot you as well and are interested in you, they can find a way to let you know!

 

13 “Husband doesn’t want me on birth control.”

If you’re a person who can get pregnant, you are the ultimate boss of whether, when, and if. No exceptions.

 

14 “I want to call suicide hotline but don’t know what to say.”

“Hi, I’m [Firstname] and I’m having suicidal thoughts.”

“Hi, I’m nervous about calling this hotline and I don’t know what to say.”

You won’t freak them out or get it wrong. They want you to call even if you don’t know what to say. I really hope you get what you need.

 

15 “When family wants you to visit but they never visit you.”

Visit them when you want to and when it makes sense for you, and if they pressure you for more visits say “I won’t make it, but you’re always welcome to visit me here! Can we put a plan together?” 

 

16 “jean luc picard open shirt”

HEL-lo!

picard_on_holiday

Image description: Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard wearing shorts and an open shirt reading a book on a green lounge chair. First spotted on this site here.

 

17 “Is it rude to invite guests to someone’s house without letting them know?”

Almost certainly yes! Even if you know this person is very hospitable and wouldn’t mind extra guests, why wouldn’t you at least let them know to expect them?

 

18 “firthing”

Refers to the way Mr. Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the 1990s Pride & Prejudice adaptation) treats Elizabeth Bennett when he develops a crush on her. Especially characterized by weird, intense staring bouts or standing really close to someone while studiously NOT looking at them, general glowering, and hostile non sequiturs intended to camouflage romantic interest. If unchecked, Firthing can lead to cornering one’s love interest and vomiting a bunch of feelings all over someone who didn’t even know that you liked them, or doing weird shit like showing up in the middle of the night to give them wordy letters.

Mitigating factors: A really nice house

Best avoided by: Asking the person on a date pretty soon after you know that you like them.

(Please tell me someone who knows Colin Firth reads this blog and has told him about this, it would make my year.)

NOTICE: By request, this behavior will from now on be referred to as “Darcy-ing.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi there,

I’m 36, my (ex)gf is 25. Met in August last year. Fell in love. Never met anyone like her and ticks all the boxes. I felt set for life (love, kids, the lot) and when she was there, there was no one else in the room (not something I had felt before).

We fell out over something stupid and then spent the next two weeks kinda reconciling but not really making progress.

Short version: she thought I deliberately misunderstood and belittled her, didn’t like it when I would storm off in some situations (it was completely unacceptable) and was upset that I didn’t ask her about her past. I hadn’t asked because it sounded horrible and I didn’t want to put someone I love through that again. I made the wrong call. Our sex life was strained due to an pre-existing psychological ED issue, which was exacerbated by her reactions.

On the other hand, I refused to be judged by the incredibly low standards her mentally and physically abusive, serially cheating drug dealer ex had set – she called me out about an innocuous photo on insta which kicked things off. I didn’t feel heard in the relationship and I had started to feel more and more peripheral to her life, despite the fact I’d looked after her through illness and post-operation.

Communication was poor and we had both made mistakes. A bit of regrettable game playing on both sides ensued, but throughout everything, I always thought that it was all temporary and we would get back on track. We just needed to talk it through and listen to one another.

She had given me the silent treatment on a few occasions and I was reaching out to try to reconcile. Then she sends me a message effectively ending it. I tried to message, I tried to call. Nothing. I wrote her a letter in which poured my heart out and gave it to her when she came out of work. She promised to read it. Nothing in reply. I sent her cacti (sentimental symbol for us), one each day for a week, each with a sentimental note. Nothing in reply. It’s been nearly a month since her last message.

I’ve effectively been ghosted, but from a relationship that was six months of love and plans and fun and joy.

I know she’s the one. And I know we can easily overcome the things we argued about. But we can’t do that if she won’t talk. What can I do, to either win her back (as unlikely as it seems) or move on with such little closure? I’m sad, angry, lonely, frustrated, scared, confused, desperate and utterly heart-broken. I still love her.

Any help here would be most welcome.

Thank you.

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Hi Cap’n. 

Here is issue: My partners’ ex, and boundaries.

I have great relationships with my exes, I think it’s healthy and awesome. This is a new and different world, apparently.

My partner’s most recent ex is in our lives a LOT. There are good reasons for this that go beyond their ongoing friendship, but the upshot is that Ex has visited and stayed at our house approx. 1 week out of every month for the last four months. Ex and I get along… mostly. But we would likely not be friends in real life. She’s great in lots of ways but also incredibly different from me. To be honest I find her exhausting and sometimes horrible: a vain, high maintenance, superficial, demanding, selfish Regina George type. She calls other women “ugly”… a lot… she keeps everyone waiting for Makeup Reasons. She wants us to go to clubs and wears shoes she can’t walk in. Etc.

She also has radically different ideas about appropriateness from me: the first time I met her she walked topless past my partner, dropped trou with no warning and peed in the bathroom right next to me, etc. It’s not just her, they fall into these patterns together- he carries her purse, invites her to sleep in our bedroom (and bed!) to “be courteous to our roommate”, keeps me waiting at the house while they eat nice lunches, delays our special two day mini-break (for my birthday) for hours to do her sudden huge favors.

He knows this is shitty when I calmly (or occasionally shakingly) point it out. But he doesn’t anticipate it, and doesn’t predict the cumulative awfulness of it or why it means he should cool it on inviting her along on trips with us. He does feel terrible, and is incredibly patient and loving when I have an “I’m now an awkwardness alien who can’t fucking Person anymore” freakout. Never does annnything resembling deflection or gaslighting.

At this point I need a big, fat break from this person. And to take approximately ten thousand baths.

So tell me, how do I stop feeling like I have to constantly be the Boundaries Police, and do you think that’s even going to be possible?

(Not pictured: frequent references to their past, all their orgies and predictably boundaryless sex life. I’m all for fun group things, but I need to soberly discuss them before they happen. Again, he gets this, but has yet to demonstrate that as a practical behaviour before I find myself in a position of awful panic.)

Halp.

Ps, he is otherwise a dream, best partner I’ve ever had, no question. Just, ack. This is not nothing.

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