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Darth Vader Boyfriend

#TFG = #thatfuckingguy

Ahoy, Captain!

I would appreciate any advice you could give on supporting a friend (female pronouns) who is not yet ready to leave an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. This has been an ongoing issue for about 2 years, but something happened a few days ago and I could use an outside perspective.

I would describe the boyfriend as coercive (in past conversations she has alluded to having sex with him just so that he will stop begging, even when she doesn’t want to) and one of my big concerns is that Friend will be extremely isolated in our current city without me. I think he looks through her phone and computer, so I pretty much assume that he could read any written communication I send. I censor myself in written communication with her and we only have frank conversations when we go for walks in the nearby park. He often invites himself along to things we have planned and it feels like he is monitoring our friendship. He also makes controlling comments, but when I call them out, he always says, “I was just joking. [Friend] knows I’m just joking. She’s amazing and the best thing ever…etc.” They live together, but he does none of the domestic work and will only do paid work (freelance) when she nags him.

A couple times a year, she will reach a boiling point and tell him to shape up or she will leave. He will improve for about 2 weeks and then go back to the status quo. Her work/school schedule has been grueling the past few years and she hasn’t had the energy to deal with the inevitable fallout of a breakup. Most of our one-on-one conversations end with me reiterating an offer that she is always welcome to stay at my apartment when she is ready to leave. She’s not blinded by love or anything, just doesn’t feel like there is a good way or time to exit the relationship. He is currently estranged from his family and not really working, so she feels like if she dumps him, he will have nothing. One of my priorities is staying in her life, so I don’t want to overstep and give her boyfriend ammunition for isolating her further. Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic and her other close friends live in other cities and are busy with newborn babies.

A couple days ago, I ended up spending about 30 minutes alone with her boyfriend while we were stuck in terrible traffic, on our way to pick her up and go to an event. I don’t enjoy his company and generally avoid spending time with him. Our one-on-conversation (mostly him doing a monologue) was frightening. He was delusional, paranoid, and unable to remember things I had said 5 minutes earlier. I had to repeatedly remind him where we were going and why we were going. He was extremely animated in his conversation and was looking at me while he talked and not the road, often swerving at the last minute. His ranting mostly focused on how the [creative] industry was scared of his success and how “they” wanted to keep his [art] away from “the people” and that this was a huge mistake because “the universe was going to revolt” if they didn’t get access to his [art]. At first I thought he was joking and just being overly full of himself, but he was completely serious. He then segued into how his estrangement with his family was a concern of the Catholic Church. Apparently, him “stepping out of line” is crumbling the foundation of the church by upsetting the established hierarchy. At several points, he referred to himself as royalty and referred to his lifelong “fame” that comes with being part of his family. Before you wonder, you have no clue who he is. His “fame” comes from the local and state politics his family is involved with in one of the poorest states in the country.

This grandiose sense of self and paranoia about “the establishment” trying to prevent him from success is worrisome. There were also times when he said things that I know for a fact aren’t true, but he seems to have fully convinced himself of this alternate version. I have considered that he may have been on drugs during that conversation, though that possibility does not alleviate my worry. He does not believe in therapy, though Friend has suggested it to him many times over the last two years.

I have already sent Friend a vague text and we are getting together this weekend for a walk where we will be able to speak more frankly. I just feel powerless to help and that my support has fallen woefully short. I don’t know how to be a supportive friend in this situation and I’m really worried that he is acting like this with her on a regular basis. It was exhausting for 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it is doing to her longterm. I don’t think he is violent now, but think he could become violent if she breaks up with him. I feel like Friend is the frog in the pot of water, slowly boiling to death. She’s been unhappy, but the decline has been gradual so there hasn’t been a catalyst for her to jump ship.

I know I can’t make her leave, but I do want to make sure I am there for her if she needs support. Any words of wisdom to help me be a good friend in this situation?

-Helpless & Worried (female pronouns)

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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,

i want to thank you so much for your website and lovely community and i hope this message finds you well. i’m having a hard time sorting through some relationship stuff and i’m hoping for some clarity.

i’m dating a very sweet and loving man who is still dealing every day with mental health issues due to early childhood trauma. these include ptsd, anxiety, depression (he is now in therapy for this) and nightmares. in his youth, he worked through his feelings of shame about what transpired in violent ways but that seems to be a thing of the past.

our courtship was fairly quick and we fell deeply in love, spending lots of our time together. in retrospect i should have been firmer about my need for a life and friendships outside of our relationship (especially at my age mid 20’s) but it all happened so fast. to be clear he does have friends/interests of his own but he is of the belief that our relationship is THE MOST important one in his life. he would be happy to rarely if ever spend time with anyone without/or other than me. in his words “i am the only thing that makes him happy” and “he welcomed dying before me but now wants to live as long as possible”. he constantly tells me i’m too good for him and is very insecure in our relationship. my friendships are deep and important to me and my feeling is that a romantic relationship should be something that adds to but is not the source of one’s happiness.

i was single for a long time before we met and had a very full life & was close with my family. they are thankfully still present but i spend much less time with them than i’d like because he doesn’t like last minute changes to our plans (even if those plans were netflix and pizza). i told him recently this needs to change and he agreed to work on it. because i’m the only thing that prevents him from having nightmares the idea of my being away causes him immense anxiety. sometimes i worry that he uses his trauma to manipulate me (his episodes early on often coincided with times i’d made plans with friends). we are also an interracial couple so that adds to a dynamic where anytime i express upset about his behavior or try to set a gentle boundary i am talked over, mansplained and/or the conversation is derailed due to the level of distress he’s displayed.

some of this is my fault as i’m not always good about expressing my feelings honestly and i want to hold space and be there for him. i tried to change parts of myself to make him more comfortable as he is an admittedly jealous person. i’m now doing my own work to come back to the vibrant, carefree woman i was when we met but it’s really difficult sometimes. i don’t know what to do or if the above is enough reason to leave or if i should keep showing up for myself, set clearer boundaries and love him through this.

any advice would be so appreciated,

sincerely,

trying not to be a pacifier

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Dear Captain Awkward…

I started seeing a man who claimed he and his wife were ok to seek outside relationships. He said the friendship of those outside liaisons was important to him. Seemed on-board; I heard his wife mention one or two outside-the-marriage dalliances.

I fell into an emotional clusterfuck with him. I truly didn’t want to be his “primary”, I didn’t want to tear him from his family, but I was emotionally invested in him on some level. He could be utterly sweet and he initiated daily conversation, but it often felt all about him. I told him how it bothered me when he reached out and shared a bunch of info and then proceeded to act what I thought was dismissively to what I told him. He said it wasn’t intentional but it always happened again. Were we fuck buddies, I wouldn’t have expected anything but because of the “friendship”, I was stupid enough to want the support and consistency that I get from my closest friends. But when it was good…it was goddamn magical.

1 year in, I learned that we’d crossed a line. I never got a succinct explanation but it related to the fact that our relationship was emotional, not just physical; they weren’t that open. He wanted to continue, secretly. I was unwilling to forego my attachment, so I stayed, for the magic and the self-absorption.

One day, after he dropped plans with me in what I thought was a crass way, I had a come-to-Jesus moment that I just didn’t matter to him when he didn’t need a distraction. I left. It’s been months. I hear from him sometimes because he wants to remain friends, but he’s been respectful of my request for way less contact and he isn’t trying to be amorous. But I don’t know what to do. Not talking has been awful, but talking brings back memories and leaves me wanting. I miss the intimacy but I’m emotionally drained. I don’t want to cheat but I kind of do. I feel like a failure and an asshole and like he has all the answers. I torture myself with thoughts that he’s found someone else. And I love him, but I think it’s ego that is truly driving my consideration of staying in touch with him. I’m so fucked up (I know this letter sounds awful).

What is wrong with me? Why is it I feel sick to my stomach about not having him in my life anymore, but I feel sick to my stomach about some of our interactions? Please e-slap some sense into me. I hate this and I can’t seem to get myself out of this rabbit hole.

Dear Letter Writer In A Rabbit Hole:

No slaps for you. You crossed paths with a charismatic liar who toyed with your heart and you feel like a pathetic asshole. It happens. Now we do damage control.

Step 1: Write him a message that says some version of “It’s time to let all of this go, please don’t contact me anymore.

Step 2: Block his number. Block him on all social media platforms. Block his email. BLOCK HIM. It’s time to go cold turkey and stop wondering “what if?” about this dude. You can take complete control of this situation by choosing to end it. The thing that makes it all better is time and distance away from him, and you can’t get the benefits of those things until you take them for yourself.

Step 3: Here is a really good song, called Better Things by the late (eff you forever, 2016), great Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings.

Listen to it on repeat. How long?  All of 2017, probably. Listen until the words are true.

Step 4: Get in touch with nice people who love you and who you can count on and spend time with them. Remind yourself that there are lots of kinds of love in this world and that you are connected to many other people who think you are important and value your time and who don’t suck you into weird cheating dynamics.

Step 5: Do some good stuff for the world. Bug your elected officials about things that are important to you. Find a neat volunteer gig that brings you in contact with new people. You need to distract yourself from texting some crap dude and the world could frankly use the energy you’re spending on thinking about him right now.

Step 6: Be nice to your body, whatever that means to you. Maybe it’s getting a massage, or a really great haircut, or culling your closet of things that don’t look or feel right, or getting enough sleep, or stretching for 10 minutes every morning. Maybe it’s dancing your ass off with friendly strangers for a few hours. Find a friendly not-creepy feminist sex shop and stock up on accoutrements and go to town on yourself.

How this dude made you feel in your body felt addictively good, I’m thinking. But he’s not the only source of that goodness – your body and its goodness belongs to you. Reclaim it.

Step 7: When you think of him, and you will think of him, acknowledge the moment and then move on. Don’t linger – distract yourself with something else. “I miss (Darth Vader). I’ll probably miss him for a while. Not gonna text him though. Oh look, kittens.

Step 8: What plans and dreams were you putting on hold while you dallied with this guy? Work plans, study plans, art plans, travel plans, daydreams? It’s time to dig back into that stuff and throw yourself at it as hard as you know how. DO THE THING.

Step 9: Forgive yourself.

Step 10: Forgive yourself.

Step 11: When you’re finally feeling like yourself again, these exes have a way of coming out of the woodwork back into your sphere of attention. I don’t know why, they just do. Be ready, ignore whatever bullshit he says, don’t respond to any messages from him, don’t hug him or “get coffee” and catch up with him. Sing along with Sharon. Laugh at the insipid stuff he says to try to get back in your pants. You’ve got better things to do than spend any more time thinking about that dude.

Step 12: Let time do its work. You WILL heal and you WILL get over him.

All love, no slaps,

Captain “I have been there” Awkward

*They’ve got a holiday album, btw. It’s so great.

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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Spoiler note: I reject this “boyfriend,” and all his works, and all his empty promises, and all his creeping on young women destroying their self-esteem.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been seeing the same guy for almost two years now. We met when I was living in Colorado, shortly after we met I moved away, and our relationship there wasn’t ever really too serious, but I feel like both of us felt that we wanted it to grow stronger, so when I moved away we continued to see each other and have a long distance relationship, but we aren’t truly in a relationship because he says he doesn’t want to claim me as his girlfriend until I am 21. He is 29 and I am 19. I know that is quite an age difference, but I am very mature for my age, and I feel like he acts more as if he is 24/25 than a 29 year old. So after going to visit him in Colorado a few times, I actually found out that the first time I went back to see him he had a girlfriend, this really upset me because I felt lied to and betrayed, but he thought it would make me feel special to know that he cheated on his girlfriend to be with me. They ended up breaking up right after I saw him, and that was that.

Besides telling me that we can’t be together until I’m 21, he also tells me he can’t be with a girl who doesn’t have, in his words, “a perfect ass”, so he constantly is harassing me about going to the gym and working out, he will check in with me and asked if I worked out today, which is really upsetting to me because, I eat very healthy and I go to the gym daily, and it is because I like being healthy and feeling good about myself. I am not overweight or out of shape by any means, I’m [height and weight redacted by Captain A.], I wouldn’t call that out of shape, but he constantly is harassing me about the way I look. It is so bad that I don’t even want to show him my body because he always has something negative to say. The things he has said to me have really hurt my self esteem, and make me feel like I am not good enough in his eyes. He will say terrible things about my body and my looks but then the next day tell me how beautiful I am. It is hard for me to understand.

When I get upset at him for critizing my body and putting me down he will tell me I need to toughen up and that he is only trying to make me better, but it’s not because he is worried about my health, it is because he wants me to look a certain way, like some model he sees online. He has even said to me, “I see other girls and I just want to f–k them”..I just don’t know how you say that to someone you love, and he says he’s just being honest, and that he’s a guy and every guy I meet will think that about other girls. Bottom line is, he just makes me feel terrible about my looks, and I wonder will I ever find a guy who can love someone that has all of the flaws he points out in me, I know I will never be a bikini model, but I am in very good shape, and he acts like he is a bodybuilder or something, meanwhile he doesn’t even have a gym membership, eat healthy, or go to the gym on a daily basis. I have never, and would never try to change him, even though he is 29, doesn’t have a job and has no clue what he is doing with his life, I always encourage him and tell him he will figure things out. I never bring him down, or make him feel bad about himself, and he will say the only reason I don’t is because I think he is so perfect already, and it’s not that, it’s just that I love him for who he is and all of his flaws or imperfections make him who he is..I just really don’t know what to do anymore. He also, came to Florida, where I live now and went on a cruise with another girl, before I found this out he told me he was coming to Florida to visit me, but around this time he told me he met someone else and he never really loved me, that we were just friends,and that maybe one day if I was in better shape we could be together, so I was confused as to why he was coming to see someone he felt this way about, then the day before he came he told me the real reason he was coming to Florida was to go on a cruise with another girl, and he wanted to see me after..After that I blocked his number, but ended up forgiving him a week or two later. But even after all that he still disrespected me and treated me poorly when this should’ve been a time he was amazing to me.

I asked him if I could spend New Year’s and go to a concert with him and he told me I didn’t look good enough to be seen with him there..but Later on he said he needed me there and was so happy I came. I just cannot keep being put down so harshly, by the one person that is supposed to bring me up, I just don’t understand what is wrong with him, or what is wrong with me. obviously he can be good, and sweet to me and we have had some amazing times together, which is why I love him, but hearing him say such hurtful things makes me question his love for me. I just don’t know what to do.

Dear Lovely Letter Writer,

Your email subject line was “Does my boyfriend actually love me?

No. He doesn’t. He may say that he does, or have feelings inside his head that he calls “love,” but the way he treats you isn’t how love works.

Question Time:

Is this the kind of treatment you want from a boyfriend?

Are you okay with it when he criticizes your body and makes you feel ugly?

Are you okay with him constantly lying about his relationships with other girls and women?

Do you think that “girlfriend” is a role that you must constantly audition for and prove you deserve? Over the course of multiple years? At the cost of your well-being and self-esteem?

I don’t have any scripts that will make him behave better or turn into the boyfriend you need and deserve. He won’t ever change or stop these asshole behaviors. He has been grooming you since you were 17 to accept his warped version of love and what your body should look like and how people treat other people (and he likely grooms and mistreats all his other “not quite girlfriends” too). He is an emotionally abusive asshole who picks on you to make himself feel better.

You end your letter with: “I just don’t know what to do.”

You DO know what to do and you already tried to do it (block him forever). You just gotta make it stick this time, and I’d love to help you do that.

Right now, you could text him and say “I am breaking up with you, goodbye.”

Then (also right now), you could block him on all possible forms of communication and delete his number from your phone. It doesn’t matter what he thinks or feels or says – once you decide to break up, it’s over.

Then, you could let yourself get really, really angry about how he’s treated you.

Next, imagine your ex-boyfriend as a flat piece of paper.

I want you to mentally crumple that piece of paper.

Make it really tiny and dense.

Did you crumple it? Can you feel it crushed very tight inside your fist?

Good.

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