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Dear Captain Awkward:

A girl I’ve been seeing for 5 weeks broke up with me and it hit me really hard. It took me a night to realize that I had attributed a lot of emotional weight to staying over at her place on week 4, when she asked me to come over and stay the night . So when we had the break up talk the week after that, I felt completely blindsided.

In my mind, staying the night means we are Officially In A Relationship. I was already imagining meeting her friends and hopefully eventually her family, stuff like that. In the days following that night, she invited me to a gathering with her friends and also to a dinner her friend invited both of us to, so it seemed like my expectations of what that night meant were holding true; up to that point I hadn’t met any of her friends. And then a week later she wanted to break up.

I told her my feelings about that night during the breakup, and her response was the typical “you built up too much of this relationship too fast, maybe slow it down in the future.” But I really don’t think I can change how I feel about staying the night with someone. Based on talking to some friends, it seems like people my age don’t attach nearly as much weight to this as I do, as it’s just one of Those Things You Do in a new relationship. Is there anything I can do to resolve this disparity in the future when dating someone new?

Basic background: I’m 28 years old and I didn’t start dating until I was 25. The longest relationship I’ve been in was 6 weeks. I’ve read about attachment patterns in adults and I solidly fall into the anxious-preoccupied model.

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It’s been a long time since we’ve looked into the abyssthe internet’s unfiltered Id… the words that people type into their search engine windows in order to find this place. Good news, Patreon contributors met the first monthly goal, and this will be coming back as a monthly feature. Shall we dance?

1. “Colleagues surprised I got promoted.”

And they point out their surprise? To you? Depending on my comfort level & closeness with the people in question and the likelihood that they’d have the grace to be embarrassed, I might say something like “Thanks for that astounding vote of confidence, Marian!” to help everyone laugh off the moment. I might also call no attention to it and pretend I didn’t notice, based on the fact that sometimes people have weird reactions to things when they first find out about them and do better when their first reaction can be private.

Now, if they keep bringing it up after that first announcement, like, “I was so surprised they promoted you and not Andy…” – it’s time for a wicked smile and “And yet…here we are!” (+ subject change).

2. “Can I ask neighbours not to be on my drive.”

Yes? “Please don’t use my drive, thank you.

3. “My mother died without resolving our strained relationship or saying thank you.”

We all die in the middle of something unfinished.That SUCKS and I’m sorry for the loss of your mom and for the loss of the chance to make things right between you. It sucks to be grieving someone when you’re bouncing back and forth between grief and anger and regret.

I hope you will honor your mother’s memory and your own experiences with your mom (the ones that made you need to keep your distance) someday when some more time has gone by. Write her a letter of all the things you wanted to say to her, but didn’t. Write the letter back to yourself that you wish that she would send you, the one where she says, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry” and “I understand.

Be kind to yourself.

4. “Why would a man tell you he will take you out for coffee once in a while, even after breaking up?”

Maybe this man has some idea that you’ll still be friendly. Only he knows for sure, so before you say yes you might ask him: “Hey, was there something in particular you wanted to talk about over coffee?”

Before you go, ask yourself:

Do you want to go out for coffee?

Do you want to stay in contact, or would you benefit from a clean break?

Do you want to go even if it doesn’t really mean anything special about your future together?

5. “People who care about grad school too much.”

Duuuuuuuude. Seriously. What is it with grad school, being all expensive and intense and competitive and interesting and stuff.

(I have no good answer, sorry. Grad school: It’s absorbing.)

6. “She says, ‘Not now, sorry’ when I want to talk with her.”

My best guess is that she is busy and doesn’t want to talk right now.

Try saying, “Ok, let me know when it’s a good time” and then going and doing something else with your time for a while.

In a good [romance][friendship][artistic collaboration] she’ll come find you when she’s ready.

7. “My brother is an insufferable ass.”

You can’t choose your family. Can you limit the amount of time you spend in his company?

8. “If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance”

Is this one of those fill-in-the-blank scenarios?

“If my boyfriend forces me to change my appearance, and it is not a matter of life and death because we are on the run from an international spy ring, then I should dump him for being a controlling jerk!”

People who “force” you to change important things about yourself are not on your side, Young Googler. Please love yourself enough to get away from this person.

9. “Why is my boyfriend really aggressive about me wearing makeup?”

The simplest explanation is that he does it because he is a controlling asswipe. See #8. He is literally trying to control your face. 

10. If a family member shuns you, do they ever think of you?

Maybe? Sometimes? Without action on their part, it’s hard to know.

11. “I found my grandmother’s sex toys.”

Yes! GET IT, GRANNY!

My best suggestion is: Put them back where you found them and act the way you’d like Nana to act if she stumbled across your sex toys (i.e. “quiet” & ” discreet”).

12. “‘Sorry I can’t date you’ message.”

I like replacing “can’t” with “don’t want to” or “am not interested,” if you feel safe to do so. “Can’t” implies circumstances beyond your control, like, “I would totally date you, but this tornado just spirited me away to the land of Oz, so I can’t.” That little window of ambiguity can send a persistent lover into a tizzy of looking for ruby slippers that will click you back to Kansas when really you just want them to leave you in this Technicolor world where it’s not the Great Depression. Whereas, “It’s nice of you to ask, but I am not interested in dating you” is clearer and more specific.

13. “Are all bad girls confident?”

Marie Claire’s former pillock-in-chief Rich would have it so. I need a better definition of terms. What is a ‘bad girl,’ exactly?

14. “How many times should I invite myself to stay as a house guest?”

This is my personal house-guesting code as a 42-year-old white American lady with a job. It does not have to be your personal house-guesting code.

With a close friend or family member,

Where I have a good history of reciprocity,

And I trust them to say an honest “no” if it’s not a good time or whatever,

And the dates of my travel are pretty well-defined (nobody likes “sometime” hanging over their head) and short (1 night – a few days);

…I may ask once or twice or every now and again. More likely when I know that the hosts have a guest room and a habit of saying “Please come visit, we have a guest room and we’d love for you to stay with us!,” in which case, they have invited me and “inviting myself” is more about suggesting a specific time. Much less likely when there is no guest room or guest bed and I’d be taking up someone’s main living space. Not at all likely when the prospective hosts are brand-new parents of a baby or enmeshed in other big deal life stuff. Definitely not if a suggestion of staying there is met with any hesitation; one may askIs it okay if I stay in your guest room for a few days?” but one must not try to convince the hosts.

This was all more fungible when I was 25 and used words like “crash” and traveled more internationally and AirBnB did not exist.

15. “How to ask friends not to invite themselves over?”

“Hey, friend, I love your company, but when it comes to my space, can you wait until I invite you over? Thank you.”

16. “I don’t want to be friends with ex-boyfriends.”

You don’t have to be!

17. “A message to write to a friend to tell some one they are of value to you even if they have gone broke.”

“Hello, friend, I know times are really hard right now. I just wanted to say that you are important to me and I’m hoping things get better for you. Can I fix you dinner sometime soon? I’d love to see your face.” 

18. “What is Captain in sex?”

If you’re lucky, there’s a recorder solo.

19. “Should teenage boys have sex toys?”

I’m neither a parent nor a legal expert, but my instincts say, “Why the hell shouldn’t all teenagers have access to information & resources to make themselves feel really really good in their own company?” I wish to hell I had grown up with Scarleteen and a waterproof, adjustable-speed vibrator.

20. “Do therapists want to hear how their former patients are doing?”

People in the helping professions sow a lot of seeds without expecting to see the blossoms, so, I say “yes” if you had a good relationship and the information is conveyed in a medium that doesn’t demand work from them. Think of it the way you’d write to a former teacher you wanted to thank in a short note, like, “Dear Therapist, I just wanted to let you know that things are going better at work thanks to your suggestions for managing my time and anxiety better. I hope all is well with you, thank you again for your help. Sincerely, Your former patient.” If you find yourself generating paragraph upon paragraph of text, maybe make an appointment?

21. “Stop meddling and being a matchmaker!” 

Yeah, knock it off, Emma! 

22. “Me and boyfriend break up because we never have sex.”

Breakups are HARD, even when they are the right thing to do. I hope you are both happier with a little time and distance, and may your next partner(s) be more compatible with you in that way.

23. “Should it bother me that my husband wants me to party with alcohol & cocaine knowing I have seizures and interactions with medications could be harmful?”

I find it useful to replace the word “should” in talks I have with myself. When we’re talking about feelings or big decisions, what “should” happen is not so helpful. The better question is “what IS happening?”

“Should it bother you…”

==>

DOES it bother you? It sounds like it bothers you. (It bothers me!) And, since you are the sole boss of what substances you put in your body, you are the sole decider of what risks are unacceptable for you. “Husband, I don’t want to ‘party’ with you. I don’t want to have a seizure or a bad interaction with my meds. Please stop asking me.”

24. “My roommate leaves the bathroom door open when he goes to the bathroom and showers.”

“Dude, close the door!” (+ open the window!)

 25. How to get your boyfriend to look after himself?

Any answer I give is going to generate an automatic “But it’s more complicated than that!” or “But I love him!” response, and rightly so, but I’m going to talk to my younger right now and let everyone listen in. If it’s not applicable then it’s not applicable.

Hey, Young Jennifer, I’m so sorry, the Time Machine did not get me back here in time to stop you from falling in love with [Hot But Troubled Boy]. I had the dial set for 1990, which is why I have all these catalogues for women’s colleges and a bass guitar in here with me, but I can see that I’m a couple years late.

I know you love Boy. His skin feels like magic and when you touch each other it feels like the microscopic space between you is filled with stardust. He smells like two angels fucking. You can stay up all night talking and fixing the world together. You are unstoppable…except for when he is very stoppable.

Boy has a condition called depression. You have it, too, and you should go and get checked out for that. Where I come from you didn’t figure that out for another 5-7 years, and I can’t help but wonder what would be different for me/us if you knew. Depression doesn’t mean you’re unloveable, it just means that it can take medical help and concentrated effort to manage the condition. When Boy hates himself, and stops going to work or class or washing his clothes or wanting to do anything with you, when he has mood swings and gets dark and mean, when he tells you that he doesn’t deserve you and wants you to go away, and then the next day tells you that he’ll die if you leave him,  it’s at least partly a manifestation of an illness. It’s not your fault, it’s not something you are doing wrong or not doing enough of. What that also means is that you cannot love him out of it. You can’t fix him or fix it for him. He’s got to do it himself.

What I know now that you don’t know is that the time you are spending, tidying his space for him, worrying about him, talking to your friends about what to do about him, trying to coax him to eat or shower or go see a movie with you, wondering what he’s thinking about, making sure you always look pretty when you see him, keeping track of his schedule and his deadlines, processing the stuff he says to you in and out of his mood swings, taking care of him, trying to lay your love and your body down into all his cracks and fill them, time spent biting your tongue not wanting to make him sad or angry…this is time that you will never get back. You are stealing these years from yourself and offering them up to him, to no one’s benefit.

I know, you love him. I know.

And I have unfair knowledge, because I know stuff that you can’t know now, that maybe you wouldn’t have ever learned if you didn’t try and fail at this.

But I’m from the future, and if I could tell you what to do right now I’d tell you to have one conversation with him where you ask him to seek help for his troubles and to start being nicer to you. If he does? Great, maybe you can have that love story you’re so sure this is going to be. If he won’t? Especially the part about being nice to you? Then I’d tell you to bail. It’s too late for the women’s colleges, but it’s not too late for the bass. Take it, find some other awesome women, start a terrible punk band, and use all the painful things he’s said to you as material for lyrics. Hold out for someone who is always kind to you, someone who doesn’t need to be fixed or parented.

P.S. In 1997, when your friend I. offers you a chance to work at her internet startup but you’re going to take the job at the non-profit instead? WORK FOR I, FOOL. She’s gonna sell that thing to Yahoo right before the crash in 2000, and you can donate your millions of dollars to the non-profit.

This is Captain Awkward Dot Com Pledge Drive Week, as you know. Ways to contribute:

  • You can become a patron at Patreon. At the next funding goal, I release an e-book of columns once every year, free to patrons, a few $ to download for non-patrons. When/if we hit $2000/month, the blog goes ad-free. 
  • Monthly contributions not your thing? Paypal Cash.me and Dwolla also work. Whatever’s convenient for you!

Thank you so much for reading and for your generosity. It really makes a material difference in my life.

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I couldn’t find anything like this in your archives, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for advice.

I’m a 23 year old woman and I’ve never been in a relationship. It just doesn’t particularly interest me, and I identify as an aro-ace and I feel satisfied by all my platonic relationships. I have dated in the past, which has clued me in to things I like and don’t like, and I’ve also come to realise that dating people I don’t know makes me really uncomfortable with the thought that they will want things I don’t.

During school, my friends told me that a guy at a party had been hardcore flirting with me and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve been messaging him on and off since and we’ve gone on two dates, and I don’t know him well enough to want to go on more – I want to know him as a friend before we try more dates. The problem is, one of my friends is meddling to try and push me into a relationship with him, and I just want to run the other way. Despite not hanging out in five years of school, she’s asked me twice in two weeks to hang out and if I decline to save money, changes plans conveniently so that I don’t have to pay anything. I know she’s meddling, and another friend has admitted as such. All she’s doing is making me want to duck my head and hide – the more she pushes, the less I want to know this guy at all.

I don’t know how to tell this guy that I want to know him as a friend before we progress without hurting his feelings, and I really need to tell my friend to stop meddling because it makes me really anxious and uncomfortable, but I have no idea how. Do you have any advice or scripts that might help?

Thanks,
Happily Single and Being Pressured

Dear Happily Single:

Be blunt and let them know where you stand. It’s actually the respectful, friendly thing to do. You can do it!

“Friend, stop meddling. I will work things out with this guy in my own way and at my own pace. You’re driving me bonkers right now and making me feel pressured and annoyed. Knock it off!”

“Guy, I like hanging out with you and I’d like to maybe be friends. I don’t think I want to go on any more DATE-dates for the time being, though I will let you know if that changes. Is that cool?” 

“I’m happy being single.” (Repeat as necessary, to the point where the conversations become very boring because you default to saying this every time the topic comes up). “But won’t you give him a chance?” “I’m happy being single.” “But he was flirting with you!” “Cool. I’m happy being single.” “I just want you to be happy.” “Good! I’m happy being single.” “But I thought you liiiiiked me.” “I do like you as a friend. I’m happy being single.” “I just want to help you.” “But I don’t want help. I’m happy being single.”

You already know what I’m gonna say: I’m happy being single.

Guy and Friend(s) will feel whatever they feel. Maybe Guy won’t be interested in hanging out just as friends. Maybe Friend(s) will deny their meddling or be offended that you don’t want them to do more of it and be miffed for a while. Maybe they will get it and apologize and stop pressuring you. You can’t magically prevent people from doing stuff that annoys you, but you can have a conversation where you let them know how you feel about it. Stop silently accepting their annoying behavior. You are not “being mean” or “causing trouble” by stating your needs and boundaries. 

You got this!

 

 

Hi Captain Awkward!

I’m in need of your spot-on dating advice and I’ll get right to it. This evening, I went on my fourth online dating website “date” (which usually is just find a place to chat for a couple hours) and, like the previous three dates, I have realized that the girl that I’ve chatted with for a while online just doesn’t seem that interested in me. (She still could be, but I just got back from the date and I think it’s smart to take a break from texting – don’t want to overwhelm her/appear clingy.) One of the main indicators that she just wasn’t interested in me was the fact that she wasn’t really trying to establish any physical contact. Being an introverted geek, where dating doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve read about “breaking the touch barrier” and trying to create a (even slight) sense of intimacy on the first date. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean “make out” on the first date, but I always introduce myself with a hug; establish eye contact whenever possible; and give occasional friendly taps on the shoulder to establish a welcoming persona. I’m really trying my best to be better at dating but I’ve realized my problem is that I have a hard time creating intimacy on the first date and appearing like a desirable guy to my date. In short, I get the sense that even though we agree on a lot of topics and hobbies, I can never get my dates to “want” me like some other suave guys can do. Also, in between chatting about our hobbies, where we come from, what we like, etc., I tend to have a few awkward pauses during my dates. I’ve reasoned that it’s best to ALLOW these awkward pauses to occur, even if we’re just awkwardly sitting in silence, because a) You want to give her time to think/process what’s happening and b) you don’t want to appear like the blabbermouth who doesn’t know when to shut up. So I allow awkward pauses to happen, even if they sometimes seem to kill the mood. Should I do something differently there?

Sincerely,
Padawaan Dater

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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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O Captain, my Captain.

I am sort of shocked at what I am writing you, as I’ve never had anything like this happen to me. I have a 34-year-old woman, and was in a long-distance relationship with a 37-year-old man until a few weeks ago. Then? After our first fight (over the phone), which I thought was fairly minor really, he disappeared. No calls, no texts, email, Facebook, smoke signals. I contacted his best friend to make sure he is still ALIVE – he is – he has just stopped communicating with me altogether. Has he broken up with me? Does he actually plan on resurfacing? I don’t know. But what I think you should know is that we have known each other for 20 years, making this behavior even more cruel.

Here’s how it started: we met in high school. I was basically in puppy love with him until he graduated (nothing happened), and then my first year of college or so, we spent time together. We didn’t have sex but we were intimate. That ended when I found out he was seeing someone else (which was fair, as we’d never discussed being exclusive) so I went my own way, feelings hurt. Then he moved far away, and we exchanged letters, and basically, we’ve kept in touch for the last 20 years. Often, we’ll be in town (the small town we grew up in) at the same time, and we usually drive around and talk and talk and talk. Once, we checked into a motel, watched TV, and kissed. But it never happened again.

This past Christmas, I knew I liked him and was tired of all the dancing around, so we consummated our relationship, if you know what I mean. I spent the next few days with him, and when I left for New York, I made it known that I would come visit him in the Midwest. And I did, several times. It was always just beyond wonderful and lovely and I really thought I loved him, although it was too early (?) to say that, so I didn’t. He did all sorts of nice things for me as well. One thing that concerned me about him, however, was that he hasn’t really worked at all in five years, although he has skills, and he isn’t trying to. He’s dead broke and refuses to work. But. Love!

So, the disappearance. I’ve taken it.. badly. I have basically been using his text box as an empty Word file, and I keep texting him – almost like I’m talking to myself. ALL I NEED is for him to tell me WHY he disappeared, WHY it won’t work out, WHAT is wrong with him, is he upset? What? And he WON’T EVEN GIVE ME THAT. It’s just cruel.

So it’s been three weeks now. Every few days I call him, hoping that this will be the time that he answers the phone and tells me JUST WHAT THE F HAPPENED.

And he never picks up.

Sincerely,
About My Disappearance

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Greetings, Captain!

Long-time lurker checking in with a relationship problem. My boyfriend and I (she/her pronouns) have a lot of different interests. Which is fine! Not all my stuff is his cup of coffee! Not all his stuff is my cup of tea! The issue is when he says he wants to do something with me and our apparent inability to find time prevents me from doing the thing.

For example: I wanted to watch The Martian when it came out. He was Super! Excited! to watch it together! It was going to be great! Except somehow every time I suggested it there was something else to do, or he didn’t have time. After a while I brought up the idea that he didn’t have to watch it with me, since it seemed he wasn’t interested…only to hear that of course we would watch it, he really wanted to see it with me, we’d watch it next time we had time! I still haven’t seen The Martian.

I’m also a full time student with a part-time job and limited free time, which means I often do (hobby) inconsistently. This means that it feels odd to push him to go do (hobby) with me if I haven’t been in two weeks, especially if it means he misses an activity he enjoys. However, if I say I’m going, he’ll ask me to wait since he’s almost done, which stretches out into another thing, then another..then he’s ready to go, but I’m annoyed because I’m late, or it’s too late to go at all. He always apologizes, but that’s little help when I lose an hour of dancing because he wanted to finish a game.

Boyfriend is great in pretty much every other regard, and I really don’t mind if he never gets into dance or D&D or Sherlock. I appreciate that he wants to do things that I enjoy with me, but I’d rather he either a) actually DO them, or b) tell me if he’s not into ice or d20s or giant scarves, so I can go do things involving these things on my own time. I suspect that both of us have a bit of a dirty lens going on as well; my last ex found a few of my hobbies intensely boring and vice versa, while his most significant ex insisted on doing everything together.
Is there a gentle way to say “I love that you want to do things with me, but if you aren’t into it, just…don’t bother? Should I just start doing things without him, even if he’s expressed interest? Am I overreacting? Should I just go watch The Martian already?

Sincerely,

liking D&D is not the price of admission

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Dear Not The Price,

I love this question for being so specific, for covering something we haven’t done in detail before, and for being something that is very solvable with boundaries and scripts. Thank you!

I think there is a very direct way that you can break this impasse and make your time & interests less fungible where your boyfriend is concerned. It involves, for starters, adding specific dates and timeframes to your plan-making if you’re not already doing that.

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie!”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?” (Or, “Great, let me check showtimes and I’ll send you a couple options tomorrow.” Or, “Can you look at showtimes at the theater that would work for you?”

Boyfriend: “None of those times really work for me.”

Let’s breakdown the roles:

If you are the suggester/the inviter/the initiator/the person who wants to do The Social Thing, I suggest adding a specific time, date, place to your suggestion as soon as possible/reasonable. We have covered this in some of our threads about dating and asking people out: “Would you like to hang out sometime?” is not enough. “Would you like to see a band with me on Thursday after work?” is a real invitation that a person can say a specific “yes” or “no” to.

If you are the invitee, and you cannot make the suggested day/time/place, but you still want to do The Thing or A Thing, it is now your job to suggest alternate days/dates/times/Things. If you want to actually make plans with someone that actually exist on the actual space-time-continuum, it is not the other person’s job to endlessly suggest things until they find something that happens to suit you. If you want to do the Thing, help a person out! If you can’t do The Thing, “I don’t think I can make it work in my schedule, but I’ll let you know when that changes” is good information to communicate. If you just don’t want to do The Thing, say “Thanks for the invitation, but no.”

Letter Writer, somewhere in becoming an established couple, you and your boyfriend drifted away from scheduling your plans with each other. On the one hand, it’s a very natural and even comforting transition from “We have to meticulously plan everything” to “I take for granted that I will see you often/just come over!)” On the other hand, I think that politeness and consideration are still extremely valuable in close relationships, and your boyfriend is not being fully considerate of your time here, especially when you both have busy schedules and varied interests. Value your own interests and your own time and prioritize the things that you want to do, and then communicate your expectations and wishes to your partner.

Let’s revisit the conversation:

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie.”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?”

Boyfriend: “Neither of those really work for me.”

What if what happened next was this?

Letter Writer: “Ok, can you suggest a time in the next week or two that will work? I really want to see it soon.”

Then if a couple weeks go by without your boyfriend suggesting specific plans to see Exciting Movie (and if you still even want to see it with him) try this:

Letter Writer: “I’m gonna see Exciting Movie this (Day at Time/Place). Last chance to join me!”

If the dude still can’t make the schedule work, that’s okay, you’ll go see it with a friend or by yourself, and you can watch it again or rent it together sometime. But he can’t lay claim to both “I want you to wait so we can experience it together” and “But I will never make a plan for that to happen.” Nopetepus!

Let’s apply it to the other situation: When his indecision making you late for (or miss entirely) a thing you wanted to do.

Letter Writer: “I am going to go dancing with my friends tonight.”

Boyfriend: “Cool, I’ll join you. Just let me finish this game.”

Letter Writer: “Well, I said I’d meet them by 9:00 pm so I’m going to leave in about 30 minutes. If you’re ready by then, definitely come along. If not, maybe next time!”

Then go at the time you said you’d go and dance your ass off with or without him. He can pause his game, or he can decide he’d rather play the game, but he doesn’t get to have it both ways. He especially doesn’t get to have you dancing attendance on him and missing out on the stuff you want to do.

I believe you that he’s a good dude, but here are things to watch out for:

  • Your boyfriend pouts or resists or gets jealous or clingy when you go to stuff by yourself. Extremely annoying in small doses, controlling and scary in medium+ doses. Time for, at minimum, a “Come along or don’t, if you don’t I’m shutting my phone off and you don’t get to text me later ’cause you’re bored” discussion and also time to evaluate whether he’s controlling and needy in other ways.
  • Your boyfriend resists or mocks the idea of scheduling things with you in advance. “Ok, sure…Mom”Come on, let’s be spontaneous, Babe!” Dude, let’s not.
  • You are always the one who has to schedule things without reciprocal effort from him, or, you’re ultra-aware of his calendar but he’s oblivious to yours (like you are his freaking social secretary). Planning the time you’ll spend together is the constructive, healthy kind of relationship “work”, but it is emotional labor and takes thought and effort and equal investment by both partners. Time for “I’d like to see you this weekend, but I don’t want to plan everything or just hang out while you play games. Can you look for something fun for us to do on Saturday?” discussion.

If adding a time & place and asking your boyfriend to do reciprocal planning doesn’t make things better, it might be time for a script like this:

When I invite you to something, I’m learning that ‘maybe’ really means ‘no.’ And ‘later’ also means ‘no.’ (Give one or two recent, specific, examples where his hesitation meant you missing out on what you wanted to do). It’s okay if you don’t really want to come to (x events/hobbies), but I’d like you to be more specific and more clear when you tell me your decision so I’m not planning around you.”

Or “I get really excited when you want to join me for (things I like to do) and it’s a big bummer when you say yes and then it doesn’t actually happen. It makes me wish I’d just gone by myself when there was still time. Is there a way you’d like us to handle making plans that will help avoid this?” You can be clearer about specific time frames, but it’s not on you to do all the work of figuring this out. It’s very reasonable to ask him to do his fair share of work to help solve this between you.