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emotional abuse

“Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to give this book to my mother. To present it to her as a precious gift over a meal that I’ve cooked for her. To say: Here is everything that keeps us from really talking. Here is my heart. Here are my words. I wrote this for you.” – Michele Filgate, Introduction, What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence

I just devoured this essay collection curated by the wonderful  Michele Filgate (whose title-essay about her mother’s refusal to believe her about childhood sexual assault at the hands of her stepfather is in the book) and it’s really good. There are love and appreciation stories aplenty, though many essays cover seriously harrowing ground around mental illness, addiction, emotional abuse, and other kinds of abuse without holding back. It’s not a light read, is what I am saying.

I feel like almost every piece in the book maps to a letter that someone has sent to my inbox about how to say the unsayable thing, how to know when it’s time to let go, how to tell your own truth, how to dig into the past without letting it define you, how to set boundaries, how to see a parent as a separate person who existed before you, how to honor the gifts our mothers give us and be honest about the poisoned apples they sometimes pass on. I kept highlighting as I went because I knew that some Letter Writer somewhere needed to see that sentence, see themselves on that page. “Mother Tongue,” Carmen Maria Machado‘s chapter about estrangement is one of the best things about that topic I’ve read. Some quotes from that essay:

“Whenever I saw her, she found some way to let me know that despite my accomplishments, I was failing. ‘You need to learn to make better choices,’ she told me, though what choices they were, she never specified. Besides, all I could hear was, ‘I wish I’d made better choices.’ And I couldn’t help her with that.”

“A reader might think that this is, obviously, a kind of misplaced parental anxiety and love. And they might be right. But I felt like I was losing my mind. There was no trust, no affection, no listening, just ignorant micromanagement. It felt like I was existing in a parallel universe, where everything I’d just done with my life, everything I was doing with my life, hadn’t made any difference at all. I was a kid again, useless. Nothing was mine–not my time, not my schedule, not my choices.”

I’ll stop before I accidentally re-publish the whole thing. If you spent Mother’s Day curled up in a ball because of a difficult relationship and/or if you have a letter hanging out in my queue about this topic, this might be a healing book for you. ❤

I’m working on a book proposal for a collection of essays, so I’m on a tear of reading essay collections of late. Here are some other collections I couldn’t put down:

  • Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, which is an essay collection about race and politics and identity in America AND a memoir about family and love and being from a particular place in the Midwest AND a chronicle of how the music we love carries our dreams and tells our stories, how the music brings us back to particular moment in time, how it helps us remember and see. It’s a fucking stunner.
  • Alexander Chee’s How To Write An Autobiographical Novel which is, among many other things, such a love letter to the teachers who taught him to write. Chee has an essay in the What My Mother And I Don’t Talk About collection as well.
  • JoAnn Beard’s The Boys Of My Youth (I discovered her work through the outstanding 1996 essay The Fourth State of Matter which, if you are unfamiliar, could use a content note for everything from “school shooting/gun violence” to “dying pet” but it’s one of those pieces that says EVERYTHING and never lets go).

No comments, as I don’t really like debating about the books I read in my free time, I like what I like and you like what you like, but since people always want to know what I’m reading, here’s some of what I’m reading. I hope you’re reading things that speak to you!

Finally, I just got an advance copy of Jessica Pan’s “Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want To Come: One Introvert’s Year Of Saying Yes” in the mail, I’ll update here when I’m done since I think “What would happen if a shy introvert lived like a gregarious extrovert for one year?” is a question that lots of us might like to see answered, if only vicariously and from a very safe distance.

Dear Captain,

About a year ago I was able to save just enough money to say, “F@&$ you!” to a really depressing living situation and moved cross-USA into my mom’s new house in the very expensive area near where I grew up. I’m lucky that my mom and I are fairly compatible personality-wise (and that my younger siblings are as well; the one I get along with best also lives here) and she doesn’t want me to pay her rent. After a few months of depression, followed by temp work, followed by getting into a great volunteer gig, a great part-time job, and re-entering community college to change careers (from the arts to a very applied science, which is un-coincidentally not viewed as prestigious or intellectual unlike my previous field), I’m finally starting to feel like I’m getting back on my feet emotionally and financially.

The problem is, my room is still crowded with unpacked boxes and is not very clean (I have pets which are creating messes I am slow to clean up). We bought paint and furniture months ago but I’ve been too busy and overwhelmed to put my room together and so I’m living out of laundry bags. I know this situation is untenable and unpleasant (for me) but I do try to keep the worst of the mess to my own room and to keep up with my pets’ needs. (UfYH has helped with that and is helping me keep the worst of the mess down.)

But I think my mom has been going in my space (expressly against my permission) and she keeps giving me bullshit ultimatums disguised as “help”.
Example: Mom non-sequiturs: “This weekend we are *going* to move your desk into the dining room so you can unpack.”
Me: “I don’t want to move my desk (because I have other more important things to do like laundry for work and eking out a little self-care and also I use my desk and also where TF did that come from?)”
Mom: “But you *can’t* live like this!”

Captain, I know it’s not great, but it isn’t a pigsty and I am already barely keeping up with my new responsibilities and I just don’t have the energy to do polishing touches on my room. There are too many steps to take before I am even close to that. My mom talks to me like an incompetent child whenever it comes to cleaning (or calling out sick from work!) and rags on me whenever I try to talk about the volunteer work I’m doing in my new field. She has *suggesti-told* me to quit whenever I say I’m tired (because it’s physical, outdoor work), and it makes me so, so angry. How can I tell her my priorities are different from hers and how can I express my feelings without her complaining that I’m just bad at managing my life? (I’ve been trying to keep her on an information diet because she’s been so critical but it’s backfired because now she thinks I have “sleep issues.” Which she just *told* me to see a doctor for, like that’s so easy or even the problem. I snapped back that my health is none of her business. Have I mentioned that I’m fat, queer, and happily single? I.e., failing at traditional womanhood?) I’m tired and overwhelmed because I’m still not out of my depression, but volunteering and working is helping, and if my room stays a mess for the next year it will still have been worth it for me! I know it’s her house but it is *my* room and *my* stuff she complains about.

I think part of the problem is that my new career is lower-status than what I originally went to school for (and declined to get an expensive Master’s for). I have heard her dismiss my work in conversations with family like she thinks it’s some sort of phase. Captain, I am in my thirties, I know I’m making good, sensible decisions for my future. I am “behind” my peers because I decided to start over, not because I’m incompetent. My life trajectory is different because I am different. I feel like my otherwise-lovely, supportive mother sees my room as visible evidence that I am a failure at adulting.

Thanks for any kind of scripts/assistance/creating this vaguely friendly void of an email account to scream my frustration into!

Darling daughter is doing just fine. (She/her)

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It is time to celebrate the mostly-monthly ritual of rounding up the snippets that people typed into search engines to find this place and answering them like questions.

Please enjoy this jazzy bittersweet tune about lost love and memory (When April Comes Again, sung by Mel Tormé).

 

1 “How to get over a long distance crush.”

The good news is you won’t run into them everywhere you go.

The bad news is that many of us carry a little device in our pocket that lets us see what our crush is up to at any moment of any day, and sometimes there are settings on that device and its various applications that give us a little ping when our crush has posted a new photo of themselves looking cute while they live life without us (or some other fascinating snippet of information). We are also able to respond immediately to any communication.

It’s time to stop monitoring them and haunting their feeds. Starve the crush by muting/unfollowing/filtering/turning off notifications. Then throw yourself into something local to where you live, with new faces or old friends, something that absorbs you, perhaps something where your convenient crush-monitoring device is best turned off and tucked in a pocket or a drawer. Unfollowing/disengaging is how you help time and absence do their work.

2 “What someone really means when they say they aren’t taking sides?”

They definitely aren’t taking your side.

They want to keep hanging out with everyone involved in the conflict.

They would prefer not to be a sounding board for your grievances with whoever is on the other side.

3 “Is it rude to invite someone to someone else’s party.”

If you know for sure the host is a “The more the merrier!” person or the invitation says “Bring anyone you like!” and it’s not a formal, invitation-only, sit-down fancy affair, then: Probably not rude! Just indicate when you RSVP – “Yes, I’ll be there, and I’m bringing [Name] FYI, so, 2 adults.” 

However if you’re wondering if it’s rude you probably don’t know the above things for sure, so, checking in with the host first can be a good idea. “I’d love to come to that, is it okay if I bring [Name]?” I’m reminded of the time I invited a few friends who overlapped with a message board community over for my birthday and one of the people announced it in the community chat. Hellooooooooooo, way more people than I’d cooked for, showing up unexpectedly to my home address for a party where I’d already invited everyone I actually liked! (RUDE)

4: “Ask vs. Guess Culture”

The previous question is a good case study for “Ask” Culture vs. “Guess” Culture , right? Here’s the great Metafilter comment that explained it succinctly. And I made a post about it forever ago, in the context of “What Are Advice Columnists Even For?”, but I rethink my assumptions about it all the time.

For the “is it rude to bring someone to someone else’s party” situation: 

“Ask” Culture = It’s okay to ask, it’s also okay to say “no,” which means asker must be prepared to take “no” for an answer. Someone who prefers this way of operating is more likely to say “Go ahead and ask the host, it’s not rude!” 

“Guess” Culture = People don’t ask unless they’re pretty sure the answer is already yes, so asking a host if it’s okay to bring someone to an event creates an implied pressure to say yes. Someone who is more comfortable in a “Guess” culture would be more likely to wonder, “What did the invitation say? What are this person’s parties usually like? What are the accepted rules in the social group around parties like this?” 

One is not necessarily better than the other, tight-knit communities who have ways of checking on each other and caring for each other that let everyone save face have their extremely strong points, though I have a lot of thoughts lately about how hierarchies and systems replicate themselves by being “Guess” (where it helps to know a lot of “unwritten” rules and have “cultural fit” to function there and where asking gets riskier the less relative power you have in the situation or b/c you mark yourself as an outsider). I think about this a lot in terms of social class, disability, neurodivergence, expectations around ‘civility’ and ‘norms’ in political power structures, and also when I think about “traditional” families and cultures where elders have authority and sway. If you’re not supposed to defy the elders, where does that leave people when the elders are the problem?

These aren’t necessarily rigid dichotomies or mutually exclusive states. I lean “Ask” as an adult, but I find “Guess” habits and assumptions in myself all the time (“Everyone already knows how to do x….“Jeez, read the room!” ). I find it fascinating when I find resistance in myself to the idea of just asking a question (for example, see the case of Party Smeagol). However you were raised and whatever you prefer, it’s good to know about other modes of operation, since you might need to adapt to the other in certain situations.

5 “When people ask me how my weekend was I prefer not to answer.”

This situation is what the words “Fine, and yours?” was invented for.

It is the quickest, most boring, expected way to complete the social circuit and get off the topic of your weekend without making it weird.

“But what if my weekend was NOT fine, Jennifer?” Idk, you just said you didn’t want to talk about it. ‘Fine’ = “Nothing to report, ask me no further questions.” If that super does not work for you, try “Nothing interesting to report. And yours?” 

If I casually ask how your weekend was, and you refuse to answer the question at all, or get all Why would you ask me that?” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” I’m gonna wonder about you and your weekend a whole lot more than if you’d just said “Fine.” Were you doing crimes? Are you secretly a sexy international spy?

6. “Roommate lives in basement suite and when I have company comes up uninvited.”

First I’d want to know “basement suite” as in separate apartment or as in basement room in the same house (y’all share a kitchen & other common spaces). The first is more of a neighbor problem, the second is more of a roommate problem.

As a bedrock principle, if I’m home in my house, and a party is happening in my house, I also get to be there, right? That’s probably the default setting? But if my upstairs neighbor is having people over, I do not assume that I am invited to that unless she knocks on my door or leaves me a note to say “Come up for a drink!”

But it’s negotiable, even when it’s a roommate situation. Part of living in shared housing is finding a way to give other people the illusion of space and privacy even when there is no actual space or privacy. There’s a lot of room between “We do everything together!” and “I’m gonna have 3 work friends over for a four-player game, can I claim the living room for myself that night?” You just have to talk about it and actually spell it out, preferably from the beginning. “What do you want to do about having people over – especially if there are times when you want it to be just you and your friends? Can you give me a heads’ up if that happens so I can make other plans or know to give y’all some space?” 

It’s harder to interrupt an established pattern, and probably the person’s just hearing people upstairs and thinking, “Cool, I wonder who’s here?” You can still ask, though. Do it with plenty of notice before the next event. “Can we work something out about having people over? I definitely want you to join us sometimes, so can I text you and invite you specifically when that is? But other times, when I just want to have a few specific people over, is it ok to just give you some notice so you don’t plan on using that space? And then you can do the same?” 

It will be awkward because who wouldn’t hear that and wonder if they’ve ever been actually welcome to anything, ever? The best way to reassure the person is probably to give them lots of notice when you are doing stuff where you want them to hang back, and to actually, enthusiastically invite them sometimes.

7. “I’m not a relationship type of person.”

If this describes you, no worries! You’re far from alone! Find each other! Kiss, or, equally likely, don’t! There are lots of labels and spaces where this will make total sense and you will be welcomed without question.

However, the context that *I* usually encountered that phrase in the wild was from people who would then start doing stuff like showing up at my place and/or calling every single day, wanting to spend tons of time together doing relationship-y activities, expecting a ton of time, kissing stuff, attention, listening to and supporting their hopes and dreams, accompanying them to family gatherings and life events, and acting in a way that is indistinguishable from “being in a relationship”…because we had a relationship, it was  just one where they also wanted to keep all their options open and remind me constantly not to ever need or expect anything from them.

Which is why I would suggest clarifying for yourself: Are you “not a relationship-type-of-person,” or do you not want a relationship with a specific person under these circumstances? Then you can be the right kind of honest.

8. “Should I be jealous my husband watches Game of Thrones.”

I mean, he’s watching it instead of what? You? Killing Eve? I love Killing Eve, but that’s what the DVR is for.

If you can hang out for three more weeks and this one’s gonna resolve itself. Or the jealousy will still be there, in which case, it wasn’t the show, which recently has been about 90% grimy, exhausted people laden down with Ikea fur rugs hanging out in shadowy corridors having feelings at each other and stabbing screaming zombies in almost total darkness (& I say this as an enjoyer). There are possibly easier ways to enjoy Adult Content.

Got GoT opinions/theories/spoilers/a burning need to communicate how deeply disinterested you are that you’re dying to share in the comments? Kindly zip it or better yet, come find me on Twitter.

“I never understood the fuss about…” BALEETED.

I’VE BEEN READING THIS FUCKING DRAGON TALE SINCE 1997, LET ME HAVE THIS.

Three more weeks.

Yes, I realize the querent’s husband might not be all the way caught up on the show, thank you.

THREE MORE WEEKS.

9. “How to know if a socially awkward girl likes me?”

Ask her: “Are you flirting? I think you might be flirting but I can’t always tell.”

“Is this a friend-date or a date-date?” 

Or if you like her, tell her. “I like you a lot. Want to go on a date sometime?” 

She is the only person in the world who knows the information you seek.

10. “Would you make fun of or appreciate an apology letter 20 years later?”

It really depends on what the person is apologizing for. I’d like to think I wouldn’t ever make fun, but then there’s the time a few years ago that someone apologized to me deeply and at length for “breaking my heart” back in high school and I was like, “You did?” High school ended in 1992. My heart is fine.

Some people really do appreciate stuff like this. It heals a wound to know that the person who hurt them feels remorse, that they changed. Others really, really don’t. After 20 years, they’ve moved on, and now they have to think about it again and possibly deal with the feelings of the person who harmed them?

I think for best results the “better late than never?” apology crowd should be really honest with themselves: Am I doing it for the other person or am I doing this for me? Can you be brief, clear, take responsibility for what you did and said, and then leave it in the other person’s hands without expecting a response?

A letter is good because you drop it in the mail and let it go. Consider also that a letter is potentially very creepy because the recipient is now wondering how you found out where they live and if you’re gonna show up there. Find the least intrusive way you can to reach them.

11. “Reaching out to an old ex on her birthday.” 

Smooth. I notice you didn’t use the word “current friend.” As in #10, above, just be honest with yourself about why you’re doing this and what you’re hoping for, ok? And know that the the ex just deleting whatever it is is 100% a possibility, and be cool with that possibility.

12. “Decline last minute work.”

Script: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ve already booked that time slot. Is your schedule flexible at all? I could take on something after [date]. Otherwise, good luck finding someone.”

Bonus: If it’s a client or employer you really, really like, and you know people who might be able to help who are looking for work, connect them!

To the client: “Would it be okay if I shared this with a few people who do similar work in my network?”

To the colleague: “Client X just asked me to take on a project, and I’m booked. Would you like me to put you in touch?” 

Check before sharing people’s contact details. It’s just good practice.

13. “Why in a relationship would one partner line up friends to insult the other partner?”

Signs point to the partner who recruits friends to insult someone they claim to love being both really mean and having mean friends. Sorry, you might be surrounded by assholes!

14. “Helping your ex through your break-up.”

My first thought when I read stuff like this: BUT YOU BROKE UP. IT’S NOT YOUR JOB.

I can think of a few legit good ways to help an ex with a breakup, assuming this is a “Farewell good person who was, alas, not right for me” breakup and not a “Never contact me again you controlling shitlord” breakup, are you ready?

  • Have good boundaries for yourself. If you need space and time to get over the relationship, be honest about that and don’t set yourself up to be your ex’s Chief Consoler. If you know you don’t want to ever get back together, don’t dangle that option. Don’t dump someone and then lean on them as your favorite listening ear. Ex-sex can be a fine, healing, understandable human activity, but there are times when you know it’s a bad idea and is going to make the other person have an even harder time detaching. You ceased already, so desist!
  • Be a little thoughtful about how you use social media. Don’t air this person’s private heartbreak everywhere, wait a hot second before you go all #FinallyFree #AtLast #TrueLove with your brand new beau, it’s cool to stay friends with people you met as a couple but maybe give your ex priority in their oldest friends at least until the dust settles, give them a heads’ up if you’re going to be at the same event.
  • Be really fair and kind about money and property. Return their stuff to them promptly and without drama, don’t make them ask or hunt or wait for it. Did someone relocate to be with you, or could someone use a grace period of NOT having to pay half the rent on a place they’re getting booted out of while also coming up with the money for a new place, can you afford to ease the transition for this person a little without stinting yourself? Then do it. If you still have to share living space for a while, be respectful about bringing new dates around.
  • Don’t write to their advice column under a fake name and ask for advice on wooing your new crush.

These tips are from my own experience and aren’t absolutes, you’re not necessarily doing it wrong if you have a different style, helping out financially isn’t always possible (and isn’t an obligation), and all bets are off if the other person was a jerk! But those are some ways to possibly be nice, and none of them involve nursing someone through their breakup with you! You broke up! You get to stop working on this person’s problems and life!

Thanks for joining us for this fun feature. If you would like Daniel & Henrietta content, they are SPACED OUT on catnip right now.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Short Version: I (she/her) have a friend (she/her) who is irrationally jealous of her boyfriend, and it’s driving all our friends apart. I don’t know whether to try help her, or just to distance myself from our friendship.

Longer explanation: She and I have now been friends for about five years, including during grad school. Overall, she can be a kind, thoughtful, and generous person. However, when it comes to her boyfriend of one year, she transforms into someone I don’t even recognize. Based on what she has said in the past, her relationship is stable and he has never given her cause to doubt his fidelity.

But recently, whenever he talks to another woman, even casual chat at a party, she becomes incredibly jealous. She has made scenes, calling women out in front of everyone, or sending messages that say “stay away from my boyfriend, bitch.” She insists that all the women in the friend group (even married, much younger, much older, etc.) want her boyfriend. I think I’ve escaped her jealousy only because I’m gay. Sometimes after one of her scenes, she apologizes and tries to smooth things over, but more often she remains convinced that someone is a “bitch” and expects everyone to agree with her. But everyone does NOT agree with her, and people are starting to distance themselves.

I’d like to remain friends, but I’m starting to seriously rethink the relationship. I believe that a lot of this is coming from her anxiety/depression, but I can’t stand to hear her reduce all these lovely, smart, funny women to “scheming bitches,” and I can’t let her believe that I’m on her side in this. Nobody else actually wants her boyfriend! I know if I confront her, she might get really angry with me, too, and I don’t do conflict well. We all work in a similar niche field (science-related), so I’d like to somehow maintain friendly relationships with all these people, if it’s even possible now. What do I do?

Thank you!

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Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Best,
Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

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Dear Captain Awkward,

My teenager has informed me that their father told them he plans to mail me jewelry for Valentine’s Day. Their father and I have been divorced for nearly a decade and a half and I’ve been in three committed, long-term relationships in that time. I have less-than-zero interest in my ex-husband romantically (or even platonically) and while I am able to be polite/civil with him, I am quite looking forward to the day I no longer have to take his calls. He is not a nice person. (He was abusive during our marriage, used custody issues to punish me, treated our children poorly, etc. etc.)

Since he heard that I had to leave my most recent long-term relationship quite hastily for safety issues, he’s been acting far too friendly over the phone. A few months ago he told me that I’m the only woman he’s ever really loved and said he thinks we should still be together, which I responded to with “You know, life moves forward and though my path has been rocky, I’m happy with where I am now, thanks. Gotta go.” Ever since that revelation from him, I’ve made it a rule to do my best to keep any calls very short and to the point, if possible, and I always try to shift any conversations that get personal back to talking about the children we have in common.

That tactic recently backfired, leading to my teenager getting frustrated with me for talking about them with their father at all. I had told their father that they were feeling very anxious about college decisions and I’d been trying to help them feel less pressured and he turned around and told them I said they were being a “word-I-would-never-use” about going to school and that they need to stop being “that-word” and get their “expletive” together. Ugh. (I did let him know, through text, that what he did there was not okay and that was not what I meant by support, etc., and he did apologize to them eventually.) So, now since the “talk about our kids” topic no longer works, if he texts, “Hey, do you have time to talk?” I ask him if he has something pressing to discuss, as I’m quite busy, and it’s usually “No, just wanted to chat,” so I tell him I’m too busy to chat. If he calls, it goes to voicemail and I decide whether or not it’s appropriate to call back based on the content of voicemail.

Since I’ve been brushing him off, he has been reaching out to my teenager more than ever. They hate talking to him, but feel guilty not talking to him sometimes. During recent calls with them, their father told them that he really thinks we should have stayed together as a family, etc. It makes my teenager really frustrated and uncomfortable that all he seems to want to talk about with them is me and how he wishes we were still together.

I’m so irritated with him for the way he is treating me and my teenager, but not surprised, as he’s never been one to respect people’s boundaries.

[Don’t know if this is relevant or not, so I’ll add it just in case: He is in a relationship with a woman who is really kind and sweet (and a nice buffer/ally for my teenager when they visit their father), but who recently moved out of his house after having lived with him for about a year. His overly-friendliness started before she moved out. His behavior would be frustrating no matter what, but it’s even more exasperating that he’s doing this while in a relationship with another woman, no matter how rocky it may be.]

So… what do I do when he inevitably mails me jewelry? It makes me queasy just thinking about opening the box. Do I mail it back? Say thanks but no thanks? I don’t want him to get the idea that it is okay or in any way desirable for him to send me romantic gifts. Thankfully, he lives hundreds of miles away so I don’t have to worry that he’ll drop by with the gift. (Fingers crossed. Don’t want to jinx it.)

Over the years since our divorce I haven’t pushed back too hard or spoken my piece about his bad behaviors since he kept custody issues pretty contentious for some time and I never wanted anything to be misconstrued and come back to bite me. It’s been hard to break out of walking on eggshells with him and taking the step I noted above to let him know how he hurt his teenager with the nasty comments about their college fears felt good, but was terrifying.

Help, please!

(If you have some scripts for my teenager, too, for when their father starts up with his pining for me thing during their phone calls or laying on any other guilt trips that would be wonderful.)

Thank you!

My pronouns: she/her

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Hey there, Captain Awkward –

My dear roommate (Clay)’s ex-boyfriend was abusive. He had mental health issues, and emotionally manipulated roommate (they/them) in various ways. I spent a lot of time helping my roommate to process the feels and vulnerabilities emerging around what happened in their relationship – and potentially over invested myself in their emotional process.

This was complicated by the ex-boyfriend (Greg) still being a part of the community. He starting dating a different close friend of mine,(Sarah) I ran into him around town, we were on friendly terms.

We got into conflict around this when I shared some personal details about Clay’s life with Sarah, and I realized how much social navigating I was doing that was tiring me out. (Letting Clay know when Greg would be at parties / friends houses / keeping track of what information could / should be shared with who in the community around who was dating who etc..) I told Clay I was not willing to do this kind of social navigating and needed some space from the dynamics of the situation.

A few months later Clay and I were in an art show together. On FB, I invited Greg to the opening, which Clay was very upset and hurt by. From Clay’s perspective, because they had shared so much about their experience with me, they expected me to understand this was unacceptable. They were very hurt and shared that I had not respected their boundaries around Greg – but not until the show was over. (Which Greg did not end up attending). During the preparation / while the FB invitation was online, they did not say anything to me about this.

Around this same time, I also invited my friend Sarah (dating Greg) to an emotional-processing workshop I was hosting in our home, that Clay was also planning to attend. Clay was also very upset with me about this, and again from their perspective, not respecting their boundaries and experience with having been emotionally abused.

This conflict culminated in Clay moving out of our house, and three very dramatic and painful feeling months where we were not able to connect or work things through as we had previously done.

I take issues of emotional abuse very seriously, and am trying to learn from this situation. Was I being an inconsiderate friend? Do I need to learn to respect boundaries with more depth? Was Clay not taking responsibility for articulating their needs? Are all of these things true?

Looking for some insight and clarity –

Confused rooomie. (She/her)

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