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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m having an awkward problem dealing with jealousy(?) from my peers.

I’m mid-twenties and very new to the working world. I dropped out of highschool due to some very serious mental health struggles and have only managed to pick myself up in the past few years. I’m doing amazing now, though I will probably still be in therapy for a couple more decades. I don’t think this history is relevant to my successes, but it’s probably relevant to my raging “imposter syndrome” and insecurities.

Last year, I was given a very cool opportunity to program a small game, with dedicated art assets and various quality checks already in place. I had never programmed anything for money before, but I quickly taught myself what I was doing and I felt very supported throughout. The client is impressed enough that I was brought on for a second game with the same team. I’ve realized that I am Not Bad at this, and, more importantly, I love doing it enough that I want to keep going. I plan to take some real classes and branch out in my abilities so I can make this a full-time job.

Not everyone is happy for me, and I don’t know how to deal with negative responses to my new streak of “doing well,” especially as it relates to my work. A lot of my friends have previously tried to make their own games, often unsuccessfully. I got a lot of discouraging talk early on (“it’s actually really hard and you’ll hate it!”) but it hasn’t been as bad now that I have a completed game ready to go out and am working on the second one. It’s been a lot harder for me to cope with comments that minimize my achievements and make them into… well, not achievements. For example, recently an acquaintance (who has previously expressed interest in working in this field) asked what development tools I was using and said something like, “Wow, people pay money for that? Really? *I* could do that – I should start doing it too.”

I didn’t want to be publicly insecure about my abilities, so I wasn’t. But it made me feel really, really bad, like what I was doing wasn’t significant or valuable. I don’t know what to do to gracefully defend myself when this kind of thing comes up, or if I even should. I already have a lot of survivor’s guilt for how well my life has been going the past two years, when a lot of my peer group is Very Sad All The Time, so it’s possible that these kinds of comments are being blown out of proportion for me. How do I cope with it? What can I say?

Thanks,
A Real Programmer!
(she/her)

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Hi Captain,

I’m dealing with something that is new to me and I’m kind of seeking someone who can tell me whether or not my expectations are way out of line, or if I need to compromise them; my concern is that it’s a problem where any compromise I can think of leaves everyone miserable.

My longtime boyfriend and I (pronouns = she, her, hers) are getting married. He proposed with my own key ring because the moment was so right and the location so deeply meaningful for us that he went for it sans ring. He also knows I’m not a super girly person and have said many times that I don’t need a ring. When he proposed, however, he fell over himself apologizing for not “doing it right” and having a ring. I said whatever, we can discuss that later, right now all I’m focused on is this commitment I cannot wait to make official with the person who matters most in my world. I put the key ring on a necklace and proceeded to wear it nonstop, because I was damn proud of his ingenious substitute and loved what it symbolized.

A few weeks later, the key ring disintegrated in a mineral hot spring. (Pro tip: when they tell you silver will tarnish and you should remove all jewelry, believe them.) I balked at the loss of my symbol and he said we would go out and get a real one together. At this point I became very excited at the prospect of going out as a couple and hunting for something special from an antique store. I’m not a big “real jewelry with real rocks and metals” kind of person, but that has made me excited by the prospect of my one “real” piece being the most meaningful thing I will ever wear.

I found a jeweler in our city who specializes in antique rings and found a beautiful art deco one from the 1930’s for $1k — according to Google this is a bargain basement price for an engagement ring today. People spending money on me makes me a little queasy, so I was really excited to have found a place that had beautiful, unique rings that were ‘affordable’. I guess it may help to point out we live in the Bay Area so our work takehome is higher than other regions. Price expectations across all money-related things are skewed and insane here by default.

He did not see it this way. “That’s so much!” “Well I have no idea how much they cost.””I didn’t realize we were actually going to go get one.” All of these responses have me in flames. My problems as I see them:
– He has said several times now over several months that he has no idea how much they cost. Why then hasn’t he done any research in between saying this? In between saying we will get one?
– His attempt to say he didn’t know we’d actually get one is bullshit, per this letter so far.
– It’s NOT too much in my research. What makes this worse is that I make more than him but this entire time I was under the impression he has a lot of money in savings and is a good saver, barely spends. As of our fight last night, apparently none of this is true! In defense of his “too costly” assertion he stated he doesn’t have enough saved up; my eyes almost fell out of my mouth.

Clearly we have a bigger financial discussion looming on the near horizon. What really irks me is that now I feel like I’m forced to insist he be a man of his word, which means him spending money on me he apparently doesn’t have. And now I feel like even if he had the money, every time I looked at my ring I’d be reminded of the reminding and the nagging and the pushing to get him to even get one. I’d rather not have one at all, but I’m still really pissed off that he apparently doesn’t do any follow-through on what he says or promises.

He’s an idea guy, and always comes up with great vacation plans. He does zero follow-through, so I’m the one who always has to do all the reservations and pay upfront, even though I work 9-5 M-F and he doesn’t have to be at work until 4pm each day. It’s been the same with the wedding at large: we want it this year so I’ve been doing shit tons of venue research and sending him tons of emails filled with links to ones for him to vet. I asked him to start doing the same and you’d think I asked him to grow a uterus and give birth.

I feel like I have to do all the emotional labor and literal actions to see things through. I’m sick and tired of having to make an adult understand that you can’t just say something like “i want you to have a ring” and then not follow through or attempt to change my mind. True I’ve always been fairly indifferent about having one, but now that we’re engaged and he has time and again SAID he wants to get one, I’m super excited and really want one! But now I’ll feel like a greedy nag if I push for it.

He’s the kind of person who tries to change what I want by pointing out things he disagrees with or thinks could be done differently (his way), because he doesn’t like change and doesn’t want to confront having to do something he doesn’t want to. I’m sick to death of this, it’s insulting and I’m not an idiot and will NOT be gaslit.

This is probably insanely long and I’m not even sure anymore what my question is. I guess I am hoping for advice as to whether or not my expectations for a ring are worthy of pursuing, or if I need to just drop it. I’m prepared for anyone to tell me I’m being stubborn and selfish — if this were a letter from someone else I’d probably say as much myself, but now it’s me and it’s just how I feel. The not keeping his word is the core frustration here — it’s like I can’t trust what he says and that he’ll do it without me reminding him or him changing his mind and reacting like I’m insane for bringing it up again.

Anyway, feel free to tell me this is all par for the marriage course and that communication is key as well as compromise. I already asked him to come straight home tonight so we can talk more and try to get to the heart of it. This whole letter makes him sound like a trash monster but I hope the internet can trust that I love him and he is more than just this debacle. Debacles, plural? Probably.

Sincerely,
Between A Rock And A Hard Place

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a recurring problem in my living situation (and relationship) that never seems to get resolved.

It might sound silly but it causes quite a bit of tension in my otherwise happy twosome…
I work two hours away from home which involves a long daily commute and means dragging my tired self home at 7.30pm at the very earliest. Anyone who works this way will understand that there is little time for much else other than dinner, a tv show and a shower before it’s time to get to bed and do the whole thing all over again. Luckily, I love my job.

My partner works 15 minutes from our house alongside his two very best friends. Sometimes, this gets on his last nerve but generally he has no problem spending that much time with them. One guy in particular will sit on after work at our place for the entire evening. He’s still there when I get home late and tired.

The problem is my boyfriend expects me to sit, smile and socialise until this guy decides to go home. They are usually stoned and my boyfriend hasn’t bothered to think about dinner (I find myself buying and making it most weeknights). On nights like this I become enraged but silent and he says I’m selfish not to be more welcoming to his friends. TIMING, dear TIMING!!!

Usually, this friend just talks to my boyfriend as opposed to me anyway but if I try to disappear until he’s gone home, I’m the SheDevil!

I feel that because he gets so much free time with his buddies (sometimes he goes to their houses… I am all for this!!) he could just give me a reprieve from their bro-time in my place. Give my head peace!!

Any thoughts?
Am I a SheDevil?
Cranky Co-habiting Commuter

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Dear Captain,

I have a colleague, “Peter”, who I’ve known for several years. We first worked together at a festival, and added each other on facebook/phone for organisational reasons, as he was the crew leader. Over time we have become friends, although I do see him as more of a colleague as he is 20 years older than me with a kid, and I’m a student. I worked with Peter again this year, and during the festival he split with his girlfriend. Naturally he was upset, and I was sympathetic – at first.

Recently, he has been pestering me on social media, and on the phone when I ignore his messages. I shouldn’t ignore him, but he frequently sends me random unsolicited updates on his life/ weirdly personal accounts of his break up, often at 2am, and I don’t know how to respond. Sometimes I will commiserate, but then he will turn on me and ask these loaded passive aggressive questions like “you really ok with this?” or “am I being obtuse”, so I have stopped responding as I don’t have the time or emotional energy to deal with him right now.

I think he is just looking for a friendly ear, but I’m struggling to deal with someone who is so emotionally vulnerable and so different from me. When I do respond, we get our wires crossed, so I try and keep my replies neutral. For example, he had been trying to recruit my young best friend to his crew, and even after I said she wasn’t interested multiple times, he added her and starting talking to her on social media. I got annoyed at him over boundaries and he got in this huge strop about how he could do what he liked. Then he eventually apologised, but the rift keeps widening.

Peter constantly questions how deep our friendship really is, and to clarify, I have always seen him as a friendly work colleague. From my point of view, him pouring out all these emotions on to me seems very strange, as surely he must have closer confidantes his own age? I probably sound quite cold, but I don’t think he should be discussing the legal issues and horrible drama of his break up with me.

I want to maintain our good working relationship, but don’t know how I can enforce boundaries, particularly on social media. Help!

She/her pronouns please. 

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Putting this behind a cut given the “Guy In Your Office Who Gives Weird Backrubs And Ends Every Sentence With ‘That’s What She Said’ Is Totally #IBelieveYou About Your #MeToo Social Media Posts” and “Pretty Much Every Movie You Loved In The 1990s Is Now Kinda Gross To Think About” week we’ve had.

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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Dear Captain,

I am a 4th year PhD student in a STEM subject and I feel that everything has gone off the rails, in part because my adviser and I don’t communicate well. I will try to be brief- there is a lot to unpack.

I started my PhD at 23 without a Masters, so I knew it would be challenging, and I came in with a pretty huge chunk of imposter syndrome. I was hoping my adviser would be a lot more hands-on than he has turned out to be, and without any kind of structure (other than “here’s what our current grant is, do something related to this”) I have struggled to find my footing and push my way forward. I struggle with anxiety/depression that leave me paralyzed when I feel I don’t have direction, and have been left largely to self-direct in a vacuum. Consequently, I have made a lot of mistakes and fallen flat on my face a lot. All of that is on me to fix, and I have a therapist who is helping me build better habits and address these issues. I know it is within my capability to finish this PhD, even if I feel I’ve wasted a lot of time and I’m no longer certain what I’ve been doing is what I want my question to be. I achieved candidacy, so I’ve managed to keep pressing forward despite my own mistakes and some systematic failings in my program. (They want us to finish in 5 years and I have felt very rushed by their demanding schedule, even though no one has managed that yet. I didn’t push back on this schedule until I slammed into a deadline I wasn’t prepared to meet. Consequently I had to re-do my proposal defense, in part because of our communication issues.)

My adviser is a major source of difficulty for me. A year and a half into my PhD (after I had just sat for my first set of exams), he told me that I was “falling behind”. He couldn’t really articulate to me what that meant, apart from suggesting I put in more lab hours on the weekends. It hasn’t gotten a lot better from there. His criticism is always framed with a lot of judgment and personal attacks- for example, when telling me that I don’t do well speaking off the cuff, he told me that I sounded like Donald Trump. He’s also told me multiple times that he doesn’t know if I can make it through my PhD (including the day before my second proposal defense.) He has high expectations but I don’t ever feel they’ve been clearly articulated to me, and all I get from these conversations is the sense that I’m not meeting them. He’s also a bit temperamental, and I find him very difficult to read, so it’s easy to make him irritable without even realizing that you’ve done it until he chews you out. The problem with his criticism is that there are often valid pieces mixed in that I need to address- pointing out that I’m struggling to frame my work properly is valid and helpful. Saying that he can’t visualize how I’m going to be a successful scientist is…not. Admitting to him that I have been struggling has not gotten me a lot of support either- when I said I struggled with the second proposal defense and became really depressed, he told me maybe now wasn’t the right time for me to be doing this. Several times he has framed his criticism with “and other people think this way too” without elaborating on who or in what context. I honestly don’t know if he knows what he says comes across as hurtful/abusive/manipulative, or if he thinks he’s being supportive. I also don’t think it matters which he intends, since the effect is the same.

Captain, I’m aware that this sounds like a terrible toxic relationship. But I love the field I work in, and it’s a small enough field that if I can’t repair this relationship with him, I don’t know that I will be able to continue having a career. I do want to finish school. I don’t want to quit, or be thrown out, but he’s hinted multiple times that he’s unsure of my capabilities and that maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. I know I need to be more confident and assertive and I need to be proactive in pursuing ideas instead of checking every decision with him. I think that’s what he WANTS me to be doing, even if his criticism sometimes makes it hard to feel safe to do so. My resources for who I can talk to about this are thin, and every time I try to think of what to say it mostly sounds like “I know I’m screwing up, but he’s really mean, ok.” The other graduate students are supportive, but I don’t know how to draw on my committee for support right now or how to approach other faculty for mentoring. Particularly when it seems like he’s talking about me behind my back and telling them I’m not doing well. Sometimes I feel so completely lost in this mess that I don’t even know what I want help with any longer, except that I just want help, and to feel supported. Which I don’t think he’s capable of giving.

How do I begin to fix this communication issue? He is not going to change at this point in his career (he’s a significantly older white male, I’m a young woman etc.) I am not going to quit or give up. I don’t care if he likes me as a person any longer, but I do care about my career, and his potential impact on it. I want to make it to the end of my PhD and do a good job. How do I tell him that a) I understand his critiques and respect his opinion on my shortcomings, but that b) the way he frames them makes it difficult to implement them and makes me feel…anxious? Upset? Furthermore, how do you tell someone (who is known for expecting people to read his mind) that his expectations for what he wants aren’t very clear? What can I say to him to get a better idea of what he expects from me, without offending him? I’ve tried to approach the “what do you need from me to help you help me” angle, and tried to get more regular communication going, but for some reason or other it falls apart. I’m willing to try again, but I have to have a clear idea of how to make it stick and how to approach him constructively. Right now I just don’t.

Any help would be appreciated! Thank you so much, Captain. I’m sorry this got so long.

Sincerely,
Very Tired Graduate Student (She/Her)

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