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Friendship

Dear Captain Awkward and friends,

Due to frequent moves both by me and by many of them, the seven or so people I consider my closest friends are scattered across three countries on opposite sides of the globe. (And most of them don’t know each other.) Nevertheless, I keep in frequent contact with them – we communicate at least once a week, often more. I’ve known them all for years (several of them for decades), they’re all very important to me, and they’ve been there for me in tough times, so I don’t think this problem indicates a major break in our friendships or anything like that, but. Yesterday was my birthday, and not one of them remembered it.

My birthday isn’t public on Facebook because I never liked the hollow “hbd” posts from people who I don’t really interact with. So the lack of a Facebook reminder is almost certainly a factor here. But I know that these seven friends know when my birthday is, and all of them have sent me birthday messages unprompted in the past. I didn’t even expect messages from all of them this year – it’s just that not receiving even ONE hurt a lot more than I thought it would. Especially because it’s not a secret that my birthday is important to me, moreso now that I have stopped celebrating most major holidays. Maybe it makes sense that more of my friends wished me a merry holiday-they-know-I-don’t-celebrate-anymore than wished me a happy birthday, but it still sucks.

And I don’t think I’m being a hypocrite here! I try hard to remember my friends’ birthdays, whether or not they have them on Facebook, and I make sure to send them birthday greetings. Which was all I wanted in return. One birthday text from a friend and I wouldn’t be writing to you!

Anyway. Any thoughts on how I should handle this? Do I bring it up with them? Do I admit how much it hurt? Should I obnoxiously remind them next year? Or should I focus on the nice messages my family sends me and the kind words from the friends I’m making in my current location, and try not to worry about my friends elsewhere? Do I just need to accept that if I don’t let Facebook announce my birthday, no one will remember it?

Thank you,
Birthday Girl
(she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Four years ago, the first fling I had after I left my ex was with a guy at a large multi-day costume event in a far-off state. He came on really strong (in character) and as we have friends in common, I knew he was engaged and asked him about this. He eventually explained to me that he had permission from the fiancée to fool around above the waist, and as this is pretty common in our circles, I liked him, and I was about to go back halfway across the country, I figured what was the harm to have a little fun?

So we made out a little, and kept writing to each other flirtatiously after I went home. I wanted to come back for the final weekend of the event, and he offered to put me up at their home. I had been pressing him to tell her about us, and he said he was waiting for the right time, finally saying we’d all go out when I got there and he’d tell her then.

Long story short, “circumstances” intervened so that he never told her, she found out and chewed me out (with him standing there not stopping her), I had to find another place to stay in the middle of the weekend, and I was livid with him for ruining two potential friendships (with him and her) and cut off contact with him.

Months later she wrote me apologizing for yelling at me, said they had both worked everything out, and asked if I would consider being friends with him. I said yes, as long as he agreed never to flirt with me again.

Now he is a bit of an unusual guy. The characters he plays in these costumed events tend to be overly chivalrous and attentive to women (opening doors, pulling out chairs, getting the check) and that tends to carry over in his real life (he also has a lot of hobbies related to historical re-creation and crafts, and tends to like vintage things generally.) So what I might read as creepy boundary-pushing attention, due to the massive breach of trust he committed, others have just told me they see it as flirting/overpoliteness/old-fashioned aesthetic, and don’t really have a problem with it, just see it as harmless.

He tends to fall back on flirting-as-a-social-lubricant, because that is his comfort zone. He flirted with me a couple of times when we bumped into each other at a costume event after we had reconciled, but we also had drinks recently, out of costume, where he behaved himself.

As a modern woman, I don’t like pro forma chivalry in my normal life, but I can go with the flow of being “treated like a lady” at historical events if I know it’s all pretend. But with him, it rankles because I’m not convinced it’s all an act.

Recently I went again to the same event and spent a little time talking with him in character (during which he fawned a lot, flirted, and then apologized for flirting when I seemed to be bothered by it) and afterward, we went out with friends, during which he sat next to me, suggested we order stuff to share, and seemed to find excuses to brush up against me, which made me super leery. Usually, when he oversteps, I call him on it, but I didn’t do it during dinner because I didn’t want to have the big awkward conversation with friends there, and the breaches were slight enough that it felt like it wasn’t worth it to correct him.

So, since for the last few years he’d done little to restore my respect for him, or given me any consistent reason to trust him or his promise not to flirt, I made up my mind that I was done seeking out his company, although I’m okay with an occasional brief friendly interaction, and as we don’t run into each other very often, that’s not really hard to accomplish.

But he wrote me a couple weeks after that saying he’d had a dream about me being repulsed by him and was worried it was his subconscious telling him he had overstepped, and wanted to check if everything was ok between me and us. He said he admired my charm and talent and also liked me a lot, and that it was hard sometimes not to show it.

I’m not sure how to respond, or if I should. I’m going to be around his neck of the woods a lot next year and I’m worried about possible future interactions, especially since I like going to costume events in the area and we also share a group of friends.

A pretty timely problem to have, considering open and vocal disdain for creepiness is currently in the zeitgeist.

What do you think?

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Dear Captain,

I write fiction, mostly fantasy. I admit I can be humorless about it. My friend “Shawn” writes fiction of similar genre. We used to talk about writing and about our ideas a lot, but less so since I got a day job.

Shawn starts projects all the time and most of them never come to a full rough draft, so I know not to get too invested in any particular setting or character concept they tell me about. (OTOH, due to my more limited free time for writing, I’ve just got the one novel I’ve been revising for a few years now.) My issue is that Shawn keeps telling me about all of these ideas, with no context. They’ll text me out of the blue, “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date” or “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet” and I have no idea how to react anymore. I’d be happy to read any completed stories that came from these ideas. I’ve read their one completed manuscript and, hell, I’d be happy to hear random thoughts about that setting or those characters, who I already care about. But what on earth do I say to “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune,” especially when I know I’ll never hear about this dragon again?

I wouldn’t mind if I got to talk about my own writing in turn, but they don’t seem interested anymore. They asked to read my manuscript once, and (a year later) have finally stopped pretending they’ll ever get around to it. Recently they asked me a question about my protagonists, and I got excited at this sign that we could resume shop talk like we used to. But after I answered, they just said “Nice” and used it as a springboard to brag about their own great characterization, in the context of another story they had just thought up. I kinda feel like my time and effort are being disrespected here.

Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process? Am I being too precious about my own work while judging theirs harder? If not, how can I steer these conversations back to a fun and mutual place, and not a place where I’m getting infodumped on?

Thanks,
A Wiki for a Fictional Multiverse that Doesn’t Yet Exist (they/them)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

How is a good way to let a friend know that her mildly homophobic comments are hurtful to me before I move in with her?

My friend Ella would probably be offended if she knew her comments come across as ‘othering’ to me (I’m a bisexual woman, not yet fully out to her, and only newly out to myself). Nonetheless, the things she says make me feel I can’t be fully myself around her.

When Ella heard I’d been on a date with a woman, she grilled me about my sexuality at a point I was feeling uncertain myself and unready to talk.

Now when we go clubbing, Ella will grind up against me, pant against me and generally invade my personal space in a way I don’t like while looking at all the men near us. It makes me feel like she’s trying to ‘put on a show’ to attract men, and I don’t like being a part of it.

Ella has often said things that make me think she views sexuality as very binary – a female friend of ours was once in a three year relationship with a woman, and is now with a man. Ella immediately dismissed the previous relationship as “just experimenting”.

Ella has low self esteem and is dealing with anxiety right now, which is why she wants me to live with her. She’s a nice person and I think it could be really fun to live together, but not if these things that make me uncomfortable continue.

How can I respectfully and kindly assert what I need, Captain Awkward?

Sincerely yours,

Not in Kansas anymore

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I have an awkward social situation that I’m not sure how to handle. It’s been causing me a bit of anxiety, and so I’ve been avoiding dealing with it.

Recently I have had a rash of old friends who I am no longer close with contact me, wanting to either catch up or get together. Some of them I’m happy to have a chat with and tell them about my life and hear all about what they’re up to now, but when they suggest we start hanging out again I feel stressed. The problem is that I simply don’t know how to fit these people into my life now.

For a long time I was very mentally and emotionally unhealthy, and I self medicated with drugs and alcohol a lot and was a bit of a party girl. Right now I’m the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been, and I can look back on those years with new clarity and insight. I see now that I tended to be drawn to people who were dysfunctional because it allowed me to feel like I had my shit together, even though I really didn’t at all. I’ve done a lot of work on myself since then, and I feel like a lot of the friendships I made at that time in my life are no longer fulfilling to me. I’ve purposely distanced myself from a lot of people, not because I think they’re bad, but because I now find their company totally draining. Hanging out with them became something I did out of a sense of obligation. I felt guilty at first until I realized how much happier and calmer I was without them, and that I now had room in my life to make new friends.

There’s one old friend who won’t give up trying to contact me, who I particularly don’t want to see. We didn’t have a falling out, I just realized that I didn’t really like her anymore due to her rudeness, self centeredness, and flair for the dramatic. I was ok with it when she moved a bit further away and we lost touch for a while. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple years, and I was pretty relieved. She texted me at the start of this year saying she had moved back into town and invited me to her birthday party at a bar. I felt an immediate sense of dread. Since it had been a couple years, I pretended that I got a new number or something and didn’t reply. Maybe that was wrong or short sighted.

A few months later she found me on social media and messaged me “WHEN ARE WE HANGING OUT?!?!” which both terrified and annoyed me. I thought it was a rude way to make contact with someone she hasn’t seen or heard from in years. I felt put on the spot and uncomfortable. It made me want to get together even less. I didn’t reply and hoped she would get the hint. She didn’t.

A few weeks ago she found me on another platform and commented on one of my posts “Hey! Let’s hang out!!!”. I didn’t reply and haven’t posted on that platform since. This morning I woke up to a direct message from her saying “(my name)?!?!”

I think at this point I need to be direct because she is not getting the hint and it would be cruel of me to continue this tactic, but I really have no clue what to say. I’m not mad at her, we didn’t have a falling out and there’s not really a specific instance that made me not want to be friends anymore. I don’t want to be hurtful. I’ve been on the other side, attempting to reconnect with someone and realizing that they had no interest. It sucked but I got the hint and let them go. For me, this friendship is over.

What do I say?

Sincerely,

Chronic Avoidance

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Over the years, my smart, funny, fun friend Elizabeth has become ruled by her insecurity, anxiety, and grievances. She’s close with my friends from a couple of overlapping friend groups — I met my boyfriend through her — and somehow, her emotional needs have become the center of our lives. We are constantly trying to manage around Elizabeth’s irrational reactions.

Any time she isn’t invited to anything I’m doing, I’ll hear about it directly and again passive-aggressively. It doesn’t matter the reason. Every low-key hangout becomes a dilemma: do I invite Elizabeth, do I lie about my plans, do I just endure the confrontation. If I invite her when I don’t feel like it, she claims I wasn’t happy to see her. If she’s busy when we make plans, she’ll still say how left out she feels. Any time anyone has big news — they’re engaged, moving, pregnant — telling Elizabeth is a whole thing that has to be strategized around.

It’s not hard to tell this is the result of some deep and miserable insecurity and loneliness. I feel terrible that she feels that way. But she is using her anxieties to control everyone around her, and I’ve realized it’s a fucked-up game that I can’t win.

If she weren’t friends with all my friends, I would cut her out of my life entirely. Given the overlap, though, that would be difficult and dramatic (and maybe end up ruining her relationships with people who are frustrated but not yet totally fed up. She does need friends. I just can’t be one anymore). I am trying instead to see her as a friend-of-friends who I don’t care for. I don’t feel guilty about ways I inadvertently hurt those people. I don’t vent for hours about them to mutual friends. I don’t go to parties we’re both invited to and leave frustrated by all the ways they are disappointing me.

But I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to react the next time she tries to make me feel guilty or make something about her. I don’t know what to say that doesn’t turn into a big, involved, emotional conversation that I do not want. She always wants more from me. I want to give her less. I know what my boundaries are. How do I make them clear to her?

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Dear Captain,

Over the last year, a once close friend of mine and I have been experiencing the African Violet of broken friendship. We had been through a very intense multi-year creative work project together, and after the project finished and she moved onto another job, we kind of drifted apart. For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic. After any incident where she said something unkind (for example, that half of the work on my part of the project was not my own work, which really hurt my feelings) or been judgmental (for example, negatively commenting on the dynamics of my relationship with my partner or how much I was eating and snacking during the intense project), I would take some space. Over the last couple of years my confidence has grown, not just in this area but in many other areas of my life, and I have been able to deal with some anxiety issues I had and learn how to set boundaries.

She started mainly hanging out with some different friends, and although we were still in touch, our conversation was becoming more and more surface-level. Anytime I suggested meeting up she would be really vague or say no. I was quite hurt at the time that she didn’t seem to want to hang out with me anymore, but I knew that we had just been through a really intense period in our lives and maybe she needed her space. There was always room for our friendship to get renewed further down the line. Before yesterday, we hadn’t been in contact for about four months. There wasn’t anything particularly negative about our last contact, it just tailed off.

I recently got a new job that I am very excited about and yesterday, in a whatsapp group she is also part of, someone congratulated me on my new job. About an hour later I got an feelingsemail from my friend. It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years. She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else. She did say congratulations about the new job at the end.

I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship. We were so close, and I miss her. However, I don’t know what to say or how to respond to this email. I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship. I am open to being friends again, and rebuilding our relationship but it can’t be like this. I want to acknowledge the email, but I don’t want to get caught up in back and forth about who did what, or act in a way that says I think this email is acceptable, or apologize for things I haven’t done. How should I respond to this feelingsbomb? Should I even respond? How can people respond kindly and compassionately to feelingsmail in general?

Best wishes,
I’ve got feelingsmail

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