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Friendship

Dear Captain Awkward,

I was just fired after less than a year at a toxic job. I was vomiting from anxiety on a semi-regular basis… it was awful.

My team and peers were amazing, but my relationship with my manager was terrible. After months trying to fix it, I began seeing a new psychiatrist and taking new meds just to manage the anxiety that it caused.

The circumstances surrounding my firing are also extremely shady. I feel so traumatized by the experience that the thought of working again fills me with panic. It will be a while before I can rejoin the workforce.

Needless to say, I’m extremely distrustful of Former Manager and have no desire to ever see or interact with him again. I’d still feel that way even if I had quit.

I’ve blocked both him and his SO on LinkedIn/Facebook. However, I’d really like to see my former coworkers again when some of this blows over. They’re awesome and were devastated by my departure. I’ve mentioned the possibility of a get-together and they seem interested, which is exciting!

Hosting an event is perfect: I have control over the attendees, and Former Manager is NOT on the list. But I don’t have any control over events hosted by others, and this fills me with dread. Coworkers are already planning at least one summer event.

I don’t want to flake out on them, but I rampantly avoid confrontational situations and I’m terrified of seeing Former Manager. It’s not a big group, so I can’t fade into the crowd. They also like board games, so “just don’t interact with him!” isn’t an option.

I could try to determine if he’ll be there in advance, but it’s hard to ask without making things weird or divulging inappropriate information. He’s still their manager; if I say I can’t be around him it could sound unprofessional or even impact their work relationship.

So, let’s say I go to an event and he’s there – I can’t give him the cold shoulder. I’m also terrible at doing the “neutral, yet disinterested” treatment. I always think I can, but then my stupid politeness kicks in and I treat the person like an old friend or even smooth over their awkwardness. This happened even when I worked for him.

How can I navigate this situation, particularly since my anxiety here is so fresh and I’m feeling very avoidant? I don’t want to dodge the group completely – I’d like to maintain these relationships – but I’m so afraid that my manager will be there!

Thank you!

Post-Traumatic Job Disorder is a Thing

(She/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I reached a major professional milestone that I have been working towards for seven years in college and while working. (Not an unusual amount of time.) My colleagues and I received our results simultaneously. Less than half of us were successful (also not unusual). We’re around the same age, but I am not close to them. I sat quietly within view of them congregating near my desk to discuss, but felt it was not my place to interject much disappointment with my good news. I am sure they did not want to put me on the spot (often we wait to be told rather than ask unless you’re close).

I emailed a few colleagues and texted my family/friends. My family wanted to know what I was doing to celebrate, and I had nothing to report. My three local friends were not available. My colleagues were also unavailable to grab a drink or fancy dessert. My boss encouraged me to leave early, which I was reluctant to do, so I took a break to have dessert at a café. By myself.

As the news spread this week, folks urged me to make extravagant purchases, plan trips, and eat and drink copiously to celebrate. No one offered to join me. Usually there is a happy hour to mark the results, but if there was one I wasn’t informed/didn’t overhear.

I made plans with a friend for today, but she canceled shortly beforehand due to an unavoidable problem with her apartment. All local friends are now unavailable for two weeks. My family lives out of state.

Tangentially, when I first saw my results, I didn’t really feel anything. When I completed the previous step, my success was a huge surprise, and I clearly recall my astonishment and delight. This time, I felt more confident when finished, but I didn’t feel the relief that I remember from before. After the long wait for results, I was expecting/hoping for relief and joy, but neither manifested.

I told colleagues who asked that I felt excited but a little anxious because “I’m already behind with studying!”

There is another optional step that will take at least two more years, possibly much more. Due to company policy, short of a medical exception, I am not allowed to take a break (though I may stop permanently) and must continue these assessments twice a year. This accounts for 400-600 hours of commitment annually outside of work. Most colleagues have made or are making this commitment, and it’s standard for my industry. I am told the previous step was the most challenging. I had a rough couple of months preparing, being very focused but also easily upset.

This process requires lots of my non-work energy. I find group studying to be less productive. I am also a lifelong introvert. (I would even say I’m aggressively introverted.) I engage socially with colleagues/friends once-ish per week outside work in “off” study times, less when I am studying. I often initiate. I try not to turn down invitations because I receive few, and I usually have a good time. I also have lunch with a few people and socialize at work. The folks I started with aren’t in my office anymore, and the group I tested with all started together later. My closest friends live in different states, so I see them rarely. I would rather have a pelvic exam than have to meet/befriend strangers.

tl;dr I didn’t react appropriately to amazing news. Instead I felt sad, empty, and isolated. I am not sure if the root of this is the milestone itself—what have I really achieved? My daily role has not changed, and I am not truly finished, so I must again begin the grueling cycle of preparing for the next assessment. Or were my feelings influenced because I didn’t have an outlet to celebrate and that was disappointing?

So my questions are: 1) How can I better nurture my friendships when I have these responsibilities and this introverted temperament? I feel like my emails go largely unanswered and engagements cancelled as often as not. What can I do differently? I have been told I am a good, supportive friend, and people ask for email updates (without reciprocating), but I feel like Team Me is largely second string, and it’s not my right to demand anything of anybody, while gentle requests for support are not taken seriously. And 2) How can I be more excited and positive about this accomplishment? I am afraid I am focusing too much on the friend-related disappointment or the difficult steps ahead. I want to savor this, but I seem not to know how.

She/her is fine.

Sincerely,
Finally a Professional

Dear Finally A Professional:

Congratulations on achieving (whatever it is). It makes total sense that the achievement would feel anticlimactic since so much work on this particular goal remains ahead of you. You’re in the middle, and it still feels like the middle.

You sound to me like a person who needs a break, a short trip to visit someone close to you, and an ongoing local pleasant, low-pressure outlet for companionship.

Could you get a massage? It sounds like you can afford a nice treat, and the catharsis of being rubbed and kneaded until some of the tension leaves your body might help right now. It sounds like your shoulders are up around your ears. See if someone can help you (physically, at least) drop them down a peg.

Could you spend a little time thinking about your career & life goals? Maybe jump on a journaling habit? Are you happy and excited about where all this testing and studying is leading you? Can you think of some people in your field who you admire, who do the most interesting and relevant and useful aspects of your profession? Is there a way to add something that really interests you to your current job duties? Does your company have an opportunity for you to job-swap with another department,  cross-train in another role, or transfer to an office (maybe one that is closer to your favorite people)?

Could you take a day off from work to take a long weekend to visit one of your far-flung friends or family? Why not throw some clothes and a book you’ve been meaning to read in a bag and hop a train to see a friendly face? You need a change of scene and to be in a room with someone who loves you. Combine the “celebration of milestone” with “short break” and “refilling your friendship well.” And don’t gently hint at it – ask/tell. “Old Friend, I would love to see your face this weekend. If I make it into town for a day or two can we meet up for brunch or dinner?” “Friend, I want someone to celebrate this big work deal with. If I hop the train this Friday, can we meet up for a drink?” It’s okay to flash the “Hey, I need you!” symbol in the sky. If travel doesn’t work, institute a Skype date or a long gossipy phone call. Email isn’t working, social media isn’t working, gently holding back isn’t working, and you’ve been trying so hard not to impose on anyone that you’ve started to disappear. It’s okay to say, “Friend, I’m a little lonely right now and I need you.” Vulnerability connects us as much if not more than celebrating achievements. You’re allowed to want that and ask for it.

These are three pieces about nurturing friendships among adults that I really like:

My Mother Showed Me How To Hit The Jackpot, by Kate Harding. (You might cry when you read this). I have a group of far-flung friends who make the effort to get together in one place at least once a year, and it is the best. If you can’t visit a friend now, can you try to plan a trip with a few people?

Friday Night Meatballs (about hosting a regular get together, which seems like a weird thing for an introvert to do, until you realize that you control every aspect of it and then kick people out of your house at a set time). To implement: Pick a day, gather your three local friends together at your place, and feed them. “I’m celebrating finishing [MILESTONE], please come join me.“If you enjoy it, try doing it once a month. Every now and then invite someone new and get to know them better.

How Do I Make Friends In My Late 20s, Ask Polly. An excerpt:

“This is the downside of living in a gigantic country like the U.S.: You move away for college, you move away for work, you move away because you meet a great guy or girl, and one day you wake up and you’re 2,000 miles away from anyone who knows you really well. For someone who’s faintly allergic to small talk, who can never quite hit that lowest common denominator of casual chattiness, who can never quite manage to burble happily about the weather and the news and those cute shoes and the new restaurant down the block, making brand-new friends sounds about as appealing as a trip to the podiatrist.”

Sound like you?❤ She’s got some wisdom in there about connecting with people different from you and looking for things to like about people. I know, you said the thought of befriending strangers is literally The Worst. But your distant-yet-beloved network isn’t really doing it for you right now, nor are your work colleagues, nor is the thought of pouring yourself into hundreds more hours of studying. What could you do that is fun (maybe a physical activity of some sort, something that gets you into your body or your hands or your senses in some way) AND gets you out of your office AND out of your house AND into proximity with other people once a week? Join a choir. Try something new, something you don’t have to be good at, or reconnect with an old hobby. Meet a couple of new folks where you live. You don’t have to befriend them, you just have to show up and give it a chance. You need an outlet and a change of pace. I know you hate this advice, but making friends at multiple stages in life is a skill and sometimes there is no substitute for pleasant proximity to other people (even people who don’t necessarily have anything in common with you on the surface) when you’re trying to find your way back to having community.

  • Treat yourself.
  • Take a small break.
  • See or at least call a friend (be vulnerable).
  • Do something new that connects you to others, even if it’s just the shared work of petting puppies in the animal shelter.
  • Give it time and be nice to yourself.

You’re not weird for feeling this way, and you’re not alone. I hope your friends come through and that you find a place that reminds you that you belong.

Much love,

Captain Awkward

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Dear Captain,

I’m a longtime reader, and love your blog!

I’m an older college student whose school friends are all in the 17-20 range. They’re pretty mature for their ages, though by virtue of more life experience I often fill a mentor/counselor/older sibling role for them. One of them has recently realized she might be pregnant, but at this point it’s a little too early for a test to be conclusive. Naturally she’s pretty freaked out.

I’m opposed to abortion for ethical and philosophical reasons. I also don’t feel I have the right to dictate what others do with their bodies, that life can give people impossible situations, and so I’m not in favor of banning it. Our friends know this because we’ve all amicably discussed it before.

I’ve made it very clear to her that I will support her decision whatever it is no matter how many times she changes her mind. To keep my bias out of it I’ve tried to keep our discussions to problem/solution scenarios (how would she handle losing a big chunk of her me time, what if she has to stop taking her medication, what will her support system be if her family has a freak gasoline fight accident, etc.) As of now she adamantly wants to keep it, and I’ve been helping her set up a pregnancy and postnatal game plan. I’ve also reiterated that if she decides on an abortion I will drive her to and be with her for all her appointments. The father wouldn’t be in the picture, but she has a family support system that would enable her to finish school.

The problem is our friends are less than enthused about her wanting to keep it, and have been continuously pressuring her to have an abortion if it turns out she’s pregnant. They’ve also been insinuating that I’ve talked her into it because of my views. They’re only doing this because they care about her and want her to be as successful as possible in life, but it’s exacerbating her stress levels. How do I convince them to give her some space about this, and that I’m not a crisis pregnancy center staffer in disguise?

(Female pronouns are fine)

Hello!

 

You seem to be doing a great job supporting your friend and reassuring her that what to do next is her choice. I think the next step here is to stop discussing her possible pregnancy with anyone but her and to let her take the lead in those discussions.

That means, if your mutual friends want to discuss your friend’s options with you or intimate that you are unduly influencing her decision, you can say “Hey, I love and support Friend and think that she is 100% the boss of what she does next. She knows that, and I feel very uncomfortable discussing her personal stuff with other people.” Keep reminding these friends “Hey, it’s all up to her. It’s not for you and me to decide, so let’s respect that.” “My views are well known, as are yours. It’s not a competition about who is right, it’s our friend’s choice.” 

That also might mean backing off a bit on the offers of support for a while unless Friend asks you about them. It’s great that you’ve promised to support her, and you didn’t do anything wrong by offering, but right now your friend probably needs a) a medically accurate pregnancy test* and b) a little time and space to figure out what to do next, including whether & how to take you up on your kind offers. Seek her company for its own sake – to eat lunch together, or laugh, or study – and let her be the one to bring up the pregnancy (or the pregnancy scare). Resist the urge to start every conversation with a hushed, urgent “How ARE you?” and try to disengage from wanting any particular outcome.

*Like, immediately, before any more friend-group discussions or “post-natal game plans” take place.

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

My husband, “John”, is currently studying for a graduate degree. He has exams coming up so is spending all day every day in the library and then when he comes home he just wants to eat dinner and go to bed. It sucks and I miss him but we are dealing with almost never seeing each other properly because these exams are important right now.

My husband has a friend, “Martha”, who is doing the same course. Martha is taking the same exams. Martha lives in the building across from us. And I just wish Martha would fuck the fuck off and leave him alone.

Martha is incredibly psychologically needy and seems to have latched onto my husband as a target for her emotional vampirism. She doesn’t have a boyfriend or may other friends here. I am all for my husband having friends and for him sometimes needing to be there for them, but Martha wants his attention all the time. She messages him constantly about trivial chatty things and ‘needs’ him to reply immediately. They go to the library and spend all day there together, and then when they get home he feels he needs to invite her in for a drink or even sometimes for dinner because she’s “so lonely”. Then five minutes after she leaves (which is always well after I thought she ought to have left) she is messaging him again. This happens all day every day.

The thing that kills me is that my husband will come home and say how tired he is of Martha and how he wishes he didn’t have to see her again all day tomorrow. So I say, “You don’t! Just say you’re not going to that library and go somewhere else to work! Or when she makes her sad face and talks passive-aggressively about how she’ll just go and spend the evening alone again, just let her go! The world is not going to collapse if you ignore her stupid messages!”

But he doesn’t. He says how fed up he is of her (and I think he really is) but then nothing changes! He still gets guilted into spending all his time with her and getting sucked into her emotional neediness. I don’t want to turn this into some huge drama when he’s focused on his exams, but I cannot stand to hear about Martha one more time, I cannot stand to see Martha ever again and I cannot stand to know that she’s stealing his time and energy that he needs for himself right now (let alone for me!).

Please help me before I do or say something I regret!

Yours,
Hateful Wife

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a 23 year old college student, and the kind of degree and profession I want to work in requires constant joint projects where working alone is not an option, and because our industry is so small, making good connections in college with your peers can be really important.

My problem is this: last semester, while working on a project together, a class mate told me he liked me and wanted to go out with me, and I turned him down because I wasn’t interested. We finished the project, he was professional, and I pulled back from hanging out at school because I didn’t want him to feel awkward.

Then the semester was over, we didn’t really talk, and when a new semester started, we hang out a bit more at school (sitting in class together, chatting at breaks), because I liked him as a friend and would have liked to work on more projects together. Two weeks ago we made some vague plans to go see a movie, he saw it without me so I offered to go to a different movie. We ate something and saw the movie (each of us paid for ourselves), and apparently he thought it was a date. Thing is, I deliberately leaned away from him and put my beg between us to not give the wrong impression. He took my bag and put it on the floor (wtf), then put his hand on my knee. He asked me if it was okay, I said no and he took his hand off. We’re on break from school now, and haven’t talked since.

I’m mad at him, and I don’t know if I’m being cruel or not. On one hand I’m pissed off he just assumed I changed my mind. On the other hand, did he harbored a crush on me for months and I was careless with his feelings? Did I sent the wrong signals, or did he ignored the signals I sent? Should I assume he is not interested in being friends?

Truth is, I’m a very traditionally attractive woman and I usually gets more romantic\sexual attention than I would like. I work with other women on projects, but only working with ladies will really limit my options.
The whole not-date throw me into a spiral of insecurities (I’m not really talented, nobody really likes me, guys lie to me and only put up with me because I’m pretty etc) and I’m feeling really shitty right now, and I can’t focus on my school work. What can I do to make things better, and to prevent situations like this in the future?

Frustrated student
(female pronouns)

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Dear Captain,

I’m (cis-woman) in a graduate program and I’ve got this friend (cis-man), who’s also in school, but an undergrad. We are both a bit older than the rest of our classmates, in our mid-30s. So of course we self-identify as members of the same tribe and become fast friends. We both love thinking hard about the same intellectual pursuits, we share a cynical attitude towards pop culture, millennials.

Lovely, right? But here’s the thing. Mike* doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional support. There’s me and an ex who moved away recently.

So pretty much every time we hang out he does the emotional download. He occasionally suffers from bipolar disorder, so it can get intense.

We also engage in intellectual debate – fun! – but he’s the assertive sort that has to Win. I like to learn. I don’t want to win. In fact, competition stresses me out. Meanwhile, Mike’s a freight train when it comes to verbalizing his inner monologue. To contribute to a conversation, I have to pluck up the energy to actively interrupt him. He lets me do this. And when I do, he listens. Unfortunately, I really want him to ask me what I think. To ask *me* questions for once.

Why this irritates me — I flashback to Depressed Mom who suffered from depression’s peculiar kind of narcissism. I was socialized to be a Good Listener — and I don’t want that job anymore.

Pretty much I was navigating this. I thought I was doing a decent job compartmentalizing the mommy issues. but THEN he wants to introduce sex into the picture. Sex is nice, he’s a good friend, win-win. He sold it pretty well.

Nevertheless, I sent what I thought was a thoughtful email about how I wasn’t interested in FwB. It would just turn into a mess for me. I’m in NYC. I’m *up to here* with “caz.” It would make me hate him. He responded well, and things went back to normal.

Sort of. After percolating for a few days, I got angry. I felt like a free-therapy-blow-up-doll. The idea of hanging out with him became exhausting. But I thought this was my issue, not his. So I soldiered on.

He didn’t bring up sex again for a few months…until this weekend. and I want to block his phone number. I want to punch him in the face.

I think a lot of my anger derives from stereotypes about male privilege, my own less-than-ideal past experiences with exes, and the aforementioned mommy issues. Can you help me untangle some of this???

My peanut gallery/greek chorus says dump him. It sounds like, they say, I just don’t like him. I do like him. I think?

Thanks!!!!!!!

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