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Friendship

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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Hi Captain,

I have a minor problem that as of now is entirely one sided. I am in college and have a group of friends who graduated ahead of me because I had to take a year off from school due to medical reasons. During that time they got close to another person lets call her N in my absence when I got back I tried to be friendly with her but she didn’t reciprocate but didn’t reject outright. I didn’t push and we are at best acquaintances. On of my close friends lets call her X moved to the area because of a job and while I was helping her move in. It slipped out that N doesn’t like me because of my voice and mannerism or something ridiculous like that. I felt vindicated because I got the feeling she didn’t like me. I was mostly annoyed but a little hurt, but I understand you have the right to choose who you want to interact with.

The problem is X is still close friends with N because she also lives near by and sometimes invites me to things for example N is having a barbecue and invited X and then she asked me to come. X said yes and asked me to bring cups and ect. When its the three of us N and X tend to talk I kinda get shut out of the conversation and I see no effort on N’s part to keep me involved these talks can go on for a while and leave me as a third wheel. When we talk and N is there I make efforts to keep her in the conversation. I really don’t want to interact with N  or hear about her at all because of how she wrote me off because of my voice and how she reacts when I am around. But X talks about her, the things they do together and invites me along with them some times i do not want to go and I can tell N doesn’t want me. An example was before i knew for sure she didn’t like me we were planning a bike trip, N “helpfully” asked me if I was physically able to go, she has never shown any concern about it and it came out of no where, I got the feeling I wasn’t wanted so I backed out of the plans. (turns out they wanted to bike and drink and I cant’t drink).

I want to stay friends with X but I don’t want to hear about N or what they do together or really interact with her at all. I am unsure how to bring it up with X without sounding completely petty or jealous because N has technically never told me this in person as I said I was talking with X and mention N didn’t seem to like me that much and she let is slip out. Do you have any scripts I can use or should I just suck it up. 

-Third wheeling it like a champ

 

Dear Third Wheel,

Here’s a six step process for disengaging from hangouts with N while nurturing your friendship with X to the extent possible. Ready?

1. Next time X invites you to do something with X + N, say, “No thanks!” and don’t go. Repeat forever. This is the most important, if you do nothing else, do this step.

2. Invite X to do something with just you. “I can’t make it to N’s, but I’d love to have lunch with you sometime soon, let me know when you’re free.”

3. Tell X “It’s cool that you are friends with N, but I don’t think N and I are destined to be close, so please don’t feel like you have to work so hard to bring us closer together or invite me to hangouts with her. Go enjoy yourself – I’d rather just fly solo with you when you have time.”

4. When X talks about N, make it boring. Don’t ask questions, change subject as soon as possible, for example by asking questions about things that just relate to X or to you and X.

5. If X tells you things N says about you, tell X “I’m not really interested in knowing stuff like that. It just hurts my feelings.”

6. Put your energy into other friendships. Meet some new people (college is full of opportunities to reset social groups), cultivate one-on-one friendships and smaller-group friendships with people you like. Don’t let N + X be the central hub of your social life or the only ones planning things or doing inviting in your group. Right now the equation feels like [(THE WHOLE GROUP (X + N))-YOU] but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Here’s a bonus script for anyone in X’s shoes:

Ns of the World: “I really don’t like your good friend, Letter Writer.”

Xs of the World: “Okay? Not everyone is destined to be friends. Good to know, though, I’ll stop scheduling group hangouts.”
 
Ns of the World: “It’s just, their mannerisms and voice annoy me.”

Xs of the World: “Weird, why on earth would you tell me that? Letter Writer is my friend and I don’t know why you think I’d want to hear you insult them, especially something they have no control* over.”

Ns of the World: “It’s just that their voice…”

Xs of the World: “Let me cut you off right there. Y’all don’t have to be friends, but you should drop this.”

*If N thinks the Letter Writer/friend-of-friend was mean or had mistreated someone, that’s a different script, but “I just don’t like this person” is reason enough – you don’t have to elaborate on the details to someone that likes that person!

Also for X, when you know two of your friends don’t get along, stop trying to be the social director pushing them together. You can like two people who don’t like each other. You can expect that they’ll do some adjusting for your sake, but be kind to them and yourself and make separate plans to see them. (This goes for every “my best friend and my romantic partner don’t get along what should I do” letter btw. You can’t force it!)

I hope things get better and simpler for you soon, Third Wheel. I think they will as soon as you stop putting yourself through these awkward three-person hangouts!

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a stable job, am financially independent, and have savings for a rainy day. Yet I have trouble when it comes spending money on myself, and I’m having increasingly emotional reactions to people who comment on how I spend money.

I feel guilty when I spend on necessities – if it’s stuff like health, or personal well-being, I can ignore the guilt. I’m fine when I buy presents for friends. However, the more these items fall into the “personal wants” category, the more agitated I get. But I want to! I want to pamper myself occasionally, or buy new jeans to replace my old ratty ones, etc. It’s my money, and I’m spending well within my means, logically that should be enough. Sometimes I go ahead and spend it… but then I start rethinking my decision and agonizing instead of just enjoying it. Other times, my mind just doesn’t stop overthinking whether I should be spending that money in the first place, and I just don’t spend it.

It doesn’t help that my parents are extremely thrifty. Their reactions to my purchases have always been along the lines of, “Oh, you got 3 shirts for $X? I could have gotten 5 for that same amount”; or, “How does this contribute to your personal development?” Some of my friends do this too. And though they are also financially secure, they might sometimes opt to buy movie tickets in person so they can save on internet booking fees, or choose to skip lunch to save the money. I have no issues with this, until I get roped into it – like if we end up missing the movie because they didn’t want to book seats early (and it’s insanely hard to reschedule due to our conflicting schedules), or if they naturally assume I’m skipping lunch with them – and when I speak up about it, they say something like, “Well I’d rather not spend that money, but we can do that if you want to”, which makes me feel like I’m making them spend that money just to assuage me. Or I’d be telling them about buying something for myself and they’d comment, “Wow, that’s expensive. Someone’s rich!”

I don’t know which came first – my problem with not-spending, or my unhappiness at such comments – but they keep bouncing off each other and it’s making me feel extremely confused and upset. They’re entitled to their opinions, yet I can’t fight how upset I get, which makes me feel unhappy about overreacting. I’ve started feeling like a horrible person for wanting the things I want, and feeling like I don’t deserve to spend on myself if I react poorly to such comments.

Am I silly for wanting them to lay off these comments? Is there any way I can stop having such extreme reactions? I’d greatly appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you so much.

Best regards,
Scared of Spending

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