Archive

Geek Social Fallacies

Hi Captain,

I’m such a fan of your kind and logical advice! I’m hoping for scripts to deal with a nasty pattern that my family falls into at mealtimes when we’re visiting my parents and brothers- it’s kind of like the abilene paradox on steroids, but while hungry.

I tell spouse and my parents that I’m going to make salmon and a salad for dinner, and do they want any. Parents counter with a 40 minute discussion of whether I eat fish (only if not baked), whether chicken would be better (Mom is pescetarian) whether we can bake the salmon (yes, but then I won’t eat it). I circle back to what I started with, because I’m hungry and this is what I wanted for dinner.

Spouse then asks why I’m cranky and Dad finishes with the ‘whatever you want dear’.
I start prepping, then deal with another 2 attempts to bring chicken back into the mix and a quick derailment of maybe we should have gotten takeout.

At this point its been over an hr of discussion for dinner, and as far as I can tell, no one is happy with the choice of food. And this sort of nonsense happens every night we visit, and is only amplified when my brothers and their spouses are in the mix.

I’ve tried the escape with spouse for dinner, but then I have to deal with the parental ‘oh can we come with, since we’d like to have dinner with you, but we don’t like any of the restaurants you’d want, but we’ll suck it up since that’s what you want’

How on earth do I avoid this nonsense?

Thanks!

Read More

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?

Read More

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!

 

Hello! Los Angeles trip was great. The Chris Killip exhibit at the Getty floored me. I am home now, under a cat. Let’s awkward.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend who instantly escalates every interaction we have. Not in a confrontational way, but just that she always wants MORE MORE MORE.

Imagine a scale of interactions, where 1 is equivalent to a nod in the street and 100 is equivalent to a multi-night stay in someone’s home. I might suggest a 30: “Hey! Let’s go and see that new film together!” (Some chit-chat before and after, but most of it is spent sitting silently in the dark next to each other.) She will immediately try to escalate towards 100: “And we could get coffee beforehand! And have dinner afterwards! And then you could come back to my place for drinks! And then we could play this new game I bought!” While initially I was looking forward to 30, I now see that the choice is: stick to 30 and spend the entire time making reasons that I can’t escalate further, submit and escalate to 100 and see WAY more of her than I wanted, or just cancel and return to 0.

She’s part of my wider friend group and in my mind we’re not exactly besties (and she does this to everyone, so it’s not that she thinks we are), but when I haven’t seen her for a while I do genuinely think, “Hey, I wonder how The Escalator is doing? It would so be nice to catch up!” So I enter play with a 25 and then she starts escalating towards 100 and I immediately regret ever having made the effort and frantically try to bail.

The other problem is that she also escalates casual conversation as well as actual plans. You mention a film that’s coming out? She’s planning a trip to the cinema (“with dinner afterwards! And I heard they filmed part of it nearby so we could go there too!”). You mention a new restaurant? She’s whipping out the diary to see when you’re free (“ooh, and it’s near the bowling alley so we could go there first! And it’s next to the rose garden so we could have an evening walk afterwards!).So you find yourself trying to censor conversation in case you ever show the slightest interest in anything or make even a cursory remark about maybe one day in the future just perhaps entertaining the possibility of going to XYZ or doing thing ABC.

I’ve tried to keep things light and enforce boundaries. I really have. I’ve tried not to give actual excuses but just say, “Sorry, I have plans!” But then she just keeps going and going and going to find a date and time when you can make it…and then tries to escalate whatever you’ve committed to. And the constant stress of HAVING to enforce boundaries even when I do it successfully makes it feel like a war zone, not a fun time. And the true answer is not “I have plans”. It’s “I don’t like you enough to want to spend any more time with you.” (Including currently: “I don’t think I can afford to go on a two week holiday with you”, which really means “I don’t like you enough to go on holiday with you, and continuing to push this conversation makes it sound ever more like a living hell…but I do want to go on holiday with my other friends which you will then find out about and be upset about because I booked it after I told you I couldn’t afford to go on holiday with you.”)

I would be delighted to see her every few weeks for a low-level interaction (coffee OR a film OR brunch – not everything!), or every few months for a more intense one (a morning at the museum followed by lunch, or an afternoon the ice rink with hot chocolate afterwards). If we could just do that, I would genuinely enjoy seeing her. But I don’t want to spend every moment parrying yet another attempt at escalation.

By not accepting any intervening levels, SHE is making the choice into 0 vs 100, and I am getting ever-closer to choosing 0 (literally never ever seeing her and blocking her from everything, even not going to wider-friend-group things she is attending, which would suck). Can I make mid-range plans with her in a way that makes it impossible for her to escalate (either on that day or by pushing to make plans for too-soon future days) such that I don’t even need to worry about her trying? Or if I have to choose 0, how can I do so in a way that minimises the effect on my future interactions with our wider friendship group?

Yours,

More of a ‘Let’s stay on this step of the staircase’ person

Read More

Hi Capt,

Surely this has been asked before, but I can’t find anything this straightforward in the archive. What do you say when someone wants to be your friend but you just don’t like them?

I feel like at any given time there are a few people in my life who really want to be my friend but who I just don’t find all that interesting or fun or my cup of tea. Usually they have done nothing wrong and are in no way offensive; I just don’t like them. Usually they pursue me pretty hard, inviting me to things and politely but persistently trying to schedule friend-dates. Usually we are socially connected so there’s no ghosting on them forever (also that’s mean), and also it means bearing the burden of showing up at a real friend’s party and having not-my-friend be super excited to see me and be all “it is so awesome to see you, we need to catch up!” Ugh.

I sound like such a jerk in this email. I don’t want to be a jerk! I also don’t want to spend time with people I don’t like, and I don’t need new friends badly enough to give these folks a chance, and inevitably they are the sort of people who stubbornly refuse to notice that their invitations are never reciprocated. I also wonder why I seem to attract oblivious quasi-groupies when I am definitely not the cool one in my friend group and also I am really not that nice to people I don’t like. Like, I’m not an asshole (I hope), but no one could claim that I lead these not-friends on; it’s not like I say “omg we def need to catch up but I’m just soooo busy rn,” I’m more like “sorry, can’t make it! EOM”.

Got a script for saying “no I don’t want to hang out with you and it’s not that I’m busy, I just don’t want to” without making it a Huge Deal? Or for telling a new acquaintance that no you don’t really want to get coffee some time or friend them on Facebook? Also what’s with people friending folks on FB who they met once for like a hot second and then being offended that you don’t accept the request? Hi I don’t know you so I definitely don’t want to see your vacation photos nor you to see mine.

Maybe I am just a jerk.

Oh lordy these people probably write to advice columnists about me.

Signed,
Not Your Friend
(She/her)

Read More

Hi Captain,

I have a friend of 20 years who got married a few years ago to a man who has a total lack of boundaries. Their marriage coincided with a lot of bad things happening in my life (horrendous breakup and various other life circumstances), so when I relocated back to my home state I started seeing a lot of them. I’m an introvert, but at that time I really needed to have some people in my life, so it was nice to reconnect with my friend and get to know her husband.

Flash forward a few years and her husband is obsessed with me and considers me a really close friend. He doesn’t have many friends of his own and it’s easy now to see why- he’s intense, demanding, and expects a lot. As in, he sulks if I don’t visit with them for hours every weekend. If I tell him no or I’m busy, he makes catty remarks about it the next time I see them, and tells me he cares about me more than any of my other friends would.

It’s really gotten to a point where I’d rather avoid them both entirely than deal with him. I miss my friend, but I don’t even get to see her without him around because he gets mad and jealous if she does “too much” without him, especially if I’m involved. Surprise of all surprises, he also dominates the conversation 100% of the time, leaving me almost no time to just connect with my friend. All they do is fight and complain about each other, which is exhausting. And if they don’t fight, they pat themselves on the back about it.

What I’m struggling with is guilt- I love my friend, and I do care about her husband. But I’ve reached a point where I am angry and resentful and feeling suffocated and possessed. How can I draw boundaries when I want to maintain a relationship with my friend and they’re a package deal?

Signed,
Third (and fourth) Wheel

PS I’m single, there’s no way any significant other I would have would enjoy this behavior. not that it matters because I don’t either.

Read More

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a situation that is getting very awkward indeed. In a few months, I will be going on vacation to Tokyo with my best friend. This has been a dream of ours for a long time, so we have a lot of plans. A coworker – with whom I’m friendly, but not very close – heard through the grapevine about my trip and started a conversation about when I was going and what I planned to do.

The week after that, she told me that she was planning a trip on the same dates, and she was so glad to know someone who could ‘show her all the sights’. I was a bit taken aback, but I told her my plans had just included myself and my best friend, and we already have reservations booked for just the two of us for most of the attractions we want to see. She seemed to understand and didn’t mention it again for a while.

However, I later overheard her talking to another coworker about ‘our trip’, and how I had planned everything out for ‘us’ to do. I waited until the other coworker was gone so as not to embarrass her, but this time I told her in no uncertain terms that my plans had not and would not include her. She got upset and said I’d been so enthusiastic about my trip that she’d gotten excited as well, and why was it so difficult for one more person to join us?

Since then, she’s kept talking about ‘our’ trip and what ‘we’ll’ do and all objections I make are completely ignored, even though I’ve stopped being polite and I have told her in front of others that she is in no way involved in my trip. I want to have a great experience with my friend and I absolutely do not want to be stuck playing tour guide to an acquaintance.

Since this is not work-related, I don’t feel like I can bring it up to our managers. I know I can’t stop her from making her vacation plans, even if they coincide with my own, but she already knows the name of my hotel and my rough itinerary from that first conversation, so how can I get it across that my friend and I do not want her with us? I’m concerned that she might have booked at the same hotel or that she’ll show up there, and I don’t want to cause a scene or have to try and avoid her. To my knowledge she’s never done anything like this before, so I’m completely baffled by her behavior. Obviously this problem is a bit different from many of the other letters you get, but I have no idea how to address this situation. Help?

Thank you,
Tokyo Traveller

preferred pronouns she/her

Read More