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Geek Social Fallacies

Yo, Captain!

I have a friend who I care about dearly but he keeps sending quite rude (almost downright racist) messages over a group chat I have with all of my friends, often targeted towards me and my heritage. A recent example is that he sent a photo of a map from almost 200 years ago and said “Ha, look, your country isn’t even on this map! It’s not a real country lol.” Another was when he kept trying to explain and then lecture me (quite patronizingly) about this country’s history (with inaccurate information, if I may add that) although I have family from this country and have read books about its history. I have told him that I find this rude and I have heritage from this country but I grew up in the same country he has, so I don’t understand why he can’t accept me as at least both nationalities. I used to be bullied for having “foreigner” relatives and being related to said country and his behaviour is similar to how it started out when I first was bullied (by other people, to clarify) which is making alarm bells ring. As it is on a group chat and I struggle with anxiety and confronting my friends (he knows this), then I find it difficult to call him out on his behaviour and I try to ignore the group chat, however, I feel like if I constantly ignore it every time people accept this behaviour more and it hinders my ability to communicate online to my group of friends (also, they know I get upset about it but I don’t expect them to do anything).

My solution was to block him on Facebook so he can’t directly message me and to avoid him on the group chat, which worked except he found out that I blocked his messages and keeps trying to call me out on the group chat. Other friends keep messaging me saying “why have you blocked him?” and then they post screenshots on the chat (so far I’ve replied with “what? I think my messages are just messed up at the moment”) so I’m afraid to tell them because these kinds of jokes are often made by him so that’s partly why no one goes “hey that’s not cool, friend.” I don’t want to be seen as humourless by telling everyone, because then people treat me like they’re walking on eggshells. Am I being irrational? Are they entitled to an explanation? Are there any scripts you could possibly give me?

Thank you,

from,

I Just Want To Talk To My Friend And Not Get Upset (she/her)

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Hey Captain,

I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.

I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.

Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.

Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!

~Christmas is Confusing

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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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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!

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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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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

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