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Geek Social Fallacies

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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Hello,

My close friend from childhood, “Jake,” is a kindhearted person with a drinking problem. I have learned that his drinking problem is not something for me to either fix or enable, so I do neither. Most of the time I simply hang out with him before he starts drinking for the night, and then excuse myself once he begins, to avoid being around him while he is drunk. This works 9 out of 10 times and has kept our friendship intact for fifteen years now.

My question is not about my relationship with Jake, but about how to deal with other people affected by his out of control behavior on the rare occasions that I am present to witness to it.

I invited Jake to my recent birthday dinner. My work colleagues were there. Jake, who is gay, made unwanted (verbal) sexual overtures to my straight male coworkers. He made loud, explicit and insulting observations about my female coworker’s outfits and bodies. I was fairly mortified and also speechless when it happened, cringing silently in disbelief. (He would never have said anything like this while sober, of course. When I asked, he told me he doesn’t remember the evening at all.)

What does damage control look like in a case like this? What do I say to these people now? Is there a better strategy than “sorry my friend harassed you, he’s an alcoholic”? I know Jake’s comments are not my responsibility, but I feel like I need to let my acquaintances and colleagues know that I don’t condone the things he said. I’m friends with the real Jake, not the distorted person he becomes while under the influence.

Thank-you!

I think an apology will definitely go a long way to mending fences with your coworkers. I would keep Jake’s good qualities and non-drunk self out of it. Be brief and don’t make excuses. This isn’t about rescuing his status in their eyes, this is about repairing your relationships with these people.

Coworker, my old friend Jake was drunk and extremely out of line the other night, and I’m so sorry about his behavior toward you. I’m also sorry I didn’t do more at the time to put a stop to it. I was so taken aback and mortified that I froze.

And then, if you really want to make things better for those folks going forward, I have two suggestions:

1) Practice speaking up more in the moment to curb the bad behavior and shield your guests.Jake – that’s enough!” “Not cool, Jake.” “Jake, I’m gonna call you a cab. Time to go now.” You aren’t responsible for his behavior, but if you’re hosting events you are taking on some responsibility for other people’s comfort. Jake’s targets were likely also speechless because they had no basis for anticipating his behavior or knowing how to react to it in a way that wouldn’t make everything worse for you. If you don’t feel up to redirecting him or shutting him down in public, I understand, but that makes suggestion #2 even more important.

2) Don’t cross your wider social streams with Jake again, especially not when it involves people you work with. That means Jake might get excluded from things like intimate birthday dinners in the future, not because you are a bad or disloyal friend, but because he can’t hang. 

Think of all the letters here from people who are like “I love (friend/relative), but seeing them means I also have to see Drunk Mean Asshole, and I worry that if I tell them that I don’t want to hang out with DMA anymore that they’ll disown me, but DMA is ruining all the time I spend with them.” I’m sorry, but you are That Friend now! If you enjoy Jake’s company when he’s not drinking, think about enjoying that solo and keeping group events for people who can behave themselves. If Jake protests not being invited, tell him exactly why: “You were such a jerk to everybody at my birthday, I don’t want to cross those streams again. We’ve made a way to make our friendship work despite your drinking problem, and let’s stick with what works.” Please don’t make your wider social circle absorb his bad behavior for your sake. You can’t fix him, you don’t want to enable him, so what’s left is shielding the other people you care about when Dr. Jekyll turns into Mr. Hyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Captain,

I am married to a wonderful, funny, smart man. We have an amazing two-year-old and I just found out that I am expecting again. Life is good, except that his normally-long-distance family is suddenly in the area (an hour’s drive away) and thus all the issues about my dislike of them that we have managed to gloss over are coming up in a big way. (The stuff I found in the archives about in-laws involved a partner’s family being just as toxic for him/her as for the LW, and this isn’t so much our case.)

His family history is too long and sordid to get into, but it involves active addiction, physical and sexual abuse, and my husband being informed at nine years of age that he was now responsible for everyone else, including not just his siblings but his mother. (She was the one informing him of this.) This resulted in an incredibly responsible and patient man, but one unable to see his siblings and mother as anything but helpless victims who need him, when in fact there is major manipulation going on in order for them to maintain the hapless lifestyles to which they are accustomed.

It is not reassuring to my husband that I love him more for the disaster zone from which he emerged (I haven’t used those words to him); he wants me to love his family. And he keeps comparing them to my family, and asking how I would feel if he didn’t love my family. When: well, if this were a Hollywood rom-com, my family would be the uptight prissy overeducated East Coasters, and his would be the lovable “honest folks” who teach my family to open up. But in real life, my overeducated parents and brothers are the kindest, funniest, most liberal people you can possibly imagine, and his family drove me to tears on my wedding day with their social boorishness and constant pressuring of me to drink (I am a recovering alcoholic AND was visibly pregnant). So when my husband says, after a nightmare afternoon with his brother during which said brother indulged in belching, farting, cursing, and homophobia in front of the toddler, and ignored social cues to the extent that he was there three hours longer than either of us wanted him there, “How would you feel if I didn’t like having [your brother] here?” I want to scream that I am just too tired to keep up the pretense that All Brothers Are Created Equal anymore.

And in a few weeks his mother will be here, for seven months’ stay. (Not actually in our house: small mercies.) She will be here my entire pregnancy, because that’s not already enough of a stressful or emotional time. And she’ll want to see her granddaughter, so I imagine she and the aforementioned brother will be at our house nearly every weekend. In addition to the broken record she plays about her victimhood (divorced almost thirty years but How He Ruined Her Life comes up in every conversation), she is a rabid conspiracy theorist, and bases her right to judge how her son’s kid is being raised on a lot of debunked stuff. Like, anti-vaxxer stuff: that level.

I try really, really hard to be polite, to guests and in-laws especially. But “polite” is going to be the best I can do, if the latest visit from his brother is any indication. Pregnant, working full-time, and parenting a toddler, I do not have one-tenth of the social acting energy I would need to pull off a “Yay! You’re here again!” And pulling that off is what my husband wants from me, despite how he’s seen my wickedly-introverted self get completely drained by a few hours with people whom I genuinely adore, and his having watched one pregnancy wipe me out already. He wants me to be delighted that these people are descending on us every weekend.

Is there any way I can talk to him about this without making him feel I want him to choose between his family and me? How can I convince him that it has to be enough, because it is all I have, for them to be fed and given places to sit down and allowed to chat at the toddler (at least until they say something offensive)? And is there any way – there may not be – for me to convince him to stop equating a visit from Racist Uncle Stoner with one from my thoughtful, compassionate, brilliant brothers? I know the family comparisons make him extra-defensive, but he’s the one who brings them out. I don’t, for exactly that reason.

There may be no possible answers to this, but there is no possible answer to “just force yourself to love these people”, either!

Like Chekhov But With More Theories About Government Plots

Dear Like Chekhov,

We can’t undo a lifetime of your husband’s relationship with his family in a blog post, so, I want to start by saying: There is probably no script where you set boundaries about his family that will necessarily make him see things your way, where everything is resolved pleasantly without further friction.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set boundaries with him about their visits. The truthful answer to his question: “How would you feel if I didn’t love your family?” is “Dude, I would be really sad, but I’d also try to work with you about what kind of visiting schedule you could handle, and as long as you were polite to them when we did see each other, I wouldn’t pressure you to feel any kind of way about them. Not everyone is meant to be best friends!

 

When his mother arrives, could you handle something like:

  • 1 visit per month from Grandma & brother at your house where you act as pleasant joint host. You will break out the good dishes and smile. You will try not to say “You can’t possibly be serious.
  • Husband can take your daughter to see Grandma and on outings with Grandma as many times as he wants.
  • Husband, please go have fun hanging out with your brother! The operative word here is “Go!”  When Brother overstays his welcome, kick him out!Brother, good to see you today! We’re kicking you out, though – got a million things to do. See you soon!Or, consider putting him to work on unpleasant chores.So glad you’re here. It’s gutter-cleaning day! Thanks a million for helping!He’ll either bail or you’ll get your gutters cleaned.

 

I suggest these arrangements for illustration purposes, what’s more important is that you decide what you can live with and then ask for it.

There is stuff that your husband values about always having an open door to family and that’s real, primal stuff. There is also stuff you need about sufficient down-time and not having to play hostess to people you dislike all the time so that he can perform filial piety, and that is also real, primal stuff. I know you want to avoid a situation where he feels like he has to “choose between you and his family” but this is that situation! That is what you need him to do, and you need him to choose you and the family you have together. Choosing you in this instance doesn’t mean not ever seeing his family, but it does mean not shoving them down your throat and then berating you when you don’t love that.

This honestly might be a good time to bring in a couples’ counselor to referee. Whether you involve one or not, I suggest stating every request about his family strictly in terms of your needs.

  • Start with visits from Brother, since he’s here. “If you want to see Brother this weekend, can y’all go out? I am not up to hosting anyone tomorrow.
  • Husband, I need time to myself today. Why don’t you take Toddler to see Grandma instead of having her come here?
  • I have about one family dinner or outing in me per month right now. If you want to hang with your family more than that, enjoy! But I can’t commit to more than that.
  • You’re a working mom, so isn’t it just so helpful that your husband’s family is here to help? So helpful!”Hi Mother In Law, hi Brother, good to see you. Have fun with Husband and Toddler – I have some errands* to run. Gotta go!”
  • You’re pregnant, so you need naps. So many naps**. “Sorry to bail right when the fun starts, but if I don’t close my eyes right now I’m gonna pass out!
  • It’s risky, but sometimes invoking your doctor can help. “Doctor says I’m supposed to take it easy right now!” “Doctor suggested that stress is bad for me right now.” “Doctor recommends not taking on additional stressors right now.” Your husband is going to be horribly hurt that his family are considered “stressors” as in, “But they’re faaaaaaaaamily! That’s not the same as something stressful” and that’s maybe where the couples’ counselor or doctor comes in because the truth is they ARE stressful… to you… and no amount of his wanting it to be different makes it so.

Bailing on togetherness time won’t be without friction or consequence. Your mother-in-law is definitely gonna pick up on it if you are not around 100% of the time faking happiness to see her and her wack ideas, and she is 100% gonna make remarks about it to her son, who is 100% gonna try to persuade you to get with their family program of “Boundaries Are Mean.”

Scripts for when that happens:

  • I want you to have a wonderful relationship with your family, but I am limited in how much I can or want to play host to anyone, especially right now. I appreciate you being a buffer.
  • Our house does not have to be In-Laws central every weekend! I literally cannot handle that, and if you want to see your family that often I need you to find another way to make it happen!
  • I don’t think the conversation about whether I love your folks ‘enough’ is fair or productive. If I’m going to love them like you do, that will have to develop in its own time. I can tell you that being forced to host them for hours every weekend is not improving my affections!!!” (BTW your “I’m done pretending that all brothers are created equal!” script is good.)
  • I’m okay being the bad guy here. Tell them you want them to come but I’m just not up to it today! Tell them that you forgot that we already had plans! Tell them whatever, but I cannot do this every weekend.

Letter Writer, this all sucks, and I don’t think it’s gonna be easy, but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable to want to take care of yourself and limit stress. Turns out that limiting exposure to people you know stress you out is a very effective way to limit stress.

Like many abused kids, your husband never got to learn the life skill where other people can have all the feelings they want about something that he needs to do to take care of himself, and he can make the best choice for himself even if it pisses them off and annoys them. That’s very unfair and sad, but it’s not fair for him to try to impose that pattern onto you. Now is definitely the time for you to exercise that skill, as in, “I can’t handle having your family here every weekend even if you have different feelings about that.” There is no prize for being the world’s most accommodating person, and the prospect of your husband (or his mom or brother, by proxy) having sad feelings doesn’t obligate you to play eternal gracious hostess! It is okay to have conflict sometimes and to risk pissing people off!

*”Errands” could be “going to the movies” or “seeing friends.”

**”Naps” could involve headphones, and reading.

 

Dear Captain and Company,

I recently finalized the ending of a relationship…I say finalized because I’ve been trying to break up with my ex since October, but she finally was able to accept it months later…no matter how many times I told her, “my feelings for you have changed,” “I’m no longer attracted to you,” et al. For the record, she’s not a bad person…hardcore GSF carrier, yes, but a generally decent, well intentioned (if a little misguided a lot of the time) human being. When the ending finally hit her, we were able to talk more openly than we have in months and are working out all the transitional stuff without conflict.

The question is this…we rent an apartment together with me taking on the bulk of the expenses as I make more money. While I could likely move with ease, she’s not in the same position…she wants us to stay as platonic roommates for another year, continue to work on our friendship as we move forward with our separate lives. Most of my Team Me think I am nuts for considering it. I’m torn. I don’t want to be the person who says, “F You, I don’t care, I am looking out for me,” but I want to be sure that I – and she, for that matter – can move on with our lives and be okay with it. I’m at the point where if I saw her with someone else, I’d be totally happy for her. No jealously, no angst. I don’t know that I trust her to be okay in the same way. It worries me that she refused to hear the very explicit statements I was making with regard to wanting to end our relationship, and I worry about how that could pan out should I meet someone else. On the other, we do work together in terms of splitting things up around the house well, and have pretty much been platonic roommates for the last year of our relationship.

Is this worth it to save money and hassle, or should I run, run, run?

Thanks, Domestically Challenged

Dear Domestically Challenged,

Listen to your friends!

RUN!

EXCLAMATION POINTS! YELLING!

You have been trying to break up with this person, by my count, FOR FIVE MONTHS. I just met you (sort of) but your friends have been watching this saga unfold and if they say “Run!” I say “Run!”

Breaking up is a unilateral decision. When you say, “My feelings have changed and I am breaking up with you” the relationship is over! The other person does not have to agree or consent for this to be true. And once you break up, one of the pieces of good news is that you get to stop “working on” the relationship. Some exes make great friends, and sometimes the transition is pretty easy because face it, you already were more like friends and like lovers. Not so with someone who refuses to accept the reality of your breakup and thinks you should “work on” that for another YEAR of your life.

Have you ever heard the expression “Sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money?” I think it’s a nice gesture for the ex who makes more money to help the person who has less in the event of a breakup and dissolution of households, and if you can afford to pull together a security deposit-ish fund you could give her, it would be a kind gesture. On the one hand, your ex has manipulated you into staying longer than you want to and she has had five months to ponder “Domestically Challenged seems to be making noises about ending our relationship, so where would I live if we were to break up and not live together anymore?” and you don’t owe her any money (or more time). In your shoes, I would prioritize getting yourself out first and helping her second, if at all. On the other hand, sometimes the cheapest way to pay is with money.

Before you contemplate continuing a friendship with your ex, I think you need a space of your own away from her where you can hear yourself think, not another year (!!!!!) of dragging this out. Tell her you don’t want to keep living together. Offer her some relocation money if that’s something you can do. Consider staying with a friend for a few days to give her time to process the decision. Then move out of FEELINGSHAUS and into the next phase of your life. Then figure in where (and if) your ex fits into your life as a friend.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I think my partner has a big Geek Social Fallacy problem.

We live together in a small house in an expensive area where lots of people live with parents or roommates. So, ever since before we met, he’s hosted huge blowout theme parties for his entire geeky friendgroup. He always encourages them to bring new people and expand his social circle. Partner enjoys being The Cool Fun Host.

Partner was a late bloomer socially, had terrible ostracizing experiences and some related depression issues, so now he’s trying to make up for lost time. He wants to be as inclusive and welcoming as possible. Which sounds great in theory! He’s big-hearted and just wants everyone to be his friend.

When I first moved in with Partner, I enjoyed these parties — organizing them, coming up with themes. But the more comfortable I became thinking of it as “our house” instead of “partner’s house”, the more protective I’m becoming of my living space. The more I dread the thought of prepping the house for a destructive messy horde of nerds and cleaning up after them and yielding my space for a night. I’m finding I’m enjoying hosting smaller, more controlled gatherings.

On top of this, our good friend recently pointed out a Missing Stair in this friendgroup. Missing Stair has made a few people uncomfortable, and, who knows, may be driving away others. But we just know a couple of anecdotes, and while Partner admits Missing Stair is a jerk, he doesn’t know where he should draw the line. Because inclusivity. And Missing Stair hasn’t done anything egregious and maybe a few people just don’t like him. Partner isn’t comfortable disinviting _anyone_, much less this specific Missing Stair, because he knows how it feels to be uninvited and it’s evil and horrible.

So how wrong and awful does Missing Stair have to be for Partner to disinvite him? And how do we balance how much control over the parties I get to have? Obviously I think Missing Stair should be uninvited right now. But these are still mostly Partner’s parties, even though I help host and I live here too. I hate feeling like I’m trampling all over Partner’s fun and trying control everything now that we live together.

Normally Partner and I are great at communicating, but he has a terrible blind spot here.

— Killjoy

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Hello Captain!

I am looking for scripts/advice dealing with a situation that I tangled myself up in.

A friend I made over the summer, and became quite close to, recently started giving me the silent treatment (I’d say about a month ago).

Although it was hard for me to accept, I decided after olive branching twice that “Hey, this is the unspoken African VIolet. Alright. We were there when we needed each other, and this sucks, but it’s time to move on”

Except, my Best Friend on Team Me is also friends with this person I will call Gentleman.

Gentleman is best friends with *her* best friend. So, it is a given he will be at most social interactions.

I have tried my best to be smooth about this; I’ll give a polite “Hello” or something along those lines in a group setting. I will not venture to engage any more than is required.

Except he *pointedly ignores me*, will turn away from me, and also engage everyone around me so I have no one to speak to. Friends may notice but seem unsure what to do, and I often forget this is what’s happening, so I have to scramble to interact (or go silent, which results in me starting to panic).

It is made more awkward because if I disengage with this group, I lose my only close friends.

I am trying to pick up more hobbies, meet more people, but I cannot change that this is the small group I will interact with most. I am just…not sure what to do.

Which would be fine and dandy, except he..just invited me to his birthday on facebook? And my friends have insisted I go or I “am making things more awkward”? They seem frustrated with the situation (as am I!) but I have already offered an olive branch or two to him, and he clearly does not want this (that’s ok too!).

Suddenly changing my mind would upset the friend group I believe. But, I am worried because I get the feeling that mutual friends are trying to thrust us together in the guise of helping. I do not think it is helping, and Gentleman is a shy person.

What…can I do? How can I navigate this social necessity? I don’t want to be like “please don’t invite me if he is around”, as he is always around.

But I’d like to be able to, yknow, recover? It takes time for me to make friends, and accepting a “no closure but no friendship” situation is rough for me.

Suggestions, capt?

Sincerely,

I Accepted The VIolet but My Mutual Friends Didn’t

The Geek Social Fallacies run amok in your circle! Even the person who super doesn’t like you carries them!

I think you should decline the party invite and give this person a little space.

And I think you should invite your friends (actual friends) to do some stuff one on one or in smaller groups. It’s time for you to put the idea of The Group on hold for a while. Groups & relationships only work if they work for the people in them. Suffering for the idea of the relationship, especially to preserve other people’s idea of what that relationship should be like, is madness.

And your script for your friends is: “Hey. If you want to make things less awkward, howabout speaking up when Gentleman gives me the silent treatment to all of our faces? Instead of pushing me to make everything okay, and pressuring him to invite me to stuff, which means I end up enduring the ‘cut direct‘ on the regular, howabout we give everybody a little breathing room. Not everyone has to be friends with everyone else. I’d settle for ‘distant nod’ terms and I’ll come back to group stuff when Gentleman feels the same, but I’m not subjecting myself to the silent treatment ever again. He is being a jerk about this, and I’m sure he has his reasons, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that’s not what it is.” 

Reaching out to your friends in smaller groups, or singly, will mean a small cultural shift in how things work, especially if you are not generally the inviter/social fulcrum, but it’s work worth doing. “Can you and I go to breakfast, just the two of us?” is a nice invitation if you usually see everyone all together. I also suggest you throw yourself into another hobby or class or activity that takes you into a slightly different social scene for a bit, too. It will help you keep yourself aloof from friend-scene drama if you flex your “I know how to meet other cool people” muscle.

_____________________

O Captain my captain (or guest!), please help:

I’ve got a problem that isn’t necessarily distressing to me, but it is very perplexing, and it’s something that has me feeling kind of stuck.

The quick background is that I am in a friends-with-benefits sexual relationship with my ex and best friend. Our friendship is one of the best things in my life: we’re open with each other, we make each other laugh, and we support each other. We both care very deeply about the other person, and the sex is connected and amazing. This has been going on for a little over a year, and we were together as a couple for a little under a year. In many ways aside from sex, our behavior isn’t all that different from it was when we were together: we hold hands in public, we’re cuddly, we see each other and talk to each other more than we do with anyone else in our lives. We try not to be very physically affectionate in public to avoid confusing friends and family though, and we definitely don’t call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. Because we’re so honest with each other, he knows I’m still a bit in love with him, and I know that he doesn’t want to be a couple and why.

While this sounds like it could be a stressful or unfair situation because of the feelings being “uneven”, I am genuinely happy with what we have! It provides me the best friendship I’ve ever had, intimacy, affection both physical and emotional, great sex, and a ton of support. I’m sure eventually the arrangement will end, but I do know I’ll be sad and will miss the physical parts of our friendship when it does.

So what’s the problem? It’s that I feel so much pressure to define the relationship further for the sake of others or to move on. My friends express concern that he should just “make up his mind” or “admit that you’re really a couple”, or that I should date. I’ve attempted to date, too! But I find myself comparing my dates to the established and happy intimacy I already have, and I don’t feel that would be fair to another person. I don’t know what my next steps should be. Am I fooling myself that this is something that could make me happy for now? Am I setting myself up for heartbreak somehow? Is it possible to move on while staying so connected to the person I love most?

Thank you,
Friends with Bafflement

Dear Bafflement:

Winter is Coming, and having a reliable and trusted friend/bedfellow is not the worst idea ever. You also don’t owe the world a relationship that other people can understand. Romances and sexual relationships don’t have to move forward in recognizable stages or last a lifetime to be valuable.

I can see why your friends are concerned if they know you to be someone who wants to be married, etc. someday. Sadly, The Dude Who Would Like To Keep Things Very Casual While Also Enjoying What A Good & Caring & Always-Available Girlfriend You Are is a common figure in our common folk mythology and his stories are not often happy ones. In your friends’ places I might wonder if you were being totally honest with yourself about how cool you are with everything. I would especially wonder this if “He” (how amazing and wonderful he is, drama around your past breakup, the mismatch in affection & relationship goals, etc. ) were a frequent topic in our conversations and if your case for how great things are sounded (out loud) like you are trying to talk yourself into something. When I’ve been obsessed with someone and talking about how no, really, our relationship is special, and these are all the very good reasons I’ve decided to accept less than I really want, wise friends have said to me, “Do you think he thinks and talks about you as much as you do about him?” Is that what your friends are saying, or are they projecting their own desires for security and certainty onto you (also possible)? Nothing makes a case like success, so if you’re happy, try going with “All good, thanks!” instead of a lot of details about Him for a while and see if their reservations recede.

As for your romantic life in general:

Am I setting myself up for heartbreak?

Yes, but you always were, and you always will be as long as you love other people. Heartbreak is the human condition. The most obvious thought experiment is: What happens if Friend meets someone else next week or next month or after five years of being with you all the time and does really want to be in an exclusive romantic relationship…with them? And all the cromulent reasons for ‘not being a couple’ that you patiently understood all this time become not true when it’s this person? That would completely gut me in your shoes, like, Stevie Nicks + Lindsay Buckingham Performing Landslide Together-gut me. Less obvious but true: Romantic relationships can end on amicable terms and for great reasons mutually decided upon, and it can still hurt like hell when they end. And hell, Lindsay and Stevie look beautiful on that stage.

“Is it possible to move on while staying so connected to the person I love most?”

Yes, in that your life is going to move and change no matter what you decide. If your heart’s desire is a monogamous relationship with someone who is long-term committed and devoted to you, it’s going to be hard to meet and fully engage with someone who might give you that if your heart (not to mention time & energy) is still engaged with Mr. Friend and if in your heart of hearts you still wish things were different with him. Still, you can date new people if you want to. Try to realize that nobody new is going to compare to someone you’ve had a great time with in bed and out of it for a year when you’re eating awkward first date dinner with them. You’d have to compare things to back when you and Friend first met. Poly dudes might be your best bet for right now, because they are also the most likely to be accepting that you have this amazing connection with someone else and not try to compete with or displace it. Always remember: The wonderful qualities in you that brought such a sexy and fun relationship your way in the first place are still in you, and they don’t belong to Mr. Friend, they belong to you. In meeting new people, you might be surprised by someone who makes you call up Friend and say, “that was great and I’ll always care about you, but I’m done with the sexytimes kthnxbye.

You could also decide your dating plate is happily full for right now. If you take this route, I would encourage you to throw yourself harder than ever into your work or school or artistic pursuit or hobby and to make sure that your social life includes many people who are not Friend and who are not connected to him. You’re getting happily laid on the regular, you’ve got good friends, so take all the effort that “dating” takes and apply it to other things you really want to do with your life. I say this because while I take you at your word that things are great, I also take you at your word that you are more into Friend than he is into you, and I think it would be smart to make sure that you’re doing the other things that make you happy and fulfilled.

I’m glad you are happy and hope that you remain so.

________________

Hello Captain,

First off, thank you for all the work you’ve done on your blog. Thanks to reading through your archives, I was most recently able to tell the boss on a project I was working on, “Sorry, can’t do that,” to an additional task that was So Not in My Job Description and that I didn’t want to do without offering a rambling litany of excuses that were only half true! And guess what – the project was successfully completed anyway, and I got praised for the efforts I did put into it! Yay!

But of course, there’s a “but,” one that is unrelated to that project. My best friend was recently sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison, and in another, inconveniently located state, no less. I haven’t exactly been blurting this out to everyone I know for the sake of my friend’s privacy, but a few people I consider close friends are in the know about the details, and for the most part, they’ve been nothing but supportively awesome examples of a fantastic Team Me.

The problem is one friend, “Thomas.” Thomas is, shall we say, a bit of judgmental prick when it comes to violations of the law and my friend’s violation in particular. He seems to be of the opinion that my friend got off easy and that serving his term in a different state (which is, as you might imagine, somewhat distressing to his family and friends), is only appropriate, as my friend has to learn that his actions have an impact on others around him. Naturally, my usual reaction to this is to throw my phone across the room and go out for a walk to clear my head.

I’ll then get a text hours later to the tune of, “Sorry if I’ve offended you.” To this, dear Captain, I usually have no response. So far, I’ve been ignoring the pathetic attempt at an apology and switching topics with no lead-in when I do get around to texting him back, but I’d really, really like to tell Thomas where he can shove both the apology and the high and mighty opinions that led him to needing to make one. Is there a script for doing so with less vulgarity than I’ve fantasized about putting into my response? I know the obvious solution is to simply not discuss my newly in-depth knowledge of how law and order actually works in America with him, but Thomas already kind of knows, and it’s been my go-to for brushing off why I really can’t get interested in his latest girl drama.

I know I’m likely to get some reaction along the lines of, “Well, why are you still friends with him?” to which I respond that I have good reasons for which I obviously don’t need to seek advice.

Sincerely,

Friends don’t tell friends to go chew on broken glass, do they?

Good job asserting yourself with your boss, and I am so sorry about your best friend. That must be so scary for both of you.

This topic came up in a slightly different way recently, but sometimes the answer a friend needs is “You can think and feel whatever way you want about x, and you can also try to have enough sensitivity and care for my situation to keep it to yourself. When something affects my life and my loved ones so harshly, I’m not in a place where I can treat it like Debate Club.The old “comfort in, dump out” or “ring theory” of “not being a poophead to people in pain” comes to mind.

Thomas may remain your friend, but he’s not currently a safe place for you to talk about your best friend’s situation, so I hope you can vent elsewhere. I think you well within rights to say, “You have offended me and that ‘Sorry if...’ text wasn’t really an apology, was it? You have a right to your opinion, of course, but I have no idea what made you think I want to hear about it right now.” See if you get a real apology and go from there. It might be time for Thomas to become a very “Small Doses” friend for a couple of months.

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