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how to say no

Hey Team Awkward,

This is a quick one. 

I’m newly sober and I’ve been attending AA for the last two months. One of my main meetings is a women’s meeting, which is rad, but I’ve tried to open it up a little bit–there’s a co-ed secular meeting and a co-ed meeting that does a physical outdoors excursion monthly. I’m getting a lot from all of them, and want to keep going!

That said, in less than three months, I’ve now had two different instances of what I’m pretty sure is thirteenth stepping (or a lead up to it). I’ve been dodging it, but I’d love some scripts for side-stepping being asked out, etc., without being alienating. I don’t think I’m being paranoid; I’ve been around the block enough time to discern the difference between A Dude Leaning In Too Much and a dude just being friendly. I don’t want to stop going to co-ed meetings, especially the activity ones. And I don’t want it to feel awkward.

So can you give me some scripts for turning down invites to go dancing, etc., or invitations of support that aren’t super alienating but make it a clear boundary? I’m good at “fuck you,” but not really good at enforcing this kind of boundary in a polite, peace-keeping way. 

Thanks in advance,
Awkward Alcoholic 

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Hi Captain –

I have a question about keeping yourself sane while trying to get out of a bad situation.

I’m trying to leave my job. Everyone I work with is too. I’m at a very small startup, and the main person in charge is both incredibly demanding and extremely volatile, which makes it virtually impossible to succeed. For a variety of reasons,* I can’t just quit, but I am actively looking and trying as hard as I can to get out.

The problem is that, for me at least, job searching is stressful too, and I’m much better at it when I’m in a good place mentally. Unfortunately, our head honcho makes this really difficult. It’s not just a matter of ignoring or deflecting manipulative or unkind comments; it’s that they’re in touch constantly, with all of us, making it hard to even get the time or space for reflection. They don’t have a lot of family and have devoted the last few years to making the company work, which means that they constantly want engagement and validation (even if they’re berating us), and they won’t stop trying to engage until we cave and give them the answer they’re looking for.

For example: they’ll ask, on a weekend, if a previously-undiscussed deliverable can be done by Monday. If I say it can’t, they’ll ask why we’re not working on the weekend when everyone else is working “like mad.” They’ll then keep messaging me asking what it is that they haven’t explained properly about the opportunities before me, and what they can do differently so that I understand it, and then ask if I’m receiving the messages. If I don’t answer, I’ll receive a talk on Monday asking what it is that can be done to make sure a situation like that, in which we’re unreachable, doesn’t happen in the future. (This is often followed by “I’m tired of arguing with you and want to make this work, but I don’t know what else I can do.”)

So my options boil down to either a) completely acquiesce to all requests, regardless of their merit or any other factors, or b) have a pointless, hour-long conversation that consists mostly of being reprimanded. I should also note that they also want to hang out socially with all of us a lot, and pout if we won’t, which, as you can imagine, also affects the workplace dynamic.

I will be much, much better off if I can stay in this position until I find another one or am in a better financial position to leave. In the meantime, though, I’m so stressed and busy that it’s hard for me to do anything, including look for other jobs. Do you have suggestions for scripts I can use on *myself* here in order to keep myself going? My therapist says just to remind myself constantly that I won’t be here forever and that I am leaving as soon as I can, but the more frustrated I am, the less likely that seems. And I feel like this is a situation that a lot of people get into – cutting toxic people out of your life is necessary, but it’s so complicated.

Sincerely,

Working on Freedom (she/her)

*You can include these reasons if you want, but I left them out for brevity. I’m including them here to indicate that I really have thought about leaving, and really have decided that the best option for the moment is to stay until I get another job. Those reasons are:

– I have < 1 month of rent in my savings account, and am reluctant to borrow from my parents
– My job history has quite a few short stints, mostly due to coincidence and/or bad luck (yearlong grant programs, getting laid off, leaving a part-time job in order to take this one, and, yes, one where I was a bad fit)
– I’m in a weird specialized field where the work I’m doing is actually hugely beneficial to my ability to get a job in the future

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Hi Captain!

Longtime reader, very rare commenter but I think you generally give excellent advice so I’m giving it a shot. I’ll try to keep this relatively brief – I’m having an existential problem surrounding life milestones, etc. I’m 25 and have generally been pretty successful in my life – I’ve been academically successful, I have a law degree and a good job, and I have a really good group of friends, most of whom have been in my life for many years.

What I haven’t had is a whole lot of romantic relationships. This is generally fine with me. I really value my personal space and don’t generally crave the kind of constant companionship that comes with serious relationships. I’ve dumped people for “liking me too much” (ie, coming on too strong, wanting a kind of closeness I wasn’t comfortable with, etc). I’ve had one relationship that I would classify as “semi-serious” with a much older man that I met several years ago (we are still close and sometimes physically involved but not currently “in a relationship”). This relationship used to cause me a lot of emotional pain but I’m at peace with it now and don’t consider it a source of stress in my life. Additionally, I am kind of wary of men (I haven’t been raped or abused, fortunately, but have had the same experiences as a lot of women – sexual harassment, etc, lots of friends who are survivors) and am generally not one to give men “benefit of the doubt” when I’m uninterested or uncomfortable.

The problem is, certain family members seem to consistently insinuate that I need to “fix” my dating life. I’ve made the mistake of mentioning that I eventually might be interested in marriage/kids, which has apparently given these family members permission to ask about why I’m not dating, give unsolicited advice about my dating life or lack thereof, and critique the way I interact with men. These family members did not approve of my previous relationship (and I understand why, although it’s truly none of their business) and seem to be motivated by a desire to see me “move on” from it. I always feel like they’re trying to tell me there’s something wrong with me for not being all that interested in dating; I’m also a pretty private person and don’t tend to talk about people I casually date/am interested in.

I’m at an age where a lot of my friends are in serious relationships and some are married, and the pressure is starting to get to me. Eventually, a relationship would be nice. I love kids and would like to have some of my own someday. But I need to do it on my own timeline, when I’m comfortable, when I figure out what I want and what I need. I’m not even 100% sure that I’m not bisexual. Scripts like “I don’t want to talk about my dating life/relationships” have only been interpreted as an invitation to “push” harder from these family members, and this lack of respect for my boundaries seems to be fraying my familial relationships that are really important to me. I want to be close with my family but I’m also an adult and need people to mind their own business, and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?

Best,

Single and Stressed (she/her)

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Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

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

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

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

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

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

Frustrated student
(female pronouns)

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Update from LW below!

Dear Captain,

I love your site and have read 99% of your archive. I love the honesty and practicality of your responses and find a lot of helpful truth in them. This one, though, is stymieing me.

I have built a career that has been very successful and train people in complex aspects of my profession.

Since there are multiple cycles of the sessions required for industry certification, I get a lot of the same participants over and over, and one such is the worst energy vampire I’ve met in my entire life. I’m running out of ways to deal with her short of telling my boss to cut her out completely, thus hurting her career pretty permanently. I work hard to be patient, professional, and kind to everyone, but this woman, Emma, is beyond my capabilities.

Emma lives alone, and her husband either died under tragic and improbable circumstances or left her under equally tragic and improbable circumstances or there never was a husband at all; she was apparently adopted by a cruel aunt as a child, but that story has shifted as well and sounds suspiciously like Harriet Potter or at least A Little Princess. Each session now drags on as she rambles, and regardless of what we are discussing (usually content-specific and related to our set purpose) she finds an entry point to share irrelevant anecdotes incoherently and at length. With no exception, the other participants in each session despise this woman, and come to me privately to “deal with her.” She has been questioned on inconsistencies in her narrative by members of the group only to rail at how unfair everyone is to her and WHY WILL NO ONE BELIEVE THAT MY LIFE IS HARDER THAN YOURS. She never submits her assignments, and thus takes the sessions again and again and again (paying full price each time, so my boss just shrugs and takes her money) but the behavior never changes and it’s The Emma Show.

She has my office number due to its placement on my syllabi, but not my cell, although she asks me for it every single meeting so we “can socialize” because “you’re my sister from another mother!” She desperately wants to be friends on social media, and I have firmly told her I don’t do that with work acquaintances. She wants us to get matching tattoos. I have said no with increasing hostility to each of these overtures and repeatedly said, “Emma, I understand that you would like us to be friends, but I have to maintain professional boundaries and I know you’ll understand that I can’t breach those roles,” to which she will inevitably sigh, giggle, and pet my arm while saying, “Soon! I’ll graduate from the cycle and we can HANG OUT!”

Okay. I know that this woman is desperately lonely and probably struggles with the truth (even to herself), and I SHOULD be sympathetic. I have asked my boss to schedule her with another instructor, but my boss doesn’t want Emma in her own sessions again so I’m it. It’s to the point now that I don’t honestly know what to do short of open warfare.

Practical suggestions? A script? If I remove her from my roster it will have immediate and negative repercussions on her full-time employment and I don’t know if I can ethically do that to someone who, let’s face it, I just dislike. I strive to be a good person but my God she is testing this each time.

I hate how she eats French fries. (EVERY SESSION. LOUDLY. WITH MAYONNAISE WHO DOES THAT.)

I hate how she pronounces “nuc-u-ler.”

I hate how she monopolizes everyone’s time, in small groups, or pairs, or whole-group activities, no matter what I do, say, relocate, or attempt. (And yes, I know how to deal with teenagers with oppositional behaviors, just not forty-year-olds who insist they are grownups.) I move her seat; she cries and moves back. I tell her I can’t pass her due to lack of work; she blames her seat mate. I tell her not to talk tonight because other people need to share and work through their (work-related) issues; she interrupts and says her problems are more important. I feel impotent because my boss will NOT back me up.

(And I hate, hate, hate going to the bathroom after her, but that’s another story for never.)

Thank you! Just writing this helped a bit. VENTING.

~Emma, I Can’t Be Your Friend
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