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Hi Captain,

I realize my problem isn’t as serious as other letters you’ve answered, but I figured I should try writing anyway since I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it.

I was friends with someone I’ll call “Oakley” from elementary school through high school. It was very rare for my parents to allow me to hang out with friends, so I really only got to spend time with Oakley if I was in one of their classes. The lack of contact outside of school didn’t exactly cultivate a deep friendship, and I didn’t keep in contact with them after graduating even though we only live a few miles apart.

This past weekend, my mother ran into Oakley’s mother at a movie theater, and they talked about getting together for lunch in the near future to catch up. I’m worried this catch-up-lunch is going to end with an obligation for me to hang out with Oakley.

I have nothing against Oakley personally, it’s just that: 1) School wasn’t a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t a great time either, and I imagine it being at least a little painful to have to reconnect with any part of it. 2) While I remember Oakley fondly, they’re essentially a stranger now, so what’s the point? And 3) I have no interest in socializing with *anyone.* (I made more “friends” in college and the following internships/jobs, but I avoided spending time with them outside of those contexts. I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.)

I already asked my mother not to set up any “play dates” between me and Oakley (she was surprised and said it was a good thing I told her). I’m not sure what else to do or what she could say if Oakley’s mother brings it up. Any thoughts or advice?

(Note: I realize Oakley might not be interested in seeing me at all either. I’m just imagining a worst case scenario where Oakley’s mother tries to reconnect us.)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I find myself in a very awkward but relatively low-stakes situation with a classmate. There is a woman in my cohort at college who has this weird habit of rescheduling other students’ social events (not just mine, but mostly mine). For example, someone invites the group by email out to go hiking, and she’ll respond saying let’s all go bowling instead. Once I invited everyone to a dinner party I was hosting at my home, and she tried to change the event to be a restaurant outing at a different time!

I understand that in the course of group planning, sometimes people negotiate things like whether to meet at 8 or 9, or whether to get Mexican or Italian, but her behavior is going way beyond that. And frankly, sometimes I don’t really care if everyone can make it – I just want to go see this awesome concert and it’d be even more awesome if others wanted to join.

There’s obviously a lot of GSF5 going on here. How can I talk to her about this without making it seem like I don’t care about her presence? I do care, and I love spending time with her, but I can’t accommodate her on every social outing. Also/alternatively, what is a polite way to indicate to the group, after she inevitably makes some “helpful” suggestions, that my invitation is not up for negotiation?

Just Send Me Your Regrets
(she/her)

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Hi;

I came across your column when I was looking for guidance as I have nowhere else to turn. I have twin nephews on my husband’s side. His eldest sister was always awkward to me ,and her husband is plain rude, unless he gets a few drinks in him. These two are the nephews’ parents. I have tried and tried over the years to reach out to them, as family is very important.

It is always awkward being in their presence. When one of my nephews was 4, he straight out told me he didn’t like me. That’s OK, he was four. Fast forward to now, the kids are in their early 20s. I reached out over the years to them and my sister in law to get cold and awkward reception. Holiday time is especially uncomfortable at my house when they come over. Last year, one nephew lied and told us their newborn was sick, so they couldn’t make it. They also didn’t bother to thank us for the cards and gifts for the child. I tried reaching out to them on Facebook, and sending them and one of their fiancées a friend request. One by one ,in a matter of minutes, my friend requests were deleted, and their settings were made so that I could not attempt another request. I was deeply hurt.

We were invited to the wedding of one of the nephews, but it was out-of-state, and we were going to be in another state, househunting.my husband sent them a message on Facebook wondering why they did this to me. One of the nephews very coldly said “it’s not something I can discuss on Facebook.” My husband said “you can call me and we’ll discuss it.” One of the nephews willy-nilly said to his mother “it’s just Facebook”.The call never came. Fast forward to last night, I was looking at wedding pictures that mutual friends posted and saw that all three flat out blocked me. I was downright crushed. I really thought family was family. I told my husband I don’t want any of them in my house, and if you wants to see them he can go visit them. I have done nothing wrong to them, but it hurts to be hated so much, that they would oust me like that. And it looks like the twins do everything at the same time-they, along with the now wife, made it impossible for me to friend request, and altogether they blocked me.

At a sister-in-law’s funeral around Thanksgiving last year, the wife went over to hug me and make small talk ,one of the nephews still there smiling while the other nephew sat across the room and ignore me the entire time.my husband shrugged it off and said he’s not losing sleep over it so why should I. Well, he’s not the one that had his feelings hurt. He’s not the one who’s obviously hated and can’t figure out why.he told me no explanation they could give to him would be acceptable, anyway, so just move on. But I am the type of person needs to grieve before I can move on. And I started to heal, and the figurative wound ripped open when I saw that I was blocked last night. I am so embarrassed over this. The nephews blocked me, but not the wife. She just has a shaded so that I couldn’t friend her. I’m wondering if I should just block her. I just felt like venting. Maybe this could help someone,maybe someone has words of wisdom for me.

Thank you,

P.

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Greetings, Captain!

Long-time lurker checking in with a relationship problem. My boyfriend and I (she/her pronouns) have a lot of different interests. Which is fine! Not all my stuff is his cup of coffee! Not all his stuff is my cup of tea! The issue is when he says he wants to do something with me and our apparent inability to find time prevents me from doing the thing.

For example: I wanted to watch The Martian when it came out. He was Super! Excited! to watch it together! It was going to be great! Except somehow every time I suggested it there was something else to do, or he didn’t have time. After a while I brought up the idea that he didn’t have to watch it with me, since it seemed he wasn’t interested…only to hear that of course we would watch it, he really wanted to see it with me, we’d watch it next time we had time! I still haven’t seen The Martian.

I’m also a full time student with a part-time job and limited free time, which means I often do (hobby) inconsistently. This means that it feels odd to push him to go do (hobby) with me if I haven’t been in two weeks, especially if it means he misses an activity he enjoys. However, if I say I’m going, he’ll ask me to wait since he’s almost done, which stretches out into another thing, then another..then he’s ready to go, but I’m annoyed because I’m late, or it’s too late to go at all. He always apologizes, but that’s little help when I lose an hour of dancing because he wanted to finish a game.

Boyfriend is great in pretty much every other regard, and I really don’t mind if he never gets into dance or D&D or Sherlock. I appreciate that he wants to do things that I enjoy with me, but I’d rather he either a) actually DO them, or b) tell me if he’s not into ice or d20s or giant scarves, so I can go do things involving these things on my own time. I suspect that both of us have a bit of a dirty lens going on as well; my last ex found a few of my hobbies intensely boring and vice versa, while his most significant ex insisted on doing everything together.
Is there a gentle way to say “I love that you want to do things with me, but if you aren’t into it, just…don’t bother? Should I just start doing things without him, even if he’s expressed interest? Am I overreacting? Should I just go watch The Martian already?

Sincerely,

liking D&D is not the price of admission

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Dear Not The Price,

I love this question for being so specific, for covering something we haven’t done in detail before, and for being something that is very solvable with boundaries and scripts. Thank you!

I think there is a very direct way that you can break this impasse and make your time & interests less fungible where your boyfriend is concerned. It involves, for starters, adding specific dates and timeframes to your plan-making if you’re not already doing that.

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie!”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?” (Or, “Great, let me check showtimes and I’ll send you a couple options tomorrow.” Or, “Can you look at showtimes at the theater that would work for you?”

Boyfriend: “None of those times really work for me.”

Let’s breakdown the roles:

If you are the suggester/the inviter/the initiator/the person who wants to do The Social Thing, I suggest adding a specific time, date, place to your suggestion as soon as possible/reasonable. We have covered this in some of our threads about dating and asking people out: “Would you like to hang out sometime?” is not enough. “Would you like to see a band with me on Thursday after work?” is a real invitation that a person can say a specific “yes” or “no” to.

If you are the invitee, and you cannot make the suggested day/time/place, but you still want to do The Thing or A Thing, it is now your job to suggest alternate days/dates/times/Things. If you want to actually make plans with someone that actually exist on the actual space-time-continuum, it is not the other person’s job to endlessly suggest things until they find something that happens to suit you. If you want to do the Thing, help a person out! If you can’t do The Thing, “I don’t think I can make it work in my schedule, but I’ll let you know when that changes” is good information to communicate. If you just don’t want to do The Thing, say “Thanks for the invitation, but no.”

Letter Writer, somewhere in becoming an established couple, you and your boyfriend drifted away from scheduling your plans with each other. On the one hand, it’s a very natural and even comforting transition from “We have to meticulously plan everything” to “I take for granted that I will see you often/just come over!)” On the other hand, I think that politeness and consideration are still extremely valuable in close relationships, and your boyfriend is not being fully considerate of your time here, especially when you both have busy schedules and varied interests. Value your own interests and your own time and prioritize the things that you want to do, and then communicate your expectations and wishes to your partner.

Let’s revisit the conversation:

Letter Writer: “I’m so excited to see Exciting Movie.”

Boyfriend: “Yeah! Let’s see it together!”

Letter Writer: “Great. Howabout (Day, Date, Place, Showtime) or (Day, Date, Place, Showtime)?”

Boyfriend: “Neither of those really work for me.”

What if what happened next was this?

Letter Writer: “Ok, can you suggest a time in the next week or two that will work? I really want to see it soon.”

Then if a couple weeks go by without your boyfriend suggesting specific plans to see Exciting Movie (and if you still even want to see it with him) try this:

Letter Writer: “I’m gonna see Exciting Movie this (Day at Time/Place). Last chance to join me!”

If the dude still can’t make the schedule work, that’s okay, you’ll go see it with a friend or by yourself, and you can watch it again or rent it together sometime. But he can’t lay claim to both “I want you to wait so we can experience it together” and “But I will never make a plan for that to happen.” Nopetepus!

Let’s apply it to the other situation: When his indecision making you late for (or miss entirely) a thing you wanted to do.

Letter Writer: “I am going to go dancing with my friends tonight.”

Boyfriend: “Cool, I’ll join you. Just let me finish this game.”

Letter Writer: “Well, I said I’d meet them by 9:00 pm so I’m going to leave in about 30 minutes. If you’re ready by then, definitely come along. If not, maybe next time!”

Then go at the time you said you’d go and dance your ass off with or without him. He can pause his game, or he can decide he’d rather play the game, but he doesn’t get to have it both ways. He especially doesn’t get to have you dancing attendance on him and missing out on the stuff you want to do.

I believe you that he’s a good dude, but here are things to watch out for:

  • Your boyfriend pouts or resists or gets jealous or clingy when you go to stuff by yourself. Extremely annoying in small doses, controlling and scary in medium+ doses. Time for, at minimum, a “Come along or don’t, if you don’t I’m shutting my phone off and you don’t get to text me later ’cause you’re bored” discussion and also time to evaluate whether he’s controlling and needy in other ways.
  • Your boyfriend resists or mocks the idea of scheduling things with you in advance. “Ok, sure…Mom”Come on, let’s be spontaneous, Babe!” Dude, let’s not.
  • You are always the one who has to schedule things without reciprocal effort from him, or, you’re ultra-aware of his calendar but he’s oblivious to yours (like you are his freaking social secretary). Planning the time you’ll spend together is the constructive, healthy kind of relationship “work”, but it is emotional labor and takes thought and effort and equal investment by both partners. Time for “I’d like to see you this weekend, but I don’t want to plan everything or just hang out while you play games. Can you look for something fun for us to do on Saturday?” discussion.

If adding a time & place and asking your boyfriend to do reciprocal planning doesn’t make things better, it might be time for a script like this:

When I invite you to something, I’m learning that ‘maybe’ really means ‘no.’ And ‘later’ also means ‘no.’ (Give one or two recent, specific, examples where his hesitation meant you missing out on what you wanted to do). It’s okay if you don’t really want to come to (x events/hobbies), but I’d like you to be more specific and more clear when you tell me your decision so I’m not planning around you.”

Or “I get really excited when you want to join me for (things I like to do) and it’s a big bummer when you say yes and then it doesn’t actually happen. It makes me wish I’d just gone by myself when there was still time. Is there a way you’d like us to handle making plans that will help avoid this?” You can be clearer about specific time frames, but it’s not on you to do all the work of figuring this out. It’s very reasonable to ask him to do his fair share of work to help solve this between you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dear captain awkward,

> winter break starts soon
> staying in dorm costs too much
> can’t fly home, too far
> PANIC
> v warm v nice family offered home (3 hrs away) to stay for winter
> BUT it was during summer visit
> not sure if offer still stands
> not sure how to ask – awkward
> (have backup plan but entails staying w virtual stranger – awkward)
> help w the email? scripts?
> rules/etiquette of couchsurfing?

thanks a ton,

surfing nothing but a wave of anxiety

Hello Surfing!

Email the people who made you the offer today and ask them if it still stands. “Hi, hope you are well! My winter break starts on (date), and I am writing to see if your offer of a place to stay is still open. Happy holidays, You.” Winter break is coming up soon, so don’t leave it for another second!

As for couch-surfing etiquette, five things come to mind:

  • Make your physical footprint as small as possible, especially during the day. Don’t spread your stuff out all over the place, take a second to tidy up the area where you’re staying each day and make sure that the room is usable for other purposes by the people who live there.
  • A self-amusing houseguest is a good houseguest. If your hosts include you and invite you to things like mealtime and weekly game night, participate and enjoy, but also make plans to take walks, work down at the coffee shop or library, read quietly, go to the movies, etc. by yourself sometimes so you give your hosts some privacy.
  • Pitch in where you can – do the dishes, do laundry, babysit, read to kids, ask for ways to help out. The first couple of days they will say “Nonsense! You’re a guest!” but by the end of the week it will be nice for your hosts to have some of those chores done and not feel like they are waiting on you.
  • Let your hosts know if you are not going to be around for an evening or if you’ll be home late for some reason, so they can plan their lives.
  • Bring a small gift with you and send a thank you note afterwards.

Readers, what am I forgetting?

 

You’re worried about someone or something. You want to help. What happens if you don’t try to fix whatever it is and take care of yourself instead?

Dear Captain Awkward:

My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years and I dread every interaction with his family. He’s the youngest of five. The eldest brother will ignore my existence entirely. If his mom sees me not right by my bf then she comes over to explain how she wishes he would date his ex from high school because of how much skinnier, prettier, ect…she is. I spend every holiday with them now because if bf goes go with my family they explain how controlling and evil I am. So now my family had just been doing holiday stuff a little bit later or earlier so that both bf and I can attend. They keep trying to convince bf I am controlling him. It started when he became vegetarian after meeting me (I don’t care if other people eat meat; I didn’t care if he ate meat). I don’t make a big deal about eating I just take the things I can eat when we eat with them. They however endless “tease” (it can get mean) over it. I don’t want to just not go because I want to see my boyfriend on the holidays and it helps him withstand the abuse if I’m there to shoulder some. I just wish I knew what I could do to help make it better?

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Hi Captain and Army,

I have a problem with my dad’s girlfriend, namely that she tries to guilt-trip me. My dad had a party recently and at the end of it, as I was leaving, she started talking about Thanksgiving. Dad’s girlfriend said she would like to host this year’s Thanksgiving at her place. The guilt-trip was that since I spend every Thanksgiving at my mom’s I could spend the actual day of the holiday once with my dad. She also said that my sister and mother would be welcome to come too. I told her I’d think about it and get back to her.

My parents are divorced and have been separated for over a decade. My mom has custody of both me and my sister and we see our dad on our terms. We both live with her. My sister is estranged from our father and my parents had an awful divorce and make it a point to never be in the same room as each other. I have tried to see my dad on holidays, usually at a day not of the specific holiday, like a day before or after. My dad has a habit of making himself seem like a victim. I like spending the holidays with my mom, because it is more fun and way less full of awkward things and nobody has any bad history shoved under various rugs.

The problem is that I am sick of her guilt-tripping us. Apparently it is a part of traditional Chinese parenting and she is super traditional about everything including family and respecting parents. Both of them want to have picture perfect holidays at all times even if everybody hates each other. I wouldn’t mind seeing them on a day before or after, but when I hear the gross inaccuracies that she obviously got from my dad I don’t want to go at all. I also don’t want to have to smack down either one further guilt-tripping me for not going. If I don’t go, then I stay at my mom’s but if I go then I have to listen to dad’s girlfriend and dad being happy at ‘family’ while seething. I can’t see other family because they live back east and I refuse to be anything more than politely civil to my dad’s brother.

Is there any way I can call her out on her guilt-tripping that will make it stick? She’s tried to do this before. I don’t think my dad will back me up because he used to do it to me too. Should I tell her I can come for Christmas but not Thanksgiving?

Signed,
Another year of holiday problems

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