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Dear Captain,

A few months ago, I met a cute new person and we clicked pretty well from the start. We both had another primary partner at the time and we often talked about those relationships as well as (of course) many other things. After a while, he and his primary broke up, and he was pretty devastated by it. I didn’t mind that he was a bit more “down” when we spent time together, and it seemed only natural to me that he talked about his break-up feelings sometimes. I still don’t mind those things.

Now here comes the difficult part: I feel like this relationship is getting more and more asymmetrical. I’m busy with a demanding job and an active social life (and I like it that way), and he has a lot of time on his hands. He has made it clear that he’d prefer to spend much more time together than we currently do (including weekend trips and the like), while from my perspective we’re close to “too much”. He is way ahead of me with things like “I love you” (WAY too early for me!). I feel like I have to be “on” at all times when we’re together, because he always seems worried that I’m not being enthusiastic enough and something must be wrong and don’t you like me anymore?

He’s had a bunch of personal issues come up lately, and he’s generally pretty unhappy right now. I find it really hard to find a balance between being kind to a person I like, and setting some “don’t make me responsible for your happiness!”-boundaries. I understand anxiety and sadness and insecurity, because I deal with plenty of that in my own life, but it feels like he’s subconsciously weaponizing these things to demand my time and attention. He often says things like:

  • “you’re the only good thing in my life right now”
  • “I feel like everyone is rejecting/leaving me lately”
  • “I’m not doing so well,
    , can I come by tonight? I need comfort”
  • “I’m dealing with so much shit that I can’t carry it on my own”
  • “You give me so much strength when we spend time together”

I really like this guy! We have a lot in common and we’ve had fun times together. I would love to see him once or twice a month for many moons to come, and for us to grow closer over time, but right now I feel like I’m under siege and I have to focus on setting boundaries and finding new ways to say “no” all the time and it’s starting to suck the joy out of what (I hope) could be a genuinely fun and rewarding relationship – through good times and bad.

Can I salvage this? How can I communicate with him in a way that does NOT say “I can’t handle people who have negative emotions ever”, but rather “it feels like you’re using your emotions against me and that’s not cool”?

Thank you!

You’re absolutely right to see a litany of “you’re the only good thing in my life” and “everyone else is rejecting me (so you won’t, won’t you?)” statements as being red flags of codependence. I’m not sure the end result of my advice is “fun new relationship is salvaged!” but I think you do have a good opening here to have an honest talk with him about getting help in handling hard life stuff and the reciprocity & seriousness of your relationship.

There are two separate conversations to be had here. I’m not sure in which order, so, use your judgment.

Conversation #1:

[Partner], I can see that you’re really suffering right now as you [grieve the loss of primary relationship][handle this recent raft of difficult life stuff]. I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all and I think it’s time to find some more support for this stuff. Maybe a trained sounding board – like a therapist or counselor – can help you process all of this.

There is a 99.99% chance he will feel insulted and hurt that you are fobbing him off on other people instead of investing deeply in his emotional well-being yourself. Get ready for some intenso responses involving “You are tired of me and you are going to reject me like everyone else” + 1,000 reasons that therapy/counseling is impossible/useless/too hard for him. This is because:

  • He is primed to feel rejected right now. Everything that isn’t “I love you come over right now and let me comfort you my dear boy” = rejection.
  • You are sending him to other people instead of wanting to deal with it yourself. (That’s okay! Just, acknowledge the truth of that so you don’t fall for the negging when it comes).
  • Mental health system is imperfect and it does take a lot of resources and energy to find a good fit and treatment that can work for you. It’s a hard thing to do when you’re feeling great, never mind when you’re feeling terrible. It’s okay to acknowledge the imperfections in the mental health system and also remind yourself that those difficulties don’t automatically make his emotional well-being your sole problem to deal with on demand in real time.

Follow-up script:

I know this sucks and that’s not what you wanted to hear. You’re right, I am telling you that you need to find other people besides me to lean on, and you’re right, the mental health system can be really difficult/annoying/expensive. But I am not comfortable or prepared to continue being your main sounding board about this stuff. I think your problems are real and serious and that taking them seriously might involve bringing in a trained listening person for a little while. Think of it as giving yourself the gift of a safe space to unload and process all of this that’s 100% focused on you, a little time in your week where you have permission to feel as sad and lost as you need to feel and get all the feelings out so you can start to heal and deal with them.

Get ready for a question like “So I guess I’m not allowed to talk about serious stuff or feelings with you anymore?” (It’s 99.99% coming)

Your script: “That’s not what I’m saying, but I am saying that I don’t want the time we spend together to be all about [Serious Feelings Stuff and Comfort]. I am asking you to find and take advantage of some alternate avenues for support and comfort, so things with us can be a little more balanced than they have been.

Chances are he will not like it. He likes his comfort to come with a side of romance/sexytimes and whyyyyy should he make an effort to find a therapist when he has youuuu? But you’re doing a kind thing by being honest about your limits and directing him toward something that actually has a chance of making him feel better.

Conversation #2 

Sometimes the answer to “I had a terrible day, can I come over and be comforted” is simply “Sorry, not tonight.” And then you put your phone away and focus on what you originally planned to do and he finds a way to self-soothe somehow. If he deals with that well, then maybe it can get better.

That doesn’t mean there is no big conversation to be had. He wants to say “I love you” and plan weekends away and remind you that you’re the only great thing in his life and it’s making you feel crowded and overwhelmed. Time to talk about that. Maybe time to also talk honestly about the way you do polyamory, like the fact that you have someone in your life that you consider to be a primary partner and that there is a hierarchy there maybe not of feelings but in terms of how you allocate time/vacation days/long-term relationship planning, etc. It seems like your relationship really worked when he had that in place too but now things have become unbalanced. This conversation might mean that y’all create something new together over time or it might mean that he and you find out that are unsuited to each other.

The thing where he wants you to be “on” and show that you are sufficiently enthusiastic seems to be the best entry point for this conversation, as in, the next time he makes you you feel that way it’s time to talk about what’s up: “Listen, I like you a lot, and I like you enough that I can make space for you to be sad and grieving right now but that also means that you make space for me being tired or having an off night or for not exactly mirroring your enthusiasm back to you. For example, we’ve only known each other a short time and I’m not ready for ‘I love you’ yet. I would love to get there someday but I need more time. When you say ‘I’m the only good thing in your life’ I know you mean it as a compliment but it feels like pressure. Also time we spend together is already about the maximum time I have to spend with you in a given week. Like of course it would be nice to spend ‘more time’ together, but I can’t do that without breaking other commitments that are pleasurable and important to me. I need you to understand that and focus on enjoying the time we do spend together.

Then, say the thing that’s the elephant in the room: “I feel like you want me to take the place of [Former Primary Partner] in your life, and that’s an okay thing for you to want on an emotional level, I get it, but it’s too much/not the right fit for me/not what I signed up for/making things unbalanced between us. I care about you a lot and I want to find a way to keep this going, so, how do we build something that is enjoyable and true and emotionally supportive without me feeling so pressured and you feeling so rejected?

He’s not going to like hearing this because it’s going to feed into the story he is telling himself about how everyone rejects him. Also there maybe is no balance between “Ideally we’d hang out once or twice a month, forever” and “LOVE ME!!!!!” But if you can’t talk honestly about this stuff and you keep feeling suffocated and overwhelmed, the thing is not going to work. “I’m at the limit of what I have to give you in terms of time and affection” isn’t what any romantic partner really wants to hear, but it’s important information if it’s the truth. The truth can hurt but it can also help us make good decisions about how to take care of ourselves. He may decide that what you have to offer is not enough for him. You may decide that what he wants is just not compatible with what you want and need. That would be painful, but I have to think that it’s better than letting him continue to build this fortress of need around you while you’re looking for the escape hatch.

Reminder for commenters: Spell out the whole word “polyamory” please.

Video description: The Bangles cover Big Star’s September Gurls in Pittsburgh in 1986.

It’s time for the monthly thing where we answer the things people typed into search engines as if they are actual questions. This feature is generously funded by Patreon supporters.

1 “How to stop a neighbour and hubby putting me down every time I walk past
.”

Ugh, your husband is being a giant asshole, and it’s time to tell him straight up to knock this behavior off. “Stop doing that. It’s rude, disrespectful, and it hurts my feelings.” If he won’t, you’ve got Husband-problems more than you have Neighbor-problems.

2 “What does it mean when a girl says focusing on school right now after you say your feelings
.” 

It means she did not enthusiastically say “Yes, I feel the same way, let’s definitely date each other!” It means she’d rather focus on school than go out with you. Interpret it as “No.”

3 “Anonymous STD notification letter.”

National treasure website Scarleteen recommends InSpot  for sending an anonymous e-card and has a good how-to guide on doing this kind of notification. Australia has a service called Better To Know that lets you notify partners of possible Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) anonymously via text or email. In both cases, you enter info, the person gets a message that lets them know that they may have been exposed to an STI (+ there’s a way for you to enter which ones) and should get tested. There’s a good roundup of similar services in this article.

If you’re feeling blue and alone in this, the Netflix show formerly known as “Scrotal Recall” (now renamed Lovesick) is a romantic comedy about a man who must notify past sexual partners about possible chlamydia exposure.

If you don’t want to go anonymous, a simple text or phone call that says “Hey [Sex Friend] I recently tested positive for ________. You should get checked out, too” is a very kind and ethical thing to send. The more we all remove stigma and shame around STIs, the better job everyone can do taking care of ourselves and each other.

4 “My boyfriend mom prophesied that we are not meant to be together.”

Translation: Your boyfriend’s mom does not want you to be together.

What do you and your boyfriend want?

5 “When some knocks on door and says the Lord compelled them to stop and talk to you.”

Translation: The someone wanted to stop and talk to you.

What do you want?

6 “How to decline a neighbor asking us over

.”

“How nice of you to think of us, but no thank you.”

7 “What to do when your friend sets you up on a blind date and the guy’s interested in her.”

Acknowledge the awkwardness, have a good laugh together, tell the guy “good luck, dude, tell her how you feel and maybe we can avoid this sitcom nonsense next time” and go home with your dignity. You didn’t do anything weird.

8 “Should you invite girls of interest to your party

.”

Throwing a party is a great reason to invite someone that you might be interested in romantically over. That person can meet your friends, see your place, everyone can see how everyone gets on together, you can get to know each other better without having it be a DATE date, etc. Why not?

Now, girl(s) plural is an advanced move, but again, why not?

9 “What do you do when your daughter owes you money and is not paying you back but takes vacations and spends a lot
.”

Ugh, this is a hard one. Here are some steps for dealing with friends and family members who are not good/prompt/conscientious about paying back loans,

a) Assume that you won’t ever be repaid. Take whatever steps you need to shore up your own financial well-being so that you’re not depending on that money. If you do manage to collect it it will be a happy thing.

b) Ask the person to repay you what they owe. If you bring up fancy vacations or their other spending they will get automatically defensive, so skip that part in your request (even if it is relevant to the issue). Why skip it? You don’t need the story about how she bought the tickets long ago or how they were really a gift from a friend and you don’t want to give her a reason to feel judged and aggrieved (even if judgment is warranted). The vacation money is spent. It’s not coming back. She knows that you know that she knows that she owes you money. Just be simple and direct and ask for what you need:

Script: “Daughter, you still owe me $______. When can we expect repayment?” or “Daughter, you still owe me $_______. Can you repay me by (date)?” Brace yourself for the wave of defensiveness and excuses that is coming. Do not, I repeat, do not get into the details of her spending or her excuses or reasons. Just repeat the question. “Okay, so, when can you get the money to me?

c) Don’t lend this person any more money. You may or may not ever get the money back, but you can definitely control whether you lend them more. You now have a lot of information about how they’ll behave when you lend them money and you both have a hard, awkward lesson. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior here, and “I’m sorry, Daughter, I don’t feel comfortable lending you money since you didn’t pay me back” is a situation your daughter created, not you.

I hope you get a good result. Also, general thought, if you are going to lend money to friends or family, it’s a good idea to put something in writing: How much, what it’s for, when & how will it be paid back. Your script can be “Let’s just write it down so we all know what the agreement is and I never have to bug you about paying me back.

10 “Etiquette of peeing when surfing.”

We are people of action and lies do not become us: In the unlikely comedy of errors that lands me on an actual surfboard in an actual body of water, there is no way on earth my enthusiastic and prolific middle-aged bladder is gonna be able to wait until I swim to shore, find a land-based bathroom, and peel off my wetsuit in time to pee decorously in a toilet. This seems like a “it’s a big ocean” and “that’s between you and your wetsuit” issue to me, but maybe an actual surfer has insight?

11 “How to make girlfriend move out to Colorado.”

You do not make. You ask, and then she either moves or she doesn’t.

12 “I have to leave the Midwest or I will die but my husband thinks it’s all in my head.”

Ok, this seems like a REALLY specific situation and we are DEFINITELY missing context here but what if I said “Even if it were in your head, is your need to go so great and so urgent and so necessary that it’s worth going alone, even if that’s a difficult & sad decision?”

13 “Dating female academic awful
.”

It certainly can be, since the prospect of relocation is always hanging over the whole deal.

14 “He said he wants to do his own thing and maybe see other people.”


Translation: “I am planning to see other people and have less energy/focus/time/interest for a relationship with you.”

It’s a prelude to a breakup, possibly one where “he” either wants you to be the bad guy and actually do the breaking up or where he’d like you to stick around in his life but in background/low-priority mode.

15 “My 23 year old son looks so unattractive, but he won’t shave or cut his hair
.”

[Bad Advisor] Well, it’s definitely 100% his job to make sure his face and body look attractive and acceptable to you, his parent, at all times so definitely be sure to bring this up as often as possible! Your concern, constantly expressed, will only bring you closer together as a fellow adult human strives to please you in all things, including and especially the hair that is growing on his personal face and body where he lives and you do not.

Also, to be on the safe side, hide all of your copies of the musical about this very question, lest he get ideas about fur vests, naked dancing or protesting the Vietnam War.

It is not only your business but your duty to set this young man straight. [/Bad Advisor]

16 “What does it mean if you ask for a guy’s phone number and his response is he is antisocial
.”

He did not want to give you his phone number, or, if he does/did, he is warning you that he doesn’t want to actually hang out. Try again, another dude, another day.

17 “Fucking past due invoices.”

Fucking the worst.

18 “Girlfriend of 11 years is leaving me
.”

Wallow. Fuck Around. Do The Thing.

Repeat the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear to yourself.

(Or not, as it suits you).

19 “Angry that my husband allows his parents to come whenever they want
.”

This would make me angry, too. His family may have a drop-in culture or agreement and expectations, but you do not, and therefore the family that you and your husband make together does not. There are several conversations/actions that need to happen if they haven’t already (and maybe they have and need to happen again):

a) “Husband, I want your folks to feel and be welcome in our house, but to make that happen I need some advance notice. Please ask them to call first and ask if we’re free, and please check with me before you say yes.” 

b) “In-Laws, I really want you to be and feel welcome in our house, but I need more advance notice than you’re accustomed to providing. Just dropping by, even when I’m happy to see you, really stresses me out. I know this is different from how you do things in your family, but I need you to call first and ask if I’m free or if now is a good time. Thanks!” 

c) “Husband, I know I’m somewhat ‘changing the rules’ on your family, but I really need some consideration here. Back me up.” 

d) When they just drop by anyway and your husband isn’t home try: “Oh, too bad this isn’t a good time, I’m just stepping out” + LEAVE (go to the library or run errands or something, just take a drive around the block on principle). Btw if they have keys and are in the habit of just letting themselves in, put the chain on when you’re home alone. Teach them that you won’t drop everything because they came over.

e) When they just drop by anyway and your husband is home, “Oh, too bad, this isn’t a good time, I was just about to take a nap” + HIDE (in your bedroom with the door shut  – keep books handy – and let him do whatever work of entertaining them). Risk seeming unwelcoming and unfriendly. You ARE unwelcoming…to people who invite themselves over.

This didn’t start overnight and won’t go away overnight but in my opinion it’s a battle worth picking.

20 “How to agree a girl for fucking if she dislikes doing it.”

Find someone else to fuck. Someone who likes doing it. Someone who enthusiastically likes doing it with you.

What the fuck, people.

21 “Got an apology from my ex after 15 years
.”

That had to feel weird.

Whether this was welcome or unwelcome contact, there’s one important thing you should know:

It doesn’t obligate you to do anything or feel anything or re-open any kind of contact with this person. If you want to talk to them, ok? You could say “Thanks for the apology, I forgive you and wish you well” if that is true of how you feel.

But if you’d rather let the past stay in the past, you can 100% delete the weird Facebook message or whatever and go on with your life.

22 “Did the date go good or bad?”

This is a great question. You can’t control whether another person will like you, so after a date ask yourself:

  • Did I enjoy myself?
  • Was I relaxed and comfortable with this person?
  • Could I be myself around this person?
  • Did the conversation flow?
  • Did I feel like the other person was on my team, helping the date go smoothly and laughing gently at any awkward moments? Or did the awkward silences turn into awkward chasms on the edge of the awkward abyss?
  • Did the other person seem at ease and comfortable with me?
  • Was the actual time we spent together fun/enjoyable/comfortable/pleasurable?
  • Was it as good as spending time alone doing something enjoyable or with a good friend or do I wish I’d just spent the evening at home?
  • Was I bored? Checked out? Apprehensive?
  • Was it easy to make plans?
  • Do I feel like the person was listening/paying attention/engaged?
  • (If kissing is a thing you’re interested in) Can I picture myself kissing them?
  • Am I looking forward to hanging out again?
  • Were there any red flags?*

If the date went well for you, where you enjoyed yourself and felt good, ask the person for another date. The rest is up to the other person.

If you can get in the habit of checking in with yourself about your own comfort and enjoyment levels during and after dates, even a “meh” date can be useful because you’ll know more about yourself and what you’re looking for.

*Bonus list of some of my personal First Date red flags from back in the day when I bravely put on clean shirts and lip gloss and met strangers from the Internet for drinks:

  • Was the person I was meeting generally congruent with the person presented on the dating site and during any prior conversations? If you’re “single” on the dating site and suddenly “planning to get divorced btw we still live together and no one at work knows we’re separated so I’d appreciate your discretion” when we meet, if you’re 28 in all your dating site photos and 58 in person…it was not going to work.
  • Did the person monologue the whole time?
  • Did I feel like I was monologuing the whole time at someone who just shyly stared at me and nodded? (The Silent Type is a great type and it may be your type but experience tells me it was not mine).
  • Did I feel like I was an unpaid nonconsensual therapist while someone shared everything about their life?
  • Did the person constantly talk about their ex & exes?
  • Was literally everything they said a complaint about someone or something?
  • Were these complaints at least funny and entertaining?
  • In these complaints was nothing ever their responsibility? Was it just a long list of Ways I Have Been Wronged By Others with a subtext of Surely You Have A Duty To Not Disappoint Me Like Everyone Else Has (Now That You Know My Tale of Woe)?
  • Ugh, mansplaining, especially politics or philosophy, how movies get made, the “authenticity” of whatever food we were eating, the makeup & history of the neighborhood where I lived and they did not (for example when I failed to pick the “most authentic” taco place in Pilsen or Little Village), telling me why everything I liked was actually overrated.
  • Talking during movies. No.
  • Taking me to some sort of performance and then critiquing how much it sucks into my ear in real time. No.
  • Overfamiliarity, over-investment. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my son, he’s going to love you!” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing innuendo & sex talk too soon, like, “I just got a new bed, it’s very comfortable, you’ll have to come test it out with me later heh heh.” Ok but u just met me I am still wearing my coat slow down friend.
  • Overdoing it with the touching. If dinner and a movie remind me of how my cat likes to constantly crawl all over me and make annoying biscuits everywhere it’s too much touching!
  • Negging of all sorts, especially “I don’t usually date ________, but you seem really cool.” (Bonus Nope!!!!! if the blank includes fat people, feminists, “women who seem really smart”)
  • Constant contact, expecting constant texts/calls/emails before we’ve even met in person, all up in my social media biz, “liking” every single photo/comment going back through the archives. It feels good to be seen and not so good to be surveilled.
  • Neediness  – We literally just met, so, surely there is someone else in your life who can drive you home from dental surgery or hold your hand while you put your dog to sleep or fly home with you to your father’s funeral or weigh in with you about whether you should accept this job offer? (All true stories of actual things actual men wanted me to do after a few emails and one hour-long bar or coffee date). I will move mountains to take care of people I love, when, you know, I have had a chance to figure out if love them.
  • Casual, “ironic” sexist or racist comments, dropping code sentences like “I hate all the political correctness these days, I feel like I can’t say anything.
  • Bringing your feature screenplay to the date for me to read.

Your Mileage May Vary, as the great saying goes. My list doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I may have had stuff on there that is not necessarily a problem in itself or not a problem for you, or where there are exceptions to be made (I did drive the guy home from dental surgery as a human favor for a fellow human being, I just didn’t date him more) or that are just differences in styles and interest levels. It’s not meant to be universal and it’s about compatibility with you vs. any one thing being Good or Bad.

I’m including the list because I developed it over time by paying attention to what made me feel good, comfortable, safe, relaxed, happy, excited and what made me feel the opposite.I stopped asking people “Is this normal/cool/okay thing when you date?” and started asking “Am I good with this?” and “Am I delighted by this?” Those experiences (and the decision to be picky about second and third dates) helped me avoid some entanglements that would have been fleeting at best and draining at worst, and it helped me know “Just Right” when I saw it.

We focus so much on the auditioning aspect of dating – Am I good enough? Does the other person like me back? – that our own comfort and needs and pleasure can get lost right when we need them most. It was a good date if you enjoyed yourself and felt good and did your best to be kind and considerate. It was a bad date if you didn’t enjoy yourself. Whether a good date will lead to another one is up to more than just you.

 

Dearest Captain,

I’ve been dating a person for almost 3 months, and he is terrific and lovely. Sexy stuff is also ding ding ding jackpot!!!. I’m at the point where I would like to have a low-stress check-in about how we’re both feeling regarding exclusivity and commitment. I know we’re both currently not seeing anyone else. My general impression is that he’s interested in a relationship, but ‘impressions’ are not hard evidence and I just want to address it explicitly without my inner FEELINGS-VORTEX getting in the way.

I’m really struggling to find the right words to initiate this conversation, because everything that pops into my head has strong overtones of “PLEASE LOVE ME FOREVER” and “I’m putting all my hopes and dreams on you despite only having known you for 10 weeks or so”… and those are NOT the kinds of conversations I want to have. They’re definitely not representative of how I actually feel – it’s just that my anxious-attachment mechanism kicks into overdrive at the very thought of addressing it and everything starts to feel like much higher stakes than it really is.

I did some googling on “How to have a DTR conversation” or similar, and Captain, there is a universe of terrible advice out there. Of course, much of it is geared towards straight women, and either implies or outright says things like “Don’t be too pushy. Men don’t like to be rushed. Let him do the chasing.” DON’T STARTLE THE WILD MALE HUMAN. There’s a heck of a lot of cultural messaging to the effect that [in a heterosexual relationship] it is a woman’s role to push for commitment and that men dread this conversation, which makes me both extra nervous about it and also kind of resentful. I would like to be able to leave those feelings at the door when I bring it up, but I’m so lost for the right words to use that I just end up getting even more anxious, and then I don’t bring it up at all because I want to be coming from a place of curiosity and confidence, not from a place of fear.

I’m sure about this guy. He’s kind and responsible and we laugh together a lot and we are hella attracted to each other. I’ve felt a whole bunch of YES about him since we first met, and know that I know him a little better I feel totally sure that I want a committed relationship with him. It’s frustrating and embarrassing for me that I feel so lost as to how to bring this up. I know there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but do you have any good scripts for having this kind of conversation? I think you’d be doing the world a great service by putting out a few (non-gendered) ways to check in with someone you’re dating about your hopes and feelings about the relationship.

Many thanks for all you do,

Looking For Words
(she/her/hers)

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Hi Captain!

Many years ago, I was in love with a woman friend of mine, let’s call her P, and when I used my words, she told me that she didn’t feel the same way and was already in love with someone else (a mutual friend of ours, A). I was heart-broken and after about a year of being sad I resolved to move on and rebuild my life. I moved to a different country, went back to school to get an advanced degree and started a new job a year ago in my field. Although I wish I could have found someone else, I was mostly busy with my career and having been hurt + some personal issues about being a short guy (I was never bothered too much about my height before, but having been heart-broken seemed to have brought out my insecurities), I did not really pursue any relationships.

Now, as arranged marriages are customary in my culture, my parents want me to get married soon. At my age this is already considered very late in my culture and my parents tell me my prospects are thin and I should quickly settle for someone. While I like to think I don’t *have* to get married soon, or at all, I also feel very strongly that that’s not really an option for me. There’s enormous pressure in my society to settle down, I feel obligated to my parents and sometimes feel an arranged marriage is my best chance since dating is scary. Surely, my parents got married this way, as do lots of people in my culture, even some of my best friends, and are, by all appearances, on average, pretty happy.

Given this, how do I make the best of my situation, how do I learn to love someone who I barely know and who I may not be attracted to? When I talk to my friends, they always seem to have been into their prospective partners and vice-versa from the get go, they appear to not have had any major misgivings or spent any time thinking in terms like mine and in fact appear to have been excited and thrilled about starting a new life which is again, apparently, how their prospective partners also felt. When I listen to them, I think I want to feel that way too, feel genuinely thrilled and excited to find someone and get on with life and they advise me that “things just work out”. But I always end up concluding that either my outlook on life is different from theirs or that their personal situation isn’t like mine and so what worked for them may not work for me.

I also recently discovered that A and P had broken up and that A is now married to someone else(an arranged marriage no less!). I fantasize about getting back in touch with P and trying my luck again despite zero contact and no signs that P is even interested. I know that is just a fantasy but with the difficult choice of an arranged marriage, I keep thinking why not give it a shot.

I would greatly appreciate any advice on whether it’s even advisable to think about talking to P and if not, if you have any advice on how to go about being okay with an arranged marriage and learning to appreciate and love this other person who also may or may not be into me, given that putting off / not getting married isn’t an option.

Thanks,
Feeling Desperate

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hi captain,

i want to thank you so much for your website and lovely community and i hope this message finds you well. i’m having a hard time sorting through some relationship stuff and i’m hoping for some clarity.

i’m dating a very sweet and loving man who is still dealing every day with mental health issues due to early childhood trauma. these include ptsd, anxiety, depression (he is now in therapy for this) and nightmares. in his youth, he worked through his feelings of shame about what transpired in violent ways but that seems to be a thing of the past.

our courtship was fairly quick and we fell deeply in love, spending lots of our time together. in retrospect i should have been firmer about my need for a life and friendships outside of our relationship (especially at my age mid 20’s) but it all happened so fast. to be clear he does have friends/interests of his own but he is of the belief that our relationship is THE MOST important one in his life. he would be happy to rarely if ever spend time with anyone without/or other than me. in his words “i am the only thing that makes him happy” and “he welcomed dying before me but now wants to live as long as possible”. he constantly tells me i’m too good for him and is very insecure in our relationship. my friendships are deep and important to me and my feeling is that a romantic relationship should be something that adds to but is not the source of one’s happiness.

i was single for a long time before we met and had a very full life & was close with my family. they are thankfully still present but i spend much less time with them than i’d like because he doesn’t like last minute changes to our plans (even if those plans were netflix and pizza). i told him recently this needs to change and he agreed to work on it. because i’m the only thing that prevents him from having nightmares the idea of my being away causes him immense anxiety. sometimes i worry that he uses his trauma to manipulate me (his episodes early on often coincided with times i’d made plans with friends). we are also an interracial couple so that adds to a dynamic where anytime i express upset about his behavior or try to set a gentle boundary i am talked over, mansplained and/or the conversation is derailed due to the level of distress he’s displayed.

some of this is my fault as i’m not always good about expressing my feelings honestly and i want to hold space and be there for him. i tried to change parts of myself to make him more comfortable as he is an admittedly jealous person. i’m now doing my own work to come back to the vibrant, carefree woman i was when we met but it’s really difficult sometimes. i don’t know what to do or if the above is enough reason to leave or if i should keep showing up for myself, set clearer boundaries and love him through this.

any advice would be so appreciated,

sincerely,

trying not to be a pacifier

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It’s time to answer the questions people typed into their search engine as if they really asked them.

1. “How to make him want to start a family.”

There’s no making anybody want anything. Do you want to start a family? Then tell “him” what you want and ask him what he wants. “I know I want to have children, and I’m feeling ready to get started doing that. What do you think? What kind of timeline makes sense for us?”

If he wants to have children, too, you’ll find out and you can get started. If he doesn’t want children at all, or if his answer is a perpetual “someday,” well, you’ll know that too and can make some decisions about how to move forward. If this is the right person to start a family with, ask him. Speak your heart’s desire.

2. “How to be uninhibited during orgasm without disturbing the neighbours?”

If you live really close to other people you’re all gonna hear stuff sometimes. Earplugs, white noise machines, headphones, carpets, and heavy curtains are your friends. Part of living communally is learning to tune some things out and deal with a little background noise. Your neighbors will survive hearing you Do It every now and then as you survive the odd loud party or bit of toddler parkour. Still, to be maximally considerate:

  • Be generally aware of school nights/workweek nights and keep it quiet when you know it will likely keep someone awake or awaken them too early. (Try kissing when you feel a yell about to come out).
  • Use music or white noise machines. I knew my former upstairs neighbors were having sex the second Wicked Game came on (every time…every single time) but I appreciated the muffling attempt and the plausible deniability, and no doubt they appreciated the sonic smokescreen that let them have maximum fun!
  • Sound-proof your space. A rug on the floor. Heavy curtains over the windows and sometimes around the walls. Cover or block the nooks and crannies through which voices carry.
  • Done some soundproofing? Have a good time.

3. “Girl at work hardly ever speaks.”

Okay?

4. “Not ready for a relationship right now after a bad break-up.”

It’s totally fine to need some time after a breakup to fall back in love with yourself and the world.

If someone is telling you this, believe them.

If someone is telling you this and sleeping with you/doing other relationshippy-sort-of-stuff with you thats full of mixed signals, also definitely believe them. If people really want to be in a relationship with you they are capable of making many, many adjustments in their lives to do so, and it’s okay to say, “I hear you, call me if that changes!” and walk away from their sexy-and-confused selves.

5. “My ex says she doesn’t want a relationship.”

Then you don’t have a relationship. It really is that simple.

6. “What does it mean when someone says they don’t have time for a relationship.”

It means they are choosing not to pursue a relationship (with you), very likely due to having too much other stuff going on. Always reframe statements like this as a choice. It will set you free.

7. “Should I tell my mom my dad hit me?”

Generally, yes, I think you should, but if what’s stopping you from telling her is an instinct that says “If I tell her I will be even less safe than I already am” then use your own judgment about that.

If your mom isn’t the right person to start with, please tell somebody. I don’t know how old you are, anonymous internet searcher, but a school counselor or other adult you trust can be a good place to start. Also, here’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline number in the USA if you need to talk to someone anonymously at first. If you’re not in the USA, get on a computer your folks don’t have access to or open an incognito browser window and search for “domestic violence hotline” and your location.

8. “When a guy asks if you’re mad at him.”

Are you mad at him?

Were you even paying enough attention to be mad at him?

If you aren’t mad, and you weren’t really even paying attention, try “No, should I be?” if he asks you about it again?

9. “How best to deal with someone you care about but they are mean to you?”

Tell them to knock off the mean behavior, and avoid them until/unless they do.

10. “How to dump a guy you kissed once.”

A kiss is not a contract, so, try some version of: “I’ve enjoyed getting to know you but I don’t want to be romantically involved with you. So sorry, I wish you all the best, goodbye.

11. “What’s the meaning of ‘no thanks but nice to meet you’?”

One possible translation: “Thanks for hanging out/coming on this internet date today, I appreciate the effort that you took to wear a clean shirt and make small talk with a stranger, you seem nice enough, but we won’t be doing that again. Have a great life!

12. “How to deal with your Catholic parents who are insisting that you have your child baptized Catholic and you don’t want to do that.”

You got to choose this for your children, I get to choose for mine. Let’s find a new topic, please, or I’m going to have to hang up the phone/Grandbaby and I are gonna have to wrap up this visit for the day.

Be alert to the possibility they might take your child to be baptized anyway behind your back since apparently that’s a thing people do.

13. “How can I tell my boyfriend he smells like urine when I go down on him sometimes.”

Awkward Sex Rule: If you’re close enough to someone that you sometimes put your mouth on their parts, you’re close enough to say “Babe, let’s pick this up after a shower” or to go “hands only” if you don’t want to interrupt the action right then and/or to let him know at another time”Hey can you take special care to clean up down there before we get it on? It takes me out of the moment if things are funky.

14. “Write a letter to your friend with whom you had a quarrel, giving three reasons why you and him should resume your friendship.”

Three reasons?

Maybe try this:

Friend, I’m really sorry for [specific thing that led to quarrel and us not being friends anymore, WITHOUT making excuses or trying to justify it or explain further, ONLY apologizing]. I really miss our friendship and I hope we can talk again soon when you’re ready.” 

Send it out there, give the friend time and space, and see what happens. That’s all you can really do – all the reasons in the world won’t outweigh a sincere apology and sincere request to reconnect or convince someone who doesn’t want to be friends to come back.

15. “My boyfriend tells me to exercise and watch what I eat. It makes me feel horrible.”

Dump. Him.

16. “When bf doesnt want u to meet his friends.”

Dump. Him.

17. “How do you describe a relationship whereby you’re the only one forever reaching out for that person?”

One-sided? Unsatisfying? Soon-to-be-over?

18. “My boyfriend only cares about himself in bed.”

Dump. Him.

19. “Husband doesn’t like short dresses.”

Husband should only wear long dresses then, on his body i.e. the only body of which he is the boss.

20. “My old teacher doesn’t seem to remember me.”

Aw, that can be a really sucky feeling, but it happens. Your teacher has known a lot of students and it’s reasonable to think they might have trouble placing you especially if some time has passed. Gently remind said teacher that you enjoyed his or her class and take it from there.

21. “Korean boyfriend ghost dumped me.”

Getting dumped sucks, no matter how it happens. I’m so sorry. Remind yourself “He didn’t even care enough to tell me it was over” as a way to help yourself let go.

I would read a novel about a breakup with a Korean ghost-boyfriend.

22. “How to tell your boyfriend you don’t want to live together.”

“I prefer living alone.” “I don’t want us to live together.” “I’m not ready to live with you.” “Let’s not live together.” “I don’t see us living together.”

If he really wants to live with you, and you don’t want to live with him, there’s no magical way to deliver that news that won’t hurt his feelings or make him sad, but you gotta tell him so that you can both make good decisions about your relationship and living situation. People can have good relationships and live separately. Trust your instincts on this one and do not “try it out” if you aren’t feeling it.

23. “Dear Prudence sucks.”

She used to suck especially with regard to consent and sexual assaultNow she’s Mallory, and she’s pretty great.

24. “What do you do if your cousin passed away but you weren’t close.”

Consider sending a card to his parents and tell them you’re sorry for their loss. Greeting cards were invented for just this situation, you just have to sign your name at the bottom, and it will be a nice gesture of kindness to them.

25. What does the big relationship elephant in the room mean?

The “elephant in the room” is an idiom that refers to “the giant glaring problem that everyone is pretending not to see or talk about.” So this would be “the obvious problem in the relationship that we aren’t discussing for some reason.” Here’s hoping that it’s a cute baby elephant?

26. “How to stay informed politically without anxiety attack.”

I DON’T KNOW. I AM NOT DOING A GOOD JOB OF THIS. DID YOU SEE THE ELEPHANT VIDEO, THO?

27. Random shoutout to my friend Erin Lynn Jeffreys Hodges.

Hi! Hi! Hello!

This post brought to you by Patreon supporters. This also marks the opening of the 2017 Winter Pledge Drive where I gently shake the tip jar in the general direction of my wonderful audience. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If this blog were a child it would be a five-year-old today, and I would buy it Star Wars action figures and a bake it a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting in my mom’s old Mickey Mouse-shaped pans. Happy New Year/Blogaversary, Awkward People!  Here is a poem that I think is about forgiving yourself:

Attende Domine (Thomas Lynch)

To lie in the tub on New Year’s morning
awash in bath oil and resolution
observing the Feast of the Circumcision
is to seek the water’s absolution,
according to the law that juxtaposes
Cleanliness and Godliness. I suppose
it is time to examine my conscience,
to make a clean breast of it and amends
to such as those I might have offended.
Attende Domine et miserere! Lord
I’ve sinned with my eye and did not pluck it out,
and with my hand and yet my hand remains
blessing myself against your righteousness.
I’ve sinned with my mouth and loved the sound it made.

I took an honest-to-goodness vacation (I saw family and friends and met a camel and read Goblin Emperor, finally) instead of writing intense 2015 recaps or 2016 pronouncements, so, let’s just dive back in to what we do here.

Today’s question is about when a past toxic relationship bleeds into the present. How do you know what’s reasonable to ask for? And how do you correct someone or set a boundary with a new partner without constantly calling back to the old one?

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