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Halp, Captain.

I’m a 36 y/o (pronoun indifferent, she/her is fine) in need of advice or maybe just encouragement/permission.

So, the reader’s digest version is that I’ve pretty much always identified as bisexual, but am realizing that i really want to be with women.  So, i guess I’m thinking that I’m actually more like a full on lesbian rather than bi? The wrinkle with this is that i’m coming up on my ten year anniversary to my husband, who is a Good Dude.

Here’s the long version.  In high school I realized I liked girls.  I came out as bi to my parents and my friends, but, really, I was focused on girls, and my friends from that period would probably have described me as a lesbian.  When i pictured the future, I pictured it with a woman. I presented as pretty butch, even experimented with binders and things, although i’ve never really struggled with any sort of gender dysphoria, just sometimes clothes fit better without boobs.  Or so I tell myself, but maybe that’s something else I need to explore.

Anyway, a couple of heartbreaks and dating false starts with women found me in college and desperately lonely.  I had better luck getting romantic attention from men, so i shrugged, said, “well, I did say bi-sexual, didn’t I?” and started looking to men as romantic partners.  I started dating a guy in my art program in college, and found that we had a lot in common, were great friends, and had the same values and goals and stuff. We weren’t a perfect match, but who is, right?  I’ve always struggled with making friends, and here’s this great awesome friend, who I totally love. Then, of course, life happened. Realistically, I was probably about to break things off, but then Hurricane Katrina.  I was living in New Orleans with my parents, we lost our house, i lost my job and ended up resettling in central louisiana for a profoundly miserable year. Eventually, i moved to Illinois and in with my boyfriend who had since graduated and gotten a job teaching art.  What else was I gonna do, right?

First year living together was rough, but things got better and we got our routine down.  It’s a routine that involves me doing a lot of the emotional labor of the relationship, which probably does add a layer to my discontent.  Anyway, eventually we got married, and i had doubts throughout the engagement, but i’ve always been pretty conflict averse and just didn’t know how to exit.  Also, I tend to get stubborn and don’t like to be wrong, and I’m definitely carrying some weird vicarious baggage from my mom’s unhappy marriage and divorce (I wasn’t even born! May parents have been happily married my whole life! How did i get this hangup about how I would definitely never marry the wrong person and repeat my mother’s mistakes. As I write this I now realize that I have some unexplored issues about my mom.  Thanks, sobriety).

So now, here we are, nearly ten years later, and we just bought our house a little over a year ago (which was a huge step for us and something we’ve put a lot of work into together).  In many ways, we are closer than we’ve ever been, we have become better about being honest with each other and about our mental health concerns, and I can honestly say my husband is the best friend i’ve ever had, and has positively impacted my life in many many ways, and in a lot of ways, i’m happier than i’ve been in years, like, ever in my adult life, maybe.  

But:

I finally confronted my problems with alcohol last year and am going on for eight months of sobriety.  Now that i’m not numbing myself, the ways i’ve changed and accommodated myself to fit this relationship have been kind of a gut-punch for me.  My queerness has become kind of a secret (not through any pressure from him, it just feels weird to be advertising all the other people i’m potentially attracted to when i’m married, and i live in a conservative enough community that i don’t want to put him in the position of explaining my sexuality if i’m too “out”).  I also have the typical bi-girl in a hetero relationship feeling like i’m appropriating a label if i proclaim my love for the ladies too vocally. I have a lot of guilt about being able to pass as straight and feel like that excludes me from the lgbt+ community, which was a big part of my life in high school/college.

Bound up in all of this, is that i live quite a distance from my parents in New Orleans, and clearly, if we split, I could move back to Louisiana and be closer to my parents who are beginning to have some age-related health issues.  Also, let’s be honest, if I want to be gay, New Orleans is a pretty good spot for it. Sometimes I think about asking my husband to move back to Louisiana with me, or at least closer, because he has occasionally said things that would imply a willingness to entertain the idea (he’s a plant nerd and the long growing season and weird bugs appeal to us both), but when I picture including him in that life change, it makes me cringe, which is, I guess, a pretty good indication of what I want to change.

So, i’m not miserable.  I have a good life and a good partner.  Leaving would kind of screw him over (i’m the primary breadwinner, he’s struggling with some depression, he’s on my insurance, blah blah shitty us healthcare system, plus, now we have this house to deal with).  We bought our dream home together and he’s put so much work into it. We have a mini-farm full of tiny little fruit trees that he planted for me! We go on weightlifting dates and car shows together! He watches terrible 90s anime with me!  He grows the spiciest peppers evar! He’s dealing with some stuff right now, things will get better!

But, he’s allergic to cats and crowds, he doesn’t like the smell of eggs, we never have sex and when we do it’s pretty lackluster.  We are terrible at talking about our problems. Oh yeah, and he’s Not A Girl.

But what if all of this is just some kind of overboard reaction to relatively new sobriety?  What if it’s the first manic episode of heretofore undiagnosed bipolar disorder? What if I start dating girls and find out I don’t like it?  What if I ruined a good person’s life by not being honest with myself? Do i just have to live with my mistake forever? How miserable do i have to be to make this change?  I know that if I do decide to end this, I will probably be the bad guy, and I will definitely lose most of my friends, so that’s not ideal.

It’s also just embarrassing, because it’s not like I had any trouble embracing my sexuality.  I’ve known I liked girls since I saw Linda Hamilton doing chin-ups in Terminator 2. I think I just lucked into a good enough companion and went, okay, this is fine, I can live with this, and I can, BUT, could I have more?  I don’t want to make a decision right now. I think i need to sit with my epiphany for a bit and make sure that it’s not just a matter of feeling empowered by new sobriety and fitness. Because maybe(?) that will let me confront some of the other things that make me unhappy in my life, and then i will have the confidence to be more vocal about my sexuality and sexual identity, and make some changes within my marriage.  

Anyway, any advice you may have is appreciated, especially any advice from anyone who’s been through a similar situation, whether you left or stayed.  

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Hello, it’s on!

Patrons can submit questions here (advantage: 1st dibs, more words). Anyone/Everyone can submit on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday), questions close at noon Chicago time, I answer as many as I can and update as I go between noon and 1pm. Whatever I don’t have time for gets held over for next week. Comments open once everything is posted.

This is also the last day (for a while, at least) that I remind folks about supporting the site. You can become a patron or send a donation anytime, of course, but these biannual reminder drives really help me be able to plan out nice things! One of these nice things: I’m officially hiring a graphic designer and a proofreader/formatter to put the finishing touches on an e-book of previously-published columns called #ThisF-ing Guy (And How To Avoid Him), so I can make it available before the end of the year. Thank you so much for all the support so far. This site is a labor of love, but it is labor, and it feels so great to be able to say “I run a fan-supported advice website.”

Cue the jazz flute which, I confess I started out including as a humorous homage to the NPR and WGBH-Boston pledge drives of my youth and my middle-school bad flute playing, but then I ended up listening to a crapload of jazz flute on YouTube this week, and now I’m like “JAZZ FLUTE IS AWESOME, MOAR JAZZ FLUTE PLEASE.” Proving that irony will lose out to sincerity every damn time.

Let’s begin: Talking to the neighbors about misbehaving kids, KITTENS, ADHD and learning to take compliments, bickering family/feeling bad about interacting with family, crushes (it’s okay to just ignore them!), when do you know if couples’ counseling is working, how to therapy, when to say ‘I love you’, drop-in houseguests, parents who want you to be their therapist, compliments that aren’t compliments.

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Good morning! Submit your questions on Patreon or on Twitter (@CAwkward, #AwkwardFriday) before noon Chicago time today.

From 12-1 I’ll answer as many as I can and update as I go. Comments open once everything is posted.

These have been fun so far. I’m looking forward to questions.

Ok, it’s on!

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Dear Captain,

I moved to a different country (Country A) for my first job out of university. I’d visited before and loved everything about it, and was feeling pretty sick of my home country (Country B) at that point. However, I was also always confident that I would eventually move back to my home country to be near my family and friends from childhood/university.

While still living in Country A, I started dating an amazing man. We started the relationship very casually: I was up front about my long-term desire to move back to Country B, and he was equally up front about never wanting to leave Country A. However, we fell very much in love and stayed together for two years. I could write 1,000 words about how amazing this man is. The short version is that, you know how a lot of people say they knew their partner was “the one” because their partner felt like home? That’s how I felt (feel?) about him.

While I was falling in love with Country A and this man, some family problems made me realize how hard it was to be away from my family and closest friends. Last November, I was offered an amazing job back in Country B. It was the hardest decision I have made in my life; in the end, I took the job and moved back to Country B because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I want to be there in the long term, and staying in Country A was just prolonging the inevitable. My then-boyfriend and I broke up. In a series of very painful conversations, he made it clear that he supported my decision but would never follow me to my home country.

I’ve been in Country B for five months now. I like being close to my family and friends (my social calendar hasn’t been this packed in years!). A lot of relationships important to me have been strengthened. But I miss Country B, and I miss my ex SO MUCH. Every part of my daily life feels like he should be there, and I can’t imagine a future without him. We still text every day (trying to do the “friends” thing, though we’ve both been pulling back a bit). We’ve had a few “feelingsbomb” conversations where we talked about how much we care for and miss each other, but he reiterated that he is not moving for me.

Captain, how do you get over someone who could have been the love of your life if not for geography? I feel like I had one inner voice screaming at me to go home to my family when I was living in Country A, and now I have an inner voice screaming at me to go to my “home” with this man. I feel like I’m being torn in half.

Thanks,

I Don’t Believe In The One But What If He Was It? (she/her)

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Hey Captain,

I spend most of my tender youth in an abusive relationship that really fucked with my sense of what is normal. I’ve had lots of therapy to come to terms with it but honestly, I think at this point that it’s just going to be something I have to deal with for the rest of my life, so there isn’t really a “when I’m better” timeline I can look forward to. And yeah, that sucks, but I’m handling it as best I can. That’s not what I’m writing to you about.

After that relationship, and a couple of flings here and there, I met with a wonderful man I’ll call John. I originally intended to keep it casual but John was just such a lovely person that I quickly found I didn’t actually want that. He deserves a whole heart, and I wanted to offer it to him, so we got serious.

John was patient, understanding, supportive, honest, and loving to me. I tried my best to skirt the line of caring deeply for him and trying to protect myself from flinging into the terrifying bottomless pit of love without restraint that ate me alive before, and I don’t think I completely succeeded, because after about a year of dating he dumped me. It was a few things. I wasn’t as emotionally available as he deserved, he wasn’t as upfront about his insecurities as I deserved, and there was a maturity mismatch (John is a little bit younger than me, and I’m jaded as all fuck). He also said he had a “list of pros and cons” about dating me that just… does not compute in my head. I just can’t think that way, so his words on it really cut me deeply. We parted with a lot of crying and hugs, but I think he was right, and it was for the best.

The problem is this: I miss John terribly. I think I might still be in love with him because after all that I still can’t think of anything substantially negative to say about him. And he asked me if we can get together for coffee. I know closure is a myth, but mostly-healthy non-abusive humans can be happily friends with their exes, right? (Please tell me that’s right.)

Part of me is terrified that one look at that suave grin of his will have me head over heels all over again. Part of me is certain that there’s nothing he can say that will get me to hook up with him again. Part of me thinks that even thinking about it is just a terrible idea altogether. And part of me wants to prove to myself that I’m not unlovable, that I’m not destined to make every ex hate me forever, and that I can stop fucking someone and still be good enough to be cared about.

So…. how do I know when/if I’m ready to see him again?

Hopefully,

How do I human? (She/her)

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Hello! Long time no blog! I traveled to Texas for Christmas break, since my in-laws live in the Fort Worth area and Amarillo. It was lovely to see family and catch up with some old friends who have relocated and meet some nifty new people. I did not take a computer with me or do anything resembling work. Instead I read many, many books and sat on recliners under warm blankets and ate enchiladas and other wondrous things. It was an excellent and much needed break from everything. Today I’m back, with the problem of unreciprocated love.

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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.