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manipulation

Dear Captain,

This is a bit messy, please bear with me… One year ago, a long time acquaintance, “John”, figured out my interest in BDSM. It turned out him and his wife “Julia”, were a dominant and submissive couple in a polyamorus triad with another woman, who I will call “Katie”. Katie is not a sub, and told John he was free to look for another partner to suit his other needs. She gave him a list of requirements for this hypothetical new submissive and I happened to I fit the bill perfectly.

Unfortunately there was a complete breakdown in communication between John and Katie. Even though I met Katie’s every requirement in an additional partner, she essentially vetoed me from the relationship. She says she is not jealous, but she’s mean to me every time we meet, even though I’ve been nothing but nice to her. I’ve made several attempts to build bridges, and she’s burned them every time. At this point Katie has stopped talking to me altogether, which is kind of a relief, I guess. I know John finds Katie’s behaviour aggravating and nonsensical.

John and I never really got over our almost-relationship. The other day we finally acknowledged the elephant in the room: that we were still somehow having a D/s relationship, just not calling it that. To summarize, John said that he wants to have me as his sub ‘on the down low’. Essentially without Katie’s knowledge. I know John and Katie’s relationship has been rocky lately. I have no love for Katie, but I don’t want to hurt her and I don’t want to be responsible for a breakup… But I care deeply about John and want to be his submissive, even if it is in kind-of-secret… I’m in such a tangled web I have no idea what to do. Any advice?

Yours,
Lovelorn Sub

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Hello Captain Awkward,

I have a long question about how to get a family member to pay back the money they owe you. First bit of background: I recently got married and moved to another country VERY far away. It’s been almost a year now and really wonderful (except where my sister is concerned).

My “close knit” family (ie- intrusive at best and emotionally abusive at worst) has not taken it well. My sister and I grew up incredibly close and she was an ally to me with our parents/extended family (usually). She’s one year older than me but we always hung around together and went to the same college ect. Long story short, she’s always been a high achiever but also immature and VERY emotional/needy. There’s some deets behind that but I won’t get into it.

Well cue a few months after the move she informs me she just booked her tickets and is coming for 10 WEEKS and can’t wait to STAY WITH US! We live in a studio apartment, are still getting settled, money is tight, and we are literally newlyweds. I tell her hey this may not be the best idea but she insists she has so much travel she’ll be doing she’ll hardly be there plus it’s booked and she’d have to pay a massive fee to change. Okkkk i guess? She comes and is an absolute bitch. Every day she wants to go out (spend heaps), never pays for anything like groceries or household items, even makes my husband do her laundry (long story), and complains shes bored. Has more than one crying session about me making her feel like she’s “not a guest”. Everything is about her even when she literally lit the kitchen on fire – really tho, big fire (really long story). Apparently it’s so hard for her to be home all day with nothing to do but refuses to do anything by herself (except lighting the kitchen on fire – that was all her). She’s a passive aggressive bitch and I’m stressed to the max.

Turns out that travelling she wanted to do… She thought I’d be going with her (but not the new hubs) Ugh. I refuse to take more than 2 weeks vacation. Those 2 weeks were all about her and quite frankly stressful/not fun at all. She takes up all my additional time and is so HORRIBLE even my new burgeoning friends notice how mean she is to me. But hey it’s family and I’ll deal. In hindsight it was like she took every script out of our mother/family’s emotionally abusive playbook and threw it at me and I should have kicked her out.

Anyways, here’s the real issue. She kept asking my husband and I to pay for things on our card because “hey we’re booking together it’s easier to just do it at once” and she’d pay us back. Also at one point her wallet was stolen/lost and she had to get new cards sent ect which took a while. Recipe for disaster I know (now) but I also know how much she makes (ALOT more than me – we’re talking mid 6 figures) and that she would definitely be able to pay back. We had a long talk about her paying us back right away – she agreed. We’ll long story short, trip ends we present the spreadsheet with everything she owes us and she says she’ll pay asap, when she’s home no problem.

Now that she’s left she won’t pay us back, is dramatically bad mouthing me to all our family – who in turn are sending me harassing emails, says I’m bullying her ect. And she will not respond to any of my emails (they are actually quite nice). I’ve said basically is everything OK? I’m concerned about you. If you can’t pay back now lets determine a timeline/payment plan. NO RESPONSE at all. We didn’t even ask her to pay the apartment deposit that we obviously lost because of the fire she started (possibly/likely on purpose). Which was a lot of additional money!

It’s been 6 months since she left and we really need the money. I’m at a loss about what to do and honestly devastated that one of my closest relationships has been ruined but also that she’s ruining a lot of my other family relationships which used to be really important to me. With me being so far away I can’t defend myself and I’m feeling really isolated (I’m sure that’s her intent).

No one in my family is helpful and basically have all sided with her in a very “I don’t want to get involved but…” way. So no allies there. Some of our mutual friends have stopped speaking with me as well and it’s hard to enough maintain contact with the distance even without this drama. I think I have some details on the BS she’s telling people but it’s so long I can’t really fit it all in here.

Please help me with scripts to use with her – at this point just to get that money back, but also with other family members and my parents. I just have no idea how to handle this anymore.

PS- she’s gone on multiple vacations since she gone back to the US (long weekend skiing in Vale, now she’s just gone to some exotic island for a week long “girls trip”, 2 different weekends in Vegas) all of which are clearly on the luxury end. My parents love to tell me how great she’s doing, how much money she’s making and how great it is she can afford to travel so much, and she didn’t need to even move out of the US. Which is very upsetting.

Thanks,
B*+ch better have my money

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Hello Captain Awkward,

i live in a building with 4 condos, all on the board. our current president and wife are retired, while the rest of us are all 30- or early-40-somethings. He wants to be involved in everything, despite thinking the rest of us don’t do enough, and treats us like an office where he is the manager, rather than us being neighbors and equals. usually i tune him out, but he emailed me the other week and again today about untangling an issue with our bylaws, dating back to before my husband and i became owners, and which will certainly take months to resolve. I volunteered to do this when it first came up in January, but at the time, he asked me to hold off (a new neighbor had just moved in). Now, i am 8 months pregnant, prepping for maternity leave and transitioning to an unexpected promotion, during my office’s busiest time of year. i work all day and work more every night at home, plus there are things to get ready for the baby. when i said I was busy and asked if this really needed to be a ‘right now’ kind of thing (as opposed to the fall) since we’d already waited 6 months, he started talking down to me how at 8 months pregnant, his own daughter handled more than whatever i have going on, and he knows better than me how i will be busier after the baby so he would “appreciate it” if i would just do what he “requested” and work on this right now. even implied he had a right to insist because I should have already gotten this done ‘in a timely manner’ (forgetting his earlier request). i don’t know whether to just say something non-committal to mollify him while still having no intention of working on this until after my kid is born (probably fueling his martyrdom), or to try continue to calmly explain why i hadn’t done it already and that while i appreciate his concern, it’s simply not possible for me to add another thing to my plate right now, but that like i said, i’d be happy to begin in the fall since this is a long term issue–my MIL will be helping a lot and while i’ll be tired, i won’t have to spend 12-15 hours a day on a computer. Or should I be honest how upset I am by this conversation and his presumption, especially since he still hasn’t given any condo-related reason for wanting this done now? If i tell my husband how much this escalated, he will be angry and definitely shoot off an inflammatory email. i know the neighbor’s a cranky old man and i would prefer to not have an adversarial relationship when it’s such a small group, but I’m pretty offended myself.
thanks,
frazzled almost-mom

p.s., emails pasted below so you can see what I mean.

———————————————————-
[neighbor]
5:22 PM (19 hours ago)
to me

I know you have a lot on your mind at the moment, but I’d appreciate it if you would follow through and find out the procedure for changing by-laws. You’re busy now, but , take my word for it, it will only get worse. Thanks, [neighbor]
——————————————–

[me]

8:05 AM (4 hours ago)
to [neighbor]
Hi [neighbor],

yes, i honestly am pretty busy right now, given that it’s the last month of the pregnancy, and i’m trying to do all of my current work as well as prepare for maternity leave and a new job at my company, and get the house ready for the baby! what was the timeline you were thinking about for this? we first talked about this about 6 months ago, so i didn’t think it was urgent when you mentioned it again recently.

thanks,
[me]
——————————————–
[neighbor]
8:22 AM (4 hours ago)
to me
Yes, I know you’re busy. I have a daughter who was 8 months pregnant with twins, was working fulltime and had to clean out the over-stuffed apartment of her recently deceased mother. So I’m sympathetic with your situation, but not overwhelmingly so. I’m acting as de facto managing agent for the building. No one else pays much attention to whether the building gets painted or whether we have a place to put the garbage. I’m not a power-hungry type who revels in the role. I expect others to pay attention at least some of the time. So please just honor my request. Thank you

[me]
8:29 AM (3 hours ago)
to [neighbor]
Hi [neighbor],

i’m just wondering why this has become urgent right now, given that we’ve already waited 6 months since it first came up?

[neighbor]
8:48 AM (3 hours ago)
to me
I just have to turn the question around and put it to you: Why have you waited six months to get around to taking care of this? When someone says they will do something I expect them to do it in a timely manner. I imagine you have the same expectations. And let me put this in perspective for you: You’re not busy now. You’re going to be busy the minute the baby is born, and that will last a long, long time. Parenthood is great; relaxing it ain’t. Cheers

———————————–

p.p.s. the other units don’t even know he wants this done. 

Dear Frazzled,

This guy is such a patronizing shitbeard. Thanks for including his emails, they really make the whole thing.

If it is easier to handle the thing than it is to further antagonize him (like, the effort of dealing with him and explaining yourself is honestly greater than the effort it would take to do the thing), and if the change is in the interest of and has the buy-in of the other residents (big if, if they don’t even know it’s happening) quietly knock out the thing on your own timeline.

If he continues to antagonize you, you could send oneI’m sorry, after you told me to hold off when (neighbors) moved in, I definitely misunderstood the urgency of this project. Bottom line is: I won’t be able to make this a priority until after (date), so, if it’s important that it be done now, time for a plan B” email to him, but given the level on contempt on display in his messages to you, you might just skip that step and drag this one out into the sunshine and off of your plate entirely. To do that, send an email to the whole board/everyone in the building:

“Hello, everyone. Back in January, I volunteered to handle ( bylaw issue), but at (Neighbor’s) request, we held off until (Nice New Residents) bought their place and settled in, and it’s been on the back burner since then. (Neighbor) kindly reminded me that this still needs doing, but sadly I am not going to be able to get to it until sometime next year. Since it’s so important, I wanted to let the board know so that you can get it on the next meeting agenda and make an alternate plan. My notes/progress* are attached if they’ll assist someone in picking this up from here. Thanks!”

*If you have the email where he told you to hold off, DEFINITELY include it somewhere in your “notes” that you send everyone. Definitely. Look, I try really hard not to antagonize people, especially people I have to see & deal with all the time, ESPECIALLY people who share a roof/wall with me, but sometimes the “Oh, forgive me, I must be mistaken, because based on our last email (helpfully attached), I thought that (the opposite of this bullshit you’re trying to pull) was true. How would you like to handle this going forward? (So thoughtful of you to CC (our entire team)(both of our bosses) so I don’t have to type the addresses in myself)” email can be a thing of beauty and peace on earth.

This is not only the easiest way for you to handle it (by getting it off your plate and getting him off your jock) it’s the right thing to do since the other owners will need to sign off.

In the meantime, I would stop replying to him utterly about this topic and definitely stop giving him reasons why you can’t do it. You’ve told him that you can’t do it, why you can’t do it, and now here you are, where reasons are for reasonable people and private back-and-forth replies are for annoying you and making you mad but without getting anything done.

He’s trying to shame you for not doing what he wants you to do, when a) He is not the boss of you or of the building b) He’s the one who told you to hold off, and he won’t answer your question as to why it’s so important now, so he’s wrong on the fucking facts AND being a bully c) In professional life, when you know you’re not gonna get to something, the right thing to do is to admit it and kick it back to the team so that the work will get done. His way only works if you feel/accept the shame he’s trying to hand you. If you politely tell the whole building, “Hey, I’m so sorry, I know I said I’d handle it, but I know now that I won’t” you remove his lever to manipulate you and you also make his bullying emails about his daughter who is better than you in every way go *poof.*

His martyr complex is sadly *poof*-proof, but it can grind on someone else for a while. Maybe his daughter, clearly the greatest parent/condo association member of all time (OF ALL TIME) would enjoy hearing about it. He gets to quietly think that you’re unreliable (even if he’s incorrect), you get to quietly think that he’s a pompous asshole (correct), and as long as it all stays quiet and isn’t filling up your inbox every day, that sounds pretty okay. I hope all goes well with your busy late 2016.

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I should probably start off by saying that I come from a culture (one of many) where family ties are super close, and family members getting into your business is acceptable and if you complain about it you’re ungrateful and aggressive.

I am now going to be working in another country (my country of birth) for the summer, and my aunt and grandparents are also here, staying in their home. I’m living alone (hallelujah) in another apartment, but i go over there once in awhile to see my grandparents.

However, something very strange is happening. I’ve been on my own pretty much, or trying to be. My aunt, however, decides to accompany me back to my dorm whenever i leave their home, even though I do not ask her to do this. She also decided, unilaterally, that she would accompany me to meet the person I’m working for. So she came in and SAT IN THE MEETING, and she did all this at the speed of light, totally ignoring my attmepts to divert her and giving me no chance to say hey, maybe you don’t need to be here. The job is acutally an internship and has been in the works, and this was not my first impression on the person I’m working for, so I’m not as mortified as I would be. The interviewers are also from the same culture, and appeared to understand the dynamics of the situation, for which i’m thankful.

That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that on the way back, as we went our separate ways, she told me that I needed to be more independent. I had no idea how to respond, besides “uh, i’m perfectly capable of being independent, except when you all foist yourselves into things that don’t concern you.” This is a common pattern in my family – be overbearing and steamroll people, then proclaim that they are too dependent and can’t live on their own and NEED the intervention of people constantly trying to dictate things to them.

What i’m wondering is…..what on earth do i do here? If i object to their meddling it’s considered rude. If I accept their “help” without comment, they use it against me to claim that I need their help, when i never asked for it. What. The. Hell.

Signed,

Trapped in a Feedback Loop

Dear Trapped in a Feedback Loop:

I want to introduce you to my favorite word right now and it’s not “no” or “wow” or “really?” as you might suspect. It’s “okay” and I’ve found it useful whenever someone is projecting something onto me that isn’t really about me at all.

Family Member: “You really need to be more independent!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “If you don’t listen to my intrusive advice, terrible things will happen!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried that my stream of anxiety about you will actually come into being!

“Okay.”

Family Member: “I’m just worried our family won’t see it as a ‘real wedding’ if there is no religious aspect.” (True story, y’all)

“Okay.”

It’s a different version of “Sure, I’ll think about it!” where you will think about whatever it is (and then not do it if it doesn’t suit you). It’s a non sequitur/feigned agreement way of saying “I heard you and I am not particularly ruffled by your concerns but I also don’t want to fight with you.” It doesn’t work in every situation, but try it out and see what happens. Sometimes it stops the conversation in its tracks because there just isn’t any place to go from there.

Another way to deal with the “You need to be more independent (while I totally undercut your independence at every turn)” Auntie is to ask her what she means. “Auntie, I’d love to be more independent. Can you help me understand what you mean by that?” She’s not gonna gain sudden self-awareness about how her intrusion on your job meeting or walking you home every single night conflicts with that wish, but it might help to know her specific concerns and get an idea of her point of view about everything. Don’t argue with her when she answers you even if what she says is very unfair, just hear her out and tell her you’ll think about what she suggested. Then, over time (not during that particular conversation, just, when another intrusion comes up organically in a specific situation), gently and inexorably refer back to that conversation. “Auntie, I’ve really taken to heart your advice about being more independent, and I’d like to handle work meetings by myself.” “Auntie, you’re very kind to escort me home, but for the sake of being more independent, I’d like to go by myself tonight. Thank you!” Think of it as boundaries-Aikido, where you are channeling her aggression away from yourself. In that sense, the “Be more independent!” advice was a gift she gave you to help you start gently maintaining your boundaries. It gives you a way to say “Thank you, but thanks to your excellent guidance,  I got this!” and carve out some space in a constructive way rather than lapsing into a teenaged-sounding “QUIT SMOTHERING ME!” (even if that’s legitimately how you feel around these folks).

She will not disengage quietly, so know going in that it will probably take many attempts. Go slow and avoid ultimatums to the extent that you can.

 

Update from LW below!

Dear Captain,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Emma, I Can’t Be Your Friend
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It appears to be Dude-B-Gone week at Captain Awkward Enterprises. Also, re: confusing post numbering (850/849), sometimes I write a bunch of answers at once and schedule them ahead of time and they post out of order. We’ll carry on somehow!

Dear Captain,

I’ve found myself in a weird situation and I’d love to have your advice. I’m a graduate student and I have a visual impairment (I’m not in the US, but if I were I would qualify as legally blind). A few months ago I happened to meet a fellow graduate student at my institution who has a similar disability. I thought he was an interesting person and I was excited to meet a fellow student who shared that aspect of my experience, since most of my friends are sighted.

We arranged to meet up for coffee. I thought this was just as potential friends, but during the course of the conversation it became clear that finding a girlfriend is very important to him and that he saw it as more of a date. He also did a few things that made me quite uncomfortable: for instance he insisted on sitting very close to me and on touching and hugging me (I really don’t like being touched by anyone I don’t know well, partly because like many Blind/visually impaired people I often have to deal with strangers trying to touch me when I’m out in public places). Shortly after this he asked me on a date. I said no, but he kept asking and I did agree to meet him for lunch a few weeks later. I was hoping I could make it clear this time that I was only interested in being friends, but the same thing happened with the touching, and the whole event had a very date-y vibe even though that was not what I wanted.

After this I decided I didn’t want to see him again. Fortunately I had never given him my phone number, so I simply unfollowed him on social media and stopped replying to his messages and emails, hoping he would take the hint and stop sending them. They didn’t stop coming, though, and some of them were quite odd – for instance, he sent one asking who the men in some of my Facebook photos were (mostly members of my family and male friends, but I suppose he couldn’t have guessed that). On two occasions he also turned up at the place where I volunteer and hung around outside waiting to talk to me. Kind fellow volunteers dealt with him on both occasions, but I was still sufficiently freaked out by this to unfriend and block him on social media.I think this was probably an overreaction, since I never told him I didn’t want to be in touch and he may have been understandably confused.

Following this we had a few weeks of silence, but then I received an email from him on my university account, asking if he had offended me, and if anything was wrong with our ‘friendship’. It’s clear from the email that he has a lot more invested in our relationship than I do and that he sees us as close friends, whereas I would characterise us as barely more than acquaintances, as we’ve only met five times in person, counting the coffee date, the lunch and the turning up at my volunteering place. That strikes me as an unhealthy imbalance and frankly it would make me want to stop seeing him even without the odd behaviour which went before.

Am I obliged to respond to this email and reassure him that he’s done nothing wrong? What, if anything, do I owe this man? I know I should have been clearer about not wanting to date him and about cutting off contact. I’m sure he never intended to do anything creepy, although it’s clear that he is isolated and his social skills are very poor. I want him to be able to expand his social life and be happier, but on the other hand his apparent inability to recognize boundaries makes me want not to be in touch with him. I’m worried that if I don’t respond to him he will interpret this as rejection and lose the confidence he needs to make more friends. Aside from that, I feel like I’ve failed to show solidarity with him as someone who shares his disability. What should I do?

Yours in confusion,
I Volunteered, But Not For This

P.S. I am a woman and use ‘she/her’ pronouns.

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