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manipulation

Hi Captain!

Tl:dr – What do you say when someone needs you to tell them that you care about them more than you do care about them? Is there a way to be honest but not make them feel like you actually dislike them? Is there a way to lie so that they actually believe you? Is there a way to get them to knock off asking you?

Longer-then-400-words-version:

My partner has a long-time friend who is lonely, isolated, sporadically employed, and who has some mental health issues. Friend is smart, funny, usually well-meaning, and knows how far to push friendship and charity without pushing too hard. My partner gives Friend lots of time and occasional money.

None of this is a problem. Friend doesn’t intrude on our family time too much, and my partner’s friendships are theirs to manage. Partner doesn’t bring Friend into every conversation or insist that Friend is at all of our events. Friend doesn’t usually inconvenience me at all, and if they do it’s in ways that I’m happy to do to for my partner, and because I have goodwill to Friend and I don’t mind hosting them or hanging out.

My problem is that Friend will sometimes initiate conversations with me about what a burden Friend is to me, and how Friend feels ashamed to be included in events that are important to me when they are Partner’s Friend and not My Friend. I don’t think Friend actually wants to be my friend – they don’t usually ask how I am, or talk to me when my partner isn’t around, or seem to care about me except as someone to listen to them (although they are like that with my partner, too, because Friend is very self-absorbed). I think that Friend would like it if **I** really felt a true friendship-like connection to Friend that would cause me to **really** want to invite Friend to stuff not as a charity, and to **really** want to hang out and chat with Friend, even though I don’t think Friend feels that way toward me or wants to feel that way toward me.

Friend is very smart, and certainly is very sensitive to how people feel about them and react to them, so Friend knows that, in fact, I don’t feel those ways. I feel charitable good will, Friend isn’t an unbearable pain to have around, and I love my partner and don’t want to keep someone out of our home who matters to my partner. Friend also knows when I’m lying.

So when Friend asks me these things, I usually do some combo of lie and deflect. I say that Partner and I both brought lots of our own friends and family to the relationship, and that we each hang out with and play host to each other’s peeps. I say that it’s my pleasure to have Friend over. But even though both of those things are true, I’m not answering Friend’s real question, which seems to be something like “don’t you care about me,” or even “why don’t you love me.” I do think that my partner loves Friend. Love is a wonderful mystery, because I can see that Friend is not a very good friend in a traditional sense, but that if you love a person, you just do love them. I don’t love Friend, and I like Friend only in a casual way.

Friend’s need to be loved and to be reassured both touches me and also annoys me. Friend is not good with social conventions like “don’t make people choose between lying or saying mean stuff,” and when they ask me these things I usually fall back on really strict social conventions like, “I am at best saying empty nothing right now and at worst lying because That’s What We Do,” but I don’t like it. Moreover, it doesn’t give Friend any of what they need – it’s neither honest nor kind.

Is there a better, more honest, kinder way to respond?

– Not Your Friend, But Not Mean About It Either

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Dear wonderful Captain,

I’m coming to you with a question you’ve answered several versions of before, but not quite for my exact circumstances. So I beg your indulgence.

I’m a mid-thirties woman, and my problem is that men hit on me. All the time. And I’d like to change my behavior, if doing so is reasonable, in order to make that happen less.

My looks are thoroughly average. What I have going for me, though, is charm – or charisma – or magnetism – or whatever you call it. I’m confident and funny and I listen well and I’m truly interested in other people. I get along easy with just about everyone. Illustrative incident: a great new cafe opened up near work, and I have been there every day this past week meeting various people (a friend, a first date, a volunteer coordinator, my writer’s group). On Friday, the barista came up to my table and said she’d really like to get to know me because she loved the interesting conversations I had with so many people, and she doesn’t even care that that sounds creepy. We laughed our heads off. We exchanged numbers. It was fun.

It’s not so great when many men I know either hit on me or end up developing feelings for me, and I keep having to do the rejection dances and often losing people I like and/or need. I was shielded from this for a long time because I was married. But I’ve recently gotten divorced, and this THING just keeps on happening.

When it’s a stranger or a low-key interaction of some kind, it’s easy for me to smile and say “That’s really nice, thank you, but no,” and keep going.

But sometimes it’s inconvenient. Like, my contractor, who is fully 25 years older than I am, says flirty things all the time and texts me that we should run away to an island together. IDK how to get him to back off without risking losing this thing rarer than unicorns – a good, affordable contractor.

Sometimes it makes me angry, like when a coworker asked me out, and after I politely said no, claimed he hadn’t been asking me out in “that way” at all, and then stopped talking to me, which makes me peevish because what the hell. What if it had been someone I actually need to work with?

Sometimes it’s genuinely uncomfortable. A casual friend who happened to go through a divorce at the same time as me tried really hard to get with me just because it was happening to us at the same time. I told him no, and he didn’t back off, so I had to stop talking to him.

Sometimes it’s just SAD. A beloved friend whom I only know online through my writer’s group confessed today that he’s caught feelings, “I’m a little bit in love with you.” This is actually what’s making me write to you. I hate this shit, Captain. What the fuck even. This guy is sweet and kind and as two people who are working on memoirs, we know some deep shit about each other. This guy is sound, so I know I won’t lose his friendship just because I say no. But it’s different now. I can’t share my writing with him anymore, not least because I’m writing about dating these days, and obviously it would be unkind to him to have to read that.

I’m just so sad today. And I think I’ve been sad about this for a long time, just never acknowledged it because as long as I could “deal”, I could not justify feeling bad about it to my feminist conscience.

But now I won’t deny it. This makes me sad, and upset, and I want to change this pattern if I can. What can I do to stop sending out these vibes, Captain?

There are wrinkle to this story:

1. I grew up with extremely repressive and abusive parents who hated it if I ever had friends and disowned me when I told them I had a crush on a boy. Not kidding. I was 18. A few years after that I married a man who was verbally and emotionally abusive, just always angry with me for whatever reason, punishing me with endless silences or yelling etc. For 30-something years of my life, I lived with people who have disliked me. I’m sure that messed with my head. It feels weird, weird, weird to realize people like the real me. Therapy helps, but it’s still a process.

2. While I always did have SOME friends through both childhood and marriage, I had much fewer chances to socialize. I feel like since my separation two years ago, I’ve finally come into my own. I can finally be myself without my mother calling me a slut or my asocial ex accusing me of being “fake” friendly.

3. I’ve had this problem with unwanted male attention since I was 11 years old. As a child I was blamed for it. IDK why I share this, except to say I’ve always had this issue, and I think I have felt bad about it for a very long time.

Anyway. That’s my super long question. As a good and faithful Captain Awkward reader for years, and also by dint of being a mouthy bitch from the day I learned to speak, I don’t believe I have boundary issues. What I have are maybe personality issues? Or something?

I just… I don’t know anymore. Can you help me?

– The Woman With The Problem Most People Wish They Had

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Here is my situation: My husband and I generally get along great. But one thing that routinely proves to be a problem is the concept of time: that is, when we should depart to get to a place before the event we have tickets for/need to be there for/whatever commences.

He’s a “shave it to the last minute” person. I am a “I need a buffer of time because everything takes longer than it should and also when we get there I might want to use the bathroom/get a drink of water/want a moment to breathe/get a good seat” person. Shaving things to the last possible minute stresses me out.

This has been the supremely boring subject of multiple conversations over the years. I tend to organize things and will say “we should leave at this time” to which he’ll ask how long it takes to get there/when it starts. Then the dickering over five or three minutes commences. And he’ll expect me to explain in detail why I have to leave earlier than he believes we should. I do understand that if we have a morning event he’ll want to be able to get in as much sleep time as possible, since he battles insomnia. That said, I don’t surprise morning events on him: he knows ahead of time.

I could passively-aggressively tack on 5-10 more minutes to his question of “how long/when do we need” to get there, but that’s lying – and he’s not a dummy. He will figure this out, and stop trusting my word. Either way, the problem does not resolve.

Nor does he propose alternatives to departure. A recent trip would take us 35 minutes to get to a city tour. I wanted 45; he said “no.” Not “how about 40” but no. This led to an over hour-long discussion that again had me reiterating that by shaving it close I am totally stressed out.

I am exhausted. I have said I could just leave earlier and he could depart when he feels the time is right, but that does defeat the purpose in going together as a couple, and he didn’t like that anyway.

A previous argument like this ended with him agreeing that if I organized the trip, he would go along with my timing for departure. That fell apart instantly with our city tour argument (see above). At the end of this most recent discussion, he asked me to explain to him every time that this leaving time is important to me and it will stress me if I don’t leave at this particular time. Why should it always be on me to justify?

I have tried to use my words. I have tried to offer suggestions. Mostly, it makes me not want to organize outings at all with him, which is also not a road that’s worth going down.

If you have scripts that I can use that I obviously have not thought of before, I’d really love to hear them. And maybe I’m the problem here – so if I just need to do more flying by the seat of my pants, do feel free to tell me. (When he chooses the outing, I generally will go when he wants to go.)

Thanks in advance,

Are You Ready Yet?

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Hi Cap’n. 

Here is issue: My partners’ ex, and boundaries.

I have great relationships with my exes, I think it’s healthy and awesome. This is a new and different world, apparently.

My partner’s most recent ex is in our lives a LOT. There are good reasons for this that go beyond their ongoing friendship, but the upshot is that Ex has visited and stayed at our house approx. 1 week out of every month for the last four months. Ex and I get along… mostly. But we would likely not be friends in real life. She’s great in lots of ways but also incredibly different from me. To be honest I find her exhausting and sometimes horrible: a vain, high maintenance, superficial, demanding, selfish Regina George type. She calls other women “ugly”… a lot… she keeps everyone waiting for Makeup Reasons. She wants us to go to clubs and wears shoes she can’t walk in. Etc.

She also has radically different ideas about appropriateness from me: the first time I met her she walked topless past my partner, dropped trou with no warning and peed in the bathroom right next to me, etc. It’s not just her, they fall into these patterns together- he carries her purse, invites her to sleep in our bedroom (and bed!) to “be courteous to our roommate”, keeps me waiting at the house while they eat nice lunches, delays our special two day mini-break (for my birthday) for hours to do her sudden huge favors.

He knows this is shitty when I calmly (or occasionally shakingly) point it out. But he doesn’t anticipate it, and doesn’t predict the cumulative awfulness of it or why it means he should cool it on inviting her along on trips with us. He does feel terrible, and is incredibly patient and loving when I have an “I’m now an awkwardness alien who can’t fucking Person anymore” freakout. Never does annnything resembling deflection or gaslighting.

At this point I need a big, fat break from this person. And to take approximately ten thousand baths.

So tell me, how do I stop feeling like I have to constantly be the Boundaries Police, and do you think that’s even going to be possible?

(Not pictured: frequent references to their past, all their orgies and predictably boundaryless sex life. I’m all for fun group things, but I need to soberly discuss them before they happen. Again, he gets this, but has yet to demonstrate that as a practical behaviour before I find myself in a position of awful panic.)

Halp.

Ps, he is otherwise a dream, best partner I’ve ever had, no question. Just, ack. This is not nothing.

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Hey Captain!

I’m a single straight cis woman.  Some time ago I joined a new hobby group, and it’s been great!  There are lots of men in the hobby group and a number of them have asked me out on dates.  This isn’t the problem – I appreciate people who take the chance to ask me out outright and I am good at turning them down politely but firmly when I’m not interested. 

My problem is with the people who clearly appear to be romantically interested in me, but instead of asking me on a date they just kind of weirdly hover around me.  For example, they might suddenly take an interest in all of my Facebook posts, even when they have nothing to do with our shared hobby.  Or they might just keep starting chats with me online.  They might also try to engineer hangouts that are very clearly stealth dates, or they might focus all of their attention on me even when there’s a whole group of us and we are all doing the hobby together.  I find this very off-putting but I don’t know how to address it.  Since nothing is explicitly being said I feel somewhat paralyzed in these situations and tend to just act friendly but also kind of evasive in hopes that they will get the hint, but this doesn’t always work.  Is there a more effective way I can deal with this?

Thank you,

Evasive

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Hi Captain,

I’m dealing with something that is new to me and I’m kind of seeking someone who can tell me whether or not my expectations are way out of line, or if I need to compromise them; my concern is that it’s a problem where any compromise I can think of leaves everyone miserable.

My longtime boyfriend and I (pronouns = she, her, hers) are getting married. He proposed with my own key ring because the moment was so right and the location so deeply meaningful for us that he went for it sans ring. He also knows I’m not a super girly person and have said many times that I don’t need a ring. When he proposed, however, he fell over himself apologizing for not “doing it right” and having a ring. I said whatever, we can discuss that later, right now all I’m focused on is this commitment I cannot wait to make official with the person who matters most in my world. I put the key ring on a necklace and proceeded to wear it nonstop, because I was damn proud of his ingenious substitute and loved what it symbolized.

A few weeks later, the key ring disintegrated in a mineral hot spring. (Pro tip: when they tell you silver will tarnish and you should remove all jewelry, believe them.) I balked at the loss of my symbol and he said we would go out and get a real one together. At this point I became very excited at the prospect of going out as a couple and hunting for something special from an antique store. I’m not a big “real jewelry with real rocks and metals” kind of person, but that has made me excited by the prospect of my one “real” piece being the most meaningful thing I will ever wear.

I found a jeweler in our city who specializes in antique rings and found a beautiful art deco one from the 1930’s for $1k — according to Google this is a bargain basement price for an engagement ring today. People spending money on me makes me a little queasy, so I was really excited to have found a place that had beautiful, unique rings that were ‘affordable’. I guess it may help to point out we live in the Bay Area so our work takehome is higher than other regions. Price expectations across all money-related things are skewed and insane here by default.

He did not see it this way. “That’s so much!” “Well I have no idea how much they cost.””I didn’t realize we were actually going to go get one.” All of these responses have me in flames. My problems as I see them:
– He has said several times now over several months that he has no idea how much they cost. Why then hasn’t he done any research in between saying this? In between saying we will get one?
– His attempt to say he didn’t know we’d actually get one is bullshit, per this letter so far.
– It’s NOT too much in my research. What makes this worse is that I make more than him but this entire time I was under the impression he has a lot of money in savings and is a good saver, barely spends. As of our fight last night, apparently none of this is true! In defense of his “too costly” assertion he stated he doesn’t have enough saved up; my eyes almost fell out of my mouth.

Clearly we have a bigger financial discussion looming on the near horizon. What really irks me is that now I feel like I’m forced to insist he be a man of his word, which means him spending money on me he apparently doesn’t have. And now I feel like even if he had the money, every time I looked at my ring I’d be reminded of the reminding and the nagging and the pushing to get him to even get one. I’d rather not have one at all, but I’m still really pissed off that he apparently doesn’t do any follow-through on what he says or promises.

He’s an idea guy, and always comes up with great vacation plans. He does zero follow-through, so I’m the one who always has to do all the reservations and pay upfront, even though I work 9-5 M-F and he doesn’t have to be at work until 4pm each day. It’s been the same with the wedding at large: we want it this year so I’ve been doing shit tons of venue research and sending him tons of emails filled with links to ones for him to vet. I asked him to start doing the same and you’d think I asked him to grow a uterus and give birth.

I feel like I have to do all the emotional labor and literal actions to see things through. I’m sick and tired of having to make an adult understand that you can’t just say something like “i want you to have a ring” and then not follow through or attempt to change my mind. True I’ve always been fairly indifferent about having one, but now that we’re engaged and he has time and again SAID he wants to get one, I’m super excited and really want one! But now I’ll feel like a greedy nag if I push for it.

He’s the kind of person who tries to change what I want by pointing out things he disagrees with or thinks could be done differently (his way), because he doesn’t like change and doesn’t want to confront having to do something he doesn’t want to. I’m sick to death of this, it’s insulting and I’m not an idiot and will NOT be gaslit.

This is probably insanely long and I’m not even sure anymore what my question is. I guess I am hoping for advice as to whether or not my expectations for a ring are worthy of pursuing, or if I need to just drop it. I’m prepared for anyone to tell me I’m being stubborn and selfish — if this were a letter from someone else I’d probably say as much myself, but now it’s me and it’s just how I feel. The not keeping his word is the core frustration here — it’s like I can’t trust what he says and that he’ll do it without me reminding him or him changing his mind and reacting like I’m insane for bringing it up again.

Anyway, feel free to tell me this is all par for the marriage course and that communication is key as well as compromise. I already asked him to come straight home tonight so we can talk more and try to get to the heart of it. This whole letter makes him sound like a trash monster but I hope the internet can trust that I love him and he is more than just this debacle. Debacles, plural? Probably.

Sincerely,
Between A Rock And A Hard Place

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