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Good afternoon Captain Awkward!

I have a friendship quandary.

My good friend Donna and I travel somewhat regularly for work and for fun. She and I are both cat owners and we have fallen into a routine where we take care of each other’s cats when one of us is out of town.

A couple weeks ago, my near-life-long dear friend Vivian invited me on a trip to come see her for a weekend in the early fall and she generously booked and paid for half the plane ticket. The other half I’m booking and paying for, and the exact timing of that is a little up in the air right now for job-related reasons.

When this trip came up in casual conversation between myself and Donna, Donna said that she had travel plans that same weekend. “Oh, cool. That’s a bummer you won’t be around to take care of my cat,” I said. I thought nothing of it.

The next day, I received a number of text messages from Donna telling me that she was extremely upset to find out that I had made other plans for that weekend and she won’t be able to “let this go” without saying something because evidently, I had agreed to take care of her cat that same weekend.

I had zero recollection of this and I told her so. I admitted that it was entirely plausible that she and I had a discussion about it and I forgot (my life has been on absolute fire this month, so a few things have fallen through the cracks). She then sent me a screen shot of a text exchange that happened between us several weeks ago where she inquired about my availability for the weekend in question. I replied that I “should be” available. And after my reply, she changed the subject. She said that’s the extent of the conversation on the matter and says that we did chat about it in person before I asked her to text me the dates in that conversation. (Seems like something I would ask her to do)

I apologized profusely and let her know that it was an oversight on my part and, for whatever reason, the cat sitting weekend didn’t make it onto my calendar or stick in my brain — perhaps because it felt tentative to me or perhaps because I was distracted by the giant flame pit of my personal life. And I went on to say that, even if it had made it into my calendar, we’d still find ourselves in this situation because I definitely want to go see Vivian that weekend and that’s the weekend that works for both my work schedule and Vivian’s — so Donna and I would be out our regular cat sitters regardless.

I told Donna that the main difference would be how I would have handled it which would have been to acknowledge Donna’s travel weekend and let Donna know immediately instead of two weeks after Vivian and I made our own plans (because I wouldn’t have forgotten). I apologized again and also reassured Donna that she and I still have plenty of lead time since our trips aren’t until the fall and I was confident we could find someone else or secure a spot to board our cats.

Donna wrote me back and said that she found my response both upsetting and disturbing. She said it was disturbing that we had different ideas of how firm these cat-sitting plans are. She said that it was deeply upsetting to her that I would even consider outright canceling in scenario where our plans were in fact firm and Vivian’s invitation came up because “plans are plans” and plans should only be cancelled if there was an emergency. She said further that she’s very concerned because now she has no one to take care of her cat, she has never boarded her cat before and doesn’t know how the cat would tolerate that, and the possibility of putting her cat in an unfamiliar environment gives her a lot of anxiety. She said that now, because of all this, she may not be able to go on her trip to see her dearest friends.

Donna asked me if I would consider changing my travel plans/re-booking my flight to coincide with her travel plans.

This felt excessive to me and I told her no (aside from the logistical nightmare that would be given the world of discount airfare). I told her I would be happy to help her find another cat sitter (especially seeing as she and I are in the same boat) or, if it came to it and she ended up needing to board her cat and there was some conflict where she and I were vying for the same booking, I would gladly cede it to her. I also said that it felt to me like emotions were running pretty high and I’d like to discuss her concerns more fully, but maybe at another time.

She didn’t really address these options and instead wanted me to a) define what “confirmation” is for me and explain why what we did wasn’t confirmation so we avoid an incident like this in the future and b) tell her as soon as I nail down my travel plans so that maybe we can work out something where I can take care of her cat half the time or before or after my trip if my trip is shorter than hers. I replied that follow-up helps me with confirmation and that I would get back to her on my travel plans.

Things are palpably hostile between us now, which sucks because I do consider her a very close friend and we have many mutual friends. Here’s the thing, Captain. When I think about “avoiding an incident like this in the future,” I think that I don’t want there to be a future cat sitting exchange anymore and I want to avoid this happening again by never doing this again. I don’t know why, I just feel suddenly done and I’d rather hire a sitter through the internet for my cat. I feel really bad about all of this. She seems more outraged than hurt and I feel myself shutting down about it. When I stretch and think about this, I could see why she might be mad that I totally spaced her travel plans.

And, yet, I am also out of fucks to give about it. Am I a jerk?

I think, for me, inquiring my about my availability isn’t quite the same as making plans, especially with no follow up. But even if it was, on my end, my assumption for her has always been that she is doing these cat-sits as a favor to me, free of charge, and always at our mutual convenience. So I get this wonderful service for free that some people have to pay for. I suppose I never thought these were ever 100% set-in-stone plans until we started approaching the window of time where it would be near impossible to find other accommodations because I don’t view Donna as beholden to me or my cat to provide a free service for us if it doesn’t 500% work for her.

And in the two weeks or so leading up to our departures, Donna and I have a little routine where we confirm that we each have one another’s house keys, have a travel itinerary, and so on. So even in a world where I completely blew it and stayed utterly silent about my own trip and she never once spoke of her trip ever again aside from that one text message, the situation would still be salvageable two weeks out — one way or another (and yes perhaps outrage would be in order at that point).

But we aren’t in that situation and if the current situation were reversed and more than two months before my trip, Donna forgot about my travel plans and spontaneously decided to take a trip to see her Vivian equivalent, I would tell her to go have fun and I would find another cat sitter. I get that she’s mad, but I guess it’s not that big of a deal to me. Annoying and inconsiderate of me, yes. “Disturbing” and deeply “upsetting” and “anxiety” provoking and unable to “let this go”? I feel almost manipulated by the intensity of those feelings.

I figure that when you have a dependent of any kind, you always have a plan B and that’s part of your plan A. For example, my mom hated hiring random sitters and always preferred to leave me with people she knew. But occasionally, a random sitter had to be hired because someone flaked/spaced/had a sudden conflict/etc. I just find Donna’s stance that there’s “no one else” not only implausible, but not very wise planning since I could just spontaneously combust one day and no longer be available to her and her cat anymore. Donna isn’t the only person who I could think of to call on to care for my cat.

As I said, things are very hostile. Donna is stonewalling me now. What do I actually owe Donna at this point? Is there more I should do? Scripts I should say?Why do I feel so “done” and over this when she’s clearly still very upset? Am I justified in no longer wanting to exchange cat-care with her? I am getting the strong vibe that this is a friendship-ending or friendship-permanently-altering thing that I have done…yet she still seems to want me to take care of her cat.

Signed,
A Tail of Two Kitties

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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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