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manipulation

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,

This is a pretty low-stakes question, but I was wondering if you and your lovely commenters could help me out here? I’m a young, disabled woman working in a hyper-competitive, male-dominated, rank-obsessed industry. I recently started a job at a new company, and in my department there’s a potluck every fortnight at one of the senior people’s houses. It’s pretty much expected that you attend — which I have pretty mixed feelings about, because, like, what if you have kids or other home responsibilities? or if you don’t drive and don’t want to have to rely on your possibly-drunk co-workers for rides? — but they do seem to be good fun and are a great networking opportunity.

Because of my disability, I can’t stand up for long periods of time, and I have pretty severe fatigue issues, so cooking is not in the cards for me. So, the night before the potluck, I go to a posh grocery store, buy some super nice potluck-appropriate food in a reasonable quantity, and bring that. Sounds good, right?

Nope. Basically everybody has told me that I should be bringing something home-made, with comments ranging from discreet, well-intentioned warnings to super-aggressive in-your-face attacks.

I have so many issues with this, including: (1) most of the food is made by my co-workers’ stay-at-home wives, not them themselves, grr patriarchy, (2) a lot of the home-cooked food is legitimately terrible, whereas my grocery store stuff is at least tasty and unlikely to give anyone food poisoning.

I don’t want my disability to become general knowledge, I probably shouldn’t rage against the patriarchy, and I don’t want to insult anyone else’s food, but I need a script to get people to stop being weird about this. With the people I outrank I typically make a joke about how all I do is work all the time, but I don’t actually like doing that, because promoting overwork is bad and also I’m female and super-young for my rank so making a big deal out of my job title is a whole new level of awkward. And otherwise I just try to change the subject? But that’s not really working?

Thanks,

Making lasagne is not in my job description

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Dear Captain,

I have a colleague, “Peter”, who I’ve known for several years. We first worked together at a festival, and added each other on facebook/phone for organisational reasons, as he was the crew leader. Over time we have become friends, although I do see him as more of a colleague as he is 20 years older than me with a kid, and I’m a student. I worked with Peter again this year, and during the festival he split with his girlfriend. Naturally he was upset, and I was sympathetic – at first.

Recently, he has been pestering me on social media, and on the phone when I ignore his messages. I shouldn’t ignore him, but he frequently sends me random unsolicited updates on his life/ weirdly personal accounts of his break up, often at 2am, and I don’t know how to respond. Sometimes I will commiserate, but then he will turn on me and ask these loaded passive aggressive questions like “you really ok with this?” or “am I being obtuse”, so I have stopped responding as I don’t have the time or emotional energy to deal with him right now.

I think he is just looking for a friendly ear, but I’m struggling to deal with someone who is so emotionally vulnerable and so different from me. When I do respond, we get our wires crossed, so I try and keep my replies neutral. For example, he had been trying to recruit my young best friend to his crew, and even after I said she wasn’t interested multiple times, he added her and starting talking to her on social media. I got annoyed at him over boundaries and he got in this huge strop about how he could do what he liked. Then he eventually apologised, but the rift keeps widening.

Peter constantly questions how deep our friendship really is, and to clarify, I have always seen him as a friendly work colleague. From my point of view, him pouring out all these emotions on to me seems very strange, as surely he must have closer confidantes his own age? I probably sound quite cold, but I don’t think he should be discussing the legal issues and horrible drama of his break up with me.

I want to maintain our good working relationship, but don’t know how I can enforce boundaries, particularly on social media. Help!

She/her pronouns please. 

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Dear Captain,

Since I moved in with my sister three months ago, I’ve been….missing things. Things that are important to me, things I wouldn’t normally lose. My boyfriend’s $700 camera. My only/favorite pair of sunglasses. An Adderall prescription.

I’ve complained about this to my sister. I’ve wondered aloud to her if our third roommate has been going in my room, or if one of the friends passing through isn’t as trustworthy as we think. I’ve talked to her about how weird it makes me feel to worry that people are in my room when I’m gone, about how much I hate to distrust anyone, about how I try to convince myself that there’s some innocent explanation I’m not seeing. It did not occur to me that she could have anything at all to do with the situation–I trusted her completely. Until the day before yesterday.

The day before yesterday, we found the camera. Well, I shouldn’t say we. She found it. We weren’t even looking for it. We were trying to find the bottle of adderall. The adderall had been missing for days, the camera had been missing for months. Within minutes of us starting the adderall search, she opened up the cabinet under the silverware drawer, moved the paper napkins, and said, “Hey, is *this* your boyfriend’s camera that’s been missing so long?” It was.

Normally that wouldn’t seem suspicious to me, just weird that it showed up in a place that neither I nor my boyfriend would ever put it, and weird that I’d been using the cabinet for months without noticing the camera. But I had just watched the episode of Mad Men where [spoiler!] Sally steals the $5 from Grandpa Gene and then “finds” the money when he makes a bigger deal of it than she had anticipated.

Pretty soon she was asking all these questions…didn’t my boyfriend already get a replacement? What was he gonna do with this one now that we found it? Did he want to sell it? It probably wasn’t worth as much as he paid for it, the case wasn’t made of great material, good but not great, could she buy it for a couple hundred dollars?

It all made me so, so uncomfortable.

And today I remembered that around the time my sunglasses went missing, my sister bought me a new pair. They were old-fashioned and had that tortoiseshell look, like the ones I lost, but they were cheap and much too narrow for my wide face. (Part of the reason I’d been so bugged by losing the first pair is that finding cute wide-framed glasses has always been difficult for me, and I’d spent a fair bit of money when I finally found a pair I liked.) Now that interaction seems tinged with weirdness to me…like, was she trying to make up for taking or breaking the sunglasses in the first place?

And the Adderall never showed up, which is such a huge hassle.

I don’t know. Obviously none of this is 100% proof that she took these things (or that anyone did! maybe I just lost them!). It would be so much easier if I knew for sure….even if I knew for sure that she did it, I wouldn’t be super mad. But I would feel justified in taking action to move out and protect myself. As it is, I’m stuck in a state of uncertainty, having to live with someone I don’t totally trust, and feeling guilty for being distrustful when she might be totally innocent. In fact, the only things that make me feel suspicious of her, are good things she did–finding the camera, buying new glasses.

Help me, Captain! Did she do it? And, given that you probably can’t answer that, how do I live with this doubt without being unfair to her or myself?

Signed,

Lina McLaidlaw

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Dear Captain Awkward:

I have been engaged for 1 1/2 years now. We are both in our 40’s and have been married before. I have no contact with my ex. When my fiancé and I first got together I made the mistake of discussing things from my previous marriage. There was nothing good about my past but my fiancé doesn’t believe that. He thinks I am still in love with the ex. I am not! He admits to being jealous and possessive and needs to feel like he is #1. If he is not #1 then he can not move forward with me. He has always been the first for the woman he has married or dated. He has never been with a woman that has much of a past in regards to relationships. He wants to be able to get over this hurdle about my ex and I want to do everything to help us get over this hurdle. What can we do?

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Dear Captain,

Over the last year, a once close friend of mine and I have been experiencing the African Violet of broken friendship. We had been through a very intense multi-year creative work project together, and after the project finished and she moved onto another job, we kind of drifted apart. For my part, I felt that sometimes she could say very unkind or cruel things. I noticed about two years ago that I was working very hard to win her approval, and felt very anxious if I didn’t get it and recognized that this friendship had become a bit unhealthy. I still valued many things about my friend, and thought that by setting some boundaries I could change the dynamic. After any incident where she said something unkind (for example, that half of the work on my part of the project was not my own work, which really hurt my feelings) or been judgmental (for example, negatively commenting on the dynamics of my relationship with my partner or how much I was eating and snacking during the intense project), I would take some space. Over the last couple of years my confidence has grown, not just in this area but in many other areas of my life, and I have been able to deal with some anxiety issues I had and learn how to set boundaries.

She started mainly hanging out with some different friends, and although we were still in touch, our conversation was becoming more and more surface-level. Anytime I suggested meeting up she would be really vague or say no. I was quite hurt at the time that she didn’t seem to want to hang out with me anymore, but I knew that we had just been through a really intense period in our lives and maybe she needed her space. There was always room for our friendship to get renewed further down the line. Before yesterday, we hadn’t been in contact for about four months. There wasn’t anything particularly negative about our last contact, it just tailed off.

I recently got a new job that I am very excited about and yesterday, in a whatsapp group she is also part of, someone congratulated me on my new job. About an hour later I got an feelingsemail from my friend. It’s not a nice email. It’s basically a bitter rant about how I have changed as a person. She said she didn’t recognize me anymore and how she had become fed up of what she perceives as my faults, and me being distant, over the last two years. She said that she didn’t deserve this kind of behavior from me and that she had never thought I would cut her off like this, although she had seen me do it to others (I don’t know where this comes from, I haven’t cut any one off apart from one girl back in high school which was 15 years ago!). In her mind, I am the bad guy, and it doesn’t sound like she is open to listening to anything else. She did say congratulations about the new job at the end.

I want to reply in a kind and compassionate way, because there were many things I valued about our friendship. We were so close, and I miss her. However, I don’t know what to say or how to respond to this email. I understand she sent it in a fit of overwhelming feelings, and underneath the accusations and manipulative statements, really she’s just sad about the loss of our friendship. I am open to being friends again, and rebuilding our relationship but it can’t be like this. I want to acknowledge the email, but I don’t want to get caught up in back and forth about who did what, or act in a way that says I think this email is acceptable, or apologize for things I haven’t done. How should I respond to this feelingsbomb? Should I even respond? How can people respond kindly and compassionately to feelingsmail in general?

Best wishes,
I’ve got feelingsmail

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Greetings, Captain Awkward!

To get to the point, I keep getting inklings that my boyfriend isn’t as loyal as I would like but I’d love your perspective and any advice you might have.

My boyfriend has a couple of female friends who are not friendly to me, and he doesn’t seem to mind this.

For instance, after Boyfriend and I spent time with some of his friends, I said something kind about “Alice” (I can’t remember what it was) and he said he was impressed by how I rise above her, because “she sure isn’t kind to you.” Alice flirts with him and is mean or dismissive of me. It’s textbook boring high school stuff (we’re in our late 30s, for Christ sake!) and she’s kind of flighty and blabby, so I just roll my eyes inwardly and move on. But I didn’t realize that he sees how rude she is to me. He flirts right back with her and gives her big hugs and kisses, which is pretty gross to me since he’s aware of her rudeness.

It would be great to have a game plan and/or script for the next time this person is around and decides to avoid making eye contact with me and ignore what I say while flirting with him.

There’s another female friend with whom he has a brief physical past, has known for many years, and wanted to be in a relationship with not long before he met me. She flaked on him then, not responding to letters or texts, and she only came back into the picture after he and I started dating.

All throughout our 4-year relationship, “Sue” has sent him little texty-texts saying she misses him and “How long is it going to be before I can see you again?” They get together every now and then. He’s always said she’s a very good and close friend, but that it would be “weird” for she and I to meet. Two years into our relationship, I had to insist that she and I meet. However, Sue backed out of meeting me at that point saying (via text) that she’d have to put their friendship on hold while she searched her heart…but a few months later she was back to her little texty-texts and wanting to see him.

More than three years into our relationship, he wanted to see her and I again said, wait, if you have this supposedly close friend who lives in the same city as us and is so important to you, then she and I need to meet. It’s so fucking basic. But she became angry and spouted something about prudes and Catholics, and that she’s known him for so many years that she shouldn’t have to meet me in order to see him…before finally agreeing to meet me (with him). She then flaked a few hours before we were supposed to get together, and didn’t respond to his follow-up text to pick another day. Now it’s been another few months and he wants to see her and tells me that he knows she needs to be willing to meet me and acknowledge our relationship, but I don’t feel like she’s ever going to be someone I can trust even if she does put on her big girl pants and actually meet me.

I have a lot of other things in my life to think about and focus on, and these women are like annoying flies buzzing around in the background. But when I focus on them, I doubt my relationship. When my boyfriend and I talk about them, he tends to say that I’m making a bigger deal of it than it is and that Sue is just a good friend and that Alice is kind of gross. I think he’s mostly innocent but likes their attention, the thrill of the non-girlfriend and all that.

Do you have any thoughts on these situations, or talking points to help me feel empowered?

Thank you!

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