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Hi Captain,

I realize my problem isn’t as serious as other letters you’ve answered, but I figured I should try writing anyway since I don’t really have anyone to talk to about it.

I was friends with someone I’ll call “Oakley” from elementary school through high school. It was very rare for my parents to allow me to hang out with friends, so I really only got to spend time with Oakley if I was in one of their classes. The lack of contact outside of school didn’t exactly cultivate a deep friendship, and I didn’t keep in contact with them after graduating even though we only live a few miles apart.

This past weekend, my mother ran into Oakley’s mother at a movie theater, and they talked about getting together for lunch in the near future to catch up. I’m worried this catch-up-lunch is going to end with an obligation for me to hang out with Oakley.

I have nothing against Oakley personally, it’s just that: 1) School wasn’t a nightmare for me, but it wasn’t a great time either, and I imagine it being at least a little painful to have to reconnect with any part of it. 2) While I remember Oakley fondly, they’re essentially a stranger now, so what’s the point? And 3) I have no interest in socializing with *anyone.* (I made more “friends” in college and the following internships/jobs, but I avoided spending time with them outside of those contexts. I do wish I had real friends, but the idea of socializing makes me extremely anxious.)

I already asked my mother not to set up any “play dates” between me and Oakley (she was surprised and said it was a good thing I told her). I’m not sure what else to do or what she could say if Oakley’s mother brings it up. Any thoughts or advice?

(Note: I realize Oakley might not be interested in seeing me at all either. I’m just imagining a worst case scenario where Oakley’s mother tries to reconnect us.)

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Dear Captain,

I’m a 20-year-old college student and I don’t drink, nor will I likely ever drink in the future. My father is an alcoholic, and every family member on his side has some form of substance abuse problem. I know that having a drink now and again will not necessarily hurt me or lead to a drinking problem of my own, but I’ve decided to just abstain completely anyways.

Most of my peers/classmates, however, like to drink and will often talk at length about it. I’ve been asked multiple times about my beer preference or some other alcohol-related question, to which I simply reply I don’t drink. For some reason, most people can’t seem to accept this and will ask me why not, or even try to convince me how great drinking is if I say it’s because I’m not interested. I don’t have a problem with other people drinking or listening to stories about it, but I don’t know how to explain my “disinterest” to other people.

I really don’t want to be a huge bummer in front of other people and say outright, “I don’t drink because my dad is an alcoholic,” but I don’t know how to get people to stop asking questions. “I don’t drink for personal reasons,” also feels like either a bummer or might lead to people asking what those reasons are.

So, Captain is there any way I can sidestep these questions without having to divulge my personal circumstances or bringing down the mood of the group?

Thanks for any help,

Sober in South Florida (she/her)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I got married 2 years ago, and since then Older Sister & I haven’t spoken. What prompted the silence was that she wasn’t a Maid of Honor at my wedding.

Let me preface this by saying I come from a Southern family where weddings are a big deal, but if it had been solely my choice, I would’ve happily eloped at city hall. But we did have a traditional Southern wedding, which my mom planned.

My husband wanted his brother to be his best man, so knowing that I needed a MOH, I picked my younger sister. I figured that Older Sister, who’s 11 years older than me, would’ve been relieved that she didn’t have to stand in front of everyone and buy a dress she’d only wear once.

Welp, when I called to update her on the wedding plans, she was very upset and ended the call abruptly. I felt terrible and called back later, apologizing, asking to talk. She didn’t return my call for three months and only did after my mom drove down and convinced her to reconcile. We had a nasty conversation of “how could you not know this would hurt me,” etc.

I thought about having 2 MOHs, but that would mean my husband’s sister would be left out, and I wasn’t eager to include her because we haven’t always been on best of terms. So I sent Older Sister an email asking her to do a reading, and she said fine and that she wasn’t upset anymore. Then she sent a hurtful email to my mom, which was about a lot of other things, but also said how mom should’ve “made” me have two MOHs.

Anyway, the wedding day wasn’t fun. Older Sister ended up crying in the bathroom while I was getting ready, and I had to be the liaison between her & mom the entire weekend. It was terrible. I didn’t even want this damn wedding, and I spent the entire time on edge and nauseous. Afterwards, I wrote Older Sister an email explaining how angry I was, and she said not to contact her anymore.

Captain, I still feel so guilty about the MOH thing. Maybe I should’ve had 2 MOHs, my husband’s sister as a bridesmaid, and gotten two groomsmen to even things out. I was trying to protect myself against more drama and stress by not doing those things, but that clearly backfired.

I don’t have a plan of how reconcile with Older Sister, and that’s fine for now. But I need an honest answer to this question: Did I really mess up? Did I wrong Older Sister?

Thanks for reading,

Guilty Sis

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I have a good female friend, V. Friend V has a wife, O. Every weekend, all of our friends group and SO’s will get together Saturday night to hang out, have a drink and play games. This is great. What is not so great is that O has privately reached out to every masculine person in the group that she has not dated and let them know that they make her uncomfortable and would they please not talk to her or interact with her in any way. She has also publicly said that she thinks each one is an asshole and will ask people who date those men what they see in them anyway.

When I thought that she only felt this way towards me, I was hurt, but tried to do the right thing to make her more comfortable. At this point, as more of the situation is coming out, I’m struggling for a solution. Her discomfort is beginning to feel secondary to the discomfort of the half of our group she’s slagging and asking to tiptoe around her, but I don’t know how to deal with this.

Please, help!

Sincerely,

Frustrated

(He/Him pronouns are fine)

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Hi Captain Awkward,

I find myself in a very awkward but relatively low-stakes situation with a classmate. There is a woman in my cohort at college who has this weird habit of rescheduling other students’ social events (not just mine, but mostly mine). For example, someone invites the group by email out to go hiking, and she’ll respond saying let’s all go bowling instead. Once I invited everyone to a dinner party I was hosting at my home, and she tried to change the event to be a restaurant outing at a different time!

I understand that in the course of group planning, sometimes people negotiate things like whether to meet at 8 or 9, or whether to get Mexican or Italian, but her behavior is going way beyond that. And frankly, sometimes I don’t really care if everyone can make it – I just want to go see this awesome concert and it’d be even more awesome if others wanted to join.

There’s obviously a lot of GSF5 going on here. How can I talk to her about this without making it seem like I don’t care about her presence? I do care, and I love spending time with her, but I can’t accommodate her on every social outing. Also/alternatively, what is a polite way to indicate to the group, after she inevitably makes some “helpful” suggestions, that my invitation is not up for negotiation?

Just Send Me Your Regrets
(she/her)

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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.

 

 

Blanket statement: Friendships have to be able to withstand boundary-setting and communications that certain behaviors are not cool, like “You are hurting my feelings” or “That thing you did is not okay, could you stop?” If you are always biting your tongue when the other person hurts your feelings, what you have is not a friendship.

Example #888:

Ahoy Captain,

(Note: I am girl and use she/her pronouns. Also, I changed all my friends’ names).

So I’ve been having some problems with a friend, Jasper (also female). She’s been snapping at me more than usually, especially over little things ( saying “Your laugh really annoys me” and “Please stop singing. If you can pronounce this, don’t even bother trying to learn it.”). This criticisms have gotten so frequent that I feel like I need to stay completely silent all the time, lest I stand on a landmine.

She also never answering any of my messages, even though she talks with our other friends all the time on Skype. I then have to call her for any confirmations, which she snaps at me for and demands I keep it to texts (which she rarely answers). It got so bad one time, because I was essentially stuck at her house till 9 at night, waiting for an answer to texts. Meanwhile, she had picked up a couple of our buddies and they were hanging out in town, playing Pokemon Go. I thought this would change things, but she would still ignore my texts when I want to plan things.

My friends, Skellington and Steven, have basically told me that this is getting too much. Steven even said, “The last time we hung out with you and Jasper, I felt so awkward. It was like I was only invited just to watch her tear you down.” The only reason why they can’t speak out if because they can’t drive and usually Jasper is their ride.

I started taking measures to distance myself from Jasper, but a part of me really does hope we can reconnect in better, healthier terms. I have blocked her on everything (except her phone number because she never texts me) and I’m not gonna hang with her for awhile. I also started reconnecting with friends I use to have before I got completely absorbed by Jasper. I am building a team me around me (which already consists of my mom, Skellington, and Steven).

So what I really want, Cap, is a script for when I finally confront Jasper. I really do want to connect with her, but I know I need to tell her what she did was not right.I want to try to mend the fences before I have to resort to possibly burning a bridge. Can you help find the words to say to a toxic friend?

Sincerely,

Lapis Lazuli

Dear Lapis,

You are doing all the right stuff to take care of yourself (minimizing contact with Jasper, prioritizing other friends). Keep doing that thing and maybe time will do its work and let the friendship end of its own accord.

I don’t know that you can “mend fences” with someone who constantly picks at you, not to mention someone who avoids you. It doesn’t sound like she likes you or wants to be friends anymore, I’m sorry. I think the tactic here is to keep ignoring her until/unless she actively seeks you out, at which point you could either try having a big talk along the lines of “Hey, I don’t like how you’ve been treating me, what’s going on with the constant belittling one second and avoiding me the next?” (at which point one or both of you admits that you’re not really feeling the friendship these days) or you could try waiting until she does or says something unkind and then saying “Hey, that’s pretty unkind, could you not?” and seeing how she reacts.

I think the big talk where you confront Jasper is unlikely to have the outcome you want (unless the outcome you want is extreme defensiveness & blame). A better strategy is to call out a specific instance of bad behavior in the moment. Someone you can make peace with is going to say some variant of “You’re right, I’m sorry” and then stop doing the unkind thing. Someone you can’t make peace with is going to explain how you are misinterpreting or exaggerating and how it’s not their fault anyhow. Even if it doesn’t help you right now with Jasper, maybe you could practice this skill a little bit and learn how not to go silent in the face of conflict. One way is to start speaking up more in low-stakes interactions, even if it’s just stating preferences – “Steven, I like that sweater on you!” “No thanks, Skellington, I don’t want anything to eat right now.” “That meeting time won’t work for me, could we do something earlier?” The more you practice, the easier it gets, and the less tongue-tied you’ll be in higher-stakes interactions, like when your supposed “friend” is telling you they are annoyed by your laugh and you can say, “Really? My laugh? Why would you think I want to know about that?”

Example #889:

Dear Captain,

I have become friends with (Friend), a work colleague, over the last few years while they’ve been getting through a domestic crisis (separation from an abusive partner), through which I have provided some support and advice. Friend’s life is improving gradually professionally as well as personally now, and a few months ago she was promoted to a position of greater responsibility at work.

Unfortunately she has responded to this new position by behaving like a real jerk from time to time – not to me (I’m not in her area), but to people who are under her, and in no position to defend themselves. She will tell me stories about things she’s done to people, machinating against them, yelling at them, and so on. In the most recent one she yelled at someone over the phone at some length, who had made a minor and unintentional error. She tells these stories clearly because she’s proud of herself; she sees herself as standing up to bullies in these situations. She has no idea, as far as I can tell, that she is behaving badly.

I understand how her background in a lengthy abusive relationship would predispose her to be confused about what “standing up for yourself” really looks like, at the same time as it would make her really want to do that. But in fact she is behaving abusively herself, now that she’s got enough power to be able to do so.

I’m never around when these things are happening, to intervene; she tells me later. You could argue that it’s none of my business, but it is my business, in that she is telling me, and in that I am beginning to feel as if I don’t want to be her friend anymore if she’s going to be abusive to people who can’t defend themselves.

What do I say? How do I conduct an intervention here? Or do I slide gracefully into the woodwork and just stop being available to see her?

Yours,

self-righteous and judgmental church lady

Dear Church Lady,

If you were this person’s supervisor, there would be material for a long talk or series of talks about management styles, how to motivate people, how to communicate when someone has made a mistake, and other “How To Be A Manager” topics. It sounds like she could use some training around all of this stuff, at very least. Perhaps that uncomfortable talk is coming in her near future. Let’s hope, for her direct reports’ sake!

Not being her manager, your reaction can be less about “documenting incidents for HR” or “finding the teachable moment” and more about “being an appalled human being,” for instance:

  • “I don’t know how to react to this story; it doesn’t present you in a good light.”
  • “Wow, that seems like a really harsh reaction to an innocent mistake by (employee).”
  • “Wow, it sounds like you yell at these folks a lot. What’s that about?”
  • “Wow, that story is pretty uncomfortable. Why are you telling me this?”
  • “Wow, that story is pretty uncomfortable. What does your manager say about how to handle things like that?”
  • “Am I missing some context here? It sounds like you are the one who is out of line.”
  • “How does (employee) react when you spoke to them that way?”
  • “How is it ‘standing up to bullies’ when you are the boss and the one with the power?”
  • “Wow, that story is also disturbing. Are you noticing a pattern here? This seems like way too much conflict for something so innocuous/simple.”

I would not bring up her recent personal relationship history or psychology or reasons you think this might be happening. That way lies Extreme Defensiveness Town, Population: There Is No Winning Any Arguments Here. Keep your response focused on the specific story she is telling you and the specific behaviors. Maybe float something like “There has been so much conflict in the stories you’ve been telling me lately. Have you thought about getting some management training or asking your boss to help you lessen the amount of conflict in your department? As your friend, and someone who knows your work well, I think you could use some support/some new tactics/to give people a break/some strategies for keeping your cool.

If this is how she treats her staff, you’re probably taking a trip to Defensiveness Town anyhow, so your question about fading into the woodwork is on point. Make yourself less available, and when you do see her, disengage from serious topics and inviting confidences & keep your conversations very light. It sounds like your friendship was very helpful to her during a difficult time in her life, but you are no longer wanting to serve as her chief work confidant. Do what you can to steer your conversations away from “Here is the dirt!” to “Seen Ghostbusters yet?

tl;dr If the person truly is your friend, engage directly with the crappy behaviors and trust that the caring you have for each other and your friend’s innate goodness will carry the day. “Not cool, friend” does not mean “I hate you!”

If they are not your friend (or their “goodness” is particularly “deep down” of late), engage anyway, and take the risk of a conflict that ends the friendship.

In any case, “appalled silence” is not working. It is too easily mistaken for assent.