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Overthinking It

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 25 years old and when I was 21 I got my first tattoo. It was a memorial tattoo for an uncle and I’d been thinking about it for a few years, so finally I decided to do it. My mom took me to her tattoo guy and after it was done I posted a picture on facebook.

Now, my grandmother hates tattoos, and I didn’t tell her about it beforehand, so she found out on facebook. Two days after getting the tattoo and posting about it, she called me to tell me how disrespectful I was for not telling her about the tattoo, how hurt she was to have found out about it on facebook, how my mother and I are so disrespectful toward her and what’s next? Is she going to find out I’m engaged on facebook, too? Why didn’t I tell her I was planning this? I didn’t know what to say, but after the phone call ended I cried and felt like an awful, terrible person. It had been 100% intentional to not tell her beforehand, because I know my grandma and she would’ve seen me telling her I was getting a tattoo as a discussion about whether or not I should get a tattoo. I knew she didn’t like them and I didn’t feel like being lectured. Moreover, I didn’t want to pretend to ask for her permission because, at 21, I didn’t need anyone’s permission to get a tattoo in memory of my dead uncle. (I should note that this uncle was not her son, but her ex husband’s brother, and a good friend of hers.) My mom got super upset with my grandma about the phone call, saying that she was trying to make me feel guilty, and they talked and nothing was resolved but we sort of came to a peace about the issue. My tattoo isn’t visible, so she never has to see it, and I never mention it around her.

Almost two years ago I got a second tattoo, this one on my wrist. It’s visible. My mom once again took me to her tattoo guy. It was a week before Christmas. We decided that for the sake of peace I’d wear long sleeves to Christmas dinner.

But I still haven’t told or shown my grandma that tattoo. I’m afraid of another incident, and I know the longer I put it off the worse it’ll be, but it feels like it shouldn’t matter? I’m an adult. I barely told anyone about the first tattoo beforehand, and I didn’t broadcast the second one; people have found out about it as they’ve seen it. Maybe I should’ve told my grandma that I was getting the second tattoo before I got it, but that felt too much like asking for her permission – which, again, I don’t need. But I don’t want her to get upset again and act like I’m a terrible granddaughter over this. I want to get another tattoo, and I want to be able to be around my grandmother without choreographing my movements so that she doesn’t see my inner wrist. Should I sit down and have a conversation with her? Should I just say fuck it and let her notice when she notices? Am I a terrible granddaughter for hiding a tattoo from her for almost two years?

(I feel like adding that my mother has two tattoos, and three of my grandmother’s second husband’s grandkids – her grandkids, basically – also have tattoos. Two of them are younger than I am. Was there any reaction to their tattoos? Of course not. Just mine.)

Sincerely,
Potentially Terrible Granddaughter

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Hi there,

I have a bit of an odd quandary. I am divorced, and I divorced young. My relationship was a very bad and abusive one, and that was a dark time in my life. I have gotten therapy, learned a lot about myself, and I think I’m doing well. It’s daily work to deal with lingering issues, but I typically feel most comfortable addressing those to my therapist or close family who knew me then. It’s intensely personal to me, and revisiting it in casual conversation isn’t something I’m interested in doing. I have PTSD, and it coming up usually sets me up for a good day of feeling anxious and awful.

I’ve since moved across the country and none of my new friends really know much about my divorce or that I was ever married. I don’t hide it, and a more in-depth peruse of my social media probably holds some clues, but I don’t proactively bring it up. I’m an age where many of my friends are getting married and navigating serious relationships for the first time, so it’s very plausible and even likely that none of this ever happened. People assume that (I never lie), and I don’t correct them.

That said, I’m fortunate that some of these relationships are becoming closer, which raises two issues:

1. It is normal to not tell a minor acquaintance your life story, but it is starting to feel like a purposeful omission to people whom I see often and confide in me. I know I’m not obligated to share it, but occasionally they’ll find out and when they do there’s a bit of “whoa, that was a pretty big thing to leave out.” I stammer and ineffectually mumble some sort of half-apology, but I have no idea how to even start. I don’t feel like I need to apologize, but I always feel like I kind of lied, even though I didn’t.

2. I’ve been asked, directly, a few times – “were you once married?” and I don’t want to lie. I also, however, want to be clear that it isn’t something I enjoy talking about without disclosing more about the relationship than I’d like to.

I want to set a boundary, I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want to sensationalize. I feel like I need to give a reason why I never said anything, but that gets into self-disclosure I’d rather avoid (“Yes, I was, but it was a difficult and painful time and not something I talk about” generally creates pity and curiosity and gossip and more prying, all awful.) Not giving a reason or changing the subject generally creates a weird, stilted conversation or doesn’t adequately communicate that it’s off-limits so then it comes up again.

I need a polite way to communicate that this is not a secret but not something I talk about without making it into a bigger deal than it is and not making anyone feel as though I’ve slighted them by leaving that out. I’d love to have scripts for either of these instances because right now I’m just floundering, it’s awkward, and it’s starting to become the elephant in the room, and I’m sad I can’t think of something better to say.

Thank you so much. She/her pronouns.

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Dear Captain:

My parents get along pretty well with my father-in-law, let’s call him Peter. He is a widower so they usually invite each other to visit, my husband and I included. We usually have lunch, some bottles of wine and everyone has fun. Last time my parents visited Peter my mother stumbled across an old newspaper. It had a eulogy for my mother-in-law (let’s call her Nora). She was a great woman, a social worker and activist. Unfortunately, she passed away before I met my husband.

After my mom read it, Peter came back with some printed documents and handed them to my parents. They were some poems written by Nora, that he found after her death. My mom started immediately to read them and after finishing the first page said if I wanted to read them too.

Peter and Nora had had problems during their marriage. By the time of her death, they barely speak to each other, and were practically divorced. For that reason I think Peter probably didn’t know what Nora wanted to do with her writings.

So I said “Thanks, but I don’t want to, it makes me feel uncomfortable.” And everyone asked why. So I said “well, because I don’t really know if Nora wanted them to be public. Maybe is personal stuff, and it feels wrong.”

Awkward silence ensued and then they replied the following:
Mom: “It’s no big deal sweetie, I’m sure Nora wouldn’t mind”.
Peter: “Well, it doesn’t matter much because she’s dead”
Dad: “But the only reason people write poems is to be published, isn’t’ it?”

They insisted, but I kept firm and refused to read anything. But as my parents read them and I didn’t, I was the one that ended up feeling out of place. (In case you wonder, my husband was taking a nap and missed the conversation.)

I’m super defensive about my privacy and the idea of being exposed terrifies me. My mom and I used to have big arguments about this topic. Some of the things she did include: Throw away T-shirts claiming that they made me look fat. Open bank slips with my name on it. Go to my University and asked my teachers about my grades. She finally stopped doing these things long time ago, but I still feel threatened when she starts asking me personal stuff or comments on photos or personal things I have around in my house.

And I also used to write a lot during my twenties. I have at least a dozen handwritten notebooks, with tons of personal stuff: poetry, therapy tasks, ideas, cooking recipes, drawings, rants about people, etc. I really would hate if someone reads them but I don’t have the courage to toss them.

So, I honestly don’t know if I did the right thing or if I just got defensive and missed a chance to get to know Nora better. Would you please give me your advice and opinions? And also, what can I do with my notebooks? Any ideas?

Thanks a lot.

Privacy Champion.
(she/her pronouns)

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I couldn’t find anything like this in your archives, so I hope you don’t mind me asking for advice.

I’m a 23 year old woman and I’ve never been in a relationship. It just doesn’t particularly interest me, and I identify as an aro-ace and I feel satisfied by all my platonic relationships. I have dated in the past, which has clued me in to things I like and don’t like, and I’ve also come to realise that dating people I don’t know makes me really uncomfortable with the thought that they will want things I don’t.

During school, my friends told me that a guy at a party had been hardcore flirting with me and I hadn’t noticed. I’ve been messaging him on and off since and we’ve gone on two dates, and I don’t know him well enough to want to go on more – I want to know him as a friend before we try more dates. The problem is, one of my friends is meddling to try and push me into a relationship with him, and I just want to run the other way. Despite not hanging out in five years of school, she’s asked me twice in two weeks to hang out and if I decline to save money, changes plans conveniently so that I don’t have to pay anything. I know she’s meddling, and another friend has admitted as such. All she’s doing is making me want to duck my head and hide – the more she pushes, the less I want to know this guy at all.

I don’t know how to tell this guy that I want to know him as a friend before we progress without hurting his feelings, and I really need to tell my friend to stop meddling because it makes me really anxious and uncomfortable, but I have no idea how. Do you have any advice or scripts that might help?

Thanks,
Happily Single and Being Pressured

Dear Happily Single:

Be blunt and let them know where you stand. It’s actually the respectful, friendly thing to do. You can do it!

“Friend, stop meddling. I will work things out with this guy in my own way and at my own pace. You’re driving me bonkers right now and making me feel pressured and annoyed. Knock it off!”

“Guy, I like hanging out with you and I’d like to maybe be friends. I don’t think I want to go on any more DATE-dates for the time being, though I will let you know if that changes. Is that cool?” 

“I’m happy being single.” (Repeat as necessary, to the point where the conversations become very boring because you default to saying this every time the topic comes up). “But won’t you give him a chance?” “I’m happy being single.” “But he was flirting with you!” “Cool. I’m happy being single.” “I just want you to be happy.” “Good! I’m happy being single.” “But I thought you liiiiiked me.” “I do like you as a friend. I’m happy being single.” “I just want to help you.” “But I don’t want help. I’m happy being single.”

You already know what I’m gonna say: I’m happy being single.

Guy and Friend(s) will feel whatever they feel. Maybe Guy won’t be interested in hanging out just as friends. Maybe Friend(s) will deny their meddling or be offended that you don’t want them to do more of it and be miffed for a while. Maybe they will get it and apologize and stop pressuring you. You can’t magically prevent people from doing stuff that annoys you, but you can have a conversation where you let them know how you feel about it. Stop silently accepting their annoying behavior. You are not “being mean” or “causing trouble” by stating your needs and boundaries. 

You got this!

 

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

Met this girl through her uncle, have known her for
Over 20 months, we’ve met a couple of times, nothing much happened, but used to keep ourselves updated over texts, she asked me out for dinner or lunch a couple of times, I had important things to address at that point of time, nor was I sure about my feelings towards her, it’s been six months since she moved to Australia for her education, that’s when I realised she’s the one, i’m not active much on social media, don’t keep my profile updated, and I did confess to her about me liking her, she said it was overwhelming but she isn’t into anyone now and wishes to focus on her career and has a lot going on her plate now, and since then she says she’s busy with all her things back there, but i see she’s got a pretty happening life making new guy friends and isn’t as busy as she’d told me that she is, with all her assessments and assignments, according to her social media updates, when I’m back here in India, wasting my time thinking about her, she’s back in town but hasn’t kept me informed, got to know this through social media too, and I have no idea what she thinks about me, because the moment I told her I like her, she tried avoiding, when I stopped completely she checked on me a couple of times by leaving me texts and when I replied acting like nothing ever happened, I feel she’s brushed me off, saying she’s got her semester exams going, and is currently in town meeting all her friends here, and we’re twenty years old, please do not ask me to refer a forum!😛 Thank you.

Regards,
R.

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Dear Captain,

I’m a longtime reader, and love your blog!

I’m an older college student whose school friends are all in the 17-20 range. They’re pretty mature for their ages, though by virtue of more life experience I often fill a mentor/counselor/older sibling role for them. One of them has recently realized she might be pregnant, but at this point it’s a little too early for a test to be conclusive. Naturally she’s pretty freaked out.

I’m opposed to abortion for ethical and philosophical reasons. I also don’t feel I have the right to dictate what others do with their bodies, that life can give people impossible situations, and so I’m not in favor of banning it. Our friends know this because we’ve all amicably discussed it before.

I’ve made it very clear to her that I will support her decision whatever it is no matter how many times she changes her mind. To keep my bias out of it I’ve tried to keep our discussions to problem/solution scenarios (how would she handle losing a big chunk of her me time, what if she has to stop taking her medication, what will her support system be if her family has a freak gasoline fight accident, etc.) As of now she adamantly wants to keep it, and I’ve been helping her set up a pregnancy and postnatal game plan. I’ve also reiterated that if she decides on an abortion I will drive her to and be with her for all her appointments. The father wouldn’t be in the picture, but she has a family support system that would enable her to finish school.

The problem is our friends are less than enthused about her wanting to keep it, and have been continuously pressuring her to have an abortion if it turns out she’s pregnant. They’ve also been insinuating that I’ve talked her into it because of my views. They’re only doing this because they care about her and want her to be as successful as possible in life, but it’s exacerbating her stress levels. How do I convince them to give her some space about this, and that I’m not a crisis pregnancy center staffer in disguise?

(Female pronouns are fine)

Hello!

 

You seem to be doing a great job supporting your friend and reassuring her that what to do next is her choice. I think the next step here is to stop discussing her possible pregnancy with anyone but her and to let her take the lead in those discussions.

That means, if your mutual friends want to discuss your friend’s options with you or intimate that you are unduly influencing her decision, you can say “Hey, I love and support Friend and think that she is 100% the boss of what she does next. She knows that, and I feel very uncomfortable discussing her personal stuff with other people.” Keep reminding these friends “Hey, it’s all up to her. It’s not for you and me to decide, so let’s respect that.” “My views are well known, as are yours. It’s not a competition about who is right, it’s our friend’s choice.” 

That also might mean backing off a bit on the offers of support for a while unless Friend asks you about them. It’s great that you’ve promised to support her, and you didn’t do anything wrong by offering, but right now your friend probably needs a) a medically accurate pregnancy test* and b) a little time and space to figure out what to do next, including whether & how to take you up on your kind offers. Seek her company for its own sake – to eat lunch together, or laugh, or study – and let her be the one to bring up the pregnancy (or the pregnancy scare). Resist the urge to start every conversation with a hushed, urgent “How ARE you?” and try to disengage from wanting any particular outcome.

*Like, immediately, before any more friend-group discussions or “post-natal game plans” take place.